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It’s Winter, But The Garden is Alive

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The shortest day of the year is almost upon us and although most of the winter is still to come, I’m feeling fantastic! There is so much happening around here and I’m enjoying seeing the progress in our yard and thinking about the opportunities to come.

I got my garlic planted. I didn’t get to plant it as early as I was intending to, but I still got it in before the shortest day and well before I usually do. I am really hoping to survive the rust this season. Starting from scratch with store-bought seed garlic is not fun when you’ve worked to grow bigger cloves of your own! I didn’t buy as much seed garlic this time, just in case. I planted 20 or 21 cloves of Printanor garlic in the vege garden and 2 cloves in The Herb Garden, as a small measure to avoid the rust. It’s better to get something than nothing. Then I planted my giant cloves of elephant garlic: 4 in the vege garden and 1 in The Herb Garden. This is the first time I’ve grown elephant garlic so I’m excited to see how it grows. And tastes. We all know I’m a fan of giant veges

I watered the garlic in with some compost tea. I forgot to tell y’all about my compost tea. When the comfrey was growing like bonkers last season I chucked a lot of it into a barrel and filled it with water. Some time later I added some chicken poop in there for some extra goodness. The barrel has a lid that is weighed down by a brick. And boy, does it need a lid! It doesn’t smell quite as bad now, after brewing for many months. I didn’t use it as much as I should have last season as I kept forgetting about it. That’s what happens sometimes when you put things in a far away corner. I dilute it to about 1 part nutritious, stinky tea to 10 parts water in a watering can and water stuff with it. I am going to make a point of using it a lot more and would like to experiment with some different kinds of compost tea if I have the time.

Who remembers my mushroom-growing adventure? Well, after doing all the required bits and pieces to get my oyster mushroom kit going, which wasn’t quite as ‘easy as growing grass’, I was left with the waiting period. While I got busy with my assignment I forgot to check on the mushrooms and then BOOM! The mushrooms appeared! This is what I found when I finally remembered to check them:

 

I grew mushrooms! Now we just have to wait until they get big enough to eat. Nom nom nom.

On Saturday, The Husband worked on his lumberjack skills. The doomed, unproductive, yellow-fleshed plum tree met it’s fate. I convinced The Husband to cut off more of the top branches before felling the rest of the tree, while The Little Fulla and I carted them off the the pruning mountain. Then, The Husband set to work on the tree with his chainsaw. There is always something to be nervous about when it comes to felling a tree and this time it was the fact that the part of the tree coming down wasn’t a straight trunk, it was leaning towards the paddock fence with the neighbour’s place and had a previously cut bit lower down on the trunk. But, The Husband is honing his tree-felling skills, and is rightly quite pleased about it. He secured the tree to the corner post on the deck with a rope and ratchet, cut a good wedge, made a straight cut from behind, then hauled on the rope, pulling the tree over in the right direction, avoiding the fence, the potting shed, the blackcurrants in the planter, any beings and even all my young plants in the garden bed. He then cut most of the tree up into firewood. We sure are supplying ourselves well with our tree felling at the moment! Don’t worry, we’re not going to fell ALL the trees.

I decided I’m going to keep our second Billington plum tree that is in the planter. I was going to sell it because I thought one tree was prolific enough, but we really like the Indian plum chutney I made and I’m a total fan of the frozen sliced fruit in the less fruity seasons of the year, and the plums just taste so good, even if they all come in a short space of time. So, the potted Billington is going to join its old Billington plum tree buddy in replacement of the felled tree. “But didn’t you buy an almond tree to plant there?” I hear you say… Yes. But, that is going to be planted in the new chicken pen, The Cedar Pen.

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The Plum Tree Garden. The potted Billington plum tree is going to be planted somewhere around where it is sitting here. The mature Billington is on the left.

When I set up The Cedar Pen for the chickens I cleared out a lot of shrubbery because it was weedy, overgrown or needed to be trimmed out of repelling-the-chickens-over-the-fence height. I have been thinking about what I could plant in there, as it is not going to remain so bare. First, the ‘All In One’ almond got allocated a spot in there. Then, I thought, hey, there’s actually space for another fruit tree in here without cutting out too much sun. So, I consulted my Fruit Plan to see where there were harvest time gaps that I could help to fill. I spent some time graphing my fruit plan to get a better visual of which months had low harvesting possibilities, but my two graphs somehow disappeared while The husband was working on computer backup things.

I have decided on a ‘Royal Rosa’ apricot tree. Harvest time is November to December (late spring and early summer) and it is supposed to be good in warmer areas. We already have one very young apricot tree, the dwarf ‘Aprigold’ in The Herb Garden, but we could do with more apricots, especially in November when citrus is the only big fruit available in our garden.

Yesterday, The Husband and I worked on curtains for the woodshed. That makes a quirky mental image! No, we weren’t making it look pretty, we were making it more functional. The woodshed had gotten covered in a hotch-potch of more and more chicken wire and plastic netting in attempts to keep the chickens out of there and it was getting rather awkward to get firewood out. I cut a curtain, or screen, for each bay of the woodshed, nailed them on at the top with fence staples then put three nails down the wooden posts on each side for hooking the screens onto. The Husband fitted plastic grommets over the holes to hook over the nails. We just need a few things to finish this project: a couple more grommets, something to weight the screen down at the bottom and some sort of string system that The Husband wants to do so the screens can easily be hoisted up for accessing the woodshed. It sure looks a lot more tidy now.

