Winter garden

Winter garden
“Never seen the winter barometer this high at this time of the year, “says my ninety-something year old neighbor, Bill. He is not alone in his observations. The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a warmer (and dryer) than normal winter this year. So let us take advantage of this situation and throw ourselves into our garden planning.
Fruit trees are something worth your attention. Now would be a good time to plant them. And if you plead lack of space, let me urge you to consider replacing older trees and ornamental shrubs with new food bearing trees. I have just planted a nectarine (Prunus persica Goldmine), a white-fleshed fruit and self-pollinating variety. I also planted a dwarf Tahitian Lime (Citrus latifolia). The label reads ‘heavy bearing, medium sized fruit, juicy and seedless. I’ve never taken dwarf varieties of fruit trees very seriously but now, with less space, I have surrendered. Time will tell.
Two well established and prolific fruiting Cumquat trees are without a doubt the most successful food producing trees (think marmalade) on the property, and they take up very little space.
Figs are another welcome addition to a food garden. I recently took out a large Preston Prolific – a green fig – and replaced it with a Black Genoa. Time will tell whether or not this was the right move.
If I had more garden space I would also plant a yellow cling peach. These are such a versatile and undervalued fruit and I love them. Apricots also do well here. You will often come across trees in old established gardens with smaller fruit and extraordinary flavor. The apricot should be on the top five food trees list along with almonds and apples. We see well-laden orange trees around the district and the occasional grapefruit. I confess to not having tried either and, having reminded myself of this fact, will now go out and seek this citrus experience.
Before leaving our fruity friends, let us not forget the Nellie Kelly grafted black passion fruit that should adorn every backyard fence. Easy to grow and disease free. And what would a Pavlova be like without passion fruit!
And I shouldn’t forget the rhubarb. A moist spot in dappled sunlight with well-manured soil is an ideal spot for this ever-popular desert ingredient.

Easy to grow vegetables

With so much recent talk about food waste, it is worth considering planting a few vegetables even if you don’t see yourself as a gardener. You don’t need a green thumb for the basic essentials of healthy eating, namely a green vegetable. Seedlings are sometimes a better option than seeds if for no other reason than you get the satisfaction of watching their progress from day one. Plant the obvious things that should be a regular item on your plate. Silver beet – sometimes called Swiss chard – is available in the plain green variety or as the more decorative ‘rainbow’ with bright colored stalks. Plant plenty and anywhere where there is a space. The ‘rainbow’ colored variety is a popular pot plant on a veranda. A bunch of silver beet can be a great little token gift to take to a friend or neighbor when calling in.
I’ve taken to making vegetable soups lately and I like to add a green vegetable. Often I will buy a bag of spinach but being able to collect something from your garden feels so much better. With this in mind I have planted Kale for the first time. While I’m not a fan of the cooked vegetable as such, it is ideal for adding to soups. It is hardy and robust and for that reason I’m including it on the ‘easy veg’ list.
Broad beans are not every ones favourite – I don’t know why. They are fun to grow and provide a vegetable that can be eaten as young pods before maturity or as beans when fully grown. Depending on the variety, the plants can often grow bigger than expected and then fall over. One suggestion is that once the first pods are looking close to being fully formed, pinch out the tops of the plant. This will stop it growing too high. Runner beans climbing up a fence or dwarf beans in their own bed or scattered through the flowerbeds are very worthwhile.
If you have an open space like a lawn area or unused driveway or path and there is a sunny garden spot adjoining, consider growing pumpkins. Once established, the plants will spread over the adjacent land and you will be amazed at how many and how big your pumpkin crop will be. You can store them in a dry shed or spare room or give them away to friends. Note: A friend told me that their pu-mpkin plants had been nibbled at the ends of the runners by deer that venture out of the Muckleford Forest and into Maldon gardens so if you live on the edge of town, you might get a surprise in the pumpkin patch.
A salad crop list is most often headed by that impossible to avoid vegetable – or fruit – the tomato. I hasten to add that this is not a winter garden vegetable and I wouldn’t dare suggest growing hints for fear of retribution from the hundreds of home growers, each with their special tried and true growing formula. But growing a half a dozen plants, either in the garden or in pots can be fun. Plant in late spring and never before Cup Day – or so they say.
One of the most simple green salad vegetables to grow at most times of the year is Rocket. You can literally throw the seed on dug soil and rake lightly. Bingo! Salad greens.
Finally, if you want information about growing your own food, check the shelves at your local library. I find this more informative and interesting than searching online, at least, to begin with. Once you’ve started gardening then online can be a lot of fun.

