Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blowing in the wind

August is our windiest month and true to its reputation, blew many a gale this year. It's amazing what you can find on the ground afterwards.

As long as a four-person table

I've never seen a native bee hive before, let alone one this big! At first I thought it was a piece of bark which blew off the eucalyptus tree in the backyard. I ignored it for several days, before taking a closer inspection. Had I been there on the day I noticed it fall from the tree, I wonder if I could've tasted Sugarbag? That is what it has been coined by Indigenous Australians, instead of 'honey'.

Millions of cells created by an army of stingless bees

The good news is, when I did see this wonderful sight several days after it had fallen, the native bees were back at the tree, the old hive had fallen from. So I assume a queen had survived, or they would have flown away. The acacias are in full bloom now, so they should be able to restock.

Even if I haven't seen as many European honey bees around, I'm happy to know there's still a stronghold of native bees in my backyard.

I did a little research on our native stingless bees, and found while they're harmless to humans, you wouldn't want to be an African Hive Beetle - because that's a whole other story.

UPDATE: Mystery solved in 2016, when we had two trees cut down. The professional loppers we hired, found it was paper wasps (ouch) not native bees, in that particular tree.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Update on Rebar

Just over a year ago, I posted about a small garden project, involving leftover concrete rebar from the house build. I wanted to see how quickly the Jasmine would cover the recycled frame we put next to the garden shed.

Here's a look back at how we left it in July 2013...

New installation

It certainly looked sparse in the beginning. Jasmine is a fast worker however, because in thirteen months, it now looks like this...

Covered in jasmine vine

It doesn't block overhead sun, but it does shade the side the "winter" sun hits, because of its lower position in the sky. When the summer sun hits the roof, this new greenery will help to a small degree, regulate the internal temperature. The other side of the shed has a metre high retaining wall next to it, so gets some shade there too.

We had to cut the jasmine quite heavily in 2013, in order to get the rebar in position. We managed to save a few tendrils which I carefully wrapped around the rebar frame...


Today in 2014, it is covered in a plethora of tendrils and filled with lashings of sweet nectar flowers...


As for our desire to attract new nesting sites inside the Jasmine, we haven't seen any yet, but I suspect it probably needs to fill out (inside) a little more, before small nesting birds find it attractive. But as a gardener, I must say it looks ever so pretty on the inside...

The secret garden

I've been working hard making changes in other parts of the garden, which I hope to post about soon. You know those plants which finally grow to full size, after years of maintaining them, but they turn out to be a problem child where they are. I'm biting the bullet with a few of those now, and making some difficult choices.

But all gardens change, its part of their evolution and kind of intoxicating for me as a gardener. Spring is just around the corner, but I think my garden can't tell its still winter because its already blooming!

That's a post for another day though.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All rounder

The past few weeks have been interesting. I call it the month for things to break down. I cannot believe the number of repairs needing attention! Sarah had a friend sleepover, and guess what happened to her bed? It broke! The supporting legs warped, which caused the bolts holding it all together, to loosen.

warped bed leg - or otherwise known as the lynch pin

It was a secondhand bed (given to us for free) but still, of all nights to lose complete integrity, it had to be on a sleepover night. Everything under the bed was removed, and the mattress placed on the ground. The bed could not be repaired, it was a complete write-off.

It wasn't me!

Same sleepover, and the friend also broke one of our dining chairs too. Not entirely their fault, as our chairs have been threatening to come apart for years. Every Christmas I wonder if we'll end up eating Japanese style, on the floor. I'm determined to fix them before this Christmas...although they are my famous last words. Just mention Christmas, and you'll have to guess which year I get cracking.

But of course, it doesn't end there...why not lose a door-handle to the food pantry, while we're at it?

At least one handle works, so we won't starve

The handle had been semi ripped out, just from regular use. It was a cheap, hollow, door. I removed it completely, recently, to see how I could repair it. Going to need a wooden plug and more screws, rather than just glue I'm afraid. This now joins my growing list of things to repair.

Of course, it wouldn't be complete without some obligatory electrical appliance going kaput, and our front-loading washing machine, was the culprit to apply for its standing vacation.

Drain hose and filter plug

If I wanted to complete a load of washing, I had to manually drain the machine twice, with a fiddly little hose right at the base. My back really loved that idea by the fifth load of washing. Technology is a great thing when it's actually working. Enter the magic of the internet there anything Google cannot solve?

I was able to find the problem was an elastic band which had wrapped itself around the water pump propeller. Hello my dearly beloved, rubber band collector, who doesn't always check his pockets before putting on a wash. ;)

So this is where I start to look for those clouds with silver linings. The washing machine is now fixed without a repair bill, and my back is saved - yay!!

New double bed

We purchased a new bed, after searching for a secondhand one. Sadly, it's a mass produced bed from China, but it's also solid wood and purchased from a local, small business. We could have saved $30 buying from a flat-pack furniture store, but decided to support a local business instead, who also dealt in second-hand furniture.

Native ginger and puddles!

