Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zucchini: Golden Squashes

First lets dispel a myth. Zucchini is not a vegetable. It is actually an immature fruit - the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower to be precise. Zucchinis hail from the Americas... at least the squash family did... the varieties of squash typically called "zucchini" were developed in Italy over many generations. Ok I didn't actually know that until I Googled it but I won't tell if you don't...
Our zucchini are the yellow variety and appear happy and content in the middle vege patch. Zucchini are a personal favourite of mine though not so with the boys. Oh well... more for me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Borage is one of our companion plants. It is very useful in helping tomatoes grow (increases cropping and also makes them even tastier) and also repels tomato pests like the tomato hornworm. It is also good for protecting legumes, spinach and brassica as well as strawberries. It is also a vege in its own right and can be used in salads or as a garnish.

It also has many health benefits like boosting metabolism and some believe also for hormone management in women. It is also used for colds, flu and chest infections. Looks nice as well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mango Mango Mango

We have a new Mango Tree which we have decided to plant down the western fenceline where it will be a little more protected than the last unfortunate fellow. The soil is fairly clayey there so we have dug out a good meter round, meter deep hole and filled it with fresh loamy soil and some compost. The tree was already four foot high when we bought it so already it has a good start. We have planted comfrey next to it which is good at breaking up clay soils and bringing up deep nutrients. It may need some wind strength assistance but we will wait for the annual Westerlies to blow in and see how it fares first.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chicken Coop Extension - Phase One

We inherited an old dog enclosure from a family member and decided to add it to the back of the chicken coop. It would not only extend the area available to our chooks but would put them in and around our twin avocado trees and the super passionfruit. Chooks are great for fertilising shrubs and trees as long as you can keep them away from the roots.

The whole family pitched in and during a beautiful day of family fun we pulled the wire off one side of the enclosure and attached it to the chicken coop. We wired off the avocados and the passionfruit vine and let the chickens in. The portion nearest the coop is an old sandy loam garden bed so the ladies will enjoy hunting for bugs and worms I'm sure. The chook access to the new section is via a small cut out wire section that can be closed off if we feel the plants and grass need a break.

The bottom image shows the wire around the twin avocados which are still going well. In all the others you can see the super passionfruit vine that is fruiting like there is no tomorrow on the bottom of the main coop.

Phase two of the extension is to attach the coop to the side of the mower shed. This is scheduled for the weekend of 21/22 Aug. I will keep you posted.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Latest corn crop emerges

Another happy crop of yellow goodness is on its way. There is something magical or mythical about corn that really intrigues me. Perhaps because its a staple that has been with humanity for thousands of years. This is sweet corn and while only enough for probably two meals will be thoroughly welcome at our table.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chilli Delight

Our Chilli bush is going great guns again this year with many big red hotties popping up to spice up life. It is certainly very happy where it is and even more so since we have propped it up a bit more and it has gotten thicker and healthier looking as a result.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Basil: Our Italian King

We planted some Basil in the vege patch as they are good companion plants for tomatoes. They have taken off and we have let them go so we can propagate them around the place.

Basil is originally a native of Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years. The word Basil comes from the Greek and means 'King' as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross.

Basil is best known as an added herb to various dishes. It needs to only be added at the last moment though as cooking too long generally destroys the flavour.It can be dried or kept fresh for a short time in plastic bags in the fridge or for a longer period in the freezer if it has been blanched first.

On the medicinal side various medical studies have established that compounds in the various basil oils have powerful antioxidant, anti-cancer, antiviral, and anti-microbial properties. It is also traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in some countries.

Basil repels many pests to the tomato plant and makes the tomatoes taste better as well.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Avocado Tree - A bovine raid

Well I am starting to feel that the universe is conspiring a little against us with our avos. We bought a beautiful lush 5 foot high sapling to plant on Saturday. It was tall and happy and green and just made for the job. We went inside for lunch... and the wind blew it over... just close enough to the fence for the neighbour's bull to reach it, drag it through the fence and chomp it. It's now a 1 foot stick.. but still alive as far as we can tell... we are hoping it just makes it grow stronger! Damn you fickle goddess of Lauraceae... why do you withhold your pear shaped blessings from our humble gardens..? Fingers crossed it has survived the tragedy!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Banana Tree: A new offshoot

