Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weedling or seedling?

When they're little, all children are adorably cute, but it's a sad fact they don't all stay that way, especially once the hormones kick in. That's what's happening in my backyard nursery at the moment. Right now there are lots and lots of baby plants coming up, some from seed I have sown, but many others are just horrible little weedlings. So how do you tell the difference between a weedling and a seedling? You just wait and let them grow up a bit more.

This typical baby seedling could be one of many thousands of
species, but as far as this patch of ground is concerned, it's probably
either a chickweed baby or a parsley baby. But it's too early to tell...
With its second set of little crinkly leaves appearing, this guy is
showing distinct signs of curly parsleyness. It can stay!
Uh…ohhh. Once this bub has sprouted its second rung of leaves
it has revealed itself to be the start of a smothering, spreading
chickweed, the bane of this garden bed's existence. It cannot stay!
If you are wondering "what is chickweed?" this is the stuff.
Spreads like a rumour, thrives on neglect and loves wet weather
(when the gardener is inside reading books). I'll never get
rid of chickweed, all I can do is limit its spread by hand-weeding.

The reason for this blog posting is simply that I have been trying to establish some little green herby borders here and there by spreading seed generously in a line and waiting for them to come up. It sounds like a nice idea, and it will look good in a few weeks from now, but sowing seed in a line along bare ground just invites weedy seeds to set up shop as well. While there's not a lot to do with these herby borders after you sow the seeds, apart from some watering, the main job is weeding: keeping the uninvited intruders down in numbers so the 'wanted' herbs can get established. The parsley border is in front of what should soon turn into Pammy's flowering poppy patch. 

This is my chervil border, which is coming
along nicely in a line in front of our gardenias.
I love chervil, both in the garden and in the
kitchen. It can be a bit weedy if it likes your
garden's soil and climate, and it does pop up
here and there, but it's always so pretty.
The unseasonably warm weather we had in May
ruined my first crop of coriander, which bolted to
seed in the heat. This second crop, a mini border
in front of a vegie patch with shallots and lettuce
all doing well, is loving the cooler, wetter winter
weather and should last until spring.
Last night I was talking with some good friends who have just had their front and rear gardens professionally designed and planted, and they look great already. However, the dreaded onion weed is coming back up already, marring the effect of their beautiful new plantings. Talking with them about controlling onion weed (a never-ending task, in my opinion) reminded me how much time I spend in the garden just pulling weeds. Hardly exciting work, but if you take on a garden, you need to embrace the seemingly dreary work of weeding at the same time.

I say "seemingly" because I view weeding as "thinking time". There's something about simple drudgery, like washing up or weeding, that I actually like doing. While my hands are busy doing a simple task, I find I often think of story ideas, blog posting ideas, and plan out my days and weeks ahead. Maybe I'm a bit odd, but I really don't mind weeding at all. As long as there's not too much of it, that is...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Being co-operative – week 4

It's probably not that polite to say "hooray, it's over!", and besides, it's not really over. We still have to get through all this pile of vegies and fruit yet, but our little four-week foray into the world of being a member of a vegie co-op is drawing to a close, and we now know that two big boxes of fruit and vegies (not of our own choosing) every week is far too much for us to handle.

The theme for this week's cornucopia is "lots". In the sense of
lots of avocados (12) lots of bananas (10) lots of oranges (10)
lots of tomatoes (10) lots of mushrooms (dozens) – and that's not
to forget three sweet potatoes, four cobs of corn, two bags of
salad greens, a big bunch of celery, a bunch of beetroot, a
pineapple, some broccolini, a monster eggplant, and four very 

nice pears. All beautiful quality and very pleasing to behold.
How do two little lovers cope with all this food in just seven days? Easy, we give a fair bit away, which kind of ruins the economics of it all, but the warm inner glow of being a giver is worth it, of course. We need a couple of health-conscious and hungry teenagers to help us knock it all off, but as we don't have any of them lying around (and I have been led to believe that they actually do a lot of lying around...) that isn't an option.

So we give some of our bounty away. Last week it was to our favourite family of three, who live close-by, and this time Pammy's mum (a great fruit eater) will share in it, as will our starving uni-student nephew Neil, who never says no to a free feed.

The co-op thing has been more interesting than fun. In fact the most fun has been collecting the boxes on Saturday mornings, sorting through them back at home, then taking the photo and blogging about it on Saturday afternoons. The weekdays thereafter have been a harder slog.

We're really looking forward to choosing our own vegies again, creating our own menus for lunch and dinner once more. Over the last four weeks we've drifted into a zombie-like state of "must cook more co-op vegies" every night, and while it has introduced us to greens such as kale (verdict – quite nice, will probably buy some and cook some occasionally from now on) it has been a bit hum-drum in the limited choice offered up. More importantly, it has also kept us away from several fruits and vegies we much prefer, simply because each week we've had to eat our way through the co-op pile first.

