Monday, November 29, 2010

catch up post: artichokes, bugs, evil birds and more...

I'm having a temporary break from having the internet at home, so for the next month or so I'll be doing fewer but longer blog posts from the uni library (this post is therefore sponsored by UTAS...).  Today, I have a mega stroll-around-the-vegie-garden-style post.  The baby birds that have been tweeting from the gutter right above my bedhead have finally grown up, and just like their parents they like to dig up all my (not cheap) sugar cane mulch and seedlings, eat my strawberries, and fly off with entire pea seedlings in their grubby beaks.  The other day, as I was netting my strawberries, there was a line of 3 birds watching me from the fence with their yellow eyes, occasionally sharpening their beaks on the palings, plotting their revenge...

Initially, sensing a growing threat from the birds as the blueberries grew bluer, the birds multiplied in my gutter, and the sheer cheek of a bird flying off with an entire seedling in its mouth, I bought some 'humming bird wire' from the hardware store (you can vaguely see it in the above photo - it's running above the white netting).  $17.95 for bird wire, with the capacity to cover my entire yard with ease vs $50 for bird netting? I reasoned that the wire was a better option.  I leapt around the backyard, foolishly triumphant as I hammered in posts and attached the wire to old stockings, designed to take some of the slack (on a side note, what do single men use for garden ties?).  However, the wire turned out to be a false economy.  The next morning I went outside, and three cheeky birds were doing the early shift, checking the strawberries for ripeness and sifting through the mulch for worms. My message: don't buy 'humming bird wire'.  Needless to say, I had to pay the hardware store another visit, returning home with a mass of surprisingly expensive netting.  So much for 'saving money' by growing your own vegies...

Anyone (including myself) who has sneered at my Fine Arts degree and wondered what in the hell I'll use a sculpture major for, should check out my strawberry construction.  It's titled Bird Net Over Strawberries and challenges the notion that art and functionality are mutually exclusive.  In all reality it's just a bodgy construction of bamboo stakes, gaffa tape, netting and old tent stakes, but it's holding up surprisingly well.  The bird wire can be seen in the below photo as well.

Bird Net Over Strawberries (2010), dimensions variable

On another triumphant note, my green artichokes are sprouting well.  The mothership looks fairly ready to eat, and the smaller side-flowers are just about there too.  My purple artichokes, mentioned in previous posts are just about gone.  I had stall at a market on Sunday, where I sold a number of them (along with rhubarb and silverbeet), and I suspect that the stocks are just about drained.  I wonder if the purple variety always flower before the green variety, or whether it's just because the green plant is slightly younger?
The Mothership

et al
I also had my first pea harvest (so peas don't grow in frozen packets?).  I picked a decent bowl of pods (after finally establishing which area I had planted the peas as opposed to the snowpeas - an argument for  naming seedlings as you plant), and bought 300g of prawns ready for a prawn and pea risotto.  Just as the rice was soaking up the wine, I remembered that I had to get the peas out of the pods, and got out a big bowl for the peas in anticipation.  I needn't have bothered.  There are SO FEW PEAS IN A POD! Who would have thought...  Oh and it seems that you can eat the pods too, as I gnawed on a few pods out of hunger as I was cooking, and, well, I'm not dead yet...

A not-quite-ready pea
It's not all stories of triumph:  I'm still having troubles with getting a decent head of broccoli. I've tried planting at different times of the year, fertilising, companion planting, but they still go from here (tiny head)

scungy brocoli head

to here:

"but I never even saw you bud!?!"

The cabbages are also quite frustrating, although I can take my anger out on the green caterpillars that like to munch on the leaves.  They're delightfully fun to squash!

The creatures that I haven't come across before are those on my cherry tree that I just noticed this morning:  little black slug-like creatures (pictured below).  Help! what are they? how do I get rid of them?

The nectarine tree (I think - I forgot to mark the trees too), which has the leaf curl is producing cute little fruit things.  Now, I know that people say that you should break off fruit to encourage growth in the first year, but is it really necessary?  The poor tree's trying so hard despite the odds....

Oh and last but not least, my leeks are going to flower.  They're such beautiful forms with their curved buds and so I really have no regrets not eating them all.

For the last year, I've left a couple of almost all plant varieties to go to seed, simply because I'm curious about their life-cycles.  I think it's a good way of learning, and as an added bonus if you're lucky (like I've been), things like spinach and lettuce will come up the next year without you lifting a finger...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blue[green]berries, an unlikely flower and a curly problem...

I've just come in from an arm-buggering session mowing the grass.  I own a handmower partly because it's better for the environment (not using petrol or electricity), partly because I can't afford to get someone to regularly mow my lawns for me, and partly because it's a lot cheaper than a gym membership (that is, it's good exercise).  I haven't really needed to mow all winter, but now that it's spring, it seems to be a weekly calling, which a bugger 'cause i really don't like grass (and have evil plans afoot to kill it all...).

However, spring has also brought a few other surprises: the very unlikely flower that bloomed out of the otherwise unremarkable spikey plant has bloomed again (pictured above).  I don't know what it's called.

The blueberries are starting to form.  It's the first time I've ever seen blueberries that have not come from a plastic container,  so I'm pretty damn excited.  The particular plant variety pictured right is called 'Denise', but 'Brigitta' is also starting to produce.

As an experiment, I planted the two trees in different areas - Brigitta is in full sun in the front yard, and Denise is down the side of the house with partial sun, particularly in winter.  Now I know it's not a true experiment as they're different varieties; but because blueberries apparently like full sun, I just wanted to see what would happen.  Interestingly, Denise, who lost all her leaves in winter, has actually produced more flowers (and hence will produce more berries) than Brigitta, who retained a few of her leaves.  They're actually very beautiful bushes, with leaves that turned a lovely artichoke purple in autumn.  You can see a few of the white flowers that then turn into the berries in the picture.  The berries are still quite small and not ready for eating, but I suspect that I'm going to have to net them this weekend before the ruddy blackbirds cotton on.

Meanwhile, the artichokes are on super-productive-mega-drive.  I can't keep up with the sheer pace, particularly as the one plant seems to have divided over the 8 or so months I've had it, and so I have twice as many artichokes. I didn't realise until this morning, but the buds are forming all the way down the stem, not just at the top.  I had a few friends around last weekend and decided to see what they were like to BBQ.  I boiled the artichokes for about ten minutes, then halved them and BBQed them with some olive oil.  They're fantastically versatile vegetables once you get over the initial fear of cooking them.  Additionally, while people say 'oh you have to get out the choke', 'you can't eat the choke', I believe that's rubbish.  I eat the choke every time (and I've never choked...).

The strawberries that the crazy neighbour gave me last year, too late in the season to actually produce, have quadrupled in size and have the lovely white and yellow flowers that I'd be quite happy having in the garden even if they didn't produce fruit.

One thing that disappoints me however, is that my nectarine tree seems to have leaf curl.  This morning, I trotted off to the nursery that sold me the tree in August to get them to confirm the problem, and they seemed surprised that it had the problem so soon.  Apparently, there's not much I can do about it at the moment other than pull all the 'curled' leaves off and burn or tightly bag them and stick them in the bin to stop the spread of the fungal infection.  Then next winter I need to spray them with anti-fungal spray, and again as the tree's budding.