Archive for January, 2010

Babysitting for Chuckles

January 30th, 2010

Chuckles' baby

Chuckles' baby

Chuckles’ baby is mobile now, or almost! We have a new routine, Chuckles & me. Earlier this month she would take the first little piece of meat and fly off to her nest to feed her little one. But now she only has to go up to the nearest tree or up on my fence for she usually leaves Baby Chuckles there during the day.   I must say it does look pretty funny to watch mum take the piece of meat from me, then fly about 3 metres to hand it accross to her baby.  I can’t give baby anything, it has to come from mum at present! 

Waiting for mum

Waiting for mum

I only give her mum two or three pieces of meat and not everyday and absolutely not any after I have let out the ducks! Thats understood by Chuckles. She knows that once the ducks are out, she has to look for her own meals and she does. But lately, she leaves her baby to sit on my fence or gate or up in the Chestnut tree in my back yard. Baby Chuckles sits up there making the most noise she can make. Mum comes back every now and then with a little offering, gobbled down by a baby that is the same size as herself only much more fluffy and well, cute!  Baby Chuckles’ beak has not developed the sharp point of her mother yet and you might notice that her tail feathers are shorter. 

 

A little ball of fluffy feathers!

A little ball of fluffy feathers!

Baby Chuckles is not too good at flying yet and yesterday she was startled by a rosella or pigeon landing a bit too close to her little perch and she fell out of the tree.  She landed in a heap on the ground giving the ducks and herself a big scare!  She took a few minutes to pull herself together, then flapped up onto the clothes line, where she tettered about a bit and the ducks and I held our breath thinking she would fall down again.  But no, after a goodly time wobbling back and forth she summoned up yet another flap and headed up into a nearby bush and from there across to the Chestnut tree where mum had left her.

The mum, Chuckles, waiting for me at the back door.

The mum, Chuckles, waiting for me at the back door.

Mum knows she is safe in my backyard.  There are no dogs or cats so little fluff is pretty ok there, and I am glad to help her out!

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January Recipe

January 28th, 2010

strawberry plants

strawberry plants

Strawberry Jam

Strawberry jam is one of the few jams that you can make to a formula!  I love growing strawberries, they make a tasty treat to nibble while you are watering!  But if you have enough, just 500g will do, you can make some jam to satisfy that need to get ready for the winter ahead!  Here is my recipe:

strawberries

strawberries

500g strawberries

2 tbsp water

2 cups of sugar

3/4 teaspn tartaric acid

Slice the strawberries into a large pot, removing the green tops and stems, and any bad bits.  Add the water to stop the berries sticking when you start to heat them, and bring them to the boil, mashing them with a potato masher if they are still in pieces.  Make sure you have washed enough jars – 3 should do it but do 4-5 just in case and when they are very clean pop them into the oven – the oven can be cold when you put them in but turn it on to 100C.  The jars need to have been in for at least 10 minutes at 100C when you put the jam in.

mash them with a potato masher

mash them with a potato masher

When the berries feel soft, add the sugar and stir over a moderate heat until the mixture starts to boil.  Boil quite fast for 3 minutes exactly, then sprinkle in the tartaric acid.  Watch the way the colour suddenly brightens, it is quite magic!  Now, boil briskly for 4 minutes longer, then pour into those clean jars you prepared earlier.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Seal jars while jam is still hot, and you are done!

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Soil

January 26th, 2010

Happy soil brings forth happy plants

Happy soil brings forth happy plants

All gardeners know that the success of our garden depends largely upon the health of its soil.  It is essential to understand the soil you have and to provide it with anything it lacks.  Soil is a living community and contains a zoo-full of micro-organisms and animals that rely for their nutrition upon the organic matter in or on the surface of the soil.  Soil mineral particles are held together by hyphae (fine strands of fungus) and by secretions produced by countless micro-organisms.  So, organic matter  is the magic ingredient for improving soil structure and its ability to hold moisture and take up nutrients. 

