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The freeze

June 10, 2009

And so,  winter begins to set in.  With the wind chill yesterday, the apparent (feels like) temperature was about -10C.   There was frost and ice all over the open sections of our yard this morning.  The lettuces/greens which were under remay and plastic where icy too.  Never having been confronted by this situation before, I almost panicked but then I remembered; water  before the sun hits them.  This proved  a little difficult as the outside tap/pipe had frozen and so, I was ferrying water in my watering can from the laundry. Not a drama but there is nothing like carrying water to make you appreciate the ease that a pipe, tap and hose affords.

Will the lettuces, celery and less hardy greens turn to mush.? Well,we’ll see. Nothing like moving to a new place (albeit, just up the street and round the corner from the old place)  to make you learn new things.


Measuring one’s power

March 25, 2009


No, this is not a logging coop but a section of our yard.

Well, it’s almost 2 months since we settled (closed) on our old place and moved.  It’s been interesting getting used to being in the same area but in a different house.  Not long after we had moved in, we had 10 extremely large pine trees cut down.  They impeded all our NE sun and stopped anything growing on at least half the property.  I am no fan of these introduced trees, which are majestic but completely dominate any area they are in.  So we made the decision to cut them down (with approval from relevant official bodies) and in doing so, to chip, mill and use all the trees on site.

All of these ‘facts’ and intentions are fine in theory….yes, the trees are a weed;  yes, they take up all our light;  yes, although I can’t stand pine it will be used for building, furniture making, yes, more suitable trees will be planted to replace them and so on……but when you see trees of 50- 100 years lying on the ground…..well, I burst into tears. It was destruction and those logs could not be put back together.

I was struck by how ‘our’ idea had made this happen.  How there were guys, chainsaws, a chipper and a crane and we had initiated the process.  How although it is a change for the better and neighbours on the whole were happy to have sun in their yards as much as we were… was so intense.

For me, it is a lesson about one’s will and desire. It illustrates to me that what you think, what you think you know and the actual knowing are all very different. And when making a decision even after weighing it all – sometimes we still don’t have any real understanding of how to measure our power.

Considering bees

January 11, 2009


I was going to pull up these brassicas to make way for late summer/autumn plantings until I noticed a familiar smell and sound.  Bees – over 20 of them working the flowers.  Well, my timetable can wait for the bees, I think.  They could be my bees which are housed at my sister’s place about 500 metres away or my friend, Lis’, also a similar distance away or they could be those of another local beekeepers – who knows! Bees travel up to 5kms from their hive, so they could be anyone’s. I should have been painting the house but I kept coming out to watch them. Determination, elegance and zest in their foraging.  Is it possible that I’m falling in love with bees?

I did notice when I checked on my bees last week, that the foraging bees were returning with an orange/dark yellow pollen.  The colour reminded me of calendula or even dandelion but it could be from the brassicas.  It’s interesting to think of the garden with bees in mind.  Things that are a weed are often a foraging source for bees particularly in urban or semi-urban settings. Well, even in rural settings – Salvation Jane ( Echium plantagineum) it is to beekeepers – forage for the bees, but to farmers it’s Paterson’s Curse – a weed. The honey is quite runny and sweet. Yum!

Mrs Rae’s Garden redux

January 5, 2009


Just so that you don’t think Mrs Rae had a fondness for outlandishly coloured shrubs , there are also a number of very fine trees including an oak, a magnificent towering copper beech, some dogwoods and by the grace of good sense, a tall eucalyptus/ gum.   Perhaps the greatest thrill for me has been the discovery of two apple trees.  They need some care and “renovation’ so that the fruit can be picked more easily – one tree is the sole territory of noisy rosellas. However, on this kind of pruning/tree rejuvenation, I need to get some advice because I don’t want to kill the gift. Those apples are so cute in their clusters!!

The vegetable garden we started at the new house is really kicking along and we have been eating greens/brassicas, lettuces, beets, radishes, chilli and herbs from the garden for a couple of months. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, eggplant, beans are flowering and starting to set fruit.  I feel very fortunate. And since we have sold our old house, I feel enormous relief.  We have to be out of the old place by early February….so we are in the process of moving and painting the new house etc. which leaves little time for gardening. I haphazardly keep shoving stuff in the ground and it keeps growing and growing.

I feel almost giddy, when I think of the garden. Oh, the eternal hope and plans of the gardener….not a bad way to start  2009.

