The Voles are coming and I have become a hoarder

Hi All,

Having just planted out 7 garden beds with precious vegetable futures we now have to consider the fact that we aren’t the only ones who love vegetables…there are apparently hoards of creatures out there who can’t wait to take a scrump of our loot. Short of buying a rocking chair, a shotgun and putting a straw in my mouth I figure that we are going to have to do some detective work regarding “pests”. Pests come in a couple of forms…invertebrate, including most of the creatures that are going to totally ignore our bird netting cover and who are going to buzz right on through. Because we have covered the beds with bird netting (and here is the total irony of it all…) the little insectivorous birds, like the wrens that patrol our windowsill bossing the tiny cheese cubes out of us, can’t actually get in to scarf the aphids etc. who will carry on regardless. For these insectivorous critters we need to think smarter not harder. Integrated pest management is the way to go. We are using permaculture principals to give Serendipity Farm a whole new ethos. We are reusing, recycling and repurposing just about anything that we can get our hands on because it’s both sustainable practice and cheap and as penniless student horticulture hippies we need to be mindful of “cheap”. We have learned a few things over the last 4 years about building strong foundations for your hopes and dreams starting with the soil and building up from there. I am constantly amazed and excited with the prospects of working with nature rather than against it. As we learn more and more about permaculture through practical application we realise that it is the quickest most trouble free way to get what we want from our land. We are using what we have learned from our mainstream horticulture studies to branch off laterally into permaculture and learning about design has given us a new set of eyes each (like spiders 😉 ) to see how it all fits together. Some of what we are doing at the moment includes: –

Integrated pest management:  if you make conditions ideal for beneficials they will come…they will stay and they will eat your pest populations. We are prepared to wear a bit of insect damage till the beneficial population builds up to meet the pest populations and we are in the process of building overwintering bug houses and installing them around the area. We hand pick snails, slugs etc. and use the most ecofriendly choices for slug pellets that won’t hurt native animals and that biodegrade safely around our vegetables that have been covered and everywhere else has Sargent ducky on patrol. No slugs or snails shall pass by her probing dibbling beak! One of the most valuable tools you can have to deal with invasive pests before their populations become a problem is very simple. Just walk around your garden and “LOOK”. If you are doing this often enough you will notice the tell-tale signs of plant predation and will be able to nip it in the bud early.

Integrated weed management: weeds are just plants in the wrong place guys! I have been learning from some amazing sites where people go hunting for weeds and use them for all sorts of edible and medicinal reasons. No more “bollocks a weed!” for me, aside from some of the invasive grasses and should they become a serious problem, methinks it is time to get that pair of geese that I have been thinking about who eat their weights worth of grass which is their predominate food of choice. Just have to dig a little goosy dam for them and as our subsoil is solid yellow clay, no problemo! Use your weeds and you will be amazed at how they suddenly become managed problems. Use Bernard and Manny’s weeds for an example, Bernard and Manny are our two Javanese finches. They LOVE dandelions and I headed out to pick their favourite snack daily. Pretty soon there were no dandelions left in the front yard and I found myself in the ironic situation of having to steal weeds from other people’s gardens at night just to feed my finches habit. Use those weeds and you can bet your derrière that they will disappear! Murphy’s Law works both ways folks ;).  Don’t use herbicides, use your brains.  Hand grub and use the weeds to make weed tea for yourself (dandelions and nettles) or for your plants. They pinched the nitrogen from your garden in the first place, may as well take it back! No weed can survive a good drowning.  Try chopping the weeds with no seed heads up fine and putting them in the compost or cover the heap of weeds and solarise them with some black plastic. We all have to learn to put away the quick fix because most of them come with a steep price tag both for our pockets and the earth. This site, in particular, is a wealth of knowledge about weedy species and how to use them to your advantage

Here is a way to deal with your weeds thanks to good old Aunty ABC…

You can also make liquid manure to mix in with the weed tea and you can make compost tea as well. Crush up some charcoal and add it and aside from something that will attract flies for kilometres; you will have a valuable source of nutrients in their more easily assimilated liquid form. Just remember to hold your nose when you are measuring out!

