UP THE WALL GARDENS September 02 2015, 1 Comment
When flat space is limited, there’s only one way to go — straight up.
Karen suggests ways and means to create your own vertical garden.
by Karen Sutherland, Pascoe Vale South, Victoria
What’s a wall garden?
Growing produce in cities is always a challenge. Often we only have small spaces with little exposure to sun. We may also move house frequently.
City gardeners need to be inventive, and growing our plants up walls and fences can give us more space to fit in extra herbs and other precious plants.
The use of espaliers, hedges and climbing plants for vertical produce gardening is well known, but wall gardens have recently captured the imagination of city gardeners. striking and practical, they offer maximum impact in minimum space. They also offer good access for gardeners with limited mobility.
Imagine a blank wall in your garden filled with your own fresh pick- ing herbs, full of flavour and at your fingertips. You reach out and pick Vietnamese mint, perilla, Thai basil or coriander straight from your wall garden to wrap around spring rolls or throw into soups.
Or you wander out into your tiny courtyard with a pot of hot water, pluck some leaves from a mix of lemon balm, peppermint, ginger mint and chocolate mint, and have herbal tea ready in minutes to refresh and soothe. all of these thrive in semi-shade, where many produce plants would fail.
In permaculture, herbal wall gardens are a definite zone 1 item, straight out your door, (or window), and easiest to access.
However, with the average price of commercial wall garden systems at around $2000 per square metre (including installation), they are not even remotely in the realm of the backyard gardener.
Don’t despair: with some chicken wire, hessian and potting media, you can make a rustic version of these fancy wall gardens to cover fences or walls with your favourite plants. These wall gardens have the added advantage of being easily moved around a small garden to find sun and shade as needed, or to move with you.
What you will need
The wall gardens shown here were made with a light gauge chicken wire, wrapped around hessian bags filled with a customised media mix. plastic zip ties were used to hold the chicken wire together, but wire could also be used. a bamboo stake threaded through the chicken wire at the top helps to hang the wall garden.
A hessian bag is not essential; hessian can be stitched into a bag with string. This can be done with a bag needle (used for stitching wheat bags together up until the 1960s) or a leather needle. The crucial thing is to have a large eye for the string to fit through. plastic zip ties can also be used to stitch the hessian into a bag.
Remember that in a wall garden, gravity is not helping your plants with regard to moisture retention, so you need to make up a water-retaining media mix.
A great material to use for this is coir, also called coco-peat. This is broken down coconut fibre, which is light (handy when hanging a garden from a wall or fence!), holds moisture well and also ‘wicks’ moisture well, which is to say that moisture is able to rise from the bottom of the media upwards (the same principle used to advantage in wicking beds).
There are various grades of coir available from nurseries and hardware stores, but try to buy a finer structured grade rather than a coarser, free-draining one (more suitable for orchids, for example).
Coir is sold in a compressed brick, which needs to be re-hydrated by soaking in water for 15 minutes or so. It should be mentioned on the packet, but after re-hydrating make a point to wash the coir with fresh water until the water runs clear, to remove any traces of the sometimes brackish water it is processed with. Putting the coir in (clean) plastic plant pots makes it easy to wash and drain.
A good ratio to use for your wall garden media mix is 2 parts coir to 1 part (good quality) potting mix.
You can water your wall garden with diluted seaweed or fish emulsion fertiliser each week, as part of your wa- tering regime, or include some fertiliser in your media mix.
Pelletised slow-release fertiliser is common in most potting mixes, and can be added, or for an organic al- ternative, I have also used well-rotted cow manure (at a rate of 3 parts coir, 2 parts of a rather coarse potting mix and 2 parts well-rotted cow manure) which herbs such as mint, lemon balm and Vietnamese mint enjoy. I wouldn’t suggest using too much manure with plants such as thyme or sage. If using manure, bear in mind that the nutrients will be released more quickly than from a commercial slow-release fertiliser, so at some stage the wall garden will need weekly or fortnightly liquid feeds.
Coir also needs to be balanced with some gypsum (I suggest a cup or two per wheelbarrow load of media mix). Mix all ingredients well.
With the media mix made, and ingredients gathered, you’re ready to assemble your wall gardens and plant!
