The Good Life: Ladybug, Ladybug

Some pest control specialists moved into my garden lately and they’ve been very very busy!

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Common Australian Lady Beetles.  They weren’t busy when I went to get the camera but… nature does what nature does.

Other than busying themselves with the above activity[1], they’ve really been busy with eating!  I’ve been noticing a significant decrease in the aphid populations in the New Castle gardens.

Australia has a number of species of ladybirds that actually farm aphids instead of eating them, so to make sure that I had the right species, I turned to an online ladybug identification website and it told me that I had a mix of Asian Harlequin Lady Beetles and Common Australian Lady Beetles.

As a general rule, Ladybirds tend to be polite little garden denizens.  They clean up aphids in the hundreds and generally keep out of your way.  In fact, they’re extremely good at migrating away from the rabbit’s breakfast wheat once it’s harvested.  I only have to shake the wheat once and they just fly away.

Plus, they’re super cute!

It’s been really hot and dry out here in New Castle, so I have been hose watering the garden once every two days.

I was out watering the garden one morning, when I felt a really sharp pain in my leg on the inside of my boot.  It was excruciating!  I immediately dropped the hose and started clawing at my boot to get it off.

It was sheer panic.

“Oh no!”  I thought, “I live in Australia.  It’s probably some nasty spider and I’m gonna die a horrible horrible death.”

Imagine my surprise when I looked down to see a titchy little ladybird chewing away at my shin.  It flew away once I started picking at it and made off with a small chunk of my flesh.

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The hole in my shin several days after the fact.  It’s a pretty big hole for such a tiny bug!

Owwwwwww.

It turns out that Asian Harlequin Ladybirds are notorious for turning to human resources when conditions are bad and they’re desperate for food or water.  Their mandibles have a lot of difficulty piercing human skin, so they tend to bite very very hard when given the chance.  The little thing was probably dying of thirst when it decided to hitch a ride in my boot.

Poor fella.  I couldn’t stay mad at him for long.

After all, he was just so cute.

PS.  Check out this comic from Scandinavia and the World on the many names of the Ladybird!


[1]Nature is beautiful.

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The Good Life: Barter Economy

While my potato harvest has been extremely good, we are getting a little sick of potatoes here at The New Castle of Corke.  I have been seriously running out of things to do with potatoes!  I’ve made nikujaga, mashed potatoes, irish stew and have even fried the darn things in my airfryer[1]!

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Check it out.  More than half a kilo of potato right there.

Yesterday, I dug up the biggest potato I had ever seen in my life and realised that I had gotten to the end of my potato threshold.  Neither the Boobook nor I felt like eating potatoes anymore.

Thankfully, my friend, Mrs Peacock, was visiting family in Newcastle and she had had far too much citrus.  So, we did the only thing that made sense:

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Have a bag of taters

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Oranges, lemons and tangerines oh my!

We traded produce.

I have now participated in the barter economy!  Check me out being all productive and stuff!

Now all I gotta do is figure out what to do with all this fruit…


[1]With little success, unfortunately.  Some potatoes were not made to fry.  They disintegrated instead.

The Good Life: Digging my Potato

For optional music for this post, please check out this song – Digging my Potato, by the Seatbelts.  For further immersion, imagine the hot, Australian sun bearing down on your back while listening to this song.

Hey, I know it’s been a while since I last posted.  I underestimated how much energy my previous job took out of me.

It’s been terribly dry in Australia recently, so the soil has been baked solid.  Thankfully, there was a little drizzle last week, so I was able to get some gardening done!  I turned an entire bed of the garden and even managed to plant some seeds!

That being said, I had noticed some significant growth in the potato patch, so I decided it was time to reap what I had sown.  I was planning to make a stew for dinner, so the timing was perfect.

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Look at the size of this hole!

I can totally sympathise with Almanzo Wilder when he complained about potato digging in Farmer Boy.  Harvesting potatoes is difficult even at the best of times and it’s particularly hard when your soil is as firm as mine got this summer.  If nothing comes up once you’ve stuck the fork in the bed and turned the soil a little, you kind of just have to get on your knees and use your hands to feel around for the potato lumps in the soil.

Plus, you have to be careful with the fork when turning the soil – stab too hard and you might just stab right through a perfectly good potato and ruin it, which I managed to do twice.  It’s a lot of work!

Still, I did manage to get a little harvest out of my potato patch.  Each plant produced about four potatoes, which isn’t very much, but look at the size of these things!  For the record, the bowl in the picture is one of those huge ramen bowls, which gives you an idea of how big the potatoes are.

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Awwww… yeah, dem’s good eatin’s!

I’d planted my patch out with Royal Blues and Pontiac potatoes.  These are the Royal Blues, beautiful purple potatoes with firm white flesh that’s perfect for stewing, baking, mashing… pretty much anything you want to use them for.  The Pontiacs aren’t big enough for harvest yet.

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Washed and peeled.  Look at the shine on those things!

I’m going to make a beautiful cream stew with these tonight!  I can’t wait to see how they do!

