Australia day long weekend 2015

I do love long weekends. 😀 An extra day with back up and support with the kids means we both get the opportunity to do some jobs without little people always wanting to “help”. 😉 It also means an extra day where we get to spend time as a family and that is always a good thing. 🙂

We spent Saturday working hard on part 1 of the long weekend plan which I’d put together. Sunday we had plans for a trip to Ballarat.

Last week whilst in Bacchus Marsh I made a trip to a plant nursery in order to pick up a kiwiberry which I’d seen advertised on eBay. Whilst at the nursery I also picked up a male and a female kiwi plant, 2 blueberries and a dwarf red Dacca banana and some strawberries. The banana was in need of a 60L black rubbish bin for its wicking bed in the back deck passive solar greenhouse so we went to Bunnings to pick up the bin plus some extras. After talking with a friend I was also on the lookout to see what else I could pick up to plant in the garden and scored with a native Finger Lime for $29, a goji berry for $9.50 and a Chilean Guava too. I planted the rather prickly finger lime in the greenhouse and put the others into a container with some water to keep them moist. I learned the hard way about crappy potting mix in the kiwi and blueberry pots which dried out in 1/2 a day and didn’t do the plants any favours. 😦

After Bunnings we headed over to fill the trailer with things manure and lake weed. 🙂 Free! The Ballarat sale yards (on the corner of La Trobe and Learmonth Streets) have a huge pile of manure which is free for the taking. Although sellers aren’t supposed to have wormed their animals within a certain amount of time before selling their stock, it does happen so this manure is not organic however, I figure that the worming solution will wear off in the manure about the same sort of time that the manure loses its heat and I’ve used it before and seen huge fat worms crawling in it once it’s cooled down somewhat. I’ve learned the hard way though that it’s best to hot compost it as the last lot which I spread out on some logs for a new hugel bed didn’t hot compost and it grew me a spectacular crop of extremely poisonous hemlock! NOT what I wanted in my garden.

The manure is spectacular in the soil and adds a lot of nitrogen plus the digested grass and hay for carbon but to create the perfect mix, adding some lake or seaweed is better I reckon. Lake Wendouree in Ballarat is dredged of its weed, up to weekly I believe. The dredged weed is then dumped at an area not far from the sale yards (on Gillies Street not far from Gillingham Place). It smells almost like seaweed except for the distinctive lack of the salty smell. Far less pungent than rotting seaweed actually. 😉 There are piles from several weeks ago which are rotting down nicely and are much denser, hence you can pack a lot more into your trailer or the piles of the fresh weed which is much lighter so you can carry more of it. I like the fresher stuff simply for the ease of loading it.

Armed with gumboots, shovels and forks we loaded up the front half of the trailer with manure then the back half and over the top of the manure with lake weed. Forks and shovels in the trailer, a tarp on top and strapped down (we would not have been pleasant to follow if not for the tarp 😉 ) we headed for home. With time constrains of Martin heading out to a music session at the pub we just parked the trailer in the driveway.

Only a small portion of the lake weed. The older stuff is up the back, the fresh stuff is obvious due to its greener colour. I opted against a picture of the manure. It's pretty obvious how it will look after all.

Only a small portion of the lake weed. I opted against a picture of the manure. It’s pretty obvious how it will look after all.

Half manure, half weed. A perfect mix for a luscious Autumn garden.

Half manure, half weed. A perfect mix for a well-fed Autumn garden.

Monday morning and a happy Australia Day saw Martin reversing the trailer into place beside the compost bays before I took the car out to meet a friend, L, and see if some nectarines growing on the side of the road were ripe. Sadly they are still as hard as rocks and tart to taste but the tree has been duly noted for a return visit in a few weeks. I’m keeping that location a secret, had you noticed? 😉

L and I then headed out to Blackwood for coffee and cake before heading on to St Erth to browse the Diggers shop. I came away with a dwarf apple tree, an apricot tree, 4 cranberry plants and several packs of seeds. After a tour of the gardens L headed home to plant up her purchases and I got stuck into building a garden bed for the cranberries.

Cranberry bushes don’t grow in water like they are shown to on the cranberry juice ads (that’s just commercial harvesting) but they do like lots of water but not permanently wet roots. With 3 kids home, home education and being a lazy gardener I figured their chances of survival was best in a wicking bed. A wooden box we’d been using for wood storage that wasn’t working for us any more was repurposed and placed outside next to the pergola and back steps.

