For the love of Aussie Bees – Got’s the BEE FEVER.

I’ve always had a healthy respect for bees… in the last few years my respect has broadened and grown to encompass many more bee species as i’ve discovered their seemingly less obvious existence (at least to modern white Australia). The sheer diversity that Australia holds in native bees is of huge wonderment to me and I rarely get quite as excited as when I manage to spot one lured back to the suburbs or out on a bushwalk.

More recently, it seems like a dam has broken in my head… I think triggered by the successful division of the original Stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) box here and/or the acquisition of a couple of new colonies at the end of 2015. I’d been researching trap nest construction for a couple of years and floodgates wide open, I decided it was time to get serious about my home’s beneficial insect housing options to bolster the more solitary of the native bee species as well as any other happy coincidental residents that felt like moving in.

Insect hotel Alpha

One moderately sized insect hotel wall quickly became two as I feared running out of space for the quantity and variety of nesting material I wanted to try. I’ll talk more in the future about specific types and the species they have attracted but the range briefly includes Mud blocks, Cob blocks, Pithy stem bundles, Hollow stem/Wax paper straw bundles, Drilled hardwood holes down and across grain, same with soft-woods, varying hole sizes from 3-10mm. Some large hole-dwelling wasps will seemingly use up to ~13mm holes.

Insect hotel Beta

It doesn’t all happen at once but adding the biggest range of nesting materials ensures the greatest diversity of inhabitants. Of coarse, housing is only one side of the coin with these things… you need a good amount and diversity of flowering plants to provide food and initial attraction to the area. An accessible source of water is needed too, this means pond with floating aquatics to land on, or even just putting a stick or rock in your bird-bath so bees can drink without drowning.


Australian Paper Wasps in the Garden – another case of Knowledge is Power!

Often, when I talk to people about wasps, I find they look upon them very unfavourably as a menace to family health and often for this reason… something to be destroyed on sight.

Most often the wasps that come to these people’s minds first are in the Paper Wasp family which, as their name suggests, build their fantastic nests out of papery material often found in protected locations under eaves and hidden in dense vegetation like hedging. I believe one of the reasons they are more frequently found close to dwellings in suburbia is that they havn’t got as much access to all of the nice high ‘out of our way’ spots that taller trees and natural dense stands of vegetation that they’re used to in the wild. Lawns make terrible wasp habitat!

In the danger-zone
Large colony In the danger-zone

The thing is most native Paper Wasps have very little interest in attacking you unless they regard their nest is under threat. Fairly understandable really… living in a colony means that many of their young’uns are together and under threat at the same time, hence the desire to defend said colony is relatively strong. Human parents would probably get pretty violent if they found their Childcare centre was under attack too!!! ;-p

The only time i’ve been attacked is if I’ve accidentally pruned too close to a nest I neglected to detect, in which case I say ‘fair enough guys, message received!’. Working close to active nests, i’ve found remaining calm also helps in keeping the wasps calm. Of coarse I keep an eye on them for warning signs too, such as individuals on the nest beginning to turn and face you.

Now, don’t get me wrong… if a member of your family is allergic to wasp stings I can fully understand the need to keep paper wasp nests away from your living areas etc.

BUT… I happily co-exist with these guys both where I live, and in gardens I work at all around the Central Coast and Hunter Valley. Not only that, but they provide a POWERFUL pest control function in these gardens which saves me a lot of effort and energy.

As soon as a population establishes itself within range of a vegetable garden I see almost no Cabbage Patch Butterfly caterpillars on Brassicas (Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Asian Greens, Broccoli etc.) with wasp individuals continually scouring leaves for more grubs.

Native Paper Wasp making a right mess of a 3-Striped Potato Beetle Larva
Native Paper Wasp making a right mess of a 3-Striped Potato Beetle Larva

Native Paper wasps are also the only thing i’ve seen actively attempting to control the larvae of 3-Striped Potato Beetle (Lema daturaphila) making me think they’re likely to go for larva of Leaf-eating Ladybeetles (Epilachna spp.) too. Natural Pest Control Champions!

So next time you find a Native Paper Wasp nest, take a deep breath, think again and evaluate all of the positives and negatives of its presence and location. If you still want it gone, perhaps think about armouring up and translocating the nest rather than burning or poisoning the whole colony.

