Apple treat

On Saturday I visited my old mate Tony down at Apollo Bay and we went for a walk in the hills behind the town, where his family farm contains an amazing array of heritage apples.  We got very lucky because the Duchess of Oldenburg graced us with a few gifts!

It is an early season spur-bearing cooking apple, but tasted quite fine straight off the tree.  The distinctive stripes of yellow & red make this a very attractive, if small, apple.

Originally from Russia (mid 1700’s), this tree is a parent to the well-known Northern Spy (a prominent rootstock tree for many decades).  The fruit doesn’t keep long (a characteristic of many early apples) but cooks to a puree with a slight orange taste…  think I’d better get some on the stove!

Click for more info on the Duchess of Oldenburg apple

The Retrosuburbia interview

David Holmgren will be interviewed by Jon Faine on The Conversation Hour ABC Radio Melbourne on Thursday 8th Feb, 11.00am – 12.00pm. The interview will focus on David’s new book Retrosuburbia, which is officially released at the Sustainable Living Festival on Saturday Feb 10.  Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia will lead the book launch, which is a free event – tickets here.

You can find ABC Radio Melbourne here.

Try again

When Dave Jacke was out here for the Forest Garden Design Intensive in 2016, we planted out a forest garden area and put in a heap of mostly native ground covers… which were swamped by fungi and grass within a few months.

Having now recovered the site from the grass and restored the larger plants to health with daily watering over the last few weeks of Summer, my thoughts turned to the ground covers.  A couple of cooler days after a big storm seemed a perfect time to put just a few new seedlings in.

I visited Matt Pywell at Ballarat Wild Plants and he gave me a great deal on some little fellas .  [Ballarat Wild Plants. 5333 5548/ 0409 388 014 ]

Viola hederacea

Daley’s say that the flowers are edible and can be used in salads, but I’m mainly after it forming a dense mat.  It dies back in Winter, so we’ll have to see how it copes with Ballarat frosts.  I had one from the first planting which did quite well until it was accidentally ‘weeded’ out.

Eutaxia microphylla prostrate

This wasn’t part of my original planting plan, but it’s a member of the Fabacea (pea) family so I’m hoping to gain some Nitrogen as well as an attractive ground cover.  It’s often grown in rockeries and likes dry sunny spots, so I’ve planted it on solar oriented sides of raised beds.

Hardenbergia violacea

Commonly known as “Running Postman”, this is another Fabacea family Nitrogen fixer, which isn’t a ground cover so much as a sprawling rambler or climber.  I’ve planted one either side of a patch of established dwarf comfrey, hoping that it will ramble through them.  Matt tells me this is a local selection which is less vigorous than others so it won’t swamp the comfrey or the fig planted in the middle of the comfrey.

Amaranthus spp

While not part of today’s ground cover planting, I thought you might like to see these Amaranth which we planted to fill a gap – and because Clara cranked out so many seedlings so we had plenty spare.  You might call it taking advantage of a ‘space’ in the succession.  I planted Eutaxia and Viola under the amaranth, so they can start to colonise the ground while we take advantage of the chance to harvest some Amaranth grain.  Stacking layers, stacking functions… sounds like permaculture to me.  🙂

Portulaca oleracea sativa

This Golden Purslane is an annual that we planted to take advantage of the bare ground and frequent watering.  Purslane is lovely in a summer salad,; it is crisp and juicy, with a mixed sweet & sour taste.  This variety is much bigger than the purslane I’ve got growing randomly in the lawn or veggie beds.   (Note the flush of new growth in the black currant behind… don’t plants love frequent watering and no grass competing with them!)

Martin Crawford says the ground cover layer is the most important in a forest garden.   Let’s hope today’s little guys do better than the last and that bare ground is soon green and grey!

Daylesford expedition

Pepper and I went on an expedition to Daylesford and Hepburn yesterday.  After quite a few hot weeks, we’d nearly run out of mineral water so I’d loaded boxes of empties onto the back of the ute before I went to pick Pepper up from Creswick library.  One story book later, we hit the road.

Tipperary Springs is one of many natural mineral springs in the Daylesford Hepburn area, and they all taste slightly different.  Tipperary is probably my favourite.

