Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ripening tomato

After a couple of warm days,  one of these little tomatoes is beginning to change colour…
….  just the beginning.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Shadow in the garden

Last night,  listening to the rumbling thunder and waiting for the rain (we did get 1mm) I sat watching from my bedroom window.   There was a shadow… a dark patch out there.  I'd seen a neighbour's black cat outside on a few other days,  and of course,  I assumed that must be it.
However,  this morning I found the "shadow".  It turned out to be something stuck in the rose bush...
 …  no cat at all!

A bird's nest…..

 …. with just one blue speckled egg inside….

… obviously abandoned….

There are a lot of blackbirds around and this is one of their nests. I know that they are feral,  introduced and not to be encouraged,  but they do eat plenty of earwigs and so I can't be too hard on them.
The nest is in a terribly precarious place an dmuch too close to the ground,  and I'm not surprised that it was abandoned.  I hope the neighbour's cat didn't interfere.

Summer is early...

My posts are definitely less frequent in recent weeks.  I think that this is because, as the seasons pass,  it seems that I am doing the same things each year… and there's not a lot to add.  There is some truth in that,  though every year is a little different from the others and it is becoming obvious that the summer season is moving earlier and earlier each year.   I have already picked the first tomato.  (I didn't photograph it… I popped it straight into my mouth!)  It was a yellow, pear shaped variety,  and the bush is going to have a lot more very soon when these ripen…
 … and then there are more….   tigerella...
 …. and roma tomatoes that are just beginning to set fruit…..

The beans are beginning to grow….
 … these are "purple king" and I planted these earliest…. but there are a few more varieties as well.

Dinners are still mostly from the garden….  tabouli...
(though I bought the tomato at the market last Saturday.)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Soil fertility, minerals and fertilisers.

Summer has arrived.  The low rainfall for the past two years means that the soil is very very dry,  and the deeper I dig,  the dustier and drier is the soil.  The old soil that is here,  is very fine grained (quite the opposite to sandy soils) with clay particles so small that the whole makes "non-wetting" soils.  This means that when one waters with a hose or a bucket,  the water runs off, leaving the underneath layers dry and dusty.  Gypsum helps,  but organic matter and soil organisms make the soil much healthier.
There has been no rain for three weeks and little for the past year or so…  we will not get up to our "average rainfall" again this year (361 mm so far, when "average" is about 480 mm.)

Crops are ripe and being harvested… the summer colours are here….
 …. and the size of my vegetable patch is being reduced.  In summer,  I reduce the area that I maintain in order to reduce the amount of water that is needed.
The broad beans have jsut about finished producing (it's too hot) and the garlic is mostly harvested.  I have onions, some greens and plenty of springtime herbs remaining.
The first of the "green beans"  (though mine are "purple king" this year) are growing,  potatoes are drying off and I am digging plenty of those and there are small tomatoes "by the dozen" on the various tomato plants.  Other summer plants are still coming along…. it is exciting to watch.

After my recent addition of rock dust to the soil in much of the garden,  plants are looking very healthy…  better than usual.  I "dug out" several books about soil fertility, mostly old-fashioned and pre-superphosphate fertiliser.  The acres and acres of crops that aare waiting to be harvested are almost grown hydroponically, with seed, fertiliser and pesticides being applied to almost sterile soils to produce  our grains and oil seeds.
Today I have been reading "Soil Fertility" by E Pfeiffer….
I bought this book, "Soil Fertility" by E Pfeiffer, for a dollar at a library sale some years ago.  The original version was published in the same year as another book that I have referred to previously, "The Soil anad Health - A study of organic agriculture"  by Albert Howard…  the year 1947,  the year that I was born!  

Both of these authors consider the maintenance of soil fertility,  including the requirement for minerals and trace elements, in order that the food grown in that soil should also contain those minerals.  

This is no doubt an issue in all intensive agriculture,  but even more so in the ancient soils that make up our continent.  Native Australian plants are famous for needing minimal fertiliser (in fact,  rich fertilisers can harm the plants) and don't seem to notice the lack of trace elements.  Over thousands of years,  as the soils became leached and depleted,  the plants have adapted to suit the conditions.  

