Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mature manure

Six weeks after sowing, the green manure crop was up to my knees and ready to be dug in.  It was my first go at green manure so I'm hoping I got it right and that it makes a difference to the fertility of the soil.  For the seed mix I used some chook feed, a jar of sunflower seed saved in previous years, excess snake bean seed, amaranth seed (pretty sure I'm never going to need to save any again) and lettuce (ditto).
If I were angry at something the process of cutting down the crop would have been rather cathartic.  As I'm in the middle of a long holiday and have successfully avoided the zombie Christmas and Boxing Day shopping, car-park poaching hordes, I instead felt a little regretful about destroying the lush growth. After swinging back and forth with my hoe, chopping and thrashing about, the crop finally lay flat on the bed.  Being the middle of summer it was far too hot to even think about digging it in. That and I've broken all the tines off two garden forks trying to dig the clay in other parts of the garden, so for now spade, hoe or mattock are my only tilling options. 
The compost heap was also ready and had been sitting there waiting to be used, although I was a little disappointed to see how much the pile had deflated from its initial monolithic mound.  I needn't have felt that way because there were three full wheelbarrows to spread out over the bed.  Beautiful, dark, humus rich compost.
Finally, I topped the whole lot off with sugar cane mulch to protect it from the blazing sun. 
And yes, the edge of that bed does need some weeding.

Let me know if a certain mix of seeds works better for you or if you have any tips for my future green manure crops.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A chook christening conundrum

My sister recently bought some Blue Laced Gold (and one Splash Laced) Wyandotte chooks from the lovely Sam at Vicuna Valley Alpaca and Poultry Farm (the same place I got my alpaca fleece from) and is stuck for names.  One has turned out to be a rooster but is staying for now.  He hasn't started crowing yet but may need to go if he does find his voice and uses it to annoy the neighbours like some awful drunken karaoke singer deciding to make up his own tune at 3 o'clock in the morning.  In the meantime he's also in need of a name.  So far only one of the hens has managed a monicker and that's pumpkin:
Pumpkin the Splash Laced Wyandotte
Here are the nameless nesters (and rooster) - please leave a comment if you can think of a name for any or all of them no matter how weird or wonderful.  Hubby's suggestion was to continue the cucurbit theme and name them squash, zucchini and melon.

Chook 1
Chook 2

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone.  I hope you're enjoying the festive season and can take some time to relax and enjoy the company of family, friends and failing that, a furry or feathered friend.

As is the nature of the season, we've been away from the garden a fair bit but still managed to find some time to make our own holly wreath.  It was created using some left over wire from fencing projects, a bag full of holly cuttings from my sister's garden and a ribbon saved from the wrapping of a previous Christmas present.  With a bit of primping, preening and wire wrapping with gardening gloves on to protect me from the prickly holly and plenty of caution with regard to losing eyes to nasty pointy flicking wire ends, there emerged my first ever home made Christmas wreath.

It was certainly a better way to spend the evening than at the shops looking for that special Christmas wreath alongside half the population of Brisbane.  I hope you've all found some simple stress-free pleasures this Christmas. 

Merry Christmas 
from Vanessa, Jimmini and "the Girls" 
at Colliwat Farm

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Don't you steal my sunshine

A few months ago a sunflower sprouted from some of the scattered bird seed and somehow managed to avoid the avid raking and digging of chicken feet.  With a little sprinkle from the hose every now and then it gradually grew taller and taller, even outgrowing me (not that that's hard though).  Eventually it started to bud and the anticipation climbed until the day someone decided they'd have a munch.  I didn't manage to catch the culprit red-handed (or yellow-beaked and sulphur crested for that matter) but given their track record I'm going to blame the cockatoos.  Luckily it didn't damage the flower too much and it's still managed to put on a good show. As soon as the seeds start to form they'll be back and all I'll have left to admire is this photo and the beautiful sunshine stealing birds.

Maybe one of them is in love and thinking to herself "he loves me, he loves me not" as she munches her way around the flower.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Hand picked

Yesterday we picked our first hand of bananas.  I'll admit the harvest this time around will involve quite a bit of guesswork and a lot of internet trawling, having no experience with bananas other than the time my father harvested a huge bunch when I was a little girl.  All four of the kids managed to fit along the bunch to hold it for the photo.  If you have any tips on when to pick I'd be more than happy to hear them!

We've left the bell on this one and cut it off the other
The hand we chose was from the Lady Finger as this was the first to fruit, followed by the dwarf Ducasse.  We bagged them a few weeks ago and I've been checking on them periodically ever since.  The bags have worked so far but the only problems is that you can't quite tell the colour of the bananas.  I was becoming increasingly paranoid that they'd all ripen at once and that some of them were surely yellow already so I convinced His Tallness (aka Mr Colliwat) to do some more manly ladder climbing pirate style with a knife between his teeth and to teeter at the top of the mast and check on my precious bounty.

