Chapter 24 – All in a Day's Work

Chapter 24
All in a Day’s Work
I am constantly amazed at how much can be accomplished in one day of solid work on our little patch.  
How something can be transformed from a weed covered wasteland to a crop producing aesthetically pleasing place of peace.  Inevitably though to devote an entire day to the garden means to ignore our son in the process.  We just can’t seem to get him involved in any of our projects and in all reality I remember being just the same when I was a teenager.  Can I remember planting vegies in the garden or weeding a patch of lawn…NO fear!  So I guess I cant really blame him, I just wish that it would be something we could do together.  So now we are getting a little smarter, organizing lessons on a Saturday or workshops for him to attend, or phoning a friend to come and hang out in the yard for the day to help get him outside at least and pries  him away from his laptop and the internet.
Just recently I wanted to tackle the “garden bed” on the left hand side of our driveway because frankly as a first impression it was leaving a lot to be desired.  As Benny was on a motorbike ride with his mates from church, I called up one of Lawson’s friends to come and hang out with him and viola I had several hours to myself.  We had weeks previously bought six bags of sugar cane mulch from the local Bunnings and they were stacked neatly in the shed waiting for the opportunity and time to arise.  This particular garden I had neglected for quite some time and so now it was full of weeds (I wish I had taken a before photo), and so I set about pulling most of them out physically which took the best part of the first back breaking hour.  Now from previous experience I knew that if I meticulously laid wads of our accumulated local newspapers and covered them with a healthy layer of fresh mulch, then before I could turn around the chickens would be in and scratching it all up again.  So I had to become a fence builder before I could go any further with the project.

In another little garden bed near the tennis court I had recently planted jalapeños and bell chilli peppers and had kind of taken a punt that I didn’t really need a high fence to dissuade the chickens from getting in there and digging up new plants before they got the chance to get established.  I bought some half metre garden stakes, hammered them in the ground at intervals and cut the snake and vermon mesh to about the same height.  This I ran along between the stakes and secured with zip clips which I later trimmed off to make them virtually invisible.  This provided me with a low fence that protects the new plants but will allow harvesting to be easy once the bushes have gained some height, at which point the fence could be reused and relocated to an area of new planting.  Tricky hey!

So using my newly acquired expertise I used the same technique and created a long low fence on top of the brick garden edging (one day that will go) that would provide a barrier to the chickens and prevent the layers of mulch washing away in the event of heavy rain.  Then I turned on the sprinkler system and wet the ground for a while.  Another technique I have learnt which stops newspaper flying away with every gust of wind before you have the chance to put the mulch on to hold it down is to turn on the sprinkle system as you are laying the paper.  Not something I advise in the height of winter but very successful on a scorching summers day when you are wringing wet from sweating your guts out building a fence!  The black poly pipe and its little jets created a fine mist of water which was just enough to soak both myself and the paper and wet the ground sufficiently underneath it.  Once a metre or so of paper was laid I would turn off the sprinkler and lay the mulch, then on again with the sprinkler and paper and then off again for more mulch.  This is when I really could of used a hand because each run to the tap which was not located close at hand, involved hopping over the fence and back again, way too many times.  But the boys were playing and I wasn’t going to interrupt them just to stand there and be my tap turners so I got more exercise than I bargained for and persisted.  Until I ran out of newspapers.  Do you know how many papers I went through and it only covered half the area I needed it to, and of course it was too late to stop the project now mid way through.  So I had another brainy idea, I took all the discarded plastic bags the mulch came in, cut the welds, flattened them out and lay them on the ground like a weed mat.  They covered a lot of ground and were much easier to handle than the paper and seemed to be just as effective.  So six bags later the garden was covered and the project complete.  In this particular garden I have a hibiscus to attract the bees and for some colour, a Tahitian Lime, Avocado, Olive, some stray Bird of Paradise that  I think run under the fence from the neighboring property and my Lemon Chicken Tree which will be the subject of my next chapter so I wont spoil that with an explanation just now.
Weeks, nay months later and the garden still looks fresh and weed free.  There has been sufficient rain which is hopefully retained in the soil much longer now for the mulching and lots of beautiful sunshine to boot.  Just this weekend I noticed some new growth on the lime and what looks like some buds on the lemon so fingers crossed my hard work has paid off.
The best thing was later that afternoon while I was cleaning up, Lawson and his mate came out to the yard t
o skateboard on the tennis court and his mate looked at the garden with a big dopey grin and amazement on his face and exclaimed “Did you do all of that in just one day?”.  Amazing what you can achieve in one day, isn’t it.

