Sunday, 31 January 2010

The end of January, garden planning.

This is the time of year that I need to assess how the summer is going and then...  where to from here.  There are a few things to consider... how the various species are doing in the current season,  what to consider with respect to crop rotation and how long things will need to begin producing.
This year has been unusual for me.  I was a way for the beginning of this spring/summer season  and so a number of my usual crops weren't planted until later than usual.  This has been a problem because of the very hot and dry weather,  but I did learn that the earwigs can't cope with the lack of water either and therein may lie an advantage in the long run.   A few of my tomato plants are looking wilted... no doubt one of the soil based wilt diseases, probably fusarium,  as that is what I've seen here before...  not good,  but I'll know exactly where these problems are next season.

The places where vegetables are doing the best are those spots where I dug in compost that was made from pine needles.  This particular mound of compost is very interesting.  It has taken a long time to break down...   about three or four years... but now it looks like soil with fungal mycelia growing through it.  I am a great fan of fungi and I am so pleased to see the grey mouldy mess amongst the soil that has resulted.  I haven't tested the ph,  but it must be lower than our usual alkaline clay and I'm sure that this is a big advantage to me.

The other consideration now is that January is the time to plant the first of the winter vegetables for next season... brassicas especially... and here we are at the end of January!

The summer crops are coming on,  and I have eggplants, peppers, zucchinis and a few tomatoes.  I can usually get enough potatoes for dinner, though the hot dry weather is not the best for these either... I will plant some to grow during the winter again this year... these were so much more productive during the winter, and without the need for supplementary water!

Other plans for the next few weeks include another load aof wood for cooking.  I am able to find quite a lot  in the backyard,  and there is plenty on the side of local roads,  but I also have a "wood man"  who supplements my cooking supply, and I need to contact him (there's no answer on his phone lately.)

There is a large tree in my yard that shades the water heater in the winter.  My plan is to have it chopped and chipped and I'll leave all of the remnants on the soil around it... this will be spectacular.  The tree is a kurrajong and these are useless as firewood (otherwise I'd have other plans for it)  but I'll lay the chips on the ground under the tree and let them rot...  in a few years time I should have another pile of soil... I just need some fungi to get to work there as well.  It may take as long as the pine needles,  but it will break down into some of the best soil... and it has all of the nutrients that have been assembled by a big old tree.

I checked the soil under the mulch that I laid out to protect the "fallow" patch and the soil is remarkably cool to the touch.  That was my plan,  but it's good to know that it's worked.

The chickens are laying,  the broad bean patch is half cleared (ready for the next patch of brassicas) and we are eating from the garden again.

The tomatoes are not doing well.  I have a few,  but not enough to preserve this year.  It has been very hot, and they don't set fruit when the temperature is regularly over 35C.  I will be able to buy some very cheaply though... from the shade houses in Angle Vale (down the road from here) and I'll pick them in a few weeks time (when they are very cheap) to preserve for next winter.  I need to get down there for olive oil anyway.

I have been reading quite a bit lately, and doing a bit less drawing,  though I'll be posting some more during the week.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Local Government and resilience

I have tried to stay away from political comment in this blog.  After all,  it is really about my own struggle with the environment, earwigs and lack of water in a dry climate, growing my own vegetables and my own adventure in self-sufficiency.
However,  I am an elected member in local government and a candidate for state parliament for the Greens party and I feel as though I have a double life.

I heard a debate on TV this evening about the climate/population/economic issues that face the community now.  It was interesting,  as it included a diverse group of people representing a number of different interests.  Opinions were varied...  unusual for a television debate.
It appeared to me that this debate devolved into a discussion of  which environment... urban,  suburban,  regional or rural would be environmentally sustainable.  Sustainability seems to be the new "trendy" word or idea to use.  The idea of sustainable development (sounds like an oxymoron to me) was canvassed.

There appeared to be a serious consideration of the lack of infrastructure for suburban development, and the attendant social problems that go along with that...  it began so well.    Then the discussion tended towards how to accomodate a significant increase in population in our cities and associated areas in the near future without any significant disruption to the "Australian way of life."    I  have no doubt that increasing global population and the serious social effects of climate change will produce significant population pressures on our nation... cities and towns included.  This population pressure will change our communities.

As an elected member in local government, the lack of concern with infrastructure for many years is a serious issue for current and future councils and the long term strategic planning and viability of many communities.   This has led to a serious under-estimation of the depreciation of those assets that we have all taken for granted,  from roads and bridges to town halls and even community organisations such as the CWA or the CFA,  for all of these are a significant part of our way of life and they all need re-building.