Companion planting: Cheers to my long time gal pal in Perth Kymmy for sending me some information on companion planting. Kymmy has her garden totally together and it’s lovely to wander about in the greenery and tropical lushness that spills onto her undercover area. No tropical here aside from a poor long suffering philodendron that dad was trying to starve to death for 20 years. It’s now under a large tree and its leaves are slowly turning from yellow to a nice dark green…rescue 101 Pimblett style!  Many plants actually grow better with certain other plants. American Indians realised this and grew corn, pumpkins and beans together forming a symbiotic relationship of nitrogen production (beans), green mulch (pumpkin) and height for the beans to grow (corn stalks). I have been hunting around and found a really wonderful comprehensive permaculture companion planting PDF that want to share with you…

Confuse-a-cat: Plant your food in the garden and your garden with your food. Plant herbs and flowers in with your food garden and why not kill 2 birds with one stone? Make them edible flowers as well. Use plants like borage, comfrey, marigolds, pansy’s (especially Johnny jump-ups that keep on keeping on no matter what the conditions are) Italians have known about this forever. Back in Western Australia (or little Italy as it shall be spoken of from here on in…) the Italians were the market gardeners and started all of the green grocers all over the place. They certainly knew how to grow a tomato and you always saw their front gardens full of vegetables and flowers en mass. That’s how to confuse your pests too folks…mass planting with everything. I just have to get my chooks under control (for under control read locked up!) to start practicing what I am preaching here because they scarf everything edible in the garden and take dust baths in my hard work.

Mulch…mulch…MULCH!: Soil microbes need moisture to carry on their day to day activities and if the soil dries out they will head for damper pastures. Your veggies/plants won’t like it much either. Water has become a precious commodity and its price is starting to cause us to conserve it. Nothing like a hit in the old hip pocket to make you care about something. The perfect solution is to ensure that your soil is mulched to retain its moisture. You can use all sorts of things to mulch soil including organic and inorganic materials. We have a massive heap of Photinias that we removed from the fenceline that we are leaving in situ for the summer so that the leaves will drop off and mulch the soil and the branches will dry out and we can use the larger branches on the fire and we can use the smaller branches to form hugelkultur beds. Mulch will make your garden happy and will significantly reduce your water bills. Couple this with harvesting rain and using it on your veggie garden and you are in a win-win situation

Nothing to do with today’s post but a couple of random dog walking photos taken recently

It was a lovely still morning…

I am waiting to get some seed from that lovely bluey green leptospermum (tea tree) behind that banksia

I will never tire of looking at this beautiful Japanese Maple. Maybe one day some of our little babies will be this beautiful

Finally we get to the vertebrates! These are the boned critters with hearts that pump warm blood…those hearts might pump warm but their thoughts run to cold…stone cold stealin! On Serendipity Farm they run amok and range from rabbits, potoroo’s, wallabies, possums  and the most dangerous of all are “chookus Serendipitus”…the dreaded Common house chook. After reading the gardening blogs that I follow in the wee small hours of the morning I have suddenly become aware of a problem sweeping the US that I had never thought about before…voles! Voles: tiny field mice that remain faithful to their partners for their whole lives that eat seeds and grain and that reach sexual maturity in a month and that can wreak havoc on a good root crop…wait a minute… WE plan on having a good crop! I have unprotected beetroot in the ground that voles could tunnel underneath and lay in wait for those tender red bulbs to form and slowly digest them around their expanding family while I wait on tenterhooks for a vole scented gnawed handful of leaves!

This might be a water vole but its the only stock photo that I could find! No vole lawsuits for me!

I realise that voles are not endemic in Australia. I also realise that most voles could care less about vegetables BUT with global warming who knows where the voles will migrate…there could be voles right now stowing away on cruise ships with tiny sticks over their shoulders and all of their worldly seedy belongings stowed in a tied up gingham kerchief…stealthily and steadfastly wending their way to Australia to start a new beginning. If the Irish can do it…so can the voles. They keep telling us that we now have foxes in Tasmania although most people haven’t seen them and there is a sneaking suspicion that some wily Tasmanian decided that working in the forestry was a bit of a dud and that he might spread the rumour that “there be foxes!” so that he could sit back in a cushy “hunt the fox” job and get paid a handsome sum to stay in bed all day and postulate about “yup…me mate saw one the uva day!”. Most of Tasmania wants to end the “Fox Taskforce” as a bad joke BUT I can see a new direction for it…”Vole Taskforce!” Why not? If foxes can weasel their way over here in the boot of someone’s car (probably said aforementioned wily Tasmanian who ferried them in as “evidence” for his new income venture…) then so can voles! I could put an entire extended family of voles under my hat and a banana in my handbag and run the gamut of the sniffer dogs and insist that I didn’t realise that I wasn’t allowed to bring in a bit of fruit to eat for morning tea whilst the dogs rabidly tried to digest my legs. Once my contraband fruit was handed over they would pass me through customs…no banana “no worries luv”! But I WOULD have a hat full of voles and a new income generating venture for the coming season 😉

