Archive for December, 2014

December update

December 31, 2014

The season of plenty begins!

The first zucchini :


It looks like a nice specimen of the Lebanese variety. Except that my notes record that I planted a black variety in that spot. Oh, well…

First of the Gold variety forming :


There’s another fruit forming at the top right of the picture. The flower has just opened. I hand pollinate all my zucchinis and pumpkins with this :

monday 009

It’s not that I don’t trust the bees, but if I don’t see many around I just like to cover all the bases. It has a big round head of nice soft bristles—just right for picking up plenty of pollen. I’m sure everyone knows how to pollinate with a brush, but just in case, here are the two flowers of different sexes—male on the right and female on the left :


The male’s whatsit, in the centre of the flower, is small and pointy; the female bits are bigger and sort of wrinkly, but in case you’re still not sure, the male flower is on the end of a longish stalk and the female has a baby zucchini-to-be at its base. You can’t miss it really.

Anyway, what I do is gently rub the brush over the male bit and check to see if the brush has picked up a liberal sprinkling of yellow powder. That’s the pollen. Then just brush it over the top of the female flower and you’re done. The female flower will close soon after and the baby zucchini (or pumpkin) will start to enlarge.

The most infuriating thing about zucchinis and pumpkins is that when there are female flowers open, there are often no males within cooee, and vice versa. It’s always a good idea to plant several plants close together, firstly, because it makes pollination by bees easy (if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of bees) and secondly, it means you’re not running hither and thither carrying a paintbrush full of pollen, like a demented artist looking for a blank canvas.

Here’s a lady pumpkin flower that unfortunately didn’t meet up with a mate. It won’t develop and the pumpkin-to-be is starting to wither away and become a pumpkin-that-will-never-be. Sad, really :


Here’s one that had better luck :


I hope it’s going to grow up into a nice big pumpkin. I have no idea what variety because it came up in the compost. More on that below.


The New Girls are settling in nicely being tolerated by the Old Girls and have taken over the pile of logs in the playground as a sunbathing spot :


They had their first encounter with a fox early one morning (they were quite safe—their run is really secure, but they didn’t know that), and ended up on top of the coop, where they stayed for the next hour and a half (I left them up there to get over it in their own time; these things can’t be rushed). The only problem was after that, they decided all over again that they wanted to roost on top of the coop at night and I had to go through another week of shepherding them in before they consented to go in by themselves (and more important, STAY in once I’ve left). Talk about herding cats!

They’re extremely active and agile and into everything, quite a change from the two oldies. They like going into Molly & Cheeky’s coop and have completely trashed the bedding and nesting material, so that I can’t just clean the poop from under the perches, but have to clean and replace all the stuff, because the poop is all mixed up with it. Their own coop is pristine…they never go in their during the day.

If I thought they were intelligent beings, I’d say they’re doing it in retaliation for being chased by Molly & Cheeky, but that’s too much of a stretch. They’re just having fun, like all kids. Molly & Cheeky, being mature ladies, just sit side by side in the sun, looking like a couple of stately spanish galleons, obviously deprecating such childish behaviour. The newbies are almost 20 weeks old now, so I hope they grow up soon and start laying eggs. If we get temperatures in the 40’s in January though, it might stop laying in its tracks. That’s when the two oldies stopped laying last summer and they didn’t start again until spring.


This Cape Gooseberry came up by itself next to the Girl’s playground. It’s some years since I’ve grown them and I’d forgotten that the little fruits fall off the plant when ripe, with their papery outer coating intact. They’re quite safe from birds and it’s a simple matter to do the rounds every few days and pick up all the fruits :





When I built the new chook run, I put a couple of large tubs on either side of the doorway :


I filled them with compost and left them until I’d decided what to plant in them. In the meantime a couple of pumpkins germinated in one of the tubs. It wasn’t what I would have planted, as there’s not much room for them to run rampant as they usually do, but I let them grow on anyway.

They’ve turned out to be a couple of oddballs. They’re not running everywhere, but growing in a clump like a zucchini :


They’ve flowered already and a couple of fruits are forming (I did my thing with the paintbrush) :


There’s a robust central stem and the new flower buds are in a tight cluster. It certainly looks like a zucchini :


They can’t possibly be zucchinis because I eat all my zucchinis before they go to seed. There would never be any zucchini seed in the compost. They’re not like any other pumpkin I’ve grown. If they came from the compost, it must be something I’ve bought. I normally only buy Butternuts and the occasional Kent. And then I remembered.

