Wednesday, 30 June 2010

cold, cold winter

The weather this month has been awful.  Weeks in a row with a low of 5 or 6 and a high of 12 or 14.  Rain, rain, rain, we actually have more rain than average for once.  A few days ago we had the coldest June day since ... wait for it ... 2000.  OK, not the longest record on the books.  All I could think when I heard that was, so you mean June used to be colder than this?  For someone who moved here well into the drought, it feels freaking cold.  I'm used to Melbourne winters where days of 18C and sun are not uncommon but heavy rainfall is.  I'm told this month has been closer to what Melbourne winters used to be like, except they were even a bit colder and wetter still.

I'll finish off my whinge now.  I really can't complain considering I survived two winters in Boston where long underwear was needed just to leave the house.  And I really can't complain when our dams have gained 8% more water compared to last year; at this rate it'll only take 8 more years of this much rain to fill them to capacity!  We've got a long way to go before anyone would be crazy enough to say our drought was over, but in the meantime, bring on the rain.

a big swap for a little maple

My sad little Japanese maple has now survived two summers in its spot in the corner of the back garden.  The first summer was brutally hot and dry and it barely survived.  This summer was a lot more mild, but it still looked a bit rough by the autumn.  I'm not one for babying my plants and it obviously doesn't like where it lives.  So once it lost its leaves I decided it was time for a change. is what the back garden looked like before.  I've pulled out the marigolds and nasturtium for the winter.  One of the statice died a while back, the other was looking shocking so I pulled it out too.  There on the right is a taro plant, a very tough root-based plant that seems to be thriving on neglect.  It's even put out two little babies.

I decided that the maple would prefer the spot where the taro is now.  It's on the south side of a tall fence, sheltered from the hot summer sun.  And it's a higher spot, rather than being completely hidden in that far corner. is the corner where the maple lived.  I carefully dug it up, trying not to tear the roots and getting as much of the root ball as possible.  The roots actually looked very healthy, they'd spread out quite a bit in the last year or two.  Very shallow though, as these trees tend to be.  I trimmed off the dead twigs - yes, more dead twigs, it seems to be shrinking rather than growing - and hoped that I didn't need to trim off any viable twigs.  You're generally meant to do that when you transplant, because you always lose some roots and the roots can't support the same amount of foliage.  But since it's still early winter, I'm hoping I can get away with it and rely instead on frequent doses of seaweed solution to nourish the roots.'s the taro in its new home.  It'll get a bit more sun here than it did in its old home and I'm hoping it really takes off.  They can get even bigger than this, so if anything it now has even more room to grow than in its old home. there on the right is the maple tree in its new home.  It looks so much taller when it's actually at ground level!  And I discovered that the soil in that corner is pretty much pure sand.  Not a single worm to be seen.  I dug out a fair bit of the sand and instead dug in some more of that super-rich manure/soil mix I still have from months back, chock full of worms.  No fertilizer though, don't want to burn the roots. 

You can't really see in the photo but there's another impromptu new addition.  Where the statice used to be are two baby taro plants.  Full-grown they'll be way too big for those positions, but I reckon they've got a year or two of growing first.  After that I'll find them another home.  And in the long term, the vitex in the main bed will eventually grow to be about two metres tall and spreading, shading a lot of this are (I hope!).  The oakleaf hydrangeas in the narrow beds will start to fill out too.  This part of the garden really is still a young work in progress, which in a way is far more exciting than the established plants at the front.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

hungry hungry poss-poss local possum has a green tooth. They're known for eating fruit and flowers but mine eats greens. It never lets a hardenbergia vine flower because it eats every new shoot. I have stood and watched it gnaw at the pine bushes outside the back door. And the other day I found that it savaged my pea shoots. I suspected snails at first but I don't have too many snails about considering how quickly they were chewed down to stems. And then I noticed that a few stems had been snapped clean off and carried to another part of the bed before being finished off -a bit of a trick for snails to pull off. And this is all that's left of them. it's still early in the season, so I planted some more snow peas and put a bird net over the bed. These plants may survive and if not the new seeds will sprout, and hopefully I'll still have snow peas before the winter is over. My luck with snow peas is absolutely rotten!

In the meantime, my second batch of gai lan and broccoli have sprouted, as well as a few radishes I threw in for fun. Hopefully I'll be harvesting them within the next few months.

tasty kale had my first major kale harvest last week.  As you can see I got a nice big bunch of leaves.  There are still plenty more on the plant but they're smaller.  I quickly realised that even at full length, the younger leaves are very narrow, leaving a lot of stem and not a lot of leaf.  So I left them on the plant for later.

In any case, this was plenty for one go!  I carefully washed them (only a few aphids, no caterpillars) and cut out the stems before chopping them up.  It went into one of my favourite winter soups - minestrone with white beans.  I don't really follow a recipe anymore but here's what I did, more or less.

Chop up an onion, carrot, and clove of garlic.  Cook until carrot starts to soften, then add a can of chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, about 4 cups of water or stock and the rind from a wedge of Parmesan.  That's the single most important ingredient to minestrone - you must have a Parmesan rind.  It adds an amazing depth of flavour.

