Grass roots gardening…

Saturday

Today was a fairly easy day. I planted up the seedlings and broad beans seeds in the veggie beds. We have tomatoes, golden beetroot, two types of kale (Tuscan and Scarlet), broccoli, coriander, cos lettuce and pak choy. We’ll also plant silver beet (chard), rocket and basil. It’s late in the season to plant basil, but the netting should protect against the weather and keep the temperature a couple of degrees warmer than outside. We have lots of self-sown rocket coming up around the chillis that we moved from the veggie beds. We also have self-sown basil. I’ll transplant these once the seedlings have grown enough to move.

Planted veggie beds

Planted veggie beds

Stephen planted several thymes around the chilli hill. There are a variety of flavours in addition to regular thyme, including lemon, caraway, bush bbq, pizza,bergamot and Jekka’s thyme.

Chillis and thyme

Chillis and thyme

Our timing was perfect, it started to rain just as we finished planting.

Sunday

Today we started the day working to clear the grass from one end of the front verge. This corner has always been a bit of a problem due, in the first few years to the next door neighbour’s gardener scattering grass seeds our way when he mowed the lawn, and in recent years to our current neighbour’s lack of care of their front yard. We’ve tried to keep up with pulling out the grass, but the groundcover we planted there was a bit sparse and straggly and wasn’t helping. The grass was out of control.

Starting work on the verge

Starting work on the verge

The overnight rain ensured that the job would be as easy as it could be – not very easy. We had to pull out the groundcovers that were planted there and then pull out the grass. We both worked at it for a few hours and finally got it  done mid- afternoon.

First we removed the groundcovers, leaving a pretty dense layer of grass

First we removed the groundcovers, leaving a pretty dense layer of grass

There was a huge amount of grass to pull out. The roots were deep and strong. We know that, while we managed to pull out all of the visible grass and as many of the roots as possible, there are still plenty of roots in there.

We pulled out all the grass

We pulled out all the grass

We’ve planted several new plants, mostly groundcovers and low growing grevilleas.

New groundcover plantings

New groundcover plantings

We have a  groundcover that we really like, Myoporum parvifolium (Creeping Boobialla), growing at the other end of the verge. It grows in a dense mat and it should be the perfect thing to grow and cover the ground between the other plants. We’ll put in several plants of that and then  put down weed matting before we mulch.

New plants in the cleared area

New plants in the cleared area

A garden left unloved in the heat of summer…

Our citrus trees  haven’t thrived since we planted them. They’ve only ever had 3 or 4 flowers and the fruit has dropped before getting bigger than fingernail size – except for our tiny blood orange that had 2 fruit that stayed on the tree but never got any bigger than golf-ball size. The soil here is just sand. No nutirents and no water-holding capability. We did, of course feed it up before planting and have continued to give it  trace elements and food and lots of water. Nothing was working, they were still obviosly impoverished. A few months ago I saw a segment on Garden Gurus showing a 5 in 1 organic plant food that they used to give new life to citrus. The segment is called Citrus Delight if you want to do a search in the TV & Video factsheets of their website.  I couldn’t buy that same brand here, but I could buy something similar so I put it down around the citrus just like the garden gurus did. The trees are now looking strong and healthy and vigorous, though still no flowers or fruit yet. I also have to get the whole espalier pruning right. It’s my first attempt so as with most gardening it’s all an experiment!

Our roses were looking quite stressed so I thought I’d give them the same treatment. We decided I should do it a couple of weeks before we went on holidays in case the dogs took a liking to the plant food. I can’t put blood and bone/dynamic lifter down around the roses because the dogs eat it. So I tidied up the roses and lay down the fertiliser, covering with straw mulch as always. The dogs took no interest as there was no enticing fragrant aroma. That was a good sign.

When we went on holidays we had a babysitter come in and stay with Molly and Kaz. We have never kenelled them (other than when they were in quarantine) and have always had a babysitter/housesitter instead.  This babysitter has looked after them before and they love her. We also ask her to water the veggie garden and rose garden when she can. The automated reticulation takes care of the rest of the garden.