190 bottles filled by hand pump… a personal best and I was pretty glad I didn’t have any more.  Pepper helped with the pumping for a few dozen bottles, and varied the task by also volunteering to screw on the lids.  We’d taken ‘the friends’ (a varied group of small toys that travel together in an old plastic mushroom container) and a pirate card game so they also came out to play.  A couple of other groups of travellers visited: an older couple towing a caravan who’d also driven across from Creswick and had no idea where they’d end up that night (nice way to wander!) then a young Jewish couple from Melbourne with their five kids.  The Dad had come to Tipperary when he was a kid; some of his kids tasted the water but they all hated it so I’m not sure visiting the Springs is going to become an inter-generational ritual.

[Here’s Pepper having proudly matched all the cards in the pirate game!]

Filling the bottles took so long that when we then went to Melliodora (via the Daylesford tip) for a social catch up with David and Su it was lunchtime.  Luckily, we had sandwiches and our freshly minted mineral water to share.  It was a big table; the usual Melliodora/Holmgren Design Services staff plus three WWOOFers, Beck Lowe (who can’t have been editing Retrosuburbia because it’s at the printers but was doubtless doing some useful task!) and a couple of extras; Osti working on website things and Imogen filming him working on website things.

We had a fleeting visit with Nick & Speedy working on mushroom stuff before Nick headed to Sydney to teach an Intro to Permaculture weekend.

After a lovely chatty lunch and a story on the couch afterwards ( The Tale of Pigling Bland, Beatrix Potter 1913) we swung by 3 Op Shops in Daylesford where we bought some books and a wooden plank with three coat hooks on it (for the back of the door in the composting toilet).

Home by four o’clock and that was yesterday’s big expedition.  A fun, social and productive day with my gorgeous youngest daughter.  We’ve had Thursdays and Fridays together for a couple of years but all that will change next week when she starts Primary School.   I know every age and stage in children’s lives is special… but I shall miss Thursdays and Fridays with Pepper. 🙂


‘Long drop’ loo

Before composting toilets were popular, there was a strong tradition in Australia of long-drop toilets on rural properties.  These are toilets positioned over deep holes; I’ve even heard of them set up over old mine shafts!

You could easily argue that human ‘manure’ is the most expensive fertiliser we produce on the planet, so mixing it with water then running the ‘black’ water through expensive industrial plant seems pretty crazy…  much better to retain it on-site, use natural decomposition to safely process any possible pathogens and retain the nutrients to benefit the local ecosystem.

In preparation for the BPG Permaculture Design Course which started today, we built a new composting toilet, which is positioned over a hole dug by a backhoe fitted  with a 500 mm auger.  The holes are about 1800 mm deep – and I say holes because we dug 6 in a line (more on that later).

We started by building a solid base, working off the foundation of an existing pallet.

Clara and Bri making up the frames

Side walls prefabricated and stacked waiting to be put into place

…and here they are bolted to the base (so the structure can be easily dismantled later if we need to)

Clara and James putting on the roof crossbeams

and then the roof itself.  Notice the heavy pallets on corrugated iron behind the building.  These are covering the other ‘drops’ – as each is filled, the building will move backwards on timber tracks it has been built on.

Here James and Clara are fitting the internal framing that the door will swing on.  Note the insulation paper which is recycled – yes! – from a job at my brother’s place where he wasn’t happy with the install.  Pepper and I rolled up the paper and it was back on a new building within days.  Nearly all of the composting loo is recycled materials.

This old Victorian door was chosen because it is only 710 mm wide (modern doors are 820 mm) and we wanted a narrow door so it wouldn’t ‘stick out’ past the end of the building.  It is also a nice old door which deserves to have a second (or third!) life.

Toilet seat support structures in place – and insulation wrap going around the building

Clara and Bri looking pretty happy about putting the first sheet of iron on!

North side wall iron, with openings for windows ground out

The trim around the windows is Colorbond angle bracing taken off pallets and cut to size.  We used the same angle material around most of the building.

Internal lining sheets started

Clara making lining sections by cutting up chipboard packing sheets from a local furniture factory

Fully clad inside and out so it’s painting time!  Bri paints the inside and Simon paints the outside…

Internal finish – looking gorgeous!  PDC timetable up on the back of the door.

Wouldn’t you like one at your place?

Oh, and the lovely opaque windows are sliding doors from an old kitchen dresser or built-in unit.  1950’s or 60’s I’d guess.  Sanded and repainted by Clara; they let lots of light in while retaining privacy.

Two weeks ago, there was nothing here.  Built almost entirely from salvaged materials, this composting loo is clean, tidy, attractive and smell-free… all important factors in helping people get past the deeply ingrained caution about on-site processing of humanure.

