Saturday, 31 January 2009

pumpkin, potatoes and carrots thought I'd update on some of my veggies.  First the good news - my pumpkins are starting to look almost ripe.  You can tell they're ripe when the "stem dries out", or something like that.  And look!  One of my pumpkins is starting to look brown on the stem, sort of dried out and cracked. comparison, this is what the other stems look like.  They've always been yellow, but bright and alive, not dull and brown.  Looks like I'll be harvesting soonish! a sadder note, I think my potatoes have carked it.  I thought they wilted from the heat wave, but unlike my other pot plants they didn't recover.  And as I mentioned earlier one of them quickly wilted and died - turns out that one had indeed rotted.  But now they both look like this. investigate I dug right down and pulled on of them out.  This is what the root looked like.  Not many roots at all, really, and still most of the seed potato attached.  No baby potatoes at all.  The soil was fairly damp too so my guess is that they're rotting from too much moisture.  I must have watered them too much in this heat - I must remember that these big pots hold in the moisture very well.  I've left one potato though ... I'm probably kidding myself but we'll see if it survives the week. also had to pull up my capsicum.  All of the fruit were rotting, it simply was not happy.  And when I did so I picked a few carrots to see how they were going.  This shows you the difference in growth based on how much sun they get.  I planted all of my carrots at the same time, but the small ones were in the shade of the capsicum.  That's all the green growth they had, and as you can see their roots didn't get very far.  The bigger one was in one of the sunnier spots, but still took a while to grow even that big, still only half the size of one from the supermarket.

They taste nice but not fantastically better than from the shops.  So I don't think I'll bother planting carrots again.  The soil's great for them - nice and sandy - but you can buy carrots all year round for really cheap.  Instead, I think I'll use that space for my sweet onions when I plant them in the autumn.  With only so much space available, I'd rather use it for something I can't get in the shops, or something that tastes much better than in the shops.


Well the 43+ degree weather is over ... for now.  For the record, there hasn't been three days in a row of 43+ weather since records began in 1855.  So whilst we shouldn't have anything nearly this bad again, I'm not letting my guard down.  All next week, for example, it will be above 30 which is no picnic.

So this morning I got organised! I bought more shade cloth, in a bigger piece this time.  I found before that I was having trouble tying up the cloth - I tried stapling string to it but the staples fell out, I tried tape but it kept falling down and I ended up just draping the damn stuff over my pots.  So this time I got out the sewing kit and stitched the string to the corners of the cloth!  Then I tied separate pieces of string to the door under the house, the lamp, and a nail in the porch so I could adjust the length as needed. now voila!  Permanent, secure shade.  It should cover off the whole side of the porch without blowing over.  Not bad for only $9 worth of shade cloth and some string.

Behind it you can see my tomatoes.  I used the old piece of shade cloth just to wrap around them, nothing fancy but it's better than the linen blanket.

But that's not all I got up to.  Whilst I was at the garden centre I noticed these watering spikes, on special for only $6 for 6.  What you do is fill the spike with sand and they have a few small holes in them.  Then you take any kind of bottle, from a small water bottle to a milk jug, fill it with water, and put the spike on the mouth.  Then you put the spike in the ground or in a pot, and theoretically it slowly feeds it water down by the roots instead of from the surface. decided to try it out.  Some of my smaller pots, including my tomatoes, dry out so quickly in this heat that if I water them before work they're already dried out by the time I get home.  Here it is with one of my spray bottles until I can get a used water bottle or something. I decided to try it on my Japanese maple.  The poor thing.  First it got water-logged in the wet spring and I didn't notice until it took some foliage loss.  Then I dug it up to raise the bed.  But then when it dried out I didn't keep on top of watering it, and after the heat it looks like this.  I still haven't given up on it though, because the branches haven't died, only the leaves.  In fact the tips of the branches have little buds of new leaves!  I hope they don't come out for several weeks when this heat is over with.  In any case, I thought it could use some nice, deep, consistent watering so I used a milk jug.  There's a bit of Seasol in it which is why it's brown.  I had to poke a little hole in the top, though ... it was creating a bit of a vacuum and the jug was crumpling over on itself.

