Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

Okay, I think I can officially say now that I have an abundance of tomato plants. The rouge de marmande and roma tomato plants in the big pot are rapidly becoming too big for that pot and fruiting like crazy.

The two remaining tiny tim tomatoes (one was gifted to a friend) are starting to fruit, even the one that suffered an accident and the main stem snapped. Two of the three tomatoes grown from seed saved from a shop bought tomato are going strong and starting to flower. The other one was a bit of a runt and has been planted into the front garden to give it one last chance. The riesenstraube seedlings are in desperate need of transplanting and I planted three of them out today.

Plus, when I planted out the marjoram and thyme into the front garden I brought up a couple of buckets of compost to dig in before I planted them. I now have eleven (!) tomato plants growing amongst the marjoram and thyme. I think they may have to go as that's not really the best spot for them and I have no idea what sort of tomato they are.
Tomato plant tally: 16 regular size, 9 tiny size. Anyone want some tomato plants?

Today involved planting out a number of seedlings and discover that I am running out of places to plant them as we still haven't finished the vegie patch in the back yard. We need to get a trailer load of dirt to build up the beds, plus I thinking of doing the layers of wet newspaper thing to kill of the remaining kikuyu. Seedlings transplanted included: marigolds, borage, basil, coriander, parsley, and riesenstraube tomatoes. There are a lot in the seedling trays as I ran out of potting mix.
I've also got a good number of sunflowers growing in the front garden. The first lot of seeds didn't have a good success rate with only two strong seedlings. The second lot has been more successful. There are now 8 of them plants in two rows in the front garden.
They should grow to about 120cm tall (short variety) which is just above the lattice. In the photo you can see the little wind breaks the CPD very kindly erected when we had strong winds the other weekend.

And in breaking news, the Cunning Plans Dept has just come in with the first carrot of the season. It's just a bit bigger than "baby carrot" sized and seems to have grown straight. I was a bit worried that where we planted them might not be soft enough for them to grow straight (oh okay I confess I was secretly hoping for a bifurcated carrot). Tasted a little bit bitter though. Wonder if I need to add some fertiliser or something. They've just had compost and worm wee so far. The broccoli and corn are still going well, but no sign of broccoli heads or corn ears yet.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Vegie patch terracing and fencing

The Cunning Plans Dept did a bit more work on the terrace edges of the vegie patch and also put the fence up. The weather wasn't so great so not a lot of work got done.

On to the pictures.This shows the terrace edges of the four beds.
The wood is all recycled, most of the long planks you see are the joists from the spare room floor that was ripped out recently. We will need to get some extra bits from somewhere to fill in the gaps.
The fence isn't overly attractive, but will serve the purpose of keeping the two destructodogs out. Next stage is to mark out the paths clearly and then cover the bed area with some plastic to solarise the ground and hopefully kill the Kikuyu. We'll also need a trailer load or two of soil as there isn't enough there and we don't have enough compost to bulk it up.

The vegie patch mk I is still doing okay. The carrots, broccoli and corn are doing well. A few corn stalks broke in the high winds the other weekend and something is eating the broccoli leaves. Here have an action shot of me picking off caterpillars:
This one shows the irrigation system the CPD rigged up before. We pour in water at the top, which flows into the plastic container and trickles out the irrigation hose. Pretty nifty.

My seeds arrived from Diggers Club so on the weekend I set up a couple of propagator trays with parsley, coriander, basil, pyrethrum, marigolds, and borage. The sunflowers and riesenstraube tomatoes have started to sprout, but no sign of the yellow capsicum yet. Perhaps they're a dud. They were collected out of a capsicum I bought from the grocers so I wouldn't be surprised. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Also transplanted a couple of mint cuttings I had propagating in water. The big tomatoes are growing great and there are lots of fruit appearing. The tiny tim tomatoes are also starting the fruit. One of them had a minor accident and the stem got snapped, but there are some lower shoots that will be fine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Part of my Diggers Club membership involves getting some free seeds (from a limited selection, but hey, they're free). My first selection of free seeds from the Christmas catalogue arrived today. I got garlic chives, pak choy, red onion, and Martino's roma tomato (a dwarf roma).

