Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bromeliad bed extended

At the end of the bromeliad bed is the corner where I have been growing gerbera daisies, but I think they are not happy there.  It is probably a little too shady and water logged, and that will only get worse as the wet season approaches.  This weekend I moved the gerberas out into the front where they will get full sun and good drainage. 

A couple of my bromeliads have been producing extra pups, so they were cut off and moved to their new home.  As I prepare my tomato bed I will be digging up more and more stones, must really start to wash them off though so that the top layer has no dirt in them as that just attracts weeds.
I just need a few more bricks and that will complete this area nicely.
This one has coloured up so nicely since it was moved into a more sunny position.  It only gets morning sun but that seems to be enough.
I have always hankered after a water feature, and if you look closely the inside of my neo looks just like a little pond with a water lilly stretching up!

So I do have a water feature!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yates challenge - please comment and vote for me!

Please click on the yates challenge link below and make comments on my 2 blogs and vote for me.  I want to win some of the great prizes, and also I want to get the word out that growing vegetables in the tropics is challenging but also rewarding!  We get forgotten up here, and cant grow the "regular" vegetables!

If you live in Australia then sign up yourself :) - time is running out.....

thanks all!
Update to this post - sorry - you have to be signed up to vote -

Arch supported once again.

I spent the entire day on Saturday in the vegetable garden.  There was lots to do.  Always the changing of the seasons seems to bring extra chores.  First thing to go was the support that I had added to  the back fence so that the passionfruit vine which went wild had somewhere to go.   That died off due to the woody passionfruit virus but has started up again travelling in the other direction.  I have decided I dont want it going along the back of the vegetable garden again as next season I want to plant tomatoes along that back fence and need to prepare the soil there.  At the moment there are small stones there, so it will be a big job, but I have time. 
The arch had sagged down so much that there really was no arch left.... I had purchased a cheap arch and it had rusted away. Not a good look at all.

I removed that bit of wire and with hubbys help we inserted it into the old arch.  We put the wire under the mass of passionfruit and mandevilla vines and pushed, nothing moved.........then we pushed again - nothing.  The mandevilla vine is the one with the most weight and I think was originally the demise of the cheap arch, but now it was so intertwined with the passionfruit vine that I was not sure what to do.   I got out the loppers and cut off the main branch leading that direction, and slowly with brute force the arch began to take shape again.  The mandevilla branches will have to die off in situ as there is no way I can remove them without damaging the passionfruit which continues on along the other side of the arch for about 10 feet.  the back fench which is strong and secure is now the main support for the arch, and it should last many years.
Doest it look better?

The birds think so - the male honeyeaters came by for their daily swim in the birdbath.  Funny only the male birds seem to take a bath!  Maybe the girls are shy and only go when I am not looking, but the males dont worry about me at all.  

His friend came to join him and then they dried off on the fence.  That fence will soon be covered again with passionfruit vine.  The little bits of red you see are birds eye chilli which volunteered in that area.  I still havnt gathered up the courage to harvest them for cooking. 

So glad that arch is back up again  - that is a job I have been putting off for too long, and really it wasnt so hard!.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Crucifix Orchid

I have really wondered about orchids - do they require exra fertilizer besides bark?  Mine just do not seem to flower as  well as I would have hoped.  They are in the shade and I do realise they need a bit of sun when they are ready to flower, but quite honestly I dont have space for a summer house for them!
Would it be better to have them on some sort of screen that could be moved out into the sun to promote flowering?  Mmmm, I do have an old cane arch - that has given me an idea!  I will shelve that idea in the back of my mind, but I can see pots of orchids suspended in a type of screen effect.  Not sure where I would put it..... but having somethign moveable might be the idea.
Before I began gardening totally organically I used to spray my orchids with fertilizers and they would flower twice a year.  Now they get a little seaweed tea, and because they are not in soil where they would get my compost, that is pretty much all they get.  They are in a  mixture of bark, and because they are under the tree they get the occasional dry leaf, which I mostly remove as they can actually pull nutrients out of the soil as they decompose.   I have some that are now in  compost and  I cant say they are doing any better.  Our weekly gardening show said that they must be moved into the sun to promote flowering.   A common orchid here is the crucifix orchid, and a piece that a neighbour gave me is now flowering - it has been out in the sun, so I have to concur that what my orchids now need is a new home! 

