Sunday, 27 February 2011

fruit bat vs. possum

Last night I heard a horrible screechy racket outside.  The main fig crop is just starting to ripen (not ripe enough for humans to eat, but ripe enough for animals) so I knew it was either a fruit bat or possum.  I went out with a torch to see if I could figure out which it was.  I saw a rustle lower down and tried to find a possum but the branches are so thick this year I couldn't see anything.  Then I looked up to see this bold fellow staring back at me.
He didn't seem at all bothered by the torch or the camera flash, cheeky fellow.  But then I saw a flash of gray fur and a fluffy tail, lo and behold there was also a brush-tailed possum in the tree!  Again, unperturbed by my attention.
I know we've got a local ring tailed possum but this is the first time I've seen a brushy in my yard.  It's not really good news, they're more destructive than their smaller cousins, so I hope he's (she's?) only here for fig season.  And after all that, I still don't know who was making all that racket. I just know they were fighting over who deserved the first figs.

Although I didn't get a picture, these weren't the only wildlife I found in my garden this weekend.  I was checking on my watermelons the other day when I caught a flash of brown darting across the straw mulch.  It startled me because my first thought was it was a tiny snake.  But no, I think it was another weasel skink like the one I found in the garage last year.  By the time I grabbed the camera and came back I couldn't find him again.  But I'm just so happy to know he was there, lizards are a great sign of a healthy garden.

west bed updates

Now that the mess from the flood has (mostly) been cleaned up and summer is quickly turning to autumn I thought I'd update on how things are looking.  The gaura needed to be tied back so they don't flop all over, and the lavender got its autumn trim.  The geum is doing ok, it wilts if it gets too dry and probably wouldn't survive one of our hot summers.
This side of the west bed is thriving.  Look at the size of that colocasia in the corner, it's huge!  It's much happier there than the maple tree ever was.  The vitex has really surprised me with how quickly it's growing, too, hopefully by summer 2012 or 2013 it'll have spread enough to cast some shade around.  It's got lots of flower buds but they haven't opened yet.  The dichondra "silver falls" has realy taken to that bed, although it doesn't seem to want to spill over the front as I was hoping it would.  Some wild violets have seeded at the back of the bed and I've decided to let them stay, they form a nice dense green ground cover and love shade.  Some "weeds" can be very helpful.
The Amazon Queen colocasia is going crazy too.  It makes this whole bed look very lush which I love.  The hellebores have held out well over the summer heat (the crowns can die back completely but mine manage to hold on), the plectranthus cuttings are really growing along and the ajuga "black scallop" are slowly spreading.
Overall, not a bad effort.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

more melons

I'm glad I waited to harvest the watermelon, because it's gotten bigger and a lot darker since then.  I'm not sure how much longer I can wait though!
My rockmelons are filling out too, they have a long way to go though.  They're not a dwarf type, they should get to full size eventually.
Right now it's just a race against time, as the weather is cooling and still humid and damp.  The watermelon's already looking wilted, which probably means it's got something fungal.  The rockmelon vine is still very healthy though.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

february flowers

February's usually such a scorching month that nothing flowers except oleander. But there are a few lovely blooms in the garden at the moment. My plectranthus is still going strong, thickening out and flowering more and more. The drimiopsis below it is also filling out nicely.
I planted some impatiens last week and they are going crazy. I just love that deep red.
And my crepe myrtle has just started to flower! I thought I'd take a close-up picture now and a full-sized picture when most of the flowers are open. I never really noticed how each individual flower looks like it violently exploded!

a triffid!

I've got two huge elephant yuccas right out the front.  The other day I realised one of them was growing a triffid!
Look closer ... the one on the left...
Look at that puppy flower!  I wonder if the stress of removing the ficus trees set it flowering.  It's also sprouted a baby at the base, the first time I've seen them flower or grow pups.  I hope that doesn't mean it's going to die!  For now I'll just enjoy the unusual flower.

another bountiful harvest

Last week I had another great harvest; my third zucchini, more tomatoes and my first two chilies.
There are plenty more chilies where that came from but most of them are still green.  This lot got thrown together into a prawn fettuccine.  Looks great but it was actually a bit bland.  Needed more oomph, maybe more garlic.
Still, it's great being able to eat from your own garden.  This is the last big harvest though; the tomatoes are slowing down and there's no sign of another zucchini.  The growing tips got hit hard by aphids, it's amazing how fast they can suck the life out of new growth.  It'll be a while before it recovers and by then it might be too cold. It's still February but I feel like the real warmth of the summer has well and truly passed.