We are left to consider our own situation with respect to environmental sustainability,  for this is the only long term consideration.  Sustainability and an ever increasing Gross National Product are not compatible and this  means that there needs to be a reconsideration of where we are to go from here. (Increasing GNP is a pre-requisite for the maintenance of this way of life.)

The population of the earth is increasing at such a rate...  it now doubles more and more rapidly...  but this will stop,  whether voluntarily or because,  like any other animals that exceed their environment's "carrying capacity"  a population crash occurs.   Population crashes have been seen in the past,  usually by war, famine or disease.  I am not sure what makes this civilisation so confident that we can avoid such a fate.   Population crashes do not occur evenly.   It is neither even, fair nor just.   Should such a catastrophe happen,  how would any of us fare?

Already,  with the financial difficulties that our society faces, we see a significant variation in the ability of people to withstand the financial, social and psychological pressures.  

I have no answers,  except that the more resilient people and communities seem to be better equipped for whatever might befall them.

Resilience is the capacity to recover from stress or catastophe and I think that this is what we may need in the future.  Perhaps we should be encouraging resilience as much as our vegetables.


Yesterday I went to the dentist.  I had planned to make a comment about this yesterday,  but it turned out to be a busy day.

I had been on the waiting list to see the dentist since my last visit in October of 2007.  In October of 2008,  I put my name back on the waiting list...  one has to wait for a year after visiting the dentist before getting back onto the list.  

Last week,  my name came up, and so I went to see the dentist again,  more than two years after the last time.   I had had a problem in the meantime,  and I'd phoned the clinic, but since it could be managed with panadol,   it was not an emergency.   Yesterday,  the previous repair was adjusted and I can bite with all of my teeth now.  My teeth are just fine.

I left with a letter informing me that I can get back on the waiting list in twelve months time, and with the current length of the waiting list,  I should be able to see the dentist again in mid 2012!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Sewing and art

For those of you who are not aware of my background,  until recent years I have earned much of my income as an  outworker,  sewing clothing and racewear for a living.  It has all been useful,  and the racewear, in particular, has been very lucrative.  The racewear involved fireproof clothing for racing car drivers.  Nowadays,   like everyone else,  it is impossible to compete with the price of Chinese labour.  I have worked for about half of the "going rate"  in Australia, but that's not low enough and there comes a point when it is not worth doing.Anyway,  I have been sewing for other customers (at $10 per hour... my minimum) but the fact that I won't drop my price further means that I am losing my customer base.  It is not worth my while to work for less than that,  so it's all ok.  I grow more vegetables.
This evening, a friend with another sewing job dropped in.  I'll do it, but I am wary of the value of my labour.  Marx would haave something to think about here.
My sewing room... the means of production....

These are an assortment of industrial sewing machines... a straight sewer, a double needle machine, a five thread overlocker and a four thread overlocker... now,  all I really need is a coverstitch machine (which I can't afford)  and I would be much better off!  I have a separate machine (getting dicey) that I use for button holes,  making a total of five regularly used machines.
So,  that is what I do.  I like sewing,  but can't afford any more investment there, unless Chinese labour becomes more expensive.

This afternoon, I photographed some drawings that I have done in the past few days...  I'm not sure which order they are supposed to be in,  but here is my favourite glass jug....  and I like this drawing also...  the watercolour wash is better here...

... a plastic water bottle... square shape...

... and my same old jug... it is such a lovely shape that I continue to draw it.   It is made of glass,  and has some funny colours in it,  but mostly the shape intrigues me.  (Am I becoming like Morandi with his few still life subjects?)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Australia Day

When I was a child,  Australia Day passed in the middle of  the summer holidays with very little notice taken... in fact,  the holiday was on the nearest Monday, making a long weekend of it back in those days.  I had never seen anyone wave flags,  organise barbeques or wear nationalistic clothing.  Even when I arrived back in Australia for good,  in 1991, it was a very "low key" event.

Somehow, in the last few years the day has become quite a big celebration for some,  a day of mourning for others and there seems to be a day of embarassed discomfort for many.  It is called "Australia Day" officially, but also "Invasion Day" or "Survival Day" by others....   and there is always some discussion about whether the 26th January should be the national day at all.  The day commemorates the arrival of the first fleet of eleven ships at Sydney Cove in 1788,  and the proclamation of the British territory on Eastern Australia.  Of course this went on to become a penal colony and eventually Sydney city.
(Proclamation Day in South Australia is December 28th, commemorating the proclamation of this colony in 1836.)

