Saturday, 4 April 2020

Of self-isolation, bidets and books.

I think that I have everything I need sorted.  That was my feeling as I brought some gypsum home from the hardware shop this morning.  I have spread about 1/5 of it on the patch of garden that I am preparing for direct sowing of seed later this week.  Soil proparation is underway!

Also, recent weeks have been busy cleaning out the mess left by my mother.  She had been in a "granny flat" in my garden, but everything had become too much.  She has moved into a small local age care facility (in our small town) and is ok,  though she doesn't remember much. Her granny flat had become very dirty, unsanitary, over-run with mice and mess and it has been quite a job to  repair the damage, but I have done most of it by now.

Anyway, that is almost completed, the mess and rubbish removed and a huge amount of cleaning done.

The virus epidemic (now a pandemic!) has changed everyone's routines as we have all been compelled to "isolate in place" and not to venture out unless absolutely necessary.  And so I have organised everything that I need. In fact, that's not much.  I am used to being home alone, and so I have most of what I need.  It seems that the serious issues for many people are food, and toilet paper! It's obvious that staple foods are useful, and some extra fruits and vegetables are good too,  but the biggest surprise for me has been the toilet paper!  
While toilet paper is a modern convenience, and "european/western" people have never thought about the use of trees for such wasteful activities, I am still surprised that this was the item that seems to have been such a problem for so many.  
In fact, that our civilisation/culture can have been so disrupted by the lack of toilet paper, and without going into the use of bidets or water bottles, this problem  has indicated to me how precarious modern "civilisation" really is.  
I don't have a built in bidet, but this is ok.
I have a bowl and running water.  And I can empty the water into the toilet that is connected to the town sewer system.  This is not difficult, and surely the panic involved in this fear of running out of toilet paper is a worrying trend for a society. It is the panic buying and empty supermarket shelves (and yes,  I have been offered "under the table" toilet paper at a high price)  But hopefully people will eventually learn to accomodate such difficulties as this. Modern civilisation has surely not handicapped people so severely as this.

I am home alone, as usual. But unlike previously, I am feeling as though I may never need to venture out again. I will, of course, though my own home feels very safe and comfortable now. 

I have been reading more than usual.  

Lately, after venturing into some family history, I found that some of my family were employed by the British East India Company, and that some our non-white relatives (who were not able to be evacuated to England... only white people were ok, apparently) were sent to Australia.  This has led me to read about the British East India Company,  and then the 1839-42 incursion into Afghanistan that, along with some other disasters, precipitated that exodus of many of the English, and the eventual take over by the English government in 1858 (the beginning of the Raj).  

I am reading William Dalrymple's books ("The Anarchy" and "Return of a King") having already been prepared for this by Shashi Tharoor's "Inglorious Empire".  It has been quite a journey!

And from May Sarton.....
"For a long time now, every meeting with another human being has been a collision.  I feel too much, sense too much, am exhausted by the reverberations after even the simplest conversation." (Journal of a Solitude)

I am truly enjoying my quiet solitude and my garden.
Now.... for my refugee friends to have that same feeling of safety, and some comfort. 
I have a room.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Self-isolation, living in the garden, with books.

We are living in interesting times.  There is a new virus, COVID-19, at large in many countries and Australia is no exception, though our relative isolation has delayed the worst effects of the virus, and so far delayed the progression of the distribution for a couple of weeks.   It is predicted that we will have the worst effects, serious infections and deaths, within the next days or weeks.  And so we are advised to "self-isolate" at home, remaining out of contact with other people.  
This has caused some crazy behaviour, raiding of supermarkets for pasta, sauces and toilet paper, and as people have become more stressed they do not behave well!  

For people such as myself, who live alone and rarely see people anyway, it is not difficult.  I don't have a huge stockpile of food, but I always keep rice and lentils (mung bean ones) in the freezer.  And flour.  I have a vegetable garden and chickens, and so my needs from the new supermarket (for Kapunda has a very new Foodland supermarket now) are minimal.  

This year has been hard for the garden, mainly because we have had so little rain... almost none since last August, but with added water and constant attention,  I am still able to eat well from the vegetables that are here.

