Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

New post with bee picture

Bee pollinating a eucalypt up at the shops 

A good post on the actual real world length of seed viability. The author is in south california, so is going into winter, but its sowing season in both here and there, and her discussion is good quality -

Bought new envirobooks; will discuss later.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Promise of an update

An update -

I took some photos of the garden in around Nov 20 and was planning to post an update. Various things got in the way, so now I've changed tack, and will offer a then and now comparison.

In general the plants are growing well, although the thunderstorm (17mm rain and 80 km winds, probably faster in the garden given the windtunnel effect), with tomato plants (all unstaked) very unhappy. A bit of loose guiding fig-tree branches (which I collected last year) have rectified it, and they seem to have bounced back more or less, and are now mostly flowering.

The success lesson is the placement of frozen snails I collected during an earlier storm and put in the ground in late November - the three plants with that have really bloomed.

 Here's a few uncomparative photos until I get my act together and we have a sunny day here -

This blew over in the storm and had to change location 
around to the other side of the tank.

I got a few potatoes out of the dying yellowing plant, 
and planning another 
pumpkin and mustard-leaf soup today

Sunken garden beds

(Strawberries started producing in the garden)

Ive been looking at sunken gardens, which are particularly apposite for hot places that have problems keeping moisture. Seems that it would work for Australia well.

Here's a comparison to raised beds:

An intelligent outline of the case for it -

An easy how-to:

Here's a video:

The extreme form seems to be Anasazi gardening, which is described as 'waffle' gardening, because of the holes in the ground alternating, which is like a waffle-iron.

Some pictures of zuni gardens from before WWII -

Monday, 2 November 2015

Review of Jackie French Soil Food part 2

Review part 2 of:

 Jackie French´s ¨Soil Food¨, Melbourne: Aird pr. 1995, ISBN 0947214445; viii; 181pp + ind. 4pp.

You can read the first part here.

I do not have much to say about the final chapters on manures and composts; they seem well written and more thorough as far as I can tell. There is an advocacy of composting using tyres (140) and potatoes in tyres (172), and tyre use mentioned in case studies (175) that we might want to rethink, given how carcinogenic tyres are; the book is showing its age (i.e. 1995). The method, which is composting in a tyre, is worth rethinking and transposing to other suitable otherwise-wasted containers though).
Chapter 7 on mulching is very good. One could complement the text - which is mostly practical - with a good, up to date work on soil structures and mycorrhizas. Its worth buying for this alone. Some of the methods are dependent on composting to render materials suitable to use as mulch. I would have liked to see the alternative - how to get by without compost.
On the whole, a short book that gives you everything you need to have most of the basics covered, plus a lot of the additional 'tips' that one slowly collected from all over the place very slowly. A very worthwhile book.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Broad Beans

Today I came home and harvested most of the broad beans for dinner. Ive been snacking on them raw as I have walked past in the last few weeks, so most of them were not in this batch, but there were enough there to go on a meal. I also kept about 1/3 of whats here again, for drying and planting again in March.

Im quite happy with how they turned out, this is about half of what I ended up eating:

Im quite pleased about how the broad beans experiment has worked. I will definitely try it again next year.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Groves to deal with heat from Jackie French

Jackie French has a nice webpage, with a good post on groves -

Well worth checking out.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Review of ´Soil Food´

Some notes of Jackie French´s ¨Soil Food¨, Melbourne: Aird pr. 1995, ISBN 0947214445; viii; 181pp + ind. 4pp.

Jackie French is a notable Australian author of organic/conservation/sustainability themed works I have mentioned before here - her book on natural pest management for example. In this older work, she addresses how to add fertility to soils.

The book is quite good, although like her other works, it contains a 1. manageable amount of scientific research, 2. quite useful tips and tactics (in this work adding nutrients and structure to soil), her own historical anecdotes, 3. tips and tactics apt for orchard/farm sized operations, and 4. some personal (and sometimes annoyingly didactic) political-social observations.

Its worth getting for the mix of the 1 and 2 (and 3 if appropriate), and sucking up the presence of 4. If you´ve read a good work on soil structure, 1. will be a light reminder, but otherwise it is a bit too light to be the only thing to rely on. Get a guide to soil structure science/ecosystems and spend an hour with it and cover it properly.

The chapters are: intro, intro to soil deficiencies, what plants need what nutrients and minerals, fertilisers (organic vs artificial), green manure, manure, compost, mulch, test cases - 10 plots and how to feed them.

I am about half way through, reading chapter 4, which is what I bought it for - on green manures. This is where you grow a crop and then slash it to mulch for things growing around it. The book details combinations to grow together, which is really very precise and well written. (This is also a sort of mulch strategy; she is generally very good on mulch strategies)

Ch 4 on fertilisers is also very good. Her position on artificial fertilisers is that they are a bandaid for an emergency terrible situation that is dire, and shouldnt be used for regular, general use, and that their bandaid function should be respected. I think this is reasonable, although one has to recognise (and the book does this but not explicitly enough) that in the absence of the sort of techniques and care she advocates, there will be a drift of commercial agriculture to needing more and more bandaids! The book is mostly practical in its orientation (fair enough) there is not really a focus on comparing systems of agriculture and land on-dwelling (what post-Lockean world calls ´land use´). And that´s ok: the value of the book is what is says on particular tactics.

