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.