Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Festive Fallen Branch Friday

Here's my friend Emma's picture of her decorated fallen branch Christmas tree.

So, has anyone else put up their Chrissie tree yet?

Shamefully, after all my yacking and nagging to all of you - I haven't even done mine. Usually I hang out for December and Christmas cheer but I'm feeling a bit cheered-out already. New puppies are a bit like new babies. Well I am massively exaggerating, but they do require a fair bit of attention and I am suffering from sleep deprivation. My monkey boys wake up at the crack of dawn - 6am on the dot every morning. Then they turn their screen-sitter on for a while, get dressed, make their breakfast and feed themselves all before I have even yawned myself awake at 7.30am.

Up 'til now. Now I have to get up at the crack of dawn with them because they inevitably wake up Wokee who wants to play and bounce about. As well as bouncing about, she tends to have a lot of business to do first thing in the morning and without a vigilant eye she will do her business all over the place. Every rug in the living room has been annointed. Monkey Man's work papers which have piled their way from his desk all over the floor have also become a favoured spot to deposit a little doggy doo.
So consequently, I have kept up my routine of going to bed late but am suffering from getting up too early. And I have been busy starting a website for Eldest Monkey Boy's band (
...and I have been busy finishing off my classes for the year...

Anyway, that whopper of a rant was just a bunch of excuses to let you know that we haven't yet put up our tree. But I have made a start. I have pruned the lilac tree to make way for a doggy run down the side of the house and that branch will be our tree this year.

Here's a pic of the work in progress. See pruned branch with some of the leaves pulled off. I'll show you the finished product next week - promise.
Anyone else who has a tree, please email me a photo and I'll include it in next Friday's Festive Fallen Branch Friday post. Or if you have a blog you can link up here right now.

How Do Your Beans Grow

Wow beans are weird!

First mine wouldn't come up at all. So I planted more. Then a little bit of warm and wet weather and up they all came including the ones I'd first planted. And now they are growing like crazy.

Remember those beans I planted in the pots in front of my ferns? This is last week's photo...
Well check them out today. They are 58cm tall.

Because I've never grown beans before, I had visions of them making a huge vine and providing a lovely overhead canopy for the fernery over summer. But I realise I was dreaming - I don't think they'll reach the balcony. Doesn't matter.

I've been trying for weeks to get some beans to grow up my tree stump arbour in some pots. But every time I see life, it disappears overnight. And then I plant more and they disappear again. There are a lot of snails in my garden. Which I discovered the other night when Wokee decided she didn't want to do her business in her dedicated business spot and went for a nocturnal wander. While I was following her I saw and felt and heard an absolute mass of snails on the long march to my veggie patch. I had great pleasure in stomping on the lot of them.

Not to thump myself on the back too much but just letting you know that I risked life and limb this morning getting these shots. I knew you wouldn't be impressed with my fuzzy bean photo so I went out with my measuring tape during a thunder storm. Just to prove that they've grown a lot. And because I am such a dedicated blogger, I risked being struck by lightning and got pelted with heavy raindrops to find a snail and take a snap for your amusement. Just saying!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Festive Fallen Branch Fridays

Were you around last December when I did my Fallen Branch Christmas tree thing?

Well I'm upping the ante this year and thought I'd do a weekly Friday Chrissie Tree meme! Yep. I am now so techno literate that not only can I upload a blog post but...I know what a meme is!

I'm a big lover of Christmas - any celebration actually and since having kids, Christmas has excited me no end. But the Christmas tree thing makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I've gotta admit I secretly like a bit of tack and tinsel but those artificial trees are just too much. And according to wikipedia it takes at least 20 years of re-using for an artificial tree to leave an environmental footprint as low as a real tree.  Real Christmas trees can be mulched when you're done, but you only have to take a look around the neighbourhood in January to see that lots of them aren't. Of course, those potted Christmas trees that are brought in and decorated each year aren't a bad choice but they've never appealed to me. Truth is I don't much like pine trees.

What I've been doing now for most of my adult life is to make a Christmas tree from a dead or pruned branch. Come 1st of December I've just taken a bit of a wander about my backyard or the neighbourhood or park and found myself a branch, plonked it into a bucket and decorated it. And I reckon my fallen branch Christmas trees look bloody good.
2009 Christmas tree made with a pruned Silver Princess Eucalyptus branch.
Now I know from last year that some of you do this too but I'm really surprised that I don't see more of them around.

