Thursday, April 30, 2009

Uncle Dan's memorial potplant garden - storytime

Helen Cooney and Her 'Uncle Dan Memorial Rosemary'
I met Helen Cooney at My brothers engagement party. When she heard my job is balcony garden teacher, she got all sparkley, and told me this story about her Memory-infused herb garden:

My aunty loves rosemary, my uncle didn’t so much. When I was a little
girl, Aunty Frances had made lamb roast for tea and I was excited.
Then my Uncle Dan crushed my little spirit by telling me that it
wasn't all good, because Aunty Frances had put rosemary in the meat.
As a little girl with little knowledge of herbs, I asked "What's
rosemary?" To which I received the response, "Poison." Perplexed about
why Aunty Fran would put poison in the meat, I looked to her and she
said "He's telling fibs. Don't worry about it." No one told me,
however, that rosemary was not, in fact, poison. So I went on
believing it for years. After many years, I began calling by my Dad’s
house for the poison when making a lamb roast, and recently planted
the Uncle Dan Memorial Rosemary. Afterward, I headed to say a Rosary
for the repose of his soul at his parish church. The poison is in a
pot on my balcony. It’s sitting by the parsley, across from the basil.
If it lives forever, well, Dan is living forever too. If it dies, I'll
just attribute that to Uncle Dan making it through the pearly gates.
(Story by Helen Cooney)

Helen, I loved your story. Thank-you!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

how to make compost compost

Compost activators, photo by Cecilia Macaulay

My two oldest of my compost heaps (6months +) seemed to have hit the glass ceiling of the compost world. Nicely composted in some spots, but cold, slow and chunky in others. After a harvest for the potplants, here is what we gave them to get things going again.

Comfrey - famous for adding nitrogen and contributing minerals 'mined' from deep down in the soil. I grow some of these hairy leaves just for the compost, but beware - one you plant these persistent perennials, you need a bulldozer to get them out by the roots. Choose their location carefully. They do have pretty mauve flowers, which the useful garden insects are also pleased to have.

Golden syrup - Composting texts recommend unsulphured Molasses, its calories and minerals encouraging fungi and other microbes into a population explosion, getting things hot again. Sulphur is usually added as a preservative to stop things fermenting - exactly what composters WANT to happen. I accidentally purchased this sugary golden syrup, and thought 'better in the compost than in my body'.

Seaweed - Usually you MAKE compost to get its free liquid fertilizer, so it seems strange to put bought stuff in. But my story to myself was: its just to get things activated again, maybe the microbes are lacking an essential mineral. It all ends up in my pot plants anyway.

- compost should be the consistency of a squeezed-out sponge. Too dry, and microbes will hibernate. Too wet, and there won't be enough air for the aerobic microbes, and the smelly, anaerobic ones will take over. Most inner urban compost veers to too wet, if it is pure kitchen scraps. As mine has the dry, high carbon contributions from my dove cage: newspaper and straw, it needed additional moisture. Last weekend Adison the day WWOOFer harvested the good stuff from the center of the heap, and the bottom of the oldest bin, to go in my boysenberry recycling tub. He chopped the big garden scraps up smaller, and buried them in deeper. Laying small branches on the bottom, where they allow air to circulate, is another trick.

Creative Compost illustration by Cecilia Macaulay

When St. Peter meets us at the pearly gates, I'm pretty sure he will ask "Did you make soil?". Even if you live in an apartment, composting skills are worth having, as compost is about life, decline, transformation, more life. Establish compost heaps at the homes of your favorite friends and dullest relatives, and watch things hot up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

transforming a recycling crate into an edible container garden

A bright and ambitious WWOOFer couple, 'Sawadsion', blessed my garden with their presence last weekend.
The result was a hessian-covered, compost-filled boysenberry garden for my balcony.

Sawa and Adisson trimming, repotting and pest-spotting on Cecilia's balcony garden

Sawa and Addison turned up for DayWWOOFing (gardening work experiance) with fantasic smiles, and a Jar of Urban Honey from their last urban WWOOF hosts, Adam and Kat. After lunch we set to work.

Adison worked harvesting, turning and activating my three compost heaps, getting enough for my Autumn balcony garden re-potting.

Divide and conquer: when a task is too hard, dividing it into two tasks often works. Wiring the hessian neatly onto the black plastic required either ten hands, or some straightening up using elastic and bulldog clips.

We assembled the finished result on my balcony: if a pot holds enough rich soil to grow boysenberries, its will be too big to lift. Now that the days of high summer sun are over, my covered North facing balcony has enough low-winter sunshine to 'feed' my plants, so if all goes according to plan, there will be berries in November.