Chapter 23 – Weeds

Chapter 23

One of the toughest things about managing the two acres that we have is our constant battle with the weeds.  The advantage of living in this tropical state with its bounty of warm sunshine and plentiful rain means we have healthy vegies and lush grass which is almost always overshadowed by an amazing crop of the tallest weed trees you have ever seen.   I grew up in Victoria where for the most part plants were small and dainty like the little alyssums that grew between the pavers at Aunty Maizie’s house and the pretty pink blush of the delicate cherry blossom flowers at Nanna’s. Even the weeds as I remember them were small and fragile and could be teased out of the ground by Mum and Dad with a little hand tool.  Now my memory of this process may be a little hazy as I wasn’t much into gardening in those days and it did seem like an awful waste of time when there were Barbies to be dressed and ballet to be practiced but I feel that the Victorian weeds were a great deal weaker than the ones that grow up here.
Now just as you may never have heard of cherry tomato trees, you may never have come across in your suburban backyard the anomaly known colloquially as the Spiky Apple Tree.  These are the mother of all weeds!  They start out as a pair of small fleshy leaves on a thicker than usual stalk which seems at first very easy to grab and also lifts out of the soil in full without breaking, bonus!  If you are smart and lucky enough to grab them early, always with gloves on to protect what’s left of your manicure, you will inevitably still feel the sharp jab of the immature version of the spikes that grow hidden just under the leaf or just below the cover of the dirt.  That just hints to the power of the prongs it develops if the plant is allowed to mature.  These plants grow fast, really fast, and because of their method of propagation they grow en mass.  See, its not only a coincidence that I talk about them and reference the cherry tomato trees as the spiky apple produces hundreds of green berries the size of marbles that if squashed resemble an underripe cherry tomato full to the brim with seeds that represent potentially another grove of spiky apple forrest.  Once mature these trees develop trunks, which will keep growing until about six meters tall and the trunks fifteen centimeters or more in diameter.  They are covered in the biggest (and small sneaky ones) thorns at every point on the trunk.  At this point if you have been crazy enough to allow other projects to get in the way of weed control you will need to chainsaw them through the trunk, drill holes in the stump and inject with a syringe any type of scary poison that will finally stop them dead in their tracks (that is apart from the potential babies growing at the foot of the tree).  Then you must chop it up and cart it away which will leave you scratched and scarred and bleeding.  You have probably read enough so far as to rightly assume we have let this pest get away from us, but let me assure you that it was not all our fault.
Talking with neighbours always gives you a great insight into the past of the property you now own and as our lovely neighbour Ross has been in his house on one side of ours for about thirty odd years and has had at sometimes a closer relationship with some of the previous owners than others, he is a wealth of information about our home and its previous occupants.  He told us the story of the “mad irishman” who would wander down to the secret garden every morning and play his bag pipes in his pajamas! Then there was the drug lord down the road who came home one day in a Rolls Royce he had won at the Casino.  He told us how with the second owner of our house, he helped cement the boulders together to build the tranquil, cascading, water feature at one end of our swimming pool, how the excavation works of the same owner ruined the tranquil creek and its turtle habitat and how he and that same owner put up the fence dividing both their properties not long after that.  Ross also warned that very same owner about the spiky apple, but this horticultural brains trust thought that they were the best, fastest growing trees he had ever seen and just let them run rampant!  The seeds then flowed off down the creek to propagate many more spiky apple forests and so on and so on…  So we have been and will continue to be fighting a loosing battle with this particular weed it seems.
There are all sorts of other weeds to contend with also on the property, like the one that grows like a vine that overtakes full trees and ties them up in knots with rope that could support Tarzan, and the one that pretends to be a ground cover plant by producing pretty yellow flowers that attract the native bees but lays down roots every five centimetres which makes it near impossible to pull up and remove entirely.  One that I fight the good fight with every week in my vegie garden we probably all have in common.  You may know it by either of these names; cobbler’s pegs or mother of millions, or perhaps your family had a special pet name for it all of their own.  All we know is that the weeds have been here long before us and previous owners and will no doubt continue to be here long after we are gone.  Whatever the case in our feeble attempt to control them they are in fact controlling us, eating into our precious time that could be spent enjoying the place or doing other projects and eating into our finances with purchase of chemicals, sprayers, chains etc.  I cant see at this point a real solution to our weed problem but…hey just an idea but don’t goats eat everything in sight?  I think maybe we should get a goat!