I’d bought a variety from Coles I’d never heard of, called Naranka Gold. It had bright orange flesh and was beautiful roasted. I’d Googled it at the time and found it had been specially developed and grown for Coles. They say it’s a cross between a Chilean variety and the Kent. I’d saved seed but some would have ended up in the worm farm and ultimately in the compost.

I hadn’t sown any of that seed this season, so I got it out and sowed some in a large tub. It will be interesting to see if that’s what’s in the chook house tub. I hope so, the flavour was exceptional.


I can’t grow parsnips. At least not the root bit. I can grow the top bit—the leaves and the flowers. The bees love the flowers and so I toss seed everywhere and grow a parsnip forest :


One day I’ll get around to studying parsnips seriously—making a bed with a reasonable depth of friable soil and working out exactly when to sow the seed. In the meantime all is not lost. I collect buckets of seed from my parsnip forest and share it with my neighbour. And he brings me beautiful parsnips in return.


Remember the self-sown plant I thought might be a cherry, but turned out to be a cherry plum?

The fruits ripened, the birds left them alone and I picked and ate them. Wow! Delicious! I want more of these. I saved the seeds. I’ve never had plum seed successfully germinate just by sowing it in a pot. This time I’ve put the seeds in some moist cocopeat and put them in the fridge to stratify. I hope that might do the trick. In the meantime, I think I’ve found another self-sown seedling. Amazingly, it had reached almost waist-height before I discovered it. It’s in an ideal spot, in the middle of the food forest where I can give it lots of TLC. I missed it because it’s surrounded by parsnips! :


Of course it might be a real plum which germinated from a seed I tossed in there as I was snacking on my own plums.


The first ripening tomato :


Only a cherry, but oh, so special. The first time I’ve ever had a tomato ripen before Christmas! This one made it into the record book by just one day. It coloured up on December 24th.


A couple of years ago, I made my first hugelkultur bed alongside the path that leads to the rear of the property :

At first it was one long bed, but I realised I would be needing to access the area behind it and so I broke it into three parts so I didn’t need to be leaping over the top. I used it initially for zucchinis and pumpkins, but eventually planted rhubarb and asparagus in one section and this year, planted raspberries in another. The third section has no perennials in it and this year I’ve planted zucchinis there. I’ve been watering from the tank either by hand or with a microspray head mounted on a hose holder, moving it from place to place to cover all the bed. It’s time consuming, so I decided to put in three separate watering systems, one for each bed. I’ve put in the first one to cover the zucchinis and I’m really chuffed with it :



There are four microspray heads each covering one zucchini. In between the zucchinis and slightly behind them are four button squash plants. Now I just have to click the hose from the tank onto the end of the pipe and the whole bed gets watered in one go. I’ll do the other two beds in the same way. It will save a lot of watering time.


I’ve worked out what’s going on with the cucamelons. I was seeing tiny little yellow flowers with even tinier cucamelons-to-be behind them :


Then they were dropping off without forming. I realised that these are melons and probably will have both male and female flowers, so I kept watching and sure enough, tiny groups of male flowers began to appear :


I have no idea what pollinates them, but it’s got to be a very small insect. If I do it with a paintbrush, I’m going to need one with about 3 hairs and a magnifying glass to see what I’m doing.


We had 64 mm of rain in December; Melbourne’s average is 57 mm. There were no really hot days, so no stress on the garden. Growth has been good and it hasn’t been hard to keep the water up to the plants. I hope that continues for the rest of summer but doubt that I’ll be so lucky.


Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope 2015 is filled with delicious food for you. Home grown, of course!


December 30, 2014

What’s that ? You may well ask. I just bought a packet of seeds to try. It’s a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale.

I’ll let The Biking Gardener tell you all about it.

It looks interesting :


Has anyone grown it? How’d it go?

A laugh for Christmas

December 23, 2014

The Plain English Foundation has released its annual list of the year’s worst words and phrases, with 2014 particularly rich in euphemism and spin.

This year the phrase “conscious uncoupling”, used by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin when the couple announced their separation, topped the list.

The foundation publishes the list to highlight the importance of clear and ethical public language.

Winners are decided by staff votes, chosen from a shortlist of doublespeak, buzzwords and “fancy pants” language.


Conscious uncoupling

Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin did not decide to separate. Instead, they experienced a conscious uncoupling.

Corporate spin:

Appropriate financial envelope

Microsoft emailed its employees to explain that the company’s “device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope. Therefore, we plan to make some changes”. Finally, in the eleventh paragraph, the email got to the point: 12,500 Microsoft employees were going to lose their jobs.

