Brown thumb status continues…

I have a confession to make… I still don’t know what I am doing in the garden department. The winter proved a difficult one, with leeks, onions, garlic and shallots all being attacked by black aphids. The were completely covered by them! I had to pull them all out, wash them of the pest and replant them. To my dismay, the garlic hadn’t started to set bulbs, but I will check them again in a few weeks/months.

Of course, all my books says that alliums are not bothered by pests. I knew I could prove them wrong. Has anyone else had this problem? The only leeks to enjoy an aphid free existence were near the coriander so I assume this was a protective feature?

Also, do you have an organic spray I could use? I managed a soap/vinegar spray but it also damaged the plants.

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Gone Gardening

I have been so excited about my flourishing garden that I haven’t had time to even think about blogging. I think it has shown me that my true love is being outside, and not sitting at a computer desk – which I am doing more and more now that I am back at work part time.

Gardening, however, is part of my daily routine now. I wake up and check on the plants first thing after breakfast, and give them a watering if needed last thing at night. Lately I have also had to clear away the mess created by the cockatoos feasting on the fruits of the tree hanging above my garden. I wanted to be rid of the branch, but the neighbour who’s tree it was objected so it remains a big shadow over my beds.

We have had small successes, with the corn the major one. At least 6 cobs of corn which were mostly eaten on Christmas day. They were YUM YUM and definitely will grow them again. I have attempted to get another crop going, except I think the birds, or ants, or perhaps the children keep pulling up the new seedlings.

Our cucumbers have been a big success too with 20 fruits being grown already. They are so yummy! Our only problem has been the mildew and rotting of some of the leaves closer to the ground. Other than that I am quite pleased to have been able to put something edible on the table almost every night.

Tomatoes and basil have also grown prolifically, however the tomatoes have been slow to ripen.

I planted some pumpkin too recently, as well as carrots. The pumpkin have sprouted, but I fear the carrot seeds have been stolen by the ants.

Ants. I never thought they could be so hazardous to a garden, but they are. Brown coastal ants I think the are, and I have found nests and nests of them. Hubby is out at the moment getting something to be rid of them, so I am hopeful we can at least get the numbers down. they have attacked just about every plant, including the strawberries, broccoli (they are helping the aphids out, little buggers), corn, cucumber and even the citrus trees which have done quite poorly I have to say.

Frustrated just about sums up how I am feeling. After all the hard work of the winter and spring I was hoping for something a little more bountiful. But, curing me of my Brown Thumb status might just take a little longer than I thought.

Spring!

Six months ago, I was reading, longingly, all the blog posts of fellow gardener/bloggers in the Northern Hemisphere as their gardens, and seemingly their lives, were in full bloom. Now, I can laugh evilly as I do the same to many of you!

Beautiful, sunny, warm, sweet smelling spring is finally here. After a miserable and illness ridden winter, I am glad to throw off the shackles and launch into full garden mode. And that is exactly what I have been doing.

Oh the joy of getting outdoors and working on the garden. Oh the thrill of witnessing new life, new growth, and potential. I can’t help myself. I watch my trees bud with new leaves, watch as the flowers begin to bud, then open gradually at first, and then in a flurry of colour and scent. Already I can see potential crops beginning to grow, especially in my citrus bed. Soon too, the seeds my children and I planted in our new raised garden beds will start to sprout and we will see the miracle of life and growth, and hopefully, production of food.

None of this, however, would have been possible without the hard work my husband and I put into creating the garden in the winter. We have been anticipating this new spring with all its potential in our new home. We had to think long and hard about where our new veggie patch was going to go, and then once decided, we needed to put it together and fill it up. We also needed to ensure our citrus had a competition free zone where they could thrive. We got rid of the tree blocking life giving sun, created an entirely new garden bed at the side of the house, and planted more seedlings to create beauty and a new micro-climate. Considering how unwell we have been this winter, including my one week stay in hospital, we have done a lot.