Man Cave

Chapter 17
Man Cave
Do you have parents that have retired, decided to downsize and have moved house.  What that means is that everything they have stored for umpteen years and never used now gets transferred surreptitiously to your house, box by box, one per visit, usually accompanied by “We thought you might like to keep this…” and a trip down memory lane.  Most people with limited storage space in their suburban residence find this creates a problem, unless you have an attic, a roof space or like one of our friends, a container sunken under their floor (if ever any people go missing in their area…).  We however are lucky enough to have a good deal of storage space both at the house and at the resort so can manage to take most things that need to be saved for future generations to throw out.
At the farm we are spoilt for choice.  Up on the top level, there is the three bay garage, home to one car, some craft equipment slowly collecting dust and gecko poo, all my yard tools, mulch, fencing wire and my mobile potting trolley.  All within easy reach of the house yard and vegie garden.  This brick building was apparently built by one of the neighbours (since moved on).  The fact that this amateur builder cum brain surgeon laid the bricks on the ground outside the concrete slab means that the subsiding of the land has created massive cracks in both side walls that you can see the light of day through!  One day it will fall down or be pushed down by the weight of climbing cherry tomato trees, but for now we have painted it to look all brand new and it is quite a convenient storage space.
Traveling down to the block further there is a tall carport structure or covered area under which the previous owner stored his bob cat and excavator, but could conceivably be used to protect a yacht building project from the elements.  It stores our camper (currently for sale $7,500), occasional vehicles, random furniture and for the first year our friend Glen’s boat refurbishing project.
Forming the back wall of this space is an old, blue shipping container.  How handy are they to have!  It contains all my archived dress making patterns, half a dozen different industrial sewing machines, stacks of boxes of excess sample stock, and just recently Christmas Decorations and assorted memorabilia.  The container has a timber floor, light and power which used to connect to a heater because the previous owner used it to house his much loved motorbikes (which suffer from the cold apparently?).

To the right of the “boat port” is the Man Cave with full length benches, hooks and brackets, a pulley system for lifting and manoeuvring a car engine (not that we will ever do that mind you), more lights than Beacons Lighting and of course its own stereo system with speakers and amp (who doesn’t need that?).  There are steel racks on one side and a mobile timber rack on the other.  A shelf dedicated to camping equipment, plastic boxes on wheels and assorted crates full of who knows what.  There was once a bar fridge but when that decided to heat rather than cool it had to be discarded and so far has not been replaced.  Lets face it, it’s hard enough to drag visiting men away from Cave when it’s time to have dinner.  I sometimes think that if we just moved a bed in there Benny wouldn’t come up to the house for days!

So eventually when Brent’s parents decided that their yard was too much work and the house way too big for just the two of them we knew what was coming and instead of being dismayed at having to take on a whole heap of their stuff, we silently clapped our hands.  You see we already had a place in the shed set aside for a drill press, projects earmarked for a welder, and benches just waiting to be filled with bits and bobs and tools of every kind.  Bring it on!  So they moved to a smaller house with a teeny tiny shed and all the other tools that couldn’t fit in came to us over several trips in a trailer.  There was also a load of steel, some pieces of assorted wood, and duplicates for most of the tools Benny already owns.

Benny pretends that he doesn’t share his shed well.  The fact that he doesn’t allow any of my stuff in it (except some wood from picture framing and a drop saw that he gave to me as a present!) lends some credence to this.  But in reality he likes to show off this space and has done the typical Dad thing and helped Lawson build his first Billy cart, given some of his friends lessons in using the drill press to make candle holders for their Mums and every so often his Dad comes from Brisbane to use the shed for a project of his own.  On these occasions Mum packs Dad a lunch, his thermos full of coffee and a bottle of water and we don’t see him until five o’clock rolls around and its time to go home. We occasionally hear some sounds that lend us to think he is working but more often silence when we figure he is just chillin and watching the world go by, or more likely having a snooze.

Now, I should warn you that if you suffer from “shed envy” then best you don’t come and visit our house.  You will no doubt be taken down to the Man Cave for a tour and if your lucky a sneaky beer.  Benny will tell you about all the equipment and even the history of some.  He will also inevitably proclaim that in his shed he could almost mend a broken heart!

