Monday, 30 December 2013

The Laurels

About a  month ago we decided to go for a country drive out to Warwick which is a few hours west of home.  We stopped in at Boonah on the way and discovered a Flying Fox colony right behind the tourist information centre where we had lunch.  As usual the noise was incredible but it was lovely to see a healthy colony in a position that for once doesn't seem to cause trouble with residents.

It was a perfect sunny day and not too hot for a gentle stroll around a garden.  This was one of the first Open Gardens I'd been to that was made by a professional gardener; who incidentally had featured in a book on Australian gardens that I'd read only a few weeks prior.  As to be expected, the garden was gorgeous and had a little of something for everyone and some thoughtful elements in terms of design, sustainability and practicality.

Old shed converted to a chook house
Herb forage for the chooks

A sheep that won't eat all your prized ornamentals

Fluffy bottomed trio of lawn manicurists

The woodland walk
Homemade garden ornaments

Stunning fountain at the formal front entrance

Ahhhh symmetry and stachys - what more could you want?
This hedge formation elongates a narrows space and directs the eye while also dividing the space into rooms in their own right

Giving sedum the boot
Walkway to the garage and backyard
Wall garden made from a pallet
Outdoor area - there are wisteria planted to grow over the pergola which is made from recycled timber as are most of the structures in the garden
Guarding the entrance to the backyard
Even the fountain is homemade

Treehouse and mini deck chairs in the front garden

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Grandad's Garden

In memory of my grandad who passed away last week in Morrinsville, New Zealand.

I took these photos of his home garden the day before he passed.  Grandad's garden still has a great influence on my passion for the natural beauty of plants and love of neat rows and measured spacings in the vegie patch.

Grandad at 82 helping us lay a path at our old place

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Girls are Back in Town

It had been almost two months since the catastrophic chicken carnage.  The egg supply had finally been depleted and we were still weighing up the choice between rehoming some battery hens or supporting heritage breeders.  The decision was made last weekend when I was lucky enough to have an abundant supply of burly lads around to move the chook cage to a better location closer to the house.  As it happened, that same weekend there was a notice up on the KFC Project's page for some ex-battery hens.  We set up a pen on Sunday morning then made the long car trip out to Ipswich to pick up the four easiest to catch hens from the latest rescue batch.

Well I say it was a long car trip out there but in all honesty we had a lunch break and then a lovely tea break at a friend's place on the way.  Actually it was the car trip home that could have gone a little faster. The air was frequently punctuated by pungent odours wafting from the back seat as one of the four chickens would remind us that she most certainly did not enjoy being shunted around the countryside for the second time that day.  Nevertheless we did not sink into stupor with the overpowering smells and made it home without careering off the road in a flurry of chicken feathers and cardboard boxes.

 Finally reaching their final destination we opened the cat cage that I had thankfully had the foresight to line with cardboard and took the lid off the cardboard box releasing all four girls into their new life in Elysian Fields of lush green grass complete with seed-heads ready for nibbling and thin patches begging to be racked into luxurious dust baths.  Admittedly it didn't quite happen like that.  The girls remained in their boxes and had to be lifted out, flapping their wings in protest.  They didn't quite seem to know what to do with their new surroundings.  The juicy blades of grass meant nothing to them. The watermelon skins were left lying lonely in the open like tumble weeds in a Western film; only the sound that rang through the air was not the quick-draw shot of a gun-slinging cowboy but the clink, clink, clink of the nearby chain-gang working in the mine.  
The chain gang working hard
The poor girls obviously didn't know any better than to be obsessed with pecking at the bolts on the cage or the holes in the star pickets.  Either that, or they were determined not to be caged ever again and were working fast at dismantling any potential new prison.  The only other feature of their new home that sparked interest was this new-fangled water dispenser thingy in the corner of the cage.  It took one girl at least five minutes of pecking at the overflow spout on the water dish (a repurposed and of course cleaned oil drip tray) before she figured out she could drink straight from the surface.
Did you honestly think you'd catch me looking at that watermelon?