Well our solo Banana Tree has begun creating its own community with a new asexually produced cultivar offshoot sibling. Banana Trees are not actually trees... they are stems shooting up from underground roots or corns. Our banana tree is a Ladyfinger which is a favourite with the adults but not so popular with the kids. I'm sure they'll learn to love them.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Aloe Vera: Succulent Burn Cream

Aloe Vera is highly effective in treating burns and wounds. We have used it on oven burns as well as sun burns with great results. It is also apparently useful in treating diabetes and some blood diseases. This is thought to be due to the presence of compounds such as polysaccharides, mannans, anthraquinones and lectins.

It is a perennial hailing from North Africa and the Mediterranean and has been used in herbal medicine for over 5000 years.

"Research studies highlight the tremendous healing powers of aloe when used both internally and externally. Some of the benefits include: as a pain and allergy inhibitor, for inflammation, fluid retention, perspiration odours, itching, hemorrhaging and to close cuts for cell regeneration and healing, to destroy parasites, harmful bacteria and fungi in the intestinal tract, to relieve bowel tension and help produce bowel movements, moisturise skin, increase blood flow, remove toxins and dead tissue, penetrate skin to reach tendons, muscles, joints and the lymph system, and promote the growth of new tissue. It also has a normalising action on fluid levels and the acid/ alkaline balance in the body. Research has shown that aloe vera can increase the proliferation of lymphocytes and stimulate natural immunity through killer cell activity. Aloe has a strong effect on the immune system, by activating and stimulating macrophages, monocytes, antibodies and T-cells, as well as increasing the number of anti-body forming Bcells in the spleen.

One of the most important functions of aloe is to aid the digestive system, as poor digestion can be responsible for many diseases. Our food comprises proteins, carbohydrates and fats that must undergo a process of digestion, which consists of breaking down complex substances into simpler ones so they can be absorbed and used by the body. Aloe is able to assist the body by providing the active properties of a large range of amino acids, monosaccharides, fatty acids and enzymes that act as catalysts in breaking down complex foods so the body can assimilate the nutrients more efficiently." - source

We are lucky enough to have over half a dozen of these plants growing in our circle garden. they take very little maintenance or watering and are as easy to use as snapping off one of their succulent stalks and rubbing the gooey sap onto any wound or burn.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Avocado - Transplanted Twins

Sometimes when you stop trying hard for something it just seems to happen on its own. We have had a pair of avocado trees volunteer in the middle vege garden. How an avocado seed got in there we don't know but I suspect small hands and a bit of mischief might have something to do with it. Of course we can't have avocado trees growing in the middle of our vege garden so we made the decision to transplant them to the bottom of the chicken coop in the old sandy loam garden that was there. Avocados like lots of drainage so they should be happy there. Cross fingers... we might finally be on the way to some Persea americano goodness.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ginger: A tuber delicacy

I have been told that we haven't given enough air time to the many other citizens of our growing plant community so the months of June & July are dedicated to herbs, roots and medicinal plants that add their many benefits to our self sufficiency table.

First up is Ginger. Well we just planted our first tuber delicacy so there isn't must to report on it's progress besides the fact that it now exists.

Ginger is a versatile root and can be used as a delicacy in its own right or as medicine or spice. It began in South Asia and has spread throughout the world with the galleons and junks of the spice traders. The characteristic odor and flavor of ginger is caused by a mixture of zingerone, shogaols and gingerols, volatile oils that compose one to three percent of the weight of fresh ginger. Ginger has what is called a sialagogue action which stimulates the production of saliva, making swallowing easier.