Backyard garden

Backyard garden

While we were away the weather was very hot here. The babysitter emailed us to say the roses were looking very droopy even though she had been watering them.  When we arrived home we found a very sad garden indeed. Our girls were well-looked after, as was our house. The garden hadn’t been neglected, but it hadn’t been loved the same way we would have loved it had we been here. We don’t blame the babysitter at all, she was here primarily for the girls – not the garden and with the continuous hot dry days it’s a constant struggle.

Distressed veggie garden

Distressed veggie garden

The veggie garden didn’t receive enough water or shelter in the constant high 30’s temps and winds. We’ve lost our corn, most of (if not all) the cabbages, the tomatoes and the bok choy. The beds just get too hot and even with a good layer of mulch they dry out too much in the heat of summer. We have a big market umbrella that we use to give partial shade and protection to the beds when we are home, but the wind here is too strong to leave the umbrella up and unattended so we didn’t ask the babysitter to take on that responsibility. Perth is supposedly the third windiest city in the world!

We’ve also had another problem in the veggie garden over the past few months – rats! They’ve been getting in and eating the veggies. Stephen has been putting out traps and has caught a few small ones and I found a large dead one in an empty water bucket; I think someone nearby must have laid baits. Several of the veggies that survived our holiday had fruit on the bushes, but the rats had eaten them. Mainly the eggplant and the capsicum. Luckily there are plenty of fruit still coming on those bushes so the traps are going out again.

The veggie garden now needs quite a bit of renovation but the first three days after we arrived home saw temperatures close to 43C (~110F) and in the high 30’s since so any replanting will have to wait a bit. Also, Stephen was up at the mine last week and will be again this coming week so the rodent trapping program will not be run as thoroughly as it should.

And the rose garden…oh my. Fertilising so thoroughly at this time of year and then going on holidays was not a good idea.  I’ve lost 3 (probably 4) roses and another one is struggling. Those 3 or 4 were the weakest and the other one was showing signs of distress before I fertilised, with new growing tips and shoots dying off. I’m going to have to get into the rose garden a.s.a.p.  and  give buckets of water and prune away any distressed growth.

Distressed rose garden

Distressed rose garden

Watering is, of course, the biggest issue in our dry environment. The native garden is growing beautifully. We planted it for that reason – they are the plants that would naturally be growing in the area.  The little honeyeaters have been visiting in good numbers and have been in very good vocal form. Our Grevillea leucopteris (aka smelly socks) has three flower spikes.

Grevillea leucopteris aka smelly socks

Grevillea leucopteris aka smelly socks

The flowers on these are quite spectacular so we’re really looking forward to having them flower for the first time, but they are apparently not given their common name for nothing, so it’s with some trepidation-mixed excitement that we await the flowers. They grow profusely along the highways here, but we’ve never seen the close enough to smell. Our biggest Corymbia (eucalyptus) Ficifolia has started to flower now as well.

Corymbia (syn eucalypts) ficifolia - summer beauty

Corymbia (syn eucalypts) ficifolia - summer beauty

It’s a pink one, so not quite as showy as the smaller red the we have in but, but still lovely and hopefully with it’s height above the fenceline it will start attracting even more birds. The red is also covered in buds – if only it had grown as vigorously as the pink.

Corrymbia ficifolia (summer beauty) and Grevillea leucopteris (smelly socks)

Corymbia ficifolia (summer beauty) and Grevillea leucopteris (smelly socks)

We’re trying a hose from the washing machine outlet onto the lawn to try to green up the grass. Lawns here in Perth mostly tend to die off in the summer, but in our backyard a brown dry lawn seems to be an invitation for our dogs to dig holds. A green lawn means stronger roots and more resistance to digging.

Backyard

Backyard

Our water restrictions here allow us to use sprinklers (or retic) on 2 rostered days a week, only once a day, either before 9am or after 6pm. We are allowed to water by hand at any time.

Corymbia (syn eucalypts) ficifolia - summer beauty

Corymbia (syn eucalypts) ficifolia - summer beauty

2009 in review

My intentions to blog regularly started off well, but died a slow death. Ah well, they were good intentions.

