Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Welly Weather and Oswald the Uninvited

The rains have finally come and while cyclone Oswald hasn't been a pleasant experience for many people it has brought sweet relief to the parched lawn and increasingly spartan vegie patch.  I can sleep soundly now to the sound of water trickling slowly but steadily into the empty tank, echoing as it splashes into the shallow dregs two metres below.

On hearing the rain would continue for a few days I raced out one morning last week to plant a row of carrot seeds.  I tried this the last time we had a couple of showers but the minimal spatterings of rain preceded the horrid hot and dry spell that was the whole of December and most of January.  Needless to say the little seedlings tried their best and came up in a streak of green only to wither and fade away as the sun baked the soil.  Here's hoping this latest row will revel in the rain.

One high to the low pressure system is that I can wear in my Wellies in the wet.  I'm loathe to make purchases of any kind without due consideration and then some, so it took me until the end of last year's rainy season to decide that I really would have a use for a decent pair of gumboots.  Of course, by then I only had the opportunity (or rather excuse) to use them a couple of times before wet season was over.  Alas, they've since sat for many months waiting for a break in the sunshine.  Now their time has come and I can finally trudge around in them while the tell-tale tan line from my second-hand summer sandals fades away.


I started this post when the rain had just begun.  Since then we've had over 250mm of rain on the weekend alone and the tank is now overflowing with Oswald.  We also lost internet for few days, hence my absence.  Now that I've returned from the dark and lonely world wide webless, I can recount the events of the last few days for you.

Sunday night was my sister's engagement party.  Somehow most of the guests still arrived but unfortunately so did an uninvited guest - ex-cyclone Oswald.  He must have found out he wasn't invited to this party and in true jealous ex style threw a massive tantrum outside the house, thrashing about, howling and hurling things at the windows, doing his best to ruin the fun.  Thankfully he did not succeed and it was only on the drive home that we felt his fury.

Later Sunday night through to the early hours of Monday morning was the worst of the wild weather - the winds were whirling and whipping around the house for the whole night, leaving us lacking in sleep.  Somehow in the midst of it all the cat decided he would catch a pigeon and bring it into the bedroom alive and flapping.  While this was the worst of our worries, the neighbours did not fare quite so well.  A large gum tree came crashing down onto their roof at 2.30am.  Fortunately no-one was hurt but three fences, a couple of water tanks, a washing line, fruit tree, vegie patch and parts of a roof were taken out by the tumbling tree.  Thankfully Monday was a public holiday so hubby was able to give them a hand to cut some branches off the tree and spread a tarp over the roof.

Our overflowing tank has already earnt its keep - one of the water processing plants for the south of Brisbane was damaged in the storm so we are on tight restrictions while it undergoes repairs.  Meanwhile I can still get on with the washing backlog using rainwater courtesy of Oswald himself.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Roaming around Roma St

A double baby shower on the weekend provided the perfect opportunity to check out the gardens at Roma St Parklands despite the heat.  The Parklands opened in 2001 and were developed from an old railway yard on a 16 hectare site.  They also provided a great location for a photos before our wedding reception at the cafe in the parklands.  Aside from the Spectacle Garden which is now called Colin Campbell Place the plantings are subtropical with a great display of variegated foliage with stripes, spots and purples.

Wandering through the subtropical rainforest planting, these palms provided a shady canopy for the underplanting.  I've never been a huge fan of palms but I think this is mostly due to their use as a sole feature plant or so often seeing them uninspiringly strung along a driveway.  (It may also have something to do with their fruit being enjoyed by noisy fruit bats outside my bedroom window for many of my childhood years). Leaving my prejudice behind, the use of palms in the Parklands seemed so natural and made more of a feature of the underplanting, providing a cool dappled light rather than stealing the show.

These prayer plants were arranged in a curved line between two slopes, resembling a stream.  A welcome sight in the heat and lack of rain.

A carpet of native violets
Swan river daisy
Two beautiful native garden fillers 

The glow of this grass caught my eye.  In the midday sun it gleamed like a long exposure photo of a sparkler.

The ginger was enjoying the heat and looking luscious.

Mass plantings of echinacea around the Parklands were islands of colour in the landscape.

Some great examples of hedging.  
Eventually, I hope to have neatly clipped examples like these as my front fence.

These fellows were hogging the limelight.  This one was quite the poser.