You can clearly see the little cross which gives this orchid its name.
I have lots of other different types of orchids though and I want them to flower too!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A clean slate in the vegetable garden - the Yates challenge

I am slowly realising that the wet season in the tropics is a totally different season to anywhere else. I joined the Yates challenge and planted some bean seeds, but not one came up. Regular vegetable just do not do well here. I got my free packet of carrot seeds in the mail this week and will give them a try. I haven't tried them before but who knows, they might like all the rain.

My gem squash was doing quite well, and then it seemed to take on a new lease of life and start running rampant in the vegetable garden - oh no!  wait a minute! this is a different vine and the gem squash has totally died off again.  Succumbed to powdery mildew yet again! I think this is a jap pumpkin vine. 

Instead of the beans against the fence I have planted long tropical snake beans, jicama (yam bean) and ginger.  Right in the corner my sweet potatoes are starting up again.   So in a little while this fence will be covered in greenery, and I have learnt a lesson - in the wet season only plant vegetables that enjoy this weather. .  The pigeon pea has been trimmed right back - that adds nitrogen to the soil every time it is cut back.

One of the wet season vegetables I really love to grow are asparagus, not only because I love them, but they are such a cool plant to watch growing!  I never realised that the ones you don't harvest turn into ferns, and you need to stop harvesting for the dry season so that the crowns can build up to give you a good crop in the wet season!  They are perennial plants so will produce for the next twenty years.  I have a tomato plant plant growing nearby as that deters asparagus beetle.

  I am going to put in three more plants later in the year- they are still tiny in pots, and only start producing in their third year.  To the left in the pot is comfery which I use in my compost as an accelerator, and also to make a comfrey tea foliar feed. .
The lemongrass has been cut back and well mulched

all the peppers are now taking off as well

I do realise that this has probably taken me out of the Yates drawing since they don't really supply many seeds for our wet season, but thought others might be interested to see how some of these tropical vegetables are grown!  I will continue to post the progress of my Yates carrot seeds, and who knows they might just take off!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ulysses butterfly chrysalis formed

A chrysalis has formed - it looks just like a leaf that has folded over, and the caterpillar must  fold a leaf over itself to form the top of the chrysalis.  I would never have found it if I wasn't looking....
From the underside it doesn't look as though there is anything inside the leaf.
It looks like a jellylike substance - and I have heard that during the metamorphosis, that that is what the chrysalis contains.  Just a jelly, and from that emerges a beautiful butterfly!  amazing!
Just after my divorce I read a great book that compared troubled times to that time in the chrysalis, where you are just a blob of jelly, but time heals, and  Gods hands re-create, and you will eventually emerge better and stronger  just as a butterfly will emerge from its chrysalis!  What a wonderful thought that was to hold onto.  We don't have to do anything, just wait, and see what beauty will emerge.  
and the plain brown spiky caterpillar is changing into the same green one, so it is not a different kind at all!

what a marvellous thing to be watching this transformation! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Free fertilizers

On our beach walk today I noticed that we once again have seaweed - for some reason it disappears during the dry season - I must remember that and stock up next time!   It started raining but I couldn't stop myself and was running around dragging bunches of seaweed back to the car.  I like to think I looked like a mermaid emerging from the deep bringing armloads of pure gold, but that would actually take a bit more imagination.  I certainly felt as though I had struck gold!
The asparagus is now mulched with seaweed and some new shoots are appearing. Yummy - time to start harvesting them now!
The other thing I have been wanting to do for a long time is make comfrey juice. I do already use the leaves as mulch and add them to the compost. Glen, who gardens in a community plot in England has posted some very interesting reports on comfrey.  Find him on kitchen gardens - link to the right. Loosely following his instructions I have a pot of comfrey leaves which is going to drip down into the lower bucket.