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Ratus ratus or Rat

Ratus ratus or Rat

“There’s a rat – look!” cried someone sitting at a sidewalk café table in Main Street. And sure enough, heading towards them and pirouetting beneath moving vehicles was a big brown disheveled ratus ratus. And not just any rat. This was heritage from the ends of its fishing line whiskers to the point of its scaly tail.

I couldn’t count how many generations this beastie would represent but we can guess that its ancestors surely reached back to early settlement and the diggings. Think of Dickensian London; think Black Death or Bubonic Plague. Remember those black and white lithographs in old books showing the rat-infested lanes of cities in Victorian England before the days of sewerage and rubbish collections.

Our unhappy rodent did not finish its run but instead turned and headed back to where it had set out from, then disappeared beneath a gate between two shops.

Now for a reality check. All animals groom themselves constantly, even rats and their smaller cousins, mice. So why did our rat look so scary? The most likely reason is that it was scared and it happened to also be in an agonizing death throes. Its crazed dash into what it would normally consider an exposed and dangerous situation came about as it made its final desperate attempt to find water to quench the fires burning in its belly as a result of eating a poison bait. Amen.

In the book ‘Nothing But Gold’ and in a chapter entitled ‘The Neighborhood’ that talks about daily life in the early days of the gold diggings, local author Robyn Annear mentions the problems that the diggers had with rats. While guard dogs were popular, they were too big to be effective ratters. Terriers were few and far between and there were no cats or at least they were rare.

It is on record that an enterprising miner took a dray to Melbourne and returned with cages of cats rounded up in the city’s back streets and lanes. He supposedly sold them for a pound each to residents who, on returning to their quarters, offered their new pet a saucer of milk and a comfortable place to sleep. As we can imagine, moggy had other ideas and quickly disappeared to rejoin the rest of the newly liberated feline gang which then collectively reduced the rat and mice population while at the same time driving the dogs – and residents – mad throughout the night.

A final note from the above mentioned book (available from the Athenaeum Library in Maldon) tells of the many feral dogs. Bitches would have litters of pups in the nearby bush and these eventually formed packs which attacked the miners’ dogs and roamed through the diggings looking for food. The Council put a bounty on dogs, in return for tails, and this brought about the desired reduction in wild dogs at that time.

A Good Year

Does summer really end at the end of February or should it more naturally end at the Solstice on March 21th? I don’t know.

It seems that farmers are generally happy with the summer we’ve had so far and they now look forward to the Autumn Break when the first heavy rains provide green pick and an opportunity to work the land.

Most people probably do appreciate what farmers provide for us but just sometimes we might forget. Next time you buy fresh food at the butchers or the greengrocer, spare a moment to think about where your food comes from and what it took to present it so beautifully in front of you. It will taste even better if you do.

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Mosquitos and European Wasps

Mosquitos! Have they bothered you recently? They confused me this year; they were different – big, black, and stupid. I didn’t get bitten once. A couple of them landed on me briefly and tried to look threatening, wobbled about on super long legs and then flew clumsily off into the night. It could be that I’m too old and bony and they like something a little more interesting or more bloody.

Our local supermarket and chemist ran out of insect repellent products on the Friday the Folk Festival began as did shops in Castlemaine.

So what will come after the mozzies? Locust plagues are a common occurrence in some summers as crops start to ripen and dry off. For most of us the only inconvenience is the splattering of bodies on the car windscreen and front lights although clogging up the radiator can lead to the motor overheating. Attaching a commercial radiator grill protector thingy can be handy.

Put another Wasp on the Barbie

Wet conditions over recent months have raised the question whether to expect more or less European wasps this summer. One view is that heavy rains will have drowned the occupants of the ground-based nests. The opposing view suggests more moisture means more insect life, the main food source for wasps.

I remember 2014 being a bad year for wasps and having lunch with a smoker who insisted we sit outside in the café garden. I still carry this vision of her gently blowing the wasps from her Hungarian sausage focaccia between mouthfuls.

Many cafés suffered considerable financial losses that year as customers sitting outdoors whose jam and cream scones had suddenly become landing pads for wasps, tried to find seating inside but couldn’t. When they could not find refuge they left and some never returned. It seems that we can manage the odd single wasp but multiple beasties on our food is just too much to bear.

