Nature notes and finger sticks

So, yes, another hodge-podge post.

First, the finger sticks. I have complained before, perhaps tediously, about ramming the blunt end of my needle into my fingers when hand quilting. Also when stitching hexies, come to that, but primarily quilting. People helpfully suggested protective options, and I decided upon silicone gel finger-cots. They don’t fully protect against sticks, but they slow things down, protect against excessive callus formation, and are slightly tacky, assisting with pulling a fine needle through many layers of fabric. So far, so good. Also, they were cheap, and I got a packet of 10, two for each size of finger! I have also discovered that if you’re wearing a band aid and need to get your hands wet, they’ll stop the water getting to the band aid. So, not a bad use of about $8…

And then there’s the stealthy approach of spring in North Queensland. Not really noticeable yet in terms of climate, but there are big fat buds on my scarlet hippeastrums, the brunfelsia is flowering with delicious sweetness you can smell all around the back yard, the azalea is in full triumphant pink shout, the gerberas are showing cheerful faces and the orchids growing on the trunk of the callistemon and elsewhere are in flower. Another stem of little sugar bananas is very slowly filling out with the slightly warmer temperatures, so I’ll have the whole issue of what to do with them all over again.

Also, Mr Sunbird is out and about, doing a recce for nesting sites. I’m using the front porch a fair bit because the daytime temperature is so nice just now, so I don’t believe he’ll try nest-building operations right there, outside the big window, but an old nest is still hanging outside the back door, so maybe he’ll do a reno instead of a new build!

Today, I’m going back to Saturday morning Days for Girls sessions for the first time in a few months. The last DfG quilt made $700 and went to the son of the lady to whom I dedicated it, who was so helpful to me in providing neatly trimmed out DfG scraps, and was so kind to everyone. It’s time to start cutting scraps for the next DfG quilt, and I believe I have a plan in mind, not just “slam a bunch of squares together and hope it works”, this time. The fact that it always did work is serendipity, not skill.

And that’s it for today!

Fast, and too fast

First, the fast.

Well, they make quite a big piece.

Considering this is the idle handwork of a 2 week holiday, that’s quite the size, wouldn’t you say? It’s not like I was doing it all day, every day, but once I get started it’s virtually automatic and I don’t have to pay attention. I need to start cutting into that new piece of blue fabric, and also make a start on some of the more scrappy pieces I have. There are two scrappy flowers in this layout so far, where each petal of the flower is a different fabric, but a few more will leaven the mix. I also need more pink hexies for the flower hearts; currently I only have gingham ones and I feel the need for more variety. I also have a few scraps for the lighter blue divider hexies, so I should probably get those made up and tidied away.

And now, the too fast.

Before we went away, I hung a stem of Ducasse, or sugar, bananas up in the garage to ripen slowly. You pick them when they have filled out, but are not yet yellow, and hang them somewhere cool. They ripen slowly and out of the reach of fruit bats and birds, and you can cut off a hand at a time.

Well, the weather has turned warm, the garage is warmer and the little bananas are ripening fast. So I’m offering them left and right to the neighbours. But we’ll still end up with too many to keep up with, even if I have peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch every day for a month and send the Husband to work with them.

What’s worse is that there’s a whole other stem out there, which hasn’t yet filled out but which will surely follow suit now that the temperatures are rising. I shall have to make large batches of banana bread and freeze them. I find dried banana too sweet.  Anyone out there have a tasty recipe for something other than banana bread/muffins which will help me use up my unmanageable excess?

Oh, the hardship of life in the tropics…

Three guesses

… what this thing is?

During our forthcoming chunk of annual leave, the Husband and I will be preparing and laying plans for my new vegie garden. A few days ago, I completed the roosts in Chookonia, and installed the two nesting boxes, so we’re good to go. When we get back, we’ll have the Girls cranking out chicken poop and I can get some serious compost going. The Girls will also be turned out into the former orchid shade house, soon to become my shaded vegetable and seed raising area, to munch on the weeds currently occupying the interior, and till the beds in there for me. I have plans also to clear another patch of ground near the banana trees by raising a potato crop in mulch, where I will eventually plant tropical-hardy vegetables that can take the heat, humidity and lack of winter chill.

