Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Nature Strip Makeover - Spectating not Labouring

Oh My, this event has been a long time coming.  I've been hanging my head in shame over the state of our nature strip for years.   It was, at one point, an example of the typical 1950's suburban dream to have every blade of grass under strict control, mowed in the one direction and each blade never ever longer than a uniform few inches, edge whipper snipped to perfection and in front of a picket fence, no less.

Which makes me laugh when i read this blog post that Jessie from rabidlittlehippy forwarded:  Circle of Life

Well the 15 year drought ruined the above for all of us. Our garden went from lush green to brown dirt very quickly when water restrictions prevented any watering and then came the weeds.

A couple of weeks ago Hubby worked very long down in Tasmania and his wage was much larger than normal.  What didn't go into paying the visa off (YEAH!!!!!), or was taken by the taxman (grumble grumble) was allocated by yours truly into getting the nature strip done.  One very large job, which would have taken us a month of weekends to do with shovels, hiring a pickup truck and then a fortune in Chiro or Physio bills to fix our backs, off our very long list of DIY jobs to do.  I tried to have it done while he was away as a surprise and a reward for working so hard but i found you just cant call a tradie and expect them to be available the same week.  DOH!.

Craig to the rescue.  That would be Craig from Edible Gardens.  He being the presenter of many of the courses that i have attended and posted about in this very blog including preserving foods, caring for fruit trees, keeping chickens, and making feta cheese.  Craig is also the Production Manager of the Werribee Park Heritage Orchard  and you can see his goofy mug on Vasili's Garden to Kitchen - Episode 93197.

This program highlighted not only the Orchard but also Craig's espaliered fruit trees in his suburban backyard.  So while i had him on site we did the "garden walk" and we talked about where to plant my future fruit trees (peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries and grape vines). Craig told me today that due to the feedback from his last TV appearance he will soon be doing a regular segment on the show.   Go Craig!!!   I'm sure that one day I'll be able to say "I knew you when"!   Perhaps i should get him to make his mark out their somewhere!

Edible Gardens does landscaping and though he prefers to focus on food producing projects he kindly agreed to help me out with this very non-food producing nature strip.  It has been such an eyesore for so long with several cubic metres of clay hand dug and barrowed from the hard stand area inside the fence to the front strip.  It grew quickly to a large mound and a crop of weeds grew just as quickly over the top.  At the other end was a pile of gravel left over from a concreting project that had also been left and consumed by yet more weeds. I think the local dogs assumed it was a toilet because we seem to have more than our fair share of dog turds out there.  Pity our neighbours.  What were they saying behind our backs?

Psssss! Have you seen their nature strip.  Its a disgrace, they should be ashamed of themselves.  It really does bring the neighbourhood property values down and makes the streetscape atrocious!

Does anyone actually talk like this, or is it only me!!!

And so it began, following of course a full night of rain after two beautiful dry days.  It rained enough to close the local clean fill depot to all traffic and the need for some quick phone work to find another location to dump the soil.  Geoff (note contact details on side of Kanga) luckily got into the Sunshine Depot.   For all my overseas and interstate readers, don't you just love the name of that suburb.  Imagine being overseas and someone asking where you live and you say "Sunshine".  I can tell you there are many parts of Sunshine that don't resemble anything remotely like the images you are thinking of but there are also some good parts, somewhere, I'm told.

Once started i could quickly see why Geoff enjoys his work.  His little Kanga Digger is heaps of fun.  Add some water to clay and its more fun than a funpark.  Those little wheels were full of wet clay and he was spinning on the tiles and sliding with each turn.  Am i paying this guy?

Half our strip is tiled as a permanent car park across the road from a school.  Before Tom got his car it was used and abused by all and sundry and had big holes on either side of the tiled park where cars would run up the neighbours driveway across our strip and then drive off our driveway.  How Rude!  We tried filling the holes but 4WD tyres just kept digging it up.  Around the corner from us they have resorted to putting big boulders in place and one neighbour has actually put short star picket stakes (which i find very dangerous and ugly).

