Monday, 5 December 2016

Celebrating the Rain: Heatwaves, Hailstorms and Hardy Plants

Heatwaves, hailstorms, supercell storms - summer has just begun here and in the past three days, we have had four hailstorms like we've never seen in our lifetime, and experienced gusting winds shredding leaves and snapping old trees in the valley in half.  The winds were dangerous on Saturday and knocked out our power for about 12 hours and ripped apart parts of our garden. The rain has been so very welcome though! It is a reminder too about the value of resilient perennial food systems.

Collecting hail and celebrating the break of the monthlong heatwave. 


Above is a little clip of the first hailstorm - the droughtbreaker. There have been another three hailstorms since (hail is not common here) some of which lasted half and hour and some up to golf ball size. Further up the valley there were images circulating of ones the size of tennis balls.

The main street of our local town looked like a shredder had been through - all the trees leaves were ripped up and covering the ground. The local school-kids were disappointed because their end of year concert was postponed - no power, smashed windows...

I will harvest what I can and then completely redo my salad garden. It was smashed by the hail and wind, BUT much of the food forest, including the perennials, tropical root vegetables and areas of vegetables growing amongst it are just fine. The hardiness of these plants and the resilience and protection that is created by interplanting is evident during periods like this.

Shredded rainbow chard and zucchini in my salad garden.
Hail-damaged Welsh onion - I will collect the tops for a sauce and leave the roots in the ground. They'll quickly form new shoots and keep going... and going....
Hail damaged comfrey - we'll harvest that tomorrow and add it to the liquid fertiliser bucket (problem is the solution). New leaves will grow quickly with this heat and rain.
The wind and hail cleared out a lot of plants. I'll mulch things back in and begin this area again - working my way around the perennials such as tarragon, Brazilian spinach, garlic chives, thyme ...

This amazing section of garden, nestled amongst the mini food forest has survived the heatwave and the hailstorm way better than any other vegetable garden bed. It is protected!
Society Garlic is a little battered by the hail, but a super robust plant and bouncing back already.
Anoher hardy perennial, Cranberry Hibiscus, hardly looked affected at all. Beside it lemongrass and Surinam Spinach are also fine - so too the pepino melon and sweet potato vine closeby.
All these storms have come after more than a month of intense heat with no rain. It certainly has been a challenging time to grow food! The kids excitedly welcomed the rain and hail. We collected some hail and made a hail slushie to celebrate the water soaking into the garden soil.

Hail slushie - delicious!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

What Will The Australian Coastline Look Like in 2100?

How will sea level rise affect your local area over the next decades? Here is an Australia-wide map, Coastal Risk Australia 2100, you can search to see the impact of three scenarios of sea level rise by 2100. 

Inundation Scenarios 

The scenarios here are based on findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • The low scenario = .44 m by 2100. This considers sea level rise in the context of a global agreement which would bring about dramatic reductions in global emissions.  
  • The medium scenario = 0.54 metres by 2100. This scenario considers sea level rise where global emissions stabilise after 2100. 
  • The high scenario = .74 metres by 2100. This scenario is in line with recent global emissions and sea level rise observations.

This is a Beta model - still in development and open for comment, but certainly worth a look.

Already there are climate change refugees globally. Land and life in many small Pacific islands are being affected. Here's a short film describing some of the impacts in Tuvalu to the north east of Australia. 

IMAGE: Tulele Peisa. The sea has divided Huene Island, PNG in two.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Make a Summer Wrap Skirt for $2: Simple Sewing for Beginners

I just made a new skirt from a colourful piece of fabric I found at the bottom of my materials tub and some yellow cotton from a garage sale.

  • Total cost - maybe $2 
  • Time to make: 90 minutes
  • How many others skirts will you find like this: none, it's an original.

My new summer wrap skirt

It's a simple cotton wrap skirt with a bit of swing - nice and cool for summer.  I could also use it in cooler weather with leggings. There are no buttons or zips or tricky bits - great for 'whipping up' quickly, and an excellent project for beginners.

I really love the simplicity and the fit. Wrap skirts also give you a bit more flexibility if, like me, you find that you're not consistently the same size around the middle.