My seed lists are ready. I’ll probably kick off by installing some ready-grown vegetable plants from the nursery to get things moving, but once I have a feel for how the space is working, I’ll be wanting to start some seeds. The list is long, but I’ll start with the basics.

Which brings me to this.

Some of you may well know what this is. Others, maybe not. I’ve been gardening for a long time, but I hadn’t seen one of these, and I think it’s genius.

Give up?  It’s a soil blocker. Er, say what? You know those black plastic seedling modules you fill with potting compost and start your seeds in? With one of these gizmos, you don’t need the module. You make a very wet mix of potting compost, vermiculite (or similar) and peat moss or coir (about 5:1:1). It needs to be wet enough to hold in a clump if you squeeze a handful.  You press this device down into a heap of said potting mix several times until the cells are firmly packed full of soil. You then stand it in a drainer tray and press the sprung handle down. Voilà! Seed blocks made of compressed potting soil!

What you can’t see in this photo is that each block will have a depression in the top surface into which you drop your seed. The thing’s a standard size to fit most commercial seedling trays and you can neatly fill a whole tray. It comes with a variety of doodads to make different size/depth of depressions in the top, and I also received a whole bunch of white tags for labelling which are reusable. The blocks last well, are easy to transplant into the ground, and you don’t have any disruption to the roots because of trying to poke them out of their little plastic cells.

There’s no plastic waste, it’s durable, simple, and should last me the rest of my gardening life. You’ve got to love that.

The only downside? It came in pieces and there were no assembly instructions! But I got there in the end.

Consider the lilies…*

… The lucky things just have to be beautiful.

Hippeastrums, or Amaryllis. At left, a Golden Shrimp flower

And they are, which is why I’m thankful for them. It has been a slightly dismal week. We’d looked forward to a nice break, a holiday from the daily grind. Just me, the Husband and doggo in our caravan, doing stuff we enjoy in a different and relaxing location.

Instead, it turned into a week of worry, stress, expense and fairly extreme confinement. To cut a long story short: we broke down (or rather, the car stopped working in mid-highway, just turned itself off) in an extremely inconvenient place. Car couldn’t be fixed, recovery service wouldn’t transport a dog to get us all the way home. We were stuck in a tiny, rather remote caravan park with no car for 5 days in a space 4m x 2m (13 x 6½ ft), in temperatures exceeding 30°C/86°F. Happy days. Good job the air conditioning was working! Worse than hotel quarantine – no bathroom, and three of us in that space 😕

Wild Turmeric, or Curcuma longa

We’re home now. Still no car, that remains in the inconvenient remote spot till the garage gets round to taking a look at it tomorrow. Much depends on what they find. However, the  Husband has his motorbike to get to work and I have my feet and a bicycle for local things like grocery shopping. It will be OK. The caravan is unpacked, finally. The huge mounds of laundry are done. Doggo is delirious with joy at rediscovering all his favourite places and beds. We have friends who will give us a ride if there’s an issue. I’m a bit weary, but it’s under control.

But I do wish I was a lily…*

*Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Luke 12: 27-28

Sign of the Times

Chookonia is ready.

The roof is insulated, the fencing is finished, the perches are built, the nesting boxes are done, the straw is strewn, the grain bin is filled and the feeder and drinkers are hung.

All that remains is for the sign to go up. Oh, and the Girls themselves, of course. The latter event will wait until we return from our forthcoming trip. I’ll call to order them on 25th and we’ll be able to collect them a few days later.

As for the sign…

We have a  round ceramic ‘Chiconia’ plaque beside our front door which my oldest friend had specially made for us as a wedding gift. The Girls deserve their own version, I felt.

I found this old section of plank down the side of our garden water tank, when I was clearing out old, dead fern fronds. It came up nicely after a bit of time with a hand sander to take off the old paint splatters and the worst of the roughness, and that knot at top left suggested an egg, so the rest followed on from there.

I chose a font, printed it out at the right size, traced it onto the wood, and burned it in using my pyrography stylus. It should last many years. Not exactly chainsaw art, but hand-crafted nonetheless.

Even a chicken needs a decent address.



Our guest family has flown.

We watched the nest all day today, but they’re all gone, safely out into the blue.

Yesterday, there was a bit of busyness, lots of Mama and Papa zooming to and fro. Sadly, we missed The Launch, but today, all was quiet. I think they must have gone either early morning or last night. The nest is fully intact, so it was a safe exit, rather than a tragic event.