A bit of knowledge can make all the difference in how you regard these amazing little critters!

Grafted versus Non-Grafted Passionfruits – Possibility for alternative rootstock options?

Now, there are very few people from experience that don’t like eating Passionfruits in some form or another. Common, easy to grow and sweet, these relatively thirsty climbers have been grown by households in Australia for a long time.

When you go to acquire an edible Passionfruit plant in Australia you have a few main options; the variety – Black, Panama, Banana, and whether it is grafted or un-grafted. First available in the season are the grafted var’s as the non-grafted take a little longer to get going. You may be wondering… whats the real difference?

Happily growing and fruiting amongst native vegetation by creek no rootstock required
Naturalised Black Passionfruit

I personally avoid buying grafted Passionfruits as the rootstock used is from an exceptionally weedy Passionfruit variety from South America called Passiflora caerulea. The reasons given for its use as a rootstock is that it is cold-hardy and disease resistant, but it also readily sends sub-surface runners and shoots out which have to be constantly kept back or it will quickly overtake the top of the graft (desirable bit) and probably a lot more of your yard! Vigorous to the point that it will smother vegetation in yard and bush alike, it also produces natural cyanide in its stems, leaves and immature fruits so don’t let livestock or other animals (incl. children) eat it either.

I feel that part of the reason Blue Passionfruit is so frequently used as rootstock may be that a single plant will produce 1000 plants for grafting onto due to its running habit and that saves money, effort and time growing 1000 whole other rootstock plants as grafting fodder.

If you live in an area like Victoria or inland that has much colder periods of the year, the

Passiflora herbertiana fruit
Passiflora herbertiana fruit

Blue grafted varieties may be right for you. The rootstock being a bit less excessively-vigorous in the cool but you’ll still need to keep an eye on those runners as it can still be a weed in these areas. Possibly growing these in a container may help you to restrict much of this unwanted spread.

If you live in an area classed as warm-temperate, subtropical through to the tropics you’ll be able to grow non-grafted Passionfruit quite easily and with much less maintenance. The trouble more seems to be keeping water up to them in a low input system. Ie; minimal fertilisation, watering etc. tending to do much better in a partially sheltered understorey situation.

Three colour shades over flower age.
Passiflora herbertiana flowers

The main basis for this post is that i’m growing a native Passionfruit (Passiflora herbertiana) which is a bushfood local to the NSW east coast and ranges, into Queensland. The fruit itself is small, edible and sweet but has a distinct aftertaste. I havn’t heard of anybody trying this but I wonder if using this native species as a rootstock could reduce the relatively high water requirements of the cultivated Passionfruit varieties. At least for the areas where the native has natural distribution. I believe Passiflora herbertiana is not as cold hardy as Blue Passionfruit but having evolved in an arid country like Australia I assume it is more ably adapted to drought and minimal irrigation. Also the risk of it taking over or becoming an environmental weed is about zero.

Currently just an idea, if you’re reading this and have any input or thoughts I’d greatly appreciate the discussion. 🙂

Artichokes – The Perils of the Common Name… (in this case, delicious peril!)

What does this title mean?! Well… i’m on about vegetables called Artichokes. In the vegetable world there are three kinds i’m aware of so far, all rather distinctly unrelated to each other!

Globe Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) – cultivated from a type of thistle with the core of the young flower buds eaten, steamed or picked. These are what you’d probably think of when you first hear Artichoke, buying them ready-pickled in jars from the supermarket.

Jerusalem Artichoke Harvest

Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are closely related to sunflowers and produce a large mass of reasonably knobbly tubers at its base come the cooler seasons. Clean with a brush and cook with skin on. Delicious roasted, baked or steamed with a nice subtle flavour and buttery texture. The plant is very easy growing and even gives you a spread of miniature sunflower-type flowers before it dies back. I love the plant and am I’m a big fan of the tubers but I have had reports of some people experiencing gastro-intestinal discomfort, from mild gas to wild and stormy intestinal disturbance. I’d suggest that if it’s your first time eating Jerusalem Artichoke try not to eat an excessive amount of it at once and see how you go! 😉

Chinese Artichokes (Stachys affinis) are closely related to Lamb’s Ears (good Permaculture toilet-paper) and in the mint family. Another name which I might try to use for these are ‘Crosnes’ as there seem to be a number of recipes using that name. Recently, I came across these at random in a catalogue and decided to give them a try last season. Recently had my first big harvest which prompted this article.

