Saturday, May 14, 2011

Middle Ridge gets a make-over

Middle Ridge
November 2008 - construction finished

When I first made Middle Ridge chicken coop - I envisaged a large flock of chickens. With that large flock however, soon came the need for more space. It wasn't long before I made another chicken coop. It was aptly named "Hilltop", because we built it on top of a hill.

September 2009 - construction finished

Going between the two coops (uphill and downhill) planting new plants, digging drainage trenches, fencing and dealing with the regular household things; it soon became apparent we had to love one chicken coop only! It was great to push the boundaries of our poultry empire, but there were other things vying for place of importance too.

The recent floods in January this year, really clinched the deal. I decided to give away all of my chickens and much of the building materials I'd saved for making chicken coops. Was it hard to do? Yes, and no...

It was time to turn that page towards other endeavours of self-reliance here. Not being made of money, we had to start divvying up resources. We had to allocate portions of importance, to other pursuits. One of the major ones lacking lately, has been plants. To buy the amounts required for our 5 acres, would take another small mortgage. Not something we'd like to do! So Middle Ridge was assigned our new propagating area, with ready shade-house attached.

I'm really glad I decided to give away much of my building materials, as it made me have to look harder for solutions. When I went looking, I discovered I still had plenty of "stuff" to re-purpose. Enter an old spring bed, a couple of pallets and some metal grates, and we have...

New propagation area - May 2011

...a new bench for plants to be propagated and eventually hardened off. The metal grates had been in our garden shed for a while, and meant for the driveway, but we soon realised these ones were too small for what we wanted.

Re-purposed drainage grates

Yet, they were the perfect size for the up-turned wooden pallet. Plus they had the added advantage of drainage holes built in. I was really happy how perfectly they fitted - the EXACT length! Too easy to put together. It wasn't long until I started rounding up the plants that had managed to survive on the verandah.

In use!

This is quite a lovely area inside the coop. There's minimal wind but plenty of ventilation, and the winter sun manages to come in at this angle too. The plants on the left were some natives/bushfoods I ordered from Daley's Fruit Trees recently. Many were purchased with the intention of feeding native animals and bank stabilisation for the gully.

Notice the tall white containers on the bench - these were 10 litre ice-cream containers we recycled from Dave's former work place. I have soil in one and hardwood cuttings in the other. There were other things lying around the place however, which needed a new purpose too. Like this metal frame!

More storage solutions

A few recycled pallet planks and the one grate I had left over, and I made more space for plants, empty pots, even drying potatoes! Less junk lying around the place, and more useful spaces to make gardening happen.

Affordable yet stylish!

What I loved about all of these structures, is I didn't have to use one power tool. All the pieces fitted together so well, plus it's easier to pull apart and move again if I want to.

Vertical space

The metal frames original purpose was for - you guessed it - a chicken tractor! But it had these sticky-out things that made it impossible to attach anything flat to it. Makes a great tool holder now, don't you think? There are two hooks to each side, and I'm imagining drying herbs or plaits of onions from them as well.

Of course, all this work inside gave us the opportunity to fix the area outside Middle Ridge as well.

...and then

But I think I'll save that adventure for another post! Oh yes, and we did keep three hens (so Hilltop Chicken Coop is not completely empty) but that story will have to wait for another day too.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Birthday Parks

Our daughter had her 8th birthday party on the weekend. We decided to have it in a park where relatives from both Brisbane and Toowoomba could meet. This is a special park. It's special because it has a big play area for kids of all ages, wide open spaces for leisurely walks - but also an animal park which showcased Australian native animals. It was the Ipswich Queen's Park and we all had a lovely time.

At the beginning of the day, Dad found himself in a tree, when you and your cousins decided to play with the air-pressured rocket, we got for your birthday. He climbed up to rescue your rocket from the tree branches.

You hugged the tree and was relieved when Dad made it down in one piece. Then another rocket soon found itself in another tree, which could not be climbed - so we ended up taking off our shoes and throwing it up to dislodge it. We amused spectators and cried a cheer of victory, when Dad's shoe eventually convinced it down. He did a victory lap around the second tree.

I'm just relieved no-one lost a shoe or received concussions from all the near misses!

It was time to play in the park soon enough. You enjoyed riding the flying fox, even if you did fall off it the first time! Followed by climbing the spiders web and playing with the water pumps.

Eventually you found the kids climbing fort and stopped temporarily for a photo. I loved your beautiful pink and orange dress!

After our barbecue lunch, we all decided to visit the animal area. For only a gold-coin donation (which wasn't even compulsory) we could visit the wonderful native animals that call this part of the South-East corner, home. There were so many interesting things, to spot and adore on our little walk.

Like the huge goannas! They were so captivating with their spots and long tongues

We soon came upon a black swan, bathing in the trickling water, feeding and basically doing what swans do best - swimming. The gardens in the background were exquisite too.

We loved finding this lone duck, darting across the enormous pond!

