Sunday, 27 December 2009

hippo! and tomatoes almost ready

My garden got a Christmas present.  The bird bath is a bit deep for smaller birds like the thornbills.  You can just put a rock in the bird path but I had my eye on this handsome chappy at the garden shop, and after a little hint it was under the Christmas tree.  The splashes along the rim are evidence that a bird has already used the bath.
The tomatoes are almost ready for eating.  The first Tommy Toe is turning red!
I'm having a bit of trouble with the rogue de marmande.  It set a bunch of healthy fruit early on.  I've lost about 4 to caterpillars, and in the last few weeks almost every blossom has dropped instead of setting fruit.  And now, I've lost one to blossom end rot.
BER usually happens with inconsistent watering and I think that's the culprit.  The RdM is at the front of the planter, closer to the hot sun, and the plant often looks wilted.  I didn't want to over-water, since the Tommy Toe never looked wilted.  But after dropping blossoms and getting BER, I'm now pretty certain I have to keep the water up more.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

another new bird've spotted yet another new bird in my garden for the first time.  I was sitting below the plum tree last night and I heard a sweet, faint set of chirrups coming from the tree. At first I wondered if someone had built a nest and I hadn't noticed. But I looked up to see a type of bird I'd never seen before in my yard.

I managed to get a decent photo up into the tree.  I believe it was a family of silvereyes.  Two juveniles were doing the chirping and being fed by either mum or dad.  Turns out they love fruit so they must have visited for the figs.  The first of the breba crop is ripening - it's the small early crop that I don't bother to net.  There are too few figs so I just leave them for the birds.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

plums, melons and tomatoes

No, none of the plums, melons or tomatoes are ripe yet but I thought I'd update you on their progress.  The melons are settling in well and putting out some good growth and even a few little flowers.  This first one is the Green Nutmeg.
And this is the Minnesota Midget with one of its little flowers.
And this is a little watermelon of some kind I got from the B-store.  I ended up freeing up that big tub only recently so I bought a rather advanced seedling.
And this is the Baby Blue pumpkin seedling.  I'm not sure why it hasn't "vined" out at all, I hope it hasn't stunted from being in a punnet for so long...
The plum tree out the front has a few fruit starting to ripen.  They're still small, I don't think they'll get very big.  But they're starting to lighten up in colour. I wonder what colour they'll be in the end?  Shouldn't be long now.
And finally, I've started to lose tomatoes to little grubs.  I had some do this last year too, they lay their eggs in the flower and the caterpillars eat their way out of the green tomato, leaving poos behind.  I don't think there's anything I can do about it once they're in there, just hope there aren't too many.  I've lost about 4 so far but there are heaps more green fruit waiting to ripen.
That's the round up for this weekend.  It's almost Christmas and we've had beautiful weather - some hot days but they cool down quickly, plus a bit of rain here and there.  Can't ask for much more than that!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

soils ain't soils

After rescuing one bed of geraniums I found the other bed was also looking tatty and unhealthy.  I decided it needed the same TLC of compost and clay pellets as the other bed because the soil there is the same horrible "builder's dust" that rings the house.  It got me thinking I should show you the different types of soils I have to work with in my little garden.  You would think in such a small garden it would all be the same but no - I've got three very different soils to work with. few garden beds were obviously part of the old garden beds, back when the property was someone's backyard.  The soil is relatively rich but more importantly, it has a beautiful texture.  Dark, loamy, just a bit of clay, it holds moisture really well.  You can see it in the bottom left of the photo.

The raised brick garden beds were filled with sandy loam.  Apparently it's a common soil for filling new garden beds.  It looks nice and probably has good drainage, but it's actually fairly crap - too much sand, not enough organic matter or clay.  Dries out pretty quickly.  It's the top blotch in the photo.

Around the house is what I call "builder's dust."  I'm not even sure what it's made from, it's not sandy, it's not clay, there's almost nothing organic in it.  I think it might be sub-soil that got dug up when they built the house.  The best description is "powdery", it dries out incredibly quickly into dust.  You can see it in the bottom left.

All three of these soils got about the same amount of rainfall when I sampled them, but by then the builder's dust was bone-dry, the sandy loam was a bit moist and the dark loam was still beautifully moist.  The reason the picture looks wet is because I wanted to demonstrate the water-holding qualities of the three soils. I dripped a few drops on each one.  For the dark, rich loam the water soaked straight in so you can see the glisten but nowater around it.  For the other two, the drops rolled straight off the soil and formed a puddle in between the two.  This is called "hydrophobic soil" - not only does it not hold onto water well, when you water the soil it just puddles on top at first.

The only solution for builder's dust and sandy loam is more, and more, and more organic matter (and maybe some pellets of clay).  It'll take a few years to get it as rich as the dark loam, but it'll be so worth it.

