Thursday, 5 March 2015


It took 18 long months for our bananas to arrive.  They are certified disease free from a specialist banana nursery up in Tully that tissue cultures bananas for commercial and home growers.  Due to the significance of the banana industry in QLD, only bananas other than Cavendish can be grown at home and a permit must be sought from Biosecurity.  The recent case of Panama disease in a QLD plantation highlights the importance of obtaining healthy disease-free bananas.
Banana tubestock ready to hit the chook pen. 
To the left is Goldfinger and on the right is the Dwarf Ducasse

Having successfully tested them out at our previous place, we kept with Goldfinger (yes I sing it in my head each time) and Dwarf Ducasse.  The creaminess of home grown bananas beats anything you can buy from the shops.

The plants take 12 months or more to fruit for the first time so we're in for a bit more of a wait at our new property to see things through. Still, we'll have fruit off the bananas before the citrus so we can't complain too much.

Besides the fruit, bananas are an excellent plant to have in the garden.  They love a lot of water and nutrients so they're great in the chook pen where I dump our scraps and lawn clippings for the girls to have fun digging in and turning into compost.  The compost and the chook poop in turn feed the bananas which then grow to provide plenty of shade for the girls.  A win-win situation for the bananas and chooks.

The only drawback of having the bananas in the pen with the chooks has been protecting them while they're getting established.  For some reason the current batch of chooks seem to enjoy feasting on banana leaves.  I anticipated their desperate desire to dig up the bananas by planting them in boxes; however, the cheeky girls just hopped right in and scratched away before figuring out the leaves were rather tasty too.  The next counter-measure was to put old barbeque grills over the boxes which was successful in stopping the scratching but as soon as the plants recovered enough to produce leaves that poked though the grates, the chickens discovered their new buffet.  After a fair amount of procrastination and utterance of many a proverbial, we constructed these somewhat flimsy but effective covers that allow enough light and rain through to keep the bananas happy and shielded from belligerent beaks.  An added bonus is that we can leave them in place over winter to protect from any chance of frost damage too.

One of the cheeky culprits

Banana slowly starting to recover its leaves

Aside from the obvious benefit of a nice big bunch once a year and excited chickens, bananas have a few other useful attributes.  As the stem grows, some of the outer leaves die off to make room for the new ones.  These can be chopped up and used as mulch around the chook pen or in garden beds.  They can be a little waxy though so mix it up with something else for mulch.  Once fully grown the plant will produce the long-awaited fruit.  Before the bunch matures the flowers provide a great source of food for birds and native bees.  The petals from the bell can be dried, re-soaked and stitched together to make bags and water carriers.

The fruit then slowly form, gradually curling their fingers up, and if you forget to bag the bunch on time it provides a great source of food for local possums, bats and other night munchers.  If you remember to bag them and abundance of yummy fruit ensues and you can even play a certain secret agent with the fruit of the Goldfinger for extra fun before eating.

Once you or some other hairy mammal has consumed the fruit, the main stem can be cut down.  The outer parts of each section of stem can be cut in long strips, dried, soaked again, then made into string (a process which is also useful as depilation if you haven't used that old contraption known as a razor on your thighs in a while).  Meanwhile the rest can be chopped up and used as mulch in the garden or as more compost for happy chickens.

Lifecycle complete!  If you have any other interesting uses for various parts of the banana feel free to leave them in the comments.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

From dripping with sweat to drip irrigation

We've had a scorching heat wave over the last week or so which shows no sign of relenting.  Nearly 40 degrees in October is just ridiculous but unfortunately sets precedent for the long summer ahead.  To top it off we've only had 2.8mm of rain this month, leaving the grass crispy underfoot and tree leaves sagging in exasperation or just quitting altogether.

