Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Last Post for 2009

Almost Christmas again and I’ll be away from my computer until after the New Year holiday. I haven’t contributed much here in recent weeks because I’ve been concentrating on my newest blog which is devoted to books. One of my recent entries on that blog is a review of Linda Cockburn’s new novel Who Killed Dave which many will find to be an entertaining read but overall was not to my taste. Some will know Linda through her blog, her articles in Organic Gardening, or her previous book Living the Good Life.

According to recent weather reports we can expect some heavy rainfalls over the Christmas break as the remains of tropical Cyclone Laurence head into NSW. A decent downpour would be very welcome to top up my water tank. It is now down to half full, the lowest it’s been since it was full to overflowing a few months ago.

The most productive things in the garden at the moment are the yellow button squash. We have three plants that are bearing more than enough fruit every day. We are also getting a good supply of zucchini, but they have not yet reached the fruitfulness of previous years.

This year I have tried a new type of bean. It has purple pods that are supposed to turn green when cooked. We have now begun to pick the first of these, but so far haven’t had the opportunity to try them. We also have our usual “lazy housewife” that is beginning to provide a promising number of beans. Its still early days, and I sowed fewer seeds this year, but we will hopefully get enough from the plants to meet our needs.

Last week I harvested all of my garlic. It is now hanging in the garage to dry. Likewise my Barletta onions were ready and are also drying out a little more under cover. The rest of my onion crop has also done very well but needs more time in the ground.

We had expected to get our first reasonable sized blueberries this year, but we were too slow in netting them and every bit of fruit disappeared thanks to the birds. Fortunately there weren’t many on the bush so there weren’t many to lose – but it would have been nice to at least get a taste.

At the back of the garden I have two Goji Berry bushes. Be warned – if you are thinking of growing them they send out vigorous suckers. That’s not the kind of thing they list on the label when you buy them. Ours are now entering their second year. I’m not sure when they are supposed to fruit but we’ve had no sign of anything yet.

Our Raspberry is also looking very vigorous, but again no hint of it fruiting. It also has new growth springing up everywhere in its immediate vicinity; but at least I was aware that it would send out suckers and the many new shoots were no surprise.

I now realise that I’ve overplanted my tomato patch. It is very congested and hard to see the fruit. Most of them were from seeds that were free with Burkes Backyard magazine but I did buy one Black Russian plant from Big W. That plant is doing very well and being on the edge of the garden I can a lot of good sized fruit waiting to ripen. Hopefully we can avoid fruit fly this year. It’s been three years since I last tried tomatoes, hoping the break might help us to avoid the problem when we tried again. The first tomato crop we grew wasn’t helped by the fact that a peach tree had been neglected in the garden prior to our move into the house. The peaches became infested with fruit fly so we decided to cut it down and to rely on the many nearby stone fruit orchards for our summer fruits.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Costa In Town!

Costa, from the SBS gardening show Costa’s Odyssey was a surprise participant in last weekend’s Cherry Festival parade in Young NSW.

Instantly recognisable due to his very serious beard, Costa “drove” a tractor down the town’s main street during the celebration of Young’s 60th Cherry Festival. His “drive” was being recorded by a camera crew so expect to see his visit as apart of a segment on the next series of his show.

I’m still wondering whether success in the garden is proportional to the quantity of one’s facial hair.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Heat Effects and Death to the Lawn!

Apart from a short post about kamikaze insects I’ve neglected this blog for a while. With a couple of weeks of extreme heat, gardening hasn’t been very appealing and a as result the garden itself has taken on a neglected look.

It’s been hard to keep things in order when the temperature made it too uncomfortable to spend time outside. And there was just no way I could keep dehydration of the plants at bay with the hose. Now, most of the roses have crashed and my potatoes are very bedraggled after a very promising and healthy looking start.

With the lack of recent gardening inspiration I have been spending time starting up my new “literary” blog: Out of Shadows and I’ve tried to catch up on some of the books I’d been neglecting. But my garden was not completely abandoned.

On some of the cooler evenings I did venture out to reclaim some of the lawn area by creating two new garden beds. The first of these was next to the new water tank (which is now half empty again). We had three cubic metres of garden soil delivered and only half was needed for the tank area, so I used the rest to extend an existing garden.

To create the first bed I put layers of newspaper over the grass, piled a good thickness of the soil on top and added a covering of sugar cane mulch. Towards the back of this garden I planted a fuchsia that is supposed to grow up to two metres tall. If that height estimation is correct it will make quite an unusual looking plant because its flowers are tiny. Unfortunately I’m not very confident of its future, it seems to be struggling. Planting during an extended period of extreme heat perhaps didn’t give it the best start – although it is in one of the more shaded areas of the garden.

The second garden bed will be left for a while. I approached this one differently. Firstly I marked its borders by digging up the grass around the edges. I then placed the clumps onto the garden area grass side down and covered them with thick biscuits from a bale of “lucerne” straw. [I put the lucerne in quotes because there seemed to be more oats than lucerne in the bale – with an occasional hint of “Riverina bluebell”!]. I covered all of this with a good thickness of newspaper and topped it all off with the rest of the delivery of soil. I won’t plant anything here until the various layers have settled down significantly giving the area a bit more stability. I also used the last bit of my sugar cane mulch to cover half of the bare soil.

Looking at the back yard now I can see it taking the shape I’ve been looking for. After more than three years of planning and replanning, I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere. There were two clear turning points that started to move things out of my head and onto the ground. Firstly was the relocation of the old Hill’s hoist clothesline which had been right in the middle of the garden, limiting access and mobility. We replaced that with a removable clothesline to the side of the house which opened up many more possibilities. It also improved the view from the windows in our family/dining room.
The second turning point was the installation of the water tank. Now that the tank is in place we can attend to the area that was needed for access for the tank delivery.

Eventually I will reclaim all of the lawn at the back. Most will be converted to garden beds, with a small open paved/gravelled area in the middle. We’ll need to shade that area in some way, but the means of doing that will be considered later.

I’ve written quite a lot here without including any photos to illustrate the things I’ve been writing about. I haven’t taken any photos recently because the decline of the garden (after such a promising start in early spring) has been a bit discouraging. But now the weather seems to have cooled off a little, and after a decent rainfall yesterday, I might take the camera out again in the next couple of days to take a few more photos to post at a later date.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Insect Conspiracy

What’s going on in the insect world? Is there a conspiracy against me?

Yesterday I was digging in the garden making the most of the cooling evening temperatures when a bug flew half way down my throat. I was able to cough it up and saw it was a green stink bug (also known as a shield bug – but the “stink” version was definitely more appropriate for this one). It was bad enough knowing I’d almost swallowed the thing – but the aftertaste of it being in my mouth!!!!! (And no, considering the experience, the use of so many!!!!! is not excessive).
I couldn’t get into the house quick enough to get to the mouthwash.

But you may say that one unpleasant insect experience does not make a conspiracy – but how about a second?

This morning at work I went to the water cooler to fill a mug to take to my desk. An ant was wandering around the top of the water cooler. As I started to fill the mug the ant actually RAN to the edge of the cooler and launched itself into the air towards my drink

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tax, Zucchinis and the Effects of Rain.

This afternoon I have an appointment to do my tax return. My last return was wonderful. Having been unemployed for most of the year I got all of my tax back. It was the best tax refund I’ve ever received.

Things will be different this time. For part of the year I was working two jobs, and one employer wasn’t deducting the correct amount of tax out of each pay, so I’m not looking forward to the outcome. I’ll certainly have to pay the Tax office instead of having them pay me.