Pickled and Preserved

Chapter 12
Pickled and Preserved
I have been collecting jars for a couple of years now silently hoping that one day my soon to be prolific garden would produce an over abundance of fruit or vegetables that would necessitate my bottling the surplus.  Sadly the filter in my dishwasher has been caked with the remnants of sticky jar labels several times over and the bottom drawer in my kitchen is filled to capacity with unused glass jars and lids, as is a whole shelf in my cupboard at the farm.
I’m sure many of you have had the pleasure of growing cherry tomatoes and have seen how productive their sprawling limbs can be.  But my cherry tomato garden is something else!  Firstly it was never planted by me, it just sprung up from the ground after a healthy dose of chicken poop and mulch.  At the end of a healthy crop of cucumber vines I decided to dig up the garden bed, treat it to a nutrient rich face mask of chicken run clean out and let it sit until I could decide what I wanted to plant in there next.  This particular garden bed has the benefit of the warm north facing brick wall of the three bay shed.  This accompanied by the wire mesh trellis that the cucumber vines clung to for the last six months made the perfect niche for a very healthy crop of cherry tomato trees.  Not bushes mind, trees!  
Not being one for having any knowledge about pruning or thinning out the garden I just let the plants do their thing.  I was amazed that without any training they clung to the brick work and worked their way up the trellis to the top of the garage roof!  Once they surpassed the roof the tops flopped over for lack of support but still continued to produce.  As luck would have it many of the tomatoes grew in between the mesh and the brick work making it very hard for all but nimble fingers to work them out without squashing them during harvesting.  Luckily the gauge in the wire was about a four by four centimetre square so it was tough for small fingers but not impossible.
I filled container after container after container of tomatoes.  Some were so big they were like a baby “real” tomato.  I gave away some and ate a few and was still left with an abundance.  So I took the stalks off, washed them and stuck them in the freezer.  Until just recently a power outage and the need to have some of my containers back, meant it was time to get cooking!
On a trip to the USA last year we rekindled our love of Mexican food, in particular the lovely fresh salsa and corn chips they serve up free of charge to keep you quenching your thirst with Margaritas and beer.  I had made a mental note never to by pre-made salsa again and so I googled a salsa recipe once I got home.  I tried a couple of versions and came up with one that Benny approved of and as close to the real thing as I could find.
In the meantime I had been growing jalapeños for the same purpose and whilst not yet at full height were producing a few that I could throw in the salsa.  So with some store bought coriander, garlic, some more chili, and limes we were away.
I love to have a day to myself to cook and so while I was on a roll I looked up another recipe to use up all the dwarf eggplants that one of my crop circles had produced.  We had been given a jar of Eggplant Kasundi (from the Bramble Patch in Stanthorpe) a middle eastern style chutney, from a guest at the resort and we had just scraped the bottom of the jar onto the last sandwich.  Now those of you who know my husband will be well aware that he has an aversion to vegetables, so for me to get him to eat tomatoes and eggplant in any way shape or form is quite a feat.  So google to the rescue and I found a recipe for this as well.  
All the cooking done, I put the jars and lids in our old oven (otherwise know as the crematorium).  Soon an acrid smell started to emit from the oven and I cracked the door to take a peak.  I had forgotten about the rubberised goo they paint the inside of the lids with these days to help make the seals liquid tight and stop corrosion from the inside contents.  This rubbery stuff was bubbling and black and oozing and smelling out my house now that the door was cracked open.  I grabbed the tray with a tea towel and ran it out into the yard to smolder.
Just a word to the wise, jars and lids are quite nicely sterilised by a couple of runs through the dishwasher and as long as you fill them when they are hot and the contents hot (and the right levels of preserving agents in your recipes etc) then they will be fine and dandy to store for a month in the cupboard until opened.  
Well after all my efforts I made four jars of each and put lovely little printed labels on to show that they were home made with love.  Gave away a couple of jars to a friend, served up some at my latest dinner party and now I have more empty jars and more labels stuck to my dishwasher filter.  Oh joy!

