Tag Archives: Garden

Branch by branch: backyard chickens

I can hear it. That sound, of happiness and curiosity that I’ve missed so much. Those dark intelligent eyes and witty ways. Absent from my daily life for five years.

Three chickens joined the garden yesterday, and my heart is brim full. Still cautious and alert in their new surroundings, so only a quick photograph snapped of Chickpea:


This morning was the first morning they were there when I went out into the garden (usually around 5:30am).  Part of my routine  in the veg garden was attending to them and it’s hard to describe the feeling of happiness. It just seems to be part of sunrise, part of life, part of the rhythm of morning, to be greeted by chickens.  It feels like an age old tradition, marking the dawn and dusk.

From memories of their presence in past times on the farm, to travel memories;  disembarking an overnight train from the hot hustle-bustle of Mumbai, up towards the cool mountains and on first stepping off the long haul journey of the night,  emerging out of the hot train to the cool sound of happy chickens on the train platform. They are just a delightful presence. Eggs are a bonus, I’m in it for their personalities. 🙂

I love how chickens so aptly, make you feel like a stupid human too. Chickpea has already proven that she is the clever one. Escape from the pen is a simple task by leaping up onto the roof. They will soon free range with supervision, but in these first few days making sure they know the coop is their base is important.  So this morning was quickly rigging up some rooftop discouragement and coaxing her back into the pen with a freshly-picked strawberry. She will already come close if she sees me with a strawberry. Today I sacrificed a lot of strawberries for new friendships.

There are three ladies, all big and beautiful Australorps. Chickpea is black, Betty is a blue and Penelope is a splash. They came from a local family-run farm property five minutes away and you could tell the owner loves and cares for her chickens. Although alert to their surroundings, they are surprisingly calm.

They will be such an important step in the garden in terms of contributing to the slow progress of permaculture design. It’s actually working now, I can feel it, but I can always see ways of using the space better and learning something new about what I’ve observed. Creating some vertical growing spaces are in my thoughts as well as planting crops near the new coop.

Oh, and every new coop needs a name, so that was made very early this morning.

the bothy

I am just finally able to feel it – it’s a backyard farm. Things grow here.

A ghost of autumn – Spilosoma glatignyi, Black and white tiger moth

Here is a truly beautiful delicate ghost of autumn – the enchanting spectre of the Black and White Tiger Moth, Spilosoma glatignyi who I found today, resting on my worm farm.  


Bold amongst the reds and browns of autumn, its mothy patterns for me, reference the Snowy Owl, even down to the fluffy large head and the red-eye markings, like the Snow Owl’s piercing yellow eyes. You can just make out the intimidating ‘red eye stare’ in the photograph I took below.


Even viewed from above, this funny little moth seems to emanate the intimidation that an owl can summon up from just one glance (see the pictures below for a hint at this). I should mention, that these are only my observations, and I’m not sure there is anything scientific about saying this tiger mother mimics a Snowy Owl. 😉


Snowy Owl Barrow Alaska
Photo Source: Floyd Davidson (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Moths are masters of mimicry, and having encountered a hummingbird hawk-moth back in the UK a few years ago, I remember feeling a frightened thrill as it dipped its proboscis into a lupin flower in my garden. I had no idea if I was looking at a bird or an insect. It was a truly amazing encounter and a glimpse into what it must have been like as a botanist documenting the wildlife of far off distant lands.

Moths seem a bit underrated, almost unloved but they are quiet achievers. They help pollinate, impersonate other animals with their markings , and even mimic bird droppings,. Some even have calls for communication and there’s even a moth that sounds like a squeaky toy. Even if you aren’t into moths, just taking a closer look at their markings is worth it for the artistic inspiration.

Links to help you identify South Australian moths

CSIRO Australian Moths Online

South Australian Moths

Common Moths of the Adelaide Region sheets – Butterfly Conservation SA
Sheet 1 and Sheet 2

In the deep mid-winter

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” William Blake

Ah yes, good old mystic Billy has a point if you take his proverb literally, because I for one, love and enjoy winter gardening!  What with native flowering plants and protea’s in bloom, and skies often filled with rainbows and fluffy-fast moving clouds,  it’s a colourful and exciting time.

King Protea, lord of winter colour.
King Protea, lord of winter colour.

I’ve now sloooowly started working on the front garden, at a good old snails pace just because of time limitations really. Sometimes gardening can be disillusioning as you often see fast transformation on television and wish you could be an agent of that fast change on your own projects. However, nature has a much more chillaxed approached and I for one, am starting to take a leaf out of nature’s…er…tree. Ahem.