The difference now is that we are supposed to remain isolated, and avoid other people as much as possible.   Many people are finding this difficult,  either complaining of "nothing to do" or feeling "stir crazy" or having "cabin fever"!  
I am quite happy with my own company, and don't find the solitude distressing at all. In fact, I have the opportunity to catch up reading some books that I have planned for some time.  I am a very slow reader, so I suppose the many hours of solitude are jsut what I needed to work my way through the current stack of books beside my bed.  
First, I will finish "Return of a King" by William Dalrymple (about the defeat of the British in Afghanistan in 1839-42) and then "The Widow's Husband" by Tamim Ansary (fiction about Afghanistan at about the same time).  
I feel as though I should return also to the diaries of Emily Carr.  She kept journals that have now been published.  I enjoy her paintings, but her descriptions of her surroundings, her life as an artist and her complications of family are just wonderful.  
All of this makes me wonder just how long we will remain "self-isolated" and how much of the pile of books beside my bed I will be able to make my way through.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Gardens are good for you.

I took my mother to the dentist.  
I had had to park in a "no parking" place to get close enough to enable my mother to move from the car to the waiting room with her walking frame. (I parked on the footpath to get close enough later to get her back to the car.)
We had to wait for quite a while. The waiting room was so cold that it was like winter, but I hadn't brought a jacket!  
As if that wasn't bad enough there was a huge television screen that had "the morning s
how" on it for the whole time that we waited. The sound was on. There was no way to turn it off. I looked for a remote control. There wasn't one. 
It was for our "entertainment" I suppose.
There were inane exhortations to buy insurance, get active, or buy food chopping equipment (two for the price of one!)
The food chopping demonstration was one of the strangest television pieces that I have ever seen!
While a fast talking man showed a woman how to chop vegetables with a hand operated machine clamped to the studio/kitchen bench top (actually, a row of about 5 or 6 of these machines - he moved rapidly from one to the next, never missing a syllable of his spiel) and an assortment of multicoloured vegetables that were spewed into the row of glass bowls placed below each machine. The theatrically made-up and coiffed woman followed his actions with feigned avid attention (it could only have been feigned because he was so ridiculous) and with an expression of wondrous admiration on her face... I felt embarrassed for the woman being so patronised by the fast-talking showman, but I'm sure that it pays her bills.
The whole experience was awful and I found myself counting minutes, shivering by the time we were called into the warmer room where the dentist had her chair.
Cold, taunted by television (with no way to turn it off) and waiting for an appointment that will, in all probability have to be repeated until my mother agrees to dental work for an abcessed tooth being completed. Such is life.
I much prefer my garden and solitude.

When I got home,  I did four laps of the front pathway... truly, it makes a difference.  Gardens are good for you.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Corn, an accidental crop.

Three years ago (2016-17) I tried some non-hybrid corn plants.  I bought the seeds online and I was very careful about how I grew them.  The corn cobs were smaller than average (and I am sure that this is the reason that most people use hybrid seeds... supermarkets would no doubt prefer the biggest and best looking corn cobs) but since that is not really an issue for me.  I can always eat two of them instead of just one!
After I had picked and eaten many pieces, I went on to something else,  but when I went to pull out the plants,  I found quite a few pieces that I had missed.  These had dried out, and the corn seeds were  quite hard and dry.  These were not hybrid, of course, so I decided to keep them and see how they grew.  I forgot them!   "Tested" means that I had at some time tried to see whether they would germinate at all!

This year, I found some of the seeds at the bottom of the seed box,  along with a few other odd seeds that had fallen in there too.  I guessed that not all of them would be viable, but I had a piece of ground that was unoccupied, so I dug, threw the seeds in and covered them.  The results were impressive... some of the okra grew, some a few beans,  but every corn seed must have sprouted because they are just too close together!   I probably should have thinned them,  but as they grew, and in some of the very hot days, some died. But after a few weeks,  I had some very healthy looking plants....
... they looked lovely, but they still had a long way to go.

"Corn is a monoecious plant, meaning that it grows its male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flower of a cornplant is called the tassel, while the ear with its corn silk is the female flower." 

I was checking them daily, and waiting to see whether they would flower.  Eventually, the male flowers began to appear!  These are at the top of each stalk.
Most plants produce male flowers first... corn, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, in fact I think that any that produce separate flowers for male and female parts produce the "less expensive" male flowers first while the bees or other insects are "trained" to come and investigate,  or in the case of corn,  so that male flowers are mature and producing pollen before the female flowers appear beneath them, lower on the same stems, where the pollen can fall straight down onto the silk that protrudes from the female flowers.  The very fragile, sticky silk of the female flowers does not last very long.
Today I found several female flowers.  This is the newest one, with quite brown coloured silk, still quite sticky.