Have you noticed how many drop offs and pickup at schools are done in really big 4WDs that have probably never seen dirt in their lives and the only hill they are going to climb is a speed hump at the supermarket? Anyway, we have fixed their little red wagon as it is now the permanent parking space for Tom's little RAV4.  "That's a 4WD" i hear you shout, YES, but its a itty bitty little one and i can tell you it has seen so much dirt that when we took the rear wheel off the other day, half a paddock fell out and when you give it a wash there is so much dirt in all the crevices of the doors that the water runs brown.  It will take some time and a few more washes to suburbanise it.

Looking very industrial with just the road base.  Topping and compacting to go.   We built the tree box out of  sleepers - it matches the plinth at the bottom of the picket fence.  Very anal, aren't we.  
Is this boring for you all?  Is it like watching paint dry?  Oh well, grin and bear it as its a personal record of a house project.  We tend to do a few of them and we are excited to be spectators on this one instead of the normal work horses.

Now that looks a lot better.   Clean and neat.  All ready for the first dog to walk past and leave a deposit for us to pick up. Gross!    Don't be fooled by all that green on the other strips.  They are all weeds and only look good from a distance.

Both immediate neighbours have been out for an inspection and given the thumbs up.   Now we need to decide what to do about that big pine tree.  It was a foot high when we put it in and it just keeps on getting bigger.  It sucks all the moisture from the front yard and we end up with huge cracks in summer.   I do like that it gives the house balance but its just too big!  What do you think?  Oh, of course all the real gardening takes place out the back with my raised veggie beds, chickens, worm farm, compost and assortment of potted citrus.  Soon there will be fruit but i need to put in some big free standing trellises.  I'll just add that to the DIY list, shall i.

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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Im Back..... So Whats been Happening?

I just received a comment asking me why i had been absent from posting for 12 days.  Goodness, has it really been that long?  I've been busy, what more can i say.   Ive still been a devoted reader and left comments on my favourite blogs but life seems to be rushing by at the moment.

I would like to stop, really i would and i have plans but there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in a day at the moment.  There is of course work, which at this time of the year is well beyond the normal 9-5.  So what's new because that sure isn't.   Well, Ive been scoring big browny points and going for Mother of the Year and teaching my son (16) to drive.   It has been two weeks now and in that time we have been out every day, or should i say night since I'm not home till dark.   So there goes my "Me" time each night and hence no posts.

Tom only has to do 10 hrs of night driving in the 120 hr total he must do but already he has 7 hrs of night driving included in the total of 16 hrs and 44 minutes as of today.  He has been out in storms with pelting rain at night and it hasn't fazed him a bit.    I'm finding that his being Aspie has its perks as he doesn't seem to be nervous at all and in fact he has a air of confidence that enables him to do well.  On the weekend we try new stuff.  Last weekend he went on the freeway and we drove to see Jessie in Ballan (rabidlittlehippy) for milk coffee (cooked on a wood stove to Tom's amazement). This was her first introduction to my Man Child.   With only two weeks driving experience he was doing 110 km an hour on the freeway.  My heart was beating so fast especially when it became dark and it started raining on the way home.   Remember, this is a manual not an automatic gearbox and to make it even more difficult it is a very old 4WD (17yrs) with a clunky gearbox that he has now mastered. He had never sat in a drivers seat until two weeks ago.  Proud Mama.

Today was a trip to Gisborne to the 12 acre property owned by my firm.  I am desperate to get him out of the house and breathing air so we turned up to help with the weekend woodcutting.   Their home is heated by two wood heaters and they chew through the wood but with 12 acres of nothing but trees they just have to go outside and cut what has fallen down.

You know how its all the rage to build hulgelkultur beds with wood under the soil that breaks down over time providing rich organic material in the soil?  Well here i don't have to wait.  There are many trees that are rotting where they stand and you just take a shovel and fill a bag.  I got two big bags to add to my compost and to dig into beds.  Its like black gold.

I didn't get a picture but I also raided their wood heaters ash pile and using a big sieve, Tom and i got another bag of fine ash to add to my little girls (bantams) dust baths and to spread in the straw in their coop.  This helps keep any parasites or bugs off them.  I'm certainly a demanding guest, taking their rotting wood and fire ash.