Sawa in Cecilia's garden

Thank-you Sawa and Addison, I look forward to visiting your Permaculture farm in Japan one day, where I expect I will run into half the Aussie permies I know - you have lots of fans in this country, all expecting great things :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reality-check your blog - advanced workshop Easter Monday, my house

Go to Google Keywords. (Google it) Type in your name (choose the' Australia' setting). That's how many people might be searching for you on the internet. Try again, with your activities and city 'eg. Angela edible gardens Melbourne'. This will show if they are keywords worth including strategicly in your blog, to get the kind of readers you want. It also generates suggestions for related keywords people are searching, that will lead them to you and your site. Or topics people need your help with, to give you ideas for posts the world needs you to write.
Its almost indecent, the way its shows in hard data how 'In Demand' your colleagues or famous people are. Its an amazing reality check, and hard to believe you participated creativley in cyberspace without it.
There are lots more tricks where that came from. 'Google Analytics' amazed me when I was shown how to use it, letting me know where I was being boring, and who wants what from me and my balcony garden blog.

Last weekend Matthew and I held another Blog creation workshop, for a new batch of creative people to get their unique good work out into the world. Exactly the kind of generative people I love hanging out with (my ulterior motive for holding workshops)
Who came?

Adam Wojcinski, teacher of Sado, Japanese Tea Ceremony. Adam has a huge task, explaining to the world that his work is only slightly like the imaginary tea parties held by little girls. Alongside martial arts like Judo and Kendo, Sado was popular amongst Samurai as a way of doing things with excellence and effectiveness in the physical world, letting that way of being seep into your spirit, and be there whenever life required.

Kit Haselden is a Kiwi photographer, who I'm hoping will one day ask me to pose. Or at least ask my petunias. The thing thats unique about his photos is that the subjects look up at you like they are full of love. Kit and realness elicit that.
Lovely Chiaki is making a personal blog, sharing thoughts and information on how to adapt happily to a new country.

At the next workshop, you will learn how to do things like embed videos, personalize your blog. Its easy to let your aims get fuzzy, so we help each other get clear, visually and in what our final purpose is with our blogs and our activities. We will be looking at how to put yourself in directories, and make sure the right keywords are in the right place to get you found. So many secret things you just don't know unless someone clever like matthew tells you.
Its Monday from 1.30 - 4pm, $120, part-barter accepted. E-mail Cecilia if you think you should be there.

Monday, April 6, 2009

How to dry persimmons, traditional Japanese farmhouse style

This week I'm shopping for a persimmon tree for the Edible Japanese Garden that's replacing the fern garden out front at my place. Of course I will be planting a sweet, rather than an astringent (shibui) persimmon. The sweet ones, such as Fuyu, are squat-shaped, and can be eaten either crunchy or yielding. The long-shaped Hachiya variety, the ones Aussies first planted before we knew better (sorry Hachiya), are awfully 'shibui'. You have to wait until they become syrupy-ripe before eating, otherwise, biting into one will give you that 'cotton-wool-in-the-mouth' reaction, awful. I don't enjoy slushy and stringy much more than shibui, and neither, it seems, do the Japanese. They harvest them in Autumn, hang them under the eaves, and let the dry winter air transform them to something like enchanted dried apricots: intense, chewy, and frosted in sugar. 'Hoshi Gaki' is the Japanese name.

Last year while visiting the old pottery town of Machiko, in the Japanese mountains, I came across a lady at the traditional dye-works, performing the annual Autumn task of harvesting and preparing the 'shibui' persimmons from the tree outside, to be hung to dry.

Here is how you do it.

1. Cut the fruit from the trees, leaving a little 'handle' to hang it from
2. Peel the fruit, but leave a tiny square of skin at the bottom. This stops the sugars from dripping out the bottom

3. Hang them, evenly spaced, in a shady place with plenty of dry air circulating so they don't become moldy. If you have ancient thatched roof eaves on hand, perfect. Note what a beautiful, asymmetric patterns the Japanese lady has hung her baubles of drying fruit. The sight of drying persimmons is one that must be lived with for weeks, recalling autumns past as you gaze on them. In the Japanese aesthetic, almost everything you touch can be honoured as art.
Hoshigaki dried persimmon photo from digicamworks.
No bloom yet, but looking festive.

4. After a few weeks of regular massage, a white frostiness appears as the sugars seep to the surface and crystallise. Home-reared dried persimmons have a rich flavor and smooth texture. The cheap, mass-produced dried persimmons who missed out on this loving step are stringy and shallow. My friends explained to me that the massaging of sugar crystals up through the flesh breaks down the fibers.

My friend Endo-san's persimmons, drying in the
grand Tokyo garden that her parents left to her and her sister.

Hear the how-to story from somebody who has actually done it. The Slow Food USA drying persimmon story is both beautiful and useful.

Apartment balcony Hoshi gaki persimmons from Nekobiyouri blog

The great thing about dried persimmons is, you see them gone splat on footpaths by November, so I figure most owners would be happy to give them away if you ask prettily. Go for an inner-Melbourne walk in mid-May, see what you find, and start the sensuous pioneering work of massaging astringent persimmons to sweetness. Don't forget to send me the photos.