Saturday, 28 March 2009

flowers flowers everywhere

I don't usually take photos of flowers, I'm not very good at it and I don't have that many.  But I took a few snaps about the place and thought I'd share them.

Here's one of my vinca, I just love the pink-eyed kind.
Cumquat blossoms are actually quite beautiful from close up, and they smell divine too.
Liriope is a common bedding grass you see a lot of around Melbourne because they're so tough.  But you don't often think about their flowers, which can be quite cute.
I just bought these two miniature day lilies today - stella bella.  Each flower only blooms for a day, but they put out more flowers all through the spring, summer, and autumn and they're tough as boots.  Even though it's autumn one of them has two stalks going strong and the other has two stalks that haven't even blossomed yet!
And finally, here is Percival who is instructing me in the proper method of taking photos of my salvia.

for the record... just wanted to get this on record, mostly for my own sake, that my little designer twig is putting out another flush of growth.  That's two sets of new growth in only 3 months, not bad for a pint-sized runt of a tree!

winter veggies

Winter is its own growing season in inner Melbourne where we very rarely get frosts.  It's the season to grow cabbage, broccoli, broad beans, beets, onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, parsnips and peas.  I'll only be growing a few of those! I believe I mentioned before, I planted some peas, lettuce, rocket and spinach in the back bed.  They've all sprouted and I set up a little tent of poles for the peas to climb. And this week I added four seedlings of broccoli to the mix - Tom hates it but I reckon if I grow a few then I can eat them myself. 

The trouble with broccoli is the white cabbage butterfly - their caterpillars love brassicas (the family that includes broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) even more than people do.  They're out and about on warm, sunny days like we had today.  I saw one flutter past and thought, I'd better check my broccoli.  sure enough, these little sprouts only have four leaves and every leaf had at least two eggs on it, one had eight!  I wiped them all off and sprayed with a bit of Dipel, a natural bacteria that kills caterpillars if any do hatch and start munching.

But mostly I'm excited about the peas.  There in the back bed I planted two types of sweet peas - telephone and lacy lady.  I planted some telephone in the late spring and wasn't too impressed with the flavour, so I thought I'd try lacy lady even though I can't find a single description of what they're meant to be like.  Even if I don't like either type, the important part is that their roots will enrich the soil with nitrogen. I also had plans to grow snow peas in pots on the front porch.  So I planted two more types, specifically because they're meant to be beautiful.  Roi de carouby is a large snow pea with bright pink flowers; golden-podded peas have two-tones purple flowers and ... well ... golden pods.  I was amazed at how different their seeds looked, so I had to take a photo.  The green peas are boring old telephone.  The yellow are lacy lady.  The dark brown are roi de carouby and the purple-spotted ones are the golden-podded. here they are in their pots on the front porch - they're the ones with the black metal trellises sticking out of them.  I can't wait to see them growing up those trellises, covered in bright flowers and golden pea pods.

Oh and before I forget ... I'm also growing sweet onions I brought back from the USA.  They're in those red and black punnets on the porch, only just sprouted, until I have room to put them elsewhere!

stupid rhodies slaving away to pamper these damn rhododendrons, one of them is repaying me by doing this.  Not the other three, mind you.  Just this one.  First the shoots of new growth at the base died, now the new growth at the top looks like it's going to follow the lead.  Stupid rhodies, they really aren't worth this hassle!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

pumpkin soup recipe

I thought I'd share my recipe for pumpkin soup, since it turned out so well. I got it off the internet and it's a pretty standard recipe that you can easily modify to suit your taste.

Pumpkin soup

2T olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, white part only
1 garlic clove, crushed
herbs or spices of your choice (see below)
1kilo (just over 2 pounds) pumpkin, peeled, diced
1 large potato, peeled, diced
1L (about 1 quart) chicken stock (I use powdered stock! and it tastes great)

Slice the leek in half lengthwise and rinse well between layers - leeks are very sandy and you don't want that in your soup. Thinly slice across the leeks and heat in saucepan with oil and onion over low heat for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Add garlic and herbs/spices and stir through for 30 seconds. Add pumpkin, potato and stock and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly then blend in batches.

As I said this recipe is easy to modify. Pumpkin can be matched with many herbs spices - a bay leaf is a good basic start. Rosemary or sage are lovely, as is a bit of nutmeg. Or you can go exotic and use cumin, coriander or even curry powder. Just don't over-do it, 1/2t dried or 1t fresh at a time is plenty. I used a smidge more garlic than the recipe called for, plus 1t chopped fresh sage and it was divine.