Crop Circles

Chapter 10
Crop Circles  

If you took an aerial photograph of our house and land you might be mistaken for thinking the aliens have landed and left their mark.  There are six perfect circles about an metre and a half in diameter in a pattern somewhat resembling the Olympic Rings in our garden.  These Crop Circles are a combination of my idea of recycling rubbish left behind by the codger who owned the place before us and my desire to have some raised garden beds in the “no mans land” near the herb garden.
Recycling is a great concept and one that most of us don’t think about often enough.  I think that “reuse” is a long lost art.  Remember the days when pickles and chutneys were home made and stored in oven sterilized jam jars adorned with little dolly caps of pinked gingham.  Paper shopping bags made great masks for children or were reused to hold garbage and newspapers were cut and folded to house the peelings of the potatoes, bean ends and pea pods before they went into the bin.
Some recycling however costs more than it saves and here is one such story…
I wish I had a picture of it, the great grey cylinder of concrete (about 1.5m in diametre and three metres in length) that was once part of a water pipe and was just left, dumped, in our back yard (far enough away that we didnt have to look at it every day).  The artist in me had thoughts of a mosaic sculpture of a face with great orange aggie pipe hair coming out of the top.  So the first time our mate Ian came around to clear some land for us with his excavator and bob cat, we had him lift it onto one end.  It stayed that way for the best part of a year and a half.
Next I priced some of the terrific raised garden beds that were out there in Bunnings and on the net.  Way too expensive for the budget (or lack of one) that I had.  Treated sleepers were taboo because the copper oxide could leach into the soil and eventually be taken up into the vegetables (particularly root crops) and ingested.  Untreated sleepers would eventually succumb to white ants and help to bring them closer to the house which wasn’t a great idea.  Plastic sleepers were again too expensive.  No old water tanks lying around to be ground into several circular sections… but it did give me an idea about what to do with the water pipe.  
So I called a couple of concrete cutters and got some prices.  To make five pieces was going to cost about $250 cash.  Five garden beds for $250, which wouldn’t deteriorate or poison us, sounded like good value to me!  About a week later the guy came and cut them after I had marked them as best I could with a line for him to follow.
 We envisaged that once in sections and lying on the ground we could lift one edge and roll them onto the trailer and one by one bring them up to the herb garden and roll them into place.  We had NO IDEA how heavy reinforced concrete was, even in sections.  The smallest one Benny couldn’t even budge, let alone get it onto its side, and he is very strong!  So we thought we would call up our mate Ian again and thankfully with our special “mates rate” it wouldn’t cost much more to get the crop circles put into place.  The problem with this thinking is Brent.  Once he has a bobcat and excavator on the property he never wants to let them go.  So $300 later… we have lots of lovely cleared and tidy space and the circles are in place.  
Weeks went by and I eventually had some time to start filling the beds.  I had decided I wanted to go the way of the “no dig” garden and had in the shed enough left over mulch and organic potting mix to give the first one a go.  I piled in the newspaper (not nearly enough to suppress the weeds) and the mulch and then thought about the water supply.  Talk about cart before the horse!.  Benny loves to put in sprinkler systems.  He has done this in various homes both ours and other peoples and will sit back and watch his handwork regularly spring to life.  So off to Bunnings we go hi ho hi ho.  Poly pipe, risers, sprinkler heads, filter, dual tap controller, timer etc. 
Anyhow you get the message.  Then with seedings and more organic potting mix and the next five circles worth of mulch our garden beds are coming along nicely.  Have we harvested enough produce to reclaim our $800?  Not yet, probably not ever, but I love looking out from my work space at all our vegies growing and most weekends there are sufficient variety to make an otherwise ordinary omelet quite special.  Benny turns the sprinklers on most mornings and marvels at the symmetry of the water spray. 

The Pumpkin Patch

Chapter 9
The Pumpkin Patch
Gardening is all about experimentation to me.  Perhaps it is more about my lack of motivation to do any research before poking in a seed or planting a cutting, but I am enthralled by the results that very little prior preparation and planning can still produce.  
After a recent tour of a friend’s wonderful acreage with organic vegie garden I learnt that one of the best things to control weeds is the planting of running vegetable plants such as pumpkins.  He had a wonderful crop of robust Blue and Kent pumpkins running mad around the bases of his stands of banana trees.  They seemed to be cohabiting quite well and there certainly didn’t seem to be a weed in sight.  
Taking this information on board I thought the perfect place to employ this technique was one of the car tyre retaining walls (oh so attractive!) which was both eroding and constantly overgrown with weeds.  
We have a number of vegetarian friends (as I may well have previously mentioned) and so I constantly make a big tray of feta, pumpkin and spinach quiche.  Every time I peel and deseed a store bought pumpkin I scoop the seeds into a container to allow them to dry out in the kitchen.  So I had plenty of seeds to propagate in some shallow trays, which soon produced about a dozen healthy butternut pumpkin plants.

