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!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Things to do in Sydney in the school holidays - (which are cheap!)

I have just had the pleasure of having my two nieces and my nephew come to stay with us for nine days.  They live in Wagga Wagga, in the south west of NSW (yes that really is the name of the town, when I lived in the UK I always had to say that a few times before people would believe me!), so a trip to Sydney is a little bit different, although they are up here quite often.

Not having kids of my own, I was a bit concerned about what we could do to entertain the three visitors - and at 8, 12 and 15 there is a bit of a difference in their preferred activities.

But in the end we didn't get anywhere near through my list of things to do, partly because it rained so much.  So I have more choices for the next visit.  The things we did get to do though were all pretty good, so here are my suggestions.

1) Watch the New Year's Eve fireworks.  Ok, so that is clearly a suggestion for next year!  But we went to Mort Bay Park, where there were surprisingly few people (we had a good spot all to ourselves), a family friendly atmosphere and a great view to the bridge.  You can also get there and back quite easily on a bus down Darling St in Balmain, although we drove in early and then took the car home after the 9pm fireworks.

Our view from Mort Bay Park - slightly obstructed but good none the less!

Some of the 9pm fireworks
2) - Visit the Rocks.  Yes, it's a bit touristy, but any child who has read Playing Beattie Bow (seriously, if you haven't read it you should.  I loooooooved this book when I was a kid, and so I gave it to my eldest niece for her birthday and she loved it too.  There is a link to Amazon below, if you happen to buy it there I get a few cents towards my next purchase.) will love the idea of walking through the same streets that Abigail did in the book.  There are heaps of little lanes and cobblestoned paths, and it's an easy walk from Circular Quay.

We visited the Susannah Place Museum, which was also really interesting.  Four houses have been kept almost as a time capsule, stretching back to 1844.  You have to take a tour, you can't just look around, but the tours run on the hour, and it wasn't too hard to book in.  I joined Sydney Living Museums, and when you join as an adult you can add up to four kids under 16 for free - which certainly makes for a cheap visit if you want to go to a few places.  They include museums such as The Justice and Police Museum, and the Museum of Sydney, plus Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Bay House and The Mint to name just a few.

Part of the Susannah Place Museum
While we were in The Rocks we also had a look at "The Big Dig" -an archeological dig uncovering our past under the YHA hostel!  This is free to look at, although there is also an education centre which wasn't open when we were there, so I'm not sure if there is a cost involved in that part.

3) Take a ferry - anywhere!  Particularly on a Sunday, when all the travel you can fit in only costs a maximum of $2.50 on your Opal card.  There is something so wonderful about being on Sydney Harbour, looking at that iconic vision of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House - you just can't beat it.

The view from the Balmain East Ferry wharf.
4) Go to the Big Bash League Cricket - although this might soon be over for the season.  Kids general admission tickets to Sydney Thunder matches are the princely sum of $5.07.  There is free face painting and activities, and they hand out flags and those annoying inflatable "thunder sticks" for free.  You can take in food that is "non commercial" - which I asked about and is simply no take away food such as Macdonalds or KFC.  And you can take drinks that aren't in glass or cans.  We had great fun, and if you take photos at the ground and then post them to social media with the hashtag "thundernation" #thundernation - the pictures then appear on the big screen at the ground - which is quite fun in itself.

If you are lucky you can make the big screen at the stadium.
5) Visit the Botanic Gardens - always lovely, the Botanic Gardens are a forgotten treasure in my opinion.  One point of warning though - if you have a scooter or skateboard mad child (like my nephew) I have found from experience that bikes and skate boards are banned (so I assume also scooters).  Ball games also seem to be against the rules, so it is picnics or walking around only.

6) Parks and playgrounds!  There are playgrounds seemingly around every corner in the inner west at least.  We visited Blackwattle Bay Park (next to Jubilee Oval in Glebe) and enjoyed talking to people with dogs, looking at the water, and playing on the equipment.  The park voted "best park of the holiday" was Livvi's Place playground at Timbrell Park in Five Dock.  Built for children of all abilities, the stand out ride (and even I had a go!) was the motorised carousel, which has chairs and space for wheelchairs to be secured.  The electronic system allows the carousel to be started and the kids had great fun counting down until it started.

6) Well this one is not to do with Sydney - but boardgames are fun.  Our favourite is Sequence, which may not be familiar to as many people but it is quite simple for kids to pick up.  Again, I've put a link below if you are looking for a good gift - I gave this to my nephew a few years ago and he still loves playing it.  We also played UNO and Billionaire card games, and when we visited a friend for the day they had Cluedo and Hedbandz (like Celebrity Head but with objects, the kids seemed to enjoy this one)- which were all popular!

Other things on my list that we didn't get to for this visit included -
  • Visiting the Sydney Observatory
  • Visiting the Dawn Fraser baths in Rozelle or the Cabarita pool (both lovely harbourside pools)
  • Visiting an op shop (charity shop) and buying clothes for a dress up "fancy" dinner
  • Visiting Manly by ferry
  • Free activities at Olympic Park 
And finally, one thing we did that wasn't all that cheap, but was fun - visit the Hello Kitty Diner in Chatswood.  It's kind of strange, and not as kid friendly as I thought it might be (the only "themed" parts are the cardboard bows on the burgers, and a few neon Hello Kitty signs, plus the waitresses wear cat ear headbands) , but for the older kids it was something a bit different.

