Saturday, 29 May 2010

italian bread is my first attempt at a "free-form loaf", recorded for posterity.  It's an Italian bread with olive oil.  The dough was so sticky that I couldn't shape it properly and I don't think it rose as much as it was meant to.  But like the baguettes, it's a learning process!  And it still tasted great.

autumn in melbourne

Autumn in Melbourne confuses me.  I'm used to autumn and winter being distinct seasons.  The leaves are meant to turn around September/October (March/April in this hemisphere) and by December (June here) it's officially winter and then the winter solstice.  But because it's warmer in Melbourne than anywhere else I've lived, everything's just a bit off.  Sure you get some "cold" days in March and April, but it's the end of May and the leaves are only now reaching their peak of colour because we've only just had a few weeks of nights around 8 or 10 degrees.  So to me it only now properly feels like autumn, but it's almost winter.  It won't get much colder than this all winter long, and in a month it'll be the solstice and the days will start to get long again.  And I kid you not, in a month or two we'll get the first spring flowers.  When there are still some autumn leaves.  So in one way proper "winter" feels very short because autumn and spring crowd it out ... but on the other hand it feels very long because the temperatures stay in the range of 8ish to 17ish quite steadily for 4 or 5 months. 

That's enough waxing philosophical.  Now for some autumn colour!  Sadly no grape vine this year, I had to cut back the neighbour's vine because it was making the fence lean.  But the birch trees this year are lovely.  The last few years they were stressed and looked more dead than autumnal, I really thought they were going to die.  This year they just look amazing.
Under the birch trees are quite a few mushrooms.  No idea what kind they are but I thought they looked pretty autumnal.
And though I'd never think of the fig tree as being a very autumnal tree, it does look pretty nice whilst it loses its leaves.  It doesn't really turn and then drop them, it's more like the ones on the inside turn yellow and fall, then the middle ones, before the last outside ones take their turn.
I'll post more pictures as a few more plants in the garden take their turns.  In the meantime, autumn also means changing over the flowers by the front door to my favourite winter flowers: violas!
And autumn also means it's time to tidy up some summer-flowering plants.  I had a go at the front corner bed near the bird bath.  I thought I had a "before" photo of this corner but only now realise my last photo was from back in January!
So use your imagination.  The African blue basil in front of the bird bath was covered with spent flower spikes and overgrowing the path it was so lush.  The blue saliva on either side of the bath was doing exactly what I'd hoped - it had grown nice and tall (almost twice as tall as it is now) and has been covered in blue flowers the entire summer. But they both needed a good haircut so that they can spring back again in ... well, spring.  Oh and I also got a bit over-zealous and lopped off the top of the magnolia there on the left.  It never got watered before I moved in and was quite leggy and the middle bits didn't have any leaves at all.  So I chopped off the top two branches to encourage it to get more bushy. It just might take a few years to reach that same height again ... ah well, I'm thinking long-term here!

the gall that wasn't other day I was having a look at my lemon tree and noticed a citrus gall I had missed.  I got my pruning shears, came back, grabbed the gall and was shocked to find that it wasn't actually attached to the drunk.  Because it wasn't a gall.  It was a chrysalis!  It's the chrysalis of the dingy swallowtail butterfly, the caterpillars of which I've seen on my cumquats but hadn't seen on my lemon tree.  But obviously they're there.  Thankfully I didn't know the chrysalis off, just moved it a bit, so hopefully it will still emerge as a gorgeous butterfly. just occurred to me that I never posted a picture of these caterpillars.  Normally caterpillars are a pest that munch away at my veggies and require a dose of dipel.  But these caterpillars only eat citrus leaves and so far only much on my cumquats and lemons so I really don't mind.  And in adult form they're just stunning.  Even as caterpillars they're great fun to look at.  Those orange antennae are a defense they only shoot out if they're disturbed.  They release a smell like rotting oranges to deter predators.  Chemical warfare, amazing mimicry and stunning adulthood - they definitely deserve to live!

Monday, 17 May 2010

baguettes made my first baguettes this weekend, using the bread machine to knead and shaping by hand.  It was a "rustic" recipe of white bread flour with a bit of rye.  I wanted to document how it went so I can look back on this and laugh.

As you can see I did something a bit wrong - both loaves split all the way down one side!  I think the main problem was that the loaves stuck to the pan when they were left to rise, so when they did their final "puff up" in the oven, the bottoms couldn't stretch and it tore.  Next time I won't just rely on cornmeal on the pan, they're getting a layer of nonstick spray! though, not a bad effort!  The crust was very thick with a good hearty tear to it and the flavour was lovely.  But next time I'm hoping the inside will be a bit lighter and fluffier.  And to be honest, I reckon this style of rustic thick crust is better for a batard (oval shape) than a baguette.  But this is part of the joy I get from making bread - I learn so much from every loaf!