There were emu's too - I didn't get too close to this guy, even if we were behind a fence!

And the wombats were doing convincing impersonations of logs - how uncanny.

How you fell in love with the mosaic turtle and wanted to take it home with you.

How I fell in love with the paperbarks and lomandra grasses, and wanted to take them home with me too! We had to settle for photographs instead.

When we got back, there was the serious business of opening presents and eating cake.

Thank you to all our relatives who came on the day and especially to our little birthday girl, who made us feel like proud parents, simply because you are you!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Propagating pineapples

Keeping with the theme of propagating (now is the perfect time in Australia to do so) I thought it was time to propagate the four pineapple tops, I had in the kitchen for the past few weeks. Like frangipani's, pineapple tops are best left to callous over any fresh cuts made to stems. Otherwise too much moisture gets in and rots the cutting.

Left for a week, the base of the stalk will callous over ~
these are ready to plant now

Basics are: chop the top off the pineapple, remove excess fruit flesh (I like to leave mine a few days afterwards) then gently peel back the layers of leafs, from the bottom upwards. I've had success stripping back to only a few leafs at the top, but also leaving many on - you just need a good enough stub to grow roots from.

Now leave these newly exposed stubs for at least 3 days. I leave mine for a week!

Then it's just a matter of potting the tops into a soil medium. My mixture is generally potting mix, compost and sand from our gully. You don't even need a large pot to start off with. Mine are just 50mm tube stock pots with a flat base. With all propagating, I find more success when I can bunch plants together to create a micro climate.

Once the roots grow, leafs will become glossy and plump again

Did you know propagating pineapples from their tops, is only one way to do it? In fact, it could be considered the inferior way, as you have no idea how the plant will develop. Anyone who grows commercial fruit, knows you get greater success growing from suckers or slips. These develop on the parent plant, which you've grown for successive years, selecting the best traits for development and not just taste!

Suckers grow between the leaf axis, as shown below. This one is too small to pluck off just yet.

One sucker is desirable, too many will deplete the parent plant ~ remove suckers you don't intend to propagate

I don't want this sucker getting so big however, it will take energy from the developing fruit either. I'll do a later post on propagating with suckers when I'm ready to pot this guy up. As for propagating by slips (they're found under the base of the fruit) and ratoon suckers, I've got some outside links that better describes the process.

Tropical Plants - this is an Australian site with a good description of the process
Ricks Woodshop Creations - an overseas site with links to pineapple recipes too
Texas Citrus & Subtropical Fruits - another overseas site
Purdue University - overseas site, very extensive detail (good read)

I'm having great success with propagating pineapple tops though. I'll soon try propagating suckers, but I'm most looking forward to selecting plants which demonstrate all the best qualities for producing fruit - and I'll only be propagating from those particular plants in future.

Pineapples don't mind other plants, but shade will delay fruiting

It's one thing to shove a few store bought pineapple tops into the ground, it's another to learn what qualities in the plant, best suits your environment though. I'm still learning about all the processes involved. I'm excited at the relationship I'm going to develop with these unique plants in the garden, for many years to come.

Don't let your climate rip you off from trying these plants at home though. They grow well in pots, which can be relocated out of frosts (and snow) during winter. They won't grow as vigorously or produce fruit as quickly, but they're still one of those tough plants worth experimenting with.

Maybe because they take so long to produce fruit, it's quite an exciting time when you see the baby pineapples emerge. It gets me every time. :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spread the joy around

An amazing thing happened in our garden recently. A plant flowered for the first time in years! What's so special about this plant? Not a lot, botanically speaking - in fact, it's quite a common plant around Brisbane and other places with sub-tropical climates. This particular plant however, has a lot of history behind it.

While the frangipani (plumeria acutifolia) only grows to around 6 x 6 metres, with white and yellow being the most common flower colour - the little branch my mum collected all the way from a friends' house in Coffs Harbour (NSW) was told to be hot-pink and yellow. Here it is, virgining on it's first bloom.

For years, my mum cosseted this plant in the cold of Toowoomba. It lived in many pots, until she transplanted it to her new home near Warwick. The frosts cut it back several times. In fear of losing it completely, mum asked if we would try transplanting her beloved frangipani in our garden. We have more of a sub-tropical climate here, so we nurtured it in the ground for over a year.

Then one day, it happened!

The flower opened, to reveal it's beautiful hot-pink and yellow petals. Not to be outdone, another bloom soon appeared...

Being autumn, it's lost a few of it's leafs in preparation for winter dormancy. I was so happy to see it's gorgeous blooms before it completely defoliates though. This particular frangipani cutting is living proof, plants were made for propagating. First starting it's life in a nursery in Coffs Harbour, finding it's way to a friend's garden there - then a cutting was brought to Queensland, where it lived in several locations, until finding it's final home in our garden.

All that moving, just to flower and bring joy to us here. I can't wait until it grows bigger so we can take cuttings for other gardens to share. Propagation is nature's way of spreading the joy around.