Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wonky's Mosaic

Well, as promised, I got to work over these past couple of days and made a memorial for departed Wonky. The first few nights my bottom remained as usual in its indent on the couch by the fire, my ear on the trash TV and my finger on the ipad bejewls. Old night time addictions are hard to break. But on Tuesday afternoon Eldest Monkey Boy desperately wanted to pay a visit to the Eureka Tower and Littlest Monkey Boy desperately didn't. So our family went our separate ways and Littlest Monkey Boy and I got down to some mosaic-making.

Now Ali and Shangri La were keen for me to do a little tutorial on how to mosaic. And I am eager to satisfy at least two people who may be reading this blog. But I've warned you I am a complete novice - I'm even more of a novice mosaicer than gardener. But I'm a bit like Monkey Man - I'll give things a go. Monkey Man has taught me a few things actually. A combination of tightness with money, delusion and healthy ego has convinced Monkey Man that it's possible to do almost anything yourself and he'd much rather do that than pay a professional. He's installed our ducted heating, plastered, plumbed, floorboarded... he even put together our internal staircase from kit. That took quite a few days of cursing. But it hasn't fallen down yet. Unlike the plaster which is cracking all over the place. I did put my foot down when he said he'd make our curtains - he can't thread a needle, let alone operate a sewing machine.

So Littlest Monkey Boy was keen to work on the mosaic stepping stone for Wonky. I suggested we have his name "Wonky" and then maybe some wonky designs or a chicken foot. I reckon I could draw a chook foot. But Littlest Monkey was having none of it. Nope there had to be a picture of an actual chicken - a chicken that looked like Wonky. I can't draw. And I certainly can't draw chickens. But Littlest Monkey got out a pencil and paper and drew a very good picture of a chicken. I was impressed. And, I thought, if all of you out in blogworld see this mosaic but know that a 6 year old has had a hand in it they won't judge it so harshly. No need to feel quite so ashamed if it looks crappy. So I was inspired and gushing with praise as we made a pencilled drawing of the chook on the cement block. And then I remembered that Wonky probably was actually a rooster so we added more pronounced rooster bits and decided on the colours that we'd use on our mosaic. In retrospect we really should have used a lighter colour (not dark green) as the background to contrast with Wonky's blackness but Littlest Monkey was adamant that it had to be green for grass.
Now here's a pic of the equipment we used to mosaic. As I've said, I'm no professional and everything I've learnt I've learnt from google so if I've got things wrong and you reckon this stone will fall apart or that I should have used super glue or something, please let me down gently. 

I bought this stepping stone from Bunnings for a couple of dollars. The coloured mosaic glass tiles were not cheap. It would be much better to have a lovely collection of old bits of tiles or broken china and stuff. But I haven't collected much yet. I have managed some broken bits of mirror and these we used but in the meantime this is a fairly expensive hobby as I have resorted to buying specially made bits of tile that you can get at craft or hardware shops. These do have the advantage however of being all the same width which makes things easier and you get an even stepping stone. I got a tile cutter which also makes things easier and is safer with littlies but you could just smash things up with a hammer I think. I used adhesive and grout that we had for tiling the bathroom. Not sure if this is the best for mosaic outdoor stepping stones but that's what was used.
I snipped the tiles into little bits, spread some adhesive on a section of the mosaic with a chopstick and Littlest Monkey got to work attaching bits of tile. Occasionally I re-adjusted tiles to move them closer together or fill the gaps or make the edges straight but mostly I didn't need to intervene too much. In fact, I was surprised at just how patient he was. Littlest Monkey Boy yak-yaked away while he worked and only got tired of it after about an hour when he started taking regular trampoline breaks. This first stage from design to last stick of a tile took two hours.
The next day Littlest Monkey got fed up and left me to finish off. I mixed up some grout and rubbed it all over the tiles filling all the gaps. I got a dry rag and then rubbed the tiles clean. This might sound obvious (unless you're a bit thick like me) but don't leave it to dry before you rub off. I did in my first mosaic attempt and of course the grout was impossible to remove.  I then left it to dry overnight. The next day I popped it into the ground on the spot where Wonky is buried behind the chook shed and in front of a few chilli plants. You'll notice in the photo that I've left a few weeds growing nearby - I'm industrious only to a point.
Now if you'd like to see some really good mosaics pop over to Meg & Mum's blog as recommended by Jeanetteanne I was sure to do this after I'd finished our Wonky project so that I didn't get too intimidated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Planting & Digging. Companions, Worms and Train Museums.