It also has medicinal properties and can assist with slowing diarrhea, nausea for those of you who get motion sickness, dyspepsia, colic, arthritis, cholesterol, heart disease, congestion, coughs and colds. A powerful tool of the natural world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Capsicums: Let me be

We have grown Capsicums several times in our vege patch but have found that they do better being left alone a little. The seem to resent too much attention. They are another versatile food (I mean really - nature gives us everything we need!) and can be used as spices, vegetables or even medicines. We mainly grow the red capsicums which have very high levels of vitamin C (though yellow and green capsicums have nearly as much) and are also rich in beta carotene which the body makes into vitamin A (important for healthy skin, boosts the immune system, and aids in night vision). They are also generally the most popular as they contain about two teaspoons of natural sugar and are consequently more pleasing to the palate (yellow capsicums have almost as much, but the greens have very little and are more bitter as a result)

This photo is of a current bush that has volunteered itself in our middle garden. We have watered and tended it little leaving it to the odd sprinkle of rain to see how it fared. Very well thank you very much apparently.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Grapevines: Some new residents

We have been debating the appropriateness of planting some grapevines given they seem to be fonder of cooler climes, but having visited some local properties where grapevines are abundant we are sold on the idea of at least trying them out.

We are lucky to have a large fencespace at the back of the pool which faces North and has plastic wire all over it. Full sun and well drained soil is prime real estate for our Vitis friends.

We have two variety of grapes. A Menindee Seedless (bottom) and a Black Muscat (top). They are both delicious grape varieties. The vines are deciduous, don't like to be over fertilised (apparently promotes leaf growth over fruit growth) and appreciate a good cut back in Winter when they go dormant.

Grapes are a very versatile food source and can be eaten raw, jammed, juiced and jellied or turned into vinegar or wine or dried out into Sultanas (Raisins).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Paw Paw Trees: Something Rotten

On the right is our oldest Paw Paw tree. It is now about 2 years old and for the last 12 months has had some sort of creeping rot on its trunk. We know they don't like wet feet so have been careful not to over water it. We think it may be root rot which occurs if it does get too wet and is not in well drained soil but even laying off watering it completely hasn't seemed to help.

It will be interesting to see if the new Paw Paw planted in the same garden has the same problems and others planted elsewhere don't. It might be an acidic soil issue. The investigations continue...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Passionfruit Vines: Happy Campers

The passionfruit vines are going great guns and are covering the chook pen fences nicely which has the extra benefit of giving the hens extra shade during the day which they are taking advantage of.

We have had to move one of the passionfruit vines (bottom picture) to the other side of the chookpen (the one that was growing up the potting shed (next to the Banana)) to make way for the new Paw Paw Trees. It appears to have survived the transplant though has shed a number of its longer vines to do so.

The vine on the end of the chook pen (middle picture) has fruits the size of double golf balls already so we are expecting a bumper harvest.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chickens: Mystery Solved

Well the mystery of the disappearing eggs has been solved! And we owe an apology to the reptile kingdom we naively pointed the finger at. It was an avian menace in the end. Two great black crows that were spotted in a tense scuffle with the chickens before smashing one egg and flying off with another. This may also explain the loss of feathers on a couple of the chickens as well.

Enter modern technology. I recalled reading some time ago that one way to help keep away predatory birds from your young chicks was to nail CDs, shiny side up, on the top of the chicken fence and hang them in any high set entry points. This was more aimed at hawks and falcons but I was sure the same technique would deal with thieving crows.

5 days since the installation of the wizzbang though sometime unaesthetic CD curtain and all eggs remain in the nest, the chooks look more relaxed and serenity appears to have returned to fowl central.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Paw Paw Trees: New Homes

We have planted out our four new Paw Paw Trees. Two are next to the potting shed (next to the Banana Tree, One is inside the chook pen (wired off from pecking beaks) and one is up in the garden next to the original Paw Paw Tree.

The original tree has some worrying problem at the base of it's trunk which seems to be eating out the middle of the tree (looks like some sort of mould). I will take some photos and post about it soon.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wildlife: Eastern Water Dragon

The boys found this juvenile Eastern Water Dragon which is a kind of Bearded Dragon which is pretty prevalent around South East Queensland.

"The eastern water dragon grows to around 80-90cm in length, much of which is tail. The colour consists of shades of grey or brown with a series of black bands on the back and tail and a black stripe on the side of the head behind the eye. The underside is creamy-white, although males may have a vivid red on some or most of the belly and chest. There are enlarged scales forming a crest down the middle of the head, back and tail. The legs are relatively long and powerful and the strong tail is flattened on the sides to assist with swimming.

Did You Know? Male water dragons will sometimes fight each other for territories. Such battles can become quite severe with the two combatants standing on their hind legs in an attempt to push the other over on to its back.

