Download our free Illawarra Edible Garden Guide!

 

 

How can you change a typical suburban house in Wollongong into a sustainable, healthy home and organic food garden?


Join us on an adventure to explore the possibilities... 

 


Sunday
Apr172011

Fast producing fruit trees

So how long do you have to wait in eager anticipation for your fruit trees to start fruiting after you’ve tenderly planted them in your garden? Well there’s a lot of factors at play here – what kind of tree it is, the length of time it’s been growing in a pot, whether it’s grafted or a seedling, it’s condition and suitability to your climate, and how well you’ve been looking after it since planting!

In our garden, we started planting fruit trees in December 2007 – about three and a half years ago. We’ve mainly planted mainly grafted fruit trees we got from various nurseries. Grafted fruit trees are grown not from seed, but by taking a cutting and making it grow on a different kind of tree – the ‘root stock’. For many fruit trees, grafted trees set fruit faster, and are more reliable, meaning you know you’re going to get delicious, good quality fruit.

In our subtropical climate, the trees which have produced fruit for us within just over three years are:

  • Acerola cherry
  • Apricot (Divinity)
  • Atherton raspberry
  • Babaco
  • Banana
  • Blueberry
  • Brazilian cherry
  • Cherimoya and custard apple
  • Cherry of the Rio Grande
  • Citrus (oranges, mandarin, grape fruit, lemon, lime)
  • Fig (Excel, white genoa, white adriatica, prolific)
  • Grapes (Pink Iona and Golden musket)
  • Guavas (Yellow cherry, Hawaiian and Mexican cream)
  • Loquat (nagasakiwase)
  • Mulberry
  • Olive (Kalamata)
  • Panama Berry
  • Paw paw
  • Peach (dwarf)
  • Peanut butter fruit
  • Persimmon (Fuyu)
  • Plum (Golf gold)
  • Rose apple

Next year we’re hoping to have the first tastes of our star fruit (carambola), longan, lychee, mango, sapodilla, grumichama and wampee. Exciting times ahead!

A helpful site for sharing info about growing fruit trees in your local area is Daley’s My Edibles. We’ve created a page there with some more images and info about the trees we’re growing here in Wollongong.

P.S - Thanks to Belinda for inspiring this post by asking how us if we’ve been recording how long it’s taken for our fruit trees to start fruiting. We love suggestions for topics you’d like to see us write about, so please let us know if you have any suggestions!

Sunday
Apr102011

Persimmons a Plenty

Persimmons are a fabulous fruit, and at this time of year persimmon trees in the Illawarra are loaded with fruit. We’re thrilled to have recently picked our first bounty of 59 persimmons from our three year old persimmon tree! With an average weight of 160g, that’s almost 10kg of persimmons – and the harvest will only get better every year. In the local supermarket, persimmons are selling for a $1.75 each, making our harvest worth a nice $103.25!

Persimmons will ripen off the tree, so we picked our fruits just as they started to turn orange. Harvesting them before they fully ripen is a good strategy to avoid them all being eaten by the birds! Two Lewin's Honeyeaters were enjoying some ripe persimmons so much, we left them half a dozen for them on the tree – with persimmons there is always plenty to go around!

Though local fruit markets are abound with persimmons at this time of year, they much more popular in Asia than here in Australia. There’s two types of persimmon fruit, astringent and non-astringent. The fruit on the astringent varieties can only be eaten when it’s really soft and gooey (tasting like sweet cinnamon jelly), while the non astringent persimmon can be eaten when they are firm (like a crunchy apple with a hint of cinnamon) as well as soft. Eating an under-ripe astringent persimmon leaves a horrible floury taste in your mouth – so be sure to know which kind of persimmon you have!

Though you can eat them fresh, we prefer to use persimmons creatively in the kitchen – check out our previous blog about using persimmons in smooothies, scones and frozen iceblocks if you’d like some inspiration!

Persimmon trees are stunning, with large dark green leaves that turn golden yellow and red as they fall in the winter. These grand trees can grow to 6m high and just as wide, but with a quick prune each winter, you can keep them at a perfect size of backyards. If you’re keen to give growing persimmon a go, check out our persimmon fruit tree profile.

Sunday
Apr032011

March in our suburban food forest garden

With the warmth of summer still lingering in the air, March in our suburban food forest garden was a month of harvesting our first basket of sweet persimmons...

