29 April 2009

Return of the Mushrooms

The Mushrooms have returned! Seems they were just waiting for a bit of rain. Even more prolific than last year, they're popping up all over the lawn.Good reason to not mow the lawn -- a job I detest that goes against every grain in my being1.

Their flavour is not to be compared with pathetic store-bought fungi, but what I really like best is the idea that I did absolutely nothing to grow them! Oh, I helped them along a little by ensuring that I spread some mature mushrooms around the garden last year so that they would spawn in fresh places, but aside from that it's just been a question of gently plucking them from the ground.

I like the idea so much that I'm going to try and extend it...

The South end of the veggie garden is the boundary of our property bordering the road. Along the fence-line there are a bunch of trees: mostly Australian Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) that are not only and invasive alien species, but a bloody nuisance. The only good thing they do is suck so much moisture from the soil that not even the Kikuyu2 grass thrives. And, as I get rid of the Blackwoods, bit by bit, the Kikuyu wants to return. My plan is to burn what's there off, and immediately plant a mix of Comfrey3, Globe Artichokes and Jerusalem Artichokes4. Maybe some sort of N-fixing groundcover, too.  Where I eliminate the Blackwoods, indigenous pioneer trees readily sprout, and I'm happy to have them! The idea is to establish an area where -- like with the mushrooms -- I do nothing much. And then "hunt" my harvest rather than work at it. Even though I may only get a much smaller harvest, it seems worthwhile, since the (small) aera in question is a wasteland right now, and I don't intend to put any energy into the system beyond getting it established in the first place.

In like vein, there was a significant (2- or 3-dozen?) Guinea Fowl infesting the Chicken Run this afternoon, cleaning up the remnants of the Chook food, I'm sure. I tried -- much to the delight of OB the Hunting Hound -- to bag one with the Pellet Gun, but said Gun is too pathetic (and the shooter struggling with new varifocals!)  to pull the deal off. So I'm thinking about how to devise a Trap... Progress (or its lack) shall be reported here. Watch This Space!

If I ate red meat, there's a herd of wild Bushpig that wants culling. According to one neighbour, our garden is visited infested of an evening by no less than a dozen Wild Boar6, and, according to another, one of these is "the biggest Bushpig I've ever seen!"

I like the idea of Wild Food!

[1] It's not a very huge swathe of lawn. Mainly around the house and areas we frequent so that there are no good hiding places for venomous vipers. I know that I should get sheep and ditch the mower, but then I'd have to find a way to keep them away from the fruit trees and field crops. And I don't eat red meat, so there's no incentive in that direction.

[2] A weed that brings to mind many rude words. Almost impossible to eradicate, but at least nominally indigenous.

[3]Because I like Comfrey. OK?

[4] I just acquired some Jerusalem Artichoke roots last year after many years of searching. Whether I like them enough or not remains an open question5 -- they've not thrived in the drought, and produced only a few small tubers this year.

[5] Even if I don't like them, I'm sure I can brew them up into booze. ;-)

[6] ...or local equivalent...

20 April 2009

Rainish on the Plainish

At last! Some rain. 11mm on Friday evening, and another 11.5mm last night. A reasonable looking forecast for more rain on Wednesday -- should be great queueing to vote in the rain ;-) -- and maybe some more next weekend.

Does this mean the drought is finally over? The ground is still terribly dry, and the dams remain empty. Still, we remain optimistic, so I ran out and planted some stuff, just in time for last night's rain: a salad planting, and some Onions interplanted with Peas. I'm still not taking a chance with anything that's valuable or where I have very small seed-stocks. So things like Spelt and the new Chickpeas are going to have to wait until the water situation looks a little better.

I'm trying a little variation on my standard salad-planting... The normal pattern is about 1.5m of bed containing 3 rows of loose-leaf lettuces, all mixed-up, densely sown, and harvested with the sheep-shears. In between those rows go a row of Rocket and a row of Red Mustard -- we love the flavour combination. In the past I've tried to squeeze Radishes in, too, but in truth it doesn't work too well; the Radishes grow at such a different pace to the leaves that they're better off in their own space. This time I've cut down to 2 rows of Lettuces, a row each of the Rocket and Red Mustard, and put the Radishes into the middle row. We should get a better Lettuce/Rocket/Mustard ration that way, and the Radishes should just be separate enough. We're trying a Black Radish brought back from France by my parents... can't wait to taste it!

The Onions came out of their seed-tray just in time! I've only planted 3 rows so far, and put in another row each of shelling Peas ("Greenfeast") and yellow Snow Peas. The Peas should be long gone by the time the Onions want more space, and hopefully the Onions will be able to steal a little N from the Peas in their early days. It's a good theory anyway...

Its good to have some moisture on the ground again! Let's hope this is not just a flash in the pan.

09 April 2009

Running on Empty

 Not much to write, here. Nothing's going on. Still no water/rain. Forecasts for the next week still say "dry".

I should be planting Winter crops -- grains, (hi Patrick! ;-) Brassicas, Chickpeas (hi Telsing! ;-) and Broad Beans, Buckwheat to crowd out some Kikuyu grass, Onions and Leeks... but there's no point. Not until we start getting something resembling regular rain again.

It's got so bad that I went and bought a watering can for watering the seed trays. I keep planting trays of seedlings, and then ditching them when they get past their Plant By Dates, in the hope that rain will come again in time for them. Up to now I;ve been watering seed-trays from the Dam, but there is now so little water left that evaporation might yet kill of the remaining tadpoles! If I try to pump water from it, all I get is mud. So, for now, seed-tray water has to come  from the house drinking-water tanks. It's little enough that we can manage it. Our roof is super-efficient at catching rainwater (and even heavy dews make their contribution to the house-water supply) so we have no problem for drinking/washing water, and can easily last out another 6 months or so without a drop of rain. But the soil is like iron: dry, dusty, hard as concrete. Mature trees wilting. I'm afraid to go into the forest for fear of what I might encounter.

If we don't get rain within then next 2 or 3 weeks we'll have no Winter crops to harvest next Spring. Difficult to be even slightly self-sufficient, then...

The spiritual and emotional impacts are the hard ones to write about. I rarely venture into the veggie garden any more, except to fetch herbs for my First Thing In The Morning Herb Tea each day, and to water the futile, doomed seed-trays. And to bucket washing-machine water to the handful of remaining Tomatoes and Chillis. The spirit -- the enthusiasm -- for tending the plants is suppressed by the knowledge that all that effort would be futile. So I focus on some software projects instead.

Local farmers have organised a couple of "Prayer Meeting for Rain" events. I guess that, in the long run, they're assured of success. Sooner or later the rain has to return, and then their efforts will be rewarded. Of course the rain will return anyway... ;-)

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