I seem to be stalked by the little trains wherever I go - shopping centres, Sydney Botanic Gardens, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers and now Roma St Parklands.  Suddenly they appear behind me, ringing their bell while they trundle around.  Taking a shortcut via a narrow pathway to escape them is to no avail for when I finally relax, thinking I am no longer in their sites, they appear once more from around a corner 
- ding-da-ding!

This dichondra 'silver falls' works well as a tower with the flowers underneath acting like spray off rocks at the bottom of a waterfall.
A striking substitute for a water feature when every drop is precious.
This plaque is in memory of Colin Campbell, in honour of whom a section of the Parklands has now been named .  He was a great inspiration to gardeners of all ages and dedicated his life to it.  
May he rest in peace.

One of my favourite places in the garden is the topiary section.  Although the elephant was trying to regrow its trunk, the giraffe and kangaroo were in fine form and as cute as ever.  I have grand plan of one day having a giant topiary chicken in my garden.

This sculpture fits perfectly into the garden, acting as a three dimensional plant holder, and capturing the curves of the garden in a vertical axis.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Return of the Colliwats

The pumpkins have begun their annual jaunt across a random section of the lawn (or rather dustbowl as it's now becoming with the lack of rain).  This year they've chosen a spot in front of the lillypilly - neatly  managing a crop rotation system all of their own.  
Last year's crop was a little disappointing.  We harvested around 20 pumpkins but most of them rotted very quickly even off the vine and allowed to dry underneath.  This year, one advantage of the dry spell has been that none of the cucurbits have had powdery mildew are looking healthier than ever.  The vigour of the pumpkin vine might also have something to do with it growing in ex-chook run terrain - I'm sure there are plenty of pockets of "fertiliser" around the place.  The vine has started to flower so now comes the wait to see what strange and wonderful form the Colliwat pumpkins will don this year.
The first potential Colliwat of the year

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A tankless task

It seems our turn to suffer the heat has arrived a week after the southern states endured their's.  To make matters worse we've hardly had any rain at all and the rainwater tank is now very near empty for the first time since we purchased it three years ago.  It's hard to imagine that we've gone through 11 500 litres of water plus a little extra here and there with a couple of light showers.  The washing machine has been changed back over town water and although water restrictions have been completely lifted as of the New Year, I can't help but feel guilty pouring potable water onto my plants.  I console myself by bucketing the shower and dish water onto the garden each day and only resorted to tap water for the first time today.  To be honest, I'm quite surprised how well the vegie patch has coped with the heat so far.  So long as they have enough water they perk up as soon as the sun starts to slip westwards.

I'm afraid I'm not as resilient to the sun's heat as my plants so the garden has been quite neglected of late.  Knowing that the tank water would soon run out, I've also been loathe to plant anything new besides corn.  Despite the heat and neglect there have still been a few things here and there to delight the eye, however, so I've captured a few of them for you.  
Storm crocus/Rain lily Zephyranthes candida
The Qld arrowroot (canna edulis) has matured nicely and is the tallest it's ever been .  I've divided it up to go most of the way around the tank to screen it from the heat and make it look a little more appealing.  The tubers make for nice eating roasted.  We haven't tried making flour from them yet.
The verbena are still going strong.  I'll definitely be planting these again. 
I'm not a huge pink fan but a hardy plant that should flower well and not mind a bit of rough treatment from the weather or naughty bantam claws.
This came as a surprise as we've had very little rain and the plants are suffering a bit.  Perhaps it was the dishwater that did it.  It's one of my favourite flowers so I don't mind at all.
The zucchini is having twins!  I've never had much luck with them in the past so perhaps it's making up for it although we haven't had any female flowers out yet.  It seems to be enjoying the new bed in with the corn.
Sweet corn "Golden Bantem"
They are planted in a block but for some reason this one has decided to outdo the rest.  Hopefully we'll still get a good cob out of it.
Alyssum 'Carpet of Snow'
Growing up I used to plant this in my parent's garden and adored the delicate white flowers and the honey scent.  It would spill out over the edge of the garden only to be mowed over by my brother.  Thank goodness I can look back and laugh at the ensuing tantrums.
Asian cabbage of some description - pak or bok choy
Oriental radish - we haven't tried these yet but I can feel a soup or stir fry coming just looking at them.
A winter melon (aka immaculate melon) that sprouted in the macadamia pot - I never put any seeds in and managed to kill both plants that a friend gave me.  Surprisingly the macadamia seems to be enjoying the company.
This was salvaged basil (stalks and roots) from work that has already given us a good crop, died back and is going for round two.  It's planted in our hydroponic system that was given to us by a friend who couldn't take it to her new apartment.  Eventually we plant to turn it into an aquaponic system using the bathtub on top of which it's sitting.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Meet the girls