I will write more when Ive

Monday, 19 October 2015

Harvesting and planting

I have done a clean out of the garden in the last few weeks. I had slowly cut off various plants and froze the foliage, which I am slowly adding to soups. Here is a handful of buds of the daikon plant that I added (along with NZ spinach) to a tomato and chickpea potage:

Quite delicious.

I have replanted various things - most notably amish paste tomatos, and rearranged things considerably. More detail to follow!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

transition movement doc / Flower in the garden

This has suddenly bloomed, after the plant had grown in the garden for a few months. 
Any idea what it is? Looks like a sort of poppy, but a far lighter shade of red.

I was reading this doc, an explanation and critique of the Transition movement.

I am quite fond of the transition movement´s goals in micro, even if its concern with peak oil is a bit dated/naive (it is now obvious that the globe will mine and burn tar sand resources down to the last tank of petrol for driving up to the supermarket and buying frivolities rather than bothering to change).

Here´s a sketch of the transition assumptions from the doc (pg. 3) which animate its programme -

(1] That life with dramatically lower energy consumption is inevitable, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise;
(2] That our settlements and communities presently lack the resilience to enable them to weather the sever energy [and economic] shocks that will accompany peak oil [and climate change];
(3] That we have to act collectively, and we have to act now;
(4] That by unleashing the collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching, and that recognise the biological limits of our planet.

I think we at CSA would agree with all of these except 4; 3 probably needs a modifier to ´collectively and individually´ but OK;

(4) would be nice, except the power progressive metaphors are a bit questionable - unleash suggests its there ready to go and only artificially restrained; the concept of collective genius also needs an individual to do it, but if we eased it back to ´communal talents´ it would be OK and not grandiose or Bolshie/Averroist;
the claims to be more connected and more enriched is pretty dubious on any level higher than reintroducing a concept of wonderment at nature: if transition leads to planetary secularisation and ¨scandinavianisation¨ of low energy bike paths, organic food, etc, but no religion or a universe worth caring about, then Im not sure how that works: I can see people clinging together and valuing a society in an indifferent or pointless universe, but that doesnt strike me as enriched, but rather, quite pointless. And doing a community focus rather than a cosmic focus is a bit misguided.

But for all those reservations, and thinking of (4) as something like ´enriching human societies to achieve their respective genuine common goods, and accordingly, the common good´, it strikes me as quite OK.

Two paragraphs leapt out at me for thinking about a Catholic environmental ethic that has some of the same goals as transition. The first from p. 8 on the social group that gets involved:

The suggestion is that caring for the environment is a privilege that generally only arises once the struggle for basic necessities has been won. Whether that is a valid characterisation of the broader Environmental movement is a question we leave to one side (Martinez-Alier, 1995], but we do wish to explore the question of whether the Transition movement is just another ‘pleasurable, leisure based community movement’ (James, 2009a: 19] and an expression of ‘bourgeois community resilience’ (James, 2009b: 15], as some of its critics, often from the political left, assert (see Trapese Collective, 2008]. We contend that the reality of what Mason and Whitehead (2012: 511] call ‘inclusive localism’ is more complex than that, although the danger is real that the Transition movement may end up as little more than an exclusive middle- class club for nice, comfortable people who already have the resources and options to adapt. 

Yep. A Catholic version of this gets around this problem because everyone is already there. And it resolves the terror of the left - ie the need for a mix of top down along with bottom up, in the same way its top down and bottom up structures mediate parallel issues elsewhere - by being unembarrassed about the concepts of hierarchy and governance and some top down direction built into the system. (This means that it really cant be a leftist movement any more).

The other quote:

To what extent can the Transition movement avoid the pain, hardship, and conflict historically associated with significant social movements (e.g. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, etc.]? After all, vested interests in the status quo are almost certainly going to try to maintain the status quo, suggesting that the ambitious goals of the Transition movement (including decarbonisation, relocalisation and building a new economy] are probably going to confront, or are confronting, hard political opposition from enormously powerful political and economic forces. For this reason, we would argue that pain and conflict cannot be sidestepped on the path of ‘transition’, while at the same time acknowledging that activists and participants in the movement may well find the struggle meaningful and worthwhile, no matter how difficult the path may turn out to be. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche: they who have a why to live, can bear almost any how.

A CSA response to this is that a catholic version has sacrifice right at its centre, and has the resources to avoid this entirely. The cross and centuries of monasticism mean this isnt an issue; what we see in the quote is the paradox of leftists who are idealistic hedonists and utilitarians struggling against making the sacrifices required to bring in the reign of utility/enrichment that they are looking for. Indeed, one could make a sort of Bellocian response to these people that the task of fixing things has been made far worse by the modern state´s appropriations of church lands in the modern period running from 1534 to the Cuban revolution´s landgrabs. We took all the land and control away from the church to make a more hedonistic, efficient world, and it turns out that we´ve overdone it, and the very virtues that we require to turn things around are parallel to the very ones contained in the programme that the church and in particular the monastics were set up to implement.