Open cut event

Residents of Morwell, Victoria, were left breathing foul-smelling smoke for over two weeks due to a month-long fire, which was described as an “open cut event” in a nearby mine. “Inversion condition” led to a “reversion” in air quality, while firefighters struggled to bring the fire “to its totality”.


Rapid disassembly

14 million vehicles were recalled this year because their Takata airbags had an unfortunate tendency towards “rapid disassembly”. In plain English, that means some of them exploded.

Pavement failure

When a recent Qantas flight was delayed by an hour, the explanation was as baffling as it was frustrating for passengers. There had been a “pavement failure”, which meant that a pothole on a runway had to be filled-in before the plane could take off.

Political spin:

High value targeting

“High value targeting” is a more pleasant way to describe killing an enemy of importance. This term hit the news in December when WikiLeaks released a CIA report on the practice. This came in the same month a US Senate Intelligence Committee report highlighted the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Efficiency dividend

Senator Mathias Cormann told Australians that the cut in ABC funding was an “efficiency dividend”. “We are not making cuts,” Senator Cormann explained. “The ABC has been exempted from efficiency dividends for the last 20 years, efficiency dividends which apply to every other department in government.” The government later admitted that funding was, in fact, cut.

Non-apology of the year:

The physical result of a bite

Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez issued a non-apology for biting his Italian rival in a World Cup soccer game: “The truth is that my colleague Giorgio Chiellini suffered the physical result of a bite in the collision he suffered with me.”

Silly sign of the year:

Potential for dangerous aquatic organisms

Gold Coast City Council erected some helpful warning signs about the “potential for dangerous aquatic organisms”. According to Daryl McPhee of Bond University, this means the waterways could be “physically penetrate[d]” by bull sharks. Luckily, the sign included a picture.



An awkward mangling of the words collaboration and competition – not to be confused with its close cousin, “co-opetition” which describes businesses working with their competitors, to everyone’s advantage. Neither case is supposed to be confused with “collusion”.


Selfies are so 2013. This year it’s all about the “couplie” (a self-portrait with your significant other).

Marketing buzzword of the year:


Normcore is a fashion term that describes wearing unpretentious, plain, average-looking clothing. Like normal clothing, but more fashionable. Apparently normcore seeks the freedom that comes with non-exclusivity. It finds liberation in being nothing special, and realises that adaptability leads to belonging.

Mixed metaphor of the year:

“Let’s fix our roof while the sun is shining because we’re on a course to hit the rocks and we have to fix it.”

The Australian National Commission of Audit member Amanda Vanstone clarified Australia’s “budget emergency”.

Grammatical error of the year:

Sorry for any incontinence caused

An East London Tesco store made the news last July when its management posted an unusual apology for its broken freezers: “We are trying to get this problem fix as soon as possible and are really sorry for any incontinence caused, Management.”

The worm farm

December 18, 2014

My worm farm used to live on the south side of the house tucked in behind the water tank, where it was never in direct sun.

After a summer’s day some years ago when the temperature went over 40 C, I discovered all the worms had died. Even though they were in shade, the ambient temperature was apparently just too high. So I installed them under the house where the temperature is lower and doesn’t fluctuate so wildly. It was a good move as 40+ temperatures seem to be the norm in summer now.

There are two worm farms under the house now, both the round, plastic, commercial variety :


I leave the taps permanently open and the worm juice drips into ice-cream containers. The bucket with the sieve on top is to sieve out any drowned worms or other debris. The worm juice is transferred to a 50 litre plastic drum for storage :


I use it diluted about 50/50, mainly to water seedlings but will occasionally add a jugful to a wicking box.

The worms work in conjunction with the composting toilet. Each month a bin from the toilet (which has already been sitting in the system composting for 6 months), gets emptied into a compost bay down the back, a tray of worm castings plus worms gets tipped on top and the whole lot is covered in mulched bracken and kept moist. Even though the stuff from the composting toilet is unrecognisable by this stage, the worms go through it and produce a beautiful friable compost.

A worm farm is an essential part of an organic food garden.

The young chicks meet the old chooks

December 11, 2014

The New Girls have been in residence for four weeks now and they’re 16 weeks old. It was time they met the Old Girls and got their pecking order sorted out.

Up till now, they’ve been separated by a single wire panel in the corridor that connects the two runs. I decided to lift it and see what happened as they got up close and personal.