Of course, none of this comes for free.  We were helping to clean up by picking up lots of smaller fallen branches and building a bomb fire.   All good stuff for teenage boys who spend way too much time on their own playing games and watching YouTube.   He certainly looks like he's having fun.

Later Tom cooked us some sausages and put on a billy of hot water for coffee.  Did i mention that this property is in the hills not far from Mt Macedon and it was so cold that we were breathing steam.  Hard work certainly makes you hungry.

Of course there was a perfectly good two story home less than 50m away with wood heaters, kettles and probably a nice lunch with cake but where is the fun in that.  Nope, Tom and I, and we wrestled Henry into it as well) sat outside in the cold and cooked our own lunch on a fire pit.  More fun than a circus i reckon!

OK, this is where i blow my own bugle.  See that big tree Henry is cutting up a few photos up.  While Tom was off having fun driving around the trees, i rolled those big logs over to the fire and put them on it.  See that one up top, i literally picked it up.  They must have been super sausages because i only had one.  Being extra strong is probably the only advantage of being a big person.

You know i have a great video of this but i have no idea how to insert it.  I can see the clapboard and i get to the point of having this blue box in the post but you cannot click on it and make it go.  OK Blogger experts, help me out.  

As you can see he was having plenty of fun driving around. I had to close my eyes a couple of times as he got a bit close to a few of those trees.  I know who would have fared worst if contact had been made and it would have come out of my pocket to fix.

So there you have it.  This is what has been keeping me busy over the last few weeks.  All my ME time has evaporated.   Tom fell asleep as soon as he arrived home (so much concentration) and I'm already starting to feel the aches all over so I'm popping a pill and taking Tom's lead at 9.30pm.  

Oh and since no one is going to give me one.

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Sunday, 14 July 2013


Nope, not a Ghost, an egg.  Our very first home grown chicken egg from one of our 5 little bantams.

OK, stop laughing.  I know,  I'm a middle aged woman and really, is this event  a reason for me to be jumping up and down and sending photos as high as mid NSW and and low as Hobart in Tas (where Hubby is at the moment) and then blogging about it? You know what, laugh away, i don't care.   This little eggs means that my girls have settled in and feel comfortable enough to produce an egg.  It means that they are healthy and happy and i am one more step along the road.

The brown one is a shop bought egg - not a bad size from such little girls.  
I truly was beginning to wonder about them.  Just like my dog doesn't know he is a dog, they don't seem to know that they are chickens.  They do not eat kitchen scraps. Seriously,  Ive tried fresh spinach leaves from my garden and veggie peelings.  I've even taken broccoli stalks and cut them into tiny bite size bantam treats and they were still all there at the end of the day.  I have left the gate open to what should be a chicken nirvana of green grass, compost heap and veggies.  I even got desperate and hosed them out of their yard (while i was cleaning it), blocked their path back in and do you know what they did?  Stood for hours on the concrete under the line and looked at everything.  They would not go onto the grass.  When i picked them up and put them on the other side of the yard, they gravitated towards the concrete on the other side and spent the day pooping all over it.  At 4.30 pm the alarm clock must have rung and they toddled off as fast as their little legs would carry them, across the grass, without stopping to scratch or find bugs, and put themselves to bed. Honest, i could run my clock by these girls.  4.30 pm everyday.

Lacy, the grey one looks like she has an old ladies gown with a bustle.  Funny as when she runs.

A friend suggested they might prefer protein in the form of bugs and worms to veggies but they don't seem very enthusiastic diggers which is typical of this breed.  The garden bed in their run looks pretty unscathed except for small patch where they dust bathe.

One possible solution might be what i call "Chicken Crack".    They love this stuff and it is always polished off first before anything else.  None of it is left.  The sparrows (by the hundreds) have to be content with the laying pellets as that's all that's left.

Chicken Crack
So tomorrow they are going on Crack rations.  A friend suggest 3-4 tablespoons a day each (thanks Bronwyn).  Trouble is, ole bossy boots Molly would take the lot.  She is such a meany to the others.   I know, i  know, pecking order.

At least today, they produced an egg. Identity crisis is over for at least one of them.