For the pumpkin, whatever you do, don't use American-style jack-o-lantern pumpkins, they're watery and tasteless. Look for a cooking pumpkin with a really thick layer of flesh, or if in doubt use butternut squash (but not acorn or spaghetti squash), though butternut is a sweet pumpkin. You can even replace the potato with a sweet potato but again, it'll make a fairly sweet soup which wasn't to my liking when I tried doing that.

You can also fry up a bit of chopped bacon or pancetta at the start, though personally I dislike using the whole "bacon bone". You can also add a bit of cream either at the end to thicken, or a dab of cream or yogurt when you serve.

Oh by the way, peeling and chopping up 1 kilo of pumpkin takes FOREVER.

rain gauge bought a cheap little rain gauge.  I'm pretty obsessed with checking the temperature and weather, I figured I might as well start obsessing over rainfall too.  Unfortunately in Melbourne, if I get any rain at all this is generally what the gauge looks like: some spatters but not even enough to reach the 1mm mark.

We have been getting a bit of rain though so I can't complain, it's practically Oregonian out there compared to how it was this summer.

And there is one advantage to when it only rains a little bit ... you get one of these beauties.

three fat pumpkins've picked and cured the last of my first-crop pumpkins.  Aren't they handsome? 

I've still got three more on the vine and a freezer full of pumpkin soup.  Next year I'm only planting one vine, not two.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

pumpkin soup

I cooked up one of my pumpkins tonight to make pumpkin soup.  The last one I picked a little before it was ready and it was a bit bland.  But this one had an extra month on the vine, a few days curing in the sun, and a week in the cupboard.  It still wasn't sweet like a butternut pumpkin but personally I don't like pumpkin soup made with sweet potato or butternut, I prefer the more rich and savoury types of pumpkins. 

I can safely say it was the BEST pumpkin soup I've ever made.  Unfortunately I ate it before I could take a picture so you'll just have to imagine how tasty it was.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

magic fungus? I first dug up one of my raised garden beds I noticed a strange white fungus-looking thing growing through the dirt.  I took some to a garden centre and they thought it was mycchoriza.  What's that you ask?  It's a type of fungus that lives in the dirt and forms a symbiotic relationship with lots of different kinds of plants.  They tend to make the plants healthier and help them absorb more nutrients.  The white stuff in this photo is mycchoriza.  Here's a close-up.
I didn't think much of it at the time, I was more happy that it wasn't a "bad" fungus.  I planted my rhododendrons in the two raised beds and forgot all about the fungus. little while ago someone brought mycchoriza to my attention again with an article about how they can help tomatoes.  I had another look at my rhododendrons which are starting to put out new growth after getting horribly sun-burned.  This is what they look like in the bed that has the fungus in it; most of the fungus is on the left-hand side.  Look at all of that new growth! look at the raised bed on the right.  It doesn't have any mycchoriza in it, from what I can find.  There is new growth coming in on them but they're still just tiny buds at this stage.

Now I don't know for sure if it's the fungus that's making the difference.  Food and water has been the same across the two beds but sunlight has not.  The bed on the right gets a lot more shade, especially on the biggest rhodie (which was bigger when I first planted it).  Which means those two rhodies should have gotten less sunburned, but maybe they're growing back more slowly because they're more shaded.  But on the other hand, with rhodies I would almost think the ones in the shade would be "happier" as rhodies don't like full sun.

In any case, the fungus certainly isn't doing any harm and may be doing a lot of good.  So today in between rain showers I dug up a bucket full of dirt with fungus in it and spread the love.  Most went to the other rhodie bed in hopes that it will take root and help those two out.  But I put some under my poor little Japanese maple too, and some more in the veggie bed with the pumpkin.  I hope it catches on!

Whilst I was at it I also went through the laborious task of taking care of the rhodies.  The soil in those beds is very sandy and I planted some of them too high in the dirt.  Oh, and I made the mulch way too thick.  So I scraped the mulch out of one half of each bed and dug in a custom mix:

Coir: shreded cocoanut husks, good for retaining water and nice and acidic which rhodies love.
Clay soil: from my dirt pile.  I still have a lot of dirt left over, and as I mentioned it was a mix including clay soil.  I found the part of the pile with the thicker dirt in it to help the rhodies retain water.  I even bought sulpher to mix in to lower the pH.
Clay kitty litter: yes, apparently one of the best ways to improve sandy soil is to mix in kitty litter (not used, please).  Think of it as custom-made pellets of clay soil.
Oscmocote: for some long-term nutrients.