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Some pond liner leftover from when I built our pond was perfect for lining the box.

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Jas gave me a hand by finding the worms curled up in the folds of the liner which had been left outside for some months and they were added to the bed too.

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A long narrow pot works for a water inlet and I stapled it and the liner to the edges of the bed.

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A hole drilled and a small piece of hose in there for the overflow pipe.

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Some soil, a heap of manure in the middle to rot down then more soil on top and then the cranberries in (away from the manure).

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Some mulch on top then after an initial worm wee watering in, lots more water to fill the reservoir in the bottom of the bed.

I’ve now got a pot sitting under the wicking bed outlet to catch the overflowing water. Waste not want not right? I’ve since changed out the soil in it too as it was the soil leftover from the tomatoes I’d been growing inside over the winter and up until now. I’m working out what to plant in there now. Something fairly low. The larger square pot is in anticipation of a grape which will be trained up over the pergola.

I’ve glossed over the “how-to” as I’m sure there are far more experienced people who have shared the details online. Google is thy friend. 😉

I also planted out the apple and apricot trees, the blueberry bushes and harvested some potatoes to plant the blueberries and apricot. Again, I’m most impressed with the size and quantity of the spuds I grew. I’m learning more and more that good soil equals good crops. 🙂 The trailer is also mostly emptied. Just a little bit of remaining manure that I think I will add to a garden bed near the front door. I might need a little more soil to fill the bed after or any visitors might be overwhelmed with the smell. 😉

Well, it’s not long after 8:30pm and I am pooped! I ache sufficiently to remind me that I’ve worked hard these last 3 days and think I need a 3 day weekend to recover from my 3 day weekend. Thankfully the weather was much cooler although I could have done without the panic that a 2°C morning brought on. No frost but it must have been close! Anyway, time for me to hit the sack I think. It’s another busy day planned for tomorrow with an official start to home schooling too. 🙂

Autumn is here

Autumn is here and I am so excited. For several reasons. Remind me of this post again in 6 months when I am tired of clearing ash out of the fire and over waking up on icy mornings in the darkness and heading out into the darkness to milk the goats too (no we don’t have them yet but I’m sure we will soon) but I can’t wait to need to have Ignisa glowing away in my living room. 🙂 There really is something about fire, ad I can totally understand our ancestors worshiping it, much like I can appreciate worshiping the sun (and I don’t mean sun baking either). But I am a little over giving homage to the sun that turned my greenhouse into a 53 degree hot house the other day. I mean, it’s Autumn for goodness sake!!!

The last day of Summer was an icy affair. Ignisa was on all day and we pulled out winter woollies  The first day of Autumn, and since if truth be told, has been worthy of flannelette jarmies in the morning ad t-shirt and shorts by 10am. I am over the hot days, although my pumpkins and tomatoes are appreciating it. SO is my washing. 🙂

Bring on the colder weather

Bring on the colder weather – Ignisa burning after lights out on the last day of Summer.

But I am ready to break out the Winter clothes and pack those shorts away until next year. I’m ready to hunker down with cool weather jobs, like building up compost and knitting (I do that year round but it’s more comfortable to have a large pile of woolen goods on your lap on a cold day) and I am most ready for Winter foods too. Soups, casseroles, stews. Cooked my the gentle heat of Ignisa in the Schlemmertopf, started at 1pm and served at 6:30, full of rich flavours and hearty goodness. Yum! I’m looking forward to closing up the oven and stove in favour of our bonus cooking abilities to double (and triple) use the wood we burn. Ignisa was chosen for just this purpose. She is charged with the duty of keeping my family warm, of warming our water when sister sun is hiding and her stove and oven qualities allow me to cook with that heat too. Her ashes can then (in some quantities) be returned to the soil and added to our compost. I added some a month or so ago and my compost heap looks wonderful. 🙂

However, the bit that I am most looking forward to is the gardens. Sure, my fingers will be frozen, the rain will be icy (if we get much which is never a given in this climate change challenged world of ours) but it’s garlic season! And the added bonus is that the cabbage moth season will be over too! Those nasty green buggers have decimated my broccoli, rocket and radishes. 😦