Evidently one of the problems can be flies laying eggs and turning it into a maggoty mess so I used some leftover veil fabric from my daughters wedding to fly proof the container. ( I knew that would come in useful sometime!) The main thing is that this need to rot aerobically and this will allow a free flow of air. I have heard different reports of how bad this smells, but I am sure that if it is bad my hubby will ask me "what is in that bucket, are you a making that horrible weed tea again? "

Just thinking about it, I do use quite a few "strange" techniques in fertilizing my garden organically.  I have built up quite nice rich soil in the 2 years I have been building this garden, so I am sure some of them work! I would say that my motto would be lots of different additives in small quantities added often. 
Some of the "free" things I do:
1. Compost - hot - I have a bin and all kitchen scraps go into the bin, I keep adding to it, but do mix it up once or twice a week.   I probably don't get all the way down to the bottom every time, but I can feel a lot of heat in it.  I don't add manure - just don't like the idea! I don't add weeds that have seeds.  I do add comfrey leaves, pigeon pea leaves and lemongrass which are supposedly accelerators.  I would say that my compost consists of  20% household peelings eggshells etc.  40%  cuttings  and green leaves.  40% shredded dry leaves and cardboard.  I mostly keep an eye on it and if it seems a bit wet, I will just add some shredded newspaper or cardboard.  I keep extra cardboard on my paths so it is nice and soggy and doesn't mat up when I add it.  If it seems dry then I cut some green leaves and add them, and stir it up - mostly all it needs to get activated again is a good stir.   Every couple of weeks I will drag a couple of bucketfuls of compost out of the bottom of the bin.  If it is not quite broken down enough I might turn it back into the top again.  In the tropics material breaks down so quickly that you don't really want to wait too long before using the compost.  I read this information about a year ago and  I feel that helped my garden immensely.  So I am continually adding compost as mulch.  I do get quite a few weeds, but they are easy to pull up - mostly passion fruit, pawpaw and tomato.   Sometimes I let them grow too.
2. Compost cold:  I also have a old wheelie bin in which I have added layers of garden waste - green and brown layers, this does not get mixed, or added to, and hopefully will eventually create compost all by itself.
3. Leaf mould: In another wheelie bin I have extra leaves since at times the lychee tree sheds more leaves than my little compost bin can handle.  Initially I filled the bin, wet it down and left it, and it has now reduced in volume by a half.  I didn't want to mix new with old, so the next lot of leaves that I collected I placed in garbage bags and placed just on top of the older leaves.  Those can be lifted out to access the older leaves in the bottom.  This process supposedly takes a couple of years.
4.  Fish and shellfish:   Whenever I have a fish carcass or prawn heads and shells I bury them in the garden.  I also first discovered this from Kitchen gardeners International.   I don't have a dog, but I cant say that it even attracts rodents - I normally just bury the whole packet wrapped in butcher paper about a foot or two deep.
5. Seaweed: I gather seaweed quite often and add to the compost, and also use as mulch on the asparagus.  I think it is too salty for most other crops, although I did use quite a sizable layer of it when building up my original vegetable garden lasagna style.  
6.  Weed tea:  When weeding I will place all the weeds in a bucket with a little water added and cover to let rot.  This does smell pretty bad, but diluted with water I use as a foliar feed and feel I am not "wasting" the nutrients that the weeds have stolen from my garden.  I cover the bucket so that I don't get flies and midges, but am not sure that is the right way - it might be better to incorporate some air, so this application needs a little more research.
7.  Crusher dust:  I occasionally add a little crusher dust to the ground as I feel this adds minerals  and also keeps the sandy soil from getting compacted in heavy rain.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I bought five amaryllis bulbs at a garage sale about three years ago, and they were planted in the back garden at the house we were renting.  It was a little overgrown and I was pleasantly surprised every now and then to find a beautiful bloom.  When I dug them up to move over to our new place I discovered they had multiplied and I now had about 15 bulbs!   I gave them pride of place all along the edge of the bed, and as the leaves would flop around I would keep telling hubby (and remind myself)  that the flowers were beautiful, and worth putting up with the yellowing floppy leaves for the rest of the year.

