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.

The Gardens of Chiconia 26: The Wet is dry

It’s been a while since you saw anything much from the Gardens of Chiconia.

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Long beans – those long stalky things at the front ARE the beans. They’re going to be huge when they’re ready…

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Baby limes. I know they won’t all survive, but I’m hoping that a handful make it through this dry weather

So here we go.  We’re having a very, very dry start to the Wet.  No big thunderstorms, no days of overcast and rain, no monsoonal downpour, no water gurgling in the gutters, no grass growing so fast you can practically see it. What we laughingly call a lawn is dry and brown and crispy.  My vegies are doing their valiant best due to nightly watering, but the rest of the garden is having to fend for itself, and some of it is looking a bit stressed.

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The sweet potato heading for the trees. There’s so much of it now I couldn’t get it all in one shot. If it gets any worse, I’m going to pinch out the tips and eat them in a salad.

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Front to back: Desert Rose, Avocado, Lychee, Lemon, Lime, Mango and Flame Tree. Frangipani in the blue pot you can just see at the front.

Having said that, I’m thrilled to be growing any vegies at all. With the lack of rain is a corresponding lack of humidity, so things aren’t falling prey to mould, mildew and the other delights you face in the tropics. We’re picking tomatoes daily, the long beans (a local speciality) have just started to set and the snake beans are reaching for the sky but no sign of flowers yet.  My capsicums keep flowering, but the heat is such that they won’t set fruit and just blacken and wither.  The zucchini is producing a respectable number of male flowers but I’m waiting for the tiny female ones at the base to get cracking.  Finally, the sweet potato vine is making a bid for world domination, and is investigating the local palm trees as potential climbing material.

All the dwarf fruit trees in tubs are hanging on, too.  There’s no sign of fruiting yet from the mango, avocado or lychee, but they’re all thriving and in full leaf. The Meyer lemon has 5 fruit on it, and the Tahitian lime is covered in small fruit which I’m hoping it will mostly retain.  Down the garden, the mandarin I rescued from the Burnie Vine is water stressed and has dropped all its tiny fruit bar one.  It’s a long way from the tap, and the hose won’t stretch that far, so I keep a watering can under the airconditioning water outlet, which fills it for me daily, and the tree gets about 10 litres a day from that. The big mango trees down the bottom of the garden are looking dreadful, mostly denuded of leaves and full of green ant nests. One of the two has a solitary mango right at the top, and I’m not braving the green ants to go after it!

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Frogtopia: you can’t really see the tiny trickle of water coming from the pile of rocks, but it’s all water under there. The pot is partially submerged and on its side to give frogs a cool hiding place in hot weather.

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What are they all looking at?

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He’s looking at it too…

Frogtopia also receives a nightly soaking, and is looking lush and lavishly healthy. It must be OK, because there are loads of froglets in it – I counted at least 9 this morning.  On really hot afternoons, I’m tempted to climb in there myself to cool down, but I don’t think I’d be a welcome visitor…

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The future vegie patch of Chiconia. The taps are just behind the trees in tubs on the left. You can see how green the grass is there; it’s where we put everything around a sprinkler to be irrigated each evening while I was away in hospital. The brown crispy stuff at the front is how the rest of our grass looks…

We’ve finally designated a section of the yard at the side to be the vegetable area. This prolonged dry weather has made it clear that we won’t be able to get away without an irrigation system long term, and the most sensible place is at the side, near the taps and partially shaded by the row of palms down the side.  The area is generally green a little longer than the rest of the garden, and is handy for the kitchen.  So now we just need to chop down all the remaining grass and weeds that are growing there and put down sheets of cardboard and newspaper to kill off the grass.  After that, we can build 3 or 4 long raised beds, put down sugar cane mulch or bark chips over the rest of it, fill the beds with soil and compost, mulch them, and wait for autumn, when it will cool enough and dry enough after the Wet to start planting.

Plenty to do around here. Shame it’s too hot to work outside much….

Rain at last

Not a drenching, unfortunately, but a steady light rain.

Screen shot 2014-12-06 at 6.13.06 AMWhich is better than nothing.  Overnight some of our driest inland areas have received a bit, and currently, there’s a wet grey haze over everything out there. It smells wonderful, the temperature is pleasantly moderate, and if nothing else, I won’t have to water the garden. And leaving the laundry out on the line appears to have done its usual magic. I’d dug out all my large white damask tablecloths in preparation for Christmas, washed them and left them on the line in the sun to bleach and air. So of course it was going to rain….

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Froglets in happy song

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Juicy baby limes!

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Rain on the new mango leaves










The cane harvest finished yesterday. This region had its biggest ever cut, 5.5 million tonnes. But the new young cane that’s coming through is looking yellow and stressed, and unless it gets water at this critical early stage, next year’s crop is in danger. So the farmers will be very happy this grey and drizzly Saturday morning. And best of all, they won’t have to pay for power and water for irrigation today and perhaps for a few more days.

Out in the ocean north of Australia, some storm cells are gathering, but nothing like what we’d normally expect to see. Yes, there’s circulating activity over the Philippines, but that’s too far north to affect us. The proper monsoon front has just not formed. Yet…

We’d planned to take Miss Scarlett (our big motorbike) out for a ride this morning. It’s early yet – 7am, we’re due to meet friends at 9am, have a ride, and then have a barbecue. But if this continues, I think plans will be shelved, at least for a while. It’s not that we’re afraid of getting wet, we have the proper clothing, but the roads will be dangerously slippery for anything on two wheels, for a while at least. And since this was supposed to be a fun ride, rather than a feat of endurance, why put ourselves in danger?

The froglets are delighted, and letting us know in song….

Home at last

So, self, what’ll it be?

Do I (a) dive headlong into all the jobs round the house which are yelping at me to get done now I’m finally home after 11 days away? Do I (b) carry on cranking out hexie flowers at a manic rate now I have access to all the other bits of fabric, 25 down, only another howevermany to go? Do I (c) start work on the Husband’s richly deserved quilt, at last?

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Why is it that both my current projects are blue and red…?

Tough one. I suspect it’ll be a mixture of (a) and (b). Working on (c) requires time and concentration, and I won’t be able to give it either very much today…

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Despite short water rations, the tomatoes are still doing great work!

The garden got a big drink last night. Despite the Dowager’s attentions, it’s looking a little dry and sorry. I have GOT to get an automatic irrigation system in on a timer so we can leave it alone a while without any danger of losing the lot. Oh good, another job to add to the list… I have to start moving plants around, getting my new vegie garden bed established, too.

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This was what hit Brisbane but it died soon after, and we got nothing. Image courtesy of Bureau of Meteorology.

They had no rain up here at all, despite the enormous and damaging storms Brisbane went through.  The storm cell just lost all its mojo as it headed north and nothing at all happened. There was a little rain as we left Childers, three hours north of Brisbane, and then nothing other than a few minutes of rain.

Aaargh. The Husband has just reminded me that Steampunk has also been unearthed and is waiting for me. Oh, and I can expect an email any time from the café asking for another order of gluten free goodies.

It’s good to have things to do, but this is ridiculous. Never mind. It’s great to be home…