worm poo power

I decided to harvest out my first lot of worm castings from the worm farm.  They've been fattening up on newspaper shreddings and lots of fruit - my worms are picky, they don't seem to care for veggies and prefer fruit.  Here's my first pile of castings.  It's hard to avoid picking out some worms when you dig the castings out of the worm farm so I borrowed this technique.  You make a pile of the castings and the worms instinctively go to the center where it's darkest.  Then you pull away the outer layers of castings a few times, giving them time to run away in between, until you're left with a little pile of mostly worms, which you put back in the farm to keep fattening up. castings are wonderfully rich, like very soft clay, and no they don't smell like poo they just smell like dirt.  It's a pure, super-injection of moisture-retaining organic life.  You can put it as-is into the ground when you plant things, or it dissolves really easily in water into a kind of slurry, which is good for rejuvenating tired potting mix.  Some of my beds are a thin layer of good soil over a dense layer of inorganic builder's rubble, which makes it hard to enrich the deeper layers without disturbing plant roots.  But this liquid slurry should be able to seep down into the poor soil and help bring it to life.  I'm looking forward to seeing how worm poo power improves my garden!

murraya goes in decided to order my murraya online.  The alternatives were to buy 6 decent-sized shrubs for about $20 each, or a set of 8 seedlings for $30 total.  I bought the seedlings from a mail-order nursery on eBay and they arrived promptly, well-wrapped and looking happy.

Actually I reckon they're not seedlings but rooted cuttings, by the looks of it.  Which makes me wonder if I shouldn't have tried to take cuttings myself!  But oh well, no real harm done.  I just hope they adjust to Melbourne's winter, they were grown up in Queensland and it's been a bit nippy lately.  Not freezing but lows around 8 or 9 some nights. fact I was concerned enough I kept them inside their first night.  But this weekend they went in to their new homes in the back garden bed.   They're so small there's no point taking a photo down the whole line, you wouldn't be able to see them!  The soil I've infilled with is incredibly moisture-retaining which is great because the old soil below it is very sandy and poor.  I just hope it's not too boggy to be honest.  But so far they're doing fine, they haven't dropped dead yet!

It'll be a few years until they're a decent size, that's what you get when you save money and buy seedlings.  But in time they should be filling the back porch with the scent of orange blossom!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

brassica progress do you reckon, is my broccoletti a bit oversized?  My broccoli last year never got leaves this big!  And they're a bit brittle, two leaves have already snapped off.  It also got attacked by aphids a few weeks back and even though I killed them off quickly, it sure warped that set of leaves badly (not pictured, they're only half the size of this monster and misshapen).  In any case, I wonder if I went a bit too heavy on the fertilizer pellets, though the kale is normal sized. gai lan is already at harvest size, at least I think so, because it's forming little heads.  I'm not sure what to expect really.  But I thought there would be many more leaves per stem, there are only about 6 big leaves per stem.  And unfortunately they're not really edible.  The caterpillars I can deal with - little holes don't bother me.  But the citrus leave miners I cannot tolerate.  They're all over the cumquats which doesn't really matter.  But they also attacked my lettuce last year and they're all over the kale and gai lan.  They're awful because they burrow into the leaf and the only way to get rid of them is to rip off the part of the leaf they're in.

So the gai lan is a bit of a failure, but at least it was a quick failure!  I have some seeds for "red arrow broccoli" I might try instead, it's meant to be purple/red but turn green when you cook it.  Sounds like fun!

big little twig designer twig continues to power on with another set of new growth coming in now.  It's come so far since it was delivered in December 2008!  But as you can see, it's starting to look a bit too large for its pot.  The problem is I don't have a lot of room for another big pot!  It's pretty much at the point where it would want a half-wine-barrel sized pot but I don't think one would even fit on the porch.

Luckily at about the same time I was looking to dig out an old stump.  Along the front path (at the end of the row of birches and plums) there used to be a big hebe bush.  We cut it down last year because it was growing out into the path.  And I finally got tired of looking at the stump and wasting the space.  So I started to dig around it and hacking through a mat of roots ... before I got this surprise! planted the hebe didn't even bother to take it out of the pot.  Now you might do that for something like a fig tree if you wanted to keep the size under control.  But for something like a hebe I can't imagine it was anything but laziness.

Add to that the horrible quality of the soil.  Starting from the surface, there's a layer of organic matter from decomposed leaves, then a thick mat of roots (since the hebe roots had nowhere to go but up and out!).  Under that mat the soil was bone-dry (despite decent rains in the last month) and builder's-dust-dead.  There were chunks of brick, concrete, glass, rusted metal, bits of tile and the occasional nail. plastic pot was a blessing in disguise because once I cut the roots I was able to leverage the pot out of the ground.  Notice how the roots weren't able to grow out from the bottom, perhaps because the soil down that far was so rubbish.  You can just see how at the top of the photo the soil's fairly dark and "living" but at the bottom it's pale and dry.

In any case, I still think this is the best new home for my designer twig.  I've piled on rich black compost and some of the soil I bought a few weeks ago and dug it in.  In a week or two I'll put the twig in its new home and hope it thrives!