My salted pretzel milkshake

The menu - perhaps not kid friendly either.
 So have fun these school holidays!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Almost my blog birthday!

It's almost the first birthday of The Crooked Cottage.  Which is pretty exciting.  It all started last year with my new years resolution of starting a blog - which really was going to be about our falling down house and the perils and joys of DIY.  Although we haven't done all that much DIY (I get inspired at times, but other times very uninspired!) and it has kind of morphed more into being about my garden.

I've had a great year, although I have found it more difficult lately to post as life just seems to be crazy busy all the time.  I've really enjoyed reading lots of different blogs, about gardening, DIY, and simple living.  I have a few of them on my blog list, and would definitely recommend all of them!  I learn a lot from these blogs, and I hope that occasionally I can help people out with some information too.

I've really enjoyed being a part of the Garden Share Collective - and anyone who is interested in growing their own food should join in too!  Anything from some herbs in containers on a balcony to serious gardens on large areas (I'm still not sure how big an acre is.  But I know it's way bigger than my 150 square metres!)

So this years new years resolutions will be - 

1) Keep up the blog - and try to be a bit more consistent.  I'm pretty chuffed that according to my blog stats I've had 7500 visits this year, so hopefully I can increase that average!
2) Waste less food - this is a bad habit of mine, and it is quite shameful how much produce goes into my compost bin.  I guess it's better in the compost than the rubbish bin, but it is wasteful, and I'm going to try hard not to do it so much this year.
3) After just reading some posts on Nana Chels's blog Going Grey and Slightly Green I'm inspired to try to learn (or relearn, although not sure if being taught by your grandma when you are 8 and then trying again 30 years later counts as "relearning") how to crochet.  Time will tell.....

And of course there are still plenty of jobs to do around the house - including fixing my leak which seems to have returned, get the whole place painted externally, fix our balcony, and do something about my messy back courtyard.  Oh and of course properly fix the letterbox....

So thanks for reading, commenting, and making suggestions, it is much appreciated!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tasmanian Holiday - Part Two

Well I have already written about part of our recent trip to Tasmania, so here is the last part of our travels -

After Launceston we drove up to Stanley.  It looks deceptively close on the map, but the nice views, windy roads and the fact that our hire car struggled to get much above 80km/hour (and sounded like a lawn mower when it did!) meant that the drive took us longer than I had thought.  Of course, a stop at Ashgrove Cheese also meant a little longer between destinations.  But it was worth it!

Stanley lies on the north coast of Tassie, and there is actually a narrow passage of land leading the "The Nut", a large stone formation towering over the quaint little fishing village of Stanley.  We stayed just outside the town at the Beachside Retreat property (again, this is not sponsored but I would be very happy for someone to pay for me to go back!)

The view from our cabin

Our cabin was fantastic, very private, and my favourite part was the large porthole window which is actually set up as a window seat, so you can sit in the window and wait for the wildlife.
The porthole window seat

We also had gorgeous views of the sheltered lagoon.

So this few days was all about wildlife!

First we only saw rabbits, which was a bit dull.  Then I saw in the gloomy dusk what looked to be the size of a rabbit, but took off hopping like a kangaroo - but much faster!  I was intrigued to what I had seen and thought it might have been a potoroo.  The next night though the mystery was solved - there were many wallabies around and what I had seen was actually a juvenile wallaby.  I didn't get a picture of them as they were a bit shy and easily startled, and they can really move once they take off!

The wallaby - through the glass and at dusk!

The only problem with our lovely secluded cabin - it was so quiet at night that I hardly slept as I kept hearing little creatures (most likely those wallabies!) moving around, and at one stage heard something small scuttle across the verandah outside - possibly a marsupial mouse. Guess I've been a city girl too long if I can't sleep without traffic, sirens or planes flying overheard!

Apart from the marsupials we also saw lots of birds.  I am not a "twitcher" and so apart from the blue fairy wren and the yellow tailed black cockatoo I can't list the species, however they were plentiful.  Lots of sea birds waiting on the sandbanks of the lagoon for the molluscs.

The yellow tailed black cockatoo
And then there were the sea creatures.  We strolled along the beach, and waded in the water up to our knees - it was surprisingly warm.  And so clear!  So we could see many little creatures - sea snails, pipis (well I call them pipis, I think some people call them cockles, or they are similar or the same as vongole), crabs and jellyfish.  I also saw a lot of lovely shells, we didn't pick anything up or disturb it though just photographed where we saw them.

Little crab making his covered hole.

On the second day we were at Stanley we realised we were in town for the Show.  Now my husband has been to the Royal Easter Show but he had never attended a proper country agricultural society show - so of course we went.  Us and everyone from the surrounding area I think!

My favourite part is always the prizes for arts and crafts and gardening - and the Circular Head Show did not disappoint.  The same names kept popping up (obviously some people have very green thumbs) and I have to say I can only dream of show worthy broad beans, garlic, carrots and other vegetables.

Some of the prize winning broad beans

More prize winners - strawberries and lemons this time.

Another fun aspect was the "Mr Potato Head" and "Vegetable animals" section - awesome displays.

Cauliflower mouse


Bit blurry but how fun are the Mr Potato Heads?!

I don't think Mr Crooked Cottage really understands the importance of those first prize awards, or especially a blue ribbon for champion, but I'm sure anyone who has ever grown up in a country town knows how much you covet those, especially when you are small.  So I hope you are all growing prize winning vegies or cooking some delicious and champion ribbon cakes and scones!