I know well about caging my vegies when you have free ranging chooks, so after planting the seedlings at the bottom of the tyre wall (thinking they would climb UP it), I put a frame over the plants, covered it with chicken wire and the chookies were not impressed.  From then on the weather was bad and good and wet and bad and eventually with little help from me the plants took off.  And “took off” is exactly what they did… in the wrong direction.  As I watched the plants grow and send out tendrils strangling the “mother of millions” or “cobbler’s pegs” as I had instructed them to do, I also noticed that they were heading downwards towards Brent’s workshop and across the driveway leading to it.  So the tyre hill was still covered in weeds, eroding and UGLY!  The best part is that even though they didn’t GO where I wanted, they did DO what I wanted them to do and we were happy to receive about a dozen lovely little butternut pumpkins which were quickly turned into quiche and so on and so on.
Okay so we live an learn.  Back to the original premise.  The top of the tyre wall unfortunately was not retained in any way.  It is the top of the walkway and goes off on a steep slope towards the shed.  So the new idea was to retain a boxed plot at the top of the hill, plants some new seedlings and hope that they would have no choice but to cascade down and give the desired end result.
Projects like this really do excite me.  I am even more chuffed when I tell my husband and he asks “how can I help?” rather than telling me it is a ludicrous idea.  So we cut some boards from some rubbish timber lying around.  He helped me run some stakes into the bank to support their weight and we cut some triangle shapes to enclose the ends.  We ended up with a box about two metres long and half a metre wide.
I weeded the area as best I could with a little help from the curious chooks, and then it was my job to back fill it with soil.  So I hooked up the trailer to the mower and took it through the gate (closing it behind me) and down to the compost heap.  
Each shovel full was teaming with worms which was quite encouraging and I was secretly hoping the curious chooks wouldn’t come down and see what I was doing and get in the way.  I shoveled and shoveled until the trailer was full (no mean feat) and then drove it up to the yard and as close as I could to the walk path which was still a few metres away from the planter box.  Then shovel by shovel I walked all the soil to the box only to discover it was going to take at least another trailer full to come close to filling it!
Back again to the compost heap, more hard work, back up to the walk path, and guess who is in the planter box eating all the worms?  There is nothing like a fresh pile of dirt or a heap of garden mulch to get chooks excited!
After I finished shoveling in the dirt I shoed the chooks away to plant the seedlings and cover them with mulch.  In quite a hurry I caged the new plants behind a mesh fence and gave them a drink to help them settle in.
Weeks have passed.  Much rain has fallen.  The only problem with the location of the pumpkin patch is that at the top of the hill is it doesnt get as much sun as at the bottom of the hill.  The plants are growing and I havent lost one yet but they arent really growing very fast.  I should also mention that it is now winter so maybe that has something to do with it.  Experimentation. Live and learn.

The Spice of Life

Chapter 5
The Spice of Life

I have in my mind all these grand ideas about cooking with herbs and spices grown fresh in our garden, but really when it comes down to it my usual kitchen repetoire is very boring and bland.  Not because I don’t love the aroma and the subtle flavours that herbs can add to a meal but when I cook anything a la Jamie Oliver covered in Thyme leaves, Rosemary sprigs or fried Sage leaves I face the same old disappointing comment, “It looks like you dropped it in the grass!”  ARGH! What am I to do?  I have made the most beautiful fresh basil pesto with hand picked leaves, carefully toasted pine nuts and had it go off before it was finished because I am the only one who eats the stuff.  
I have even spent ages on a cushion on the deck pulling the tiny coriander seeds off their desiccated stalks to half fill a jar with the potential for a delicious curry.  It was therapeutic I must say, even enjoyable, as it really did represent for me my first “crop”.  But alas, no one else in my family eats coriander.
Anyway, regardless of the family’s lack of culinary adventurousness, the first time my sister from Sydney and her partner came to visit our new project, I roped them in to help me plant the herb garden.  We pulled heaps of weeds that had well and truly embedded in what looked like old weed matting (lot of good that did!).  Under instruction I dug the holes, half filled them with organic potting mix and gently eased the little plants out of their pots and placed them into the ground. Collections of local newspapers were placed over the ground and watered in and then topped with a layer of sugar cane mulch to keep in the moisture and repel the weeds.  We did a terrific job in such a small space and I held great hopes for the herbs progress. Weeks later I worked out that I needed to fence out the chickens as they scratched all the newspaper to the surface and I had to do the whole process all over again!
Everything flourished for a while and produced my crop of coriander seeds and garnishes for many salads.  Unfortunately with our business being my first priority the garden was left to care for itself. We first lost the parsley (lack of water), the coriander (went to seed way too quickly) and a couple of the sage plants (water again).  I must say though that we have the biggest healthiest rosemary plant that I have ever grown.  I have always chuckled when Jamie Oliver used rosemary sticks to skewer meat… I didn’t even know that rosemary could grow large enough to produce “sticks” as mine always died before the plant grew to get woody.  Now I see marinated lamb kebabs on the horizon!
We have since added the egg plants and as mentioned have been rewarded with fruit.  We planted some strawberries that we found sprouting in a strange space in another garden and now we wait hopefully  as they have bloomed with dozens of little white flowers.  
I knew that in order for anything to grow prolifically we needed to put in a water reticulation system on a timer because dragging a hose to that part of the garden was a chore which I neglected to do often enough.  
Another couple of hundred dollars later (did I mention we call Bunnings the $200 shop?) and we have all the parts we need; the hose, the risers, the sprinkler bits coupled with an old garden timer we found in the shed.  Now it is just another job for Benny that needs to be scheduled in to his many tasks.  I wonder when it will makes its way up the list of priorities?

