A great information resource

In the process of researching for a post I’m planning on companion planting I came across a great information resource at the website of the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture website.  They aren’t dealing solely with permaculture or organic farming, but much of the material is very relevant to those approaches.

I’ve edited the list of topics that their website links to, to make it a bit more relevant, but when you click on any one of the links below it will put you into their whole list of topics, so you can wander through it as you wish.

Companion Planting Compost Cover Crops
Crop Rotation Disease Management Fruit Production
Grower Resources High Tunnels Native Bees
Food Service Other UT info Pest Management
Seed Saving Soil Management Weed Management

Growing Dragon Fruit from cuttings and looking after your growing plant

This post is a work-in-progress compilation of material on growing this delicious and low maintenance fruit.  I will edit it from time to time as I come across more/better material.

[Sunday night Oct 5: Have just revised the links at the bottom of this page – quite a few useful sites there now]

[October 6: added table of nutritional values of pitaya, added photos and associated text, added new links to source]

Our Dragon Fruit Experience

We started out with some cuttings of red dragon fruit in 2010 or early 2011.  They grew successfully in large pots, but we didn’t have anywhere where we could plant them out, so they stayed in the pots for ages, with some eventually extending roots through the bottoms of the pots and into the ground.  These plants are nothing if not hardy.

Three of them were planted out on a beam trellis in a shade tunnel in mid-2011 (the 30% shade cloth on these tunnels is extended only during the hotter parts of the summer).

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First dragon fruit bud – February 2012 – while the plant was still in the original pot

Two buds were produced in late summer 2012 – probably in late summer because the plants were not sufficiently established to flower earlier that summer.  Neither of these produced fruit.  In the 2012/13 summer we had two flowers and two fruit.

In October 2012 one-third of the floor or the shade tunnel was dug out to a depth of 200-300mm and filled with dead timber, including tree trunks, branches, twigs and leaves, and chip mulch from our annual firebreak clearing, then covered over with the soil taken out of the hole (or rather the two-thirds of the soil that remained after the rocks had been sieved out)  to make a modified heugelkultur/raised garden bed.  That’s the lush area in the background of the photo below, 10 months later.

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One of the dragon fruit on the trellis – late July 2013.  This shot gives you an idea of the post and beam trellis.  It actually recommended for red dragon fruit, but I fail to see why, and I know a commercial grower who has changed over from this to post and frame trellises.

In late July 2013, just before the photo above was taken, the remainder of the floor of the shade tunnel was turned into a modified heugelkultur bed.  The raised bed on top of the timber was a lasagne bed with layers of straw, poultry manure (including quite a few carcases), and compost.

By late December 2013, only five months later, the dragon fruit had responded dramatically.

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The same plant as above, but five months later (there is a second plant growing up the post in the background, but the branches here are from the one in the foreground).

We eventually had seven fruit from nine flowers on four plants from the 2013/2014 summer, harvesting the last of the fruit in May and June.  One fruit didn’t develop, and one was on a new plant growing out in “possum land” beyond the electric fence and was eaten by the possums before it was ripe.

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The same plant in mid-2014 prior to pruning

In hindsight it was really dumb to plant dragon fruit above a vegetable bed inside a rather narrow shade tunnel.  These things need to be able to grow as wide as they want, and they need to have a combination of old and new branches hanging down (fruit comes from both).  It just doesn’t work, and forgetting that the vines are there and standing up under one to get one of those small spines in the soft part of the ear is not fun.  As soon as we get an extension to the garden fenced we will be planting lots of dragon fruit there, from cuttings off these plants.

Propagating via Cuttings

While it is possible to propagate dragon fruit from seeds, it is along process and does not result in a vine with the same fruit producing properties as the parent.  With the cuttings you are getting a clone of the parent, and much more quickly.

You can make multiple stem cuttings from the one piece of stem, but focus on the lower and middle portions of the stem (away from the growing tip) to get the most robust material.  If you have an “intermediate” section of stem with narrow stem portions at each end, then it probably doesn’t matter where you take the cutting.

Try to use a stem that is a few inches in diameter (> 2 inches), but smaller stems will work – the danger is that the stem may dry up too much when being “cured” or before it produces roots in the pot. Thicker cuttings suffer less stress.

