Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall, thanks for the slightly bigger garden. This is Pammy's idea. She spotted this mirror at a local second-hand furniture store, bargained and haggled the price down (atta girl!) and even had the boys from the store carry it up the hill to our place.

Then it was my turn to seal up every joint with silicone sealer, paint the frame with three coats of waterproof clear outdoor furniture sealer, and attach it to the wall of the shed.

Traa daaa! Our new garden-enlarger is now in situ. Pam said "I think 'jaunty' is the right word for that angle." And she's right. We decided to sit the mirror on some rubber blocks to lift it off the ground and take all the weight, and so like the ground, it's not perfectly level. Then we glued the mirror to the wall using a product with the excellent name of Liquid Nails. Hope it works...

The mirror works brilliantly when viewed from the back door. Imagine you're a guest, you wander out through the kitchen towards the seating area under the pergola. You look far into the distance (well, nine metres to be exact) and your eyes are immediately trompe l'oieled into thinking you are surveying a lush green Ponderosa of a property, instead of a little inner-city garden.

OK, that's probably taking it a bit too far, but that's the fantasy. But it does look good, and the reflections will always be of one of the more lushly planted and ever-changing parts of the garden. It might even change what I grow there, making me grow more colour just for the cool reflections.

I don't trust that miracle glue, so I have also discreetly attached some little brackets to the side of the mirror to keep it in place. The mirror is deep under the eaves of the shed. It will cop some rain when it really pours down, but it will be protected from most of the showers that fall here. Hopefully this will be the beginning of beautifully long and reflective tour of duty here in Amateur Land. Great idea, Pam!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Suddenly, nothing much happened

I know that on many occasions I have sung the praises of growing plants from seed, because it's very satisfying fun to do so, but in the interests of fairness and balance, let me kick off this little posting about seeds from the other, grumblier end of the paddock.

Seeds can be frustrating things to work with at times, for various reasons, and out here in Amateur Land I am coming face-to-face with some of those frustrations. Let me explain...

First the good news. The coriander seeds have sprouted. (What's that organic looking brown packet of coriander seeds doing floating in mid-air? Have I discovered levitating seeds? No, it's worse than that. I have discovered Photoshop, and how to make all sorts of dastardly changes to simple, innocent garden photos.) Anyway, back to the seeds...
These are seeds I saved from my coriander plants last year, and they're sprouting at the rate of about 60% good 'uns, 40% duds. Not a bad germination rate for an amateur seed-saver. In fact I'm quite proud of the little dears. I have plenty of seeds left over, and I'll be sowing another batch a month or two from now, as coriander is a much better winter crop here in Sydney than it is a summer crop. Lasts for months in winter, does coriander.

However, that's the first frustration I have with seeds: germination rates. I won't bother showing you the boring little paper pots I have filled with brown potting mix, and no parsley seedlings where there should be parsley seedlings. How about a germination rate of 0%? I know parsley seeds are super-slow to germinate - around three to four weeks is average – but I'm up to five weeks now and not a sausage. Not one! So, all I can do is start again (with a completely different packet of seeds, of course). Next slide please, projectionist!

In the top right corner of this pic you can see the packet of the Shirley poppy seeds which I scattered here about five days ago. My Pammy loves poppies, and in previous years I have grown Iceland poppies for her. This year I'm trying Shirleys, which several keen gardeners have strongly recommended for their better colours. The trick with Shirley poppies is that you really do have to grow them from seed, as they hate being transplanted as seedlings. No worries, I can do that. But that's where I have encountered a few more seed-raising issues. See those bamboo skewers poking up out of the ground? They're to stop the pigeons and doves enjoying a dust bath. Any spare patch of bare, dry earth and they're down there spreading their wings (probably trying to get rid of lice, if the truth be known) and making a mess of my neat seed-sowings. They terminated an earlier sowing of parsley seeds with precisely that habit, and so for my Shirleys and other seeds I'm onto them this time.

This levitating seed packet of parsnips represents another plant which hates being transplanted and must be grown from seed. I'm having another go at parsnips this year, as my home-growns from two years ago were the sweetest, tastiest, tenderest parsnips I have ever enjoyed. While I know it's the cliche to claim that everything home-grown tastes better than the shop-bought stuff, I really haven't found that to be invariably the case. With tomatoes, definitely yes; parsnips, most assuredly yes; freshly harvested herbs, yes; English spinach, yes; potatoes, yes; citrus yes; garlic, yes.

But for vegies such as carrots, leafy greens, beetroot, shallots, cucumbers, eggplants, silver beet, beans and broccoli the real advantage to me is their tenderness and fresh quality, plus the knowledge that they really, truly have been grown organically. This latter group have never tasted especially superior to the high quality shop-bought, fresh equivalent. I just know mine are healthier. But my home-grown parsnips were a revelation in flavour and tenderness. I want to eat them again!

Besides, parsnips aren't a bad looking plant, either. Very nicely green and leafy, and they are part of the garden for a number of months as they slowly grow through the winter. The only problem with getting parsnips started is that even the seed packets suggest you sow the seed thickly, as germination rates are a bit iffy. I can live with that. And I've done the bamboo skewer trick to keep the doves and pigeons away, too.

