Another natural beekeeping Q&A session coming up in Sydney (September 2014)

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Most of the natural beekeeping folks in Australia were originally trained by Tim Malfroy (including me). He is without a doubt the leading local expert in this space.

So it’s great to hear that Milkwood have organised another natural beekeeping Q&A session, in Sydney on September 6.

The last one was great, for the networking opportunity, as well as the chance to learn more about the wonderfully complex field of beekeeping.

I’ll be there, hope to see you there too!

Drying tumeric and lemon

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A month ago we harvested a huge amount of tumeric, 2.6kg in total. That’s a lot of tumeric.

Some we’ve frozen, and a lot is stored in our cool cupboard. Following some inspiration from Milkwood, I also decided to dry some, to see how well that would keep.

Tumeric, sliced and ready for dehydration.
Tumeric, sliced and ready for dehydration.

We’ve had a dehydrator for a while now, so we filled up two layers with sliced tumeric.

Sliced lemon, for use in months to come.
Sliced lemon, for use in months to come.

While we were at it, we also set up two layers of sliced lemons, following a suggestion from the excellent book Homegrown tea by Cassie Liversidge.

Two jars, of dried lemon and tumeric slices.
Two jars, of dried lemon and tumeric slices.

24 hours later at medium heat, the results were ready to jar up. Very pretty they look too! More importantly, they’ll hopefully keep for quite some time, and we can compare against our other forms of preservation…

(Not) guerrilla gardening around Lewisham train station

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Gymea Lilles planted underneath the established palm trees
Gymea Lilles planted underneath the established palm trees

The area around Lewisham train station is a desolate wasteland. Other than a row of large palm trees, there’s a disintegrating raised garden bed, and a long strip of browning weeds. Hardly a joy to behold.

Following a casual suggestion from a neighbour, I guerrilla gardened in a number of gymea lilies, underneath the palm trees. These are extremely tough, and will grow to a size large enough to visually fill in the gaps along the fence.

That got me started, so I continued on to plant a small patch of native plants at the start of the pedestrian walkway that runs alongside the train line.

I’ve since expanded this a little, and it now consists of a mix of acacias (to start enriching the soil), hardy native shrubs (westringias, etc) and strap-leafed plants (lomandras, dianellas).

The start of what will hopefully become a patch of mini-bushland.
The start of what will hopefully become a patch of mini-bushland.

This has not been without some challenges:

  • The railway put in a huge new vandal-proof black fence, and the workers trampled some of the plants in the process (although most survived!).
  • The regular railway workers tend to roll their trucks over the garden every once in a while.
  • Kids keep stealing the stakes, so the plant guards blow away.
  • It’s only rained once in the last 3 months, so hand watering is critical in this early stage.

Despite this, many of the plants, particularly the bushes, are already growing rapidly. I’ve also got a heap of cuttings that should be ready for planting out soon.

Why do this?

A few people have asked me “why bother doing all this, it isn’t your problem?”.

There are a few reasons:

  • It’s nice to live in a lovely local environment, and the current station environment is far from lovely.
  • It’s also good to increase the local biodiversity, encouraging more birds, insects, etc.
  • This land belongs collectively to us, as the local residents. The Council is just the steward of the land, looking after it on our behalf.
  • This gives us a responsibility to participate in sustaining and improving the environment.
  • Someone should be doing it! The Council, even with the best of wills, can’t do everything for us.
  • It’s enjoyable and satisfying to see something grow and prosper.

It’s now official

I also struck up a conversation with the lovely folks at Marrickville Council, who have endorsed the use of the land as a low-maintenance community native garden.

So it’s no longer guerrilla gardening … it’s official gardening. Where’s the fun in that! ;-)

Watch this space for updates as the space (hopefully) starts to bush up and spread out…

 

Front-yard veges nurture a sense of community

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A lovely letter left on our front doorstep, along with two rolls of insect netting.
A lovely letter left on our front doorstep, along with two rolls of insect netting.