Habitat: The eastern water dragon inhabits the coastal water courses of eastern Australia from northern Queensland to Gippsland in eastern Victoria. It is a good tree climber and likes to laze on branches overhanging the water. If disturbed it will drop into the water and swim to the bottom to wait for the danger to pass, staying under for up to 30 minutes if necessary.

Diet: The diet mainly comprises small reptiles, worms, frogs, insects, vegetation, fruit, small mammals and molluscs.

Reproduction: Males defend a territory and a harem of females, carrying out an impressive series of head bobs and arm waves to discourage other intruding males. The females lay around a dozen eggs in an excavated hole in sandy soil above the floodline. These will hatch in approximately three months. The young are miniature replicas of the adults and are able to fend for themselves as soon as they hatch." - Source Site

Friday, April 30, 2010

Onions: Bulbous Goodness

The in-laws live about 4min (by car [45min by foot]) down the road and run a 50 acre commercial farm and had a bumper crop of onions this season. Unfortunately there was a glut in the market and it was not viable to even harvest the crop.

So...a pair of shears and a few boxes later we had oodles of onions and 3 dirt covered and very happy boys who enjoyed running across a 10 acre field as much as cutting the onions. Onions are a pretty well known food source and have been cultivated for over 5000 years (yep they found traces in Bronze Age settlements!). Onions have great health benefits as well and are effective against a plethora of conditions ranging from the common cold to heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other killers and debilitators.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wildlife: Giant Grasshopper

The boys found this big lad last week and hand great fun watching how high and how far he was able to jump.

Giant Grasshoppers are the largest grasshoppers in Australia and also commonly known as Giant Valanga and Hedge Grasshoppers. They are native to Australia and adults can range from 60-90mm. This big fella was actually 92mm so a giant amongst giants. They are common in Brisbane and their body colour and patterns can apparently vary a great deal. Usually the adults are greyish green and brown in colour with black dots pattern on their front wings but their colours generally resemble the plant stem where they usually hide.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mulberry Trees: Fast Growers

Our Mulberry trees are coming along very nicely. They apparently do grow very fast when juveniles and slow down as they age stopping at about 10-15m. As you can see from the photos ours are already 8m after less than two years. They are already fruiting as well much to the boys' delight.

We have Asian Mulberries and their fruit is sweet and a deep purple. Mulberry leaves are ecologically important as the sole food source of the silkworm as well!
"Worldwide, mulberry is grown for its fruit. In traditional and folk medicine, the fruit is believed to have medicinal properties and is used for making jam, wine, and other food products. As the genera Morus has been domesticated over thousands of years and constantly been subjected to heterosis breeding (mainly for improving leaf yield), it is possible to hybridize breeds suitable for berry production." - Wiki

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pumpkins: Clean up reveals haul

We have gotten into the vege patch to clean out the overwhelming pumpkin vines that had moved from the main large square patch over pretty much the entire rest of the garden. We had spotted a couple of pumpkins in there prior to the cleanup but three trailer loads of vines later the true haul was revealed.

We've never had any trouble growing pumpkins around here so while it was not at all surprising it was a welcome harvest. Those with good eyes will spot a couple of watermelons in there as well that were hiding down the far corner. The sweet potatoes you can see were from the same patch as that monster one a month ago.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Macadamia Tree: Two years

Our Macadamia tree keeps on keeping on. It never seems to have a bad month and has grown about a foot over the last 12 months.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weather: A glorious lifestyle

I have to be honest. I wasn't all that keen to move out west from the City when Amy first suggested it back in 2007. I like my cafes and my cinemas and my on hand shopping centers and for a pudgy city boy, 2.5 acres sounded like a lot of hard work. But after three years out here I am sold! Well actually I was sold in the first 6 months as I learned the joy of digging gardens and the joy of erecting a chicken coop and housing chickens who provide your daily eggs. But what makes it even more delicious is the living artwork of nature we get to enjoy every day.

I still work in Brisbane which is an hour away but the drive is mostly highway driving and I get to see some glorious sunrises and sunsets over the hills rolling throughout the Lockyer Valley. The first photo is the glorious sunset I was privileged to witness on the way home on Monday afternoon. It was like God himself taking a final look at our little piece of the planet as he moved on for the day.

