Friday, December 7, 2012

Apple Box 2 - Irrigation

As we eagerly await tomorrows swap and Apple Box #3, let’s not forget one bright November morn, when all manner of crops and homemade treats had been swapped and free-flowing conversation filled the hall, that veteran Crop 'n' Swapper Alice Warner took her place on the proverbial apple box to share her knowledge and experiences on setting up your own backyard irrigation.

DIY Irrigation by Alice Warner

So what is irrigation? Well it’s like lego for your garden. You can connect it yourself and the possibilities are endless. It all fits together using small connectors of different shapes.

There are two main types of polypipe hose that I use: brown dripline with holes pre-punched into the line, and black polypipe without holes which I attach precision drippers to at intervals as I please. The brown dripline is best for vegie beds where you need water every 30cm, whilst the black line is useful for fruit trees and larger shrubs that are spaced further apart where you don’t want to waste water in between the trees.

The various connectors I use to join it all together can be placed according to the job they need to do.  There are elbow joiners, end pieces, straight connectors and tees. There are locks to hold the connectors in place, as well as plugs to plug up unwanted holes or mistakes and tools to punch holes in new places. You can buy pieces to connect your irrigation to a regular garden hose, and mounts with nails to attach irrigation to the sides of garden beds or other surfaces. The possibilities are endless. There are usually helpful booklets in the hardware store put out by the manufacturer to explain all this.

The main benefits of irrigation that I have noticed include: less time watering and more time in the garden doing other things; reduced evaporation while watering as droplets are not blown away by wind or spread all over the ground to areas where they are not needed; water is directed straight to plant roots; reduced weed growth in between plants as the area is not watered; reduced water run-off and wastage; reduced fungal disease due to lack of overhead watering.

Here are a few tips to help you set up your own irrigation system and learn from my mistakes

1) Place the brown dripline under mulch to protect it from UV rays but above the soil (sections of black polypipe without holes punched in may be buried under soil when transporting water between trees)
2) Draw a diagram before you begin and use a key to label how many of each connector type you will need, thus avoiding many trips back to the hardware store.
3) Buy more locks than you think you will need as every connection needs a lock.
4) Lay your brown dripline before you plant and then place seedlings or seeds right next to a dripper.
5) Use a container with multiple compartments to keep your various connectors organised.
6) You will also need pliers and a small saw to cut the dripline to the lengths you require.
7) Don’t use second-hand polypipe without checking for holes first (although this can be useful for creating a frame when netting fruit trees or garden beds).
8) Once your irrigation is connected, turn it on for at least an hour at a time to get the full benefit, or use a bucket under a dripper to see how long your plants will require.
9) Install your irrigation properly. Don’t just curl it around like a snake. Cut it to size and connect it at right angles using the appropriate connectors, you will thank yourself later.
10)You can connect irrigation in raised garden beds – you just need to go down to the ground, under the soil and up to the next bed.
11) Use short lengths of wire folded into U-shapes and pushed into the ground to secure the dripline and prevent it from curling back into a snake when you first lay it down.

Feel free to chat to me at the next Crop and Swap if you have any more questions or suggestions. Good luck!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

November Crop & Swap This Saturday!

Well it is time to jar your jams, bake your breads, harvest your heirlooms and get on down to the Crop & Swap this Saturday. Don't forget to arrive by 10 to give yourself time to register, set-up and have a coffee before swapping starts promptly at 10:30. Looking forward to seeing you and your bounty there, with neighbourly cheer, jo, joe, annemaree and steve

Thursday, October 25, 2012

APPLE BOX SERIES: Let Chickens Be Chickens - How to raise happy chooks

Eighty or so people were  excitedly swapping apple-plum jam  for their silverbeet, or a raspberry plant  for sourdough when the first ever Crop and Swap Apple Box commenced. Once everyone realised this they shuffled forward, their excitement switching to the Crop and Swap regular who had been given the floor to share her knowledge on keeping healthy, happy chickens.

