Saturday, October 31, 2015

What to do...

What to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon? We don't normally have these together as a family, because life often takes us in different directions. But this afternoon, just kind of happened. One minute I was in the vegetable patch, then David and Peter joined me.

Log bridge

We decided to walk to the gully, out the back together, and spied some lovely orange fungi of some variety. It likes wood, moisture and a little bit of light. This was growing on an old log bridge we don't use much any more - hence why the fungi is growing on it.

Another log bridge

Then we meandered to a bigger log bridge, further down, where David put up his feet and Peter practised his climbing skills. Then I pulled the camera out, and called them both to look at me. I couldn't have timed it more perfectly.


We weren't doing much. It's strange, because we're busy most of the time. Someone coming. Someone going. Lots of work to be done. But this afternoon, like the fungi which appears on a log, we found ourselves just hanging out and interacting with the things around us. No agenda. No list of things to get done. Just being together. It was a lovely way to unwind the day.

Trapeze artist

Our cat, Muesli, is never far away, when we venture in the backyard either. She loves to find the highest place, and perch herself from it. Like climbing on top of these old pallets, near the log bridge we were playing on. We consider her like our third child, but I'm sure she thinks we are her pride of cats instead. Especially when we can be found climbing on things too.

Then it was back up to the house, and David decided to mow the lawn. I found myself cleaning the small swimming pool, with Peter's assistance.

Guess who took this picture?

Peter actually took this picture, as the camera was hanging from my wrist at the time. What started as helping to hold the pool skimmer, became clicking the camera instead. He somehow managed to switch it on. Such a spontaneous moment too. A toddler playing with the camera on my wrist. Me, cleaning the pool. I had no idea how it would turn out, but it caught the moment perfectly.

After skimming the pool, Peter and I wandered to his older sister's favourite playing spot. Or at least, it used to be.

The pond

Where else would you find inquisitive children, but at the pond above the house. It has all sorts of interesting sounds, insects water skating, and just perfect for throwing sticks into. With the recent rain we had, its now full and slowly brewing the next batch of tadpoles.

To our surprise, Sarah soon came out to join us at the pond. We talked about how she used to try and catch tadpoles with her little net. Then it wasn't long before she was enticing her brother to play chase.

Freshly mown lawn

Of course, Sarah has always been an excellent beetle catcher too. She loves bugs and critters - the kinds of things that made me squeal, if they got too close. Her brother is much like me, as Sarah enjoyed showing Peter the beetle she had caught. Whenever it tried to fly away, he would squeal with excitement.

Sarah, being the confident beetle wrangler she is, always managed to catch it before it took off again. You'll be happy to know, her love of bugs means, she always lets them go in the end.

So that's what you do, at Gully Grove, on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Some times.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vegetables and plans

There are long pauses between my posts, and I expect this to be the norm for this growing season. Because I'm always outside, inspecting the gardens, seeing what needs tending or requires a little extra water. Propagation and seed sowing is the order of business too.

I grabbed the camera this morning, to show some developments in our vegetable patch.

Choko - click to enlarge

In bed four, the choko is getting bigger. Not quite big enough to start climbing the trellis yet, but its doubled in size, in just a few short weeks. The little daisy is flowering as well. On the other side of the trellis, is the zucchini


I didn't think I was actually going to harvest any zucchini, at the rate the bush rats (I assume) were eating them. A fruit would be a day away from harvesting and overnight, they would disappear.

We did something to deter the bush rats recently, which I'll discuss soon, but I'm happy to report, we're eating zucchini from the garden now. We haven't done that since 2011. It was very yummy, fried with bacon.

Yacon (centre)

In bed three, I'm happy to report, my yacon is getting some size to it. My first attempt at growing yacon failed last year, as I wasn't properly attending the newly establishing plant. While yacon has a good reputation for being a tough plant, it needs to be established first. Which, I learned, the hard way.

This year, I might be able to try yacon for the first time.

In the same bed, but closer to the avocado tree, I have other goodies growing and doing surprisingly well.

