Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out-of-body experiences

I think I just had the closest possible thing to an out-of-body experience you could possibly have without doing something that is illegal in most countries.

I ate this plum.


In fact, I only ate half of that plum. The wife was standing next to me with the other half, discovering nirvana. It wasn't until I finished the plum that I realised there was purple juice running the length my arm - it was a measured effort not to lick it up. Okay, so maybe I licked a little.

Its the first piece of awesome gifted to us from our Mariposa plum tree. I only put it in last year, and typically you'd remove the fruit in the first few years to let it put some growth on. But I decided to let it fruit this year because I don't like the thought of it becoming the giant it wants to be. I'm certainly not regretting this decision now - twenty minutes later, and the syrupy sweet goodness still lingers at the back of my mouth.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reaching New Maximums

This year's pursuit of the Onionous Maximus came to an abrupt end yesterday when I realized that my crop had been enjoying the generous amount of rain we've been having a little too much. Every top had died off, and the soggy foliage was already not much of a grip in the game of tug-a-war with the soil. Any longer out there in the wild, and I reckon they'd start rotting.

It was difficult to accept, but I decided I had to pull out of the running for the "Massive produce: Onion division" prize at next year's Royal Easter Show.

Oh well. There's always future seasons for reaching new maximums. But in consolation, I achieved a new personal best this season: 918g. Just look at it. It looks like a bludgeoning weapon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I call it "unintentional companioning"


I don't intentionally grow tomatoes any more - mostly because I don't like the taste of grubs. Grubs have this horrible acidic bite to them - but even more to the point, I don't like having the mind-scarring feeling that accompanies the bite when you realise tomatoes aren't supposed to taste like that. But such is the extent of the problem we have with grubs in our area, I'd rarely find even a single slice of tomato finding its way onto a sandwich.

Still, allure to the home-grown tomato is easy enough to explain. If you knew nothing about plants, you could be forgiven for thinking that the store-bought tomato is the tasteless, leathery cousin of the tennis ball - so I rarely find myself eating these either. But occasionally in winter, the wife will whip up one of her ripper tomato soups, and a small army of seeds will find its way into the compost. Six months later, and I'll be growing tomatoes from every garden bed in the plot. Sometimes even in the pots of the unexpecting ornamental.

Because I'm always so reluctant to pull out anything that bares fruit, I inevitably end up growing tomato with everything. Some might describe this behavior as just weak. I call it unintentional companioning. So while the tomatoes haven't benefited too well from growing with the cordylines, I've been extremely surprised to find the crop of tomatoes growing amongst the carrots is completely grub free.

Now this could be for a number of reasons really. Maybe the strong aromas of the carrot jungle is keeping the pests away... Maybe its just the wrong time of year or weather for the usual suspects. Its also extremely likely that these store-bought minions of the "tennis ball" cultivar are impenetrable to anything that doesn't have access to an angle grinder.

So I got to wondering - has anyone else had any luck with the "carrot shield"?

Although, if all you have to say is "its only worked for me with purple carrots", then maybe you shouldn't say anything at all.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Maximum Onion

This is not a tribute to succession planting.

This is what happens when you buy a punnet of onions and plant the whole thing out at once. Towards the end of the crop, maximum onions are inevitable.

But let this not serve as a warning to you, my friend. Unlike other things of maximal proportions you can grow, in our 700g of experience, a maximum onion tastes just as good as say, the pictured minimal onion.

It just takes six times longer to eat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Do I look good in purple?

For quite a while now, the purple carrot has been the new buzz food touted all the cool nutritionists who get regular spots on breakfast TV shows. Never one to be phased by what's cool - or the colour of things for that matter - I'd resisted even the most avid attempts of the local supermarket to get me to pile onto the bandwagon. It wasn't until the nearest branch of our national hardware monopoly offered me 1000 of them for a little under $1.50 that I finally came across the line on impulse alone. All that was required was a little time & patience to make the contract come good.

This is how I came to be sowing 'purple haze' cultivar a few months back.

