The Gardens of Chiconia 39: Winter colour

By now, most of you know that here in Chiconia, our experience of winter isn’t quite as chilly as it is in temperate climes.

It’s downright warm and sunny, in fact. I walked around the back yard with my camera and discovered all sorts of signs that spring is on the way, whether it’s flowers or a bit of action on the part of the fruit trees.

Come and take a tour with me.  First the flowers…

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Little pink trumpets twining round the frog pool

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Pink silk pompoms

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These buds will become tiny yellow and brown spotted orchids

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It’s been a stunning year for the hibiscus

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Buds on the white phalaenopsis

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White silk pompoms

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First flowers from the petrea, lots more buds coming on

And now for the vegies and fruit trees…

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Blossom for next year’s mandarins

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Tomatoes enjoying mildew-free weather

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Giving the mulberry’s neighbours a haircut has obviously done the trick!

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The passionfruit, twining obediently along the fence. For now…

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That tiny round thing in the middle is a baby mango…

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Mango blossom, and green ants playing havoc with it.

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My dwarf avocado is flowering for the first time.

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Custard apple seedlings in the sun porch, waiting to move to larger quarters.

It’s starting to get lighter in the mornings and evenings, and the time will soon come when I won’t be able to work outside in the middle of the day. I have some post-winter tasks to take care of, like transplanting some things, tidying up edges and fallen palm fronds and leaves, weeding the patio paving and starting some seeds.

My most important jobs in the next couple of days are potting on my Angel Trumpet cuttings, which have ample roots and are outgrowing their accommodation, and cleaning and clearing Frogtopia, which is becoming a frowsy nest of dead leaves and bits from the palm and acacia above it. I have to clear the dead vegetation, take out all the rocks, empty the pond, clean it, flush and clean the pump and then put everything back and refill it, ready for the return of the froglets in spring. The huge elephant ear taro growing above the pond have died back a bit in the cooler, drier weather of winter, and I need to cut them back and clear out the dead stuff there too. It’s quite a big job, but it’ll look so much better when it’s done!

Thank you for visiting, do come again!

The Gardens of Chiconia 38: An orange sort of day…

A theme is emerging here, people.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.02.26 pmFirstly, the Truck Quilt is finished. The quilting is spectacularly ordinary, but it does the job of holding everything together, and boy, is it cosy. I finished stitching down the binding last night, and the Husband will be taking it to work on night shift tonight. I regret not being able to get it done last night, as the temperature went down to 2°C/35°F and was certainly chilly enough to make it very welcome. But at least he’ll be cosy tonight.

And now for the rest of the orange.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.00.21 pmScreen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.01.29 pmI have harvested the last of the mandarins, beating the bloody thieving lorikeets to it. They have gobbled up a lot of them, getting to the fruit before they were fully ripe, and leaving evidence of their marauding on the ground. The fruit smells wonderful, and some of them will be going into a mandarin syrup cake, some will be juiced for the freezer. The remainder will be scoffed pretty quickly.


Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.03.02 pmElsewhere, the garden is doing its best, considering it’s winter. The tomatoes are flowering very enthusiastically, but we’re having to move fast to save them from the birds and bugs, and are picking the fruit half ripe to finish off inside. My zucchini have given up in the bout of cold weather we’re having – cold for the tropics, that is. The yellow dendrobium orchid on the palm tree, however, is sending out flower shoots, as are my white and purple phalaenopsis orchids in the sun porch. I have some potting on to do: some of my custard apple seeds have germinated, and the angel trumpet cuttings have long, long roots. Time to give them a pot to play in!

The sun is shining, there’s a fresh, cool breeze, and in Europe, I’d call this a lovely spring day!

The Gardens of Chiconia 37: winter vegies

It’s winter in my garden, so it must be time to grow tomatoes!

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.51.22 pm Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.50.51 pm Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.48.13 pm Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.51.59 pm Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.48.50 pm Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.49.19 pmNo, I’m not raving. We’re averaging pleasant daytime temperatures of around 24-26°C (75-78°F), it hasn’t fallen below 10°C (50°F) at night, the bugs are (mostly) in abeyance, and it’s the perfect time to grow the things that can’t cope in the height of the summer. Tomatoes, zucchini, herbs…

Of course, I’m not showing the silverbeet and bok choi which have been decimated by the Eggfly Butterfly caterpillars – it’s an ugly scene of devastation. It happened last year too, and I hoped a change of venue would make the difference, but it hasn’t.  So far, my Brazilian and Malabar Spinach seem to be untouched – the greedy beasts seem to prefer the brassica family.

I hope winter is treating the Aussies and Kiwis among you kindly, and that the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere has brought balmy weather and longer sunny days.


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.

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….

On the menu tonight…

While I was away, the Gardens of Chiconia have not been idle.

Screen shot 2014-07-06 at 11.05.21 AMThis basket is tonight’s supper, along with some nice local lamb cutlets. We have Chinese cabbage, bok choi, spinach, rocket (arugula), baby sweet potato leaves, a small but perfectly formed zucchini and some young green and butter beans.

I must organise some more bok choi and Chinese cabbage seedlings, spaces are opening up to plant more. I’ve had to prune the zucchini plants back a bit to give the beans a chance. There are lots of them, but if they get enough sun I may get another flush of flowers and hence more beans. And nipping leaves off the sweet potato vine not only helps to keep it to a reasonable size, but also gives me another green leaf vegetable.

The tomatoes are tall, green and rampant, and are slowly beginning to flower. The cherry toms have just set some microscopic green fruit, the Romas have begun to flower and the Grosse Lisse have buds. So it looks as if I’ll get a nice long tomato season! The Grosse Lisse plants are huge, so I’m hoping for a big crop so I can bottle some tomato sauce.

