Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Autumn Equinox... into the Deep.

As the sun rises and sets exactly due east and due west, I feel my senses tingle as the wind picks up and I prepare my mind, my soul, my taste buds, my body and my emotional being for the descent into the depth of winter in the Dandenong Ranges.

Colours of burnt orange and deep browns line the streets from the deciduous trees that were once quite foreign to these parts. Some mornings are cold and grey now, the water trickles down the glass windows and makes me thankful for the shelter that I have.
I have never had a fire place in my life. I stockpile wood and wait for the time when it is cold enough (thats two jumpers, right?!) to light the combustion stove. This has been one of my dreams and I simply cannot wait to start baking sourdough and making medicines and soups using the direct element of fire.

Here I will explore with you the beauty of the Autumn equinox, as the sun starts to move further Northward in a shallower arc across the sky. I will cover things which this season teaches us, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Keep in mind that I am exploring the native side of things, as I live in Australia where a lot of that knowledge has been lost. I will try and apply it wherever I can, but I have a deep interest and focus on the wild foods that are all around us, awaiting our picking- moving towards a more local, economical and nourishing future.

Seasonal Foods
Lets explore the seasonal foods of Autumn. Nature is very intelligent, and sometimes we view ourselves separate from this natural world, perceiving our environment as something 'out there', the forest, the ocean, the mountain.... our environment is US. We are an ecology within ourselves, and we extend to all living things. Our internal is only a reflection of the external, the external is only and extension of the internal. We have been evolving for millions of years with these plants and animals that we rely on for food.
It makes sense that these foods contain specific nutrients at certain times of the year that actually benefit us during those times.
Autumn is a time of seasonal and also personal transformation. Lots of plants, trees and animals start to draw their energy reserves inward to prepare for the winter. During this time in this climate, we require foods with antioxidants and vitamin C, that will boost our immune systems so our bodies don't get a shock at the change in temperature. Herbs flourish that contain constituents to help with body strengthening, throat and lung conditioning (as Autumn winds have a drying effect on the lungs).

Melbourne, Australia
Vegetables in Season: Asian greens, beans, beetroot, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, celery, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, onions, peas, radish, silverbeet, squash, sweet corn, tomato, zucchini
Fruits in Season: Apple, apricot, berries, figs, grapes, lime, nectarine, passionfruit, pears, plum, pomegranate, yelow peach, quince
Herbs in Season: Basil, chilli, chives, coriander, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme
Nuts in Season: Chetnut, walnut, almond, peacan, hazelnut

UPCOMING POST: Autumn wildfoods and herbal medicine
                                    Autumn water exercises for observation and awareness

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Loving our Soil - Improvement and Reconditioning

As a follow-up to my post Soil Soul, I will talk a little now about how to give a little back to our degraded, damaged soils. Only 10% of the earth has soil that can be used to grow food, and its
 dwindling fast!

There are a few ways that we can make the soil delicious again... and the keyword here is:

Organic Matter!
By this I mean natural material, full of carbon and nitrogen. Broken down organic matter is one of the surest ways that we can improve our soils and support the soil food web. This means COMPOST! Whats that again? COMPOST? All those food scraps that go to landfill, all those half eaten plates of food you see wasted at cafes, all those boxes of cardboard, newspaper, grass clippings, hay, leaf litter, manure... all those half eaten meals, apple cores, broccoli stalks... All of this can actually go towards building healthy soils!

People often think that if they put their food scraps in a bucket or a compost bin outside then it will turn to compost. There have been so many cases where people will be put off by the smell of a compost bin. A rich, yummy compost isn't supposed to smell! The smell is due to the compost turning anaerobic, which means it turns acidic and does not have much oxygen. This will start to smell and lots of fruit flies and pathogens will be attracted to the slimy mess.
The trick is making aerobic compost, which has enough material full of carbon in it to give the right carbon:nitrogen ratio and all the microbes that are breaking the material down create oxygen and in turn make the compost rich, fluffy, aerated and sweet smelling.
All organic matter is made up of Carbon (C) with lesser amounts of Nitrogen (N). The balance of these two elements within an organism or material is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio). Soil organisms require the right amount of energy (carbon) and protein (nitrogen).
The fastest and most efficient way of producing compost is to maintain a C:N ratio of about 25-30:1. Thats 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part of nitrogen.
The reason a compost becomes anaerobic is due to too much nitrogen (often food scraps with no carbon material), the microorganisms can't use all the nitrogen and the excess is lost in the form of ammonia gas which is smelly.
Soil and Compost science (yes, it is a science!) can become so in depth and sometimes confusing. It is sometimes easier to look at the Carbon material as Brown and the Nitrogen material as Green. This way you can feed your compost adequate amounts of Brown and Green material, keeping the ratios in mind, and you won't be lead too astray.
The ratio describes the chemical composition of a material and does not mean that you need a volume of brown material that is 30 times greater than the amount of green matter!
Any organic matter that has a C:N ratio larger than 30:1 is generally considered Brown.
Any organic matter that has a C:N ratio smaller than 30:1 is generally considered Green.
For the more in depth composters amongst us, here is a list of C:N ratios in certain materials:

Brown: Carbon                   C:NAshes, wood                        25:1
Carboard, shredded            350:1
Corn Stalks                           75:1
Fruit waste                            35:1
Leaves                                  60:1

Newspaper, shredded          175:1
Peanut shells                          35:1
Pine needles                           80:1
Sawdust                               325:1
Straw                                     75:1
Wood Chips                         400:1

Green: Nitrogen                   C:N
Alfalfa                                     12:1
Clover                                     23:1
Coffee grounds                        20:1
Food waste                             20:1
Garden waste                          30:1
Grass clippings                        20:1
Hay                                         25:1
Manures   (general)                  15:1
Seaweed                                 19:1
Vegetable scraps                      25:1
Weeds                                     30:1

Specific Manure Ratios:
Chicken       14:1
Cow            18:1
Horse          25:1
Human        10:1

Generally speaking, you can get a C:N ratio of 30:1 - 50:1 by adding 2 part Nitrogen to 1 part Carbon. (A part meaning the quantity or volume of material- for example: 2 buckets of kitchen scraps to 1 bucket of shredded newspaper).
A simple calculation can be made by adding up the carbon side of the ratios, and then dividing them by the amount of materials: e.g. Leaves 60:1, vegetable scraps 25:1 and manure 15:1
= 33
Carbon to Nitrogen ratio is 33:1

Here is some information on getting techy and calculating compost ratios:

Compost Tea:Compost teas are a great way of spreading nutrients further through-out the garden. They are great if you don't have the space or resources to make compost, if you need a quick fix for your garden, or if you want to make your own organic fertilizer that reaches far and wide to encourage bacteria and fungi into your soils.
Like compost, some compost teas can become anaerobic (lacking oxygen) and, while some of these will still work in the garden, it is best to create actively aerated compost teas (AACTs) which is aerobic and encourages beneficial microorganisms. These are created by pumping air into the mixture of compost, dechlorinated water and microbial nutrients (can be done on a small scale with a fish bubbler!). The energy from the air bubbling strips the microbes out of the compost and into the tea.
The benefits of AACTs:
- Teas can be sprayed on leaf surfaces while compost can only be applied to roots
- Teas can be prepared very fast
- Teas are watered down, which means they can be applied to a larger surface area and feed more plants
- Teas are easy to prepare on a large scale, making them suitable for large scale soil improvement and farming
- Teas can be made with minimal space
- Once you have a few pieces of equipment, Teas are fairly inexpensive to make in large quantities
- You can make teas which are heavily fungally dominated or bacterially dominated or balanced, depending on the ingridients used


- Brewer
You can buy a commercial compost tea brewer (try
or use a large plastic bucket or drum, an aquarium air pump (the bigger the better), air stones and 1.2m plastic tubing

Bokashi Compost Tea
Fungal Dominated AACT Recipe:
- Dechlorinated water
- Good compost

- Kelp
- Humic and/or fulvic acid
- Phosphate rock dust
- Pulp of fruits like oranges, blueberries and apples
- Aloe Vera extract
(Note: Not all of these ingredients need to be used, but these are all things which aid fungal growth)

Bacterial Dominated AACT Recipe:
- Dechlorinated water
-Good compost

- Molasses (nonsulfured)
- Cane syrup
- Maple syrup
- Fruit juices
(Note: Two tablespoons of any of these sugars in four or five gallons of water will help bacteria multiply)

Keep in mind this is very basic, I will try and add more recipes and more science as I go, but this is a head start! I like to keep things simple. Its necessary (and interesting) to do research and insure things are done properly to avoid mistakes later (something the human race hasn't been too good at as far as I can see) I also like to keep in mind Bill Mollisons quote "It's embarrassing how simple the solutions are". As long as we understand why we are doing certain processes, it is usually quite easy to use our own logic and determine the best possible outcomes. Use your senses and get your hands dirty!

