Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Looking towards 2017

Well it's been a long time!  I got a little side tracked on the blog mid year and so despite having a few draft posts almost ready to go I have been rather quiet.  Work at the Crooked Cottage has slowed down too, but I have lots of plans for projects for the new year, both in the garden and in the house.  

I'm looking forward to a great year with more home grown produce than this year, and hopefully it will be the year I actually finish painting inside (probably just in time to start again!).

So wishing you all a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May the year bring you health, happiness and prosperity, and lots of fun in your gardens and homes!

Monday, 13 June 2016

Beginner's guide to painting weatherboards

I haven't blogged for a while - too busy actually doing things to the Crooked Cottage!  As I posted about last time, we had our new balcony installed - and it looked fantastic.  I paid someone to paint it, as I didn't fancy (or even know how) to climb up and paint the sides and the fencing around the balcony itself.  

And then it looked so nice I had to do downstairs as well!

So I will post about the actual construction of the new downstairs facade at a future point.  Suffice to say it's done, it looks awesome and now we come to painting.

Being a tightarse frugal person I decided that I could paint the weatherboards myself.  Apart from a ladder there is no particular equipment needed, and I knew it would save us a significant amount of money.  Also as all the boards are brand new there is minimal prep work required.

Through trial and error (and also copying some of the professional painters tricks) I have some tips for anyone else who is going to give this DIY painting a go.

1. Prepwork sucks but it is important
Although I didn't have to sand the new board or strip any old paint, I did have to patch all the nail holes and then clean all the boards as they were dusty and dirty (I still don't have a verandah roof). The better prep you can do the better the finished product.  

Trying to keep the light protected by wrapping it in a plastic bag

2.  Put your painting trays inside large garbage bags
This one I stole from the professional guys.  If your paint trays are like mine and full of dirt from the shed, or remnants of old paint colours then it is much easier and less cleaning.  But the main saviour is the wash up and the environment - when you are done you can just pull the garbage bag off and put it in the bin, no washing up and risk of paint going into drains.  From experience - if you keep the same garbarge bag you probably need to peel the dried paint off first - I had a bad day with little scraps of dried up paint going on to the weather boards so after that I went to just one use per bag. 

3.  Keep a bucket of water to put your brushes into
If your brushes get dry they seem to not work so well.  They get a bit clogged up.  So if you have a few brushes, rotate them and throw them in the bucket in the mean time.  Also once you are done put all the brushes and roller covers into the bucket - nothing worse than ruining all your brushes (yes, I've done it many times) by not washing them out properly and finding them stiff as a board the next day.  The bucket manages this issue and the water can be discarded somewhere safely (not down the drain outside as that goes straight into our harbour!)

4.  Brush the paint on first then roll it
Well this one worked for me.  Brush into all the gaps, edges, and then across the whole weatherboard.  Then you can get the roller and make the finish more even and nicer by rolling up and down but no cracks are missed.  

So it's a slow job but I'm hoping the end result will be worth it!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Garden Share Collective May 2016 - Leaves

This month's Garden Share Collective comes around again and the theme is Leaves.

Which is a pretty apt theme for my garden - as that is about all I have at the moment.

I had hoped to at least take some nice photos of the garden and of the house but unfortunately due to the crazy storms in Sydney (and everywhere on the east coast) I have been spending all day trying to mop up leaks, and spinning and drying wet towels in front of the heater.  So no nice pictures!  But I do want to get it out in time for the link up, so I apologise for the non aesthetically pleasing post!
The radar for this evening - more rain coming.
I am still doing renovations with new weatherboards put up all around the front of the house.  This has meant most of my pots have been moved to the back yard, where they get limited sun, and being winter anyway not much is growing.  The only things that are going well are some of my bulbs and of course my weeds!

The tree in the back neighbours place is some type of gigantic oak tree and is the bane of my existence, as it is always dropping leaves.  I'm forever sweeping them up at the moment.  And that is all the activity I have been having in my garden.

My renovations are almost finished, and I have been painting on all my weekends when it hasn't been raining.  So there has been no time for gardening.  I also haven't yet been able to visit the Community Garden, although I have been in contact again, as I have to go at a time that I can meet with some members, and haven't yet been able to co-ordinate my times. 