Up until now the only advantage I'd been promised on the purple carrot was the magic A-word that sells any other food as well as sex sells everything: Antioxidants. While I think the magical claims of popular marketing rarely comes to fruition in most areas, I'll leave it to you, the consumer, to judge whether that's a real advantage or not. But as I found few other advantages worth a mention, I might as well get along now to the disadvantages.

Purple carrots suck.

The first problem I found is that unlike their orange cousins growing in the next row, the purple carrots have a tendency to bolt to seed on a whim. My orderly display of carrots was quickly reduced to a overgrown jungle, sprouting floral displays that you could easily mistake for a bundle of rusty shower-heads suspended in the sky. But the real problem here is that when the carrot goes to seed, the root turns to timber. Once pulled from the ground, I'm doubtful they're even useful for the compost - about all I can do with them is send them to a sawmill and hope there's a market for 2" x 4" lengths of untreated structural carrot.

That lovely purple veneer that has captured the hearts and minds of this country has a tendency to stain everything else purple, too. Have a look at my chopping board. It looks like whatever I killed there put up a hell of a fight, and now no amount of scrubbing can conceal the evidence. If only it had the same effect on the orange laminate you've all come to know and love as my kitchen.

But worst of all is how it splashes all over the place when you cut up a juicy purple carrot. The light coloured clothing I was wearing now only looks marginally better than the last time that red sock found its way into the wash - and that's only because they're not pink polka-dots I'm covered in. It makes me wonder if the whole purple carrot craze is secretly funded by NapiSan, or a large conglomerate of textile companies.

In short, I won't be doing this again in a hurry. Orange is definitely the new purple next season.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Surprise Potato

No one told me that when I put in potatoes last year that I'd, without a doubt, be growing potatoes forever. Although, when I stopped digging for a moment and thought about it, this is neither surprising nor a problem - for the very same reason. I mean, why would you want to stop, after all - and then what would be your motive for warning someone?


So I was pleasantly surprised when I returned from three weeks of trail-blazing through someone else's backyard and started to dig over my weed patch - to unexpectedly find two kilos of these babies. Winner.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The lawn, and other popular points of contention

A constant feature of my marriage is our ongoing discussion about the lawn. Or, as it might be - tomorrow's field of canola. I think we can both agree that there are some good points and some bad points to a lawn, and usually when we've done discussing those, we inevitably start discussing how I think we should arrange the kitchen draws. My thoughts on the pantry in particular are highly unpopular, and after enough back-and-forth, the end result is a little less lawn, and kitchen unchanged in its configuration. So it should come as no surprise that when I recently mentioned how over-populated our herb garden has become, it was met with more than a little suspicion as to where that comment was going.

Lucky for me a kitchen renovation hangs in the balance, and I found myself lifting squares of lawn somewhat sooner than usual - while the wife stood at the door with a face that showed more than a hint of doubt. Although, as you can see, I could have built a to-scale replica of Federation Square in this ugly corner of the yard - and it would look no worse.

So first I set about dealing a mortal blow to hideousness of the poorly-built but functional carport the last owners installed in what could only have been an effort to reduce their council rates via a lower property evaluation. Failing that, the least I could do is try to distract you from seeing it. After increasing the share price of Wesfarmers during my latest trip to Bunnings, I found myself back in the yard with some lattice, paint and 'couple bags of lazy-man's concrete.

Never missing a chance to take up some consumer-offsets, I'd recently acquired a large quantity of bush rock on Freecycle. This was scattered around the top end my my driveway, largely due to my lack of care in where it landed after moving three ute-loads of it on a cold Saturday morning. The only thing it was contributing in its current location was to the totality of the carport's aura of unsightliness. In all likeliness, the promise of this rock being moved to a more attractive position in the garden was a greater factor in my conquest of the lawn than any avoided arrangement of pantry containers.

I put in a curved garden wall of bush rock, and set them in place with an edge of concrete I euphemistically say matches the rugged look offered by the rock. I moved in some thyme, marjoram, oregano, parsley and half the country's yearly output of sugarcane mulch.

