Sunday, January 30, 2011

Encroaching on the nature strip

Why stick to gardening within your fence line? When I was planting my little lavender hedge, I couldn't help noticing how bare and drab it was on the verge. Most of it is compacted dolomite, which suppresses even the most tenacious of weeds, although someone at some point has planted a few daisies down the driveway end.

Over the last week, I got stuck into the beginnings of a verge-makeover. I have begun immediately adjacent to our fence by removing the dolomite, and adding a home-made mix of coir peat (dead-cheap), compost, a dash of manure and sand. This shot is from a halfway point, when the dolomite is gone but the new 'soil' only partially added. In a couple of weeks, once it's all settled in, and once this horrendous heat has subsided, I'm going to plant clumping native grasses by each post (perhaps Poa poiformis, Coastal Tussock Grass) and something small and creeping and grey-leaved in between (but what? A trip to the State Flora Nursery is in order!)

SP was fascinated by the coir peat, helping it to break apart in the water, my little gardener!

Next up will be greening the little bit of ground by the road. I'd like to put in mostly small indigenous plants (current daisies excepted, they may stay), something for the birds and the butterflies: grevillias, goodenias, correas (correas! Yay!), eremophilas, grasses...
I have to check with the council first, but I can't imagine they'd have a problem with what I would like to do.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What we are eating (2)

So it seems all I had to do was post pictures of unripe tomatoes and they would become ripe!
We've picked delicious Wild Sweeties (the ultimate bite-sized snack for SP), tart Tigerellas, and sweet Black Russians.

Tigerella left, Black Russians right, Wild Sweeties much too small to bother cutting in half and eaten too quickly for extra photos anyway. All three are a goer for next year.

We are up to our eyeballs in zucchinis and have begun passing them on to other people when possible.

Every few days now we're also picking butter beans, squash, fancy capsicums (the little brown 'chocolate' capsicums are cute and nice, but perhaps a little too finicky to bother with next year, bit of a pain to deseed for eating.)

Overall, the vegie garden is looking quite lush, but, of course, is using masses of water despite my best efforts at trekking all the rinse water from the washing machine up to it (and 'effort' is the appropriate word here. Never let it be said that gardening is easy work). I am very much looking forward to getting in a water tank soon, and I have capitulated and agreed to get a plastic one even though they're quite ugly compared with a traditional colorbond tank (plastic means we can get a bigger one and it can be dug partially into the ground, something you can't do with a traditional tank).

The next few days are predicted to be 39 degrees, 42, then 41. We will be languishing inside in the air conditioning and only venturing out in the morning and evening to keep things alive as best we can.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Want to see our house?

So, yesterday we had a mammoth 'renovation' meeting with FIL. It took a whopping five hours! I think everybody had brain drain by the end of it. Whilst the garden is my personal priority, the rest of the house is everybody else's (which is probably the normal state of affairs). Over autumn, most likely, we will be putting on a house extension at the back, plus paving etc etc. This inspired me to look up our place on various sites that show satellite pictures (Google and Nearmap). So interesting to see how our little house has evolved so far, and will be good to see how it progresses as well.
This was the oldest image I could find and it is undated. I would guess that it's at least 5 years old, but probably less than 10 years old. Look at the front garden: no roses! (Rather ironically, I am considering rearranging the roses to something a little more cohesive across the front yard).

By October 2009, the roses have been planted.

This shot is from immediately before we bought the house at the end of March, 2010, just one day I think, or perhaps we'd already put in our offer? Bit of an exhausting time; our new baby was only one month old! I remember thinking that I must not fall in love with the house, I would only be disappointed when we didn't get it. Ha!

August, 2010, the end of Winter. How boring and miserable does the garden look? (Although, granted, quite green).

Spring is here! Sept 2010. The garden begins to show it's face as the Philotheca bursts into bloom in the front yard.

November 2010: The roses. My God, the roses. My little apricot has also appeared in the middle of the backyard.

And the most recent is from December, 2010. It might be the very last shot before the renovations begin.

Onwards and upwards!