If only our bills could be paid in produce rather than $$$. With the Zucchini season starting I can imagine that I could more than pay any pending tax bill with a suitable quantity of zucchini. They’ll be growing quicker than I can pick them in a week or two.
We’ve already picked the first small ones. They were barely 5cm in length but I thought I’d grab them before they shrivelled up. Last year we lost a lot of the first ones to appear. I’m not sure whether it was because they weren’t fertilised. At the moment we don’t have many male flowers on the plants to do their job

The last week has seen some significant growth in many of the veggies, which is probably due to the massive downpour we had one day last week. We had 46mm of rain in around an hour and parts of the town temporarily flooded. The rain has also given life to the lawn. Over the past few months I’ve used the lawnmower more times than in the previous three years and I’ll have to mow again this weekend if I get the chance. Two weekends in a row is a bit excessive in my opinion, so it’s time I moved onto the next stage of lawn replacement by extending the garden beds again

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Having spent my childhood in Derbyshire, England I look out for anything with links to that county. Over the years holidaying family members have given me books, glassware and porcelain with Derbyshire connections. One of the things eluding me was music.

I first came to know of Derbyshire singer and fiddle player Bella Hardy through an article in “The Living Tradition” (a traditional music magazine) and was able to buy her albums via her website.

The albums have not only added to my collection of Derbyshire “memorabilia”, they are a quality addition to my music collection. There is something about the traditional music of Britain and Ireland that I find much more appealing than more “popular” genres. It has a timeless depth of story telling missing from the commercial stuff we hear all the time via the mass media.

Samples of Bella’s songs can be heard on her website. Her strong rich vocals and traditional English fiddle style are given prominence in the recordings and are not overwhelmed by unnecessarily lavish production. Her songs and her talent are allowed to shine on their own merits.

Night Visiting
In the Shadows of Mountains

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Autobiographical Musings: Ambition, the Arts and Literary Leanings.

When I started this blog it was intended to be an outlet for my thoughts and experiences relating to artistic matters, yet because of changed personal circumstances it has evolved into something entirely different

Most of my spare time over the past few years has revolved around our move from Sydney to the country and the very slow establishment of the garden. I enjoy the productive side of gardening: seeing things come to life and being able to harvest fresh food from the backyard, but I miss some of my other interests that have been put on hold and pushed aside

Some times it’s necessary to step back and take stock; to re-evaluate where I am and where I want to go.

I suppose when I moved to the country it seemed like the perfect escape from a stress and work-dominated life in Sydney. And the emphasis was on the “escape FROM” instead of an escaping TO. What would happen once we left the city and how we would create a viable lifestyle was not given enough consideration. We were caught up in the romanticism of the move, trusting in many impractical ways of supporting ourselves.

After an almost idyllic first year, reality returned and I now find myself working full time hours in yet another admin job, not too different from others I’ve done. No matter how many times I’ve tried to change direction I eventually end up back where I started.

Have you ever had those interviews and performance reviews in which you are questioned about your ambitions and where you see yourself in five years time? I always thought that my presence in those interviews was a sign of my LACK OF ambition. I wouldn’t have remained in those admin/clerical positions if I was driven by the desire to climb the corporate ladder. My sense of purpose has NEVER been connected to career and employment. Spending most of your life working in an unfulfilling job merely to support a barely existent “life-style” doesn’t seem like a very good investment of time, but what could I do about it?

Part of my most recent attempt to escape this rut has been documented on this blog, but this is not the first failed attempt.

In the early 90s I left full time employment to study at University. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Creative arts course to study creative writing.
Earlier I touched on my lack of ambition – but that lack has only related to the business world in which I’d become trapped. Looking back throughout my life I started to remember my childhood desire to be a writer and realised that writing was the only ambition I could recall having.

Throughout primary and early high school years I would write stories and especially plays. For a time I had some very encouraging and tolerant teachers who made way for my creativity, allowing performances of my plays in class. Often these little dramas would be nothing more than a rewriting of recently seen movies or TV shows, but occasionally I’d come up with an original story and have the thrill of having a work of my own imagination performed in class.

I suspect things changed when my family moved from England to a new life in Australia. I was thrown into a very different educational system with very different people. With all of that came a loss of confidence as I tried to adjust to so many new things at the same time as I was entering puberty. My creative output became limited to set school assignments and writing for pleasure became a rare activity.

Fast forward 10 years.
In my mid twenties I decided to put pen to paper again. I started writing a mixture of articles and stories and submitted several to magazines and newspapers. While nothing was accepted I received enough positive feedback to keep me going. I also attended a couple of writing courses held by local colleges. Eventually all of this led to the gamble I took when I gave up my job of ten years to enter the academic world.

Within the first weeks of the course I changed my focus from Creative Arts to a normal Arts degree, majoring in English Literature. I was still able to do all of the writing subjects I wanted, but was no longer under any obligation to include art subjects that didn’t seem relevant. In their place I had more opportunity to study the literary topics that took my interest.

After three years I graduated with very pleasing results and I spent a year applying for work in fields that would utilise my writing skills – with no success.
One employer replied to my application with the suggestion that I seek employment in heavy industry and manufacturing because that was more suited to my previous work experience.

Again my writing started to take a back seat – or more accurately it was banished to another vehicle entirely, until I discovered the internet world of the forum and the blog. And perhaps that brings me back to the present.

My writing in its current stage has been focused on two main areas of interest divided between two blogs. This blog in recent years has been mostly about my garden and the move to the country. The other blog “The Onesimus Files” has been an outlet for thoughts on theological topics.

I am now considering a third blog that may put me back on the literary path. The seed of this idea perhaps started to germinate when I came across the website of one of my former lecturers. He is now a successful full time author and his site contains interesting and useful information and links that have helped to rekindle my desire to explore some literary possibilities.

I will probably stick with “blogger”. It is a familiar format and I don’t have the time or the will to play around with something else. I can also keep all of my blogs connected and easily accessible by sticking with what I know.

After making this decision I have already run into the first obstacle – what do I call it? Coming up with suitable names is not something I find easy – as can be seen from the name I gave THIS blog.

The first two names that I came up with have already been taken – either the world is far smaller than I realised, or my talent for original thought is severely lacking. Clearly that is not a good omen at the start of a new creative journey…

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Day the Garden Went Mad.

The Day the Garden Went Mad (well...the weekend it went mad to be more truthful).

Yesterday we received 46mm of rain that mostly came in one hour.

It's the most rain in one individual downpour that we have received in the three years since we moved here. Hopefully it won't have a negative effect on the upcoming fruit harvest. Too much rain at the wrong time causes the fruit skins to split, obviously spoiling the fruit.

At the moment the sky is clear, but more rain and thunder storms are forecast for the next few days, and temperatures are supposed to rise to the mid 30s(Celsius). It looks like we are facing some humid days ahead.

We went away last weekend for a couple of days and came back to find the garden had gone mad. We returned to a mass of colour with every rose at the front of the house in bloom. Our veggies also sprang into life over that couple of days. Peas that had been newly sown were already tempting the birds and were desperate for a bit of protection.

My two types of climbing beans were showing different rates of progress. The "lazy housewife" were struggling - they seem to be much more appealing to nibbling critters than the robust "purple king" that were sown at the same time. The latter had not been touched, but the former had been chewed severely.

This morning I saw the season's first blaze of golden yellow in the zucchini plants. While there have been buds for a few days, today was the day the first one opened fully, inviting fertilization. All of the zucchini and squash (three plants each) are looking promising, but I'm very concerned about our pumpkin prospects. The butternut seeds I sowed have so far produced one good plant, that succumbed to frost burn despite being covered, and now one struggling plant that will hopefully erupt into health with yesterday's heavy watering.
In previous years butternuts have been one of our most successful crops.