When you make a fresh cutting, it’s best to place it in a shady location for a week or more to allow the cut end to dry and “heal” to avoid fungal infections, before placing it into soil.  You may see roots starting to develop during this period, but it is not necessary to wait for roots before potting the cured cutting.

Thereafter, a good, well-drained potting mix will serve to encourage roots to grow.

Water once every one to two weeks and let the soil dry up, too wet can cause fungus attack.  Keep mulch away from the base of the plant to avoid introducing fungi and rot.

With filtered sunlight and warm temperature, the vine will grow a root first, then, once the root is established, new branches will sprout from the nodes.

When new growth appears (this may take as long as four months, depending on the weather and season) they are ready to plant in the ground in a sunny location.

 

Growing the Mature Plant

Dragon fruit need to grow up a trellis, but they need to be able to “hang” their side branches out from the main stem (or from a beam or frame on top of the trellis) in an arc.

Remove lateral growth until the stems reach at least a few feet up their support. Then you can prune the tips of the stems to induce multiple branching, and eventually, fruiting.

This cactus develops some pretty thick and heavy stems, so your support will need to ultimately hold quite a bit of weight. Use twine or bands of fabric to help attach it to the support, avoiding wires that can cut into the weighty stems.  Eventually the stems will grow aerial roots to grip onto the support.

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A man inspects dragon fruit trees on a plantation in rural Cambodia. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post: 30/7/12

This plant is very efficient because it can grow roots on any surface. It can also absorb water and nutrient through any surface. It can also utilize low light or partial shade but it grows better in full sun. BUT be careful when the plant is moved from low light to full sun – on very hot days the vine can sunburn easily.  Growth and fruiting are better in full sun (and the plant needs at least half a day of sun), but in the hotter part of summer I use 30% shade cloth.

Flowering, Pollination and Fruit Development

The main flowering is in summer and then fruit develop into autumn and winter, however the time taken to reach maturity depends on the size of the fruit, so from flowering to ripe can be as short as six weeks or, more usual, several months.

[Need to add more information here]

Feeding Your Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit needs low nitrogen and high phosphorus in the soil, particularly as it approaches, and during, the growing and fruiting season.  They “hibernate” in winter in our climate.

Pruning

When your plant is at least one year old, strong and vigorous, and ideally having proven its ability to bloom and fruit abundantly (this may take 18 months to two years in our climate), you can begin to take stem cuttings.  Because the plant needs to be pruned once it is mature and has fruited (in order to produce many new side stems and therefore many fruit) you will have an opportunity every year to make cuttings from the pruned material.

It is on the new branches sprawling over the top of the support structure where most of the new flowers are produced, although flowers can pop-up anywhere on the plant.

The Nutritional Value of Dragon Fruit

Nutritional Value of Pitaya

Click on the table to go to the source at: Dragon Fruit: Nutritional Value, Health Benefits and Calorie Count for more information

 Some useful links

NT Government AgNote D42: The Pitaya or Dragon Fruit A four-page technical note on key aspects of cultivation.

NT Government Growing Note: Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) One-page note with some material not covered in above AgNote

Dragon Fruit Production Guide (Pinoy Bisnes Ideas) A lot of good information, some of it in more detail than the above publications.

Pitaya Growing in the Florida Home Landscape  One of the most complete sources I have found on growing dragon fruit.

Dragon Fruit (Pitaya) – How-to Guide for Growing   Includes a video on hand pollination.  A very good source of information on growing dragon fruit, with some information that I hadn’t seen elsewhere.  This is actually an Australian self-sufficiency website, and the author is based in South East Queensland.

Pruning Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) (Sub-tropical Fruit Club of Queensland Instruction with photos for pruning. Use the search box on this page “pitaya” for a huge amount of useful/interesting information on Dragon Fruit

Dragonfruit Cactus (Botanical Growers Network publication) Some of the information fills gaps in the above sources, or gives a different slant on some topics.

Improved Production Technology for Pitaya (Philippines Bureau of Agricultural Research) Check info on when to prune, time to first production and time from flowering to harvest.

http://dragonfruit.foodlywise.com/ An annoying site because of its strange links but there’s some good information if you can figure out how to follow them.

http://dragonfruit.foodlywise.com/how_to_grow_dragonfruit/growing_dragonfruit_commercially/growing_dragonfruit_from_cuttings/dragonfruit_stem_cuttings/  Covers several aspects of growing dragon fruit from cuttings.

http://www.vivapitaya.com/dragon-2.htm A selection of photos of dragon fruit growing in different circumstances – some ideas for supports, and indications of what healthy plants look like in the tropics.