Another suggestion has been December 3rd to commemorate the Eureka Stockade and its heroes....  who were defeated...  but then,  Australians seem to have a number of defeated heroes,  from the Swaggie of Waltzing Matilda fame or the Diggers at Gallipoli.

In our council area, as in most others,  there was a commemoration of the day at a flag raising ceremony and a breakfast.  The flag was raised at Hewett this morning,  watched by an assortment of local residents, council members and staff and the local church population who prepared the food. Here the Mayor looks on while a young man raised the defaced blue ensign with southern cross and commonwealth star.  With her back to me is the woman who did almost all of the organisation...  I'm sure she's relieved that it all went according to plan.
These celebrations often include citizenship ceremonies, though we didn't have any new citizens this time.

It was a happy enough event, catching up with friends that I haven't seen for some time and a shared meal that I didn't cook myself,  but somehow the idea of a beery barbeque with lamb (of course) or a trip to the beach is not on my list for today.  I'm home again, catching up on house and garden tasks.
The cricket is on television,  so I'll be watching Australia and Pakistan play a day/night game at the Adelaide Oval.  This is a one day game rather than the serious five day events that we were watching before Christmas.

The garden looks very dry.  Though notice that some plants are much more stressed by the heat than others...  tomatoes wilt badly when the eggplants are looking supser healthy.  I think that the choice of varieties of plants will be much more important from now on.

I really love the eggplant flowers also.  They are beginning to set fruit.

It is well over 30C again today and it's hard to keep some parts of the garden alive at all.  Shade and water... shade and water...  and on it goes.

PS  I found this after I'd loaded this post,  but I think it adds a lot... it's a post from Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers,  here,  especially the bit about  "you know you're Australian when"...  enjoy.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Busy summer days

It's been a busy couple of days and there is more to go.
I have bottled quite a few peaches... and there are more to go...  these are the really big jars... same diameter as the otheres but very tall,  and tricky to process.  I found these jars in a second hand shop in Nuriootpa, and they are great.  Next time we have a bigger group of people than jsut us for dinner,  there will be peaches for dessert....  a big jar!

There is more fruit at this time of year too.   Tricky to have all of the preserving turning up at the same time as Christmas,  New Year and Australia Day!    Busy, busy, busy....

I meant to put another little garden note on here too... yesterday,  but the time got right away from me.
These are cucumber plants.  I have had good luck with these in the past, and they are a better salad option for hot weather...  lettuces don't do well in the heat,  but cucumbers make a better salad anyway, and fresh, they are sooo  sweet.  These are quite small and should be further ahead, but as just about everyone knows,  I was away from home at the time that they should have been planted, so it's all a bit late.... even that is interesting as I've missed a lot of the earwig damage that seems to occur earlier in the season.  Perhaps there is some advantage in succession plantings?
Anyway,  here are the cucumbers....

... but on the other side of the row,  there are a few more that have been ring-barked by the slaters (carpenters/roly pollies... sp?)

... hard to see,  but the ones that are lying down are well and truly ring-barked.   They seem to attack the main stem at ground level.  I leave them there because the little buggers will be back in the night and hopefully they'll be satisfied with the same plants... they don't seem to have found the other row!!!

All of these things are worth watching, as my main aim is to produce food for myself,  not necessarily a trendy garden or even a neat and tidy row of cucumber plants.

The other big news of the week is here....   in the Leader (Angaston newspaper)....

... and yes,  I am running in the state election for Stuart....  again.   Stay tuned!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Comedy of Errors

I had planned to explain the sickness and death of some cucumber plants that have been ringbarked by slaters (carpenters or rolly pollies to some.)   Another day....
We have just been to Seppeltsfield (a winery that is about 20 minutes drive from here)  where we saw "The Comedy of Errors.
The set.....  and the pre-performance preparations....

.... a small section of the audience....  with wine, food and sunshine....

... and the play is underway....