  I would trim back the leaves, and occasionally wonder when these silly things do flower.  By the time I discovered that they would commonly flower in spring it was already well into summer, and we had not had one inkling of a flower!  
Maybe they needed more sunlight?  I moved some across into the garden outside the bedroom window, and eventually moved some bromeliads surrounding them.  These would support the leaves I thought.  All the information on the net talks about putting them into a pot and voila they would flower - what on earth was I doing wrong, I wondered?  I noticed others flowering around town, aha....... mine have to be doing something soon - you would think - wouldnt you?

then I read something that distressed me no end - you have to stop watering them to force them to flower!  Well, my gosh, it never stops raining here, so how am I to stop watering them?  A bulb is now going to be placed into a pot and put on the verandah where the rain cant reach it.

Crafty hey!
watch this space.... I am sure I will have amaryllis flowers soon....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Strange new catterpillars - could they be ulysses butterflies?

Coming home from work yesterday I noticed that something had been nibbling on my new lime tree!  Well, this is not good, as it is just a very small lime - but what to do!  Very interesting looking catterpillars, and there were two of them.  I picked  a few branches of my neighbours kaffir lime tree and put them into a vase.  Then carefully transferred the catterpillars to their new home.
Another one was moved...  You can clearly see the shape of the kaffir lime - like two leaves stuck together.

They seem to like their new home and settled right in for a meal, funnily enough there were some of the same catterpillar on my neighbours tree, so at least I know that this is  also a plant they would have chosen.
 She thinks it is a ulysses butterfly - how lovely!
 Funnily enough I have another plant in the back that was specially chosen as a ulysses catterpillar host,  but figured these might have a preference for the citrus flavour!  The ulysses butterflies are difficult to catch on film as you can only see their iridescent blue wings when they are flitting around. (very fast!)

When I stepped back I found yet another catterpillar, .... a different type!

so I have  a little catterpillar city outside my front door.  It will be very interesting to see what happens next and hopefully I will be able to follow the life cycle with photos - stay tuned!

A while back I was fascinated to see the wonderful post written on the Flower Hills Farm blog - to see that  follow this link - monarch-marveler-momentous-migration   Gosh I hope I can capture some photos half as good as hers....

Wet season is just around the corner

These little guys we call rocket frogs and they have been getting inside the house.  Less than an inch in size, they can jump four or five feet so are very difficult to catch and re-locate outside.  My grandson has great fun chasing them.  When one of those jumps on you in the middle of the night it can give you a big fright.
I guess that means the wet season is just around the corner.  This hibiscus that I grew from a slip has done well, and I love the way it start to unfurl...

Into a very delicate flower. 

Look at the detail - I just fell in love with it, and so glad that the little slip that I had in my handbag all day took!

The desert rose has buds just about to burst open, it has recovered from the rather severe pruning I gave it after a bad bug infestation.

Even the franzipani is showing signs of life.

This must be part of the bamboo family,  but it behaves very well and is not at all invasive, so I have placed a few cuttings in other areas.
So is my garden ready for the onslaught of heat, humidity and bugs?.... we shall just have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The yates spring challenge - beans

My fellow gardening blogger from Year in a  Gippsland garden blogged about accepting the yates challenge to grow some spring vegetables from seeds.  I took up the challenge and am starting some beans.  As we come into the wet season here in Far North Queensland there is a limited amount of vegetables we can grow.   Some of the problems we face are mildew and bugs, any plants that cant stand wet foliage are out, so that is the end of our tomato crops.  I sitll have a few cherry tomatoes growing, but have to continually cut off any yellowing foliage to allow lots of air to circulate. 
I have chosen beans to grow and in the past have not had a lot of success with beans, so am holding thumbs.  I am planting them in between the pigeon peas that I have growing in a  line down the centre of my veggie bed.  The pigeon pea seeds were innoculated which means they add nitrogen into the soil every time they are cut back.   This bed was built up using lots of mulch and compost, with no artificial chemicals or fertilizers.
I had this packet of bean seeds lying around so am using them - I know they are old, because I keep trying and not having much success.  In this climate you can plant in what you think is going to be the dry season and then get weeks of continual rain!   I think that is what happened to the last lot I planted about a month ago.  I am soaking the seeds overnight  and then into the ground they will go.  the countdown begins....
I have had a problem downloading the photos so will just go ahead and post this as really so far there is nothing to see other than a patch of dirt...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What is in my vegetable patch right now

I have noticed that lately the asparagus stalks have been getting thicker and stronger.  I dont know if it is because we are heading into the wet season which is when we are supposed to harvest them.  In more temperate climates, the plant dies down in the winter, but here it has continued to grow and produce, but I have left the shoots which is supposed to build up more strength in the roots.  This weekend I cut back all the older shoots that were starting to collapse at the base.