Getting creative in the kitchen with constant bounties of squash and zucchini...

Picking and processing our first batch of olives...

Watching our eight legged garden friends weaving their magic...

What delights did March bring to your garden?

Sunday
Mar272011

Fabulous figs


Delicious and super easy to grow, figs are a must for suburban gardens in the Illawarra.

We’ve planted four different cultivars of figs: white genoa, white adriatic, excel and prolific.

Fresh figs retail at around a dollar each in the shops. With a fig tree costing about $30, they can easily pay for themselves within just one season of fruiting. Fig trees grow so fast that two years after planting in the ground you can be harvesting figs before you know it. They’re also one of the easiest fruit trees to propagate, so if you know of someone who has a nice fig tree, ask them if you can nip off a branch and create a fig tree for free!

Fig trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter, and sprout gorgeous new growth in the spring.

Birds, bats and many native animals love figs just as much as humans do! Our approach is to share a bit with our local wildlife, but make sure we get our share too by tying a paper or cloth bag over individual figs as they start to swell and look like they are just a few days off ripening.

We’re lucky to have gorgeous endangered grey heading flying foxes in the Illawarra, and they’re really vulnerable to getting stuck in nets put over fruit trees like figs. If you do net your fruit trees, be sure to have the net stretched tightly over a frame and secured to the ground to prevent wildlife becoming tangled.

If you'd like some more info about growing figs, heck out our fig fruit tree profile.

 

Wednesday
Mar232011

Froggie friends in food forest gardens

With recent heavy rains our resident frogs are in a frenzy of breeding, and croaking from our garden frog pond hasn’t stopped!

Just a few months after being installed, our pond was discovered by local frogs and they pretty much haven’t left since! The striped marsh frog is the most common frog we have visiting (pictured above). We do hear a different frog call from time to time and suspect it’s a peron’s tree frog, which is also quite common in garden ponds in the Illawarra.   

Frogs just love organic food forest gardens! The gorgeous photo of a perons tree frog below was taken by our friend Paul Darrington at his permaculture property in Coffs Harbour...

The cute little chap below is a dwarf eastern tree frog that peered up from a lettuce leaf while we were WWOOFing at an organic acreage in northern NSW...

And nearby our fellow organic gardeners in Port Kembla have turned their garden into a haven for the endangered green and gold bell frog. Below is one posing happily for a photo on the edge of an old bath tub they converted into a pond!

What frogs do you have visiting your garden?

Wednesday
Mar092011

Birthday Celebrations for the Flame Tree Food Co-op

We just love visiting our local Flame Tree community food co-op in Thirroul to re-stock our pantry shelves with beautiful organic wholefoods. This Sunday the co-op is celebrating its first birthday and everyone is invited!

In just a year the co-op has grown to have almost 400 members. The range of goodies it stocks is ever expanding, and the shop itself is looking more gorgeous every time we visit – a stunning mosaic of the logo was the latest edition. It’s so exciting to see this local co-op thriving, and it’s such a credit to all the wonderful volunteers who put such effort into make the co-op such a success!

For more details about the co-op and the upcoming birthday celebrations, visit http://www.flametreecoop.org.au. If you’re a local further down south in Kiama, a new food co-op is also starting up - see http://www.greenbox.org.au/ for details!

Saturday
Feb262011

An Aerial View of a Suburban Sustainability Transformation

Just three years ago, there was a house and garden in Wollongong that looked pretty similar to all the others...

How different it looks now! A flourishing forest of food, mosaiced with mulched paths and dotted with water tanks, a chook house and nursery...and doesn’t our little solar power system and solar hot water system look cute from above? Thanks for the great pic www.nearmap.com!

These new November 2010 aerial maps give us a real sense of not only how our garden has changed over time, but how our suburban garden links into the surrounding landscape. Often in suburban areas and cities there are such isolated pockets of forests remaining, and looking from above with a ‘birds eye’ perspective, you can get a sense of how important our backyards can be in providing food and shelter for wildlife passing from one pocket of forest to another.  

As we’re on an adventures in urban sustainability, these aerial photographs also make us think about our ecological footprint, and how that’s changed as our home and  garden has changed...

Have you looked at your home and garden from above? What do aerial pictures of your local suburb make you think about?