So now I feel much better prepared, because we will have more 40+ days this summer.  Just hopefully not three in a row.

Friday, 30 January 2009

sweet onion seeds

And now a lighthearted interlude whilst I try not to worry about my fried garden.

I'll be visiting my sister in America in a few weeks, so I thought I'd use the opportunity to look for some vegetable seeds I might not be able to find in Australia. I've had to enlist my sister to order them for me (website won't take Australian credit cards, grumble grumble) and I was told that I was required to make a blog post about the whole thing as payment for services rendered.

I decided to order sweet onion seeds - such as Vidalia or Walla Walla onions. I remember them from growing up in Oregon where there was a short but much-anticipated Walla Walla onion season ... but they simply do not grow them in Australia. I found a garden variety called "Yellow Granex Sweet Onions" from Kitchen Garden Seeds. This is part of their description for this onion: WARNING, this will make you hungry.

We love caramelized Yellow Granex onions so much that we prepare batch after batch, and freeze them in thin layers in airtight plastic bags. Then, we can break off pieces for quick and delicious use in Sunday morning omelets, mushroom-Madeira reduction sauces and baguette “boat” sandwiches layered with basil mayonnaise, roasted eggplant and zucchini, tomatoes and provolone cheese, sizzled under the broiler. But our favorite use is in chicken rollups. Pound boneless chicken breasts to about 1/8” thick. Spread each breast with a mixture of sautéed garlic, caramelized Yellow Granex and wilted spinach. Top with thin strips of roasted red peppers and dollops of soft herbed goat cheese. Roll them up, secure with a toothpick and bake covered for 35 to 45 minutes at 350°F in a bath of herbed chicken broth, turning occasionally. Serve piping hot topped with fresh Parmesan on a bed of wild rice alongside glazed baby carrots and homemade cranberry compote.
How can I resist that?!

Australians will know that bringing seeds into Aus is a big deal. Quarantine restrictions can be fierce; for example you can no longer bring in tomato seeds because of the fear of a virus coming across and ruining commercial crops. Luckily for me, onion seeds are OK, but I'll have to make sure to write the scientific name on the packet and mail it back to myself, rather than risk an extra-long wait in the airport whilst customs looks up onions on their list.

I've also been required by my sister to add the following text from an email I sent her this morning:
It gets nerdier. I put out a notice on the garden forum where I learn all this stuff, to ask if anyone wanted me to send them seeds! And for the record, yes, two people wanted some. I'm not the only nerd.
With any luck I'll start an Australia-wide trend! Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

the carnage

I spoke way too soon.  Day 2 did not end well. is what my tomatoes look like.  The linen cloth certainly helped, I don't think there'd be anything left without it.  But I don't think this new growth is going to come back.

 ugly mug is blossom end-rot.  I'm pretty sure the heat brought it out.  It's taken two of my Better Boys, and will probably take more before the wave is over. one absolutely stuns me.  Geraniums are meant to be one of the toughest things you can grow in Melbourne.  They're meant to be drought-proof.  but this is what they now look like.  And if you look very closely in the top left corner ... see that tiny spec of green surrounded by shriveled brown?  That was also a geranium.

And finally, the one that made me cry when I saw it.  I knew I was taking a chance when I planted rhododendrons but at the time I was homesick for Oregon and took the chance.  The first time we got a heat wave I bought shade cloth to pamper them through it.  And this morning I pulled back the shade cloth to water them.  AND I FORGOT TO PUT THE CLOTH BACK ON.  I don't know how I could have done that.  And this is what two of them now look like.

How could I do that?  Stupid stupid stupid!

But I have to remind myself of what's surviving.  My pumpkins are still ripening on schedule.  My Japanese maple looks like a mess and lost a lot of leaves, but I can see fat buds swelling on the twigs and hope it's going to recover.  And my little designer twig is toughing it out brilliantly under its shade cloth.

