Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mice & Terrariums

I have a new hobby.

Actually two new hobbies.

The first - Mouse Snapping. It's a sport I invented. Doesn't involve much physical exertion, just a little involuntary jump and a big cheer. Yep, we have a mouse problem at our place. Since constructing the shiny new red pantry they are locked out of their party room and have gone in search of dinner. All over the kitchen, across the benches, behind the bread box, inside the compost cupboard. At night as I settle in front of a screen I hear their frolicking and it makes my skin crawl. I purchased some traps from the local supermarket - but they don't work! For several weeks we were feeding them a lovely meal of peanut butter and they were happily scurrying off to the next trap without any snapping.

So on Sunday we decided to up the ante and bring in the big guns. We went to our local big barn hardware store where they have a very large selection of mouse killing tools. I was tempted by the noise emitting device that apparently annoys them away but Monkey Man was not impressed by the price. He attempted to lure me to the "humane" trap that catches them live and then you set them free. But I was having none of that. I remember when we did this a number of years ago. Monkey Man set them free in the vacant block of land next door. And I'm absolutely convinced that they merrily made their way back to their nest at our place for another night of feasting.

So we settled on slightly different versions of what we already had. And they work! Yep, three snapped Sunday night. Three more before bed last night. Every time I hear a snap I leap to the air with a yahoo that wakes Wokee the puppy.

I won't eat animals but I'll happily cheer the death of a mouse in my house.

My second new hobby is Terrariums.
Look what I made the other night between snaps and yahoos.

I've had a thing for carnivorous plants for the past few years. See the view from my sink as I do the dishes. 

This terrarium contains a venus fly trap and pitcher plant. Now in case you're planning your own, you don't use soil with carnivorous plants. I used a mixture of perlite and peat moss.

I have loads and loads of ideas for more terrariums which I promise to bore you with over the next few months. Although my hobbies tend to expire quickly. I have energetic, short bursts of enthusiasm before moving on to the next thing. So I'd better get cracking.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Well I'm feeling a bit chuffed with myself. At this time of the year there's loads of stuff to harvest from the garden. Baskets of juicy, red cherry tomatoes, beans crawling up the balcony, basil and salad greens galore, figs dropping to the ground. And I'm sure if those sneaky goats hadn't smashed their way through the fence and munched my corn and eggplant and capsicum I'd have even more.
So, what to do on a warm summer night with this lot? A rather scrummy feast.

Step 1 - Roast Potatoes
Surreptitiously turn the oven on. Nothing makes Monkey Man crankier than the knowledge that I'm using the oven in hot weather. Remember while you are peeling and chopping your 'taters - you can never have too many - keep peeling. My kids have finally come 'round to roast potatoes after I started calling them chips and making sure that they are super crunchy. Trick is to steam or boil them first, then pop them in the oven with oil and some rosemary and butter.

Step 2 - Clean Up
Order Monkey Man to clear his pile of papers from the dining room table. To ensure success, this order needs to be repeated at five minute intervals 'til serving time.

Step 3 - Oven Baked Figs
Place the figs in a small oven proof dish, splash with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a spoonful of honey. Bake 'til soft - about 15 minutes.

Step 4 - Green Bean & Snow Pea Salad
(Recipe adapted from Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion). Bring a big saucepan of water to the boil. Cook up your beans (7 minutes). Scoop them out and wack in some snow peas. Cook 'til bright green and not too limp (1 minute). Scoop out and allow to cool. Make a dressing with chopped herbs (chives, parsley) and a tablespoon of olive oil. Soak a teaspoon of capers in water for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the salad. Assemble on a platter with olives, the capers and crumbled goat's cheese.

Step 5 - Cherry Tomato & Bocconcini Salad
Make a dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Pop your cherry tomatoes in a bowl with the dressing. Add some torn basil and use your hands to mix it all through.  On a platter, make a layer of salad greens. Pop the tomatoes on top. Tear some bocconcini balls and scatter about the platter.
Step 6 - Lay the Table
Instruct little monkeys to set the table using the good glasses and cutlery

Step 7 - Assembly
Assemble all the bits - chopped bread on a board, a bowl of roasted nuts and seeds, the figs, plop the potatoes in a nice bowl and lay them all out on the table.

