Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Saw it on the Grape Vine

Our coastal variety grape vine is now really going ahead in leaps and bounds, in fact it has gone feral. It is amazing really, because we do nothing for it, it just seems to grow well in our thick clay soil. It now stretches right along the verandah rails (half the length of the house) and at one end disappears up into the canopy of the coastal wattle tree and at the other end up into the marmalade grevillia. It is so laden with bunches of ripening grapes I am sure that there are already many little sets of eyes watching it with great interest.

Last year we had the scrub turkeys, Lewin’s honey eaters, possums, buff banded rails and noisy miners all competing to see how many grapes they could get through. The mother possum even brought her new baby around to teach it the ropes. Fortunately there are enough grapes for everyone so we don’t mind sharing with all the other creatures - most of the time. We just wrap old stockings around all the best bunches so they can ripen in peace. Only problem is, last year the scrub turkeys started to perfect their technique of getting the stockings undone. Hopefully this year we can continue to outsmart them!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wildlife Gardens

Our vegetable garden only takes up around one quarter of our land, and to get some natural balance, the rest has been planted out as a wildlife garden. This type of garden takes a little thought, but is simple and fun to do. By using plants that tuft, clump, or climb; and incorporating ground covers; along with densely packed shrubs and trees we have pretty well eliminated any lawn area. These plants create spaces and opportunities for birds, lizards and insects to feed, shelter, breed and live. The ground is mulched with twigs and leaves and we have a birdbath near the shrubs and trees to provide birds with another reason to come into the garden.

The main thing is to have a variety of plants and a structure to the garden…you need to have more than trees, shrubs to make it interesting to attract the widest possible variety of creatures to your garden. Our wildlife garden has both natives and exotics (succulents, fruit trees/vines, vegetables and flowers) all of which make the local creatures want to make our place their place! Choose plants that are hardy to drought conditions by checking at your local nursery.

Here are a few possibilities to start with, native trees like coastal banksias, bottlebrushes and the ‘toothbrush flowered’ grevillias are popular with birds and insects providing food and nesting sites. Aussie shrubs like wattles and bush-peas attract butterflies, native bees and seed eating birds. Climbers like the snake vine or guinea flower, (Hibbertia spp) as they have a fragrant yellow flower and the pollen is food for native baby bees. Native sarsaparilla is another climber that provides nesting material and food for possums and birds. A popular tufting and clumping plant is the creek mat rush (Lomandra spp). They offer shelter and nesting sites as well as attracting butterflies, insects and birds and small mammals. Ground covers can be native grasses, creeping herbs, or low growing succulents.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Companion Planting

One thing we have tried to do is keep our garden organic. So naturally we avoid the use of pesticides. One way of doing this is to use companion planting. Companion planting is interesting and fun to do with often visually beautiful results. Companion planting gives you the freedom to mix and match flowers, veges, herbs and fruit trees. There are a few approaches to it, for example, you can plant shallow and deep rooted plants together like lettuce and spinach (both shallow rooted light feeders) and celery, carrots, corn and parsnips (deep rooted and heavy feeders). Another way to companion plant is to grow plants together that have different germination times, so, you can grow radishes with carrots because the radishes are quicker to germinate and they help keep the soil soft for the slower growing carrots. Strong odoured plants can either attract or repel insects (or "pests"), for example, we have grown nasturtiums under banana trees with good repelling effects and basil near tomatoes which also work well to repel insects. Rosemary and the mints are also good repellers. Flowers will tend to attract the more garden friendly bugs and we have planted our favorites like ground dwelling gardinias, rampling geraniums and camomile.

Chemicals excluded from roots can work either to prevent germination or to inhibit the plants growth. For example, all the members of the onion family retard the growth of peas and beans while marigolds have a chemical coming from their roots and leaves that can help deter pests. Chives around the rose bush can help to deter aphids and shade the soil as well. Confusing predators by planting a range of flowers that have different smells and that flower at different times or have similar shapes and sizes can make it so you can hide certain plants from the insects view or attract them elsewhere. This can work really well because the garden is so full of choices for these bugs that they leave their normal target plants alone. A variation on this theme is to always let some of your veges go to seed to attract insects to this plant and not other and if bugs do find and destroy one plant in the vege patch just let them go for it, it works well .

Friday, September 19, 2008

Making Compost

Once our vege beds were set up, we filled them with soil and mixed in some of our own compost to add more nutrients to the mix. This also minimises the amount of expensive soil you have to use. The method we use to create compost means that we have a new bin of compost every two weeks. We had actually tried a few ways to make compost, but we found a Compost in Two Weeks article we read in the gardening section of one of the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga's monthly newsletters seemed to work best for us. The people at the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga have kindly allowed us to reproduce this article below.