And I have to remind myself that this is a once in 100 year freak of nature.

the damage so far

Well when I got home last night the shade cloth I'd set up across the porch had fallen down. I've now just flopped it over the pots on that side and propped it up a bit with a stick. Luckily it still did its job and they all seem fine.

However, my Yellow Pear tomato (not in the shade cloth) has been fried. The tender growth on the tips shriveled right up and didn't perk up overnight. So for today I wrapped both toms in a linen blanket and hoped for the best.

By the way ... Mari that's the blanket you bought me all those years ago, I think you said it was from Mexico. It's come in handy!

On the up side, my rhodies under their shade cloth seem to be doing ok. But we've got two more days of this to go ...

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

currently 43

Forget tomorrow. It's hit 109 this afternoon.

revised to 43

Oh lordy. They've just revised tomorrow's forecast to 43. That's 109 degrees people.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

batten down the hatches again're heading into the third heat spell this year.  It's not uncommon to get this many ... what's uncommon is apparently this spell is going to last four days.  The last time Melbourne had four days in a row over 40 degrees was 1908.

I am so glad that I took the time to buy some extra shade cloth yesterday and string it up next to the front porch.  It isn't pretty but I was running out of shade for my plants.  Looks like they've taken day 1 ok, but it didn't get up to 40 today.  We'll see how we go the rest of the week.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

odd potato out have another garden mystery. What you see here is a potato I cut in half and put in the bottom of this big pot with some potting soil. It looks like I got two sprouts from one half (on the left) and one from the other. As they grew up I kept burying them with layers of manure, sugar cane mulch and compost from my heap.

They even took the hot weather quite well and bounced back when it cooled down in the last few days. But since then the sprout on the left has started to wilt from the bottom leaves upward. Now the whole thing has almost wasted away ... but the other two seem fine! I don't know what's going on.

I dug down next to it almost to the bottom and didn't see anything unusual - the soil is moist but not soggy, the stem looks healthy though I didn't see any side roots. I wonder what's going on and if I'm going to lose all of them.

Friday, 23 January 2009

mystery tomato spots

Yesterday I noticed these nasty black spots on one of my tomatoes. I assumed it was blossom-end rot, a fairly common ailment in tomatoes. But I've been told it can't be because the very tip, where the blossom falls off, is unblemished.

So I have no idea what caused these spots. As you can see from the second picture, they're not very deep. They're not caterpillars and I don't they're a fungus because they're not fuzzy.

So yeah ... if any tomato experts are reading this, please let me know what this is and if I should be worried about my other tomatoes too!

What a shame. As you can see, it was another fleshy one with very few seeds. But in consolation, I've picked my second ripe Better Boy this morning and will be enjoying it this evening!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

tumble into a new pot

I planted this Tumbler Tom tomato a little while back. At the time the only pot I had was a bit small. Now that I'm seeing the effects of outgrowing their pots in my bigger tomatoes, I decided to head that off with my Tumbler. I'd picked up a terracotta pot from the B-store on special for $10 so I thought I'd use it.

The fun part was transplanting it. The old pot was not only small, but cracked. So instead of trying to gently lift the plant out of the pot, I just hit it with a hammer! Sure made it easy. And yes, the roots were already starting to bind in the old pot, which made it easy to move it to the new pot but also meant that it really could use the space.

I also got a better look and realized it wasn't a very happy camper. It had gotten scorched in the recent heat wave (sorry little plant!), dropped some fruit (probably from drying out quickly in the small pot) and other fruit seemed to be either rotten or eaten by grubs.

So I'm hoping it gets happier in this new pot and I'll be more careful in the hot weather. Because despite losing a bit of fruit, there's still a lot of green fruit on it and a few look about ready to ripen!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

oh brother

This morning I was taking down the last of the fig net (at least until the autumn crop ripens, then the bird wars begin again).  When I turned around, guess who I saw in the garden bed in front of the house?  Little Mr. Bird again.  And when I walked toward him, he hopped away but didn't fly.