Step 8 - Atmosphere
Light a candle and dig in.
Hey! Is that a pile of papers I still see at the top of the table? MONKEY MAN!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Confessions of a Lazy Gardener

The other day I caught myself cropping out the weeds in a photo for this blog. I'm always doing stuff like that - taking close ups, re-shooting photos from another angle, choosing the pictures that look the best - the ones that make my garden look good and hide the messes. And I feel that I ought to confess. I am a lazy gardener. I have loads and loads of weeds hanging about. I have couch grass crawling up my side fence. I have half-started garden projects hanging about just waiting for the weather to turn bad so I'll have a real excuse not to do them. I have been known to finally get started on a garden project just 'cos I want to blog about it. Sometimes when my friends visit they exclaim that my garden looks much better in my blog. Oh yeah, I am a naughty, sneaky blogger.

Part of the reason I started this blog was for motivational purposes. I had grown some veggies for the first time and was very pleased with myself. But I didn't know what to do with the beetroot I'd managed so let them grow and grow and wasted them and felt very guilty in the process.

So, for your entertainment, to ease my conscience and as a motivational exercise, I thought I might take a bunch of pictures of my laziness. Hopefully in my next post you will see how industrious I have been and I can show you all some after shots. Or I'll give the macro setting on my camera a workout and you'll be so bamboozled by my colourful close-ups that you'll forget all about this post.

Weeds & Junk in the Herb Garden
See all those weeds. And see those kitchen implements lying on the ground? I had made a kinda quirky hanging sculptury thing against the fence with those old saucepans and mixers and things. I proudly blogged about it here. But Monkey Man objected to the clanging noise they made on a windy night and he silenced them by tying them up. And in my snippiness I ripped them down (yes, aside from laziness I have other faults - a bit of a temper). And that is where they have stayed in a discarded heap for several months now.

Revived Passionfruit from Suckers
A few months ago I made mention of my dying passionfruit vine. Kind bloggers diplomatically suggested it ought to be ripped out. And I did in all honesty intend to dig it up and make better use of that valuable, sunny, spot. It's just that it hasn't happened yet. Instead the vine has grown suckers everywhere and has sprouted from under the graft spots. And it's all looking rather leafy and lush. If I didn't know better I'd have thought my magic, inactive, green thumb had revived it. But those re-shoots won't ever grow me passionfruit and it's only looking green 'cos I've been lazy. And I could have planted something else in there - or at least given it a green manure crop to prepare for something else in the meantime.

The De-Grassing Project
I plan to de-grass my garden. In spring I started on the project rather enthusiastically. I dug a path all 'round the plum tree and made more garden beds and sat down in the hammock to contemplate just what material I would use on the garden paths. And that's where I stopped. Most days I have a swing in the hammock with a cup of tea in hand and contemplate again just what to use instead of grass in the garden. And meanwhile the grass weeds grow taller on my intended paths.

Death in Planter Boxes

I have dead plants in pots decorating the garden everywhere. I've managed to kill everything on the ladder this summer. See that tomato plant to the right. It's a self-seeder. I've done nothing to help it along. I thought at first that bamboo stake might provide some support but it fell down in a wind and I never propped it back up. Instead I'm hoping that it'll grow itself up the ladder and I'll get tomatoes without even trying. That's the kinda gardener I am - lazy but optimistic.

More Weeds Suffocating the Flowers
This spot in front of the wood shed has always suffered from weeds. But they're easy to pull out 'cos there's lots of mulch under there. Not that you'd notice at the moment. One day I had a spark of inspiration and I shook out some calendulas that had gone to seed all over the spot. And wouldn't you know it, success. Bunches of flowers sprouted which pleased me immensely. No digging, watering or tending. My sort of gardening. But since then I haven't done any weeding and the flowers are being smothered by the weeds and someone has dropped bits of wood on the ground in the wrong spot so it really is a mess.

Junk Pile
Last week I showed you a pic of the old washer I mosaiced. What I carefully obscured from your gaze was this pile of junk sitting nearby. These are weeds that I pulled up a long time ago (I can assure you they've been there a long while because it's been a long while since I've done a proper weed).  I intended to be rid of those weeds and to store those weed-containing vessels in the shed. I also thought I might drill some holes in that kiddies wheelbarrow and use it to house some flowers or veggies. But instead I have a junk pile. And some of the weeds that ought to have died in a hot weed pile are thriving. Namely that rotten Wandering Dew which apparently causes itches in dogs and is very difficult to be rid of. Especially if you are an organic gardener and are relying on the method of pulling up the weeds yourself. And especially if you have a lazy bone which prevents you from doing a proper, regular weed to be properly rid of it.