Wall gardens are similar to any other potted plant, and will need to be watered every day or so, depending upon the weather. use a soft setting on your hose nozzle, or use a watering can. Of course, you could also water them from a watering system from your tank or mains water.
Hessian is a biodegradable fabric, and cannot be expected to last more than a year or so in contact with moisture like this, and a more long-lasting (but not so attractive) wall garden could be made with shade-cloth.
After a year of service, divide your herbs and give half away (which keeps them producing well and shares the plants around) and recycle the media mix into another wall garden for one more year of use. The hessian can be added to your compost bin or worm farm.
Securing the planting pouch with plastic ties.
Securing the back of the planting pouch.
Wall garden ready to plant.
Karen planting seedlings in the wall garden.
A mixed herb and salad wall garden.
Making a wall garden
Winter work in the orchard June 19 2015, 0 Comments
Winter is down time for fruit trees, but not for humans if they want a good harvest.
Jill Redwood tells how she keeps her Goongerah, Victoria, orchard thriving.
EARTH GARDEN June – August 2012
The orchard in winter is beckoning to be worked on. On a fine day, grab the pruning gear, buckets and barrow and enjoy the winter sunshine while pruning, cleaning and doing a stock-take in readiness for the coming spring.
Our deciduous fruit species all experience a kind of hiatus through winter. During this lull it might appear as though our trees and orchards are in deep slumber, but there are still many magical things happening.
Fat fruit buds are gathering energy for spring, soil microbes and fungi are busy underground, worms are recycling nutrients, and in the temperate climates, the trees are tallying up the amount of chilling they receive so they can deliver a fantastic bounty of fruit for the coming season.
The more hours of cold winter temperatures less than 10 degrees, the better the fruit production will be. Even an alpine chill of minus 10 and 20 can be withstood for an acclimatised tree. But there are also varieties that have been specifically developed for areas in New South and Queensland where the winters are cool rather than cold.
After the tree has ticked off the needed chill time, it then tallies the right number of warmer hours. It’s a bit like chooks that start to lay when some inner magical apparatus senses the lengthening daylight hours at the end of June. The fruit tree also senses the right amount of chill and warm, then decides to burst its little spring buds. Different fruits have different needs but it’s roughly 800 to 1200 hours of chilling. Good frosts and plenty of cold also help knock out orchard nasties like fruit fly.
Trees that do the dormant pause for winter include apples, pears, apricots, plums, cherries, walnuts, hazel nuts and the bush or cane fruits like currants, gooseberries, raspberries and blueberries. Those that like a milder winter include the citrus, figs, grapes, almonds and, of course, all the tropical fruits. In colder areas you can plant the sensitive trees like citrus on a slope that drains cold air, rather than in a frost pocket that holds it. While they are young, you can also cover their tender foliage with hessian or shade cloth when it looks like a bad frost — or build a permanent frost hat over them until they are bigger and become hardy. They especially dislike having the first rays of the sunrise hit their frozen leaves. They prefer gentle thawing in the shade or with a sprinkle of water.
So what do you do in the winter orchard? It might be rest time for the trees and bushes but not for us! Pruning and checking for health problems is the main game for winter. Without a cloak of leaves the tree’s structure, problems and inner being are revealed. The winter orchard tasks include:
• Pruning out the old canes from berries and current bushes;
• Untangling and thinning out the rampant growth of the fig;
• Pruning back the grapevine to its T-shape structure with spikes;
• Planting and cosily tucking into a prepared hole any new trees you’ve bought, keeping the graft site above soil level;
• Prune apples and pears (this is the time of year I always realise that one apple and one pear tree is plenty!),
• Protecting young citrus from frost;
• Picking off mummified hanging fruit and destroying it;
• Pruning peaches and nectarines now that you can see their form;
• Checking for evidence of pests like wooly aphids (dense warty growth on limbs and branches or white fluff in twigs), borers (holes and sometimes webbed rings around a branch) and bacterial gummosis (weeping gum patches); and
• If the apples had scab or black spot last season, piling raked leaves all the way around and under the tree by the end of winter. I use eucalyptus leaves when doing fire safety clean ups. The leaf cover buries the spores and stops rain splash back onto the tree. A new trick I’ve just learnt, and it works a treat.