Oh brother.

So I took a quick walk to the vet next door and asked if they took in hurt birds, which they do.  I got a shoe box and went over to Little Mr. Bird here he was hiding behind my Designer Twig.  But when I tried to pick him up, he let me get all the way to touching him, then fluttered away.  On the second try he flew all the way into the fig tree.

So I didn't bring him to the vet after all, because he seems to be on the road to recovery.  But unfortunately he's not there yet.  I hope I don't find him dead under the fig tree in a few days, but in the meantime the cats stay inside whilst he recovers.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

killer instinct

Because my cats lived indoors the first few years of their lives, they don't have much in the way of hunting instincts.  Well, they're quite good at catching flies and moths from practicing indoors.  Percival is kind enough to eat the flies he catches (ew) whereas Thatcher just plays with them until they stop moving, then leaves them for me to clean up (also ew). 

In regards to birds they're pretty hopeless.  Thatcher once gave a blackbird a good chase, but he doesn't get to go outside much any more due to several escape attempts.  And Percival ... well Percival's idea of "hiding" is to crouch in the middle of the lawn staring at the fig tree.  This cat is WHITE with a bit of ginger, there is no hiding that.  I know the blackbird alarm call for "beware, there's a cat" because every time we're outside, they're making that call, fully aware of Percival's attempts to "stalk" them.  In fact even today I was thinking of taking a photo of him behind his favourite hiding bush to show you all how hopeless he looks.

But before I could do that, I was behind the fig tree when I noticed Percival go running at a dead bolt inside the house.  The cats NEVER run back inside, they like being outside too much, so I thought to myself "that's a bit odd ... perhaps he's chased a fly inside?"  I went back to what I was doing for a minute or two, but then decided to check on him inside.

Oh, it wasn't a fly. was a juvenile blackbird.  And adult bird would have the sense not to get caught, but this bird was quite young.  Percival didn't quite know what to do with it, but I shoo'd him away and scooped the little thing up.  It wasn't bleeding and didn't have any obvious major damage, just a few down feathers scattered in the hall, so I put it outside near the fig tree.

Half an hour later it was still there, then next I saw it had lurched over to the path but no father.  So I did some research and learned that stunned birds probably have a concussion which causes swelling of blood vessels in the brain.  So I took their advice and got a shoe box, put a towel inside, and went to fetch the bird.  He struggled a bit when I picked him up this time which I took as a good sign, but I put him in anyway and put him in the hall closet to calm down for an hour.

Supposedly this allows the blood vessels to heal without causing further damage from the bird struggling or being stressed.  When you open the box they're meant to fly away ... otherwise there's something else wrong and the prognosis isn't good.  So I opened the box by the fig tree ... and it just sat there panting.

I got it a little dish of water even though I knew it would be too stressed to drink.  We sat outside a little ways away for 15 minutes.  It just sat there. we got up to get our things and go get some dinner.  When we walked back outside, this is all we saw:

No sign of the little guy.  And no sign is a very, very good sign.

Though I have to say, any bird dumn enough to get caught by Percival, the great white stooge, probably won't be adding anything good to the gene pool.

hot and windy and then there were six set of hot, windy days.  Got up to 104F today before cooling back to 79 or so.  I'm getting my first real feel of just how brutal summers can be in Melbourne.

Yesterday I forgot to water my pots before going to work.  When I got home the whole garden was in a state.  The potted veggies all looked like these only WORSE, but I forgot to take a photo.  These photos are from today, even after they got water yesterday. of the young growth on my rhodies has been fried as well as a bit of my designer twig.  Even my geraniums were struggling - geraniums!  They're so hardy they can take anything!  But they needed a bit of water to rescue them.

Surprisingly, one thing that was taking the heat were the marigolds I planted a few weeks ago.  They were wilty today but took yesterday's heat without complaint. we get hot northerlies we often get hot wind to go with it, which dries out the plants even more.  And it managed to break off yet another branch of my Yellow Pear tomatoes.  It did this once before and you would think I had learned to secure the branches better, but no.  So I was extra-careful today to secure all the leggy branches that had grown out too far.  I'm lucky I haven't lost any branches from the Better Boy, it's not as leggy but it's also not secured very well.

