A touch of green…

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Bed 1: tomatoes, capsicums, strawberries

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Bed 2: lettuce, rocket, bok choi, Chinese cabbage

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Bed 3: sugar snap peas, two kinds of beans, beetroot, zucchini and sweet potato (the latter two not visible)

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Worm Hilton: in the penthouse, the wormies and their latest meal, first floor: the worm tea department, and at basement level, extra guest accommodation for when the penthouse gets too full!

My vegetable garden is in at last.

The seedlings are still recovering from the shock of being transplanted, of going from dry, hot, cramped conditions to damp, coolness and space to spread.

In Bed 1, we have the fruiting heavy feeders: three kinds of tomato, two kinds of capsicums, a rhubarb crown and 6 strawberries.

In Bed 2, we have the light feeders: mixed lettuce, chinese cabbage, bok choi, rocket and spinach

In Bed 3, we have the nitrogen fixers and a couple of wild cards: sugar snap peas, butter beans and green beans, a sweet potato, some beetroot and 2 zucchini.

I concede that I may have gone a little mad with the tomatoes, but why else do I have a pressure canner, if not to bottle vast quantities of tomato sauce? And speaking of the pressure canner, with it I could also bottle the beetroot, beans, strawberries and capsicums, if I wasn’t already sure they’ll get eaten pretty quickly! Only 2 zucchini plants means that we won’t get inundated with giant marrow sized zucchini, and I can pick the flowers and the baby veg as I go. The sweet potato is a just because.  I won’t get much of a crop in terms of tubers, but you can eat the young leaves like spinach too. And I can’t do without a decent rhubarb crown. It’s one of my favourites, and the combination of rhubarb with strawberry in a nice shortcrust pastry pie is divine. And of course rhubarb and custard, rhubarb fool, rhubarb jam, rhubarb crumble…

The worm farm is going to see a lot more action than before. They’ll get wilted leaves, spent plants, the trimmings from our vegies, etc. In return, we’ll be getting quantities of black gold, aka worm tea, full of yummy stuff that the little vegies will enjoy, and in due course, fine crumbly worm castings to add to the soil. Worm Hilton will be humming!

And now, I will sit back and apart from a little watering, a little sprinkling of diluted worm tea and some encouraging words, it’s up to them.

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.

The Gardens of Chiconia 8

It’s a long time since the green stuff got a look in.

I haven’t had to water for a few days, thanks to the wonderful rain we got recently. Despite the forecast saying we’d have rain for the past week, though, it hasn’t materialised and I was out again with the hose this morning. And really, I was amazed at the growth things put on in this climate after a good soaking. It’s the usual culprits: banana, passionfruit, mango – and now they’re joined by the avocado, lychee, and even the citrus. Time for more before and after shots, I think!

Musa acuminata x balbisiana var. awak (Ducasse, or Pisang Awak banana)

Dwarf Ducasse banana, just planted

That same tree, this morning...

That same tree, this morning…

The banana’s the one that’s impressing me most. It loves its slightly damp corner by the fence, where it’s fairly well protected from the wind blowing its leaves to bits, and the ground is slightly lower so moisture accumulates there. Even so, the growth is almost visible. What is a rolled up pointy leaf bud in the morning is fully unfurled and a huge leaf by the evening.

I’m constantly nipping out the growing tips on the passionfruit vine, which, if left unchecked, would be all over two neighbours’ gardens and strangling the flame tree. It has the added benefit of making the vine produce more side shoots, which is what I want.

The Dead Stick

The Dead Stick

... and the Dead Stick today!

… and the Dead Stick today!

The Tree Formerly Known As A Dead Stick, or Frangipani, is also flourishing. Its leaves are enormous, and more appear every day.  It clearly enjoys life in a large ceramic pot, with its feet out of any water that might pool while the rain is heavy. I look forward to pink flowers one day soon.

The avodado before

The avocado before

The avocado now

The avocado now

I am fighting an ongoing battle with caterpillars and grasshoppers. You can only pick off so many by hand… They are munching holes in almost everything. Where there’s a lot of foliage, or the plant is well grown, I’m not so concerned, but they have destroyed a few plants down to the bare stem. I don’t know what the answer is. We get limited success spraying with soapy water, and I’ve had to resort to pyrethrum where a plant is infested with a dozen or so insects, but if I could point all the little devils at one or two sacrificial plants, I’d be happy! And of course, their favourite food is the tender young leaves on the fruit trees, and my most cherished ornamentals. They have made lace of the lower leaves of the Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet), so obviously they are immune to the poison in the leaves.

The Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant) in the corner is also thriving. It’s at least doubled in size, the leaves are huge and glossy, and I’m still amazed that I can grow something like that outside which has to be carefully nurtured inside in a pot in Europe. Tropical gardening is a continuing adventure and delight.

Come the autumn, I look forward to discovering how vegetables do here, with the construction of my raised beds and shade tunnel. I’m going to miss the things that prefer cooler weather. The area I have to work with is small, sheltered and hot, and floods in the Wet. Which means that even the things other people in this climate can grow don’t thrive in my back yard. So the first year is going to be a process of trial and error, seeing what works and what dies. I may be growing some fairly exotic stuff, working with the climate and environmental conditions, instead of against them! And I certainly don’t expect to feed us completely out of such a small plot: 3/4 square metres – especially if the grasshoppers discover it.

The lychee 3 months ago

The lychee 3 months ago

...and the lychee now.

…and the lychee now.

Everyone is getting a nice dose of worm tea and Seasol tonight, and a good watering. We’re going away for three days, up to Cairns and the Atherton Tableland, and while I’m away, the garden is left to the kind and tender mercies of my neighbour.  She’ll water for me, but she doesn’t know the plants and their preferences, so I want everything to have a good feed and be as strong as possible. I’m a tremendous enthusiast of worm tea. It might smell like, well, what it is, liquid poo, but it is absolutely chock full of nutrients and micro-organisms and the plants, which have no sense of smell, adore it.

And now, it’s time to sit in my swing seat with a cold glass of water, enjoy the sound of trickling water, and plan what plants I want to install next.

Bottom up and head down

… which is a fairly accurate description of how I’ve spent the last few days.

The work of the last three days. Those slabs are heavy!

The work of the last three days.
Those slabs are heavy!

In the mornings, before the heat gets absolutely stupid, we’ve been laying paving.  Yes, I know, not a sensible thing to do in boiling hot weather, but it needs to be done if we’re to do what we promised and have 12 people sit down to Christmas lunch on the patio. And it looks as if we’re going to make it.  All the slabs in that area are down, tomorrow we concrete in the edging, and then spend a few days brushing fine sand into the thirsty cracks between the slabs.  It’s a sort of patchwork…. Or so I tell myself when my back is screaming, sweat is trickling down my face and I have sand in my shoes, in my gloves, and sticking to my sweaty legs.  Satisfying, though, to see 12 square metres of tidy paving where before it was bumpy earth, weeds and sand the neighbour’s cat favoured for its evacuations.

And then it’s midday, and not even this former-Englishwoman will join the mad dogs out in the sun. So I retreat into the shady part of the garden, spread compost, spread bark mulch, move things, plant things, give my green family a nice dose of worm tea and Seasol, tell the ones that are flowering how beautiful they are, and marvel at how fast everything grows in this climate.

Two done, two more to go.

Two done, two more to go.

And when it gets too hot for even that, I go into my sewing room, shut the door, turn on the air conditioning, and sew fish. Yes, you did read that correctly. Fish, for the Tree of Life quilt, swimming around in the Sea section at the bottom.  Beautiful gleaming fish!

And because I’m now properly tired, that’s it for the day.  More soon, I promise.

Look at these gorgeous girls

Things are flourishing once again in the Gardens of Chiconia.

Everyone out there has had a nice drink of worm tea, followed by a nice drink of seaweed extract, both well diluted. I’ve nipped out the growing tips on the lemon scented geranium, which is growing too tall for its own good, and also the passionfruit vine, which I want to spread sideways a bit, not just up, up and away. After the frangipani, though (which is producing the most enormous leaves), the two that are impressing me most are these two gorgeous portulacas, which are putting up with hot sunshine and poor soil, and being about as subtle as Priscilla Queen of the Desert about it.

Golden portulaca

Golden portulaca

Scarlet portulaca

Scarlet portulaca, now at least three times larger than when I put it in

Aren’t they lovely?  Pretty much everything else apart from the Desert Rose is past its best and is now desperately setting seed before the Wet starts.  The Desert Rose has a ridiculous number of flowers on two small branches, but it won’t last long once the rain starts; the flowers will be beaten to a pulp.

