May 2010

We have ongoing progress in the vege gardens. In particular, the ‘organic’ approach I’m taking seems to be working well – although the extremely mild weather we’ve have prior to this week seems to have helped.

The beginners garden, with accompanying crops

The first photo shows the beginners garden, and the potatoes have really taken off. They’re planted too close together, so I’m ignoring furrowing properly, and will harrow the lot come August. You can also see that the rye grass has done pretty well.

Rye grass turned under

I’ve turned the rye grass under, and have sown a lot of mustard seeds on the same patch, come August I’ll turn that under before putting garlic in this section of the garden.

And finally, the upper garden has had it’s final treatment. The fertiliser and soil conditioners have had a week or so to mellow, and I added a wheelbarrow of compost mixed the remnants of my peat moss. On top of that was added some lupin seeds, and yet more mustard seed. In August (the magical month it seems) this whole section will be turned over to potatoes.

The Upper Garden

Over the the right of the garden is a bunch of pavers someone was giving away! Win! Saved us at least $100 by grabbing these and carting them around to here. My next project for this part of the property is sinking those in.

And last but not least, coriander!

Coriander Seedlings

These little guys are destined to be the main ingredient in a curry!

A good couple of weeks. Now to see how the garden handles this cold snap.

Time will tell.


As a kid I remember visiting a some folk who lived in the country, and them having an absolutely huge mandarin tree. I’ve wanted on of my own ever since, but haven’t had the space.

So… we thought we’d put this part of the yard to good use.

The Orchard

This is the very top of the property, a relatively sheltered spot that gets a heck of a lot of sun. There is already a peach tree coming along nicely, and a feijoa that doesn’t seem to want to fruit (it’s in poor soil and is needing a heck of a lot of TLC, along with another tree to mate with). Consequently we’re calling it ‘The Orchard’.

In the distance there you can see where I’ve put the tree. It’s sheltered from the Southerly, the coldest wind, is on a sloped bit of the Orchard, and has quite dry soil. This means we’re 50-50 on the needs of this particular type of tree.

Chop-chop kitty! Gotta get this dug!

The first thing to do was to dig a very large hole. Citrus, like many fruit trees, have a number of small fibrous roots they use to draw in nutrients when they being to produce. This means that soil with heavy clay is no good. It prevents the roots from extending out, and makes it hard for the tree to draw up what it needs. They also cause the deeper roots to become waterlogged.

What I’ll eventually do is box the area around this particular tree, dig down enough to break up the clay, and fill the boxing with mulch. This matter will break down into the type of soil this plant likes, and hopefully encourage it to fruit healthily. Hence the next photo. As you can see I’ve dug a keyhole shape, with the lower portion forming a ‘drain’ of sorts for water. The intention is for water to run out of this key and downhill, preventing waterlogging of the roots (hence the sloped aspect).

What my able assistance there is doing is putting river stones into the channel. I would have also added sand, but it was too expensive to buy, and salty sand wasn’t good. These should stop the channel from clogging again, and perhaps even encourage the shallow roots to grow along. Time will tell.

And here we go!

Clementine, a good all-round mandarin tree

One plant in the ground. These photos we taken a couple of weeks ago, and the tree is still doing well. I dropped it into the hole, and filled the space with the familiar mix of the original clay, some gypsum, peat moss, and compost. I’ll eventually get around to removing those sods I’ve put on top to stop the soil washing away, box the entire plant out to about 9 square metres, turn over all the captured soil, and begin about three years of mulching… seriously.

Apparently you can’t let them fruit for three years, as it inhibits root growth.

But no one ever said gardening gave immediate results, right?

While much of the focus on The Road is used to highlight the supposed ‘environmental message’ of the film and the novel on which it is based, I was left wondering if in fact the apocalypse levelled on the fictional world was not more akin to the great devastation we so nearly faced during the Cold War. During The Road I was often reminded of that icon of the 1980s The Day After, and left the cinema wondering what that the latter film might have been if shorn of it’s propaganda (“we’ll make it, though it’ll be tough”), and humanity. I’ve also made a note to try and find it on DVD.

The similarity between the two films is of course the nuclear winter, and the key difference the willingness of humans to band together in the face of catastrophe. My memory of The Day After – seen in the eyes of a teenager scared of the holocaust, as we all were – is of people who have barricaded themselves in a hospital removing the mattress-screens once the radiation has dropped, and of the gradual decline due to radiation sickness of some of the individuals unable to hide. These scenes are of hope, that some will survive once the danger has passed, despite the misery they’re victim to. The Road creates none of these pretences whatsoever, and instead drops the two main characters into a world without ethics, morals, or future. There is nothing that can save them, and instead we watch perhaps the last two vestiges of our humanity picking their way through the utter devastation of a dying biosphere.