Do you think i should i start an egg count on the side of my blog?  LOL  Do bantam eggs get half a count?

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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Ants and Aphids - You Scratch my Back and I'll Scratch Yours

Seems a fairly simple arrangement doesn't it.  It's one that's called a symbiotic relationship and if we could all just get along like these two insects then the world would be a happier place.

At a recent workshop by Sustainable Gardening Australia to launch our council's booklet called Home Harvest, Helen from SGA kept us all in stitches as she went through her very entertaining presentation on sustainable organic gardening.  You know you have reached your comedic peak when very polite Asian gentlemen go from polite giggles behind their hand to laughing uproariously like everyone else.

As usual, its not the structured presentation that you hear all the good bits.   Its the "in betweens", the conversation over cupcakes and the questions and answers that came fast and openly throughout the 5 hrs.  So during a discussion on the need to water our gardens during winter and create biodiversity to allow nature to take care of nature, Helen asked the question.  "Do we have ants in our garden"?  Well Yes, i actually do but what has that to do with moisture?  Well, here's the drum.  There is no such thing as a low water veggie patch or fruit trees for that matter.  They can be made more drought tolerant or water aware but if you don't water them then the plants will be weakened and be open to predators and disease and the harvest will lack flavor.  That's it.  No way out of it, you must water your garden.  All year.  Here is the big 3 - Airate your soil by forking the soil, use gypsum powder regularly (for those of us who live on clay flats), water deeply and mulch, mulch, mulch. While you are at it, throw in some mushroom compost from Soilworx (Hoppers Crossing and Deer Park).  This is an unpaid advertisement.  It really is good stuff and you might get the odd mushroom popping up.

The most common evidence of  lack of moisture in your garden will be the presence of ants followed by an outbreak of aphids.  Hello! That would be my veggie patch last season.  Aphids everywhere.  I didn't really notice the ants as they weren't the ones chomping away at my first ever crop.  I can tell you that they were there anyway because where there are aphids, there are ants, working away together to destroy all your hard grown produce.  What a team.

Ants don't do anything for fun.  There is no fun for ants, its all work work work.  So when you see them very busy running up your trellises or up your trees and veggies they are usually taking baby aphids that they look after in their nests in the ground, holding them in their pincers, to deposit them on the new fresh growth.

So what's in this relationship for the ant?  Its called honeydew and it is excreted by the aphid and used as food by the ants.  Honeydew is like crack for ants.  They cannot get enough of it. So they not only transport the baby aphids to the their food but they will protect them by fighting off all aphids predators.  This honeydew also causes Sooty Mold which looks like dusty charcoal on your plant.

Ant on Crack - Honeydew
Sooty Mold

There is an old wives tale that if we see ants running around like mad that it is going to rain.  Its true.  They cannot build their nest where it is wet.  They have to move.
Lightbulb Moment - 1
You mean, if i keep my soil moist, i wont have ants which means the aphids wont have free transport and their own personal security team and therefore our friends of the garden (ladybugs etc) can eat the aphids and Ta Da, problem solved?  You got it.

Ants will tell you whats going on in your garden.  They are like the canary down the mine shaft.  If you manage the ants you can get rid of a lot of common problems in the garden.

Tansy plant
If you have ants that are persistent, the herb TANSY is a great ant repellent.   Grow it in a big pot (as it like to get away) and pull the leaves off and mix with your mulch. Particularly in pots that dry out quickly. This is an example of nature helping nature.  We just get in the way and create unsustainable environments that stop Mother Earth doing her thing.

I went to the big green warehouse (inside joke) and asked for Tansy.  They didn't know what it was.  I explained what my Horticulturalist/Soil Scientist presenter extraordinaire told me and they just looked at me blankly.  Hence, i am still looking for a Tansy plant.

Lightbulb Moment - 2
Lightbulb Moment 2

Another way to get rid of aphids is to squish them and drop them on the ground in the bed.  The dead aphids will tell the other aphids that this area is death valley and they will move on.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

Hint-  This smell of death also works for possums.  Hang a stocking sock in a tree or from rafters filled with blood and bone.  They respond to smell.  This also works with Lapsang Souchong Tea (chinese herbal).  Apparently it stinks so brew up a strong brew and spray it along the access path (along top of fence, or tree branch).  Apply either method for 4-5 weeks and their habit will be broken and they will go elsewhere.  Where? Who cares.  

