When Big the rooster died, we buried him in a large pot with a dwarf asexual paw paw planted on top (as we do for all our family). He grew very fast with all that nutrient and soon grew out of his pot. Dwarf paw paws are supposed to grow to about 2 metres tall, but Big has grown to around 3 metres, so Big needed a new home.
We had some truck tire guards that a friend gave us (thanks Judy). I had the idea of bolting them together to make a garden bed some time ago and when Big needed a larger pot I thought it was time to act on the idea.
My sometimes present partner and my daughter screwed the truck guards together for me while I was at work one day and I came home to find the big pot (or garden bed) together and placed ready to plant. I filled the base with sheep compost and bought potting mix (it took a lot more soil than I thought) and re-potted Big the rooster and his paw paw into the bed along with a hen named Burger that had conveniently died the previous night. Now Big and Burger can grow amazing paw paws and enjoy their next incarnation as a tree.
The paw paw is beginning to flower, I think. I have never grown paw paw before, so I’m not really sure if the little buds are flowers or more leaves. Either way, the tree is growing really well in it’s new pot.
With a lot of help from friends and neighbours, we are beginning to get on top of the work around the humpy again. Both myself and my partner have had some health issues lately, but we are healing now. I feel so lucky to live in a community where people help each other, we have so many friends who are willing to lend a hand.
I am still waiting for a tsunami of passionfruit; it can’t be much longer. The vine has flowered, and flowered, and flowered until at last it is FULL of fruit.
The fruit has grown to a huge size, but it is still green. This morning I noticed a slight change in colour, but it could just be wishful thinking… what do you think?
In other news; a pumpkin vine has popped up outside the yard fence and continued to defy the sheep, geese and wandering mower to produce it’s first male flowers. We may yet harvest some pumpkins this Winter.
I discovered a new staple crop!!! It’s amazing how many plants we eat as a species, and how many plants we don’t know we can eat as individuals. I had only heard one reference to tigernuts in my life before (that I can remember); an old Woody Allen movie I watched as a child, where he asks for tiger milk for breakfast on being woken from cryogenic slumber in the distant future. I remember being puzzled at why anyone would risk milking tigers when goats are so easy to find. I dreamed of this scene one night a week ago (don’t ask me why, my mind is an enduring and deepening mystery to me) and I decided to google tiger milk. What I found has sent me on a whole journey of discovery.
Tigernuts are closely related to what I have always known as yellow nutgrass. I have spent years trying to get rid of this plant from various gardens, only to now discover that their relatives taste great and crop hugely. I have planted some seed in pots in the garden to see if I can grow them in captivity.
My first experiment with tigernuts is to make kunnu aya (a traditional nigerian drink) or tigernut milk. Woolworths sells tigernuts, so I bought a small packet to play with. I put a cup of tigernuts to soak overnight, then rinsed them off.
I put the tigernuts and some dates into the blender with just enough water to cover them. I then blended the lot until it was soupy.
I strained it through a nut bag into a jug, then I returned the pulp to the blender with a bit more water and blended it all again. The second lot of milk was not as rich and creamy as the first, but it did boost the yield a lot.
The resulting milk is smooth, creamy and refreshing. The flavour is slightly nutty and a little coconut like. I do love it as a drink. The left over pulp was spread out on a baking tray in a low oven and dried to make tigernut flour.
This little tuber has real potential as a crop here at the humpy. I hope my plants grow and produce in their pots, so I can process my own kunnu aya from tigernuts I grew. The flour is useful as a gluten free option in baking and as a thickening agent. The nuts can be ground as a base for vegan cheeses and creams (in place of cashews) and they can even be boiled and served as a vegetable or added to soups, casseroles and stews. What a useful little plant.
The potatoes are starting to come up! I have one peeking it’s head above the mulch.
I have been dragging triple used hay up to the potato patch for a month in an attempt to tidy up the sheep feeding area before fire season (not very successfully) and watching every day to see when the potatoes would pop up… and now one has.
The potatoes I planted in the yard garden have been up for ages and have just been mulched for a third time (and need more already). These potatoes get more water than the ones in the patch, and I think that has made a huge difference.