Looks great, doesn't it? Even the wife thinks so.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wife-appeasing carpentry

In what can only be described at a poor attempt at before-and-after photography, allow me to show you only the after of my latest work of wife-appeasing carpentry.

Once upon a time when I'd dig up carrots or potatoes from the plot, I'd happily stroll them into the house wearing a self-satisfied smile - all the while oblivious to the trail of dirt that would lead through the garden, across the back room and into the kitchen. At first this wasn't a problem - because the carrots smelled so fresh. But I knew its appeal wouldn't last far beyond a few runs of the Dyson.

So, some time ago I picked up a kitchen sink off free-cycle. It sat maturing in a dusty corner of my man-cave while I contemplated some of the greater mysteries of life - waiting for the time when it would become apparent that fresh food wasn't going to offset the mess in the kitchen any longer. That day came in the form of being chased from the house with a dust pan and a barrage of bad language.

And so this is what a few sleepers and re-cycled fence wood can do for you. All in all, it would have been a day's work if your average power drill could drive in more than five screws for a six-hour charge.

I guess she'll now have to find something else to be annoyed about.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What a difference six weeks can make

At one point I was ready to throw it all away. After a dream first season of Broccoli, I got hammered hard with caterpillar and possum last year, only to have this year's crop decimated in the first few days. Most people struggle with whether to eat their broccoli stems or not. I didn't even have that choice, it was stems or bust.
I've battled slugs, caterpillar, and god knows whatever else that lives in the garden and chews. What a difference six weeks can make. Hell, this broccoli looks like the stuff you see on gardening shows that vaguely reminds you of the last time you noted how different a McDonald's hamburger looks on the menu board.

And while this head of broccoli might grow to be a bit bigger than this, I prefer not to tempt fate or the possums  - and buy in while the going's still good.

And it was good.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bloodsport



This afternoon I turned up the fattest curl grub I've ever seen. Grubs are an unlikely source of garden entertainment, but let me tell you they never fail to disappoint. And as far as lawns go, ours is a gold mine.
 
Now you may be thinking this had something to do with waggling said grub in the wife's face while making comical noises of repulsion. Yes, that's fun too. But today, I felt like a bit of bloodsport. 
 
Open the gates! Release the lions!

 
Its easy to understand the immediate attraction such a tasty nugget would have on such ferocious birds of prey. Sure, not seconds earlier they were pecking at their own excrement, but let that only be proof they know a better hunt when they see one.
 
 
Fierce competitors, they jostle for position. 
Wings folded. Ready to dive.
 

And certainly such a delicious morsel is far too good to share. When your opponent is too fast, one must learn to quickly change tactics. The cunning thief sneaks in for a surprise attack.


But is far too fat for grace and speed.


Let that be a timely lesson to chickens who eat far too much and lay to few eggs.



Thursday, June 10, 2010

If you can't beat them...

It's oft said that if you can't beat them, join them. That's always sounded like loser talk to me, and besides - I am much more stubborn that your average loser. But for the first time in my life, I found a middle ground where I could comfortably test the old adage without having to throw up the white flag and somehow transform myself into a slime-covered mollusc.

So I went and got a beer.

Over the last week a steady number of slugs have been drinking themselves into oblivion, but unfortunately it would seem that problem drinking isn't as much of a problem as the newspapers have been making out, after all. Because when I awoke yesterday morning to find half of my beans and all of my broccoli missing again, I needed something to drown my sorrows. And yes, that only loosely prescribes to today's subject-under-the-microscope - but just so you can be sure, it hasn't yet gotten to the stage where I need to drown myself. And certainly not in VB.

So last night, having found my way to 11pm without the need of a bucket, I prepared for the drastic action you can only find floating in the dregs of a third or fourth bottle of beer. There was no ceremony - and only partially because I'm too practical for that, even after a couple. Any sane person who may have otherwise been around to witness the event was busy avoiding hypothermia underneath several blankets and a duvet. With only a torch, beer jacket and an empty jar of cocktail onions I stepped forward into the night to receive my cold slap of winter.

