POWer Plants June Sale: Winter is here!

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A big welcome to all of our new friends! It’s been a HUGE month for POWer Plants after our spot on Gardening Australia. Check it out on iview if you missed it!

This POWer Plants Monthly Sale, we’re celebrating an awesome new community initiative that’s pretty BEAUT!

BEAUT stands for Burmese Enterprise Association for Urban Trading. It is an enterprise which is owned and controlled by Burmese community members. Most of these individuals arrived in Australia after 2004 on UNHCR refugee visas.

Every year, Australia resettles over 5, 000 newly arrived refugees. These people bring extensive skills and experience from their home countries, but struggle to integrate into the Australian work force. With the right mentoring, support, relationships, and opportunities, newly arrived migrants and refugees can leverage their skills and abilities to create positive employment opportunities and new businesses within the Australian labour market.

BEAUT members work in collaboration with the Footscray Maker Lab, Baptcare, The Chin Christian Council, Permaculture Out West and Action Foresight.

BEAUT have been making some pretty darn awesome wicking bed boxes, filling them up with all the materials needed as well as some of our seedlings and delivering them to households around the West. Come see one in action on Sunday! You can order your own through their facebook page.

Now we’re into the cold months, it’s time for the deep greens. Plants available this month: We have heaps of kale, broccoli, broccolini, cauli, cabbage. We’ve also got mustard greens, chia, lettuce, fennel, calendula, rosemary, warigal greens, dill, avocado and more. As always all seedlings are $1, big pots $2.

We LOVE trades, so bring your seedlings, produce, worm juice, or whatever other excess you may have and trade for some yummy organic seedlings. Most importantly PLEASE BRING US SEEDLING TUBES! We are DESPERATELY low! We trade for seedlings.

Join our (expanding) bunch of (super rad) volunteers every Sunday from 2-4 and we’ll give you seedings for free.

Proceeds go to supporting local food projects in the West.

Proudly supported by Permaculture Out West.

Juicing for life!

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Our family has been big into juices for a while now. As someone living with fibromyalgia, juicing is one of the best ways for me to keep well. While it’s still unclear what the causes of fibromylagia are, it’s generally understood to be an autoimmune disorder which is influenced by a leaky gut. So the more that can be done to repair the stomach and to prevent the damage from increasing, the better. Two of the best ways of doing that are huge amounts of probiotics and huge amounts of fresh, raw food.

When we got the thermomix, a whole new world of juices and smoothies opened up. Not only did it increase the range of stuff we can turn into juice, but it also meant we get to drink more of it as there’s not pulp extraction.

This was going to be a recipe post, but it’s more of a method post as I don’t really follow a recipe as it depends on what fresh stuff I have on hand. I do like mine thick and smoothie like, if you like more of a liquid consistency, just add more liquid and a bit less of the really thick ingredients.

 

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Step one:

Grab a basket and head out to the garden. I try and get two handfuls of stuff at least. And it’s good to think rainbows! The basket above shows a good average selection; some cauli and broccoli that was flowering early (picking the flower heads off should encourage the plant to head again), mint, pineapple sage flowers, violet flowers. I was aiming for a light sweet smoothie with this one, but if I was going for a Vit C/iron booster smoothie, I’d grab some kale, spinach, or silverbeet leaves two. Other plants I like to grow for juices are: amaranth (for the seeds and the leaves), chia, lemon balm, nasturtium, calendula, marigold, passionfruit and more greens! We do have a few trees planted for fruit: apple, feijoa, mandarin, lemon and lemonade but they’re all a bit young.

For the permaculturalists, you can see why these all need to be zone one plants so it’s easy to nip outside and harvest what you need. I have all my juicing, picking plants close to each other. It also allows me to build some basic garden observation into my routine.

Now this is where the plan splits, juice or smoothie. If I’m making juice, the base will be coconut water or apples/oranges blended with water. If it’s a smoothie, I make a base of almond milk using this method:

Note: this is a lazy method. There are plenty of recipes out there for a less bitsy milk, but I don’t mind the bits and I’m sure it’s not bad for me 🙂

60 g almonds, speed 9/10 sec
600 g water, speed 9/1 min
pour mixture through a fine sieve to filter out nut bits (give them to the chooks, they love it)

Now the drink prep:

1 handful of dates, speed 9/10 sec
add the greens and other colours from the garden speed 7/5 sec
add the liquid, 600mlish (coconut water or apple/orange base or almond milk base)
add one or two bananas
add any extras, I normally throw in a tablespoon of LSA, 1 tblsp chia seeds, 1 tblsp hemp seeds, 1 tblsp carob fibre mix, (if doing a green juice) 1 tblsp spirulina, speed 8/20-30 seconds.

