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What will the Neighbours Think?

That comment use to cross my mind, but luckily I got over it.

I completed my PDC in January ’09 with Geoff at Zaytuna farm, along with a lovely range of fellow students from the far reaches of the globe. I sincerely hope they also post stories to share – come on guys, it’s time to be brave!

I returned to my home in south western Victoria (Australia) a changed woman, and I sometimes wonder what it was I use to believe in before I was transformed.

So returning home with fresh eyes for the world, I have set about transforming everything that I can cast my Permaculture web over. So hopefully I will have more than one story to tell!

My climate is cool and almost coastal ( I am 15km inland). There is a prevailing south westerly winter wind blowing fresh from Antarctica, and almost no frost. Our rain is mostly in winter and spring; our summers reach the mid thirties but usually for no more than a day or so before dropping. However last summer (Jan/Feb) set a new precedent; our hottest consecutive days, high thirties to low forties for four to five days in a row, a significant and dangerous change for us.

With a new thirst for experimentation, I have been doing informal trials and generally playing around in the garden, all the while observing and forming new questions.

So what is the story with the apricots and the weeds?

My three year old apricot trees were growing alright, considering they were planted traditionally, in an area of lawn, had never been watered, and had generally been pest free, besides a nibble from a curious horse in their first year. However I was keen to see what improvements I could make to the soil for fertility and water infiltration, and I wanted to practice increasing soil carbon on a home scale.

Firstly I sheet mulched the area with large quantities of fruit and vegetable waste from the local supermarket (diverting it from producing methane in land fill). I covered it over with all our cardboard and shredded paper waste, and then I topped that off with pea straw and old rotting grass hay.

I built up a few double reach beds in between the trees with compost and planted up some broccoli and cauliflower seedlings. I also broadcast the entire area with a winter cover crop seed mix containing oats, barley, turnips, radish, broad beans and kale to name a few.

I stood back and let nature take its course.

What I have experienced is the most beautiful and magnificent act of nature I could have dreamt for.

I harvested the broccoli and cauliflower heads as they matured then left the stems to continue growing. The pea straw grew peas and the rotting hay grew every grass and weed species available and imaginable.
The veggie waste produced a few surprises, peach and avocado seedlings (great for understock), garlic and onions. The entire site has an understory of potatoes, soon to be uncovered and enjoyed.

Many of the plants have grown exponentially in the past few weeks as they bolt to seed, radish and turnips at two metres, and hemlock (a local weed) heading on to three metres.

This abundant growth is building delicious topsoil and hosting an enormous quantity of soil biota.
Rainfall infiltration has been so advantaged that I have not experienced the usual winter run off from my land, despite our best winter rainfall in five years.

The brassica flowers are full of bees, all contributing to honey production and the whole place is alive with predatory wasps. Lots of the small local bird varieties such as willy-wagtails and fairy wrens reside close by, all consuming, producing and living contentedly in the abundant surroundings. (We should all be so lucky.)


Snails evidence a duck deficiency

The arrival of a warmer burst of weather is heralding the next succession of production. Tomato and pumpkin seeds from the veggie waste have been patiently waiting for their turn to appear. The drying off of the broad beans, barley and oats means its time for the chooks to get lucky. The seed-eating birds will collect the majority of the fallen ones but hopefully some will escape to begin the process again next autumn.

I suspect the nearby rose bushes are hiding and protecting a few birds’ nests hidden safely away from the neighborhood feral cats.

The apricots have set enough fruit to support a decent taste test and maybe a few jars of jam. But look out next season!

I will begin to chop and drop to favor the next round of production and I imagine I will find some other unexpected treasure amongst the bounty.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Carolyn, for sharing your story and beautiful photos! We are so lucky to have you sharing your knowledge and experience with us here in the south west!

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