We have almost finished off the last of the kohlrabi. I don't think I'll bother with it again. It took so long to grow and took far too much room in the garden and produced very little - although the little we were able to cook we enjoyed a lot. We even tried some of it raw and found it had a very mild radish flavour, though it totally lacked the moistness of radish.

A few weeks ago I tried creating my own seed mats after reading about it here: seed mats on Thomas's "A Growing Tradition" Blog.

I tried it with radishes (successfully), with carrots (successfully) and with Mesculun Salad mix (failure). This approach certainly helps to neaten up the rows of veggie seedlings (and if you want to see a very neat garden check out Thomas's blog!)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Mid-Spring Garden

What a changeable and unpredictable time of year this can be. Proof of this is seen in this month’s weather statistics.

Lowest temp: -3.1 degrees (celsius)
Highest temp: 31.8 degrees
Total rainfall: 31.4 mm
Highest single day of rainfall 17.4 mm

Additionally we’ve had a few days that dropped around zero – one of which gave my squash a bit of a shake up, but despite a little frost burn I think they may survive.

While I don’t have any recent photos, there are some very encouraging signs in the garden. The onion leaves are looking very healthy, so hopefully that will be matched with good sized bulbs to harvest in a few months.

The Broad Beans I planted early in winter have grown well and are now developing an impressive number of pods. They are still immature at the moment, but that didn’t stop me from trying some of the very young beans which tasted a little like fresh peas. However their initial sweetness was marked by a slightly dry and bitter after effect.
Before the pods developed I was surprised at what a pleasant fragrance the flowers had.

We’ve also been raiding the kohlrabi. Overall these plants have been a disappointment, most of them failing to develop a ball-shaped stem. However, we have tried eating some of the fatter stems and they have been very tasty. We’ve had it both raw and cooked after peeling away the tougher outside.
Raw it tasted like a very mild radish – though it totally lacked the moistness of the radish. Cooked it had the texture of a zucchini, but I’m not sure how to describe the flavour, Gloria thought it resembled turnip.
While we’ve enjoyed eating the few that we’ve grown, I have found them not to be worth the space (and time) they have taken up in the garden so I doubt if I would grow them again.

This year we have also had an impressive display of Irises around our mailbox. These plants have been there since we moved into the house but they have never amounted to anything. There would be an occasional single flower but the colour was an insipid grey/mauve.
I assume their current success must be a result of the generous rain fall we’ve had over recent months. We now have a small forest of Irises that have continually flowered for a couple of weeks, and even the colour seems to have improved. (I'll try to get a decent photo of them later)

Another impressive flower display has been given to us by the Altissimo rose along our side fence. At the moment it is the only rose with an abundance of flowers. The others are covered in buds, but very few have yet opened. Hopefully we’ll get to enjoy them before the real heat of summer arrives and dries them up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Elusive Kookaburra

As I drove away from work yesterday I noticed a Kookaburra sitting on the perimeter fence. Its presence reminded me that I have not yet added a Kookaburra to the list of birds I’ve seen at home. It’s not that they are particularly rare. It’s not that there are none around – they can be heard quite often – but they are always somewhere else and not in plain sight.

Anyone who has heard this bird will not forget its laugh. It’s perhaps one of the western world’s most familiar bird calls, made famous by its inappropriate presence in almost every Tarzan or “African jungle” movie made by Hollywood. Inappropriate because it is native only to Australia.

The Kookaburra has a significant place in my family’s memory. Several years go when we still lived in Sydney, we took my parents to Lane Cove National Park for a picnic. As we sat eating we noticed a Kookaburra sitting in a nearby tree. After commenting on its presence we turned our attention to other matters. Almost immediately we were shaken by the sudden assault of flapping wings as the bird snatched my dad’s sandwich from between his hand and mouth, leaving a small cut on his lip.

Apart from providing a memorable incident, the bird had shown us its ability to swoop swiftly and silently upon its prey. By the time it applied the brakes (with the sudden flap of wings) the small targeted critter (or in our case the sandwich) would have no time to escape the bird’s claws.

The photo illustrating this post is one I took in Sydney at the Cumberland State Forest. They are not timid birds, as can be seen from how close I was able to get to take the picture. People who have Kookaburras regularly visiting their homes can often hand feed them with scraps of meat. But considering how elusive they seem to be near to my house I doubt I’ll every have that experience while we’re living here.

more information on the Kookaburra can be found here:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Antiques" & Collectables

Our interest in “antiques” and collectables probably started through watching David Dickinson’s “Bargain Hunt” when we subscribed to PayTV several years ago. Contestants were given a sum of money and then let loose in a market where they had to buy items to sell at auction at a later date.
The winner would be the couple who made the most “profit” at auction. I put the “ ” around the word profit, because the result for both competing teams was often a loss and the winner was deemed to be the team that lost the least.

Throughout the many episodes we saw, we started to become familiar with some of the types of items purchased. One favourite was iridescent glass by John Ditchfield. Another was an occasional piece of Charlotte Rhead pottery.
We started to make infrequent visits to antique/collectable shops and looked out for the names that had been made familiar through our viewing of the show, but the few items we came across were well outside of our budget and we could never justify the expense of purchasing them.
That did not prevent us from admiring those items as works of art and we could always enjoy the pleasure of stumbling across a piece that we recognised before we read the label. In fact, during our recent trip to the Wagga Antique Fair (see previous post), I spotted and identified a Charlotte Rhead vase on a distant stall well before we reached it.

Charlotte Rhead’s work is a personal favourite. It is not common so the shops are not overrun with her pottery. This makes it a bit of a challenge to find – which adds to the pleasure of spotting something of hers. Good examples of her work can be between $500-$1000, so I will never add one to my collection of bits and pieces (a recent purchase of two pottery whiskey bottles for $4.00 each is more fitting to my budget).

Gloria is always on the lookout for glass. She regularly watches “Sun Sea and Bargain Spotting” on ABC2. This show is a more extravagant version of the “Bargain Hunt” concept and involves shopping for collectables at European markets and later selling the purchases at a British market.
Gloria is amazed at the very cheap cost of Murano glass at those markets. Some pieces are picked up for a few pounds each – the same pieces here would be sold for well over $100.
Glass is usually very often difficult to identify. A few pieces are signed and some retain the manufacturer’s stickers, but the majority tends to be anonymous. Recently we saw a bud vase selling for around $140 that was advertised as “possible Murano”. Gloria later bought a smaller but identically styled vase for a tiny fraction of the price at another shop. I have since seen a vase exactly the same as Gloria’s on ebay being advertised as retro “Christina” from Sweden. What a difference a bit of ambiguity can make to the pricing of “collectables”.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Killer Frosts and Bargain Hunting

Half way into spring and we’re still getting killer frosts. My butternut pumpkin has shrivelled to nothing after a night with a minimum temperature of -3 Celsius. The frost got to it despite being covered. At least I have an abundant supply of seed to try again,

I have also had slight frost damage on my squash and potatoes which were also covered. My first bean seedlings are also a bit iffy at the moment being the only frost tender things I forgot to protect over that cold night, but they may pull through since they had a little cover from some surrounding plants.