The unwanted southerly wind invading my yard had an immediate sobering effect that rendered the beer jacket totally useless. This would have to happen quickly, which, considering I was still wearing that useless beer jacket, wouldn't be easy. Up in the plot, I found a large dispersed collection of slugs traveling in completely random vectors with no common goal or direction. It vaguely reminded me of the last time I found myself paying attention to politics. Under the torch-light I hastily scooped all of them up and into the jar - which took only marginally longer than the time it did to run back into the house and close the door.

It left me wondering if it was all worth it for a patch of leafless broccoli stalks. But dammit! They were my leafless broccoli stalks I was defending. And I'm foolishly hoping that they've got at least one more attempt at foliage left in them. But I think I can say joining them only achieved a short-term result that won't be repeated often at this time of year. At least not if I get my act together, avoid alcoholism and order some more damn beer traps.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A-HA!

Returning to the scene of the crime, it would seem the culprit is none other than your regular slime-ball.


I figured I'd take the opportunity to serve up one of my signature dishes, lingot amer imbibé, or soaked bitter slug, if you prefer. Of course, the wife would screw her nose up at this, and so I gave this delicacy to the rest of the family. The Broccoli is re-shooting, and I'm about to order a few more of those fabulous gazebos, because it certainly doesn't look like the slugs are into pellets these days.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer

Something's been hard at work in the plot of late. But just what has been a mystery - because it certainly wasn't me (if you hadn't already guessed), and so the field of suspects is left rather large. Whatever it is, it has been busy all night looking after my broccoli and bean seedlings - and by "looking after" I mean I'm euphemistically using the phrase to avoid invoking any memories that are best dealt with in the fetal position.

When I get up in the morning and find all the leaves of my broccoli mysteriously absent, I'm thinking two usual suspects. Slugs and caterpillars. All this rain might infer the former; but I haven't been able to find any around the garden, and there certainly aren't any trails to be found in the morning. I'm also pretty sure its not the latter, because I've never known a cabbage-white butterfly to lay eggs on only enough broccoli for a single caterpillar to starve on.

So I figured I'd need to do a lit-tle more detective work. And with so much hard work going on, I figure there's only one way to lure the culprit into a trap - because a hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer. And besides, this is probably the only thing a VB is good for. I placed a beer-trap near the last remaining leaf in a bed of broccoli stalks, and filled it with half a stubby.

In the past I've not only caught slugs this way, but everything from slaters to cockroaches. I'm hoping like any establishment that puts a free-beer sign out the front in the early evening, I'll attract the regular kind of clowns that probably should be eating instead of drinking. But in this case its the yeast they're attracted to - the rest of the beer just drowns them. Vegemite (with cloudy ammonia) can be used in much the same way. I would once have said that's the only thing Vegemite is good for - but in fact it's much harder to clean from the trap later, and thus I can conclude there is nothing Vegemite is good for.

The beer trap I have is purpose built - and had it been coloured red, it wouldn't look too out of place in a bonsai display. But let me tell you, a fancy roof is a must-have for a beer trap in any kind of weather, let alone this week's biblical flooding. If you'd like to open up your own establishment, I'd suggest you speak to these guys.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fifty litres of Moo Poo

With the wife having spent the last few days battling the snots with a Kleenex militia, I figured today would be a good day to drop a bovine fragrance bomb in the backyard. To do this any other day would surely have her carefully guarding her personal space with a twenty foot pole, lest I come too close after spreading the good turd. Today however, taking good advantage of her current condition, there would be none of the usual hoo-har.

As I may have mentioned earlier, sieving the soil in last week's assault had the desired effect of removing every rock particle larger than a freckle. It unfortunately also removed everything good about the soil, which only come in packages larger than a freckle. My carrot bed was now a dusty, arid wasteland - but nothing half-a-stampede of moo-poo couldn't improve.

And so a handful of carrot seeds finally scatter over the soil. This year I'm putting in a row of generic Yates all-season carrots, and a row of purple carrots because everyone likes variety. Carrots are awesome because they keep for ages, and no matter what that idiot said last Thursday - they're very easy to grow. Behind them in the rocky wasteland I've stuck in a row of onions and a row of silverbeet, in a wild attempt at companion planting. The three crops draw nutrients from different levels of the soil, and should hopefully give each other some measure of protection against the usual suspects that find their way into the garden in plague proportions. The plums won't mind, they're heading off to bed now.