Despite the culture shock of the new place, the four girls are adjusting to their new surrounds.  They've laid 6 eggs in a week and one has even figured out what that straw-lined four-sided, odd-looking contraption is meant to be for.  They did eventually, at least I presume it was them, realise the joy of watermelon after I left the remaining rind in with them overnight so they could try it out while I wasn't looking and not have it snavelled by a crow with a hungry mouth to feed besides its own.  

Next on the list for expanding their culinary repertoire is capsicum.  They ran off today after I dropped the seeded part of the fruit in their midst today as if I had dropped a grenade.  While they were a little less terrified when I put it in their cage tonight their looks were still dubious.  No doubt the rolling thunder and lightning  tonight didn't alay their fears of having entered a war zone.  I wonder what they'll think of tomatoes.

First egg

Friday, 8 November 2013

Bushtucker forage garden beginnings

On the opposite side of the dam to the potager there is an even steeper slope covered in small rocks designed to stabilise the ground during the rainy season.  According to our neighbours and the local landscape supply man the water comes fairly high during the rainy season and prior to the driveway and dam being rebuilt, the house was nearly inaccessible during the floods.  So in terms of an ornamental garden or grazing space it's off the books.  Well, that was until we decided that we'd rather people couldn't see right into our garage from the road and some lateral thinking came into play. 

Living in Logan is bringing us closer in touch with the native fauna and flora and the variety of both of these is amazing to see.  Most Aussies would be familiar with the lomandra (spiny-head mat-rush) that graces nearly every traffic island and the edge of every park pond in Brisbane.  Proudly, we have a small version of this and the increasingly popular dianella growing all on their own in various parts of the property.  No doubt there are many other natives just waiting to come up if left to their own devices.

While wide open spaces certainly have their appeal, I do feel a pang of remorse owning a  mostly cleared block and then reading about all our endangered species of both flora and fauna.  We can shake our heads all we like at new developments, but at the end of the day our's was a new development once upon a time.  So in a small gesture to help rectify the situation we've decided to put the unusable to many good uses by planting a variety of native trees, shrubs and climbers.  In true permie style here's a list of the multiple benefits of the project:
  1. Firstly to screen the view from the road for more privacy
  2. Stabilise the slope to reduce topsoil runoff into waterways, which will incidentally also protect our new fishies in the dam as well as reducing the chance of algal blooms and generally improve water quality
  3. Provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies and other creatures
  4. Replant some local native vegetation that has previously been cleared - most of the plants are native to South-East Queensland and a large number are local to the suburb
  5. Provide a forage garden as a back-up supply of food for us - all plants are edible in some shape or form, although I'm sure some will be more palatable to the parrots, possums and pigeons
  6. Serve as a wind-break for the potager
  7. Cast shade and create microclimate around the dam to reduce evaporation
  8. Be ornamental in its own way
A mandated car trip for an interview over an hour away into the horror traffic and narrow hilly streets of the Northside of Brisbane provided the excuse for a calming visit to the Greening Australia nursery.  (Apologies to Northsiders - nothing against you personally, I'm just not used to the other side of the river, and besides someone did decide to play a game of chicken with me in which I was the chicken and swerved to the wrong side of the road to go around them -madness!).  Run mostly by volunteers, the nursery is a treasure trove of various native species catering to all shapes, sizes, situations - sunny, shaded, sandy or soggy.  To add to this it's also very cheap so ditch the forlorn specimens at those two competing awful gigantic warehouses and pick up some local, native plants for less than half the price - and no, I'm not receiving any sort of commission.  The only draw-back was that individual plants weren't labelled - so instead of having to sit on your living room floor with your list, plants and Google images up on your laptop; take photos of the sign and plant on your phone or camera while you're at the nursery.

Taking the list I'd constructed over a few nights, I headed in and hallelujah they had everything sorted into groups by size/type and then alphabetically! Not everything on my wish list was available (or perhaps I didn't see it) but the vast majority was and I also found a couple of extra ornamentals for the pretty garden near the house.

