Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia Day!

I have travelled throughout my life to many different countries around the world, and people would often ask me which country was the best.  I believe we carry our happiness within us and it is up to us to make the place we are in at the time into a "home".

Every country has its special day, and on Bastille day I introduced the family to boullabaise, mexican fare on cinco de Mayo, and then even turkey on Thanksgiving.  Bobotie and milk tart from the land of my birth are standard fare.  We can stay at home and travel the world in our kitchen!  I love exploring the foods of different countries, and shopping at markets around the world, chatting to locals and gleaning new tips and different recipes.  I always liked that term - citizen of the world!

This Tuesday, January 26th,  is Australia Day.
Snags and damper?  mmmm  lamb chops, steaks and baked sweet potato along with a nice salad will be the more likely fare.  I love the diversity of this my new country and hope to travel around more - seeing the hot dry areas down south with the beautiful eucalyptus groves, bark peeling back to expose the trunk.  Breathing in the ripe grape smell in the wine country, and revelling in the cold mountain air of the blue mountains. Seeing the sun set over the ocean on the west coast, and digging in some of the red earth right in the middle of this vast land.  I will always have a yearning to visit and travel.  It is in the blood I think.

It is always nice to know that you have a home to come back to. 

These are the words to a song Peter Allen sings: (some aussies think this should be the national anthem)

I've been to cities that never close down
From New York to Rio and old London town
But no matter how far
Or how wide I roam
I still call Australia home.

I'm always travelin'
And I love bein' free
So I keep leavin' the sun and the sea
But my heart lies waiting over the foam
I still call Australia home.

All the sons and daughters spinning 'round the world
Away from their families and friends
Ah, but as the world gets older and colder
It's good to know where your journey ends.

And someday we'll all be together once more
When all the ships come back to the shore
Then I realize something I've always known
I still call Australia home.

No matter how far
Or how wide I roam
I still call Australia home.

Happy Australia Day everyone!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trying to keep the bugs in check

I know I have created a tropical garden, but with the tropical garden comes things I dont want!

Mosquitoes and bugs!

Over the weekend I cut back a few branches from the tree that were touching the wooden fence.

This meant that absolutely no light reached into the part of the garden where the cordelines and costus were. Also some heleconias and a torch ginger. I think that might be why I was not getting many flowers and a lot of the leaves were being totally eaten away by catterpillars and green grasshoppers. (Probably other things as well, but that is what I could see.) I hope this allows a bit of light in so that the sodden ground can dry out a bit between storms and the plants benefit from a bit more sunlight. There is a fine line between full shade and dappled light.
The tree fern just loves this weather, as do the impatients.  I have let it run a little wild.

I have also thinned some plants out so there is more air circulation. Worked on the area to the right of my little path.  I removed a costus, so that I can allow these multicoloured croton to grow, creating a bit of continuous colour amongst the green.

 Also some of the hippeastrum (amaryllis) were donated to a neighbour.  They multiply like crazy, but I have yet to see any flowers in this garden.  They flowered in my previous garden before I moved them here.

I love this zig zag plant -  no idea what it is called, and just got a slip from a  friend

This weekend I will battle with the plants in the other half - I know the ground orchids need to be subdivided.  I have been planting extra plants out into the public area around the pool and in the traffic roundabout, but I know I will soon run out of room!  Will have to put up a post on freecycle - yes! we do have freecyle here!  We also amazingly have just got our first self service /self pay petrol station (gas station). I suppose this is all in the name of progress.  The locals are still saying we will NEVER have fast food or traffic lights.  We shall see.
I also would like to find some way to cut down on the mosquito population. I remember last year I sprayed a bit of citronella oil around the mulch, but it only seems to last until the next rain, and with a cyclone hovering the rain has not let up for days.  In the vegetable garden I have been using lemongrass as mulch in the hopes the smell will deter them.
Next I intend to make up a batch of chili and garlic spray, and maybe add a touch of citronella.

The battle begins..

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beehive gingers

The little pathway to the center of the garden.....
I love the way the beehive gingers are all congregated at the edge of the path.  They will be in flower like this for months.

The shampoo ginger (which is also part of the beehive family) has a few flowers forming in its little pockets.

The lady that gave my this ginger said she would just run her hands over the inforescence and her hands would be quite soapy.  Well I did that and defiinetly got some liquid out of the pockets - it did smell divine - sort of gingery - but no suds.  Was I expecting too much?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Anthirium needed feeding

A couple of weeks back I decided that my tropical garden might need an extra boost of nutrients.  I  purchased some organic plant food - seems to be made up mostly of chicken manure and blood and bone. I have not added any other type of fertilizer other than my homemade weed tea and seaweed fertilizer, and of course my homemade compost.  The idea came from my anthirium flowers being pale pink and not the red that I had seen before.  We have so much rain at this time of year that I am sure a lot of the nutrients in the soil get washed away, and that is why most people reccomend just foliar spraying with seaweed.   This mix had a wide range of nutrients, and wow, it seems to have worked wonders.  Lovely colour on the anthurium, and since I subdivided them, each of the three different plants are all flowering.
Even the begonia is looking happy - I think this location is perfect for them, this spot gets a little afternoon shade - they didnt like the continuous sun against the other wall.
I placed an orchid into an old copper jug between them (it has a drain hole in the bottom). I heard that orchids love copper so we will see.... so far it looks good.
so it is good to see odd spots of colour appearing in the garden again. 