However, I am hoping that next month I might get back into the garden.  Since my renovations are fininshed, I now want to work on the garden beds.  They somehow seem smaller and lower with my new verandah.  So I am thinking of building all the garden beds up, and putting in a new bed on the north side of my yard.   I will also be digging in my sprinkling system so that it is drippers under the beds rather than the current sprays above the ground.  So that will probably end up quite a bit job!

So this month will realistically be no gardening.  But maybe just some digging in of compost, tidying, and planning will be on the cards.

Looking forward to seeing what everyone else is actually getting done in their gardens this month!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Our new balcony - also known as the perils of starting one "small job"

So we have now owned the Crooked Cottage for two years.  Actually I think today is the anniversary day of when we settled.  And after the initial push to renovate before we moved in, followed by a period of extreme dislike of building work, I've swung back to wanting to get stuff done around the house.

The quest to get the balcony fixed started last year, when I got a builder to quote on fixing the railing.  We hadn't been letting people go out onto the balcony, even though we do have a little view of the city, and can see the fireworks at New Years - but the balcony rail was quite low and not sturdy so we wanted to fix it.

Seemed simple enough.  But nothing is ever simple here!

This is how the house looked when we bought it.  Those palms are long gone.  But as you can see, the balcony railings quite clearly do not meet any safety requirements.

Builder turned up. (bonus).  Looked at railing.  Bounced up and down on the decking.  Looked underneath.  Pronounced the boards to need replacing.

Ok - so we will replace the boards too.  Good idea.  New balcony.

Then he looked under the base.  Our balcony doesn't have any support posts - which means the joists are cantilevered under the floor of our bedroom.  The joists were also pronounced rotten.  So suddenly the "small job" of fixing the railing height had become taking up the floor in our bedroom, putting in new joists, new decking, new railings....  And the numbers he was "quoting" me kept climbing - first $5000, then $9000 then maybe $12000 - but all rather vague.  He never did send me a detailed quote.  And I didn't chase it up.

Then this year I spoke to our neighbour who had replaced our fence.  Asked his opinion on the matter of the dodgy balcony.  He had a look, agreed with the first builder and called a builder he works with.  So this time I got a proper quote.  The floor would be taken up, new joists put in, new decking (the right way up this time - it was pointed out to me that the ridges on the decking should go on the under side but people think they go on the top side for "grip"), new railings with regulation height and also no child sized gaps for anyone to stick their head (or entire body in the case of the old balcony) through.  Plus as the weatherboards had deteriorated these would be replaced.  

Not sure if it is very clear in this photo but previously there was quite a large hole under the balcony.  Also, the joists had been "fixed" by a second piece of pine attached to the first joists.

So we went ahead.  And as usual, Sydney's unseasonably dry weather stopped the day work was meant to start - we lost probably 4 days in total to rain.  

I didn't actually take any internal pictures, but for a few days it was very painful removing all the stuff out of our cupboards to allow access to the roof space and under floor.  But the results are complete (apart from painting - still waiting on quotes for that!) and I'm so very pleased!

The joists were cut off, and floor inside pulled up.  Weatherboards were also removed.

New joists were put in place and remain cantilevered so the balcony remains the same form and size - but is no longer rotten!

I tried to take some photos of the joists that were removed to show how rotten they actually were - very glad now that we didn't let anyone out there before! 

Base all framed up nicely, with the decking down, and new posts going up.

The finished product!  Looks so much better (and will be even better when we get it painted).  A nice sturdy, safe balcony which meets requirements.  I might even be able to sit out there sometimes and watch the world go by!

Of course, the problem is that now the upstairs looks so good I have to do something about the downstairs.  So next project will be replacing all the weatherboards and architraves at the front of the house.  And of course painting it a new (non bright blue) colour.  Won't be long and the Crooked Cottage will be one of the best looking houses on the street!

Anna's Promise

This post is going to be quite different to usual.  I am not even sure I will make it public.  But I have had some shocking news and it has really shaken me up, so I felt maybe writing it down will help me make sense of it.

