P365 – Day 156 tread lightly

It was World Environment Day today, and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens held its annual TreadLightly EnviroFest
Last year was the first time I attended, and I had a wonderful day exploring all of the stalls and activities, and listening to the speakers. I learnt a lot and I came away with a lot to think about.
This year was a bit different, and I went with Juniordwarf, Lil Sis and Mum. Despite the winter weather, we had a great time. Juniordwarf was very excited to be able to take his Aunt and his Nanna to show them his favourite place in the Gardens, the ‘Cold House’ (technically the Subantarctic Plant House, but it’s about four degrees (Celcius) in there, so his name is perfectly apt).
I caught some of the amazing Peter Cundall’s talk on growing vegetables in Tasmania.
This gentleman is an absolute inspiration. I remember seeing him on TV when I was much younger in the days of Gardening Tasmania, and used to watch him regularly when that show morphed into Gardening Australia.
I own a beautiful first edition copy of his Year Round Gardening book, published in 1985 (which I was able to find in a second hand bookstore after lusting after the copy held by the Library) and I enjoy reading his articles in Organic Gardener magazine. 
I missed most of what he actually said about growing veges (other than that cauliflowers need the trace element molybdenum and beetroot needs boron and that you should sow beetroot seeds yourself, not buy seedlings).
What really got my attention was the man himself. He is 84 years old, but you’d never know it. He said that there was nothing wrong with him at all and the last time he went to the doctor for an illness was over 40 years ago.
He puts his good health down to a healthy lifestyle – most specifically gardening, which is all the exercise he needs (he asks ‘did you ever see a happy jogger?’), and growing his own food. 
I compared myself to him. I lead a rather unhealthy, overweight, sedentary lifestyle, and rely almost solely on others for my food supply. This winter I’ve been constantly sick and have felt rather uninspired and, well, just bleh. Yet here was someone more than twice my age bursting with an energy and enthusiasm I can only dream about.
It certainly gave me something to think about, because I’ve noticed when I’ve made a real effort to improve my diet, such as focusing on fresh, non-processed ingredients and cutting out things like wheat, alcohol and coffee, it’s made a noticeable difference to how I’m feeling, my attitude and energy levels.
And that begs the question why haven’t I stuck with it, if it’s made me feel that much better. I don’t know the answer to that and it’s something I intend to work on.
But that aside, back to the Festival, the other speaker I saw was Paul Healy, who writes about sustainable gardening and raising chickens in the Mercury‘s Saturday Magazine. He breeds Barnevelder poultry, and he brought a couple of these beautiful birds with him to the Festival. Juniordwarf was a bit wary of them, so we didn’t get too close, even though they are apparently a very placid bird.
Last year I listened to all of Paul’s talk on sustainable gardening and other issues around food and the environment, and got a lot out of it. This year I only heard a bit of what he had to say, but that was still interesting.
He was talking about the principle of feeding the soil, rather than feeding the plant. He said that if you feed the plant, you are forcing it to take in everything you give it, regardless of what it actually needs whereas if you feed the soil, the plant will take what it needs and leave what it doesn’t need. He said plants have a sort of intelligence in the sense that they ‘know’ what they need.
I’ve heard a lot of people say to feed the soil. I never really knew why, but this made perfect sense.
Paul referred to a book called The Living Soil, by Lady Balfour, published in 1943, which he says is the soil ‘bible’ and should be your first port of call for more information about this type of gardening. It is out of print, but the State Library has a reference copy.
The other thing I didn’t get to find out as much as I’d have liked to today is Peak Oil,  which is an issue that doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention in the climate change debate, where everyone seems to be focused on the proposed carbon tax.
It’s an issue that really frightens me when I think about the implications, but I won’t go there today – it’s a whole other blog post, or more. I might even rant a bit. I don’t think I’ve done a ranty blog post yet.
In the mean time, I think it’s time to use the inspiration from today to actually do something. 
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P365 – Day 45 – lemon tree

We planted our lemon tree in December 2009. Slabs, Juniordwarf and I spent the best part of an afternoon transferring soil into a huge planter box from the ute in the driveway.
Today while Juniordwarf and I were out in the garden, I noticed some tiny green fruit on the tree!

It was the first fruit it had ever grown, so that was pretty exciting.
Only I remembered that I’d seen Peter Cundall say many years ago that it was best to remove all the fruit from a lemon tree for the first couple of years, so that it could put its energy into growing a strong root system and a strong structure. He said something along the lines of however much it breaks your heart (he probably actually said ‘bloomin’ heart’) to cut off the fruit you’re actually trying to grow, it’s best for the long term health of the tree and for future crops.
A tiny lemon

Lemon flower
So with some regret, that’s just what I did. I felt terrible, but I kept reminding myself it would be worth it in a couple of years when we have a magnificent lemon tree.
And in other gardening news . . .
This morning Juniordwarf and I went outside to do some gardening, which to me means pulling out weeds and so on, and to him means putting his little gardening tools into the back of his Tonka dump truck and parking it somewhere in the backyard.
Then he found another snail, which absolutely thrilled him. He spent the best past of half an hour walking around with his snail, showing me, showing the dog, putting it down in various places to see what it did. He was very taken with it.