Good fortune and best wishes to you all for the coming year.

Mrs Dorothy Rae’s Garden

October 23, 2008

Mr and Mrs Rae built our new (to us) house in the mid fifties – I’m guessing originally as a holiday house as the house is compact and modest.  They did, however, engage an architect to design it, so I’m also guessing they had some money.  I think the house is very cool since I am a big fan of modernism (my secret is revealed) and have always wanted to live in a mid- 20th Century house.  And while I love the house (though it has definitely seen better days), the lure of the place was the flat half acre of land.  With this land came a very neglected garden, that once was spectacular according to neighbours – Mrs Rae had planned, planted and tended it. The people we bought the place from, evidently were overwhelmed by it or not interested or both. Most of the silver birches have been so badly pruned that it has hastened their demise.  I know that they are short lived trees but why would you want to make them look so bad?  I’ll spare you the pictorial evidence.

Now, while I would not  plant a garden such as this, I do admire the sheer courage of using such dramatic and showy colours in the azaleas and rhodos – both of which come in evergreen and deciduous varieties.  There are also ponds, (now dry) stream beds, a small Monet style bridge (was painted in the Giverny green) and even remnants of climbing roses.  Not so much in the fruit and vegetable department but this will change!

As things have flowered with the onset of spring, we keep walking around saying things like, “Oh wow, that’s a…..”  or “What sort of tree is that?” Reference books have come in handy.

Can anyone help with identifying this tree?

One set of neighbours is worried that, with a focus on food growing, we are going to clear fell the block. Their block was once part of ours, until Mr Rae died and Mrs Rae sub-divided and built a low maintenance brick house on the back quarter acre. She subdivided so as to not ruin the garden aspect of both places. I like Mrs Rae – I wish she still lived in her other little house. We had to ensure the neigbours that we were not vandals or insensitive to our surroundings.  Moreover, the local planning authority would be unlikely to allow such dramatic alterations to the streetscape.  However, what I wanted to ask them – are vegetables and fruit trees not as beautiful as a camellia or tulip or maple?  To me they are, and I think that this is where Mrs Rae and I would have disagreed.  Oh and on the use of colour.

Re-housing the bees

October 9, 2008

A couple of days ago I moved my bees from a 10 frame box into an 8 frame (brood) box and added a super.  More room will hopefully avert a swarm.  I got stung twice and apart from the initial shock, I did not have an adverse reaction. No swelling, in fact,  I swell up much more from mosquito bites.

I was grateful that the bees had overwintered well and that there was no brood disease, beetles or moths in the hive.  One thing that I probably have to admit, is that those full depth boxes and frames will be heavy when they are full of honey, so  I’m thinking that I might go for the “admit it you’re a girl” half depth boxes.  Either that or build up some serious muscle power.  I did taste some of the honey from the burr comb that the bees formed in the lid – eucalyptus.

Needless to say they were very confused with the new housing.  I think I did okay. I couldn’t see the queen so I hope that she survived.  My husband turned up after I’d finished the moving them and as I was just watching them trying to re-organise and also trying learn something of their behaviour.   He laughed when he saw me in the suit and thought I looked like someone from a space-exploration program.  Yeah, if only NASA was as cool as bees!

Springtime and bees.

September 28, 2008

In concentrating on our own housing, I almost forgot that with the spring, I’d need to expand the bee quarters.  I’ve decided not to go with the accepted industry norm – ie is to soak the boxes in a wood preservative and paint the outside with a exterior gloss paints…instead I (we’ve) been coating the boxes with a combination of raw linseed oil thinned out with some gum turpentine.  I know this means much more work but I think that it is also less toxic all round.  Not sure how it will affect the longevity of the boxes but there is only one way to find out.

Later this week, I’ll open the hive for the first time since the beginning of winter and  I will move the frames into the new boxes.  Then in a couple of weeks,I’ll  re-queen the hive – it was after all an autumn swarm and the queen in the hive is old.  It does sound sinister, I know.  Also I need to prepare more boxes and frames in the event that we have good nectar flow – so fingers crossed because really, it is RANK amateur hour here.  I’ll try to take pictures to record it all.

The other day as I watched the bees coming and going, landing heavy with yellow pollen I couldn’t get over how amazing they are.  Such activity and work.  Not sure I’ll be marvelling so much after the first sting!