A dry spell and a visitor

I’d cast a spell for rain if I could. Deep soaking rain to seep into the subsoil.

This morning I disturbed a wallaby actually in our backyard. Before I realised it was a total fire ban I’d turned on a sprinkler in the front yard and noticed some wallaby poo. Not too unusual given we sometimes leave our front gate open, and the wallabies are becoming more frequent visitors to the nature strips.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirstys/8340608613/” title=”Wallaby Visitor by Kirsty S, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8496/8340608613_cc00b389cc_n.jpg” width=”320″ height=”213″ alt=”Wallaby Visitor”></a>

Most unusual was the wallaby poo near the water tap in the backyard. Which is when I started looking around. Milly cat and I spooked the poor wallaby under the natives at the side of the house and I decided to open the front gates and hope it headed that way.

Zac snapped a photo near some of the fruit trees before it left us. It was only a small one and its slightly dishevelled coat might have been the source of some tufts of fur lying on a garden path earlier in the week. Milly cat was much more in hunting mode than I’d expect when you consider the scale of a wallaby vs a cat. So I was glad it made it’s way up through the berry patch and out the front.

We really need some rain to replenish not just our suburban garden but also the bush in the reserve up the valley. It must be very slim pickings up there.

PS: I also discovered a couple of draft posts about our meat smoking and curing adventures in November, will add photos and publish soon.

Open Garden Review

We had a ball opening up our garden recently for the West Hobart Environment Network people. On a perfectly sunny Sunday morning, about 15-20 people traipsed down the driveway and through to the backyard where we talked about fruit trees, vegies, chooks, rabbits, compost, worms, ground covers in orchards and more. We had done a bit of prep over previous weekends – taking a load of greenwaste to the tip which had been hanging around for a while, and also did some general tidy up. Both sets of grandparents came and lent a hand too – couldn’t have done it without you!! The garden is still displaying the benefits of the attention.

 Prep for an Open Garden

  • Put some balloons on the open gate with a sign so passers-by can join in if they want
  • Get a list of fruit tree varieties and keep it outside for referring to, including how old various tree are. Tony, if you’re reading, our second quince is a De Vrajna ;-)
  • Dig out some comfrey roots to give away
  • Also have the name of the chicken waterer suppliers  – Bellsouth in Victoria if anyone is interested
  • Pick some lemons for people to take away
  • Have the Council regs about sheds etc available as many people were interested in that. Our chook shed is very carefully just under the max roof size on purpose.
  • Dig up more of the dahlia tubers to give away. I swear the more I dig them up, the more there are.
  • Gather together some ‘before’ and ‘in progress’ photos from earlier iterations of the garden
  • Take some photos of people in the garden on the day too!

I would try and set up a demo of the soil blocking tools and materials.

One day we’ll get the front garden in order and can include that in the tour.

Open Garden Sunday August 12

We’ve volunteered ourselves to be part of the West Hobart Environment Network’s Open  Garden Day next weekend.
So I’m dressed in my gardening clothes and about to head outside and tidy up the place a bit.
Want to come and have a look? Here’s the promo email.

Dear WHEN members and supporters

The daffodils are out and the daphne is filling the West Hobart streets with perfume.

You are invited to shake off the winter blues and come and visit some lovely gardens in West Hobart. See how your neighbours are dealing with the challenges of home fruit and vegie growing, get some tips and enjoy a chat with fellow gardeners. Maybe go home with some cuttings or plants! Gardens with sections for native plants will also be included.

Five West Hobart gardeners will be “at home” to neighbours on Sunday 12 August 2012. The day will be divided into morning (10.00 – 12.30) and afternoon (2.00 – 4.00) sessions, with three gardens open in the morning, two in the afternoon.

This open day is organised by WHEN’s Gardening and Food group (GAF), and is inspired by the highly successful “Gardening with the Bush” Garden Tour which was organised by Sustainable Living Tasmania some years ago. To respect the generosity of our generous gardener hosts, people planning to visit will need to register with GAF. You will then be sent a copy of the day’s schedule, with addresses and times.

To register for the Winter Gardens Tour, email whenvnet@gmail.com or phone Margaret on 6231 4751 .