More later, but I´d recommend the doc as a good introduction to the transition movement, and also a good introduction to thinking through the ethics of how to do environmental change: use it as an ¨if not, why not?¨ guiding process. My suspicion is that the utilitarian/immanentist side of the left will blunt anything it tries to do in terms of implementing social ideals on a sustainable (!) basis; I suppose this is my Ratzingerian pessimism that we can never have a social architecture or rules to fix broken societies, if character and virtue is absent; and that the Church is required to get the virtue story right on a tenable basis.


Appended note

My attitude is nicely summarized by Dorothy Day writing about Fidel Castro´s Cuba:

I am most of all interested in the religious life of the people and so must not be on the side of a regime that favors the extirpation of religion. On the other hand, when that regime is bending all its efforts to make a good life for the people, . . . one cannot help but be in favor of the measures taken.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Broad beans

I put in broad beans for the first time, after taking the advice that those are what people do over winter, they are nitrogen fixers etc. And I wanted something low maintenance that wouldn´t require picking or maintenance while I was away.

So I planted them in May and left them. And they did not seem to produce any seed pods, until the last few weeks. I had thought them a failure, as they are about half the size of other broad beans plants around here.

But they have been in a state of bloom for a few months, but seemed not to be doing anything.

And now they seem to be budding and fruiting.

So I thought I would take some pictures:

The point is that they start really small and grow from the ground up. It is not like sweet peas at all in that it isnt anywhere near as obvious. This is an example of one that is mabye 70% grown, but quite stumpy:

And the same pod, with other higher pods in the picture so the variable states of development are recognisable:

So with a bit of patience, they should be ready probably at the start of November, which is roughly what the guides say (harvest through November).

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Foggy morning

A thick fog blanket was hanging over Melbourne when I woke up at 5.30AM or so.

Wonderous peals of fog, bounding within and upon one another to make an inscrutable mist.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Soil Erosion link

In recent weeks, I've been burning the candle at both ends, compulsively (but not always productively) researching and doing various admin tasks and projects at work. My conscience actually let up today, when I was riding into work, and thought Id stop and pick up some veggies at the local enroute, and there was a full table of prima half price produce. (I cannot fathom the discounting policy at this particular organic place; it seems either slowly suicidal to the enterprise or people´s tastes in the area really are so perfectionist that that discounting is what they have to do or it does make sense at the margings - I do not want to believe either alternative but...).

Multiple broccolis, parsnips, a cauliflower, some youngish toscana kale leaves and a few other odds and sods - a basketfull for 18 dollars.

So I turned around, and spent a few hours cooking soups and things and reading the new Quarterly Essay on Bill Shorten. The essay was well enough written, and actually pretty ho hum, but enjoyable to read something weighter than a newspaper or a webpage that wasn´t work.

I came across this which is a March 2015 Monbiot column. 60 harvests left because of depletion of soil and soil erosion! Knuckle-biting!

This is what this post was meant to be about.

I will do something more on how the spring replanting of the garden is going very soon. I did some clearing and planting on the sunny weekend of 18/19 Sept 2015, but have now retreated inside, faced with 13 deg again.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

And another winter thing...

Over winter I had occasion to make pea and ham soups, but on one day found that I had bought a hock too large to fit in the pot once I got it home. But then I realised I had a solution at hand - a cutting blade I had bought at the heritage tool sale. It is an old surgical blade that has become worn out and useless. It is probably 50-70 years old, but still in fine condition.

It really did cut through the bone in about 5 strokes, or 10 seconds. What a well-made tool, and a good second life for a retired medical instrument! (and yes, I sterilised it by steaming and by torching the blade when I bought it. There´s a small liability of surviving prions or something, but frankly thats enough risk mitigation for someone whose allocation of health-risk-mitigation in the rest of his life is a bit average - e.g. only exercises doing practical things like cycling to work and gardening, and who loves junk food. Proportion, people!). The knife was among a few $2 usefuls I also got at the sale.

Garden update - what happened in winter 2015

This is more of an update post. I went away from late May to late June, and returned to a garden that had some good breadbeans in it, lots of edible weeds and a bit  of nettles. But slowly I have been eating through a bit of it, but otherwise waiting for the turn of spring.

That seems to have happened. The rocket and the celeriac have bloomed, as have various daikons that have popped up.

So here´s a few snaps. It shows you a well planned garden can endure about 3 or four months of winter negligence and still be ok.

First of all, I spent the winter working and sitting in front of fires staying warm. Not much gardening:

While it rained and rained outside...

On the night I returned from my travels in late June, I came home to some very healthy Kale at 2am:

And a potato plant that had appeared and bloomed out of nowhere:

By a long shot the most successful plant was the celeriac, although the actual bulbs were quite poor, they were quite hardy and grew through winter:

Lots of weed soups, and one (only one, because there weren´t enough for more) nettle soups:

And then, about a week ago, the bees seemed to have come back - !!

