Predatory Insects as Organic Pest Control

Large infestations of pests in the garden often indicate that your local ecosystem is out of balance in some way. For instance, if you are having trouble with aphids it is likely that you dont have a strong enough lacewing and ladybeetle population as these insect types naturally prey on aphids.  An interesting solution i’ve found is to plant sunflowers near the plants in aphid trouble. Sunflowers attract ladybeetles and ants, which farm aphids for their sweet excrement ‘honeydew’, and will actually herd aphids from other plants onto the sunflowers for the production of sweeter honeydew.

Australian lacewings are attracted to flowering eucalypts and other native vegetation, many of which require natives for the completion of their breeding cycle. Interestingly, the larvae of lacewings are what people call ant-lions which create small pit traps above them in the soil to guide wandering ants into their gaping jaws. By establishing some native habitat to support the whole lacewing lifecycle you can utilise the aphid and ant predation to benefit the rest of your garden.

There are a large number of predatory insects that occur naturally in Australia in addition to the aforementioned, such as various wasps, dragonflies, damselflies, spiders, soldier fly and preying mantis. Most of these will be attracted best by native plants of your local area and the establishment of a well vegetated pond.

For more information feel free to contact us on (02) 49100123.

Urban Swales

Before there were houses there was swamp… in Mayfield at least. At our current abode in Mayfield; topographically flat, thick, wet clay.

Thus when it rains we have a drowning effect which tends to rule out a lot of those plants that like it well drained. To help direct and hold the water while allowing the trees of our mini urban food forest to breathe, we dug a set of swales. Its easy to do and can be adapted to any scale and soil type. We dug out the planned pathway, using the excavated soil to mound the swales on either side. Now we just keep the path filled with heavy mulch for the walking surface which doubles as a water sponge and reservoir after heavy rains. In the super-heavy rains, the swales allow the fruit trees to stay above the level of water.

Upcoming Tree Frog Permaculture workshop

Hi Folks,
Tree Frog Permaculture will be putting on another afternoon of workshops at the Sandhills Community Garden after a very successful turn out for the first set. These workshops will be on “Pruning with confidence” and “Making clones from your cuttings” and will be held from 2 to 4pm on Sunday the 1st of August and are completely free and open to all!

Urban Zonation

Thoughts on Permaculture Zones in an Urban Lifestyle

Zone 1:

The home and the systems within it. Can hopefully include window boxes and inside plants, maybe even a few domesticated pets.

Zone 2:

The area outside the house which is most easily accessed. Often including verandahs but usually only a small area with close access to the kitchen. A great spot for commonly accessed herbs and a few veggies.

Zone 3:

The productive part of your garden. Still easily accessed but not as close as zone 2. Veggie gardens, small fruit trees, frog ponds and perhaps a greenhouse would fit here, maybe even a small chook tractor.

Zone 4:

The less accessed part of your “managed garden”. For some urban dwellers this may include community gardens, the verge, back lanes, behind the shed, on the roof or even guerilla gardened in someone else’s patch of dirt!

If you’re lucky enough to have space this is a great place to have smaller animals such as chickens, quails, guinea pigs, rabbits etc. and a great place for fruit trees, perennials and slower crops.

Zone 5:

“The Wild Area” – any areas which can be “given back to nature” are a great addition to any permaculture system. Even if you only have a small amount of space, a small grove of local native plants and trees can attract wonderful native biodiversity to your garden. We also must include the area outside the “map” which we have a stake-hold in. We all have a responsibility to ensure it is managed well.

Food for thought:

Zone 0:

The people in the home. The way they interact and the systems they create.

Zone i:

The individual, the things we say and do and the thoughts we think and the systems involved.

Compost Continued…

This weekend was time to turn the Sandhills Community Garden compost heap we helped create a week before. We stripped back the layers of the heap like a giant onion, placing them into the new heap with the least composted material going in the centre. The heap had warmed up in the first few days and maintained its heat all week so it was looking and smelling great. Another week or two and they’ll have a huge pile of compost to work with.

Sandhills Workshops and Open Day

A great turn out and a great day.

Over 50 gardeners and friends came to check out the gardens, have some refreshments and get involved in the workshops. The sun held out for most of the day and a great time was had by all!

The composting workshop was a success with a huge layered Berkeley compost heap being created. Compost is on the way!

Chris and Beck from Sandhills were a great help. Beck put on a workshop on green roofs, a top permaculture tool – a great creative use of space with amazing benefits for heating and cooling.

The Berkeley compost layer cake

The Berkeley compost layer cake:

A guide to the biological engine in your backyard.