Front Yard Nov09

Front Yard Nov09

We started the year with mum here. We thoroughly enjoyed her visit but it was inevitable that she’d go home – as she did in mid-January. Then in February we got the not-unexpected news that Stephen’s job would move to Brisbane. Most people in the technical department have been given a ‘move to Brisbane’ ultimatum. At first we were told we’d have to be gone by the end of financial year, then it was by the end of the year. We decided we’d better take a look at BrisVegas to see where we’d like to live. We spent a nice 2 weeks in Redcliffe and decided that we’d like to live in Sandgate. You can read all about the trip here. Of course, the type of house we’d like in Sandgate would be ridiculously expensive so after we came home we settled more on the area between Caboolture and Burpengary. We could get a nice house on and acre (or more) in that area for what we could sell our house here for. As it turns out we won’t be moving – at this stage anyway. Stephen will probably have to work fly-in/fly-out of Telfer as a result. It’s a price we’re not very happy to pay, but our choices are limited, so we’ll give it a try. We wouldn’t mind living in Brisso, but we’ve only been in Perth for just over 2 years now, so it’s a bit soon for a move – tho’ I would prefer to live on the east coast.

In April I started going to Tai Chi.  I used to do Tai Chi many years ago and I’m really enjoying it again. It’s far more challenging than most people think, especially as you advance though the levels and the moved become more complicated and take more coordination and balance. Bev, the instructor, is great. She’s very patient and very encouraging to everyone.

Back Yard Nov09

Back Yard Nov09

Our garden has grown like crazy. It’s been a great success. The native plants have flowered and grown and given us a great deal of joy. Oh sure, there’ve been a few failures, but not many when you consider that we’ve planted over a hundred different varietes on our small suburban block. We think that both front yard and back yard are looking pretty spectacular. Our attraction of birds into the yard progresses slowly, but it does progress. Hopefully over the next year we’ll see more differing varieties as the plants get larger and offer more shelter. Of course we overplanted so the spaces would fill in faster so we have to keep on top of the pruning if we want things to keep looking nice and not get too tangled and woody.

Veggie Garden Nov 09

Veggie Garden Nov 09

The veggie garden has been both abundantly productive and challenging. There’s always something ready to harvest. We grow organically with no chemicals. The only things we spray are Bt for caterpillars, soapy water also to combat caterpillars, occasional horticultural oil on the citrus and pyrethrum for aphids on the roses. Ok, that’s roses, not veggies, but we keep it all organic. oh, and there are the mousetraps we’ve had to use recently to catch the rats who’ve been competing with us for our veggies. We are not growing veggies to support a rodent population. We’ve caught a few small ones, but not as big as the large rat I found dead in an empty water bucket! We’re not using greywater at this stage. I have doubts about the true safety of ‘greywater safe’ detegents and have heard many stories of deaths of trees, roses and shrubs thanks to the mid-long term use of untreated greywater that has supposedly only had ‘safe’ detergents added. Installing a greywater treatment and dispersal system isn’t an option for us in this yard. It would mean digging up the yard to install and is a very expensive option. And of course you can’t use untreated greywater on food crops, so it would be no use on the veggie garden, which is where we really need the watering help. Perhaps by next winter we’ll have some rainwater tanks put in. We just have to figure where we’d put them. We really have very little room for a realistic size of tank capacity. There’s not much point in putting in a piddling little tank that’s going to fill in a shower or two.

Rose Garden Nov09

Rose Garden Nov09

The Brisbane trip was our only holiday this year. It has been almost 3 years now since we had a ‘real’ holiday. I wasn’t working for much of the year, thanks to the economic downturn, but now have a quite good, if somewhat frustrating, job as a technical writer, writing training manuals for a company that does training for the mining industry. The people are nice and I’m close enough to walk from home if I really want to, though riding my bike is the planned option.

Honeyeater in Grevillea Georgiana

Honeyeater in Grevillea Georgiana

We have explored the Perth surrounds a little. The day trips haven’t been frequent, but have been enjoyable.
We visited Yanchep National Park, which is a small park close to home.

Yanchep National Park

Yanchep National Park

We drove up to Toodyay and then home via Gingin. A lovely day wiith WA’s famous wildflowers starting to come into bloom.

Toodyay

Toodyay

We spent another long weekend at Margaret River where Molly and Kaz had a ball chasing rabbits.