Oh yeah, it's been a buzzy hive of diggin' industry in my patch these past few days. And when Monkey Man suggested we take the Monkey Boys to the train museum yesterday afternoon I declined the kind offer with the comment that I would rather poke both eyes out with a bamboo gardening stake than spend another hour at that train museum. Excuse my generalisation but what is it about the male species and trains? How come boys and grown men enjoy looking at old trains so much? Personally, my eyes glaze over and I start filling my head with to do lists and that night's dinner plans after 10 minutes. Climbed one rusty old train, climbed them all. But off to the train museum they went leaving me to finish my gardening jobs.
Bamboo stakes for soon to emerge snow peas and bok choy seedlings in between.
Over the past few days I've sown two beds of broad bean and snow pea seeds and made lovely bamboo tripods to support them when they grow. Hopefully I've dug them in well enough so they won't fall down in a wind this year. Monkey Man watched me sow these seeds yesterday and he commented that my blogging friend from the UK (Mark) would certainly disapprove of the haphazard way I was scattering and poking those seeds about. But that's the way I do things here.
Garlic with newly planted disappearing leek behind.
I've planted a whole bunch of leeks in the rest of the bed that houses the garlic. As soon as I laid some mulch over them they pretty much disappeared so I hope they're still there. I planted out the rest of the brassicas garden bed with purple cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli and celery and kale. Not sure what was going on in my head when I bought all those purple seeds. It is my favourite colour but I'm already wishing for a lovely creamy coloured cauli. Hopefully, the dreaded white cabbage moths will go away and this bed will survive because I do love to make cauliflower soup... although I'm not so sure purple soup will pass muster with the monkeys.
Is that the purple cauli or broccoli? Can't remember but it surely is purple.
In the narrow strip in front of the chook trampoline run I planted some brown onions and more rainbow silverbeet. Those fluffy little mischief-makers had better keep to their own side of the fence this time. I know they love silverbeet and I've promised them some rationed rainbow leaves if they promise not to jump the fence again.

And finally, I popped a few bok choy seedlings in a bit of patch with the snow peas.  Now apart from the brassicas bed I didn't bother to find out which veg should and shouldn't be planted with which. I've been reading Kebun Malay-Kadazan girls blog and she's doing lots of interesting companion planting experiments at her place. But being a novice, I can't keep all those companion facts in my head. And I am much too disorganised and lazy to do a serious plan about where things are going. I just kneel down and start digging my seedlings in. And if I run out of space I hunt out another spot somewhere else.

One thing that did surprise and excite me was the fact that I discovered quite a few wriggly worms as I was digging about. Remember a few weeks ago when I dug these new patches and I lamented the lack of worms and worried that maybe my chook worming treatment had killed them all off? Well you experts out there in blog land were right - not that I ever doubted you of course! The patches just needed to be mulched and sure enough along came the worms - lots of them. So I finished every thing off with a seaweed feed (my remedy for all things plant) and a top up mulch.

Postscript: if you live in Melbourne and were inspired to take a visit to the train museum after reading this post. Sorry but they discovered that it's closed for maintenance and no sign of when it will re-open.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Farewell Wonky

We've been on a little holiday during the week. While we were away we had some visiting friends house-sitting for us. Usually when I return from a holiday the house looks like a bit of a bomb has hit - and even more so by the time we dump our bags and monkey toys. But this time it wasn't so bad. I'd been careful to do a turbo tidy and leave the house in a respectable-ish state for our guests. On return though, there was a surprise. A rather enormous pile of washed, dried and folded laundry sitting by the back window. They had washed every single dirty towel, sheet and underpant I had piled up in the laundry! Good house guests eh?! Last time they stayed they convinced my Monkeys to help them clean the fridge - inside and out. I took photos of that one.

Unfortunately, while we were away, they also performed an even less pleasant job. They found Wonky our lame chicken dead one morning. I'm pretty sure Wonky was a rooster actually. He'd once made a half-hearted attempt at crowing from his seated position and he had quite a pronounced coxcomb on his head. He'd been progressively getting worse as the weather got colder and spent most of the last couple of weeks stationary. Our house-sitting friends buried him for us behind the chook shed.

The Monkeys and I have been thinking that we might make a little memorial for Wonky in the garden. I think a mosaic stepping stone where he's buried would be a good idea. I've only just learnt to mosaic and have been planning quite a few of these stepping stones around the chook shed. Here's a pic of my first attempt.
Now last week Ali from Mud Pie asked me to do a little tutorial here when I mosaic the old garden washing machine. I'm not sure when I'll get 'round to that now - it feels like a big job. But a little stepping stone, that I can manage. And if I commit to it here I know I will have to follow through. So I'll give the TV and my bejewelled addiction a miss for a couple of nights and get cracking on this job. I may even get started today if I can persuade the little Monkeys away from the bucket-load of chocolate the bloody Easter Bunny hid in the garden for them. I'm warning you now though that I'm no artist and I learnt to mosaic from the internet - so don't go getting over-excited.

I wonder what other things people have done to remember pets who have died?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Garden Art

I was feeling a bit arty-farty this morning.