After much teetering, he slid the bag down the bunch and allayed my fears.  The bunch was still well and truly green but the fingers were nice and fat like the lady had been treated to a little too much cake.  Wielding his cutlass he deftly slashed the topmost hand off at the wrist with one blow.  Grabbing a banana leaf and with the knife between his teeth he swung bang down to the deck with the treasure.  (Well, maybe not but a little story's better than the mundane truth, right?)

The hand weighed in at 875g (waaaay too much cake indeed) and is now resting in the fruit bowl with a ripe banana.  Fingers crossed it will ripen before the rest of the bunch.  I love bananas but I don't think I want 30kg or more all at once and there's a limit to how many you can palm off to friends and family before they give you the finger.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The cluck monster cometh

I go out to feed the chooks in the morning and perform the usual headcount 2,3...Where's number 4? As sense of dread fills me as I head over to the smaller cage and peer in through the window.  A shrill cry greets my intrusion, followed closely by tut-tutting as if I have broken the cardinal rule of chickens.  Opening the window to the nesting area, a beady eye glares at me from the back of the cage.  This is no chicken - what once was Goldilocks the bantam is now possessed by the daemon Cluck Monster.  As a werewolf is changed by the moon, so this chicken is transformed each cycle; its soft calls become the warning that great evil is afoot, downy feathers stand on end as the beast enlarges ready to strike at any vagrant hand that should dare seek her brood.  She emerges from her den but twice per day to drink the blood of the sky and dine on the hearts of grain.
No strategy works to expel the daemon.  Fortunately for all mankind as the passing of the full moon returns the werewolf to human form, so the bantam is returned to her former self after 11 days.  The curse lifts and following a week of recuperation, she plies this unsuspecting food-giver with 12-13 eggs.  At the end of this the cycle is complete and her goodness has once again been depleted.  The daemon takes hold of her fluffy feet and slightly-larger-than-a-pigeon-sized body once more and the only way to retrieve the precious brood from underneath her is to take a deep breath, summon all reserves of courage and, well, simply pick her up and move her actually.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Not quite according to plan

There have been a fair few hiccups in the crop rotation system.  Perhaps I should really be calling it the crop wonky or the crop wobble.  Either way we've had some ups and downs.  The Borlotti beans have shot up and are now flowering.  The dreaded bean fly has been spotted infesting the leaves with its destructive brood but with a much a healthier crop than previously (cow poo is amazing!) the plants have withstood the attack of this minute pest and are on their way to producing their delightful spotty and stripy seeds.  However, to counter this success, none of the chickpeas emerged and I'm trying to decide whether to bother trying to grow them again.  

The other major issue with the vegie patch and flower bed has been in the form of the wretched roving raker (aka Wheelie).  Chooks really aren't given enough credit for the cunning workings of their tiny brains.  They say they have the intelligence of a 3 year old.  Well, in my experience I've decided not only do they possess this intelligence but  also possessed of the mischievousness of a 3 year old and worse still is that they never grow out of it.  If I leave the cage door open for one night she's out of the pen in the morning raking up all my lovely seeds and seedlings.  When I wake in the morning and realise my error, hurriedly look out the window there she is with her head cocked to the side looking up at me with her comb wobbling.  There's been more than one occasion where we've very nearly been going to have roast chook for Christmas.

As a result there are only two broccolini seedlings, no flowers have been able to come up from seed and all but one corn plant have been scratched from the crop rotation board in bed 5.  Luckily I'm a determined creature and can match the pigheadedness of any 3 year old, ahem, I mean chicken.  So the planting has been redone with a vengeance for the third or possibly fourth time: the corn has been replanted along with its cucumber companion plus a choko to climb the fence and a zucchini; the flower seeds have been resown and the chooks are given extra food and shut in their cage at night.  Now so long as chooks can't figure out how to turn a handle the garden will be safe, at least until the cluck monster emerges anyhow (I'll tell you about that another time).

The other hiccup with the crop wobble has been the carrots.  The nice neat row has produced a few tiny carrot seedlings albeit not as many as I'd hoped.  Instead, Mother Nature has laughed at me again with this bed.  In previous years a watering or some rain would send up millions of cherry tomato seedlings despite me never having planted one.  This year it seems amaranth is the immaculate crop which has taken over the garden, although I do admit to having let one or two go to seed there in the past.  As experience gardeners are all too aware, once you've grown amaranth you've always got amaranth.  It's always safer to work with nature so I've thinned the amaranth around the carrots that came up and let the rest grow to shade them from the baking heat that we've been having.  They've cross pollinated with some wild varieties so now they have a beautiful candy-cane stripe to their stem when mature.  They also made a nice spinach substitute in dinner last night along with some of the last pumpkin that was also a gift from Mother Nature and a few cherry tomatoes that can be found loitering around the edges of the beds.  Maybe I should give up gardening all together - it seems that the vegie patch grows itself far better than I can.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The rise of Aish

Equal parts water, flour and the primordial soup is stirred then shrouded from the light so it may develop its brood.  After a few days of careful nurturing bubbles shall arise from the depths of this thick sludge, an indicator of the exponential proliferation of lifeforms now dwelling within.  As homage to their fabled discovery by the Egyptians they shall be known as Aish meaning both bread and life.