Speaking of tidiness, I did some tidying up around the back door, which had been gathering more and more stuff. The back door often acts as the front door so the area does need some work to make it better. The wooden box that was sitting just outside the door was holding paper and cardboard for the fire, but didn’t have much left in it and I had sized it up for another purpose. I emptied it out and moved it into the garage to store The Little Fulla’s outdoor toys in, which is a great improvement on the cardboard boxes that they were sitting in. Removing the box means there is more space for walking around the outdoor table and chairs and that the shoes can be lined up nicely instead of being a major trip hazard. I also chucked out one of The Husband’s pairs of old work boots, since they were falling apart and there are two pairs outside. Unfortunately, he found them in the bin and retrieved them. What does a man want two pairs of old work boots for? This is not the last word on that matter. I would like to build a small, narrow shelf to store shoes and things on up against the wall. One day…

What’s next? Hopefully, tree planting, more wood chopping and woodpile tidying, more weed control, spreading hay in the chicken pen and dealing with the compost heaps.

No More Assignments For Twiglet

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I have been working on my assignment. Obviously, that is why I’m on my blog right now. This was my final assignment for my final paper for this course. So, my last assignment ever, unless I nutheadedly decide to do more study some time in the future. This final paper has seen me procrastinating like nobody’s business. It just doesn’t seem as relevant as looking at plants, holding chickens or watching videos with The Little Fulla of himself being himself. I found myself doing almost anything to avoid doing my assignment. Folding washing. Tidying up random things. Rearranging a kitchen cupboard. Cleaning the chicken coop. ‘Accidentally’ going on Facebook. Doing the dishes. Dishes! Doing the dishes hovers around the bottom of my ‘Things I Ought to do’ list. I would much rather clean the chicken coop. Anyway, I finished my assignment last night so now I am freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Now, I am playing the game of What Shall I do First? My options range from catching up on housework to catching up on garden tasks to getting some of my 10 million projects started to sitting around like a blob watching presentations on this week’s 2017 Home Grown Food Summit. The results are inclining towards a crazed combination of all of the above.

We were at the Auckland Botanic Gardens last weekend: a happy place that always gives me inspiration, especially when it comes to native plants.

Auckland Botanic Gardens

I could spend so many hours loitering around Auckland Botanic Gardens, but a small child on foot means everything is now done in fast-forward.

The Chickens

I have whittled my flock down to what seems like a rather small number: 8. It probably still sounds like a lot to some people but I feel like I’ve offloaded a lot of chickens in a short space of time! I sold my second black Orpington pullet last week. Now I’m back to two breeds or part-breeds: Australorps and Wyandottes. And Mr Bingley is still hanging around.

Chickens

Hello, Mr Bingley! Yup, he’s still here. Behind him are Lizzie, Georgiana and Kitty. PB is hiding behind the tree.

I celebrated my selling efforts by letting the chickens back into The Orchard Pen, which has grown back some grass and had a nice rest from chickens. Kitty celebrated by going broody and my “Look, it’s a new pen to explore!” plan didn’t prove a good enough distraction to keep her from a stint in the broody breaker. Frodo celebrated by starting to go broody too and ended up in the broody breaker straight after Kitty. I got Frodo in there early before she got too far into the broodiness to stop laying. She hasn’t missed a day of laying yet in 22 days. Wow! This is a new record for her and I don’t know how she’s managing such production in winter! I’m wondering what happens if I manage to break her broodiness before it interrupts her egg-laying hormones. I legitimately asked The Husband, “Will she explode?” I’m happy for her to miss a day of egg laying, I just don’t know how that will fit into her current system of laying every day before having a big broody break. She’s currently in a weird, quiet, trance-like, half broody state but still laid early this evening.

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The chickens are back in The Orchard Pen: Lizzie (front) and Georgiana. The parts that had hay spread around when the chickens were last in there have grown some nice grass. I think I shall spread some hay in the empty Cedar Pen.

I got a good, sunny day to do a full coop clean and spray this week, which always makes me feel satisfied. Then Georgiana gave me a nice assignment-finishing present today: her first little egg. Yay! On one hand, I wasn’t expecting her to start laying in winter but on the other hand it’s about time! She is 32 weeks old today. Words like ‘slacker’ were starting to come to mind, so I am very pleased that she has joined the layers club.

Georgiana's egg

Georgiana’s sweet little egg.

PB is getting a proper name. It has been so long that it’s hard to stop calling her PB, but I’m going with something not too much different: Jane B. She is still getting bigger and is currently being super-scared of me when I’m in the pen. Partly, I blame her nutty ‘brother’, Mr Collins, but I think it’s also because I keep taking her friends away, first, Mr Collins, and then the black Orpington. Georgiana was the same when I took some of her buddies away around the same age. Hopefully Jane B will settle down now that I’ll have a bit more time to just hang out with the chickens. She still sits in my arms nicely and eats from my hand when I get her out at night but she’s scared of me during the day.

Jane B

PB shall henceforth be known as Jane B. She is almost 15 weeks now.

I have been asking members of a Wyandotte group about my SLW pullet, Lorelai, aka Slow Feather Butt, and opinions are still divided as to whether she is a boy or girl, so I will have to wait some more…

The Garden

The garden has been getting scarce attention lately owing to sickness, winter weather and that assignment. It is due for so many things and I’m looking forward to getting some quality time in my garden. The Little Fulla and I did a little bit of weeding today and the other day we had a family leaf raking session out the front, as the walnut tree has suddenly decided to dump copious amounts of leaves on the drive and thereabouts. So far, some of the leaves have been put on the compost heap and some have been dumped on top of the weeds in front of the compost heap. More raking will be needed to keep the leaves clear of the gate. I am hoping to plant my garlic tomorrow and am finalising my Vege Plan, which is a lot less orange than I thought it might be. I have been eyeing up the space out the front in front of my corokia and flax hedge as a place to plant Atlantic Giant pumpkins as well as another variety or two. I just need to deal with the weeds.