Beetroot, silverbeet and sunflowers (background)

The silverbeet and beetroot are thriving in this bed, compared to the others I've planted in different beds. I now attribute this to less weed competition. Where their smaller counterparts are, they have to compete with weeds.

It was a good experiment to try, leaving the weeds in the bed (elsewhere) but gauging by the size difference, I may have to reconsider that strategy. Its not a matter of right or wrong, but what will give the outcome most required.

Hidden strawberries

Still in bed three, and I found a lovely surprise hiding underneath the avocado tree. I only get the strawberries when they are hidden under the folliage of other plants - where this one was. The native critters (aka: bush rats) like to eat these - along with the tomatoes. They cleaned out my first harvest of tomatoes, on one plant, but hopefully I'll be overrun with tomatoes soon.

Under the avocado tree

The ground cover of strawberries, pansies, warrigal greens and radishes, are all doing really well, under the canopy of the avocado tree. The canopy protects the ground covers from receiving all day sun, and the ground covers, stop the sun from reaching the soil when it does get under the tree. This is a beautiful, low maintenance, mess.

Notice how the avocado is self mulching with its own leaves too. Something I'm sure the strawberries will appreciate as they crop.

Avocado tree (foreground) bananas (background)

This is still bed three, but an angle where you can see our banana trees. There is some land disturbance we've begun in this area, to hopefully benefit the fruit trees, but also the vegetables. As it will (fingers crossed) put a dent in the bush rats dinning habits. I have noticed the zucchini aren't being harvested overnight any more.

Clearing space next to the beds

We are planning on building another retaining wall, to the left. To do this, we removed the compost bays, and all the overgrown grass and passionfruit vines, that trailed down the hill. This was the bush rats corridor to good living from our vegetable patch. Now its all out in the open, they have to run the gauntlet of aerial predators at night.

More on that wall project later, but its largely due to David's handiwork. He dismantled the compost bays, relocated them, along with the compost, as well as cutting back the jungle. There was some lovely soil underneath all that mess.

Purple king bean

Back to the vegetable beds however, and in bed 2 now, the purple king beans have scaled an impressive height in just a few short weeks. Once they breached the height of the trellis, they started to entwine through the avocado tree branches.

I'm loving seeing how the vegetables are interacting with the large avocado tree. They're like green magnets, attracted to each other.

Spaghetti squash

Strangely enough, even the spaghetti squash, has decided to make friends with the avocado tree. It's tendrils have sort the shade of the lower hanging leafs, while still allowing the sunlight to make the flowers bloom.

I have about 4 squash developing on 4 individual plants. Hopefully there will be more. I've recently planted some new seeds too, for when these plants have done their dash.

Silverbeet and weeds

There's some bad news happening in beds two and one, however. By the presence of large scats, its our kangaroo neighbours. I knew they visited this area, and occasionally nibbled a leaf or two, but now they're entering the beds and squashing plants - like the silverbeet above, so I've had to erect barriers.

Concrete rebar barricade

This one got knocked over, overnight too, squashing the pineapple (far right). While we have received the occasional rain shower, enough to grow grass elsewhere, our new growing area is proving too tempting.

Herbivores aren't stupid. They would rather eat less, highly nutritional food, than eat more, with less nutrients. Even though there's food out there, it takes less energy to chew the foliage in our compact vegetable bed, than to visit the tufts of grass growing here and there.

While I don't mind them eating a little (they're more interested in the weeds than my vegetables) I can't have them squashing developing plants in the process. It only sets them back. So I have to make the decision I've been dreading. That is, fencing out the kangaroos from this area. Its not an easy location to fence, plus we have to build that retaining wall. But we need those nutrients for ourselves, to make up for the energy we're putting into the beds.

These are only small setbacks however. The real challenge, is summer! You never know what kind of conditions you're going to get. So while I think its great to get this far into our growing season, with minor issues, the future is yet to be decided.