A refreshingly different approach to food forests

I’ve just been reading a post by Tom at Sustainable Veg with the intriguing title: A Forest Garden Without the Forest.

It first caught my eye because of my scepticism about permaculture “food forests” as an efficient use of land for producing our daily meals.  I’m not talking about the food forests that surround hamlets and households in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.  I’ve had a lot of contact with these, and in general these food forests are fruit, leaf and herb production areas, often with some poultry, and which also provide shade to cool the area around the house.  Their production supplements the range of day-to-day basic foods from more distant wet or dry rice areas or upland gardens.

My scepticism relates to the tendency of many permaculture followers to focus the majority of their production efforts on food forests dominated by fruit trees of one type or another.  And there seems to be a common belief that if it doesn’t have a food forest, then it isn’t permaculture.  Permies coming into a new garden will frequently ask “where’s your food forest?”.  Of course, many people with food forests also have “kitchen gardens”, but even so, there is often a serious over-allocation of area and effort to the food forest, out of all proportion to the negligible volume of “staples” produced there and the generally low productivity per unit area.

As Tom says in another post: “Billions of people need feeding … (w)e can be an alternative, organic movement but we need to produce carbohydrate, protein and vitamin dense food, in large amounts…” (I’m not suggesting here that Tom shares my views on food forests – to be honest, I don’t know).

A view of part of Tom’s garden – click on the image to go to a gallery of photos of the garden

Tom’s describes his back garden (he also has an allotment) as “a productive, organic, kitchen garden with substantial amounts of perennial vegetables, some annual vegetables and five dwarfing fruit trees”.  But he also calls it a forest garden, and refers to his techniques as forest gardening, and for good reason.

His reason for classifying his approach as forest gardening is that he is concerned with the ecology of the garden and of the soil, and therefore uses many of the techniques of forest gardening, while stopping short of trying to create either a closed tree canopy or a climax forest situation – not least because he doesn’t have the space to grow more trees without shading out his vegetables.  Nevertheless he has adopted an impressive array of permaculture / food forest techniques –

I’ll don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading his post for yourself, but in summary these are the forest gardening techniques he uses:

  • Vertical stacking, with three diverse layers of plants, in association with individual fruit trees.
  • The use of support plants, with half the area of his garden devoted to these, but with the difference that he composts the prunings from the support plants before putting it around the food plants.  In this way he can focus on the needs of the support plants in one area and those of the food plants in another.  I also suspect, from what he writes and from the photos in his gallery (including the one above), that many of the things growing in his food production area are supporting each other.
  • Growing a wide range of perennial vegetables.
  • Adopting a “closed loop fertility” approach whereby he grows all of the ingredients for the compost on his own land.  You can see a separate post on it here.  I find this an admirable but daunting prospect.  I certainly wish I could imagine getting to that stage on our stony dry ridge.  At the moment the bulk of our compost ingredients come from off-site (but within 10km).

Please do yourself a favour and read Tom’s article for yourself.  What Tom has done is to apply the key food forest approaches without having his productive area dominated by forest.  I’m in awe of what he’s doing and the strong ethical approach he takes, and I’ll be adopting some of his approaches as I develop and expand our food production area.

As I finished writing this I noticed that Tom has added a post about compost which gives more insights into his approaches.  Enjoy.

Madeira Vine – a permaculture food plant, or a rampant and destructive invasive?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you will know that I’m very concerned about the encouragement of the use of invasive or potentially invasive species in permaculture (you can see where I’ve written on the subject here and here).

Now the folks at Milkwood Permaculture have thrown up a curly one – they’ve just posted on how Madeira Vine not only has edible leaves and tubers, but is widely eaten and cultivated in Japan, where it is known as “land seaweed” (okawakame)

Typical effect of unchecked Madeira Vine [from Milkwood Permaculture blog]

As they point out, Madeira Vine is an already “adapted, perennial, zero footprint and highly nutritious food plant” with the following characteristics which are desirable in a food plant:

  • “It grows without much assistance, is hardy and produces prolifically.
  • It requires minimal cultivation.
  • It dominates an area where it is planted (meaning far less weed control is needed)
  • It is spread only* by humans and by water flows distributing the bubils – an easy factor to contain with good design.”