The long months of drought finally broke too. It wasn't enough to rehydrate everything properly, but it was still a very welcome relief. The kangaroos were out and about the very next day, getting the new shoots of green grass. I was happy to see them back at their regular spots.

Click to enlarge

Kangaroos in the garden, really make a difference to why we choose to stay here. In the past when we've contemplated selling, it was the kangaroos which had a big impact on keeping us here. We enjoy seeing them frequent our garden, the new generations of Joey's practicing their jumping skills on our slopes - but its also a reminder that our garden isn't just about us. It's a shared community.

Veggie magic

Of course the silverbeet also enjoyed the drop of rain recently. I've been watering them by hand, but they seemed to really love the rain because they've doubled in size! They're planted with my ginger, while they remain dormant through the winter. I use the soil to produce another crop in the meantime.

So life has been a mixed bag of challenges and relief lately, - truly, can life be anything else?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Culinary traditions

What could I do on my 40th birthday, to challenge my comfort zone and yet still preserve some of that tradition, which is in keeping with my character? Make Choko Chutney of course! I know- I should be inviting everyone around for a huge party, to receive the obligatory jokes about growing old, being over the hill and how my physique will go down the hill with me. But (believe it or not) that's not how I like to celebrate...*wink*

I had some chokos that were starting to sprout and it seemed such a waste not to use any. Plus Choko Chutney reminded me of my teenage years, when mum would make a special batch after harvesting the vine. I would eat Chutney on toast, meat sandwiches and even in the curries mum would make for dinner. If I was going to relive any part of my youth at 40, I wanted it to be through the divine experience and satisfaction of food.

So it was I followed an old recipe, threw in a few flavouring modifications of my own, and ended up with 4.5 litres (4.7 quarts) of Chutney - nicely canned and labeled in the pantry. It was a little frustrating to make, as I didn't have proper canning equipment, but it was also deeply satisfying after it was done. Especially when it came to the tasting! On my gluten free toast now, it still reminds me of my teenage years - memories of hot toast in the cold mornings, before walking to school.

With years of experience behind me as a baker though, I decided to use the Chutney in making a peasant loaf. So new memories to make for a new era. This loaf was not a gluten free recipe, I was a little naughty by tasting it - but it was a real hit at morning tea, I hear, at one of David's Doctor Who Club meetings.

It uses a standard bread recipe (I used sourdough) for one large loaf, but the dough is cut in half, to make two peasant loaves. I'll let the pictures do the explaining though...

Roll halved dough into a 30cm long rectangle, smear chutney & sprinkle cheese

Roll into a sausage lengthwise, then place on greased tray ~ seam down

Use sharp scissors to cut into dough on an angle ~ avoid cutting bottom seam

Push slices to alternative sides then prove 30-60 minutes depending on temperature
~ Do the same for second loaf ~

Sprinkle with cheese before baking in preheated oven
I would have liked mine to prove longer, but was on a deadline

bake for 25-30 minutes at 180 degrees C

Freshly baked and placed in a basket, on top of a clean towel 
and 2 layers of butchers paper ~ wrap paper over to keep warm

This basket was a birthday present from my family, I made the gingham cloth
It made transporting the freshly baked peasant loaves to the meeting, easy

If you're interested in the Chutney recipe, you can find the one I used here: and my modifications are:

1/3 cup salt (reduced from 1 cup)
1 tab mustard seed
2 tabs mixed spice (or all spice)
6 tabs cornflour

I also opted to use the sultanas, as it does add some more sweetness. I cut the salt back to a half-cup, and covered the veg with water instead, to soak overnight. You will need at least a 6 litre pot for cooking. I didn't have one, so used my slow cooker instead. Took me a little longer to boil, but it was all I could find to fit it all.

If you want chunky style, chop your chokos small, as they won't disintegrate after cooking. Choko is special like that, as it will continue to hold its form. The recipe linked to, suggests using a potato masher if you want a smoother chutney, but I used my metal stick blender instead. Made short work of the chokos. I would recommend a smooth chutney, as its easier to spread on bread. I also found the chunks didn't really carry the flavours as well.

If you think it tastes too vinegary, then wait a week before eating. I've already opened my second jar though. I love it a lot. So does David. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to get my daughter to try it. Alas. Peter also squished up his nose too, so I only give him the slightest smear when he shares my morning toast. He loved it in the curry I made the other night though!

The Choko Chutney experience, was really about me getting to relive part of my youth. That time in my life when I didn't know I was going to become a mum of two and find my sweetheart. Back then, it was about finishing school and not freezing my kneecaps off, on the way to it. The Choko vine my mum used to harvest every year, would shade my quail run, where I was successfully raising several batches of young - or the parents were. Now my personal Choko vine shades the chicken coop.

Some things just don't change, no matter how old you get...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Remember the trees

I've had this post kicking around my head for several months now. It's a combination of all the years of observing the changes to our landscape, and the shared environment with our neighbours. What we all do on our land, and the choices we make in our stewardship, effects everything in our environment. Not a lot of people however, always pay attention to the specific details.

