And so to bed

Only you definitely wouldn’t want to take a nap in this one!

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.56.56 pmIt’s been a cool, pleasant day, and I seized the opportunity to get done a job I’ve been longing to start. Today, I built three raised beds, lined the bottoms with wet cardboard, topped that off with 6″ (15cm) thick flakes of lucerne (alfalfa) hay, and watered the lot down. There’s a trailer load of good quality compost waiting to be shovelled into the three beds tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.57.16 pmCardboard stops the contents of the bed escaping out the bottom, and helps to suppress grass and weeds that might be tempted to invade and enjoy the tastiness going on in there. Plus it’s an excellent way of recycling and saves space in the recycling bin. But there’s a downside. Cardboard is mostly carbon, and the process of rotting it down draws nitrogen out of the surrounding soil. This is where the lucerne comes in. It’s nitrogen rich as well as providing biomass, and helps to replace the nitrogen robbed out of the soil by the cardboard. It rots down over time and reduces in volume, but meanwhile, helps with drainage.

The compost is made here in Mackay using plant material collected from all over town and from a wide variety of sources. It’s like rich black moist crumbs of chocolate cake, and smells nearly as good! Once I’ve shovelled it all into the beds, I’ll lay down an irrigation hose before I plant to avoid disrupting the future seedlings, and I have a bale of shredded sugarcane mulch to tuck everything up in once I’ve planted.

And finally, there’ll be a top dressing of Garden Tea, but that’s a post for another day.

I’ve learned a few things about what will and won’t work in this climate. My planting will reflect this, but one thing’s for sure. There will be tomatoes, capsicums, beans, spinach and herbs. I’ve got to plant twice what I think I need, so I can retrieve a reasonable amount once the plagues of insects have  taken their share. I’m also going to build up the existing bed which housed beans last year, which will contain potatoes this year.

It feels great to have soil under my fingernails again, and muddy knees, and a stiff back and a peaceful mind.  I’m back where I belong. Out in the garden.


Chain Gang, day 2

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.12 PM The heavy lifting’s all done. There are three pods out there waiting for seedlings. I’m SO excited I can hardly breathe. Vegetables at last!

First stop was the animal feed store for lucerne (alfalfa) hay, small bales. Seven of those, two for each pod and one spare for stuffing into the gaps. Next was the planting medium: 2/3 garden soil to 1/3 organic compost, 80 litres of mix per pod (approximately 5 gallons), well blended.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.26 PMScreen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.58 PMScreen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.10 PMYesterday, we put 4 barrowloads of rocks into the bottom of each pod to give good drainage, about 20cm deep (8″). On top of that went two bales of lucerne, the gaps round them well stuffed with extra hay. That lot was well watered until water came out of the tap at the bottom of the pod, so I knew it was well soaked. On top of that went the planting medium, well mixed and with the lumps bashed out. It’s been raked smooth, ready for planting. On top of that, I top dressed with liquid feed consisting of Seasol (seaweed, etc) and a big slug of worm tea, topped up with 10 litres of water (approx. 20 pints). That got shared out between the three pods, a little extra nutrition to give the vegies a good start.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.56 PMNow we’re ready to go. Tomorrow I shall go and select my seedlings and plant them. The pods don’t yet have their frames and netting completed, but the plants can be getting established until it’s done and the mozzie netting and shade cloth go up. I’m really pleased with how it’s looking out there. The little fruit trees are enjoying the milder weather and putting on lots of growth, instead of hanging on for grim death. The avocado was looking very poorly for a little while, but is coming back strongly, so long as I check it daily for caterpillars, which seem to find the new leaves irresistible.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.34 PMI’m very happy now with how things are coming together. It’s starting to be a pleasant place to work, instead of a slightly grim, weed infested dead zone. There are pleasantly scented wood chips under foot, I don’t have to bend over to tend my plants, I’ve taken measures to prevent everything from drowning in the Wet, and now I have hopes of actually being able to pick something soon, instead of delivering it all up to the grasshoppers, aphids, caterpillars, fruit bats and possums. I’ll keep you informed, and yes, there will be brag photos when I have everything planted, and probably more once I get the netting and frames up properly!