Note: you may notice that the first part of this post was made in the days when we had rain. The second part is in the current situation of deep drought. This is because I got distracted by other pursuits and didn’t get to finish the post. Because I hate to waste anything, I thought I would just update the post with some photos of the current state of the area.
Living in the bush as we do, wood is easy to come by, we use it for everything; burning as fuel, structural building material, even in the garden. I have several hollow logs cut in half placed around one of the water tanks that were always intended to become herb beds. Unfortunately I sort of lost interest in the project for a year or two and they have sat there, looking messy ever since. I guess it is time to tackle that problem opportunity.
First of all the weeds have to go. I need to clear around the tank in general in fact. As I was staring at the mess, wishing there were an easier way, inspiration struck. Why don’t I just lay cardboard over the weeds behind the hollow logs and cover it all with gravel? It would make it look neat and reduce the fire hazard as well. That will have to wait until I can go and get some gravel.
The hollow logs were easy to fix. I dug out the old soil and mixed it with pig poop and lime, then shoveled it back in. Once the beds have settled down and composted a bit more I will plant some herbs in there, I will probably have to fence them off too, because everything wants to eat anything newly planted.
All inspired by this bit of progress, I decided to build a new Hugelkultur bed in the front yard. This area used to have a trellis made from a couple of bed bases tied to poles and some tires planted with choko vines, unfortunately the ducks managed to break into the choko vine covers and ate the lot. So the whole mess sat, doing nothing for a year or so; the chooks dug the soil out of the tires, the trellis fell down and the grass grew over the lot. Time to jazz it up a bit.
First I needed to put the trellis back up. A couple of pieces of scrap metal about 1.5m long and a star picket later I had a trellis again, of course the zip ties helped too (what did we do before zip ties?). Sometimes I am so thankful we are too lazy to take stuff to the dump.
Now for the garden bed. Time to collect wood and bury it in pig poop…fun.
I gathered branches and stray bits of wood from all around the humpy for a couple of hours. Thanks to my trusty wheel barrow I can collect quite a large amount in a trip. Then I filled the gaps in between with partially composted pig poop from the conveniently placed pile up the hill (thanks Lucille), remembering to sprinkle the whole lot with lime periodically (which helps reduce the smell and adjusts the pH from acid back down towards neutral).
This new bed is going to take a while to settle down into a rich, fertile growing area so I need to gather plenty of mulch to cover over the pig poop and reduce the smell. Mulch also gives a bed that finished look, whether it is finished or not.
Now for the present day photos…
Yes, our humpy is a place of half-assed half-finished projects, but we have a lot of fun doing it and what else is life for, if not to follow your joy? We are messy people, you won’t find much order here, what you will find is interest and new ideas (sometimes the same new idea that has been long forgotten and then suddenly rediscovered). I do love my life!!
I plant chokos every few years here; not because they are biennial but because the geese and chooks eat them regularly and they never seem to get ahead of the predators.
Choko (or chayote) is a vine crop that is known to be very hardy and bears in HUGE quantities. I love the flavour, although not everyone does. In the past I have used them to make pickles, steamed with other vegetables and to bulk up sauces and pies (apple pie can be made with just one apple and lots of chokos. They take on the flavour of any fruit or vegetable they are cooked with so the possibilities are endless. They are so useful in the kitchen that we are trying to grow them again. They can also be used as animal food, and so can the leaves.
We planted them in a big pot this time, straight into a mix of compost from the chook pen (made up of cardboard, food scraps and chook poop) and sand. The chokos we planted are three chokos in a bag that were left to fend for themselves at the back of the cupboard. They developed long runners to push out of the bag and try to find water or soil, these runners may sprout leaves and grow, or we may have to wait until a bigger sprout pushes up from the base. The whole choko is buried in a shallow trench in the pot with minimal cover over the sprouting end.
It is easy to get discouraged by the amount of plants our animals eat, but we keep trying.
It has taken many weeks for the system to go through it’s ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle, but it is finally ready to house A*****e. Today is the day we move him to his new pond.
The lettuce and spinach are growing really well; I have been harvesting them consistently.
