Saturday, 16 August 2014

Blaugust 16, 2014 - Home and Garden

Lately I have been reading "The Permaculture Home Garden", by Linda Woodrow. It is a good book, with a very practical design for a sustainable and very productive backyard patch or patches, scalable up into commercial production.

At the core it involves opportunistically importing a large amount of organic matter from numerous sources processing it into your beds either via chicken tractor or rapid composting stations that are both rotated around the yard. It strikes me as an excellent, efficient system, though I worry about the chicken tractor design given considering the large number of foxes in the Adelaide Hills, and how distraught I'd be if one got in.

There are a number of alternative designs out there, including several with wire mesh floors. However wire floors would prevent the chickens from effectively scratching and bathing, and I'm not going to stop them from doing that. As such I will need to adapt the design, and figure out a way to make a chicken tractor that is nigh on fox-proof, yet remains portable. A challenge for the future!

The importation of organic matter is something I could achieve through weed collection in my small business, or even through establishing a decent sized ornamental garden from which to take prunings.

Woodrow has a very practical emphasises on investing time and effort in the initial setup so as to avoid excess effort into the future. A key part of this is the (fairly standard) piece of advice that you should position your productive garden as close to the kitchen as you possibly can. Who wants to walk all the way to the far side of the garden when you want to grab a few Silverbeet leaves or Tomatoes after a hard day's work? Far better if you can just step out the back door and be in it.

My laziness being a pretty dang impressive laziness indeed, this sort of thing is something I have to really bear in mind. Keeping all ongoing efforts to an absolute minimum through clever design will be at the absolute core of whatever I eventually create.

Integrating the indoors with the outdoors will be important. I want to feel like all of it is one big, private sanctuary. Windows will look out on bright, inviting displays teeming with interesting bird life, and open to a plethora of alluring scents and sounds. Productive plants will be as close to the door as possible. Boundaries will be reinforced by tall, thick shrubs that dampen noise, block sight, and provide habitat and interest.

Selecting plants for scent is somewhat tricky when you favour natives as much as I do, however I have started a pretty decent little list:

Senecio odoratus is the backbone. It has a very subtle yet extraordinarily pervasive scent that spreads through a garden and acts as an undercurrent to everything else.

Boronia megastigma and some of its siblings have a magnificent scent that is rivalled by very little, but they are tricky to grow. The first complication with growing Boronias is that the soil needs to have an acidic to neutral pH, which is somewhat uncommon in South Australia. The second is that they are shallow-rooted plants that can't stand to dry out; somewhat of a problem in our long, parched, Summers. A position in part-shade in a pot is the best bet, unless you happen to be lucky enough to live in the acidic parts of the Mount Lofty Ranges.

Acacia rupicola is one of my very favourite plants, and serves several purposes admirably. As it is on this list, you have no doubt surmised that it has a pleasant scent. This scent is particularly prominent after rain. It is a medium shrub, usually reaching around 2m by 2m or thereabouts, and is dense enough to offer a degree of screening. Further, it is an extremely prickly plant which serves as excellent habitat for small birds. Cats, foxes, and predatory birds will all think twice before attempting to take something from within one of these.

The various Prostanthera species, or the Mint Bushes, are next. They range from 2-3m shrubs thriving in shade, such as Prostanthera ovalifolia, to small compact shrubs that love a sunny position, such as Prostanthera aspalathoides. The minty smell they produce varies in intensity across the various species. All are quite showy with small vibrant flowers, purple and red respectively for the two species I mentioned.

Speaking of minty, Mentha australis is a locally occurring River Mint with an extremely sweet smell. It ticks a number of boxes being local, scented, edible, and as easy to grow as any Mint.

When designing your garden as a soundscape you want to first create a buffer against intrusive sounds; clever positioning of garden walls, sheds, and water tanks is where you should start. A dense planting of shrubs around the boundary will help a great deal. Try to make sure that windows will open to quiet areas.

Next consider masking, or creating enough desirable background noise that the undesirable ones become less significant. Plant things such as Agonis flexuosa nana, which has tightly clustered leaves that rustle relatively loudly in the wind. Incorporating Allocasuarina verticillata is an excellent move, as the wind whistling through a grove of these creates a truly beautiful sound.

Beyond that, most plants sound quite similar. The rest of the sounds you can attract are from wildlife. If you would like to hear frogs, create a pond with the appropriate characteristics for the species you favour, then nicely ask your friend from work who breeds frogs for some tadpoles. If you want to attract birds, plant or introduce the appropriate food sources and habitat, and drive off predators.

I can't emphasise that last point enough: If you have a cat in your yard, give up on Superb Fairy Wrens and other small birds. Try to convince the owner to be responsible and keep it inside or in a secure enclosure. If you are the owner, I will give you SUCH a glare.

Pesticides are another major threat to small birds. If a bird eats a single bug with insecticide on it, it gets into the bird's system and stays there a while. If it eats ten, suddenly that is quite a lot of poison for a tiny bird and you run into... problems.

Insecticides used for agriculture are an enormous problem, and shifting to organic production is admittedly hard. It is heartening, however, to see increasing numbers of producers opting to use sprays as a last resort instead of a regular thing.

In residential areas there is a different problem. People who spray insecticide everywhere in their home and office give me the screaming shits. There is no good reason for regularly spraying Mortein about the house. Fly problem? SHUT THE FUCKING DOOR. Mosquito problem? Ok that's a little more forgivable, but just be a little more careful for the sake of our wildlife.

There is a special layer of hell reserved for people who use residual barrier insecticides around their homes or those damnable automatic dispensers the companies try so hard to make you believe you need.

And don't even get me started on the effects of pyrethrins on people.


I watched a little bit of Superman II tonight as it was on television. I was struck by two things particularly: How gangly Christopher Reeve was, and how Margot Kidder made an excellent Lois Lane. Kidder's Lane had guts, determination, ambition, and brains, but she isn't my favourite Lois Lane; that honour goes to Dana Delaney's portrayal for Superman: The Animate Series. She took all that was good about Kidder's performance and added a very healthy dose of snark, which I love.

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