Back to the laundry. How we managed to accumulate 4 loads of it I’m not too sure, but it all has to get done. Plus weeding, soup making, cleaning, admin and last but not least, sewing. Hurray for quiet Sundays….

More soon. 😉

The Gardens of Chiconia 16

We’re having some lovely soft rain, just what the vegies want.

I’m quite pleased about it too, because it means I don’t have to water.

It’s mostly good out there. Except for the beetroot, which has been mostly beheaded by something that eats the leaves. I still have a couple of plants left, but I’ll need to fill the gap with something else which doesn’t mind the shade the bean plants are going to cast. Of course, I don’t have the netting cage ready for this one yet, and some creature is rudely taking advantage. Considering everything was planted only two and a half weeks ago, they’re doing an outstanding job. I’m giving the worm tea full credit… That, and the threats I uttered when they were planted, along the lines of “Grow nicely and the worms will feed you. Misbehave, and you’ll feed the worms!”

I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

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Flower buds on the Long Yellow capsicum

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Black King zucchini – leaves the size of my hand

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Rhubarb: it’s cute now, but it’s going to be ugly when it grows up

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Flower buds on the green beans. The butter beans aren’t far behind.

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Pods on the snow peas already!

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The cherry tomatoes are tallest, and flowering already but the Grosse Lisse is catching up. Roma’s slower…

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The sweet potato is going to climb everywhere. It’s three or four times the original size.

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Rocket, and its neighbour chinese cabbage

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Bok choi, almost big enough to eat already


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.

A protest has been lodged…

Today was the day I was to have cut out panels of mosquito netting for constructing the vegie cage sides and top.

Unfortunately, it’s been a windy day. The only table in Chiconia which is large enough to accommodate large pieces of mozzie netting is the one outside on the patio. After 4 or 5 attempts on the part of the netting to fly over the neighbouring fence, I gave up.

To Plan B, then. Which involved shifting all the living room furniture, lifting a couple of rugs, vacuuming the floor and then unrolling the netting there. I got a top and three side panels cut out and labelled before my knees, ankles and hips sent representations of distinct displeasure to Brain Central… Not to mention the dreadful noises I now make getting up off the floor. I hate, not getting old as such, but the accompanying wear and tear. The Husband feels that a couple of those silicone sliders you use for pushing furniture around, placed under my knees, would be the answer. I could simply kneel, and he could propel me around the floor. Yeah, right. Dream on, sunshine, it’s not happening. So, anyway, I’ve had to give that away for today. Hopefully tomorrow will be calmer weather.

This morning, all the baby vegetables got a lovely drink of worm tea. For new followers, this is the liquid produced out of the bottom of my worm farm, a stinky black fluid packed with all sorts of stuff that plants adore and we would probably find, well, eeuw. You dilute this elixir about 1:10 with water, cut with a little Seasol for the complete cocktail. Most of the babies are forging ahead nicely. A few of the lettuces are looking a bit limp and unenthusiastic. I told them to shape up or they’d be fed to the worms. Hopefully a few harsh words will do the trick. Tomorrow I need to get some more bamboo canes so I can give the tomatoes and snow peas something to cling to. And I have noticed teeny little flower buds on both capsicums.

Screen shot 2014-06-06 at 6.48.52 PMI have ordered three different kinds of seed potatoes from The Diggers Club:, who specialise in heirloom seeds, GM free everything and unusual and old fashioned fruit trees. I have 6 potato bags waiting for their new inhabitants, which should arrive in about 10 days. It’s an OK time of year to plant them here, since we don’t get frosts and the soil temperature rarely goes below 15C. And tomorrow, I shall dig out my seed box and see what’s still more or less in date. I don’t have space in the raised beds any more, but I should be propagating some more things for when what’s there is over. I reckon I’m going to give some climbing beans a go – it’s just about cool enough that they may produce beans…

Enough gardening stuff. I’m off to stir the curry.

Mangoes in winter

Mango and tomato season is almost upon us here in tropical north Queensland.

In Australia, canning/bottling is becoming increasingly rare except among the self-sufficiently minded and those who have a natural antipathy to long supply chains for our fresh foods. I’ve had a fairly clunky hot water bath canner for some years now, but it’s very primitive and I’m always a little uncertain about the results. No botulism yet, but there’s always a first time.

My new toy. Envisage rows of glistening preserves in green, orange and red...

My new toy. Envisage rows of glistening preserves
in green, orange and red…

So this year, I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a large pressure canner from the US. You can’t get them here. You have to use a regular pressure cooker, which doesn’t give you the same control over temperature, or as much information about what pressures to use for what. And it arrived yesterday; it was sitting on our brand new doorstep under our brand new awning when I got home. Isn’t it beautiful? Tonight, I’m going to open the box and read all 78 pages of the handbook. And then, with great reluctance, I’ll have to put it away, because it’s using up a good third of our dining table. The next job will be finding it a home in our micro-kitchen…

In the next few weeks, mangoes and tomatoes will be in great abundance and very cheap. Bowen mangoes, the best in the world in my opinion, are grown a couple of hours up the highway, together with tomatoes and all kinds of other fresh fruit and vegetables. So I’ll be going up there to get a couple of boxes of each, and then the canning can begin. Mangoes with our breakfast cereal in winter… Tomato sauce at the pop of a lid, instead of having to be made from scratch. Jams, jellies, sauces, seasonal vegetables, brandied cherries and peaches. You get the picture. It will mean I have to also organise storage space for all the preserves, which is another story again.

Excuse me. I’m off to gloat over my pressure canner again.