When I first turned the system on, the sound of running water outside sent me into a near panic every hour (the water cycles through for fifteen minutes every hour) when I heard the sound of our precious water running away. Drought does that to you. Now I am used to it, I find it relaxing and calming; splashing water is such a rich sound don’t you think? (drought does that to you too)
I have continued to add occasional fish food to the system to give the bacteria some ammonia to work with and I added a cap full of Seasol to the water to feed the plants.
Three weeks ago I tested the water to see if it was ready to accept fish in the system; it was not. Water testing is a big part of keeping an aquaponics system healthy (not to mention the fish). Fish can die very easily in high ammonia and nitrite water, so it is important to wait until the bacteria colonies are established before adding an ammonia generator (which is what fish are). Below are the results of the test from the first week;
The fact that there is a nitrate level to read shows that both the bacteria that turns ammonia to nitrite and the bacteria that turns nitrite to nitrate are there, living in their little clay ball cities. I just had to wait for the populations to grow enough to get the nitrite and ammonia levels down to almost nothing.
Two weeks ago I tested the water again;
Not ready just yet. We will wait another week.
This week I tested again and found a surprising result;
To begin to change the pH I added 1 teaspoon of aglime to the water and retested after a few hours. I also began to acclimatize A*****e by getting my daughter to put him in a bucket about half full of his water then I poured water from the new pond into it at the rate of 1/4 cup every 15 minutes or so. After a full day of this he was ready to be poured into the pond.
My daughter also moved over some sand, weed and a floaty rock thing for him. He seems very happy in there so far. The water test after three days was encouraging, except the pH.
My next move is to add another grow bed. I am really enjoying the mad scientist element of aquaponics; test tubes, coloured chemicals, wild solutions.
A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a tiny seedling pomegranate tree. I took her home and potted her on to a larger pot. This little seedling sat in the garden (in one place or another) for a further year, until one day I decided it was time to plant her out.
The pomegranate is one of the world’s oldest cultivated trees. They are a hardy and do not have many pests (excepting ducks, sheep and fruit fly), so my little tree is becoming a much bigger tree. She has not yet flowered, after three years, but that is probably because of the long term neglect she has suffered while waiting for me to get my act together and find a place to plant her.
This sad pile of sand, newspaper and seedlings greeted me this morning when I went to check the garden. At some point last night one of the resident possums decided that cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus seedlings looked good, so he jumped down onto the pile of milk crates I have been using to house my seedlings and clawed the trays down. It must have been a fun party because there are many little possum pellets (poop) scattered around the pile. We didn’t hear a thing from the humpy so he didn’t even rouse the chooks who sleep beside the vegetable garden and serve as an early warning system by cackling manically when ever something comes near their roost at night.
I managed to save some of them by repotting and careful reassembling of the system. I can’t stop the possum from getting into the garden, but I try. All holes have been patched, and repatched, but like everything, it doesn’t always work. The possums are a welcome part of our ecosystem and we never try to hurt them; they belong here as much as we do, but I do wish they would be less destructive sometimes. I will be having a stern word with that possum next time I see him.
The seedling area looks as good as new and 12 cauliflower seedlings were saved. Maybe it’s time to plant some more seeds.
It’s finished at last, the new bed is built, mulched and planted. Even the path is done. Now to wait for those yummy broccoli and Ceylon spinach plants to grow, and let’s not forget the broad beans I planted today.
Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly
The dark line on the right of the picture is where the broad beans are planted
The gum leaf path over cardboard is in place.
I can’t wait until this bed is just a mass of green…it won’t take long. I also had another play with time lapse video, I did a quick video of my daughter (yes, she has pink hair this week) and I putting pig poop and mulch on our trailer bed and planting some snow peas. It is a bit far away from the action for me, I think I need a stand or something to hold the iPad at the right angle. This kind of video has a lot of potential I think, it is certainly fun to play with.
I have been dumping a good layer of pig poop on every bed I can find, covering it up with mulch and planting into a handful of potting mix in the bed to prevent too much nitrogen burn and give my plants something to get their roots into before they get into all that poopy goodness.
I also weeded, fertilised and mulched my poor little pomegranate tree while I was going.
Doesn’t she look a lot happier now.
What a relaxing and carefree day I’ve had in the garden. This is what we need to do to maintain sanity…or a close facsimile there of.