Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wet day timetable

Yes! We're getting some wonderful rain finally, so I stopped gardening in the shade house and instead took a walk around the "wood lot" to see if any of the trees we planted are still alive.

We planted some wattles and yellow box and river red gum trees last winter. Given how dry the winter was, and how harsh the frost was too, I'm really surprised to discover that we've hardly lost any trees at all. Some are even thriving! It's so hard to make them out given the mess the area is in. If I wasn't a complete tree-hugging hippy, I'd say this area was especially weedy and in need of "a few sheep".

But just look what "a few sheep" can do! At best, anyone else might say the land on the right is well managed for fire. No weeds, no grass, no snakes. I guess it's "safe"..?
The visible trees on the left were planted a couple of years ago. We could have planted a lot more by now, but we're taking it slowly, making sure not to suffer huge losses from one poor season, or an incorrect tree choice. We plant in autumn, to give the trees as long as possible to establish before the next summer, and their first watering is their last from us. I'm starting to feel confident though.. I think I'm going to plant a lot more this year. :)
Oh, and we don't spray anything or weed around the trees. Sounds like a complete waste of energy, time and money to me! I have a very limited supply of all those things. We used second hand tree guards, and old fencing wire as protection. I did buy the bamboo stakes and the trees (although there are a few home propagated wattles in there too), and I guess I did use a tractor to mow the long stuff down a little before planting. I do love the tractor, but as you can see, it doesn't get much use here.

I turned around for this photo of the Murray Pine trees. The young trees take SO long to grow up. The young trees on our side of the fence have been there longer than we have! To make matters worse, they're apparently tasty to sheep, and ripped apart by wallabies and kangaroos on a whim. We've had to cage a few from wildlife on our side of the fence, but they don't stand a chance on the other side. The same amount of wildlife pressure I assume, but on the left in the photo above, far too many sheep.

Actually, I think he only has about 35 sheep on probably about 15 acres if you include the grain silo land that your seeing here. That land has only degraded further over the years, while ours gets more diverse, at least in weeds. :)

But I love the weeds! Maybe I need a new sign for the front gate.. "Weeds Welcome!"
(That might upset the locals though)

Not that I've got anything against sheep! We'll probably get a few some day. Maybe after a few of the trees have grown up enough to provide some shelter, and after we set up water troughs, and fencing for rotational grazing, etc. There won't be any cute lamb photos for a while yet though.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

weather and stuff .. pictures of the garden .. another boring blog post?

Well, weather does play a huge part in our lives. Yesterday was just cool enough under the verandah to make some cages to go over the planting trays. That's to give them protection from mice, which enjoy eating the sunflower seeds and new sprouts.

Mice are a fact of life, as are the snakes that eat them. The butcher bird found the Willy Wagtail nest and took one of the babies back to theirs for dinner, the second chick died too but the third one survived and is being cared for by the parents around the garden. That's their second clutch for the season, with four little chicks surviving to adulthood last time. I love living here and watching the interactions of nature around me. Some of the best parts have been creating habitat. The shadehouse has been a bug catcher for generations of Willy Wagtails so far, and it's only getting better, albeit slowly.


The tomato stakes were great perches for Willy to wait for a big juicy bug to go past, but now the tomatoes are taller than their stakes. Written on the description for the seeds I saved in Stawell, the yellow pear tomatoes (left hand side in the photo) get to 1.5m tall (and even there, they didn't grow that tall). They've well and truly topped 2 metres tall now, with green fruits and more flowers coming along. I hear the buzz of the blue banded bee, who are still nesting in our wall, but I'm so glad they're around. Those, and the huge orange and black wasps that drag large hairy spiders back to their nests in the ground (although one has made a mud nest in the bathroom, as have many other types of mud wasps!). Sure, we'll get the odd spider, especially the orb weavers that make their web across the walkways and sit right in the middle, waiting for dinner, or someone careless enough not to be wearing a headlamp! But I'll take that any day over spraying termiticide that lasts 10 years around the house every year (the local man doing this had never seen the big spider catching wasps).