So this year, I'm sticking my neck out and doing a real plug for the fallen branch thing.

Will you join me?

Go find yourself a branch or prune a tree. Stick it in a bucket and get decorating. Link up to me on Fridays during December. If you don't have a blog you could email me your pic and I'll wack it in a collage on my Friday posts. Now I know some of you are very attached to the smell of Christmas and a traditional Christmas tree. And I get that. But you can join me anyway by making an extra tree for outside or the table or another room.

I thought good and hard to come up with a name for my Chrissie tree meme and I'm afraid "Festive Fallen Branch Fridays" is what I came up with. I know. Lame. Never mind, pretty soon it'll be rolling off our tongues.

Now, if you're super-organised or super-excited about Christmas and already have your fallen branch Christmas tree done, you could link up here now.  (That's you Dixiebelle - I saw your goregeous bit of work this morning. And you Hanni - you're pretty amazing with a tomato cage).

Or you could wait 'til next friday - or the week after...

Now, I'm taking this Festive Fallen Branch Friday business seriously. I'm even facebooking my intentions. And I'll be nagging my friends and rellies for their pics. You wait and see.

Chrissie trees from last year

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beans, Weeds and Snail Zappers

Lazy Housewife Bean
What's the story with beans eh? I planted loads of them and they were all munched by snails and slugs. So I planted more and waited what seemed like a long time. Nothing happened. So I planted some more (remember those pots). And within two days they were up. But so finally were all those other beans I'd planted weeks ago. And now I have quite a lot of butter beans growing and some lazy housewives. None of the monkeys are terribly keen on beans so in anticipation of a bean-glut I decided to get my ears accustomed to the whining and buy some at the market yesterday... the masochist in me coming out.
Butter Beans
I think there are an unusually large number of snails about at the moment. We've had a lot of rain. I don't usually go wandering about my garden after dark but since puppy's come along I've been making hourly visits. And my footsteps are constantly accompanied by crunch noises and I'm not even trying for a snail squash. 

Every sunflower seed I planted has been eaten. My cucumber and zucchini seedlings... munched. Six basil seedlings... gone overnight. The only surviving ones are those I protected with my snail zappers. I was a bit skeptical about these because once I found a snail on the inside. But given my basil experiment they must work. I bought the copper strips from Diggers. Apparently they give a little electric zap to snails. I must make more.
Basil with protective snail zapper
In my spring planting frenzy I also sprinkled some lettuce seeds (mesclun mix) about in my new patch. And I have had something pop up. Trouble is, I'm not too sure if what's popping up are lettuce leaves or weeds. I suppose a bit of weed in a salad won't harm anyone.
Lettuce or Weeds?
My passionfruit vine is looking dreadful again. Last year Mr. P came along and sorted things out for me by chopping and building a bamboo trellis and tsk-tsking at my neglect and incompetence. And his efforts did seem to pay off - I saw one flower.

But now it's back to this.
Sick Passionfruit Vine
It seems I am not destined to grow passionfruit. These three vines have been here for two years now wasting space and I am seriously considering yanking them out. But a little voice inside stops me every time. Maybe some miracle will happen and they'll revive. What do you reckon?
Wokee running to me
And finally, we've named our pup Wokee (as in ewok). Eldest Monkey Boy is a massive Star Wars fan. The number of people who suggested the name (including 500m2) when we were already contemplating it was surprising. I suspect that little squashy face makes it an obvious choice for a shih tzu. Anyway, she's bouncing about and entertaining us with her antics and doing all the things I suspected she would. Except that she is smart. I didn't really expect that! And on the third day I was busy congratulating myself on just how smart she is and what a brilliant dog trainer / owner I was when she left me a present. A stinky little poo in the middle of the living room floor. And since then, despite my dropping her on the outside toilet spot every hour and in a high pitched, manic voice encouraging her to "do your business", she much prefers to do her business in a spot of her choice. Hmm. Cute, smart and independent. A formidable combination.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roos & Goats and New Fuzzy Creatures

When we returned from our holiday a few weeks ago it was strangely quiet in the garden. Apart from the rumble of trucks out the front door and the yipping of the yappy dogs next door, there was a sound I was missing... crowing.