There were enough flowers, with rocket, celeriac, and broad bean flowers for them to eat:

I have cleared out some patches ready to plant in late-ish September, but am really doing it in bit and pieces. The thing Im trying to figure out is what has happened to the broad beans, why havent they produced any pods yet? I have grown them mostly to try and fix the soil, and as a no-care winter thing that can grow without maintenance. Will post pics soon.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

update on how it is going #3

There are two fine flowering fat hen plants I am waiting to go to seed. Here´s one - it is about 5ft tall:

 And in some of the pots all sorts of things are starting to pop up - including more fat hen, and also (to my delight) nettles! Nettle soup in winter!

 And lili-pilis have started to flower, and are concentrated enough to make a purfume corridor in the entrance to the building...

Saturday, 9 May 2015

update on how it is going # 2

More detail on how my garden is going thanks to all this rain. The leeks I put in a few weeks ago seem to be thriving. These are little ones crammed in a corner of a water tank:

These ones have sun and are healthier (the left one is about 1 foot high, and will go with the pumpkin aforementioned of the last post at some point):

And a rogue potato seems to have emerged from somewhere unexpectedly:

And some of the many broadbeans I put in have actually sprung up:

As the picture above shows, the (donated) basil and the (rogue arrival) parsley have also returned to health with the rain.

Here are four pots of growing broad beans.

In the next post, I will do a weed-check where it gets really quite curious.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

update on how it is going #1

After not doing very much for the last few weeks, I thought I show you an update.

Apart from clearing some pots a while ago, everything is pretty much in place. I have planted some broad beans, but that is about all.

I am quite pleased. But part of this is just the return of the rain. Here are two nearby rainfall tallies - one for Essendon airport, the other for Melbourne Olympic park. My rainfall is somewhere between these - it gets the highs of the inner city concrete effect, but the north-north-west showers that olympic park doesnt get. So it is wetter than either of these.

Here is Olympic park - the main observatory of melbourne and rather close to my house (I am inner north, it is inner southeast, Essendon is a bit out to the north west).

Essendon airport -

For example, where it was 10.4mm in Essendon on April 26th (the right-most column is April, the left-most is January, the days down the list are days of the month), it was about 11.5 here on the day.

Ok, so it has been wet here. The pumpkin and lebanese zucchinis are still growing:

The other side of it looks like this - it has grown from the front around in a circle, and is now coming out to the pavement on the left side (you can see the zucchini foliage on the left upper side is young and green compared to the more tired foliage at the bottom of the picture and where the yellow flower is).

The thing about this is that once it starts growing, it just grows. I water it about every 3-4 days when it is not raining, and have pretty much stopped otherwise. (Although I did scoop up a puddle on the concrete and deposit it on the 26th).

And this is the other Leb. zucchini plant. It too has resumed flowering once I set it to grow up the side of the plant-table, which is at the front of the picture. You can just see the suggestion of a yellow flower...

Which is this one - I pollinated it this morning. Hopefully I will get a last zucchini before the day or two of frost kills the plant...

And there is also a treasure ready to go on the other one...buried in the foliage...

Its another pumpkin. I have a last lot of Celeriac soup from some baby cricket-ball sized celeriacs I bought about two weeks ago, and made into a celeriac, leek and potato soup. Once that is done, the next soup is the pumpkin.

It has been down there for ages, but I had other things to make soups out of, so I thought Id leave it till I could use it. The pumpkin plant as the fridge for pumpkins where they dont rot out. If you cannot discern it in the picture, it is visible in the three whitey-cream broken up stripes - if you make a line out from my wedding ring finger and my index finger, the three plane stripes of it are visible running vertically. It is only part of it, it is a good soccer-ball size.

Ok, more on the Garden report later.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

last haul of lebanese zucchinis

After a recent business trip to here -

 (A certain dicens-de-se global city)

...where I was looking in a specialist library of a medieval religious order, I came home to discover that the two remaining zucchinis were fit for harvesting. So the result:

(Lebanese zucchinis on the cutting board of universal-measurement; top left is teapot)

Two fine ones. The smaller one is already tonights soup..

Thursday, 30 April 2015


This post on mallow - a wild but edible plant - is worth looking at: for a few years, mallow has been a salad standby for me, and a plant I let grow for the leaves, and then chop off and let its roots rot and enrichend the soil.

The blog is a good one too - and the cookbook she has just produced is rather fine as well -

Sunday, 26 April 2015

no dig gardening and nitrogen replacement

I bought some broad beans to plant for the next few months, but had a thought when considering the issue of nitrogen-fixing: that thought being - to what degree does no-dig gardening make nitrogen-fixers unnecessary because one always has the rotting root systems and attendant fungi and bacteria in situ which they produced, which are going to be not only nitrogen rich, but also carbon rich too?

If one cuts off one's produce plants and cuts off weeds to rot, and leaves the roots, and - if appropriate - the leaves and stems to rot back in as a mulch layer, to what extent does nitrogen depletion occur, because most of the biomass is recycled?