Past 9 or 10 in the morning, though, and the heat becomes too much for me, and too much for many of the critters around. Cicadas call, lizards run and hide in the dry straw or dead plants as I walk past. If the wind is up, everything looks terrible, even in the shadehouse. The sprinklers turn on every 4 hours for 5 minutes at the moment. I'm still trying to work out what is best, but that helps keep the humidity up a little and the plants wilting slightly less during the day. I water everything in pots every morning. Almost everything in pots has a drip tray of some description, or it simply dries out too quickly. It's been over 47°C (116.6°F) under the verandah, the house slowly rising in temperature, but hovering around 32°C (91.4°F). The mud brick walls don't cool down easily, and the indoor temperature doesn't fluctuate much. That's really lovely at any other time of the year! There are still things we can do to improve conditions, they're on my To Do list, ok? :p

Something we did get done was to attach some reo-mesh to the side of the structure. I did want to grow some passionfruit along there, and I have two vines waiting for more favourable weather before planting them out. The soil will also need work before I do.. But the mesh is finally up! I took a photo of one of the better welds that I did. They're not all that good! So, we moved the tractors, moved the strawbales from one side to the other, got Michael's metal detector out and looked, once again, for Marty's wedding ring. It must have been over a year ago since he lost it. I've used the metal detector everywhere from where the strawbales were (he was getting some fresh straw for a chicken nest), all the way up to where the chooks were housed around the almond tree in "the orchard". We've found so much scrap, bits of fence and even melted metal, plenty of screws and washers too. Well, that day we found a slightly dusty titanium ring resting in the straw! :)

Marty's been working hard in town every day for the last 6 months, putting us on the exciting road to becoming debt free in just 6 more months time. Hopefully then he won't have to work so hard in the near future and can spend some more time at home.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mantid in the morning sun, and a relaxing long weekend.

I've been struggling with life since Marty started working. Initially, I tried to do everything all at once to keep the house going, and of course, that trick never works for very long. I wore myself out fast. I've never been very good at pacing myself, and routine has always been a struggle. This last weekend was an extra long one, because Marty has been sick from work since Thursday and after a trip to the Doctor, he's been resting at home for 4 days straight. It's been awesome having him home! I feel like we both got a break, a proper rest and some quality sleep.
We ate breakfast in the morning sun, taking our time and relaxing. I found a little mantid that we've never seen before, and probably never will, unless it explores the pink shopping bag again!

Spot the mantid

This mantid!
It rained all night last night and is still raining this morning. It's the most wonderful gentle consistent rainfall we've had in a very very long time. My gauge says 30mm, but I honestly haven't checked it for months now. A combination of forgetfulness, having other things (far too many other things!) on my mind, and any rain we did get has been too light to be excited by.

As for me, I'll keep trying my best to get things done, and even though I get frustrated and angry with myself, constantly loosing focus, forgetting why I came into a room or what I was doing, I guess I have to keep in mind that everything I do get done is "better than it was", and as long as I keep plodding along, we'll get there eventually. It's a very long and winding road, in a thick fog, a severe lack of signage and my GPS seems to be wonky! Then again, it seems like I spend more time off-road in the rocky dirt and sticky mud, than on it.

Marty is feeling better and back at work this week and I miss him already.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The weird and the wonderful

Lace Monitor
Lace Monitor tracks
I don't even know what to say about this. All I could say at the time was "WOW!" I heard it walking around the cottage just as I was eating lunch. Needless to say, it was a cold lunch by the time I got back to it.

It was a beautiful lace monitor. Or goanna if you like. Of course, you can click on the pictures to make them larger. Around here, goannas have a yellow band on the tail, and it seemed to be searching for something good to eat. The Noisy Miners made sure everyone around knew exactly where it was, and our rooster alerted in a hushed tone. It didn't have any problems going under the electric chook fence, but luckily that fence doesn't have anything living in there (and the fence isn't "live" either). It didn't find the main flock with the day's eggs and two broodies with the single little chick they're mothering. Either that, or it wasn't worth the trouble.

The chimney has been pointed a bit, well, the biggest holes have been filled by a lime mortar mix. I think it was only a mud mix used previously, so I guess it's an upgrade. More mud has gone on the walls to help fill some of the holes left over from the concrete plaster falling off. The incidence of blowfly getting into the kitchen has dramatically reduced as a result. Well worth the effort. There's more to do, of course, but there's always more!

Mid October 2017

Fungus on the strawbale
with native bee and spider
After a fairly dry winter, there isn't a lot of green growth on the plants, but lots of flowers none the less. A lot of grass pollen, which is causing our hayfever, the purple flowers from the wild Salvation Jane, yellow from the Cats Ear and plenty of white flowers on the radish we grew.

Willy Wagtail egg splat!

Grapevine moth
(Phalaenoides glycinae)
An odd thing happened this morning. Two Willy Wagtail's were singing while sitting on the fairy lights under the veranda, when I heard the splat of a little egg hitting the step. There are no nests or anything above.. Nature is just weird sometimes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mega catch-up!

