Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Tonight the temperature falls to 19C (and maybe below) for the first time this year in my patch. You can feel the cooling night air on your skin.

Despite the warm days still, you can see how the evening respite from the heat is registering among the plants.

I just built (wait for it...wait for it) another two mounds and planted both of these out with potatoes I'd chitted from store-boughts.

I then divided a Vetiver Grass clump  by hacking at its edges. 

[I have a novel notion obsessing in my head about using Vetiver...]

While at it, I moved load after load of grass clippings from my nature strip  onto and among the mounds and 'paths'. I've had a flu like infection this last week and been under the weather, but the mower man's mowing drop offs have been massive. I still have a big pile to shift. 

Prior to these labours, with my trusty sickle and a pair of scissors I hacked at my above ground mulch plants --  cannas and dogbane especially -- so the garden is desiccated. 

Indeed I am keenly cutting back anything that's not edible --and some plants I seldom eat -- and dropping the cuttings in situ. This is another fancy. I'm training myself up as a root keeper or Keeper of the Roots. The celebrated green manure options don't work so well in my sand. Pursuing the principle of any ole root, I'm making do. 

A Biological Farming Consultant  who runs a TAFE course in organic farming staid with me last week and I exploited the opportunity to discuss regenerative options.(Listen to audio) I may not be a grass farmer but preserving roots seem to be where my gardening future lies. It's like a penny has dropped and I  now have my head in the sand. I think, aside from the standard metaphorical meaning, that's where it should be: underground. 

My role in life is to feed the creatures of the day, when I'm dead, even with my own corpse. My tools are not spades and forks or hoes, but roots.

When you started off as I did with yellow sand, I'm feeling  like I've been recruited to the dark dirt arts. It took 'em some time to finally capture me but I think I'm committed. 

A recent shot of me gardening & searching for meaning.

Buried like that --soiled -- you search for meaning.  

In the regenerative method of rotational grazing the herbivore chews the grass and moves on after eating and defecating. The grass is even compressed by the weight of the animal and a thin mulch layer forms on the surface. Then the pasture is rested. 

In the meantime, the grasses respond with a surge of growth and carbon sequestration as they put down more roots to recover themselves and shoot up more leaves for photosynthesis.

In this plot, this little outback play script, I am playing the bovine in my make believe outdoor theatre show. My cast members are not so much grasses (aka 'weeds' or standard green manures) as plants that obey me. So I gotta make do.

Before I did this I covered the mounds with around 80 litres of 'brew' mix made from kitchen washings and dregs,sugar,water  Balinese aloe vera fertiliser and  'raw material'.For this mix I had also harvested a lot of my own aloes too which I blended up into a thick goo. So the concoction was impressive in a muck raking sort of way. 

Garden gunk.

If you have aloes growing maybe it's something you could consider. Making glop is fun. Chop up, then blend up the aloe leaves with a little water before leaving the mash to soak in a bucket of water for a day or two. You can brew that as I do, or simply pour it on the garden beds.

Why bother? Aside from the research that supports aloe vera as a soil probiotic, fertiliser  and protector against disease and some insects, you get to play with the goo. Compared to the many  filthy habits of manure tea makings, aloe vera mashing and steeping is rather benign and may help your complexion if you also want to bathe in it..

( If you want to drink it -- and I don't --  or use it as a lotion --peel the aloe with a knife and soak the leaves in water for 30 minutes  to wash off the mucky slime. Then blend the plant material.)

I used to chop up my pigface leaves with a spade and throw them onto the beds as a mulch or bury them when I built up soil,  but now I get more value per harvest by blending them with the aloe and fermenting the mix.  

And it's free...

Banana Oil Claims

It is claimed that Aloe Vera in the raw 'gel' state offers the following attributes:

  • botanical activator and plant growth promoter which can improve overall plant health including its immune defence, plus suppress pathogenic bacteria.
  • improves microbe multiplication in the soil and on the leaf..
  • contains natural ingredients that promote cell replication (plant growth) with polysaccharides for high absorption of nutrients, Phytochemicals of Aloin, Salicylic Acid and Saponins. These aid with foliar feeding, and balancing the plants health, and are also an excellent fungi food for soil.
  • deters birds, bats and fruit fly.

However, more research has supported the use of Yucca gels as  soil conditioners. But I personally believe that many succulent gels would work similarly in the soil.So what's said about Yucca could also be projected  onto aloe vera.