On top of that fun, I've lost two pumpkins that definitely had pollinated.  They grew a bit but then just stopped.  I've pretty much pinned it down to not enough water, and despite topping them up this week I've lost these two.  Which leaves me with only six pumpkins across two vines.  That's still plenty for just me, but it's disappointing seeing dozens of baby pumpkins fall off.

But I've learned so much that I'm determined next year will be a bumper crop!

Here you can see the difference between a full pumpkin and one that stunted and is now dying.

Monday, 19 January 2009

concrete issues

We had our first shot at taking out the floor of the fish pond today. We borrowed Tom's father's drill with a big concrete drill bit. The bit went in relatively easily for about three inches, then just stopped. We tried two other holes but the same thing. No dirt, the drill just stopped going in any farther.

Makes me wonder what's under the concrete that's stopping the drill. But it looks like we're going to need something more powerful from the tool hire place.

better boy and pumpkins

I ate my Better Boy tomato yesterday. I cut it in half and couldn't see any seeds. I thought I must have sliced through one of the bits of flesh, so I sliced it again to try to find the seeds. But as you can see, it's almost all flesh and very few seeds. Excellent! Next time you slice up a supermarket tomato, notice just how much of the inside is seeds and watery goop and how little is actual flesh.

And what tasty flesh it was. A nice rich even flavour, as if you turned the volume up from a supermarket tomato. The only downside - the skin was quite thick, which is probably why it felt so firm even though inside it was fully ripe. I wonder if they'll all be that thick-skinned, and what makes some tomatoes like that.

Meanwhile, my pumpkins are getting nice and huge. They've got their first blush of orange too. I think it'll still be several weeks before they're ripe, though. Sadly I'm getting the rest of the female flowers dropping off even before the flowers open. Might be not enough water, so I'll try to water a bit more without watering so much that these beauties get watery and less flavoursome.

more succulents

I potted up another batch of succulents. On the right is a Sedum pachyphyllum, "silver" jelly beans, surrounded by I think a Sedum spurium.

To the left we have what I think is a Pachyphytum. In the corners you can just barely see tiny strings of what I think are Sedum morganianum. The big mystery though, is I have no idea what those tiny red specs are. I love the colour though and I hope they take root.

I just love the different textures and colours. Not sure what I'm going to do with three pots of succulents, though. Maybe once they grow up a bit I'll give them as gifts. But in the meantime I'm enjoying seeing them take root, and excited to see them grow.

Friday, 16 January 2009

bountiful harvest so it's not exactly a cornucopia, but this is the largest harvest I've gotten from my garden so far!  The Yellow Pear tomato is putting out lots of ripe fruit, and my Better Boy has ripened its first tomato.  It's a bit smaller than I expected them to be, but I'm hoping the flavour is good.  Unfortunately I think I picked it a bit early.  I'm used to supermarket tomatoes that are quite hard, so when this one turned red I got excited and picked it.  But it's still quite firm, and home-grown tomatoes are supposed to be a lot more tender than store-bought.  So I'm going to leave it for a few days on the benchtop next to some other fruit and hope that the ethylene from the other fruit gives it a touch more ripeness before I try to eat it.  If I have the patience to wait that long!

potted succulents potted up the first bowl of succulents today.  About half of the cuttings I took have started putting out roots so I decided it was time to arrange them.

What we have here are three Echeverias of a light-blue persuasion - I think they're Echeveria secunda, "hens and chicks" (this website is an excellent source that I've been shamelessly drawing from).  In between the Echeveria I've put in a few Sedum rubrotinctum ("jelly beans" or "pork and beans") - they're green with a lovely red tinge that should be a great contrast to the Echeveria.  In the middle is another sedum that's a bit more lemon-yellow than the others but I'm not sure if it's a different species.