It’s a snail, Mum!
I’m quite pleased with his new-found interest in all things buggy. It seems like something all little kids should be into.
In the mean time, I decided to take another step towards getting the garden organised. This time I ventured into my shed and pulled out the mouse-eaten box of seeds that had been sitting round for far too long.
From this . . .
I had this grand idea for a kind of seed filing system, where there would be a divider card for each month that listed on it all the seeds I could sow that month, whether to sow them direct or in punnets, when to plant out and when a harvest might be expected (if the snails hadn’t got them). This could all be added to my calendar/diary as each type of seed was sown.
Organised huh!
Well I didn’t quite get that far. I tossed out all the obviously out of date seeds and the ones that the mice had got to. The rest I sorted by vegetable type and then put them either into the ‘sow now or in the next four months’ container or the ‘sow in spring or thereabouts’ container. (These containers are great – they are from those terrible recipe card series that I always sign up to for the free/cheap two or three months and the free card holder and then cancel.)
So basically the seeds are stored behind the February, June, September or October dividers. Now, the theory goes, when I’m looking for something to plant, I can just go to the current month’s divider and grab something. Once I’ve planted something for that month, it goes into the next month that it can be sown in – either the next month, or sometime later in the year.
. . . to this
The other thing I did was set up a potting station and a sort of greenhouse thing for seed punnets. I’m not sure it’s in the best position, because it gets some of that really hot late afternoon sun, so I might have to restructure a bit.
This is on a stand that holds 8 trays & is all covered by a plastic cover.
But because it’s close to the back door, I’m hoping it will make seed sowing a more accessible activity for Juniordwarf and me.
Time will tell if it will make the garden more productive.

P365 – Day 37 just go and plant something

Like my house, my back yard is something of a mess. When I refer to myself as a ‘gardener’, I think it would be more appropriate for the word ‘wannabe’ to be put in as a disclaimer. Or else to describe myself as ‘someone who likes to think about gardening’.
In the old days I used to think nothing of spending all day in the garden each weekend and I’d get totally lost in the garden. I’d never know how long I’d been out there and I never cared either. It was my place to work through problems, daydream and escape.
Since then things have changed a bit.
OK a lot.
Juniordwarf is the most obvious change in may life, and since he arrived, my available time to garden single-mindedly has diminished by, oh let’s say 100 per cent.
Unlike our previous garden (or let’s be honest, block), which consisted of heavy clay soil, very little in the way of established plants and very little in the way of weeds, except for long grass in summer, our current yard is a convoluted mix of overgrown jungle, blackberries, comfrey, stickyweed and oxalis.
Comfrey is apparently a good
compost plant. Doesn’t mean I
want it everywhere though.

The comfrey section of the back yard

Right up the back. I’m scared to go here.

Although there are grapes there
Oh yes, did I mention oxalis?
This evil little weed has infested my entire vege patch and is slowly spreading throughout the rest of the garden.One of my colleagues said he’d once heard Peter Cundall say that the best way to get rid of oxalis is to move house. It’s that insidious.
Well, moving isn’t an option in our current circumstances, so I have to figure out another way of dealing with it. At the moment it’s a living mulch . . . There are veges growing with it, so at the moment I’m just living with it. It hasn’t affected the zucchinis anyway.
As you will learn in a post-in-progress, I am one of those people who likes to have everything in place before I do anything. In terms of the garden, I’ve always thought that I’ll get a really good vege garden in once the yard is cleared up and looks beautiful. Then the stage will be set for the perfect vege patch. But until then I’ll just plant my normal spring plantings of zucchini, pumpkins, corn, potatoes and tomatoes and leave it for the rest of the year.
You know, and I know, that I’m never going to get the back yard cleared out to the degree I’d like to, in order to be comfortable about putting in the vege garden. I don’t have the time. I have a little boy to look after. I have scrapbook pages to complete. I have a job. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I read somewhere that you’re supposed to sleep for about eight of them.
So if I wait until the yard looks perfect, I’m never going to get this garden thing up and running.
With this in mind, yesterday I got out my Peter Cundall Year Round Gardening book (published in 1985, that I was lucky enough to find in a second hand bookshop in brilliant condition) looked at February and saw that this is a good time to plant broccoli. So juniordwarf and I went off to the garden shop yesterday and bought some broccoli seedlings.
(I’m gradually working up to planting my own seeds, give me time . . . the aim of this was just to get started by planting something, anything.)
Today we (that actually means I) cleared out one of the square planter things that I set up on the lawn a few months ago in an effort to increase our growing space and avoid the oxalis. We planted the broccoli seedlings, watered them in and left them to the mercy of the snails.
Aaaaah the snails . . .
My square planter things are some el cheapo plastic frames that have no support and, consequently, aren’t particularly stable, so I’ve surrounded them with bricks.
The bricks are great, except their holes are great hiding spots for snails.
So while we were dutifully planting the seedlings, what should slither out of one of the holes but a snail.
Juniordwarf was fascinated. It’s the first time he’s ever seen a snail up close and he couldn’t take his eyes off it.












I was at once delighted at his interest – it’s the first time he’s taken any interest at all in any buggy-type thing – and horrified. I really don’t want snails eating my seedlings, but I couldn’t bring myself to dispatch it while he was so engrossed in it. 

He kept pointing at it, touching it and exclaiming about it as it moved across the bricks, down into another hole and back out again.
So I let it slither back into one of the holes, and left it there.
Whether we have any seedlings left tomorrow morning remains to be seen.

P365 Day 5 – Peter Cundall (5/1/2011)

I’ve had this book on hold at the library for months . . . it finally came in yesterday. 
I don’t think I was expecting quite such an old version of the book (published 1985) but it’s very cool: it’s spiral bound and printed on waterproof/weather proof polypropelene, intended for use outdoors, in the glass house (if I had one!) or wherever.
I wish I could keep it.