A short guide on no-dig -

And a very good basic primer article on soil composition and vitality - the section on "Soil food web" is excellent -

I am still mulling this over. It is another case where a conventional practice is backed by conventional wisdom universalised, but when one rethinks it in a new context, it might not make the same sense. I am not sure that the traditional practice of 'nitrogen fixers' is actually that necessary if one is doing mulch-and-root-cut-no-dig.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

strange lime

Walking along the street one Sunday, I came across this lime? lemon? in a garden, with a remarkable skin texture. Does anyone know anything about it?

Friday, 10 April 2015


On Saturday 28 April, I cut everything down that had been hanging around in the garden in readiness for the first winter crop of things. I was mostly mulching and collecting various vegetables. This is the rather modest haul after low water rationing from late Feb onwards.

I think it actually went pretty well, except for the tomatoes, which got infected with Tomato nastiness. I was pretty happy with the zucchinis and the single Japanese yellow pumpkin -

I hadn't planned the pumpkin, it just grew out of a composting clump I threw back into the garden. So it is going to be pumpkin soup this week.

And I got a lot of tomatoes, some potatoes, and some butter-beans. All quite good I think.

Monday, 6 April 2015

hand powered lathes

I was thinking about the problem of lathe products when one doesnt really want a loud machine around. So a bit of searching for future-primitivity came across various forms of non-electrical lathe.


Very impressive indeed. Probably not something one would want to use for large scale work, - as admirable as the chess-vendor is - but for an ad hoc usage, seems to be easier than building a pedal-powered lathe. The other idea buried in here is to think about other pedal powered systems (eg spininng jennys, old 19th C sewing tables) that could be converted into non-electric lathes. I have seen the pedal powered sewing tables around the place, perhaps being chucked out on the streets on cleanup weekends, but hadnt really thought about them. THere you go.

The other thought I had about powering them concerned the location of water tanks and using water-power. Instead of putting a tank at the side of a house, make a thinner, more rectangular tank (like alarge cereal box), and suspend it above the ground but just below the roof. So the water is stored in an extended enclosed case adjoined to the gutter. Then, when one wants a source of quick power, one can set up a lathe and use the water flow via a modest water wheel. Lathing is intermittent enough to be broken up by buckets of water? The waste of the gravity always struck me as something we could avoid with marginally better planning. That loss of stored potential energy in the 2m move from roof to the hose in the hand strikes me as a loss. If we designed better houses, it could easily go to use on a mixed-use generator/water wheel.


Friday, 3 April 2015

native bee information

Blog on honey and wax from native stingless bees -

Unfortunately they dont flourish south of sydney. 

But it turns out that some solitary natives do. Its worth learning what the solitaries look like, and how to encourage them. This doc covers it:


Impressive. There were a lot of them around in Jan-Feb, but they seem to have given way to the profusion of wasps...

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

pollinating curcubits

I was watching this short clip about a farmer who grows giant pumpkins in NSW,

which was more of a spectacle than anything else, but he showed his technique of hand pollinating the pumpkin flowers. After a whole season of 2 flowers of zucchinis a week for 4 months and only one modest zucchini, I was pretty pissed off to learn, a fortnight after I cut them out for winter, that I could probably have hand pollinated the zuucks, and got dozens of them...

Here's the farmer

here's a good page on hand pollination - it covers the actual gender differentiation and technique well enough (having not tested the advice)- forgive and overlook the annoying anthropomorphisations of the sexual reproduction of the zucchini.

this youtube is also good and demonstrates the technique well -

I have been using this technique to good effect this year, and have some fine Lebanese zucchinis, a pumpkin, and a rogue Japanese yellow pumpkin. I will photo the latter and put it up.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

I want one of these for my garden!

Here's the brief story of this Japanese catholic hidden-in-plain-sight devotional art:

I want one of these for my garden!

Its a lantern that is a hidden Christian piece of devotional art - note the trunk of the lantern toward the bottom - it is a small cross, and there is a little oblique Mary depiction on the base:

Pope Pius XII on farming in 1946

A fine piece of writing by Pope Pius XII on farming. Some of his quotes deserve amplification and rumination. Delivered in 1946..

For a start, a nice mention of consumerism ante litteram...

Contact with NatureMore than anyone else. you live in continual contact with nature. It is actual contact, since your lives are lived in places still remote from the excesses of an artificial civilization. Under the sun of the Heavenly Father your lives are dedicated to bringing forth from the depths of the earth the abundant riches which His hand has hidden there for you. Your contact with Mother Earth has also a deep social significance, because your families are not merely consumer-communities but also and especially producer-communities.
And some context - an awareness of land degradation, and an interesting mention of land mines (highly relevant in 1946, and in some places undiminishedly so):

Sin did, in truth, render labor in the fields burdensome, but it was not sin that introduced such labor into the world. Before there was any sin, "God gave man the earth for his cultivation as the most beautiful and honorable occupation in the natural order." In the wake of the original sin of our first parents, all the actual sins of humanity have caused the curse to weigh upon the earth with increasing heaviness. The soil has suffered successive scourges of every kind-floods, earthquakes, pestilence, devastating wars, and land mines. In some places it has become sterile, barren, and unwholesome, and has refused to yield to man its hidden treasures. 