I got the hose ready to damp down any vigorous behaviour from Cheeky and Molly and slowly lifted the barrier. C and M wandered into the corridor, scanning this interesting new territory for edible goodies. The New Girls took one look at the two huge encroaching monsters with bright red wattles and combs and retreated to their run at the far end.

I was surprised that Cheeky, who’s been top of the pecking order all along, wasn’t interested in showing the newbies who’s boss. She was more interested in scratching up the new ground. Molly, on the other hand, went right into their run and helped herself to their food. They had plastered themselves against the wall in the furthest corner, aghast at the intrusion. Molly ran at them, with wings flapping, and there was a spot of panic with squawking chooks flying every which way, till I gave Molly a squirt from the hose and quietened everything down.

After that it was pretty much OK. Molly and Cheeky eventually went back into their run, Molly to sit on the nest and Cheeky to have a feed, and the New Girls took the opportunity to sneak up into the main playground area and have a look around. I sat on the nearby seat and watched as they investigated every nook and cranny, with eyes goggling and necks craning. I was happy that their curiosity overcame their fear of the other two. Later in the afternoon, they’d managed to get right up into Molly and Cheeky’s run and were having a look at the amenities there, so it looks like they’re going to fit comfortably into the system. Molly seems to be the most aggressive of the two oldies, but that will settle down in time.

Investigating the sand bath (a covered area that is always dry) :


The New Girls have discovered that Cheeky isn’t too much of a problem and that if they run very fast past her, Molly can be coped with as well.

And I discovered that, unlike a dog, a chook doesn’t respond to the word “NO!”

November update

December 4, 2014

Whenever I see a new variety of potato at the supermarket I generally buy a couple to take home and try. Growing, that is. So back in June I saw the variety Ruby Lou for sale in Coles and bought 3 tubers to plant. I harvested almost 2 kilos in November. The plants were pretty healthy—no sign of late blight, no little nasties attacked them and the majority of the tubers were clear of scab :


I’ll keep some back for replanting and will probably freeze the ones I don’t eat right away.

My first cherries! :


There are just six! I immediately put a net over the plant. It’s only small and has been in a couple of years. There were more flowers but not all of them have set fruit. I’ll really savour these!

Quince futures. They’re covered in a furry down at this young stage. The tree was grown from seed; so easy to do :


I’ll be really interested in these apples :


They were grown from seed from a Granny Smith variety. The tree flowered for the first time this year and has only set 5 fruit. Since apples rarely come true from seed, it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out.

Our local council had its annual hard rubbish collection in November. I put out a small pile of stuff and had a look at my neighbour’s pile to see if there was anything I could rescue.

I scored two 44 gallon plastic drums which will be useful for storing water and a small rabbit-cum-guinea pig hutch in good condition. It might be useful if I ever have a sick chook and want to isolate her from the others :


Although technically it’s illegal to take something from a pile once it goes out on the naturestrip, everyone ignores that and it’s amusing to see the cars and trailers cruising up and down to see what they can pick up. I think it’s great to see what is rubbish to someone being re-claimed by someone else, instead of going to landfill as most of the stuff does. Most of my neighbour’s pile disappeared within an hour or two of him putting it out, so I was lucky to get the drums. I had put out a toaster that had died and someone came and cut off the power cord and left the toaster. I already had a large collection of power cords minus their appliances, so didn’t bother.

For the third year in a row I didn’t put a net over the redcurrants and nothing touched them! I can’t believe it, especially since some of the fruiting stems were right out in the open in full view of the birds! I harvested 2 cupfuls of fruit and that’s not counting the dozens I picked and ate every time I passed the line of bushes. I haven’t done anything with them other than to sprinkle a few on my breakfast cereal each morning :

wednesday 003

Of course the most important happening during the month was the arrival of the New Girls—three 12-week-old Barnevelder pullets from Julie at Country Chooks. They’ve settled in well, after a few hiccups with preferring to roost on the top of the coop instead of inside… :


…but I settled that by shepherding them into the coop and barring the entrance with a wire panel. It only took 3 nights of doing that before they got the idea and started going in by themselves. I’ve allowed them into the 5 x 1 metre long corridor that connects the two runs, but they’re still not able to access the main playground where Molly and Cheeky are. There’s been considerable interest as the 3 newbies meet the 2 oldies at the wire barrier. Molly and Cheeky have never shown any interest in the various wild ducks and pigeons that parade outside their run, not even in the baby wild rabbit that can get in with them through the wire (only while it’s small), but somehow they seem to know that these other feathered things are their own kind. Molly seems to want to be friends, but Cheeky only wants to show them who’s boss. I may keep them apart until the newbies have started to lay. I want them to become attached to their own nest and coop and always return there at night. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble with Molly and Cheeky returning to their own quarters, but I don’t want the New Girls trying to roost in there as well. My nerves won’t stand the kerfuffle if Molly and Cheeky decide to object to that idea!