So, although I might have an overall design and dream, it has to be phased, as in, one or two plants at a time. I do a lot of imaginary gardening.

The front garden is mostly native, mostly inherited from the previous owners. We’ve been here two years and are just starting with removing some inappropriately planted/neglected things. It’s hard work getting them out of clay. So my focus is mainly soil improvement  as it’s heavy clay.  Soil improvement has been the area I’ve come to learn a lot about.  I started gardening properly after moving to the UK, and the soil was incredible. Anything grew in it’s deep always-damp extremely fertile soil. It was glorious. Coming home to Australia,  my biggest learning curve has been  – be patient enough to get the soil loved up first. When I dig in the back garden now, in the areas I worked on, I get a huge sense of achievement at finding lots of worms and rich lovely soil.  It’s such a cool sense of doing something worthy.  I need to do that on an even bigger scale with the front though.

I started things off  last year with some gypsum in Spring, and this year I’ve improved one bed by bringing in sand and compost. That’s really labour (needed help) and fairly cost intensive to tackle the whole garden with addition.  I saw a tip on Gardening Australia from another gardener in Adelaide who said lucerne is the key to improving clay. Having already seen that in action in my vege beds in the backyard, I know it does work. So, my plan is to use lucerne for an undermulch, and then use a leaf mulch on top and let nature hopefully slowly heal the clay soil without bringing anything in. Patience required, but I have a lot of that.

I managed to plant some native grass tubestocks into the front this week.  My ultimate goal  for the front garden is making this a butterfly friendly garden.  The only thing really missing  is the lower canopy; the grasses and sedges, so that’s what I’m working on (in terms of research, planning and planting) through to Spring. That’s the plan anyway….

Meanwhile, the veg patch is thriving with winter greens including tuscan kale (I just used the last batch of kale that I froze from the garden harvest in September 2012), heirloom beetroots, romanesco broccoli, pak choi, brussel sprouts and lettuce. We had a bizarre warm start to winter which means my pak choi immediately bolted and flowered, but I’ve left those as beneficial flowers for the bees, rather than ripping them out. Macadamia’s are growing well and the mandarin tree grew orange orbs of deliciousness. Thinking about a lemon tree, thinking about a chocolate pudding fruit (black sapote) and a blood orange as additions, but might have to save up and wait until next Autumn realistically. Patience.

Greens galore!
Greens galore!
Back garden bed, stunning candles of blue salvia in mid-winter
Back garden bed, stunning candles of blue salvia in mid-winter

Leafy stuff

Leafy stuff

Apart from that…the more secretive residents of the garden do tend to come out to play more…

photo 9 photo 8

photo 6

photo 7

No-dig beds – finished!

As a follow up to my no-dig gardening beds

Finished beds!

Kind husband brought in a trailer load of compost over the weekend for me. Today, after a few hours of shovelling it around a little bit more, then mega-mulching, I stood back with a HUGE feeling of achievement. :). Ready to plant!!!

Maybe from the photos, it doesn’t look like much but it has been layer upon layer, and then waiting for it to rot down, then more layering, then a bit of compost before the final layer of mulch. It’s a lot to fit in around everything else, but finally…it’s done and I feel great for completing it.

This effort is to combat our rock hard clay and lack of soil for planting into. I’m hoping it will be well worth the effort. I lost blueberries last year because they couldn’t cope with the hard clay.  I’m excited about under-planting the fruit trees and also about planting the kids veg bed out near the cubby house. I am so seriously excited!!!

Ready for under-planting the pluot and the macadamia trees

Now for the fun part – planting seeds!!! – which is the great bit as it will involve the kids a lot more. I’m pretty sure they were starting to get bored watching me make garden lasagne. I’m also raising some stuff from seeds in my little greenhouse, and I’ll probably  buy some seedlings in a few weeks time just to keep things ticking along at different speeds.

Some more photos:

Macamadia tree in foreground and recently planted Native Frangipani in the background
Along the length, my raised beds in the distance (deliberately left to go to seed at this point so the bees come in to pollinate the fruit blossom)
My wee greenhouse

I celebrated by finally relenting to letting my daughter pick the first orange from our tree. It was pretty small and gone in about two seconds between the three of us – soooo juicy!! The other one is on the tree for Daddy.

Action shot – the moment the first orange was picked
My two slices
Gone – had to stop him eating all the skin
The only thing that stops her talking for a second. 🙂

Veg patch – Spring is springing like a springy thingy

It’s early early Spring (I think) and so as I’m working the on the no-dig beds, I’m also trying to get some seeds planted.