Sunday
Feb202011

Harvesting a $176 Bunch of Bananas


It’s quite a good feeling harvesting a bunch of bananas worth $176 from your own garden! With recent storms and floods in Queensland damaging banana plantations, the price of bananas in Oz is creeping up, and is already at $6 a kilo in our local supermarkets. Organic bananas are always a little more pricey, and a local on-line retailer is now selling them for $8.50 a kilo.

In our recent banana harvest, we reaped 148 beautiful organic Cavendish bananas. They’re a pretty good size, just a little smaller than those you find at the shops (what do they do to make those monstrous bananas??). The total weight of this banana bunch came in at 20.72 kilos. At the price of organic bananas ($8.50), our haul is worth $176.12. You can pick up Cavendish banana plants at local nurserys at the moment for $18, making them quite a worthwhile investment! In our subtropical climate, bananas will fruit after two years, while in the true topics, they’ll fruit in a little as nine months.

So what does one do with 148 bananas? Well they do ripen somewhat progressively, and we freeze the excess ripe ones by peeling the skin off, cutting them in half and stacking them in containers.

For more info on growing bananas see our previous post.

Sunday
Feb132011

Tasty Cherry Tomato Soup

With our cherry tomatoes going crazy at the moment, we’ve been enjoying quite a few tasty cherry tomato soups of late! Our favourite is a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie at Home, with a few of our own personal twists.

Ingredients

  •          1 onion, peeled & finely chopped
  •          1 clove of garlic, peeled & finely chopped
  •          1 carrot, peeled & coarsely grated
  •          a handful of fresh basil leaves
  •          olive oil
  •          3 tablespoon natural yogurt
  •          1 tablespoon red wine
  •          1 egg
  •          1 kilo super ripe tomatoes (cherry tomatoes work well)
  •          1 cup vegetable stock
  •          1 x 400g can of cannellini beans
  •          sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Steps

  1. Put your onion, garlic, carrot and most of the basil leaves into a large pot with enough olive oil to coat them nicely.  Fry for 5-10 minutes until the onions begin to brown.
  2. Cut the tomatoes in half (you could probably add them whole) and then add them to the pot, along with the stock. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid and roughly mash the soup and season carefully with salt & pepper. Then add the cannellini beans and let them warm up in the soup for a couple minutes.
  4. Just before serving whisk together the yogurt, wine and eggs in a small bowl and then stir the mix through the soup. Serve straight away sprinkled with the remaining basil leaves served on top.

This makes four medium sized bowls of soup (or 2 very large ones, as ahhem  , we tend to serve it up as!). As always with soup, some toasty organic sourdough bread is the perfect accompaniment. Enjoy!

Tuesday
Feb082011

Coping with Extreme Heat

After 7 days over 30 degrees Celsius and stifling humidity, Saturday topped it off with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. So how did we keep our garden, our chickens and ourselves from completely withering away?

Well in our quest to minimise damage to the garden we went about:

  • Watering fruit trees in the mornings, especially the young ones
  • Harvesting all the produce we could, even if it wasn’t fully ripe, to minimise stress on the plant and avoid damaged produce. Tomatoes in particular are known to split in hot weather, and we have cherry tomatoes going crazy at the moment
  • Ensuring pots and seedlings were especially well watered
  • We've also let our support plant trees grow above the young fruit trees to provide shade - though they will be taken out as the fruit trees grow older and more resiliant.

So what was the damage? Well a couple zucchini plants carked it, some persimmon fruits got a bit sunburned, and our young Cherry of the Rio Grande which is only about 40cm high has quite a few singed leaves, as does the parsley. Young trees will suffer a lot more, and we’re lucky now that most of our trees have been in the ground for three years now, so they’re a lot more resilient.

As for the chickens they coped surprisingly well. A couple times a day we would check their water was nice and clean and even watered the chooks down with a watering can! A friend of ours had a dog that got itself in a mess tied up on a rope and couldn’t reach its water and it sadly it passed away with the heat. This weather can be so unforgiving! With it’s solar passive design features, the chicken house is also proving to work really well at being cool in summer and protective from the elements in winter.   

And as for ourselves, cold showers were one of our saviours – and with the water from the shower being diverted to our fruit trees, they were guilt free!

