All posts by Lachy

Wattle Full-Throttle – Rich & Rapid Returns

The other day, an older white male was wandering by a Merewether verge in which several Acacias (Wattles) have been planted. The predominant comment this man made was… “Wattles?! Why would you plant those useless things?!” This reaction is one that I have some across a number of times now, and I believe that it comes from the meeting of a few societal trends and a lack of ecological understanding which I will try and rectify in this article.

This attitude meets with something I’ve encountered fairly frequently in plant selection (outside Permaculture circles at least)… people can be uneasy with plants of shorter life-span. Be it for the reason of wanting to keep their paid-for product around for as long as possible, or the whole concept of death seen as solely a bad thing and an uncomfortable reminder of their own inevitable demise.

Acacia moderating heat-stress on veggie garden.

Without getting overly philosophical, western society generally seems to have a disconnect with the transience of life, despite that cycling of life and death providing for our very existence. This is probably a reflection on our increasing disconnection with nature and our supporting environment. It is likely that this in turn has a lot to do with ego, individualism and consumerism. More fear of loss is present and death is then regarded as the ultimate loss. Marketing for Funeral Insurance and other death-related industry play upon and exacerbate this fear. Ie; “Don’t leave your surviving family to pay for your excessive carcass-processing fees! Pay us lots of money BEFORE you die! It could be at ANY MOMENT!!

Railing against the truly inevitable is a profound waste of physical and psychological energies, so I believe it is worth shifting our approach to the transience of life. To be comfortable with change as change is inevitable. EVERYTHING is impermanent and without death, there would be no new life. A wise guy from times of old named Heraclitus once said, “the only thing that is constant is change” which rings very true to me.

A healthier approach to transience is observed in South America, exemplified by the Mexican Festival of the Dead, where birth and death are regarded more as a continuum → No matter what we are in life, in death we are all the same…. Fertiliser!! ;-P
I don’t mean, ‘once you’re dead we should all just forget about you’, but rather, instead of getting morose beyond mourning, we should celebrate what the dead-in-question loved in life and how that life is now providing the building blocks for other life.

Look at the bush or a garden… it isn’t a painting, it is a living system that is always in flux and that flux holds its own distinct beauty. So really an individual’s value isn’t so much about how long it hangs around, it’s about what that thing achieves in that limited time and how many other lives it supports and benefits.

Wattle sheltering Raspberries

Wattles are a great example of this, generally very fast growing and comparatively short-lived trees. The old adage ‘live-fast, die-young’ applies very well in that a single Acacia can produce food and habitat for thousands upon thousands of various animals and plants, during and beyond its lifetime, all the while acting to quickly protect and regenerate highly disturbed environments.
Throw in that beautiful floral display and pollen that isn’t actually that likely to cause allergies compared to say Rye-grass that flowers at similar times… why on earth wouldn’t you plant some?!?!

I gots the Quats!!

Citrus fruits come in many shapes, sizes and flavours… a large number of which have been cultivated as food by humans for many thousands of years. Apart from your more obvious/better-known fruits in the western world  (ie; Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Mandarins), there are some less-common, but still very much enjoyed Citrus fruits available to diversify your crop and diet.

One of my favourites is the Nagami Cumquat which you can maintain very easily as a small tree specimen for places of constrained growing space. I have set my small tree up in a wicking-barrel which allows me to grow it freely on the side of the driveway, a highly exposed and hard-surfaced area which previously rated as productivity-ZERO.

The smaller but more numerous Nagami Cumquat fruits can be eaten whole and fresh (skin included!), or turned into a range of delicious products like preserves and sweets. The skin and pith is sweet while the centre is tart and acidic, these flavours meet in the mouth when eaten whole and fresh… flavour SENSATION!!  😀
It’s probably worth noting that there are a couple of other varieties of Cumquats which I find far less enjoyable eating. The fruit bitterness often leads these varieties’ usage being limited to mainly high sugar jams and marmalades.

Driveway Quats!

This year my tree went into overload, exceptional cropping for a very small tree.

Sometimes you will see a larger tree in someones yard fully laden with fruit and they might not even know what they have. In these cases I believe its always worth a knock on the door to see if they’d be interested in trading fruit for some finished product so everybody wins.

The form into which I processed my excess fruit this year was dry-candied… i’m a sucker for natural sweets (candied peel, crystalized ginger, etc) and having a long-lived reserve of this stuff really floats my proverbial boat. Here is briefly how I did it;

  1. Slice your Cumquats into disks or smaller pieces… I like discs because you get the spoked-cross section… pretty pretty! Also, this way, most of the seeds will come out themselves.
  2. Bring the appropriate volume of sugar syrup to boil – you will need enough liquid to just cover the amount of sliced Cumquats you have. Sugar syrup is only 50% sugar, 50% water. So if you have 2 cups of water, you will add 2 cups of sugar… I used raw sugar.
  3. Once the syrup has gotten to boiling-point, turn the heat down and add the sliced Cumquats to simmer submerged by the syrup for about 10-15 mins. You will see the Cumquat skin start to go more transparent… you do not want to over-cook them at this point because it will turn into slop and become jam or marmalade.

