Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fruit Fly in Melbourne

A couple of weeks ago Liz from Suburban Tomato posted about problems she was having with her tomatoes - mainly critters eating them and damaging the fruit. Her photos and descriptions looked pretty similar to problems that I had last year and now that I'm finally starting to harvest this year's tomatoes, I'm having the same buggy problems AGAIN!

Last year, most of my tomatoes had dimples, rotten patches and gaping holes dug out of them. I had caught slaters burrowing into the fruit and making the holes but I wasn't able to work out what was causing the rotting. I did however notice that there were lots of little flies around but didn't think anything of it.

The damaged fruit looked like this:

Mystery rot on an unripe Costoluto di Marmande tomato.

Slater burrows in an unripe Grosse Lisse.

The other day, I picked my first tomato of the year (harvest is late this year because of the Christmas Day hail  storm that wiped out most of my tomatoes), I was so excited, but soon excitement turned to horror when one of my fingers sunk into the soft rotten flesh of my first tomato. To add to the trauma a whole lot of maggots proceeded to emerge from the wound and (after taking a photo for ID) I threw it to the chickens who promptly devoured it with much raucous delight!

So, to Google I went with my conundrum and my conclusion is that, yes, indeed I do have Fruit Fly in the garden and holy moley I have to inform the DPI (Department of Primary Industries)! The fruit fly will probably be Queensland fruit fly which has been in Melbourne since 2008. If you are in Melbourne or outer Melbourne have a read of SGA's article about fruit fly. Make sure you inspect fruit regularly because its not just tomatoes they like. They affect citrus, pears, apples, peaches, capsicums - the list goes on! I'm sure all Victorians are aware of the damage fruit fly can do to our fruit growing industry - we've all seen the signs when driving into fruit producing districts and know not to take fruit into those areas. To think that fruit fly is in my garden is almost too much!

Come Monday morning, I'll be contact the DPI on the Fruit Fly hotline on 1300 135 559 to see what they say. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Meet the new Girls

Now we have a (reasonably) finished coop, Joel and I have added to our feathered flock. Way back in March last year we bought three girls, then a bit later, when Melly kept on being broody, we introduced four day old chicks for her to rear. Things were going great guns until Melly and two of her chicks were killed by a fox early one morning. Then, just recently, Dumpling and one of the two remaining chicks were killed by a fox. After having seven chickens at one point, we were down to two, and I was a little too sad to do anything about it. Over the summer break however, Joel, his dad and I set to work, making a new fortified run and fixing the coop to make sure that the girls would be safe from Mr and Ms fox.

So now, (FINALLY) we have been able to add to the flock, in the knowledge that they will be a little safer. The first additions were three little young ones from Abundant Layers in Emerald. From left to right - A Plymouth Rock called Rocky (clever I know), a Barnevelder called Gerty (she's Dutch) and a Silver Laced Wyandotte called La Perla or Pearl for short.

These little darlings are between nine to twelve weeks old and are the youngest and smallest of the bunch. They will each lay different coloured eggs from light brown to a dark brown, so hopefully I will be able to tell who lays what. Point of lay is around 20 weeks, so I have a wile to wait before I get any eggs from them, but its so worth it!

The most recent additions are the two Rhode Island Red /New Hampshire crosses seen above hanging out with Julia (far left) and Frida (middle). These girls are a commercial laying breed mix and came from a hatchery. I was rather stunned to see that they had been de-beaked, which is a process where one third of the chicken's beak is removed to avoid feather pecking and cannibalism. Their beaks will eventually grow back but the problem has been that they have been unable to defend themselves when pecked (to work out the pecking order) by all the other girls (and my man Zorro). The three little girls on the other hand (Rocky, Gerty and Pearl), have not been de-beaked and all have featherless rumps and backs because they peck themselves and each other... Hopefully this is a habit that they will grow out of now that they are free to forage in the run on scraps, seeds  and insects, thus diverting their attention elsewhere. Apparently feather picking will be a real issue when the European Union bans de-beaking and housing chickens in individual cages in 2012. It will be interesting to see what happens. But I digress. These two new girls, named Elizabeth (after Elizabeth Tudor) and Red (I cant tell the difference between the two!) are almost nineteen weeks old and apparently not far off laying. So not-far-off that yesterday I found this little egg on the floor of the run. Its the cutest little spotted egg I have ever seen! 

I feel rather sorry for the girl who laid it because its almost perfectly round - it must have been quite the surprise! It will be great to finally have fresh eggs again, but most of all I'm happy to have a full run and hear their happy noises in the garden.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blue in the Garden

There is something lovely about blues and mauves in the garden on a hot summers day. They seem to have an emotionally cooling effect that contrasts so well with the scorching bright white heat...

January's colour palate at the cottage is definitely within this colour spectrum. Surprisingly my Salvia leucantha Mexican Sage  (purple flowers in the foreground) is flowering now, when it usually flowers closer to autumn and winter.

Grey foliaged or hairy leaved plants like the Licorice Plant or Helichrysum petiolare and indeed the Salvias, Lavenders, Nepetas (Cat Mints) and Perovskia's (Russian Sage) cope well with the heat and the dry and look great when contrasted with greener foliaged plants in the summer garden. 

