Monday, August 31, 2009

Last day of winter

This afternoon I vaguely mentioned to Big Bro that if he were interested, we might have some seeds that could be planted... well, there was no stopping him!

We put in tomatoes (Irene's Tiny Toms, Yellow Pear, Black Russian and Tigerella) and three ancient squash seeds (my last remaining crookneck from a holiday in San Francisco in 1998, and two yellow scallops from Digger's).

I'm trying out home-made jiffy pot equivalents- aka folded toilet rolls, the idea being that the seedlings can be transplanted straight into the garden without their roots being disturbed. I'll report back on how they go.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Big Bro the Helper

For about the last year, being called a "helper" has been the highest form of praise in Big Bro's opinion. At the age of two he just has one of those personalities that wants to help, whether it's stacking chairs at kindy, reshelving books at the library, or finding a toy to cheer up a crying baby.

Housework is one of Big Bro's passions, which is surprising as neither of his parents have a similar neatfreak streak... or maybe that's why!! Part of it is his technophilic interests coming through- we have reached an agreement that he can press the washing machine, dryer and dishwasher buttons, and even when he's not around I have become so accustomed to his assistance (and protests that occur should his assistance not be sought!) that I have a double-take before I operate any of these machines on my own. He also enjoys being asked to put away the clean dishes, and loading and unloading clothes from the washer or dryer. Today I was stunned as he brought a small chair to stand on so he could reach the last of the clothes in the dryer, took them out, and as my jaw fell to the ground, he attempted to fold the clothes before putting them in the basket. Who taught him that one?? Certainly not me!! (*blush*)

Vacuuming is another of Big Bro's "hobbies", and he's quite adept with the handheld Dustbuster. A few days ago I caught myself saying to him "and while you're at it, could you vacuum under Little Bro's highchair?" Yikes!! Child labour camp warden in the making!!

The garden is another site of Big Bro's helping. He loves to water and dig, and recently his dexterity and concentration have increased enough that I can trust him with seedlings ("baby plants"- he knows baby things require an extra level of care). On Friday we planted out a lavender and some columbines, and my role was merely site supervisor and seedling dispensor.

I'd love to believe that Big Bro's helping inclinations are not just a toddler phase. I don't think I can expect anything, but I can dream!!

Tomato rainbow

Our neighbour welcomed the warmer weather with a delivery of compost for her vegie patch. This got us discussing our planting plans, which led to me offering her a sampling of my archived tomato seeds.

I've been saving tomato seeds for over 10 years, and I have found that they do retain viability for that long (at least). To save them, I squeeze the pulp onto a paper towel and leave it to dry, then store in a ziplock plastic bag. To plant, I can pick the seeds off the paper, or else just snip out a portion of paper with seeds attached and put the whole thing in the pot. I think the paper helps to keep moisture closer to the seed to aid germination.

These are the tomato varieties I passed over to my neighbour. She has small children, so I hope they enjoy the different colours, shapes and sizes, not to mention flavours! Most are heritage varieties available from Digger's, which provides a lot more information on the varieties than I can.

Unusual colours:
Tigerella "Mr Stripy"- red with orangy stripes
Green Zebra- pale green with darker green stripes
Black Krim- very deep purple
Yellow Pear- bright yellow cherry tomato with a pear shape and sweet taste

Red cherry:
Gardener's Delight
"Irene's Tiny Tom"- my name for a very sweet red cherry tomato grown by B's mother's friend's daughter

"Standard" red
Mortgage Lifter
Amish Paste
Outdoor Girl
Grosse Lisse- maligned by many for a weaker flavour, but B and I quite liked it.
Burke's Backyard Italian (Costoluto di Marmande)- I got this as a freebie from the tv show, which claimed to have selected it from tomatoes grown across Italy as the tomato most suited to Australian conditions and palates. And then they renamed it! Maybe not one for the purists, but I have a soft spot for it as the were the first tomato variety I grew.

My fingers are itching to get some seeds into pots!

And a final point of irony that my mother will mention if I don't: as a child I hated tomatoes!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pot Luck

Yesterday the weather was decidedly spring-like and I decided that my spring planting could wait no longer. My Digger's seed order is still in transit somewhere in the virtual or real world, so I just had my dusty seed archive box to work with. And a bit of common sense- the broad beans are just setting pods so I won't be planting out in those beds any time soon.

As I pulled out a label to reuse I saw that waiting until late August was very restrained on my part- evidently last year I was planting squash seeds on August 3rd!

I decided to try out a few old tomato (Gardener's Delight and Outdoor Girl) and basil seeds that I picked up in the UK, believing they might be more suited to the Tasmanian climate than Australian varieties.

When I say these seeds are old, I mean really old. I bought them in 1999!

I won't say they're in top-condition, but I managed to get some tomatoes from these seeds last year, so I am fairly confident about more success, whilst the viability of the basil is more dubious, so I sowed them densely. I also planted some relatively young Blacknite eggplants, that expired in 1998.

The four seed types went carefully into the wells of a 2x2 punnet, which I carefully labelled, and carefully placed in the mini-greenhouse, full of excitement about what might eventuate.