Introduced plants on the other hand, those that come from continents with younger, less leached out soils need special care and additives to grow successfully in my area.  This applies to most of our vegetable crops as well.  I have found that beets and its relatives won't grow without added boron here. Other vegetables require various trace elements.    Beans and peas need some additives also. I'm not sure which mineral they need,  because I now add rock dust which includes (in a less soluble form) silica, iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, sulphur, zinc, copper, molybdenum and boron… a real multi-mineral mix.   The crushed rock that I add to the soil probably includes even more elements than these, but these are the main ones.  I sprinkle a handful of the material over each square metre or so and plants that I have had difficulty growing are doing very well… they are much healthier and producing food for me very well.

This has made me think further.  Surely animals,  human and otherwise, also need these trace elements. One can buy vitamins with added minerals or fortified foods, especially flour, with added iodine or selenium. 

While I understand that many people criticise the bio-dynamic methods as "muck and mystery" and consider that planting by the moon (a practice followed by my grandmother) to be bizarre, it it probably just as well to refrain from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  As the cost of fertilisers rises, not to mention their unavailability without cheap oil, it is probably useful to look at some of these older and reliable methods of producing food that is healthy and reliable.  

My "library discards" have proven to be extremely useful… food for thought as well.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Lizard on the woodpile.

Gathering scrap wood for the kitchen this morning and found a lovely lizard on top of the pile,  flat out sunning him/herself on top of the pile.
 It is about 40 cm (more than one foot) and very well  camouflaged.
I am still not quite sure of its species,  but will be checking.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ladybirds and spiders

I have been out checking for ladybirds again… they are increasing in numbers rapidly at the moment.  Every day their numbers seem to double…  and they are enjoying the flowering parsley (apparently,  lady birds prefer flat leafed parsley,  the very kind that I grow) and the flowers are occupied by baby ladybirds and adults….

 …. there are more and more every day.

As I looked for more and more of them, and found one of the spiders that have been "missing" until now….   it was eating a hover fly…..
These spiders are Thomasis spectabilis.  I have found them before.  Their "common name" is thte White Crab Spider,  despite the colour of this particular individual.  I took another photograph that shows the huge abdomen of this individual…
….  perhaps it is a female that is ready to produce eggs.  Apparently, the different colour is associated with the diet of the spiders.  Last year I found both white and yellow examples… so far I've only seen this individual this spring… about one month earlier than I have seen them in rprevipous years.

I did wander around to see what else I could find and there was this….
… a caterpillar (probably a white cabbage moth baby) sitting on this twig of coriander seeds.  This is certainly not  it usual (or safe) place.  I assume it was dropped by a bird that had been foraging among the kale leaves that are quite a distance away… too far for a caterpillar to walk.  That is why I am thinking that a bird must have dropped it.  I don't like it's chances…. the green colour is not the best camouflage for these maroon coloured seed pods.

The lemon verbena is beginning to flower as well…
….  these are beautiful.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ladybirds and lilies

After checking the garden for the progress of the cobra lily and watching for ladybirds.  Yesterday,  I found this….
… a ladybird sitting on the cobra lily.
This morning, after a 35C day yesterday, the flower is shrivelling…. and it's looking a bit the worse for wear.  The ladybirds are even more numerous than before.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Arisaema heterophyllum (Cobra lily)

I have mentioned the Cobra Lily previously.  I transplanted the whole plant to a "safe spot" in the garden and it has done very well.  It has amazing shaped leaves that have been quite spectacular this year.  In recent days though,  the leaves have appeared to shrivelled when compared with their usual quite "fleshy" appearance…  and then a bud appeared and grew rapidly.

Today the flower has opened….
 … the flower is about 53 cm (21 inches) long.   Quite beautiful.

The centre shows a striped tube….
….. an amazing sight.  I am so glad that I found this plant hiding in the "old part" of the garden.