Reducing European wasp numbers is much discussed on-line so I won’t go into too much detail here. Sufficient to say that we should invest in wasp traps which you will find in the hardware shop and, importantly, we should set them early, even before you’ve spotted the first wasp. Theory has it that we can reduce the number of nests by catching the newly hatched queens in our traps before they establish nests.

Another theory that I have not tested is that when you see a wasp feeding, it is within 300 meters of its nest and when it flies away after feeding, it flies in direct a line as possible to its nest.

Our fun suggestion is that you feed small amounts of minced steak in sizeable pieces that the wasp can just carry causing it to fly more slowly. Get some kids to follow it if you don’t think you’re up to it. If they complain, tell them it is like a game of Pokémon Go only it’s all natural and really good for you. Come to think of it, there really should be a wasp tracker app for your smart phone.

When you find a nest, hope that it is on council land so that you can call the Shire office and ask that they come and remove it. More likely, it will be on your own or a neighbor’s property in which case, if you or they are not able or are disinclined to risk removing it, then you will need to contact a pest remover.

On a lighter note, frogs are the great beneficiaries of a wet year. I wonder if they are joyfully feeding on the mozzies? They certainly sound happy. Certainly the Grey Box and Ironbark forests which surrounds us has enjoyed the exceptional wet weather.

Chocolate lily and Mosquito

Alive with wildflowers. Dichopogon strictus (syn. Arthropodium strictum), commonly known as chocolate lily,

Whither the Weather?

All this talk of exceptional weather brings us to the fraught question of climate change. That the climate is changing is now much better understood and believed by ninety percent of the population. However, things we can do to help reduce it, are actions which most people refuse to implement or are simply unable to face.

We are told on good authority that we can now expect to experience 10 extreme heat days more than usual in most years. Add another 1 degree and that becomes 20 extra extreme hot days in most years. I wonder how much extreme weather we will endure before we change some of our lifestyle habits?

Environmental degradation around the world is happening at a very fast rate, much of it caused by industry but much more by you and me. We buy all the stuff that industry produces. Those smoke stacks and jet aircraft exhausts belong to us.

What are some of the lifestyle changes we can adopt to make a difference other than the obvious one of refusing to buy into the fashion products market?

I have three suggestions to get you started. 1. Reduce your red meat intake as much as you can, by 75% if possible. 2. Avoid air travel if at all possible. You probably don’t need to see the Mona Lisa, shop in Paris, sample a curry in Chandrapur or a burger in New York. 3. Vow that you will not replace your pet dog or cat when the current beloved fur ball passes on.

I still can’t get the image out of my head of watching 20 tons of pilchards being offloaded onto trucks in Eden and taken to the pet food factory up the road. Two boatloads a week the crane operator told me. That’s 40 tons a week 52 weeks of the year. And that is just one fishing port.

If that all seems a bit hard, wait until you get the power bill for the air conditioner or be unable to use water except for drinking.

Magic Folk Festival

Congratulations Maldon on the wonderful Folk Festival. The atmosphere was ever congenial and despite the mozzies, visitors I spoke to assured me that they would return again next year.

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Jet-ski YouBeaut Bumper Sticker

This Real men don’t Jet-ski bumper sticker is a response to the reduced pleasure of other peoples nature experiences and the bad behaviour of many jet-ski drivers. We have had a number of nasty experiences in Australia recently one resulting in the death of a woman kayaker and the other involving the deliberate destruction of a rare birds nest. Our belief is that a real-man takes others and the environment (above and below the water) into consideration when thinking about their sporting adventures.

From the Sydney Morning Herald – February 2016

“My view is that jet-skis should be banned on the Georges River,” Steve McDonald told Fairfax Media.

“They have been banned on the Parramatta River [and Sydney Harbour and Lane Cove River] since 2001.

“I did a community survey on this recently and more than 80 per cent of people agreed that should occur. Parents say to me they won’t take their kids out on canoes any more because they are scared.

“I think the time has come to ban it. If it’s good enough to ban them in the Parramatta River, it’s good enough to ban them on the Georges River.”

Further Jet-ski reading

Jet-skiers on the Georges River

Injured by speeding jet-skier

Osprey chicks destroyed

… and in the USA

Student kayaker killed by jet-skier

And a coffee cup too!

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