Robert Hart quote

On the train to Melbourne and back yesterday I was re-reading Robert Hart’s 1996 book “Forest Gardening” and here’s a nice reminder from Robert:

“A forest garden is not a static thing, it is a complex living organism which means a developing organism; it changes from year to year, even from day to day.  I would urge anyone who starts a forest garden to adopt a creative attitude towards it; to learn and observe; to study and do research.  Humankind has an enormous amount to learn about plants, above all about their relationships between each other, and the amateur can make as important discoveries by observation and experiment as can the trained scientist with his disciplines and instruments. ”  (p 149)

Observations?  The first forest garden patch here at Chestnut Farm was planted during the Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke in 2016.  Within months it was subjected to the wettest Winter in memory, which caused an eruption of fungi to burst out of the cardboard we’d used to sheet mulch – smothering many of the tubestock seedlings.  The expensive Australian native groundcovers hated the enriched soil we used around the fruit trees, but exotic grasses loved it and invaded happily.   One rare plant was repeatedly browsed by possums until it succumbed and returned no more. Whoops!

Some of our hardier plantings, including sea kale, dwarf comfrey, black currants, rhubarb, balm of gilead, lemon balm and various alliums all survived.  Once the grass was removed last month, it was relief to see the bare bones of a forest garden remained!

Experiments?  Keeping in mind Martin Crawford’s entreaty that the ground cover layer is the most important, we wanted to get stuff growing in the gaps between the surviving plants, so have planted different seedlings we have right now: particularly amaranth and Daubenton’s kale.  I confess it might be better to have a little more discipline with our experiments, so we’re chasing some more of the groundcovers and we’re even going to try some of those Nitrogen-fixing Aussie natives again!

Dam rebuild day one

7 am this morning, the topsoil stripping began.

then lots happened and here we are mid afternoon…. a small hole in the front yard turning into a huge hole in the front yard!  Check it out below for a bit of the action!

dam rebuild movie 1

Dam fine work

From Dec 27 – 29 (next week) the top dam is being reworked – you saw the photos of it being pumped out, but now the real work gets underway.  Jo dropped the excavator off and it is an imposing beast!  We’ll be digging out the dam to deepen it, building a new front wall, spillway & overflow path.  If any one (especially BPG PDC graduates) is interested in coming out to see some earthworks  they are very welcome to drop by.

Not to be involved in the work but just to see the process.  If you’re not sure about levels and contours, here’s a practical application to observe.  No work involved – just watching.  You might need to keep your distance to ensure safety, etc.  but with a 13 tonne excavator it is pretty easy to see what’s happening – even from a distance.

Email if you’d like to drop by to see what’s happening.  We’ll be busy each day from 7 am onwards.  🙂

Lemon tree Libertate!

Let’s free the lemon tree from the clutches of the lip-smackingly tasty but rather vigorous bramble that has invaded its patch!

Romy came to visit for a few days; she’d been staying on another farm but wanted to see a few different properties before heading to New Zealand and then back to Austria.  Here, she and Moritz have cleared the brambles and most of the bed and are digging out some dock roots.

We left the lemon balm clump on the nearside edge of the bed as we are experimenting with keeping stands of perennial herbs throughout the vegetable garden.

Once the bed was cleared, Moritz dug it over, we watered it thoroughly and covered it with a layer of straw mulch.

Around the base of the lemon tree, we mulched with stones.  Stones retain heat and make it harder for little weeds to establish themselves.  Maybe boys weeing on the lemon tree can also make up games about hitting specific stones in sequence? (anything to encourage them to leave free Nitrogen behind!)



Checking the bees

Does anyone else find that they have an urge to tidy the house when they know friends are coming over?  I had a bit of that yesterday as I knew some beekeepers were coming in the evening….  so I thought I better have a look at my hive and see how it is going.

Good news was that there are no signs of disease, the bees remain super placid (somewhat rare in a hive taken from a swarm), there is a good mix of brood and honey in the lower super and there is loads of honey in the middle super… plus lots of drawn comb up top which I’m expecting them to fill with honey over the next few months.

As well as all the vegetables, berries, comfrey and nearby eucalypts in flower, there is also a large amount of Bursaria spinosa (aka sweet bursaria or butterfly bush) flowering on a hillside a couple of kilometres away.  It makes a very tasty honey which is also reputed to have an unusual quality – it glows in the dark!

How about that for a frame of busy bees!  They are totally focussed on their work and didn’t trouble the three people standing nearby.  Best days to check a hive a fine sunny days without wind and we had exactly the right conditions.  I shuffled a few frames to encourage the bees to fill some of the empty comb, and then we left them to it.  Keep at it, girls; we love your work!