Mouse is relieved at having ‘his’ open door into the backyard available once again. I’m a little relieved because it means I can now get out there to sweep and wash the deck, shake out the cushions and wipe down the table and chairs. Entertaining season is almost upon us, and the Husband needs to give the barbecue grill a bit of love.

I’ll leave you with a bit of bluegrass I love dearly, which is rather appropriate for the case:

I’ll fly away – Alison Krauss

Chookonia rises!

It has been a very long time coming.

We first talked about keeping chickens in our previous home. I had the spot marked out, the coop and run designed, and…. well, it just never happened. At that point, we were still doing a lot of travelling on the motorbike and had no trusted neighbours who’d take over chook care in return for eggs while we were away.

The Girls. Three Australorps and three Isa Browns.I miss keeping chickens. I had a nice flock of 6 when I lived in northern NSW, three Australorps and three ISA Browns, which was enough to feed me and have some to sell. I’ve been eyeing various parts of our backyard for years, mentally installing chickens. Again, it hasn’t happened. But in the past couple of weeks, something has changed, some inner switch has clicked over and now, we’re ready. Construction has begun!

The Husband is losing the very slight use of a mostly-empty garden shed. It contains an old lawn mower, some empty paint cans, exactly 4 tools and some planks of wood. It’s also the perfect size for a small flock of between 3 and 7 chooks. I’m proposing 5, on the basis of two laying hens per person plus a spare. You need an odd number, it works better with the pecking order dynamic, I find. I’m hoping to order point of lay ISA Brown pullets from a local supplier called Just Got Laid…!

We have installed vents (we used leaf catchers for ground-water drainage) in two of the shed walls to allow free airflow and let in a bit of light. We have a solar shed light and nesting boxes to instal, and will need to add insulation to the roof to stop it getting too hot inside in the summer. I have a couple of broomsticks for perches, too, one higher than the other, because of the pecking order.

The water tank which collects run-off from the big shed is literally 2 metres away. There is both sun and shade. It has structures on three sides already, so only one fence needed to be built. All we have had to buy is a galvanised bin for feed and the gate (and yes, we could have built one, but sometimes, life is too short and this one will last far longer than whatever our only adequate carpentry skills could produce.

There was a handy pile of bricks from which I constructed the skirt for the fence. They’re laid dry, but it’s adequate for the purpose. It gives a hard line to mow up to, and stops chickens and other animals from squeezing under the bottom of the wire. We already had the wire and the star pickets. There’s some fairly random bricks laid out on the ground for who knows what original purpose which I’m going to grub up to give the Girls more scratching area. There’s a brick path to the shed, and a brick apron out the front of it. The rest will be grass and straw yard. They’ll be let out into the main back yard once they’re accustomed to their new home and come when called for feeding time. The chook house and run comprise 9m², or nearly 100ft², which is almost double what is required for free ranging. Once they’re allowed out into the rest of the back yard, that will increase massively, and they will have extensive green pick to enjoy.

There’s not much in the back yard they can destroy. I have no vegie garden at the moment. But I do have plans to convert the disused orchid shade house into a vegie raising area. It’s constructed of scaffolding pipe, with a roof, a door and shelving. If some of the shade cloth is removed, it will become a very useful caged area, safe against marauding chickens, possums, bandicoots and greyhounds pelting around stretching their legs…

Still plenty to do, and I’ll do an update once we’re a bit further along. We still have to introduce Mouse to the concept, but he has a low prey drive and doesn’t chase either cats or the chickens that casually let themselves out of a chicken yard at the bottom of the street to forage in the surrounding area, trotting off home at the end of the day. I’m not too concerned.

Must brush up on my Chicken-speak. It’s been a while…

Took, took, Bork!

“Just enough to make the grass grow…”

We’re having the first rain for weeks.

I grant you, winter is the Dry season, but it has been ages since we saw anything but a tiny trickle. It started raining yesterday evening, it rained all night, and it’s still raining now. The rain gauge is half full. It’s sorely needed in domestic gardens, in grazing paddocks, in cane paddocks where they’ve tilled and planted next year’s crops. Where they don’t really want it is in cane paddocks yet to to be cut, and from the Husband’s point of view… our lawn. Yes, it’ll become green and beautiful once again. But it will also grow nearly fast enough to see. And it’s wet and the forecast is for more rain on the very day he planned to cut it. Husband is not pleased.