Monday, 14 February 2011

february harvest

This is one of the bigger harvest for this year.  I've got another zucchini ripe, the tomatoes are going crazy, and of course some herbs.  The broad ripple yellow currants are producing like crazy, but to be honest I find them annoying because the tomatoes are so tiny.  You can't even cut them in half, they just splatter.  Next time I think I'll go with a slightly larger cherry tomato.
In any case, I turned this harvest into a dinner that came almost entirely from the garden!  The zucchini was sliced and dusted with cumin and smoked paprika before grilling.  The tomatoes were cut up and tossed with parsley and chickpeas.  The mint went into the yogurt with some garlic and lemon.  And on top, some fried haloumi cheese.  Seriously tasty.
It's not often I harvest enough to really plan a meal around it, so I'm pretty proud of this one!

jam ... again!

I found out on Monday that a colleague of mine is having a birthday and decided to make her some strawberry jam.  It's actually a lot simpler to make than the peach jam I made on the weekend.  And this time I took more pictures along the way!

Step one, trim 500g of strawberries, break them up with a potato masher, and mix in 350g of sugar.  I used the vanilla sugar my mother in law gave me from real Tahitian vanilla beans!  I don't know if you'll be able to taste it but I thought I'd give it a try.

Some recipes say to let the strawberries macerate overnight, some don't, but since I did this step as soon as I got home I decided to let them sit until after dinner.
Step 2, add some pectin.  Pectin is the stuff in fruit that makes jam firm and not runny.  Strawberries don't have a lot of it, so I added the juice of 1/2 a lemon.  Just to be safe, I wrapped the seeds and some of the rind of the lemon in cheesecloth like I did with the apple in the peach jam.  I sat this in the mixture whilst it macerated.
Step 3, slowly heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a roiling boil.  This foamed up a lot more than the peach jam did, so make sure you use a big pot!  Look at it go!  That pink blob in the middle is foam, which you should skim off so the jam doesn't go cloudy.
After boiling for 10 minutes, test some jam on a plate you've kept in the freezer.  If after a minute the jam is still runny, boil for another few minutes.  If it's a bit wrinkly and firm on the plate, it's ready to bottle up.  A lot faster work than the peach jam, which took 30 minutes of cooking before you added the sugar and another 20-30 minutes after adding the sugar.

Once again I tried putting the lid on the jar and turning it upside-down to sterilize the lid.  Once again, it threw up on the benchtop when I did that (my poor oven mitt is now coated in two layers of jam).  I got this jar from the supermarket, it's obviously not a very good lid!
In any case, as long as you sterilize the jars beforehand, keep it in the fridge, and eat it pretty quickly it's not a huge deal.  I just hope my work colleague enjoys the jam!  I kept back just a tiny portion to try later.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


Making jam has always been one of those things I felt like I should try, but never actually got around to. I just all sounds complicated and a little scary, mastering setting points and making sure the jars are sterile. But this weekend I finally decided to try it out. None of it's from my garden but I thought I'd share anyway. is my nectarine and lime jam. I think it set properly, I tested (and tasted!) a bit on a cold plate in the freezer to see if I could run my finger through it and leave a trail (I could). I'll find out tomorrow how it is on toast but the little taste I had sure was good!

To sterilize the jars I boiled them in a pan half-full of water with the lid on for about 20 minutes. The cellophane on the right is the one I'm going to store until I'm ready for it, I'm told the cello forms a very good seal. The one on the left is just a coffee jar so it's not a great seal, but I'll eat that one first.

I now feel like I've ticked another box on my list of culinary challenges!