Some quick rules of compost:

  • Compost is Aerobic decomposition. The bacteria, fungus and microbes breaking down your compost require oxygen!
  • They also need nitrogen and carbon in the ratio of 1 part N to 30 parts C.
  • Compost must be kept moist. Not too damp or there won’t be enough oxygen and not too dry or the microbes will die.
  • Size matters. Bigger compost piles (over 1 cubic metre) will build up and retain much more heat, leading to more microbial activity, breaking down the pile much faster.

Get these right and your compost will smell lovely and break down quickly.

Guide to getting the ratios right:

  • A one to one ratio of dry “brown” high carbon material and moist “green” high nitrogen material will result in the desired 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio.
  • Layers make for a great consistency. It can be hard to make your pile completely homogenous so using alternating layers of high carbon and high nitrogen materials is a great compromise.
  • Particle size is important. Chopping, shredding or even grinding up larger pieces will give more surface area for the microbes to work on. Watch that smaller pieces do not clog up your compost though, as a good flow of oxygen is required.

Recipe for a Berkeley Layer Cake:

  • Start by laying out a square of straw 1m x 1m, and between 10 and 20 cm thick.
  • Add a layer of high nitrogen material such as manure, 5 to 10cm thick.
  • Add another layer of straw approximately 10 cm thick and wet the pile down.
  • Continue to add layers between 5 and 10 cm thick of alternating high nitrogen and high carbon materials while continuing to wet the pile.
  • When the pile is around 50 cm thick, place a stick in the middle of the pile to mark out the chimney. Continue to add layers around it.
  • When the pile is 1m thick, remove the stick to create the chimney and the first stage is complete.

Completing the cooking:

  • After about a week the compost will need turning.
  • Peel the outer layers away and pile them in the centre of where the new pile will be.
  • Fork the inner compost over on top of the least composted outer shell.
  • Create a new chimney and leave it for another week to completely compost.

WVO as fuel?


Free fuel, or less CO2, veggie oil’s not just for hippies!

Some people may have noticed a slight increase in fuel prices over the last few years. I’m pretty sure I remember a time when the Litres went up faster than the Dollars on the pump. And don’t get me started on the effect millions of cars have on our atmostphere. I’m sure i’m no longer alone in searching for an alternative.

So what else is there? I can’t afford a Prius! It’s not like too many car companies give you much choice when it comes to how your vehicle is powered. Usually a more fuel efficient engine, or perhaps a small diesel is the only “environmentally friendly” and “cheap” option available.

Or at least I thought so, until I started researching… You can actually convert your can to electric fairly cheaply now. Lead acid batteries are well proven technology and very recyclable, they’re heavy and relatively low powered, but they’ll get you from uni into town and back half a dozen times on a single charge, and if you convert it yourself you can do it for as little as $5000!

But alass, even that is out of my league. For starters I don’t have a car to convert. Even then, my car budget is more or less half of the whole conversion cost. So are there any cheaper options?

A bike and a buss pass will get you almost everywhere you need to go around town, but neither option is great for the shopping, let alone that load of horse poo you want for the garden. And I can’t say i’m the greatest fan of rain.. There must be something else…

Hoorah! There is! It’s cheap, it’s environmentally friendly and suprisingly easy.

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically a diesel engine is really tollerant of what fuel you can run it on, and believe it or not, veggie oil is suprisingly similar to diesel! It doesn’t even have to be good fresh oil, the old waste from the local fish and chip shop should be perfect.

Waste Veggie Oil (WVO) is vegetable oil which has been used for cooking then discarded. Every shop with a deep frier will go through dozens of litres of the stuff every week. Some of the shops return the used oil to their suppliers, but many have to pay to have it taken away and disposed of. You can see where this is headed…

With a few minor adjustments to the fuel system (mainly heating the fuel lines so the oil is nice and runny) and a little preparation of the oil (remove the water/acids and chunks of chip) you’ve just secured an almost endless supply of fuel for your vehicle. Environmentally friendly driving without paying for petrol? It seems to good to be true!

-No net carbon emissions – all the carbon comes from the vegetables which make the oil

-No petroleum – so many reasons this is good

-It’s practically free!!

So whether you’re a dirty hippy who hates petroleum or a 4×4 nut who spent all their money on a accessories and camping gear, keep an open mind. Do some research online, ask your local fish and chip shop what they do with their oil. Maybe there’s not enough WVO for every car to switch, but there’s a whole lot of deep fryers out there which haven’t been claimed yet!

– Chris

(ps the exhaust smells like chips)