Where runners go --> Crosnes grow!
Chinese Artichokes or Crosnes

The plant can be treated as a mint in that it likes a moist positions ends shallow runners out rapidly to fill the space it’s grown in. This spreading is a good thing though because Where Runners Go – Crosnes Grow. It also seemed to grow quite happily around and beneath numerous other plants in the bed. Harvest when the plant plant dies back in winter and you’ll find these amazing pearly white smooth grub-like tubers in the first 10cm of soil.

They can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked in stir-fry’s for a crisp and refreshing texture that remains after cooking. Mildly flavoured but I think totally delicious! In fact I’m so thoroughly overjoyed with Crosnes that i’ve been spruking them all over the place!

The main reason that we don’t see Chinese Artichokes or Crosnes in the supermarket (at least in Australia) I suppose could be due to the fact that they rapidly dry out in the open air. They can be effectively stored in a container of moist coconut peat or sand. The same goes for storing Jerusalem Artichokes.

Prickly Plants – Turning the thorn IN your side into the thorn AT your side.

Due to the discomfort large mammals like humans experience from thorny plants, the numbers of such plants incorporated into gardens have declined. This is particularly the case around suburbia where there is less remnant bushland and general growing space.

There are a number of thorny fruiting plants out there and in addition to their excellent produce, the thorns themselves can be used to advantage in a number of ways. Best not to locate them adjacent to a thoroughfare where they’re most likely to interfere with passers by, but to use their inherent qualities for other garden functions. Ie; Habitat/natural pest control, security, food and tools.

In the wild, many small birds rely on the protection of thorny natives to raise their young and rest at night. Being petite, there are many predators to deal with and this protection is sorely needed. The importance of maintaining this habitat is even greater in suburbia due to the large populations of roaming cats. Small birds are generally insectivorous and provide a huge benefit in the way of natural pest control.

Raspberry Security Barrier
Raspberry Security Barrier

If you’re sick of drunk people jumping your fence to sleep the night on your verandah or if you just want to bolster security around your house. Criminals hate getting spiked like the rest of us so some raspberries beneath an insecure window, for example, can be a cheap and efficient way to dissuade unwanted entry. I have effectively used a native Raspberry (Rubus moluccans) to create a productive security barrier between houses where previously the occasional fleeing miscreant would make their escape!

Some cacti spines have been used historically as sewing needles through Central and Southern America. Golden Barrel Cacti are a good species for this as the needles are large and curved, particularly at adulthood.

Some of the most interesting possibilities including a few native bushfood species; Natal Plum, Finger Limes, Bush Lemon (and other Citrus wild-types), Berry Brambles (ie; Raspberries, Blackberries, Loganberries, Boysenberries etc.), Cockspur Thorn, Tree Violet, Rose-hip Roses. There are also some useful local wattles that are quite prickly and can be incorporated in secuity plantings as nitrogen-fixing nurse trees/shrubs.

EVC Mandalong Permaculture – Grow your green thumb.

Tree Frog Permaculture in partnership with Every Voice Counts is going to be running regular Saturday morning educational tours of the new Demonstration Permaculture Garden in Mandalong (NSW).

The idea is to provide an avenue for affordable education on garden sustainability in such a way that you can ‘choose your own adventure’ so to speak. Not everyone have the same time constraints, level of understanding or points of interest so smaller group size and half-day weekend slots allow for a specifically tailored service.

Ask questions, bring your own specific garden problems or green a ‘black thumb’. Anything is possible so get started on, or continue down, the path to garden sustainability!