Waddles & Hazel, my ducks

Waddles & Hazel, my ducks

I don’t think gardeners need to carry out tests on their soil to determine what type of soil they have.  It becomes ovious as you work it and water it.  Clay is made up of very fine particles and is the base of my own garden soil.  Clay is the most naturally fertile, even though it may be slow to drain and heavy and difficult to work until you take to it with gypsum, aged manure (thank you ducks) andthick layers of mulch, which break down and contribute to the soil’s structure.  Sandy soil will also thank you for manures, mulch, and – the best antidote of all – compost.  I try to apply these very regularly and have watched my soil improve over the years.

A vast variety of activities is taking place beneath the soil in your garden.  A wide array of living organisms – from earthworms ( the gardeners best friend) to woodlice, slugs and beetles – all these little creatures are busy breaking down large pieces of waste matter, whether compost, mulch or leaf litter.  I never use any chemicals on my garden, out of consideration for the birds and insects, let alone the soil organisms.  All parts of the soil are interdependent and the processes taking place in the topsoil and subsoil are integrated.  By destroying one small element, you upset the complex natural balance and jeopardise the health of your soil.

Tomatoe season has begun

Tomatoe season has begun

One excellent fertiliser is poultry manure, I use my duckhouse straw which the ducks have enriched for me, but you can buy chook manure and it does the same thing.  I spread this thickly over my vege patch before the major planting of the spring, then I top this with a very thick layer of lucerne as a mulch.  This also helps suppress weeds and conserve water.  Sometimes I put the poultry manure into my compost heap too. 

My tomatoes growing well

My tomatoes growing well

Another really great fertiliser is Blood and Bone.  This is an organic all-purpose fertiliser that you can either throw over the garden – and then water in – or apply in liquid form.  The plants just love it!  It does smell a bit though, makes you think you are on a farm.

Of course, your very own sweet-scented, dark and crumbly compost is the best and cheapest of all soil conditioners and fertilisers – it adds to the structure and porosity of your soil and releases essential nutrients as it breaks down.  Making compost is not just kind to your garden and wallet; it is also kind to the environment.  By composting gardeners avoid increasing landfill.

By working at improving your soil you will be working with your garden and your plants will thank you for it.  Happy gardening!

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Brunch & a Chat

January 24th, 2010

Brunch is served

Brunch is served

Welcome to my garden! I have been very busy outside this morning harvesting my tomatoes and pulling out some weeds here and there. I have been pottering about and time just got away from me, but in a very nice way. I could hear little noises from the duck shed telling me it was time for Waddles & Hazel to come outside to start their day. So, I let them out and decided to make some pancakes with their contrubution of eggs and to make a bit of an event of it by brunching outside and enjoying the garden. So, here I sit with the day before me and the gentle peace of the garden surrounding me.

Chuckles drops in with some friends

Chuckles drops in with some friends

So far the summer has been gentle to my garden and my water tank is full.  It is cool this morning and the scent of the native mint is competing with the lovely smell of early morning coffee.  I can just sit back and watch the day unfold.  Hazel and Waddles have trotted down to their little pond and are just about to slip in to have their morning splash.  The rosellas are up in the Chestnut tree making little noises, just so I know that there is no seed on their seed tray.  Suddenly, Chuckles swoops down with a couple of friends to see if I am having something they might like to share.  But they are not impressed with my pancakes!  The ferns are green and lush and some little finches are playing about in and around the fushias.  High overhead the cockatoos swoop and screech, and quietly in the background the creek bubbles along its way to a larger river downstream.

GardenJan2010 012

I look through the paper and decide to head off on a drive later and take a peep at a few nurserys and markets I might pass on the way.  There is no hurry though, I will just let the day unfold slowly.

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Sensory Gardening

January 22nd, 2010

GardenJan2010 049     I like to think that most people who grow plants, even if only one pot plant has talked to it or them (the plants, that is) at some time or another. I certainly do. I feel that there is a certain affinity we humans have with plants – an affinity that cannot be explained rationally. But then, I have been caught by my next door neighbour explaining to some local kookaburras that I did not have any more meat to give them. I had my hands out, to show that they were empty, and I spoke very slowly. ‘No more, see?’ ‘I don’t think they speak English,’ said my neighbour, with a chuckle. Well, they are learning, I explained. But, I am certain that whether or not other people talk to their plants, most people would experience a similar experience of obtaining comfort, solace or just relaxation just from being around plants or natural areas. There is something sensory about the way plants affect us.