I haven't blogged since Marty started working in town full time. It's been a whole different routine, it takes me a while to adjust! (3 months?!)

 The frost has been a bit harsh this year. Plants that have otherwise survived many other years suffered this year. It was only a week between there being morning frosts and 30°C (86°F) weather with strong northerly winds. You have to be tough to survive that kind of thing.

I mustered up the courage to use the Kubota to dig out some more of the north of the house. It's a little scary doing things like that alone, out where no-one can hear you scream.. ok, it's not space or anything!

Using the front end loader on the tractor, I was digging down and managed to get the backhoe stuck on the higher ground and the back wheels of the tractor spinning in the air. That was a little scary! Lifting the backhoe worked, although the pins that held it in place were tight due to the force. Oops.

I was really relieved to put it away and be done with it all. Any more adjustments can be made with a shovel! The Kubota is pretty awesome and powerful, and I couldn't have done the job without it, especially with the peppercorn tree roots all over the place.

This year I'll be covering the soil with cardboard and straw to help protect the ground from storing the sun's heat. Eventually it'll be an enclosed glass house, but in the meantime it's keeping the water and soil from building up around the house.

We finally got around to making a cage like the one we had in Stawell. It's super handy for de-brooding chooks, and for caring for sick or injured ones too.

Poor old Little Roo was the first to spend time in there. I suspect she was egg bound, and this way we were able to easily administer caster oil and vitamins to her. She perked up for a while, but when it became clear that she wasn't able to pass the egg and she was getting worse again, we put her to sleep.

It's like I've heard, the favourites and named birds tend to live the shortest lives. Little Roo was a rare character, and she has place in our hearts and memories.

Then all of a sudden everything is blooming and bees are going crazy with all the flowers to choose from. The wattles and the almond trees are always first to bloom, and this year the chaenomeles went crazy too.

I have been reading the Square Foot Gardening method, and while I don't exactly have perfect square foot sections in the shadehouse, it still works, and I learned a lot from the book. I have onions at the far end, beetroot next, maybe some garlic down the left side (I found them in a seed tray which was over-run with weeds, the tag too faded to read), I have more beetroot under the fowlers jars which have just popped-up today, and some carrot seeds under the hessian which stays moist with a Wobble-Tee on a timer near-by, and the worms are loving it under there! There's just enough room to get my foot between the beds, but I can reach easily to the middle of the bed. Weeding has been easy so far, but I don't expect my luck to hold out! The running grasses are just waiting for warmer weather.

I've got 2 more beds to prepare like this, one for fruits and flowers like tomatoes and cucumber, the other for legumes like beans and maybe some peas too. They've been resting under straw since winter and should be pretty nice by now. The leafy bed has a couple of broccoli plants producing now, and a cabbage starting to get growing, and two silverbeet plants who were planted in slightly the wrong place for the system, and I would have removed them if they weren't so very tasty still. Next year I'll switch it up for crop rotation purposes. It's fairly small, but hopefully productive and manageable too.

I've been playing with irrigation in the shadehouse. I had trouble finding much information about irrigation with tank water and no pump. I already knew that Wobble-Tee was an option since I've used one before, but all my garden beds are long, not round! I decided to try a dripper hose and a low pressure garden timer. The dripper hose dribbled water in one spot, slowly dripped in a few others, and did nothing for most of the rest. In order to see if the problem was the garden timer, I plugged in a Wobble-Tee and turned it on. I tried this set-up in the kitchen garden a couple of years back with a normal mechanical timer. The Wobble-Tee didn't work at all, the timer had reduced the little pressure we get down to a dribble. No such issue this time, in fact, it worked amazing because of the slightly lower location to the kitchen garden! So, the timer is a winner, and so is the Wobble-Tee!

I've moved the drip line down to the huglebed to see if being lower again might help - but if not, I didn't spend too much money finding out at least. (It will probably be on the Permie "Giving table" soon, I imagine!) I have to run the plumbing down there next, which shouldn't be too hard, then I can test it out.

The garden tap has been replaced with a ball-valve tap to maximise the pressure and to make it easier to turn on and off. I love how it's a 1/4 turn to open and close it, especially if I've gotten distracted and the watering can is almost full. That happens more than I care to admit!

It has been a pretty dry winter here, and I fear for the summer. I have a huge list of things to do that should help keep us all a little cooler. It's my main priority now, apart from trying to keep everything going, and making life as easy as I can for Marty, who's working hard to pay for it all. :)