Bring to a simmer and add a bit of pepper (no salt though, the Parmesan takes care of that).  I add a few handfuls of red lentils, not authentic but it adds a richness to the soup.  Then add the kale (it takes longer to cook than you might think).  After 15 minutes, add the white beans and continue to cook until the kale is tender and beans are heated through.  If you want more vegetables, add them after the kale depending on how long they take to cook.  Serve with more grated Parmesan and crusty bread.  Yum!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

i finally decided

I finally decided what to plant in place of the old hebe.  It was quite the odyssey in the end - first digging out the stump, then digging up piles of rubble and a few large stones.  And today I had a disgusting shock.  There were autumn leaves in the hole and when I went to pull them out, thought I saw wet fur.  I tried to dig whatever it was out with a shovel, and what I believe was a dead rat split in half to reveal a bed of maggots.  EW EW EW EW EW EW.  So I dumped some dirt on it and dug some more to one side.  It's well below the ground now, I suppose that even decomposed rats are good for the soil.  EW. now for a nicer image.  I decided to plant a kaffir lime in the spot.  It's a type of lime grown for its leaves and used in Thai dishes.  It makes wrinkled little fruits but they're not really used.  I do occasionally cook with kaffir lime leaves so it'll be useful to me, but because the fruits aren't important I'm not as worried about it being in a spot that's shaded all winter.

It's just a wee little seedling at the moment but it's still big enough for me to pick a few leaves as I need them.  I decided to be clever and put an agricultural pipe in the planting hole, so I can water it down to the roots when I need to. striking thing about kaffir limes, if you're not familiar with them, is that they have double-leaves.  Look closely and you can see they're in a sort of figure-8 shape.  Nifty, huh?  I'll have to plan for a few Thai dishes next week.

And whilst I was walking along the path I noticed that my transplanted camellias are starting to bloom.  They've taken their move well; they didn't drop their buds and the first one is now sweetly blooming.  I'll leave you with this lovely picture.

broccoletti harvest and brassica planting

The broccoletti is ready to harvest!  The main head has formed and the buds are swelling.  A few are actually looking whitish which means if I'd left it another day or two it probably would be in bloom.
I wasn't sure what to expect because I knew it wasn't going to be the same as the store-bought broccolini.  Sure enough, rather than a long thin stalk with a hint of a head it's more a fat stalk with a small head and some side-shoots.  I'm leaving the base of the plant in place to see if it puts out any more side shoots over the next few weeks.
Tonight I'll cut it up, including some of the smaller leaves, and try it lightly poached in an Asian-flavoured broth with some store-bought greens.  I hope it's tasty!

The kale is powering along nicely too.  I've had a few leaves so far but haven't yet made a nice big pot of winter minestrone - so yummy!
In the meantime I also pulled out one of the pots of gai lan that had gone to seed, and re-planted some more.  Hopefully this batch will grow more slowly and not go to seed so quickly, oh and not be eaten by caterpillars and drilled by leaf miners too.  I also planted a red arrow broccoli in the pot that the designer twig used to be in, I hope it's not too late in the season!

My snow peas and broad beans are slowly growing away but they're certainly not in a hurry.  I think they'd both like more sunlight than they get in my yard in winter.  The sun's just too low and the buildings around it too high.  Oh well that's what you get from a little urban yard!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

sunshine bread

This is a whimsical flatbread with sun-dried tomato, Parmesan and pepper and shaped into a happy sun.  It's missing two rays which were eaten before I remembered to take a photo!
Sunshine, or maybe octopus?

vitex agnus-castus've been thinking for a long time about what to put in the former goldfish pond.  I finally settled on vitex agnus-castus, or Texas Lilac.  In the long term I'm hoping it'll be a spreading, umbrella-shape shrub, shading that part of the garden in summer and losing its leaves to let in sunlight over winter.  But as you can see, it'll be a few years before it reaches that height!  You can't even see it from this photo. is a popular herbal supplement, but it's not easy to find the actual plant to grow.  The best I could find was a mail order over ebay, and although it was only $4, it's this little teeny baby.  Definitely a long-term investment but I can still imagine how lovely it'll look when it's full sized.

twiggy gets a move

I kept going back and forth about what to do with the designer twig.  I thought I'd move it to where I dug out the hebe stump, but I realised that in the winter it doesn't get any direct sun.  That's not a good thing for citrus, which ripens up their fruit in the winter!  So I finally decided it needed a bigger pot.  Which meant going for the full half wine barrel!
It takes a LOT of potting soil to fill one of these suckers.  I mixed some sand into the soil for the bottom third to make sure it didn't get boggy, then in it went.

It does look a lot happier in its new home.  It wasn't actually very root-bound in the old pot which means it will be years before it fills out this pot.  And the bloody thing is so heavy, it's not going anywhere.  In maybe 3 or 4 years I'll pull it out just to trim the roots and the leaves to keep it to a small size.
I can't wait until it gets its next flush of flowers, this is definitely the year for it to fruit!

autumn, continued

What was that I was just saying about spring appearing before autumn ends?  No picture but the day after making that post I found the first of my snowdrops blooming under the fig tree.  A spring flower coming up before autumn has ended.  Although to be fair, that's a good two weeks later than last year when the first snowdrop appeared May 10th.

In any case, here are another few shots of autumn colour.  This is the oakleaf hydrangea that doesn't turn bright red, it turns this dark burgundy colour but the leaves stay on almost all winter long.
My poor little Japanese maple has more colour on it this year than last, when it was almost dead by autumn, but once again it's lost a fair few leaves and some more of the stems are dead.  I think it got some of the powdery mildew going around this corner but it's obvious that even in a good year it's not happy in this spot.  I think I may move it this winter once it's fully dormant.
But look at that shade of yellow-orange!  I hope I can find it a happy home so those colours can really shine next year.