Having placed the orchard right at the front of the property to provide screening from the road and room for expansion, the thought of irrigating it didn't feature too high in my plans.  While that was fine over winter and the start of spring, bucketing water 200m each way, every second day during the current heat was not appealing in the least, let alone a feasible option unless I was planning to construct myself a yoke.  Irrigation was fast turning into a regular irritation.

The IBC.  You can also tell how dry the grass is (or lack thereof) in this shot.
After much deliberation, we decided a yoke was probably not the most appealing option.  We finally bit the bullet a couple of weekends ago and bought an IBC (international bulk container) second hand from a local as water storage for the drip irrigation system.

Our current pump is overkill for our needs (it came with the house and is technically a firefighter pump) so we attached some new irrigation pipe to another from one of the pump's four outlets up to the IBC to fill it and installed a float in the tank to cut off the flow once it was full.  It felt like we were doing the chicken dance with the number of elbows involved in attaching it all and creating the appropriate bends in the pipe.  I probably looked like I was doing the chicken dance too, hopping from one foot to the other trying to keep the ants from dismantling the flesh on my feet.  From the IBC the drip system is gravity and water pressure fed via a standard garden hose connected to the drip lines (yet more elbows and a T piece for something different).  It was surprisingly easy to set up, bar a gender mix up on one of the fittings, and it was done in one afternoon.

 We've only got two rows in the orchard so far.  The trees are lapping it up and are even starting to put on new growth after just two deep waterings with the drip irrigation!  The tank empties surprisingly quickly but at least the water isn't running off down hill and being wasted.

New growth on the mandarin which dropped most of its leaves in protest at the change in temperature.

Once we add more rows the water will be spread more thinly but hopefully the soil will have improved more by then to retain the water.  We're planning to build up the soil in between the plants in more of a swale style, then adjust the irrigation to be on the uphill side so it soaks into the mounds.  When we get a wet summer again this should also help the heavy rain to soak in and down rather than strip any more of the topsoil and silt up the dam.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Springtime at Colliwat

Spring has been gaining momentum over the last few weeks.  The vegies are all producing nicely and flowers are coming into bloom left, right and centre.  Some unusual spring rain about a week ago really got everything growing.  Here are some photos of what's currently in the potager and some of the flowers that are out.  More flowers are in bud so we will have some more for you very soon.  

Borlotti beans - no beanfly so far
Broccolini flowers
First broccoli

Purple vanda

Peas - took a while to get started
Root crops - schallots, garlic, beetroot, swedes and carrots

Tall marigold (?Mexican)

Strawberries from runners transplanted from Black Ram Lodge

Sunday, 17 August 2014


We finally made it to Jerry Coleby-Williams' Open Garden in "boring old Wynnum" last weekend.  We've been meaning to go for years but never got around to it.  As it turns out we helped set a record for the biggest ever Open Garden for Queensland.  As you can imagine it was quite busy with so many people packed into 700m2 and we had to shuffle around the garden in a long line for the most part; however, it was still an enjoyable day.  We also got to listen to Jerry talking for a bit about how he manages the garden.  The lack of vacant space was impressive and it's obvious he gets everything he possibly can out of his space whether it be food for himself, pollen and nectar for the bees or biodiversity and habitat, and even a bit of ornamental gardening.  

Here are some photos from the day:


The popular and lush cocoyam

The bees love this flowering turnip
First fleet lettuce - many salad days ahead

Give me a home among the...pandanus

Carpet of nasturtium

The gorgeously scented Rondeletia now Rogiera

Still room for some ornamentation using chives as a border

Sugar palm - no sumatran tiger or rhino habitat lost here

Sunday, 18 May 2014


We had already had a couple of eggs from the girls this morning so I wasn't expecting anything when I went to put them to bed tonight.  Spying a tan coloured blob in the half dark I put my hand in to retrieve it.  I quickly retracted it when what I touched felt more like a fruit jube lolly than an egg.  Taking a closer inspection to confirm that the cold slightly moist and squishy feeling thing wasn't a different sort of product from the chicken vent, I saw that it was a soft shelled egg.