I do like carrots and corn and apples and oranges, but I want to bake some quinces until they're ruby red, roast some parsnips, blend up a potato and celeriac mash, bake some cauliflower or Brussels sprouts in the oven – try either (florets of cauli or sprouts cut in half) tossed in oil, baked at 180°C for about 25 minutes – baked is best… or stir-fry some buk choy or take my time enjoying a ripe persimmon… the list goes on.

So the moral of the story, folks, is that it was interesting to find out how a vegie co-op works but we've learned that we really do prefer to choose our own fruits and vegies.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Home wrecker!

I'm not proud of this fact, but I am a serial home wrecker. As far as our resident paper wasps are concerned, I am an Aussie Attila the Hun, wreaking havoc on their village then riding off into the distance.

Yesterday, I accidentally wrecked another wasp home. It's not the first time, either. In the 23 years we've been here in Marrickville, I might have temporarily ruined their lifestyle about half a dozen times. The wasps have built their beautifully constructed homes under the eaves of our pergola area, under our outdoor dining table, in our grevillea, amid the leafy clusters of creeping figs and, as I discovered yesterday, in our over-sized murraya hedge.  

Here's yesterday's wrecked home, pictured some hours after
they abandoned it once my hedge trimmer had done its worst.
The moment my powered hedge trimmer lopped
off a foot or so from the top of the growth, a
frightening cloud of annoyed yellow and black
wasps swarmed up in the air, looking for culprits
to administer a sting to. I scarpered, and after
the hullabaloo died down I snuck back to see
if I could find the nest. Here's the last few occupants
wandering around, looking home-wrecked. Using
my longest rake I moved them well away, and
continued on with the sadly necessary task of
cutting our overgrown hedge down to size.
This is the "Before" shot, of the murraya hedge at least two
feet too high. It was so high it was blocking the low winter
sun reaching our vegie patch, so it had to be trimmed.
And this is the "After" shot. Normally I would feel OK about this
job, but by coincidence I found a photo of how our hedge looked
eight years ago, in 2006, and now I'm dissatisfied. I might have
to trim the hedge a whole lot more (see below)...
This is how the hedge looked back in 2006. Much better!
I couldn't believe how much I had let this hedge grow over the
years, but it happens. Hedges do tend to "creep" up in height
unless you're very careful about your hedge trimming, which
I am not. Pammy's art studio looks so much prettier here.
Finally, while I'm discussing the business of
pruning and trimming murrayas, I also tackled
the overgrown monster murraya which is the
bookend to the eastern side of our covered
pergola outdoor dining area. Though it is under
an olive tree in a fair bit of shade, this thing
just grows and grows. So it was time for not
just a trim, but a full "boy prune".
Have you heard of the expression "boy pruning"? It was one
of the favourites at my old magazine/TV show, 'Burke's Backyard'.
And it was a term equally used by male and female staff.
"Boy pruning" can be done by men or women, but characteristically
it's more likely to be done by a bloke (hence the term). It is simply
very, very, very radical, deep, heavy, shocking, awful pruning.
Pruning that looks like "you've overdone it this time, buster."
This murraya loves it. This is the third time I've done it since we
planted it many years ago. It'll look this awful for at least six
weeks, then a month later it will be a wall of young green leaves.
Finally, though, I am sorry, wasps, that I wrecked your home. I know you'll quickly set up shop somewhere else in the garden, as you always do. 

I have nothing against our wasps, either. They're a welcome presence here. The only time they have ever stung me, and it was just the once, was the day I was pruning back our grevillea without knowing that they had a nest in there. They soon let me know I was getting too close!

Our wasps are Australian native paper wasps, and they are beneficial insects in the garden, catching caterpillars to feed to their larvae. Given the terrible way that I manage to blunder in on them, wrecking their homes every couple of years, they are also remarkably peaceful and tolerant creatures.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Morning light

Is there a time of day when your garden looks at its best? Here in our garden it's the morning. Our patch faces north-east, and so each day the low morning sunlight flows generously through every leaf, each spider web and anything else which dances in the sunlight (like the glass ornament pictured here, which Pammy bought quite a while ago). Sometimes the light from the glass does a little 'spectrum' thing, bouncing mini rainbows onto walls and, if all the heavens line up perfectly, into the house as well.

I love the morning light here, on sunny days especially but even on the gloomy, soggy ones when rain is setting the mood. It's an unfailing lure to me. From our kitchen it's just a couple of steps more out through the back door, into the garden, and I cannot count the number of times the way the light has played on some little detail is the spark which says "come outside, look at this".