Today I stopped being careful. Momentarily. But for long enough to change my mood. As I reached in to check the pot, CRASH!, and out spilled the contents. Oh no!! With my remaining ounce of optimism for the exercise I returned as much as I could of the spilt soil and jumbled up seeds to the punnet. So apart from being more careful in the future, all I can do is hope that I salvaged something.

Fingers crossed!!

My brilliant son

This morning Big Bro hopped into our bed for a snuggle, which, as usual, quickly developed into a wiggle. After 20 minutes (which is good going for Big Bro) he announced,
"Dada, time to get up!"
Being one for parental equality, Dada enquired
"What about Mama?"

"No, just Dada get up- Mama stay in bed, sleep"

Which I did!
What a boy!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Unwanted inhabitants

Do you ever get the urge to weed someone else's garden?

Whenever I pass this box hedge-in-the-making I have the urge to clear away the oxalis overgrowth.

Maybe other people look at our front lawn and feel the same way! Yesterday Little Bro and I went outside with plans to eat some grass and wood chips (Little Bro) and continue working on the drip irrigation system (not Little Bro). Then I saw this cheeky yellow flag:


And this dandelion, harbouring a slug underneath its leaves:

And this one, which I particularly dislike for its habit of forming a thick mat over large patches, leaving a muddy void when removed:

Ten minutes later and I had amassed a pile of weeds.

It's quite addictive- you see one and pull it, then spot another and think that it will only take a few seconds to get that one out too. Then all of a sudden it's getting dark, your kids are tired and hungry and you're still weeding... ok, maybe I have never got to that point, but maybe I could!

My efforts for the day barely scratched the surface of our weed problem: today there seemed to be just as many non-grass plants as yesterday, or maybe more. Fortunately sitting on the lawn with the kids isn't that bad a way to spend a spring afternoon... or ten, judging by the volume of weeds I need to shift!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

These boots are made for...

While on holiday I found myself just the right gardening boots:

I especially like the brand name!

More cuteness from the toddler mouth


[mal-uh-prop-iz-uhm] (noun) an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, esp. by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.

Big Bro: Today I'm wearing sandcastles!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What a difference two weeks make!

I was impressed by the garden two weeks ago, and since then (especially in the week we were away?) it has jumped ahead again.

The roses are starting to sprout
And most of the daffodils and jonquils are now blooming. This one has an amazing scent, which reminds me of my late grandmother's garden.

The first tulip is out, too!
In the edible garden, the nectarine blossoms look great

The snap peas and broad beans have pods

And, finally... (drum roll, please)...... we have asparagus!!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Holiday Highlights- the gardener's edition

The cooler climate favours stunning displays of blossoms and bulbs.

My mum's bulbs were also up; this daffodil is growing in a shady area and has a stalk about 50cm tall!

The more experience I have gardening, the more I realize the hard work my mum has put into her garden. She lives on a steep slope of clay, and over 15 years she and my dad built a series of terraces that could be filled with decent soil and planted. Growing up in the midst of it, I never appreciated how much improvement had happened, and how much dirt and rocks my mum shifted by herself!

We also visited the Gardening Australia vegie patch ("Pete's Patch) at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens with J, my friend and garden mentor. She is a regular at the Gardens, and said that if you're there on Tuesdays you often bump into Tino, the new GA presenter. Apparently he's a "lovely young man", who is always up for a chat, and charmed silver-haired J by saying "if I want to know anything about gardening, I always ask an old lady"!

I was interested to see GA is growing the same two varieties of broad beans (Coles Dwarf and Early Long Pod) as I am. I am still thinking of shifting to Crimson Flowered broad beans next year for the stunning flowers.

I also checked out the drip irrigation system for inspiration.

A trip to visit our friends in the country was another chance for a long garden chat. This photo is of their use of bundled newspapers to construct a levy bank to separate their house from a river. I was impressed by the recycling!

Holiday Highlights- from the family perspective

We've just returned from a week with my mum in Hobart. We had a fantastic time- lots of time for relaxing (especially with a ratio of 3 adults to 2 children!) and eating well. I thought I'd share a few pictures of the highlights from the boys' perspective (ok, mostly Big Bro's perspective. But I think Little Bro had fun too!) and in a separate post, some garden-related highlights.

Of course the airport was a big hit with plane-obsessed Big Bro, and Little Bro was happy to share the experience.

And once we arrived, Hobart proved to be a transportation-lover's dream holiday, with water-taxis

Botanical Garden buggies
and the Alpenrail model train.

Actually, "model train" is an understatement- it's a room filled with a model Swiss alpine setting, crisscrossed by automated trains, populated by canoeists, Alpenhorn-players, hikers, commuters, cable cars..... I had been there over 20 years ago and was more impressed by its scale now than I was then.

Whilst in Hobart, children can't go past the Cat and Fiddle for novelty...

Whilst the novelty of living with a real live cat was also a thrill for Big Bro, who quickly took on the responsibility of feeding Maggie-Cat, as well as maintaining a running commentary on her activities.

Meanwhile, a trip to the country gave Big Bro the chance to see real live baa-baa-sheep.

