It’s been an exciting month with lots of reading about composting, because our new garden beds have the most dreadful soil. Only one worm has made an appearance, which was just because of big rains (when there’s excessive water in the soil, worms escape to the surface, only to reach a terrible sunny purgatory). The lack is worrying because worms are like underground gas-chamber canaries, so the ground must be very tired. When I read worm books, I think of the data coursing through my brain like an information worm, reminiscent of those dreadful library posters showing the internet as a hypercolour tunnel.
Despite the worm drought, it’s been exciting to find some other bugs in the soil (sorry no pictures). M thought they were witchetty grubs (they are white with a red/brown head). However, my Mum thinks they are a root-eating grub – and back in the day, they were fed to pet dogs (I don’t want to think about that).
Composting is the only solution I can think of to fix the soil to make it a suitable venue for a wormy party – Peter Cundall calls them “…the underground movement.” (Murphy, 2005, p. xv). It could become The Place for dirty wormy raves, maybe I should play them the Worms song (Clark, 1953) to facilitate mad dancing.
I just finished helping a neighbour empty their above-ground compost – which was unfortunately full of rubbish (non-bio plastic wrappers, dog toys, buckets… it covered a large area). It made me feel better about the state of my own dirt-patch. Sir Albert Howard (founder of the organic farming movement) says that “Every compost heap has its own history.” (2009). But I wish it wasn’t a rubbish dump history. Haven’t people read that book in the Babysitter’s Club series where they realise a biscuit packet can’t decompose?
If a compost heap is a snapshot of history, it’s like an inverted family tree of earthworms. Van de Water wrote in a farm-nostalgia style about the origin of fishing bait, unearthing that first part of the catch: “The angler who purchases his lures from a languid sporting-goods clerk forgoes part of the adventure, misses the opening chapters of the romance, never hears the first movement of the symphony. The redolent manure heap behind the barn; the rusty potato fork plunged into the rich and quivering earth; the revelation of pink and brown, divinely ordained bait among the scattered clods; the ecstasy over the bluely glistening night crawler…” (1949, p. 66).
I’m not yet invested enough to puree vegie scraps to “pamper my worms”, but I do like the idea of a food-like end product: “Your compost should look and feel like rich chocolate cake – dark brown, moist and crumbly.” (2009, p. 11). Peter Cundall did always say that good soil was “so good you could eat it”. At the other end of food, I was excited to read about the Bhawalkar Earthworm Research Institute (Pune, India) creating a low-cost, waterless, worm-driven toilet. I don’t know much about the topic, but there is a composting toilet at Canberra’s Sustainable House – surely if there can be one at one residence in the ACT, there could be more, especially in new developments?
In terms of aesthetics, my compost piles haven’t ever really scored highly – when I wanted to use a tyre (but they do have a lot of chemicals), Mr. Sonja decried our garden as looking “too industrial”. So I did the cheapie thing and bought lid-bins (meant for rubbish) and cut holes in the base (if you end up doing this, you can put some holes in the sides, or put a pipe down the middle, if you’re not inclined to turn/stir it). To make a “normal” heap (i.e. one that isn’t in a container) a bit prettier, you can grow zucchini, pumpkin, cucumbers or melons on top – plant seeds about 3cm deep at the edge of the compost and water regularly (Cullen et al, 1992, p. 68). Green mulching would be fun as well, but I would feel sad to cut the plants down. Thompson et al (2008) suggest building a compost bin from stacked hay bales, the top of the which can be used for planting vegetables or flowers.
I aspire to growing comfrey (or borage) and making comfrey tea just for my compost, like we are just two girlfriends having a brew together (except one of us is rotting). But I enjoy this idea more than actually doing it, a bit like flossing – more about intention than practice. I could even become the sort of person that asks other Canberrans going to the coast, ‘could you bring me back some seaweed, for my garden?’. I’ve read different things about whether you need to rinse seaweed but Taylor et al (2010) say that the sea salt shouldn’t be concentrated or present because the nutrient elements are absorbed as separate entities. But you still might want to chop it into bits. For the impatient composter, Taylor et al has a recipe for “Fast-cooking 14-day compost”, which is tempting because the extreme heat means you can bake potatoes in the ground!
I’m also reading an awesome retro YA book (with a delightful cover), Worms in the night – I don’t know what kind of worms they are yet, but a character warns “Look out for the worms. They’ll get you,’” (Harewood, 1991, p. 23). I look forward to finishing it because the mystery of the worms is just so ominous. I would still like our garden to have more, though.