I read the news in an unusual way.  I found out about my friends unexpected death on Facebook.  Sounds kind of horrible and heartless I suppose.  But in reality it was perhaps to be expected.  I went to primary school with her.  For years I didn't have any contact but then we reconnected through Facebook.  I guess reconnect is a loose term, we did meet up in person once but through distance and different lives we didn't really catch up much in real life.  But I saw her journeys on Facebook, saw her first child born, and grow.  I knew she really wanted to have a second baby and was so pleased when her second son was born.  We messaged occasionally, or commented on statuses.  I couldn't really count myself a friend.  I don't know her address (although I've seen photos of her house renovations), I have never met her husband or kids.  

In February she posted that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She had had surgery, they thought it looked good, something about no margins which I took to mean the surgeons thought they had got it all.  But as a precaution she would have chemo and radiotherapy.

I messaged her then too.  My mum went through chemo, and another friend has been recently diagnosed.  I made some professional (pharmacist) suggestions about how to deal with chemo side effects.  I wished her luck.  We messaged just a few times.

I saw her photo on the day of her first treatment.  She was going to sew a quilt during the treatments, friends had sent her different fabrics.

And then I saw her husband post that only about two weeks after her first treatment, she had passed away.  From complications due to her immune system after chemo.  Maybe that is why I'm so upset.  You shouldn't die from chemo.  Cancer, well, I understand that.  But not the treatment.  Not when you have two small children.  Not when you've only had one treatment.  Not when you are 38. Not when just a few days before that she had been posting as usual, everything seemed normal.

My heart breaks for her, and her family.  But I don't really know them.  I feel like I do, because of social media I suppose.  So then I feel like I don't have the right to be so upset.  What is my grief when compared to theirs?

I have had one idea though for a small memorial.  Just a little one, for me.  I have just looked up roses called Anna.  And I think I will try to grow one of the Anna's Promise roses.  And then, I can remember her anytime I like.

Photograph from Week's roses website.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The pineapple sage forest

Months ago I bought a small seedling of a pineapple sage plant.  I actually thought it was just normal sage, and wanted to add it to my herb garden.  I read that it needed full sun, but then decided to plant it out in my fairly shady back garden where I have a small herb bed regardless of the need for sun.  It's under my clothes line and so I prefer small plants anyway.  My mint has been growing well there, as has parsley.  So I put the small pineapple sage in.

And now, I have a massive pineapple sage forest.

So - so much for needing full sun.

Also so much for my clothesline.

And now I need to find some uses for this herb!  

According to the Bonnie Plants website  when it flowers I should have a lovely pink display (image from Bonnie Plants).  Also from this I find that this plant attracts hummingbirds - pity I'm in Australia!

So apparently it's nice in drinks, and can be used in salads.

It should make nice tea - although I'm not big on tea.  But I might dry it out anyway!

And I'm going to try some dried in my cupboards and pantry to see if it makes any difference to my pantry moths.

Edit - when I started this post the sage had just been growing but there were no signs of the flowers. However yesterday I noticed I have a few pretty pink flowers out.  For some reason one of them was covered in ants, but the other was ant free.  They certainly are pretty!

One flower was very popular with ants for some reason.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Garden Share Collective March - Colour

After missing last months Garden Share Collective (I don't preserve anything, and wasn't feeling very inventive about how I could tie the theme in with my little patch which doesn't seem to ever produce a "glut" of anything!) I'm back with a post for Colour, the theme for this month.

If anyone wants to join in head on over to the link up either on the Rosehips and Rhubarb page or A Fresh Legacy and show us your garden.  Don't be afraid - even a straggly collection of pots and a forest of sage like my current situation is warmly welcomed as a "garden"!

I do however have to make a confession - the pictures for this post will not be current ones.  This is because as I type I have two builders in my front yard and upstairs bedroom, and we are getting out balcony (which turned out to be very rotten and not at all to the standards of correct height or no gaps for small heads to get through) replaced.  I'm very much looking forward to the completed project - but for now it means I can't see most of my garden due to the materials piled up and there seems to be a layer of sawdust over a lot of it. Hopefully it won't lead to any long term damage, although since I've been fairly lazy on the planting front lately there isn't all that much to destroy anyway!

