Local insects and animals- red-necked pademelon

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At this time of year (Autumn), we have a few pademelon foraging around the humpy at night. This excites the dogs and ducks no end; they yap (and quack) half the night telling me that the little hoppers are eating our grass. Pademelon are a small to medium sized wallaby that likes to live in bush land with a fair amount of tree cover. They eat grasses and other plants (and are not above nibbling on the tomatoes either). Being mostly nocturnal or crepuscular (being active at dusk and dawn), you generally won’t see them unless you are creeping around at night with a torch.

There are four species of pademelon, three of them live in Australia and they all have red somewhere in their name. The fourth species lives only in New Guinea and is called (coincidentally) the New Guinea pademelon. Red legged, Red necked and red bellied pademelon are all fairly common in forested areas in Australia. We have the red necked pademelon here. They sleep in clumps of fallen timber and long grass through the day and come out at night to eat. We sometimes see them when walking across to the toilet in the middle of the night, especially early evening, more often we hear them hopping around just beyond the torch light.

I have raised pademelon joeys in the past, they are very rewarding, being one of the more affectionate wallabies. They grow fast and can be released into the bush at a couple of months in age and are so cute they melt the heart. They do have one drawback; if they get a fright they give off a horrible stink, it smells like a combination of musk and rotten meat. I don’t know how they make this smell, they may have scent glands somewhere on their bodies, but it is enough to clear the house. There has been a few occasions when a loud noise, like a dropped pan in the kitchen has caused the need for a house wide evacuation and the careful burning of incense to clear the smell (while all animals wait outside of course, incense can be harmful to native animals in concentration).

The main threat to these little hoppers is dogs and cats who love to chase them and often succeed in catching them. They are often hit by cars too, especially in areas of rainforest or heavy bush; they have an annoying habit of bolting out in front of cars just as they drive by. In the long term I think habitat loss is a huge problem for them as they need medium to heavy tree cover, fallen logs and branches and long grass to sleep in. These things make an area high fire danger and so are likely to be cleared away in inhabited areas. Maybe it is best to leave some wild areas on every property to give these little cuties a home.

I tried to get some photos of our resident pademelons with the trail camera but didn’t get anything really good, just blurred blobs of grey on a black background. I did find some photos of one of the babies we raised years ago though.

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This is one of the babies we raised and released many years ago

 

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Local insects and animals- echidna

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A few months ago one of our lovely neighbors bought us a present; an echidna in a box. Most people in our area will rescue wildlife when they can, and this was no exception. The little echidna was wandering on the road and refused to get off when cars came, so the neighbor decided to pick him up. Young echidna can be very stubborn about right of way, a lot get run over that way. She delivered him to our place in a cardboard box, I often come home from work to find deliveries of cardboard boxes with scratching happening inside.

On opening the box, I was delighted and awed to see a juvenile echidna. I have never had one in care before and have only ever seen them in the bush rarely. My daughter made him up a box (a tough, plastic one because they can dig very well and love to escape) of gum leaves and soil with a shallow dish of water in the corner. We examined him as best we could (given that he kept curling into a spiky ball) and decided he didn’t have any obvious injuries. The next step was to ring the wildlife carers hotline and see what they advised.

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The carer who rang me back is a specialist in monotremes (egg laying mammals) which is what an echidna is. After sending photos, getting weights and discussing the circumstances with her she eventually decided that we should let him go.

So we trotted off into the bush, well away from roads, with our passenger safe in a bucket. We walked him a fair way towards the back of our block and tipped him out onto the ground, then watched as he trundled away towards his new, hopefully safe, life.

Apologies in advance for the clips below being sideways. I must have held the phone sideways while filming it.

 

Echidna are amazing creatures; they are ancient proto-mammals which lay eggs and feed their young milk. One of only two species to do so (and both live only in Australia). They have spikes which are made of the same stuff as hair is; keratin and are hollow. Echidna eat white ants, and if I could convince one to live in my yard I would be very happy. In our area we sometimes see echidna, especially around August which is breeding season. They are not a common sighting though and I still get excited whenever I see one.

Echidna rarely eat or drink in captivity because they are such shy little beings. They prefer to just burrow down into a spiky ball clinging to the ground with their claws until the world gives up and leaves them alone. If you see one it is best to leave them alone to get on with life, unless they are noodling about on the road, then it is best to move them off the road to a safer place. You may have difficulty picking one up however as they have very strong hands and will cling to whatever they can get hold of. Keep some heavy leather gloves in the car for moving them (and other bitey, scratchy animals). This was a very amazing and inspiring encounter for me.