 

The Good Life: Shelling Beans

Hey Debs! As stated before, I’ve had a fantastic bumper crop of beans this year!  Take a look at it!

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Check out dem beans!

Unless they’re picked at very early in the season for stirfrying, beans need to be shelled.  This takes some time and practise.  I had left the beans on the vine to dry so that I could get some good soup beans.

I’ve learned that unless you pull the strings out of the beans just right, the pod will fight you all the way and you end up with a pile of beans and a pile of tiny bits of ripped up pod as you massacre the pod just to get the beans out.  This may also result in the occasional massacre of the bean as well.  Do it right, however, and the pod will split perfectly into two halves, making it easy to get to the beans.

By the time I was done, I had two piles of beans.  Not all of the beans ripened at the same time, so I divided them as I shelled them.

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The beans divided

The most ripe beans went to the pile on the right, where they would be dried for next years seed.  The unripe flagolet beans and the others that didn’t finish developing a thick skin were put on the left.

The seed beans were spaced roughly apart and placed on a towel to dry for several days.

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From Right to Left: Australian Butter Beans, Rattlesnake Beans and Borlotti Beans

In a weeks’ time, they had shrunk and were ready for planting.

I only managed to save about ten of each bean, but that’s more than enough to plant out my field next year!

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Seed beans are about half the size of freshly picked beans.

As for the rest, well, I cooked the youngest flagolet beans into a delicious chilli using my friend’s freshly dug up sweet potatoes.  They were delicious!

I also saved some up for precooking and drying, but more on that later!

The Good Life: Make $$$ in Your Spare Time!

I am a huge sucker for seed catalogues.  So, when my favourite gardening company, The Diggers Club, restocked their selection of Autumn and Winter bulbs, I had to buy some.  Besides, The Boobook had recently purchased a special bulb planting tool for me.

I stocked up on Saffron Crocuses, nine bulbs in all.  Saffron is, after all, the most expensive ingredient on the planet.  At today’s prices, saffron costs about USD$1,500 per pound, about $250 more per pound than gold.  My accountant brain was mesmerised by the possibilities!

I was going to be RICH!

On my day off, I planted the crocuses using the tool that The Boobook had bought.  It was a relatively simple tool to use.  Simply shove it into the ground and twist it until it reaches the desired depth, then pull it out and empty the dirt over the side.  Unfortunately, the ground in my area is as hard as rocks, so shoving the tool into the ground was not the easiest thing to do.  The clay also gummed up the works, making it harder to empty than I had initially thought.

Still, I persevered, and in-between hanging up laundry and feeding the rabbits, I finally got all nine of the bulbs in the ground.

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Behold my glorious handiwork!

Having completed all my chores, I took a nice hot shower and then had a nap.

When I woke up, my arms had fallen off.

This was not conducive to productivity.

You see, arms are essential tools to doing a lot of things, like getting out of bed, for example.  Also, I couldn’t post about my exploits because typing requires hands, and armless people don’t have any hands.

The Boobook returned to find me wriggling around on the couch like a dying fish, arms flopping uselessly by my sides in a futile attempt to get up and cook dinner.  He sighed and then went to fetch the hot water bottle.

The heat on my sore muscles felt glorious.

Also, he sent out for pizza, which was really great.

A week later, the saffron crocus plants bloomed.  Each tiny flower had two little strands of saffron in it.

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Saffron crocus in full bloom.  Each flower is about the size of an Australian 50 cent coin.

Ah well, so much for my get rich quick scheme.  At least I can still cook some saffron rice to make myself feel better.

The Good Life: Field of Beans

Good soil is the foundation of any garden.  Fertile, well-drained soil is necessary to support plant life.

Unfortunately, the soil around my home is absolute rubbish.  It’s a lifeless clay-filled mess, which will probably take me a few years to get up to speed.

Thankfully, there is a solution to the problem.

BEANS.

I love beans.  They’re nutrient-rich, buttery little packets of awesome.  They’re a great source of proteins and trace minerals and contain hardly any fats or cholesterol.

They’re also excellent for marginally conditioning the soil.  Their roots contain nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that pull nitrogen from the air into the ground, fertilising it in a form that is easily usable by other plants.

Beans are seriously the best plant in any condition that I know of.  They’re easy to sprout and grow, needing only a little bit of water and warmth to get going, which is why they’re a favourite of Primary School science projects.  I pretty much ignore mine once they’re in the ground past the sprouting stage.  As Ursula Vernon of Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap says, “If God wishes the beans to be watered, He would send the rain.”

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Check out dem Beans!

I mean, just look at them.  All I did was stick them in the ground with a tiny bit of compost and they thrive!

Admittedly, I did have to stake the beans to ensure the best harvest – we grow pole beans at the New Castle of Corke.  However, particularly lazy gardeners can always plant a bush variety of beans, like green beans, which don’t need staking at all!

We’ve had a pretty good harvest of Borlotti, Rattlesnake and Butter beans here, but more on that another day!

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

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.