Hint 2 - Bats are difficult to get rid of but try hanging CD's as it affects their sonar.  It bounces off the CD and affects their depth perception. Heavy Metal works best i am told.  Personally, i would put the country and western ones out (if i had any) as they are not much good for anything else.  (Just my opinion - its MY blog)

I did tell you that all the good stuff comes out all over the place.  Such a wealth of knowledge.  I guess if you run a nursery, frequently do presentations to budding gardeners that propose all manner of questions and can back that up with a few degrees, then you are going to know some stuff.

Other Methods of Aphid Control

Lace Bug Control                     Lacewing PDF

Check out link as you can buy punnets of Lacewing Eggs that you release at the beginning of the growing season.  I'm not sure if introducing a bug that's not normally in your environment is a good idea but check it out.  I am not an authority on this subject, so Google it.

Ladybugs - there are over 400 varieties of ladybugs in Australia and they eat aphids voraciously.  So how do you get ladybugs or lady beetles in your garden?  Do not use pesticides in the garden and provide them with plenty of food like flower nectar and pollen.  The presence of aphids will keep them there.

Rubbing them off with fingers (See Lightbulb Moment 2 above) or squirting them off with water.

Soap Sprays - use horticultural soap or soap made of vegetable oils.   Helen was adamant that the sprays that many make up with dishwashing detergent and garlic should never be used as they contain surfactants (the degreaser element in detergents) that harm worms and other good bugs that breathe through their skin.

Lime Sulphur for serious outbreaks.  Please Google.   PH of 11  - so be very careful.

So, there you have it.  All i know about ants and aphids.  Though i don't want either in my garden you got to love the way nature works.

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Monday, 8 July 2013

A Mothers Gift to her Girl Child - Happy Birthday Emma!

Today, over on Simply Sue's Simple Diary, Sue shared a blog post by the most amazing photographer and woman.   If you have a girl child or just a woman who appreciates the effort that other mothers go to to enrich their daughters lives, please click on the following link

Not Just a Girl  

Thanks Sue for sharing link - This made me smile.  

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Thank You Readers

Thanks to my readers for pushing me over this benchmark I never thought i would reach and certainly not in under six months.  I didn't really think about whether or not i would be successful (what ever that is) at blogging.  I didn't aim to rake up numbers.  I was just having fun taking all the thoughts running around my head, giving them a shuffle and putting them down, somehow.   I must be a frustrated writer as it seems so natural and effortless. 

This cartoon is too close for comfort!!!

Success for me is not about the numbers though i will admit it gives me a thrill.  Its about the connections i make through your comments and the comments i make on other blogs.  It feels a little like you're my folks, my small town community that i miss, the family members that are far away.  We don't always agree,  we can have periods where we go MIA, some things we are passionate about and others its take it or leave it but always we appreciate each other and value that we are there for each other.  I've shared your joys and your sorrows and in return I've received the same.  I've met some of you and made new friends. 

I know, if i tried, i could take this little blog somewhere but I'm not really interested.  When i told Hubby I'd reached 10K he said "Congratulations, can you make money out of it"?  Not interested, sorry Darl.

My Goodness, when i was looking for an appropriate image to entertain you, so you didn't fall asleep mid post, i was bombarded with advertising on how to do it.  It really is a growing market.  I feel like a need a shower!

I've read that not sticking to a theme is blog suicide yet I've covered personal and family milestones, veggie gardens, self sustainability, jokes, mechanical advice, and workshops.  All those things make up my life and  who i am.  I think i would bore myself if i only ever spoke about the one thing or theme. 

I don't have a long list of drafts in the ready.  Apart from some of the workshops I've done that would have ended up "War and Peace" if i hadn't broken them up into parts, every post has been a one off written on the fly and was about what was happening to me at the time.

I know that these stats will probably only interest me but it is my journey im recording.  Again, thank you readers.

Followers             22      Thank you     Who on earth are all the others (or you are very busy 22)?