These were planted as two year crowns and at the same time I got a packet of seeds for a purple asparagus.  Out of the whole packet only one plant survived.   It looks very spindly, but I will leave it in the pot a while longer before I transplant it into the ground.   The asparagus tops are full of little seeds - I wonder if they will grow?  I put some into a  couple of pots.  They are very slow growing, but since mine are doing so well I will start some long term planning for more.  Here you can see the tiny seeds.

I have been toying with getting in some more two year crowns, but maybe I should be starting my own little plants.  I am definitely thinking this whole bed will be asparagus eventually.  A cherry tomato volunteered in that bed, and I let it be as that is supposed to deter asparagus beetle.  I love to grow something that everyone loves, but does well in this area. 
Some things I will grow just for my own consumption -  eggplant and sweet potatoes, but am beginning to wonder if I really want to take up garden space to continually try to grow things that nobody particularly likes.  I eventually pulled out the ceylon spinach - just couldnt acquire a taste for that.   Snake beans can stay for now, but I would like to find some better recipes for them, or preferably grow the skinny snake beans. .
These have been favourites in my garden and I will make space for them:
Cherry tomatoes - I am going to clear the space right at the back alongside the fence - they are easier to tie up to a fence and should be easy to harvest there, as long as a I leave a  little bit of a path.  There are rocks there, so I will have to place something alongside the fence and then remove the rocks - I have plenty of other places where the rocks need topping up, so they will come in useful.  I was concerned that tomato plants had to be rotated since they are the nightshade family, but I really dont think cherry tomatoes fit into that category, and I had read that if you keep adding plenty of compost that does not apply.  I do need to ensure though that the bandicoots will not be able to dig through into the garden.
Herb spiral - I am slowly accumulating more tropical herbs - I am persisting with the rosemary, but have replaced oregano with mother of herbs.   I seem to have found the perfect spot for parsley at the base of the herb spiral, and hope to be able to grow it almost year round with a bit of careful attention.  The main reason parsely does not generally do well during the wet season is the heat and water logging of the soil.  I have the arch over the herb spiral  to allow for shade, and good drainage, so am hoping for the best.
My parsley was getting overgrown with weeds and the whole bed needed some attention

My elderly Italian neighbour grew the most fantastic bed of lush parsley, and gave me a few pointers.  He said that you should harvest the parsley from the outside right at the base of the plant. He used to snap them off but I use my trusty kitchen scissors.  Once those outer leaves and stems are removed, build up the soil around the base to support the plant as it will continue to grow up the stalk and fall over if not supported.  Here you can see how the base is supported and new growth is starting.

Sweet potatoes - I got a very good crop of sweet potatoes outside the bedroom window, but that has has been turned into a  bromeliad and amaryllis patch now.  The very back corner is where I will now grow the sweet potatoes - it was shaded by passionfruit, but that has died off and will be cleared away.  They grow in the wet season.
Gemsquash - I keep trying to grow gemsquash which are really not suited to this climate at all.  They are native to South Africa where we grew up and we have a hankering for them.   I try to choose a dry time as powdery mildew has got my plants every time, and the ones I planted a couple of weeks ago seemed to be doing really well.  Lots of male plants and this looks like the first female - a baby gem!  I dont know if it is going to grow into a full size gem, and the flower already looks as though it is dying, so I will be watching and waiting with bated breath. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colorful coleus

Coleus is a great plant to fill in any empty areas, I find you can just cut off a little bit, and either root it first in a little water or else just plonk into the ground and it will grow. what is not to love about that!
look at the variegated colours on this leaf!
 Who need flowers when you have leaves like this?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recycle those broken garden solar lights

I dont know how many solar garden lights I have bought in my lifetime and they have all eventually stopped working.  The solar part of the top starts to rust and they slowly dim, until they dont work anymore.  Since I hate to get rid of something that might go on to have another life I have been saving them in hopes I would have a  bright idea.
well, talking of bright ideas led to candles... 

mmmm how does that look? 
I put one on either side of my pathway - they showcase my new stone "welcome to spring" stepping stone.