I wonder whether the method I am making the seaweed tea is making it too weak.  I have been sitting it in a bucket of water-( tightly covered so mosquitoes dont breed) for a month or two, then straining it and diluting. I also make weed tea the same way, but it does smell pretty bad. A fellow gardener on KGI takes comfrey leaves and compresses them in a bucket with a hole in the bottom.  Slowly the "concentrated juices" run out into a bucket underneath, and this is then diluted for use.  This takes him a year, and since I  am pretty impatient I have never tried this method.....I thought though that since I am now growing comfrey as well I might do the seaweed and comfrey together and see what happens.  Has anyone tried making their own fertilizers like this?
I think hibiscus is one of the main plants that screams out - tropical.  Their flowers dont last long - a day or two at most, but there is always other one ready to open.
Another type of heleconia has flowered - this one is just orange and yellow and doest go quite as tall as the pink and orange ones.

Mmmmm ...... I love colour in the garden.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Vegetables and Herbs

 I do love how colourful the area around the birdbath has become - maybe a little too wild though - I could see some cutting back was needed soon.  The coleus edging can take over - it started out as one little four inch pot, now is a ground cover in two areas of the garden,    The madevilla vine is also getting quite heavy and the arch had rusted though and was bending.  It  needed some stabilizing and re-inforcing.  I guess it was not designed for such heavy use.

I have also noticed that the birds are not visiting the birdbath as often - maybe there is enough water around, but then again maybe they dont like to feel "trapped" inside under the arch.  So I pruned back the cats whiskers around the birbath and moved the birdbath right out from under the arch.  It will be more convenient there anyway as we need to be quite vigilant about cleaning out standing water so that the dengue mosquitoes dont breed.   Once the wet season is over I will move the rose into the new rose garden that hubby wants to start.  There is a yellow ixora to the left, and the orange one to the right is quite prolific, I was hoping they would both grow to the same height and fullness.  Sometimes (maybe always) you have to let the plants make the rules.
I added some labels to the herb spiral -they are under the passsionfruit arch so that might protect them from the weather a bit.  I will probably have to get some more permanent ones sometime.  I have seen in other peoples photos some lovely stake type labels with a copper strip that you etch onto -wish I could find those.  If anyone can help me on where you get those I would be most appreciative.  In the meantime these little colourful leaf and butterfly ones will do.

Appearing under the passionfruit vine is a volunteer from the neighbours vegetable patch.  A birds eye chili bush.  I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to chiles - I have heard these chiles are very hot, but since I do buy bottled crushed chiles to add to some of my curries etc, I am wondering, should I don some rubber gloves and attempt to bottle these? 

The skinny snake beans are producing well, although some of the leaves are dying off, as you can see here - I am not sure if this is part of the cycle - a lot of these tropical vines die off at the beginning and only produce on new growth.  The beans are very tasty - a little more rubbery than normal lazy housewife green beans, but they produce quite prolifically and  so I am happy to have some vegetables that grow in the wet season. I do eat the thick snake beans,(peeled and very lightly steamed)  but hubby is not so keen on them.  To the left is jicama and to the right is malabar spinach.
So my vision of growing a ton of wet season vegetables is not exactly coming to fruition, but I am harvesting a few vegetables, fruit and herbs, and the ground is not lying fallow which is what often happens around here. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010


One of the things I did over the holidays was to clean out some clutter. We both like to live as clutter free as possible, and the one thing that bothers me is boxes of "stuff" packed away, wasting space where nobody ever even knows it is there.
Years ago I spent a lot of time living and sailing on a small yacht, and there was very little extra room for "stuff".  I remember a few times when I would retrieve a special article of clothing only to find that it had been ruined by mildew.  I developed an attitude that I would rather enjoy things right there and then, than put that enjoyment off for another time that might never happen.
Consequently when we unpacked a box that contained some treasured things my hubby's grandfather and my father had made we decided to put them out somewhere where we could enjoy them every day.   They might not last quite as long out in the elements, but I love these daily reminders of those we love.
These wooden owls that my father carved keep watch over the swing.
This is a forged dog head that my hubby's grandfather made.
and he also made this serenity prayer, that seems to fit very well hanging on the lychee tree.
I also found a spot for the canvas mural my daughter painted for me years ago - it always brings a smile to my face when I look at it. 
It is on the back wall under the eaves, behind the washing lines, but most of the time there is no washing there and I can look up from my vegetable garden and see it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lemongrass and herbal teas