Here's an evening meal's worth of parsnips harvested last time round. One interesting little snippet about my parsnips is that here in Australia at least there aren't all that many varieties to choose from. By far the most popular variety is 'Hollow Crown', and it has been around for generations. It's a bona fide Heritage or Heirloom vegie, but all the major seed suppliers have it too, and it's not marketed as such. The best Yates Seeds (the biggest seed company in Australia) can do is call it a 'traditional favourite'.

So I don't really have much to grumble about with my seeds. I just hope all that heavy rain we had over the weekend hasn't washed the teeny weeny little poppyseeds away, but the soil there doesn't look too disturbed. I should be seeing some action there maybe next weekend if I'm lucky. But with the parsnip seeds, I'll have to wait. They're every bit as slow as parsley seeds to get going, taking three to four weeks to come up.

And that's both the best and the worst bit about seeds: the waiting!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's a record!

This is going to seem a bit tragically dull, but here's a photo of my rain gauge this morning. It's a new record, 102mm in one day, or four inches, just beating our previous record of 100mm in one day, set in October 2009.

My rain gauge only goes up to 150mm, so if it ever overflows overnight, we'll know it has been truly wet. Gosh, who would've ever thought I'd need a bigger rain gauge. But until that day arrives, I'll stick with my slowly yellowing old plastic gauge.

I have mentioned Eric Olthwaite before, and so the best way to celebrate our record rainfall, which I am sure would have fascinated young Eric, is to play a bit of Eric musing about one of his favourite subjects – precipitation. (He was also inordinately fond of shovels, too. And black pudding!)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rain at last!

Goody goody raindrops! Some decent rain at last, the first good fall of the year, in fact, and we're halfway through the third month. Huey, you've been a disgrace to your profession of Aussie Rain Godlihood this year. Floods in Queensland and Victoria, and Sydney, which is piggy in the middle, gets almost no rain at all for the first three months. (Well, when I say "no rain at all", I mean 33mm in January, when the average is 103; 23mm in February, when the average is 117; and until yesterday only 14mm in March, when the average for the month is 131. That's a dry spell by Sydney standards.)

I'm not sure what has been going on up in the weather-making heavens, but here's hoping today's blessed sogginess is the beginning of some kind of return to normal. Let it rain, Huey!

There, I've had my say, on with the slide show. I do love a rainy day!

My curry tree, looking greener than ever thanks to the simple expedient of more food. I didn't realise they were so greedy. Just the organic liquid fish stuff, applied more often, does the trick.

Frangipanis manage to look equally nice in both rain and sunshine. And that perfume...

This year's annual flower discovery is the cheery, tough, long-flowering gomphrena. A little thing no more than 10 inches (22cm) tall, it has been flowering like this for three months now, and isn't about to stop.

This is a good example of bloody-minded determination at work. Late last year I sowed a punnet of 'mixed colour' capsicums and they were all pale lemony colour banana shapes. Boring! And so after I pulled up the last of the glut-making Lebanese cucumbers, I decided there was still time to have another go at growing some classic red and green bell-pepper style capsicums before it turns chilly in late autumn. This is the first green capsicum baby here, and so I think I'll get my colourful crop yet.

Rainy days and young lettuce are perfect photo partners, just like cute kids and fluffy pets.

Margaritas, anyone? The limes are ready to use now. Lots of Asian salad dressings for sure (1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon tap water, pinch of sugar, pinch of chilli, shake, pour). And lime delicious puddings, and lime wedges for Pam's Corona beers. It's a good thing we like limes, as there's always a glut at this time of year.

The 'Eureka' lemon is flowering its head off, as I just fed the tree two to three weeks ago. For Aussie readers, all citrus trees need a feed now, by the way. A rainy day like today is the perfect day for feeding trees, as the rain waters in the fertiliser for you.

Typical, this. I've never done all that well with dill before, but I never give up on these things. So I wondered if sowing seed a bit more thickly might help, and now I have a forest of the stuff.

If my dill is too abundant, then my rosemary is too tall. It's at fence height now, about two metres. It's flowering profusely now, the most it has ever flowered, and I think that's due to the very dry summer here, which is much more to its Mediterranean-style liking.

Like the rosemary, the grevilleas here have been enjoying the drier summer. This 'Robyn Gordon' grevillea can get a bit sulky in persistently wet and humid conditions, but it's loving the dry run it has been getting lately.

And not all the happy plants here are mine. My neighbour Nick is a keen gardener, and at the end of every summer a stack of his plants become part of my garden, leaning over the fence for a chat to my plants. This is his Chinese lantern plant, the Abutilon, which our local native honeyeater birds just love.

Another of Nick's plants, this is called Nick's Pink Thing because I don't know its correct name. Bet you its real name isn't as good as Nick's Pink Thing, either.

On the right, Pam's indoor plant, her Peperomia, is having a day out in the rain, keeping my goldfish pond plants company. The lush green thing behind is our low-growing Gardenia radicans, which is always happy, provided you liquid feed it every month.

And so that's my rainy day report. I plan to rev up this garden blog again, now that the awful summer seems to be over. Just a quick note of thanks to the good people who got in contact to ask if I had given up garden blogging altogether. No way, but I did need a break from it to freshen up my blogging batteries. I've been sowing seed, I have cunning plans in mind, there is digging to be done and, from time to time some (more frequent) blogging to be done, too.