Each type of tree has its own special pruning techniques. There’s not room enough to detail them all here, sorry; you’ll have to read a pruning book. It can be complex but so satisfying when you realise how the branches and hormones of a tree can be trained to produce generously. But try to keep the tree a sensible height. You don’t want to be climbing four-metre ladders to pick apples. I’ve been there and believe me, it’s better to train them down to the horizontal rather than let them have their vertical freedom! Skywards-reaching dominant branches are a waste of the tree’s energy and discourages fruiting.
If you want to cage them for summer, keep them low and compact.
Except for citrus, which can be left happily alone, what all fruit trees need is decluttering. This means cutting out dead branches (shrivelled and cracked), tangled or crossed branches, the scrambled thick innards and any diseased limbs and twigs. You can feel them breathe a sign of relief when they’re opened up and it helps stop them getting problems like woolly aphids. A sparse and well-ventilated tree is a healthy tree.
Fruit or branches that hang below knee level are the perfect highway for soil-stored diseases. So while you’re busy with the pruning saw also take out these branches that have stooped down to the ground under their load. These will be replaced slowly by the next branch layer above bowing down in an ongoing cycle over the years.
Vinegar Flies with Jackie French January 30 2015, 4 Comments
Extract from Questions & Answers
Earth Garden No. 160
Do you have any suggestions for getting rid of fruit bowl or vinegar flies? I have kitchen benches full of ripening tomatoes don't seem to be able to get rid of them – conventional fly spray simply doesn't work (and that stuff gives us all a sore throat so we don't like to use it) and covering the tomatoes in food covers only stops them from actually landing on the fruit, but is no deterrent. Any suggestions??
Love & Best Wishes,
Inga, Merriwa NSW.
The vinegar flies will be breeding nearby and probably inside, so get rid of all mushy fruit or residue on fruit bowls. In grandma's day fruit bowls were covered with gauze, which keeps them off, or those tent like cover devices you can still buy, or just drape the ripening tomatoes with gauze or tulle or any other fine mesh cloth. But mostly they are just breeding in the mush and if it's kept mush free, they'll vanish. Or just ignore them – as Grandpa used to say 'extra protein' if you accidentally eat one. Strongly-scented repellents like peppermint oil will keep them away, but the scent has to be stronger than the scent of ripening tomatoes, which is one of life's good scents, so probably isn't something you'd want to do. Just open the window on a frosty evening and by morning the ferment flies will be gone.
Actually thinking it over – you can trap them. They love anything sweet, wet and yeasty, so a glass of fermenting home-made ginger beer, or even a pinch of yeast in a glass of fruit juice, will trap them. On the other hand, the scent may also attract more but as they'll be breeding close by or in the house, there shouldn't be too many more to attract.
All the very best,
Perfect composting loo November 30 2014, 1 Comment
Captivating musician and hands-on inventor, Dave Mann, tells EG editor Alan Gray how he built the perfect compost loo for only $400.
I'm sitting one metre from Dave Mann’s brilliant new compost toilet as I write this. The gorgeous Bec Schofield (see the spring 2013 EG front cover) who’s married to Dave, has just brought me a wonderful afternoon tea of chai and homemade chocolate cake. Try doing that one metre from your average composting loo! This must be the best odour-free loo imaginable. Nothing holds a candle to Dave’s multi-bin, fan-assisted compost toilet.
The key features are:
- he built it himself for a mere $400;
- that includes three 100-litre wheelie bins and all fittings;
- it is totally waterless and odourless, thanks to a 12-volt fan inside the vent pipe;
...To read on and find out how to make it, refer to or order a back copy of EG168, Winter 2014
Sun-dried Simplicity November 07 2014, 0 Comments
This is a clever method for drying fruit and vegies by converting a waste polystyrene box into a no-nonsense solar dryer.
by Nevin Sweeney, Back Yard Farmer 11
Drying excess food from the garden is a great way to spread the harvest and create new tastes, a solar dryer is great because it uses the sun rather than electricity and one made out of a polystyrene veggie box is even better because it turns a waste stream into a useful tool for sustainable living.
But why a polystyrene veggie box?