Seems while we were away, someone in the neighbourhood made a complaint to the council about the noise from Mr P's roosters (remember they were mine originally).

So he ate them.


Then I started to hear another sound coming from Mr P's vacant block that sounded like a baby. Seems the goats have been doing the Spring thing and have delivered themselves a lovely little kid.
And while I've been writing this post, my lap is being kept warm by a lovely new fuzzy creature that I've been contemplating for a while.

Drumroll please....
Our shih tzu puppy picked up from the breeder yesterday afternoon.

Aw. Cute.

We're still in naming discussions and I can't comment on her personality yet 'cos she's just settling in and a bit nervy. But she's very friendly and loves a cuddle and comes when she's called.

I don't think I'm going to get much work done today with this little fuzz ball to keep me happy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mulch and Paths and Not-So-Brilliant Ideas

Bean structures for fern canopy
I quickly got cracking on my brilliant idea. Unfortunately, Mark in his comments to my post was right. Whopping big pots cost a whopping lot of money. But I already have a ginormous lovely blue pot in the corner of my herb patch. My friend gave it to me for a birthday. Trouble is, it's filled and has flowering snap dragons growing in it. Also, some little amaranth seedlings that I've been nurturing for weeks have finally taken off directly in front of the pot. So I was cautious about moving it but impatient to start the job so thought I'd give it a go anyway. Completely unsuccessfully of course. You'd need to be on strong steroids to shift that thing and the trolley was threatening to snap under it's weight.

So I gave up on that idea and headed to my local barn. I settled on a couple of moderately big pots and maybe next year I'll empty the whopper pot and relocate it in front of the fernery too. Hazel also pointed out a teeny flaw in my fabulous idea. If I managed to grow a pumpkin (and judging from last year's efforts it was a long shot) I was likely to be knocked unconscious by it dropping on my head as I exited the back door. It would need to be a rather sound structure to hold the weight of pumpkins and I only have experience building flimsy structures that I'm forever fixing after a storm. Nope, on second thoughts my brilliant idea wasn't so brilliant. So I've taken 500M2's advice and have planted some beans in the pots. I'm hoping they will provide at least some shade for the ferns. And I planted the pumpkins up the back hoping they'll climb the kids' slide and the chook shed.

If only I could manage to get a bean to germinate and grow more than 5cm without being chomped by a snail. Mrs Bok and my fellow bloggers recommended Lazy Housewife beans when we were at our  Bloggers' Meet the other weekend so that's what I've planted. And their name really appeals to me naturally.

Since finishing the kids' bedroom renovation I've been the laziest housewife ever. I've retreated to the garden instead and have been in a frenzy of de-grassing and path-making. Remember when I unearthed a brick path a couple of weeks ago? Well I worked a few blisters onto my hands extending the path. We have loads of recycled bricks stacked up against our shed wall. So I managed to make a bit of a dent in those and overcome my fear of red-back spiders in the process. And I also dug up a fair bit of the grass along the way.
Extended path with emerging corn patch in the foreground
I'm thinking I might lash out and get some euca mulch to mulch the remaining paths and maybe also the sitting-about spots too. I remember my mum using it on her garden quite a few years ago and it looked good and felt lovely and soft underfoot. Has anyone else used it? What do you reckon?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Occasional Brilliant Idea

Every once in a while I come up with a bloody good idea. And then I spend the following couple of hours thwacking my hand to my forehead wondering why I didn't come up with the brilliant idea earlier.

We have a little fern garden at our back door that is flourishing. Check it out.

Making this fernery was the first spot of gardening I did at our place. As you can see I've spent more time on the garden than completing essential, tedious, jobs like painting around the window frames on the extension. That's been eight years in the waiting but hey it's a very fiddly job and not very satisfying. Now at the moment the fernery is thriving, especially 'cos we've had a lot of rain. But in a few weeks the Summer sun will be high in the sky and the edge of that garden will be touched by it. And some of those fronds will burn and shrivel. In past years we've constructed some ugly, flimsy protection with shade cloth. And I have wondered about building a permanent overhead structure - but that's too much work and expense and would take a lot to convince Monkey Man. But yesterday I had my brainwave.