Green Manure These are ground cover crops grown especially to add organic matter to the soil, increasing fertility and health. A mixture of leguminous plants (such as peas, vetch, beans etc.) and carbon plants (such as grains/grasses like oats, rye etc.) produce the best results, the legume fixing nitrogen into the soil using specialized nodules that form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria known as rhizobia. The grass/grain produces the carbon mass.
The idea of green manure is to plant a crop and while the nutrients are within the leaves and stem (before the plant flowers) chop the plant close to the roots and dig the matter in or leave it on the surface of the soil.
This encourages beneficial bacteria as well as other critters, provides decaying matter for fungi and fixes nitrogen. Green manures are the first step to rehabilitating soil. They are great for broad acre farming practices, requiring no tilling!
Another benefit of using Green manures is the process called biofumigation, which interupts pest and disease cycles. By using a green manure after a vegetable crop, you encourage different kinds of bacteria into the soil and decrease the risk of pathogens and diseases.
Although you can germinate green manure seeds in almost any soil, some species are best seeded with an inoculant. This is because the rhizobia bacteria are very host specific and will only form symbiotic relationships with certain legumes. Bacteria can't move very far at all, so if the green manure is coated with a specific inoculant (a specific rhizobium, bacteria) the plant will be able to fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.  The bacteria will sometimes come with your packs of green manure seeds, and are kept in peat. This is a living culture and needs to be treated with care- it can be kept in the fridge for 3 months.
When ready to use, coat the green manure seeds in milk, and then stir in the inoculant until the seeds are coated. To break the seeds up and make sure they are easy to spread within the garden bed, apply a small amount of gardening lime. Spread the seeds over desired area and cover to a depth of 2-3 times the seeds width.

List of Green Manures:
Warm Season:
- Buckwheat Fagopyrum esculentum- Cowpea Vigna unguiculata- Japanese millet Echinochloa utilis- Lablab Lablab purpureus- Millet (French white) Panicum miliaceum- Mung bean Vigna radiata- Soybean Glycine max-
Cool Season:
- B.Q Mulch Brassica napus and Brassica campestris- Fava bean Vicia faba-
Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum- Linseed Linum usitatissimum- Lupin Lupinus alba-
Oats Avena sativa- Subclover Trifolium subterraneum- Wooly pod vetch Vicia villosa spp. dasycarpa-

visit for amazing organic seeds and fact sheets!

Dynamic Accumulators: These are plants that bring nutrients and minerals up from the subsoil and sometimes surface soil that plants need for healthy growth. There are certain plants that accumulate particular minerals and as gardeners we can start to use these in order to make our soils more fertile and abundant in nutrients.
The beautiful thing is that most of these dynamic accumulators grow really easily and start off in poor soils. They are sometimes what we call 'pioneer plants' and they are the ones that pave the way for many other new things to grow.
Here is a list of dynamic accumulators and the minerals they gather:

N - Nitrogen

Field beans
Licorice root leaves
Stinging nettle

K - Potassium Braken fern
Carrot leaves
Lambs Quarters
Stinging nettle
Oak bark
Pig weed
Sow thistle
Orange and Banana skins

P - Phosphorous
Eastern braken
Lambs quarters
Lemon Balm
Licorice root leaves
Marigold flowers

Mg - Magnesium 
Carrot leaves
Colts foot
Devils bit
Rest harrow
Sow thistle

S - Sulfur Coltsfoot
Stinging nettle
Shepherds purse
Cabbage leaves

I - Iodine Sasparilla
Devils bit
Iceland moss

Fl - Florine Watercress

Si - Silicon Oatstraw

Cu - Copper Eastern braken
Stinging nettle
Sow thistle

Co - Cobalt Eastern braken

B - Boron Spurges
Cardboard boxes
Beetroot leaves

Mn - Manganese Eastern braken
Lamb quarters

Stay Posted for info on:

Living Mulches:


Friday, 8 March 2013

Edible Cities Video

Here is a great thing to watch on a rainy day and become inspired to go get your hands dirty and RECLAIM OUR FOOD!
This food crisis is one of my main concerns and one of the main reasons I teach an practice Permaculture. Food security is every living things right.

All we have to do is plant the seeds...

Ron Finley TED talk