To date though, we've eaten the very occasional strawberry, silverbeet, lots of zucchini and lovely herbs to add to our various egg dishes, complements of the chickens. So not bad.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Watching and waiting

I've been observing the avocado tree closely, when I saw it go to flower for the first time, a few weeks ago. Going to flower however, is no guarantee of fruit, as avocado trees need cross pollination. The "B" varieties do at least. The "A" types of avocado, seem to be able to cross pollinate themselves.

Here is an excellent, short video to explain how it works:

As my tree sprouted from the compost, I have no way of knowing what variety it actually is. So when I saw the ants crawling over the flowers recently, I was hopeful I might get some fruit development. I haven't seen any bees around, so if I do get fruit, it will be thanks to the ants!

Click to enlarge - pollinating ant

The picture isn't very good, as I had to perch on the end of the retaining wall to get these - and the wind was blowing at the same time. But you can see the ant is black, and drinking from an open flower. I wasn't so sure these guys would be up to the task, but the flowers are close enough together, for a thirsty ant to visit several.

Empty stem

The first flowers I noticed lower down on the tree didn't amount to anything. You can see the flower stem (above) and the blooms which have since fallen off. There is no sign of fruit formation. It was just a promise of what could have been, but wasn't. Very disappointing.

Not all was lost however, because just the next branch over, was a slightly different story.

Two fruits?

Most of the blooms had fallen away - but are those two tiny avocado fruits I see forming? Could it be the mystery (possible type "A) avocado has managed to self-pollinate? Could I be that lucky?

Not sure if this was a normal feature of developing avocado fruit (as I have no experience with them previously) I decided to check other branches higher up the tree for consistency.

Three fruits?

I counted three green baubles this time - two, side by side and one up the top. There also seems to be one larger fruit than the other two, which could be a sign these fruits are viable, because they're growing.

I needed to check more of the tree, to be sure this was a consist pattern.

Two fruits, again

So half way down the tree, I noticed another two baubles - one being slightly larger than the other again. I'm pretty sure, I have viable fruit on the avocado tree now, if its happening all over.

I would be pleased beyond belief, if it was a Hass variety! At the time this vintage of compost was brewing, I was certain we were only eating Hass, because I wouldn't eat any other variety. I've become less of an avocado snob over the years, but I sure would be chuffed to have my own Hass tree.

Now I have to be patient and wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Chicken Tractors

Its probably no secret, judging from my sidebar, that I like to read other blogs which share a similar path to my own. They engender qualities I can relate to, and I always look forward to reading what's new in their world.

One such blog on my sidebar, is Liz from Eight Acres. Apart from working full time in the workforce, Liz and her Husband Pete, also run - not one, but TWO properties. I recently received a copy of Liz's new ebook, Design and Use a Chicken Tractor. I'm not sure if it was an accident (or just a very generous gift) that I received it for free, as I was not asked to review the ebook. But I thought I would anyway.

Let's start with what this ebook does not cover, because its relatively small compared to what it does. It will not show you how to build a chicken tractor. It does however, discuss ideas on how to source materials, what materials to use and what to consider when designing your own tractor. As someone who has done all those things myself, its good to have information about what to avoid, and what to incorporate - before spending money on building supplies.

If its going to be your chickens' only accommodation, you'd hate to learn the hard way, the limitations of a tractor. This ebook responsibly covers all those relevant details. It also shares the specific tractors, successfully used on Eight Acres for many years.

I was surprised to learn a few new things in Liz's ebook however, as I've never kept chickens with larger livestock. If that's your situation though, you'll want to learn some of her handy tractor modifications. They're quite inexpensive and ingenious. This ebook also has an extensive overview of how to keep and raise chickens yourself. So you're not just learning about chicken tractors, but also the nitty-gritty of keeping chickens.

My Chicken Tractor 
Circa 2008

While I do have a permanent coop now - as this best suits our situation, I initially started with a chicken tractor. They're great for starting a new venture in chicken keeping, so long as you have a sensible design. Also, if you intend to hatch and raise your own chickens, a tractor gives you that little more space before they get to move into the big coop too.