I'm going to get a whopping big pot and plonk it right in the middle of the pavers. Then I'm going to erect a bamboo teepee and string up some wire from it to the balcony. And then I am going to grow a protecting canopy for the fernery of Summer pumpkin vines.


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Melbourne Bloggers Met

Yesterday I met a few bloggers at the Digger's Spring Festival in Heronswood. I'm sure I wasn't the only one feeling a tad nervous beforehand. What if they only seemed nice on the screen? What if they didn't recognise me by the ridiculous yellow tiger I'd pinned to my frock and I had to walk around all day wearing it? What if they thought I was a tosser? Anyway, I needn't have worried because everyone was lovely and kinda just like I imagined.

Mrs Bok organised the do and she had the uncanny knack of being able to spot everyone within the first three minutes. Even those who hadn't posted pics of themselves on their blogs. She was as chirpy and lovely as you'd expect and she quickly offered us all a sample of her vegemite chips (which tasted as expected of vegemite). Barbara from The New Good Life is blessed with the smiliest baby I've ever seen. She didn't frown or spit or grump the whole time. Just sat happily in her sack grinning at everything (although just a warning Barbara, Littlest Monkey started off that way too). Pheobe from Ballynoe Cottage from now on will be known by me as the garden expert. I'll be sending her all my garden questions. She even knew botanical names. And how to pronounce them. Definitely an expert. And Hazel was as lovely as I'd imagined. Still my favourite Victorian blogger - right on my wavelength. (Hmm now I'm feeling nervous that she didn't think the same of me!).

Anyway, we spent a lovely morning and early arvo wandering about Heronswood checking out the veggies and eating scones and perusing the seeds. Of course I couldn't resist making a few purchases. And Mrs Bok gave us all a pressie of a bottle top seedling waterer.

And the day would have been completely lovely if it had ended when we waved goodbye at the gates planning our next meet up at the Melbourne Flower & Garden Show. But unfortunately, an hour earlier (at noonish) I had bid the Monkeys farewell and sent them off to the beach. They'd started to get bored with flowers and veggies and I knew it wouldn't be long before the hissy fits started and my fellow bloggers would cop an eyeful of their true natures. So I sent them away in the car. Leaving myself stranded, but with instructions that I'd ring shortly to be picked up.

Only Monkey Man didn't answer his phone when I was expecting my chauffeur drive home. So I decided to take a wander down the mountain (it might look like a hill but believe me it's a mountain) and meet them at the beach. But they weren't at that beach. So I decided to have a bit more of a wander and walk myself to Dromana. Where there were shops. And as I'd already indulged in Mrs Bok's vegemite chips I decided some more chips were in order. But this time I chose those pretend healthy vege chips that claim to be 40% less fat but come in a 50% bigger pack and taste 70% less good. And I scoffed those while sitting on the beach and made a few more fruitless calls to Monkey Man's answering service and bamboozled myself trying to understand the instructions to the Digger's clover kit.

By this time it was getting rather late. And I started to worry. Something was clearly wrong with Monkey Man's phone. Maybe he was waiting for me back at Heronswood and worrying about where I was. So I started the long trek back along the beach and up the mountain. Only this time I didn't stroll, I walked at a brisk pace with an anxious look on my face. And I arrived with much panting at 3.30pm. But they weren't there! The car attendant fellas were rather impressed with my trekking (or that's what I hope all that laughing and offering of seats was all about) but they hadn't seen the monkeys.

Now Monkey Man I must tell you is a very bad driver. And we drive a rather old, very small car. And I have quite an imagination. So I sat there for half an hour wondering what road they'd been scraped off or whether a monkey had drowned and numerous other scenarios.

And then they arrived.

With casual smiles and all barefoot and sandy. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE TIME IS? Turns out Monkey Man is so relaxed that he didn't even notice his phone was out of range. And he was having such fun racing with the monkeys along the beach he didn't even think about the time. Or about me. So we all jumped into the car, along with my mum who lives nearby and who I had phoned in a bit of a panic and she'd come to keep me company while waiting. And we drove back down the mountain, along the beach and to the ice cream shop. Whilst I gave them a commentary of the trek I had made and all the landmarks that I had already seen. Twice.

