Friday, September 14, 2018

The Joys of Gardening in Spring

- and yes, I am being sarcastic since my spring time mantra is lovely to look at but horrible to breathe which does make gardening somewhat problematic. Off on a slight tangent: because European seasons don't actually work out all that well here I prefer to use the local Noongar seasons. This makes August and September Djilba, instead of the end of winter and beginning of spring. The Noongar seasons were worked out by the local weather patterns which makes a lot more sense for here than those entirely different ones of the Northern Hemisphere. So my heading should read The Joys of Gardening in Djilba but I figured that would only confuse everyone.

Whatever it's called this time of year has its challenges. It's still cool and often rainy but starting to warm enough that the weeds are springing up everywhere. This explosion of grasses into flower means the air is full of pollen which makes breathing less than enjoyable for those of us who suffer from asthma and/or hay fever. Western Australia is famous for the spectacular displays of wildflowers at this time of the year and they are truly glorious. Supposedly they don't add much to the cocktail of allergens so I suppose I should be grateful for that.

Along with the wild flowers, of course, there's winter grass - untidy and prone to appearing in places I'd rather it didn't but otherwise not a real problem to control - and wild oats turn up everywhere. If they would only confine themselves to out of the way places I wouldn't mind so much. The wild oat in particular is quite graceful and delicate as they move in the wind. Pity they have pointy seeds that stick into just about everything including flesh. Then there are the clovers which are already covered in prickles and such a pest to have to pull out - and I can't forget the thistles which range from the familiar milk thistle to a nasty one that grows up to a metre high and is a nightmare to pull out because it is literally covered in sharp prickles.  On top of all this there's another vicious grass that keeps finding its way under the fence from next door and comes with prickles that hook onto anything - clothing, shoes and skin. Its little barbs dig in making them hard to remove as they break off leaving the tips behind unless you're very lucky. Then there's the double gee (also called the three cornered jack or spiny emex) which has three very tough pointed spikes that dig into pretty much everything as well. It was apparently imported back in the day by the earliest European settlers as a green vegetable, though why anyone would even think of bothering to eat its less than appealing looking leaves I do not know. Of course it escaped and is now rampant across the agricultural areas causing significant problems.

I haven't even started on the insect pests which appear regularly at this time of the year. First to invade were the cabbage white butterflies and they lay their eggs on all and any of the cabbage family - cabbages, kale, broccoli, nasturtiums. They don't care. I might be the kind of gardener who doesn't like to kill things - I don't use chemical insecticides - but picking them off doesn't work so I do spray with Dipel, which is a spray containing a naturally occurring bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis) which kills caterpillars that ingest it.

The other serious insect pests at this time of the year are the aphids which seem to be under the impression that the onion tribe is being planted purely for their sustenance. Uh, no. These reproduce at an incredible rate and the theory espoused by the gardening experts on all the gardening shows I've seen recently - just hose them off and wait until the natural predators build up - is in my opinion simply rubbish. I've tried that and by the time the natural predators arrive there are precious few of the plants I want to save left. In the past week I've tried the squash 'em method, the sharp spray with a hose method and then I tried spraying with a soap based spray. While each method has helped a little by the next day they are already back in numbers. I don't think I can wait for nature to take its course any longer - I've already lost half my onions, the garlic chives are disappearing almost before my eyes and today I noticed the wee beasties had started on the onion chives.  I'm reluctantly giving in and heading to the garden centre for a pyrethrum based spray because it has a very short residual period so is less of a worry than chemical based sprays. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Bush Foods

This spectacular flower is the red and green kangaroo paw Anigozanthos manglesii. It's the floral emblem of Western Australia and this one is growing in a pot in my garden.

When the first European settlers arrived here in Western Australia they brought with them a lot of ideas on how to 'improve' the country. With the pretence that Australia was terra nullius or a land that belonged to no-one, they tried to wrestle the land and indigenous people into a European mould. Very belatedly there has been recognition that the indigenous population possessed a rich culture. They had been using firestick farming for thousands of generations and they still have much knowledge to share. We can't go back and alter what happened but we can acknowledge and learn from them and one way would be to acknowledge that this is not Europe. I know - who'd have guessed that a continent on the opposite of the globe might not work in the same way as that the colonists came from. It was a belief fuelled by extraordinary arrogance and ignorance I suspect.