    Some of the batch
  4. Strain and drain the slices with a sieve or colander… definitely worth keeping the fluid for turning into jelly or flavouring cakes etc. Wonder if it’ll turn into Cumquat toffee?? An experiment for another day.
  5. Restrain yourself…. the finished product is way too delicious… try your best to share with your friends and family! Given – it hasn’t been only me, but since last Saturday, most of a tupperware container of these has vanished into the nether! :-O

I don’t think these really need any other treatment but i’m sure they could be coated in dark chocolate to great effect.


Symptomatic String Algae – Addressing the verdant irritation.

It is no secret that I like a good healthy and biologically-diverse water-body or 5 in any garden
 ohhh so many benefits you’d be mental not to have one!

My most voluminous one is an IBC tank (International Bulk Container) that i’ve converted into an above ground native fish breeding tub. Having an above-ground water body of this kind has several qualities which lend itself to high algae load so i’m going to use this as an example of how to holistically deal with algal blooms
 particularly the annoying but not deadly ‘String’ or ‘Matt’ Algae!

Now, a bit of background; Algae is an immense and extremely diverse group of photosynthesising organisms
 often thought of as very simple plants. Particularly focussing on freshwater ponds, you get a range of slimy and short-length algae that cling

Stringy and abundant! HALP!!

to surfaces which are generally beneficial. String Algae is a filamentous type that starts growing to tough fine string lengths of over 7cm and keeps going!!! This can grow very rapidly under the right conditions and double its volume in 24 hrs
 not deadly to us but a big inconvenience for small fish and tadpoles who tend to get caught up in it. Plus it can get quite unattractive! It even tied up some Water Lily flower buds and stopped them surfacing this year. Honestly
 I was toying with the idea of drying quantities of it and turning it into baskets or hats or something!!

Conditions that favour rapid algal growth are water warmth, high sun and high water nutrient availability, so any algal problem can be first seen as a response to any or all of these imbalance conditions.

  • Water warmth: Ponds that are shallow and of small water volume are often the worst for this as they warm quickly from external factors. It helps to maintain some depth when planning/constructing even small ponds and sheltering away from overly-high sun exposure, particularly during the afternoon.

    → This is not a problem for my 800cm deep IBC tank although the vertical depth of its walls means it picks up some extra sun-heated surface area than an in-ground water body. (Am planning on cladding the tank to reduce it’s sun-exposed surface area.)

  • High sun: I mentioned Algae is photosynthetic, sun is it’s energy! Meaning if you have a pond or dam with dawn till dusk sun, you’re likely to have a fair bit of algae!

    → I’ve situated the IBC tank with a large tree to it’s West. This shades for most of the afternoon but over all a fair bit of sun is received through tank walls. Cladding will help stop light getting through.

  • High water-nutrient availability: If you feed fish make sure you don’t over-feed as that feeds the Algae. It also helps to have lots of strong growing aquatic plants which readily take up excess nutrient as it becomes present. I like using things like Duckweed amongst others, as it readily takes dissolved nutrient out of the water, converting it directly to chicken food.

    → Speaking of chickens, I believe they have figured out a way to perch on the edge of my IBC to eat KangKong (Water Spinach)
 fresh chicken poop may be the excess nutrient load i’m trying to avoid! :-/

While you are getting on top of all of these issues, there are a couple of things you can do that will help decrease the String Algae in your pond or dam… NOTE: Avoid using chemical Algaecides
 they will kill all of the beneficial algae as well as the targeted stuff, leaving a gap in your food chain and a chance for something nastier to jump in!

IBC Tank conversion for Native Fish Breeding

It turns out Barley Straw that is submerged in water will be decomposed by a fungus, releasing a compound that blocks the formation of new String Algae. This doesn’t kill the adult strands but seems to definitely reduce or stop it’s baby-making for a period of time. The act of pulling the long strands of adult String Algae out of a pond’s depths suddenly feels like a far more fruitful activity!

A bit of a shortcut
 you can buy the Barley Straw Solution in a bottle now from your local garden supply joint. I got some and tried it in the IBC. Seems to work well but this isn’t something to solve the problem completely
 just a handy tool! Of coarse, if you havn’t addressed the roots of the problem then the speed with which the algae bounces back is still rapid.

The systematic approach always wins!!!

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!