- There is little or no cost associated with it.
- The polystyrene foam acts as an insulator to keep the heat where you need it, around the food you are drying.
- It is rigid enough to form a good base.
- With the right tools it is easy to work.
- It’s light and easy to transport.
- The right type of veggie box takes only a little work to make it into a solar dryer.
How do you make it?
Once you have selected your veggie box you can either cut it first or paint it first, so I decided to paint it first. This involves using a water based matt black paint to coat the inside, allowing the sunlight to be captured to heat up the air inside the drier. The paint must be water based because solvent based paint, even in a spray pack, will melt the polystyrene foam to a greater or lesser extent. Finding water based matt black paint proved surprisingly difficult but in the end I found a water based blackboard paint at our local hardware which I applied with a soft paint brush and it worked really well.
If your veggie box has high sides, greater than say 10 to 12 cm, it is a good idea to cut three sides down to form a slope to let more sunlight (and heat) in by reducing the shading effect of the sides. To do this, measure down the two corners that will become the front of the dryer an equal length such that the resulting “front” will be about 10-12cm high and run a pencil line between the two points, a metal one metre ruler is handy to use for this. Then run the ruler back along each side from the mark up to the back of the box so that the line on the front continues diagonally along the side and up to the back of the box.
To cut the sides and front down it is easiest to use a hot wire cutter and to get the best possible line, hold a steel ruler or straight edge of some description on the line and run the hot wire cutter down it, making sure to keep the wire perpendicular to the side of the box. This gives a smooth, straight edge which makes fitting the clear cover much easier.
Now you have a box with a sloping top, but now you need a clear cover to let the sun in heat up the inside of the box and drying the food. The best cover is glass and a piece of recycled window the right size does the job, I had a recycled sliding glass door out of an old kitchen dresser which, as luck would have it, was just the right size. If you don’t have any glass you can make a cheap and much lighter alternative top by getting hold of some corrugated cardboard from a big box or whatever and cutting a piece to the size of the top of the dryer. Then cut a window out of the piece of cardboard so that there is a border 10 to 20mm thick, then cut a piece of recycled plastic sheet (we used the plastic bag from around our new mattress) to the size of the outside of the cardboard. Tape the plastic to the top of the cardboard with 50mm duct or gaffer tape and you have a light, transparent window that sits on the top of the solar dryer.
The carcase of the dryer is finished but the holes are still open and if you have bug problems – a possibility with drying veggies, probability with drying fruit and a definite with drying meat – you will need to screen off the air holes on the bottom and sides of the box to keep the bugs out. The cheapest way to do this is to tape some old fly screen from recycled window screens over the holes; the box is well insulated so the tape won’t get hot on the outside. If you have some spare cash you can get hold of some self adhesive screen patches used to repair fly screens and stick that on the bottom and sides of the box. The patches look neater and can be cut to the correct size but will cost you more.
So, now you have the outer box completed all you need to start drying is a rack to go inside to allow air circulation right around the produce you are drying. A cheap cake cooling rack will work but will only have bars going in one direction and may need to have a covering of (well cleaned) fly screen to stop small bits of food falling through. For two to three times the price of a cheap rack you can have a better one than will be bigger, stronger and wires going both ways to form a cross hatched pattern, much better for supporting the food being dried.
So that is how it all comes together, the food sits on the rack, the sun shines through the glass or plastic on top and heats the food directly as well as the air inside the box. The warm air rises, taking some of the moisture from the food and dragging in fresh air from the sides and bottom, and then exits at the back of the top part of the dryer. The process continues until the food is dried to your specification.
With the dryer pointed at the sun here on an afternoon in early spring I was easily able to achieve 45°C so as the weather warms, the performance of the dryer should improve also. All up, assuming paying for the box, paint and drying rack but being able to get hold of the materials to make the window, my solar dryer cost me about $5. That’s not a bad investment!
The Healing Power of Calendula September 19 2014, 0 Comments
Earth Garden 159
Sterilise a jar and lid, cram it full with calendula petals and flowers, fill the jar with sweet almond, jojoba or apricot kernel oil, put the lid on and stick it on a sunny windowsill for a week or two. Strain the oil into another sterilised bottle, taking the time to squeeze the last of the oil out of the flowers. Put the lid on and store in a cool dark place.