So it was a lovely day until the end. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures but Mrs Bok has made up for that. Her post today is chock full of snaps. And there's even one of the bloggers and their feet. But my foot, I fancy, looks rather clean and bouncy and not at all the miserable, red, blistery thing that it is today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unearthing Garden Secrets

Melbourne must be the only city in the world that gets a public holiday for a horse race. We are sport mad in Australia and even sport madder in Melbourne. We have sport stadiums all over the place. If you don't follow the football people look at you like you must be loopy. And to be sure I am. But sport just bores me silly. Don't get me started on my sport rant.  Why can't Australians embrace the arts... Anyway, really don't get me started because I become very boring. In fact I have been known to make up facts just to sound more knowledgable when I'm on a rant. Recently at a family function certain nameless family members declared themselves to be climate change skeptics. Well you should have seen me turn purple and start up on a rant.

But I'll leave the blog-ranting to Hazel who does very thought-provoking Sunday rants on her blog. And I don't think she makes up any facts.

No, I'm not complaining that yesterday in Melbourne was a public holiday so the nation could stop and watch some horsies running about. Because I do love a holiday and because Cup Day is the day that marks for Melbourne gardeners tomato planting time. Unless they are me. I had planned to plant the tomatoes but I got stuck unearthing surprises in the ground.

On the weekend, I started to dig up some grass to plant flowers beside the shed when I discovered a brick. I kept digging and discovered more bricks. I soon realised that I was unearthing a path that hadn't seen the light of day for quite a few decades. And the fantastic thing is, this path is right where I was planning on making a path. Remember I consulted you and had decided to get rid of the grass and make mulch paths? Well someone (who has now likely gone to their grave) has done some of the work already for me. But in brick form which is much nicer and more practical.

The funny thing about unearthing a nice surprise like this is that I started to get a bit greedy. I found myself crossing my fingers in hope that the path would continue and pave under the plum tree for me. And I was a little disappointed when of course I found that it didn't.

I started fiddling about in the garden around noonish and just couldn't stop. I was interrupted at 5.45pm by my family. Still digging.

Unearthed Garden Secret No. 1 - The Path

We live near a railway track and in the very early hours of the morning last weekend I was woken by the crashing and banging of men replacing the railway sleepers. Monkey Man offered the workers half a dozen beers for half a dozen railway sleepers and they were happy to oblige. So we scored some garden edging. I dragged these to my backyard (with much huffing and puffing) and as I was unearthing the path I also managed to make some raised beds.

Oh, and I also dug up this old key. Which was rather exciting again as I imagined when it was last held and by whom and where was the door standing that the key unlocked. I fancied I could have been an archaeologist if I had my career to start over. But then I remembered those documentaries I've seen with archaeologists sitting about in the blazing sun for hours on end working with a teeny brush and I know that would be no life for me.

Unearthed Garden Secret No. 2 - The Key

So anyway, yesterday, on the day that was supposed to be dedicated to tomato planting, I didn't have time. Instead I chopped out the broad beans and made a smashed broad bean dip for lunch with friends. Delicious served with sourdough bread, slices of tomato and marinated feta cheese.

I've read that green manure crops and broad beans are good for the garden because they take nitrogen from the air and fix it to the roots to later be released into the soil. Yesterday, while I was chopping up the broad bean plants I accidentally unearthed the roots of one. And I saw with my own eyes what these little nitrogen nodules look like. Now that was exciting too. So I quickly took a photo for you and then dug it back into the soil.

Unearthed Garden Secret No. 2 - Nitrogen Nodules

I did plant my tomatoes in this same bed last year and would have liked to do a bit of crop rotation but for reasons which I will not bore you with, they will be going here again. But on another day. Because after all that path excavating and sleeper hauling and broad bean double peeling I am pooped.

Smashed Broad Bean Dip
• double peeled broad beans (as many as you can be bothered doing)
• 1 small onion finely chopped
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• olive oil
• salt & pepper

Double peel the broad beans. Slowly cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Smash the broad beans with a mortar and pestle. In a bowl, mix the beans, garlic, onion and oil together. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with sourdough bread, slices of tomato and feta cheese marinated in olive oil.

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