Give it a taste to make sure it’s what you want, if it needs a bit of sweetening, a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup can do the trick. If it’s a bit thick, add a bit more water.

Pour into a glass and top with some chia or extra carob powder.

And enjoy!

IMG_20140525_110042Even when I’m at my least well time of the year (winter makes me stiff and sore) and my energy is at a total low, I still get the juices in me. It helps me keep well even when I’m not able to eat properly and it helps me bounce back quicker. And it’s delicious!!

 

Potting mix: DIY – Leaf Mould

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We always look forward to autumn and the dropping of the leaves. Not just because it’s so darn pretty but because it’s the start of the super fun process of making leaf mould compost.

Since starting the nursery we’ve had an aim of total self-sufficiency. There’s a couple of areas that we don’t have the space for. Like seeds (we can save some but not all) and river sand (aint got no river!). But when it comes to soil we’re pretty on track.

 

We have four compost structures operating in different ways. We have the chooks who also act as compost accelerators. And once a year we get the leaf mould compost going. It’s a great way to make a super light, peat-like soil which is perfect for mixing with filtered compost and river sand to make the loveliest seed-raising mix.

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There are many different ways of making leaf mould compost depending on what equipment/space/impatience you have. This method is the cheap, lazy and quickish method!

Equipment:

Old rubbish bin or similar shaped item. We use an old plastic rubbish bin we found on the side of the road, turned upside down with the bottom cut out.
A cover of some description. We use a big plastic plant pot that sits in the top whole and pushes the leaves down as they settle. The holes in the bottom of the pot also let rainwater in to keep the leaves moist.
A whole lot of leaves
A wheelbarrow
A sieving device – we use an old bed base
Kids to help (optional 🙂 )

All you need to do is fill your old bin with your leaves and give them a good drenching. Then nature will do the rest! As there is a good surface area to the ground the worms will get in and do their work. And the leaves will mold up and break down into a lovely rich humus. We did our annual process last weekend so here’s some photos of our results.

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Last years leaves broken right down. You can see there’s still some leaves in there so we’ll give it all a good sift to get the soil out. The left over leaves will make the base for the next batch.

 

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When we pulled the bin off you can see the wonderful rich black soil. We had some plant get some roots up in there as well so we’ll filter them out.

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Our sifting system is an old bed base placed on top of our wheelbarrow. Although it’s a bit awkward to work with so we’re plannign on building a new system soon, stay tuned for that!

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Next we just shoveled all the contents from our bin on top and gave it a good shake to sift the good soil through. Then we were left with about 20L of wonderful rich but super light soil which is the perfect basis of a seed raising mix. The leaves that were left over got popped back in our upside down bin, which was filled up with this years autumn leaves.

 

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We keep this mix nice and wet for the next month to make sure the decomposing process takes good hold. And we’ll keep adding leaves every weekend until the leaves have stopped falling to make sure we have a good amount of soil as it settles.

And there you have it! Super easy and super rewarding, and compared to our other compost systems, not at all labour intensive so that’s a bonus. I just check in on it once a month and make sure it’s not too dry. The benefits to good soil are huge as this type of composting leaves you with a soil which has excellent structure and moisture holding properties.

Our only problem is we only have one bin making leaf mould. I’m definitely on the look out for another abandoned container that would be suitable for this technique so we can double capacity!

BUGS! Part Two: Leaf Miner

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(Part One: Snails is here)

Sometimes garden pests are mysterious. You need to get out day and night to figure out what is eating your beloved plants. But sometimes they’re incredibly obvious in their infestation, and the evidence you have leaf miners can even be considered attractive! But they’re not a good thing to have around and it’s best to deal with them quickly as they can do a lot of damage. Luckily it’s pretty easy so here’s a short guide.

There’s two main types of leaf miner in Australian backyard gardens: Citrus Leaf Miners and Vegetable Leaf Miners. They’re technically different but the identification and treatment is pretty much the same.