And now it’s time for a big cold drink, a shower and an attempt to dig out the large quantities of soil which have lodged under my fingernails. I could probably grow cabbages under there…

The Gardens of Chiconia 9

A morning of heavy labour and not much to show for it, unless you know what we were doing!

We’ve been hard at work, loading the borrowed trailer with rubbish we can’t recycle, and taking it to the dump. We’ve also dismantled a series of old fence panels, and have taken off the palings to recycle. With the weather forecast looking so uncertain at the moment, we thought it a good plan to clear away some of the potential missiles lying around in the back yard, since 50-60 kmph winds are in the pipeline, apparently. That same back yard which had become a dumping ground for all the leftover bits of our various renovation projects, and the back yard which is destined to become my food producing area. This morning at 8.30am it was a wilderness of old doors, bits of wood, rotting fence panels, a tangled mess of roots and stones and knee high weeds.

The pods. Note the feet and the big tap in the bottom for drainage

The pods. Note the feet and the big tap in the bottom for drainage. Space around three edges
so I can reach the back.

Space for another one at the end, at right angles to the others.

Space for another one at the end, at right angles to the others, and a bit of room in the angle of
the fence for useful bits and pieces.

And this is how it is now. The three white pods you see are former bulk liquids carriers, which were going begging at the Husband’s work, where they hold a urea additive to help the trucks run more cleanly. I want one more, so that I have three in a row, one at 90 degrees and a space in the corner for pots, stakes and other weatherproof paraphernalia. These pods are raised off the ground by the feet on the metal cages around them, they are rigid, have a tap in the bottom, and they are going to be my raised beds. Not as pretty as wooden ones, I agree, but free, practical for this climate and easily made a comfortable height to work in. We’re going to cut off the top section of the cage and the plastic at the same level. In will go first rocks, then slabs of lucerne (alfalfa) hay, then dried cow poo, then compost. Over time, the lucerne will rot down, and the soil level will drop, at which point, we top it up with another layer of alfafa, poo and compost. Everything will be well dosed with worm castings and worm tea. Because I’ll have 4 of them, I can rotate things and if I get something in the soil, it won’t be such a big deal to clear it out and start again.

These beds are going to be as climate proof as I can make them. They’re raised out of any potential waterlogging, I’m going to run a raised wooden walkway around them (made from old pallets and the recycled fence palings), and the surrounding horrible, sour, compacted ground is going to be weed matted and gravelled to keep down the onion grass, knotweed and rampaging invasive creeper from next door. I’m going to make arches over them from ag pipe draped with bird netting and shade cloth, to keep out excess sun and marauding wildlife. Can’t do much about the marauding insects, sadly. In very heavy rain, I may reinstate the plastic tops which were cut off, raised on stakes at each corner to give each bed an ‘umbrella’ of sorts. Plenty of water will get in at the sides, believe me, and it’ll stop the downpour flattening the plants and flooding the beds. If I start to find the appearance of them objectionable, I can wrap them in shade cloth, which will have the dual function of keeping the contents cooler and disguising how they look!

It won’t take a rocket scientist to realise that I’m not sewing today, so there’s no Tree of Life post. However, I am still hand sewing on the Car Quilt, and shock! horror! I have dug out a crochet hook and have started to make myself something. Time will tell whether it’s a disgusting mess or useful. And I will only display it if and when I think it looks OK. Since I can only do the plainest crochet and my tension is still very dodgy, don’t look for anything too flash!

Right, that’s it, need a cup of tea and a sit down (OK, a nanna nap). More tomorrow.

Tree of Life part 8: Growing the Tree

I’ve cracked the problem.

How I did it

How I did it

The top half. Ruler shows scale.  It's big, isn't it?

The top half. Ruler shows scale. It’s big, isn’t it?

It’s old school, labour intensive and uses a fair bit of paper, but I’m making a full size template, scaled up from a grid I drew over the design drawing.  One half inch square on the drawing = a three and a half inch square on the paper. To keep things under control and the size manageable, I’m doing it in two halves: 1) trunk and branches, and 2) trunk and roots. Here’s work in progress.

In position on the background: detail

In position on the background: detail

Tomorrow, I'll do the lower halfof the trunk and the roots.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the lower half
of the trunk and the roots.