Later:   It is mid morning and I went out to see how my flower was faring…. it is quite hot and dry today…. and I found a whole lot of little insects inside the flower….
… they climb up and fall back down into the "abyss" over and over again… amazing sight.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Ladybirds, beans and feijoa flowers

Today I found the first ladybirds of the season….
 … there were just a few,  but I do expect more.   I had seen baby ladybirds on the parsley that had gone to seed a while ago  (this photograph is dated 24 October) and today there are quite a few adults.  The babies were plentiful…..
 …. and the parsely patch quite large…..
… and so I expect to find many more ladybirds in the coming days…. and no aphids.

The old snow pea plants are looking quite forlorn….
 … and I keep thinking that it will soon be time to pull them out.  However,  they are still producing at least ten pods per day…..
 … and so I leave them there and pick them daily.  Mine is not the tidy rows of weed free and well mulched, picturesque potager of the gardening books….  more like a rambling mess with edible patches that make it nearly unneccessary to visit the local farmer's market.  (I still go,  weekly, as there is always something new and interesting to try.)

The new season's beans are climbing….  and flowering….
 … they all seem to know how to find their way.   This year I have three bamboo lean-to's each with five stakes.  These are the furthest advanced….
 …. and there are several beans planted at each stake.  The seeds that I had were quite old,  and so I planted them generously.   They seem to have germinated well and I will have plenty of plants.  It will be necessary to make sure that they have enough water for the extra plants…. I hope it works.  

I have had some difficulty with beans in the past…. sickly plants and often stunted…. despite "everyone" assuring me that beans and peas are so easy to grow.  After my experience with silver beet and beetroot and their need for boron,  I began to suspect a lack of trace elements.  (The soil in Kapunda is very old and depleted.)
Since that lesson with the boron and the beetroot family,  I have tried some soluble trace element mixtures and these are good,  though not very long lasting and probably includes elements that are surplus to requirements,  especially in a copper mining area with thick layers of limestone about a metre or so under the soil.  I have also found a source of "rock dust" which is just that… crushed rock that can re-mineralise the soil.  This seems to ahve solved my problem…. I have been inundated with peas (snow peas and pod peas) this year and I can't wait to see how the beans manage with the new minerals around their roots.

In other news,  the feijoa (pineapple guava) is flowering….
…  the flowers are lovely.  This poor plant has survived about 10 years of competition from a giant buddleia that had taken over that part of the garden.  That buddleia had also taken over half of the clothes line and much of three garden beds.  I know that the butterflies and honey eaters loved it and I have planted a substitute,  and so the giant buddleia is gone (it has made marvelous kindling and firewood) and the surrounding garden has "taken off".   The feijoa flowered last year,  though jsut a few flowers and no fruit appeared.  This year is is covered in these lovely flowers and who knows…. there might be some pineapple guavas in the future.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Time has managed to get away again...  but never mind.  It is that time of the year when there is plenty to do in the garden.  I am still picking snow peas, ordinary peas, beetroot, leafy greens, broccoli,  cauliflowers, the last cabbage, broad beans,  lettuce, onions and potatoes...  and probably more.  I am freezing a few vegetables ready for the middle of summer.  Last year the temperatures reached more than 50C and it was very hard to keep many plants alive and so there was less and less from the ever reducing garden patch as the summer went on.  I am blanching and freezing anything that I don't use on the very same day.  I used to bottle (can) the excess,  but that is harder to manage daily....  whereas freezing can be done with small or large amounts while the stove is hot and the freezer is cold.

Most of the "herb" plants are flowering.  They are mostly spring flowering whether they are annuals or perennials.  The most obvious are these....  the parsley...
.... last year I found white spiders on these flowers... but so far I haven't found them this year.  Perhaps it is a little early.  The link above is to a November post.
 This year the sage flowers on several different plants are spectacular.....
.....  borage... all self-sown....
 and coriander....
 I have heard a lot of complaints about coriander "going to seed" very quickly, and it does always in the summer.  I think it has something to do with the longer days.  I am now planting a new patch every couple of weeks.... there are now four or five patches in various spots.  I leave it to pro-create when the flowers come.