The Milkwood guys are  planning on having it as a food plant in their garden.  They recognise that it is a potential problem, and will manage it by eating it and stopping it from spreading.

So, should we incorporate Madeira Vine into our permaculture food production?

My first question would be: Just how weedy/invasive is it really?

Madeira vine grows prolifically at rates of up to 1 m per week in high-light environments.  It produces large numbers of subterranean and aerial tubers that not only act as reproductive bodies, but also provide the plant with a carbohydrate source that enables it to survive through difficult times. As a consequence, Madeira vine can tolerate a range of adverse conditions including drought, snow and frost, and it has been found growing in areas as diverse as rainforests, riparian fringes, rocky outcrops and frontal dunes (source).  This same ability to tolerate adverse conditions also means that the tubers can survive for very long periods of time in suspended animation, before they experience the right conditions to shoot (source).

The vine reproduces through the proliferation of aerial tubers and also from rhizome (subterranean tuber) fragments that may be broken off (source).  The aerial tubers can persist for two to 15 years and rhizomes for five to 10 years, with tuber germination rates of up to 70 per cent (source).  Although Madeira Vine is widely believed not to set seed in Australia, up to 5% of dried flowers collected from southeast Queensland were found to contain germinable seed (see #Vivian-Smith et al, below).

Dispersal is believed to occur primarily* via human spread (cultivation for ornamental purposes, disposal of vegetative material and tubers, e.g. in green waste (source), or being spread by machinery and/or gravel during road construction).  However it also spreads downslope under the influence of gravity and water movement from ridges and down watershed, and via floods (source).

Saying that it is spread primarily by humans needs to be considered in relation to just how widespread it is, what a significant destroyer of habitats it is once established, and how extremely difficult it is to eradicate once established.  Here is how the Environment Australia weeds database summarises the facts about Madeira Vine:

Madeira Vine is a Weed of National Significance (WONS). It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts.

Madeira Vine has aggressive vegetative growth which competes with and replaces other vegetation, and is difficult to control once established. Its aggressive nature gives it the potential to smother other desirable plants. Its sheer weight is capable of breaking branches off trees, thereby reducing them to poles, potentially causing collapse of the rainforest canopy (ISSG 2006). It restricts light and thereby prevents germination of desirable native species (Harley undated).

Should we then include Madeira Vine in permaculture food production?  I think there are two things to take into account before making a decision on this.

First, the permaculture ethics of care for the Earth and care for people.  The potential impacts on the Earth from Madeira Vine escapes are obvious (see the sources and photo above) and well documented, as are its impacts on the people whose properties and amenity are impacted.

Second, based on an assessment of invasiveness and impact, Madeira vine was ranked 5th worst of1060 naturalised south-east Queensland plant species (#Batianoff & Butler, below).  How are you going to ensure that:

  • no seed is set, and neither seed nor tuber material is distributed by animals, or other agents of dispersal, including water (i.e. the area where you will grow it will never flood or be exposed to high volumes of water runoff;
  • everyone who works on your garden or caretakes for you while you are away is as careful as you would be not to allow any dispersal of aerial tubers, (fragments of) rhizomes or seeds;
  • before you move on, you will have somehow removed all aerial tubers and every last fragment of rhizome before you leave, or failing this, you have some guarantee that the next landholder is going to take the same careful management approach as you?

– – – – – – – –

*I consider the statement that it is spread “only by humans and by water flows distributing the bubils – an easy factor to contain with good design” to be dangerously simplistic for a number of reasons.  First, once a Madeira Vine has established itself in a vegetated area it does not sit and wait for humans or water flows to come along and move its tubers or rhizomes.  The tubers are spread naturally when they fall from the adult plants where they have climbed up and across the canopy (often a considerable distance) from where they originally grew. Second, anywhere that an established population of Madeira Vine grows over a waterway that even only occasionally flows, this will distribute the plant to any and all areas downstream.  Third, saying that it is spread “by humans” without mentioning the many ways in which human activity can spread the plant, or the very long viability period of the tubers, gives a very misleading impression of the ease with which human activity can (even unwittingly) result in spread.