Its a late start to the season, but we're rolling now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Donning the Fedora

Like every other little boy who'd ever watched an Indiana Jones flick, I wanted to be an archeologist. Back then - in a fit of career-lust - it involved banging together a whip out of some scrap wood and a length of rope, stomping through Mum's garden and swinging from the clothes-line, much to her dismay. But these days with a better grounding in the difference between life and movies, I'm a different kind of archeologist (and gardener) - and recently I built something a little closer to the mark: a sieve. Now while a sieve isn't as glamorous or exciting as a whip and a fedora, I still derive some kind of a perverse pleasure out of sifting through the soil - even without a glimmer of hope in finding anything remotely interesting.

By now you'd most likely be familiar with my garden beds of road-base, and maybe the astute reader has already guessed where this might be going. In the past, I've had a terrible time growing carrots. Any idiot knows that carrots are easy, and before you go thinking I'm an idiot, cast your thoughts back to those garden-beds. Carrots are very good at working their way around problems (that is stones, the major constituents in road-base), and that's a problem here - because I end up with carrots that wouldn't look out of place in one of Stephen King's masterpieces. The wife curses as she tries to do something useful with them in the kitchen, which is a necessity - mostly because we hate waste, and only partially because special effects studios have marginally better ways at creating the finer features of alienesc lifeforms. So with some left over 10mm gauge aviary wire and some scraps of wood, I banged together a sieve and decided to take to my soil.

It didn't work.

Of course it successfully separated out the bricks and concrete slabs from the road-base, but I could have done that without a sieve. Not to be beaten, I went back and banged on another layer of aviary wire, dissecting each square of the wire into four smaller squares, resembling in places a 5mm gauge.

It didn't work either.

Finding it impossible to keep the two layers of wire held close enough together, stones only had to find their way through one layer, then negotiate the second layer separately before turning to smugly grin back at me from the same place they started. MacGuyver would be shaking his head at me for sure. My experiment in re-use a failure, and still faced with soil fit for growing nothing - it was time for the map overlay to trace a red line between the plot and my parents place - where I would perilously descend into the depths of their garage in search of ancient treasures. Or just a decently built sieve would do.

When you blow the dust of a good piece of equipment crafted in better times, you get a feel for why there is such an allure to the romantic thought of archeological adventures. No one will go in search of relics of our time - its all cheaply made, quickly broken, and scattered - well - everywhere. Heading home with my loot I still felt happy that I wasn't contributing to our archeological insignificance.

With a nice small gauge sieve, I would be unstoppable! - and I began the process of sifting the stones out of half a cubic metre of soil. Hark, I hear the sound of a thousand permiculturists crying at the thought of destroying the soil structure in such premeditated rampage. But before you get too upset, let me assure you that the only soil structure I'll be loosing here is the kind you'd mix with cement to make concrete.

Bucket loads of rocks later, I found myself with a loose, fluffy soil, completely free of rocks, stones, nutrient and organic matter (At least it was already devoid of the latter two, anyway). The chooks loved a steady stream of white curl grub I was unceremoniously chucking in the general direction of their coop. And as it turns out, this is also a highly effective way to rid your beds of rhizomatous and bulbous weeds you might otherwise miss - but for the amount of time & effort involved, I wouldn't advise it unless you're also looking to cut back on your gym membership & need to find a replacement.

With the sun setting on another one of my whimsical garden adventures, I've now got to get back to adding organic matter to the soil & actually planting some carrots. But I bet every kid wants to be a veggie gardener, now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Giving a chicken run the stubble-rub

Nobody likes to live in a cage. And while chickens are kinda stupid animals - and are probably indifferent between the moments where they remember they're surrounded by walls of aviary wire - I hardly feel good about seeing them behind that mesh of little squares. Empathetically, I find myself living in a chicken coop, which is kind of uncomfortable because there are chickens in here.