I took a trip to the garden of St Erth again yesterday with a friend and her son. Between us we faced the challenge of 4 kids unhappy with their lot, 2 running around like fiends and 2 screaming their displeasure at us. Challenging. Sorry St Erth. Next time I’m thinking babysitter! But I still managed to buy myself some seeds and bulbs so I’m raring to get into my gardens. I also have some seedlings which were a giveaway – red spring onions, beetroots and chard – which have recovered and I am eagerly anticipating planting. But the garlic is our big one this year. Martin adores the stuff, even more so than your wallabies Fran, and has given me permission to plant out HEAPS! I’m planning on early harvest and late harvest varieties and hoping to cover the entire year for edible garlic for next year. Early varieties harvest between October and December and have a shorter storage time – up to 6 months, some a lot less. The later harvest ones I’m guessing are ready to harvest around now maybe, if not already done. They last until October to December when the next harvest is ready. If all goes to plan we will have kilos and kilos of the stuff. I know how quickly we go through a kilo so I think 10 might do us for the year? 🙂 Yes, we are not friends with any vampires. 😉

Edward, you are NOT welcome here! And no, I have not seen the films, nor read the books.

Ok, so I’m coming back to writing now 3 hours later. I’ve had a glorious morning outside in the dawn, gardening. We have 3 garden beds inside the greenhouse but only 1 of them was filled with soil and in use. I just hand’t got to the 2nd and 3rd ones but this morning I did. Martin had picked me up a load of compost the other day and it had been parked outside the greenhouse waiting for 5 days. Well, it’s now inside a garden bed and I have even planted out some seedlings gifted to me from a friend at Phoenix Park. Lettuces and beetroot and a brassica that again I have forgotten what it is. 😦 Sieve brain! The most exciting part of shoveling the compost in was the steam rising from it. Yes, it was steaming! I think it was due to the fact that it had been under a tarp in the sun for 5 days and it had acquired some decent heat which stayed (thermal mass) ad the condensation had moistened the previously hydrophobic soil too and it was rich a d wonderful and lovely. It smelled heavenly. 🙂

So this garden bed I’ve filled started off with some branches and a few logs at either end from our poplar trees, partly to bulk up the bottom of the garden and use less soil and partly to add slowly back to the soil when the poplars break down. It’s also another way to use them up. 🙂 Then I cleaned out the pile of chook poo from the chook pen and spread that on top of the branches. It’s a very nitrogen rich fertiliser and needs to be very very well composted before adding to your garden but as a bottom layer it will compost away from the roots of the plants and just add to the soil. I then added a layer of our homemade compost which is not yet fully composted but also smelled pretty much amazing and finally I topped it off with the purchased compost. I’ve got some leftover compost in the trailer too which will help with the other garden beds which I may even manage to get built today. They will all start off with some poplar branches, then maybe some pea straw or lucerne and then a layer of freshly mown grass for nitrogen (I even have some grass to mow now yippee 😀 ) and a little blood and bone for a bit more, before being topped off with soil and compost. I’ve also got 3 potato beds each half full of homemade compost which is breaking down nicely.

The third garden bed in the greenhouse is going to be an experimental garden bed. I am concerned that my greenhouse will not retain its warmth over the winter and I don’t want to add a heating source which will draw (and in my opinion, waste) electricity. I can’t afford to add solar panels to either house or anywhere else as yet but I saw a fascinating post about using compost to heat hot water the other day and although I don’t plan on building a hot water creating compost wheelie bin, the concept gave me an idea. Compost, as it breaks down, puts out a lot of heat. This mornings pile of compost was pleasantly warm to touch but I remember as a kid sticking my hand into the grass clippings dad had mowed a few weekends before and it was hot. In fact the other day a friend burned their hand on hot compost. Not to the point of blisters and such but still and all enough of a burn to make them exclaim aloud. I drink my hot chocolate at 70C and I need to let it cool a little so as not to scald my tongue. Yes, it’s hot! 🙂 So, I figured that I could use that to heat my greenhouse and at the same time prepare a garden bed for the spring. I plan on using a lot of grass clippings. and a thin layer of compost on top. Our kitchen waste will also go in here and our other compost bins can either sit fallow or I can empty out the composted or cooling down compost in the garden bed and put it out to finish decomposing and then restart in the greenhouse for more heat to keep it warm. It will involve a bit more work but with the help of Trevor and his trailer (or a working wheelbarrow even) it will be worth it to have heaps of rich, organic and home made compost for Spring planting. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Lets see how we go. 🙂