The tall soft grass heads in the photo above are from Calamagrostis Karl Foerster which is a fantastically tough ornamental grass that sends its flowers through lower growing shrubs to add height and textural dimension. They are also very elegant when softly nodding on a light breeze too (I bought it from here). 

I'm loving my Eryngium planum Sea Holly (above) which has just started to flower, turning this metallic blue colour!  Its a funny looking plant with a leafy base like a large gem lettuce that sends up these tall flower spikes almost 70cm into the air. It tends to get a bit top heavy and flops over, but I fashioned a bamboo tee pee to support it which has worked well and looks good. Bonus.

And then there is the good old Nigella 'Love in the Mist' with its soft feathery foliage, pretty blue flowers and unusual looking seed pods. Its a great plant to use as a textural contrast in the garden against strappy leaved plants. It seed pods are quickly swelling at this time of the year, getting ready to ripen and spread throughout the garden before it dies away over winter. I was originally excited thinking Nigella damascena (Love in the Mist) was the plant that produced the black nigella seeds you see on top of Turkish bread and I went crazy sowing it through the garden, only to find out that no, its Nigella sativa that is responsible for those tasty little black seeds. Oh well! At least it was a pretty mistake!

Limonium perezii Sea Lavender, is another great plant for the summer garden. It is a very dry tolerant plant and rewards you with these pretty lavender flower heads that are semi everlasting. The leaves are also a fabulous design tool in the garden as they are large and a soft greenish - grey - blue that sets off any fine leafed, grey or bright green leafed plant. Please note that I killed that cabbage moth after I took the photo.

Last but not least is the good old artichoke which has been putting on it's electric blue show for a couple of weeks now. I have artichokes dotted throughout the garden after seeing one flowering for the first time here. They too are a great plants for contrast and can be used like exclamation marks in the garden - to emphasise and draw attention to a particular spot. They are better as background plants, due to their large size but the grey dissected leaves are so striking that they stand out no matter where they are. Monty Don has written a great article about the globe artichoke's close cousin the Cardoon which he likes to use for colour and structure in his beautiful garden. If you have a cup of tea and a bit of time, have a read through his article here.  

Do you have any blue things flowering in your garden at the moment? 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Chateau

These holidays, Joel and I have been renovating the chicken coop and run, and phew what a job its been!

We had an old aviary to start with, that we remodelled by adding a boxed in roost with nesting boxes inside. You can see what we did here.

Its a great to have a safe, lockable coop that the girls can run about in and so far - touch wood, we haven't had any breaches by wily Mr (or Ms) Fox. In addition to the coop with the roosting box we had a very temporary run, fenced off with star pickets and chicken wire. This is where the foxes got in to kill the chickens (the girls were originally free ranging but destroying the garden). So, the mission these holidays was to build a proper run with 1.8m high cyclone wire tensioned onto some chunky timber posts and I'm glad to say that WE DID IT!

Our run now has it's own separate door (for us to get in there for maintenance etc.) and a hatch for the girls to get in an out of the coop / run. I have to say, that it has come together pretty well, considering that pretty much all the materials have been salvaged and or scavenged! There is still heaps to do - mainly paving the area with more old bricks and building the woodshed, which will connect to the coop and cover where we are storing the feed and materials. Its looking pretty good though and we are really happy with our efforts.

I couldn't help adding a pot of cacti as a finishing touch!

The rusty old saw blade hides a seam between two pieces of the perforated mesh, joining the door and the coop. The perf mesh is actually an old guard for a chimney flue that we had hanging around so its so good to have finally found a use for it! The door was a pretty awesome score too, from a friend of Joel's. I'm thinking that it would actually make a good front door all striped back. Hmmm...

And here is the hatch joining the run and the coop! Its an old chair back that I found on hard garbage AGES ago that I really liked, that ended up gathering dust after I brought it home. We backed it with some more chimney flue perforated mesh and screwed it into the coop frame, adding a couple of extra studs for support. We will fashion some kind of pulley system to open and close it, but for now its held up with an occy strap! Good old occy straps!

I really love this area now! It's so satisfying using up some of the 'junk' and having it turn out well! One day we will redo the coop, but for now its suiting our needs. Perhaps that's a job for next summer!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Post carnage update.

I hope that there is no strange voodoo vegetable business going on, because now poor Veggiebobbler and Vanilla Pods and Green Beans have had their veggie gardens destroyed by either mother nature or the mammalian forces de destruction that are goats. What is going on?! Please mother nature, leave our vegetables alone!

Mine, is coming good after it was rather smashed by the golf ball sized hail that we had on Christmas day (I blogged it here). I cut all the damaged plants back, fed and watered them and then went on holidays! Possibly not the best thing to do, considering we then had 40 degree celsius weather after the hail storm and below average temperatures... Hmm.

But anyway, the garden is picking up and it won't be long before I'm picking things for lunch and dinner again.

The rhubarb was completely destroyed and all the stems were removed. Its amazing 
what lots of rain and a couple of weeks will do for rhubarb!