Looking a bit like a school photo so here we go:
Members of Food Forest/Ornamental Composite Class from left to right:
1st Row: Stylidia graminifolium (Trigger Grass)
2nd Row: Baeckia/Sannantha/Babingtonia - I'm more confused than ever about this now, Westringia fruticosa 'Wynyabbie Gem',
3rd Row and start of the edibles: Atractocarpus fitzlanii (yellow mangosteen), Pipturus argenteus (native mulberry)
4th Row: Pittosporum angustifolium (native apricot), Hovea acutifolia, Micromelum minutum (lime berry), Indigofera australis (native indigo)
5th Row: Davidsonia pruriens (Davidson's plum), Sterculia quadrifida (peanut tree), Macadamia tetraphylla, Phaleria cerodendron (scented daphne), Elaeocarpus grandis (Blue Quondong)
To start with we've purchased mostly top-storey plants which will need to grow and establish before many of the smaller, less sun tolerant plants can be added.  We're fortunate to have the space for some very tall and beautiful trees that would just never fit in a suburban yard unless regular altercations with the neighbours, local council and various inanimate things like plumbing, roofs and powerlines were the sort of thing we enjoyed doing with our spare time.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Gone fishin'

I spied a brochure at the local council library on threatened plant species for our local area.  I've been noticing a few native grasses and flowers around the place and was hoping to keep an eye out for some of the rarer ones and learn what to remove and what to leave be.  We have plenty of lomandra and dianella around which are flowering and fruiting at the moment.

On the final page of the brochure I spotted a logo for a native fish program.  We'd been planning to stock our dam with local fish for mosquito control, a food source for local birds and perhaps eventually our own plates.  So I called the council about the program: "Oh I haven't heard about that for a while, let me just find out."  The council have been very helpful each time I've called them and they didn't let me down this time either.  We were to arrange a time at the pound to pick up the native fish.  The next day I headed over there to pick up six fingerlings.  I was a little disappointed when the response to my question of what type of fish was "they eat mosquitoes."  Nevertheless they didn't cost us anything and would do their job.  The most common fish to use if silver perch and I have the impression that's what these are.

Acclimatising before release
Most likely silver perch and unphotogenic ones at that
The fish are now swimming free, feasting on mosquito larvae and with any luck avoiding the turtle and swamp hens.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

First harvest from the potager

Over the weekend we had our first harvest from the new vegie patch.  The tiny seedlings planted out a few weeks ago are thriving despite the dry and hot weather.  We've been watering nearly every day to keep everything going in anticipation of some rain.

We had a single day of light rain and a flash storm last week but barely enough rain to put any water in the tanks.  Showers are forecast for the rest of the week but the hope of rain and any sign of a puff off cloud seems to dissipate on a daily basis.

We hadn't had much success with asian greens at our old place - ending up with bitter leaves that were inedible.  I'm not sure what was causing it - lack of water, harvesting to late or some nutrient deficiency or imbalance.  A lovely friend raised some seedlings in a tray for us and these are from her plants.  The leaves were lovely and crunchy with a beautiful green flavour.  We added them in right at the end to our stirfry on Sunday night along with some mustard leaves which also came from the garden.  It's so good to have homegrown vegies again.

A special thank you to Erin for raising the pak choy seedlings for us (and the pumpkin too)

We have rainbow chard, tomatoes, yacon, corn, rocket and pumpkin all on the way too so we're looking forward to some yummy dinners in the next month or so.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Tanks for nothin'

Swimming pools demand bigger water tanks, especially in our long dry springs.  Unless of course you want to be single-handedly responsible for the emptying of Lake Wivenhoe.  Fortunately squandering Brisbane's safe drinking water didn't make it to my parent's bucket list so they installed three large water tanks to top up their pool over the dry spell each year.  This more or less made their little tanks superfluous so when they had their outside paving done they were set aside for someone else's rainy day.

The garage at our new place stands alone from the rest of the house meaning no water or power nearby so I've been making the trek from the house to the shed with buckets of tap water to keep the seedlings from turning into crispy flakes.  Thankfully I won't have to do this much longer - those spare tanks from mum and dad's wound their way here soon after we moved and have been sitting patiently next to the shed waiting for the plumber to install them and for some of that wet stuff to fall from the sky (and no I don't mean lorikeet poo, although it is in greater abundance than raindrops at the moment).

