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

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Raspberry and other garden delights

It's starting to feel a lot like summertime in the garden.  The spring flowers are well and truly out, the weather is warm, we've had our first summer rain (although more would definitely be appreciated) and today I harvested my first raspberry.  Nothing beats a fresh warm raspberry straight from the bush. It's a rare occasion that any make it inside.  I'd have to say it now even trumps my all-time favourite the strawberry.

It's a glorious day with not a cloud in the sky.  Not too hot with a gentle breeze blowing.  It's a lovely day to be outside so I thought I'd show you some of the flowers that are in bloom at the moment.

Pansies always brighten the trip to the washing line with their smiling faces.
This verbena has perked up with some more water but the others are still sulking.

The neighbour next door gave me some of these bulbs - he said they were daylillies but they're actually aztec/jacobean lilly.  This is their second flowering and I'm delighted because we only had one last year. (Sprekelia formosissima)

Dance your hearts out ladies.  
(Oncidium sphacelatum)

Hopefully I'll be able to divide this gladiolus next year.  This is the second flower spike.  The bulb came up on its own a couple of  years ago and has been giving me a beautiful flower spike each year since then.
(Gladiolus ?dalenii)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I've been fleeced!

At least a year ago my very thoughtful mother-in-law had heard me mention that I would love a spinning wheel.  Really, I liked the fairy tale idea of having a spinning wheel in the corner as homage to the likes of Sleeping Beauty or the ever-important and oft-forgotten housewives of yesteryear and didn't give much thought to actually using one.  So when she told me she had one for me I was immediately both excited and intimidated by the prospect.  As it turns out the wheel was my step-grandmother-in-law's or something convoluted to that effect.  Anyhow, the onus I felt to actually use it one day became even greater knowing that a relative, no matter how close or distant, had once owned and used it.

After receiving the wheel it didn't take long for my curiosity to urge me to give the dusty timber a good oiling which brought out the beautiful hues of the wood.  Then came my introduction to a whole new vocabulary, a language drowned out by the din of the industrial revolution, yet still lingering faintly in nursery rhymes and folklore.  So I began reading about maidens, niddy-noddies, the mother-of-all and the like in order to put the wheel together in some sort of working order.  That accomplished and me satisfied that I could make it work one day it promptly found its place in the corner, albeit in the front room for visitors to catch a glimpse of it as they came into the house.  

The problem was finding fleece.  I trawled through various supply stores all of whom seemed to only supply ready-spun yarn or at the best very expensive rolags (there's another word for you!) or bulk supplies.  This in combination with the sense that if I was going to learn to spin I'd want to do it right from scratch, kept me waiting for some other opportunity.

When the spinning wheel in the corner had become no more than a niggle in the back of my mind my intuitive sister remarked that the lady she from whom she had bought her chickens had recently shorn their newest baby alpaca and was selling the fleece.  Perfect!  Even more perfect (evidently that's possible) that she was coming to Brisbane soon and could deliver the fleece to my sister.  

The fleece from baby alpaca Duchess

The fleece arrived and yesterday I began the mammoth task of learning another new language or rather new meanings for well-used words - the language of fleece preparation.  Without a fleece table I decided my lounge room floor would have to do for skirting (picking twigs and hay out of the fleece), then picking (fluffing up the fleece and picking out all those bit of grass that you thought you got when you skirted).  As it turns out this process can take quite a while especially when you're learning in between about the different parts of the fleece like staples and blankets and trying out different techniques.

In its current mid-picking state the fleece seems to be scudding across the floor like little clouds.  My washing basket is full of picked fleece appearing as if I've managed to stuff one of the clouds into it ready to pull out later when we haven't had enough rain.  Perhaps it will be a rainy day when I finally get to the next step: carding.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Garden bed five is live

The rain clouds had quickly dissipated by late this morning leaving the soil in prime moistness for a little digging.  After a much overdue planting out of a blackcurrant, we set about clearing the grass for bed five in the crop rotation system.  Initially this was going to be a lasagna project (i.e. no dig garden bed) but with the recent rain the soil was so easy to dig and the sun was shining on our backs so instead we swung the trusty hoe.  Taking the hoe swinging in turns so that even the soil got a turn (over that is) the grass was banished surprisingly quickly.  We then chopped out a couple of recidivist weed bushes, raked out the debris from the soil and added a whole bag of composted cow manure.  To finish off I edged and mulched with sugar cane.

This bed will soon be home to corn and cucurbits and not letting anything go to waste, the new pile of grass will be turned into a wonderful compost concoction once the chooks have finished sorting through it.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Green screen

After a few months without decent rainfall it has been raining since late yesterday afternoon.  The water tank is filling up, the plants are getting a decent drink and the grass is looking greener already.  Of course, while making me a very happy gardener, it's also not the best day to be out and about digging or to be a chicken.  So instead it means bringing the gardening for the day.  Inside!  Hmm, sounds messy.  Don't worry. I did the messy, dirt-flinging, pot tapping bit outside under the eaves, then went inside to finish off the green wall project.