Heirloom Tomatoes

I am waiting impatiently for some tomatoes to ripen. I have up to 10 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the garden - all from Diggers' - and it's quite interesting to see the different plants shapes as they grow.
Amish Paste is a voluminous and blowzy kind of plant which needs 3 stakes to keep the different branches upright. It has been much slower to set fruit than any of the others, despite being at least twice the size of any of them, hence I have not bothered to take any pictures.
Tigerella is a medium sized plant and a little lanky. The tomatoes are striped and so pretty, they will ripen to orange.

Peach Dreams is another lanky plant, quite small although perhaps it just feels neglected. The fruits seem small, and are furry like their namesake. They'll ripen to yellow or a pinky-red.

My Black Russian tomato is a lean plant. The fruits are a gorgeous dark and glossy green, and will ripen to a burgundy ('black'). I'm really looking forward to trying these.

My favourite tomato so far is the tiny Wild Sweetie. The bush is lovely and leafy, pyramid shaped. The fruit is only pea-sized. I admit, I chose this one for it's name which I loved, but it's definitely the prettiest tomato plant out there.

The other heirloom tomatoes I have have been grown from a seed mix of Burnley Sure Crop (red), Black Prince (black), Banana Legs (yellow), Aunt Ruby's German (green) and more orange Tigerella. Some of them are flowering, but none yet have fruit large enough to see what each plant is; a tasty lucky dip!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Propagating and preserving.

At the moment, in the midst of Summer and the growing season, it feels like there is so much going on that it's just easier to take a photo and make a note.
I cut most of the chillies from our Thai Chilli plant - it was a Christmas gift - and have laid them out on a wire rack on the concrete to dry. Not across the wires -they weren't fat enough- but between them to stop them blowing away. We haven't actually eaten any yet, the plant has been at my mother-in-laws after we forgot to take it a month ago, so we don't know how hot they actually are.

Many of the strawberry plants have sent out runners and so I've put some of them in pots, with a twig fork to secure them, to grow on properly, and later be cut free from their parents. I want lots and lots of strawberries, and it's a nice bonus to know I can buy half a dozen plants and they'll multiply so easily for me. Here's to many years of strawberries to come!


My beetroot and cauliflower seeds have already sprouted mere days after being sown. It's so warm at the moment; the weather is perfect perfect perfect. That would be helping.

I am dutifully keeping the kangaroo paws damp in their pots (all recycled from previous purchases).

And, to my amazement, I already have a teeny tiny Sturt's Desert Pea sprout! Can you see it? Guess that hot water works on it's own after all :)

And I caved in and bought two American pomegranates today. The carbon footprint on these beauties doesn't even bear thinking about. Bad Greenie! I think I will plant my own pomegranate tree and then I can eat these ruby-jewels to my heart's content. I only need to decide on a variety: The American 'Wonderful' , or the Russian 'Rosavaya'?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Grand Plan

Oh, oh, oh, now this is exciting! For me, anyway.
As you may or may not know, we bought this house at the end of March last year. Aside from the totally awesome location, top of my personal priority list was that it had a big north-facing garden and no pine trees. Well, two out of three ain't bad, as they say. Big yard? Check! The total block is over 800m2, which whilst not enormous is still very decent size. North facing? Certainly is! 20 degrees off North (I'm told). No pine trees? Unfortunately, you can't always have everything you want (or don't want, in this case) and there is a whopper of a pine tree overhanging the north-east corner of our block, blocking lots of sun, stealing water, and acidifying the soil. This is our yard right this minute, in all it's weedy and 'work-in-progress' glory.

So over the last nine months or so I have been looking at our back yard, our virtually blank canvas, watching where the sun warms, looking at the contours, and thinking and dreaming and plotting to myself. And this is what I have come up with. Very pretty, even though I am a bit inept with the old coloured pencils.

It's not obvious in the photo above, but there is some slope in our yard, with the patch under the pine tree being the highest point. My central idea with the garden plan is to basically take what is existing in the yard already in a soft and unformed kind of way, and add bones with stone walls and a touch of terracing. I'd like the retaining walls to look a little like the slate cladding below, with its blue greys and warm reds. Not sure yet how this will be achieved, but my father-in-law is on the case for me.