By some stroke of luck and good timing both the plumber and the rain came yesterday and even better they came in that same order.  The pipe was still dripping this morning and there's about an inch or two of water in the bottom judging by the knuckle test - possibly even enough to reach the taps.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Orchard origins

Where the orchard is planned is probably the flattest area on the block with only the gentlest of slopes towards the dam.  It would have been the perfect spot for a vegie patch aside from the need to plan an expedition, pack rations and don hiking gear and a Nepalese basket just to fetch some ingredients for dinner.  The driveway curves deceptively gently into the area and out again, making it difficult to design a staggered layout without adjusting the driveway which involve far too much lugging around of heavy gravel and result in me doing more staggering than the trees.

We decided to start the first row at the narrowest part and work either down towards the dam or each side of the row in the hope that there would be enough room to stagger the trees.  On marking it out it won't quite work that way but we should be able to fiddle with the edge of the driveway just a tad to make it right.

We started with the row marked Pecan, although the citrus will actually be there instead.  Still deciding whether to do a row above or just continue down towards the dam
I was trying to fit all the fruit trees of one family (eg citrus, rosaceae) together in a row but I'm not sure this is going to happen now unless we massively expand the citrus collection or abandon the lime as we'll only fit four trees across in this row. No doubt the former would mean a huge haul of citrus right through winter that we would then need to ply on our neighbours, families, work colleagues and perhaps even complete strangers when desperation finally set in.  The deciduous trees (rosaceae - apples, pear, stone fruit) were planned to be closest to the dam so that the cool air would help them get as much chill time as possible in winter.  This means we'd better decide what's going in the middle before we make the final row.

Despite all these grand plans we've so far managed to dig the grand sum of a single hole (a much easier job here than at the last place - no broken tools this time), mix in some mushroom compost and, nearly a month later, buy the first tree: a Washingon Navel Orange.  Something tells me this orchard will be a very long-winded work in progress.  At the present rate we'll end up starting row two as the first tree starts to bear fruit!

Just because I like things to be on the difficult side, currently there's no water supply to the area so a new hose attachment to the dam pump will need to be sorted out soon unless the rain decides to arrive. There's only so many times I'm willing to walk a bucket from the house to the orchard especially as I discovered yesterday I may now have to run the gauntlet of a swooping butcher bird.

To add insult to injury, all the fruit trees at the old place exploded in flowers shortly after we left. It's almost like they're celebrating our departure.  The only consolation is that we can still go back to harvest them for a short while.

The Washington Navel Orange looking a little exasperated at having to put down new roots

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Potager progress

It's about time I updated everyone on how the potager is progressing.  It's been plodding along quite slowly but it's getting there and the general idea is starting to take shape.  Planting seedlings in containers has given the project the nudge it needs as the beds have to be ready in time for the plants to have somewhere to continue growing.

The first corner bed.  It will eventually be for herbs and flowers but to start with it will most likely have some vegie seedlings in it until the main beds are done.

The asparagus needed planting first as these two crowns were transplanted from the old place and were threatening to shrivel away while trying to shoot in a bucket in the garage.  I planted herbs and seeds around them but so far only the cosmos has come up.  The edging rock is basalt which was already on the property and the landscape supply man tells me it's from Beaudesert.

Completed beds in grey.
Now to find some materials for the first archway.  One of the winged beans is up so it will be the first climber to go in.  I can't wait until we have fresh vegies again, straight from the garden.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Easy vegie fritters

I had a hankering for some vegie fritters the other day so I thought I'd throw together some for lunch and take the rest for dinner at work.  We were out of creamed corn so I had to take inspiration from the vegies in the fridge.  Sweet potato and pumpkin were the obvious winners. We've still got a few extra eggs even though we've been giving some to the neighbours for their growing boys so it was a good opportunity to use up a couple.  The Colliwat pumpkins are still in abundance too so this helped get through some.

Five fabulous fresh flavoursome fritters...and what's left of number six.
Here's a rough guide to the recipe which makes approximately 10 (although I wasn't really counting because I ate them as I cooked):

1 finely chopped spring onion (bulb and green bits)
~1cup grated sweet potato
~1/2-1 cup grated pumpkin
2 eggs
~1/2 cup wholemeal flour or gluten free flour if needed
Spice and/or herbs of your choice - cumin combines well with anything in my books but I was in a hurry so some curry powder did the trick
Some cheese might also make them a little more filling - try ricotta or feta

Combine the ingredients except the flour in a bowl, then sprinkle the flour over the top and mix in until you get the right consistency.  Add enough flour so that the mixture isn't too wet.