Doggo is not happy either. It has inconvenienced him in his morning prowl around the back yard. His fur is wet. Even after I dried him, he is sulking and is rejecting his breakfast (a passing fancy, I assure you!). I am getting Olympic-level side-eye from the depths of his floof, whence he has retired to sulk.

Me?  I’m happy! It smells lovely. All the dust is being washed away and the flowers and leaves are bright and sparkling. Although the sky is grey and gloomily overcast, it’s not at all cold and the air is fresh. It’s going to put a hold on my plan for a longer walk this morning with The Boss, but there will be other day, and I say this with all possible love, that dog needs to take a teaspoonful of cement and harden up.

Looks like a bit of sewing is on the cards!

Nothing to see here

Isn’t that what they say?

When there’s actually quite a lot to see, but they want you to move along? I, on the other hand, have literally had nothing to see for quite some time. But now I have things to show and tell.

Let’s start with… Baking. I have always been fascinated by cooking from the Southern states of the US. The names of the dishes are mysterious and wonderful, the combinations and flavours can be strange to UK and Australian palates, and many of the ingredients are not at all easily obtained here. But one thing I’ve always loved the sound of is ‘biscuits and sausage gravy’. For breakfast, mind you. Now obviously, these are American biscuits, which closely resemble our scones, rather than being the sweet, flat, crisp jobs we dunk in our tea or coffee. And sausage gravy? Not the rich, meaty brown liquid we make from our Sunday roasts, but a thick, pale, creamy sauce flavoured with crumbled ‘breakfast sausage’. This latter ingredient isn’t snags, or bangers (‘links’ to my US friends), it’s a large roll of seasoned sausage-meat cut into thick slices and fried, served with eggs, etc, for breakfast. I haven’t seen breakfast sausage anywhere in Australia*. You can take a pork snag or two and squeeze it out of its skin, mash it up and that will do the job, fried in a skillet and crumbled. After that, add flour, seasoning and milk, and stir till the whole thing thickens. It takes patience but is very tasty. Anyway, failing the sausage gravy, I made biscuits. I think they turned out rather well! Yummy eaten warm with butter. I would have added honey except, you know, diabetes… If you’re an expert biscuit baker, I’d love to know what you think of my amateur effort.

Gardening. As you’re probably well aware by now, we have a caravan (travel trailer). We keep it in the front yard on a not quite level piece of ground between two flower beds. Because of the curved, banana shape of the outer, raised bed, nearest our front boundary, it has been difficult to back the ‘van into her spot when we come home. So I have shortened and straightened it. Which involved heavily pruning some ornamental trees (ixora, hibiscus, variegated ficus, azalea, Bankok Rose and Snow on the Mountain), shifting what felt like several hundred edging bricks, hacking out soil, repositioning irrigation pipes and some power-weeding. Total time, 2 days of hard labour, but so worth it. I also enlisted the Husband and his angle grinder to remove the old and nasty mailbox which lives in that raised bed. It had finally rusted past the point of no return so that rain more or less guaranteed soggy mail, and will be turned into something more useful in its next incarnation. We also got rid of the ‘ornamental’ street number some aesthetically-challenged previous owner had crafted out of welded steel chain and tack welded to the supporting post… A new, functional, powder-coated steel mailbox improved matters no end, and I wrapped the now-disfigured post in a square of imitation buxus panel. It looks rather fetching…

And finally, Sewing. I have finally got back to the Twilight quilt, and the first two rows are sandwiched and quilted, although I’m not sure you can tell from this photo. I’m using a rather beautiful purple Rasant thread, which blends rather well, but also has a pretty shine. It’s made by Amann, and is  cotton spun on polyester core thread which is both strong and smooth-running. So far, so very good! I’m quilting a cross hatch a hand’s-width wide, which is enough to safely hold the layers together but also results in a very soft and drapey finish to the quilt. There has also been activity on my Hopscotch quilt blocks, but I’ll leave reporting on that until ScrapHappy Day.

Amazing what a long post I’ve written about nothing at all!


*If you’ve seen it, do tell me where, as it’s just the sort of thing the Husband would love…