Once the templates are completed, I can start dividing them into easy sections, lay them out and assess how large an area of strip piecing I need.  What I want to do is get straight onto the cutting mat and start putting the strips together. What I’m going to do is get the template finished before I allow myself to pick up the rotary cutter and bring out the mat. Who knew this quilt was going to be such an exercise in self control and discipline…?

One of the eight chairs

One of the eight chairs

Also on the menu today was finishing the reupholstery of the dining chairs.  Remember those 12 people I’ve got coming for lunch on Christmas Day?  At present, I can only seat a quarter of them, so this is urgent.  And boring, which is why I’ve been putting it off. But it’s done now. 8 chairs redone, mended (they were very wobbly) and ready. Not perfect, but done. It’s a nice linen blend, but out of the bargain box at Spotlight, so I was able to do all 8 for about $6.

I didn’t get out into the garden today as I’d hoped.  The latest corner  to be developed has a thick layer of compost on it, which I’ve watered well so that the moisture seeps down to the hard, compacted layer underneath, and stays there for a bit to soften it up.  I’m supposed to be getting out there with my fork, and turning the soil over to at least a fork’s depth, mixing the poor soil and the compost to open up the structure.  The whole area’s been flooded so often that the soil is very poor, all nutrients leached out, and it’s slightly acidic.  Hopefully by improving the soil structure, and thickly mulching anything planted in that area, I’ll aid drainage when the Wet comes, and we won’t have standing water, or at least, not for long.  The banana tree I planted in that corner is about twice the size it was, and it’ll help take up excess moisture too.

I did find time to make soup and bickies though. Recipes I’ve posted before: peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, and roasted tomato soup.  Yes, I know it’s boiling hot and soup might not be considered the most appropriate food, but the Husband loves soup, it’s easy, and because it’s home made I know he’s not getting stuck into some foul greasy fast food somewhere…

OK, I think that’s it for now.  Tomorrow and Tuesday are work days, so I won’t have much progress to report on the Tree.  I expect, though, that knowing me, I’ll find something to natter about.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend

The Gardens of Chiconia part 2

A mixed bag of gardening, worm farming and quilting today…  

Waved the Husband off the work, put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, and climbed into my gardening clothes.  I’ve been out there for two and a half hours, and it’s only 9.30am.  It’s getting hot, and the sun is swinging round into the area I was working in, so it’s time to retreat indoors.

The Tropical Garden is beginning to take shape after a hiatus. Today I turned over a few square metres of soil which has had compost on it for a week or so.  There was an earthworm in every forkful, a massive change from before, when the little wrigglers had all moved out due to compaction, waterlogging and nutrient leaching. The strategy is working!  I spread another 75kg of compost on a new area, putting in stepping stone so I wouldn’t compact it when I had to get to the vegie tubs. I planted a fairly advanced variegated shell ginger for quick impact, the brugmansia, a monstera deliciosa, a gardenia, a gorgeous black velvet-leaved alocasia, a peace lily, three more ginger rhizomes to come through over time, and another small murraya in a tub by the front door, to keep the lemon geranium, curry plant, stevia, sage and oregano company. (Notice the recurring theme of the front door pots?  All smell and/or taste good.)  They all have dark blue glazed pots and look very pretty.  I like the contrast in leaf colour from very dark green through acid green to silver.  Round the corner, the Desert Garden is looking lovely: the portulaca is growing like crazy and has lots of bright vermilion flowers.

The portulaca is flower for all it's worth, and just doesn't stop. The flowers close up at night.

The portulaca is flowering for all it’s worth, and just doesn’t stop. The flowers close up at night. The aloe has just started throwing out pups.

I have taken 2L of worm tea from the bottom of my worm farm. Considering this is used diluted 1:10, I’ve got plenty of fertilising material for the next couple of months!  It’s the first time I’ve stripped the liquid out, and I’m impressed with the work my little red wrigglers are doing in the short time they’ve been with us. They get all the kitchen and table scraps apart from onion and citrus.  We put the soft stuff through a blender with a dash of water, for a quick munch, and then cut up the harder scraps for longer term snacking. There’s rarely anything left. They like the contents of the vacuum cleaner and my hairbrush, the dust kittens that gather in the corners, old egg boxes and dead leaves, and are basically a wonder of nature. Every few weeks I have to renew their damp newspaper ‘roof’ because they’ve eaten most of the old one. They live in a high rise polystyrene foam box condominium with a lid. They’re old broccoli boxes, but don’t tell the worms. The bottom one collects the ‘tea’. The next one up has holes in the bottom to let the tea escape, and contains the worms, their living quarters, the latest meal, and the newspaper roof. Then there’s a lid on top of that, with airholes punched in. It lives in the garage in the cool and the dark, doesn’t smell and is clearly labelled so people take care around it. The Husband loves the wormies, and takes on the job of blitzing their food, cutting the hard stuff up and feeding them.

