Nicola Stachurski

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since Nov 18, 2017
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chicken cooking greening the desert
outside Brisbane, Australia
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Recent posts by Nicola Stachurski

Hi Blaise

I feel for you. Here in Australia we recently came out of a terrible 4-year drought. Where I life is dry subtropics, with little rain for about 8 months, and then a Wet Season during summer (with one big flood event annually).

We had the dry dry winters, but the summer rains hardly came. The grass dried to golden (as is normal), then to grey as all nutrient drained out, then it all turned to dust. Trees became sticks. The final summer there was one heavy rainfall lasting just over an hour. It had enough wash off to fill our dam, but there was no flooding (we are usually cut off from town for a day with the flood event).

This drought led to those terrible bushfires, when it is estimated about half a billion native animals were killed in the flames.

We are having a really wet year, so I am very thankful. But I know the drought will return sooner or later, and I can see the climate is changing.

I found the one thing that helped new trees survive was to create an underground compost heap. Above ground, everything was dry and would not break down. My husband has a post-hole digger for his bobcat (small earthmover) and he dug a post hole as deep as possible. I threw in whatever organic material I could find: paper, cardboard, hair, manure, veggie scraps, sticks, wood, cotton fabric - anything. I then filled the dirt back in, leaving it lower than the surrounding soil and planted the tree in there.

I made the dirt into a saucer shape with no lip on the uphill side and a high lip on the bottom, so if there was any rain runoff, it would flow into the saucer around the tree and get trapped there. I also mulched with paper or cardboard and a couple of rocks on top to keep the soil shaded around the roots, and to retain any water I put on. If I had made the saucer shape well, the paper could all slope inwards towards the tree's little trunk, for water runoff too.

The seedling trees planted this way survived the horrible drought, while others didn't, and a number of them have grown faster than trees planted in earlier years without this method.

Apart from that, I put paper/cardboard mulch around the roots of trees already there, and put a big bucket in the shower so all shower water could be lugged outside and go on the garden (we live on tank water). I got pretty sick of that.
11 months ago
I have an orchard and chickens. The chickens do love to scratch under the trees. I used to put cardboard down over the root zone and put rocks to keep it in place, but the dogs like to sniff out any creatures under it, and when it starts to break down the chickens scratch it up. Plus, I live in the subtropics, which are dry all winter, so I want any rain to be able to get through.

My new solution is to cut up bamboo (I have 2 clumps) and lay the canes parallel to each other as a sort of grid where the roots are. Water can still get through but the canes stop the chickens from being able to scratch, even though they can still peck around. It will mean a bit more weeding than when there was cardboard.

My other idea is to use the old dog blankets. I have a little dog that sleeps in a big dog crate in the shed. He poos in the crate every couple of weeks (which is why he doesn't get to sleep inside with the other dog). I line the crate with cardboard, and I buy old cotton towels for his blanket. When they get pooed on, I replace them and take the soiled towel to place under a fruit tree as a grass suppressant.
11 months ago
Hi Pricsilla
You have my sympathies - I live in a hot, arid, subtropical, clay, deforested, horse-infested place, though perhaps with not as many challenges as Haiti. And the neighbours' animals are generally kept out by our fences!

I was struck by your remark about prickly local trees, because I remember watching a documentary with Bill Mollison where he was working in a hot, dry, deforested African country, basically almost desert. The local people cut down tress to make fences around their compounds, to keep domestic animals in, and wild animals out.

His suggestion was to use the thorny local trees as living fences. Animals could go through them, as they were too thorny, so he said just grow them where animal pens needed to go, and the goat manure would fertilise them.

I don't know how long you will be living where you are, but if it is going to be a number of years, can you sprout the seeds of those spiky trees, or take cuttings and get them to sprout? If the ground is moist enough, and the plant suitable, you might even be able to take cuttings and stick them right where you need them to grow, in a row.