At a recent dinner party, good friends of ours were complaining that they don’t have any real sense of community where they live. They don’t tend to talk to the neighbours, and don’t connect up with other locals, even when at the school gate waiting for their kids.

This isn’t our experience.

Ever since we started our vege patch in the front garden, we’ve met and chatted with folks from the surrounding area.

When we’re working in the garden, five minutes doesn’t go by without someone saying ‘hi’ when walking past, or mentioning ‘I love your garden’. We’ve had many conversations over the front fence, about gardening, the local area and local gossip.

One morning when opening the front door I found several rolls of insect netting, and the letter shown above.

How nice is this! These are locals that we chat with, but they aren’t our close friends. So it’s lovely that they thought of us, and went out of their way to be of help.

So: want to feel better connected to your local neighbourhood? Start growing veges in your front garden :-)

Growing (and harvesting) our own tumeric

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Our tumeric at the height of its growth
Our tumeric at the height of its growth

A few years back, our neighbours from down the road offered us a few pieces of tumeric from their recent harvest. Following the “why not, let’s give it a go” principle, I planted these into two potato bags.

They grow vigorously, as the photo above shows. Following instructions on the net, I let them die back over the first winter.

Time to harvest!
Time to harvest!

They came back strongly during the following summer, and when they died back for the second time, it was time to harvest. And what a harvest it was!

The tumeric roots, fresh out of the ground
The tumeric roots, fresh out of the ground

The easiest way to harvest the tumeric was to up-end the two potato bags, and to rummage around in the soil. As you can see from the photo above, the tumeric emerged as thick clumps of bright orange tubers.

Washed and ready for storage
Washed and ready for storage

In all, we harvested 2.6kg of tumeric (!), which sounds like a lifetime supply to me.

Half has been peeled and frozen, for long-term use. The other half has been stored in the cool cupboard in a sealed container. We’ll see how both lots go over time.

One potato bag has been replanted with some of the tumeric, for harvesting in a few years time. (From this year’s experience, I don’t think we’ll need two bags worth!)

Would anyone like some tumeric? :-)

Saving the environment, one pavement at a time

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Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!
Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!

The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.

With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.

Why not give the trees more space?

Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.
Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.

Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.

This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.

Residents can't wait to plant underneath their trees.
Residents can’t wait to plant underneath their trees.

Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.

Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.

The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.
The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.

As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.

Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!

Seven weeks without food shopping? Too easy, let’s keep going

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Still plenty in the pantry!
Still plenty in the pantry!

Priscilla returned this weekend, making it a full seven weeks without food shopping. How did it go, you ask? Was I down to thin gruel by the end? Hardly.

In fact, the seven weeks have been super-easy, and I’ve hardly made a dent on our pantry supplies. There’s even meat still in the freezer!

It’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise, for a number of reasons:

  • I uncovered a number of items well past their best, including a tin of malted milk powder with an expiry date of 2005. (The usual story, happens to everyone.)
  • There were bugs in a number of the stored items, including a whole civilisation of crawling things which had made half-opened packets of pasta their home.
  • Some of these dead items went to the chickens (pasta, yum!), the rest to the worms.
  • As a result, I spent some time getting most things into sealed jars, with good labels. That should keep things longer, keep out the bugs, and make them easier to find stuff.
  • It’s also uncovered some hidden treasures: bottles of vegetable oil, lost at the back of shelves; a lifetime supply of tinned chickpeas and lentils; plenty of tinned tomatoes.

So far Priscilla has dinners such as roast lamb (frozen left-overs) risotto with kale, and sausages with mashed potato and steamed home-grown cauliflower. So we’re not starving!

We’re going to keep going, to see how long we can last. Nine weeks? Perhaps ten? Or even twelve?

I’ve bought some breakfast cereal for Priscilla (she’s not keen on porridge), plus some milk. On the flipside, with plenty of oranges and grapefruit in the garden, no need to buy orange juice.

I’m looking forward the challenge of still cooking delicious meals, as our supplies drop and the options narrow. :-)