Brutal Benefits – Butcher Birds

I was wandering the garden a couple of weeks ago and looking across the yard to a young Melaleuca, noticed shiny black blotches on one of the lower branches. As I approached it became apparent they were clusters of large shiny black flies gathering on patches of blood and a half-mouse carcass suspended at around eye height. Grotesque! But how on earth did a mouse get up there in that condition?! Butcher Birdery That is some death-crawl… but no… some other force is at work in the garden. A good force too considering that where there is food, there are rodents. Mice and rats can be clever, breed rapidly, and are a continual pest for organic food growers. One of many organic control methods is to encourage predatory native animals to the garden. Birds seem to be the most available native predators of rats and mice and by pruning the lower branches on trees to allow perching with a clear view of possible ‘rodent runs’ you create the perfect predator perch. Owls and hawks will do the job, hawks more from the sky, but I think the culprit in my instance is one or more Butcher Birds.

Additionally, having perches available for all sorts of birds can provide a free nutrient source from droppings

Butcher Birds are a clever native carnivore and earned their name through a penchant to skewer their prey on thorns or pointy sticks on tree branches for easy eating or temporary storage. They are a smaller bird thus cannot usually swallow their prey whole so it makes sense that they would find a safe platform for their butchery. They are also smart enough to learn of holes or regular rodent spots and stake them out for decent periods of time. Brutal but a self-perpetuating and low input method for garden rodent control. Thanks Butcher Birds!

Ground Zero: Permaculture of the mind – Lantanaism

Preface: I like a holistic approach to life and that means looking at all of life’s aspects. Commonly overlooked is ground 0, otherwise known as the inside of your head, but more accurately as your state of mind. Considering this is an area that will undoubtedly affect all other aspects of one’s life, I think it’s always worth setting aside some time for self-examination. 

Recently as a friend of mine, Tanya Burke, was clearing away a patch of Lantana from the bush on her Mandalong property, she was pondering life philosophies and came up with a cracker. She told me about it and I urged her to write it down so it could be shared with the world. This is what she came up with…


If I were to describe some of the basic tenets of one of the world’s great philosophies, would you be able to guess which one I was talking about? Let’s see.

This is the nature of all things:

  1. Impermanent. No matter what you think, feel, say or do you can be absolutely certain things will change, grow, decay and die.
  2. Impersonal. Every animal is driven by instinct to learn the lessons key to their survival and humans are no different. As babies we spend most of our waking hours testing and retesting the natural law of cause and effect because at that age we already understand the importance of that law. We then go on to forget that lesson and begin to take life personally. But life itself remains the same – one long and infinitely complex sequence of consequences that would be entirely predictable if only we had an infinite brain.
  3. Not inherently satisfactory. There is no thing that exists that will cause us to feel perfectly and finally satisfied, forever. Nothing we can have, do, think, say, believe, feel or sense has the characteristic of being perfectly and permanently satisfactory.


Now that we understand the nature of life, what is the purpose of life?

To open to our connection to the Source using a most unlikely and fortunate event – this human form at this exact point in the history of the universe.

The ‘Source’ is the creative, reproductive energy that forms, shapes and subsumes all manifestations of life and fuels the never ending process of cause and effect. Call it whatever you want, it won’t get offended. After all it is impermanent, not inherently satisfying and, yes, completely impersonal.


So what is the path that leads to that ultimate purpose?

  1.  You must start, and keep going.

That’s about the sum of it, though most of us like to talk about what starting really means and how we can do this thing called ‘keep going’. Because of this many philosophies have developed rules and guidelines and steps and anecdotes that we can continually read and talk about, become expert in and teach courses on. Mostly this all holds us back from the important business of starting and keeping going but sometimes it inspires us to start and keep going.

So have you worked out which philosophy we are talking about yet? Buddhism? Tantra? Taoism? Permaculture? Christianity?

None of the above. This is an organic, homegrown philosophy for those environmentally conscious folk who like to know where their stuff comes from and what the production footprint was. And whether any humans, animals or ecosystems were tortured to bring the product to your plate. And best of all it is like one of those pick-your-own farms – you have the opportunity to try it out for yourself. Enlightenment in one page, complete with a free trial? Where can I get it?!

But wait… this is going to take a lot of practice. And that little detail at the end of the instructions: keep going. That’s the one that trips most people up. This philosophy is not for the faint of heart. It is… Lantanaism.

All are welcome to Lantanaism. Here’s how you can practice Lantanaism in your local place of worship:

Remember that the aim is to be open to the Source. Being open to the Source means that we are fully in the flow of life. In order to open something, and in order for anything to flow we first need to clear away the blocks and defilements. So pick a space that you would like to clear of the defilement commonly known as Lantana.

