Digging up the last of our nature strip

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The last patch of grass in the nature strip alongside our house.
The last patch of grass in the nature strip alongside our house.

Soon after we moved into our house in Lewisham, we dug up a section of the nature strip, and planted citrus trees and herbs. While three of the citrus were immediately stolen, we continued to build up the strip in front of our door, until it was lush and vibrant.

A year ago, we pulled up another section of the nature strip, and native plantings quickly took over.

As it turns out, the local council would actually prefer us to pull up little sections of grass, rather than leave them squeezed in amongst other plantings. This makes life easier for the council staff who do the mowing, and helps to reduce the cost of maintaining the streets.

So with just one piece of grass left between the two sets of plantings, we sorted that out this last weekend.

Nothing but bare earth now!
Nothing but bare earth now!

The process of pulling out the grass is easier than it looks. The roots are shallow, so some mattock work lifts out chunks of grass. It’s then just a matter of digging through the soil to get out as many remnant grass roots as possible.

I then topped it up with some spare soil, and added a little native plant fertiliser.

I’ve been growing a number of native plants from cuttings, so these provided the start of what should become a thick bushy area. Plants include mint bushes (prostanthera), correas, dianellas, and a number of ground covers (including pigface). (We planted the grevillea six months ago.)

The start of what should become a thick and bushy strip of native plants.
The start of what should become a thick and bushy strip of native plants.

I collected some free mulch from the local council nursery, and the end result looks rather good I think. Over the next month I’ll finish off the plantings, and by then I’m expecting the seedlings to start putting on some serious growth.

Another piece of grass replaced by native plants, yay!

Making bee hive boxes: getting ready for a busy spring

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New finger-jointed boxes, ready for painting.
New finger-jointed boxes, ready for painting.

Spring is a busy time for beekeeping, so it pays to be prepared. And with a warm winter, and a week of much-needed rain, there’s every sign that things will be taking off early this year in Sydney.

So for the last few weekends, I’ve been making bee hive boxes, hive lids, plus extra bases. (All for Warré hives, otherwise I could just buy new boxes.)

For the boxes, I’m finger jointing them, using the new jig that I’ve purchased for my router table. As first attempts, they’re not great joints, but practice makes perfect! The bees will plug up any gaps with propolis in any case… ;-)

My plan is also to scale up this year, so I have enough honey to meet the needs of our two local cafes.

In addition to a few more hives at our house, several friends have expressed interest in having a hive in their backyard. So I’ll be doing all the setup and management, and we’ll put in place a produce-sharing arrangement. :-)

Onwards to spring!

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? :-)