Monday, April 4, 2016

It's Ok, She's Just Punk Gardening

I have something to confess. On Sunday, alone in my jungled yard for the first time in a while, I got out my shiny long-armed loppers, indulged my choppy inclinations and cut back a mountain-load of branches and bushes, with nil preparation and minimal restraint.  Some may consider this an act of thoughtless impulse. I prefer to describe it as more an act of "brash spontaneity" (I had to look up a thesaurus for a friendlier synonym).

And I'm not afraid to admit there was a complete absence of plan or foresight... or even reason in some cases. I just gave in to my overwhelming urge and lopped branches off any overhanging tree or domineering large shrub I could get these dirty little hands on. I even climbed to the highest step on the ladder to recklessly cut back the overhanging bushels of the giant gum. "They love a little trim back" I confidently decided, having done no research whatsoever on the matter.

I took to the oversized money tree succulent with the zealousness of someone facing a plague of triffids. And commanded it into submission with the axe.

I grunted like a man as I sliced through the spiny branches of the fruitless fruit tree. Then I hurtled them through the air onto the growing pile of tree limbs, dead and/or recently alive.

I released the dark corner of the vegie patch by cutting back it's shadowy overhang. And the vegies instantly basked in the autumn sun glory.

And herein lies the lesson, gentle reader. I am about to embark on a course in horticulture, studying Latin names for plants, learning how to propagate like a professional, determining soil structure and examining the culture and history of gardens in Australia - all of which I am thoroughly excited about. It's a full-time step into a whole new universe, where I'm beginning again as a learner. Gardens are complex little places. And there is a lot for this little apprentice to understand. So while I embark on this methodical, cerebral learning process, I also chose to indulge in just a little punk gardening (or 'chopping shit up' as I like to tell my housemates, usually with shiny loppers in hand).

Aside from expelling any murderous inclinations you might have, punk gardening allows the punk (or the gardener) to forget everything they ever learnt and simply give in to the urge. There's no rule, no particular system to follow or guidebook to read up on first. No referral to an "expert" or extensive planning beforehand. Foresight is not involved. Just the deep satisfaction of slicing through big branches of plant and deciding to do it in the minute before. That's it.

I'm not advocating this process in all garden endeavours. Don't misunderstand these words as an invitation to never research or ponder again. All gardens need a plan. All gardens need consideration of species, sub-species, climates and micro-climates. I'm the first to admit that knowing how a thing like soil works is more fascinating than anything you'll read in the Saturday papers. Getting your hands around a lump of clay to assess it's elasticity before you plant is a great exercise to practise. Patience, deliberate planning and steady pace are undeniably the modus operandi in any green space. But every now and then, there's no harm in satisfying those urges to simply do, without long-term consideration, but instead, impulse.

When there's no-one looking, its good to take a break from being a patient gardener and instead, be a gardening punk.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Beginning Again

It's been over a year since I last wrote on here. Blogism (that terrible affliction that affects all half-arses who write blogs) befell me. I got lazy and stopped writing. And the longer I didn't write, the more resounding the apathy for writing became.

A few life things happened,  that I can conveniently blame for my slackness. My dog died. And so did my other serious relationship. One day I moved out, leaving behind all the things I used to deeply love and instead I moved into a sharehouse and a sharegarden.

 And now here I am, feeling as though I'm beginning again; not the same kind of gardener I was when I wrote Death of a Thousand Worms  or   When God Gives You Cumquats  (I really liked my post about the cumquats).  In my old gardens, I was captain of the green sea, busily mapping out grand plans for my little gang, growing vegies for the season, potting jars of pesto and building beds for rambunctious tomatoes.

Now I live in the fourth garden since this blog's conception and these dirty little hands are a little more hesitant in this space, maybe a little more contemplative. There are far more pots of plants now, designed for transience not permanence.  Ornamental plants, plants with robustness, that can endure a little lack of sunshine, plants to gaze at over a cup of slow tea. These are what fills my bits of the sharegarden now.