If you’ve had extreme heat recently how have you coped? We hope you, your animals and your gardens managed to survive without too much trouble :)

Sunday
Jan302011

Food Adventures in Laos

With fruit trees lining the sidewalk, veggies growing everywhere imaginable, chickens roaming freely and an abundance of rice fields and orchards, the south-east Asian country of Laos is a food growers heaven.  In our recent trip to this gorgeous mountainous country we admired the many productive veggie gardens that line the river banks in the dry season...

Fell in love with the vibrant fresh food markets...

Were awed by the colours and diversity of such wonderful fresh food...

Delighted in the freshness of traditional Lao food such as river moss and miang (recipes to come soon!)

Savoured a Lao favourite, bamboo shoot soup, made from soft young bamboo shoots ...

Discovered the delights of sticky rice (more about this later!)

And returned with ever-more inspiration to bring good food and the art of growing food back into the suburbs of Oz!

Wednesday
Jan192011

Cherry of the Rio Grande Fruit Tree Profile


What a grand little tree indeed! With tasty little delicate red fruits and luscious-looking green leaves, this tough little tree is a winner in our books. Here on the warm coastal plain, chill-loving cherry trees which originate from the northern hemisphere aren’t that well suited to our climate. But with a cherry-like flavour, the Cherry of the Rio Grande, which originates from Brazil, is the perfect substitute.

Growing to a relatively small height of 4-5 metres, these hardly trees are easy to grow. They’re a bit difficult to find in stock at a standard nursery – we ordered our tree on-line from Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery. They’re one of the few fruit trees that grow ‘true to type’ from seed, so if you can find someone with a fruiting tree and have the patience to wait around 5 years, have a go at growing one from seed.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this gorgeous tree, check out our Cherry of the Rio Grande fruit tree profile.  

Saturday
Jan082011

Egg-cellent Work Silkies

Now fluffy silkie chooks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (that’s not a real chook some cry!) but we just love our two ditzy girls! Silkies are a fantastic chook to have in a new garden, as they won’t do as much damage as larger birds such as Australorps. They’re really easy to handle, making them fantastic with kids, and their limited mobility means they won’t be flying over fences into your veggie garden!

Silkies aren’t known for their egg laying abilities. They go broody and ‘off the lay’ often. A few people asked us how many eggs our silkies lay a year, so we decided to put them to the test and have tallied all the eggs our two girls have laid over 2010.

119 eggs was the final count. Their best month was May, when we received 25 lovely fresh organic eggs. Over the winter months of July, August and September they enjoyed a well earned rest after laying pretty well summer and autumn:

January – 14 eggs

February – 7 eggs

March – 19 eggs

April – 8 eggs

May – 25 eggs

June – 5 eggs

July – 2 eggs

August – 2 eggs

September – 2 eggs

October – 19 eggs

November – 3 eggs

December – 13 eggs

Australorps, Rhode Island Reds and other traditional breeds of egg laying chooks can lay over 200 eggs a year EACH, which puts our silkies egg laying capabilities into perspective! But we’re not big egg eaters, so the occasional eggs from the silkies suit us perfectly. Our silkie Charma is two and a half years old and Gruma is two years old, so they’re at about prime laying age.

If you have chooks, what was 2010 like for them? 

Sunday
Dec262010

Glittering Garden Visitors – but no more hordes of Christmas Beetles 

It’s amazing how our little organic food forest in suburbia attracts such a fascinating array for weird and wonderful wildlife.  Like this Blue Diamond Weevil:

Also known as the Botany Bay Weevil or Diamond Beetle, apparently these cute little guys were one of the first Australia insects to be described by Europeans, back in 1770 when the naturalist Joseph Banks noted them in Botany Bay.

Adults like this guy nibble on Acacia twigs, while the larvae live under the ground feeding on Acacia tree roots.

We have such fond memories of summer nights as kids being full of big glittering shiny Christmas beetles – maybe you do too?  Around the barbeque someone’s Uncle would always put them in their mouths for a dare, and the boys would put them in the girl’s hair – laughter and screams were all round and Christmas time meant Christmas Beetles.

These days though, we just don’t get Christmas beetles in Wollongong like we used to. You might see a few small brown beetles, and the odd beautiful shiny one, but nothing like it used to be.

The Australian Museum has some great info on insects, and they note that ‘the total number of Christmas beetles reported in the Sydney area has declined over the last 30 years as the grassy woodland areas get used up for housing.’ How sad that kids don’t get to experience fun of the summer Christmas beetles like we did!

