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: Conversations about Carrots

So, I had my first carrot harvest at the New Castle, so obviously I had to share the joy!

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That carrot knows it’s got it

ABC:  Debs!  Check out my carrot harvest!

Debs G: It’s like looking at a runway.

ABC:  Is it because of the leggy purple carrot?

Debs G:  Yes, it is stealing the show.

Much later, I ate the leggy purple carrot in a stew.  It was terrible.

Oh well, them’s the breaks.

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

Terrariums are Fun: A guide to making your own

For my birthday last year, my good friend A (from A Skip Hop and a Jump) gave me a really cool gift – an afternoon at a Terrarium workshop with Rosebud’s own UK-trained florist, Cindy. Thanks, A!

Now, unlike my friend A, who used to moonlight at a florists during her school days, I am absolutely terrible at looking after all things green and growing. This is a job that I usually leave to The Husband, who used to work in a garden centre in his spare time.

However, I do love having plants in the household and I was intrigued by the idea of making a closed ecological system in a bottle which will flourish without too much interference on my part! I managed to convince the Aged Ps to babysit the two owlets whilst I traipsed down to International Plaza for a girly floral afternoon out!

Tips and Tools for Terrarium Making

Tips and Tools for Terrarium Making

We started out the workshop with Cindy showing us all the tools needed to make a terrarium. We were each given the following:

  1. A clean glass jar with a wide neck and a lid that gives a good seal
  2. A pair of chopsticks (to use for handling the seedlings)
  3. A plastic spoon (to use as a scoop)
  4. A plastic cocktail muddler
  5. Crushed pebbles or coarse sand
  6. Organic potting soil
  7. Pretty pebbles and tiny ornaments
  8. A selection of seedlings of the type that survive well in low light conditions
  9. A dry paintbrush
The groundwork

The groundwork

We started out by choosing crushed pebbles or coarse sand in contrasting colours. These crushed pebbles are placed at the bottom of the terrarium to provide adequate drainage for the plants and to prevent roots of the plant from sitting in pools of water.

Our terrariums were to have a fairytale, miniature garden theme, which is why we used brightly coloured pebbles, but if you prefer a more natural look, you can use crushed river stones or sand.

We started out by scooping in two layers of pebbles, packing each layer down with the plastic cocktail muddler. The difficult part was making sure that each layer was exactly even at the top.

Then, we added a layer of organic soil and packed that down as tightly as possible. The potting soil that we used had a nice, fresh scent and was very pleasant, with a nice crumbly texture. If your potting mix is the stinky kind, then you should probably add some charcoal in to absorb unpleasant smells.

The drainage and soil layers should each be around an inch thick, but a good rule of thumb to follow is make sure that the depth of the ground layers is about a third the height of the container that you are using.

Now with the groundwork completed, it is time to add the plants! Cindy, our long-suffering trainer, had already separated out all the little plantlets into groups of three, each carefully compressed together in a tight root ball for potting.

The most difficult bit

The most difficult bit – planting.

Using the plastic spoons and chopsticks, we each carefully scooped out a small hole in the centre of our garden and maneuvered our little plants into position with all the precision of a surgeon. When the plants were firmly plugged into place, we added more soil to cover up the root ball, packing it down firmly but carefully around the plant with the muddler, then used a dry paint brush to dust off any bits of soil clinging to the plant leaves.

My plants seemed to be sagging to one side, so Cindy advised me to use the blunt end of my chopsticks to push some large stones into the soil under the plant to prop it up whilst also anchoring the root ball in place.

Adding embellishments

Adding embellishments for that final touch

With our little plants happily rooted, now it was time to decorate our bottle gardens with colourful crushed pebbles and embellishments. We used small smooth stones that had a nice even colour, as well as tiny ceramic, wood or plastic ornaments to embellish our terrariums.

I picked out a little blue moon rabbit, and a cheerful red toadstool on a bed of blue and yellow pebbles. These were neatly taped to either toothpicks or attached to floral wires and pushed firmly into the soil.

A few squirts of water down the sides of the jar, then the lids went on and we were done!

SkipHop and I with our completed Terrariums

Posing with our completed Terrariums

After this, we would only have to add more water every few weeks, and occasionally open the jar up for a few minutes to let the excess condensation evaporate and stop it from clouding the glass. As Cindy said, ‘What’s the point of making a garden that you can’t see?’

It’s been a month since we made the terrariums, and I’m pleased to say that as a result of Cindy’s advice and supervision at the start, all three of my little plants have survived and are growing very well! They seem to do best under flourescent light, as direct sunlight magnified by the curved glass of the bottle seems to burn them. I have even had to prune back one of my little plants because it was growing almost up to the top of the jar!

I am tempted to make a few more little terrariums with J and Little E – I think it would be fun for them and give them a good excuse to mess about with dirt and pebbles.

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!