Local insects and animals- Cricket, the painted button quail

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We have a new family member; Cricket the Painted Button quail (we think). He was handed in to our local cafe, who rang me one afternoon. Apparently a local man saw a bird hit by a car and stopped to help. The mother (or as we later found out, father) had been hit and killed but the three or four babies were still gathered around the body. The man picked up two of the babies but couldn’t catch the others (they are very fast) so he stopped at the cafe to see if they knew anyone who could care for them. I picked up a box on the way home from work, in that box were two little brown cotton balls with legs.

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Of course we didn’t try to identify them then, we just put them on heat, supplied water and went looking for a white ants nest. We knew they were some sort of quail and quail are omnivorous (they eat insects, some seeds and some fruit) but when they are young and growing they need protein and fat; that’s what white ants are made of. One of the two died during the night, either injured by the same car that killed his father, or from exposure. The one baby that was left started to eat his weight in white ants and canary seed every few hours. My daughter did all the caring for this one; she kept his box and later cage clean and warm, found white ants daily, fed him insectivore mix and canary seed and generally made sure he had some sunlight every day. He grew into a small adult quail within three weeks. Now it was time to identify him.

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My daughter noticed that Cricket (as he came to be known; because he’s one lucky bug) had only three toes on each foot, he was missing the backwards facing ‘thumb’ that most quail have. This turned out to be a dead giveaway.

Australia has two kinds of quail; true quail, which have three toes at the front and a ‘thumb’ facing backwards, while button quail have only three toes and no ‘thumb’. So we knew he was a button quail, we took a guess at which species based on the distribution map in our bird field guide which was confirmed as he grew in his adult colours.

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The really interesting thing about painted button quail is their breeding habits. Apparently the female maintains a territory and the males wander from place to place. When a female comes across a male she likes, she courts him, they make a nest and she lays four eggs. Then she leaves the male to sit on the eggs while she goes off to find another male to court. In this way she can have up to three males sitting on eggs in her territory at one time. What a great way to make sure there are enough little painted quail. We don’t know if these quail are rare or not because some sites say these little guys are vulnerable, while other say they are secure.

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When he was a grown up Cricket, we let him wander in the garden. He still lives around the humpy…somewhere, we hope he finds a girl friend to lay eggs for him to sit on one day.

Billy Boiler- thermal cooker

My partner’s parents bought us the best present ever! A Billy Boiler thermal cooker. Thermal cookers are a modern take on the old hay box cooker; they are a cooking pot with an insulating outer sleeve which keeps food hot and cooking for up to eight hours or so. I have wanted to try this for years now. Thanks to Mum and Dad I now have the chance.

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The first night I made a fairly credible lentil/vegetable stew, made in the traditional way; by boiling green lentils, rinsing them then adding them to fried onion and garlic followed by any vegetable in the vicinity. It seems that thermal cooking is something I can do. The method in general is perfect for people with a short attention span as food is only on the stove for a matter of minutes before being plonked into the insulated outer sleeve and forgotten about until it is time to eat.

I thought I would share the basic method of using a thermal cooker by sharing a recipe that is becoming a favorite in our family;

Fake chicken pasta bake

Ingredients

1 large onion (chopped)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

garlic

1 can tomatoes

1 can/ container cream

1 large zucchini (chopped)

approximately 1 kg Quorn fake chicken pieces

2 teaspoons chicken stock (we use the kind that doesn’t have chicken in it)

pasta

1 1/2 cups grated cheese

Method

Fry the onion and garlic in the oil

Add the chopped zucchini and continue to fry, stirring often

Add the can of tomatoes and stir

Add the chicken stock and more garlic and stir

Add cream and stir in, if the mix does not look fairly liquid add half a cup of water

Let simmer for five minutes

Add pasta and stir through

Put lid on pot and place into the insulated sleeve, shut the lid and leave for 5-8 hours

When ready to serve, stir grated cheese through the mix until it is melted

Serve with fresh bread rolls

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Onion and garlic frying

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Zucchini added

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Fake chicken added

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Tomato added

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Cream added. This is about how much liquid you should have at this point

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Pasta added

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Into the insulated sleeve it goes

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Now I leave it to sit until I get hungry

The whole meal is cooked in the pot of the Billy Boiler (it saves so much washing up), the pot is big enough to feed four adults with hearty appetites. There are a few rules to remember when cooking in a thermal cooker. Always have the pot filled to at least 80% capacity, this ensures that the food inside can absorb enough heat to keep cooking for the full 5-8 hours. Always make sure there is a lot of liquid in the meals, liquid holds heat for longer than solids do. The most important rule of all is; don’t forget you already prepared a meal and start making dinner at 6.00pm (yes, I have done it), I find that leaving myself a little note on the kitchen counter helps me remember.

