Saturday, December 15, 2007

Avian war - Friday 14 December 2007

In November, when the callistemon at the back of the city garden was in full flower, the bees went crazy for it. Happy buzzing sounds filled the garden. Honeyeaters flocked to the tree, feasting on the nectar.

But that was then, and this is now. In those days I harboured tender-hearted feelings towards birds in my garden. Now the blackbirds, mynahs and starlings have moved in and . . . . .IT'S WAR.

It seems I've created soil that is so attractive to worms that it is also a magnet for birds that wreak mayhem and destruction. There is no point sowing anything direct and no point planting seedlings without putting netting or wire over them. The birds roam through the garden pecking at the soil to get the worms and scattering soil and seedlings everywhere.

I've tried a wide variety of deterrents, most of which work for a short time before the birds wise up. Tactics I've tried with limited success include flash tape, hanging CDs off stakes, a blow up ballon with (according to the manufacturer) "terror eyes". This last has become a running joke in the house - you can almost hear the birds' sarcasm: "oooh, I'm terrified". The only thing that really works is exclusion: netting and wire cages, and putting spikes or sticks all over the ground so they can't land. These strategies are of course a pain in the bum to implement and once in they make harvesting a chore, not to mention ruining the aesthetics. Oh Cruel World
Any tips for buggering off pesky blackbirds, starlings and mynahs would be appreciated. I'm getting so desperate, I've even considered buying a sonic repeller but that seems like overkill for courtyard veggie garden! A slingshot is, however, looking like an increasingly attractive option.

On the bright side
In happier news, the city garden is looking lush and pretty and is offering up summer bounty in the form of butter lettuce, rocket, zucchinis, the remainder of the spring spinach, and purple king beans. Of course the trusty old chard is still coming on - there's so much of that that I chop it up and feed it to the dogs - I put it in the blender with some oil to get it chopped up fine and then I mix it well with fresh meat. The finely chopped chard covers the meat so the dogs have to eat it - otherwise they just eat the meat and leave their greens.

The purple king beans are a truly a wondrous discovery. They are good to look at in the garden, with a small purple flower and leaves with a dark purplish tinge. The beans themselves are a rather startling purple but when you cook 'em, they go green, and they taste scrumptious: sweeter than your average long bean, with a nutty flavour.

Am loving the butter lettuce too - goes well with shaved parmesan. Here's the meal I had last night - all veggies courtesy of the good earth in my garden.
Before this in October, my partner and I dined on the remaining peas, broad beans, spinach, beetroot, and loads of parsley which mostly went into tabbouleh. And, of course, chard, always the chard.

I think I've tried at least 5 new broad bean recipes, including a really simple dip that is just about cooking them, adding olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and magimixing it all up. This dip is yummy on crusty bread.

In October my partner and I pulled out the olives that we picked off the tree in the front yard last August. We had cured them according to instructions from my partner's uncle who grows olives near Tocumwal in NSW. Unfortunately, ours don't taste too good, which is a disappointment given that the curing process is kind of time-consuming. Anyone got any olive curing hints?

As summer approached, I was pulling out odd shaped beetroots and as time went on, the ones I pulled out seemed to have more white in them. If anyone can explain this or has any plausible theories - bring it on.
Towards the end of spring, I caught our little caramel-coloured sausage-jack russell cross lounging in the parsley and mint bed - it was very cute. She was lying on her back in patch, with the sun on her tummy and her head in the fragrant parsley and mint, breathing deeply.

A trip to central Victoria

In early December my partner and I went on a week's holiday to Daylesford (central Victoria) and surrounds. We kicked off the holiday with a tour of Melliodora, David Holmgren and Su Dennett's permaculture property in Hepburn Springs. A fantastic passive solar house and amazing permaculture garden. Check out the greenhouse at the west end of the house. It is an entry point to the house and the kitchen opens out onto it. When we were there sweet corn seedlings were on the outside wall of the greenhouse, soon to provide shade and climate control.
David Holmgren in the 'house garden' at Melliodora

Greenhouse in the west wing of the Melliodora house

I highly recommend taking one of these tours, which are run once a month on a Sunday. You can do the garden and/or the house.