Well the world turns and we learn. Which is why these days like many others I'm very interested in growing indigenous food plants along with those that have been imported from the Mediterranean climes which are so similar to our own. There was a time when this was difficult. With the exception of macadamia nuts very little notice was taken of local food crops. In fact in many places they were deliberately pulled out to provide growing space for exotics and while this still happens to a degree people are becoming more aware of bush tucker and how to use it.

And it's not only gardeners who are interested. Flavourings like lemon myrtle, finger limes and pepperberry as well as foods like quandongs, riberries, warrigal greens and wattleseed are only a few of the native plants making their way to restaurants and specialist suppliers. I've discovered a couple of nurseries that specialise in edible bush plants nearby and I've plans to go on a wander and stock up on some of the more unusual ones but in truth I don't have to go all that far. When I was at my local Bunnings store recently I discovered a section devoted to some of the more commonly used species. I didn't buy anything that day - I needed to go home and prepare some beds for planting - but I've convinced Pisces that we need to go back. Who knows what treasures I may find there. I'll let you know when I've had a look around.

If you're wondering why the kangaroo paw image, it's because I read recently that it was a food staple  for the local Noongar people before colonisation. I haven't been able to find out how they used it  yet but I will be continuing my journey of discovering how to use bush tucker and when I find out you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


A while ago I set myself a challenge of reading long listed and prize winning novels and recently I moved on to last year's Man Booker list. Honestly, after a pleasurable start I was finding it hard going and often not a little disappointing.

The pleasurable start came with the winner Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury Publishing). This is an original and clever novel in the style of older historical novels. Its main characters are the spirits of those buried in the Bardo cemetery who for assorted reasons have not moved on. Most are in denial of their deaths and they spend their nights wandering the graveyard going back to what they call their 'sick boxes' by day. We follow and get to know them and how they ended up in this limbo until the burial of Abraham Lincoln's son, Willie, changes everything.

I followed this with some others on the long list and really struggled with them. By the time I'd had to force myself to finish a novel by one well known writer I usually enjoy - I'm a fast reader but this one took me nearly ten days because I kept putting it aside because I couldn't bring myself to care about these self absorbed people - and then moved onto another novel, which I doubt I'll even finish, I was losing interest in my plan.

That's when a comment on my Facebook newsfeed reminded me about Ann Cleeve's Vera Stanhope novels - and sent me off on a binge read. Oh and as Ann Cleeves is a prize winning writer, too - she won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (now known as the Golden Dagger) in 2006 (not for a Vera Stanhope novel, though) - she fits into my prize winners reading plan. I had read some of the Vera Stanhope novels quite a while back but then had lost track of them for some reason. Now I began from the beginning and I was hooked all over again.

I have long been a fan of the ITV series Vera (based on the character of Vera Stanhope from the novels) since it started. In the series Vera is played by Brenda Blethyn and I was intrigued to compare the TV Vera with the one in the novels. I wasn't disappointed. Although they are dissimilar in some ways - physically the Vera of the novels is tall, fat, unattractive and tends to dress in Oxfam clothes while no-one would ever describe Brenda Blethyn's Vera in those terms - to a large extent the TV version stays close to that of the Vera of the novels. For instance TV Vera's clothing choices are still not flattering and her behaviour is as eccentric as that of the novel character. They differ in that the novels explore the dynamics of Vera's team more than the TV series and we see things from more varied perspectives because we get into the heads of the team members. Not all of the novels have made it onto the screen and Vera and her team have grown and changed as it has progressed in ways not part of the novels (she's now a Chief Inspector while in the novels she remains an Inspector for instance and her loyal sergeant, Joe Ashworth, has eventually moved on). It doesn't matter because both TV series and novels entertain. I have thoroughly enjoyed both and was sorry to hear that this is the last season of the TV Vera.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Ginger Harvest

They said you couldn't grow root ginger here. Of course, that meant I had to try - and I've been growing it successfully in pots on the back patio for years. This is my current harvest. I use a lot of it - it goes into most of our meals - but even so this lot should last quite a while, don't you think.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weird 'Stuff'

So I was sitting at my desk when I heard scrabbling noises on the roof above me. This is not unusual. We live next to a park in an area surrounded by two golf courses and three wetland reserves all within a ten to fifteen minute - not too brisk - walk so there is a huge array of birdlife. Among these is a clan of Australian ravens which often land on the roof or settle in the large marri tree in my front yard where they finish off whatever they're found to eat - then drop the leftovers all over the yard. These are mostly bones filched from rubbish bins and which we have to search for on a regular basis so the Virgo's dogs - frequent visitors to our place - don't get them. Along with chop and steak bones, chicken bones and leg bones from lamb roasts we also find the sad remnants of baby birds they've killed - they killed and ate all but two of the seven wild ducklings that hatched in my neighbours' front garden last year, and little hollowed out egg shells they're snaffled from nests.