I have found that composting doesn't work where I live, as it is too dry, but in-ground mulch pits make a big difference in plant growth and survival. Yo seem to have hit on this idea already. Just like you, I use whatever I can get my hands on. I work in the IT dept of a large high school, so I bring home cardboard boxes, which I lay as mulch around young tress, and weigh down with rocks. It cools the soil and keeps some moisture in. I also bring home the inner cardboard moulding, that serves to hold the computers firmly inside the boxes. Each computer also comes with a paper booklet. All the paper and cardboard packaging goes in the  pits, and the pits get filled in again and planted on. Seedling trees grow at about 4 times the rate compared to just being planted into undisturbed soil (though it is still slow compared to somewhere with good rainfall). If you are at a university, there may be big streams of waste paper that you can use to chuck into pits. I put our bills, flyers and other waste paper at the bottom of my fruit and veggie peelings bucket, to mop up moisture, and also make it easier when it comes to tipping out the contents.

I also buy old towels for my dogs to sleep on, and when they get too old and stinky, in they go to the pits (the towels, not the dogs!). I collect coffee grounds at work, pick up fallen sticks, gather manure when I can. If it is vaguely organic, in it goes.

I have only hit on this method in the last few years. I am hoping it is something that will continue paying dividends as the underground organic material continues to break down.
2 years ago
Hi Tyler

How is this project going?

I can say that Geoff Lawton's farm is in an incredibly lush, high-rainfall area. It also has (rare for Australia) deep volcanic soils. The area was settled in the 60s and 70s by hippies, no doubt because it is one of the places where you can provide quite a lot for yourself if you are trying to be self-sufficient. It is one of the most beautiful areas in Australia. (The interior of Australia is arid/semi-arid, usually with very poor soils.)

I live about an hour and a half north of Geoff's area (closer to the Equator), and my climate sounds like it is more like yours, particularly as it is getting drier with climate change. Our rainfall sounds good, until you look at the fact that a large amount of it comes over a one or two-day flood event, so it just flows over the dry ground and away.

Luckily my husband has a skid steer and has made some swales for me. But it is still too dry for a lot of things, and I spend a lot of time watering using our dam water, and only really keeping things alive.

3 years ago
I have a suggestion for paths, but it's a bit ugly.

I mulch with cardboard boxes. As I work in an IT departments, there are times when big orders come in and there is a lot of cardboard to get rid of. I just lay it over the grass where I want to kill the grass, and hold it down with rocks or bits of wood. I also protects the soil from the hot sun in my semi-arid climate.

Since I'm not too fussed about looks, I just leave the cardboard bare, but if you like you can lay it and then put a thin layer of mulch over the top, and it will keep the area weed-free under the thin layer of mulch. That way you can spread the mulch further.

Also, I would put the hay and chips (except for dog poop ones) in with the chickens, letting them turn it over. It will all start to break down and add micro-organisms to the soil, ready for when you move the chickens away. Then your mulch is ready to just rake into whatever parts you need.
3 years ago
Dan, I am extremely jealous. I love gooseberries. My English granny used to make me Gooseberry Fool - whipped cream and custard folded through stewed gooseberries.

I am jealous of your overall abundance. The area I live in is pretty dry, so it is a bit of a struggle to produce food, even 11 years since I started gardening here.
3 years ago
Lastly, here is a pineapple (or 2).My friend is a real green thumb, Maltese immigrant background, learnt all gardening skills for his family and their traditions. He grows heaps of rosemary and chilli. I assume he just got a pineapple top and stuck it in a pot. It was sitting under a tree for a couple of years, and was very happy. My friend moved house, and the pineapple pot came to us. It's been sitting outside with me too busy to attend to it. Already ti looks miserable and sunburnt. Tomorrow I will move it and put it in the shade.

Behind it is some starting aloe vera. I'm going to toss it, because I already have heaps.
3 years ago
I just inherited 2 pot plants from a friend. One was a pot of ginger. I unspotted them and took them to put in my new wicking beds that are yet to be planted out. I had covered them with cardboard, to protect the soil/horse poo/lumps of clay/mulch that I had thrown in for soil. I want them to start breaking down to make proper soil. When I ripped off the cardboard, I found a nest of large ants had taken up residence. Luckily they are not stinging ones, so I chucked the cardboard on the ground and I trust the invertebrate community will relocate over the next 24 hours.

So you might see some ants if you look closely.

I will also plant mint and other hot weather herbs in this bed.
3 years ago
Hi Mike
I got all inspired by your interest in plants that I can grow, and took some photos for you. This photo is of a finger lime growing in my orchard. It must be about 9 years old, but because my place is miserably dry, and more so each year, it has only grown very slowly.