The cucumelons are growing slowly :


Their tendrils are like fine threads and once the waving tip has grabbed onto something, the tendril forms a tight little spiral to strengthen its hold :


Could that be a tiny flower bud with a tiny baby cucamelon behind it? Yay! :


This Cape Gooseberry came up by itself beside the chook’s playground. It couldn’t have picked a better spot as it will give them some cool shade in summer :


It’s already setting fruits in their papery capsules :


The first of the cherry tomatoes are setting fruits. I’ve never had a ripe tomato before Christmas; maybe I’ll do it this year! :


This is feverfew:


Masses of flowers; I planted it in the hope of attracting bees, but I haven’t seen a single one on it. Instead, there are dozens of tiny flies and wasp-like things:


I have no idea why the bees don’t like it.

I did a head count of the main crop veggie seedlings I’ve put out so far. There are 35 tomatoes; 7 cucumbers; 15 pumpkins and 8 zucchini. Direct sown seeds include beans, carrots, sweet corn, dill and caraway and some more pumpkins and there are leeks and celery sown in the polyhouse for next winter. Three dozen basil seedlings are waiting to go out. I should get something to eat out of that lot!

November saw the beginning of the second year in operation of the solar panels and they continue to be worth their weight in gold. I imported an average of 1.5 kWh per day from the grid and sent an average of 17.3 kWh back to the grid. The panels produced 20.1 kWh per day and the average daily credit to me worked out at $4.13. Overall, for the month I earned a credit of $123.81. If it wasn’t for the heat, I’d wish every day was summer. Imagine earning that much every month and being able to grow tomatoes all year!

We had 53 mm of rain during the month; Melbourne’s average for November is 58 mm. Everything looks green and lush for now, but it won’t stay that way.

Onwards to summer!

Funky chickens are in!

December 3, 2014

I just have to get one of these! :

Funky Chicken


Detective work

December 2, 2014

A few years ago I noticed an unknown plant had appeared in the garden. It was right at the top of the slope above the food forest, on the edge of a narrow strip of indigenous plants. When I first saw it, it was about a metre high.

I left it there, in the hope it might be a seedling fruit tree from my neighbour’s garden over the way, since he has a lot of fruit trees.  Last spring I noticed it had a few small white flowers on it, but didn’t recognise them and nothing came of them. It’s in a very dry spot and gets no water other than rainfall and has to compete with several large wattles and a eucalypt. This spring it must have flowered again, because lo and behold, it has fruits :


Now, it just happened that my small cherry tree flowered for the first time this spring and produced a half dozen fruits :


Could the unknown be a cherry? Nah, that’d be too much to hope for. I don’t even know if cherries can be grown from seed. It’s probably something completely uninteresting like a crab apple. I bet they grow easily from seed, because all apples do.

But I haven’t got a clue what crab apples look like…either trees or fruit. From memory (last year, because I didn’t see the flowers this year), they didn’t look like apple flowers.

Then I thought…if it’s a cherry, it ought to have a single stone like a cherry. If it’s an apple, it won’t have a stone, it’ll have a number of seeds in little cavities.

So I picked one, plus one of my precious cherries (which was ripe anyway) and a baby apple from the Red Delicious. Here they all are…unknown, real cherry and baby apple :


It doesn’t even look like an apple. It doesn’t have the remains of the flower at the base and it has a crease (suture) like the cherry…and it’s shiny.

I cut them all in half :


Yay! It has a single stone! It’s not a crab apple. But is it a cherry?

I Googled and it appears that cherries are relatively easy to grow from seed. I consulted Louis Glowinski (The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia).

Oh, blow it! Cherries are in the Prunus genus. Same as plums. It could be a plum. But why hasn’t it set fruit before? Didn’t it get pollinated? My plums flower and set fruit each year. Why didn’t they pollinate it? Was it waiting for a pollinator? Did my new cherry which just happened to flower for the first time this year pollinate it? Is is really a cherry?

Dunno. But I’m going to protect the fruit from the birds (there are only half a dozen), prune away some of the nearby plants and give it some water and TLC.

And pray it’s a cherry.