All those ambitious plants, plants with a plan, plants going somewhere are less of a feature than in my last three green worlds.  I live in a deep garden with lots of shade and lots of other people's tiny histories in it. Overgrown vines, irrepressible succulents and trees meant for national parks fill up most of the back and front yards, adding shadowy corners and soulful little birds flitting on branches early in the morning.

It is undoubtedly a beautiful garden but perhaps it's real poignancy is that in the shady green light of this new space, it is reminding me that there is a different approach. I am no longer making plans, but just appreciating all the little forms of vegetative life that already exist. Activities that once were done in an energetic flurry before I planted a row of corn seeds along the back fence or dug out a garden bed? These activities are done now as a whole day's work - Watering by hand. Plucking rogue grass shoots out of pots. Sweeping the footpath! Today I spent four hours making a little pile for the green waste bin. Yesterday I just sat in my armchair for three cups of tea.  Slow and deliberate is how I find myself gardening.

And I think maybe that's the best way for these dirty little hands to begin again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dogs and Eggs

This afternoon I collected four lovely golden brown eggs, put them on the table out back and went to the front yard to mow. When I returned 20 minutes later, I happened upon a scene of what I can only describe as complete carnage....

The crime scene is best demonstrated in the following pictures. Please scroll down. Sensitive material; may offend...

(Editor's Note: no chooks were harmed in this episode, only eggs). 

       Found strewn across the ground -

       Found nearby -

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Mini Business Plan: Can Our Chook Ladies Pay Their Way?

Before having chooks we were buying on average a dozen free range eggs per week at an average cost of $10 per dozen or $40 a month.

Disadvantages of this (aside from the price tag) were that we weren't always assured that paying for "organic, free range eggs" meant we were actually eating organic free range eggs.

Note: The state of egg farming in Victoria is currently coming under some scrutiny due to some stretchy interpretations of labelling by some farms (I didn't just make this up. I read about it in Crikey - and also over at our Aunty - ).

Short of cutting back on eggs (not big on meat, our eggs were a favourite menu item in our kitchen), we had little option to reduce this cost other than to buy them from battery hen farms. And let's be honest, you've really just given up on the value of life if you resort to that option. So owning our own chooks was the best option by far.

Having happy, free, egg laying ladies literally at our doorstep has simultaneously increased our consumption of eggs and massively reduced our shopping bill costs. On top of that it has negated any need for doubts about misleading labelling. The only costs involved now are feed and occasional medication  (I've treated my chooks for lice and worms once in six months). We've also found the easiest way to make other people happy is by gifting our extra eggs to friends and neighbours. In fact, people I work with have started salivating at the mere mention of home-laid eggs. And with wild looks in their eyes, two otherwise innocently-minded primary school teachers actually offered their souls for a regular supply.

So this all got me wondering - By selling our surplus golden orbs at mates' rates, could our chook ladies actually pay their way?

Objective -
to determine if the sale of our backyard eggs could cover the cost of keeping our ISA Brown chooks. 

Calculations -


Chook food = $30 (certified organic) - feeds 4 chooks for 2 months
                    = $3.75 feeds 1 chook for 1 month

Miscellaneous = $20 Pestene (lice treatment)
                        = $10 worming treatment
                        = $45 four hay bales for chook bedding and house floor
                        = $75 per year (this is a generous approximation, it's probably less)

Total Costs = $21.25 per month


4 chooks lay average of 2.5 eggs daily
                         = 17.5 eggs per week

We two chook lovers eat on average
                         = 14 eggs per week

This leaves
                        = 3.5 eggs spare per week
                        = 14 eggs spare per month

Results -

We would have to charge = $17 for a dozen (!)
or                                      = $8.60 for 1/2 dozen (!)

Analysis - 
 Oh my. I mean our eggs are delicious but that's just a bit ridiculous. And with that price why wouldn't the buyer just say - "Piss off rochford,  ye tight arse. I'll get my eggs at Safeway"?