Before I go any further though, I want to share some amazing things I've witnessed with trees. These aren't the living ones, but the ones we've left to add to the habitat once felled.

The story begins...

This Spotted Gum was big, at least 30 metres tall and too close to the house. We spent $400 getting a professional tree lopper to take it down for us and cut it into lengths. That was roughly five to six years ago. It's girth was over a metre wide at the base...


We used its remaining stump as a birdhouse stand, and built a play fort around it. Our daughter used to be just tall enough to slap the top of the stump when it was first cut down, and now it would reach her waist. While my children have grown up around a decaying tree, would you believe this tree still has some life in it?


Or perhaps I should say, the tree has some life still growing on it. When the wet season arrives, the decaying matter on the ground grows all manner of microscopic lifeforms. What we can see without needing a microscope however, is fungi. This fungi can be food for various other creatures, and fungi is what moves nutrients around the under-story, making it available for other plants to take up and grow. So you see, there is still a lot happening around this old bitty.

Marked from the past and present

On the wood, are remnants of the beetle larvae that would live part of their life cycle underneath the bark. This was food for the cockatoos and marsupials while it was living, but it now grows fungi instead, and provides homes for wasps who like to burrow into the wood to carry out their life cycles too. Had we decided to burn this tree, like our neighbours tend to do, we wouldn't have witnessed this amazing second life that plays out around its fallen form.

Dark, organic, soil under the log

There is always evidence of digging around decaying trees. It's either echidnas looking for termites and ants, or other marsupials which like to eat juicy bugs that burrow underneath the logs. When we stop to pay attention to these very ordinary details, we get to witness how nature uses organic matter, and gives it back to other living organisms to prolificate and reproduce.

If I had to replace the organic matter this old tree has produced, by hand, I'd be looking at around a few tonnes. Fifty trips with the trailer perhaps? It would cost more than $400 to replace what this tree has provided in the environment it grew up in and then fell upon. It's still got a lot more organic matter to give as well - its continually producing it.

Synchronised compost piles

We still have chunks of log around the yard, doing their part to help nature along. This is an area which is begging for organic matter, and other people just collect it and burn it because its considered neater. I'm all for having clear tracks and areas which will be used for human activity to take place. But just to have a barren landscape after removing the trees and burning them, its any wonder this region is slowly evolving into a desert.

One of our neighbours hired some earth moving equipment recently, to almost completely denude their property. With their new lunar landscape, they spent many weekends filling our neighbourhood with smoke. Then after all this effort, and what I imagine would have cost a few thousand dollars, they started parking their vehicles next to our shared fence line. For ironically, there were trees growing on our side, which could shade them.

Reaching out

I was more than a little upset with that, not because they got to enjoy the shade, but because they didn't think anything living on their side of the fence, would appreciate the shade either. This summer, the outside temperatures are going to be hotter, thanks to our neighbour's new lunar landscape, and we're already feeling the effects of the wind. What used to be the most protected side of the house, is now blowing dust. Their line of tall trees are gone, so the wind is free to blow through the gullies unhindered, until it hits our house.

Most disturbing of all, is having to witness the kangaroos getting skinnier. I planted extra pigeon pea trees to help them through this normally scarce food period. But what extra I planted was quickly eaten in the first month of winter.

Joey's off mother's milk, searching for vegetation

The knock-on effect of what the neighbour did, by removing all those trees and burning them instead of letting them decay on the surface, is deprive a generation of creatures their food supply and homes. There will be less creatures around for next season, to start the life cycle of nature again. This is how deserts are slowly created. We strategically remove anything of value at a few thousand dollars, and then let the natural systems degrade until we completely expose ourselves too.

It scares me to think I can feel the effects of what one neighbour did on a few acres, compared to what must be happening all over the world on larger chunks of land. Forgetting our responsible stewardship of the land, guarantees a poorer system. I'm not suggesting trees can never be removed, or that fires can never be lit, but if that's all individuals do for land management, while working hard off-site, to pay for the air-conditioning - then it seems like a counterproductive means to an end.

Let them live again

Truly, we won't get any climatic comfort by completely disregarding the environment we already have. There is much talk about carbon and government policies being responsible, but those things we cannot directly control. Reducing our carbon footprint or voting for greener policies, won't necessarily translate into lower National emissions, or a government who will curtail industry from polluting. But regarding trees, shrubs, ground covers and other living creatures in our environment, anyone can effect that today.

Anyone can look at something growing on their land and ask themselves, what is living on it or what is completing its life cycle through it? What if I had to remove that living thing for necessary reasons, and what would I replace it with to return the balance? Can I plant more of it or find something else to compliment it?

When I walk through our property, I see cycles upon cycles, and I'm extremely privileged to bear witness to it. My children's silhouettes are imprinted on this land, along with the baby Joey's. Is there no finer mark of a steward, than to remember these things are never to be set apart? What we do, will always effect something else. So it bears remembering those tall giants - with one life growing and another spent decaying, is for the next generation to begin.

Has your land (no matter how small) spoken to you lately?