After digging all that in I spread the mulch back over, peeled it off the other half, and had to do it all over again.  Oy my back hurts.  And I almost finished before another rain shower sent me packing back inside.  Tomorrow they'll get a drink of powerfeed and seasol to round out the pampering and get that new growth powering along.  I really do pamper those rhodies too much.

water of life

I planned on spending the day in the garden but instead it decided to pour down with rain.  I've been trying to duck out in between showers but I've been driven back inside for a while.  Not that I'm complaining! rain sure does bring things back to life.  There are more birds, bees, and lots of new plant growth.  Unfortunately it also means the weeds are back with a vengeance after sitting patiently inside seeds for the last few months.  As you can see here, my lawn is starting to look alive again ... but so are thousands of tiny weeds.  I'm not looking forward to dealing with all of them.'re not the only thing sprouting though.  It only took four days before the first of the alyssum seeds began to sprout, and here's were they stand one week after planting.

I wanted to share one more garden miracle.  Recall that my pumpkin vine only ended up with 5 fruit across two vines.  I lost a lot of fruit before I started hand-pollinating, and even then I lost more because I wasn't watering enough. in the two weeks we were in Texas, three more pumpkins somehow pollinated.  I kept expecting them to shrivel and fall off, but on the contrary they now look like this!

I'm actually a little torn.  I'm glad I may have three more pumpkins than I originally planned, but I also want to plant some of the sweet yellow granex onions I brought back from the USA, and they're meant to go in that bed.  I can stall for a little while by starting them in punnets, but only for so long before they have to go in the ground.  Based on when the first round of pumpkins were about this size, it'll be two more months before these are ripe!'s a portrait of the little culprit who's responsible for these three new pumpkins - a bee taking shelter from the rain.  See what happens when you pollinate irresponsibly, little bee?  You make unexpected babies right when I thought this vine would be retiring!

Sunday, 8 March 2009

the nursery've started referring to one corner of my front porch as "the nursery".  It started when Bunnings delivered somethings and left us with a little basket which I used to keep my succulent cuttings together (don't ask about the succulents, they didn't work out too well).  But now I've expanded the enterprise a bit.

I've decided that if I'm planning on planting a lot of flowers, I'll do the bit of work beforehand and try to grow them from seed first.  So here are purple punnets planted with alyssum seeds.  Alyssum is a small white flower I planted together with salvia, you can just see some to the right of the photo peeking out from the flower pot.  I wasn't a huge fan at first but I've been won over.  They're tough, they flower almost all year round, and they smell lovely.  So I'm starting a bunch of them to plant in front of my geraniums along the house, at least until the geraniums get a bit of height to them.

And since my "nursery" is at the front door next to my pot plants, I won't forget to water it!

the dirt is in I finished filling up the goldfish pond, including a layer of my acidic compost and a layer of coffee grounds.  Unfortunately I still have a half-pile of sh*t in the driveway.  Not sure what I'm going to do about that.

I've planted two rows of peas along the back and a row of lettuce at the front with plans to put some onions between.  I don't really care if any of that comes to fruit, it's more to settle the soil in over the winter.  And the peas are nitrogen fixers which means they take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots; when you're done growing them you cut off the stems and leave the roots to enrich the soil. also wanted to share this photo because I pulled out the purple cordyline that used to be at the front of the pond.  They look good in that photo but after the heat they turned brown and ugly.  So instead I planted perennial statice (Limonium perezii).  They'll get about twice the size you see here over the next year or two, and they put out those lovely purple flowers in autumn.  I think the flat, rounded leaves (which in an adult plant are about the size of a hand with fingers open) will be a nice visual contrast to the strappy grasses around it.  And they're tough as nails, a must-have for any flowers I'm going to bother with.

more birds in the fig tree

My fig tree has attracted two more species of natives that I've never before seen in the yard! As if the lorikeets weren't a joy enough. It's not easy to capture them on the camera though so bear with me. These are zoomed in as much as my little camera can handle, then massively cropped. is a noisy miner. They're loud, social larrikins and lots of fun to watch. There are heaps of them where I work where there's a lot more native vegetation, but I can't recall seeing any in the inner suburbs and I've never seen them in my yard. There were only three but they're usually in larger family groups. Better photos and information can be found here. I ran in to get my camera, I got another surprise - a red wattlebird or two. These you do see in suburbia, they're quite common, but still I'd never seen them in my yard. Better photos and information here.