Around here the growing seasons are seriously affected by the two extremes of frost and heat. We seem to get only a month between the late frosts after winter and the early scorching heat leading up to summer. The same kind of effect can be evident in autumn, with early frosts dealing the death blow to the last crop of frost tender veggies.
A week ago Gloria and I went on an “antiques” quest, starting at the Wagga Wagga antiques fair and then doing a circuit of the antiques shops in nearby towns. Mostly we tend to treat these places as museums admiring the artistry of earlier ages, but when we stumble across a bargain we occasionally make a purchase. Gloria was able to pick up some Art Glass vases for a very good price. Not only do they look good they can be put to practical use to display flowers from the garden.

She also bought a less practical vase, a piece by Colin Heaney from Cape Byron Hot Glass. She has liked his style of work for a number of years after buying a piece in Sydney and she was hoping to find something else by him. However, being very much amateurs we had to rely on the dealer’s labelling to be aware that Heaney was the maker.

The vase was the first thing that Gloria saw when we entered the fair. It was in a cabinet at the entrance. It was identified only as “Art Glass - signed” with no details of who made it. It was a very attractive glass vase covered with various vivid colours (mainly blue) in a metallic like finish. We made a note to check it again when we’d been around the rest of the stalls.

Eventually we went back to the vase and after attempted haggling the vase was purchased. The stall owner suggested that it dated to the 1930s when that particular style of glass was popular (I had my doubts – the “88” etched beside the indecipherable signature gave me a clue). When we got home I had a closer look at the signature and for some reason I compared it to the signature on the Colin Heaney piece Gloria had bought before. It was the same. Without knowing, she had actually bought the piece of Colin Heaney glass that she had hoped to find and the “88” beside the signature DID indicate it was made in 1988 and not in the 1930s. She also bought it for half the price she had paid 10 years ago.

While Gloria got a little carried away with her glass purchases, she was not the only one to make an exciting discovery. I picked up a hard covered, illustrated copy of Richard Adam’s “Watership Down” enclosed in a slip case for the exorbitant price of…


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

New Bird in Town

I don’t remember when I last added a new bird to my “garden list”. It may be more than a year. But this morning a new addition came along and stayed long enough to be identified.
My “garden list” is a record of the different types of birds that I have seen from my house and garden. They don’t need to be ON my property, as long as I see them FROM my property. The new bird was perched in my neighbour’s tortured willow.

It was a similar size to the regularly seen Red Wattle birds, but its colour seemed different. It was too far away to see detail so I picked up my camera and zoomed in. Unfortunately I still couldn’t see enough detail and in holding the camera close to the glass of the window my breath was fogging up the glass. I took a few photos, hoping that I’d get enough detail to help me identify the bird, but I wasn’t confident of getting a good enough shot.
Finally I did the sensible thing and swapped the camera for my binoculars, and that made the difference. It was definitely something new. The most dominant feature was its long, black curved beak which had a noticeable bump on the top – revealing it to be a noisy friarbird.

As my own attempts to photograph the bird failed so the photo featured below was found at:

Some may wonder why I initially opted for the camera rather than the more effective binoculars. In the past I have found that a good view of a bird doesn’t always guarantee that I will remember enough of its distinctive features to give me a positive identification. And when I’ve referred to my field guides there have been two or more similar birds all of which could have been the one I’d been observing. Having a photo, even one of poor quality, has often helped me to identify the bird I have seen.

more information about the bird can be found here:

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Life and Colour

The change to the garden over the last few weeks is significant. From the drab dead look of winter, we now have abundant foliage and some very vibrant colour. Even overcast days have been unable to diminish the glow of some plants.

Some of the highlights of the garden are illustrated in these photos.

The first rose isn’t the most perfect specimen, but it’s encouraging to have the first flower. The rest of my roses are smothered in buds so we should get a good display. Hopefully they will last longer than last year when the majority of flowers disappeared after a few short weeks and were not replaced

I took a liking to the aquilegia the first time a saw them. It’s taken two years for mine to establish themselves, but now they are looking very healthy. At the moment we have three white plants flowering and this deep red one. The flowers are quite unusual. Another plant is on the verge of blooming and it seems it will have purple flowers. The flower stems on that one are also much thicker than on the red and white

The photo doesn’t do this lavender justice. It is practically luminescent. It was part of a “ruffles” range that was available a couple of years ago but I can’t remember what the colour was called. We had another called “Mulberry”, but that one did not do as well. A large grevillea rosmarinafolia decided to grow along side, making growing conditions a bit too difficult.

This is the first good year for this grevillea. I think it is a Poorinda Peter. We’ve had a few flowers over the last two years, but this time it’s covered in these attractive deep pink-red toothbush flowers.
Also looking promising is my prized Bulli Princess. At the moment it is covered in buds – so hopefully we’ll have no more severe frosts.
So far, since we planted it, we’ve had only one flower on the plant so I’m looking forward to seeing how prolific it will be this year.

Alongside the driveway we have this yellow and white combination. The display at its best only lasts for a few short weeks, but it always brightens up an otherwise colourless part of the garden

While the photography doesn't do justice to the plants I've tried to illustrate - they still show the marked difference between the garden now and that of only a month or two ago when everything was so drab and dead looking.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It looks like we’re getting an unexpected delivery of top soil this morning. It must be blowing in from the west. The air is thick with red dust, so some poor farmers have lost a significant amount of soil which will be left as a fine deposit across the country side.

Gloria thought she could see a hint of dust in the air when I left for work today. The gathering clouds had a slight touch of redness. That “touch” has intensified to leave no doubt. It has the appearance of bushfire smoke without the accompanying smell of burning trees.
Apart from the visual confirmation, I am experiencing slight burning irritation in the throat that is different from the effects of a cough I’ve had for a few weeks.

We are supposed to get rain today, so afterwards everything will be coated with a streaky red deposit. The rain is needed and we always enjoy a downpour, but in combination with the dust the rain will be a mixed blessing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ordered at Last

I finally submitted the seed order mentioned in my previous post.
I made a few last minute changes. I bought corn seed from the supermarket because I hadn’t been too impressed by the varieties on offer through the mail order supplier – but maybe I was being too gullible, being easily swayed by the image on the seed packet.
I also dropped the zucchini from my order after buying some seedlings instead. And then I got home and found I had a packet of zucchini seed all along. Fortunately its expiry date is still a couple of years off so as long as I remember it next year I won’t have to buy seedlings or seed in 2010.

Eggplant was another culling victim. Since I’ve never grown them before and Gloria has never cooked them, I thought I could save a couple of dollars. We probably wouldn’t make much use of them anyway and they’d take up valuable gardening space. [It’s amazing how quickly the garden shrinks when spring growth starts to fill up the bare patches again].

As long as the supplier lives up to its word my order should arrive early next week. Their promised prompt delivery was a big incentive to give them a go.

There was an exciting development in the garden this week. The first sign of life from my potatoes! I had only planted them about three weeks ago and I had never seen results so soon in previous plantings. Hopefully it’s a sign of good things for my potatoes this year. But then again, the growth is probably coming from a stray scrap of peel that survived composting.

On the subject of “tatties”, I planted out a second crop over the weekend, this time in bags that I bought from the digger’s club. I have two bags of Kipfler and two of Nicola. After trying countless other ways of producing potatoes (and failing) I’m trying to remain optimistic about this method. My dad can’t understand why I don’t just stick with the old tried and true method of growing potatoes in the ground like he used to do.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A bit seedy today

I am ready to order my seeds and I’m considering my options. Do I stick with my previous supplier or do I try someone else?

The important factor is delivery time. After leaving things for so long I want my seeds delivered yesterday.

So far I’ve chosen 15 different types of seed to order. Thirteen are vegetables and two are flowers. The choices were not as easy as they should have been and I was troubled by the following questions:

Do I stick with the same things I’ve tried in previous years or should I get more adventurous? Apart from trying some new types of veggies should I change the kind of beans I’ve had in the past?