I was starting to have some issues with some of the cutting shriveling up, especially in the Echeveria and yo ucan see it in these ones.  I wasn't sure if they were rotting or drying out - do I water them more or less?!  But It sounds like they were drying out, so they all got a bit of a watering today.  And lucky for me, the blue Echeveria is from my own garden so if they die there are plenty more to steal!

seeing red bought this capsicum plant as a seedling, it seems like forever ago.  When I first bought it it already had two little fruits.  But it's taken up until now before they've finally started to ripen!  The cool spring and early summer surely didn't help ... in fact it wasn't until this week's hot spell that they perked up.  But looky looky, not long now until they're ready!

there are a few more little fruits on the top of the plant, I hope they don't take as long to ripen as these ones did!

Oh and no, I didn't wear nail polish just to match the capsicum.  I mean ... of course I did.  I'm that coordinated.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

the flying dragon that my designer twig seemed to be re-growing its lime graft.  Well, it turns out I was quite wrong.  This is what the sprout looks like now.  Pretty ugly little bastard isn't it?

It looked strange and thorny enough for me to go look up what lime leaves look like (for the record, they don't look like that).  So I did some searching for what dwarf citrus root stock looks like.  Sure enough, if you let the root stock grow leaves, they look like this.  The name of the stock is "flying dragon" ... it certainly looks as spiky as a dragon.

Oh well, I'll pluck it off today so it doesn't sap strength from the other grafts.  And I'll confirm with the company that I'll be wanting that lime/orange tree after all. and I thought I'd give you an update on how the twig is growing.  Look at how big it is compared to when I first got it!  The stuff on the right is the tangelo and the stuff on the top left is the mandarin.

oh the sweet cool change

As of last night my plants had taken the heat quite well.  But I was not looking forward to forecasts that the next day would be even hotter before a cool change blew in.

Lucky me!  By 10:30am they revised the forecasts from a high of 37 to a high of 27!  That's not typical of Melbourne heat waves; 90% of the time they stick around a few days before an afternoon cool change blows in and the temperature drops quite abruptly.  So to have a morning cool change is wonderfully good luck.

It makes up for a rather grumpy morning.  I checked on the pumpkin before work and I'd been slack - a few fruit high up on the fence had been getting fat, and the weight had pulled the vine off the fence.  So at 8:30am (at 32 degrees) I was typing up the pumpkin vine in full sun and putting together a few more "hammocks".  All I got for my efforts were scratched arms!  Pumpkin vines are a bit prickly you see.

Monday, 12 January 2009

batten down the hatches

Tomorrow it's meant to be 37 degrees (that's 99 to you Northerners).  It's our first big scorcher of the year, and thankfully it's only meant to last the one day.  We're going to spend the evening at the beach with friends, but in the meantime I've prepared my plants for the heat as best I can.'ve moved my pot-plants into spots that should get some shade in the afternoon.  Here, for example, are my three tomatoes in a row near the garage.  I'm very worried for the Better Boy, it's getting its first blush of red on one tomato so I'd hate to lose its first fruit.  They got a nice long drink too.  In fact, they're needing lots of water these days, and when I poked the soil I found out why: there's more roots than soil in those pots.  I don't think they'll be getting any bigger, they've run out of soil to grow into.

My other worry is the rhododendrons out the back.  They got the shade cloth treatment today, it should keep them from the worst of the sun and they do get afternoon shade.  I didn't have enough cloth for all four of them, but the one left over is bigger than the others and in a shadier spot against the fence so it should be okay.

Here's hoping!

the pond in progress might recall me mentioning that we have a little goldfish pond around the back corner of our garden.  This is what it used to look like.  Notice the thick green scum-colour and the ugly weed on one side.  As much as I wound up loving to garden, I did not love having a fish pond.  I never remembered to feed the poor things, I never wanted to waste the water to refill it, and when it got hot it bloomed with nasty algae.