I have so many plans for things I want to do outside. I have been giving a lot of thought to shelter plant options, as we are getting a lot of wind through the backyard since a) we cleared out some shrubs/trees that were giving shelter on the west side and b) the neighbours cut down some good shelter shrubs. I am also thinking about trellis ideas along the paddock fence on the east side of the vege garden. The Great Vege Garden Expansion Plan still has stages that need to be done and I have a lot of plants that need to be planted in various places. I need to hack away at stumpy in The Herb Garden.

The Husband keeps throwing a rope up into the doomed plum tree and I keep telling him that we need to cut more off the top before any felling attempts. It doesn’t look like there’s much of it left but it is actually quite tall. The Husband has also been working on tidying up the ‘firewood storage area’ at the side of the deck. In a bid to dry out the wood that keeps getting pounded by the rain, he knocked up a quick shelter with lengths of timber and some black plastic. I am trying to bite my tongue because I know that the wood needs to dry out, but a) the black plastic is cutting out some light from the lounge, b) it doesn’t look very good, c) it keeps falling apart and d) I have longer term plans of paving the area and putting clear or white corrugated roofing above it to turn it into a BBQ and tidy firewood shelf area. We have almost used all the firewood in one bay of the woodshed in the chicken pen, so we could just move all the wet firewood there…

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Stumpy needs to be evicted from The Herb Garden. He just keeps getting wet feet.

The doomed plum tree

The rest of the yellow-fleshed plum tree still needs to be removed. Just not in one foul, misaligned swoop.

Firewood area

The Husband’s firewood area at the side of the deck. In the high winds yesterday one of the wooden supports between the black fence and the deck roof fell down and the black plastic that was covering them blew off. It’s a work in progress. Of sorts.

Tree Business

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I have been taking care of a lot of tree business around here lately. Trees have been pruned, trees have been given final notice and trees have been bought. We decided that the yellow-fleshed plum tree was going to get the chop due to its pollination-related performance issues. I haven’t been able to ascertain what cultivar it is, only that it is similar to a Santa Rosa or Fortune, but it is not quite either of those. Not knowing exactly what it is means I wouldn’t know exactly which other plum cultivars would pollinate it, and since we don’t want to end up with three plum trees anyway, its days are numbered. What use is a fruit tree that doesn’t fruit? It’s a bit like people, really. We may look good and seem like we’re going somewhere, but without the right input our efforts amount to nothing. However, if we get alongside someone else who has a vision, passion or skills compatible with our own, then we bear fruit abundantly, and that makes a difference to the world around us.

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The yellow-fleshed plum tree (right) is going to go bye-byes when I’ve finished working on the second chicken pen. I need to finish pruning the Billington plum tree (left).

To replace the plum tree I have bought an ‘All in One’ almond tree, which is rated highly for home gardens, especially in warmer areas. It will just have to wait until we’ve chopped down the plum tree to find a spot in there somewhere. Meanwhile, the Billington plum tree put on heaps of growth after its big pruning last year and I have started pruning it into some semblance of control.

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The ‘All in One’ almond tree awaits the removal of its predecessor. It has a few good branch options, so I have to decide at what height I want the main structural branches coming out of the trunk.

My other option for replacing the doomed plum tree was another apple tree. Not to be pushed aside, the ideas rattled around in my brain and I found a place for one too! While we were in Auckland, we found, bought and manoeuvered into the car a Cox’s Orange Pippin on a semi-dwarf MM106 rootstock. Knowing what the rootstock is is an essential point when buying fruit trees. The future site for the apple tree is in the future triangle garden outside one of our lounge windows, a garden which I have been thinking about for ages, which has been waiting for me to move my pallets of potted plants, which have been waiting for me to clear the plant-growing alcove, which has been waiting for me to move the pruning mountain, which I did, but now there’s an even bigger pruning mountain. Everything in the garden moves in ridiculously complicated triangles and circles at the moment. Anyway, the apple tree is going to provide shade to the sunniest and hottest window during summer, then will return some of the light when it drops its leaves in the winter. Plus, it will give us tasty apples. We had a Cox’s Orange Pippin in my childhood garden and it is well-known as one of the best heritage apples. The advantages of the MM106 rootstock are that the tree will grow to about 4.5m tall; not too tall but tall enough to provide good shade, and resistance to woolly aphid, which the other apple tree in the chicken run is currently having issues with. Here is a handy chart I found featuring the main apple rootstocks available in New Zealand.

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The ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ apple tree awaits the removal of two pallets of potted plants so that I can form a triangle-ish garden between the black fence on the left and the corner of the house. This lounge window is in much need of shade during the summer.

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The pruning mountain in my future plant alcove. At least it’s a nice shape. Can you tell that I formed this one?

The other main tree business that has been underway is the pruning of the cedar tree. It has had most of the branches within reach of the telescopic pruning saw cut off, mostly by me, and a little by The Husband. These branches are massive. Cedar trees can reach 12m wide and our tree is no exception. The branches are heavy as well as very long and had to be taken off in sections so as not to damage anything as they fell. The lowest branches stretching over the chicken run, the neighbours’ place and the garage have been dealt with.

Now I can really see how the cedar tree has affected the growth and fruiting of the apple tree: it is on a distinct lean towards the paddock and most of the branches and apples are hanging over the paddock since the cedar has been crowding it out and shading it for probably quite some time. The whole area is looking better with more light coming through. When The Youngest Brother-in-law was here last night he commented that the backyard was looking nice and open. It’s nice when people notice the difference that a lot of hard work has made. Swathes of ivy have also been hacked down from the cedar tree and the small, insanely twisted Pittosporum crassifolium (Karo) behind it that was splurging over the fence into the chicken run has been cut down too. There is another young Karo still in there so I will leave that one.