Not really the season for onion, so those will wait until next winter, however the others I'm going to plant into the propagator trays on the weekend. The pak choy should grow quickly (40 days from plant to harvest), so what I'll probably do is plant a few every couple of weeks so I'll have a steady supply.

The other propagator tray now has a few sunflowers starting to poke out. The seeds have literally rocketed out of the soil and are still unfurling. No sign of the riesenstraube tomatoes or yellow capsicum yet.

I've ordered some other seeds and things (not free) that should arrive next week. All very exciting!

Dad has also given me a lovely little book called "Nature on your Side", which was published circa the 1970s and is about companion planting and organic pest control. He already had a copy and then found another copy amongst my nanna's books. Some of the stuff is fairly common knowledge, but some of it is quite quirky. Apparently flies hate the colour blue and will never settle on it. No one knows why, but kitchens painted blue stay free of flies. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it's quirky.

I've decided I'm going to get some pyrethrum and african marigolds as my pest control companion plants (plus they're pretty, so bonus there).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We have tomatoes

Well the beginnings of tomatoes at any rate. The first rouge de marmande tomatoes have just started to form.

My tomato leaves are being eaten by little green caterpillars. This weekend I practiced one of the organic methods of pest control, i.e. sat down next to the plant, turned every leaf over and squished the little buggers. I'm thinking about getting some pyrethrum plants, both as companion plants and so I can make a spray from the flowers to keep the bugs down. Also got some whitefly, but they don't look like they're doing much damage.
This weekend saw a lot of transplanting. The capsicum seedlings have been transplanted into seperate pots. The thyme and marjoram have been transplanted into the front garden. And a couple of rosemary cuttings that had started to put out roots after sitting in water on my window sill have been transplanted into pots. The strawberry plants continue to do well, though I wish they'd produce more!
Something the Cunning Plans Dept did a few weeks ago was transform an old wine barrel that we picked up a few years ago into a water tank for the front garden. I finally remembered to take a photo as it is kinda neat.

There is a diverter on the downpipe, which goes into the hole that was there when we got it. The CPD has added a tap at the bottom. Unfortunately, the wood has been so dry for so long that it isn't swelling enough when wet to seal, so we're probably going to have a put a liner in it to make it more useful. We've also ordered a commercial rain water tank to put down the side of the house for more serious water storage.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Vegie patch planning

Today we mapped out the new vegie patch in the backyard. It will be around 5x5m, maybe 5x7.5 depending on how many fence panels I can score from Mum and Dad. Aiming for 4 long beds about 4x1m. G mowed the patch so I can see how big it looks (I'm crap with spatial visualisation). We dug a small hole to check the soil. Like the rest of the yard its mostly clay and rocks.

We popped down to Kennards Hire and got a rotary hoe (and said "Hi" to Dan). This turned out to be a bit of an adventure. The thing was a bitch to get down to the backyard. I then went off to Bunnings and when I came back G had the rotary hoe back up the top and Dan was getting it into the Kennards truck. Apparently grass, clay and rocks can defeat a rotary hoe. Apparently G chased it across the yard as it took off without doing much to the ground and when it did hit the ground, something broke. Fortunately he could just call Dan to come and pick it up and Kennards didn't charge us for it.

Plan B is to get one of the larger small tractor things (can you tell I vagued out when the boys started to talk large mechanical things?) It won't fit down the side of our house, but G is going to talk to our neighbour about taking it down the side of his house and through a panel of our shared fence. Hopefully that will work as the other option of manual labour will suck.

In other happy gardening news, my Diggers Club membership arrived during the week along with a book on raising heirloom plants and two packets of free seeds. They gave me some Reisenstraube tomatoes (little red grape tomatoes) and some yellow pollenless sunflowers. I'm very happy about the sunflowers as I'd been eyeing them off in the catalogue. I'm a little confused by the membership, but I think I also get to select some free seeds from a variety of their catalogues. Today I got some seed propagating trays and a few more window box pots for out the front. We're going to hang them from the fence. I think I'll put herbs in those, or maybe some lettuce or asian greens.

The carrots, corn and broccoli planted down the back garden are going well. We weeded the patch today and thinned the broccoli. We should thin the carrots, but it is really hard to tell the difference between carrots and weeds at this point.