Here's an attribute list for Yucca:

– improves drainage
– increases permeability of plant cell membranes, allowing for increased water and nutrient absorption
– improves seed germination and seedling vigor
– stimulates microbial activity in soil
– builds resistance to heat and water stress due to drought-like conditions
– enhances water penetration through compact soils
– allows excess salts to leach from soil

And with more science-speak:Yucca (Yucca schidigera/Mexico)

  • a soil conditioner as it is a natural surfactant, allowing greater penetration of water and oxygen by modifying the structure of the soil and therefore provides increased physical health for plants. It also stimulates the development of microorganisms in the soil, which increases the decomposition of organic matter and the formation of humus; as a result plants have increased availability of water and nutrients, present more vigorous roots and are greener with increased growth.
  • reduce the surface tension of the water, allowing moisture to penetrate evenly and more quickly. Due to its physical soil enhancing actions, it decreases salinity within the soil, causing better root development and healthier plant growth.
  •  a soil condition enhancer and plant growth promoter. Due to its completely natural components, it is non-toxic to soil or plants, its biodegradable, non-polluting, friendly to the environment and helps achieve increased yields.

More on Yucca

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Comment by Dave Riley on April 4, 2016 at 1:05

Micro Farming Whiz? No, Dianne: I'm obsessive.

I've been going around in smaller and smaller circles driven by the dirt challenges. You can draw on all these systems for gardening -- but really, oftentimes you can't see the wood for the trees. Do this. Do that. Supposition after supposition. 

But what if...? 

Then as I've written before the penny only truly dropped for me through studying Rotational Grazing (I have a friend who has a herd, so grazed, out west and  we banter). It wasn't 'about' vegetables at all.I had my epiphany contemplating cows.

This 'Regenerative' process is summarized so:

  1. The plant releases “exudates” ( a mixture of sugars and proteins) into the soil around its roots.
  2. These exudates feed bacteria and fungi living in the soil.
  3. The bacteria and fungi extract nutrients from the mineral component of the soil (rocks, sand, clay, etc) or from the organic matter (decomposed organisms) in the soil.
  4. These nutrients are incorporated into the bodies of the fungi and bacteria as they grow and multiply. They are not plant-available at this stage.
  5. The bacteria and fungi are then eaten by nematodes, and other microscopic organisms, which release the nutrients in a plant-available form directly at the plant root.
  6. The roots absorb these nutrients, and the process repeats. 

The challenge is: in the backyard, what does this mean? What procedures can you introduce into the kitchen garden to make this perspective work for you?

Manures? Definitely. if you can get them and compost them before application.

Compost? Sure. Assuming you want to do all that work.

Mulch? Absolutely, but mulch is only so useful (as I have found) and I've mulched up to pussy's bow. 

Worm farms? A bit fiddly...You have to milk the worm tea and feed them regularly.

Inoculant fertilisers? Expensive -- and how do you know they'll work?

Green manures? If they'll grow for you and you treat them right when the time comes.

From where I'm sitting I reckon the inoculant probiotic option fueled by your own harvest outback looks pretty darn good in way of ticking boxes.That and learning to respect -- and learning to preserve --the roots...

It's like making yogurt -- that's the template -- you make the next batch on the bugs from the last.Just add milk.

Does it work? So far I don't know. But the science is good; the procedure is straightforward; and there's a ready logic to it.

The most productive garden I've had was one I administered as a worm farm. That was my headspace.I'd even water the empty beds just to keep the garden worms happy. I saw myself as a keeper of worms.

As soil microbiologist Pauline Mele says "When you understand soil as an ecosystem, you realise that if you alter one component of the system, it has knock-on effects."

Knock-on effects. 

Since I started my current garden off WITHOUT WORMS --as there were none in the sand a few years back-- I'm still a long way from the synergy underfoot. Indeed, many of my past interventions have FAILED! At least they haven't thrived. I'm well ahead but something is still missing. I'm guessing that as a concierge for microbes I'm not running 5 star accomodation ...yet.

And I'm blessed with poor soils to begin with. Struggle is all. That's the learning curve.

Comment by Dave Riley on April 3, 2016 at 19:57

Aside from the fermenting hobby and the keen exploitation of aloe vera, I took time out to spread horse manure between my mounds today. 

Seven bags @ $2/bag. 

Top that with whatever mulch comes my way and who needs a wall to wall?