So the long-term plan for a while has been to drain the pond, cut out the concrete on the bottom, put in dirt and plant something.  This plan began almost two months ago when we got rid of the fish.  I wanted to use the water on the nearby plants, but at the time it just kept raining and I didn't want to waste the water.  In the meantime, guess what!  With no fish, mosquitos love to lay their eggs and grow little larva.  So I had to kill the larva before we finally scooped out all the water with buckets.  Then Tom had to dig out the layer of fish-poo-covered, scummy gravel on the bottom. 

B at last, it looks like this now.  The next steps are to figure out what to do with this pile of rocks, and find out how to safely cut the wires powering the pump and a feature light (it's cemented into the side of the pond so we can't just take them out).  Then the real fun - finding out how we take out the concrete on the bottom without destroying the sides.  Any suggestions?

We have to take out the bottom or at least poke a lot of holes, otherwise when we do get a bit of rain (like never), whatever we plant inside will drown.

I'm not sure what to plant yet, something of a good size.  I keep coming back to some kind of fruit tree - I would LOVE an avocado tree, and there's one type that only gets about 7 feet tall (unlike most that easily grow to 30 feet).  But avocados do need water, you can't let them dry out.

Ah well it looks like it'll be a while before I'm ready to plant anything!

Friday, 9 January 2009

farewell my peas

Last week I finally said farewell to my peas. They never became very prolific, I never picked more than 3 pods in one go, but I still enjoyed eating them fresh from the pods. But they go to the point that between a bush on one side and the pumpkin on the other, they were very shaded and ended up getting a bad case of white, powdery mildew. I didn't want it to spread to the pumpkins, so off they went to the compost heap.

I kept the roots in the ground though. Legumes take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots, so they enrich the soil for other plants. The roots will break down and make their spot even nice for the next plant that grows there.

It's a shame they had to go. It's pure luck that the summer has been so cool that the peas have thrived when they should have died off long ago from heat. But I suppose it was pretty well-timed: apparently next week it's going to reach 37 on Tuesday (that's 99F to you northerners). Oh the joys of Melbourne weather.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

crepe myrtle

I'm posting this for my sister in Texas.  Is this a crepe myrtle?

I ask because I remember you telling me that they're so common in Texas you were downright sick of them.  Well guess what?  They can't get enough of them in Melbourne, because they're pretty and they tough out the drought like a champ.  Councils love to plant them along roadsides, just like this one just around the corner from my house.

If you ever want to run a business, perhaps a crepe myrtle export nursery would be a goer.

fat little pumpkins

I've lost even more pumpkins, even after taking over pollination.  It appears that they have to be at just the right stage to pollinate - too early or too late and it's no good.  At least I know what to look for now.  If they pollinate properly, by the very next day you can almost tell that they've grown; the day after that and they're definitely bigger.  If they don't pollinate, they stay the same size on the vine for about a week before dropping off. said that, I think I've got at least a half-dozen that pollinated and plenty more that haven't reached the flowering stage yet.  And three of my pumpkins are already huge!  Look at the size of these little beauties.  Though I don't actually know what size they're meant to get in the end...

They've gotten about to the size where I had to start thinking about extra support.  They are up on the fence after all and if they get too heavy they might break off the vine!

I'd heard of using old pantyhose but I don't wear them enough to have spares.  I had an old t-shirt I was going to slice up, but then I got worried.  Would it be bad for the pumpkins if their sunlight was blocked?  And if they get wet in the rain, will the t-shirts stay damp and rot the pumpkins? the bird netting got put to yet another purpose.  I took a piece I'd already cut off and cut it even smaller.  Voila, pumpkin hammocks!  It must be a good life, to be a pumpkin on a fence.  You get to hang out in the shade and breeze, then get cradled in a hammock.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

can grafts re-grow?

I mentioned in this post that I ordered a multi-graft citrus tree but the lime graft broke off in transit.  Well, if I'm really, really lucky, the lime graft is growing back.

