Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Maximising boysenberry yield

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

Boysenberries can be a great producer, or a big problem, it all depends on management. My gardening mentor Brian has been advising me on how to make the most of these prolific plants, and suggested growing them on mesh, which doubles as a fenceline whilst supporting the downpipe to rainwater tank. The mesh supports a sultana grape vine, male and female kiwi fruit vines along with about 7 metres (2.4m high) of boysenberries. The trench on the laneway side of the mesh has small check dams within it to hold water so that the water can seep into the ground rather than run off which reduces the need to irrigate them so often.
Boysenberries require frequent maintenance, but not much of it. This is best done using leather gloves, as the tiny prickles can be quite painful if they break off in your skin. The main task is to feed new growth through the mesh, and remove excess leaders before they get out of control. The images below show the growth and management over the past 18 months. My management style is evolving as I go.

Boysenberries planted end of Spring and fertilsed with horse manure. Native grasses planted on laneway side, providing mulch, habitat and buffer (from traffic, herbicide runoff and invasive grasses.
Canes are threaded through mesh in an ad-hoc fashion as they grow through summer.
Most of the leaves drop off during winter, the rest are removed by hand to reduce habitat for berry eating insects
During Spring growth resumes and the growth on the canes were prunned to 300mm above ground level to reduce habitat for insects / mould. The native grass was cut back to provide mulch and better access for prunning canes.
Thick new growth consumes the mesh and flowers mid Spring. New canes begin to grow from base and are left to grow at ground level.
Heavy cropping from late Spring till early summer. Averaging half a bucket a day for many weeks during peak.
Having such huge yields over a short period meant that we had to find creative uses for the fruit.
  • We ate what we could straight from the canes
  • We made berry smoothies
  • Preserved about 20 large jars of them in water
  • Made about 20 jars of jam of various sizes, some given away at Christmas
  • Froze some in containers - best to use the containers that they were picked into as they don't transfer well. Very nice with cream or ice cream.
  • Made about 15 stubbies (375ml) of berry / plum purée mix as the wild plums were coming on at the same time
  • Made about 15 stubbies of berry / plum cordial
  • Gave away some fresh berries to our neighbours and friends
Preserved berries stored in cellar.
Old growth pulled from mesh when finished fruiting (early summer) and cut for mulch, took a couple of hours. New cane growth led up mesh, one per vertical - not ad-hoc as per last season.
Early Autumn - When canes reach the top they are tipped out and horizontal growth led through mesh to fill in gaps.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Showing some respect for our environment

Ethic: Care of the Earth

Due to the heavy rains our original plan of cleaning up at the Whiteheads Creek bridge near St. Marys was a non-event. But that didn't stop us! We pick up this lot on the walk back, which was less than 1km.
I've always thought about getting involved in Clean Up Australia Day, but never managed to get around to it, until this year. I'd planned on join in the local Clean Up team at the Whiteheads Creek bridge near St Mary's with the family, but recent heavy rains have swollen the usually mellow creek to burst is banks a little further downstream. It wasn't a surprise to find that we were the only ones to turn up. But this didn't dishearten us at all, we brought some bags of own own and began cleaning up along the path that we took to get there. Within a couple of hundred metres we'd filled them, and so headed back home for a cuppa.
Kai and I returned with a wheelbarrow and his trolley to find that someone else had cleaned up a good portion of what we intended to, which brought a smile to my face. Nice to know that you are not alone. We still managed to fill the trolley and wheelbarrow above capacity on the way back. I was surprised at how little acknowledgement we got from passers by, as if we wern't even there. The were a few people who commented on how disgusting it was that 'they' made this mess, and one person who used the term 'we', rather than 'they'. I don't think this was because she felt she was at fault, but she was taking responsibility for the mess on behalf humanity as a whole. That's how I felt about it anyway.
So for about an hour and a half's work we managed to make a small part of our world a nicer place to live. And now, it doesn't seem so onerous to keep the path clean. We plan on doing a little it on each trek we make, and hope that other people feel okay about doing the same. Now we've got to get rid of our collection, so much for 'binimum' this year.

Principle 1: Observe and interact

Climate change is all about us experiencing more extreme events more often and the last couple of weeks has been a good example of that. We had a series of four very hot days (mid 30's) in late February that climaxed in a grass fire at Glenaroua near Seymour which used 25 trucks to contain it. On the 27th of February we received about 150mm in one day, with recordings of 170mm in other sites around town. I recorded 240mm of rain at our place in the past week, our average annual rainfall is just under 600mm. Our normally trickling creek filled up rather quickly and kept me on alert, but I didn't feel that the house was threatened.

Looking at the train line that runs over Whiteheads Creek from the Oak Street Bridge
Looking at the Oak Street Bridge from Abdallah Road, opposite our house
The heavy rains over this period has caused the ground water level to rise significantly, which has infiltrated into the cellar. The cellar has needed pumping out daily during this time, and it's become clear where water is entering. There's not that much I can do about water coming in from the cool tube, but I've marked the gaps in the mortar where water is breaking through the brickwork and will fill gaps with silicon when it dries out. I've done this before and it's been quite effective.
The sewer line that runs down the laneway near our house had so much excess water flowing through it that the manhole near our house was overflowing raw sewerage mixed with storm water into our drains and creek (see video below). This also happened during the big rains I spoke with the local water authority about the issue and our local manager told me that normally the nearby sewer pump works about 35lt per second. It couldn't keep up with inflows even though it was pumping at 160lt per second. That suggests to me that there are a number of houses in the area that have storm water connections directly into the sewer. The manager told me that the EPA has been informed, and that there are a number of points in Seymour with the same problem. He said that they'll take note, investigate further, but for me to realise that it's an ongoing job. It really is difficult to design systems for extreme events.

After the cellar was pumped out it became clear where water was entering

Ground water leaching through gaps in the cool tube pipe that runs from the cellar up through to the kitchen

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