The Good Life: Field of Dreams

Summer’s finally over!  It’s time for the Autumn harvest!

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Behold!  My glorious field of two radishes!

As you can clearly see, the harvest has not exactly been bountiful this Autumn. The field you’re looking at was planted with onions, carrots, beetroots, leeks, daikons, radishes and an entire row of parsnips.

Unfortunately, the harvest failed.

There were several reasons for the failure, of course. Early in the season, the Boobook thought to help me out with the weeding and managed to weed out the baby leeks before I managed to stop him. We’ve also been having issues with the neighbour’s cat digging up some of the seeds when it comes to hang out in our garden.

But the biggest reason for major crop failure was the weather.

It has been hot in Australia, and I mean severely, extremely hot. The hottest it’s been since 1896, even. It was so hot that the remainder of seeds and sprouts basically fried in the earth before they got big enough to thrive. The only plants remaining are the two radishes you see in the picture.

The reason for the survival of the radishes is simple. They were the only plants in the garden be in the shade for the majority of the day.

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Happy little radishes.  Diagram courtesy of The Boobook

So there you have it. It’s slim pickings this Autumn, I’m afraid, but there’s no reason to fret. The backyard vegetable gardener has to be prepared for disappointment.

After all, perseverance and trial and error is how one gets a good garden.

Check out the rest of The Good Life Challenge series here.

The Good Life: Mr B

So, for my first post in The Good Life series, I would like to talk about pollinators.

This is Mr B. Mr B is a stingless Solitary Carpenter Bee that lives in a hole in the wall next to our front door.

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As good a picture as I can get of Mr B.  He’s quite a shy fella and I don’t have a very good camera!

Mr B moved in the day after we took down the ornaments that were hanging on the outside wall and removed the nails. When Boobook went to fill in the holes in the wall, there was Mr B. Sitting there. We decided not to evict him because he is a Beneficial Insect.

Pollinators are essential for any garden. Without them, we can’t get any good fruit or veg, as nothing would sprout. Insects are, of course, by far the best pollinators in the business, so we’re not at all shy of having a few buzzing around our home. This is why, despite all the problems I’ve been having with Thrips lately (more on this later), I haven’t done any pesticide spraying at my home.

The boand I have been discussing the possibility of getting a bee hive for the garden sometime in the future, but in the meantime, we’re doing all we can to attract good pollinators. We’ve recently purchased a bird bath, which we’re planning to load with marbles and smooth river rocks so that both birds AND bees can take a drink in this hot Summer weather. Only the oldest bees are sent out of the hive to get pollen, so it’s important to give these little old ladies a rest!

Australia also has a number of interesting stingless native bees. We’ve had a few of the really tiny ones buzzing around our garden – they live in a small nest inside one of the gum trees. It’s really important that we don’t disturb the nest, which is REALLY TINY (smaller than the size of my palm even!). Native bees are quite rare and they don’t have stings.  They do not make a lot of honey, but their nests have quite a complicated spiral pattern that interlocks honey with larvae, so we risk killing the baby bees by harvesting the honey or even touching the nest!

I’ve saw a Blue Banded Bee in the flower patch the other day! They’re massive critters, golden and fuzzy, with a blue and white butt. They have a really loud buzz too, owing to the fact that they’re buzz pollinators – their method of gathering pollen is to flap at the flower really hard until the pollen flies out and sticks to them. Inefficient, yes, but it does a lot less damage to plants, so you end up with healthier, larger fruit.

EDIT: It has come to our attention that Mr B may well be a Mrs B, as she has recently been attracting suitors to the little hole she lives in. Also, an astute friend of mine pointed out that she’s not as golden in colour as a Mr B should be. Mea Culpa!

Are you ready for The Good Life? (A Challenge!)

Hey Meimei,

Congratulations on completing the 2016 Knitting Challenge! *confetti*

Now, I was thinking…now that you have kinda gotten your garden figured out and it is not full of boulders and tree stumps, I think you are ready for a new challenge!

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Poor Becky clearing all the boulders and weeds (Image credit: Romulation.net)

There used to be a very popular BBC TV series in the mid-1970s called ‘The Good Life’ (which, by the way, you should totally watch).

During the series, Tom Goode, a successful but harassed draftsman, decides to eschew his corporate life in favour of becoming self-sufficient. He was supported in this harebrained mid-life crisis by his wife, Barbara Goode, the most gung-ho lady you might ever hope to meet. Together, they began growing food in the garden to the chagrin of his neighbourhood, making their own clothes and even generating electricity!