So what's a green wall?  I initially saw the idea on a programme about green home design.  The overall concept (as for indoor plants) is to filter indoor air and also act as a temperature regulator.  Although the show demonstrated a fixed wall with soil and plants in pockets or suspended pots, I thought I'd tweak it a little to make more of a green screen in the hope that this would mean a lighter structure requiring less maintenance (and expense to set up).  To make the structure for it to climb on we screwed eyelets into the door-frame at 30cm intervals.  Between these we strung fishing wire.

Then it came to choosing a  plant.  To make things impossible my criteria for the plant were: 

a) dense enough to not look patchy and to fill the gaps properly between wires but
b) light enough not to stretch or collapse the wires
c) a native plant
d) one that's suitable for indoors 
e) either non-flowering or non-allergenic and finally 
f) preferably edible

With a little trawling through online nursery lists my mission was accomplished.  There came up a plant that matched all the criteria perfectly: Lygodium microphyllum (also known as climbing maidenhair or Old World climbing fern).   The nursery that had listed the plant was on the other side of town, a little too far to justify a specific trip in the car.  So I waited and waited, hoping that I might need to go over that way for some other reason.  Talking about this to my sister she offered to take me to a nursery a few streets from her place.  Although most of the plants there were rather scorched and wilted specimens, the indoor plant section seemed to be well cared for.  I spied a nice plant creeping along the ground and over a log.  On closer inspection it turned out to be the exact plant I was after.  The wait was over.

All that remained to do today was re-pot into a permanent container and wind it along the bottom rung.  I had planned to get a new pot forgetting that I had a perfect sized one sitting outside that a friend had given me.

Voila!  Green screen commenced.  Grow little tendrils.

Note: Out of its natural habitat this plant has become a significant weed in Florida, US.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Grey nomad

We've all seen them or at least had to follow them on the highway.  The old couple chugging along in their caravan, finally on that tour of the outback and remote areas of Australia.  I have a grey  nomad of sorts at my place.  It certainly chugs away, stopping sporadically here and there in the remote places of my backyard.  It used to trek there, trudging back and forth from home.  Now with a little help from family it  has a possibly slower route but it can visit a few places in the one trip with a little map and finger-pointing guidance and it's regained its independence after a bit of help to get started of course.  

That's right, we now have a greywater hose (second hand of course).  No more trudging up and down the backyard to tip out the washing water on the fruit trees or lawn.  No more having to keep an ear tuned for the sound of water being purged from the machine.  No more quick bucket changes so the laundry doesn't flood like the washing machine had an incontinence pad malfunction.

The only problem with the new hose is that they don't bend like they used to so to put it away is like trying to wrangle a snake; a very, very long snake.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Crop rotation

After a delayed start to getting the garden going after winter and an eight week stint living away from home, I've finally made the time to organise the vegie garden into a six bed crop rotation system.  Now that I've divided the beds up and have a written plan I'll have more idea of where I've planted things instead of the usual I think I put that there last year, and mayyybe over there the year before.  

Aside from organisation the other main reason for establishing the crop rotation was to help control pests and diseases.  Last year I had to lie two beds fallow for a few seasons due to nematode problems.  This really put a dent in my garden's productivity and left me with little space to use for vegies.  The rotation should see new insusceptible crops move into a bed that potentially has a build up of a disease or pest such as nematodes.  Another bonus of rotating crops is that the soil doesn't become depleted of a particular set of nutrients that the crop requires.  Heavy feeders can be rotated with light feeders and different nutrients are used by each crop successively.  The addition of a green manure crop in the rotation will ensure I have a bed resting and recharging its nutrients before a heavy feeding crop.  

The one downside I see to crop rotation is that it doesn't leave much room for companion planting, which is something I've been attempting previously.  To get around this I plan to find the companion plants that don't fit neatly into the rotation system and plant them at the end of rows and between plants where I've left too much spacing.

Here's a sketch of the rotation that I've planned based on the outline provided in Annette McFarlane's book Organic Vegetable Gardening:

The rotation beds aren't all the exactly the same size but they measure roughly 3x2m each.  Each large bed has been divided to accommodate two rotations (of 3x2 each) and the long garden bed down the side fence will have dimensions of 12m x1m which has again been divided into two sections 6m long.

The final bed sizes aren't complete as yet and most will need extending to some degree.  The corn and cucurbit bed will be the most work as it's an extension of the bed along the fence.  Although I've had a few compost piles on that spot over the years, I'm thinking of trying a no-dig bed for this one as we have hard clay soil which is very dry at the moment due the lack of rain and will be too hard to dig.

The beds have mostly already been used for a while so I've started planting them out with their respective crops and will extend the beds as needed.