Friday, May 18, 2018

Giving your backyard the bird. The benefits of birds.

Benefits of birds in the urban garden

I used to live inner city Melbourne and by that I mean in a single fronted two bedroom rental only four kilometres from the CBD. Then I moved to a semi rural area around fifty two kilometres from the CBD and I suddenly felt like I was living in that giant aviary in the Melbourne zoo. Birds I've noticed include rosellas, king parrots, cockatoos, black cockatoos, eastern spine bills, golden whistlers, owls, finches, ibises, ducks and even giant wedge tailed eagles. In fact there are heaps more that I either haven't identified or noticed. The sight of them is beautiful and relaxing (unless they are eating my plants or fruit) and the sound of their song chiming through the garden has an almost therapeutic quality to it. Obviously there are also cons to having lots of birds in your garden but I'm going to concentrate on the positive aspects in this article and try and spread some good vibes into the world.

 Benefits of birds in the garden

  • Pollination. It's not only bees that pollinate flowers, birds drink nectar and spread pollen on their beaks thereby transferring male gametes of one flower to female ovules to another flower (or it could be to the same flower or even a flower on a different plant). This process sets in place the production of fruit from the flower which then can result in seed production which can finally result in production of a whole new plant from the seed. Life is an amazing thing.
  • Pest reduction. Birds not only feed on nectar but also on other animals and insects (which are also classified as being in the animal kingdom if you want to get specific). Therefore birds can possibly reduce the amount of pest insects in your garden. Snails and slugs are the bane of many gardeners, luckily ducks seem to love eating them so grab yourself some ducks if you want less snails.
  • Wildlife Conservation. As the urban sprawl creeps further and further loss of habitat inevitable occurs. Creating a bird friendly environment in your garden can somewhat negate this impact and if done correctly can provide refuge and sustenance.
  • Head medicine. The term 'Nature Deficit Disorder' was first coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book named 'Last Child in the Woods'. He argues that people have an inbuilt desire to be in nature (called biophillia) and that prolonged absence from such environments has negative effects on people. Nature deficit disorder has become a somewhat accepted idea and interaction with birds does provide an experience some would describe as 'natural'. Whether you agree with NDD or not I think many people would argue the sound of birds singing in the morning or on a nice spring day is beautiful.
  • Increased property value? Some say that increased bird life = increased property value. I haven't looked through the info properly on this but on face value it seems as though this could be true.

With all these positive impacts I hope you're all excited and want to implement some strategies to increase bird numbers in your garden. If after reading this, you still can't get over your negative view of birds then maybe just stick a plastic flamingo in the backyard.

Want tips on how to attract birds to your garden?




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Growing garlic 2018



I apologise in advance for my mangled attempt of referencing in this post. I'm trying out using some referencing software and I think I've entered some info in the wrong way. Anyway I've planted out some more garlic this year and the bulbs I sourced are fantastic. I thought I'd write up a little post on garlic planting.

Common name: Garlic
Genus: Allium
Specific epithet: sativum

Description:  Garlic is a bulbous herb 60cm in height, with four to twelve leaves attached to an underground stem. Flowers are contained in an inflorescence called a spike and are greenish-white. Amazingly seeds are not usually produced in the wild but have been produced in the lab (www.kew.org, 2018).


Origin and brief history: Central Asia is considered to be the original area where garlic grew and it's said by some to have been bought to China (which is where Westerners discovered it) by the Mongolians from the Asian steppes (Salvestrin, 1984). Other historians claim that garlic did in fact originate from China itself (Petrovska and Cekovska, 2010). Ancient Egyptians used it in their cooking and fed it to their slaves and ancient Egyptian crypts contain the oldest visible inscriptions of garlic (Petrovska and Cekovska, 2010). It is mentioned in England before 1958 by Peter Martyr in his writings about the new world where he says it was used in Mexico (Salvestrin, 1984).

Growing your own garlic;

Locally grown organic garlic is superior in flavour to the commonly imported Chinese garlic you find in supermarkets however it is also significantly more expensive. As luck would have it though, garlic is dead easy to grow in Melbourne and most parts of Victoria so why not give it a go yourself?

