"Information is like compost; it does no good unless you spread it around.”
Eliot Coleman

22nd November 2015

Hello groovy garden friends. Can you tell where I am writing this from? Hint: have a look at the photo above. I'm in the Upper Kangaroo Valley, in NSW, a few hours south of Sydney town. I've just completed a 4 day natural building course, organised by Milkwood Permaculture, and taught by Sam Vivers of Viva Living Homes.

Oh boy am I inspired! Four days learning the theory and practicing hands-on with many earth building techniques, especially straw bale, earth and lime renders, reciprocal roof techniques, clay and casein paints, light straw, cob, and earth floors. An info-packed and highly enjoyable time, with a lovely bunch of 20 or so other learners (quite a few of whom were great singers, as we discovered to our mutual delight!). Sam is a fantastic teacher with a wealth of experience, an easy and humble manner, and never ending patience with all our questions. Milkwood's on-site host Heather was hospitality personified, and the venue was a stunning property with all sorts of interesting quirks and up-cycled building ideas.

So, now we're ready to start practicing some ideas at the farm! First up will be some berry enclosures using the reciprocal roof idea, clad in wire to keep out furry and feathered thieves. Then next will be a single room studio, with light earth walls and an earth floor - a space to have workshops and gatherings in. Eventually we hope to use many of these techniques and materials in our home at the farm, that we'll build in a few year's time. Thanks to Sam and Simone from Viva, and the Milkwood crew for a great big lump of inspiriation!

Natural beauty

Here's a dovetail timber garden bed, installed a few years ago, and gently weathered to the lovely soft silvery grey that you can see. But the intended feature of this photo is the sawdust that forms the pathway material around the garden bed. Its at Martine's place, and fairly freshly laid (a few weeks old).

When Martine and I were designing her garden some years back, we talked about options for surfaces on the pathways. She had thoughy about gravel, but I recommended something that was nice to walk on with bare feet, having used gravel at my place and regretted it!

She settled on sawdust, which could be supplied by Bodie who was supplying the garden beds. He even spread it around with the digger during site preparation.

Sawdust is a wonderful pathway material. It packs down after a little while like cork, is pleasant to walk on, supresses weeds, looks good (I reckon!), drains well. Its a waste product, cheap, widely available in this timber-rich state. And after a few years as the worms invade wet spots and it starts to break down a bit, you can shovel it onto ornamental garden beds as a surface mulch, and put down a new layer. Or just put a new batch over the top of the old. What's not to like?!

Locally Lovely

This ripper of a publication is the result of wonderful effort by a bunch of South Hobart locals, especially the gorgeous and generous Cindy Aulby. You can see the comprehensive table of contents on the South Hobart Sustainable Community Facebook page (scroll down if its no longer at the top). Its full of recipes and growing guides for a whole bunch of things from Almonds to Zucchini that grow in, well, South Hobart! Available at Source or Sustainable Living Tasmania, at only $12 and a small batch (100) printed, be quick or miss out!

The rewards of scrounging

Don't you just love a good scrounge? Gardeners are often good at it, and the rewards are, um, rewarding and so satisfying. Take last weekends effort for example:
I wanted to mulch the young hazelnut trees that I planted a few months back at the farm. Sheet mulching is a great way to eliminate competitive grass, suppress weeds, and feed the soil life and the trees. First layer was wet newspaper, scrounged by the ute load from the TCT  (Tas Conservation Trust) office. I get a big batch every 6 - 12 months. Lots of places have piles of newspapers - try cafes if you don't accumulate enough yourself. Its a really good idea to soak the paper for a short while in a wheelbarrow or tub full of water: then it wont blow away when you lay it around your little trees.
Make sure the newspaper layers overlap eachother well. You can be pretty heavy handed: a Monday paper opened out flat is fine. Then cover this with a good layer of poo of some kind. Whatever you can get easy and cheap. I used horse poo from Kathy at Old Beach. Her horses produce a regular supply, so if anyone wants a ute full every so often, let me know and I'll put you in touch with her. She separates out the poo when she worms the horses, which is very handy!

Then the next layer can be compost, straw, old hay, autumn leaves, grass clippings or whatever. In this case I was lucky enough to be able to use luxurious amounts of pea straw, scrounged from the shed of a farmer friend of Martine at Woodbridge.

Make sure your mulch layers cover up the edges of the newspaper completely, or they'll dry out and ruffle up and look scruffy, as well as potentially create a barrier to water getting in later. I like to plonk a bit of timber or stone, scrounged from the paddock nearby, around the perimiter to hold down the whole 'lasagna'. Et Voila!

In this case, since the trees are young and the mulch bed is roomy, I planted some pumpkin seedlings between the trees in pockets of extra poo. Hopefully they'll grow and spread out as a green living mulch around the base of the trees, and yeild us some tucker as well.

Psssst! Wanna buy some garlic?

Many people have recently harvested their backyard garlic crops - I pulled mine last week. But there is a fairly wide window for the harvest, so don't be alarmed if yours isn't ready yet. We write about garlic harvest every year, so you can read some of the past info bites in our newsletter from last year HERE.

Our rather extensive plantings down at the farm wont be ready for another few weeks yet either, but if you'd like to reserve yourself a braid, in time for a pungently beautiful Christmas decoration or present, let me know.

In the meantime, its garlic scape season! Scapes are the curly flower stalks that spring up from hard neck garlic just before harvest usually. This year we're gonna have HEAPS, so as well as making pesto, pickling and drying them, I'm picking a load for Hobart chefs and market stallholders this week and for the next few weeks.

If you'd like some bunches to try, let me know. $15 / kilo go on you know you wanna!

Crowd sourcing an answer, maybe?

Here's a question from FImbarista Vivienne, about millipedes:

"Our strawberries are being demolished by millipedes. When I pick them, they are teeming with millipedes. Can you suggest a prevention / cure for the problem? I am sure others must be dealing with the same problem."

And my response: (picture stolen from interwebs)
'Hi vivienne, what a bummer - strawberries are so good, and millipedes are so yukky. There isn't an easy answer. Some people use crushed eggshells sprinkled around, or pit traps baited with sugar water, or lots of snail pellets, but I don't know how effective any of those methods are.
I've heard of people giving up growing strawbs in the general garden beds because of millipedes - and instead growing them in containers with smooth sides, eg bathtubs, to stop the millies crawling up the sides. I've even heard of people growing them in pots propped up on rocks in a moat (tray) or water.

So, sorry there isn't a quick and easy solution (that I'm aware of). I might ask the question in our next newsletter and see if anyone offers a brilliant answer."

Can any of you readers offer a brilliant answer?? There's a free calendar in it for you!

Christmas stocking filler

I'm just gonna keep plugging our seasonal garden calendar for another round! They're perpetual - great as a garden diary. Nice present for someone who is starting out on gardening in Tasmania or similar climate. Cost is $15 plus $3 postage and handling, and they're available from our Fimby website.
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