Plan for tomorrow - start digging over the front garden. I'm going to plant the thyme and oregano (which I'm starting to think may actually be marjoram, I've never been great at telling the difference) so it can spread as a ground cover. They're rapidly overrunning the pots they're in.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be visiting Mum and Dad for Dad's birthday. I'm going to do some gardening with Dad, swap seeds and plants, collect fence panels, G is going to help him rig up some irrigation stuff, then we all have dinner. I love weekends.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The garden grows

It's Sunday evening and after another weekend the garden has grown. Admittedly most of the work was done by the Cunning Plans Dept because I was being feeble, but its a team effort. The old herb garden got dug over with some compost to make it more habitable for plants. Then a trip to get seeds. We've put in carrots, broccoli and sweet corn. The CPD also engineered a cunning drip line arrangement so I only need to pour water in a funnel on our top terrace and it will run down to a small tank and slowly ooze out the drip line (which is good since I'm not very good with stairs at the moment).

We also have two tomato seedlings (one Rouge de Marmande and one Roma) that are in a pot out the front (north wall, better sun).
Thank you to Anne for pointing me to I think I will order one of their mixed heirloom tomato seeds.

The couple of geranium cuttings I took and randomly shoved in the ground seem to be doing well. Plus the Flametree seems to have perked up. It was looking very pathetic for a while. Something had eaten at the leaves then in a high wind they all blew off! I thought it might be a gonner, but lo and behold it has shiny new growth at the top and on the side.
Other highlights of the weekend included Hudson going a round with the neighbours cat and losing, and some general lazy late afternoon weeding. While pulling clover out of the front lawn I got bored and started making daisy chains out of the flowers, like I remember doing as a kid. The daisy chain ended up on Rasputin, the house gargoyle (who is looking a bit worse for wear these days).
Looks like some bizarre pagan offering (which is funny since I'm about as irreligious as you can get). Maybe it will keep the mormons away.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I'm back home. The conference was great, though tiring. Many thanks to B&k who took me touristing through Christchurch on my last day before I had to fly home. Coming home to 30+ degree heat in Sydney and a mountain of work, not great. Having a long weekend to recover though was pretty good.

I've been getting into gardening lately. It started with pottering around trying to salvage some herbs from what was the herb garden three years ago which is now an overgrown mess. Then I got some cuttings from my parents and slowly the collection of pots on the front porch has been growing. There are now plans afoot for a vegie patch of epic proportions in the backyard. Ms D has kindly loaned me some books on gardening. Apparently it's a lot more complex than just shoving plants in the ground and hoping for the best.
Why gardening? It gives me something to do while getting my daily vitamin D dose from the sunshine and with the weather fining up and the days getting longer, I'm enjoying being outside more. It does not generally involve people, so is a good hobby for an introvert. I'm also starting to be a bit more conscious about food miles and would like to grow my own produce. And it really is quite rewarding when your plants don't die, but actually start producing.

I got the Cunning Plan Dept a little strawberry plant a few weeks ago and we've both been somewhat fascinated by the progress of the inaugural strawberry. Every morning I walk out the front door and check the strawberry. Every afternoon I come home from work and check the strawberry. It makes me smile. As the fabulous Ms Belle suggested, I should actually take some photos. Here is today's progress:It's a decent size and certainly larger than the piddly little things I remember trying to grow as a child. Unfortunately this is the only strawberry on the plant so far, though there have been flowers so I assume we'll get more strawberries. We have a second plant now as well, which looks to be getting lots of new growth. Might have to get more plants if the vegie patch comes to fruition.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We have floor!

In the latest instalment of the adventure of the spare room, it now has a floor again! Thanks to the efforts of the Cunning Plans Dept, we not only have floor, but it didn't end up costing anywhere near as much as we originally thought it would, coming in at around $850. Bless the engineering profession and large projects that just happen to have some excess building materials lying around.

On to the pictures. After the floor was gutted, the next stage was putting in some drainage trenches and ag pipe:

Most of this work was done while it was bucketing rain outside. As it also connects to the rest of the underhouse space, we let our two crazy labradors in to get out of the rain and be part of the action. I think Hudson possibly consumed a kilo or so of clay that had been excavated. Not the brightest puppy.