Weekend gardening

A couple of weeks ago I weeded a couple of  circles, and discovered much of the spinach seed I roughly sprinkled about 8 weeks ago had actually germinated! I’ve not been very lucky with spinach in the past, mollycoddling it in the greenhouse. Which sometimes means erratic watering. Now I’ll direct seed it and forget it.  In another circle I found some of the collards I’d broadcast as well on the basis they’d come up where they were happiest. Good idea to mark a circle when you do this as in another spot I’d been wondering what the rogue brassicas were and pulling them out. Ahem!

Big news – the chickens have started laying again after a few months freeloading rest. Finally!

Green stuff is still growing in the garden, and on the second official day of winter  this self-grown sunflower opened up. We throw grain mix on the lawn for the chickens and this is one seed they must have missed. It’s looking a bit tired now, a month later.

Winter Sunflower

Robin scooped up the lovely rotted mulch from the paths and added it to our resting circle. It was dark, full of worms and practically weed-free. The paths have been topped up from our mulch mountain. This will make a huge difference in the spring – the paths will be less rich for weeds to grow, the paths will be drier underfoot and the berries that will be planted in that circle will love the wood-rich rotted material. Perfect.
Intentional carrots and onions

The worms are happy, there’s enough coriander, borage and forget-me-not seedlings covering the spare space to stop other weeds thank goodness. I did have to pull out excess coriander and english marigolds from the carrots and onion though.
We’re eating lots of granny smith apples (a batch of bottles of stewed ones are in the preserver at the moment). The rabbits get the battered windfalls and prunings (disclaimer, Dutchy has a Fuji apple here)
Dutchy taking a leisurely approach to her work

If you look carefully in the photo below you will spot a rosella also enjoying a granny smith.

Feeding the wildlife

Click to enlarge

And the lemon trees are loaded – I decided to do a bit of gentle pruning, which led to putting a box of lemons out the front as giveaways.
Lemon surplus

Perspective shift

When Leigh visited recently, he commented on the strawberries growing in the lawn in the front yard and knelt down to eat some, fresh from the plants. I’ve been seeing grass growing as weeds in between the strawberries and criticising my lax maintenance in the front garden. The grass has had the advantage of making the berries a bit less visible to the birds as well.

Another perspective shift happened a long time ago. I don’t ‘weed’ the vegie garden anymore. I collect fresh surplus green stuff for the rabbits.

 

Wildlife

Rescued Skink

Our previous cat Rosie was not much of a hunter. Milly and Ruby however are enthusiastic and skilled young hunters. I have decided it may be better to let them play with the (still alive) skinks they bring inside. This, I reason, means fewer skinks die overall. If I save the skinks by taking them back outside, the cats just go hunting again. 5 was the record number of skinks we counted brought inside in one summer day. A few weeks ag we came home to a living space covered in feathers and some blood and bone booster for the compost, previously known as a dove. I’m a bit embarrassed by the decimation of wildlife – it’s not even during night hours when some people keep their animals inside. The cats have received a few lectures about it being OK to catch blackbirds, sparrows and starlings. They seem to prefer the pretty ones.

Harvest and Preserve

After a hiatus over summer, we have started preserving again. Presently we have several boxes of tomato passata and concentrate, some mexican chilli (mince & beans), jam and apple butter waiting to be labelled and tucked under the house.

Tonight’s dinner included the late summer delight – the humble zucchini – after a hiatus of a couple of weeks they are producing again.

Sunday brought a morning of soaking rain and it was the right phase of the moon so I stocked up on a bunch of brassica,celery and lettuce seedlings from Hobart Kitchen Gardens at the farmer’s market. By the time I planted out in the afternoon I needed a sunhat. Only one cabbage seedling was victim of the turkeys. They are getting over the knee high fences into the vegie beds and annoying me I must say. I think the solution is to look at fencing the perimeter of the vegie garden and getting the chooks to concentrate on the areas under the fruit trees. Walking in the garden tonight everything I planted is looking happy and settled.

Not my frog - but something like this

Something that Milly the cat has shown me – we have frogs again in the garden. I know this because she very carefully catches them and brings them inside. Last week I thought there was a ball of fluff on the floor at the foot of the bed. It was a frog that had been under the bed. Must vacuum more often. If the cat didn’t kill the frog, the dust surely would. When I picked it up the frog blinked at me so I popped it back outside in the waterplants. The one she brought in on Sunday night was shrieking! That too was untouched so returned to outside. I haven’t yet paused to take a photo as the cats are too interested.

Note to self: must get out in the garden with the camera.