I even pulled up large sections of the wool carpet I had laid down as paving. Outback,away from the freeway,  to walk the walk, you gotta now stroll the brown dollop road.

Follow the brown dollop road, follow the brown dollop road 
Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the brown dollop road 

Follow the brown dollop, follow the brown dollop 
Follow the brown dollop road .

I've passed through a new gate to the unknown  world beyond.

Goo and poo.Goo and poo.

After all, "there's no place like home."

That's the drum: 'Goo and Poo Gardening'. I'm engineering a microbial barrage.

I also separated off another 12 aloe vera cuttings to plant out among the mounds. I plant AV at the base of the mounds and in the valleys between them.They are much easier to propagate than many other plants...but not Dogbane: dogbane is easy peasy and always grows where you move it.

I must now have over 20 aloes growing hither and yon with more to be planted out tomorrow. They are also easily uprooted and moved about. 

In this mix, coming on, I hope to plant Vetiver clumps in the middle of the 'paths'/brown dollop roads. Aside from the on hand in situ mulching  convenience, I want the deep roots of the Vetiver to get  down and dirty. Much better than a 'tree' or 'bush' with their ready habit to send roots outwards and takeover growing space.

ASIDE: I nonetheless have many frangipanis growing among my veg and have had not one root issue with them.Touch wood.  Not one. Maybe not an edible plant but (a) deciduous, (b) easily managed, shaped and trimmed, (c) useful for supporting and growing stuff on, (d) flower gorgeous.

Pigeon peas are in the mix too. Lovely plants, ruled by a deep tap root.

This too is 'companion planting.' 

I've given up on wheel barrow-ing, and move stuff about and between the mounds with large buckets.

My hypothesis in more or less 'doing away' with the paths and turning them into rivers of mulch and manure, is that paths are a 'state-of-mind' thing anyway. More about where you don't go, rather than where you do.

I've mentioned before how my grandad had stepping stones throughout his veg garden. I may end up replicating that but when you look at the way plants grow -- tumbling and rambling, climbing and such where they may-- the path 'space' is all good open territory, active nomadic  plants can occupy. If you aren't pushing a wheeled device  all you need is an occasional excuse to wander  between the beds/mounds. To harvest. Rarely to weed. Indeed occasional compression by your own  dead weight on the mulch and manure mix is a good call. In my case, it slows down  water permeation by making a carpet layer and slowing water loss by compressing the underlying sand.

And along my valleys like some Rainbow Serpent , come the keen arms of pumpkins and melons. No taking over and shading their home beds in their quest to spread. T=Instead they can break out and go walkabout.

All I have to do is step over the stems...and lift up and re-navigate the throngs  if they over reach their status in life.

In my garden I also have the option of running creepers and climbers skyward by entangling them on string and feeding them to my aerial rigging above. I have so many climbers that I seriously do not know what they all are.

TIP: Best aerial structural rigging in my experience of working  is old hose lines. 

Comment by Dianne Caswell on April 3, 2016 at 19:46

I don't have any AV growing at the moment but am keen to start. I am finding these Blogs fascinating, you obviously love your reading and gathering the facts. Then you implement what you have researched, you are somewhat of a Micro Farming Whiz.  

Comment by Dave Riley on April 3, 2016 at 13:07

The more I look into this stuff -- and respect it -- the more I accept that just like the food you eat, you can ferment anything. Indeed, the principles are the same and similar microbes are deployed.

Indeed, composting is fermenting.

Obviously some mixes are sure to better than others in your soil -- but then to make use of stuff you grow  or harvest yourself has a certain ecological logic in way of synchronicity.

AV is useful in itself it seems, but to make it a ferment driver maybe adds to its qualities without getting into  a lot of exotic mixes.

Here's a list of recipes that may inspire you to think outside the Bunnings square.

As you may realise there are any number of gardeners who will swear by their own concoctions but then if you really want to seriously 'microbe farm' you'd need to keep testing your soil and adjusting the fermented therapies.Indeed farmers are doing that (see Landline episode: Soil Secrets.) in partnership with microbiologists.

Us amateurs  get to potter about instead.






- FERMENTED URINE AS FERTILIZER [2] - Plants that respond well to urine input - Research

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on April 2, 2016 at 18:28

Microbe Farming what a great name! Sums it all up in one handy package.

Very keen to get going with the AV, I've had it growing for years with only rarely any use. It's as tough as old boots, grows on the hint of a compost heap and never needs watering. And most of us are growing it without any realisation of its many properties!