Chasing Rabbits

Chasing Rabbits

We spent a pleasant day in New Norcia, the Benedictine monastery town. We’d been planning to visit for a while, but it’s definitely not a place to go in the summer – it’d be way too hot and there’s very little shade.

New Norcia Monastery Gate

New Norcia Monastery Gate

The biodynamic festival at High Vale Orchard was very enjoyable. It’s easy to see that in another couple of years that will be huge.

High Vale Biodynamic Orchard

High Vale Biodynamic Orchard

Our girls are still healthy and happy at 9 years old – loving the beach and digging holes in the back yard. They are dogs after all!

Quinns Rocks Beach

Quinns Rocks Beach

They do have their own digging patch but prefer to dig the lawn just outside their sandpit. Molly has developed a particular passion for hunting bees – she does love flowers in the garden. Kaz still has to be as close as possible to a scratching hand or a rubbing foot – she does love attention.

Kaz

Kaz

Molly

Molly

We’ll be spending a quiet Christmas at home and then we’re off to visit mum for 2 weeks in the New year. – the only holiday we currently have planned. What 2010 has planned for us is anyone’s guess, but we do know that it will be interesting!

Deb and Stephen - RMS Christmas Party

Deb and Stephen - RMS Christmas Party

Merry Christmas to all!

I never offered you a rose garden…

…or a frequent blog post anyway. Here’s a long overdue post.
Speaking of the rose garden…I’ll have to get to and prune the roses soon, but they are still flowering, so it’s a bit hard to chop off all of those buds. The veggie garden is still productive. We have more bok choy and silverbeet than we can use; there are still chillis, though their growth has slowed right down; the winter herbs are thriving and the broad beans are getting taller. We have an empty bed at the moment so I have to get to and plant that up. I did plant out a punnet of wong bok (chinese cabbage) but the slaters destroyed them virtually overnight, so I’ll have to scrape back the straw until the plants become established. It’s impossible to get rid of slaters and they do serve a ‘clean-up’ purpose in the garden. The native garden is also thriving. The wattles are all in varying stages of flower, as are many of the grevilleas – some that we haven’t seen in flower yet. We wait with baited breath for the fat buds on the candelabra to open.
Last weekend we had a visit from a very good friend who used to live in Jabiru with us. She now lives in North Queensland and was on the way to visit her daughter in Kalgoorlie for the birth of a grandbaby. Donna arrived on Friday and left on Monday and I wish she had been able to stay for longer.
Speaking of babies, a couple of other very good friends are now grandparents. Deb was a schoolfriend and Des has been a friend for over 20 years. Their eldest ‘kids’ got together through scouts and married a couple of years ago. They had a baby boy on July 3rd and I’m still waiting to see the photos. *hint hint* Congratulations to James and Jos on that wonderful news.
Last night our neighbour had a ‘ladies night’. Her daughters gave her a dvd of ‘Celtic Woman live at Slane Castle’. She decided to invite a few friends over for tea, company and delightful music. As guests we were asked to bring either a salad or dessert. I made condensed-milk-and-butternut-snap caramel tarts, which went down very well. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of the finished product, so I won’t be posting the very-easy-recipe on the blog. Sorry about that. They aren’t something I make more than once every few years, so please don’t hold your breath for another batch. I enjoyed the evening very much – it was really nice to get out socially.
It’s great to see Sara Douglass actively blogging after her recent illness. Her new Notes from Nonsuch blog is promising to be a very enjoyable journal. I’m so pleased to see that you’re on the mend, Sara. My thoughts continue to be with you.
None of us know what life is going to throw at us, so we all need to make the most of every moment. We’re not always going to make the best choice in what we do, but we can try to make most of our choices positive and healthy.

That was then and this is now…

As promised, before and current shots of the changes we have made to our yards.

Front yard:

Our front yard in August 2007

Our front yard in August 2007

Our front yard at the end of February 2009

Our front yard at the end of February 2009

Back yard:

Our back yard in August 2007

Our back yard in August 2007

Our back yard at the beginning of March 2009

Our back yard at the beginning of March 2009

It looks like we’ll be here until at least the end of the year so it will be interesting to see what growth another 9 months and the winter rains will produce.