... the camera is put away and we picnicked on the grass as we laughed our way through the comedy of errors.   By the end,  it was almost dark.  As usual,  The Essential Theatre were wonderful.  Next year will be Romeo and Juliet, and I'll be there.  This is the ninth year that the theatre company have performed here in our area,  and I think I've seen all but one performance... they are just wonderful.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Fire and quilting

It's been another busy day.  
It is very hot, dry and windy.  The garden survives and we are picking a few geen leafy vegetables, potatoes... and of course we always have eggs and an assortment of herbs....  we are doing ok.
Today there was a serious fire just south of our town... it was very scary and, while I thought we would be ok,   I did go  out  pretty regularly to see how far the fire had gone.
The most noticeable things in my back yard was the smoke,  the aerolplane... that was presumably dropping water on the fire and the galahs that live here.  They live in the big trees that are on the  block and they come and go as they please.  They are very noisy,   so their departure in the morning and their arrival home again each evening at dusk is quite noticeable.  Today,  rather than return at the normal time (between sunset and dusk)  they returned very early.  As the fire became more intimidating and the plane was flying its dousing raids,  the galahs turned up here.... away from harm...  and I must say that I felt better too... they must know something.  They are very welcome.
Today I got into some sewing also.  It was so windy and awful outside that I didn't venture out very much and spent time sorting out some of the things that I've been meaning to do for some time.   I have a tapestry piece to finish for an exhibition in the middle of the year (a portrait exhibition... no photo yet,  but it will happen) ... and meanwhile I  have a quilt to piece as well....

I have had this quilt in mind for a long time...  entitled "Miller's Holiday in Bali"....   I'll show a picture when the pieced top is complete...  it's about three quarters of the way there...  this is a real privelege to see it before it's finished...   and there'll be more explanation (about Bali holidays... which I've never been on) as well,
And so there you are....  a firey day,  no meetings, time to piece a quilt and all's right with the world.  Life's good.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hot day and drawings

Today has been hot again...  the garden survives,  and we are eating well.  Today I began to re-organise my studio space and I photographed some recent drawings,  found a couple and did  some too....
These are all done with coloured ink...

This is the one that I drew in the Tanunda gallery last weekend...

It is  this sculpture... quite tall....

... a drawing from a book that I was reading....

... and one of my favourite still life objects again....

... a Gesso bottle....

... and this is a drawing that I did ages ago in Pogonip... it is all done with drawing ink and coloured with inks as well...   I drew this sitting on a log in the forest...

Then tonight,  as the sun went down, it was cooler outsied than inside the house.  We sat and watched the the sun go down and the fading moon follow not far behind....

Within minutes it was getting dark and mosquito-y....

By dinner time it was getting below 40C, and by now (11pm) it's under 30C....  and time to prepare for tomorrow and another hot day with no rain.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bicycles in Kapunda... and a Datsun

Today was the first day of the Tour Downunder which began in Clare,  went on through Light Regional Council towns including Kapunda, ending in Tanunda (where I regularly work in the Regional Art Gallery.)
We parked near the centre of town and walked down to the Council chambers where we were to have lunch and vview the race.

On the way,  we passed the North Kapunda Hotel, and I took this picture because it has now returned to its real name.  The building has been owned by another publican for the past several years and he had renamed it "The Sir Sidney Kidman Hotel" ... presumably to trade on the tourist potential of one of the better known residents of the town.  

I don't think that any local people actually used the new name.  In fact,   it has only been known as "The North" around here,  and I'm sure that it's been confusing to any newly arrived residents or visitors.   You'll notice the bicycles on the verandah... they had ridden into town ahead of the "pack"  so to speak.

By the time that we got along the street,  the crowd was beginning to gather....

... and the dignitaries began to gather also....

As we came out of the council building,  the "breakaway" came straight past...  three of them way out in front,  including one of the local heroes riding for the Uni SA team.
Then came the police motorcycles,  helicopters and media cars... so much noise!  Then the main group,  the peleton came around from Clare Road and on down the main street... at the middle of  the main street was the end of a sprint section, making it quite spectacular for the Main Street crowd....

.....  down the main street....

...and right past us...  and then  the team cars,  the ambulances and rescue vehicles....  all with sirens blaring and stretchers at the ready.

A few minutes later, along came local legend,  Ross Vogt on his penny farthing...  note the lack of a helmet, thought the hat looks pretty good.

... he dismounted for a photograph.  The bicycle is made by Singer (later the car manufacturer) and has a lever action rather than fixed pedals.  

Getting on again seemed pretty easy when done by an expert....

...and he rode off down the street to join the bike parade.

There were four penny farthings and quite a few children with decorated bicycles...

Back to the council building and here is another local legend...  Brendan,  with his bike.

It has a pretty robust electrical system.  He needs it as he rides around the town late at night collecting bottles and cans which in South Australia are worth 10c each because of the deposit on drink containers. One never sees a single one left around here.