We have drunk AV juice, commercially prepared it's been available in supermarkets for around 20 years. Tastes OK has some preservative but we didn't find it did us any good nor any harm either.

AV is just about to hit its straps as a free fertiliser with many good properties!

Comment by Dave Riley on April 2, 2016 at 17:08

I use it tropically and it has been a godsend. I do know about the warnings re oral use so  any consumption presumes careful monitoring of side effects.

Aloe vera as a dietary  'supplement'  is  in major vogue mode at the you should not believe all the hype. But its growing usage is driving a major industry nonetheless and aloe is respected in Ayurvedic medicine for instance and has been used therapeutically for thousands of years.

As for  research -- here's a peer review summary: LINK.

And in dermatology: LINK.

Comment by Phil on April 2, 2016 at 14:33

I'd be cautious about drinking the stuff despite what some people claim on the internet. I know you haven't advocated that here Dave and I agree with your points below. See here for Mayo Clinic's warnings about using it topically and orally.

Comment by Dave Riley on April 2, 2016 at 12:03

As it happened, I discovered a lot of aloe references on the aloe vera fertiliser page.

Obviously there is a lot of marketing spin in play.But  perusing the resources is a worthwhile exercise.

But this article explains the scientific context and how novel is the research:

Microbe counting and identification has only recently become possible using new molecular tools, which is why around the globe, scientists are modifying the long-held view of soil as a bucket, readily topped up with a nutrient cocktail when depleted, with the understanding that soil is an ecosystem. "When you understand soil as an ecosystem, you realise that if you alter one component of the system, it has knock-on effects," said soil microbiologist Pauline Mele. "Ten years ago, we only knew about one per cent of the organisms in the soil. The new tools are showing us the other 99 per cent."

The heading is also a grabber: 'Microbe Farming'. 

There are many names to be had from among the mix: Regenerative Agriculture, Biological Farming,Holistic Grazing, Grass Farming... but i think 'Microbe Farming' is a very useful label. 

Obviously aloe vera is sure to be but one ingredient of many you could employ  as a garden tool, but it is a plant we all can or do grow and, unless you are drinking the stuff, or using it daily as a lotion , its garden utility may not be evident.

It also does the job without having to be dependent on planting green manures -- which my garden resist -- and digging them in. 

On top of that aloe is: 

  1. easy to grow
  2. readily reproduces from cuttings
  3. thrives on neglect
  4. is easy to process
  5. doesn't introduce pathogens or weeds (as animal manures do)
  6. home grown=free.
  7. ..and it is all gooey fun!
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on April 2, 2016 at 9:14

Ah stick blender, forgotten I own one of these ;-) Thanks, good tips.

Comment by Dave Riley on April 2, 2016 at 8:43


  • I use a stick blender for my mashing. Same as I use for food. There's nothing toxic about AV . All I need do is make sure I chop it up first and then blend with water added.
  • Last batch I added some of the neighbour's huge cactus stems. But these were tough and blended unevenly. But I have chopped them up in the past and buried them. Thats' the issue with other succulents -- the toughness of the stems or the skin. 
  • The problem with Dragon fruit may be the skin which may limit its blending qualities.But then if you just chopped it up and threw it on the garden you should get it to work for you.
  • Aside from blending, chopping and steeping (& then blending if you want) is a good workaround I suspect.Any succulent will bleed into the water. The exudate is quite noticeable. 
  • FYI aloes come from Africa and Yuccas from the Americas so they are world's apart.If the cactus or succulent you use has hallucinogenic properties you can lick the spoon.
  • A key element in both is Saponin chemistry. 
  • So far I have had no need to peel the aloes. To do that would require knife stripping and waste. Aloes have a clear layering under the skin before you get to the inner flesh. That top layer is bitter so the drinkers remove it. But as I say, steeping first may be a work around if toughness is in play.On a chopping board they slice up  nicely.
  • If you want to brew , get yourself some of this.It's good value and cheaper than a lot of other seaweed and fish concoctions. To buy you need to go HERE to the local supplier, Sol Goodman in West End.You can combine this with any gunk you make and dilute it with water and whatever.
  • DIY Aloe vera gel may be useful as a root soaking, transplant, or seed soaking additive. 
  • Research info on aloe vera HERE.

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Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.

Place your business add here! ($5 per month or $25 for 9 months)

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