I tend to have only a couple of favourite skirts, and when they wear out, I like to copy and sometimes adapt the design.  Here's a few photos of the process (I got so into the sewing I forgot to take pics after the cutting - oops).

I lay my new fabric on the floor - I don't have a cutting table big enough to see the whole thing once.

Next I lay the old skirt on top. I make sure that I have about 5cm space around the edges for the hems and seams. I also try to get it as close to one side as possible, to leave enough fabric for pockets, ties and waist bands.

Using sharp dress-making scissors, chop out the skirt, pocket, waist bands, then make the ties with the left-overs. It's a good idea to protect your sharp scissors - once the kids start chpping paper with them, or they get used to do herb cuttings, it becomes harder to get a nice clean fabric cut.
When I was sixteen, my parents gave me a little sewing machine and lessons with  the local seamstress a few doors down. I still use this same machine and have well and truly made the most of the skills my mum and Mrs Percy passed on. My mum has been a great sewing mentor - she always makes her own clothes, and mends them. It's something I remember she's always done. It's not only an economical thing to do, but you can get exactly the colour, the fit and the fabric you want.

I am now teaching my children how to sew. My daughter has made a pencil roll and my son has made a bag. We've also done quite a few dress-ups. Next...clothes!

Maia's pencil roll to hold all her colour pencils, watercolour pencils and graphite pens. It was made from an old tea towel, a fabric offcut and a little bit of broad ribbon.

All the pencils are neatly secured in the pouches. The flap folds down over the top, and all rolled up together. The bonus of using the tea towell is that the hem around the edge is already done.

Easy Kale Chips: Super Salad Sprinkles

This is my simple, oven-free way of making homemade kale chips, with some added herbs and garlic (3 minute clip). Kale chips make a wonderfully delicious and nutritious salad topping or simple snack. As a gardener too, I love the hardiness and abundance of kale - especially in these hot dry times when other things have wilted and gone. It's a very practical and useful plant - beyond it's reputation as a superfood.

Using my sandwich press method is a quick way to prepare this great food without having to turn on the oven on a hot summer day.

I have three varieties of kale growing strongly in my garden this summer despite having had no rain for over a month - Red Russian, Tuscan (Dinosaur) Kale and Curly Kale. The kale plants are very well-mulched and, apart from the dinosaur kale, are in slightly shaded positions.

It may be fading as a fad food - we've heard for years that kale is good for us - and now there are new superfoods at the fore, but I still like it. Kale is high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, is very versatile and resilient.  Even the novice gardener can easily grow kale, and it looks fabulously abundant in the garden, particularly if you plant a number of varieties.

I hope you enjoy this simple recipe:

Oven-free kale chips

  1. Gather a bunch of kale plus a sprig of rosemary and oregano from the garden.
  2. Chop the kale into segments and remove the thick stems.
  3. Place onto flatbed sandwich press with the herbs, a clove of chopped garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.
  4. Let cook for 45 seconds - 2 mins (depending on how much kale is packed on)
  5. Remove and eat fresh on salad or as a snack.
  6. You can store kale chips in an airtight container.


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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Eating Bugs to Save the World: Sustainable Protein

I ate a great big mouthful of bugs the other day but didn't know.  Until I realised what I'd done, I thought it was actually very delicious.

I suppose it really is not all that unusual for me to eat some bugs. Because I grow a lot of my own veggies, I'm sure I inadvertently eat a whole range of little critters (sorry critters).

This was different though. I was at a trendy Melbourne restaurant (quite out of my normal hang-out places these days). It was the main dinner of the Australian Urban Agriculture Forum. 

While we waited for our food the guests happily devoured the appetising-looking dukkah - dipping in the fragments of sourdough with olive oil. We all did it - we were hungry after an exciting and full program at the forum - everyone seemed to be enjoying this flavoursome snack. 

Bug Dukkah from The Social Project 

Then a young eco-chef and social entrepreneur, Ben McMenamin, stood up the front and asked the vast room of guests if we'd ever eaten bugs. I had eaten witchetty-grubs on a year eleven camp to central Australia back in the 1980s, so put my hand up (witchetty grub is a term used in Australia for the large, white, wood-eating larvae of several moths - toasted, they tasted a little like egg I thought). 