Lessons learned from my garden this year is that corn and zucchinis will produce fruit even under the shade of a large tree but they will be lacking. Watermelons just don’t grow though. I will remove the garden bed they’re in and use the soil elsewhere. I can use the space for more compost bins maybe. I can get the heat happening internally so the lack of day long sun isn’t an issue. I’ve also learned about nitrogen draw-down. No dig garden beds NEED that blood and bone int hem, that’s the ingredient I was missing and my poor plants have suffered for the lack of it. However, since adding it I do have a tomato harvest ripening slowly (it’s a race between getting some colour so I can ripen them completely indoors and the frosts arriving). I also have a very late and small but sufficient pumpkin harvest. This last week has seen at least half a dozen female pumpkin flowers which I have been busily fertilising just in case the bees missed them. In no way do I believe I’m better than bees but we don’t have much to attract their stripey flying selves to the gardens… Yet. I have 5 packs of sweet peas I am planning to plant in pots to add scent and colour to our back porch over the Autumn. The kids will like helping with planting them. 🙂 I’ll be planting more flowers out this coming Spring too to entice the bees to come and work for us. 🙂

Well, sitting here gets nothing done. Time for my Small Man Orik to have his nap then garden, here I come. 🙂

Going Bananas! And garlic and a trip to St Erth.

I am going bananas and no, it’s not my children, nor my husband, nor neighbours, friends, family the weather or anything else causing me to go bananas. Just me. 😉 I just bought a banana tree! 😀

If you’ve never seen a banana tree (I’ve never seen one in the flesh until now) then this is a Dwarf Cavendish banana tree

Wait there just a second I hear you say. YOU don’t live in a tropical, subtropical or even vaguely temperate climate. Ballan is cold climate. Well, it most definitely IS cold climate… BUT this is a cooler climate banana. It will grow in cold zones 10-12. We are cold zone 9b. It is too frosty for this banana in our garden… BUT we have a greenhouse! 😀 Yes, I am going to have a go at growing our own bananas! I figure if it doesn’t work I’ve lost $25 and a bit of hard work but if I don’t I will need to look for an organic source of local bananas (they do come with a bit of carbon mileage from Queensland after all) which may be rather difficult. If it works I will add in there some other tropically sort of plants – passionfruit for starters. Not sure we’d manage a coconut or pineapple though. 😦

The banana we are planning to grow is the Musa acuminata or Dwarf Cavendish (are you proud of me Narf77? I looked up it’s proper name 😀 ). It’s a naturally occurring dwarf variety and Cavendish bananas are quite a popular variety I believe. It may take us quite some time to ripen our narnies though due to the cooler temperatures down here BUT ripen they should. 😀 How utterly awesome to be able to grow our own tropical fruit!

Today I took a trip with a friend to the Garden of St. Erth in Blackwood. It’s one of the 2 Diggers club gardens and I believe the gardens are a bit of a gardeners Mecca. I’ve not yet had the time to really explore but I am a member of the Diggers Club and I fully intend to go ‘sploring when I can get a kid free (or at least kid depleted) chance. We took the trip to go garlic shopping as the Autumn Diggers Club magazine had arrived in the last week with some wonderful early harvest varieties available but I was a little premature. 😦 They’re still for planting in Autumn and stock is still just arriving so they didn’t yet have the varieties I was after. They do now have my name and number and those varieties noted beside my name so I shan’t miss out on the limited stock they’re getting of one of them. We’ve decided to go all out and plant heaps of garlic as they will tolerate the cold and these varieties are harvested in October and November which is perfect as things don’t usually warm up enough for Summer crops here until November which means we will have little downtime of our garden beds! 🙂 And since Martin eats a LOT of garlic it means we should be able to keep ourselves in the wonderfully pungent stuff all year round. 😀

I’ve learned a little bit about garlic of late – thanks Diggers magazine. There are 2 types of Allium sativum (I did it again Narf) – hard stem and soft stem. Hard stem garlic doesn’t store as long but will produce flowers, whereas soft stemmed garlic will store much longer but rarely flowers. The hard stem early harvest varieties are generally being harvested just as the later harvest soft stem varieties are sprouting (ready to plant) and they will last for up to 4-6 months which allows for plenty of time to harvest over varieties. I have a lot more research to do on their preferred growing conditions, soil type, and all the rest but it was nice to know that we can grow all of our own garlic, in theory at least. 🙂

Anyway, I have a LOT of research to do on what soil both garlic and bananas like, not to mention that I want to finish knitting a hat for Allegra (I’m getting ready for winter early. 😀 ) so I’m off. Ciao my hippies. 😀