I was pretty excited to visit the dry composting toilet, located in the garden shed. It was a pleasure to use. When you use a dry composting toilet, you usually have to add sawdust or some other dry chopped matter. This one had a big bucket of dried lavender, presumably harvested from the garden. How cool is that?
Dry composting toilet at Melliodora

I find that most people wrinkle their noses at the idea of composting toilets. For many people its because they have never used one or their only experience with them has been a smelly pit toilet in a national park. But if compost toilets are designed and maintained correctly, they don't smell at all, and they produce excellent compost. Check out this beauty in the Eucadorian eco-lodge, Black Sheep Inn. This site also has a bunch of links and further info about composting toilets and their place in permaculture.

We also visited the Diggers Garden of St Erth at Macdon, which includes some very impressive veggie patches. We both gazed longingly at the lovely berry bounty. I also looked enviously at the undoubtedly scary predator bird replica flying above the main veggie patch, mounted on a long pole and flapping it's wings menacingly. Bet that keeps the bloody blackbirds away.
Raspberries at St Erth

Bird scarer in the edible garden at St Erth

The peninsula
In late September on the peninsula, my father netted his recently espaliered fruit trees, a big operation but already paying off with what is shaping up to be a bumper harvest.

Contractors came in to take down and chip some large eucalypts behind the house and they mixed the chips with chook poo to create a pile of compost for us. Unfortunately, the ratio of chook poo to chips was too high and the pile heated very quickly and then proceeded to burn itself slowly. The mixture was too strong to apply directly as compost - it would have burnt plants - so we've had to content ourselves with spreading it out away from the trunks of trees. I've also taken some back to the inner city patch and mixed it with sugar cane mulch to take some of the heat out.

Pile of chook-poo and woodchips, peninsula

The potatoes I planted in September are doing well, and I've also planted a corn patch (Golden Bantam) but as corn is very water hungry, I'm not sure how it will do without regular watering.
Sweet corn seedlings, peninsula
Composting update
All the bending required to turn the compost in the small side access path in the city garden has proved to be no good for my back. So I've changed tack and have bought a big compost tumbler.

It is designed to make compost the berkeley way - ie. the same way I've been making it up until now. I'm going to use the old purpose-built compost bay to store materials for the tumbler compost. I'll still be visiting the crew at Australian Herb and Fruit Supplies on the corner of my street for a weekly barrow full of veggie waste. Pat, Tim and Louie keep boxes at the front for me - they're just winding up the busy season now. Sometimes I bake them tasty goodies for their morning tea, but they tell me that unless they keep it under lock and key, the other shift staff get the loot!

The crew at Australian Herb & Fruit Supplies
Garden high points
The city garden has just gone through a big growth spurt and the greenery is rampant. It's gone from this in late September:
to this in mid December:

Tommy toes planted against a sunny brick wall are coming along well.

Cucumbers are starting to climb the trellis on the west wall and pumpkins are searching for any space and light they can find. Purple king beans are climbing everywhere - not only on their trellises, but all over the tomatoes, up sunflowers and up jerusalem artichokes. The jerusalem artichokes are going gangbusters. Unfortunately, I seem to have an allergy to the leaves and stalks, which have fine glass-like shards all over them.

Bounty that will be on the table in the next few weeks: tomatoes, more rocket, more beans, cucumbers, pepinos, capsicum, chillis, and more butter lettuce.

Pepinos, not yet ripe

Seeds I've saved or been given by other gardeners recently: mustard greens, poppy, parsley, broccoli. I also got a lovely big handful of rocket seeds, given to me by Socrates, who tends an impressive vegetable garden at the corner of my street. One of the highlights of this garden, which is street-facing, is a beautiful loquat tree. Socrates has rigged up a homemade tank to his roof downpipes, made out of, he tells me, an old mattress glue container.

As I write this, it is raining. Rejoice.

Marie Antoinette

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