Edit: Update!  The above photo is pretty awful so I recently decided to take a few better snaps.  It rained only 2 days ago so you can really see the difference in how these soils hold the water.

Here's the horrible "builder's dust".  Notice that it's already almost bone dry.
Here's the sandy loam in the raised beds.  Still a bit moist but very crumbly.
And here's the beautiful soil in the older beds, a wonderful mix of loam and clay.  It's the only one that holds a shape when I squeeze it (from the clay) and it's still lovely and moist.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

tomato update

Thought I'd post a quick update on the size of my tomatoes.  They're so much bigger, healthier and happier than they were last year when I grew them in individual pots!  They're both covered with at least a dozen clusters of fruit and flowers.
And here's one of the clusters of the Rouge de Marmande.  I  can't wait for harvest time!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

growing, harvests, planting and worms

A lot to but together for this post.  First I wanted to share how much my tomatoes are thriving this year now that they're in a huge planter.  They're another 20cm taller since I took this photo, with heaps of little green fruit.  I've had to brace them against the wind though, it can get very strong.
I finally pulled up my Granex sweet onions to make room for the pumpkin and melons.  I put my foot in the photo for perspective - three good-sized onions and three that were too small.  They all could have done with another month of growth but I just couldn't put off the melons any longer, they'd been in little punnets for too long.  And unfortunately the onions were nothing special.  They were indeed very mild but they weren't very sweet.  Not something I'll repeat in this small garden.
But at least I was finally able to plant out two melons and a pumpkin.  I topped up the garden bed with mushroom compost, manure and my home-made compost.
I had heaps of compost this time around, rich and black.  It's going to make those melons grow like crazy!  Look at that beautiful black gold!
And finally, I decided this weekend to set up a worm farm.  The farm was free, made from two foam broccoli boxes.  Wet shredded newspaper goes in the top for worm food.  I poked holes in the bottom so the worm "juice" can drip through to the bottom box.  This "worm wee" makes excellent liquid fertiliser.
Then I just had to add worms!  You can buy the special composting worms from most garden shops.  You can't see them in the photo because they run away from the light, but I gave them a bit of watermelon rind to start with.  Mostly I got them to use up our newspaper which otherwise goes into the recycling,  but I'll sometimes add some food scraps.
As well as the "wee" they also make solid castings, rich pellets of clay-textured goodness.  So now I've got the compost bin to add texture to the soil, worm wee for liquid goodness and worm castings for fertiliser pellets.  As my husband put it, there isn't a corner left in the garden that hasn't been put to some purpose!

the babies

It was ages ago now, but hardly 10 days after discovering the nest, I got home, let the cats out, and this little fellow clumsily flew across the yard and thudded onto the windowsill.
I immediately grabbed both cats and shoved them inside.  I thought, that can't be Mom and Pop's baby!  They were just tiny things last week!  But sure enough, a peek into the nest confirmed they were already flying!  Flying badly, but flying.  They landed all over the place.  Here's one that kept sitting either in or next to the birdbath.
And this one thought the front porch wasn't a bad place to rest.
After the afternoon's comedy antics I didn't see much of the babies.  Mom and Pop must have decided the cats would not be good for their children's health and took them to another yard.  I still see Mom and Pop a lot and occasionally their kids, looking a bit more grown-up now that they have their tail feathers.

i'm back! here are some flowers

My computer was broken for the last few weeks but it's back again and I've got a huge backlog of pictures to share.  I thought I'd start with some beautiful flowers!

Here's the Munstead lavender I planted last year.  I think it's a bit leggy, probably wants a bit more sun than it's getting.  But I love its delicate blossoms, and so do the bees.
This is the first of my petunia blossoms.  I generally don't like petunias but wanted to try a red and white stripe for the pots at the front door.  And the garden centre had "double" petunias which make this wrinkled puffball instead of the standard trumpet.  I'm very happy with them!
And here are the first blossoms from my "peach Melba" nasturtiums.  Little stunner, isn't it.  It's in a rubbish position crowded between liriope but it's still blossoming already!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

the summer's begun

We've had a run of record hot weather - days in a row over 30 and several over 34 is not normal for early November.  I'm already having to keep an eye on the garden and figure out what isn't handling the heat.  The young oakleaf hydrangeas are doing OK - the one in the hot sun is a bit singed but it'll be fine.  However the geraniums on the sunny side of the house are already suffering.