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See that pretty spiral pattern on the leaves of that cabbage seedling? That’s our pest! It’s actually the larvae of a small fly. They lay their eggs on the leaf and then when the larvae hatches it burrows its way in and chows down on the inside of the leaf. This can have significant impact on the photosynthesis process of the leaves which can severely hamper the development of the plant, maybe event kill it. But luckily it’s easy to remove, you can just cut it off! If it’s just a small part of the leaf you can just cut off the infected bit, otherwise it might be best to remove the whole leaf. The important bit now is to get them out of your system before they turn into flies and lay more eggs! We feed ours to the chooks. I wouldn’t put them in the compost. They probably won’t have enough fresh food in there to stay alive, but better to be safe than sorry.

We’ve had a bit of Leaf Miner in our brassica seedlings this month and we’ve just carefully removed them on sight. It hasn’t bothered the plant too much and we’ve managed to eradicate them. Yay!

Citrus leaf miner is the same but as you can guess from the name, lives in the leaves of citrus plants. You can cut it off. Or if you have a severe infestation and you think it will damage your tree too much to remove the infected leaves you can use a white oil spray to get rid of them. That will also help stop gall wasps so double bonus!

Another strategy is companion planting and a good decoy plant is Lamb’s Quarter. It’s known as a weed but of course that just means it’s a plant that can grow easily in our climate without our help! It’s incredibly good for you too.

An important Permaculture Principle is ‘Observe and Interact’ and checking for bugs is an important part of this process. So put leaf miner checking on your list of to do’s when wandering the garden and seeing what’s going on. I’ve found them in brassicas as well as my beloved nasturtium. Check out these images to see lots of examples of what they look like and keep an eye out.

Circles of life

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Chickens are a wonderful part of our garden and family system.

They’re the friendliest, weirdest little creatures. Their behaviour is extremely interesting to observe and they can be deadly funny at times.  They are fantastic for kids. They produce wonderful fresh, healthy, protein-rich eggs. And they are natures best composters. If you’re going to have living creatures in your permaculture system, chickens are the best place to start.

They do take a bit of care, and it’s critical that if you are going to take on the responsibility of having chickens in your garden that you keen them and their pen clean, feed them fresh food and water and keep their run well protected. You need to learn the signs of well and not-so-health so you can address any issues as soon as they arise.

And they die. Sometimes they do this all by themselves, sometimes you need to help. It is a reality you need to face as soon as you decide to get chickens. If you’re not prepared to face this reality, you really ought not to have chickens.

One of our chickens died recently. She was an older hen and it appeared she died from natural causes. She woke one morning, ate breakfast, laid an egg and then lay down to sleep forever.

As a permaculturalist the death of a chicken is a wonderful opportunity for education for our children. We always mark the death of a chicken with a small ceremony of acknowledgement of the life of our chicken. The kids can say what they need, whether it be a good bye or a favourite memory. This is an important way for them to learn about grief and that it’s ok and a completely natural process to go through. We also pick a couple of flowers to put with the chicken which is partly about traditional human mourning ceremony but also because it brightens the process up for them. And then we bury the hen.

For me, this is the important natural lesson for children to learn. Everything comes from the earth, everything gets energy from the earth, everything dies and returns to the earth. It is quite a simple process really. Yet humans are terribly good at complicating death and this can be distressing and confusing for children. More often than not this can lead to a real feeling of fear of death which can lead to real problems later in life. I know my first real experience of death wasn’t until I was about 15 and it was such a foreign process for me it was pretty hard at the time.

We always try and find a good place to bury the chicken where it will have plenty of time to decompose undisturbed and will provide useful nutrients for our garden. This time, I decided to bury our hen in the food forest next to a feijoa tree which has been struggling a bit. And the kids all help.

The funny part of this story is that we coincidentally inherited another hen the following day. Having explained to the kids how chickens die, go back to the earth and then new chickens come along, one of our four year olds thought this was the reincarnation of the hen we buried! She explained ‘Milly died and we buried her and then it made a new one!’

Bless.

We now have a Mumbles in the family and she is very lovely. She’s a bantam and a lot smaller than the rest of our flock so I’m introducing her slowly but she’s holding her ground and is very affectionate to us.

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Bugs! part one: snails

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One of the trickiest things we’ve had to learn to manage since we started the nursery is bugs. Nasty bugs!

There is nothing more devastating than watching a tray load of seedlings popping up only to have a caterpillar or snail cruise through and take out the lot.