The first of many apple box talks
"They're pretty amazing creatures," our speaker on 'the apple box' was explaining. "and you don't need to read all the books out there and become an expert before you keep them.
"Just let chickens be chickens! They're very good at that and will generally get on with the job without any interference from you."
(Left) Our speakers chickens coop, (Right) Four happy chooks in the run
While our Apple Box speaker would be the first to tell you that it can seem daunting to begin with, if you do the simple things right, both you and your clucky friends can reap the benefits.
"Keeping chickens comes with the same responsibilities as any animal. Give them a safe place to sleep and clean water to drink. Plus, chickens need a dark place to lay eggs and a patch of dirt for them to ‘bathe’ in, and they will be happy.
"Also, remember the four Gs: grain, greens, grubs, and grit. As long as they have these, their diet will keep them healthy too". (More tips below!)
It's easy to overlook the benefits of having chooks. The weekend after her Apple Box talk, our local chicken expert and her husband invited us around to see their set up in Bullaburra and understand how their chooks contribute to their backyard garden.
Their four chickens ­– Australorps, bred for Australian conditions – have ruled the roost for nearly two years. Cornelius, Polonius, Laertes and Eglamor eat food scraps, turn over compost bays, rid the vege gardens of bugs and provide a rich manure for improving the sandy soil.

(Left) The first coop (decommissioned), (right) free-range chook
For safety they spend nights and most of the working week in their pretty ingenious coop and chook-run, made from mostly reclaimed materials.

Their first coop was much smaller – while this didn't bother the chickens, it provided a few challenges to their owners. For instance, when the chooks were young they had to be lifted up to the warmth and darkness of the enclosed second level at the end of the day as they didn't know how to go up the ramp yet. This involved the chook owner crawling inside the coop, lying on their back and lifting up the chook only to find she had fallen asleep cradled in their hand in the dark! The addition of a small window helped somewhat but they knew a slightly bigger coop would be easier for all.
(Left) Room with a view, (right) wormwood planted next to coop - see the tips below
The current coop was lovingly handmade by a family member and has been purpose built. It has doors that raise up for easy cleaning, a little window so the chooks know when it is daylight and clever features such as a sliding door holder and a smaller chook door so the parrots don't fly in. The coop and chook run also have two layers of wire fencing dug under the ground to stop any predators getting in."The best way to figure out what will be right for you is to do exactly this – ask  friends and neighbours who already have chickens if they would mind showing you their set-up. Most of us are happy to answer questions and give a tour."