2 wheelbarrow loads of fresh lawn clippings ( we have virtually no lawn to cut on our block, but if you ask the neighbors you will find they are usually only to happy to get rid of them!).
1 sack full of brown leaves
1 wheelbarrow full of non-diseased green garden clippings (like leaves, old flowers, and weeds (at your discretion)
1 bucket full of vegetable, fruit (no citrus) and other vegetarian based food scraps (cut corn cobs into smaller pieces, avocado seeds are ok)
1 shovel of cow manure, or a couple of handfulls of pelletised chicken manure
1 ice cream bucket full of chopped up yarrow or comfrey or kelp (or all three if available) to act as a compost starter (we grow our own yarrow and comfrey)
1 handful of gypsum, lime and dolomite (these help to sweeten the soil)

Place your compost bin on the ground in a sunny place with the open base in contact with the earth. Remove the lid and put all the ingredients mentioned above in to it. At regular intervals as you add the ingredients, spray on some water, not to much, not to little. The bin should be jam packed.

Don't add anything new to the bin for the next two weeks.

Everyday you need to turn every bit of the compost heap over. This takes about 5 minutes, and guarantees that the final compost is worth the effort. What we do is to lift the bin off the compost and put it beside the pile, then fork the compost into the now empty bin. If it is working it gets really hot inside the bin and then cools slowly as the two-week mark approaches.

When the compost is ready we shovel it straight on to the vege beds and mix it in. You can grow seedlings in it to. If you want, you can go to the local hardware shop and get a Ph test kit to test the Ph of your compost so you can fine tune the compost ingredients to suit what you want to grow.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Grow Your Own

We thought the best place to start our sustainable lifestyle was to grow some of our own food. Especially after reading that a study by the Melbourne environmental organisation CERES found that a typical weekly basket of fruit and vegetables travelled 8730 kilometres from the point of production to consumption. What a lot of extra greenhouse gases!

This has been simple for us, we just put in a few fruit trees, and set up some vege beds to grow the vegetables that work best in the climate and conditions in which we live. Anyone can do this, even in pots or plastic boxes, if you don't have a backyard. As mentioned in a previous post, a number of people we have met while attending programs run by the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga have very prolific vegetable gardens that they grow in pots and boxes.

We live in a sub tropical climate so we have put in a variety of suitable fruit trees and plants - bananas, lychees, mangoes, tamarillos, pineapples, passion fruit, red paw paw, grapes (coastal variety), figs and native rasberries in our garden.

We have built four vegetable beds to grow a variety of rotating crops. The beds were easy to put together using eight 1.8 fence palings screwed together to make the surrounds of each bed. These palings are cheap to buy (for us $1.50 each or $12 per bed) and are reasonably long lasting. Try not to use treated pine, as the chemical they use to treat the wood (copper chrome arsenate) is a poison and may leach into the ground and be absorbed by the vegetables. We used four 4 x 30cm square garden stakes to act as the corners of the bed. The fence palings are screwed to the garden stakes to form a 1.8 x 1.8 metre square box.

Once you have built your bed box, find a suitable place on the ground to put it. Preferably somewhere with good drainage and no large tree roots under the ground. The four corner stakes should each have a few centimetres protruding down, so that once you have put your box in your chosen spot you can bang each corner stake into the ground with a hammer to give the box extra stability. If there is grass or lawn growing where you have placed your bed box, you will have to remove it. The easiest way to do this is to use a shovel to slice up the grass into manageable 50cm squares, then wedge the shovel under each square and flip it upside down. This way the grass will be on the bottom, it will die, and form a nice base layer of mulch. All that is left to do now is fill the bed with dirt and start planting.

By getting out in the fresh air and growing some of our own fruit and vegetables, not only do we have a more balanced life, but a more balanced diet as well!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


The word sustainability is used frequently these days in the news, especially when referring to climate change. If you are like us, you may have wondered exactly what it means.

In simple terms, sustainability is defined as an individual or society's lifestyle being able to meet their current needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Unfortunately, because of our western lifestyle, we are consuming so much now that it has got to a point where sustainability in many areas, especially our natural environment, are under threat. Our food, water and energy are of particular concern. In a recent United Nations report they said that human actions are putting so much strain on our environment that the ability of this planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.

So now that we are aware of this, we try to make lifestyle choices that are sustainable. This way not only do we benefit ourselves, but also all the other living creatures that inhabit the planet. This also fits in with the yoga system and the balanced life that we try to follow.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Finding Your Balance

Managing everyday life so you lead a balanced life can be a bit of a juggling act when you have too much to do and too little time to do it. This was especially so for us when we lived in the city. Most of the time it was a case of commute to work, then come home to sleep, then wake up and do it all over again. Since our sea change, we have tried to lead a more balanced life by prioritising what is important and discarding the rest....getting rid of all the clutter. It actually works, and frees you up so you no longer worry whether you should be following the latest trends, or doing what everyone else is doing. Another helpful source of information for us was when we attended The Australian School of Meditation and Yoga's; A Balanced Life Retreat. Spending a day out in the country, in a beautiful natural setting, getting a few insights into how you can change your life and slow it down. I went to my first retreat a few years back, and enjoyed it so much, I have been helping out at the retreats ever since.

We have found that by making our life simpler and more balanced, change has come naturally. It does take a bit of work, but it does eventually happen.