So right now in my garden the only colour you can see are the orange pom pom marigolds which have been very hardy and have kept on flowering for quite a while.

However the colour of the garden is one of the great things about having a go.  Who doesn't love seeing some red tomatoes, green cucumbers, purple and white eggplants, and yellow lemons popping up in the garden? 

My beetroot attempt wasn't very successful either - I had mini beets!

And of course it's not just the actual fruit and veg that are colourful - the flowers can also be beautiful and perhaps not what you think of  - for example my basil plants went to seed but still looked colourful!

This month (once I get my garden back) I will be weeding and digging and preparing for some autumn/winter crops. 

I'm hoping to put in some late lettuce crops, and will be trying some carrots this year I think.

Last season the brassicas were reasonably successful, but this year I want to really grow some good cabbages, so they are on my list.

The other thing I'm hoping to do this month is to visit my local community garden.  I have contacted them about how to join in and have to attend three working days, so will be trying to get stuck into that - I'm hoping to meet some new people, learn some more about gardening and maybe get access to some different produce that I don't/can't grow here in my garden.  But I'll keep you posted!

Happy gardening and see you next month!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

A failed garden experiment

I recently attempted some propagation from cuttings.  I was visiting my grandma in her aged care facility, and as usual she had many vases of flowers from other members of the family.  From my aunt there was a lovely bunch of blue hydrangeas, with some stems of white and pink buddlejas.  They were nearing the end of their life in the vase, so Grandma said I should take them to plant.  

Of course I asked how was I supposed to do that, and Grandma just said - "put them in a pot" like it was the easiest thing in the world.

So I brought them home.  

I dug some of my best compost out of the compost heap, and filled up five pots.

Then I placed a few stems in each pot, and filled them with compost.

Three of my pots with my lovely compost.

The blue hydrangeas in the pots.

A rather droopy budleja.

Unfortunately, I ran across a few problems  - namely extreme heavy rain for a few days, followed by some of the hottest days in January (around 40 degrees).  Well, that is my excuse for why the experiment failed miserably.

However, one saving grace - from my compost some very healthy tomato plants have sprung up in my pots, so at least I will be able to salvage something!

All that is left of the experiment - rather healthy looking tomato plants but not a hydrangea to be seen!

Anyone got any tips for me for the next time I try to propagate from a single stem? Or do I just admit that I'm not such a good gardener as my Grandma?!

Monday, 25 January 2016

The fruits of my garden - Garden Share Collective January 2016

Well it's time for the first Garden Share Collective of 2016.  The GSC is hosted by Kyrstie at A Fresh Legacy and Kate at Rosehips and Rhubarb.  Head over to check out all the wonderful gardens and gardeners who join into the link. Another month (well two really, as there was a well deserved break in December!) has passed, so it's time to have a look at everyone's garden and the fruits of their labour for the past month.  And that ties in well with the theme for this month, which is - Fruit!

Of course, here in Australia we are in the middle of summer - a crazy wet and wild summer in Sydney, but summer none the less.  I heard on the news tonight that Sydney has already received around 225ml of rain this year.  Plus we've had a number of 40 degree days, which is unusual for us as well.  It seems to mean that many of my plants are looking a bit bedraggled, either drowned or burnt, but the weeds are thriving! 

At the beginning of January I had my nieces and nephew come to stay,  My eldest niece is quite interested in gardening, and asked lots of questions about how to grow different herbs and vegetables.  My youngest niece told me that she liked my garden as it was just like "going to the shops" - this was after she helped me cook dinner and we picked the capsicum, chillies, oregano, and lettuce fresh from the garden.  Interestingly, while they were staying we watched an episode of Gardening Australia (I was quite amazed that an 8 year old, 12 year old and 15 year old would happily watch a gardening show, but that must be the power of Costa!).  And from that episode I learnt something I had never realised - that any plant which produces a seed bearing product that can be eaten is considered to be a fruit.  