2 cups each tepid water and flour.  Stir together in a non-metallic bowl.
Cover the mixture losely with a clean towel.  Discard half each day and add 1 cup each of water and flour.  After 3-4 days bubbles form and the sourdough starter is ready to be used.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Stickin' around

As usual I was performing my morning before-breakfast routine in order to silence the meowing and increasingly loud squawking of chickens so that I could sit down to a slightly more peaceful meal.  After feeding the marauding meow monster, I opened the backdoor and stepped out to the barrel of chook feed.  It was then I twigged that the balustrade on the ramp had grown an extra rather long appendage overnight.  Although its mind tricks were making it look rather like a stick, it wasn't working quite so well for matching the colour of the rail.  Behind the stiff posture and poker face I could imagine the tiny titan insect brain repeating "blue stick, blue stick, blue stick -aaaaargh Don't look at her! Stay calm and still like a stick - I'm a stick, I'm a stick, I'm a BLUE stick."

It even played the game and kept its cool long enough for us to get up close and personal and take some snaps.
Oh hi guys, mind if I hang around for a while?
I think the blue mantra is starting to work

A little searching on the net revealed our stick insect matches most closely with the descriptions and photos of the Titan Stick Insect (Acrophylla titan) and a mature female at that judging by her approximate size.  

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Giving Garden

Today we visited Ian and Judy Wintle's garden as part of the Open Gardens Australia scheme.  The garden was very tidy and well laid out and there were plenty of plants for sale too.  I'm not sure I've ever seen so many gingers and bromeliads in one garden before.  We spotted a few out of the 70 odd tropical fruit trees but I'm sure there were plenty we missed.

Here are some photos I took of the garden.

This little friend wasn't shy and stayed around for the photo opportunity
Haemanthus multiflorus
Coffea arabica
Ceropegia woodii 'Chain of Hearts'
Good to see even an open garden isn't safe from  random tomato sproutings
Worm farm diorama
Aristolochia gigantea

Homalocladium platycladum 'Tapeworm plant'
Lychee - 'Tai-So'
This was my favourite - Aglaonema pictum 'Tricolor'

Bromeliad aclantarea 'Grace Goode'

Friday, 23 November 2012

It's in the bag

I picked up the tiny eggplant that had fallen from the bush.  Hmm, mustn't be watering enough.  So every time I got the hose out or the grey water bucket from the dishes I'd make sure it had enough to drink.  I pruned off the old and scraggly branches so the little plant could put it's energy into new growth and wouldn't sag under the weight of presumptuously large fruit.

The eggplant responded to my extra care by putting on new flowers and leaves.  Flowers turned to fruit and I admit I was counting chickens before the eggs had hatched for just as one was getting to a size where I could snavel it for a sneaky afternoon grill session the fruit developed rotten patches.  Thinking it must have been the recent rainfall and humidity, I cut off the fruit and threw it to the chooks.  When the next one suffered the same fate I had to think again.  Three strikes and I realised then that I had been in denial.  The culprit was obvious: fruit fly.

Cutting of the next fruit that had early signs of being stung I resolved to combat this insect that was robbing me of my chances of enjoying home grown eggplant.  However, caught up with other projects I let the next fruit develop, telling myself that it was hidden from the view of millions of segmented fruit fly eyes in the long grass that was encroaching on the plant.  Whether this was true remains to be seen.

It was hot today - too hot to be out digging much more than a single row to plant a few seeds.  This meant it was time for an indoor project.  It was then that I remembered my long suffering eggplant peering tentatively out between the blades of grass.  It was decided: fruit fly exclusion bags would be my task for today.  I had some spare undyed muslin in the cupboard so I whipped out my sewing machine and set about making a few simple drawstring bags of ambitiously large proportions to fit my soon to be giant specimens of eggplant.  Luckily I even had some leery-coloured yarn lying around to repel the fruit flies even more.

Channelling my inner bag-lady I continued the trend once the cool afternoon breeze had started and finally (with some manly ladder-climbing help) got the banana bunches bagged before the bats decided to munch on them.  

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

On the de-fence-ive

Today our 40 year old asbestos side fence was removed.  After the digger arrived unannounced yesterday afternoon our kitty was most unamused, as only cats can be, to find another cat had been rolling on the driveway.