When we in Japan, I wanted to see Tofukuji temple in Kyoto, and in particular the paving stones dissolving into moss. We never made it to that temple, we ran out of time, but I am channelling the Tofukuji Zen Garden nonetheless, and would like to mimic that paving with large pavers and grass, but beginning with a solid patio/courtyard rather than a checkerboard (Google it).

The house does not yet extend that far into the yard, but it will in the not-too-distant future; plans for a house extension are being drawn up by a draftsman even as you sit and read this. In a nutshell, looking at the bottom of the plan and reading upwards, we'll have a big extension on the back of the house with lots of glass, then a formal-ish courtyard with a curved seating area on top of the wall. I'd like the right-hand side of the courtyard to have a slightly sunken feel, which I'm hoping to achieve with careful planting. In the future, there will be some sort of trellising over the courtyard with deciduous vines to provide shade in summer, and extra sunlight in winter. Then you walk out over the paving which blends into the lawn. Straight ahead will be a lawn with a large water tank at the back, and perhaps a couple of small gum trees, underplanted with aggies (recycled from the current planting over the existing retaining walls). If you walk right, there's a raised area with trees underplanted with smaller plants on one side, and a large vegetable garden on the other.
I will be planting as many edible and food plants as I can, with lots of other pretty but hardy plants in between. Later we'd like some chickens. They can have a coop up the back, and free range during the day.
Does this all make sense? Easy enough to draw, but hard to put into words! And who knows how much of it will come to fruition, subject to the idiosyncrasies of climate as we are? My garden will grow, it will change, it will take 20 years to look remotely like I imagine. I can hardly wait, but I must.

SUMMARY (click on image to zoom)

1- Gums
2- Row of plum trees
3- Compost heap (very glam!)
4-Vegetable garden
5- Espaliered fruit trees
6- Kiwi Fruit on trellis
7- Dissolving pavement
8- Mulberry Tree (exisiting, very small!)
9- Fig tree (existing, may espalier)
10- Tahitian Lime
11- Kaffir Lime
12- Apricot tree (existing, small)
13- Fruit tree (not sure what yet, nectarine?)
14- Lemon tree (existing, small)
15- Japanese quince (existing, small)
16- Garden bed, shrubs
17- Garden bed, shrubs
18- Water tank + agapanthus.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A day off.

Such a nice day today.
A couple of fun things arrived in the post. Very excited to try to grow my round Thai Green Eggplants! I think it's probably a bit late to sow them now, but I'll try anyway with a few seeds and save some for next Spring. Now, if anyone happens to spot seeds of the teeny, tiny, pea-sized bitter Thai eggplants anywhere, please let me know! Very hard to get, I'm told.

I pulled something interesting out of the garden: a very small heirloom purple carrot. It's not much, but considering 80% of the carrot seedlings got eaten the second they poked their noses out of the soil, I'm pretty happy. This one was grown in a pot, nothing was left in the garden beds at all.

D got to work on his long, long...long awaited fish tank (there is a miserable back-story to this involving a five month wait for a glass box, and culminating in my normally mild-mannered boy having some harsh words with the supplier before it finally arrived at our house two weeks ago).

I took coffee into him, short for him and long for me, while he pottered about in the shed.

And my FIL delivered me a load of compost (no more expensive individual bags for the time being), and a couple of bales of peastraw for the new garden beds I am working on. We discussed the Garden Grand Plan, which we'll hopefully be starting before the end of the month. More on that next time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What we are eating this week...

The golden zucchinis just keep on coming, there was a butter bean (yes, just one!) and lots of bok choy, but only briefly because I forgot to sow more until we'd eaten it all! The bok choy is a little bit pre-eaten by caterpillars, but you'll get that when you don't use poisons.

And for dessert, the occasional strawberry. Quickly learning that if you want a whole bowl of strawberries, you need lots and lots of plants. Half a dozen is not enough, not when the fruits ripen one at a time! They are delicious though, even when you go thirds with husband and child, yum yum.

Paws and Peas

I have become enamoured of Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthus sp). Close up, they splay out half a dozen flowers like an extended hand, closer still, each flower opens like a furred six-pointed starburst.