Cage the Veggies and Free Range the Chooks

Chapter 4

Cage the Vege and Free Range the Chooks

 The couple of potted plants that I brought with me to the house were suffering and longed to spread their roots through moist rich soil and flourish.  I planted them into the ground accordingly and so, here we are almost one year on and what should be a metre high miniature capsicum plant is less than half that height and a prolific birds-eye chili plant looks more like ground cover!  What happened you may well ask?  Was the soil not fertile was the sun not shining was the rain not falling regularly?  No, all of that was happening like it should, perfect growing conditions in fact, however our free range chickens were free ranging all over my plants! 

I read just recently in Earth Garden magazine that if you want to free range your chooks you need to cage your vegetables, so that’s just what I did.  Using the new roll of wire netting that was supposed to be the new roof over the chicken run I cut out sections and fenced off a part of the garden just for me.  
We have grand plans to build a large raised vegetable garden down one side of the yard next to where right now our herb garden is doing very nicely.  There is a vacant spot, a “no mans land” that is basically just a wasted space that requires regular mowing.  It is overlooked by what I would call the “sun room” a long thin room running the length of the house from the front door which was originally a verandah that has been closed in.  This is currently where I spend most of my week days as it is also one of the  spaces that we have dedicated to our clothing business.  It houses the cutting table, packing benches sewing machines etc.  A right little “sweat shop”.  To have that space overlook our vegetable plot will be a calming view on those not so calming days when work is overwhelming and all I wish I could do was be outdoors.  
Alas, this garden will be an added expense that hasn’t reached priority status just yet.  With the water tank in and paid for but still yet to be plumbed, the garden will have to wait.  So meanwhile I have decided that every other available space that doesn’t require any monetary commitment needs to be dedicated to my need to grow food.
The good thing about my new fenced area is that is already has water reticulation and with just a few added risers has pretty much got water spraying to every part of the ground.  A trip to Bunnings and not a lot of money later my crops include; snow peas, real peas, rainbow carrots (a heritage variety), asparagus, lettuce that sprung up from an old plant that went to seed, rainbow beetroot (another heritage variety), broccoli, cauliflower, perpetual spinach, and a lone purple runner bean plant (heritage), a lone cucumber (we started with four plants) and the chili and capsicum plants that bravely survived the chook’s garden decimation.  I have other vegies in the herb garden also.  A striped eggplant and lebanese egg plant that my sister and her partner bought me at Christmas and have already given up some beautiful fruit.  I have strawberries that have tripled over the summer and now are laden with fruit that is just beginning to blush with the promise of yumminess to come.  As I mentioned in the last chapter we have plenty of banana trees that previous owners have planted and also a renegade golden passionfruit vine which has yielded a huge crop already even after sharing many fruit with the possums.
When we first bought the house I envisaged a fruit grove running the length of the driveway so I quickly planted some trees; a “lots’a lemons” which has given us three in its first year, a lime, which has only produced one so far, an olive tree, a grafted avocado tree and a housewarming gift coffee tree. 

In the compost heap down the “back forty” which is lush and rich and aerated with the help of my efficient garden mulching chooks, three other avocado trees have sprung up by themselves.  So its fair to say that from virtually nothing edible in the garden we have a veritable bounty in its early stages.  
There is nothing more satisfying than picking and eating some food that you have grown yourself!  The other morning I had a free range egg omelette with home grown tomato, capsicum and gently flavoured with our own chives.  Next I’ll be looking to source an alternative for the cheese and I’m thinking about growing mushrooms.  I look forward to my fist home grown dinner party (with our vegetarian friends of course), and I think they are looking forward to it too.