Coriander flowers attract hover flies and hover flies are pollinators, but also prey on aphids, caterpillars and some other insects (I haven't seen any aphids in weeks...  even on the rose bushes that they love.)  Once the flowers finish,  the plants produce huge amounts of seeds.

Ground coriander seeds are a significant component of the curry powder that I make,  and I save plenty of the seeds for re-planting.  During the winter,  I plant them less often,  but in recent weeks,  I plant coriander about every second weekend. The next crop but one is at this stage....
... and I have today planted some more seeds around the beans that are just beginning to climb up their tee-pee.  I don't know how the beans and coriander get on,  but with coriander attracting beneficial insect in other parts of the garden,  I'll be watching.

The rosemary has finished flowering now... and there is amazing new growth from the places where I have trimmed it back....
 ... the new growth is soft and less woody than the older parts of the plants and are much more useful in cooking... except where one wants to use them as skewers for grilling pieces of meat.

In other news,  I have moved the bird bath.  It is now beside the aloe plant that grows near the verandah...  at the "top end" of the "great wall of Kapunda"....
As I sat (reading my book) on the verandah in the afternoon last Saturday, a black bird came down to bathe in the water.  My "hide" consisted of the back of the chair where my feet rested... and this was only a few feet away from me... ..
.... the black birds had been much more wary while feeding their babies in a nest in the aloe,  but now that the offspring have left,  they are becoming a little more "friendly" it seems.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

"Spring break"

It has been more than 3 weeks since I have posted here.  I'm calling it a "spring break" because spring has most definitely sprung while I have been busy.
Family visit, dealing with a few issues that remain from a past life  and some significant re-organising of my house have all happened and all is well.
I have a new verandah area... still needing a little work....
 but usable (some visiting family.)
 The horse-shoe pitch has been un-earthed and the "great wall of Kapunda" built....

The cabbage flowers are beautiful, the broad beans are producing (I'm freezing some) and the broccoli plants that have fed me all winter are slowing down.  Current crops that are regular over the past week or two are peas, beans, beets, snow peas, potatoes, plenty of herbs and an assortment of "leafy greens".

There have been birds nests, more black birds, sparrows and starlings (all feral) than parrots or honeyeaters, though native birds seem to be successful also.  In particular, there has always been one lovely magpie-lark (Murray magpie, pee-wee) nest in one of the trees.  This year,  there are tell-tale mud nests in two trees, so these seem to be doing well. I have heard cuckoos (Horsefield's bronze cuckoos) though can't see them... yet!.... these are so elusive.   I have also seen a white-faced heron "fishing" in my pond.... this happened at the same time last year, and so I presume it has something to do with feeding baby herons.  I am breeding the heron food!
It is very timid, hard to photograph... this was taken through my dirty kitchen window and in spite of the rose geranium in the way!

While family were visiting,  a significant amount of extra work was achieved.  Jobs that would have taken me until Christmas have been completed and I feel rather lucky to have had such a happy and productive visit.  The labyrinth is "weeded"...
... and despite a pile of rubble that is associated with the verandah modifications,  it is back in "working order".   There is just a bit more to repair when the rubble is gone.

The terraceing of the next garden area is also completed....
... once again there are a few small patches to deal with, but the major work is done and I am left with just the easy bits!  The little cottage in the background is the "grannyflat" where my mother now lives.

The front of my house is finally symetrical... sort of,  the verandah is all usable and the guttering is all directed into the tanks.  The orange coloured paint remains from the previous paint job and should be re-done during this summer....
The pathways are all raked clear and the "large, chunky" pieces of firewood (those that will not fit into the kitchen stove) are stacked by the front door and nearer to the winter fireplace.

It's been a busy break with visits, garden make-over and spring planting,  but it's been fun too....
music on the new verandah (and a fire)...
 ... lots of music...
 ....  with a goat looking over the fence...
... for the goat yard is quite close to the new living area.