Chalet chook

All in all, this was the perfect start to the Apple Box series: inspiring, chock full of tips and listened to attentively by all. Thank you!
By Xavier and Clare (Faulconbridge crop and swappers)
Speaking of tips, here are them all kindly provided by our Apple Box speaker:
1. Simmer some wheat (organic available from Katoomba Food Co-op).  In water is fine, but skim milk is good if the girls need some calcium.
2. Add: crushed garlic, chopped red chillies, chopped parsley, and chopped onion tops (the green parts of salad onions or shallots, or the shoots from onions).
3. Mix it all together and serve.  I give it to them warm in winter.
Note: you can replace the wheat with cooked vegetables roughly mashed together.  We use potatoes, radish, turnip, parsnip, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, beetroot – whatever comes to hand that is beyond human consumption but not yet ready for the compost bin.
Other worm preventatives
·         Nettles – boil and add the strained liquid to their mash.
·         A mixture of horseradish and mustard leaves, mixed with minced onions, garlic, grated carrot, and pumpkin seeds added to their feed at a rate of 20% (i.e. 20% mixture and 80% feed).
·         Put several cloves of garlic into a cupful of cold water and let it steep overnight.  Strain the next morning and add the liquid into their drinking water over the next week.  This can also be fed to them by eye-dropper, but that can be a hassle and they give you dirty looks for the rest of the day.
·         Check their poop!  Chickens poop a lot, which is good for the garden, though worth warning visitors about if they free-range (both the chooks and the visitors).  It also means that it’s easy to check a fresh one now and then for signs of wriggling (worms) and dose them up. 
·         Excessive poop stuck to their rear-end feather can be a sign of worms, but sometimes they just get mucky feathers.  If the bird seems healthy, it probably is, and a monthly worming should have taken care of any worms anyway.  If in doubt – refer to the previous paragraph!
·         Scrape the gel from an aloe vera leaf and mix into their drinking water.
·         Nasturtium leaves and seeds are antiseptic and a great tonic food
·         Comfrey has high levels of potassium and calcium, and is a good source of protein and amino acids. A daily feed will keep them in good health.
·         Nettles and comfrey added to their feed
·         Crushed egg shells to increase calcium and strengthen the shells (a closed loop system!)
·         Add some paprika to their feed when they come back into lay after their winter moult
·         Grow tree wormwood around your chicken coop/run.  When you prune it, sprinkle the leaves amongst the straw in the coop, where they lay and sleep, and it deters mites and fleas.  The dried and crushed leaves can be sprinkled in the girls’ dust bowls as well.
·         Flowers and leaves of feverfew can be made into a tea and sprayed around the coop (for mites, lice, and fleas).
·         Other plants to grow around the coop are rosemary, lavender, and pennyroyal.  Also add the dried, crushed leaves to the dust bowl.
·         Fill an egg shell with mustard or horseradish, put the two halves back together and leave it in the coop.  When the hens peck the egg they won’t like the hot flavour and should then associate egg shapes with an unpleasant experience. This is the theory, and it works for many people.  I happen to have chickens with gourmet palates, so they ate the lot!
·         Another method is to put a fake egg (plastic or china) where they lay, and when they peck it they learn that it’s not edible (Thanks to Joe for this one).


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Season 2 swap starts next weekend!

There is only one week to go before we start our second season at the CROP & SWAP.

Don't forget, registration begins at 10am, and swapping starts 10:30 sharp. For those of you who are new, bring anything home grown or home made. the more you bring the more you have to swap. get creative in the kitchen and bake some goodies, or pull up some carrots and beets from the veggie patch, or even have a go at making some craft goods. So long as its home grown, home made and good quality, you will have a great time swapping with other growers, bakers and makers in your local community.

See you on Saturday Otcober 13! what are you bringing to swap?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Something new for Season 2

With only 6 weeks to go til Season 2 kicks off, we are excited to launch 'the apple box'. With so much local knowledge and talent about growing and making delicious food, we'd love to get some of you up on our soap box...aka the apple box... and tell us a little about your niche. It might be your top 10 tips for growing veggies, making the perfect sourdough, keeping happy hens, buZZy bees or pruning fruit trees.

The aim is that at each Crop & Swap this season locals will have the chance to talk for 5 mins about their niche...
If you would like to step up and be the first on the apple box, send us an email at outlining what you would like to share with your community...c'mon now, don't be shy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


With Spring not so far off, (I like to be optimistic) we are gearing up for our second season of the Crop and Swap, beginning again in October.

Its time to make a list of all your favourite fruit and veggies to grow this spring, throw in some compost and mulch to the patch, and get ready to start planting in August!
A good planting guide can be found at to find out what to plant each month in your climate one.

After the great success of season one, we have been able to rally some support from our local council. Councillor Alison McClaren has pledged a small donation, and recommends that we ask her fellow councilors for a similar donation from their Minor Projects fund.

Feel free to email our local coucilors (as we have done) and ask them for their support for the Crop & Swap this Season.

We look forward to seeing you all again in October!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yesterday's final Crop & Swap for season 1 has been and gone, it was great to see so many new faces and of course to have all of our regulars swappers with their wonderful produce.
This morning the kids are sitting down to some porridge and yoghurt topped with Grant's Tamarillos...they love them! So does Joe, he just declared he is 'in love withe tamarillos' and plans to have several trees producing fruit by this time next year.