(2009). Composting : a down-to earth, water-wise guide. Camberwell, Vic : Penguin
Clark, Olive. (1953). Worms. http://nla.gov.au/nla.mus-vn2054441
Cullen, Mark. & Johnson, Lorraine. & Aldous, David E. (1992). Backyard and balcony composting : the complete guidebook. Melbourne : Bookman
Harewood, Jocelyn. (1991). Worms in the night. Sydney : Pan Australia Horizons
Horsfall, Mary. (2011). The mulch book. Chatswood, N.S.W : New Holland
Murphy, David. (2005). Organic growing with worms : a handbook for a better environment. Camberwell, Vic : Penguin
Taylor, David. & Allsop, Rob. (2010). The compost book. Chatswood, N.S.W : New Holland Publishers (Australia)
Thompson, Ken. & Cosgrove, Laurie. & Gilbert, Alan. (2008). Compost. Camberwell, Vic : Dorling
van de Water, Frederic Franklyn. (1949). In defence of worms and other angling heresies. New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce
Halfway through the year, reflecting on the rest of 2014 calendar year. In a Solstice article, Michelle Claire White noted the difference in Sydney’s winter – we haven’t experienced a proper frost in Canberra this year (that, or I’m sleeping in and missing it), and my geraniums are glad not to have an icy coat.
These geraniums were from my Grandma’s house, you can get lots of geraniums from “pruning” as Margaret Olley named the process of harvesting cuttings while out on a neighbourhood walk. I need to make gardening more of a priority, because I kind of forget about it during the day and it’s very cold at night. When I did a lot of housesitting, some homeowners would leave a “house guide” (if you’re getting a housesitter, definitely do this!), one suggested “spending time in the garden, watering with a hose and drinking a glass of wine”. I watered the garden but I feel like I’m not the kind of person that just hangs around outside all the time, there needs to be comfy chairs, sunscreen… too many logistics.
I’d like to spend more time with Mr. Sonja and the cats, finish a library course, learn to weave, find out about insects, eat more local food, improve at deadlifting, look at other volunteering opportunities and make progress towards an exhibition. And repot the geraniums.
I toiled away in the heat today, for a harvest of potatoes and some fetid compost. The plants could have kept going for a little while, but the hot spell had made them faint in their enclosure. I couldn’t contain my anticipation as I dismantled the “cat-proof” fence. Witness Ms. Cat’s squinty-eyed disapproval of the boundary line.
The cats did work out how to get in through a gap, but the wire was still better protection than last year’s attempt to grow potatoes in a tractor tyre. Those plants lost the will to live after Mr. & Ms. Cat both thought it was a pleasantly private place to attend to their needs. After that we called it the “shittery” because it was a horrible wreath of awful. Understandably the plants preferred the great nursery in the sky. Later I read theories about tyre chemicals leaching into the ground, so I washed the tyre and gave it to a friend for her dog (not as a toilet, you attach hessian on the top to make a hammock).
It was quite exciting to discover all the potatoes hiding under the sugarcane mulch like savoury easter eggs. I scrabbled through the ground like a mole and continued the excavation, there were so many layers like dirt chocolate with crunchy bits (my favourite pre-veg*n chocolate was Bertie beetle which had similar textural surprises).
I had been told that piling up the mulch near the potato plants would make it easier to harvest. Lies! Although this shouldn’t be considered a thorough scientific study as all our plants grew from potato scraps in the compost. It was sheer luck they were in roughly the same area to make for convenient fencing.
I made a great find with four sprouted avocado seeds! I put them in a container for the windowsill. I just checked them – they haven’t grown anymore, but a worm had hidden inside one of them during the 8 hours since the relocation. Protip – leave the avocado seeds on the edge of your garden to give any earthworms the chance to crawl out. I’ll have to see if he’s vacated the premises in the morning. There are more instructions on growing avocado plants on Australian avocados site. I always feel tempted to write “avocadoes”, like a deer herd of green fruit.
The reason we let the potatoes go was because we planted tomatoes two years in a row, and I freaked out about crop rotation. Some of the tomatoes didn’t know they were banned this year so they still woke up. Of course I didn’t realise that potatoes and tomatoes are family, so that was a bit of a waste of time. Anyway, we grew tomatoes in pots this year. Compared to our past bounties, this year’s crop has been quite disappointing. The heat is sort of an excuse, but there are a lot of other gardens in Canberra that have done better.
Mr. & Ms. Cat have reached their own goals for the season, having killed 2 ½ cucumber plants (the third was mostly killed by the heat), 2 zucchini plants and at least several potato plants. How are they so nefarious? They like to dig, or just squash a plant by sitting on top: “It was in my spot”.
You can see Ms. Cat likes to guard the stump near the black zucchini, “the last of his kind”. She’s a pirate cat with a pegleg on each front paw. Miaowyarr.