 It was lovely sitting out in the gazebo looking out at the lightly flickering candles.  There was a light mist of rain which did not seem to bother the flame, and just enough to cool things down without making us head inside.

I was thinking about drilling holes so that they would drain, and then when one was filled with rainwater I thought that they might also be used as little floating vases to add a bit of colour.

  so they have yet another use... goodbye landfill hello garden art!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ground orchids and cannas

Rain, constant rain, and this is not yet the wet season - who would know!
The red canna has opened up and is such a rich wonderful colour. I ripped out the vinca that had sprung up between them while I was away.  They had been crowding out the established plants so had to go.  Hopefully now the cannas will enjoy their newfound freedom.   They struggled a bit in the back and so now have a sunny spot against the fence.  I hear so many people who are in love with cannas and find them easy, but this has not been the case with me.   The old leaves always look untidy, and the flower stems are often top heavy and flop down on weak stems, so maybe with a bit more openness I will get some strong healthy plants.
The ground orchid has long been a staple in my garden and propogates frequently, but I will always find room for more. I needed some this weekend  to give away, so did some subdividing.  the ones that are left will rapidly fill in the empty area I created.

In between rainshowers I made up three pots to give to my MIL who stays in a  lovely assisted living home near us.  The gardens there are very pretty. but we thought she could do with a bit more colour on her balcony. I put ground orchids in the center, and chose ones that were not yet flowering to give her something to look forward to.  I will be giving them to her in two weeks so by then they will be nicely filling out and hopefully should have some ground orchid buds.   Begonias grow really well here and flower year round.  I used lots of pink as that is her favourite colour.

each one also got a bit of persian shield and impatients, which grow if you just stick a cutting into the ground,  so hope I havnt now put too many plants in.  I love to share the bounty  my garden provides!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tropical fruit trees

I have been hankering after a lime tree forever.  For my birthday everyone chipped in and I went off to go and spend the money at the garden center in Bunnings.  Owing to the small spcae we have, it has to be a dwarf variety, and probably in a pot, although I  do prefer trees in the ground - somehow it seems a bit alien to be putting a tree into a pot.  I never get the watering right either.  Whoa there, we dont want to jepordize this before it starts!  They have dwarf meyer lemon or dwarf lime - I chose the lime as a lot of my neighbours have troubles with their lemons.  I think limes are more apt to grow without problems in this climate.
So here is my new little addition- I chose one that already had buds - a sign of good things to come!
Marketing gets me every time - I loved the lime green pot, the name "sublime", and even free recipes on the back of the label! Dont those limes on the label look delicious!

So in my small garden I now have quite a few fruit trees - the large lychee tree, a barbados cherry, a small kaffir lime grown from a  clipping, a pineapple guava also grown from a clipping and now this newest addition, the lime tree!  welcome to our little fruit "forest"! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Herb spiral update

Over the weekend we went shopping in the big city.  I got lost in the garden center. Well, I wasnt technically lost, and my hubby knew that was where he would find me when I lost track of time!
The herb spiral has become overgrown with mother of herbs. That is a tropical plant much like oregano, but all you need is one leaf in a pot of spaghetti bolognaise, so I probably have more than an ample supply for an Italian restuarant.  The comfrey off to the one side of the little path is doing well, despite - or maybe because of me continually cutting back the lower leaves for compost.

I found this cute litttle lemon thyme - the thyme I have grown from seed has always been rather spindly and I thought I might do better to buy the enitre plant,and maybe this lemon type will do better in the tropical climate.

Strawbery plants were on special, so a section mother of herbs was cut back to allow space for the strawberry plant.
as you can see most of my weeds are cherry tomatoes and pawpaws, a lot of which I let grow wherever they are unless they are really are in the way.  This pawpaw tree is going to have to be moved. 
Alongside the herb spiral is a mass of Italian parsley and dill, two herbs that I use a lot of, so they need a lot of room.  Mint and lemon balm are in the pots and the spearmint in the front hangs over and I keep weeding it back from other areas.  Garlic chives, rocket, stevia  and rosemary completes the list of my herbs in this little area.


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