Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Perks of Being a Lazy Composter

Every green person knows that compost is awesome. It's beautiful and dark and crumbly and.....well..... earthy. It's pretty much the best stuff for the garden; it nourishes and conditions the soil, it feeds the plants and it puts to good use waste that would normally be taken to landfill.
Good compost has a nice carbon-nitrogen balance, keeping the bacteria and microorganisms that break it all down happy and working hard. Good compost gets nice and hot; hot enough to kill weed seeds and some plant pathogens. And when it's all finished, good compost smells sweet and moist.
It's not hard to make good compost. But it requires a bit effort. It requires having certain ingredients available to you. And, most frustrating of all, it requires time. Those of you who know me know that patience and I don't get together too often ;) I want results and I want them now! 

So I build a pile in the usual way; a bit of this a bit of that. We have guinea pigs and a rabbit and their manure keeps up the nitrogen content, along with horse manure (Indi goes horse riding once a week) and we've just acquired some pigeons, so that mess gets chucked in too. I usually give the guineas some pea straw or sugar cane mulch for bedding, so that gets chucked in when it's spent, adding a bit of carbon to the equation. Add the odd newspaper, clumps of seaweed, vacuum cleaner stuff, occasional grass clippings and weeds pulled up from the garden ... etc etc.

Then I leave it. It starts to warm up a bit, and I might even turn it once if I'm feeling energetic. After about 4 weeks it usually settles and shrinks to about two thirds of the size. This is the point where I should probably turn it and allow it to heat back up and finish the job. Alas, this is the point where I decide it's DONE and start shovelling it onto the garden as mulch. The way I see it, half-cooked compost has multiple benefits (besides me not having to wait another month or two):

More soil critters: spreading compost over the garden at this stage brings the worms up for the feast. Worms coming up from the deep ground aerate and loosen the soil, help to munch down the organic matter and then poop it all out, leaving wonderful rich castings. Especially useful when starting a new garden; the busy little soil critters do the hard work of breaking up the ground for me :)

Heat: Because it's still working, breaking down, heat is being generated. I find this especially beneficial when planting out before the ground has really warmed up, as it helps to spur my seedlings on.

Volunteers: By far my most favourite side effect! Plants popping up here there and everywhere from seeds that haven't broken down in the composting process ...

A cucumber wandering its way around the dwarf beans

A beautiful avocado seedling, one of 9 that have sprouted so far! 

A delight to my eyes ... a tangle of of volunteer pumpkins and tomatoes growing among the corn. 

I may not have neat piles of deep, dark, rich humus waiting to spread over my garden, but I do have lots of warm soil, lots of life within the ground and best of all, lots of healthy plants. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Powdery Mildew

I've not had much luck with zucchinis this year. Snails and slugs devoured the first, second and third lot I planted, and now that I've finally got a few going (in a different garden that the snails obviously didn't smell out), they've been hit with powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew shows up every year on all the cucurbits, but it never seems to get out of control or weaken the plants too much, so I've never bothered doing anything about it. This year though the zukes have really taken a hit. They took off quickly, growing strongly and producing lots of fruit but then went downhill just as fast. Even the leaf stems were covered.

A quick visit to Dr Google came up with this basic spray; a tablespoon of bi-carb soda, a tablespoon of oil and a few drops of washing up liquid all mixed up in a litre of water. It seems to have done the trick. I sprayed them weekly for three weeks and I think I've beat it, or at least got it under control. Although they look a bit bare where I've pulled off all the damaged leaves the new growth seems unaffected and there are lots of new shoots ...

... Hopefully to be followed by lots of yummy zukes :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Lammas has been and gone, and I've really not bothered too much acknowledging this sabbat :(

This is the time of first harvest; the turn from summer to autumn. The period of growth and abundance begins to slow and withdraw; as the strength of the Sun begins to wane, the Elderly Lord slowly prepares to be one with the earth again.
(Interestingly, this coincides with 'back-to-school' which to me usually seems like the end of summer and fun holiday time, where everyone falls back into the hum-drum routine of daily life. )

But I'm just not feeling it.

I guess it doesn't help that we have been experiencing gorgeous 38+ degree days, and the plants around me are literally growing before my eyes. Seeds are still sprouting like crazy and as I type this from my back verandah I am deafened by the sound of rain on the roof, which I'm certain is only going to spur the garden onward and upward.
It probably doesn't help that my kids don't go to school either, so we just keep on keeping on with the 'swim until 10:30 at night' holiday lifestyle!

BUT MOST OF ALL, I think I'm just realising that the traditional northern hemisphere Wheel of the Year just doesn't quite sit with our wicked Australian climate.
I've spent the last few months quietly trawling the online world for more info about the indigenous seasons (probably not the best way to find it, I know) and spending that bit of time up in Tropical Queensland last year was really really informative and inspiring.
I just feel like there is something missing ... something deeper in this great southern land that I'm not connecting with ...

So I'm not saying goodbye to the ancient ways, just looking for a deeper and more relevant path to follow :)
I'm halfway through writing two blog posts but ...

My stepson is in Townsville

If anyone reading this blog isn't aware of the humongous cyclone that is hitting the far north coast of Queensland, click here

Please be safe Scott xoxoxoxoxoxo