That little stub is the lime graft, and that tiny branch appears to be growing from it.  However it's also likely that it's growing from the root stock.  When you graft onto root stock, you always want to remove branches from the root stock.  They're very vigorous and hardy (that's why they make them into root stock) but don't usually produce good fruit, and tend to sap all the resource form the branches that do.

I'm not 100% sure how to tell if that branch is growing from the lime or the root stock.  I'm checking with my favourite garden forum where there's at least one expert on fruit trees who might know.  But I'll be so happy if it is the lime fighting back!

pollination issues

The first several pumpkins on my vine shriveled up and fell off.  That usually means they weren't pollinated properly, and so I took over hand-pollination.  Which is working fine, but did make me realize that I have almost no flowers in my yard.

In my zeal to plant fruits and veggies, I may have neglected those all-important little bees.  A lot of what I grow doesn't need pollinators - herbs and lettuce you eat before they flower, tomatoes and chilis self-pollinate.  But still, bees are important for fruits and some veggies.  So I took a trip to the garden centre and bought some marigolds for the back garden.'re pretty cute, I like the rusty-orange colour.  And it's my first venture into the annuals, flowers that are around just for a season of show and then they're gone.  You can see the pumpkin vine to the upper-left corner. it also made me think about a narrow bed near my back veggie patch.  It's got a row of dwarf agapanthus and cordylines, courtesy of the previous owners.  I really don't like the cordylines - those purple things. To me they looks sruffy, they always seem to be covered with spiderwebs and aphids, they turn that nasty shade of yellow on the older leaves.  The contrast is very striking but well, the cordyline don't DO anything.  You can't eat them, they don't make flowers, and they're ugly.  They aren't exactly earning their keep. I took another trip to the garden centre and came back with lavender.  Lavender is great in this climate.  It's quite hardy and once it's established it takes the drought really well.  And in the spring and summer, it's covered with flowers that bees just love.  The variety I got is an English type called Munstead that should say pretty small and compact.  No, it doesn't look like much now, and here's why.

I needed four of them but at my local, lavender is between $10 and $20 each.  But they had a few in the $5 "budget" section.  It's where they put the ugly plants, the ones that have passed their beautiful flowering stage.  Some plants never recover, but many simply go through a cycle of ugly before re-growing or re-blooming the next year. I scrounged these four scruffy lavenders.  I was quite happy they even had four of the same type.  But as you can see they are all past their prime and never got a proper grooming either.

So I sat down for a relaxing half-hour doing what I like best in the garden - pruning.  I cut off all of the flowering heads and most of the lanky growth.  Some of them had quite a lot of dead growth too, and all of them had little buds of new growth just waiting for their turn.  So when I was done they looked like this. not pretty, and with a bucket full of trimmings.  But they'll get another flush or two of new growth this year.  Maybe even some flowers.  And certainly next year they should be fully flowering.  Not bad for $20.

I do sort of regret that they're not the dramatic contrast that the dark purple cordyline were.  They'll be more of a compliment to the agapanthus, rather than a contrast.  But I do think that eventually they will look quite lovely.  And of course, they'll do a very important job supporting my fruit and veggies.

fig wars three: return of the figs

At last!  At long last, at least some of my fig nets worked! figs.  And one of them was split and not really edible.  There was a fair bit of late-spring rain that swelled them up quite a bit, more "big and bland" than "small and sweet".  But the flavour was still lovely, and suggests that if the autumn is drier than the main crop will be supurb. 

I think I mentioned that I wasn't sure if I liked figs.  Well I do!  They're not the best fruit in the world but they are quite lovely and I'm glad I finally saved a few from the birds.

Only a few, though.  There were another several figs that I had wrapped up in netting but it just didn't work.  All the birds did was land on the branch, pushing down the netting so that they could peck at it anyway.

Almost all of the breba crop has ripened and been eaten, but there are still another dozen left.  I've taken off the net bags and moved them to other branches, trying to learn from my past mistakes to maybe save a few more before this crop is over.  But it's also reminded me just how many figs there will be in the main crop in the autumn - literally hundreds of figs.  I just need to exercise some patiences until then.