After the last session of hacking, which may have gotten a little too vigourous, I developed some bad ivy rash, despite wearing longs, so I will not be hacking ivy above ground again. My eagerness to get things done makes me cycle between going full guns blazing at the ivy and being extremely scared of it. I think we have gotten rid of most of what we can cut down anyway, aside from what The Husband may like to prise off the trunk for me… Now all that remains is for the rest of the tree to be dismantled, which, unfortunately is really not a job we can do ourselves. While we await an option that won’t make our pockets explode, I am getting a move on with chicken-wiring the fence around the Cedar Tree Garden. I am trying to convince The Husband to help dig and pull out the rest of the ivy from the ground so it doesn’t attack me while I’m crouching down, stapling the chicken wire. Well, I was, but now The Husband has a back injury so I’m on ivy ground-clearing duty again.

I have also spent a lot of time raking up all the pinecone scales and cedar needles from the second chicken pen area. The Little Fulla has been helping, which mostly entails wheelbarrow rides, stopping him from putting all manner of things in his mouth, stopping him from climbing up the fort ladder, regular snuggles and stopping him from putting more things in his mouth. The purpose of all this raking is to get the sharp pinecone scales out of the future chicken area to minimise injury and potential subsequent infection to the chickens’ feet. It is also making things look a lot more tidy. Another great side effect is that I have gained barrow-loads of mulch to put onto the Plum Tree Garden. This is making the garden look good and helping to suppress the weeds. Re-purposing for the win!

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The Plum Tree Garden is looking a whole heap better with heaps of cedar mulch.

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I am currently feeling very pleased with the clean, sweeping line. I just need to put a bit more mulch at the back.

I haven’t been much of a mulch afficionado in the past, basically because I wouldn’t spend money on mulch. I knew it was good, but it was just an extra expense, however, my eyes have been opened to the great benefits of mulch. Ok, so I’m thinking about my free mulch, but still… The pinecone/pine needle/sticks mulch is really helping to keep the weeds down, which means: a) I don’t have to spend so much time weeding or b) I don’t have to spend time and money with a side of guilty feelings spraying the weeds. And less weeds in one garden bed means less weeds to spread to other parts of the garden. Another free mulch, the used chicken bedding of wood shavings and poop, is helping to suppress the weeds in the Herb Garden and elsewhere, albeit not quite as effectively. Both these mulches are also helping to retain water, which has been hard to come by these last few months. In the Vege Garden, I was surprised to see the vast difference that mulch can make in water retention. Since the potatoes were harvested from The Corner Bed, I have been piling used chicken wood shavings and hay on top of it, and when I went to plant some brassicas in there, the soil underneath was still moist, even though it hadn’t been watered for quite a while. In contrast, The Long Bed opposite it was very dry and had to be watered. Yes please, I am getting on the mulch train. Especially if it’s a free ride. But I might even pay for a ride to Mulchtown.

More Hacking and Slashing

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With life back to business as usual at Twiglet Homestead, well aside from those chickens, there has been more garden progress going on. Another stump was removed, the tall one along the paddock side of the house, this time thanks to the efforts of myself and The Husband. A quick investigation to confirm my suspicions that the stump was rather dead and starting to rot turned into probably an hour of digging and ramming around the stump. I could have done it all myself, but The Husband turned up and spent about 10 minutes whacking the stump, pushing it over and chainsawing the bottom off so he could move both heavy bits away. That’s why I like it when he helps with the manly things. He’s stronger than me. Then again, it helps when you have a good woman to do the groundwork. Now the hefty stump is out of the way of the fence strainer post, so we can figure out how to install the big gate and various bits of fence across that side of the house.

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The Husband finishes off the hefty stump.

Speaking of help, The Father came around one day and helped me to remove the entire pruning mountain. He brought a caged trailer and, with a little help from The Little Fulla, we chopped, loaded and flattened two trailer loads of branches, plus some ivy, which is the cherry on top. He made two trips to the organic centre to dispose of it all, where it will be made into compost. It’s amazing what you can do in one day when you have help. It sounds like a small thing, but that pruning mountain was a mountain, which kept growing thanks to all my hacking and slashing, and it would have taken me forever to get rid of it by some low-cost method or another. Now we have a much nicer view and no pruning mountains to speak of on the property. Woohoo! The Husband does still have a small chopping-up-for-the-fire mountain though. The alcove where the pruning mountain was is going to be my plant-growing area. There’s a little more clearing of things to do yet and the tall, narrow conifer still needs to be felled before I move my plants over there, but I’m on another mission right now.

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The big brown patch is where the pruning mountain was. Farewell, pruning mountain. Also, guess who’s been mowing the lawn?

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Yup, it was a big pruning mountain. The alcove is a good spot for my future plant-growing area.

Before The Father came out I pruned some of the big fig tree branches that were low down, too long or otherwise awkward. I also hacked out an awkwardly self-seeded, small fig tree next to the main one, as it is not needed and was on a bad lean. There is another small one in there that I will try to dig out and give to someone. More hacking and slashing was done in the mess under there, most notably caused by ivy. I am slowly starting to win against the ivy in this area as its line recedes further towards the fence line. There is a great mass of it climbing up and cascading down a camellia tree next to the fig tree though. The question is whether to try and remove the ivy from the camellia or cut both down.

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The taming of the fig tree has begun, but with its long, lanky branches I’m going to have to keep at it.

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The fig tree is next to a camellia, then some sort of currant-like bush, then a totara in the foreground. The brown line on the ground is where the ivy, weeds and shrubs used to come out to. I’ve been slowly chipping away at it.