So there are lots of reasons to read this ebook, if you're interested in the wonderful world of chicken tractors. I was very happy to start our chicken keeping ventures, with one.

If you want to know how I built the A-frame above (and see how all my chicken keeping ventures began) click these links:

Chook tractor
My remarks about metal tractors in this post, has to do with my inexperience working with metal - not that they don't make good tractors for those who do know what they're doing.

More chock tractor
Base & A-frame on tractor
Nesting box & roost 
Tractor done!
Weatherproofing the tractor

Happy chicken keeping everyone!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Vegetable bed update

The sun. Everything revolves around it. Literally. Everything. It dictates the moves of our planet, and every planet in our solar system. With something as monumental as the sun though, how can it possibly be curtailed?

Enter the intriguing world of plants. These are some of the longest living organisms we've come to understand in our planet's evolution. They dictate the lives of the herbivores, and in so doing, dictate the lives of the carnivores who eat them. As powerful and influential as the sun is, plants, with their many functions and species, can match it!

Here is how I know.

 Avocado tree between beds 2 and 3
Early September

Do you remember my recent vegetable garden overhaul? In just the first month of spring, something has already revealed itself, between the four beds I set up.

Do you also remember the avocado tree I was debating whether to keep or not? Well, its central (like the sun) to what's influencing all the beds right now.

Bed 4 - early October

I'm going to start with bed 4, because this is the furthest away from the avocado tree. It also receives the full western sun of the afternoon. Very hot and earth parching. This bed, like all the rest, lives off one, 9 litre watering can (each) per day. Which only gets delivered in the afternoon. So for the whole day, they have to go without a drink.

Bed 4 is the driest, because it has no shade and completely exposed to the elements. The zucchini's are plugging along, because they're a hardy vegetable. But I have silverbeet, beetroot and some herbs and flowers, which have hardly grown much in the same bed. Note the size, because you'll see they change in each bed, even though they were all planted at the same time.


My plan to help this particular bed along, is to grow a choko vine, up and over a narrow trellis. This choko has put on some impressive growth - but that's a choko for you. Extremely hardy vine. It will hopefully provide some shade during the hottest months of summer, but it will be growing most of spring to get there. So this bed bakes, in the hot sun, all day until then. And it reflects in how the plants are growing.

Bed 3 - early October

Next along the line, is bed 3. This also has beetroot, silverbeet and some of the same herbs and flowers. Can you recognise them now they're bigger? Only its next to the avocado tree. It doesn't receive a lot of morning sun thanks to the tree, so this bed isn't cooking all day with sun exposure. Which is why I suspect the plants are growing bigger.

What is more surprising however, is what's growing directly underneath the avocado tree.

Under the canopy - bed 3

I have radishes, beans, strawberries, pansies and warrigal greens. I really thought whatever I planted under this tree would be starved of moisture and nutrients. But instead, it has helped create shade from the relentless sun. It's actually preserving the moisture in the ground for longer.

While this bed is spared the morning sun, it does cop some afternoon sun, so this is why the exposed part of the bed is slower growing, than the plants directly under the tree. But it doesn't stop there. It gets even better!

Bed 2 - early October

This is bed 2, and the most remarkable by far. It demonstrates the power of trees, in relation to exposed sites. This bed, is not only bursting with growth, but also the most heavily planted of all the beds.

It has rubarb, ceylon spinach, nasturtium, spaghetti squash, silverbeet, allysum, pot marigold, pineapple sage, peas, beans, basil, cucumber, spring onion, radish and parsley. And possibly some amaranth. It's hard to tell if its germinated, because of all the weeds I've let grow.

That's one of the other differences between this bed and the rest. Because it was the first bed to be constructed, it didn't get mulched straight away. So Cobblers pegs (a weed) and tomatoes came up and I didn't bother to pull them out. Apart from the fact, I didn't want to waste time pulling weeds, I knew the value they added in shading the soil and becoming a great feed resource for my chickens.