Well I could post a few more lazy photos but I think you get the picture. I must say it feels good to confess. Much better than when I was a child at a Catholic Primary School and was forced once a term to confess my sins to the parish priest. I got myself in a terrible pickle trying to think of sins to confess so I made a couple up just to satisfy everyone.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Seventeen Recycled Garden Things

Thought for a bit of fun I'd post some recycled things I'm using in the garden today.

1. Drawer Planter Boxes
These drawers were destined for the hard rubbish but now they're housing some flowers underneath my clothes line.

2. Clothes Airer Vine Support
Not sure that I'll have any success with my pumpkins this year again. I think I planted them in the wrong spot - not enough sun. They haven't grown much so it's probably too late in the season. But they have started to climb up the corrugated iron fence with a bit of assistance from my old clothes airer.

3. Old Tin Drum Planters
 And here's another. And beside it...

4. Tree Stump Bench Seats
Now don't ask me what the flowers are 'cos I confess to being not so interested in flowers unless they are particularly beneficial to the veggies or in this case quite pretty. Beside the flowers is a bench seat. I've got a few of these about the place. I don't know where the tree stump came from or the planks of wood I've propped on top. I just found them in Monkey Man's timber stash.

5. Chicken Coop
Built by Monkey Man using recycled materials. The roof was give to us by a friend leftover from a  kids' cubby house. You can't see it in the picture but the nesting area is an old drawer that's been covered in. We did have to buy some hinges and extra chicken wire.

6. Laundry Trough Planter
You might remember this post when I was getting myself in a frizz about the peeling lead paint from this old laundry trough. Well I scraped most of it off and painted over it and it now houses some flowers in front of the chook shed. 

7. Kids' Security Fence Chook Run
Aaaah it seems aeons ago now but once we had to baby-proof the house. I remember getting quite anxious about all the dangers lurking about. Table corners got plastic covers, bookshelves were screwed into the wall, breakables packed away. Of course, the real dangers came from sleep-deprived parents. We dropped Eldest Monkey boy once. Monkey Man passed him to me. I thought he had him, he thought I did and poor little monkey got dropped splat to the ground. Shudder.

Anyway, once we got to the crawling stage I thought it necessary to purchase an overpriced security fence to keep little fingers out of the kitchen. Luckily, it has later proved very handy in the garden. It is movable and has a gate and makes a perfect fence for the chicken run.

8. Old Washer Water Feature
This one's my favourite. It's an old washing machine that was in the laundry when Monkey Man bought the house (along with the cement troughs I've made into planters). I mosaiced it over winter, filled it with water and popped in some water plants. Pretty cool huh?

9. Teapot Planter
Now I have to confess that this teapot has been hanging in my garden for about a year now without a plant. And I cheated today by quickly potting up some baby tears in it just to impress you! Unfortunately, now that I'm looking at the photo I see that the plant is very unimpressive and I needn't have bothered.

10. Door Frame Veggie Patch Border
It's hard to see amidst the foliage but this I think was once our back screen door. I found it on one of  Monkey Man's junk piles of course. Now it marks the border between one veggie patch and the next and I use it to grow veggies up. At the moment it's helping along the tomatoes. I've attached a few interesting bits to it too - a mobile and ribbon with mirrors and a little lantern that's lost it's glass.
11. Ladder Plant Shelf
I had imagined a ladder bursting with colour and herbs and such but I'm afraid this one's been a bit of a failure so far. The steps are not very wide so it needs small pots which I've managed to dry out. And over summer it's shaded by the fig tree so everything seems to be dying. I tried to grow some cucumber up it but no luck so far. Maybe in a few months I'll manage to make it look a bit better.

12. Pallet Chook Fence
A couple of pallets were dumped outside our back fence after some building was done by the neighbours. For a couple of years I covered them with a board and made a stage for the monkeys' backyard concerts. Now they're serving as a fence to stop the chooks escaping to the veggie patch.

13. CD Rack Garden Art
A few years ago I used a mini disk recorder in my drama class and at the end a parent came up to me like it was a museum piece and laughed. Well I sure did feel uncool! (See I am so uncool I still use the word "uncool"). Nowadays, I have progressed to the digital world. But some of you may be able to cast your minds back to the olden days when we had CDs. This was a rack for storing the CDs in. Only it is big and a bit creepy and my monkeys were frightened of it so I decided to put it in the garden for a bit of added interest. And I think he will scare away the birds - a modern-ish scarecrow. 

14. Screen Door Fence
Yep, another one. But this door was out the front. I've covered it with chicken wire and it is serving as a gate for Wokee the puppy's outdoor run. And as you can see from the picture I still haven't moved Monkey Man's junk pile or planted anything down there. 