But from a distance, a single plant is not especially striking, with it's low strappy leaves close to the ground. It's a bit of a shy and retiring kind of plant, and to be honest I hadn't thought too much about it, my Native Love being almost entirely focused on Correas (Ahhh, Correas!)

And then I saw them planted along the new, rather extravagant and overblown overpass between South Road and Anzac Highway in Adelaide (for those playing at home), of all places. And then I understood. To appreciate the Kangaroo Paw, that retiring native from Western Australia, you must see them en masse. The flowers, which can be up to 2m tall, rise above those green strappy leaves in a froth of upraised hands. Beautiful.

(Image from here)

So, naturally, I must have some kangaroo paws in my garden. Lots and lots of them. I google, I look them up, I work out how many I would need (perhaps 100+), I am aghast; even little plants are $8 each. $800 in Kangaroo Paws? I am, for all intents and purposes, a stay-at-home-mum. I have no money, but I do have lots of time. Off to Ebay, where I dither for an hour: do I want yellow ones, or red ones? And then in the post arrive 150 Red Kangaroo Paw Seeds (Anigozanthus flavidus: $3). Read the instructions, seems fairly straight forward - plant in seed-raising mix, keep damp etc - wish me luck!

With my Paws, I also ordered 40 Sturt's Desert Pea seeds (Swainsona formosa: $3), the SA floral emblem, dontcha know?

(Image from Fir0002/Flagstaffotos).

They're pretty cool, and seeing the seeds for sale I couldn't resist. The propagation instructions for the Peas is, unlike the Paws, not very straight forward. One must soak the seeds overnight in hot water (which is happening as I write).

Then 'nick the seed coat of the seed lightly with a sharp knife opposite the eye'. Hmmm. They're only about 2mm long. And flat. Then they need to be soaked again. Mind you, some more googling tells me I might be able to get away with just very hot water, lest I slice off a finger in my nicking attempts. Or I can use sandpaper to break the coat open. I am hedging my bets by just trying half of the seeds to begin with. Such a hard coat is necessary in the wild to protect the seed until ideal germination conditions arrive (we have a hard climate, here in SA). And then I read that they can be hard plant to maintain in a home garden. $3 well spent, or more trouble than they're worth? We will see!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Deluge. 2011.

It's all over the news. You cannot have missed it. A large proportion of Queensland - and now northern NSW too - is underwater, is flooding, has been inundated and is being swept out to sea in torrent of brown and rushing muck.
Meanwhile, here I sit in South Australia, glued to the TV with my heart in my mouth and a queasy feeling in my stomach. What can I do? Nothing. Nothing at all. If there was ever a time when Mother Nature asserts her Independence over us, then this is it. Tonight the sun went down, and tomorrow it will come back up again.
I look upon my sleeping child, brush her blond hair from her damp brow, and thank my lucky stars that it was not us up there in that rain, or spending the night in an evacuation centre wondering what has become of our house.
Stay safe and dry everyone. Houses are only houses, they are not worth lives.

(Photo courtesy of the ABC website and taken by Benjamin Nichols "Debris floats down flooded Brisbane River next to Toowong park on January 13, 2010.")

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oh no!

Last night it was very windy, very windy indeed. The first thing that greeted me out of the backdoor this morning was the sight of the clothes horse, sideways and askew on the patio with our clothing squashed underneath it with a few stray socks around the periphery. As I picked them up, I noticed something was off in the vegetable garden.

A few steps in that direction and it was all too clear what had happened. My garden-gate trellis which is so heavy that I couldn't move it on my own, had blown over in the night.

The yellow zucchini bore the brunt of it.

The fancier capsicums might recover, but the beans snapped off completely will not. The squash, with it's first flowers, might be OK or it might not.

I suppose I should be grateful it was the gate on the right that fell, and not the left, because I'm certain the corn would never have survived an iron onslaught.
I propped the gate back up, and have tied it to the fence. Yes, I know, should have done that before! I thought it couldn't have fallen over on it's own, that it was too heavy, too stable. I was wrong and now I have a 2m square crushed section of vegetable garden to remind me to never assume anything.