The yolk in the centre can just be made out with transillumination
If you haven't come across one before there are several reasons chickens can throw a soft shelled egg:
  • Lack of calcium or another dietary deficiency
  • Advancing age of the chicken (particularly as mine are ex-battery hens bred for a short period of high production)
  • Heading towards off-season or moult
  • Fast transit through the oviduct (can occur if the first egg was overcooked, then the next egg was laid the same day)
  • Unseasonal hot temperatures
Having said all that a one off isn't necessarily such a bad thing.  Besides, they look pretty all lit up.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Potager Progress Part 2

We've been busy about the garden trying to complete and plant up the potager  beds before winter sets in.  Autumn is one of the main growing seasons here but there has been disappointingly little rain this year; although that did buy us some more time to get going on the beds.

After digging the top main bed, we've noticed the feeder roots from the gumtrees have responded by coming up through the new topsoil and sucking away all the moisture.  Luckily we hadn't done the rest of the beds before finding this out, which means that we've gone with no dig beds layered with cardboard, sugarcane or soybean mulch and mushroom compost with composted cow poo for nutrients.  We had enough cardboard left from furniture packaging to complete three main beds and one of the side beds that will shortly be planted out with strawberry runners.

Here's the run down of the beds:

Bed 1: Legumes
- Peas "Greenfeast," Dwarf beans, Snowpeas, Broad beans, with succession Peas "Greenfeast," Climbing beans, Snowpeas
Bed 2: Brassicas
- Kale "Red Russian," Red Cabbage, Broccoli, Wombok
Bed 5: Cucurbits and Corn
- Yellow zucchini
Bed 6: Solanaceae
- Yellow Roma tomatoes, French Marigold, Eggplant, 2 transplanted volunteer tomatoes from around the rest of the garden

See here for more details on crop rotation.  Autumn seems the most appropriate time for rotation so far.
Over half way complete!
The seeds are starting to come up in all the beds and today marked the first succession sowing of peas and beans as the first lot of peas poke their heads above the soil.  Unfortunately some of the seeds haven't come up which is most likely due to a couple of reasons: 1st: they're old and 2nd: they've been stored in the shed which does get hot during the day (they've since been moved to the laundry).  Here's hoping they just need a bit more time.

We finally had some very decent rain last week with a couple of stormy days with heavy falls bringing back the Colliwat Cascades, filling the tanks and creating a few ruts in the driveway.  The cold snap has arrived this week with all the mornings since Sunday being 7 degrees.  Hopefully we're not too late getting things planted.

View from across the dam

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Upcycle Projects 2: Chalkboard

You'd think you'd be spared the copious amounts of packaging that simple purchases always bring when a larger purchase is involved.  On the contrary; it seems to come festooned with even more!

The arrival of our last couch was accompanied by two large pieces of ply and a van full of cardboard from ours and other deliveries.  Although the delivery drivers were more than happy to take it all away, pondering its future potential meant that we insisted on filling our garage with even more clutter that would one day find its second life.

After this episode, our garage was evolving ever faster into that thing that every garage is: a reverse black hole. Everything that went in seemed to loom larger on travelling through the wormhole that is the roller door.  The cardboard packaging was threatening to engulf one side of the garage, bolstered by none other than our beguiling ply boards.  Something had to be done.

The idea had struck me long before, and upon a reluctant excursion to the big green warehouse we remembered to buy what would make the idea reality: a paintbrush and some chalkboard paint.

An undercoat and two topcoats later on a sunny weekend, and the project was complete.  Being the garage, a frame wasn't really necessary to improve the aesthetics but may well be added later if the wormhole should produce some suitable timber offcuts.  Hanging was easy too as it slots in nicely behind the steel.

