Monday, June 09, 2008

Grains of truth

On the 25th-27th April, just outside of Goulburn, NSW, my partner and I attended a 'Designing Water into Landscape Earthworks' course, taught by Geoff Lawton and Darren Doherty. Together with about 60 other participants, we learnt the theory behind swales and dams, keyline design and dam and swale construction. Under the direction of Darren, Geoff and Nick Ritar of Milkwood Permaculture, we used surveying equipment and surveyed and pegged out a swale, then watched it being built by an earthmover.

Darren Doherty teaching inside the newly built swale

Earthmover in action, building the swale

Use of a keyline plough in the construction and planting of a swale

Also on the agenda at the course was a session with a keyline plough, which ripped the downslope of the swale to accelerate water infiltration and promote aeration and biological activity.

Close-up of one of the tines on the keyline plough: coulter in front

The shape of the tine on the keyline plough is designed to minimise soil inversion so that the inert subsurface soil is not brought to the surface. The shape of the tine is also designed to minimise compaction, both vertically (shear) and horizontally. The depth of the furrow in our case was no more than 12 inches. The furrow cavity created by the plough coulter and tine, combined with the roller that follows (not shown in the photo above) makes a small amount of topsoil fall back in the cavity. If you're seeding (seeding boxes are available) this assists seed germination.

Darren Doherty recommended two passes of the keyline in the context of planning and building a swale. Before the swale is built, a first pass should be done in Autumn over what will be the upslope and downslope of the swale. In the case of the downslope, the keyline ploughed area should include the area immediately adjacent to the swale, which will become the swale mound. Then, in spring, after the swale is built and organic matter development has accelerated since the last keyline, another pass should be done. This second pass can be run at an offset to the original path. Approx hire cost for a keyline plough: 2 hectares per hour @ $50 per hectare.

With the second pass, a compost tea application should be done. Compost and compost tea was covered briefly in the workshop, and since then I've been reading up on large-scale home-built brewing kits built using second-hand spa parts.

Immediately after the swale has been built, sow a cover crop on both sides of the swale. Start with a scatter mulch of 1 bale straw to 40 m. Scatter mulch should be thin enough to just not see the ground, but not too thick as to supress germination. Just before the cover crop flowers, flatten it (Darren suggested dragging reo behind a three-while bike). Plant trees directly in the mulch.

My partner and I took our contour map and draft swale and dam plan for the peninsula property to the course and managed to get a few minutes of Darren's time to discuss it. We got some valuable feedback on our plan, including good hints on setting up a header tank and drip irrigation system. We now feel much more confident about moving ahead. I'm working on a planting design for the swale and area below and my partner is shopping for surveying equipment on eBay.

Against the grain

Back in the city, I enjoyed reading 'Against the grain', John Lethlean's fine rant against 'rice in a bag' in the the Age's Epicure section. Railing against ads for pre-packaged foods ads is a favourite pastime at my house. It seems like ads for these kinds of products address their audiences with a knowing, commonsense wink that says "you and I know that cooking fresh tasty meals is all very well for some (other) people but it's something we don't need to make time for, or invest time in learning". Looking at the bigger picture, pre-packaged foods are big on food miles and packaging, and therfore embodied energy. Our reliance on them corrodes the social fabric and distances us from the source of our food. Sounds like a big call, but think about it - cooking for friends and family is part of the social glue that holds families and communities together. Knowing how to shop and cook fresh ingredients ties us to the seasons, and to the land and the way it sustains us.

The peninsula story

With Winter setting in, I've invested in new gardening footwear. If I could wear these inside too I would. How perfect are they - eminently slip-onnable and stylish to boot (pun intended). Purchased from a Rivers clearance store for a bargain $30.

Growth is slowing right down on the peninsula patches, but potatoes planted earlier in the year are kicking on, as is the indestructible rhubarb.

Luna in the potatoe patch: perhaps she is catching the future scent of roast kipflers

Rhubarb after division

I divided the rhubarb, somewhat inexpertly, having never done it before, and planted another plant on the opposite side of the patch. With the rhubarb harvest I made a rhubarb and apple tart (recipe from Stephanie Alexander), which went down very well (two helpings each) with veggieman and the cross-country king.

Rhubarb and apple tart, just out of the oven

Under the trees in my father's orchard I've been putting out the chookpoo-and-chips mixture that we have so much of, and sowing with nitrogen-fixing groundcovers. Towards the beginning of Autumn I tried pinto's peanut (Arachis pintoi), a perennial legume that is often used as an orchard groundcover. Unfortunately it didn't take - I don't think there was enough rain to get it going. In late Autumn after we had some rain, I tried again with red clover (Trifolium pratense), a biennial legume also used as an orchard groundcover. Looks like I've had more luck with that. The borage planted early last year has also self seeded under one of the apple trees.

After a really dry summer, it's lovely to see the small dam on the property full again, and so pretty . . .

Inner-city patch

The beans kept soldiering on till late May and I put them into a quinoa dish with mint and lemon from the garden.

Quinoa with beans and mint-honey dressing

Quinoa with bean and mint-honey dressing

Makes 2 servings

Chopped beans (I've also made this dish with zuchinnis and cauliflower instead of beans)
½ tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp mild honey
3/4 cup quinoa
2 spring onions, chopped (can substitute chives)
sprig chopped fresh mint

Wash quinoa well in a fine-grained metal sieve. Cook quinoa in boiling salted water (enough to cover quinoa generously, but not as much as rice), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together lemon zest and juice, butter, honey, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until combined. Drain quinoa in sieve, then set sieve over same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don't worry if lid doesn't fit tightly) and steam until quinoa is tender, fluffy, and dry, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (still covered) 5 minutes. Add dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in corn, spring onions, mint, and salt and pepper to taste.


I cleared one of the beds, put out compost from the tumbler and some chook-poo-with-chips from the peninsula property on one of the patches and planted it out with broad beans and parsley on one side, and red cover on the other (spare seed).

Herbage is kicking on, including chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) and watercress. Chervil is great in potatoe salad, with sage, chives, parsley and any other sympatico herbs you've got kicking around. With the watercress, I made a watercress and sour-cream sauce for a steak and teamed it with the last of the beans.


Steak with watercress sauce, beans and potatoe roesti

I've also been seedsaving, mainly dill, parsley and rocket, but also beans and tomatoes.

I leave you with an image of Luna on the peninsula property, tail in curlicued readiness.

Marie Antoinette

1 comment:

  1. This blog is brilliant - I'll be back!

    hardworkinghippy (Irene really!)