My never-tiring helpers…
It never fails to fascinate me that 6 days after dropping a seed in some soil, new life unfurls and reaches for the sun. It is amazing.
The winter veg bed has gone crazy! It’s tempting to cut down the stuff that has bolted and flowered, but the bees love it so much, and I need bees to pollinate the newly emerging blossom on my fruit trees – so the veg patch, wild as it looks, stays at is for now – it plays an important role in providing flowers for bees at the moment.
First oranges from our dwarf tree. I can’t wait to taste them! We all get half each.
Technically, there are 5 in our family now, meet Jimmy.

I’m also trying to get some seeds planted and researching which native plants are hosts for butterflies in this area so that I can make our front garden even more butterfly friendly.

No-dig veg beds

I think it has been over a month ago now, that I started work in the bottom of the back garden on quite a large no-dig garden bed. It begins next to the kids area/cubby house and the idea is to build up enough organic matter to plant into above our heavy clay base. I’m also extending it along the back of the garden, around existing fruit and nut trees to try and hopefully even improve the existing clay a little.

My vision in this little corner for a child-friendly vegetable garden – a tactile, edible natural playground including sunflowers, tall corn, epic ‘jack-in-the-beanstalk’ beanstalks, peter-rabbity carrot patches, pumpkins and watermelons and herbs – so, a place to grow some of the bigger veg that doesn’t fit easily into my raised corrugated beds. A place for play and experimentation where the kids can hug a pumpkin and build a scarecrow.

I was most recently inspired by seeing the no-dig process on Gardening Australia in Costa Georgiadis’ verge garden. We did try a no-dig potato garden bed back in 2007 on the farm so it wasn’t a completely new process to me, but I hadn’t considered it for this space until seeing Costa. His enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and once I realised it would work well for this space, I was hooked on the idea.

On television it looks fairly straight forward and quick — and yes, the process does have both of those attributes – but the reality for me with two small children, is that it isn’t quick or even easy to begin. Even gathering enough newspaper, and materials to start was quite a task. We don’t buy newspapers, but a quick call out on Facebook for ideas about where to source a large bundle of newspapers (everyone puts them into the recycle bins these days) had a friend suggesting to hit up the local free newspaper office a few suburbs away. So I did that – fronted up in my gardening clothes with my two kids, and they were very generous with providing me with some newspapers. Great!

Then actually getting the time to physically do the work was my other challenge. It’s an exercise in patient multi-tasking between amusing and feeding the kids, getting the little one down for naps, keeping the household chores moving (although they did get neglected just by being in the garden) and reserving enough energy to work at the computer in the evening to keep my career afloat. This is why, although this might not look like a huge job, for me, this is epic achievement in the garden! It’s infrastructure, and not just maintenance!

You can’t really see from the photos I managed to take, but this technique is sometimes called lasagna gardening, because the process is that you build up layer upon layer of materials including straw, and any other organic materials you have handy. There are lots of different recipes, in fact here’s another recipe on the Gardening Australia website and another recipe – both different slightly from Costa’s verge garden recipe but this goes to show that as long as you get the balance of ingredients right, you can whatever organic material you have or want to acquire to do this.

And so, weeks on….I’m actually still working on it. I had to enlisted my husband to finish trenching the heavy clay for me, and to build the stone wall as edging. Alas, I do have to accept my physical limitations these days! The edging is important in this location as we have rampant kikuyu grass. Great drought tolerant ball play area, but not a friend to the veg bed. We’re getting there though and at the same time I’m slowly planting out seeds into my little green house and organising what we will sow directly – the kids will be involved a lot in the actual planting bit .

Gardening with young children is different, because you have to fit it in around everything else and you have to accept that sometimes it’s not going to work and you have to bail and come back another day. It can at times be frustrating when you have to do something that is difficult to involve them in. I’m all for getting dirty, and they certainly did do that, but keeping the little one out of the freshly-laid dung and making sure he wasn’t eating the lucerne was sort of important to me. 😉

The before
The before
The first layer – newspaper

My “helpers” er…reading about lasagne gardening. 😉
After a few layers of manure and straw and compost
You can’t tell from the photograph, but there are more think layers here. This photo shows one of young macadamia trees.
The start of the edging trench that I dug. Really, you should probably do your edging first, but I was not looking forward to digging through the heavy clay and needed to see some progress for inspiration first!
Part of the wall that my husband built, exactly what I had in mind – using ‘reclaimed’ stone from our local landscape supplier. I really love it.

Work is still in progress….so more updates soon….