The ultimate garden planner

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Upcycle Projects 1: Salvaged Mirror

The 'mother-in-law,' as she refers to herself, brought down a mirror one visit that had been salvaged from someone's renovations and somehow wound itself into her garage.  She has a knack for salvaging having grown up with very little spare.  Her thrift magnet is set to super-strong and has so far attracted items such as this mirror, our hand-me-down ride-on lawn mower, spinning wheel and an array of garden tools which were otherwise destined for the dump. The mirror was initially intended for the bathroom at our old place but never hung itself; instead it sat in the garage waiting for a brighter calling.

One day, after staring at the ugly plain rear wall of the garage one too many times, eyes mesmerised into a trance by the repetitive corrugations, I decided a feature of some sort was needed to distract me from it.  The only other option was to carry a large stick with which to beat my head to break the trance.  Figuring I might need the brain cells at a later date I opted for the visual distraction technique. Open curtains (not skull) for stage entrance: Salvaged Mirror.  

We hung the mirror from a board and secured it to the wall so it wouldn't bash around in the wind and make one final grand finale by shattering into a thousand pieces on the ground.  The angle was adjusted so that when you stand in the garden up the slope you can't see yourself - just a reflection of the garden below.  The view is still a little boring but should improve as the garden grows and blooms.

Also in the pipeline is to grow a feature around the mirror to improve the aesthetics and perhaps add a water feature at the bottom provided the reflected light doesn't play too much havoc.  For now it's certainly still better than staring at a plain old boring steel wall.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Rain glorious rain - shall we rename to Colliwat Cascades?

After a protracted dry spell which saw our tanks empty and our dam shrinking so low we had decided to stop watering the vegie patch for fear of desiccating our native fingerlings, we were blessed with two days of solid rainfall.  Unfortunately our rain gauge is still attached to the roof of our old place so we don't have an accurate measurement of the amount or rain.  According to the weather maps we had between 100 and 150mm of rain over the two days.  

It's certainly been a long time (and only the second) since we saw the dam overflowing.  This was the most spectacular overflow yet and we were also able to witness the neighbours' dams cascading over and into our dam for the first time.  Even when flooding is in the back of your mind, the sound of rushing water is so fulfilling.

Overflow from our dam
The spillways for our neighbours' dams

It was also a good opportunity to find out how our place would flood.  We were told by the neighbours that the previous owner had renovated the driveway and put in a stormwater drain for overflow as the driveway was flooded and washed away in previous heavy rainfall and flooding.  They'd had to make do by parking at the front of the property to ensure they could get out and the driveway had been patched up with a couple of planks so as not to get bogged in the mire.  We're certainly grateful for the improvements.

Here are some afternoon before and morning after shots of the dam showing the near instant filling:

As you can see even where I was standing for the first photos is now covered in water.

We were fortunate to have a couple of sunny days after the rain to allow things to green up, shoot off and soak in the rain.  Today the rain has come back but is falling gently at the moment.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The bee's knees of candles please

We were buying honey at our local markets quite some time ago and noticed they had blocks of beeswax too.  Putting on my best butterfly lashes at my less-inclined-to-impulsively-buy-a-lump-of-wax other half, we left with our kilo of honey and an almost equivalent weight of beeswax.

Many months and a different house later I finally donned those fluttering lashes again and made my case for some wick and a mould.  You see it would be cheaper than buying a premade beeswax candle. (Luckily the counter argument: we never buy candles anyway, didn't come into play.)

Eventually a weekend came around that was clearly meant for candle making.  Out came the gathered supplies.  A quick search on the methods from the mould supplier and hunt around for makeshift clamps to hold everything together and we were on our way to the finished product.  To be honest the hardest part about the whole project was cutting the block of beeswax.  We ended up heating a knife repeatedly, although perhaps a wire would have been better.

Melt the wax in a double boiler or bain marie.  For the amount of wax refer to your mould supplier.
Fingers crossed the clamps would prevent leakage. 
You can see that top up was needed during the curing process but
we'd exhausted our wax-slicing energies at this point. 
Patience was needed over the next couple of days while the wax set.