Closer view of bed 2

I've been pulling off the heads of the weeds, so they don't go to seed, and feeding them to our chickens. They're lovely, moist and cool - plus always in plentiful supply! When I pluck off the tops, I feel the coolness of the ground underneath all that growth. This bed gets quite a bit of dappled shade from the afternoon sun, because of the avocado tree.

This is the sweet spot for growing things, and its all relative to the sun, and the plants which have evolved to protect the soil.

Spaghetti Squash

I also get a stack of bird droppings in this bed too, firstly, because the tree makes them feel protected, but secondly, they also have the trellis above, to perch from. So I'm gaining natural fertiliser, which I've only planted an avocado tree to receive. No lugging bags of manure or turning compost. Just plant a tree and the fertility comes to me.

Any critter who wants to get out of the sun, have a feed and feel safe from predators, is going to radiate towards a tree. And I don't mind if they fertilise my veggies, as they go.

Bed 1 - early October

Now bed 1 is interesting, because it did receive some protection from the avocado tree, initially. This really helped keep the moisture in the ground. But then the sun moved higher in the sky (as it does) so it now receives all day sun too. It supports quite a lot of plants and while they're growing a little slower now, they do have the advantage of the weeds.

It's been interesting to watch, because as it received longer hours of sun, the weeds grew bigger. What would normally become a gardeners nightmare of watching the weeds dwarf the edibles, I've noticed its actually helping to shade the plants which are struggling to grow now. If I pulled the weeds, I'd lose the cooling effect on the soil and my edibles would quickly wither. I have bed 4 to demonstrate, how terribly plants can grow in all day sun exposure.

Nasturtiums, surrounded by Cobblers pegs (or Farmer's Friends)
Also shaded by avocado tree

I can't afford to be picky about weeds in my vegetable bed. After all, the weeds want to grow, and I need something to protect my struggling edibles in all day sun. If I pull the weeds, I loose all the qualities they're adding to this mostly exposed site. Plus, I'd have to purchase more mulch to create extra insulation for the soil. Everything points towards respecting the natural equilibrium, plants have evolved with, to protect each other from the sun.

Managing the weeds so they don't go to seed, seems a more productive use of my time. I'm sure the chickens would riot, if I attempted not to manage the weeds, into their diet, as I presently do. I'd also have to grow more edibles to feed them, which I'm presently struggling to do away from the avocado tree.

Our volunteer avocado tree, which sprung up from the compost
we spread on the vegetable bed, many years ago

I'm thoroughly convinced the right trees, don't always suck the moisture away from plants which grow underneath - they help to preserve moisture instead. But also weeds actually make exceptional companion plants to the ones you want to grow. Perhaps not some members of the allium family, so much (I'm thinking fussy garlic and onions) but I'm not growing them in these beds.

As summer approaches, the importance of shading the soil will only increase more. It will be interesting to watch how the seasons affect these four, very different beds - all relative to that one avocado tree. Kind of like how our planet, is relative to the sun.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Random happenings

I've been doing so many random things lately, its difficult to write separate posts about them all. I've been lucky to snap a few pictures here and there, but nothing to really demonstrate the full story of each activity.

So this is my post about random happenings. I'll start in the kitchen, where I've been spending a lot of time lately.

Recycled jars

I've been making some apple cider vinegar. Which is just taking your apple peels and cores, putting them in a jar with water, and a couple of dessert spoons of sugar. After placing a breathable cover over the top, I let them sit for a few weeks. What's left afterwards, gets strained and decanted.

You can see the progressive steps in the above photo. We ate a couple of apples which I put in a smaller jar (most recent). I also made apple and rubarb (a week earlier) which used more apples, so a larger jar was required. Then the largest jar of all, is where I add all the strained liquid together (when ready) to age, at the bottom of my pantry.