These tomatoes were cut to the ground and and are re shooting vigorously. 

These ones, aren't so happy...

I should probably remove the hail damaged fruit and stems due to increased fungal 
susceptibility, but I just cant bear to loose my first tomato!

It won't be long before things are back on track. The beans are full of flowers and the basil is coming through again after a re sowing. Fingers crossed the chickens don't escape and mother nature gives me a break! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meet my new man!

Move over Joel! There is a new man in my life! Well perhaps in Frida's anyway...

For those not reading Hazel's blog, you may have missed that I have adopted her Lavender Araucana rooster called Zorro!

He's quite the charmer, but a little on the selfish teenage boy side and tends not to share his tasty morsels with the girls, but he's young and will learn! The girls don't know what is going on, but wherever Zorro is Frida will be somewhere near by.

She tends to get a bit of a fright when he crows (which is really hilarious to see) but he moved in only a day ago, so they are just getting used to each other. 

He is such a spunk don't you think?! He's just getting the hang of crowing and tends to get going at around 6:30 - 7 in the morning. So far he hasn't crowed during the day or night that I have heard, but I'm sure when he is settled and used to his surroundings, he will let us know of his presence a little more often!  He's going to make such pretty babies with my girls! I can't wait!

Thanks so much to Hazel and the Cook for giving him to me. You guys are champions! You can come and visit him any time!!! I promise there will be yummy scones next time!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The haul & a new garden friend

So really, my haul doesn't look that impressive after all and I feel under the pump now with you guys being so keen to see it! Gosh! Talk about junky pressure!

Its not really garden related but here is most of it:

An AWESOME red cast iron single bed frame including the frame that you sleep on - sans springs. I wonder how old it is? Behind is an old screen door that I found on the side of the road a couple of weeks ago (it needs some mods to fit - i.e. cutting down by almost 50cm! We have a VERY low ceiling!!). A cool old pot / vase that was hand made by a local potter ($5!!!). Its a great size and looks great inside with the rough earth walls and some eucalyptus leaves in it. There is also the fowlers number 27 jars (x6) I mentioned yesterday, an old Schweppes soda water dispenser, an $8 pyrex bowl for an old fashioned kitchen aid type mixer (already made a cake in it, its the perfect size) AND last but not least - the number 1 prize, not one BUT TWO old washing machine coppers!!!

There is a bit of a story about them actually. We paid a little too much for the more damaged one at a wreckers but the angry lady wouldn't budge on her price and we feared her chasing us out with a giant steel pole if we didn't buy it - plus we kinda wanted it anyway, so we bought it and then felt like we were ripped off. Oh well. Then we stopped at the next little town and did the round of the antiques and op shops. I started chatting to one LOVELY old lady behind the counter about quilts and making jam (as 20 somethings do these days) and as Joel picks up a pretty copper bowl, he mentioned how much he like old coppers. This lovely lady then tells us she has an old copper at her place up the road and that she'd like to sell it to us because she's moving into a unit and doesn't have room for it! We couldn't pass up the opportunity, so she closed the shop and we went to her place to pick it up. It was in perfect condition, hardly dented at all. Just perfect. I happened to have a jar of home made peach and lemon jam (as 20 somethings generally do these days) and gave it to her with her asking price in thanks. It was such a wonderful experience and goes to show the benefits of getting off the beaten track and having a chat to the locals! We aren't too sure what we are going to do with two of them but we will use the lovely lady from Loch's copper for our firewood and kindling basket. Perhaps the angry lady's copper will become a garden feature filled with succulents, but I haven't decided yet!

So now to the new garden friend! Once we were home and unpacked, off we went to our local conglomerate green shed for supplies where I spied a cold frame marked down from $60 to $19! The box was soggy from being left out in the rain but noting else was wrong with it. I brought it home and then had to play mind origami to work out the instructions:

and Ta DA!

A jolly good aluminium and core plastic cold frame / germination chamber of hot awesomeness! LOVE. There is some rocket, Chinese broccoli and Cherry Time capsicum seeds in there at the moment, that will hopefully germinate in two days like Hazels did in her house of hotness. 

I like to look at it and say hi when I'm in the garden. That's normal isn't it?!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Sandy Review

Joel and I are finally back and have continued work in the garden from where we left off! Phew!

We had a lovely break, with plenty of fishing, swimming and reading - although I was reading Monty Don's Book the Ivington Diaries and so was constantly thinking about my garden! I have a few snaps of the Sandy Point inlet and back beach where we hung out at dusk, kayaking and fishing. For those who haven't heard of Sandy Point, I'm not going to tell you!!!

We took the long way home, stopping in at all the wreckers yards and op shops and boy do we have a haul! I just love op shops in small country towns. I managed to find a whole bunch of number 27 Fowler's preserving jars for $1! Anyway, my haul is for another post. I'm glad to be back and in the garden.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012

2012 sees the cottage having a beach side holiday. I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year! See you in a week or so.

Thanks also for the wonderful kind wishes for the Christmas Carnage post! Your words of encouragement were very much needed.
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