How to source bulbs 

Basically you can use any garlic bulbs you would find at a farmers market or you can buy bulbs online through various suppliers. You want to plant out a variety that has a flavour you appreciate and source bulbs that are large as I'm guessing they probably have more energy reserves that can be utilised to produce a larger end product. This year I bought Italian purple garlic from Hopkins River Herbs which I found through farmhouse direct https://www.farmhousedirect.com.au/hopkinsriverherbs. The garlic I received tastes fantastic and was large in size so it's just what I wanted.

Soil

Well drained clay loam with a PH between 6.5 and 7 is said to be the best soil in Victoria from growing garlic (Towers, 1984). However I know lots of people that grow it in various soils. So long as it's not in extreme clay or sand and the PH is reasonable I think it will be ok.

Timing

People have all sorts of crazy ideas in regard to timing. I've heard lots of different stories such as 'plant out on mothers day and harvest on fathers day'. Another tip lots of people have given me personally is to plant out in autumn before the weather starts to cool down. The idea behind this I'm told is that the change in weather somehow assists germination and the early growth stages. Whether this is true I don't know but all the crops I've planted have turned out well using this timing.

Irrigation

My basic irrigation strategy for garlic is simply to give it some water when there hasn't been much rain. Pretty simple but it seems to work fine.

Planting method

After you've sourced your bulbs you want to break them into cloves but you don't want to plant out the cloves that in the centre of the bulb. Smaller cloves have less vigour and are better eaten than planted out. Place them in the soil tip up and base down and try to cover them with around 5cm of soil (although this is a rough measurement sometimes I've done it with less or a little more). I then water them in out of habit and that's the whole process.

Harvesting

I will cover harvesting in a later post in detail.

 That's what 1kg of Italian purple garlic from Hopkins River Herbs looks like

Over exposed pic of the separation in progress


You want to avoid those smaller cloves in the centre. They wont grow into decent bulbs




All ready to go


Make sure you plant them pointy end up


References



Petrovska, B. B. and Cekovska, S. (2010) ‘Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic.’, Pharmacognosy reviews. Wolters Kluwer -- Medknow Publications, 4(7), pp. 106–10. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.65321.

Salvestrin, J. (1984) ‘Review of garlic overseas and in Australia’, in Sutherland, J. (ed.) Growing Garlic The Unforgiving Crop. 1st edn. Melbourne: Department of Agriculture NSW, p. 1.

Towers, B. (1984) ‘Growing garlic in southern Victoria’, in Growing Garlic The Unforgiving Crop. Department of Agriculture NSW, p. 83.

www.kew.org (2018) Allium sativum L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science, Kewscience. Available at: http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:528796-1 (Accessed: 8 May 2018).
 



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How I've improved the soil in my backyard veggie beds

First of all I realize it has been a while between posts (I'm not dead in case you were wondering)

When I opened up my blog a few days ago I was shocked to see the last post was in 2016! Basically I got a bit blogged out and forgot / ignored it. I'm pretty sure that I've lost all the people who used to follow my blog and that is my fault but hopefully I can get things rolling again and put down some content regularly from here on. If you're an old follower who is reading this because of some kind of alert then please come back again. Anyway I'm alive and well plus I'm going to be starting my own garden design / maintenance business very soon now which is personally very exciting (see www.aggregata.com.au for a partially finished website).

Improving the soil in my backyard veggie patch

History of the site

We purchased our land in Macedon Victoria around 10 years ago and after a while I noticed a few strange things about the soil. The block we live on was one of the most barren in the street. Unlike the other blocks which had lots of trees and plants ours was rather bare with large patches of mixed species (weedy) lawn. Through digging in the backyard I found very little top soil compared to the front which had at least 15cm and more in some places. I'm wondering whether the top soil in the back yard was scalped by a bob cat at some stage.

Soil analysis

I learnt how to complete a basic soil analysis through one of my subjects at university and I discovered the following info about the soil in the backyard;

  • It had a PH level of 5 which is slightly acidic and possibly detrimental to plant growth for some species
  • Using the soil texture triangle I was surprised to find the soil was in fact classified as sandy clay loam (56.52% sand, 30.43% clay and 13.04% silt)

Ah Manutec my old friend. You are so much more accurate and reliable than the $5 Bunnings PH probe.



Is it 5.5 or 5? Hard to tell from the pic but it looked more like 5.