By that definition, not only are your traditional "fruits" such as citrus, stone fruit, berries and others included in this list but also tomatoes (ok so I knew that one), capsicum, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, and pumpkin - the list goes on......

 So it turns out I have quite a number of fruits in my garden.  This month the tomatoes have continued to grow and flower, although I transplanted a number of my plants and they are yet to fruit - also they have been overtaken by the weeds.

My eggplant has produced it's second fruit, and I think it looks so lovely.

My capsicum plant produced a few more good size fruit, although is a little bare now.  I did learn though from A Fresh Legacy recently that it may be worth keeping my capsicum plants through a two year cycle, and they may produce better in the second year.  So I will be trying that theory out, and will let you know how I go next year.

My raspberry plant has also been recently transplanted to a new spot, and although no fruit have appeared the plant certainly looks a lot more healthy, so perhaps next year will be a better year?

The cucumber and zucchini plants have succumbed to powdery mildew, which might be to be expected in this kind of weather.

The chillies always look nice and bright and this year I planted a few different types.

My lemon tree does have some fruit on it, but I need to take them off as it is still only young.  And my passionfruit vine is growing brilliantly, but as it was only planted a few months ago I will wait until next season to hopefully get some fruit.

Apart from my actual fruit, I like to think the rest of the garden is still "fruitful" - the spinach just keeps on growing ,my apple mint plant is going great guns, and as I discussed in a recent post my lettuces have been a bit variable in their growth but are growing none the less.  Plus my marigolds that have been planted for companion planting with my tomatoes (they are supposed to repel white fly  - even if it doesn't make any difference I always think it looks pretty!) and other plants are flowering away and making the garden look quite cheerful - it an overgrown and weedy kind of way.

This one is called apple mint.  I haven't actually tried it yet!

My poor tomatoes are being over run with weeds
As usual, my to-do list is dominated by weeding!  Plus I really need to fertilise all my pots, as a lot of the plants are starting to look a bit droopy - I think with so much rain a lot of goodness has probably been washed away.

My compost bin (which is a pretty cheap one to be fair) has started to fall apart and so I am considering relocating my compost - however I'm just not sure where it is best to go so not sure when this will happen.

I'm also considering redoing my whole sprinkler system.  While it works well to water my pots and plants, particularly when I am away often with work, I think the sprinklers are not the best way to get water to the plants and I need to look at putting in drippers instead.  This will also protect my verandah, which seems to be getting wet a lot and the wood is starting to look a bit worse for wear.

We will see how much I actually get done when it comes around to next months post!  Happy gardening to everyone and I look forward to seeing all the different and wonderful fruits for this month.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

One of these things is not like the others - what is wrong with my lettuces?!

So I think I need some advice.  I will probably also ask this question of my dad and of my grandma, but the more input the merrier I say!

I have been growing some lettuces (lettice? What's the plural of lettuce?) which I bought as seedlings.  All came from the same punnet and were of a similar size when planted.

Five fitted into one large round and fairly shallow dish.  The other got put into a large pot sort of as an afterthought with a rose bush!

Five little lettuces planted in a pot.

Close up of one little lettuce.  These have probably been out in the garden for about a month.
The single plant is thriving so much more than the 5 together.

The loner in the rose pot.

Clearly a much larger lettuce after the same time of growing!
So - what is the problem?

Is it too much water?  The single plant gets far less water as my sprinkling system doesn't reach it - it's pretty much neglected.

Is it the deeper dirt for roots?

This one is in a much deeper pot than the others.
Are the 5 too close together?

Significantly more shallow pot.  And closer to the sprinkler system.  Also gets a bit more sun, although still mostly shade in the afternoon.
Is it slightly more shade?  The single plant is probably 1-2m further into the yard than the other pots, and as such would get less sun.  But all the plants would get predominantly morning sun and be in shade for some of the day.

Is it likely to be pests? (I do admit I use snail pellets as I just can't get any other pest control to work, and we have no pets that could access these)

Is it a combination of all of these?!

I really want my lettuce plants to grow well as it is so nice to have an ongoing supply of salad greens.  So any advice will be gladly taken!