And quite a vivid statement on what we might call 'the sustainability of the virtues' by contrast with greed and profit -

We must preserve the qualities of industriousness, simple and honest living, respect for authority, especially for parental authority, love of country, and loyalty to traditions which have proved a source of good throughout the centuries. We must preserve readiness to aid one another within the family circle and amongst families, from home to home. All of these qualities we must have animated with a true religious spirit, for without such a spirit these very virtues tend to degenerate into unbridled greed for profit. 

But this is put in an extremely particularized frame, which focuses on the particular farmer's intimate knowledge of particular land. Note the move from general environmental concern down to particular knowledge of - almost a connaturalitas with - the land:

The earth is a huge wounded creature; she is ill. Bending over her, not as a slave over the clod, but as the physician over a prostrate sufferer, the tiller lovingly showers on her his care. But love, for all that it is so necessary, is not enough. To know nature, to know, so to speak, the temperament of one's own piece of land, sometimes so different from that of the very next plot; to be able to discover the germs that spoil it, the rodents that would burrow beneath it, the worms that would eat its fruits, the weeds that would infest its crops; to determine what elements it lacks and to choose the successive plantings that will enrich it even while it rests -- these and so many other things require wide and varied knowledge and information.

And the take home-message.... -

It devolves upon you, therefore, to demonstrate that on account of its family character farming does not exclude the advantages of other kinds of business, and, furthermore, that it avoids their evils. Be adaptable, attentive, and active stewards of your native soil, which is to be used but never exploited. Let it be seen that you are thinking, thrifty men, open to progress, men who courageously employ your own and others' capital to help and supplement your labor, provided that such expenditure does not endanger the future of your families. Show that you are honest in your sales, that you are not greedily shrewd at the expense of the public, and that you are well-disposed buyers in your country's markets.

"...used but never exploited" - think about that as you splash around a fine mist of Round Up, suburbanites....

Monday, 23 March 2015

Retrospective: Jan 2014 summer / straw / weeds / seasonality / Bee sustainable

(from early autumn I think; the sort of species mentioned as the random planting below)

I have spent a bit of this morning and this evening (the cool bookends of the day) just cut up straw from the old plants, and got the remaining seed pods from various daikons, pak choi, beetroots and kale plants (lots of kale and daikon seeds especially!). The dried husks of the seedpods and the straw remnants of the plants I have let dry over the last 2 months, being the first two months of summer. 

I got about bucket of straw mulch. I took all the old potplants, watered and cleared them of non-starter weeds etc. (all remulched too, minus their seeds), and added worm castings to them, then mulch of straw. 

Digression - Among the delights among the weeds were a solanum nigrum (Blackberry nightshade) has popped up, along with an existing Fat Hen plant, which I have allowed to grow in a corner, and is now 2ft tall! (and ready for harvesting - the lower leaves have started redding-and-yellowing, indicating a lack of nutrients relative to the plant's growth-and-reproduction needs. Fat Hen is a snail-unfriendly, hardy resistant spinach substitute, which I like to have fresh-steamed with steak). I have also bought some fat hen in a seed packet, in order to practice cultivating it once winter rolls around. I am really quite delighted that all sorts of weeds have infested the place, which is allowing me to sort through them and eat the edible ones! (and let the inedibles have their moment, and work as summer shade, then as flowers and then as biomass).

I identified a plant I'd thought was a retarded cucumber, but which also turns out to be another edible weed - a mallow plant, in this case an Australian mallow methinks (a malva preissiana - Australian Hollyhock, but Im going to check the identification again to be sure, and will write something on it. Its an intriguing plant. I had let it grow hoping it would be a Devil's fig weed - which I could use for grafting on eggplants and tomatoes, but it was not to be). 

I have let a load of things go semiwild this summer, to see what turns up, because my travel plans meant it was a bit tough to do regular watering, and because Ive wanted to see what occurs, or to put it in Heideggerian terms, what unconceals itself. For example, Ive wanted to let some of the grasses grow to see what species they are. 

But now Im restoring a new line of veggie pots.

So they've been fed, watered, had a layer of worm casting added, and then the straw-mulch added. The following species are randomly strewn throughout:

Pak Choi
red giant mustard
Kale chou moullier (this is exciting - it is more or less a small kale tree if it works. If it fails, it fails because it is preferential snail fodder. Everything growing near kale-and-a-snail flourishes. I have plenty of established 'kale buckets' so if these end up as snail diversions, thats ok). 
fat hen
coriander cilantro

[An update a year later: the pak choi was ok, the mustard was excellent and very disease proof, the kale chou moulier was hopeless, the mizuna was good but there wasnt much of it, and the fat hen was excellent and I got a lot of greens out of it. The coriander didnt take at all. The enjoyable surprise was the emergence of Amaranth]

I didnt plant any giant russian cucumbers, I have to do a bit of research on where and the when on that.