You know when you’ve spent a long day in the garden pruning, digging, mulching etc and your arms and legs are covered in little scratches and insect bites, perhaps even a bit sunburned? This oil is perfect for that!
Melt 1 part beeswax to 5 parts raw cacao butter with 2 part of sweet almond, jojoba or apricot kernel oil in a double boiler. I rig up a double boiler by placing a metal bowl over a boiling pot of water. Add dried calendula flowers to the mix; you want the volume of petals to be about equal to the volume of the beeswax, cacao butter and oil mix. Leave the mix over the heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain immediately into small pots and cover when cold.
This ointment can then be stored in the first aid kit and used to dab on spots, minor cuts and abrasions, burns, cold sores and eczema. You could even use it as a lip balm.
How to Make a Water Retaining Milk Carton Garden August 22 2014, 0 Comments
Earth Garden 162
Step 1. Gather four to twelve large milk containers. Larger ones are too unwieldy – it’s best to make several smaller ones if you want more.
Step 2. Cut off the tops with scissors. Don’t cut too much – the tops need to be slightly curved to help retain moisture and heat. You just need a hole big enough for the plant to get its leaves through.
Step 3. Pierce holes about four finger widths up from the bottom, at least three on each side. If you don’t do this the containers may fill up with water and the plants will rot. But you do want some ‘stagnant’ water in the base.
Step 4. Place gravel or coarse sand in the base, right up to the level of the holes.
Step 5. Top with compost, good potting mix or at a pinch, good soil.
Step 6. Use duct tape to bind rows of three, then to bind those rows together, or use wire or even binding twine.
Step 7. Plant seeds or seedlings. Water and keep moist. The extra heat and moisture will help seeds germinate faster.
Step 8. Keep watering as necessary and feed with an organic liquid fertiliser. You can make your own – soak compost in water and use the tea coloured liquid as plant food, or pour water over manure in a bucket, let it settle and use that ‘tea’ too.
Problem sorter: If they fill up with water, add more drainage holes. If the snails find them, surround with a ten cm wide barrier of shell grit – snails don’t like it on their tummies – and pick off any in the garden and squish them, or soak them in the fertiliser water so they feed the garden they have eaten.
If the garden begins to smell sour, throw out the contents, add more drainage holes and start again – and make sure you have a good layer of gravel.
Within three weeks from planting seedlings in mid-summer you should have salad greens, basil and other heat lovers and the roots of the silver beet should be poking down into the reservoir of water.
Olive Oil Soap July 25 2014, 1 Comment
Confessions of a Weekend Hippie
Summer 2012 EG 162
“Why was I standing in the soap aisle of a supermarket like it was foreign territory?” asks Liz Ingham. “Was I not a clean person?” Liz, from Clydesdale, Victoria, ruminates on the politics of soap.
The older I get, the less time I spend in mainstream society. This isn’t something I planned; I have tried to navigate both cultures, which is the basis of this column.
I can thank criminal lawyer Rob Stary for that element of my personal philosophy. At the time, Rob’s commitment to the environment included representing forest protesters in court for free, so Trevor and I spent a lot of time as clients in his office. Rob cut his losses by offering me a job.
One day, in a context I can’t remember, Rob looked at me, paused and said “here’s the thing, Liz, you can’t judge people”.
One day, someone will write a book on that remarkable man and that will be my contribution.
If you want to change the world, there’s no point in just being right about stuff and pointing out who is wrong and why.
You have to understand people, not judge them, and you can’t understand them from afar.
For example, after I left the job for Rob, I worked in a high-rise office where the women would sneak little fan-heaters under their desks, because culturally mandated clothing ‘choices’ left them freezing.
Another time, I asked a colleague why he left the tap running into an empty sink while he unpacked the dishwasher. He replied: “because I’m a clean person”.
The reality of drought is shifting mainstream attitudes to water. Culturally-based office heating will take a revolution against what a famous blogger calls “the international accords governing fair use of women”. But telling people off and blaming them for climate change won’t work.
Lately, either environmental awareness has spread or I have given in to the temptation to retreat from the mainstream; I have fewer of those culture-shock moments.
