The Gardens of Chiconia 30: Super Size!

It’s not the gardens I’m talking about, although at 3/4 acre (3,000m²) they’re large enough. 

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 5.24.06 pmNo, it’s the bugs.  I’ve complained before about monster grass-hoppers and Very Hungry Caterpillars. Lookee here. That’s a standard trowel… and that, my friends, is a Lawn Grub. The out-sized offspring of a beetle, whose natural habitat is, you guessed it, lawns. What two of them were doing in the bottom of my capsicum planter is anyone’s guess. I left them on the bird feeder for the magpies to enjoy…

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Malabar spinach

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Brazilian spinach

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Today’s planting.

More fun in the backyard today. I planted three varieties of tomato, four different herbs, English, Brazilian and Malabar spinach, bok choi, zucchini, two different kinds of capsicum, two different kinds of strawberry and a Norfolk Island black passionfruit vine on the side fence.

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11 years of faithful service, and now it’s time for a new handle!

There’s still space in the raised beds for a bit more, and I have some work to do preparing the potato bed, but it’s beginning to take shape. One tool I won’t be using is my poor border spade, which gave up the ghost today and will need a new handle before it can be used again.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 5.24.22 pmWe’ve given the starfruit a big boy’s haircut, and all the deadwood is now gone. The Husband offered himself up to the green ants, and went in with the chainsaw. Many bites later, the job is done, and the tree is now a third of its original size, but looks much happier. It’s had a top dressing of pelletised chicken manure and blood and bone around the new dripline, so hopefully that’ll give it a boost. My Garden Tea is still bubbling away and isn’t ready for dosing out yet. Take a look – that’s alpaca poo floating on the top, mixed with comfrey. I’ll post about Garden Tea when it’s ready to go.

Another trip to the dump got rid of the last trailer load of prunings. The jungle is now tamed, and ready for its chooky inhabitants. The Husband has been patiently chipping away at the rock hard ground where the base of the chook house will go, so fairly soon we’ll be able to put in the edging and get a load of crusher dust to lay.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 5.24.56 pm Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 5.25.08 pmI’ve been getting a couple of small limes a day from my little tree, so there has been a surge of Lime Zucchini cake eating. Using our own limes just gives us all the excuse we need to stuff our faces with what is now a firm family favourite.

And here is our reward for a day spent mostly doing yard work!

Tomorrow, I’m picking up my needle again.

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.

Winter in the tropics

Green outside. White inside. Isn’t that the wrong way round for winter…?

It’s white inside because I’m making the netting cages for the vegie beds, using white mosquito netting, which has a mind of its own. Which is putting it mildly. And it’s everywhere. I have one cage finished. It’s by way of being a test piece, to make sure the concept works. If it does the job once pulled down over the frame, I’ll repeat the process with the other two frames. We’ve rethought the tops of the cages. The aluminium frame we cut off is just too heavy to form the top of the cage and the whole arrangement just lurched around and was a bit unmanageable for a person of modest stature. Me, that is. The Husband was just fine with it, but as he’s not the gardener that wasn’t helpful. He’s very handy for the heavy lifting, though! Anyway, I digress. A $5 roll of garden hose, some cable ties and a pair of secateurs later, it was sorted.

And here’s the reason for all this labour. The babies are growing, and fast!  They’re sweet, juicy and tender, and need protection from marauding everything. I have not done all this work to open the Grasshopper Juice Place, or the Fruit Bat Fruit Bar.

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Flowers on the snow peas

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Rocket and Chinese cabbage

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Megalomaniac strawberries

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Bok choi

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Flower buds on my Long Yellow capsicum

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So this is the season tomatoes prefer

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Green beans, powering ahead

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Butter beans, which I love

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The new, lighter cage frames

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Lots of new growth on the lychee

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The pruning has done the lime good

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I can’t get my hands around the banana tree any longer…

Remember, it’s early winter here. Undeterred, the vegies are powering ahead. We have flowers on the snow peas and flower buds appearing on the capsicums. The butter beans, green beans and tomatoes are twice the size they were when they went in.The rocket, bok choi and Chinese cabbage are looking great, the spinach is taking its time, the lettuces are not very happy, the strawberries are making a bid for world domination, and the wee rhubarb has sent out three new leaves on tiny slender ruby red stems.

Tomorrow I’m getting out the seed box to see what other goodies might still be waiting for a go in the raised bed.

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…

On the chain gang

I’m very tired.

Between us, the Husband and I have shifted a cubic metre of fist-sized river stone, and a cubic metre of hardwood wood chips, dug up about 7 square metres of turf, laid weed matting and got all three garden pods ready for their planting medium. It’s been warm, sunny weather, and we’ve laboured hard.

So, no gleeful exposition of finished quilts. In between times, while the Husband is getting his afternoon sleep before night shift, I get a little sewing done. But I’m usually tired, achey and my hands are sore, so I’m not making much progress.

I haven’t been entirely lacking in creativity, though:

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Egglantine has now joined her earlier sisters Eggatha and Eggnes.  And that will be quite enough of that. As my friend Cath over at Wombat Quilts ( says, perhaps it’s time for an intervention…?  They are, after all, just egg cosies.