Soil improvement last year

I dug the beds last year in preparation for spring planting. I sprayed off the turf with organic herbicide and dug in some compost. Unfortunately I didn't attempt to rectify the PH. Plant growth was not great last season.


Bed #1 with last spring / summers pathetic left overs.


Bed #2 which I cleared out a few weeks back.


My raised bed. You can see the difference. So much growth. On a side note organic snail bait doesn't work. I caught the little buggers munching on my bok choy it a few nights ago. I'll have to try other methods as I don't really want to go back to using Baysol snail pellets.


Overhaul

After pulling the old veggies out I dug in roughly half a m2 of five ways soil mix then limed the
Although last years crop wasn't very good I was pleased to see the soil had improved structure wise. It felt nice and loose when digging it over and it had a nice amount of moisture. The soil definitely was less hard packed. I applied lime at the rate of 100g per m2 to try and change the PH back to a more neutral level. I'll do another PH test soon to see if it worked. I then watered the lime in and mulched over with old straw from my chicken coop that I removed a few weeks back. The plan for the beds are to plant out 1kg of garlic that is arriving in the mail soon.


There's nothing like the feeling (and smell) of driving a ute with one m2 of 5 ways mix on the back.



Look at that pristine bed all ready to go and not a weed in site. It won't stay that way for long :)




I always water down mulch. Don't know if it really helps it settle and become wind resistant but that's the idea.



Saturday, April 30, 2016

Burnley late season produce plot still kicking

What's happening at Burnley?


Over the last few weeks my plot at university has been putting on some massive growth. I seem to have been gifted some fantastic weather as it has been quite warm for this time of year and we have had a few decent downfalls of rain (not that it matters so much because I have drip irrigation going). Weeding been kept minimal due to the heavy mulch covering the plot. The effectiveness of the mulch is evident from the carpet of weeds that surrounds the plot which is almost at the point of being classified as some form of turf due to its increasing density.

Harvest from the plot has included several mammoth zucchinis, lots of cos lettuce, some chard and finally a ripe grosse lisse tomato! Yes some of my tomatoes are now starting to blush red. None of the bush tomatoes have ripened but some from the other plots are nice and red. I tasted one from an abandoned plot and it was really floury but I suppose you can't expect great fruit this time of year. The grosse lisse tomato from my plot was a little better but still a bit on the dry side.

Little baby beans are starting to appear bringing hope of a mini bean harvest and the New Zealand yams are also starting to form now that the autumn equinox has occurred. Last week I checked my broccoli and small florets are there amongst the leaves and my snow peas continue their ascent up the bamboo tripod.

Small eggs are present under the broccoli leaves and i'm guessing they are probably cabbage moth larvae. Looks like I took too long to net the broccoli. Other than that no major pest and disease problems are apparent. More to come.


I was starting to think it wouldn't happen then one finally ripened on the vine.




The contrast in my two rows of carrots is obvious. The carrot seed was mixed with sand to aid dispersal but I think I needed to shake the vial more thoroughly as all the seeds ended up in one row and few in the other. I sowed some more in the thin row to try and compensate.




My broccoli plants have outgrown their netting.




Mammoth zucchini and regular zucchini on my backpack for scale.





Zucchini flowers are spectacular.





 My broccoli freed from its netting




Under-storey action beneath the chard and broccoli.



More mammoths
 



Baby beans forming at last.





Another harvest zucchini and my first chard. The cos is getting a bit big now, this one was the size of my head which may explain why they call it a 'head of lettuce'.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

The incredible edibles and wonderful weeds of Jharsuguda India

Plant appreciation in the Indian village of Jharsuguda December 2015


In late 2015 I was gifted airline tickets to exotic India where I spent 4 weeks travelling with my family around the north central area of the country. The tickets were given to us by my father in law who migrated to Australia from India in the 1960s. For almost one week we stayed with his sister's family in the town of Jharsuguda in the district of Odisha.

Staying with the family was a great way of experiencing Indian life. The town is not really a tourist area so walking around there seemed a bit more authentic than other places I visited such as Agra. To a plant nerd like myself it was also a chance to wander around and see what plants grow in the area. As the name of the post suggests the main plants I noticed on my walks through the town were the weeds and edible plants that were both in abundant supply.