We weeded the garden yesterday, but saved this wild strawberry weedling. I think it grew from a composted strawberry from one of my smoothies.
I needed to use up some old homemade jam (I say homemade, but it was a bit of cheat breadmaker recipe), so I adapted O.D.’s Strawberry Jam Cake. I wish I had read the reviews as it was certainly heavy, but then I did over-mix the flour. Normally I make chocolate cakes which are a lot more forgiving.
Vegan strawberry jam cake
No-egg equivalent of 2 eggs (or applesauce mixed with water)
¾ cup soy milk or almond milk
1/3 cup vegan margarine
¾ cup white sugar
Dash of vanilla
2 cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
Rind and juice of one orange
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line a cake tin with baking paper.
Mix the no-egg, soy milk, vegan margarine, sugar and vanilla.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently mix in the strawberry jam and orange juice and rind.
Bake for 35 minutes. Top with coconut and chopped strawberries. Best eaten with coconut yoghurt or almond cream.
It could also taste better if you soaked the strawberries in sweetened lime juice and then covered them in coconut, or replaced the flour with hazelnut meal/coconut flour, or added some coconut, or replaced the margarine with coconut oil.
I am more interested in the spirit, rather than the law of recipes, so I’ll probably make these changes next time. This Vegan Strawberry Cake by Josh of My Vegan Cookbook also looks a lot more promising.
Here’s a catch up for blogjune – or considering how I’m going, perhaps it should be dissected to blogju or blogne. A roundup of my very brief weekend trip to Adelaide for a friend’s farewell.
I had some unexpected running practice at Canberra airport because I thought my flight had closed. It had not. I watched another Dawson’s Creek episode while I waited, which made me much calmer.
On the plane, a man sitting in front of me reclined his chair and smashed into my head because I was leaning down to get my bag. I felt less calm. Why isn’t it common to have the courtesy to tell the person behind you that you’re planning on reclining your seat? I think I read this tip in The Penguin Book of Etiquette, or was it somewhere else, I’m unsure.
I had a weird conversation with a flight attendant about whether vegans eat chocolate (yes, but only if it doesn’t contain animal products including dairy, gelatine, or sometimes honey).
I arrived in Adelaide for the farewell party, and tried vegan cabbage rolls at Suzie Wong’s Room which were delectable. But then I haven’t tried regular cabbage rolls so I don’t really have a reference.
I danced the nutbush outside a very noisy party at The Lady Daly Hotel. They didn’t see us through the window (the real dancers were inside through the glass doorway), which is lucky because we couldn’t really remember the moves.
I met 2 chickens and patted 3 cats.
I visited Zenda Vecchio (South Australian author), she is making steady (but painful) progress with her puzzle of Turner’s Venice, the Bridge of Sighs (exhibited 1840, oil paint on canvas (bought from Art Gallery of South Australia’s shop during the Turner from the Tate exhibition, which is now at National Gallery of Australia, but I’m not sure if they have the puzzles).
We talked about Zenda’s upcoming book The Swan’s Egg, which is at the proofing stage – I’m designing the cover (I previously designed another of Zenda’s book covers – with the help of Wesley Hobday – see post on “Becoming Kirsty-Lee”, launched in May last year).
I saw some beautiful plants, perhaps the loveliness of Grevillea ‘Mason’s Hybrid’ (previously sold as ‘Ned Kelly’ and ‘Kentlyn’) will rehabilitate my view of Grevilleas. If you’ve ever had to remove one, you’d understand my dislike of the genus. There was also an unwell honeyeater in our yard once that I tried to capture so that she could be seen by a vet or the ranger, and she was totally unreachable in the horrid Grevillea. The honeyeater died and I blamed the Grevillea. At least it provides a good spot for native animals and birds to hide from predators, even if the predator is trying to assist.
It was nice to come home to Canberra Airport’s sculptures:
”People coming to Canberra ought to have their spirits lifted and be inspired on arrival in the national capital; this sculpture [Andrew Rogers’ “Perception and Reality 1”, 2012, bronze] will take their breath away. It’s a very, very powerful work.”
(from Diana Streak’s article “Striking pose to alter perception of airport”, 3 April 2012, Canberra Times)
…and I opened a gift from a friend, which is a terrarium kit! So now I know my plans for tomorrow.
Relieve stress, feel more balanced and resolve creative blocks by being “in the moment”.
Use all your senses to connect with the world.
This lifestyle choice is ably explained by Fiona and Kaspa of the Small stones project.
Here are some of my ideas for being present, relaxed and appreciative of the environment around us:
Make a list – a useful strategy, except in powerpoint presentations.
If you can’t sleep, write down all your thoughts on a notepad next to your bed.