This is just to prove to myself that I CAN make fishcakes! Secret = use the potato ricer rather than mash the spuds

Earls potato sack halloween costume. He figures that he can trick people into letting him into their homes and then he can treat himself to whatever he likes and carry it away in his sack

Steve catching Earl in the act as he tried to head over to Frank and Adrian’s place next door and almost fell off the deck…

Stevie Kruger joining in on the halloween festivities…”One two Stevie’s coming for you”…

A plethora of vegan food blogs have exploded exponentially in my rss feed read thanks to vegan mofo. Vegan mofo is a month of crazed recipe creation where every day my inbox is cram packed full of awesome and exciting vegan recipes. I can officially be called a hoarder of vegan blogs and Steve is considering an intervention (but not before I collect a whole lot more!) These blogs freely share homemade cheeze recipes, how to make creamy vegan sauces, all sorts of wonderful sauces, salsas, spices and herby goodness to excite my tastebuds… now could I resist? My rss feed reader is bursting its seams but I just can’t stop! They are all so amazing, so promising, so full to the brim with wonderful creative and scrumptious looking food that my gluttonous fingertips keep clicking “Add to rss feed reader” before my brain kicks in. It IS 5am when I am reading them folks…who is awake then? I am NO exception! I am actually going to make one of the “cheeze” recipes tomorrow. This recipe is made with coconut cream and the resulting cheeze looks like cheddar, melts like cheddar and gives a nice cheesy result for pizza, quesadilla’s and all sorts of previously unattainable recipes. This is why I get up at 5am folks…I am hunting vegan wabbits! I will share this recipe with you because I am the magnanimous and most caring person that I am. If you are brave, give it a go. If you are lactose intolerant, can’t eat nuts, are vegan etc… it could be a life saver.

We built a bean bed today. It involved us removing ancient enormous nails from some old treated pine poles, hammering those poles together to form bed sides with the old enormous nails and putting some scarlet runner, yin yang and borlotti beans into my almost unused electric sprouter. I added some mung beans as the machine has 4 compartments and I may as well get something I can eat out of it in the short term. We were given the scarlet runner beans by Wendy, Glad next doors daughter. I was given the other two kinds of beans by someone from the Sustainable Living Group on one of my brief forays into what they were going to teach as permaculture. The teacher was using a book to teach from and wanted payment for her services so I figured that I would get the book myself and bollocks to paying someone to read a book to me…I can do THAT myself ;). The local Sustainable Living Group is part of Tamar Natural Resources Management and has regular seed swap days to get heritage seed circulating throughout the population. I will be attending the next seed swap day and will be taking some of my little walnut trees to trade. I could almost start a walnut farm with the amount of them that germinated. It pays to use local sources to select your seed for growing whenever you can because it has adapted to your local conditions and has provenance in your area. I chose local walnut trees to get my seed from and most of it germinated without stratification over winter. The same goes for vegetable seeds. Buy what grows best locally and what is suited for your growing conditions to guarantee yourself the best chance of a good result. We decided that rather than waiting 10 days for our little baby beans to struggle through the soil and spread their tiny cotyledons to embrace the fresh air and sunshine on Serendipity Farm that we would use my sprouter and see if they don’t sprout faster. This is a whizz bang sprouter that sprays a fine spray of water over the beans, seeds, grains (whatever you are kidding yourself that tastes good when it is sprouted) and regulates the humidity etc. I bought it in a moment of madness when I had deluded myself enough to think that I was going to eat only raw food. That lasted till winter and fizzled when sprouts and vegetable pulp wraps suddenly become decidedly unappealing. I am sure that I heard Steve muttering something about “no more gadgets!” but he knows better than to get between me and a bargain whose-a-ma-jig that I don’t have in my kitchen already (sigh).

Steve working out how to make a bean bed out of some random treated pine poles

Hoarded building futures…

Isn’t it amazing how much room a man needs to build a small bean futures garden bed?

Voila! Using recycled old nails and hoarded treated pine poles Steve made a bean futures bed ready to be relocated tomorrow. Note that bench with steps, a previous project of Steve’s

The you-beaut sprouter doing its thang with the scarlet runner beans at the front. We have put the sprouter in the shed because it makes so much noise!

