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.