Here is a rather more informative account of how it is spread:

The most common means of reproduction and spread is via asexual tubers formed on the roots and stems. Prolific numbers of aerial tubers are produced throughout the year, which drop to the ground when mature or in response to stress. Research indicates that aerial tubers can persist for two to 15 years and subterranean tubers for five to 10 years, with tuber germination rates of up to 70 per cent. In areas of heavy infestation, soil tuber densities are up to 1500 per m2. Madeira vine is also capable of shooting from sections of severed vine.

Dispersal occurs primarily via human spread such as cultivation for ornamental purposes, disposal in green waste, or spread by machinery during road construction. It can also spread via gravity and water movement from ridges and watersheds or during floods. Mammals and birds may also play a minor role in localised spread.
While seed production is believed to be rare in Australia, research indicates that up to 5 per cent of dried flowers collected from southeast Queensland contain germinable seed. It is speculated that seed set and germination may only occur under ideal environmental and seasonal conditions.

 Sources which aren’t linked above:

#Vivian-Smith et al, Alan Fletcher Research Station QLD Unpublished data (cited in this source)

#Batianoff, G.N. and Butler, D.W. (2002). Assessment of invasive naturalized plants in south- east Queensland. Plant Protection Quarterly 17: 27–34.

 

Is it possible to grow vegetables using no-till farming?

At various workshops and meetings I’ve often heard statements along the lines of “no-till approaches are all very well for broadacre cropping (e.g. grain crops), but no one uses them for vegetables” – to the point where I just assumed that there must be good reasons for not doing it.

Can it even be done, even if only by dedicated permaculturists willing to put in huge amounts of effort?  Well, yes it can, but not just through huge amounts of manual labour and on a small scale.  There are people our there successfully doing mechanised no-till vegetable production.  This article by Dr Mark Schonbeck on the Rodale Institute’s website tells the story.

Dr Ron Morse in a field of cover crops [Rodale Institute web site]

According to the article, Dr. Ron Morse, a professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia has been working for more than two decades on soil-conserving systems for vegetable production.  This parallels efforts by Pennsylvania vegetable grower Steve Groff (in an article by Marni Katz) over the same period on his Cedar Meadow farm. The permanent cover cropping system that he has developed helped to eliminate tillage on 175 acres of pumpkins, tomatoes, sweet corn and other vegetable crops on his Cedar Meadow Farm. Not only has this approach reduced cultivation costs and improved yields and quality, it has also helped  manage the soil erosion from the farm’s sloping topography.

“You could not pay me to till my land anymore,” Groff says. “Soil erosion has gone from 15 tons per acre, per year, to almost nothing. Organic matter [in the soil] has gone from 2.7 percent 15 years ago to 4.8 percent this year, and yields have improved 10 percent.”

You can find a list of other articles about Steve Groff’s farm here.

Ron Morse (1999#) has attributed the progress and acceptance of no-till vegetable production in the US to advances in no-till planters, development of techniques for managing high residue cover crop mulches and the acceptance of (and improvements to) integrated weed management techniques.

However I think there are a lot of other factors involved, including: farmer attitudes to the “bottom line”, i.e. whether they are mainly profit-focussed or have an eye on the triple bottom line; farmers’ willingness to be different to their peers (i.e. operating outside the norm); and ability and willingness to deal with a different suite of pest problems arising from the use of cover crops.

No-till vegetable farming has been practised in Australia for around 20 years (e.g. Rogers et al. 2004#), but does not seem to have caught on widely.  However there was a study of seven trial sites at different latitudes in Australia (including one at Zeibarth’s farm at Laidley in the Lockyer Valley), published in 2006, that also reviewed a range of studies on the application of the approach in Australia.  Unfortunately it seems from a quick reading of the report that glyphosate was used to kill the cover crops at most if not all of the sites.  However, the report does include an assessment of the use of a combination of Organic Interceptor (a certified organic acceptable herbicide) and flame treatment, but concluded that only glyphosate gave acceptable long-term weed control – though clearly there are farmers in the other articles that I’ve provided links to here who are able to deal with this issue.

You can find a balanced and fairly comprehensive evaluation of the organic no-till approach here and here, providing you with a pretty comprehensive range of considerations to bear in mind when deciding whether to attempt an organic no-till approach to growing vegetables.