Thermal cooking is a great time saver, no more hanging over the stove for an hour, and it saves a lot of money on gas (or electricity if that’s what you use to cook with). We will save more energy in summer using thermal cooking because we use gas in summer but cook on the wood heater in winter, but the saving in time is the same all year. The fact that the food doesn’t burn, even though you have forgotten it’s very existence is a huge bonus to me.

If you would like to give thermal cooking a go you can start with a traditional wooden box filled with hay and see is you like it before spending money on a flashy thermal cooker unit. This handy recipe matrix has some great ideas for simple meals using the thermal cooking method.

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It tastes delicious with extra cheese grated over the top

Local insects and animals- Huntsman spider

It has been a while since I posted about one of our local insects, so I thought I would introduce one of my favourites; the Huntsman spider.We have a few of these beauties living around the humpy and we try to leave them in peace where possible. My daughters do not enjoy their company however and I can often be found with a lunch box and lid in hand trying to capture an uncooperative spider to be relocated outside (a role I also often fill at work).

While these huge spiders may occasionally give you a fright by leaping out from behind something you have just moved, bear in mind that you frightened her first by moving her shelter and activity which raises the heart rate is good for cardio-vascular fitness. During the day they can be found peacefully sleeping in the corner of a room or behind a door (looking like a hit and run victim sometimes because they sleep in the strangest positions) but you can be sure they have spent the night hunting cockroaches, mosquitoes, flies and sometimes even geckos and skinks. Huntsman spiders do not spin a web, preferring to hide behind something until an unsuspecting victim bumbles by then running out at frightening speed to tackle said victim with some force. They do produce very small amounts of web to use for mountaineering down steep or slippery slopes, but you will rarely see it.

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This is a photo of one of our bigger Huntsman; about 15cm across

There are about 1207 species of Huntsman spiders, about 155 of them in Australia. Spiders are a really diverse group; there are so many of them. If you would like to read more about Huntsman species, habitat and behavior just click here.

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All sources I have read say that Huntsmen spiders are very romantic, the males will apparently fall in love with a young, virgin female and spend time hunting and protecting her until she is ready to mate (sounds like stalking to me…but each to their own). Those same sources also say that the females don’t try to kill the males after mating very often either, although I would like to say I have observed just that once or twice, so it does happen. Mating can last up to 10 hours (Wow) and is followed by the female going off to construct an egg sack containing hundreds of eggs which she will guard or cart around with her (depending on species) until they hatch. The young then climb onto their mother and she carries them about for a few weeks like a mother with a toddler clinging to her in the supermarket. One of these mother spiders once surprised my niece at my mother’s house; my niece was about two years old at the time and she opened a kitchen cabinet (as two year olds do) to find the mother spider on the inside of the door with hundreds of babies clinging to her. My niece reached down a finger to poke the pile and the baby spiders swarmed all over her for a few minutes. To her credit, she froze in place until the mother spider could recall all her babies and lumber off to hide behind the canned beans (probably grumbling about the rudeness of human offspring). After a few weeks of sharing their mother’s kills the babies are big enough to go off and find themselves a territory.

Huntsman spiders are territorial to a degree and the spider you see in the bathroom mirror is probably the same individual every time. They live for about two years, so you have time to develop a deep, caring relationship with the big girl that lives behind the picture of Auntie Flo in the spare room. I choose to see them as friends and co-inhabitants of our humpy; they do their share of the cleaning and never have loud parties, what is there to complain about?

At last….the house begins

It has been a decade or so since we moved here to our humpy on a bush block. We moved from an old Queenslander style house on an organic avocado orchard to a bare block with a caravan and a half built shed. The plan was to live in the shed for five years then build a house.

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This was our home when we first moved down to our block. It was crowded and messy and we lived mainly outside.

The photos above are the only ones we have of the construction of the humpy. It shows the frame starting to come together and my youngest daughter at the age of about ten (she’s now on her way to twenty two).

Well, five turned into ten years in the blink of an eye. The house plans changed often and the kids grew up. Now we are about to start on our house in truth. There will be several phases to our build; planning (where we will get council approval and a DA), foundation building (mostly digging and making a mess), wall building (the real hard work of the build), roof and floor building (putting a cap on the lot) and finally finishing (where the bare bones of the house become livable, hopefully).