Observing the garden

Sometimes in walking through the garden all I can see are overgrown plants needing to come out and gaps needing to be filled.

Other times I see abundance and raucous growth.

At the moment I am seeing tomatoes needing to be tied up, corn not quite ready to eat and patches scraped bare where the turkeys dug up my carefully-grown-from-seed seedlings.

Thank god for the seedling man at the market. I can at least fill the gaps while I ponder higher fences around the veggie beds.

Summer Update

There’s been little activity in the garden over the past month really. I’ve been a little distracted by my obsession re-found love of sewing and quite a few trips away.

Picking beans and zucchinis for dinner and encouraging the tomatoes to ripen with kind words. Playing with the hose, badged as ‘watering the garden’.

Admiring the pumpkin which has made it’s home on top of the straw shed so we can admire it from the kitchen window. Sighing at how dry it is over on the back bank where the pumpkins over there will not be doing much at all other than faking near death regularly. The trees in their giant holes filled with compost are doing so much better. Just a case of more organic matter needed, so we will keep putting compost out there and do some mulching sometime. Next summer should be better. The pumpkins on the side of the driveway are doing a lot better than last year – they have had another year of compost and mulch and watering so it is possible.

Corn

The corn is growing by the day and started to form cobs and spikes on top.
Last night I planted out and potted on the seedlings from my 30 December seed planting. The beans, spring onions and peas were ready to go out, the silver beet just about. Most of the others (brassicas, basil, lettuce etc) got potted on to develop some more size before being subjected to the vagaries of my attention. The thing I found most interesting about planting out into the garden beds? There’s quite a few pockets in the garden beds for the next round of planting. Which means we have the space to continue the earlier than normal (for us) plant out of autumn/winter veg supplies. In past years we’ve struggled with the cross over time between summer and later seasons meaning the broccoli has gone in far too late in previous years to get to a decent size. Adding the extra garden space is really going to show it’s benefits in autumn.

#Tub10 Treadmill

Well, once you say you’re going to do a tub of weeds/ over-enthusiastic plants a day for ten days, you have to keep going. Even if it is nearly dark on a cold night! I know enough now to focus in on the easy pickings like the parsnips that still lurk, and the parsley that is growing ginormous and getting ready to bolt to seed. I need the space anyhow, which is what this is all about in the bigger picture, not the ‘weeds’ as such.

Yes, the chicken in the back *is* that much bigger

Earlier in the ten days I was averaging about 5 minutes to fill a 45 litre plastic tub. Yesterday I decided to spend some time doing more detailed work on a circle I’d rough cleared on Thursday (along with about 4 other tubs of stuff from other circles). The chickens had been bribed with a scattering of grain to get in there and help in the interim. They’d enjoyed picking out the tender greens still left, and chasing invisible-to-me treasures of seeds and bugs. I’ve been watching what they go for as well – chervil will get replanted as a chicken green, whereas parsley is wasted on them, but loved by the rabbits. On Saturday I totally forgot though. On Sunday morning I realised, so caught up with another tub for my troubles.

 

Handmade hand soap

Last year I bought several bars of goats milk soap and noticed after a while it wasn’t having the same scratchy drying effect on my hands as normal soap. One of the blogs I read fairly regularly, Down to Earth, has included soap recipes from time to time. The soap was running out (we only use bar soap at the kitchen and bathroom sink) so I decided to make some. Just to see what it was like. No committment to make it ever again.

August 19th I made some soap using olive oil, coconut oil and caustic soda.

 One of the advantages from my perspective was that I could get all the ingredients from one of the larger local supermarkets. The instructions Rhonda provides are super useful and easy to follow. The only equipment I bought was a $10 stick mixer from Chickenfeed which survived the first batch. I’ll only use it for the soap so it is now stored in the laundry with other ingredients.

The caustic soda (lye) and water combo is very, very stinky – I mixed this on the deck and then moved back to the laundry once the fumes dissapated a bit. Mixing with the stick mixer took about 4 minutes to transform the warmed oils and the lye into a thick gloopy mix.

I used a shoebox lined wtih baking paper and some muffin trays as moulds to let it set. Being me, I managed to get some dirt on some bars when I went back to check it later in the day with muddy hands from the garden. After 24 hours I turned it out of the moulds and cut the large block up into soap sized pieces. I let it sit to cure for about 4 weeks and started using it. I used a sharp knife to tidy up the bars with speckles of garden dirt.

And it works!