Conclusion -
 Four lovely chooks are enough to slash the shopping bill for two fresh egg fans and give them hours of contentment gazing at them. However, four lovely chooks cannot possibly be expected to lay enough eggs to completely cancel the cost of keeping them.  They're just four little chooks, doing the best they can... what more do you want??!


Chook Ecstasy

Most things you read or hear about keeping backyard chooks, while  potentially useful and informative, also have an unfair reputation of coming across as a  little religious in their enthusiasm for the humble hen. Their praises are sung so enthusiastically to non-chookers: They're just such lovely pets; They love being patted; I talk to mine all the time!; Their poo is just so rich and valuabe! Their little beady eyes are SO cute; These common chookist statements must sound like the utterings of a crazy man to the average citizen, innocent to the  ecstasy of chook husbandry.

Still, there must be something viral about this poultry madness, as more and more people with room to house a hen or two, are keeping these feathered ladies in their suburban backyards.

And those heathen souls who have yet to be saved are only a dozen homegrown eggs away from achieving enlightenment.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mowing the Lawn vs No Dig Garden

I love to mow. I feel like Xena the Warrior Princess when I start up the engine with a confident yank. I suspect passers-by are secretly admiring my muscles when they see me start up the Masport. And afterwards, sitting in the backyard it occurs to me that admiring the short, tidy stubble is unreasonably satisfying. But, mowing in a symmetrical pattern and trimming nearby branches with zeal can lead to pedantic obsession. When you start having your cup of tea by the front door to avoid the back lawn you're desperate to mow, it's time to take stock.  When the weekly urge to mow the grass begins to grow into a deepening neurosis, you know it's time to....
Build a No-Dig Garden!!!

The only preparation is to have these things at the ready:

1. A barnyard* of poos (chook, cow, sheep, horse)
2. One big bale of hale
3. A stack of old newspapers
4. 10 or more handfuls worth of Blood and Bone

*The collective noun.

Two bags of each poo type for a strip of 4x1m leaves plenty of leftovers .

And it's all smooth sailing from there:

A more cost-efficient way to source the poo would be to head for the hills.... or a farm which would have this stuff in bountiful supply and probably at mates' rates. However, if you prefer to snuggle to the bosom of the nature-lovin city lady that is CERES, they're 10 bucks a pop at the resident nursery. 

Use some exact way of measuring out the space, e.g. taking one big stride to indicate a metre. Then, once you've worked out the area, pour three bags of black gold (sheep, cow and chook x1 each) to cover the grass (goodbye lawn, you trimmable temptress).

Lay newspapers thick (a good few week's worth of Saturday's Age should cover it). Then make them wet and soggy with the hose. 

Get yer gloves on for this bit. Bucket of Blood and Bone - handfuls of the stuff sprinkled over the top.

Cover with thick layer of hay ( I used the cheap grassy stuff, not fancy chickpea mulch). Sing 'Lay, Lady, Lay' to yourself while you do this. Replace the word 'brass' with 'grass'.

This bit gets exciting. Lay a bag of horse poo on top. This stuff we got from a farm out east. PACKED with fatty looking worms, which I didn't notice. But some resident ladies did.

 Disappoint the chooks by covering up the loot with more hay. And give it all a big soaking with the hose.

Then let it cook for a month or two. before seedlings go in. Peter Cundall and my mum reckon dolomite is also essential. They're probably right.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making a Dog House

After a few months of talking about it, we finally built a dog house this weekend.  The boyf read up, made some plans and provided the masterly directions. But, let's be honest here, power tools really are at their best in the hands of a woman. 
Two roomed apartments for Sonny and Missy; back room for extra warmth and enclosed from the cold. 
I know what to do with this.

Safety first.

The box sans divider and door.

Drawing up the arch for the main doorway (jerram's makeshift compass using a screw, string and a pencil. Clever.)

Support beams

Cutting the dividing wall.

The lady inspects the lodgings.

Arch doorway begins.

Dividing wall goes in.

Lord Sonny Poo likes what he sees.

Carpeted floor for extra padding.