I thought it was about time I introduced you to my feathered flock.  The "girls" and their cages were given to us as wedding presents three years ago.  Since then they've been providing us with dorky entertainment, fresh eggs far bigger and brighter than any you can buy at the shops and quick vegie scrap recycling services.  Despite becoming what many producers would call too old for productive hens, they are still giving us more than enough eggs despite their age.  

We let them out in their pen every day so they get plenty of room to scratch around, have a dustbath and look for bugs.  They're spoilt for choice when it comes to scraps too - they get our's, the neighbours' and a weekly "Bok Box" from my work.

 Here are the three big chooks aka the big bears who came from a family who could no longer look after them.

Introducing Wheelie. When the chooks first arrived she seemed to be the third wheel of the group.  Now she's the little rascal who gets out on occasion to dig up my seeds.  I'm not sure you can tell in this photo but there is something wrong with one of her eyes.  She seems to be able to see movement and at least shadows out of it but the pupil can't constrict or dilate properly.  It doesn't seem to interfere too much with her eating but it definitely takes her a long time to make it down from the perch - pacing up and down trying to line up the door.  Yet, somehow she can fly through a smaller gap in the top of the fence to get out.  She has been attacked by a dog on two separate occasions and by some miracle come out of both relatively unscathed so perhaps her eye problem is the result of one of these.

This is Hetty Hen, a dumpy Rhode Island Red with impressive drumsticks and an appetite to match as you can tell by the size of her crop in this photo.  Her eggs weigh a good 80g or more and don't fit in the standard sized cartons.   She also has a good eye for any bugs I might throw over the fence.

Gonzo is the larger of the two white chooks (a Leghorn I think) and is the head honcho.  She gets first dibs on food in the morning and dustbaths in the afternoon.  Her comb flops from side to side as she runs toward you.

I've introduced her before but this is Goldilocks (aka the Cluck Monster).  She's a bantam so the three big bears above pick on her a bit, stealing her dustbath and food but never hurting her badly.  I feed her first in the morning before I let the others out to make sure she gets enough to eat and some time to free range unhindered.  She came from an animal shelter so I have no idea how old she is or what breed (perhaps Belgian d'Uccle x something).  She's very sweet and with her fluffy feet she looks like she's wearing pyjamas all the time.  Her eggs are a cute 45g which is tiny compared to the other chooks but scarily nearly the size of "large" eggs from the supermarket.  I'd love her to be a mummy one day as she goes clucky regularly but looks after herself when she is, popping out for food and water at regular intervals before returning to the nest.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

On a roll

The new sourdough starter is about a month old and smells vaguely of yoghurt and yeast.  It works well although I admit I am using a recipe with a little added yeast in the dough so to some it may seem more abomination than artisan.  For those of you who may be crusty conoisseurs, to redeem my rolls I've used honey in place of sugar and a locally grown and processed olive oil rather than butter.  The honey gives it a beautiful flavour which goes equally well with sweet and savoury, especially a slice of ham and some relish.
The remains of the first sourdough loaf
When I return to work I'm not sure how I'll go finding the time to make all our bread from scratch but at the moment our bread maker is in need of a new part for the tin and I'm on holidays so have the time to do all the mixing, kneading, proofing and shaping without the aid of modern technology.  I've also never made a sourdough loaf in the bread maker so I'll have to try out some recipes before I go back to the daily grind.  Let me know if you've got any tried and true recipes.

With only two people in the household who aren't the most consumptive crust chompers it can be hard to get through an entire batch of bread before it starts to go stale so I divided the last dough into two and made  a couple of small cob loaves, putting one in the freezer.  This time round I also remembered to slash the top to help even the rise in the oven (and make it look like a real baker's loaf) but forgot to put some water in a dish in the bottom of the oven to crisp the crust.
The sourdough also makes great English muffins.  They got eaten so quickly I didn't have time to get a photograph.  I did, however, manage to take a snap of the bread rolls before we took them to a party.