Posts                    85      Really!   I always had a lot to say, hey Mum! 

Period of Time      30 Jan 2013 - 8 July 2013

Most Popular       Emoticons, Text Messages, Shorthand & Acronyms       494    
                            Must be because of the title, ie google searches

Popular Theme     Workshops done through Shoestring and Edible Gardens
                            See Labels for veggie garden and Self Sustainability

Average Views     Between  35 and 100 per post

Worst Post           20/20 International Cricket      12      My Second Post
                            It wasn't that bad and was really about a family outing.
                            Oh Well, i learnt to stay away from sport.


United States


"The Boy's" are wanting the computer for a game so I'd better fly.

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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Watch Out World - Tom's On The Move

Literally, for on Friday Tom successfully passed his Vic Road's Test and now has his Learners Permit to drive.  

Tom with Permit - his actual license will come in two weeks with photo ID
 As a Mum i was so nervous that:

A. he wouldn't pass and i would have to deal with it, and
B. that he would pass and i would have to deal with it.

Being an Aspie has its advantages at times.  He doesn't seem to get as nervous as others when approaching challenges.  He kinda takes it as it comes and breezes through.  Why should he worry, he has a mother that will do that for him.  I was going crazy telling him to study everytime i saw him in the preceding week.  I must have driven him nuts.  He just rolled along, saying "its OK mum", "it will be alright".   I gave him a lecture as he went in to take his time as he had 40 minutes to answer about 32 questions , made him take a bottle of water, and when he popped out 10 minutes later, i practically melted on the chair.  Oh Dear - i was preparing for a full on "meltdown" but i thought it would be his not mine.

Me not Tom
Once i got the big thumbs up, i was so so proud of him and even better, he was proud of himself.

Unfortunately i had to race back to work after the morning off and so he had to wait until today to go for his first drive on suburban roads.   I had taken him to a car park last Sunday so he could get used to the clutch and gears.  He/we wanted a "manual" endorsement on his license so that he would be open to more job opportunities rather than being limited to driving automatics.

And so, given that we both have automatic vehicles, Tom has his FIRST CAR!!!!!

Its a RAV4 and it belonged to my sister.   I can remember my niece learning to drive in it and i think my sister (having the patience of Job) has taught many young teenagers to do the same.  Being slightly higher up with very good vision is certainly an advantage.   Its done quite a few KM's but has been well maintained.

Hubby and Tom have bought the service manual for this model and have already, together, changed the headlights to more efficient globes, replaced the hose for the squirty bottle (im very technical) and have poured over the engine and planned its makeover. Apparently its a pretty simple engine and will be good for Tom to learn basic mechanics but i think their priority is the stereo upgrade.  There is a spare sub-woofer from one of Hubby's ex-cars lurking in the garage that seems to be destined for the RAV.  Sorry neighbours but now its our turn - revenge is sweet!

The first night it arrived he washed all the "country" dirt from it so thoroughly he was still at it at 10pm and we had to set up some spot lights.  Why is it that when i bribed him to do my car it took about 30 minutes and was less than perfect?   This vehicle was "so country" that the roof has to be resprayed as it only has undercoat on it from recent repairs due to GOATS dancing on top.

On several occasions, he has gone out to "His Car" and sat in it listening to the radio.  He keeps saying, "I just cant believe it Mum".   It's so so cute, but i do remember doing a similar thing myself! I must remember that 16 year old boys are not cute!

Today we both took him for separate drives around the streets near our home.   He is quietly confident and is taking it slower than i expected.  He has been telling me he could drive for years based on his thorough experience in driving go-carts and clocking too many hours to count on driving games.  I kept telling him that real cars don't bounce off walls and there is such a things as road rules. 

Still, with 2 hours down (my that is a long time when you are driving around your own house avoiding main roads) and 118 to go before he gets out on his own with P plates, we are going to be spending alot of one on one time together and that can only be a good thing.  Stay tuned for our exploits when we venture out of the suburbs and go road tripping.  A trip "home" is around 5 hrs so that's 10 that will be in the bag. Remind me to pack an ipod with noise cancelling headphones. 

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