Witchetty grub. Photo: Sam Wiggington.
Anyway, Chef Ben, from the @socialfoodproject proceeded to tell everyone that if they'd just tasted the dukkah, they'd also eaten bugs. There was a collective gasp. Everyone leaned in closer and started poking at the plates of dukkah - and there, sure enough, you could see the mealworms, ants and crickets. 

Humans have been eating bugs for many thousands of years. They were for example an important part of the traditional diet of Australian aboriginals. It's a good fit too with paleo diets. Eating bugs is called entomophagy. 

Despite my initial reluctance to be a bug-eater, I  cannot help but be fascinated by this ancient practice and growing trend - bug protein. I see huge potential.  A diet based on bugs would be a cheap and easy way to replace protein from unsustainable monocultures such as soy,  and therefore significantly reduce our impact on local ecologies, planetary systems and communities.

Farming bugs does not take much space and could easily be done in urban areas on a tiny footprint, even stacked vertically. The food conversion efficiency of insect protein is about 20 times that of cattle protein. Entomophagy offers one possible solution to the global problem of food shortages, over-farming, and depletion of natural resources.

I had enjoyed it, but then my head got in the way.  I've grown up as a vegetarian and I am usually one of those people who are careful not to step on ant mounds, or squash a bug, or hurt a spider. I also apologise to butterflies when they whoosh onto my windscreen. (Sounds silly I know, but I can't help it).  

In addition to being very economical, edible bugs are also very nutritious - full of protein, micronutrients, vitamins, fatty acids - veritable superfoods. They contain more protein than most meats and fish, contain essential amino acids, and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Most are also very delicious! 

If you’re looking for a good place to start, crickets appear to be a popular choice - high in protein and calcium. They can be sautéed for savouries or dry roasted and made into a flour for biscuits, muffins and cakes. Popular choc-coated too. Each 20g serve of cricket provides 12g of digestible protein. A serve of crickets contains twice as much calcium as milk, twice as much iron than spinach and three times the potassium than bananas.

Fried crickets in Thailand.

Another good starting point is ants. There are approximately 2000 different kinds of edible ants. They can be roasted, toasted, stir-fried, baked, used in salads and sweets.

Apparently, pupae and larvae are the most commonly eaten insect forms around the world and these can be eaten with little or no processing - a huge advantage. 


  1. Do you already eat bugs? 
  2. Would you consider changing the source of your protein to bugs? 
  3. What's the best way you've tried eating them?

For more information about types of edible bugs here's a couple of sites to look at:


Feeding the Cities: Urban Agriculture Podcast from 612 ABC Evenings with Morag Gamble (16 mins)

Urban Agriculture is a core part of sustainably feeding an increasingly urbanised population. Take a listen in to this 16 minute chat I had on ABC Radio earlier this week with Sarah Howell from the Evening show. I'd just arrived back from the Australian Urban Agriculture Forum in Melbourne and enthused by all the things I had been hearing about.

Morag Gamble on Urban Agriculture, ABC 612 Brisbane Evenings with Sarah Howell

Costa espousing the benefits of verge gardening at this year's QLD Garden Expo. Verge gardens are now being supported by more and more local governments.

Participants regularly enjoy urban gardening workshops at Northey Street City Farm -
Read more about urban agriculture in my recent post: 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Tiny Space Gardening: a Simple Vertical Verge Garden

Simple and beautiful abundance can be created from very small spaces. I love this vertical community garden from one plant grown in a tiny verge of less than .3 square metres.

This single grape vine, growing from a very small opening in the pavement, is trained up to each of the balconies of this old style four-storey apartment building. 

I spotted this many years ago in the old capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo, and was inspired to consider the possibilities we often overlook in all the nooks and crannies around our living spaces.

In this example, residents on every floor not only benefit from the grapes and edible leaves, but from it's dense and cooling shade in the summer months. 

The plant is watered by a downpipe redirected into the soil, and notice too the guild planting of legumes and herbs at its base.

What small spaces can you find that could be simply and abundantly filled with urban edibles?

I am reminded of small-scale abundance whenever I see this image from central Bulgaria many years ago.  Photo: Morag Gamble

 Grape vines are a source of great abundance - fruit, leaves, seeds.