Inside, my two pampered house orchids are still blooming after several weeks.  They have a very cushy spot, on top of the air conditioner in my work room.  It makes me wish they had a scent, but they’re just regular phalaenopsis, one white and one purple.

And that’s it for this post. A short one, because I don’t have a lot to tell today. Y’all up there in the northern hemisphere, you have a good day as I’m tucking myself into bed.

The Wild Beast of Chiconia, and other tales

The poor Husband is going to come back to a nasty surprise today…

His normally sunny-tempered consort is grim-faced, bloody-fingered (from the pins) and her hair is standing on end.  The overall effect is rather like an irritated bear. It’s not a good look. And the reason for all this joy? The ongoing battle with The Quilt that Fought Back.

Some of the quilting completed in the bottom half of the quilt.

Some of the quilting completed in the
bottom half of the quilt.

Having said that, I’m making reasonable progress. The bottom half of the centre section is done. Perspective lines are in, the little cakes and mugs are outlined. You will definitely not be seeing any close-up brag shots of my immaculate stitches. Because they’re not. Immaculate, that is.  But the overall effect is pretty OK. The chief irritation relates to my new sewing table extension, a clear perspex platform on legs, which slides onto the sewing surface of the sewing machine, in order to give you a larger flat area to work with. This is a marvellous idea in theory, but unfortunately, the manufacturer has slightly changed the shape of the machines since I bought mine, with the result that the table doesn’t quite fit. It’s loose and there’s a gap. And every time I turn or adjust the quilt under the needle, the edges or pins or loose threads catch the edge of the extension and shift it. Again and again and again. I’m delicately refraining from sharing my true thoughts, and I’m pretty sure the language would get this post taken down right smart (considering it’s supposed to be family-friendly). Anyway, I have constructed an elaborate network of sticky tape which is holding it still for now. But I am very definitely in Wild Beast Growly mode for the moment.

In other news (I feel it’s time to move on…), the baby lime tree seems to be recovering from the trauma of the move into larger quarters. The two citrus trees were given a dose of Epsom salts and a large drink of diluted worm tea at the beginning of the week, and it seems to be paying off. The lime, particularly, had clear evidence in the leaves of magnesium deficiency, hence the Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) treatment. It has new flowers, and none of the baby fruit has dropped off.

New flowers and baby fruit

New flowers and baby fruit

I’ll have to thin those out shortly as there are far too many for the tree to sustain, but citrus trees always produce too many and the majority fall off. I’m also watching a couple of the branches, where leaves have fallen off wholesale at some point, but which appear to have some tiny buds on them. If I can avoid pruning them off, it would be good.

Leaves on the dead stick!

Leaves on the dead stick!

The frangipani (dead stick) is in leaf. It has taken a while and I was wondering if it truly was a dead stick, but the tiny little dark red points continued to sprout out of the branch ends, and are now opening into beautiful pointed oval leaves. The parent tree has gorgeous flowers: pink, with a golden heart. I think it’ll be a while before this one flowers, but I know what to look forward to.

My hippeastrums have also flowered profusely; the earliest is now dead or dying, but there are some beautiful flowers still. My difficulty is getting a good shot without a tripod, and even if I had one, getting it to stand still on the uneven bark chip surface. Anyway, look at this gorgeous girl:

Aten't I gorgeous?

Aten’t I gorgeous?

That’s the news from Chiconia. The Beast is soothed by a little light gardening, laundry and photography. The quilt is progressing, the Husband is on his way home, and things are definitely improving in my world. Bloody hot outside, though.

We’re off on a road trip tomorrow. Mackay to Childers, Childers to Coffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour to Dorrigo, and home again after a couple of days. We’re visiting friends, window shopping for a house as an investment property, and on the way home, going to the Craft & Quilt Fair in Brisbane. For those of you feeling sorry for the Husband, you should know that we have a reciprocal arrangement. We go to events he wants to attend, we go to events I want to attend. So far this year we’ve gone to a big truck show in Brisbane, and the World Rally Championship in NSW. Now it’s my turn, with the Quilt Show, and in November we’re going to a classical music concert in Brisbane (Last Night of the Proms – I used to love the Promenade Concerts in London, miss that here…). The lappie is coming along, so I’ll still be posting and checking, but I don’t think that quilting or the garden will feature much over the next week or so.  More soon…