This series grew to be so popular that the Queen requested a Royal Command Performance which turned out to be a private viewing of the filming of the final episode, performed live in one take.

No, I am not suggesting that you quit your job in order to go and build your own nuclear reactor or meet the Queen! Put down that letter of resignation now!

I am going to give you a ‘The Good Life’ challenge!

Here are the three elements of the challenge:

  1. You have to give us a ‘The Good Life’ post on Owls Well once a fortnight. With pictures. This update can be a general update on how your garden is doing, or a something that you have learned or observed whilst in your garden. (And yes, your rabbits are in your garden so that is counted. Even though you have no plans to eat your rabbits.)
  2. You have to sell some of the produce from your garden for real cash money. Barter trade is also acceptable.
  3. You have to cook a meal for the Aged Ps that includes produce from your garden. (Bonus points if it’s a multi course meal!)

P.S. If you build this generator, you can consider your challenge completed!

Harvest Time at the New Castle Grounds

Hey Debs, check it out!  It’s harvest time at the New Castle grounds!

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Check it out!  Not all of them sprouted or grew to size, but… still, not a bad harvest, all things considering.

Two months ago, I planted some daikon radishes.  Yesterday, they were ready for harvest!  How did I know this?  Well, the tops of the daikon root poke out of the soil when they’re ready to harvest, just like in Harvest Moon!

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Radishes ready for harvest!  Photo from Harvest Moon Memories, by Snoring Seal of Milk Can Anime.

Daikon have fragile leaves, so you can’t pull them out by pulling the leaves.  You’ll have to dig into the ground to liberate the root a little before pulling them out.  I needed a lot of strength to get mine out the ground – some of them were really big!

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Tops ready to pop!

Once they’re out of the ground, you’ll need to get the leaves off as quickly as possible, otherwise the root will shrivel as the leaves use up the stored nutrients.

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Nature’s bounty!

Then, it’s a quick wash and they’re ready to peel and eat!  Check out how white they are when they’re washed~!  I kept the dirt from the washing, since it can be returned to the garden.

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Ready for the pot!

Daikon are a surprisingly low maintenance plant.  I don’t think I needed to water them all that much, but it’s been pretty rainy out here in Australia so that might have helped a little.

I used some of them in daikon and pork-rib soup.  I made it with American style ribs by accident, so it’s a little less rich than I’d hoped.  I’m planning to pickle the rest Japanese and Vietnamese style.  I’ll let you know how that goes if it goes well at all.

As for the daikon tops, they were generously donated to the Bonnie and Clyde Fund for Starving Rabbits.  The donations lasted them all of 1 minute.

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The Bonnie and Clyde Fund for Starving Rabbits

Gardening Update: Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie

I know it hasn’t been long since my last gardening update, but something happened today that I felt necessitated another update.

It’s been hot and humid in Sydney these last few days, we’ve had a bad heatwave.  So, I’ve been pretty diligent in turning and watering the compost to keep it cool and and ensure that the food breaks down quickly.  This morning, however, the compost bin was steaming.  Literally.  Steaming.

So, that was new.

Don’t get me wrong, steaming compost is actually a good thing, because it means that the reaction for breaking down the food into soil is happening at a fast rate.  However, I’m also acutely aware that compost piles sometimes spontaneously combust, so I decided to cool it down.  Better safe than sorry.  I opened the top to vent out the steam and when I thought the compost had cooled sufficiently, I closed it and turned the handle.

And then…The compost bin exploded.

The exploded bin, photograph taken from the hole made by the flying lid.

The exploded bin, photograph taken from the hole made by the flying lid.

Literally, it exploded.  The lid blew off the bin and hit me in the chest, which made me double over in pain.  As I bent over, I realised that about 50 litres of hot, steaming compost was pouring out of the bin, most of it on my head.

And I just had my hair treated at the salon yesterday!  AAAAUGH!

After my delicious poop shower, I noticed that most of the compost was still in the bin, so I decided to replace the lid and continue on with the turning.  Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that the explosion had torn a giant hole in the back of the compost bin.  So, as I turned the crank, the remaining 150 litres of compost got unceremoniously dumped out the hole and onto the balcony.

The mess that I have to clean up.  Joy.