As I've mentioned on numerous occasions in my other posts the term 'weed' is not one I am comfortable applying to plants as weeds are really only 'plants out of place' or 'plants that grow where you don't want them'. Other factors which contribute to plants being labelled weeds are invasiveness and the ability to grow and thrive where other plants wouldn't (which in turn contributes to their invasive nature). The 'weed' plants I show beneath all contain some of the above mentioned characteristics but seeing them through the eyes of an outsider meant I could see beauty in them. It was novel to see the few that I did recognise thriving without care where in Australia they would usually be tended to as ornamental exotic plants.

The edible plants I saw in Jharsuguda were mostly ones I had never heard of before. There were lots of fruit trees growing in peoples yards and on street sides. Papaya plants seemed to grow particularly well in that area and almost every tree I saw had some fruit on show. The other fruit trees also had some fruit but unfortunately the mango trees has nothing but foliage on their branches as I was visiting in the middle of an Indian winter.

In a future post I will write about some magnificent local residential gardens I visited. Please note that all plant identification done on these pictures was done through speaking to the local residents and my memory of such conversations may not be entirely accurate.





I cannot call the above plant a weed as doing so would probably offend 1.2 billion people. It is a lotus flower which is the national flower of India. Here it was growing in the wild in a pond on the outskirts of town. Amazing to see such an iconic plant growing in the wild where in Australia it would be an ornamental exotic aquatic plant in a high end garden.






The plant above was described to me as the 'Besharam' plant in hindi (do not trust my spelling). It was everywhere and it was said that it could grow anywhere. I saw it growing in wetlands and also arid areas. After doing some googling I'm pretty sure the plant is Ipomoea carnea and its morning glory style flowers seem to confirm that. This plant was probably the most invasive species I noticed.





This was another plant that was a regular in arid vacant blocks where rubble was in plentiful supply. Not sure of its name but those flowers make for interesting viewing.





This any is crawling across the flower of another rubble loving plant. What an amazing flower structure. I think I remember somebody telling me this plant is poisonous. 





 The inflorescence above was described to me as a blackberry plant? I'm not sure it doesn't look anything like the flowers on the blackberry plants at home and I think I remember noticing a lack of thorns on the branches and the leaves looked different. Nevertheless people seemed to think you could eat its fruit (I think I would ask for a demonstration before trying it myself). Maybe I misunderstood what was being said to me.





A more entire view of the mysterious 'Jharsuguda Blackberry'




The leaves on this plant (some sort of Taro or Elephant Ear type of plant) were massive. It was growing near the edge of a pond. I'm not sure of its name.





What an amazing sight. A cashew tree spilling out of somebodies front yard.






A close up of cashew flowers. Incredible to see this as cashews in Australia are a very expensive snack. 



The tree above is one I've never heard of or seen before. It was described as the Bale tree. I didn't get to try its fruit as it wasn't ripe.




I wish I could remember what this fruit was called but I cannot recall its description. It could have been described as a 'wood apple' or maybe it what was called a 'Chicu' fruit. I'm not sure.




The iconic Neem tree which has several uses. Lots of these trees were growing in town. Apparently you can brush your teeth with a Neem twig.




Last of all the papaya or paw paw tree complete with fruit. This is one of the few fruits that I had the pleasure of eating straight from the tree. The papaya fruit on these Indian trees was significantly tastier and sweeter than the fruit back home





Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Burnley produce plot. Harvesting lettuce cos the time is right.

Melbourne University plot mini harvest

The last blog post I wrote about my Burnley produce plot related to it as it stood back on the 9th of March (approximately one month prior to this post). Back then all the seeds and seedlings had been planted out, the plot had been mulched and fertilised and drip irrigation was installed. Now in less than one months time I am starting to harvest some food.




The plot on the 9th of March




The plot on the 6th of April



It's amazing how productive the plot has been considering the minimal amount of work I have put into it. During the last month I have probably only done a total of 30 minutes of weeding thanks the thick layer of mulch I have employed. Other tasks have included netting the brassicas to protect them from cabbage white butterfly, threading some twine around my tripod to aid the peas in their ascent up the bamboo and pruning my indeterminate (vine) tomato plant. Pruning the vine tomato is actually something which at home I had attempted and failed. Essentially I think I failed because of the myriad of conflicting and confusing youtube videos I had watched on the subject. Due to that negative experience I gave up and grew only bush varieties (which necessarily require pruning). I think next spring I might give some vine varieties a go and write up my own guide on the subject. Today was the first harvest from the plot and I took home some zucchini and two heads of cos lettuce. All the other plants look to be doing fine. Next update coming soon.