Some of them are being sown a bit out of season, but I am experimenting. My hypothesis is that optimisation of plant seasons is less of an issue in Melbourne, where it almost never frosts, and doesnt go above 35-40 that often (yeah, 44 deg 4-day heatwave in mid Jan 2014, I know). Indeed, given that the classification into S-W-A-S is a Europeanism that we might have adopted a bit quickly, and Aboriginal 6 season schemes might be more accurate/helpful, I wonder whether one has to be rigidly controlled by EuroSeasonality. (Indeed, my biggest forced embrace of seasonality is our adoption of it in terms of the academic year and the liturgical calendar. What Australian hasn't occasionally thought in September or October that this should be Lent time, or thought that Lent seasonally makes little sense in March-April? Anyway, we forebear the same and God forefends change. Mother Country heartaches is not something I really do very well, so Im happy to try something different. (Should I do a post on local aboriginal seasons, which made much more sense than SWAS, I wonder?). 

(Then there's the fact of whole emergence of liturgical calandars in the Mediterranean, invalidating turning my grumps about seasonality into arguments).

These were all Eden Seeds varieties I got from our friend Robert at Bee Sustainable

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On regulation of direct farmer-consumer sales

(Some small potatoes from the garden pulled up in early March 2015)

Here is another article by Gracy Olmstead arguing the case for allowing sales from farmer-to-consider to be free of licencing and regulation; think of it as the 'lemonade-stand principle', that the lemonade stand shouldnt be regulated, and caveat emptor.

Im not sure I agree - I dont see why stable businesses shouldnt put up with some regulation of their products. (It would also produce inconsistent treatments - a small farmer gets no regulation, but an ad hoc dining arrangement gets treated like a restaurant). The problem is whether you regulate all giving and taking, financial exchanges, or only for profit exchanges, or exchanges that are by businesses of a certain size.

Its a good starter article to think about risk - risks of charlatans and occasional unintentional malpractice on the one hand, and the larger and more significant risk of homogenised industrial food slowly stuffing up the population by obesity, nutritional deficits, hormonal disruption etc. I am not sure it makes the case, but it does raise the issue.

I think its also worth distinguishing between sold unprepared vegetables, and food that has any kind of preparation. The touch of regulation should be far lighter for the former than the latter.  (Although for vegetables, there is probably a need to regulate to stop excessive preponderances of pesticides and GM etc.).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

California drought.

Extraordinary article on California's drought, and predictions on available water reserves - it has a year, is the headline.

Chckens coming home to roost of 150 years of extract-exploit....

I wish it wouldnt take events like this to perhaps mabye wake people up to think about the system they live in, and how fragile it is

Time for some rethinking....

Monday, 16 March 2015

Farmer's Markets

(Red Nib Corn cobs and a small zucchini from the last few days)

Here's a short article on farmers' markets:

An article on farmer's markets compared to (American) supermarkets. It rebuts a study purporting to show the deficiencies of farmers' markets.  I think the rebuttals of the study are worth skimming over - particularly the advocacy of heirloom tomatoes.

It should have said, but didnt, that species choice for your own garden is different from species choice for an industrial farm and supermarket operation. For example, the most significant value for tomatoes in supermarkets (and therefore their growers) is a thick durable skin because of travel and transport. Whereas one can eat what are not heirlooms without any problems with thin skins because there is no transport operation to worry about. Likewise, another consideration of the agriculture business is that a species is good for monoculture and reacts nicely with pesticides etc. Neither of these need to be your high priorities when selecting a tomato. (The red nib i an heirloom which you can see in the picture above - it has the characteristic of looking good but also growing better under drought conditions than yellow corn. Re nib is also extremely starchy rather than a sweet corn).

There are also underrated values that a farm does not have to think about, but you in the garden might - first, how does the plant react to rootclog in a pot? how does it react to shade and semi shade? to irregular watering? Do the tomatoes take long to go from red semi ripe to ripe? (If its a long time, thats more difficult because it lengthens a vulnerability period).

That is, to the sorts of conditions that can occur in a garden.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Saturday, 7 March 2015

another Sunday fryup in Lent

Another 2014 Lent Sunday breakfast with offal and vegetables from the garden -

Breakfast on lent Sunday  - day off from fasting - a good hearty fry up of liver on toast with coriander and new zealand greens with beans from the garden...with cups of real tea with milk...

yum yum...

The Liver - I like the stuff, but it is very very filling. I now have a bit more liver than I know what do with - I said yes to 5 dollars worth, not realising that that is about 1.2kg...Ive eaten about a quarter of it which is honestly enough for one sitting...

Lesson: buy liver in moderation...

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

the water run out...again...

(Garden in drought 2014. Note that the only plants that are growing happily are the chillis, some very droughtish-tolerant valerian, some carrot going to seed with white flowers - and some solanum nigrum in the foreground)

It happened again - the water tank has run out. In winter, when it was overflowing, I filled the barrel I have, and have been watering on that. We are into March, so hopefully, with some frugal watering and cool weather, we will get through.