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And I’ve made a nice heat pad from the two spare Broken Bottles blocks. Maybe I’ll send it to Yvonne with her quilt. Or maybe I’ll keep it for myself. I’ll see how generous I feel when the quilt’s ready. And speaking of Broken Bottles, the quilting is about 2/3 done. There’s one bit I have to unpick, it’s looking a bit bulgy, but it’s just a small line. For the rest, I’m pleased with how it’s going.

Off to rest my weary bones. Tomorrow is the day for getting the lucerne hay and compost for the pods, and then, finally, I can plant!

I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend.

Broken Bottles #7: Turning the Corner

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Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 4.40.43 PMThe first border is on. I had some pale green strips left over, and have pieced together the first border from those. It’s not elegant, but it is in keeping. I just didn’t have enough to do beautiful broad mitred corners with these fabrics, so I’m saving that for the white border, which I’ll do next. I didn’t much enjoy this bit, trying to squeeze something out of insufficient fabric. There’s no margin for safety, and I can’t just go and get some more, the fabrics came from the UK. But however inelegant, it’s done. I think the white border will be twice as wide, and then the narrow dark green binding, once it’s quilted.

Screen shot 2014-05-13 at 4.48.14 PMMy sister sent me a photo she took of the forest floor in the rainforest in northern NSW a couple of years ago. She says it reminds her of Broken Bottles. I can see what she means, but perhaps her bottles are brown rather than green! I’d love a print based on this colour scheme and layout, perhaps with a little more contrast and some flashes of gold and orange, too. Which is weird, because normally I’m not much of a brown person…

I spent the morning on non-quilty activities. The second vegie garden pod is ready for its filling. We have one more to go, and perhaps a 4th if I can summon enough energy. I’ve stripped a load of turf, laid weedmatting and bark chips, we’ve decapitated another IBC and erected the frame over it. I must go and dig out my seed catalogue to think about what I want to grow. It’s too late to sow now, I’ll have to buy seedlings, but I’ll get ideas for later. Meanwhile, my back is yelling at me and I feel a cup of tea and a piece of gingerbread coming on…

Sorry, not a very exciting post today, but the progress is mostly invisible!

The Gardens of Chiconia 14

It’s beautiful autumn weather, much cooler, and we’ve spent most of the day in the back yard getting sweaty.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m planning three or four metre-square raised beds, to make sure my vegies don’t rot with their feet in too much water during the Wet. We’re basing the raised beds on IBCs, those white plastic cubes with an aluminium cage around them. They have a tap in the bottom to let out excess water, they’re lightweight, and will keep out excess water if the back yard should flood.

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This is what we started with at 10am today. A riot of lush, sappy vegetation and weedy grass surrounding the three pods we’ve acquired (for free, I might add!).

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 4.07.54 PMHaving shifted the first pod out of the way, we had a fairly tedious hour or so of chipping up the grass, roots and weeds and disposing of them, since I don’t yet have a composting system. Down went firstly weed retardant, then weed matting, and then a layer of bark chips. Of course, the wind picked up and the weed matting started to fight back, hence the stones in corners.

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 4.07.37 PMThen we decapitated the first pod with an angle grinder and an old saw. The angle grinder dealt with the aluminium frame and the saw with the plastic. The top of the metal cage is also being kept to form a frame for shade cloth and insect netting. If I’m going to spend time and energy cultivating vegies, I don’t want my efforts to be reaped by the grasshoppers before I get a look in. The pod is now waist high, perfect for working in. I’ll have to make the edge safe, as there’s a lot of sharp metal points and edges, but I think some high density foam insulating tubing will do the job.

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Here’s how it’ll work. The bamboo canes in the corners are 1.80m (about 6ft) tall. Visualise that top frame draped in insect netting with a roof of shade cloth. I can lift the netting aside to work in the raised bed. The top of the frame is high enough that I can grow quite tall things, like broccoli, if I want to. The two rear stakes are cable tied to the fence to give more stability. The crossbars of the plastic top fit over the top of the frame and the top can be fixed in place if necessary to protect the vegies from torrential rain. A sort of vegiebrella… We have the pods slightly sloping downhill on one side, towards the drain tap, in case we need to let excess water out.

Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 4.08.42 PMWe spent a bit of time to-ing and fro-ing this afternoon, since cutting the frame chewed up the angle grinder disks at an alarming rate and we had to get more. And we couldn’t get all the bark chips we wanted in one go, so a bit of time was wasted. But we’ll be back out there tomorrow. Ideally we’ll get both the other pods done, but even if it’s only one, it’s a good start.

Once they’re in position, we need some fist-sized stones to put in the bottom for drainage. On top of that will go tightly packed flakes of lucerne (alfalfa) hay, which will rot down over time and provide good nitrogen. On top of that, a layer of blood and bone, and then organic compost/soil mix. This will bring the planting level up to about a handswidth from the top edge. This year, it’s going to be seedlings. I haven’t got any seeds going because we were never sure when we were going to be able to get this done. And of course, I still need to organise the planting medium. So I’ll bite the bullet and pay the extra. Next year, though…

And then finally, finally, I can get my vegies going…

**Just a final thought. If you’re in a cold climate, these pods will keep the soil warmer than the ground in a frost, and you can drape the frame in clear plastic and/or horticultural fleece to create a warmer microclimate for an extended growing period.**

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.