It’s easy to get used to a particular type of bean, cabbage, beetroot, zucchini (name a veggie of your own choice) and so miss out on a potentially BETTER kind.

At the moment my garden is growing small turnips and kohlrabi. Both of these were a bit of an experiment. We’ve never bothered with eating turnips in the past, but they seemed like a nice addition for winter casseroles. However, despite being labelled “harvest in 40 days” it has taken 4 months for them to develop enough to use them.
The same kind of thing has happened with the kohlrabi. It should also have been ready 3 months ago but is only just starting to show a swelling in the stem that will hopefully develop into something more or less tennis-ball sized.
(I gave some seedlings to my boss and we have a competition going to see who will be the first to bring a tennis ball sized kohlrabi to work).
Apart from the esteem of beating my boss, I’m not sure what use the mature plant can be put to. Again it was intended to be used in casseroles, but now we are moving into spring casseroles will soon be off the menu until next winter.

On the whole I’ve decided to take a reasonably conservative path, taking only two or three less predictable detours.

The choices so far (probably subject to change):


1) Mary Washington Asparagus
2) Lazy Wife Beans (our usual)
3) Purple King Bean (still beans but trying a different type)
4) Bulls Blood Beetroot (branching out again to see how they compare with our usual “globe beetroot”.
5) Royal Chantenay Carrot (have yet to find a preference – so hopefully this will be the one).
6) Jolly Roger Corn (not much choice available and this one’s picture looked most tempting – oh the subtle power of an advertising image!)
7) Lebanese Cucumber (the only one Gloria seems to like).
8) Black Beauty Eggplant (I’ve never grown or cooked this before but I love Moussaka.)
9) Plum Purple Radish (a change from the French breakfast)
10) Glaskins Perpetual Rhubarb (supposedly bright red).Our current rhubarb has the merest hint of insipid pinkness along predominantly green stems. We wasted a lot while we waited for it to change colour, only realising our mistake when most of it had spoiled.
11) Mesclun Salad Mix (non-hallucinogenic I hope)
12) Zucchini Black Beauty (another vegetable from the stable of the Anna Sewell fan club).
13) Turnip purple top


1) Pentstemon
2) Larkspur

These are all potential ADDITIONS and do not take into account what I already have in my seed collection. The most noticeable absence from the above list is a tomato. Last week I bought the Burkes Backyard magazine and received some free tomato seeds. They have been sown and are hopefully germinating in a makeshift indoor "greenhouse" (a clear plastic storage container in the garage).

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Resprouting of Optimism

Winter is officially over and very slowly I’m discovering some encouraging signs in the garden. It has lacked any serious winter character since our Cootamundra Wattle fell apart a year and a half ago.

According to neighbours the wattle was a very old tree and it had obviously endured some very heavy-handed pruning in the past which left some very ugly stumps in the place of former branches.

But despite its flaws it really brightened up the back yard in winter. The wattle blossom seemed to last for ever and glowed in the sunlight. Even on a cloudy day the colour was vibrant, almost fluorescent.

Then one morning half of the tree had fallen onto the back fence and over the next few days I started to dismantle what was left (of the tree, not the fence). This exercise significantly opened the back yard to more direct sunlight and also opened up more possibilities with the veggie garden which could now be expanded.

Despite the new possibilities, the tree’s loss robbed us of the major feature in the back garden. While its physical presence restricted our use of so much garden area, it had given the backyard character. It dominated the outlook from our most lived-in room at the back of the house. It acted as a screen between us and our back neighbour. And it gave us a lot of colour over winter. Its loss has perhaps made winters less appealing. Everything else in the backyard is more noticeably dormant without the amazing glow of the wattle blossom.
As if to emphasise our loss, the tree was able to leave behind a solitary orphan offspring in our neighbour’s yard. Halfway down their side fence line an immature tree is now big enough to remind us of what has been lost.

Since the loss of our tree I’ve been trying to grow something that will give us some of the benefits that we now lack, but at the same time not rob the yard of suitable growing space. As yet nothing is coming close to restoring some of the privacy we (and our neighbour) previously had. And nothing is producing the stunning, lengthy display of vibrant blossom that made it a pleasure to look from our back windows.

While there is still a way to go before the back garden regains its healthy spring and summer appearance, those first hints of life are becoming noticeable. We now have a “paddock-load” of healthy garlic that almost overnight have changed from low grass-like blades into foot high plants.

Our newly planted raspberry and gooseberry plants are both showing healthy new leaf growth, as are the older Goji berries from last year. (I didn’t realise the Goji’s were deciduous until their leaves started to look distressed and I checked their label again).

The roses are also covered in juvenile, burgundy coloured shoots. I pruned most of them earlier than last year to see if I can extend their flowering season before summer scorches the health out of their blooms. I think they need much more water than I’m willing to give them to keep them in peak health over the hotter months.

And some of our perennials are starting to show some new healthy growth giving a hint of the potential display of colour they have in store for us over the coming months. And that is the key word: POTENTIAL. I can see things starting to happen, and the regrowth in the garden (as subtle as it may be) is starting to inspire a refound optimism.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Trying to slow down, but who cut the brakes?

I am continually being challenged by the need to simplify my life and slow down the pace. Yet every step I take towards this goal seems to be redirected and I find myself in the same situation that I was trying to escape, and my life remains as complicated as ever.

This is true of so many different areas of life. I have been trying to establish a veggie garden to reduce reliance upon commercial food production. Not only should this reduce the cost of food, it is intended to increase the freshness and flavour of the food we eat. But the desired reduction of cost doesn’t seem to be working. Creating and maintaining a vegetable garden seems to be very expensive.
A few years ago I moved from the city to a country town, hoping to maintain a more frugal, less job-dominated life. I worked out that I could easily earn enough money from part time employment to sustain a simplified lifestyle. Yet despite my intentions I could only find fulltime work and have been unable to realise the hoped for slower pace.

Full time work has also had other effects. Once again I’ve become used to receiving a “full time” salary, and it seems like my lifestyle has moulded itself to fit the incoming funds. I can no longer imagine how I could survive without that income when there’s a shed to build, a bathroom to renovate, an evaporative air conditioner to replace, ceilings to repair and paint, gardens to complete… There’s always something else that needs money. And note I haven't yet mentioned all of those other things required to decrease my "ecological footprint".

It would seem ideal to be able to live a more self-sustaining lifestyle, but one thing I’ve noticed is that self-sufficiency is a very expensive business as can be seen from the example of so many who are trying to move in that direction. Even with Government rebates, people are spending a fortune on water tanks, grey water irrigation systems, solar panelling and who knows what other technologies that are "essential" for a simpler, less damaging way of life. Clearly the “ideal” does not come cheaply and I suspect it may be another consumerist con; this time targeting those with a social conscience.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Autograph Collector (part 2)

While buying autographed photos can make elusive signatures accessible, it is not the most satisfying way of building a collection and the cost is often more than most can afford. It’s not a method I would use again.
Affordability is one of the reasons I have chosen to continue collecting autographs as opposed to collecting other things. It’s a hobby that can be adapted to suit your financial situation.

In my previous blog entry I mentioned some of the ways I’ve used to obtain autographs. They are mainly low-cost. At most it has involved the purchase of a CD or a book at a signing event.

I also request autographs via mail, which is another low-cost method. The only expense being a couple of stamps and envelopes (I always send a self addressed, stamped envelope to be used to return the signed item) and of course, something to be signed.