But I had a doozy in a supermarket when I tried to buy soap and realised there was not one item on the shelf that I could be sure didn’t use palm oil, except for the one that used melted-down animals.
I stood still and looked around at the shoppers like my eyes had been freshly peeled. Every time they buy soap they choose between killing orangutans and rubbing animal innards on themselves?!
So I figured everyone who gives a flying must buy soap at the many ‘natural product’ and body pampering shops in that town. The first two shops didn’t know the ingredients but assured me their soap range wouldn’t have aaaanything baaaad in it. The third shop had a sign saying the palm oil in their soaps was “ethically sourced”, because it came from Colombia where, they explained, there are no orangutans.
I would like to take the opportunity of calling bullshit on the concept of saying something is “ethical” when it was grown on farms whose owners were evicted at gunpoint by armed bastards. Look it up – the latest report has the government prosecuting 19 palm oil companies.
So, why was I standing in the soap aisle of a supermarket like it was foreign territory? Was I not, as my former colleague would put it, “a clean person”?
The answer is: “Earth Garden”. In Autumn 1999, I read the edition with “solar-powered animal-free soap making” on the cover, made it, then kept making it because it is the most beautiful soap I’ve ever used. Earth Garden is such a subversive little instrument, it led me by the hand into an alternative orangutan universe and I didn’t even notice.
I was in the soap aisle because my olive oil soap tends to turn into snot if you leave it sitting in water. This wasn’t a problem until I had some house guests, so I went looking for proper-bought-soap and learned that palm oil is what makes proper-bought-soap cheap to buy and resistant to snotting.
Basically, at some stage when I wasn’t looking the world must have chosen killing orangutans and evicting farmers over buying a little wire thingo that lets soap dry off between uses. Not to be judgmental, but that’s humans for you.
In the interests of recycling, this column features the original recipe for pure olive oil (castile) soap I’ve been using for 13 years. I leave out the fancy oils and fragrance – it is lovely just with olive oil. I have experimented with adding a few grams of bee’s wax for hardness. There wasn’t much difference, except that I couldn’t give soap to my vegan friends any more, so I stopped.
- 1.5 Litres Olive oil
- 198 grams caustic soda
- 570 grams filtered water
- 25 grams apricot kernel oil
- 30 grams essential oil
*These are the ingredients featured in the original Castile soap recipe that appeared in the article in Earth Garden Issue 107.
The basic method is:
1. Get your safety gear happening — goggles, gloves, long handled plastic spoon and thermometer. The ingredients are dangerous until the soap is hard.
2. Go outside and add the caustic to cold water very carefully indeed, then wait for the boiling hot lye to cool down to 32°C. Don’t touch it and don’t breathe the fumes.
3. Warm the oil to 32°C
4. Pour the lye into the oil and stir gently for an hour.
5. Wrap the mix up warmly — either in an esky or blankets.
6. For a few days, spend a minute stirring the oil that rises to the surface back into the mix before work, after work and before you go to bed at night, until the oil stops rising.
7. Pour it into moulds. For years I used clean empty drink cartons as moulds to make logs of soap. When the mix has dried to “Swiss cheese” stage you peel off the carton and slice it into bars with a hot knife. These days I’m too lazy to keep checking for the exact window of opportunity to slice the soap, so I pour it into silicone muffin tins and put it away until I feel like popping the soap out.
8. Leave it to dry and harden.
9. Let the soap dry between uses.
Pouring soap mix into the silicone muffin moulds. Liz’s tip is to put the moulds into a cardboard box before you fill them, or put them on a sturdy tray you can later put into a box. They are too floppy to lift otherwise.
Popping the soap out of the moulds. When the soap is firm, release it
Prepare soap for curing. The log of soap in front used a juice or milk carton as a mould. When it is firm enough to resist a thumb print, peel off the carton and slice it up with a sharp knife that
I make soap once or twice a year, with oil from the lovely Peter and Libby in the next-property-but-one in Clydesdale. They grow olives using natural farming methods to produce the exquisite Orchard of St Francis olive oil. They give me the odd tin of un-sellable oil dregs in exchange for some of the soap I make from it. It’s a gentle arrangement.