One thing to bear in mind though is that a lot of what has been published relates to large-scale vegetable production.  People who are looking to produce vegetables for family consumption with a surplus for bartering or giving away will be likely to have a different take on the pluses and minuses of the approach.  Steve Groff’s summary might be worth considering:

“… for the grower who does his homework, the no-till system offers significant advantages. No-till growers typically save money by reducing water use in irrigated systems, reducing cultivation equipment and fuel costs and minimizing inputs, such as herbicides and fertilizers.

In addition, Katz quotes Ron Morse who pointed out that growers often realize increased yields through soil moisture conservation and enhanced quality, particularly for crops that lay on the ground. At the same time, there are increased costs in equipment and seed for managing the cover crop.

“A grower has to be really careful to understand the system and do it right,” Morse notes. “It works if you do it right, and there are a lot of advantages.”

Unlinked Sources

# Morse, Ronald D. “No-till vegetable production—its time is now.” HortTechnology 9.3 (1999): 373-379.

# Rogers, G.S., Little, S.A., Silcock, S.J. and Williams, L.F. 2004. NO-TILL VEGETABLE PRODUCTION USING ORGANIC MULCHES. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 638:215-223

 

 

Edible and Useful Plants

Was just searching the internet for information on what is used to inhibit sprouting in onions (and potatoes) in Australia and came across a series of well written and informative articles on useful and edible plants by Penny Woodward.  Well worth having a look at.  She includes some unusual and interesting members of the onion family and herbs as well.  She has written a series of books (available for purchase through her website) which look interesting too.  Unfortunately she doesn’t have a subscription link to her blog, offering only advice on new material via Facebook and Twitter, neither of which I use.

Haven’t definitely nailed the anti-sprouting issue yet.  But I did discover that, like many fruits, onions can be stored for long periods before appearing in the shops.  It’s time we had a “harvest date” advice on fruit and veg.  It appears that the most common approach is some formulation of Maleic Hydrazide, often as Potassium Maleic Hydrazide.  I don’t have time to chase it up further right now, but it appears that while the potassium salt might be relatively harmless, one can’t say the same for Maleic Hydrazide, particularly in relation to its impact on aquatic organisms.  If anyone has detailed information on what is used in Australia, how it’s used, and what the impacts are please add a comment.

If you’re having any problems loading the new header photo please let me know.

Harvested – April to June

Here’s a record of the different things we harvested from the garden from the beginning of April to the end of June this year.

No weights or volumes, just harvested or not.  I can’t be bothered weighing everything that comes in from the garden; life’s too short for that sort of record keeping.  If it’s there and we need it, we harvest as much as we need.  What doesn’t get used by us gets given away – usually after a quick rush around the garden as visitors are leaving or as we leave to go visiting, with no time to weigh things; or it goes into the compost when past its prime.

And of course the produce that gets sampled as we graze different things while working it the garden doesn’t get recorded at all, even though it probably amounts to quite a lot over the course of a month.  I assume almost everyone grazes as they move around their garden.  For me it is not only satisfying, a lot of it is “quality control”.  Are the lettuce going bitter yet?  How does this tomato like growing here?

Over the three month period I’d say that something like 80% of our vegetable consumption came from the garden, which has put a big dent in our grocery bill.

Sorry about the crappy layout.  I haven’t figured out how to set up a table in WordPress yet, so this is just blocked and copied from MS Word.

Common Name April ’14 May ’14 June ’14
Arrowroot, Queensland
Basil, Italian/Sweet
Basil, Greek
Basil, Thai
Beans, Snake
Beetroot
Bok Choy
Chilli
Chives, Garlic
Dragon Fruit (red variety)
Gai Laan
Kale, Curly
Kangkung / Water Morning Glory
Leek, Clumping
Lemon, Eureka
Lemon Grass, West Indian
Lettuce, Perpetual
Lime, Tahitian
Lime, West Indian
Luffa salad, stir fry, sponge salad, sponge sponge
Mint
Pak Choi
Parsley, Flat-leaf
Pineapple
Potato, Kipfler
Pumpkin, Japanese tips
Radish leaves, bulbs bulbs
Rosemary
Silverbeet, Fordhook Giant
Spinach, Ceylon
Spinach, Brazillian
Spring Onions/ Shallots
Sweet Potato, Orange tips
Tomato, Cherry
Tomato, Gros Lisse

The Foss and Holmgren Presentation

We went to the presentation by Nicole Foss and David Holmgren in Brisbane on Friday last week.