Photos will soon follow of our seeds starting to sprout (hopefully) and the strategies we take to circumvent our brown thumb status. We still haven’t produced anything edible in the garden, apart from the chicken eggs, but I have high hopes that this season is THE season. Bring. It. On.

Goodbye Ugly Tree

It has been a few weeks since I said goodbye to the ugliest tree I have ever had the displeasure of sharing the same property as. It was, quite simply, horrible. With dark green, sharp foliage all the way to the base of the trunk, it had nothing pretty to adorn it. Small seed pods littered the main trunk and large branches instead of attractive flowers. Large masses of what looked like mistletoe hung like strange ornaments. Its shadow was long, and made the backyard look dank, dark and wet. My newly planted citrus garden bed was suffering from lack of sunlight, as were the shrubs in my native garden.

I knew from day one that the tree must go. We encountered so much resistance from well meaning friends, relatives and neighbours. “Why don’t you like it?” They would ask. “It creates such a nice microclimate”. And finally “What a nice tree you are cutting down.” Did these people have eyes? It was a blight on our garden and I am glad it is gone!

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With chainsaw and rope in hand, my husband and his father decided that baby’s 1st birthday would be the day the tree was gone. What a birthday present it would turn out to be. Probably the best one we have given to any of the children! With the tree gone, the sunlight breaks through mid morning and lingers until mid afternoon. Its winter here and so this has been an absolute blessing. The grass seems greener and more inviting. The trampoline can move closer to where the tree once stood thus creating more running space. Since its removal, the children have spent more time on the grass playing games and running around than the rest of the time we have lived here combined! Of the joy of feeling dry grass between the toes in the warm winter sun!

Tree removal of this kind has paved the way for a multitude of other projects. Due to the shape of our yard we now have an exposed triangular corner which was up until now grassless, mangy and wet. With the advent of sunshine, it is clear what we must do. This area must be a little backyard refuge, so hubby and I have half planned/designed our own roofless pergola and paved area in the back corner. I can just imagine sitting there reading a book, lovely and cool in the middle of summer overlooking our gorgeous deck and garden. Oh I just can’t wait!

My other project which I partly completed this week was the erection of our veggie patch raised garden beds. I bought two – ambitiously – for my 30th birthday last December, but it is only now that I am confident enough to place them around the garden  looking for the perfect sunny, but not too sunny spot/s. Look out Spring, here I come!

I am sure that I will think of some more things to do in the garden, but for now it is pretty cold here in Sydney.  All this week there has been ice on our windscreens which is very unusual.  There was even frost on the grass the other morning! All these cold, moist mornings are not conducive to working in the yard. Meanwhile, I am itching to get out there and implement some of the ideas that have been taking shape in my head. When the weather warms up, I’m going to be unstoppable!

For the love of Chicken Poo

So now you know I have three lovely (ie quiet) chickens. Honey (get it…. honey chicken!? ha!) is my youngest’s. Rosie O’Pecker is my eldest’s and is named after our sweet murdered Rosie vonPecker. Ding Dong is my son’s…. guess who named her?

Three chickens equals three eggs per day. It also means more chook poo per day than I thought one would produce in a month. Oh my, I was totally NOT expecting quite so much poo!

There are some problems with having so much poo around. The first one is that each morning, I am collecting three delicious eggs covered in much less appetising dressings. Now I understand that this is to be expected… seeing as both the egg and the poo pretty much come out of the same vicinity of the chook. But really, sometimes its ridiculous. My husband once told me I am not to wash my little treasures, but I figure, seeing as we sell some of them, that it is much more presentable without a layer of poo.

My other problem with the poo is that the chook run also contains my clothes line. Its a little unusual to place my lovely clean, drying clothes in amongst such droppings, and I have on occasion had to re-wash certain items that have fallen on the grass. But the main issue is my footwear. When I need to hang up my clothes, I have to change out of my usual footwear (which is usually something comfortable and warm!) into my garden boots or thongs (aka flip flops for all you non-Aussies!) Not only do I have to change my footwear, but also any guests’, and my children’s when they want to join me.