Now I wonder if there's a way to invite them into the yard more often. Feeding Australian birds isn't encouraged; most of the natives eat insects, fruit or nectar so if you put out bird seed you'll mostly just feed the non-native birds. The best way to attract native birds is by planting vegitation they love, especially Australian natives. Unfortunately I hate the look of most native plants, so for now I'm content with my fig tree's seasonal attractive power. of attractive power, I think that planting all of those flowers recently is starting to pay off. There are noticeably more bees in the garden these days. OK I'm sure that a lot of that has to do with the kumquats blooming and there being a bit more water about, but I'd like to think that the alyssum and salvia have something to do with it too.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

steaming pile of sh*t have a big, steaming pile of sh*t in my driveway.

I ordered it to fill in the garden bed out the back.  The company I ordered it from had a special "5-way mix" of sandy soil, clay soil, horse poo, cow poo and mushroom compost.  And when the guy dumped it in the driveway this morning the poo was still steaming.  And smelled like poo.

So now begins the long process of taking it round the back by the bucketful as I don't have a wheelbarrow.  And there's an added complication.  It's really lovely soil, rich and free-draining ... but it's incredibly alkaline.  A neutral soil has a pH of 7; acidic soils go down to around 4; this soil is 9.  I'm not certain but I'm pretty sure that's a bit too high.

I'm not sure how I'm going to neutralize it, it's a lot easier to make soil more alkaline (add garden lime) and a lot harder to make it acidic.  I've added a few buckets of my home-made compost which is very acidic, but four buckets out of 1/2 cubic metre ain't much.  I think I'll try to pillage some free coffee grounds this afternoon, they're also extremely acidic.

Ug.  I suppose I should get back to shoveling now.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

ok i lied said in my last post that I was going to stop posting photos of figs.  Well.  I lied.  Yesterday I picked TEN figs.  Ten figs people!  Look at these beauties!  Who wouldn't want to show them off?

I had to bring them to work to share them.  What a wonderful dilemma to be in.

Monday, 2 March 2009

i love you, fig tree! came back from Texas to be greeted by a pleasant surprise.  I had a look at my fig tree and noticed not only that the main crop was beginning to ripe, but right there at eye level was a fat, black fig that hadn't been ravaged by the birds.  At first I thought I just got lucky, but this evening I went out and picked four more!  I've posted so many pictures of my figs that I restrained myself from taking yet another photo.  They're smaller than the early crop and richer in flavour from the lack of rain, it hasn't rained for like 40 days here.  And for some reason a lot of them are splitting.  I had to eat two of those four right away - one I dropped and another had a few pecks from the birds - but after two weeks in Texas I can sure use the fibre.

Now have you yet spotted the reason why I posted this picture of the top of my fig tree?  No, it's not because of the lovely view of the car repair shop next door.  Look closer.  There's on on the left and another (harder to see) on the right.  Spotted them yet?

Lorikeets! love lorikeets.  My friends and family know that when I was younger I worked at my local zoo in the lorikeet aviary and I've loved them ever since.  When I moved to Melbourne I was excited to see them flying around even in the cities.  And I've seen them just near our house, but never in our yard.  No, all I ever get in my yard are mynahs and obnoxious blackbirds and boring house sparrow.  But I am more than happy to share my figs with lorikeets!  There were 4 or 5 of them in the tree this morning hamming it up.

So I'm pretty happy with the fig tree right now.  I even love the smell.  Even months ago I started to notice it - a sweet, earthy smell that's hard to describe.  I've been told that fig trees stink late in the season but for now, I love the smell.

I love you, fig tree!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

jackhammer and concrete drained the pond weeks ago but didn't get a chance to get the bottom out before we left for Texas.  So once we got back, we really wanted to get that project out of the way.  We hit up the rental equipment shop and got ourselves a little jackhammer.  Neither my husband or I are power-tool kind of people, so we knew that for better or worse this would be a bit of an adventure. weren't sure what we'd find under the concrete.  The power drill was able to drill down a few inches before getting stuck on something.  So my husband took it easy at first trying to find out what was under there.  As you can see, under the concrete was ... another layer of concrete.  Whoever made this pond sure was serious about it, two layers of concrete seems excessive to me. the second layer of concrete was a thick layer of gravel.  We tested it out by pouring in some water, and it seems to drain through to the soil quite easily so we didn't bother to dig out the extra gravel.  The next project is to order a load of soil to fill it in, and then I can finally get planting!  Almost there!

And I really must thank my wonderful, strong husband for doing the dirty work and suffering the aches and blisters for it.  I tried using the jackhammer a little bit but after getting hit with tiny slivers of concrete, breathing in the dust, and getting the bit stuck I handed it back to him to finish the job properly.