Garden -Dec09 004This is hardly surprising, for most of the things that happen in the world are beyond the ability of the human senses to detect anyway. We see a minute fraction of the available range of wavelengths of light; our ears hear only a small portion of the known ‘sounds'; our ability to detect chemicals via taste and smell is far inferior to that of other animals; and there are myriad of other forms of senses that other organisms possess but we do not, such as radar and magnetic sense. And even the stimuli we do perceive are interpreted through the filters of our own beliefs and upbringing.
Everyone, even the most hardened cynic, have experienced moments of heightened awareness and sensitivity. At these times we touch the mystic, non-rational side of ourselves – the side that is normally buried beneath the thick, rational skin of our exterior workaday selves. 

Garden -Dec09 006       I find that these types of experiences commonly happen to me when I spend a lot of time around plants and nature.  I find that working with my garden, working with nature helps me to become attunened with the earth in a very special way.  The process of attunement is one of the most powerful tools available to the gardener, for it enables you to tune in to plants, the soil, the weather and so on and in this way to take actions that will be in harmony with your garden.  Attunement is beyond a rational understanding; it cannot be understood in the normal way we understand things.  It can only be validated by experience, by feeling it.  Neither is attunement a conscious process, for it involves a ‘letting go’. 

GardenJan2010 025There are no hard and fast rules about attunement; it is a very individual experience.  For me it begins with quieting my internal dialogue.  To achieve such a quiet mind is no mean feat, and it does require more effort than one would think.  But, after I have succeded in switching off my interal dialogue, the rest  comes by itself.  Suddenly I will get a clear picture of where a particular tree should be planted or of some change that is needed and this knowledge comes with a great certainty, usually without any explanatory reasoning.  You just know.

One way I have found helpful in developing this extra sense of attunement is to walk around the garden.  Not for any particular reason, but just to feel a part of it, to feel the earth beneath your feet so to speak.  Attunement is a practical skill that can be acquired by anyone.  It is the skill of developing a feel for your garden – a feel for your plants – they do talk to you, you just have to stop and  listen.

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Chuckles’ baby

January 19th, 2010

Chuckles & her baby

Chuckles & her baby

Just outside today Chuckles brought over her baby to show me! Isn’t she cute?

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Mandy’s mini mission for January

January 19th, 2010

Hazel ready to help deal with snails

Hazel ready to help deal with snails

The holidays are nearly over and the year is about to get just that little bit busy.  But for the five minute gardener, such as myself, this will be no problem at all.  If all I have is the odd five to ten minutes here and there to spend in the garden then secret to success for 2010 will be organisation.  If I can head out on my mini  garden missions with a little tote full of all I need to do those jobs I see straight away without hunting up tools then I can get things done straight away and not have to come inside and make ‘to do’ notes for the next big garden day.

So, todays mini mission is to set up my little basket of stuff!  What do I need?  Now, don’t get carried away here Mandy, this is a five minute tote, it has to be light, it has to be appealing.  You need to remember that you need to lug it around not drag it.  We are not talking about a wheelbarrow of stuff!  This basket needs to be easy to find, but out of the way of curious children.  It should contain…secateurs; gardening gloves and strips of material for plant ties.  I will need some soil wetter; some slow release fertiliser and my trusty hook for weeds.  Maybe I will add a chopstick or two for poking around in pots or to make a little hole for planting that little cutting.  There!  Mission accomplished!  I am now ready for short trips into the garden.

five minute garden basket

five minute garden basket

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Life’s Happy Place

January 17th, 2010

Being in a garden is relaxing

Being in a garden is relaxing

A garden, any garden is surely one of life’s happy places.  Just being in a garden provides joy and tending your very own garden, be it a pot plant or a back yard provides a creative outlet.  In life it is the simplest of things that make us happiest.  Standing in your garden – no matter how small – in the soft, early morning light on a hot summer morning is a perfect pleasure.  Bringing out that early morning coffee to enjoy under the shade of a Chestnut tree and listening to birds and the sound of a little creek is relaxing and helps put any troubles into perspective. 