And another with a swelling corn cob inside the husk....
......  the silk is older and looking a bit drier and probably less sticky.  The corn cob is a little bit fat.  I will leave it for now, and hope that there is enough to eat one of these days.  This is certainly an accidental crop, planted very randomly, and rather too close together, but whatever is produced,  it took such a little effort that I cannot complain!

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Seed saving.

Growing plants for food is very satisfying.  It is even more satisfying when the seeds that you plant are from the previous generation of food plants.  I started with the more obvious seed saving....  broad beans, peas and some of those easily seen, easily harvested and fairly reliable seeds....
Just a few of the seeds from my garden.
So far this season, I have collected seeds from my favourite salvia (S. apiana) and I spent yesterday evening picking basil seeds from their little seed pods.  This is quite time consuming.  Even my "seedsaving" book explains that "each flower contains four seeds that are difficult to extract from the dried seed pod."  That is quite an understatement!  The reason that the seeds are so difficult to remove is that they are well attached and completely hidden inside the dried brown seedpod.  The flowers are quite small and after they fade,  the surrounding bracts are quite tough for such tiny pieces.   The black seeds are very obvious when you finally liberate them.
Yesterday's seeds are now in their packet and waiting to be started in a seed tray some time in the future.
Basil seeds.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)

Kapunda has a fairly dry climate.  Over the past couple of years, it has been exceptionally dry.  (Last year we received a total of 298mm for the whole year, just over 11.5 inches.)  While the climate is changing and becoming drier (and hotter) it is also the case that it has always been a relatively dry place.  Though traditionally,  we have expected to receive about 480mm (19 inches) of rain annually, and most of that during the winter.  The positive Indian Ocean dipole of 2019 has dissipated and so perhaps the coming year will not be quite so dry.  Fingers crossed!
In past years, gardens were not sown with plants that would require significant water, and certainly there are many garden plants here that can survive a long, hot, dry summer.  Consequently, there are a number of species in old gardens that originate in South Africa where conditions in some places are similar.  Portulacaria afra (Spekboom in Africaans) is one of these.  It is also known as elephant bush or porkbush.
This species does grow in a few local gardens here and I have some of it in several places in the garden.  Apparently it can grow to 4m in height, though I have only seen it at about half of that size.  It can be planted as a hedge or barrier, and it is used in some places in Kapunda like that, or as an ornamental tree, or even as a pot plant!  Very versatile!
Apparently the leaves are edible (unlike jade plants that are mildly toxic.)
The plant that is in the sun is flowering now.  (I have a couple of other plants in shadier places that are not currently in bloom.)

The flowers are quite small, but plentiful....

 .... and of course the bees find any useful flowers in the garden....
.... there are always bees in my garden!

The jade plant that grows in my garden (Crassula sp.; maybe Crassula ovata) has very differeent flowers, though not currently flowering.  Perhaps soon.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”

 Eat breakfast like a kinglunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”

This is an old saying in many countries.  And I have realised that, with a garden and flexible time, that is much easier than it used to be.  
When my children were all at home, there were eggs for breakfast mostly.  And that made breakfast time more like a work place for a short order cook... depending upon what style of eggs each person wanted... scrambled, "egg with a bump", pancakes, or French toast were all fairly regular.  Everyone had to have an egg before school.  I still eat eggs for breakfast.  These days cooked in the same style as my Manus friends made for me every day.... Afghan style.  I make a tomato sauce, with plenty of onions and garlic, and some lemon juice; poach the eggs gently (I like them still soft) and add my 50 rocket leaves (or other herbs,  depending upon what is available).   And I eat this with bread.
Fifty rocket leaves.
Lunch is necessarily variable, depending upon what I am doing and where I end up during the day.  Often fruit and sometimes a croissant if I am in the city... and depending upon how hungry I am. At home, it can be a sandwich or leftovers.

But then there is dinner at night.  I am usually not very hungry, but on hot days, like today, I have icecream.  Golden North Honey Icecream.  Hardly a healthy or balanced meal, but tonight, it is still 40C at 8pm,  and so ice cream it is! 

I am just waiting for the prickly pears to be ripe so that I can make gelato from those....
 (picture from last season)

And dinner will be pink.
Prickly pear ice cream.
Tomorrow I will have coleslaw made with the last of the baby cabbages that have been waiting in the garden for today....