At the moment we are in the planning stage. We have engaged a company to help us deal with the intricate details of council approval;Curvatecture, a company that specialises in SuperAdobe, or Earth Bag building and in round building. The lovely Hayden has been nothing but helpful and encouraging throughout the early days of this plan. We have gone from a vague notion of a round house made from earth to a very specific plan with measurements and everything. We are discovering the joys of filling out not only an application to build but a BASIX certificate and a fire danger assessment and plan. Not to mention the need for an engineer to do a soil test and sign off on our building plans. All of which are necessary to ensure our house is properly designed and built, but are costly and enthusiasm sucking activities (like learning times tables).

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This is the current plan…more or less. The lounge and kitchen area will face the north east

I am determined to take more photos of this build. Below are some shots taken from the site of our future house;

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East view

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North view

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South view

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West view

Knowing us this will be a long, drawn out process filled with interesting little side adventures and a lot of laughs. Join us for the fun. There is talk of having a workshop or volunteer program happening when we get to the building part, but that is a long way into the future so I’m not making any plans yet.

Local insects and animals – Eastern Grey Kangaroo

At one point, in the far distant past, we took on the job of macropod re-homers. This means that we rescued baby kangaroos, wallabies, possums, pademelons and other marsupials from road accidents, dog and cat attacks and other mishaps. We took these traumatised babies and tried to stabilise them, heal them and eventually release them back into the bush. We also provided a place for other wildlife carers to release their precious babies. I was going through my old photos and found a few we took of some Eastern Grey kangaroos we raised, their names were Gabby and Xena. I thought I would share our experiences.

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The Eastern Grey kangaroo (referred to as grays from here on, so as not to alarm any UFO believers out there) are a very sensitive species; they get runny, upset tummies if there is a loud thunderstorm nearby. They are fairly numerous and not considered endangered, but they get hit on the road very often and in our area they sometimes fall prey to people shooting animals to feed dogs (and sometimes themselves). We still get one or two joeys (baby macropods) handed in to us about once or twice a year, even though we don’t raise them any more. When we get them handed in to us, or find them in the pouches of their dead mothers, we put them in a nice clean pouch (an old pillow slip turned inside out, inside a beanie or other woolen pouch) and put them on a hot water bottle (warm but not hot). A call to our local wildlife rescue group usually results in a drive to meet a carer in a MacDonald’s car park somewhere, invariably in the dead of night, looking like some sort of drug deal. We have been on both sides of this transaction so many times it seems hard not to see it as normal behavior.

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Grays are delightfully cuddly animals, I enjoyed our time raising them, even though I suffered sleep deprivation and exhaustion on a huge scale. Raising a joey is not for the lazy; they need feeding at 3 hourly intervals (once they have hair) and need to be trained to toilet outside the pouch (more on this later), they need to have their pouch changed daily (or more often if the toileting won’t work). They are weighed daily and feeding is adjusted to suit weight. Eventually they are introduced to solids (fruit, vegetables, hay and kangaoo pellets) and moved outside; through the day at first then gradually to all night.

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Toileting a joey (of any species) is interesting. When a mother kangaroo/possum/etc cleans her pouch she also licks the bottom of her baby (or babies) which stimulates them to poop and pee, she licks up this waste too (a thought which makes my mouth pucker in sympathy). Humans don’t generally enjoy the taste of poop so we have to find another way to simulate natural processes. A damp chux is just the thing, after feeding a bottle, the carer gently rubs the babies cloaca (a combined anus, vagina/penis and urethra) until they pee, uses the chux to soak it up then gently rub again until the baby produces a pellet or two of poop (or a greenish toothpaste-like poo in the case of grays). Joeys need to be toileted after every feed.

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Taking on the care of a joey is not a hobby, it is much the same as raising a baby. It is a full time occupation that impacts your whole life. Macropod carers tend to love their babies and get very protective over them. Finding somewhere to release them slowly and carefully into the safest environment possible is very hard. That was our specialty; we live in a remote setting, away from heavy traffic, we have resident mobs of grays that will accept new members and we were trained in soft release.

Essentially our job was to gradually move our babies from the house to an outside pen while they were still young enough to adapt. When the joeys were living happily on two bottles a day and hard food we would start to let them roam for a few hours at dusk, then lock them back up. This time would get longer and longer until someone invariable forgot to shut the door one night. From then on we would leave the door open at night and gradually leave it open for longer periods through the day. Eventually the babies would stop returning for their bottles and only come to scrounge food every few days. Then comes the awful period of worry when they don’t come at all. For months and months, until one day, there they are again, begging for food.

Of course, some you see again, some you don’t. Some survive, some don’t, the important thing is to give them as much of a chance as we can. It is the same with all wildlife caring; we don’t own them, they come to us for a short time, for care and protection while they can’t do that themselves. It is sometimes very hard to let go, to let nature take its course, but that is the job.