Very well attended, with a main lecture theatre pretty well packed – maybe 200 people.  There were eight people there from the Lockyer Valley whom I recognised and quite possibly more whom I didn’t recognise.  Pretty impressive, considering the massive disparity between the population of Brisbane and that of the Lockyer Valley.

Nicole Foss’s talk was absolutely riveting, starting with an overview of the history of money and the way that it has been expanded by the incorporation of debt/credit into the “money supply” and the risks that this poses.  She moved on to energy resource issues and linked this to the money supply (debt) through the cost of finding and producing the remaining “difficult” fossil energy sources, concluding that most of the hard to access fossil fuels will not be economic to produce.  The thread running through the presentation was the cyclical nature of the economy and the fact that massive levels of debt, coupled with the interconnectedness of the globalised economy and energy shortages/high energy prices, mean that sooner or later (and very likely sooner) there will be a depression cycle from which the global economy will not be able to recover.

Not all of it was as gloom-and-doomish as that may sound.  Foss gave examples of broad strategies for weathering the storm.

Of course this summary cannot possibly do justice to what was one of the most well delivered, highly informed, logical, well structured and thought provoking presentations that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.  We came away with a lot of food for thought, and a resolve to review our sustainability planning.

She set the scene perfectly for David Holmgren to step in and elaborate the ways in which permaculture can contribute to creating a way through the economic (and social) breakdown that is coming.

What he started with were a series of bland generalisations, some of which touched on areas Foss had already covered, though some of what he said seemed strangely at odds with what she had presented.

The major part of his presentation though was an attempt to breathe life into his Aussie Street  scenario.  For those who haven’t seen it, this is a series of morphing diagrams tracing the evolution of households on four house blocks in an Australian suburban street.  It is long, barely entertaining, and the ratio of stimulating ideas to slightly cute waffle is very low.  We first saw it about eight years ago, and neither of us could decide whether there was actually any new material in Friday’s presentation.  As an illustration of the application of permaculture principles to suburban planning and lifestyle it can only be described as weak.  As a follow-up to the opportunity that Nicole Foss had set up for someone to highlight the role that permaculture can play in dealing with the coming disastrous wind-down of the economy and associated resource issues, Holmgren’s presentation was a massive lost opportunity.

We kept thinking, there’s got to be more.  A friend of ours said later, “I just wanted to throw things at him to wake him up to what he needed to be saying”.

But if you can get to the the Melbourne presentation on July 15, don’t miss it.  This is a chance to hear Nicole Foss give a truly remarkable overview of where we are headed and why.  If you are thinking of going to the Hobart presentation (Holmgren without Foss) on July 19, my advice is don’t bother.

Avoiding spam comments

I’ve been getting quite a few comments lately along the following lines:

“Hey there,  You have done a fantastic job. I’ll definitely digg it and in my view suggest to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this website.”

and

“Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really loved browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing in your feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!”

I clicked on the email address associate with a similar comment a week or so back, my browser shut down.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

When I checked the IP addresses of these latest vague comments on whois.com, they were associated with a Venezuelan company, CANTV Servicios.  I’ve sent them an email, but I suspect that their site has been hijacked for nefarious purposes.

So I’m afraid that in future all comments which are similarly vague and do not make reference to the content of a post will be deleted as spam.  I just hope I won’t be deleting any genuine comments – your thoughts on this blog are precious.

An urban agriculture website that has lessons for us all.

Urban agriculture is receiving growing attention in permaculture circles, whether it is highly productive permaculture backyards (or balconies!) or rooftop farms on city buildings.

Urban agriculture can take many forms (click on the image to read the article on the importance of urban agriculture in developing countries)

I know that the Lockyer Valley isn’t exactly “urban”, but in fact there is a significant proportion of the population of the Lockyer Valley Region living in urban or suburban environments – and there are followers of this blog who live in urban areas outside the Lockyer.  And if we are concerned about food security, whether at present or under more difficult circumstances in the future, urban agriculture is, and will continue to be, an important element in maintaining food security and social resilience.

All of which is a long-winded way of introducing the website of the RUAF (Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security).

If you check out their home page it’s likely you’ll find something of interest, whether it’s in their publications, Urban Agriculture Magazine or bibliographic database on urban agriculture, or in the Hot News section on the home page.  Take a look – one of the things I’ve learned about implementing permaculture is that lessons come from the most unexpected places.