With a clean slate and with the chickens needing their second chicken pen to get done, I have commenced more hacking and slashing in the back corner. I cut down the camellia bush on the edge of the raised bed because it could have bouyed the chickens over the fence or into the trees, and also, it was in a stupid place right at the edge of the bed. Of course, the dense camellia ‘bush’ was a re-sprouted stump and sprouting roots. I’ve cut the branches down for the mean time but don’t want to put woody weedkiller on them since the chickens will need to be in there soon. The removal of this bush actually gives a much nicer outloook from the house, as it was blocking the eyeline to the trees at the back, making the eye focus on the brown wooden edging. For now, you just need to pretend that you can’t see the weeds and ivy. I am also trimming back the multi-legged shrub that I think is some kind of small quince and the bay tree is re-sprouting again so I will have another crack at that when I’ve cleared the ivy. I have been clearing the ivy in there. I don’t want to, but I have to get it done very soon so I can chicken-wire the holey wooden perimeter fence, so I have been donning pants and long sleeves and carefully but mercilessly pulling out every bit of ivy in my path. Well, on the non-stinkin’ hot days. I won’t attack the ivy on the trees though, however tempting, as the possibility of rash-inducing ivy bits falling on me from above is too great.

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The brown space behind the ex-camellia bush is where I’ve been trimming the leggy, quince-like shrub and clearing ivy.

The Husband has just commenced hacking some of the ivy and intermingled branches off the tall, narrow, yellow conifer using the telescopic pruning saw. This is the tree that needs to come down. This is very good. Except that he started a new pruning mountain. Ah well, by the time we get that corner sorted out we’ll probably have enough green waste to necessitate a trailer disposal trip anyway. I think I was in denial: we’re doomed to have a pruning mountain until I’ve gotten around to all the garden areas with my hacking, slashing and pruning. Now we are pondering whether we can use the ladder and telescopic pruning saw to carefully fell the tree by taking off small bits  at a time. I have wound up the old, broken washing line, leaving the concreted metal post that needs to be dug out at some point.

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My clearing work doesn’t look as great with the pruning mountain that The Husband has started looming in front of it. But now that it’s there, we might as well make it bigger, right? I don’t think any more is going to fit in the wheelbarrow.

 

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We’ve had some little spectators watching the hacking and slashing and wondering why the small human keeps stuffing dandelion flowers into their pen. They are the bachelor boys, Leggyleft and Leggyright. Leggyleft is the insatiably curious one. 

The Plum Tree Garden is decidedly weedy at the moment and I haven’t finished digging up the lawn bit yet, but I’ve halted work on it while I get the second chicken pen area sorted. We’re harvesting Billington plums now. They were a bit slower this season, probably because spring wasn’t particularly sunny, but I am glad to have a decent crop despite my hard pruning earlier in the year. My potted Billington, which I’ve moved off the deck and into that area, only has one plum left on it after the many strong winds we’ve had blew off the other flowers and fruit. The yellow-fleshed plum tree isn’t showing many signs of fruit yet, as in, I can see one. I know it had plenty of flowers so I am once again suspecting a pollination issue. But is it lack of a compatible pollinator tree or lack of bee pollination? After a second season of bombing out, I’m still leaning towards lack of a simultaneously-flowering plum tree to cross-pollinate it. The Billington is self-fertile. Hmm.

Now I have to decide if we should get another pollinator plum tree to plant somewhere, which would require some guesswork and possible failure since I don’t know what cultivar this one is, or just chop the yellow-fleshed plum tree down. Although we don’t really need three plum trees, that might be the better option. But wait, option three is that we chop it down and plant the potted Billington, which I would otherwise sell, in that area instead. That would cost nothing and allow us to have two well-fruiting plum trees, but the downside is that they would be two Billingtons fruiting at the same time. Do we want to have a massive preserving session in January or should I do option four and buy something else to replace the yellow-fleshed plum that fruits at a different time? Oh, the possibilities. The Husband and I have consulted and decided on option four. That plum has had two seasons to prove itself and it has failed. There is no room for sub-par fruit trees around here. So, what to plant instead? The front runners at the moment are another apple tree, which I need to do more research on, or another almond tree. Currently we have an apple tree in the chicken run that fruits from March/April to May and a young Granny Smith behind the garage for cooking apples. Since apples are one of the fruits we eat year-round it would be good to have one fruiting at a different time. We also have a dwarf almond, Garden Prince, and it would be good to have another variety, which could be bigger, so that I can have a better supply to make almond milk. I think I want both of these options. Maybe an apple could go out the front or in the second chicken pen area…

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The Plum Tree Garden. The fruitful Billington is on the left and the doomed yellow-fleshed plum is on the right. It’s fairly tall (off screen) but we can cut the taller branches down in bits with the telescopic pruning saw.

I have been mowing the lawns more than The Husband lately, as the garden looks so much better when the lawns are kept under control. Also, I can be particular about the lawn-mowing pattern when I do it. You have to think about the lines you’re making: what suits each piece of lawn and where the lines will lead the eye. Yes, my lawn is full of weeds and various grass varieties and brown patches, but at least I can get one aspect of it right! As I mow the lawn I tend to get an annoying small child-related song stuck in my head. Have you heard of Farmer in the Dell? Well, I don’t know who wrote it or if they were of sound mind, but mowing round and round a large lawn whilst repeating “the cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, heigh-ho the merry-o, the cheese stands alone…” is almost insanity-inducing. Never mind. I can always remove the song from my head with another annoying song…

 

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The Herb Garden looks especially good when the lawn has been mowed with the curves.