GardenJan2010 051

I used to think that no season could surpass spring for anticipation and the joy of watching the garden come to life.  But just this morning, while sitting with my early Sunday morning coffee the pure scent of gardenia washed over me and I noticed all the buds that had been ready to come out had bloomed and the perfume was amazing.  The roses and lavenders are all full and lush and I have now decided that summer must be the most voluptuous season of the entire year!  Mind you the true test of any garden or gardener is just around the corner – the hot dry February to come.

GardenJan2010 050The creation of beautiful surroundings enhances quality of life in countless ways.    The mental health value of gardening is well known to those who practise garden-making.  Anyone who has worked or walked in a garden, watched plants grow or spent hours dreaming of creating a cool, calming oasis of beauty will attest to the emotional benefits of gardening. Time seems to slow when you are outside working with plants, and you slow down and relax also.  I love working in my garden trying to create an enchanting retreat, a happy place, with plants.

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January Plant

January 15th, 2010

Begonia X 'Cleopatra'

Begonia X 'Cleopatra'

Begonia

A particularly large family of plants with at least 300 species and a myriad of varieties, the Begonias are succulents which in some cases have developed a tuberous root system.  Their striking leaf shapes and colours have made them a favourite with many gardeners everywhere.  They are probably the most widely grown of all houseplants.  B. rex is usually grown for its foliage.  I love my B. rex, I call him T.Rex for short, and he loves a little visit indoors now and again.  I love my Begonia X ‘Cleopatra’ shown above for her beautiful translucent maple shaped leaves, patterned in a deep green and chocolate colour.  I sometimes invite her inside also where she takes pride of place in the hall by the phone and in front of a mirror as any Cleopatra should!

Begonias make beautiful pot plants

Begonias make beautiful pot plants

The dainty but tough little bedding begonia is a wonderful addition sprinkled about in garden beds or used as a mass planting in shades of white, pink and red.  These useful little wonders are super for taking cuttings and sticking into the ground where they happily make lovely new little plants.  You can plant stem cuttings or tubers in spring in moist compost rich in peat .  Some people think of them as being a little old fashioned, but I love them.  I am an old fashioned girl!

The Begonia is happy in the garden too

The Begonia is happy in the garden too

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The Gentle Art of Watering

January 12th, 2010

Waddles & Hazel getting ready to help with watering

Waddles & Hazel getting ready to help with watering

It is hot outside today and it is my day for watering. This year I am lucky to have installed a water tank and this means I can water more often than just 2 times a week this is really great, it means I can sometimes give the tomatoes a drink in the evening after a hot humid day. Watering is an art form – especially in hot climates. If you want to see how fast water evaporates, fill a saucer and leave it out in the sun. An hour in the garden every day with a hand-held hose will only dampen the soil a few centimetres below the surface. Plant roots then grow upwards to drink and get dried out. Instead the roots of plants should be encouraged to reach deep down into the soil where it will be cool and moist. This can be achieved by a good soaking once or twice a week, preferably with a drip system which brings the needed water down into the soil and prevents waste of that precious liquid. Lots of short waterings only encourage the roots to remain near the surface.

My water tank, how I love it!

My water tank, how I love it!

However, it is a different story with pot plants, which may even have to be watered twice a day if the weather is very hot. The best time both for you and for the plants is to water early in the morning or in the cool of the evening.

Soil wetting agents are a real boon and my little gardening tote has a packet in it so I can quickly sprinkle some about. A good sprinkle of wetting agent helps water penetrate the soil deeply and evenly, and will increase moisture in the root zone. In the end it saves water by reducing run off. It is especially useful for container plants. It is best applied early in the cool of the day and you do need to use gloves when you are doing it. Most products will last up to 6 months after application but the soil will tell you what it needs.

My newly installed pump & hose

My newly installed pump & hose

Did I mention that for Christmas Santa brought me a pump for my water tank!  Yeh!!! Watering the tomatoes is an easy and fun job now!  But would I have appreciated it if I hadn’t had to water them with a watering can all last summer?  Well, yes, I think I would!  But you just can’t have juicy tomatoes without water!   I also enjoy my tank of water because it means I can put water out for the birds who last summer had a very hard time of it when the little creek dried up.  Anyway, I am off now to pick some of those tomatoes.  Happy gardening!

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