Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nitrogen Fixers

Nitrogen fixers are an integral part of any garden food forest or perennial system as a lack of nitrogen is often a limiting factor in ecosystems. Nitrogen fixers have the unique ability to take nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it into a form which is available to other plants. They do this with the aid of symbiotic bacteria which in make nitrogen available to plants in return for sugars and nutrients from the plant. These bacteria are visible as white nodules which form on the roots of Nitrogen fixers.

White Nodules contain N fixing bacteria

Most plants which can fix Nitrogen are members of the Legume family. This family includes peas, beans, clovers as well as a wide range of shrubs and trees.

In the garden we incorporate Nitrogen fixers by regularly planting peas, beans and clover, either amongst other plants or as part of a crop rotation.

In perennial areas we include a range of fast growing pioneer species such as Tagasaste to fix Nitrogen and improve the soil before or as we plant fruit trees. As the fruit trees mature and increase in size many of these Nitrogen fixers can be chopped down and used as mulch. If this is done in a well thought out manner fast growing trees can be used to block light and suppress the growth of weeds without sacrificing the fast growth of fruiting species. Groundcovers or intercrops of clover or beans can also be incorporated into design.

Tagasaste is a fast growing tree of 3 - 5 m which is useful as a stock feed and which is used in native restoration projects for its prolofic flowers which feed many types of native birds. It can spread but is not highly invasive. Standing beneath a tagasate tree in flower is an amazing experience, the air above you is constantly moving with bee's and birds moving through the tree.

I recently got some seed from Unitec which after boiling for 30 seconds I planted in my hot house. I now have about fourty seedlings which I will plant around my property particularly along the grass verge which runs down the side of the section as well as a few food forests I am working on around the place. After 3 - 6 years the trees will be cut out and the branches used for mulch and the trunks for firewood.

Mature tree in flower

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How does the garden grow

Just a few pictures of the garden. I have completely planted up and properly weeded all the main garden beds. This is a real achievement which doesnt happen often so now I am focusing on increasing the available growing space and working on some other things I have been putting up (like tidying the garage)

Urban/Rural Divide

I recently read a utopian article on about the possibility of sending out people from the citys to spread skills and information to the suburbs and even rural areas about living sustainably, putting together local power generation etc etc. While the article suggested setting up a lot of things which I consider relatively useless (such as advanced electronic communication networks) it triggered an interesting debate in the comments section around whether or not city folks have anything to teach rural folk. While I accept entirely that rural folk in general have far more useful skills than say your average office worker there is still a huge amount of knowledge around living sustainably that many modern farmers lack.

For example some distant relatives recently stayed the night at our place between moving between one farm and another, The husband and wife have both lived the majority of their lives in rural areas and the husband is particularly adept at all the usual jobs on a farm. Despite this lifetime interacting closely with his environment he was constantly blown away as I talked about Nitrogen fixers, water storage, agroforestry and a bunch of other techniques. Walking round my backyard section with him quickly highlighted his profound disconnection from his surroundings. Needless to say he left with a bunch of Tagasaste seedlings, Comfrey roots and Daikon seeds as well as a very good introductory book to permaculture.

Anyway the point (as was well made by some people in the comments section) is that modern farmers are going to be screwed as oil continues to spiral in price and complex society breaks down. They may have greater access to land and food but heavily indebted and reliant on commercial fertilisers they are going to need all the help they can get. I think we may even see commercial farmers simply walking off their land and moving towards the city as farms become unmanageable without immense inputs and as drought takes more of a toll (as happened during the dust bowl).

Industrialised farming is nothing like the mythical family farms of 200 years ago. But even the mythical family farms created deserts out of fertile soils and destroyed the land they were upon. Much of the fertility that was once present in agricultural soils is gone and without constant inputs of water, machinery and fertilisers growing crops may become impossible.

Both farmers and suburbanites will need help organising to resist banks and crippling taxation. They will both need help and instruction building composting toilets and putting in swales. And as counterintuitive as it may seem I think many farmers will walk off their land even as people are crying out for food.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planting Strawberrys

One of the things I have been doing the last couple of days has been moving most of my strawberry plants. They had been growing in a bed at the back of the garden but that bed had gradually become overrun with Couch grass and the soil had become compacted. I plan to sheetmulch the bed with horse manure and cardboard and then use the bed for growing pumpkins or some other summer crop which requires space.

The strawberry plants have been moved up to the front of the property into a variety of containers as well as one garden bed. The containers are an adhoc collection I have bought from nursery supply stores as well as plastic barrels cut in half and filled with compost and old potting mix. Overall after dividing clumps up I probably have about 70 plants which is more than I expected buy you can never have too many strawberrys :)

The old strawberry patch

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An amazing local garden

So apologies for not posting for a month, the simple reason has been I have been too busy to get out into the garden the past month or so. Its only been the past few days that I have been able to get out and start weeding and planting.

Last week however I had the oppurtunity to visit a friends garden and help him make some compost. I had heard about the garden for some time and had envisioned a large area perhaps a field behind his house. It was with amazement then that I realised that he and the others living in the house were growing all of the households fresh vegies in the area around a standard 1970s home. This is even more incredible because he feeds eight vegetarians living in the house from the garden and regularly cooks large meals containing fresh vegies for others as well. While he doesnt grow all his staples he has grown a considerable amount of potatoes and pumpkins and last night told me how someone has given over their lawn so he can grow potatoes.

The thing which blew me away was how lush and healthy all the plants were, disease was virtually non existent and despite very close spacing everything seemed lush and highly productive. Compost piles scattered around the property and barrels full of comfrey tea are probably the reason for the lush growth
Use of space was highly ingenious with lettuce growing on a pallet atop a compost bin and frames set up so pumpkins can sprawl across the garage use. The home built hot house was warm and humid in the very middle of winter and contained fruiting chilli plants, basil, cucumber and some straggling tomatoe plants.

All this in a garden less than two years old! Inspiring what can be done when you put your mind to it :)