From left to right: tomato, zucchini, beans, lettuce, NZ yams and carrots



My modified pea tripod (inspired by the Melbourne art centre spire) 




The vine tomatoes are looking healthy but will they actually ripen this late in the season?




Two cos lettuce (miraculously untouched by snail or slug) and a mega zucchini from the plot.



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show 2016 garden designs

MIFGS 2016 

Recently in Melbourne the annual flower and garden show was in full swing in the Carlton gardens and as usual I paid a visit with camera in hand to try and capture some of the amazing designs on display. As usual everything was of high standard with a few of the designs really impressing me. Aside from the garden designs the garden sculpture/art section of the show was also impressive with more timber being used in the pieces submitted. I've covered the show several times before in my blog and this time rather than waffle on about this and that I've decided to jump right in with the pictures which I'm guessing is what everyone really want to see.


Ian Barker garden design

A regular at the show Ian Barker and his team put together this wonderful display which made use of an existing pond in the Carlton Gardens. To my eye the design appeared to be a mixture between sharp / formal lines broken up by the use of herbaceous perennials and a gravel path. Obviously it also incorporated a small boat ramp. Polygonum, Helenium, Salvia, Geum, Verbascum and Panicum were some of many species used.


 




'The Greenery Garden' by the Greenery Garden Centre. Gold Medal Winner

The Greenery Garden Centre is an establishment in Melbourne's northern suburbs famous for its large range of high quality plants. It isn't the cheapest nursery in Melbourne but the stock is always of good quality. What there design name lacked in terms of creativity was certainly made up for in terms of plant layout and selection. The hard architectural elements of the design were also fantastic with several sections visually separated from each other. This made the design somehow seem larger than it was in its entirety. The shiny dark green foliage of the background plantings highlighted the light coloured flowers in the display. They used time proven classics such as Hydrangeas, Cistus, English box and Magnolia 'little gem'.







'Absendere' by Landscabe Labs. Bronze medal winner

This minimalist design won the bronze. Not really my cup of tea but obviously the judges thought otherwise. It seemed to incorporate more turf and architecture than it did bedding plants and trees. In the beds I think I saw some Sedum, Lomandra and maybe some young Proteas.








GHLD & The Garden Co. Silver medal winner.


This rather tropical looking design was good enough for a silver. One of its main tactics was the usage of large foliage. Ancient Cycads, palms, Agaves, Cannas, Strelitzias and Fragipanis were all used.  The surfer girl in the water feature was a focal point but I'm not sure if many people would appreciate that in their home garden.








BLAC Design and Contruction. Gold medal winner


This very subtle design took out a gold medal. It was a bit an out of the box type of design with not a flower in sight. It was basically a mixture of different green foliage with a few grey / blue plants and some really light almost lime green plants in there to help keep things interesting. I can't really tell from my pictures but lots of the plants in the bed look to be prostrate gymnosperms or conifers to the layperson. There also appears to be several grass plants in there too.








The Aggregata Plants & Gardens blog personal choice award goes to................

'The Retreat' by Paul Hervey-Brookes

Not all the plants used in this design were Australian natives but 'The Retreat' unmistakeably had an Australian aura. This design showcased what I would describe as a wilderness garden come colonial settlers cottage style of garden. It used several Eucalypts for the tall plants and had several beds which bordered a meandering path of granetic sand and river pebbles. Westringia, Anigozanthos, Limonium, Correa and Salvia (I think) were used in the beds. The colour of the sand and the river pebbles seemed to simulate a dry river bed you might find somewhere where the soil has a tinge of redness to it (like parts of the snowy mountains). This splendour was all complimented by a traditional rusty gate.










Garden art and sculpture

I have recently been doing some work for a company called 'Neo Rustic' which sells different Australian  and exotic hardwoods and makes benches, tables and furniture from timber. Maybe that is why I seemed to notice an increase in the amount of timber used in the garden sculpture at MIFGS. I really love the use of timber in garden sculpture as I think it has a much more organic appearance compared to straight stone or metal pieces. Lots of the timber seemed to be Tasmanian in origin (eg Huon Pine).