Beetroot pulp

I had fun making a beetroot cake recently too. It was so rich and delicious, I got a migraine headache after eating it. I'm tweaking the recipe to use less sugar. This had melted chocolate in the cake, enough brown sugar to match the weight of the beetroot, and then it had a chocolate gnash icing.

Everyone loved it, but waaaay too sweet for my kanoodle to handle. So its back to the drawing board to experiment. My eager taste testers, await round two!


This would have to be my most memorable part of the kitchen adventures. It's when my toddler attempted to stack the dishwasher, after licking the cake beaters. All on his own initiative too, with absolutely no prompting from us. It simply had to be photographed. He completely missed the utensils holder, but got the gist of where dirty dishes go, when you're finished with them. He's such a little helper.

He even helps carry the groceries inside, and will cry if you unpack them, without being able to hand you every single item from the bags himself.


To the garden now, and when I was watering my container plants the other morning, I found a camouflaged visitor. The little green tree frog, stayed for several days and enjoyed it when I sprayed the plant with a fine mist of water.

I was a little disappointed when he left his usual post, but he probably had other froggy stuff to do in the garden. Like avoid being eaten by the predators. It's spring and everyone's being eaten for the next generation to flourish!

In flower

I was also very surprised to find my Flanders Poppies in flower recently too. The kangaroos (or hares) had munched them down, again and again. When the spring rains made the grass grow again, I guess they left the poppies alone. To see them flower was thrilling, and I plan to save the seed.

They generally self-seed themselves every year, without my help, but I've noticed only two poppy plants this year. So its time to intervene. I know there are all sorts of delightful poppies you can get nowadays, but I love the simplicity and sentimentality, of the traditional Flanders poppy.

Technical stuff

And I bet you're wondering what this is all about? Anyone who has found their DVD player's, door open, with a toddler standing nearby - knows this tale all too well. Every time I put a DVD in the player afterwards, the door would close, then open again, never registering the DVD at all. Open - close. Open - close.

Google is a wonderful thing. I did some research and pulled my player apart, looking for something (anything) that my toddler could have stuck inside.

Top cover of DVD player

Does this look like a foreign object to you? At first I thought the round metal piece, was part of the normal assembly - probably knocked out of place when my toddler opened the door, as the DVD was playing. It looked like it fitted perfectly! Why else would they place a huge magnet there, if not to hold this metal piece in place?

After realsing it still didn't work, when repositioning the metal disk - I asked myself, perhaps it didn't belong? Sure enough, once I removed it, the DVD played perfectly again! I suddenly remembered, my son had removed the bolt and washer from the safety gate earlier, which we place in front of the gadgets, under the TV.

Great how that gate has worked out, isn't it? Really keeps the toddler at bay.

So it was a WASHER from the safety gate, not meant to be in the DVD player at all. Once I got over the frustration of having to pull the thing apart, I thought how cute, he tried to put a round thing in the DVD player, just like we do.

Image source
Green card is motherboard 

In other news, my daughter broke her reconditioned laptop we bought last year. Thanks to google I managed to pull it apart too, and conclude it wasn't anything I could fix. It turned out to be the memory, which can normally be changed. Our friendly tech guy informed us, however, our model must be the only one ASUS made, with fused-in memory to the motherboard.

Model Asus X551CA-SX029H, for those who want to know, what to avoid. Because a google search showed nothing of the issue, and our tech guy had never seen it before either.

At $400 to replace the entire motherboard, however, its bye-bye laptop.

 Toshiba with Windows

I was able to save my mum's old laptop however, from a Windows meltdown. Or corrupt files, in other words. This is why I prefer to use Linux free software, as an operating system. Which happens to be related to something we learned from our tech guy recently too. There's a new (to us) Linux based operating system, called ArtistX.

It's designed for all those budding artists who manipulate images (including CAD) and video for a living - but using completely free software. I'll have to check it out.

So in my random happenings lately, I cooked and preserved some stuff, pulled apart and fixed other things, spent money finding out something else was cooked, and found some surprises in my garden and free online resources.

Makes for a rather full month! Bye-bye September, and the first month of spring.