The children have been quite surprising when it comes to the chicken poo. My son loves to join me out in the chook run when I am hanging out the clothes, or cleaning up the chook poo, or collecting eggs. He grabs a little trowel, a small bucket, and “scoops the poop” (as we call it). He loves to collect the poo and dump it in the compost tumbler – the only place chicken poo like this belongs. It is amazing that such a chore would appeal to him (he’s only 2), but I’m not going to discourage him!

The last problem with the poo has been the flies. It seems that no matter how many chickens you have, flies are going to be an issue and if you don’t keep the poo situation under control then flies will become a point of stress between you and your chickens – which we don’t want. A couple of things have worked for us. The first is just keeping the level of poo in the area at a minimum by continually picking up and composting the poo. The second thing has been a fly trap. We bought our trap from the local hardware store. The bait, however is a bit of a problem. I believe that it actually attracts more flies into the area as it smells SOOOOOOOOO BAAAAAAAD! Although it collects heaps of flies, it is almost excessive. It needs draining two or three times a week – which is NOT a pleasant chore due to the stench. Hubby has suggested that I change the bait to some liquified chook poo. So far, after just one week, I have noticed a drop in the fly numbers in the chook run, and the trap seems to still be catching the odd fly. However time will tell as both the flies and the traps seem to enjoy the warmer weather better, and we are finally seeing some cooler weather here in Sydney,

If any of you are considering getting chooks, I must advise you that you need a poo plan. What are you going to do with it all? I was so naive when I first had the chickens, and I just started putting it all fresh on the garden…. well that’s not wise at all! It seems chicken poo needs time to break down, either in a compost, or in the form of a brew. When I heard it could be brewed, I simply placed the poo in a bucket with some water, gave it a stir, and put it on the garden. Also, a bad idea! It needs time to brew, say a few weeks. Since all of those attempts were a failure, I have discovered that composting the poo is the only way for us to go. Just chuck it in the tumbler, give it a whirl, add some other compostable items and some water and Bob’s your uncle. My only dilemma now is keeping the nitrogen levels down, as with so much chook poo it will be quite nitrogen rich. Any ideas would be appreciated!

(the lack of photos in this post reflects the nature of the subject. I just didn’t think you would appreciate a picture of chook poo as you ate your breakfast!)

Christmas Chicken Homocide

It was decided well before we moved that we would have chickens at the new house. They were going to live in the run down garden cubby house which was built by the previous owners and was uninhabitable by children. When we moved, however, and under threat by termites, we decided to knock it down and build a shed there instead.

Chickens were still desired however, so 6 months after moving in I purchased the coop. Not 2 days later, 2 chickens, Brody and Rosie von Pecker, entered our lives.

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Brody

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Rosie von Pecker

For a while, they lived on our deck but that was too messy so they moved next to the garden bed in the main back yard. They stayed there for a few weeks accumulating pooo and flies until I had a revelation. You see, we have 2 back yards due to the unusual shape of our land. The second yard is smaller and self contained – a perfect chicken run. Hubby made a little fence and gate and voilà the chicken’s space was complete.

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The Chicken Run… also good for kids

Brody and Rosie settled in quickly and were soon laying beautiful free range eggs. Lovely!

Our love affair with eggs begins here

Eggs eggs and more eggs. Our largest egg was a double yolker! You don’t find them in the shops!

But drama was on the horizon. We loved our chickens but something was amiss. Brody was a noisy chicken! She would strut around the yard clucking her little heart out, wake up at 5am clucking to be let out and demanded her food as loudly as she could muster. Poor Rosie was a gentle girl but she put up with it all.

We’d had the chickens for three months or so by Christmas and really enjoyed having them. Christmas morning was occupied by breakfast and presents and fun, so it was 930am before I went to check on them. Brody was quieter than usual but greeted me at the gate. Rosie however was nowhere to be seen. I threw on my boots and searched the yard. She was no where.  Then I noticed that their feed bin lid was upside down so I went to flip it over, but as I did so I saw her…. dead at the bottom of the feed bin… on Christmas morning.