Next time we need to make sure the seams line up a little better.  In the final photo you can see how the two edges of the mould were offset.  A full silicone mould wouldn't have this problem either.  The only other mistake was not topping up the mould while the candle was setting.  It sank a little in the base and a small crack opened up as well.  After our efforts at cutting the block for the first lot of wax we weren't about to tackle it again to top up.  Fortunately the crack is on the bottom where it doesn't spoil the final finish.  

The final candle.

In any case the candle sat on the table for a couple of months smelling divine without even being lit.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Summer spice

Although we haven't been especially successful with growing ginger here so far due to the poor soil quality and lack of rain, there has been a beautifully fresh supply at our local green grocer.

The hot summer weather has driven the taste buds to crave the refreshing tang of ginger beer.  So much so that my more muscular half was inspired to set forth into the dark depths to forage among the carefully concealed spring-loaded traps and to peer into jars filled with mysterious substances, in order to collect the elusive ingredients and tools required to create a supreme summer elixir. (Read: managed to locate and navigate the pantry and kitchen cupboards.)  A brave venture indeed.

Quest completed, it was time to conjure the magic revealed by one of the pioneers of the homesteading movement: Rhonda Hetzel.  After many consultations with the predominant search engine her recipe for ginger beer was the most simple and well...Down to Earth really.  For anyone who has previously made sourdough, the process will seem very familiar.  I've written a summary of directions based on Rhonda's recipe.  Please see her blog post on making ginger beer for more detailed instruction. 

Ingredients for the beverage

The Plant:
Ginger, water, sugar

The Beverage:
Blossoming plant, more water, more sugar and some lemon juice

The Booze:
As above but add some brewer's yeast

The Process:
Sterilise a jar

Make the plant with 1 tbs each of ginger (fresh and finely grated or dried and powdered) and sugar (use raw to add an extra dimension) in 1 1/2 cups of water boiled and cooled

The Plant

Cover with a loose-weave cloth to guard your brew from beasties.

Feed it the same quantity of ginger and sugar daily for a week or so (ours took a bit longer to mature), stirring every day.  You'll be able to smell it when it's ready.

Once bubbling away strain off the liquid through muslin or cheese cloth. Squeeze out every last drop.

Use the solid bit with more water and a clean jar for the next batch.

Mix the liquid part with 4L of water (boiled and cooled to get rid of the chlorine or stood overnight), 2 cups of sugar and juice of 2 lemons.

Bottle and let the fizz get going again for a couple of days on the bench in plastic or glass with loose catches so you don't get little bits of glass embedded in your kitchen doors and ceiling, or blow a hole in your wall the day before a house inspection - it might scare off your new kitchen assistant and you'll have to explain your 'renovations' to the landlord.

Refrigerate when it tastes just right and enjoy.

The kind of fizzer you want - note catches in anti-explode mode

Saturday, 11 January 2014

It's raining cats and wasp nests?

We had a rather violent storm (or rather convergence of four storms) here on Monday afternoon that dumped a good amount of much needed rain.  The bottom floor of the hospital where I work flooded, we nearly lost power to the building and a couple of people in the community were even struck by lightning.  

Working late, it was night time when I was finally able to drive home but fortunately well and truly after the storm had passed.  It wasn't until the next morning that I could survey the damage.  Surprisingly there were only a couple of branches down around the place at home.  We'd had a few storms the week before that must have cleaned off the dead ones from the gumtrees already.  

There was; however, a strange grey hump shape sitting on the lawn.  It wasn't moving so it was either dead or inanimate.  Inching closer I could finally tell it was the nest that had been suspended from the underside of a gumtree branch.  I had hoped it was wild bees but looking at this it's more like a huge wasp nest.  The ants have been having fun exploring it since it made its landing.

The mothership has crashlanded
Close up of the comb

Someone's secret stash of pancakes - saving them for a rainy day