That brings up the question about what kind of item we can post in the hope of getting it signed. Personally I’ve not been willing to take the risk of sending things of value through the mail. Not only is there the risk of losing the item, but the postage costs also increase.
My preference has been to send blank index cards or if I’m writing to an author I’ll send a book label. The cards are reasonably easy to find in stationery shops but I had a little difficulty obtaining suitable labels.
Most of the more common book labels stocked by book shops are too ornate. It took me quite some time to track down what I wanted and then I had to order them in. I therefore ordered extra to make sure I had enough to last for a few years. (examples can be seen on my previous blog entry).

Both the index cards and book labels are easily enclosed with a letter to the targeted celebrity and neither cost so much that it would be a disaster if the desired reply was not received.

When I send a letter I usually enclose three index cards. Sometimes all are returned signed, sometimes none come back. The occasional non-return of book labels is more disappointing because they were not easy to get and they cost quite a bit more than an index card.

However there are compensations that make up for those disappointments. Occasionally a reply will be received that contains much more than a signed card or label. I have received handwritten letters from several celebrities. Some authors have included promotional postcards associated with their books. Others have returned signed photographs instead of the cards I’d sent to them.

I’ve found it helpful to keep a record of the letters I’ve sent out, including address details and the date of mailing. When a reply is received the date of receipt is also recorded. Some replies come back within a couple of weeks. Others can take months. Some requests remain unanswered.

What do I do with the autographs that come back? The book labels are of course stuck into one of the author’s books. I keep the index cards in albums I’ve created out of loose leaf folders and plastic pockets. I try to mount the autographed card alongside a photo of the celebrity (see the Geena Davis page on the previous blog entry), or if there’s no photo available I’ll try to find something else that’s relevant; for example I have a card signed by Arthur C Clarke mounted with a handbill advertising “2001 A Space Odyssey”.

While I said that affordability is one of the reasons that I collect autographs, sometimes cost should not cause us to hesitate if a signature can be purchased at a reasonable price. There is always the likelihood of missing out on something special if we are too reluctant to spend a little money. Fishermen are renowned for their stories of “the one that got away” and I have a comparable autograph-hunters story.

It was a signed, first edition of Peter Carey’s “True History of the Kelly Gang” that was being sold soon after the books release for around $50.00 (AUD). The book went on to win the Booker Prize in 2001 and now a first edition UNSIGNED copy of the book is selling for $450.00 AUD.


Autographs above are 1) American Country singer Chely Wright 2) Australian Country singer Kasey Chambers and 3) American Country Group SheDaisy.

All signed on the blank index cards I'd provided. SheDaisy also returned a signed black and white photo, personally addressed to my wife "Gloria".

Monday, August 17, 2009

Autograph Collector

Several years ago I started collecting autographs. It is a hobby that probably had its roots in my childhood when my parents bought me an autograph book while we were on holiday. The first entry in the book was the signature of a well known British comedian of the time who was performing in the town where we were staying. He very patiently waited as my mum searched her handbag for a pen. I’m surprised the experience didn’t become part of his comedy routine as my mum pulled all manner of things from the bag as she tried to find the pen she knew was somewhere in there…

I’m not sure why I renewed my interest in recent years. Maybe it was because I’d accumulated several signed items and realised that I was the owner of a small collection. That realisation became the motivation to add to what I already owned.

Like many hobbies, collecting autographs can be a very expensive hobby to pursue. There’s always someone trying to get us to part with our money. It all depends on how extreme we are willing to be. At first I was a bit too extravagant and spent quite a lot obtaining signed photographs of Hollywood stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder and others. That initial obsessive burst came to an end when I realised I could not justify spending that kind of money on things that had no real value. I also became aware that there was a much more satisfying way to increase my collection.

I now want to share some of those ways.

Firstly my collection is more or less focussed. While I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity of obtaining a worthwhile signature I concentrate on areas that interest me and restrict my active pursuit of autographs to those areas of interest.

My collection consists mainly of authors and country singers/musicians. I also have several sporting autographs which came about mainly through working for a company that sponsored several Olympic swimmers like Grant Hackett.

Very rarely would we regularly stumble across celebrities in our daily lives, so we need some way of contacting those in whom we have an interest. The more high-profile the celebrity, the less likely it will be that attempted contact will succeed.
After turning from my earlier extravagance most of my autographs have been obtained through the following methods.

Meet and greet opportunities after concerts. Many of my country music autographs were obtained in this way. The most profitable single occasion was a music “expo” which featured several artists performing prior to spending time meeting fans. Keith Urban also made a brief appearance here in the very early days of his solo success in America. This event was not restricted to the country genre. My daughter was also able to meet the members of Killing Heidi, a band she liked at the time.
I have found that country artists tend to be very generous to their fans. Maybe it’s because their genre does not have the profile given to commercial “radio-friendly” music. Australian country artists have also been accessible through in store appearances. If you can’t personally attend, some stores will allow you to purchase signed merchandise through mail order. Similar opportunities arise quite regularly in the literary world. Major book stores and publishers will hold book signings to promote newly published books. When I worked in Sydney the major book stores would often host visiting authors at signing events. Again if you are unable to attend, the stores will often take mail orders of signed books.

Apart from these public commercial events, I have had success through writing directly to a celebrity of interest. With musicians and authors this is usually done via their record company or publisher. Some of these are more helpful than others. I have always found MacMillan to be a very helpful publisher who in the past has forwarded correspondence to the intended author.


A valuable resource for finding addresses has been the local library's copy of Who’s Who. Included in its brief biographical details the book often provides a mailing address. Most of the times I used that resource resulted in a signed reply including one from the cricket great Don Bradman.

One of the most memorable signatures I obtained personally was actress Geena Davis. She competed in an exhibition archery event prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I was fortunate enough to be working nearby at the time and was able to call in to see her compete during my lunch break and was more fortunate to meet her on two separate days. The illustration at the beginning of this blog entry is a compilation made up of media photos, her autograph and a photo I took of her competing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Inspired by Molly on her Cross Roads blog, I am giving thought to the reason why I write here. What is THIS blog's "central theme". I think the name gives an indication of its lack of direction when I first created it.

I have two very different blogs. The most active, The Onesimus Files is "theological" in content and has always had a sharper focus than this one.

"Where the Blogs Have No Names" started as a place to write about various other interests. However, when I finally had the opportunity to start gardening my garden became the main focus.

It is only recently that I’ve started to investigate other blogs. I now have several favourites that help to keep me informed and educated. Some of those blogs have helped to revive my desire for a simpler lifestyle.

That was one of the intentions behind our move to the country, but the need for some kind of employment helped to get me back into the “financial security” trap. My initial hope was to work part time to get enough of an income to maintain a simpler, more frugal lifestyle. But without even trying I found myself in a full time job again and I think my lifestyle has slipped back into the same rut I tried to escape by leaving the city.

A lot of my recent reading (particularly on blogs) has been centred on self-sufficiency and frugality, trying to pick up tips and inspiration to help me back on track. This blog will perhaps reflect some of that journey, but it will also continue to look at my various interests and influences. As my profile states, I am a man of diverse obsessions and when my interest leans in a particular direction my involvement is rarely half-hearted.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Chocolate Beetroot Cake

This is one of my favourite cakes and one of the main reasons I grow my own beetroot. I'm not sure where Gloria found the recipe, but we've been enjoying it now for a few years.




Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Turnips, Onions and other assorted Vegetables

Forty days to harvest according to the seed packet.
It is now three months after I sowed the mini-turnips and they are almost ready. It will be interesting to taste what they are like. We’ll probably use them whole in a casserole or tagine.

