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Growing local

2 Years On: Lemongrass and Earthworms

After almost two years the house we moved to in Beachmere   has settled down. The insides were fine --- no work needed -- but outside was 'empty'.

One tree. Two bushes. 

After laying down the stones (top images)  the greenery was planted.

And greenery does what it does: it grows.

Underneath -- except in  the front -- was sand. Yellow sand. So the first challenge was creating soil.

So after adding manures, and all the grass clippings we could get plus blood and bone and occasionally collected seaweeds -- we now have a serviceable topsoil.

En route I've had to deal with issues -- such as the fact  that sand  is a sieve and doesn't hold onto water.


Mulching is the key: stones or wood chips or grass clippings -- and paper, plenty of paper. 

You reach this stage -- of sustainability of ingredients -- and there is so little work to do. No dig is indeed 'no dig'.  Weeds shoot up only when the lawn mower man isn't keeping me supplied with grass clippings.

My primary labour is spreading mulch. It arrives on my nature strip -- sort of automatically -- so all I have to do is cart it out back and spread it.

If the garden is drying out in areas, I trench bury newspapers and junk mail. In some sections I use terracotta wine containers  that function as Ollas to irrigate the locality.

If anything further needs doing in way of infrastructure -- I could hunt through Op shops and for $3-4 each get more of these cylindrical terracotta  vases.

That's on my to-do list any time I'm in cooee of an Op shop. I like using them for perennial species -- and creepers like sweet potatoes and pumpkins who won't stay in one place.

Elsewhere among the vegetables I use a Leeaky Hose system which is attached to my water tank. I used to use a barrel and gravity  for irrigating each garden bed but that was hard to monitor, so I now  simply turn on the tap which waters all the annual vegetables   through Leeaky hoses.  Those beds I don't want watered, I can turn off their water supply  at a valve. 

I could install a Spear Pump and tap the underlying aquifer  but there's cost and convenience to consider -- and I do think my readymade solutions may cover my needs during times of drought. Neighbors use Spear Pumps -- the base of many houses are stained brown by their usage -- but the complication is that a pump in itself doesn't change the fact that our sand under foot won't hold the water we pour on it.

So if we're talking water saving you need to start with water holding. 

The chicken coop 'consumes' kitchen scraps , weeds and over production. I rake up the top manured layer of the pen and throw it on the garden beds. 

Nonetheless, the mulch I get wasn't enough for all of my needs and I've approached local tree fellers a couple of times for their pulped product. Listen to any neighborhood for the sound of the chipper and you can negotiate a good price because they prefer to dump locally rather than cart it elsewhere and off load and re-load it.

Mulching over sand is, you see, an essential.

Lemon Grass 

Now that  'my beds' do work their vegetative magic, I'm planting Lemongrass in any free space I have  -- not only to suppress any weeds and extend the greenery but also as a source of harvestable mulch. Lemongrass is easily cut for use -- especially in Winter when the stems dry out and its leaves look drab. I've also used it to colonise new ground such as on the front nature strip. 

Lemon Grass  grows by putting out rhizomes and snapping these off makes harvesting for re-planting easy. Just trim the top, and embed the base where a little root has formed. You can also foster rooting by standing the rhizome in water until a root sprouts.

I've used lemongrass this way for decades...I also, of course, eat the stuff. A very serviceable plant that won't give you heartache: 
  • it will grow rather than not 
  • it won't take over nor is it invasive
  • it's well behaved
  • for most of the year it looks pleasant with its long stems shooting skywards
  • cut, like wheat,  it makes excellent much.
  • after purchasing one plant (or bys imply starting witha stem), all the others are free
  • it's a garden essential. 

Choko Inundation

I may be inundated  by  chokoes  but I appreciate the way, like Lemongrass, a choko vine is so easy to manage. This is my first year deploying chokoes as shade and ground cover. With chooks it is easy to dispose of the over supply of choko fruit...and I also bury buckets of them in pits as a form of trench mulching. 

I mix the fruits with junk mail, cover the pit with newspaper and let nature do the rest. 

Nonetheless, the irony of my garden is that  outside of Summer infestations -- insect activity is so very light and  earth worms, if they are active at all,  must be in hiding. 

[And where are the spiders? ]

I suspect that a reason for this may be that I'm living on what may still be a natural environment underneath and earth worms aren't, as yet, local. Insect numbers are no doubt held down by the variety and number of birds that come to the garden. My locale is one huge aviary with an outstanding variety of birdlife. The crows may eat my tomatoes but that's my only complaint against winged vistors. 

The birds appreciate my bird baths and plantings of  Melaleucas, Banksias and Callistemons -- and I appreciate their sound, community and colours.  

The crows nonetheless will soak bones, filleted cane toad abdomens and bread pieces in my  bowls polluting them for every one else.

It's crow fondue.

While I hope to be sustainable in mulches so long as the grass clippings keeps coming -- the only handicap I've had to deal with is that in obtaining horse and cow manure from local farms I also imported  some nasty exotic weeds. I've learnt that some farms are less noxious in this regard than others, and that cow manure will carry fewer seeds than horse. But for now, I'm not adding these manures  and it is cheaper and more convenient to rely on commercial blood and bone. My chooks also are manure factories.

Over the next year I'm estimating that my inputs will decrease and all that I'll need to import is my ready supply of lawn clippings and the any time harvest of newspapers and junk mail.  Any supplementary  mulch I hope to grow myself. 

And earth worms: I want to see earth worms in my soil if only to confirm that it is an improvement over sand. My last house was a productive worm hatchery underneath but here .... despite the fact that cow manures I've use carry earthworms, they haven't colonised in sustainable numbers. 

It's organic content, soil pH, water content....But over the next twelve months it will be worm central -- that's my aim. 


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Comment by Tracy Arnold on August 7, 2012 at 12:22

Awesome blog Dave!  I am constantly whining about my clay earth, but over the past three years doing the same as you (but for opposite reason) I finally have worms.  And what a sight they are to see!  

Crow fondue. Funny! Crows here pick my passion-fruit then drop them on me.  

Nice tip about the lemongrass.  I have one clump which I'll divide and replant. 

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on July 24, 2012 at 7:40

Fabulous report, Dave! Your garden sounds amazing :-)

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