I’m going to retreat to my workroom and get stuck into my Morning Tea quilt again.  Today, it’s sewing down the fairy cakes fused onto the cake stand, the last job on the quilt top.  (For those of you on your first visit, take a look at Morning Tea at the the Quilting Bee from 27 September).  I now have the batting, binding and backing fabric for it, and the sandwiching process can begin.  This will consist of laying out the backing, wrong side up, on the floor.  On top of this will go the batting (wadding), which is needled cotton, so I can quilt fairly far apart if I want to.  On top of that goes the quilt top, right side up. Then you grovel around on hands and knees, pushing curved safety pins through all three layers at hand’s width intervals to hold everything securely together for quilting. Then you stop, let your back unkink, reward yourself with a large drink, and put off further action till another day.  Or that’s how it goes with me, anyway…

The gardens of Chiconia

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Ok, time for some garden notes….                        Top: this is my ‘tropical garden’, before work started. Middle & bottom: some work done, plants in. Imagine the planting space filled with huge lush plants. The area was originally parched in the winter and wet and boggy in the summer.  In the Rains, the water pools in that […]

In at the deep end…

Finally, I have entered the bloggosphere.  It’s about time, I hear many of you cry, since I’ve been more or less blogging for the last 5 years, sending out a weekly bulletin/email thingy with my week’s doings.  So, I eventually grew tired of the schedule and decided I’d add stuff when I felt like it instead of once a week.

I’m quite interested to see if this is going to be user friendly or more trouble than it’s worth.  It’s not too complicated so far…  One of the things I wanted was to be able to add photos, so here we go… One of my recent efforts.

I love the way the feathery cane flowers are echoed by the flames above them

I love the way the feathery cane flowers are echoed by the flames above them

And here we are.  It’s currently one of my favourite images. It’s a cane fire: they fire the mature cane crop to clear out dried leaves, weeds and other trash before harvesting to ensure that what gets sent to the sugar mill is more cane than rubbish. Very dramatic, very exciting to watch.

Cool, so that works.  Tick.  You don’t get a huge choice of fonts, but you can make stuff pretty colours. It’s going to need some work and experimentation to get this looking the way I want, but that’s true of everything new.

OK, what else is new.  Well, yesterday we planted out my three new dwarf fruit trees: an avocado, a mango and a lychee.  They grow no more than 3m tall (unlike the full size jobs, which can top out at 20m easily), and are happy in large tubs, so that’s what they got, on little wheeled platforms so I can push them around to catch sun or shade.  And now I’ll be able to eat my own fruit in 2-3 years, instead of buying it in the supermarket. The fruits are full sized, not dwarfed, so I can pig out.

We’ve been away for a couple of weeks, and I left my baby vegies under a drip irrigation system while I was gone.  I got back on Wednesday to find that most had survived very well: my rainbow chard is rampant, the spinach is fine, the bush beans have produced enough for dinner tonight, and the climbing bean is also OK, if not quite so prolific.  The capsicums and tomatoes and zucchini aren’t quite so happy; I think the unusually hot and dry spring weather has retarded them a little, so I shall have to see what some TLC will do now I’m back.

I have to turn over the rest of the earth where the compost has been spread in my tropical garden.  It’s had a couple of weeks for the worms to get cracking and loosen up the soil. I’ve done about a square metre, and backbreaking work it is too.  But now there are some plants happily nodding away there, and one of them even has a flower.  That’s what I call enthusiasm.  It must be the yummy black compost they’re enjoying.

OK, enough yapping.  Third post of the day, and more than enough for the moment.  Now I just have to work out how to let everyone out there know where to go….