The Price of Bananas

Chapter 3

The Price of Bananas
 The Queens Birthday long weekend , the forecast is for rain and we have a gazillian projects that we still need to accomplish.  Typical!
Our dear friend Karen has complained incessantly about having banana withdrawal since the price of them went through the roof because of the unreasonable weather that Queensland has suffered this year.  The start of 2011 brought flooding in the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane.  Northern Queensland suffered a tropical cyclone and then there was more flooding.  Any banana crops that survived were scarce and the bananas that could be found became soooo expensive that a banana in some instances was worth $6 at the checkout!  Outrageous!.  
So one of the benefits of having an older Queensland property was that many of our forefathers has the foresight to plant a couple of banana trees or more. So we have several stands of banana trees and the crazy thing is that I am allergic to them.  Love the smell, and the taste but some enzyme lurking in the DNA has the ability to cramp me up something chronic.  Anyway, for the greater good and my friend Karen, today we decided to cut down one of our banana trees which held the biggest and best looking banana fruits.  
Up the top paddock or the “house pad” as we call it, we could see the tree and the bananas and could almost reach out and touch them, except they were growing on the side of a hill and it was very hard to reach.  Benny (husband) shuffled down the muddy slope, tripping over the vines that grow rampant and strangle every other living plant on the property, chainsaw in hand.  He slipped and slid a bit but found purchase against another banana sucker and proceeded to neck the aforementioned tree.  It didn’t do the right thing of course and fell away from us and back down the bank.  Held in place by the vines, I made the suggestion that if we tied a rope to it maybe we could bring it back up the hill and claim our prize.  
Benny tied the rope and then hacked away at the vines with the chainsaw, stopping every few seconds just to free the clogged up chain.  Then he climbed back up the hill and tried to pull the tree.  But it was held tight by the strangling vine.  I even tried tug-a-rope style with Benny to pull it up.  Inevitably I slid on the mud and fell on my butt into a spiky apple tree, sustaining huge itchy scratches from our noxious weeds and rope burn.  Still laughing we decided to get the Triton Ute and attach the rope and haul the tree out.  Great idea!  I ran back to the house and brought the 4 x 4 back with me.  Benny attached the rope and without any drama we hauled the bananas towards us.
The big bunch yielded 90 bananas. You do the math, at Coles prices we could have netted $540, but instead we will share them with all the banana lovers we know, make banana muffins, banana bread, banana custard and use several of them “as is” in school lunches.  Got to say it was a cool bonding experience for Benny and I, as was the whole day as it turns out.
We started the morning with Benny attempting to take down some dead trees to use in our fire pit.  He fought the battle of the strangling vine as it held up the dead tree even thought it had been cut straight through.  Benny taught me how to use the chainsaw for the first time and I marveled at how scarily easy it would be to become complacent about those rotating teeth.  The timber was dry and soft and riddled with borer holes so it sliced like butter under a hot knife.  Heaps of fun for me and I get to chock that up to another power tool that I know how to use, although I don’t think I would be game without Benny’s supervision at this point.
So the bananas sit on the kitchen bench awaiting the paper bags and ripe apples that I will buy tomorrow to help them ripen.  The dark pantry will have a shelf dedicated to this process and I will smile every time I open its door.  I am so grateful for the small harvest that we get at this point and look foreword to many more fruits of our combined labours.

Chapter One – Cold Cup of Tea

Chapter 1
Cold Cup of Tea

So, here I am… my french polish covered in dirt and grime from pulling out a stubborn weed, Italian cotton PJ’s damp from the ankles up with morning dew, my first morning cup of Twining’s Irish Breakfast in my favorite orange lilly china mug going cold on an ant infested brick, and me with a grin from ear to ear.  
“Farewell my manicure”, I giggle quietly to myself.

An absolute novice at gardening, a recent trip to visit my sister in her rented Sydney terrace got me excited about just how much fruit and vegie  you could grow in a postage stamp sized piece of back yard.  

My sister and her partner had achieved a great deal in their patch, with their own worm farm, composting, raised garden bed from Bunnings, a subscription to The Diggers Club and odds and sods of pots and vessels in which to germinate and cultivate .  They were and are still, avid watchers of Gardening Australia and own many DVDs on permaculture and the like so were a great source of knowledge and inspiration during the trip.

Faced with our two acres of potential I was keen to find out just what was possible for us.  After many cups of tea and glasses of wine discussing permaculture, chook tractors and worm farming, an in-depth tour of the postage stamp garden and an invitation to a “sustainability feast” at the local community centre, I felt enthused and excited about our prospective garden.  

Looking through their massive bookshelf loaded with an eclectic mix of tomes, I plucked off two books on sustainable living to “borrow” and take back to the Gold Coast; “Living the Good Life” by Lisa Cockburn, and “The 100 Mile Diet” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (both informative, enjoyable and highly recommended).  On opening the latter I laughed out loud finding an inscription inside the cover wishing my sister a “Happy Birthday from me and mine”.  Guess we are on the same page now sis!
Scroll Up