Here at POWer Plants we have a completely organic approach so nuking them with toxic chemicals ain’t going to happen. So this means getting to know our bugs. Each bug needs a different strategy. In this series of posts I’m going to talk about some of them and how we keep them under control.

SNAILS

Evil buggers. One thing snails are very good at is breaking down waste and turning it into a fertiliser (read: poo). Sadly we haven’t figured out how to harness this power. So for now, snails are great in forests, terrible in vege patches.

One of the best ways to control snails is chickens. They’re very good at keeping the population down. So long as you keep your vege beds well fenced off or your chickens well supervised, a good few hours a week free ranging the chooks around your garden will keep the snails down. Snails are very good for chickens.  They’re high in protein and calcium so they’re a good supplement for healthy eggs.

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Cauliflower seedling one day after being planted!

Of course there’s always one or two that sneak through. An established patch will handle the odd visitor but new seedlings will not, so it’s important to keep them safe. A great tip is to cut the bottom of an empty soft drink bottle and put it on top of your new seedlings. Not only does this keep your seedlings safe but the bottle will act as a mini greenhouse. Win! Once your seedling is getting a bit squished in there it’s time to take the bottle off. Your seedlings should be strong enough to survive a bit of a munch.

But the really effective strategy is getting out there at night and catching them!

I always say that Buddhism has a snail clause. There is something quite satisfying about the sound of a snail shell crunching under your gumboots! While you’re out there try and identify where they’re coming from. They will have a spot (or ten) where they sleep during the day so it’s always good to find those spots.

When we first started gardening we had a pretty serious snail problem but between us and the chickens and the kids they’re quite manageable.

The other great advantage of night hunting is getting to know your garden at night. They are quite different places when it’s dark and I find it useful to get a complete idea about the special joys my garden has to offer. And of course snails aren’t the only night critters. There’s other bugs that’ll get into your patch and do damage so it’s good to get to know what’s happening out there night and day, summer and winter.

Giant tiger slug!

Giant tiger slug!

There’s also a number of traps and repellents you can use. Snails like beer! So you can make beer traps for them. Although you then need to dispose of them which I find a bit smelly. You can keep them away with salt and chilli powder in your garden. Although this might not work very well if you live somewhere with a high rainfall. Be careful not to use too much.

Hopefully that answers some snail questions you might have. If you have any other snail taming tips to share please leave a comment below.

Happy hunting!

Horseradish – the ultimate community perennial

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Thriving horseradish

As permaculturalists, we always strive for self-regulating systems. So perennial plants play a huge role in our garden. They require almost no care, self-propagate and they’re delicious!

My rule for harvesting Horseradish is one quarter goes back into the garden, one quarter gets repotted for sharing with the community and the rest gets processed for eating. The tops of the plants go into the compost or to the chickens.

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Baby horseradish plant ready to get potted up for the nursery

Our original plant came from the Braybrook Community Garden via the legendary Steve and went in about two years ago. I’ve had three harvest rounds out of it. Normally you harvest when the leaves die down – like potatoes. But our crop got attacked by caterpillars while we were off getting married so I decided to harvest early. I was also keen to move them to another spot.

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Replanted horseradish ready to grow and be the crop for next year

I use the technique laid out here to process horseradish. Since my harvest was a bit early I didn’t bother peeling as I wouldn’t be left with much so instead I gave the roots a really good wash and pulled off all of the fine roots.

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This is where it gets serious. When you read warnings about safety when it comes to horseradish, there are no exaggerations here! I don’t normally go as far as gloves, but I definitely put my sunglasses on and make sure I wash my hands very well as soon as I’ve finished. I’m always the first to scratch my eye ofter chopping chillies…

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CAUTION!

All you need to do is pop your horseradish in the blender with two tablespoons of water. I have a thermomix (yay!) so I use that. I chopped mine up on speed 7 for ten seconds. Checked (carefully so no fumes got in my eye!) and decided to scrape it down and give it another 5 seconds. Then I added a tablespoon of white vinegar and pulsed it in to the mixture.

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Carefully, making sure not to get any anywhere near your eyes, spoon it into a jar, and that’s it!

Fresh horseradish is totally delicious. I like to eat it with beef but you can have it on all sorts of things. And you can use it as a base for other sauces.

Best of all, now you have some sauce you can put some in a small jar and give it to a friend!

There you have it! Easy to grow plant that’s both delicious and easy to make and also super easy to share!

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Yummo in a jar