In Which The Garden Gets Hacked, Smashed And Pruned

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This is going to be a long post. That’s what happens when I spend too much time in the garden! Also, I was a bit computerless after my laptop fell into a coma and was unable to be revived. RIP dear laptop. Hence, the lack of posts and the probable influx of posts in the next few days. Fortunately, The Husband was able to retrieve my hard drive and everything on it AND build me a new desktop computer. I’m a lucky gal. He’s got some mad skills, that man.

I have a problem. I’m a gardenholic. It’s Daylight Savings’ fault really. Now that The Little Fulla goes to sleep very well around 7pm and it’s still light, I somehow find myself outside. Some people demo the house. I’m demoing the garden. I am like a crazy energizer bunny; hacking, smashing, pruning and digging all over the place. I have a full-access pass to the Garden Gym and I finally have visible muscles again. For the last few nights I’ve intended to have a break and a quiet night in. Nope. Last night I was definitely going to have a restful night. Nope. I think I’m making up for the lost Spring last year. And the very wet start we had to this Spring. I’m going to hurry up and post this before anything else happens!

 

Although I have to do tasks all over the place to keep up, there are three main areas I’m currently working on: the vege garden, the cedar tree garden and the side of the house around the plum trees.

The Cedar Garden

The fort in the cedar garden (I’m going to have to keep that big tree if I start naming the garden after it) has started to disappear. I don’t have anything against forts; I like forts more than the next person. But the fort was ugly, poorly built and, most importantly, in the second chicken pen to-be, so pretty pointless. I just want to keep the platform for shelter for the chickens. It was going to go some time, but one afternoon I was sad and frustrated about my poor chicken, Legolas, and I just needed to smash something. I’m not usually the smashing type, but, well, down came the front railing! I had to get The Husband to help finish the sides because I wasn’t manly enough. The posts still need to be sawn off at the platform level and the ladder removed. Then I’d like to use the wood from the sides of the fort to close off at least one side under the platform, and maybe both, to keep the dust bathing and shelter area drier.

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The view is improving bit by bit. I really do want to keep that cedar tree now. Must get rid of ivy.

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Two months ago the same view looked like this.

While I was up there sweeping the piles of pine needles off the platform I realised that the woodshed roof had a big layer of decomposing pine needles on it that was weighing it down. I ended up sweeping and raking the whole collection off the roof plus removing some big, heavy lengths of timber that were on it. Not such a good storage spot for heavy wood. I also found a plastic dinosaur. And an axehead. I quickly pruned a few branches off the apple tree and pear tree but I need to have another crack at them with the telescopic pruning saw, as I don’t trust the roof very much.

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It is nice to see trees instead of a decrepit fort. I also trimmed off the black plastic that was sticking out of the woodshed roof along the fence.

Speaking of finding weird things, whilst hacking away at things in the cedar garden I found a ball, which is fairly run-of-the-mill, and I also found a decomposing pair of men’s undies. Yup. Isn’t it great how there is so much treasure to find around here? I’m still waiting to find the treasure chest. While I was getting stuck into the bay tree, The Husband surprisingly appeared. He cut off one of the low branches of the cedar tree and started hacking the ivy. He cut through the main ‘stem’ of the ivy that is climbing up the tree. And when I say stem I really mean trunk. The ivy up the tree started wilting so I was feeling pleased, but now it seems to have recovered so it must be drawing nourishment from the tree. Good grief. More action required.

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The main ‘stem’ of the ivy going up the cedar tree.

Meanwhile, I pruned a very large amount off the bay tree, which was getting very bushy. It turns out it it wasn’t just a tree. The bay tree must have been cut down at some point and left to resprout (a common occurrence around here). And resprout it did, very vigorously. I saved just a few of the biggest, straightest trunks along the fence and cut the rest down. I need to get rid of the scrambling ivy before I can deal with them properly, so I’ve cut them to where I can see them. I think I just about pruned out more bay tree than I left. The aim was to raise up the foliage and lower branches so that when the chickens are in there in the future they won’t be able to climb in it and from thence over the fence, while maintaining some shelter and controlling the tree size. I have also weeded the cedar garden (except for the ivy), dug out a bunch of weedy crocosmia and even planted a few native sedges along the edge by the fort. They should be tough enough to handle chickens and will help keep the soil in, as well as improving the look of the area.

 

The pruning mountain was actually getting smaller, but now it has morphed into a hulking giant that can probably be seen from space. I was tossing up whether to hire a mulcher or to burn it. It would be nice to use it and get some mulch, but it wouldn’t be particularly cost-effective compared to just buying some mulch. I think we will just burn it. The larger branches can be chopped up for firewood anyway.

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The pruning mountain honestly was getting smaller… Now it’s even bigger than this since I started to crack into the fig tree pruning. The good part is, I only have one pruning mountain now. Does that make it better?

The Vege Garden

The Great Vege Garden Expansion Plan continues to progress. The new beds have almost been filled with substrate. We’ve been buying trailer loads of compost since I didn’t have enough matter to fill them with. They hold a serious amount of substrate! I’m not sure how many trailer loads we’ve done. The Long Bed needs topping up too. I miss my free horse poop supply. I really must find a supply in the area.

I have set my Golden Queen peach tree free from its planter and planted it in the compost area. I was going to plant it next to the potting shed but decided to bring it forward next to the path so it will give some shade to parts of the vege garden, as it gets really hot in summer and some crops like a bit of shade. I have also measured out where I would like the future 3-bay compost bin to go, shovelled the compost into that area and turned most of it. It’s quite fun climbing atop the compost pile but it is hefty work.

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The compost area. The three-bay compost bin to-be will come out to where the stake is. The Golden Queen peach tree is on the left and the potato bins are temporarily in the way somewhat (the blue one is behind the black one). I will leave a path for the wheelbarrow to get past the front of the compost bin and plan a little permanent vege bed to go behind the peach tree. The terrible rusty rain barrel needs to be replaced with the black plastic one.

