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. 

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/geraniumdry1.JPGSo 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.

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/geraniumdry2.JPGSo 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

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/blackbird.JPGGot 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.

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/lollipop.JPGThis 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.

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/nest.JPGFour 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

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/firstonion.JPGI 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

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/thornbill1.JPGI 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!

video
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.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

handsome little fellow

http://www.alexareynolds.com/garden09/lizard.JPGThis handsome little fellow startled me when I walked into the garage today. Good thing he did, because he ran right behind the front wheel. If I hadn't noticed him it would have ended rather badly. Lucky for him after a bit of wrangling I got him into this bucket.

This is the first reptile I've found in my garden. I'd never seen snakes or frogs either. So I was very excited to find him - it's a sign of a healthy garden. I set the bucket on its side to let him decide when he felt like running away. I just hope he finds a good little burrow to hide in and sticks around for a while - and that the cats never find him. There's definitely enough sunny concrete to warm himself on, and plenty of earwigs and other critters to eat.

He's some kind of skink but I'm not sure what kind. I might ask around to see if anyone knows.

Edit: I forgot I had this book Melbourne's Wildlife. He's a weasel skink. An interesting fact from the book:

"This is a secretive species that raises its body temperature by contact with its surroundings, rather than by basking in the sun."

That explains why he was in the dark but warm garage!