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Poor Rosie von Pecker at the bottom of the bin 😦

Shocked, scared and angry we called the police.  This was no accident. Someone had killed our chicken. We guessed it was the neighbour behind us who’s house was closest to the coop. Perhaps, disgruntled by the frequent 5am wake up calls, they thought revenge on Christmas Day would be the sweetest. So, a visit by a Constable became our Christmas experience,  fear and anger made its presence felt for the first time on what is usually a fun and exciting day. Although our neighbour was implicated, the police could do nothing to find the perpetrator.

We quickly recovered from the shock and set up precautions to keep Brody safe. We also decided to get 3 new chickens as we had already talked about having 4. So, 3 weeks later, Honey, Ding Dong and Rosie O’Pecker joined Brody to form our 4 strong flock. Within hours however, it was clear that Brody was not going to get along with these three gentle chicks. We separated them that afternoon and separated they stayed for 2 weeks. Brody just would not accept them, and a bleeding chick later I decided the stress was too much so we reluctantly gave Brody away.

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Brody was a beautiful chicken… but boy was she noisy!

It seemed our first venture into chicken ownership was a failure but we were not deterred. Our new chickens are lovely (ie quiet!) and happily contained in their run. No one is woken at 5am or any other ungodly hour and the chooks very rarely make a noise during the day. Hopefully the neighbour is happy too.

Owning chickens is wonderful and I often wonder how anyone could do without them. They do add a list a daily chores to my list but the kids love to help me with them. Ir seems chickens will be part of our life for many years to come. Sorry disgruntled neighbour!

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Gardening on the Cheap pt 2. Creating a child friendly garden

In the previous “Gardening on the Cheap” post, I focused on sourcing our tiles, utlising our man-power and re-using materials left over from various projects around the yard. This, of course, is not the end of my ultimate thriftiness.

My husband and I are always on the look out for ways to get the kids out in the garden and getting their bodies moving (preferably away from the various screens in the house!). In the past, we have invested in plastic equipment acquired from eBay, cheap outdoor games like t-ball or soccer/footballs, scooters, bikes, a trampoline, paddle pool and the list goes on. But we have found, that nothing has really grabbed them in the way we want.

That was, until one day, a tree down the road was being “removed”. The trunk, chopped into bite sized chunks, was free for the taking on the side of the road, and hubby ran down with the car, filled the boot and came home with 15 or more of those stumps. Next we knew, our eldest was posing like the Karate Kid on the stumps, jumping from stump to stump and generally having a great adventure. These stumps finally have a home (they stayed in random allocation for about 2 months) as the new edging for my native garden bed. Not only is this a free (aka thrifty) alternative to traditional garden edges, but it also makes a great game for kids (the neighbour kids can attest), and as we discovered, shelters many critters underneath that my son loves to investigate.

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DSC_0406The object of my sons investigations

Apart from the trampoline, this easy and free activity has been more utilised than any other outdoor activity!

The next most utilised has been the conversion we gave to the deck which is now a “Pirate Ship”. With a ship’s bell, telescope, rope ladder and boat’s steering wheel (all from Bunnings), the deck has gone from simply an outdoor room to a potential sea vessel sailing the ocean, battling pirates, discovering new lands and running away from sharks. Again, the neighbour kids love the deck and its potential creative play opportunities.

Finally, the sandpit has been a great success. This cheap and easy activity has been played in every day since the sand finally made its journey from “Sand and Soil” to my makeshift pit. The only qualm I have about this wonderful activity is the amount of sand which now resides on my deck, and the new chore for me which involves endlessly sweeping sand and washing it off children’s bodies (and the amount of yelling I do to get the to stop throwing it!).

However, getting the kids into the garden is my ultimate goal. Kids need the outdoors, and so the garden needs to accommodate. A boring, featureless garden just will not do! These are just a few steps we have made to make it as interesting as possible. What have you done to get your kids outdoors?