Granted it's a very hot spot - afternoon sun and the hot house brick reflecting the heat.  But mostly I blame the rubbish soil.  It's practically dust, that lifeless fill dirt they put around foundations.  It dries out incredibly easily and once dry, water just pools on top leaving huge pockets of dust below.  I added some compost last summer but you wouldn't know it.  What I should have been doing was adding more and more all winter long and letting the worms and bugs slowly turn it into decent soil. now I'm trying to make up for lost time.  You can see in this photo how shriveled the leaves are from the heat.  I started by brushing back the mulch and scattering some "Saturaid" (some kind of commercial soil additive that's meant to retain moisture; just looks like coir powder to me).  On top of that went a few handfuls of clay kitty litter, that white stuff.  From what I understand it's one of the quickest ways to get more clay into your soil to retain moisture.  You just have to be careful not to let it cake up into a glob when it first gets wet. the moisture-retaining agents were important, but more important is to get some more organic matter into the soil.  For this I went to the compost heap.  My heap has four sides but the back is pretty close to the fence so this was the first time I'd tried to squeeze my hands back there to shovel some compost from the back.  And what compost!  Because it'd been sitting there for almost a full year, it was black, crumbly, and full of goodness.  Just look at all those worms!  Unfortunately it was also full of earwigs who like to nibble young growth, so there was much squashing.

After that each plant got a good dose of water with some seaweed solution to help them get over the heat shock.  No fertilizer though, the last thing they need right now is to put out more tender new growth to get burned in the sun.  Hopefully the compost will help the soil hold more moisture, and I'll be sure to keep topping it up every month or so until I'm happy with the soil in that bed.

birdy momma a snap of mom blackbird with a mouth full of worms for the little ones.  I see both mom and pop like this all the time now, perched up there, then on the ground near the lollipop tree, before flying in.  And I saw mom with a HUGE curl grub in her mouth.  Like, the size of your thumb.  So I can't really complain if they're eating those kinds of pests along with the worms.

I also saw my first bird in the bird bath, a loud little thornbill who was obviously very nervous about the whole thing.  Unfortunately I didn't get it on camera - when I got up to get the camera I must have scared him away.  Shoulda just stayed where I was and watched!

Monday, 9 November 2009

blackbird nest

Last year our resident blackbirds tried to make a nest in one of the kumquat bushes.  This was a very silly thing to do as it was easily in reach of the cats.  Luckily they got a good scare from one of the cats before they laid any eggs so they were at least smart enough to move on and build a nest elsewhere. year I'd been noticing they were spending a lot of time in the year with their mouths full of worms.  Then one afternoon when I was reading in the yard, I saw one fly into one of the ficus trees, then heard the faintest "cheep cheep cheep" sound.  Now the ficus aren't much higher than the kumquats, but they're a bit higher off the ground.  We call them the "lollipop trees" because as you can see in the photo they're carefully pruned into a nice round lollipop shape - not something I would have thought a bird would be interested in using.  But on second thought, it's been pruned so much over the years that the branches are very dense, providing lots of cover.  And sure enough, I waited until both mom and dad were picking up more worms and took a look into the ficus tree pictured here. ugly little mouths to feed!  Now the blackbirds are not my favourite birds, they're not native and they're quite good at making a mess of the garden.  But I'm still tickled that they decided to nest in our yard again.  Even with the cats, whose favourite spot now is to sit under the lollipop tree and stare at the blackbirds.  But it hasn't scared them away this year as they simply fly right over their heads and into their safe haven.  I will, however, be keeping an eye out when the babies are big enough to try to fly.  They'd be absolute sitting ducks at that age, so I'll be sure to keep the cats inside.

Friday, 6 November 2009

first onion decided to try one of my granex sweet onions today.  Almost as soon as I picked it I realised I should have waited longer.  It's about the size of a garlic head and once I peeled off the outer layer there wasn't much left.  And it was really mild - not oniony, but also not sweet.  Hopefully it's because I picked it early.  I'll give the rest until the end of the month before I have to take them out to make way for the melons and pumpkin.

thornbills tried to take some snaps of the thornbills that have been spending a lot of time in the garden lately.  I remember seeing them at times last year but these days they're around for hours at a time.  I've found them really hard to identify because there are half a dozen species and to me they all look "plain gray-brown".  But the important part is that they eat insects, so I'm glad they've decided to spend more time in my garden!

this picture wasn't easy to snap, they never stop moving and they don't let me anywhere near them.  I had to sit at the upstairs window trying to catch them in the fig tree.

Monday, 2 November 2009

bird bath!

Yesterday after some summer thunderstorms we had some visitors. The lorikeets usually only visit when the figs are ripe, but they were drinking from the gutter of our neighbour's garage. From inside the house I could get close enough to take this video.

I was particularly excited because I'd asked for a bird bath for my birthday. Surely if they'll come this close to drink from the gutter, they'll come down to use my bird bath? And sure enough, I got a bird bath that very night from Tom's parents.

I just love it. A nice earthy colour, simple in shape but with a lovely texture to it. It suits its surroundings nicely, it's not gaudy or woggy. I can't wait for the birds and bees to discover it!

For some added enjoyment, here's a close up of the stella bella daylilies growing near the bird bath. I might plant a few more of these around the bird bath, once they got over their aphid invasion in the autumn they've proven to be great hardy little plants.