The asparagus is tipping over and although I have read that you should not disturb the roots I did put in a few small stakes to support them.  I have stopped harvesting them in order to build the plants up for next years harvest. These were only two year old plants this year. I also cut some lemongrass and used it as mulch around the base -I think it keeps bugs at bay and also it smells divine. 
The lemongrass was running a bit rampant and needed cutting back, so I coarsely chopped some of the stems to dry and make tea.  I am not sure if you are supposed to use the stems or the leaves for tea, but I think the stems are more flavourful - at least that is what you use for cooking.  Anyway this time I had used all the leaves for mulch!  I often use a lemongrass stick in my regular tea as a stirrer and it imparts a lovely flavour.

 That got me going, and soon I was cutting back the spearmint, chocolate mint, stevia and even a few hibiscus leaves and kaffir lime leaves. I have never dried leaves for tea before, so this is a first.  It is so humid that I am not sure the leaves will dry out that well.  When it is raining I will keep them inside where we run the aircon in the evenings. 
Otherwise they will go outside in the sun. I have this nifty net cover to keep the bugs off. I actually bought a couple of them when we were passing through Hong Kong, only to find that you could get them in the dollar store here! It fold up like an umbrella for storage.
I am drying everything separately and will mix them when I brew them.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bug season

The hot wet humid season should be termed the bug season.  The amaranth that I planted was totally decimated by some creatures, and I was not sure what had done the damage until I found this little green grasshopper.  I have seen them on occasion before.

As you can see there is not much of the amaranth left, and I have cut back most of the top growth in the hopes that new leaves will appear.  They will probably just eat those as well ... oh well I will consider this a green manure crop - maybe it is enriching the soil as well as making those grasshoppers fat!  This fat grasshopper is no more though - may he rest in peace!

The next thing I found was this catterpillar crawling up an asparagus frond. Well my! 
He went the same way - I have seen a bunch of these chomping on my sweet potato leaves.  I hope these are not catterpillars that would have turned into beautiful butterflies.  how does one know?  I toyed with the idea of keeping him in a shoebox the way we used to with silkworms and mulberry leaves, just to find out you know?

Talking of sweet potatoes, I took a few shoots and started another sweet potato bed in the corner where I had dumped a bunch of yard waste, and it has now turned into a lovely rich soft earth. Ahhh I love this cycle of returning goodness back to the earth. 
There was something there that had not composted, but started to grow again.  Now I had read that if you (accidently) removed the top of a ponytail palm, (I twisted it off as I was "walking" the heavy pot)  that was the end of it - it would never re-grow.  That was how this ended up in the compost pile.  This sure looks like it is growing to me, and in more than one place - interesting.....

Will it look like this again  I wonder?  Oh well I better find another pot for it.....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Going Troppo

A tumeric leaf unfurls

A ground orchid flowers:

Sweet potatoes start to poke their way above the soggy ground

The start of a new year, and I have been looking back on the last year and how much my garden has changed.  I begin to wonder.  What new projects can I come up with?  I wanted my garden to be self-sustaining, and not require constant money effort or time, I achieved that, but what next?  I enjoyed the creativity of pulling everything together, and now I feel a bit of a sense of deflation. Maybe too this is a little bit of what we call here "going troppo".  The constant heat and humidity is very draining, and anything you do outside has to be interspersed by bouts of re-hydrating and cooling off in the pool or the air-conditioning.  I did about an hour of weeding and pruning yesterday, and that was all I could handle.  True, I shouldnt have done that in the middle of the day, but I was in the shade.  All the plants are growing to immense proportions.  The only jobs I can see in the foreseeable future is cutting back, as there is no more room at the inn!  I guess this year will be fine tuning the garden plan that I started so enthusiasticlly this time last year.
I would like to wish all my readers a very Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Growing shampoo?

A new ginger flower has appeared. A friend gave me a piece of rhizome a couple of months ago and called it shampoo ginger. It is also known as pinecone ginger, and these new inflorescences (as they are called) do seem to look like a pinecone. They are similar to the yellow beehive ginger but do not seem to have the open bracts. It will be interesting to see the fluid that is created in the bracts - evidently it is a very sweet ginger smelling shampoo! What with my loofas, and ginger shampoo I might go into the bath products business!

We have had a tremndous amount of rain in the last couple of days. This is the "little" creek that trickles along for most of the year just down the road from us. It is normally about 30ft below this bridge. Now it is a swirling brown river!

The skies are overcast and I think we in store for further rain - I like the way this heleconia shows up against the cloudy sky.

The tropical flowers love this type of weather - a bromeliad flower has appeared

And the red gingers are bursting out into flower

and reaching out into the path

Aaah.................... maybe the wet season does indeed have its good points


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