As soon as we unbuckled our seatbelts on arrival into Melbourne, it was no surprise to hear
"I want to go on holiday again!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Water, water everywhere

I am still learning to remember that the plants in the greenhouse need water, even when it's been raining outside. Fortunately I have a willing assistant!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Welcome to Tasmania...

.....And have a nice day!
(The first sign I saw at Hobart Airport.)

Preemptive Strike

Nap times have recently become a matter of discussion or negotiation, in Big Bro's opinion. "But I'm not tired" has become a common claim when I suggest that we might begin nap negotiations. Today as we were heading home in the car after a busy morning, Big Bro advised me: "I'm nearly not tired."

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The bulbs are getting into the swing of things, and I'm enjoying learning more about the varieties that came as part of the Tesselaar's mix that I might not have thought about choosing on their own. Like hyacinths!

Seeing these ones reminded me firstly of my late grandmother's garden- she had an amazing display of bulbs, and sadly I'm only now starting to appreciate many of her favourites.

The other hyacinth-inspired memory was of my friends' wedding about 6 years ago. Again, hyacinths had flown under my radar, but they made a stunning floral theme. Unfortunately this is the best of the few photos I took that included the flowers (and the beautiful bride- couldn't crop her out!)

We're heading off on holiday tomorrow, so straight after the photo session I picked the best stem from my hyacinths, and put it in water in my bedroom so I could enjoy its aroma. I only have three hyacinths, so they are definitely going on next year's bulb list!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Throwing out the bathwater

All winter I've been pondering what to do with the boys' bathwater when summer comes. For the past couple of years I have been schlepping around with the poor man's greywater system:

(Actually, I wish I had a bucket as nice as this one. Ours are rather more plain and plastic)

Our first summer I tried to be diligent and save the excess water from our showers, which was a mess- water slopped on the floor, and half filled buckets sitting around with a toddler on the loose. Or next summer, last year, I rationalised (a new baby does that to you!) and decided to just use Big Bro's bathwater on the lawn. Big Bro was old enough to be able to help, so we made bucketting the bath water a morning ritual.

This summer I will be faced with the challenge of keeping a toddler-to-be and his willing assistant sibling away from leftover bathwater, and have decided that it will be safest to plan to drain the tub immediately after the bath. Yet it seems like a waste to send all that good water down the drain when I have a thirsty garden and limited rainwater supplies.

The fanciest solution would have been a plumbed-in grey water system, perhaps like this. An architect friend even set up her greywater system output 6 inches under the lawn so that there would never be a chance for her children to contact the grey water. The downside of all these systems is that they are pricey, and I am not sure how appropriate they would be for the soaps, bath oils and bubble baths (and other unspeakable things) that find their way down our drain. We could have looked into an option such as this Easy Diverter switch that allows you to switch a drain's outflow between greywater or sewerage, but again it was going to require serious plumbing and dollars.

I really hadn't been thinking laterally enough, and pricked up my ears when a friend mentioned they used a cheap electric pump and a hose to drain their kids' bath. Still a bit messy, but then I had a brainwave:
what about siphoning the bath water?

As far as brainwaves go, it wasn't a particularly original one, as you'd see if you googled "bath water siphon". But I was pleased to have finally found something that balanced low cost with low effort! And something that other people agreed was a good idea!

As far as the technology goes, much of information is UK-based; many Australians would be surprised to know that complete hosepipe bans have been a feature of summer for over a decade in parts of England's "green and pleasant land". And many sites pointed me to the WaterGreen Syphon Pump.

A trip to Bunnings to look for the same thing confirmed that on this subject I have merely reinvented the wheel: Bunnings stocks 3 hand siphons (one with hose attachment) specifically marketed for greywater.

I may not have had the brainwave I thought I needed, but I am excited that this year I will be able to reuse the bathwater without a bucket in sight. Who knows, our lawn may even stay green!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Signs of spring

It's starting to feel like spring is on the way. The garden agrees!

The daffodils are well on their way

And I'm not sure whether I'm just noticing them this year, or whether the hellebores are putting on a better show than previous years.

Our old fig has started to shoot. The lighter green bud on the top is leaves, while on the left side is a "breva" fruit which was formed last summer, and has been waiting all winter to come out.

The nectarine buds are nearly open. Last year our crop were all fungally mummified, so I'm hoping this year we'll have a bit more luck. We'll see...

In the vegie patch the broad beans are flowering, and the caulis are starting to bump shoulders. I never believe that the weenie little seedlings are going to get so big and am always guilty of planting too heavily! Last year it was a good call as between Big Bro's gumboots and the caterpillars, we only harvested from two of the twelve cauli seedlings I put in. This year we have a strike rate of 6/6!

The sugar snap peas were from Digger's seeds that were supposed to have expired in November 2000. Yes, 10 year old seeds and they've shot up the 2m fence to reached the top (hidden amongst the ornamental climber). I love garden surprises like these!!

Meanwhile, in the mini-greenhouse, the tomato and chilli haven't realised that winter has almost been and gone. They're in for a cold shock when I evict them to make room for spring planting!!

But with all these signs of spring, I am getting more concerned by the day... what's happening with the asparagus??
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