This also helps to improve concentration on a single task.
Artist Hannah Bertram has even has a List Makers Project about how to make lists and the people that create lists.
Take a walk and enjoy the flowers in your neighbourhood, and remember to leave some for others to admire.
Appreciate native plants without picking them, particularly in national parks.
If you desperately need to take a cutting from a geranium, remember to maintain the plant’s architectural poise.
Find an art gallery in your local area, visit your cultural precinct or do some drawing.
Read an old issue of National Geographic instead of a fashion magazine.
Feel the quality of the paper and enjoy the beauty of the photographs.
Update your keyboard. The new keys will have a luscious grippy texture and make typing feel exciting again.
The impact of this may seem exaggerated, but it’s similar to music improving everyday activities.
ABC Classic FM had an excellent “Ironing is wonderful” promotion which illustrated this concept.
Duncan Macleod has written a lovely summary of the chores-music advertising.
Remember to recycle your old keyboard, or give it to a friend in a bundle with some homemade biscuits.
That way they won’t feel too sad about having a non-grippy textured keyboard (or they can fill the key valleys with crumbs).
Notice more birds in everyday life.
Donald and Molly Trounson have written a comprehensive and fully illustrated guide for bird observation and education.
It is Australian birds: an index of 864 photographs simply classified for easy identification.
The wrens’ brilliant blues really jumped off the page, but the colour seems less astounding in a reproduction of a reproduction.
Check for a copy of Australian birds at a library near you.
Or listen to the birdcalls from the Australian National Wildlife Collection.
Use satin pillowcases and change your bedlinen for a more restful sleep.
Make another list …if that will help.
Thanks for visiting! An art practice sits within general life experience, so sometimes I will write about things which may not be explicitly art-related but might be conjuring up a body of work or some new ways of thinking.
TEDxCanberra 2011 was over a month ago, but it still continues to inspire me – idea digestion takes a while! I’ll also justify this by noting that these events are meant to be a wake up call, so a delay is inevitable as ideas are put into practice.
I was lucky enough to attend TEDxCanberra 2011 through a complimentary ticket from my workplace.
I really enjoyed Nick Ritar’s talk about living sustainably – and from this, I have embraced permaculture in a small way by answering nature’s call in our garden a few times, but I will need to find a more long-term solution.
Especially as we have recently removed the privacy-enhancing Diosma shrub from our yard.
Nick spoke about the importance of growing our own food, and there are lots of ways to learn more – naturally from your library, which supports your community and encourages sustainable resource-sharing.
Blatant book name-dropping (book-dropping?)
Clive Blazely says that:
“Growing your own vegetables is the single most important step to a sustainable, healthy life. When vegetables are grown at home they are fresh and free of chemicals, eliminating food miles and cutting CO2 emissions by up to 30%. It takes a few hours of work a week. In just 40 square metres you can grow 472kg of vegetables which is enough for four people.”
From Growing your own heirloom vegetables: bringing CO₂ down to earth, p. 24. You can find out more about the Diggers Club here.
Feasting on Floriade’s “Tasteful Sensations”
Recently Floriade – a festival of flowers – was held in Canberra, with a “Tasteful sensations” display showcasing the beauty of bush tucker, herbs and vegetables. In the Floriade picture below, my culinary ignorance asserts itself as I can only identify parsley and perhaps rhubarb. A beautiful garden and knowledge of plants are definitely only aspirations at this stage!
Australian bushfood cuisine
As well as growing our own food, we can minimise the environmental impact of our food choices by looking at sustainable, local Australian cuisine.
Vic Cherikoff’s book Uniquely Australian: a wild food cookbook: the beginnings of an Australian bushfood cuisine is very readable with lots of glossy, lust-worthy food pron pictures.
In his book, Vic discusses the possibilities of using eucalypt, desert wattles and desert oak saps as natural sweeteners. These could really change the landscape of the sugar and artificial sweetener industry, as we have seen with xylitol and stevia.
You can find out more about Vic and his Australian recipes here.
You may also be interested to read The urban homestead: your guide to self-sufficient living in the heart of the city which has very easy step-by-step instructions and down to earth advice about reducing your footprint. You can see Kelly and Eric’s blog here or follow them at @rootsimple
Here is my burgeoning compost heap, resplendent with the TEDxCanberra catering floral decorations. The rest of our yard – for now – is a very successful dirt garden.
The book links above will lead you to Trove, which is an Australia-wide discovery service – a catalogue for many libraries. To find a book in your local area, from the individual Trove book record, click on the “All libraries” tab and then the relevant state/territory tab. Click on the library name to go to that library’s catalogue. See the Trove help for more information.
Happy reading and gardening!