Welcome to your new home, Sonny.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

War Games Garden in a Suitcase

There is no silence like the silence of creating something on your own. It's not often I feel that sense of focus that I guess people with real drive have. But fleetingly, it comes and when I'm in the middle of making something good, it feels like hanging on to my seat in a high ride. 

It started after I spent a sunny morning in the Botanic Gardens. Lying on the warm grass. hunting for four-leaf clovers, watching Japanese tourists take photos of blonde-haired families, sharing my banana bread with the birds. After a cup of tea I wandered into the little gift shop (this is where you go when, drunk on miraculously beautiful plants and tea, you decide that it's entirely reasonable to pay $29 for a pair of gardening gloves). 

I shelved the fancy gloves and instead rifled through the fancy gardening books, stealing ideas without paying for them. And in there is where I found the fancy idea of making a miniature garden scene in an old suitcase. 

Once I got home, pleading in adequate amounts for the boyf to "lend" me his old suitcase, picked up some soil, I spent the afternoon creating something quietly and deliberately.

What You Need:

* An old suitcase (that heinously overused word 'vintage' may come to mind when searching - zip up soft-cover ones just wouldn't cut it)

* A drill and screw (to drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Or you could smash them in with a hammer and nail)

* Potting mix

* Army men, matchbox cars, small toys, dolls' furniture, miniature ornaments

* Little succulent branches

A little war games theme

Suitcase garden

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A little Farewell to All Things Winter

Broccoli babies

Stoic Cauliflower

Slugs making their kitchen escapes

Steamy Soup

Cauliflower coming back in soup form made by friends. Kapow.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Thing About Rats

Well friends, I've come to realise  lately that I've been living in this pretend back garden utopia, deluded by this idea that nothing beats compost. I've gotten so cocky about it that I've had my wormy minions, residents  of two compost bins AND a worm farm busily working overtime with double split shifts for the sake of the garden and my conscience. I've been real cocky about the impenetrable goodness of the compost pile. 'There is nothing that can beat it!' I've been heralding to anyone who listens. Pffff. I was wrong.

The thing about rats is they're a lot like humans. They're smart. They're adaptable. They're slaphappy breeders. Disease takes a fancy to them. And they're insatiable omnivores. While they've apparently moved in to the shed behind our back fence, they've been spending their frolicksome daylight hours prancing about our back lawn and their nights gorging like vikings on the contents of my compost. Upon opening the lids, a wide, deep tunnel goes from the top of the compost pile to  pretty much the centre of the earth, suggesting that these guys must have brought their own excavators.
The dogs have been paying almost zero attention to them. Sonny has been making a half-hearted attempt to herd them when they oocasionally make a daylight dash between bins and Missy's generously-sized head gets in the way of her actually seeing them at all. 

And speaking of dogs - it occurred to me, after the initial shock that someone smarter and smaller than me was stealing my black gold, that the presence of dog food might just be the initial drawcard for these voracious vermin. We've been treating the dog with bones the size of tree trunks which, unsurprisingly, takes them half a week to finally lick clean. In the meantime, they're left lying around for the next knawing session, which of course, leaves them exposed to the keen sense of smell of the new neighbours. 

On top of this, the finicky appetite of Sonny the Spoilt, usually means that he leaves half his bowl of food behind as he retires to bed each night. This is virtually an invitation for the pestilence to the Main Meal, after they've finished off the last skerrick of vegetable matter in the compost bins. 

My greatest fear, however has been that they'd finally get sick of my darling compost and head for the hills. The hills of the vegie garden that is. Once they tasted the sweet, sweet crunchiness of the celery,or the peppery delights of the rocket, it would all be over, I figured.

The final frontier came one morning when I got up and saw by the backdoor a scene of total carnage. The giant marrow grown from the zucchini patch in summer (which had rested like a trophy on the little garden table for months) had been diced, sliced, pulvarised, gouged and strewn across the ground in tiny bits. The little feckers had brazened up:

It was, like Gough  said, time.

