Friday, July 27, 2007

Land for veggies goes permanently cultural - Wednesday 25 July 2007

Land for veggies has now been dormant for over 6 months. This is the first step in a revival that will see it reporting on not one but two veggie patches, and with an added focus on permaculture and sustainable agriculture generally.

The peninsula patch

The summer harvest from this patch was tomatoes (tommy toes), basil, cucumber, and zucchinis, lots and lots of zucchinis.

With two permaculture courses under my belt since the last post, the patch on the peninsula has been reconceived. It is now growing a green manure crop of woolly vetch and lupins, in preparation for a summer crop of quinoa and amaranth grain.

Until late June, the last of the tomatoes were ripening in the patch, and last week I harvested the last of the potatoes with veggieman who was much taken with the many giant worms living in that part of the patch. This weekend, if I have time I may plant out a couple of rows of potatoes at the north end of the patch, using a combination of methods:
- Peter Cundall's technique, which includes a generous topping of manure. Luckily, the neighbouring property has plenty of that in the form of cow poo.
- a trick I learn't in Tasmania while on a permaculture training camp - dip the cut end of the spud in wood ash.

My peninsula patch task before summer is to research quinoa and grain amaranth, including grain preparation and recipes. No point growing it if I can't make it into something tasty.

The inner city patch

In the inner city, a permablitz has transformed the small courtyard I share with my partner, father, two dogs and (every second weekend) veggieman and the Jamesmeister. For a full report on the blitz, visit the permablitz website. Take some time to read about some of the other fantastic blitzes, a few of which I've been to. The latest one I went to happened last weekend (Sunday 22nd July) was at the home of the lovely Tamara and Andy in Bunyip. Tamara is a colleague from the two-week permaculture training camp I did in April in Tasmania, on Bill Mollison's property. She and Andy live on a fantastic acre of lovingly designed permaculture. Check out her flickr site and look her up if you need a permaculture design, because that's her main game now.

The inner city patch (a series of patches really) is growing lots of green goodness. The main harvest since Autumn, when things got underway, has been lettuce (cos and great lakes) and mizuna. Along the way there's been a lovely set of beetroots, and now we're seeing the beginning of the broccoli. Other greenery that is in abundance at the moment is parsley and dill and green onions. You can see that various patches are mostly mixed, with a main crop in each patch (such as the broadbean patch) interspersed with other complementary goodies such as the parsley, dill, spinach, mint and so on.

I've yet to have any success with the peas in the south east patch. Even though they were despite provided with an excellent trellis, they've stayed small and insignificant. Peas planted against the western wall later seem to be doing better, so there's hope yet that I'll get to sit down and shell peas with veggieman who loves to eat them raw. The south east patch is the only one that didn't get a dose of my compost. Instead it got a french millet mulch (millet grown for the purpose in that patch) slashed (before it set seed) and covered by a half-cubic metre of commercial compost. In the pond (bathub), the vietnamese mint is happy, as is the watercress. I'm loving the tart mustardy taste of watercress leaves in the salad and think I'll grow some more. I've just purchased some water chestnut corms from GreenHarvest, and those will be going in the bathtub this weekend.

Composting is go
I am, as my partner keeps reminding me, quite obsessed with compost. I have a kickass compost bay, built by him out of pallets and small gage chicken wire. Unlike me he has an eye for design and the beauty of a well made object. The bay keeps the rats out and has an ingenious removable front wall to allow for regular turning. I've also purchased a compost thermometer as I'm using the hot composting or 'Berkeley' method, which involves turning it every 5-6 days . I'm making about a cubic metre a month. Sourcing green materials for the heap has been relatively easy - a herb and vegetable packing business at the end of the street provides me with twice-weekly hauls of high quality green waste - mainly the outer leaves from cabbages and lettuces and such as well as slightly bruised or old veggies and herbs, all of which go straight into the pile (I don't bother to break it up - it seems to be decomposing fairly quickly). The only input that I'm not particularly happy about in terms of sustainability is the one bale of sugar cane mulch per pile that I add to keep the carbon-nitrogen ratio right. Hopefully when summer comes I can use dried grass from the peninsula patch property. The compost pile also gets some sawdust provided free of charge from the furniture maker down the road. It's a mix of untreated timber shavings and MDF sawdust. There's a potential toxicity issue with the glue used in the MDF but I did some research and don't think it's a problem.

Well that's it from the two patches. Next week will be a composting special methinks. I leave you with a not particularly relevant, but endearing nonetheless, photo of some highland cattle on a farm near Bunyip, which I took while being taken on guided tour of this farm near Tamara's place. These cattle have very cartoony looks, particularly the perfect pink cross that is their nose.

Marie Antoinette, 27 July 2007