Up until now I've had a temporary chicken run set up out of flimsy plastic trellis, staked into the ground with rusting rust-proof plastic-coated stakes. After almost 18 months, its getting sort of tired. It droops. The grass grows up through it, and deep down inside, I know that Kikuyu is smugly grinning at me every time I see it there in its un-touchable glory. And on that point, its also got gaping holes where my garden trimmer happily chewed through the plastic last weekend, leaving said Kikuyu pret-ty much intact. But more than that it looks like someone built a veneer of ugly across my backyard.

Oh how the guilt washes over me when I open the door and the chickens run madly for their pre-prepared holes of dirt to roll like someone's lit them on fire. They do get out as often as possible, but only when someone is home - because the arrangement isn't sturdy enough to prevent our little Houdinis from attempting a Steve-McQueen and tearing up the vege-patch like the absent-minded, ground-dwelling cockatoos I know them to be. No plant is safe while the chickens are on the loose - except perhaps the despised Pennywort which they won't touch, to my great frustration. So much spite for such small animals!

For a while I'd be planning a permanent chicken run. But true to my reputation, I was hardly going to stop exercising my rump with a bit of a lounge-chair workout unless it was going to do me favours in the long run. So before I strode out into the early autumn rain last month, star-pickets and chook-wire in hand, I had spent a considerable amount of time in before-mentioned lounge-chair in a very contemplative position, fingers rubbing unshaven stubble.

And so the pickets clanged into the ground along the back of my orange-orchard. With some left-over hardwood fence palings, I banged up two doors which hide themselves nicely in the landscape of fence. Then with the wire tucked into the ground and tied to the stakes, the only remaining effort was to make a chicken-size door into the new area.

This set-up adds nicely to this corner of the garden. I put the orange trees next to the chicken coop to provide them with shade from the summer heat. Now the chickens pay for that privilege in daily deposits which will slowly work their way downhill to feed the trees. They also do a good job of keeping my neighbour's weed garden separated from my own. And the chickens should be much healthier & happier for the access to the dirt and green.

So you see, there is merit to laziness after all. Seriously, the stubble-rub should be a yoga pose.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The hidden realm of the cherry tomato

Last weekend I decided it was about time I did something about those Butternut Pumpkin. As much as I had initially enjoyed their casual meander down amongst the blades of grass, it really was getting quite ridiculous. Trust me, I'm so well trained now I only momentarily entertained the notion of accepting it as a new ground-cover. And besides, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have taken nearly as kindly to the lawn-mower as your traditional varieties of lawn. There was a moment of sadness as I started to wrench the last actively producing part of the plot from soil. It quickly passed when I looked over at yonder table and fathomed just how much I could come to hate pumpkin this year.

Now, you might find yourself asking why, a week later, I decided to write about it - and, let me assure you its only partially because I found myself with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. More to the point, under the giant pumpkin leaves, through swaying towers of Kikuyu, through the prickly vines of god-knows-what - I discovered a hidden Eden.

I knew there was a small bush of cherry tomato in there somewhere, mainly because I planted it there. In amongst three pumpkin plants and this season's honeydew not-to-be was the only remaining garden space I had left to plonk two cherry tomato plants, one from a dear old friend, and one from my dear old folks. Now I'm not at all suggesting by the tone of this discussion that I had forgotten about said cherry tomatoes. Quite the opposite - I'd been picking the odd tomato from the know location of the plants for some time.  But unbeknown-est to me, these busy little plants had set about building a magical, miniature, hidden empire beneath the expansive canopy of mildewy pumpkin leaf.

Now don't you let your mind wander to fairies and all that shit just because of my colourful use of adjectives. I'll have you know I squash fairies for Sunday afternoon funs-ies. Stick with the topic! What is really amazing is that the cherry tomatoes caught this gardener completely unawares - growing almost as far under the pumpkins as there was pumpkin to grow under. And suddenly there's a harvest.