All bones were collected and confiscated. Finicky eaters were given smaller portions in the morning, not night. Rat traps were drizzled with peanut butter and positioned in enemy camps (though I supervised the purchasing of the rat traps, I left the actual touching of the death snappers to the man hands...). And all food scrap offerings were temporarily re-channelled to the (gasp) kitchen bin.

One week later and no sign of any rats. The traps remain conspicuously poised and I now firmly believe that rats actually KNOW what rat traps are and therefore keenly avoid them. However, like their distant cousin, The Human, they appreciate a safe neighbourhood and it appears they've legged it out of here. Probably to the other side of the fence.

I wait, with bated breath and fresh food scraps, to see what happens next.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Too Cold to Dig, Too Cool to Plan

Well, an afternoon gardening really lends itself to an early evening of muffin baking, doesn't it what? (Cripes, the susie homemaker sensation is taking over! I'm speaking like an englishwoman from 1892. And wearing an apron).  
Being a somewhat mediocre planner, it was only 40 minutes prior to cooking that I had decided to bake muffins. Consequently,  half way through the haphazard snowfall of flour across our kitchen bench, it occurred to me that in order to make "strawberry muffins" one would actually need -  strawberries. It logically followed, as I diced the butter and wiped my sticky hands on my jumper, that one may also need -  a muffin tray. 
So, I bounced. To Coles that is. And all the way there I wondered how on earth I would possibly cope living in the country without 24 hour access to muffin trays and punnets of strawberries. 
This all led me to wonder how the country folk do it. The world's best muffins and cakes are usually made in the country where the local supermarket is at least 5 km away and closes at 5pm or midday on Saturdays. How do they do it? Of course! That eternal do-gooder - Planning
My mum's kitchen was permanently equipped to cook, bake, roast, ice, mix, stew, blend, sift, heat, cool, combine, whisk just about any recipe anyone might fancy making on a whim. So whenever Dad turned up from the vegie patch, beaming, with an armload of rhubarb stalks or buckets of plums, Mum would turn them into something we all hung around the kitchen for.
 In that kitchen she rightly commandeered the biggest kitchen cupboard for "cooking". It was a cupboard frequented very little by anyone else (except the last born, who, upon sneaking around looking for lollies one Saturday morning, gleefully discovered her mother's cooking chocolate stash, and proceeded to nibble undetectable amounts on a regular basis). Needless to say, I have a visual imprint in my brain of most things kept in that cupboard.
 If I am to continue to pursue my love of last-minute inclinations (planning be damned!) all I really need to do is  pack the kitchen for Armageddon. And stock it with the stuff my mum always had in hers. 
 So, if, like me, you often find yourself itching to cook but don't think much of that pesky thing they call -  forethought, here's  a list of things to fill a cupboard shelf with:

1.  Plain and Self -Raising Flour. In large and equal amounts. (Enormous lidded jars optional for those with a fetish for containers or a fear of weevils. Otherwise, paper packets are the usual).

2.  Baking powder. Is it true then, that this little fella is all there is between plain and self-raising flour?

 3. Bi-carb soda. It may also live in your laundry or bathroom cupboard. You'll usually find it behaving romantically with white vinegar to make your toilet bowl sparkly. Best to keep 2 then.

4.  Vanilla Essence. When times are tough, some poor sods also resort to drinking this. Apparently it gets you high (along with smoked banana skins and nutmeg). If you're considering this as a viable option, perhaps just stick to the cooking wine.

5. Cornflour. Which helpfully tells you it comes without gluten (which is obviously soooo passe').

6.  Castor sugar. I don't know why this is so special. But everything I have ever made has this stuff in it. Keep it in a tupperware container - make yer mother proud.

7.  Eggs and Cooking Butter. Free range eggs are the only option. Cooking butter is not as tasty as normal butter which prevents the peasants eating it on you before you get a chance to cook. It also comes with its own weight measuring scale on the wrapper so you can slice with mathematical ease.

Which brings me to -
8. Measuring Scales and Sifter. Once you have these two things you will bare your teeth and hiss at anyone's attempt to ever separate you from them.