Sunday edit: I had the jam on toast this morning, it's seriously delicious! You can't really taste the lime which is fine, it's meant to balance the sweetness a bit. And it's equally tasty with a bit of soft goat cheese on toast. Yum!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

a new bed of herbs

After the flood, I made a big decision about the two garden beds that run along the front of the house.  I grew the geraniums in those beds from tiny seedlings and nursed them through rust, drought, and completely replacing the soil.  But a few factors all came together at once: the floods really bashed at the geraniums that struggle every year in the heat.  At the same time, when we cleared all the pots off the front porch to clean it, it was remarkable how much more space we had without the pots and pots of herbs. I'd also noticed how much happier my herbs in the ground are compared to my herbs in pots. 

It actually made me sad to do it, but I pulled them out.  In the bed that gets hot, hot sun in summer I planted thyme, more sage and chives.  You can barely see the little things, but they should absolutely love the heat and sun they'll get here.  The rosemary bush casts a bit of shade in the afternoon but the sage, at least, will soon grow just as tall.
The other bed gets afternoon shade so I decided I'd plant basil (Greek and sweet) and parsley here, and in the winter replace the basil with rocket or lettuce.  This choice was even harder because the geraniums on this side do a lot better, although they did struggle badly with rust.  So in the end one plant survived the cull!
This has meant that the porch only has one small row of pots on it now, leaving things much more spacious!

when are watermelons ripe?

That's the million-dollar question.  My little sugar baby watermelons sure plumped up quickly - Friday's flooding downpour may have had something to do with that.  But apparently watermelons are notoriously hard to tell when they're ripe.  You're meant to tap them, scratch them, examine skin colour and vine brown-ness.  Leaving me with, really, no idea how to tell.

This is my biggest and most ripe-looking.
This one's a bit smaller.
I think I'll leave them a while longer.  I've seen photos of them a lot darker skin than this, plus the little springy vine near the stem is still very green.  I hate being patient!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

the life and death of sunflowers

I planted two sunflowers this year from two different sources.  They got a lot farther than last year when I didn't get past seedlings, but still only ended up with mixed success.

The smaller of the two grew about four feet high before it started to blossom.  But it only got half-open, then sat here like this until it started to die.  No idea why!
The other grew almost six feet tall before it started to flower.  It struggled for a while, I think it got tobacco mosaic virus because the leaves were all warped and misshapen.  But finally it flowered!  The bloom itself wasn't as big as I thought it would be but was lovely nonetheless.
Sadly just a few days later we got some bad winds.  I'd staked the sunflowers but stopped about halfway up when I thought they'd be able to hold themselves up.  But alas, it wasn't enough, and one morning I was greeted by this sad sight.
Poor giant sunflower!  I might try growing you again next year because you are so very beautiful, but you're not the easiest things to keep happy!


I haven't been very good at getting out to the melons with a little paintbrush and pollinating.  Half the time it's raining in the morning which makes it all a bit pointless anyway.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find three little watermelons managed to pollinate all by themselves.
This one got wedged between the plastic lattice and wooden slats on the fence, pinching it.  Poor little melon!  Good thing I found you and squeezed you back out again.  That didn't look comfortable at all!
They got some little bird net slings set up for them to hold their weight against the fence.  No sign yet of melons from the Hale's best rockmelon, I hope a few set soon!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

the flood of 2011

Last night 70mm of rain fell all at once and our garden turned into a moat.  We were out at the time and the water came within a few inches of the front door - none got inside, thankfully.  But the garden's a mess.  Everything was covered in muck.
The mulch was all washed away.  You can just see the high water line along the garage there.
And there on the house.  Those poor geraniums!
The most bizarre part were my big pots.  My zucchini was up near the driveway, and there were too other large pots next to the front porch.  All three were picked up, carried around the corner, and set down gently.  The terracotta pot was tipped over but unbroken.
This is where half the mulch ended up, as well as one of the bins, swept all the way from the street to the back garden.
And here's the other half.  That's meant to be pebbles.  You can see the water line on the gate.
We did the most important cleanup today but haven't tackled all that mulch yet.  The plants actually survived really well, even the cuttings I planted only a week ago are still there.  The alyssum and little geraniums copped it badly enough that I pulled them pu.  My goldfish are still in their pot, it didn't go under entirely.  Even the worm farm made it ok - it had fallen over but not tipped out.  Messy, but we were so very lucky.