My Littlest Monkey is quite arty-farty. He's always constructing things with feathers and glitter and stones. He reckons he's going to be an artist when he grows up. Or an inventor. What got me going today was the fact that I've dug up my summer veggies and there's a blank canvas happening in the patches. Everything's looking a bit bare so I thought I might start on some of the projects I'd been planning for a while.

First up I got out the glue gun and stuck some broken mirror and coloured stones onto an old bit of piping I found in the garden months ago. I've been using these stones with great success in my drama classes for magic spells and messages left from fairies, so I was a little hesitant about sticking them permanently in my patch but I can always get more from the $2 shop. This is what I came up with.
Now our garden is the messy sort. You may not be able to tell from my snaps because I'm careful about the angles and use close ups and avoid the weeds so that I can leave you with a false good impression. But trust me it's usually a mess. When some friends visit they tell me with no regard for my feelings that my garden looks much better in this blog than in real life! Given that it's the messy, overgrown type of garden I think it only appropriate that I use old bits that might be considered rubbish by some, as decorative items. So after the pipe-sticking, I picked up the monkeys' pile of outdoor toys and put them in their box. Amongst them were some old saucepans and lids that they'd been using in the sandpit. We no longer have a sandpit so I thought I'd hang the pots on the fence near my herbs. And I hung an old kettle from the lemon tree.
There's another project I have planned and that involves this old washing machine. It was hidden away down the side of the house but I persuaded Monkey Man to move it beside the pond a few weeks ago. It was heavy and he wasn't too impressed but I nagged enough and now it's in the right spot. I filled it with water and have plans to put a bunch of water plants in it. And then I think I'll attempt a mosaic on the outside.  What do you think? Oh, and if you look behind this washer you'll see that it's in one of the messiest parts of the garden. Perhaps making a feature of it will inspire me to clean up - or perhaps it will just distract the viewers eye to the sparkly mosaic bits instead of the messy rubbishy bits.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Digging Potatoes is Just Like an Easter Egg Hunt!

I'd read that kids love potato digging and that they're such a good veggie for them to grow. Frankly, nothing I've grown has truly captured the imagination of my monkeys. They'll humour me for a minute or two and are more likely to eat something they've picked themselves from the garden but nothing outside excites them as much as a roll and tumble on the trampoline.

So I did need to do a bit of cajoling to get them out with me digging the potatoes yesterday. But once we started we had fun.
"This is just like an Easter egg hunt, isn't it!" I enthused. 
Neither of the monkey boys answered, so I figure it's safe to assume that yes it is just as much fun as hunting for chocolate. And with the added bonus of no crazy-screaming-fight-chase that generally follows a chocolate-feed.

You're supposed to wait for the foliage on the potatoes to die off before digging them up but we didn't. The rellies were coming 'round for Monkey Boy's birthday lunch and crunchy, roast potatoes were on the menu. Some of these potatoes were way too small to cook and really should have been left in the ground to grow some more but I have plans for this bit of patch. We ended up throwing the teeny ones to the chooks who were hanging about. We also found a couple of green caterpillars and chucked them to the chooks too. That was entertaining.

Now I've posted before about how much nicer fresh potatoes from the garden are. You really can feel a different crunch when you cut them up. And the roast potatoes we had today were soft and delish. Every single one got eaten. I was even tempted to eat the one that was retrieved from under the table during clean up but managed to control myself. 

So in MasterChef tradition I will give you my top 3 tips for roasting potatoes.
1. Always prepare more potatoes than you think you'll need, they will get eaten.
2. Boil or steam the potatoes first.
3. Roast them with rosemary, sea salt, olive oil and butter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dino Parties, the Last of the Summer Veggies and Things Designed to Induce a Vomit

Today we celebrated Littlest Monkey's 6th birthday with a dinosaur party for his friends. I must confess that although I am a teacher and although I do love an event, the children's at-home party no longer holds the same appeal as it once did. There was a time when I quite enjoyed planning the games and menu and such. But in the lead up to this party my shoulders felt heavier. The thought of 12 little dinosaurs stomping through the house and garden brought a rather pronounced furrow to my brow. It's so much bloody work to organise a kids' party. But the real problem, I realised, is that I've become a little too precious about my garden. When lots of little feet run about, I expect lots of veggie seedlings and new plants and growing bulbs to get squished. But what is the point of having a garden if you can't enjoy it with kids? Anyway, I needn't have worried because there were no casualties and we all had a great time.