Start. And keep going.

Ask yourself who you do this for. If not for yourself, then for whom? And why.

Start. And keep going.

If you work diligently you will begin to see results. If you are lazy and slipshod you will become frustrated by your lack of progress.

Start. And keep going.

If you cut the defilements at their base they will grow back. If you pull them out by their roots and then make the environment inhospitable for them they will not grow back.

Start. And keep going.

If you let your defilements grow unhindered, so that they flower and seed and flourish, they will impact upon those around you, and those around them so that your defilements will become a blight on all of life for all of life is one.

Start. And keep going.

If you carefully remove all of your defilements the space you have cleared will be a thing of beauty and inspiration to all those around you and those around them so that your work will be a blessing to all of life for all of life is one.

Start. And keep going.

If you find it very difficult to uproot your defilements then you are working against the law of nature. Try a different way, try again in different circumstances, use tools or ask for help. The more you practice the more expert you will become.

Start. And keep going.

With equanimity approach each defilement. It is what it is, the result of cause and effect like all else. React to each defilement with neither craving nor aversion.

Start. And keep going.

Don’t let a sense of triumph or pride guide you, equally don’t be disheartened or overwhelmed by the task. Devote yourself to your practice and submit to the process without hopes or fears of the outcome.

Start. And keep going.

The seed of a defilement, if planted and tended, can only grow into a defilement. If you wish to grow something more useful, then plant and tend the seeds of something more useful.

Start. And keep going.

A defilement that has been left to grow old, deep-rooted and sprawling, that has entangled with other defilements and wrapped around all in its way will be more difficult to remove than one discovered at the earliest stages.

Start. And keep going.

Remain in the present, aware and mindful of the true reality of the moment. A sustained and discerning awareness will allow you to spot the seed of a defilement before it germinates. A sustained and discerning awareness will also develop in you a perception of all that remains around, beyond, beneath, above and within the defilements.

Start. And keep going.

All that remains when the defilements are gone is all that was there before and all that you plant according to the universal law of cause and effect. Cause and effect.

Start. And keep going.

If you wish to be truly free of defilements then not only must you remove all your defilements, you must be careful not to plant or tend any more.

Start. And keep going.

If your friends insist on spreading defilements where you have worked to clear the space, then find wiser friends. But friends who help remove your defilements, help plant and tend more useful seeds and bring no further defilements to your space are one of life’s most precious gifts.

Start. And keep going.

Ask yourself, does this make sense to me? Do I see results? Is this the way to clear this space of defilements? Am I becoming more aligned with the Source, more in-tune with nature, more understanding of the natural laws and more expert at designing and implementing my own plan for this space? If yes, continue. If no, find another way.

Start. And keep going.

Define yourself not as Lantanaist or in any other way. Waste no time differentiating yourself from others or trying to convince another to walk the same path as you.

Start. And keep going.

Where the defilement called Lantana is unavailable to aid your practice then vast tracts of paramatta grass, fireweed, purple verbena, running bamboo, asparagus fern or any other endemic noxious weed will suffice.

Start. And keep going.

The easiest path is not always obvious. Defilements are most simply uprooted using an uphill motion.

Start. And keep going.

Pay careful attention to the nature of life represented within you for this is all you can truly experience; your mind, your emotions and your sensations or intuition. There you will find that thoughts and feelings and physical sensations come and go, are created by no-body and are not inherently satisfactory. The closer you look the more you will realise there is nothing to be found there, nothing to be held onto, nothing to be pushed away. Only the practice remains.

Start. And keep going.

Don’t disturb yourself with details and intellectual considerations. You will notice the difference as you clear your space. You will see that which you could not see before through the thickets of defilements. As the Dzogchen tells us, “finding nothing is the most you can find.”

Good luck with your practice. May the Lantana bow to your intention and through your great effort may the world be rid of all that defiles it. If you need advice on finding a local tract of weeds to work on Lachie is one of the great Masters of Lantanaism and could point you in the right direction.