Having failed so miserably with tomatoes in the past (or as I prefer to euphemistically say "succeeded so convincingly at growing grubs") - these cherry tomatoes seem to be the thing. I struggled to find fruit that has suffered more than having just been left wild an unruly. There's a very good possibility that I might do this again, next year...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Thou shalt make it looketh sightly

Obeying the wife's first law of the plot: "thou shalt make it looketh sightly", we've finally added a new piece of appliqué to our orchard - with a little help from a kind family member with the know-how. And in the spirit of making it look sightly online too, here it is:


Monday, February 22, 2010

Butternuts on the Zero-Hour Plot

I returned from a recent three week adventure to find a complete mess. What's worse is I had to be reminded of it every day through a rain-slicked window as Sydney's wet weather cascaded into a second weekend. The Kikuyu was competing with itself for a place in the expansive canopy, in places standing almost two feet above the forest floor. It even killed off some of the dreaded pennywart, which is obviously not a rainforst plant, but will probably return with an a vengeance after the deforestation. My only regret is that I didn't think to take a photo prior to the logging, because now you probably won't believe my extreme usage of adjectives.

Armed with only a lawn mower, I pushed into the jungle a few metres and stopped. I then had to empty out the grass catcher - this was clearly going to be an ordeal. Appealing to sanity, I removed the catcher and fitted the mulcher. What I've now got is a sparse green web of runners stretching over some dirt, because the Kikuyu smartly killed all the coverage. It's a poignant reminder that potatoes don't need mowing - and lawns are, in fact, useless.

But because I don't have the taste for Kikuyu salad and obviously don't care much for lawn, let us stop talking of it. Now that I can actually see the all-too-common post-holiday ruins of the plot, its time to get in and do something about it. In parts, the lawn has been growing into the plot - and in a defiant stand against tyranny, the last-plant-standing has been out on the offensive, growing into the lawn. I'm so proud of my butternut pumpkin.

Back in September, I introduced a host of new cucurbits to the plot, in an effort to find something that grew as well as the cucumber of previous years - but kept a little longer off the plant, and was generally a little less useless to us around the kitchen. I know people make dried chips of them, but we're just not into that.

Zucchini cropped extremely well over a month or two, producing - at times - kilos a day. We use a lot of zucchini, and we've found when chopped up into rounds, it freezes quite well. The thawed product is maybe a little "mushy" (as my wife would put it), although when chopped up into stews, stir-fries and the odd bolognaise, "mushy" seems beside the point. The excess was enthusiastically accepted by friends and family. There was even the obligatory baseball-bat sized zucchini in the garden after a week's holiday at Christmas - although that same week heralded the end of the Zucchini season, with the Powdery Mildew sneaking in while my back was turned. In reality it was just as well, because my zucchini-freezer was near on full.

The buttercup (not to be mistaken for the infinitely more useful butternut) pumpkin grew well, but has been the under-achiever of the group - producing only a few runts. Pumpkin was a obvious choice for the garden, because beyond having discovered its taste isn't nearly as unacceptable as previously thought, it seems to keep for an unreasonably long and unnatural amount of time. Before leaving on my sojourn, there were four small pumpkins hiding under some seriously mildewed leaves. Their stems drying, I carefully left enough stem at its top, and cured them in the sun for a week or so. While I was away however, all of said fruit rotted, but one large specimen. That one came to an unsightly end at the vicious teeth of the local possum. And that was the end of that story.

But where my other cucurbits have fallen to the usual suspects - the Butternuts have stood-the-test. They've weathered through the wet Christmas conditions, and two recent weeks of soaking rain without succumbing to the mildew. Their skins have proven tough enough to outsmart the possums, and smooth enough to deny the evils of mold. Whats more, when turning back the leaves this week, four to five extra kilos of butternut laid in wait! Ladies & Gentlemen, I think we have an evolutionary winner, now sponsored by the Three-Hour Plot.

While it is now February, this point does logically mark the end of a year that was largely not spent in the garden. It could have been correctly described as the zero-hour plot for a while now. And with the whole shazam being in such a mess, now is the zero-hour. Luckily for the plot I have no annual leave left, and will now be giving it a lot of love. There are exciting times ahead!