For food I made sausage rolls with veggies and herbs (see I'm vegetarian but I can do meat if I scrunch my nose up while handling), pita crisps and carrot dip and a big fruit platter. I bought little sausages with dinner rolls and spinach and cheese triangles. And I used up the last of the summer garden veggies on these little pikelets topped with cream cheese and halved cherry tomatoes.
I try to put out veggies and fruit and something with a bit of nutrient at a party. Eldest Monkey Boy once came home from a "sports" party that served up nothing but junk - including red gatorade (for 5 year olds!). Monkey Man was in charge that day and let him go for his life. When Eldest Monkey Boy came home he immediately spewed the lot up in the hall - a big red stream of sugar and salt. And I had to clean up because Monkey Man was late for work. Hmm... I think we all learnt a lesson after that one.

Anyway, much excitement was elicited at our party today when this volcano cake came out. I have a couple of party cake books and the little monkeys love to flick through them each year and choose a cake for their party. And this was their choice.
Yep, that's one ginormous chocolate crackle cake.
I generally try to minimise the sweet stuff at our place but Littlest Monkey Boy looooves chocolate. Eldest Monkey Boy was two years old before he tried his first tim tam and after he would not stop jumping up and down on his bed. We just closed the door and hoped he'd wear himself down but 30 minutes later he was still at it. Similarly, sugar goes straight to Littlest Monkeys head. But it is his birthday and I thought I ought not be a grouch.

I've never made chocolate crackles before so I never knew just how much crap goes into the making of one. But a wee crackle in a patty case is one thing - contemplate the making of a volcano chocolate crackle. And then contemplate the amount of copha and icing sugar I poured into that thing. I can assure you that making that cake was nausea inducing. But made it I did and serve it I did. And not a spew was had - not in our house anyway.

Check out the blissful look on Little Monkey's face. Tonight he said he'd had the best day of his life.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Should I Persist with These Pumpkins?

pumpkin vine
I threw some Digger's Heirloom pumpkin seeds in a patch of spare soil I had late last year. Or maybe it was in January, I really can't remember when. The corn seeds before them had failed to germinate - or maybe they did poke a head through but were quickly munched. Anyway, I thought I'd try my hand at growing pumpkin.

I'd been getting a few lovely flowers and I noticed some bees buzzing about.
And the vine is of course quite massive and hides the view from the lounge window of our tatty undies hanging on the clothes line which is a good thing. It's also been crawling its tendrils onto my clothes line and has had to be ripped back a bit.  But nevertheless I was expecting great things from this vine. A few months ago I bought a ravioli mould and I've been dreaming of feeding the monkeys pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin soup and pumpkin chips in tempura batter.
But look what's been happening to the fruit.
Is it because I put the seeds in too late?
I know pumpkins like a lot of compost and they certainly haven't been mollycoddled by me - a bit of a seaweed feed and that's been it. Should I have treated them a bit better?
And lastly, all you experts out there in blogworld, should I give up now, rip this vine out and prepare the soil for something new? Or should I wait a few more weeks in the hope that one of these pumpkins will turn into a pumpkin? 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flesh-Eating Plants

Like a few other bloggers I've been reading, I visited the Melbourne Garden Show during the week. I've done this for the past few years. Love it. And last week, like the years before, I came home with a new carnivorous plant for my kitchen windowsill. I know this blog is supposed to be about edible things I'm growing and cooking but I'll make an exception today because these plants go in my kitchen garden - the kitchen windowsill.
The latest one - dunno its name
Aren't they beautiful, freaky, weird and wonderful? This latest one has teeny fuzzy glowy bits that attract little, flying insects that then get stuck. It looks beautiful on the windowsill in the late afternoon with its fairydrops shimmering in the light. In typical me style, I've thrown away the tag and wouldn't have a clue what the names of any of these plants are.  I just call them my meat-eaters. Is it a little bit wrong for a vegetarian to love flesh-eating plants so?
Venus FlyTrap
Some of them have a smell that attracts the insects and they fly down and then get stuck and can't fly out.  This Venus FlyTrap slowly closes its jaws on the unsuspecting fly. 

They do require some special conditions.  A bright, sunny spot with several hours of direct sunlight is best. Apparently, the chlorine in tap water isn't good for them so mine only get water from the tank. And they need to be kept wet - mine sit in bowls of water. During Winter they're dormant and most of the leaves die so it's best to chop them back.  And then in Spring, some of them grow beautiful, big flowers.

I do enjoy looking at these plants as I do the dishes or cook and it distracts me from the other bits of my kitchen that I don't enjoy looking at. Like the pantry that still has no door on it, or the plaster on the walls that haven't been sanded and finished off or painted. Or the windowsill itself that also hasn't been painted. Yep, I live in an unfinished renovation. Been going for 8 years now. Don't expect it to be finished any time soon. Monkey Man is the one who's done almost all the work on this house.  But progress started with a bang and then slowed to a stop when second little monkey came along and made our lives way too busy. I'm waiting for an out of the blue financial windfall so we can pay someone to finish us off. Until then, I have to make do with lovely flesh-eating distractions.
The kitchen windowsill - see unpainted.
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