– Tanya Burke

The continued importance of neighbours in contemporary society

Neighbours throughout history have generally had strongly mutualistic relationships due to elements of co-reliance. Mutual help was often needed in a survival sense, ie; trading/sharing foodstuffs, tools, skills etc. As western society has modernised, increased prosperity and the availability of a welfare safety network have resulted in reduced neighbourly dependence. Also the balance between privacy and sociability between neighbours has seemingly shifted more towards privacy, where there seem to be increasing incidence of complete neighbour disconnect or a ‘shutting-off’ of neighbourly relations.

Now, while neighbours might not be forced to maintain relationships or help each other through necessity (at least in the wealthier nations of the world), this does not mean there aren’t still many benefits to maintaining healthy neighbourly relationships. Following are some points and a couple of examples just from my experience.

The edges of an ecosystem dont necessarily follow fence-lines or property boundaries. This can especially be applied in suburbia where an ecosystem is segmented into many adjacent properties. While each property is separated by fences, plants and animals don’t operate along human-defined boundaries. Thus, what happens in the other yards in your neighbourhood can still influence your own. A prime example of this is fruitfly; if people living nearby have fruitfly-prone fruit tree varieties (ie. Stone fruits, loquats, apples etc) and fail to maintain them properly, a local population of fruit-fly is established. That population will then range and make it extra hard to minimise fruitfly impacts in your own crops. This can be applied to any ranging garden pest or weed.

While soil-types and weather patterns may be similar within a suburb, a range of microclimates suitable for growing a great variety of different crops exist. In addition respective neighbours will have different wants, needs, and growing preferences, providing the neighbourhood with a wonderful variety of supplementary produce to share and trade.

Another benefit to maintaining neighbourly relationships is the conservation of energy/material needs and recycling of waste. For example; one of my neighbours has a decent amount of lawn and finds the grass clippings fill his bin, leaving no room for other rubbish. I offered to take all of his clippings (I use them for compost) and now get them automatically each mow. We both feel the other is doing us the favour! One persons trash is another persons treasure, as the saying goes.

With infrequently used items such as lawnmowers, just think of the potential invested energy saved if we could share one lawnmower per multiple households! In effect we are a super-organism, each of us cells making up this organism. If communication and co-operation is effective between ‘cells’ then our potential for acting together as an efficient and sustainable society is on the way to being realised.

In a sense, each of us is an island. In another sense, however, we are all one. For though islands appear separate, and may even be situated at great distances from one another, they are only extrusions of the same planet, Earth.  Walters, J. Donald

Yam Bean or Jicama – A tasty and versatile Permaculture crop.

Originating in Central America, the Yam-Bean (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a climbing perrenial plant of the legume family. The plant prefers warmer weather but will tolerate more temperate climates as far south as Sydney and Adelaide, temporarily dying back to its tubers over winter. Each plant can produce up to 5 root-swellings or tubers beneath the soil surface, each of which can get to the size of a turnip but having a similar crisp texture to water chestnuts and have an apple-like taste eaten raw. The tubers store well and dont lose their crispness through cooking, making them a great addition sliced into stirfries or grated raw into a salad. Yam Bean tubers are a delicacy in Mexico, eaten by the slice sprinkled with lemon-juice, salt, pepper and chillies. YUM!!! The vegetable has even been adopted by American supermarkets as a top-selling specialty item!

Yam Beans prefer light, well-drained, fertile soils and require a long growing season (~9 months) for the best tuber production. Tuber growth can also be enhanced by keeping vines cut short (to ~30cm) and pinching off flowers as they form. This way the plant puts all of its energy into the root system. Propagating Yam Beans is possible via tuber or by seed. The seed stores quite easily and remains viable for a number of years.


In addition to its tasty tubers, Yam Beans have a number of useful qualities making it a superb Permaculture crop:

  • Legume – The Yam Bean has the ability to fix nitrogen meaning it can provide much of its own nutrients for growth, even a little extra for plants nearby. Try climbing it up corn for example.
  • Natural source of an organic poison (Rotenone) – All parts of the plant above the soil; stems, leaves, flowers, seeds and seed-pods contain levels of the insecticide, pesticide and piscicide (fish poison) Rotenone (May also have some fungicidal properties.) NB: I recommend that people with young children be aware of this fact. Also, upper parts of the plant shouldn’t be fed to animals.
  • Aethetic value – when left to flower, produce a showy display of large blue pea-flowers.