A second sowing of turnips has grown only a few centimetres high. They have been starved of sunlight being too close behind the first lot. Hopefully I’ll remember next time to start my planting at the back of the bed (southern end) and work forwards with subsequent plants or seeds. It’s taken me all of this time to realise my mistake. By planting at the front of the bed I’ve guaranteed that everything else would be struggling in the shade.

I wasn’t quite as foolish as it may seem. There was a reason why I planted the broccoli at the front. The bed previously contained “lazy housewife” beans which were still reasonably productive at the back while those at the front had given up the ghost. Therefore the broccoli went in where there was room. It was unfortunate that conditions were less than favourable for everything that eventually replaced the rest of the beans.

On the weekend I had to remove the remaining Snow Pea plants. It is several weeks since we were able to pick any peas. We lost a lot to the frost. Even though the plant itself seems to be tolerant of the cold, the pods didn’t fare well. I’m not sure whether to sow more seed at this time. I received a planting guide by email today and it suggests it’s time to sow all kinds of peas, but I’ve never had a lot of success with snow peas. They always seem to take up far more room than they deserve considering the feeble crop they have produced for me in recent years. I have a row of green feast peas that have germinated, but they are still very small, falling victim to some nibbling creature. Time will determine whether they survive and thrive long enough to give us a decent amount of peas later in the year.

Currently we have a little broccoli left. It hasn’t been the best year for it. Last year we were able to freeze a lot for later, but this crop is barely enough to keep us going from day to day.
We also have beetroot that can be used for the occasional chocolate beetroot cake. Gloria cooked up three beetroots today which after cooking weighed around half a kilo, enough for two cakes. The chocolate beetroot cake would be one of my favourites. It is very moist and heavy, almost like a mud cake but not quite as dense.

Some time soon I’ll have to do something with my bed of onions. I sowed the seed directly into the beds and now they are ready to be thinned out and replanted. I only hope that I have enough room to spread them out a little. Fortunately (?) none of the spring onions germinated so I have some room in the bed where I can relocate some of the others.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Patience of the Gardener

Very little has been done in my garden for a few weeks.
We’ve had some extended periods of rain and some weekends away visiting family so the garden has been neglected for a while. The recent rain has been very welcome. I’ve enjoyed the sounds of the hidden waterfall within the new tank (which is now close to full).

The last significant gardening I did was to prune half of the roses. In previous years I’ve pruned them towards the end of winter after being advised that frost would damage the new shoots if they were pruned too early. Unfortunately the late pruning meant the flowering season was much shorter. By the time we had a good show of flowers it was almost summer and the heat possibly did more damage than the frost would have done.
This year I’m doing a little comparison by pruning some plants early and leaving others until later to see which is best.

I’m now approaching my fourth year of trial and error gardening and I’m slowly learning a few things about the things I’m trying to grow. Unfortunately it can take months to find out whether something is working or not and then the lessons learned often can’t be put into practice for almost another year. That is the frustration of gardening, everything takes so long to get right, and it can often take years of trying different things until something works.

I also planted most of the new plants that arrived from the Digger’s Club – and again patience is required. How long must I wait to enjoy the fruit from the blueberries (at least two years), the raspberry and the gooseberry? The two Chilean Guava plants are still in pots waiting for me to find time to plant them out.

After work yesterday I had a short wander around to see how things are going. I noticed the broccoli is looking a bit unhappy. Their leaves have increasing brown patches which I guess is some kind of mould caused by the constant cold dampness of recent weeks.
At least the onions, leaks, garlic and broad beans seem to be progressing well, so we should get something productive out of the winter veggie patch even if we have to wait until spring and summer to get the benefit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gourmet Farmer

Here’s something I’ll be looking forward to seeing in the New Year. It seems like SBS will be screening a new show called Gourmet Farmer.
It follows food critic Matthew Evans’ move to a farm in Tasmania and his journey of learning about the production of food
The series is expected to start early in January running for 10 episodes.

Information is scarce at the moment, but see the following for a few more details.

Airdates: Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, Gourmet Farmer, Italian Food Safari


Newcomers add zest to culinary scene

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kitchen to Garden

Several weeks ago I ordered “Chocolate & Zucchini” by Clotilde Dusoulier.
I came across the website of the same name by accident and loved the title. I couldn’t resist ordering the book from my local bookshop.
I picked it up on the weekend and don’t regret the impulsiveness of judging a book by its title. When I get the chance I intend to have a go at making her Beef Bourguignon: perhaps attracted by her use of chocolate in the recipe. The mere fact that I’ve been inspired to make a meal that needs to be prepared over a couple of days and requires more than three hours of cooking is a significant endorsement of this book, considering my cooking ventures to-date have been very limited.

Continuing with cooking related matters, the first series of Masterchef is over, and Julie came out as the winner. On the night of the final I think she was clearly the better of the two contestants despite the almost immediate claims of the result being rigged.

Overall I think Justine’s record throughout the series showed that she was more worthy of the title “Masterchef”, having won more of the shows challenges than any other contestant. The show’s format was not necessarily geared to finding the best chef/cook in the competition but was primarily focused on entertaining the viewer. That aim was certainly achieved considering the size of the regular audience which reportedly rose to a peak of 3.73 million for the finale.
Halfway through the last week the show also out-rated State of Origin football. Maybe next year the Blues and the Maroons should head for the kitchen for a cook-off if they want to regain their usual TV audience.

Finally, moving from the kitchen to the garden, the last part of my order from the Digger’s Club has arrived. Now I need to find the time to plant the following:

Blueberry ‘Northland’
Blueberry ‘Denise’
Chilean Guava x 2
Raspberry ‘Willamette’
Gooseberry ‘Roaring Lion’

I also received two free plants of Salvia Azurea and Comfrey.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I very recently found a very interesting and inspiring site at the following link:

It is owned by a couple who are achieving what so many of us only dream of doing. They have converting their average suburban block from swimming pool and concrete into a very productive garden.

The website is full of interesting articles detailing the journey they have taken. Their experiences are also heavily illustrated with before and after photos, and their progress is also recorded on video.

Even though their experiences in themselves are a great inspiration, the website has additional interest for me because they have a block of land the same size as mine and they are based in Wollongong where I grew up.

The only negative aspect of their project is that it shows me up for the lazy unimaginative person that I really am. What I’ve dreamed of doing and what I’ve planned to do – they have actually DONE!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

AT LAST!!! - Water Tank Installation -

The site for the tank has been prepared. It was levelled by digging out the higher side of the slight slope and filled with fine gravel/sand.

The tank is put into position.

The tank, in place, is connected to the down-pipes.

Now with the tank in place I can continue with the landscaping of the back garden. Until this stage I had to leave the area free to make it accessible for the tank delivery.
It won't be long before another area of lawn is replaced by a garden bed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rain & Frost

It’s been an uneventful couple of weeks in the garden, including a week of almost continual rain. A week ago, between showers, I was able to plant out a punnet of leeks and a handful of broad bean seeds.
I also made an effort at recycling our old clothes line by using the arms as posts and reusing the wire to create a climbing frame where I hope to grow next years butternut pumpkins, thereby freeing up more ground space for other things.
Unfortunately the wire looked vey untidy. I couldn’t stretch it tight enough without pulling the posts out of position, so I had to use other means for cross pieces on the framework.

The period of rain was followed by a few days of frost. One day the official temperature was -3. I’ve been covering the Grevillea Ned Kelly each night, but despite the precautions it has still suffered burning on the leaf tips.
Unfortunately, due to her size, I haven’t been able to cover the Bulli Princess and I’ve noticed burning on her leaf tips too. I’m not looking forward to the two or three heavier frosts (down to -6) that we always get each winter. They are likely to cause significant damage. Hopefully the worst of it can be pruned, leaving the Princess not much worse for wear.