And then one weekend I was sick, so what did I do? I sledgehammered the leaning fence along the vege garden while The Husband was out with The Little Fulla. I’m not good at resting. The Husband helped me finish and move the pieces of fence. Now I can better plan the next garden bed phase: the blackcurrant bed, the raspberry bed and hopefully a little angled bed to fill in the space by the entrance. The Husband has just dug out all but one of the bits of concrete and fence posts. I currently have a weed compost pile sitting here, also known as the weedpost heap. It happened by accident when I realised that the pile of weed rubbish I left sitting there was getting composted by the many resident worms. Now I’m putting all my weeds on there, except ivy and crocosmia, so I can keep them away from the main compost and turn the pile regularly to make sure all the nasties are decomposing.

The only problem was when I foolishly chucked onion weed (Allium triquetrum) from out the front on my weedpost pile. I hadn’t thought about how invasive it is. It can spread easily from all the little bulbs, some as tiny as a pinhead, as well as the flowers. I hadn’t even thought about the flowers until I read some information online. Thinking about how much it has spread under the walnut tree already it could be almost as bad as oxalis. Eek! When I realised what I had done, the next day I had to sift through the pile, getting out as much of it as I could find. The bulbs and flowers need to be disposed of or burnt. Or pickled, as the bulbs are quite edible. But even more foolishly, I mowed over some of it while doing the front lawn and put the clippings on the main compost heap. Argh! There’s nothing I can do about that except hope the mower chopped up the flowers and that the process of decomposition will destroy any seeds. That’s it. I’m declaring war with the onion weed. It’s a stealthy beast clothed in a pretty white garment.

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Siting the future blackcurrant bed and the raspberry bed behind it, with a path down the middle. The weedpost pile is on the left. It is considerably bigger now. And I really need to move it somewhere else…

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The new angle beds have almost been filled. Just one more trailer trip. The blueberry bush in the foreground needs to be moved somewhere, but I don’t know where yet. It’s not a very good shape at present but I could only prune so much off it at once. It looks to be quite old.

 

The Plum Tree Garden

What Plum Tree Garden? Apparently I needed more work for myself so I’m creating a new garden at the side of the house around the plum trees and apricot tree. I am reducing the lawn and giving myself more space for planting. I have left enough lawn space for a vehicle to get around the back and dug out a nice sweeping outline for the new garden. I had originally planned to put the two big wooden gates across the side of the house to enclose the back yard, but with this garden bed we will only need to use one and have a section of fence across the garden bit. Plus a little gate for the path and tiny bit of fence for the garden bed beside it. Then we can replace the current front gates with the other big wooden one.

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The outline  for the Plum Tree Garden has been dug out. The fence and gate will likely join on to the paddock fence at the strainer post behind the tall stump on the right of the wooden planter. We just have to remove the stump…

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Upon weeding the existing garden strip along the paddock fence I was met with this: more jolly weedmat. It’s horrible plastic stuff that disintegrates, so I carefully pulled up what I could with soil attached and binned it.

So far I have planted the dwarf ‘Best Seedless’ orange tree in the new garden and am planning to plant the dwarf ‘Burgess Scarlet’ mandarin as well. I’m still deciding what sort of plantings to put in there, but there will definitely be some low native shrubs. I want to preserve some of the paddock view. I chicken-wired along the fence so the neighbour’s animals won’t eat my plants and The Little Fulla won’t get wayward and I have dug out most of the weeds along the fence in the existing garden strip. I like to reward myself for doing the less exciting tasks by getting to plant things, so I planted some native sedges along the fence. In the rain. That sounds very rewarding, doesn’t it? I am definitely having a break tonight…

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The apricot tree is the front one with the Billington plum behind it and the yellow-fleshed plum on the right. The dwarf ‘Best Seedless’ orange is the wee thing in the brown patch on the right.

One more thing. Before I could post this, something altered my whole new garden bed. The apricot tree is gone. While working on the garden I discovered amber-coloured gum oozing out of various parts of the apricot tree. I knew the tree wasn’t doing very well; I barely pruned it because it hadn’t regrown much after it had been hacked back before we came along. Compared to how well the plums are regenerating the apricot was a bit sad. The gum was evidence of canker, whether bacterial or fungal I’m not sure, and being right down on the main structural branches, there was no way to cut it off and leave enough of the tree. Canker in stonefruit is very contagious and I needed to get it away from my plum trees. The Husband got out his chainsaw quick swift and down it came, to be turned into firewood. And rightly so, for it had holes in the trunk. I am more sad about the alteration to the structure of the new garden bed rather than the loss of the fruit, which wasn’t a whole lot anyway. The three fruit trees looked really nice together. Ah well, it did mean I could plant the dwarf mandarin a little closer to the apricot stump. Furthermore, we discovered a strip of thick black plastic where I’d dug down the first hole for the mandarin, which I was spewing about until I realised that there were wet stones underneath and that it was probably a drainage line from the septic tank. We left it alone and I planted the mandarin a little further back. Now I’m tinkering with the idea of moving the dwarf orange further back to balance out the tree structure of the garden…

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It’s just not the same without my apricot tree! But it won’t look so bad once my dwarf mandarin (left of the stump) and dwarf orange (front right) have grown a bit. I just might need to move that orange tree a little bit…

A Little Blossom to Celebrate Spring

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What is spring without a little blossom? I almost forget about the fruit tree blossom until the flowers burst out of nowhere. Aside from being pretty, the flowers on the fruit trees signal the coming of an even greater future event: fruit. They also signal that I’ve run out of time to finish my apple and pear tree pruning before the plants put their energy into producing fruit and leaves. Ah well, I can have another crack at it in summer. The flowers don’t last for very long so we must enjoy them while we can.