Our veggies are standing up happily and are so far free of vermin, pests and disease. Our bean futures are bathing in a light misting of water to facilitate their enhanced germination period, We have a bean bed ready to transport over to where we have chosen to grow our veggies tomorrow when it stops raining and to be filled with the remaining rich compost and some of our compost heap that has been mouldering away all winter long. Let’s just call it an anaerobic compost heap and be done with it because when it was raining I couldn’t find it in my nice comfy position next to Brunhilda to don my raincoat and get turning that friable heap. Thanks to a red wriggler compost worm injection from our friend at Inspirations Nursery Exeter, we have worms in the compost heap and Steve found a container that we are in the process of turning into a worm farm so that we don’t farm off our worms into the veggie gardens at the expense of our new compost heap. We have a gate to build in the dog’s compound around the house so that we can get out to the veggie garden area more easily and we have all sorts of pressing things to do on Serendipity Farm. The difference between this year and last year is that this year we have goals, a purpose and a direction that permaculture has been able to deliver. Last year we were hacking away at what appeared to be a never ending problem. This year our problems are rapidly turning into benefits and suddenly it all looks achievable.  I have some surreptitious ground cover “pinching” to do over the next few months and am going to raid the girls place in town for comfrey and various other cuttings from lavenders and rosemaries so that we can mass plant them all over Serendipity Farm. I now have visions in my head rather than dread. I love it when a plan comes together! See you all on Saturday when it isn’t Halloween and no-one will be knocking at your door asking for candy/sweets or throwing bricks through your window because you forgot to buy any 😉

I couldn’t resist it! Watch out…the vampire voles are coming!

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roz Takes
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 19:05:20

    Hi Fran, as always a great read. I do however have 1 little worry. Are those pine logs for your garden bed CCA treated pine? They do have a greenish tinge. That is the arsenic in them. If they are CCA treated try putting something(plastic, or marine ply)between them and the soil. Also never burn them. Also be careful drilling holes in them to join together. But I’m sure you guys know this.


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 04:49:09

      We are being “safe” with the garden beds Roz 🙂 Cheers for your concern though. When you have to work with what you have, you have to learn to be creative with it whilst being aware of its benefits AND limitations :). I am glad that you are enjoying the posts. We have been “flat out like a lizard drinking” over the last few weeks and I certainly don’t have any problems sleeping 🙂 Hows life on your side of the world? I bet it’s heating up. Have a great week 🙂


  2. brymnsons
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 20:17:43

    Lovely photos Fran. I can’t wait to see the ones you will take of all your vege futures! A good way to catch slugs and snails is to put some beer in the bottom of a jar, sink the jar in the ground and voila they can’t resist the smell and drown in beer. It will mean that Steve has to sacrifice some of his beer, but it will be put to good use. I can’t believe the gadgets you have lol. It has been hot here and then it went cold again, hard to know what to wear. Watch out for moles too, they might migrate with their cousins 🙂


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 04:53:25

      I have to worry about moles too?! Time to get that rocking chair and shotgun methinks! (and a long length of metal chain to strap my old mole/vole hound to the rocker 😉 ). I fear you don’t realise how precious the amber fluid is to Stevie boy. I would emerge with vengeance in my blood to empty the spent shells of my molluscular nemesis and would find an empty jar and Steve whistling…the slugs might have used the jar to hide under in the day while they are contemplating night time raids but none of their feet, let alone their inquisitive little antenae would be wet and they most certainly wouldn’t drown. If Steve didn’t get to the beer first, Ducky would and the consequences of that result would be disasterous! Poor Steve had to chase her around the conifer at 6.30pm the other night because she wasn’t ready to go to bed…imagine her drunk and beligerant! 😉


  3. jmgoyder
    Oct 31, 2012 @ 23:13:58

    A vole is like a rat?
    Wonderful and very useful post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 04:57:11

      A vole is like a field mouse…I don’t think I would have the logistics (and certainly not the will) to fit an extended family of rats under my smuggling hat. They are very small and are monogomous…I think that’s what got me liking them 🙂 They might be prolific, but they are loyal 🙂


  4. christiok
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 05:08:23

    Cats LOVE moles, and probably voles, too. We have voles, I’ve heard, but I can’t tell the difference between a mole and a vole. They are little gray micey things, and Garfield loves to play with them awhile before crunching them. If they show up, your cats will leave their carcasses for your admiration.