9.  Whisker and Big Bowl. As above.

10. Wooden Spoon. My Mum had one with the words (written in what looked suspiciously like her own handwriting) 'Child Psychology' down the handle in capital letters. In between smacking her kids' bums, she did make a great apple tart though.

 11. Muffin Tray. This is the perfect tool for that last minute afternoon tea you've decided to throw. Upon seeing twelve warm brown muffins laid out before them, friends will be so impressed thinking you've been slaving all day in the kitchen. Fools! All it took was 25 minutes in the oven!

With these eleven things within reach, the sporadic and spontaneous among us may continue to flourish in the kitchen when it's too cold to dig. So go forth on wintery days, friends, and cook!
May your plain flour be abundant and your big bowl always clean. And may a lack of planning always lead you to a good cook up and a fine night's sleep. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Squashed Carrots and the City

Editor's Note: the following post, although published for a blog about gardening, is not principally about a garden. Any reader who is queasy about blind love for one's dog should cease reading now. The editor makes no apology for the smattering of sentimentality and hopeless adoration which follows. 

Sonny the brown dog has made himself at home in the garden. Determined to maximise on the limited sunbathing time over the weekend, he lounged on top of the garlic and carrot plants for the most direct hit of sunshine. sigh. 
 It took several grrrr's to get him off his comfy position and the flattened flora. And somehow, as he looked quizzically at me, I managed to feel guilty! How the hell did he do that?? 
So, in an attempt to distract from this unsavoury habit of his, I decided to bring him along to a big day out with friends in the city. 
Fresh from 4 years on the farm, sharing a neighbourhood with a brood of brazen lady chooks, Sonny the kelpie trotted off early into the big smoke for the day, casual as ever.
Waiting at the train station, a couple of locals in tracksuit pants and empty liquor bottles ambled past calling out " Hey look, it's red dog!". ( I only wondered for a second then whether this city trip was such a good idea before those lads kept on walking...)
He sat obediently at the end of the train carriage until it was time to alight at central. Navigating the huge flight of stairs, a gazillion people, ticket barriers and drones of traffic, he then raced with me down a spiral staircase and over to the ferry where our friends were waiting for us. Fare paid, he jumped onto his first ever ferry and introduced himself amiably to the bum of the other handsome dog on board. 
 On the hour-long ride he nosed his way around a constant supply of pats from the human passengers and then tried out the ol' sea dog act for a while.

 After sharing some fish and chips, and checking out the seaside scene at Williamstown for an hour or two, he jumped back onto another ferry back to the city, snuggling up to the little kids and nice ladies all the way (sook). 
When it was decided by the humans that an afternoon ale might go down well, he accompanied us to a riverside bar and dozed as the sun started to set. 
Before parting ways and heading back to the train home, we spent the last half hour of daylight doing sonny's favourite thing -  hitting the tennis ball up the hill for him to chase. This lovely photo was taken by jofo, fellow appreciator of dogs and suspected secret admirer of sonny:

Thinking about that day and his charming reactions to his new alien world, really, what's there not to love??

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rocket. Yehh.

It all began with a sunny afternoon in the garden... On the way zigzagging around the garden I had some fun plucking weeds. There aren't many and it gives me the same kind of nonsense pleasure as picking a scab. Between fits of weeding I also decided to pull out one of the cauliflower (its enormous leaves slightly more impressive than its little fluffy white head in the middle) and rehome some potted seedlings who were busting to get out into the big world of the open garden. 

And then, I picked some rocket. And cripes, though I love having my own continuous supply of that little peppery salad leaf, I CANNOT get that flipping Def Leppard song out of my head every single time I look at that plant. Not even the song, but just the uninspiring one line 'Rocket!!! Yeeeh!... '
It's driving us apart! More and more I edge towards the baby spinach for comfort and for fear of that line returning. My favourite eggs on toast accompaniment is starting to bring only pain. Its not you, little rocket. Its me!   
Well, actually, it's probably Def Leppard. 
There's only one thing for it. The cause is the cure. I'm going to have to do it. There's no other way.....

 Rest your little head, my green leafed cock rocker... We shall be together again soon.