There is quite a "dashboard" on the handlebars....

... and quite an interesting battery pack in the back.

As quickly as it all appeared,  the town was quickly back to normal.... and all that was around on the way back to the car was a few streamers....

When I got home,  I got to work on my car and get it running.  It has been unregistered for some time, and I will be needing in the next few weeks....  and so here it is....

... lovely as long as you don't look too closely at the rusty bits!

It was made in December of 1969,  and so it has recently turned 40!
Meanwhile the garden is thriving,  the weather is fine (no rain) and the rest of the week should be back to hot weather.

Monday, 18 January 2010


It has been a busy weekend.   At least the weather wasn't too hard on the vegetables.  There was no rain,  but it wasn't overly hot either.  It should be hot again after tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

This morning I went outside quite early to see how it is all going.  The front yard...

Nick made a path for meditative walking down to the side fence.  It has been a lovely place in recent years,  but this spring (while I was not around)  it has been obliterated with fallen leaves and spent watsonia plants.  It was originally marked by white rocks so well that you could even see it at night,  as long as the moon was out.  Well,  the stones are still there, and I have been raking leaves, and exposing Nick's path and some of the old ones as well.
There is also an old table and chairs at the end of the main pathway....  the smokers' spot!

There are two different varieties of these large cactuses.  Both of them produce large white flowers that you wouldn't be able to tell apart without the actual plant available.  Here are both,  quite close together...

They are quite different in both shape,  prickles and colour.

Here is a new clump beginning...  it is the bluish, larger and more sparsely prickled variety.

...  it is growing where a large old limb fell over... close to a fallen aloe plant as well.
The dead brown litter is all that remains of a patch of watsonia also.

The large white flowering cactuses not only produce wonderful perfumed flowers,  but after the flower is gone,  some of them have produced fruit as well...  these are the fruits of the smaller, greener and more densely prickled one.

... the fruits grow at the base of the flower, presumably where the ovary of the flower is and once it is fertilised,  as not all flowers produce the fruits, though just under half do.
I saw these last year, for the first time.  I first noticed that there were ants raiding them.  I didn't look all that closely at first (mistake!) as I thought that the ants might merely be after the water.  In fact this is very much like the first one that I found...

... a bit "past it."
Last year I asssumed that, being night flowering, it would require a moth to fertilise the flowers,  rather than bees.
I have been "googling"  all kinds of cactus plants  I have found out a few things... and, while some of these look very different,  it is some kind of pitaya.   I have also been reading about pollination and fruits.    Most of these cactus flowers are supposed to be pollinated by bats.
We have bats here,  and they are different from the ones that people are familiar with.  Sitting out at night,  one hears them, especially when insects are clustering around a light....  but we don't see them.  The only one that  I have found close to here was a tiny fragile creature that was caught on my windscreen when I drove home late one night.  It died after I arrived home... and I felt awful.  I don't know what kind it was,  but I did find this reference to a tiny bat.  I will be out looking for for them... we may have some that are cactus flower pollinators!
I still don't know whether this is the means of fertilisation,   or whether the bees that do attend the flowers during the day (despite the dilapidated state of the flowers once morning arrives) are an agent here. (Remembering that less than half of the flowers produce fruit... though that seems to be increasing.)
And then the fruit....
....this fruit appears to be hairy rather than "scaly" and all of "my" fruits are pale greenish yellow.
The first one that I tried is here....  this was a few days ago....

.. as I opened it,  it became apparent that it is a "berry"  with seeds scattered randomly inside the fruit.  I tasted it, of course,  and it tastes very much like a Chinese gooseberry (known as kiwi fruit nowadays.)

Today I went out to see if there were any more.  They seem to split when it rains,  and when I thought about that, it seems sensible...  seeds would be more likely to be distributed when the soil is wet!  (Clever plants!)
I collected these six fruits.  The one at the bottom,  that looks slightly different came from the plant with the red flowers, rather than the white one.

I cut them all....

... picked out the crappy bits and here is the tiny yield....

... amazing.   I am becoming very interested in how to make use of the plants that grow well here.
The prickly pear plants along the sides of the roads around here are getting ready to produce fruit as well.  Not only are the fruits useful,  but the "pads" are used as a vegetable in Mexico and central America.
This is my next garden vegetable to investigate, and I found this... a recipe for cooking these and even a picture of the implements one needs for dealing with the prickly pads.