Do you still get to enjoy masses Christmas Beetles were you are?

Wednesday
Dec222010

Best Wishes for the Festive Season!

The holiday season is almost upon us, so best wishes to all for a wonderful festive season. May it be filled with good times, good food, homemade goodness and abundant harvests from your garden!

Sunday
Dec052010

Cherimoya Fruit Tree Profile

The sweet, juicy flesh of cherimoyas has a delicious lemony tang and is a real treat. It’s one of our favourite fruits, and we’re so lucky that cherimoya trees thrive here on the coastal plain of the Illawarra.

Our young tree is only 3 years old, but it recently provided us with half a dozen fruit that weighed more than 500grams each, and more young fruit have already formed. The large heart-shaped fruits are ripe when the skin has some ‘give’ in it the same way as a ripe avocado. They’re picked when they’re still hard but have started to turn a slightly yellowish colour, and the seeds inside rattle when shaken.  It’s the yummy white flesh on the inside that you scoop out and eat.

Cherimoya are similar to a custard apple, but much nicer in our opinion, as they have lovely lemony tang, are more juicy and have less seeds than a custard apple. They’re one of those fruits you rarely see at markets or in the shops, so growing them at home is a must! For more info about cherimoyas see our cherimoya fruit tree profile.

Sunday
Nov282010

November in our Suburban Food Forest Garden 

With lots of rain followed by lots of sunshine our suburban food forest is lush and green with smatterings of colour from spring blooms...

Our Cherry of the Rio Grande is fruiting for the first time, bearing gorgeous deep red fruits...

The Brazillian Cherry is also providing an abundance of sweet red fruits...

And armful after armful of garlic has been harvested from the veggie beds...

What delights has November brought to your garden? 

Sunday
Nov212010

Our Eco-Friendly Camping Honeymoon!

Thanks so much for all for your lovely comments and wonderful wishes on our wedding! Your kind words and congratulations mean so much to us.

We had an amazing weekend away camping on the shores of the nearby Shoalhaven River after the wedding. All our guests were invited to join in the post-wedding camping celebrations and we were thrilled 35 people could join us in creating a huge communal camping site on the night of the wedding! In our relaxing back-to-nature camping trip we were lucky to see so much wildlife and in the spirit of International Year of Biodiversity we thought we would share these special pictures with you of wandering wombats...

Impressive Bower Bird nests...

Beautiful butterflies...

Curious Jacky Dragons...

And little footprints that remind us to tread lightly on this beautiful earth...

Sunday
Nov142010

Eco-Friendly Wedding in the Veggie Patch!

What an amazingly magical celebration we had last weekend with our sustainable wedding in the veggie patch!

Ally’s gorgeous dress was handmade by the wonderfully talented Annie Werner from Pearl and Elspeth and featured a gorgeous blue wren that was upcycled from a funky vintage tea towel!  Guests were encouraged to get into the ‘green’ theme with the handmade recycled invitations noting that the dress code was ‘something old, something ‘green’, something borrowed, that’s the theme!’

After much on-line searching, we were thrilled with the sustainable, ethically produced wedding rings we chose from the creative jeweller Marlon Obando Solano from Naturaleza organic jewellery. Ally’s ring is made from sustainably harvested timber and recycled silver, and Rich’s is made from black coyol seed.  

The bunting flags we recently made created a wonderful festive atmosphere. Local weeds like canna lily were harvested for flowers – the beauty of bush regeneration!

After much hunting and special ordering, we created a tempting selection of organic wine, beer and juice...

And enjoyed a divinely delicious vegetarian banquet for lunch followed by yummy sweets prepared by the fabulous Caroline from The Red Kitchen.

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our special day and thanks so much to those who commented earlier with fabulous ideas and suggestions for making our wedding eco friendly!

Saturday
Oct302010

October in Our Suburban Food Forest Garden

With summer just around the corner, October has seen us busy planting corn, cucumber, eggplants, capsicum, beans, zucchini, squash and more...

Eggs have made a return to the table, with our two gorgeous silkie chooks coming back on the lay after a winter of rest...

Rainy days made for creative days finishing a new garden mosaic...

And the treats of spring have been greatly enjoyed!

How did you enjoy October in your garden? 

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