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If you see a dead kangaroo (or any dead animal) on the road it is a good idea to stop and pull the body off the road a fair way to avoid secondary deaths. Other animals come to feed off the body and get hit themselves (Wedge tailed eagles are often hit this way). While you are moving the body it is a good idea to see if there is a joey in the pouch too. If there is you can often remove it (if it is hairless leave it and call the carers for advice) and put the poor baby into a cotton pouch (keep a pillow slip in the car) and get him/her to a carer as soon as possible.

Sourdough scones

 

 

Against all possible predictions and probabilities, the sourdough starter is still alive. It has been used regularly and is now kept in the fridge between baking days. I have been making a loaf of bread every week or so, as it is only me who eats it; my partner says it gives him heart burn and my daughter doesn’t enjoy the taste. I have also made the odd other thing with it; muffins, brownies and pikelets, even doughnuts. Now I thought it was time to try scones.

The usual caliber of scones I create ranges from inedible to…interesting as a building material and possibly bullet proof. I am hoping that these will be different. I found a recipe that looks good on this blog; Passion fruit garden.

Basic recipe

Scones:

  • 1½ cups sifted all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda (bicarb soda) (The recipe said ½ tsp if starter is quite sour.  For my first batch, I used the ½ tsp because my starter was well and truly dead!)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup starter.

 Method:

  1. Sift all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the starter and mix.  As mentioned above, I had to add some milk as my dough was too dry.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board.
  5. Knead only long enough to form a smooth dough.
  6. Press out dough to about 2 cm deep.
  7. Use a scone cutter to cut out scones.
  8. Put scones onto a tray lined with baking paper.
  9. Brush scones with milk.
  10. Let scones rest for one hour.
  11. Bake for 12 minutes at 200°C.

 

Of course with my daughter being almost totally vegan now I decided to substitute vegetable oil for the butter, other than that I just followed the recipe. It made six large scones, I think I will make a double or even treble batch next time.

 

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The resulting scones taste good but they look like flat rocks. They crumbled as I tried to cut them too. I think that is because of the oil for butter substitution. Next batch I will use the vegan spread we use for butter.

Update; I tried a batch with real butter, just to see how it would go. They turned out ok, but nothing spectacular. I think I need more practice at this…my losing streak when it comes to scones continues.

Damned possum…seedling disaster

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This sad pile of sand, newspaper and seedlings greeted me this morning when I went to check the garden. At some point last night one of the resident possums decided that cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus seedlings looked good, so he jumped down onto the pile of milk crates I have been using to house my seedlings and clawed the trays down. It must have been a fun party because there are many little possum pellets (poop) scattered around the pile. We didn’t hear a thing from the humpy so he didn’t even rouse the chooks who sleep beside the vegetable garden and serve as an early warning system by cackling manically when ever something comes near their roost at night.

I managed to save some of them by repotting and careful reassembling of the system. I can’t stop the possum from getting into the garden, but I try. All holes have been patched, and repatched, but like everything, it doesn’t always work. The possums are a welcome part of our ecosystem and we never try to hurt them; they belong here as much as we do, but I do wish they would be less destructive sometimes. I will be having a stern word with that possum next time I see him.

The seedling area looks as good as new and 12 cauliflower seedlings were saved. Maybe it’s time to plant some more seeds.

 

New Hugelkultur bed- final update

It’s finished at last, the new bed is built, mulched and planted. Even the path is done. Now to wait for those yummy broccoli and Ceylon spinach plants to grow, and let’s not forget the broad beans I planted today.

 

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Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly

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The dark line on the right of the picture is where the broad beans are planted

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The gum leaf path over cardboard is in place.

I can’t wait until this bed is just a mass of green…it won’t take long. I also had another play with time lapse video, I did a quick video of my daughter (yes, she has pink hair this week) and I putting pig poop and mulch on our trailer bed and planting some snow peas. It is a bit far away from the action for me, I think I need a stand or something to hold the iPad at the right angle. This kind of video has a lot of potential I think, it is certainly fun to play with.

I have been dumping a good layer of pig poop on every bed I can find, covering it up with mulch and planting into a handful of potting mix in the bed to prevent too much nitrogen burn and give my plants something to get their roots into before they get into all that poopy goodness.

 

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I also weeded, fertilised and mulched my poor little pomegranate tree while I was going.

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Doesn’t she look a lot happier now.

What a relaxing and carefree day I’ve had in the garden. This is what we need to do to maintain sanity…or a close facsimile there of.