Place spoonfuls in a hot pan and flatten with a spatula.  Turn once when brown.  Remove from pan and place on absorbent paper long enough that you don't burn your fingers when you pick them up to eat.  Enjoy!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Yoghurt Bread

We bought a tub of plain yoghurt for a curry the other night (hubby wasn't impressed with my home made yoghurt attempts so we have to stick to store bought for now) and there was far too much. Unfortunately there weren't any smaller tubs available at the local grocer so to use up the yoghurt and a few eggs I thought I'd try a sweet yoghurt bread recipe.  The recipe called for figs but you can add any dried fruit that takes your fancy - I used dried apricot because that's what I had in the cupboard but you could try fresh blueberries, raisins, dates, apple, or something a bit more out there like dried pineapple or mango.

I also skipped the icing but you could add it on to get a real bakery finish for a special morning tea.

The recipe is from Bake It by Murdoch Books:

650g white bread flour
1 tbs ground cinnamon (or any other spice you like or leave it out if you don't like)
3 tsp dry yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Greek yoghurt
125ml (1/2 cup) lukewarm milk
90g honey
60g butter chopped
100g chopped dried fruit of your choice

1 egg
2 tbs milk

375g icing sugar
80mL lemon juice

Combine 600g of flour, spice, yeast, 1tsp salt in a bowl (or use electric mixer with dough hook).  Make a well in the centre and pour in combined eggs, yoghurt, milk and honey.  Mix to combine then mix in butter and dried fruit.   Knead by hand or machine for 10 mins until dough is smooth and elastic adding extra flour as needed.

Grease a bowl with oil and sit the dough in it to rise until doubled.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea-towel. 

Punch down dough gently then divide into 6 equal portions.  (Some people prefer to carefully turn out the dough and divide it before punching down).  Roll each portion to 30cm long logs.  Plait three lengths together and tuck in the ends to form a braid loaf.  (If you braid with two lengths doubled over then cut 4 portions instead of 6).  Transfer to a greased baking tray and leave to rise again for about half an hour until doubled again.  Preheat the oven to 220 deg C (425 deg F).

Mix egg and milk to make glaze and brush loaves.  Bake for 10 mins at 220, then reduce head to 180 deg C (350 deg F) and bake for a further 20 mins until bread sounds hollow when tapped.  Cover with foil if they are browning too quickly.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Combine icing sugar, lemon juice and 2 tbs boiling water to make icing.  Drizzle over cooled loaves. Enjoy once the icing has hardened.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Open Garden at Birdhaven

It had been a while since we'd gone to an Open Garden and this one came at an ideal time to explore what will grow in the local area and for a refreshing take on gardening.  Birdhaven is a vast collection of native flora that - as you probably guessed - provides a habitat and food source for many types of bird.  The garden lives up to its name with plenty of small birds and larger nectar feeders flitting through the garden the whole afternoon.
The block is about 2.5 acres in size and the owners have largely left the natural landscape untouched; including a huge natural rock formation that provides a fun place for kids to play or a lovely spot to sip a cup of tea in the afternoon.

Plantings consisted mostly of grevilleas and acacias with a huge number of different specimens of each.  Natives have also been allowed to remain or regenerate with dianellas dotted around the place and some large and medium trees acting as canopy.

As well as the extensive native garden there was a large vegetable garden and orchard complete with two beehives.  With the citrus and nasturtiums in full bloom, the bees didn't have far to go for a meal.

One of the few non-natives: Arbutus menziesii

Birds weren't the only wildlife around

The grevilleas captured the afternoon light and took on a real glow

Busy bees

A perfect winter reptilian hideaway

One of the many dianellas

Lechenaultia biloba - a real show stopper and native from WA

The scent from this was amazing but not overpowering

Doryanthes palmeri - a striking plant and flower that definitely needs a large garden with 2m long leaves
Congratulations to Denis Cox and Jan Glazebrook on a beautiful achievement both aesthetically and environmentally.