The mess that I have to clean up. Joy.  Photo taken after 2 hours of continuous cleaning.  This was much much worse before.

So, that happened.

It took me the better part of the last two mornings to to move most of the compost into one of my bigger pots (the one reserved for root vegetables) and three actual showers before I started smelling remotely human again.  My balcony still smells like a sewer and the exposed compost is attracting flies from all of New South Wales.  I guess I’m going to have to invest in another Penny Dreadful.

I called Bunnings Warehouse about getting a replacement bin since this one was still under warranty, but they weren’t very helpful about it.

Maze, the distributors of the compost bin, have been absolute dolls throughout the whole process.  I’d called them after my second bath and they were very apologetic.  They’re even sending me one of their other compost bins for free!  The new one doesn’t make as much compost as the Keter bin and I’ll have to go back to manually turning the thing again, but, if it’s a choice between manually turning the compost bin and having a bin that explodes, I think I’ll go with the manual turning.

Well, at least the punkin has an actual update.  It’s got a flower now!

Punkin Flower.  JOY.

Punkin Flower. JOY.

Waste Not, Want Not

It occurs to me that I’ve thrown away a lot of things.  With three rats and all, I now throw away a large garbage bag of trash every week.  This is slightly unacceptable for a single person.  I understand a family needing to throw away that much trash, but little ol’ me by herself shouldn’t be producing that much waste.  Just this morning, I lugged out a bag filled with:

  • Rat bedding and litter
  • Pile of carrot tops that didn’t get fed to rats because they had too many treats and looked a little fat
  • A pile of apple cores.
  • One empty paper tub of ice cream.
  • A sheaf of study notes that I no longer need.
  • A pile of eggshells
  • Bones left over from a chicken carcass
  • Some food that got thawed out in the fridge for a while, but turned out bad so it had to go
  • Vegetables that went manky because I bought them on a bargain sale and they rotted in my fridge overnight
  • Dried lettuce leaves

I admit that some of this waste is due to my having ADD and forgetting that I had food in my fridge, but most of it is stuff I can’t eat to begin with anyway.  Plus, with three rats, the litter tray fills out a lot faster with waste which has to be carted out of my house before it gets stinky.

Happy Strawberries in the sun!

Happy Strawberries in the sun! The yellow stuff is the litter.

But then, it occurred to me: If you’ve got rat poop and said rat poop sits on litter that comes in big baggies that are labelled 100% garden safe!  Why not use said rat poop to fertilise your plants?

So I did.  And the plants (a few strawberries) were happy for a while, at least.

It turns out that garden friendly rat litter is also made of rice husks, which have a habit of drawing nitrates from the soil before finally breaking down, stealing precious nitrates from the plants for a long time before it actually gives the plants any benefits.  It also turns out that rat poop takes like, three to six months to break down, which meant that for three months, every time I went out to water my plants, I got a good look at the unslightly rat pellets just sitting there atop the soil my plants.  Plus, rats produce more poop every week, which meant that while this poop was breaking down, I was still busily throwing away a whole bunch of it and more stuff too, since rat poop isn’t the only organic waste that’s being tossed out of my place.

Bucket o' worms 'n bucket o' pickles

Bucket o’ worms ‘n bucket o’ pickles

So, I’ve decided to become all green and ecofriendly – reducing the amount of organic waste in my home by fermenting all my organic rubbish in a bokashi bucket and then feeding it to a nice, friendly worm farm.  The great thing about worm farms is that worms are much faster with their breakdown of organic waste into useful compost.  They also produce a whole bunch of liquid fertiliser that doesn’t burn your soil (provided you dilute it properly), meaning that your plants get a whole bunch of nutrients and stay happy for a long time.  The compost the worms produce also makes an excellent potting mix, which means I don’t have to buy any potting mix anymore and I have good organic potting mix to sell to people with gardens.

Red wriggler worms eating paper trash and a carrot

Red wriggler worms eating paper trash and a carrot. There was litter in there yesterday, but it looks like they ate it all.

I’ve filled my farm with little red wriggler worms, which are apparently the best worms for composting because they don’t get too upset if it’s too hot outside, they reproduce very quickly and aren’t too fussy about what they eat.  As an added bonus, I get to feed the worms to my rats when they reproduce!

I’ll keep you posted on how things go with the worm farm when my first lot of potting mix is created and I can start my garden anew!