This means - we got a further six week´s into the summer (indeed, into late Feb) before the water ran out. That is a bit of an achievement. But it means that I will have to look at seeing what other frugal practices I can put in place. Frugal watering will have to be a whole-year thing, and not just a summer thing.

I will publish this now and put some pictures in later.

Cockroaches! / the arrival of Tomato Blight?

 (The midnight cockroach...)

I was out at the garden at night, and saw a few cockroaches foraging through the leaf-litter mulch. Normally cockroaches freak people out, but it is quite a mark of success to have them crawling over your mulch - it means you have made a habitat so inviting for them they are leaving the house* and coming over, back to pseudo-nature.

The plant on which it is walking is a New Zealand spinach incidentally.

Some bad news - it seems I have incurred a case of some sort of Tomato Blight - the leaves are yellowing and dying from the bottom up. It has even affected the best of the tomato plants. More later on it as I try and figure out exactly what has gone wrong. At the moment I am thinking it is more like Tomato Bronchitis than Tomato Cancer, and hopefully it should be able to be coped with, rather than terminal.

(* - I dont have a cockroach problem, but my neighbours on the ground floor do. A secret for minimizing their presence - keep your kitchen clean, but more importantly, do not bring any cardboard boxes, especially those that have has foodstuffs in them, into the house. Open, cut  up and dispose outside. Cardboard boxes are the luxury jets for a cockroach - they get into them, lay a few eggs, and perhaps sit in the grooves, awaiting transport to the cockroach equivalent of a tropical island - ie your house and kitchen. Once the lights are out, the cockroaches will creep out and start enjoying their new life in your kitchen and living areas.

So keep the cardboard out, and you stop continually restocking the living areas with them.)

Chop and drop

A small note on chop and drop - my thought on this is to chop and drop infected/infested leaves to some other plant that wont be affected by it. This means kales and salad veggies (e.g. bok choi) suffering from grey aphids and caterpillars going to the chillis or beans or carrots or parsnips. It means cucumber, zucchini, watermelon etc leaves that have gone mouldy to the kales/salad patches.

If there is no where else, the healthy but isolated Elephant's Ear plant (not sure what species - its a stray I obtained at a previous block of flats), which sits ornamentally at the accessway to the flats, about 30 metres from the garden, and is usually the recipient of failed cooking and successful vaccuming's vac-cleaner bag - gets the chop and drop remains.


This vaccuum cleaner to inedible-plant-system works very well.

Ive been doing this system of putting greens on the veggies and not on the compost pile for months now, and I can attest that they provide both a good eventual mulch layer and also a good compost and rich soil after (and probably during) decomposition.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Eggshell fertiliser

 A nice healthy bean. For this you need well-nourished plants.

To have well nourished plants, one needs calcium and nutrients.

Here's one way to arrange that - EGGSHELLS.
One thing I started doing a few months ago was to start saving eggshells. I eat a lot of eggs as the second major meal of the day. I read somewhere that calcium (and also trace elements) in eggshells is a good element for plants, and that eggshells rank up there with rock dust as a source of nutrients. However, the eggshells have to be ground in a food processor, and then put in the soil where they will very slowly dissolve when one adds an acidic solution to the soil (for example, when one uses tea leaves as mulch, or adds grey water in the forms of tea-leave-water or vinegar-water that one has used to clean salad leaves). Its not a fast-acting nutrient, but a slow release.

(Unfortunately the water from the boiled eggs isnt really worth much in terms of dissolved calcium, so you have to get the eggshells themselves).

To apply the eggshells this time, I stored the eggshells in the freezer in a ziplock bag. (internet sites advise washing them and cooking the shells in the oven before powdering them, but I think thats just too arduous). When you are ready, take them and blend into fine grains in a food processor (do it with the frozen stuff, it is all ok, and while they are frozen they dont smell at all - its far less smelly than once they thaw). Then add in the pulverised egg shell bits to tea leaves and add as mulch (see photo). I did this a few weeks ago, and it seems to have given some plants a growth spurt.

This is what it looks like -

Another bonus for carpenters (or weirdo blade fanatics) - I have a japanese waterstone for sharpening blades (primarily hand planes and chisels etc, and also cooking knives). One of the hassles of sharpening stones is that they and their surrounds become extremely messy with greyish powdered metal as one sharpens various blades, and creates a messy cleaning and disposal problem. Ive found a simple solution - put your sharpening stone inside the cut-off upturned lid of the egg carton. Its perfect. The grey metal particles just soak into the wet cardboard of the egg carton lid, which, being about 1 cm high, makes a nice little 'reservoir' for the inevitable water that gets spread around when one is sharpening, but not so high as to obscure access to the sharpening stone. Then dispose of the lid once done. The vicinity of where you have been sharpening stays clean - one can even sharpen on a chopping board on the sink-top without making a mess at all.

 (apropos of nothing eggshell related, a flourishing corn plant head from my garden).