The major recent development is today’s installation of my 10,000 litre water tank. I’m missing out on all of the fun because I’m at work, and I have to rely on regular updates from home. Gloria is also taking every opportunity to photograph each stage so I can see how things progressed throughout the day when I get home.

I’ve been a bit worried because it took longer than expected to get the work done. The main holdup was the delivery of the tank. I was under the impression that the government rebate expired at the end of the month and I though we would miss out, but I’ve just found out that it expires at the end of June 2011 so we’ll be fine.

I think rain is forecast again for later in the week, so hopefully we’ll get a significant start on filling the tank before too long.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Productive Politics

Here is an excerpt from an article on the green-change blog that suggests a veggie garden at the Prime Minister’s Canberra residence would be a good idea.
The Obama’s were quick to turn part of the White House garden over to veggies – so why not the Rudds? It would definitely be a healthier and more productive way for Australia to follow America than ways taken in the past.

Kev’s Patch

The Obamas have famously planted an organic vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House in the US.
The idea was first posted at, a site collecting proposals for the new president to undertake upon entering office. It was picked up by newspapers and media, and quickly became the most popular proposal on that site. The web site served as a focal point for the movement.
The Eat The View proposal eventually went on to be voted the grand prize winner of the On Day One contest.
On 20 March 2009, the Obamas started their new White House Kitchen Garden. They’ve even published the layout as an example for others.
This simple action is inspiring families all over America to do the same, which can only be a good thing for their health and budgets!
So Why Not The Lodge?

The whole article can be found here

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frost Protection

This morning we had the second noticeable frost of autumn. Everything has survived so far, but I am concerned about the impact the heavier frosts will have through winter. Last year I lost a lot of shrubs that were supposed to be frost hardy.

I think some didn’t survive because they were too immature and hadn’t become established in time. Others, like the Grevillea “Ned Kelly” are not the best kind of plant to grow in a heavy-frost prone area – but I didn’t find out about that until I lost one last year; and a second barely pulled through. That surviving plant is now looking very healthy, but it will certainly suffer again when we get those few -6 degree days that are a regular winter feature in this area.

I’ve been trying to think of a convenient way of protecting some of my frost prone plants overnight. I don’t want to use anything permanent because I still want the garden to look attractive during the day. I don’t feel like covering significant parts of it for a complete quarter of the year.

The best idea I’ve come up with so far is to drive two garden stakes into the ground beside it. I’ll put them in at an angle, leaning over the susceptible bush. Each evening I’ll tie plastic sheeting to those stakes to form a lean-to which will hopefully keep the worst of the frost off the plant. I wasn’t sure how to secure the plastic at the bottom to make sure it wasn’t blown around too much in the wind; then yesterday I heard a helpful tip on the Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast that may be adaptable to suit the situation. It was a suggestion for reusing empty drink bottles.
I will try tying 2 litre plastic milk bottles filled with water to the bottom of the sheet, which will hopefully give it enough weight to hold it securely.

All of the sheeting and the bottles can be removed in the morning and therefore return the garden to normal during the day. The stakes themselves shouldn’t be too intrusive and can be left in position over winter.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fruit & Veg


This is the first time I’ve grown beetroot in a properly prepared bed and the difference is clear. It’s taken me a couple of years to give up trying to improve the soil (clay!) in the garden by digging in organic material. I realised that it would take far more compost than I could produce from my inadequate compost bins. So now I have built some borders with concrete blocks to create raised beds.

The beetroot is in the first of these beds and their leaves look much more lush and healthy than in the last two years. I suppose this could have meant that all of the plants growth was in the foliage with nothing of value happening under the ground, but a recent inspection showed that the roots themselves are also growing quite well. After only a month and a half they are already as big as those several months old in previous crops.

Our beetroots are one of the essential vegetables we grow – without them it’s impossible to bake the chocolate beetroot cake that is one of my wife’s favourite cakes to make (and one of my favourites to eat). I’ll try to post the recipe at a later date.

Australian Garlic

I am growing three different known types of garlic. This is the third year that I’ve grown Russian (or Elephant) garlic after buying one head from the diggers club two years ago. From the original crop I saved two of the five heads for replanting and this year and I planted around twelve cloves saved from last years crop. This is one of the milder varieties and is actually a type of leek with very large cloves.
I also bought two heads each of Australian White and Silverskin, both of which have are now displaying short shoots. The Silverskins have only just broken the soil surface but are showing a lot of promise.
We use garlic regularly and have recently used the last of our home grown cloves and had to buy some from the supermarket. Fortunately they had some local garlic for sale for a reasonable price. I intend to use some of that to supplement the named varieties that I’ve already planted and maybe next year home grown garlic may last longer.

For the last two weeks I’ve been listening to The Alternative Kitchen Garden, a very informative gardening podcast from England. One episode helped to clear up a mystery that’s had me puzzled for a while. We found that some of the garlic last year failed to form into individual cloves and grew as a solitary ball and we didn’t know why.
This year when I harvested my Russian garlic I noticed some small growths on the side of the cloves. With a little pressure these broke off reasonably easily. Through The Alternative Kitchen Garden I learned that these are bulbils, and if left in the ground they will develop into the individual garlic balls. These balls, which can still be used as normal garlic, will develop into fully formed garlic cloves if replanted and left for another year.


Broccoli - first sign

This week I saw that the broccoli is developing well with the first tiny head starting to develop. I have two different types planted out. The most developed is one I bought from the nursery as seedlings. The other I grew myself from seed and planted out a couple of weeks later.
Last year it was hard to keep up with the heavy cropping plants. Eventually we ended up blanching and freezing the excess. For some reason broccoli is not as easy to give away to friends as zucchini are.

Vegetable Beds.

Snow peas, beetroot and Russian Garlic to the left.

Broccoli and Mini Turnips in the centre bed.

5 types of onions to the right.

I’m not sure how my bed of onions will develop. I sowed some into punnets in early autumn and planted it out two weeks ago. According to the seed packet they should have been sown in winter. Some of the seedlings didn’t survive after we had a few hot days but I still had enough to plant out a couple of rows. There were two varieties in this planting, both of them red onions, but one was a longer “Florence Red”. I’ve seen something similar in the supermarket that is being sold as “Tuscan Red”. I’m guessing that they are the same thing considering Florence is in Tuscany.

After planting these two rows I decided to take a gamble and I sowed the rest of the bed with a few different onion varieties instead of firstly sowing them into punnets. I still don’t know whether this will work out okay. After a week there is no sign of anything, so patience is required. I did sow them into furrows of seed-raising mix, so I can’t see that the conditions are too much different to being sown into punnets. I’ll probably just have more work to do transplanting a few of those growing too close together when they mature enough to be moved.

Those additional varieties include a brown onion (cream gold I think it was called), spring onions and barletta, which appears to be the same as those the supermarket sells as “salad onions”. They are white and flatter than the commoner round onions. I grew a lot of them last year and they are quite mild.

Tahitian Limes

The limes in the photo are most of this years crop from a dwarf Tahitian lime. After the photo was taken they were all zested and juiced, producing about 2 litres of lime juice and a good amount of zest.
The juice was frozen in ice cube moulds and later bagged, ready for future use in cakes and deserts. Our lemon tree of a similar size is loaded with fruit.

Both the lemons and limes are extremely juicy, have very thin skins and very little pith.