Of course, looking at the photo, you will not believe my place is dry. In fact, 3 weeks ago we have a violent storm, and 96mm (3.7 inches) of rain fell in an hour. We had had 20mm of rain the day before - yeehah - so the soil was starting to moisten. It created a huge sheet of moving water that filled our empty back dam. Anyway, we only have a few storms a year, but every March there is a big rain event that fills people's dams. However, it has been a-2 day event previously, when a tropical cyclone is formed up north, and then travels down the coast over a few days and turns into a tropical low.

Anyway, that is enough of that. Here is the lime.

3 years ago
Mike, I can tell you a bit about some of your chosen plants.

Mangos grow around here. Old ones are absolutely enormous though. I have not had much success, as frost has killed my 2 expensive attempts. We get to -5 C at times, and it is those occasions that just burn up the small plants.

I did plant one about 13 years ago, at another place, and saw it the other day. It is growing fine, because it is in a suburban area 30 minutes from here, which does not get frosts (my place now is more inland, and has not roads, houses etc to mitigate cold air). It is about 2 metres, and has produced one or 2 mangoes I believe. They are slow-growing though.

Avocados won't grow where I am, as I have heavy clay soil. They need well-drained soil, and apparently even 24 hours of water logging will kill them. They grow on a nearby small mountain, which is well know for having many avocado orchards. It has volcanic soil (one of the few places in Australia that does) and has lots of subtropical rainforest. I guess it doesn't get frost much. It certainly gets rain, as the clouds come off the coast, hit this series of mountains, and dump all their rain before they get further out to where I live :  (

They seem to be a little faster growing than mangoes. Also, you can buy dwarf ones that only get to about 3 metres, which is much better than the 20 metres that mangoes get to. I want to try growing 2 in containers. I am going to try with those plastic containers that transport liquids (can't remember the name of them). They are large and have a metal frame around them. I have cut 2 in half to make wicking beds, and I figure I can cut the top off and turn them into large plant pots. I have a sheltered spot where quite a few trees grow around the sullage (grey water) outlet, where they would be protected.

The best thing about it would be that I could pick avocados as I needed them, as you can leave them on the tree for months, and just pick them when you need them. Way to go for storage.

I was thinking about citrus for you, but I thought that your greenhouse would not be sunny enough. My citrus are one of the few things that grow well and without pests, and produce something for me to eat. I have a lemon, mandarins and a lemonade tree, which is a sweet lemon and absolutely delicious. But then I read your  comment and remembered my grapefruit is in almost full shade and is still producing. I also have a lime tree, in semi-shade. It produces well and is fabulous with avocado!

Pigeon pea grows in extremely dry environments. It is grown in India in hot arid areas. I grew some. It was supposed to be a favourite of chickens,  but mine never seemed to discover its seed pods. I don't know if it would like the humidity of a greenhouse, but then again you grow it from seed (it's an annual), so you wouldn't lose much by trying.

Pineapples can be grown by chopping off the top and planting it. It grows happily in a pot in the shade. It's very spiky.

If you are growing limes and ginger, I recommend growing lemongrass. Garlic, ginger, lemongrass and fish sauce combined give you a great Vietnamese marinade. Yum yum. Chills too.

I have a custard apple, which is a relative of the cherimoya. They taste very nice. The dry weather meant though that the few fruit it produced this year just shrivelled and fell off, so nothing from it yet.

Passionfruit likes rich soil, and will grow rampantly. It doesn't mind pruning though. In fact, you are supposed to prune off old growth every year. My mother grew one in the cool temperate city I grew up in, and it produced fruit. It was planted on a wall that faced the sun (north for us), so that created a warm microclimate when the bricks heated up.

I have subtropical apples, nectarines, plums and peaches planted. Unfortunately, the changing weather patterns combined with fruit fly mean I don't get to harvest anything edible from them (I have been questioning myself why I live here recently).

When I moved up here I bought "Tropical Food Gardens" by Leonie Norrington. She has gardened in the true tropics of Australia. If you want to ask about a plant, I can look up what she says.

Here is a link to a (fairly) local seed company. They have a fabulous list of information sheets about growing different food plants. It should help you with some of your questions - though I think it will introduce you to so many more plants that you will just end up with a lot of  new questions!

3 years ago