We spent a busy morning rearranging the chook fence to give the workmen some space to manoeuvre without avian interruption and then spent most of the day plugging the holes which Goldilocks the little bantam seems to have a knack for finding and squeezing through.  In the end I gave up and let her have a dig around beneath the bananas.  I figured it was a hot day and she wouldn't venture out into the sun to get to the vegie beds.

As it turned out the chooks were not the only ones perturbed by this sudden rearrangement of fences.  On one trip out to check the progress of the bantam's bipedal excavations I noticed an old friend languishing in the meagre strip of shade left by the midday sun.  We hadn't bumped into one another since a check on the pineapples at the back fence several months back where she (or possibly he) was assuming much the same position.  I'm not entirely sure the feeling was mutual but I was certainly quite pleased about the encounter.  Not to blame her though, considering I didn't make a good first impression a few years ago when I accidentally lifted her with a shovel while moving a humongous pile of lawn clippings left by the previous owners.  No injuries were sustained but it was definitely a rude introduction on my part.

The fence was done in around four hours and great credit to them for being careful around the plants.  I even caught the lead man trying to put my turmeric back into place with his hands after he accidentally knocked it with the digger.  He also spent a good hour or so putting all the dirt back into the holes and smoothing it over.

Now to organise the new fence to go in...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Bearing the brunt

What felt like a single hours long storm was actually a few storms that had coalesced into one massive 500km long front that battered the east coast of Australia.  I've had the computer unplugged for quite a while these last couple of days as we seem to be having one storm after another following like a multi-course meal only without knowing how many courses are left after you're starting to feel a liiiitle bit full.  

After raining for a good part of the night, the storms continued rolling through this morning and again this afternoon.  There were reports of large (golf ball to tennis ball sized) hailstones around the city; however, we somehow managed to escape the full brunt of the storm, instead simply receiving heavy rain at home.  Our house must be situated in a protected hollow on the sheltered side of the ridge as we have managed to avoid all the severe weather events like today's and the floods last year.  We can easily see the storm fronts coming from the west but at the last minute they turn and dart north leaving us with just rain.

Apologies for the absence of photographs in this post, I hope my descriptions suffice.  My camera simply couldn't capture the brooding storm clouds as they lumbered north.  In particular I wanted to capture the dark rumbling clouds with the faint arch of a rainbow daring to venture out in the foreground but dimmed every few seconds by flashes of lightning.  It was as if the storm had turned its face over its shoulder to smile at me while at the same time continuing to smite the poor residents of the CBD.

On a brighter note, the moist soil made for some easy weeding this afternoon in the lull before the last storm hit and meant that I felt a rather urgent urge to clean up the yard and dispose of some things that really should have been gone a long time ago.  The rainwater tank is now more than half full (up from barely a quarter) and the garden certainly won't need watering again for a little while meaning more time for planting and more weeding.  The wet weather also means I've spent more time indoors poring over books by the likes of Edna Walling and Monty Don and absorbing their inspirations and lessons on garden design and plant selection.  I can only dream that one day the garden will be a productive, beautiful and restful place like those described in their writing.

Friday, 16 November 2012

I've got worms

The kind of worms you want to have that is: wonderful wiggly working worms.  We actually got them as a wedding present from our lovely next door neighbour.  I had been to a worm workshop to learn how to look after them.  The key mantra from the workshop was "never overfeed the worms."  I'm guessing this is because overfeeding them would mean that the scraps would rot and make the worm farm a little smelly.  However; being the overly cautious person I am, I took this instruction a tad too seriously.  The poor worms probably thought they were on some Atkins-like diet.  It literally took a couple of years of holding up the pictures in the booklet next the worm farm and peering at one then the other and back again as if I was a hunched over, scrunch-faced, squinting, short-sighted biddy trying to play spot the difference with two entirely different pictures, to get the idea that perhaps I could, maybe, possibly, probably, should feed them a little bit more.  This timid step taken, I was soon rewarded with an expanding population of worms and a usable quantity of that liquid gold: worm wee. The plants do adore a good cup of worm tea as often as possible.  The only problem is deciding upon which plant to bestow that great honour.

Before I started gardening I never thought I'd see the contents of an animal's bowels in all its shapes and forms (not to mention smells) as a prized possession.  Thankfully the worm farm and wee smells almost rainforesty - quite a pleasant surprise when compared to the smell of other types of fertiliser. 

We have yet to progress the worm farm to a three storey veritable vermiculture villa but we're slowly getting there.  In the meantime they're in need of a new blanket to snuggle under, having managed to eat the last one.  It seems they like a decent coffee.  Given their castings look a little like coffee grounds perhaps we will soon get enough of those to be able to offer the plants tea or coffee with their biscuit of hay.

Worm wee factory

The scraps exploding through their chewed-up blanket