This morning was mist. Thick glorious mist that covered the low lying areas (we are on top of a hill) and slowly rolled up the distant mountains with the warming sunrise. I enjoyed the view very much with a good book and a cup of coffee. Ahhhh. I really couldn't be more content I don't think.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Paw Paw Trees: Four new arrivals

Friends in Brisbane have given us four new Paw Paw trees to plant, nurture and enjoy. Our original tree is still growing strong and at almost two years has started fruiting though nothing full size as yet.

We will plant these new arrivals in a couple of spots around the property and I will post photos of their new homes once completed.

Paw Paws are another favourite around here, especially for Amy so an abundance of them won't be a problem!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sweet Potatoes: A Month of Monsters

We hadn't altogether planned to begin growing sweet potatoes but when a store bought specimen began to sprout in the potato cupboard we decided to plant him out. Well he grew a nice crop alright including this monster that burst his own skin he was growing so fast. We harvested a dozen all up from our pioneer so very happy all round.

Our South American friends are packed full of goodness and taste great as well. "Besides simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta carotene (a vitamin A equivalent nutrient), vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Pink and yellow varieties are high in carotene, the precursor of vitamin A.

In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fibre content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points over the next on the list, the common potato.(NCSPC)

Sweet potato varieties with dark orange flesh have more beta carotene than those with light coloured flesh, and their increased cultivation is being encouraged in Africa, where vitamin A deficiency is a serious health problem. Despite the name "sweet", it may be a beneficial food for diabetics, as preliminary studies on animals have revealed that it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and to lower insulin resistance. Some Americans, including television personality Oprah Winfrey, are advocating increased consumption of sweet potatoes both for their health benefits and because of their importance in traditional Southern cuisine.

The peptic substance (0.78 percent total, 0.43 percent soluble) present in fresh tubers contains uronic acid (60 percent) and methoxyl (4 to 5 percent). Other constituents include phytin (1.05 percent), two monoaminophosphatides (probably lecithin and cephalin), organic acids (oxalic acid), phytosterolin, phytosterol, resins, tannins, and colouring matter. (Hug et al., 1983)." - Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Watermelons: 12kg Monster

Our experiments in watermelons have been mixed success. Some end up of good size and absolutely delicious to eat. Nothing beats homegrown for flavour I can tell you! More than half end up attacked by local wildlife and end up as chook food but this monster self volunteered at the sandy garden at the end of the chicken coop. It weighed in at a hefty 12kg once we picked it and is rock solid full of goodness. We are too busy admiring it at the moment to eat it but intend to feast up its gooey red internals on the weekend. Slurp!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Water: A veritable downpour!

Energy: Sunkissed

We've gone Solar! We have installed a 1.2KW system as phase one of our switch to energy efficiency as well as a solar hot water system.

Once we extend the house further later this year we will have even more roof space to install a second group of panels. We are very fortunate [well for a whole variety of reasons :)] but with regard to the solar panels because our roof is north facing and we get loads of sunshine most days so our system is ticking along nicely already.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chickens: Off the Lay

Our chickens have appeared to be off the lay over the last few weeks but the mysterious appearances of cracked open egg shells down the far end of the property has us thinking there is a thief on the lam. The hot weather and rain has brought all the snakes out of hiding as well as lizards and other reptilian life so perhaps one of them has stumbled upon a great source of protein that just requires a little bit of stealth to pull off.

The chickens certainly don't appear bothered with whatever is going on and don't appear under threat themselves. We shall keep it under surveillance though as those eggs have pancakes waiting for them goddamn it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Passionfruit Vines: New Residents

Well our single passionfruit vine has reached the end of its life span and has been slowly dying off over the last couple of months. Nature must have foreseen the event though as three passionfruit vines voluntarily emerged in our red pepper pot. We have planted all three out. One where the old vine was and two on the sides of the chicken coop. It has been a little bit of a struggle to coach them to grow onto the wire above the chicken pecking zone but they seem to have manage the feat now.

All three seem very happy where we have planted them though the two on the chicken coop may test the strength of my home built enclosure... fingers crossed they can hold the glorious abundance they will soon support.