15. Dead Tree Arbour
I had been looking around for an arbour for this spot in the garden. But everything I saw was a bit twee. Then a tree on our nature strip died and Monkey Man suggested these branches. I was hoping it would be like a gateway from one section of the garden to the next but it doesn't quite work. Yet. I have tried to grow things up it but with no success. I think there are a lot of snails or earwigs or something around there. But I haven't given up.

16. Bamboo Teepees
Someone I read recently blogged about bamboo and how terrific and sustainable and lovely it is. I tried in vain to find the post and who it was so apologies but I just can't remember where I read it. Anyway, they had some lovely pics of bamboo being used for all sorts of wonderful things. And I was tempted to comment, but I would have just been spoiling the lovely post. Because I hate bamboo. Only because we had a nasty big patch of it down our back fence. The non-clumping variety that spreads and spreads until one day you have nothing but a big bamboo jungle in your yard and you lose your children in it. So I set to work chopping it out to make way for the chook shed. And it took all of my summer holidays and was bloody hard work for a wimp like me. And then I realised that chopping it down would not do much good because it just kept sprouting up from the cut stumps. So I set Monkey Man to work digging it out. Phew. He wasn't at all impressed with that job. You can see a bit of what was involved here

Anyway, the good thing is that now we have a lifetime supply of bamboo stakes for the garden. And so do my friends and neighbours.

17. Nappy Dishcloths
OK, they're not strictly speaking garden things but they were hanging on the line when I was photographing. And I like the picture so indulge me. Old nappies are very useful. I've chopped most of mine up and use them as kitchen dishclothes.

I'd love to know what things you've recycled in your garden.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Pantries and Squabbles in Ikea

We lashed out and got a pantry last week. Our previous pantry was bought second-hand from the Trading Post a few days before I gave birth to Eldest Monkey Boy. It was the first and only kitchen I said I wanted to see. Needless to say I wasn't in a state to care about kitchen choices. I just wanted a kitchen before the baby was born. In fact I wanted the black plastic that was making do as the back wall and protecting our house from the elements and thieves and mice to disappear and be filled with a proper wall. And I wanted a sink where I could wash dishes - not the trough in the bathroom. And a few other things. But they weren't to be for quite a while post baby. And all that time went by in a sleep-deprived, anxiety-filled, baby-love whirlwind anyway. I didn't care much that I had to stomp my foot while breastfeeding to scare the mice away from my room. I was too exhausted.

I've never been much happy with the kitchen we hastily assembled. It is certainly ugly (which I can live with) and the doors have started drooping (which I will put up with too) but it was the pantry that finally cracked me these holidays. It had one door that opened the wrong way and scraped on the floor and the other side was completely doorless. So everyone could see my messy contents inside.

Naturally, once we made the decision to get a new one I chose something completely out of keeping with everything else in our kitchen. It is big and glossy and red and has pull out drawers with slam proof doors and a couple of wire baskets and I can't stop oohing and aahing over it. And Littlest Monkey Boy can't stop admiring himself in the reflective surface and practising his creative dance moves in front of it.

We purchased the pantry at that barn we love and hate in equal measures - Ikea. Whenever we are on our way to visit Ikea I warn Monkey Man that we will have a fight. And we do. When I was single I hated to visit Ikea because I was blinded by the happy couples hand in hand furnishing their love nests. And I was filled with envy at everyone else who certainly had a much happier life than poor, lonely, single old me! I didn't notice them bickering and hissing at each other and their measuring tapes after they'd followed the yellow line to the next floor.

The trick with Ikea I've realised is to know what you're getting beforehand and to head straight for it. Then follow the yellow arrows directly to the loading spot. Do not get side-tracked by all the other stuff. 'Cos you could get lost and spend hours in there and you will surely have a fight with your partner. And if you don't have it by the time you get to the lighting department (that's where we had ours this time) you will surely have it as you attempt to find and heave the packages onto the trolley and then queue for fifteen minutes to pay. Ikea should offer couples counselling along with their delivery service. Actually not just couples-counselling, also counselling for singles who are traumatised by all the in-your-face seemingly happy couples.

Anyway, it is a wee bit glossy and red compared to everything else but we might just be able to get away with the juxtaposition when Monkey Man has finished making a kitchen bench from re-cycled backyard timber. It took us three days to put together and the handles have been screwed on wonky, but I am sure that my cooking life is going to be heavenly from henceforth. Now I can see just how many lentils I have. But only when I open the door.
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