After the drainage was done, new beams needed to go in as well as the Bondec, which will provide some waterproofing. Supervisors Hudson and Gracie also pictured:

On top of the Bondec went the reinforcing for the concrete and the hose that will become the underfloor heating:

And today the concrete arrive and the CPD and a mate spent a good couple of hours spreading concrete around the room and shovelling the excess back out the window. The end result is floor!

So now we wait for it to dry and then have then fun job of washing the walls and generally cleaning the room up.

All this is of course in aid of reducing the mould in the house so that it doesn't continue to slowly poison me. Let's see the mould try and make it up through Bondec and concrete!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bye bye floor

Well the Cunning Plans Department (CPD) has sprung into action on the mould remediation mission and the spare room has been gutted. Built in wardrobe, floor boards, joists, the lot. To save dragging mould ridden timber through the house, it went out the window.

Several of the floor boards were so bad that they just fell apart when being ripped up. At the end, we now have a door to a hole in the ground.

As you can see, there wasn't a lot of space between the floor and the ground and the house foundations prevented any decent air flow. The CPD has also taken the opportunity to knock a few bricks out (into the rest of the under house space, not outside) to get some more airflow.

The current plan for the floor is concrete, with some kind of layer that inhibits moisture. The CPD has been asking around his connections to see if he can source some cheap. We're currently looking at around $2-3K to do the floor, then we have to decide what to put on the concrete. Probably carpet since it is only a spare room.

The mouldy floor boards have gone to the tip, along with the carpet and some of the other items in the room that had too much mould to save. The joists are piled in the backyard to dry out.

Unfortunately, moving everything out of the room has stirred up a lot of mould in the air. It got to the point last week where I thought I was coming down with the 'flu. I'd feel lousy in the morning, but once I got to work I'd feel fine. Then within an hour of coming home I'd start feeling 'fluey again. However it should get better as we clean things up.

And of course all the other items from that room are now crammed into other rooms and under the the stairs. This has provided a good opportunity to do some culling of stuff. So far I've dropped off two boot loads of stuff to the Salvos. Mostly bed linen (after it had a good wash to get rid of the musty smell), books and a few small furniture items.

I also unearthed two crates containing my old goth clothes and paraphernalia (candle holders, incense burners etc..). The clothes have been washed and the other stuff I'm cleaning up and it will go on ebay in the near future. It will probably make some young emo very happy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Well that explains a few things...

I'm allergic to mould. I'm not sure exactly which moulds are the worst, but my specialist recommends avoiding as many as possible. I've been on immunotherapy for moulds (along with cats and dogs) for around 4-5 years now. There was a big improvement in the first 3 years and then the symptoms started to come back.

One of the theories is that there may be a correlation between the increase in symptoms and when we moved into our current house. It is set into a hill and gets a bit damp downstairs. We've had forced ventilation installed under the house and G has been doing other bits and pieces to try and get some better drainage happening. The other day he went under the house and noticed that the corner that our spare room sits over is a bit of a "deadzone" in terms of airflow and that the underside of the floor boards was looking mouldy. That room always smells musty and we don't use it much, so it was a good candidate for phase one of ripping up the carpet and checking the state of the floorboards.

So today, with the help of a non-allergic friend, the spare room was emptied. When the filing cabinet was moved, here is what was underneath:

Well that explains why I always felt crap after being in that room for longer than 5 minutes and why the files always smelled like mould. Within about 15 seconds of me coming into the room to see the mould patch, my sinuses exploded and I had to flush them with saline solution, take an antihistamine and stay upstairs for a while.

Other patches were found under other bits of furniture. The carpet was quite damp. G cut the mouldy patch out of the carpet and the underfelt was also manky. So that went and the floor boards underneath were soft.

All the carpet in the room has now been ripped up and the floorboards washed with a bleach solution. The floorboards will probably have to come up as well. This picture shows the spidery black tendrils of the mould spreading across the floorboards:

This isn't boding well for the rest of the downstairs floor, but it does mean that we can do some mould proofing when putting in new floor. Looks like we're in for a bit of work on the house. If it was a better market it would be tempting to just sell the house and buy one that doesn't have a mould problem. Depending on how we go with abating the mould and whether that makes a difference with the allergies, we may still have to look at moving.