Joe and I are about to sit down to Peter and Amber's beautiful bagels, topped with ham and cheese....ummm, yum!

Steve organised a really fantastic slideshow of the Crop & Swap, season 1, so for any of our regulars who weren't able to be there yesterday we will post it over the next few days.

The Finale lunch was proof of what the Crop & Swap is all about. Set up outdoors under the shade of the trees was a marvelous spread made by the swappers including a giant, Atlantic pumpkin as the table center-piece, filled with delicious pumpkin soup, a giant pumpkin cake, pizza, salad, dips, sorbet, tarts, foccacia, chocolates, slices and more, everyone shared a neighbourly lunch and chatted away into the early afternoon.

Over season 1, 115 locals registered as swappers, there were close to 2000 swaps made between individuals and over 1000 kgs of locally grown and homemade foods and items, travelled home to local kitchens and gardens and most importantly countless new friendships amoungst neighbours have been formed.

Sounds like a pretty successful first season.

Thanks so much to everyone who took part. The April edition of 'The Share Barrow' newsletter will be sent out soon and we look forward to keeping up with everyone via the blog and face book.

Until Season 2,

with neighbourly cheer,

Jo, Joe, Steve and Annemaree

Friday, April 6, 2012

Season finale lunch

Please join us at the Crop & Swap season finale lunch to mark the end of our innaugral season

When: Sat 14th April @ 12, immediately following our final swap of the season
Where: Faulconbridge Community Hall
Who: Everyone is welcome
What to bring: Finger food platter to share and drinks

There'll be a couple of surprises for adults and children - so be sure to join us to celebrate season # 1.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The March Crop & Swap is this Saturday, the second last for the season!

Hi everyone,
                    happy Autumn :)... we are really looking forward to seeing you at Crop & Swap this Saturday if you can make it, it sounds as though there is going to be some wonderful home grown and home made items there this month. We will be sending out the 4th issue of the Crop & Swap newsletter by Thursday evening, so if for some reason you don't receive one, be sure to shoot us an email and let us know and we will check your details on the emailing list. There will also be some paper copies available on the registration table on Saturday. If any Crop & Swappers have anything they would like to advertise in the 'Share Barrow', feel free to send us email between now and Wednesday morning,

So happy growing, harvesting, making or baking,
til this Saturday,

Steve, Annemaree, Joe and Jo

Monday, February 6, 2012

Crop & Swap Culinary Challenge

Rhubarb champagne by Melanie & Alexander

We hope everyone has had a great summer holidays and your crops have survived the downpours and occasional bursts of heat!

After last Crop & Swap, Amber & Peter mentioned they try to use all the things they receive from the swap in dinner that night. So that got us thinking…’s time for our inaugural ‘Crop & Swap Culinary Challenge’.

So much of the fun in what we do, is in enjoying what we receive while it’s fresh and hearing all the stories

So here’s how the challenge will work:

1. Come along to Crop & Swap this Saturday 11 Feb, and swap ‘till you drop
2. Whatever goods you walk away with, use as much as possible in dinner that night
3. Share your stories - email stories & photo’s to or upload as a comment to this blog post
4. We’ll then collect all the stories and publish them in the share barrow (Crop & Swap newsletter) which will be out again in March.

And no Saturday night dinner will be complete without Melanie & Alexander’s rhubarb champagne. Get your aprons ready…The challenge is on!

We’ll look forward to seeing everyone on Saturday.

With neighbourly cheer,
Steve, Annemaree, Jo & Joe

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Next Swap this Saturday!

Happy New year everyone! Our next Swap is on this coming Saturday, 7th of January 2012.

this month we will be sporting a few purple carrots, a boot load of cucumbers and fingers crossed, there may even be a few tomatoes and blackberries if this warm weather holds up. Jo is baking some loaves as well.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Jo and Joe