The question I was left with circles around why the author chose this world for his vision of our future. And most often I see his settling on the natural selfishness of man. The looming environmental catastrophe he is attempting to warn us of is one of our own making, and one which we propel ourselves towards despite the warnings of experts. We are told again, and again, that that future is an illusion, and if it is not, it is too expensive to change , and so it is that we continue to push ourselves towards an abyss. Contrast this message with The Day After, where it more or less a momentary ‘accident’ that almost destroys us, one that can be averted by the awareness of people that this future does not need occur. To reinforce the message the main character in The Road, the Father, often looks backward to the days of plenty, a time when he was surrounded by items, luxury and comfort. Food was cheap, colours abundant, light falling upon the face of an angel, his wife. The author is in this way both allowing us to see what it is we have now, while creating a contrast to what will be if this present is not changed. There is no way to turn off and dismantle the rockets. To live, we must leave the Garden, or the Garden will be no more.

Utterly harrowing.

What made this gut-wrenching message more prescient is a TV series of the 1970s we were made to watch in school (by a lazy social studies teacher). Connections was a major influence on a younger me, depicting as it did the holistic intertwining of science, art, and industry in the history of Western Europe. In one episode Burke, the host of the show, presents a world without a key resource, electricity. He begins in a modern, post-industrial city, and works his way out to the rural hinterland, the source of our other need, food. In a very simple description Burke made it very clear that you and I are entirely dependent on the network we support, and which supports us, and clearly demonstrates how simple it would be to collapse it all, with the flick of a switch. The Road epitomises that collapse in the most horrifying way possible, by turning humanity on itself in the search for food.

So what did this leave me with? A mild depression? Yes. A fear for the future, and Chef Du Plunge in particular? Absolutely. While Left and Right equivocate about the impending natural disaster we face, I sit and read of the collapse of civilisations throughout history, and take comfort in the knowledge that collapse is normal. All civilisations end, and almost always due to environmental exhaustion. The only question is whether the end of the Oil Age will bring so much damage to humanity that we regress to the horror depicted in The Road, or whether it is something more akin to the optimism of The Caryatids. And only time will tell.

She’s been a busy old few weeks here at Newlands Manor. The first thing was getting rid of all that dead tree, which took two trips to the local tips (green waste), trailer hire, and a general palaver. Once it was done though we ended up with this spot. The front lawn.

Not much to say about this lawn really. It’s the main thing you see from the lounge window, it dries out in the summer, and it’s generally a pain in the backside. It also has a retaining wall that is in gradual decline.

So I resolved to fix all of these things by planting 5 of these little guys.

Bamboo. Fairy bamboo to be exact. This variety is supposed to not be too invasive, top out at about 3m, and “clump” instead of going nuts. We shall see. The intention is for the bamboo to grow and provide shelter to the the area between the driveway and the house. Partial shelter from the sun, but more importantly shelter from the wind. So watch this space.


manuka, sure is wee

In the same delivery as the bamboo were 10 manuka trees. These little guys I’m really looking forward to seeing grow bigger. While the bamboo is a bit of an experiment, the manuka is there to hold the bank between our place and the neighbours in place, but also to flower a lovely pale pink colour.

back fence

As you can see the fence (which took four days to get to this delightful colour) is a fairly long one. I put four of the manuka at the same interval, not too far from the fence posts, and they should grow to give shelter to plants around them. Most likely these new plants will be leafy varieties like the pretty rugged kawakawa you can see in the front there. Another four I placed down the back near the cabbage trees in the corner. The principle is for the manuka to provide an anchor for a series of other plants and shrubs. In the meanwhile it’ll keep growing, hopefully flower, and drag bees and other insects into the garden.

And why? For the vege garden itself. The upper part of the garden now has the walls laid in.

This involved dropping in a lower course (left), then digging out more of the bank. Not too hard this time on account of all the rain over the week preceding the work.

With the lower course down I could drop the top one on, and we’re done with the walls! Which is good news. This Sunday I’ll start the really hard work of turning over all that topsoil and filling this garden with soil. I’m actually feeling pretty confident about that, and almost entirely because of the apparent success of the Beginner’s Garden, which is verdant!

The rye grass is coming through nicely, and will be turned under in a month or two. First I’ll let it work roots well down into the soil, and thereby do a little more to break up the clay. By August we should be ready for a change of pace.

And why? Because by then we should have these rows well-grown into potatoes. These will be coming out (assuming they actually “fruit”), and the garlic will be going in.

Otherwise, not much to report. Transferred herbs from planter box to locations about the place, and we might have some coriander coming up.

Will keep you posted.