One little dog we had hated them with a passion and they were one of very few things that set her off barking, They would sit just out of her reach and stare at her and send her into a frenzy. For all these reasons we don't encourage them around here but they are very intelligent birds so they often settle on the roof where they take a positive delight in letting us know we can't do anything to move them on.

Anyhow this morning after a few minutes of thumps and scrabbles something fell past the window and landed with a noisy splat on the path so I went out to see what it was. It turned out to be a hen's egg shell, plenty much cleaned of any residue. I have to assume it came from someone's bin since as far as I know there are no hens being kept around here at the moment. Bin raids are much more likely on the weekend when some bins are full to the brim and I've watched as the ravens flip bin lids open but whether that's the case I guess we'll never know.

So that's one of today's mysteries. Another revolves around a dream I had yesterday when I was sick and had to go back to bed. What was special about this dream? Well I dreamed I was talking to my friend Annie and the discussion was entirely logical and rational - well, if you ignore that we were in my teenage bedroom along with two toddlers and a baby playing with a Jack Russell in the corner. The weird was that the actual conversation made complete sense even after I woke up instead of dissipating into nonsense as soon as I came to as dreams are prone to do.

And finally when I went out to hang out the washing this morning I saw that the Spanish bluebells are in flower - nothing odd there apart from them being about two weeks early, but then I found the grape hyacinths are also in flower and that is odd because they have already flowered once eight weeks ago. Then there's the cyclamens that I bought in flower back in May and which died back and are also into a second flush of flowers, something has never happened before in my garden. So everything is going mad.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

I Love Me a Flash Mob

and here are a few that I came across today.

This one is a cover of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, a song I love. I haven't been able to find out who the performers are but the video was released by SWR1 Hitparade.

This is another release by SWR1. This one is a cover of Queen's  Bohemian Rhapsody. Here's the original.

This one came up twice in my Facebook newsfeed today. It's a selection from Les Miserables performed by the State Opera of South Australia.  

And this haka was a performance by the team of 50 men chosen to perform at the Opening Ceremony of the Rugby World Cup. They performed flash mobs of this haka a number of times. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Made a Plan

I really shouldn't have. In my defence it was made yesterday so I could have no idea what was going to thwart me at every point. Still...

Famous last words, my friends. I'd had a very disrupted night but I was determined to make some progress on a list that has been growing by the day. I did make a good start. I cut up onions  - a lot of onions - and put them in the slow cooker to do their thing. That's when the wheels fell off my day. Yeah, I know, not the best metaphor but, hey, that's how my day is going.

Then I intended to tackle the housework - even had all the stuff needed lined up - and decided to start by changing the batteries in the indoor and outdoor wireless thermometer which I noticed had gone flat. If you're wondering why we need a thermometer that gives the indoor and outdoor temperatures it's because some folk around here are fond of opening doors 'to let some air in' at the height of the summer and wouldn't believe me when I said if it was hotter outside that was also letting the heat in the house. Now he can't argue about it and our very well insulated house can stay cool, something that really matters when the external temperature is hovering just below 40°C.

I put the new batteries in and the thermometer screen only shows the clock and the indoor temperature. Dammit! Now where is the instruction manual so I can troubleshoot? Should be in the file where such things are kept, shouldn't it. Pisces, trying to help, gets out the file - somehow managing to spill most of the contents in a tangled mess. So that means re-sorting the lot - and there is a lot, much of which was out of date and is now dumped in the recycling bin. No sign yet of the manual and I've spent the best part of an hour restoring order to this pile of paper.

So I decide to take to the internet. They have manuals on there, don't they. Hmm they do but not this one and in the process I have now gained a bad case of weather station envy. There are so many of these wonderful devices that measure not only temperature but humidity, rainfall and barometric pressure. Some probably tap dance they're so exotic. Okay while this is all well and good I still haven't found the manual. It's now after midday and so my morning's down the gurgler.

I give up and pick everything up intending to come back to it some other time - and the stupid thing is working.

So that's my day so far and now it's bucketing down. Everything crossed that the leaks we had repaired few days ago have finally been beaten because enough is enough, universe.