    It’s fun to watch you planting out when we are moving indoors for winter. This weekend we go off Daylight Savings (your favorite subject:) and it’ll be dark before 5pm next week. We’re practicing the dark arts around here, reading and cooking. Hey to Steve and the pooches!


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 05:31:30

      I must be a kitchen witch then because the dark arts are my object of desire! If I could read and cook all day I would be in heaven :). Don’t get me started on Daylight Savings again! I only just stopped ranting and have gotten so used to getting up at 5am (really 4am!) that I am starting to wake up a little bit before the alarm goes off so I don’t have to wake slumbering Stevie boy and the dogs up to exit stage left to my seat in front of the PC where I sit (admittedly somewhat dazed for the first hour) and answer post comments and read my precious rss feed reader. Its 5.27am as I type this :). We are addicted to building garden beds! Steve just found me a wonderful article about vertical herb wheels and found me a lovely picture of one made out of rock gabions. I SO want one! He really shouldn’t show me pictures of things that he doesn’t want to make now should he? ;). I am going to set up little herb spirals all over Serendipity Farm made out of all different materials. I am going to plant all kinds of herbs up where the wallabies can’t scarf them (the possums are fussier with what they will eat) and where the beneficials can buzz away to their hearts content :). Again I am excited! I live in a constant state of flux…excitement and sleep…that’s my life these days :). I envy you your winding down for the year BUT its pouring steadily down on Serendipity Farm as I type this out and I feel a camraderie (or however you spell it 😉 ) with you over the miles. We won’t have to water today and the veggies will hoard that precious water for a few days to come. I love nature, the processes of nature and the seasons… I DON’T love the heat :(. At least I am 15kg lighter this year so hopefully the summer won’t be the bummer that it usually is! 🙂


  5. Kari @ bite-sized thoughts
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 11:31:34

    What a helpful post! I am so clueless with managing bugs (and I only have 2 vegetable beds, but I still seem to get them) and feel torn between the pesticides that I am sure would work but really don’t want, and the frustration of losing my plants to other species. I like your thoughts on it – and love your photos!

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog too. We visited Tasmania last year and it is such a beautiful state; it’s nice to have a blog to follow there!


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 11:51:29

      Bugs tend to get self managed if you are willing to let the beneficials build up to manage them. If you use pesticides, you tend to knock out the beneficials at the same time. Try making a chilli, garlic and mild soap spray to use on your aphids and white flies… they certainly don’t like it! 😉 I am glad that you like Tasmania. We like it too…which is very lucky for us as we don’t really have a choice! 😉 One day I am going to start attempting to live out my bucket list dreams and head to Queensland and scarf my weights worth of tropical fruit whist hibernating under a palm tree out of the midday sun so I don’t expire in the heat whilst roasting my tender skin. Until that day, I am going to grow everything that I can here on Serendipity Farm. The only good thing about global warming is that maybe I can grow my OWN tropical fruit some day in the future that will save me having to raid the moth eaten sock under the bed to facilitate travel (that I hate) 🙂


  6. Katie Glenn
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 13:09:57

    I love using natural pesticides so I’m off to make a batch of chilli and garlic to spray on my basil!


    • narf77
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 13:11:01

      🙂 and if you get tired of using it on your pests…you can spray it on your salad! 😉 (ech…don’t try this at home folks!)


      • Katie Glenn
        Nov 02, 2012 @ 05:18:20

        hahaha! nice.

      • Katie Glenn
        Nov 02, 2012 @ 05:18:54

        Also…a day later and I’m still laughing at that picture of Earl in his “Halloween costume”!

      • narf77
        Nov 02, 2012 @ 05:49:54

        😉 He THOUGHT that he was going to get to go trick or treating all on his own (with a slight detour to ravage a few chooks on the way…) but he was foiled at the last minute! I needed that bag to store my recycling in for next garbage/recycling collection! No spud bag for you boyo! (He is still sulking…)

  7. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Nov 18, 2012 @ 21:38:36

    Really interesting to read about your integrated pest management and all the happenings down at Serendipity Farm.


    • narf77
      Nov 19, 2012 @ 05:24:06

      The best pest management that we have is our duck! She dibbles through everything in search of snails and the elusive leopard slugs that predate both our plants and each other! A nice big size 9 woman’s shoe does a fair bit of damage too! 😉


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