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The potted ‘Billington’ Plum tree. Two weeks later the flowers are on the way out and being overtaken by leaves. I was going to sell this since we have one in the garden but since I pruned the mature one rather hard I think I’ll keep this fulla around for this season in hopes that it might lend a hand in the plum department.

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The yellow-fleshed plum that gave me all of three fruit last season. I have my eye on it. It has numerous flowers coming out now so it ought to be fruitful. If it doesn’t fruit well this season I’ll be even more inclined to think it’s a pollination issue.

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The pretty-shaped flowers of the potted ‘Golden Queen’ peach tree. I really need to plant it but I’m still unsure where to put it.

The apricots haven’t started flowering yet so there’s more blossom to come. I really must get on with my herb garden so there are more flowers to encourage the bees. It’s hard to focus on things outside of the vege garden right now as there is so much going on!

Autumn Gardening

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Autumn, I love you! Your coolness is so much more agreeable to me than the stifling heat of summer. I get to wear slippers, winter pyjamas and woolly things. I get to appreciate hot drinks and a warm fire. And I get to do things outside without risking heat exhaustion. Woohoo! I am trying decide if autumn is my favourite season or if spring trumps it.

I haven’t had much time for gardening of late, but I’ve managed to get a couple of things done. Actually, I think The Husband has done more gardening than I have in the last few weeks. What’s up with that?! Dare I say his fingers have a slight green tinge all of a sudden? But most importantly, guess what? I finished pruning the feijoa tree. No! Yes! It has only taken me like a year of procrastination and avoidance… Well, hey, it’s a big tree. Now we can walk right around it, it looks more attractive and more light can get to the other trees in the orchard. It is practically spewing out feijoas at the moment. I cannot keep up with them! Thankfully, The Parents-in-law picked up bags and bags of them for us yesterday. I badly need to do some preserving. Must. Find. Time.

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The feijoa tree pruning is complete! Until next time. Where’s my trophy? Note the new pruning mountain in front of it that needs to be dealt with.

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This is what the feijoa tree and its fruit carpet looked like when we moved in a year ago.

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The feijoa tree last year – there was no walking around that thing!

While we’re on the subject of feijoas, The Husband has removed the resprouted feijoa trees from along the west side of the house. Whoever built the fence did it right over top of a row of big feijoa stumps. Novices. Didn’t they know how readily feijoas regrow? I left them for a while as I was contemplating having a feijoa hedge along the fence, but the big feijoa tree gives us more than enough feijoas, so having any more would be ridiculous. Now I need to paint the stumps with woody weedkiller so they stop resprouting. The fence looks very bare now. Plans for what to do with it include The Husband installing a clothesline on it and potentially growing grapes, passionfruit or both on the rest of the fence. That depends on whether I can actually dig holes and massively replenish the soil between the stumps. I’m a little skeptical, as I’m used to being trumped by stumps around here. I’ll put those investigations into the ‘later’ basket.

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The Husband has done a great job hacking down the resprouted feijoa stumps.

The Husband has also helped with major structural pruning of the two plum trees and removal of the shrubs right next to them. I marked out which branches I wanted cut and he chainsawed them down. He even learnt a bit about fruit tree pruning as I explained to him why I was taking those and other branches out. Some of the branches were very big and by the time I had finished with the trees they were looking kind of hacked. Never fear, they have not been hacked, but strategically pruned. I’ve never pruned mature fruit trees so hard before so hopefully they turn out alright as they grow back. Their centres have been opened up to let more light in for future fruit growth and strong, upright-growing branches have been removed or pruned back to lower, outward-facing growth points to end up with a lower, more spreading tree rather than a tall, gangly or criss-crossing tree with congested branches. Ideally, fruit trees should not be ignored, as a failure to prune them well, especially in the first few years, means harder work and less production in the long run.

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This isn’t the best photo, but, at the front left we have the apricot tree, which I have only pruned a few smaller branches off, behind it is the Billington plum and the yellow-fleshed plum is on the right. And the token pruning mountain is on the right. Now the trees have space to spread out at a lower, more reachable level.

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This was a few weeks ago. Aside from their neglected structures, the plum trees were getting crowded out by shrubs, reinforcing their upward growth and blocking out light.

 

The yellow-fleshed plum tree still has one big, tall branch that I would have liked to have taken down to a lower level, but it’s too tricky, being so tall and overhanging the fence into the neighbour’s place. Mind you, I think I’ve taken enough off it for now. Looking at my Billington plum tree now, there’s a distinct possibility that I took a bit too much off at once. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t take more than one third of the growth of a tree or shrub at once so that there are enough leaves left to support the energy needs of the plant. Obviously, I forgot this when I was high on the pruning buzz and got a little carried away. I just wanted to whip it into shape! It looks pretty whipped now. But I’m sure it will come back fine… While I was doing one pruning session, the neighbour had a professional walking around in the paddock looking at their pear trees and other fruit trees and discussing pruning options with her. And here I was, chopping away with my loppers and telescopic pruning saw borrowed from The Father. I hope he didn’t look too closely. At least my pruning was free!

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The Billington plum tree: whipped into shape.

The pruning mountains are growing faster than The Husband can chop them up. So many branches. Well, we should have plenty of kindling for the fire for a while and material for the compost.

Those are my great gardening achievements of late. I haven’t even pulled my dead or dying tomato plants out yet. I think I’m in the running for the world’s smallest gardening trophy. Vote for Twiglet, and all your wildest dreams will come true! (Shameless movie reference, but which one?)

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