What a difference Oswald makes

On the back of a six month dry spell due to the ENSO cycle and a climate change intensified heat wave, the scorching heat of Sydney’s hottest ever recorded day evaporated away much of the water in the dam. With just a few inches left in the dam, no more was available to pump up to the irrigation header tank – all that was left was water too oozy and muddy to pump, and anyway the frogs needed something to keep their chorusing throats wet. The irrigation for the veggie patches got switched over to tank water supply, not ideal but better than having all the effort and resources put into the veggies going to waste because they’d dried out under the hot sun.

The tanks are our water supply for all domestic uses, plus fire fighting and general (non plant) garden use. If the tanks run dry we would have to buy water in; something we’ve never had to do in the past and hopefully won’t have to in the future. Water trucked in comes with a relatively high financial cost per litre (well, especially when you’re not paying anything for the water you collect yourself), a high environmental cost (processing and transport), and has the added taste disadvantage of being town, chlorinated water.

Just as the summer school holidays are coming to a close however Tropical Storm Oswald has hammered far North Queensland with rain and wind, flooded Brisbane and the surrounding suburbs, whipped up the oceans with shore battering energy, and is slowly making its way down South to share the joy before drizzling itself out somewhere South of Sydney in a few days time.

rain radar 11:30am 28-1-2013Just above the target’s bullseye of the rain radar map you can see Gosford labelled, whilst slightly up and left you can see Putty. ridgesong lies roughly halfway between these two markers and boy, are we appreciating Oswald’s legacy. Just before the first of the rain hit we did some water management, moving water from the garage tank to the (more heavily and regularly used) house tank, in order to ensure that both tanks had space to collect more rainfall. After all, there is no point getting rain if your tank is already full and it’s all just pouring down the side.

After spending the weekend boating on the Hawkesbury we returned home last night to find both tank’s overflowing and the dam level about 15cms higher than before. Not bad at all. This morning, with another 80mm to 100mm of rain due I groomed the slope leading to the dam with a hoe and shovel to ensure that we maximise the water flow from the drive at the top of the hill (in front of the neighbour’s house) into the dam. Meanwhile I pumped some water (approx. 10,000L) up from the house tank to the already full garage tank, causing it to then overflow into the dam. That put another 10cms or so of level into the dam. We expect that by tomorrow morning, once the storm has expending itself, the house tank will again be overflowing. To put all this into perspective, by the time this storm system passes us we will have collected approximately 25,000L of water. Lots of people are suffering because of Oswald’s fury, and at least one person has lost his life, but down here in our little patch of the Earth we are very grateful for the rain. Collecting your own water makes you exceedingly conscious of how much you use, and very mindful that rainy days are more than a reason to grumble and moan about being stuck inside. Climate predictions point to a drier future for Australia as a whole, so collecting water while the rain falls is not just a simple distraction from the grey drizzle on a rainy day, it is life and opportunity while we can enjoy it and something that will become only more important as time goes on.

Flowers in the garden, and Annie’s in the paddock

With the solstice behind us and the end of the year almost upon us it’s time to do a quick snapshot check of the state of the garden.



Frog Stomp

The dam at Bucketty has been sown with several types of waterplants. Don’t know what they are, they’re all green. Don’t know if they are a good or a bad thing as far as the dam goes. My incliniation was to remove them – make the dam you own your own!

But then come sunset the frogs started.

And it seems now to be a shame to take their home away.

Have a listen and see what you think. Should I keep the plants and leave the frogs with their home? Or remove the plants and let the frogs die a horrible and homeless death?

PS. This blog doesn’t allow you to upload an audio file, so I had to save this as a movie. The image is a still taken on the weekend. When we arrived a rainbow was landing in the distance directly over the house. While Naomi did all the hard work of unloading the car I walked back up the driveway to take a photo.

Poor old brussel sprouts

It must be sad being the vegetable that everyone loves to detest. Lets face it, children hate brussel sprouts even more than they hate broccoli, even more than they hate cleaning their rooms, or kissing the cheek of their creepy Aunt Edith who smells unsettlingly of urine.

Just maybe though, as you get older you get a taste for this little member of the brassica family. December in England is the time of year when fresh, seasonal and locally grown sprouts can be found in the farmer’s markets. Sprouts are best bought still on the stem – and lets face it they are one of the wackiest looking plants on the planet. For that reason alone it deserves a little respect. The sprouts grow directly off the woody stem, and the whole thing is then crowned by a large, loosely bundled mega-sprout on the top.

And here’s THE THING. That mega-sprout on top is the best bit. Not only does it’s presence herald a truly fresh sprout stem, but it is also lip smackingly good to eat. Underneath it will be surrounded by little cute sprouts; cut it off the stem at this point and steam the whole head. Wash any dirt from amongst the leaves first.

OK – you have to like brussel sprouts to begin with enjoy this. But life isn’t just oranges and bananas. Live a little…

The kitchen and the garden

Regardless of how and why you celebrate Christmas – including the statistically likely chance that you do not – there is something about this time of the year that makes life busier that a Jackson Pollock painting in a blender. Its been nearly five days of relentless frost in LizzieLand which means that heading out the door requires a few extra minutes to slip into the thermals, don hat, scarf, gloves and jacket. Contrast that to summer when you can slip out the door as soon as you’ve pulled on a pair of yellow budgie holders and it’s easy to see where the time goes.

SheWhoMustBeFed has the unenviable task of dropping the larger of the loinfruit to school, which unfortunately in these climatic end times is a vehicular exercise. No public transport alternatives exist that would take less than 90 minutes and two changes and it takes me at least 45 minutes to cycle to the school, never mind what it would take a loinfruit of the shorter legged variety to ride. And…no closer schools. So when Jack Frost has been busy we can also add another few minutes to preparation time to allow for the scraping of car windows before heading off. The VegHead has the more invigorating task of dropping off the Lesser Loinfruit to his school, which is a ten minute cycle away. There’s nothing like the rush of -2c air past the earholes first thing in the morning to blow away any vestigial memories of sleepy cuddles under the body warm blankets.

Back home again this morning by ten past nine, to slop out the kitchen scraps into the compost and clean up the kitchen from the morning’s whirlwind of busy-ness. This is stage one in the compost making in what is a “3 bin” method. Positioned out of sight but not too far from the kitchen door is a standard galvanised iron domestic rubbish bin. Holes have been punched in the base with an axe to allow for excess liquid to drain – it sits straight onto the ground and so provides a ready source of food for the worms. All kitchen scraps go into this, plus the occasional unbleached paper bag torn into pieces.

About the only organic kitchen waste that doesn’t go in are pumpkin seeds. The little bastards survive even the most effective of compost heaps and hundreds of pale pumpkin seedlings will emerge the next summer from the composted soil. They take over the tomatoes and bully the basil – so it’s into the rubbish with them. So too for avocado skins and seeds, which just never break down.

The galvanised iron bin was chosen as it is rodent proof and, having a base, can be carried over to the second stage bin when full. Admittedly by the time its full it’s normally turned into an odiferously dense anaerobic wonder that requires two people to carry its weight down the garden to the second bin. This is a task that SheWhoMustBeFed loathes, but helps with in that cheerfully grudging manner that is a sure sign of a lifelong and deathbed partner.

The second stage bin is an open bottom composting bin and it is here that true aerobic and wormful decay occurs – usually helped along with a handful of an organic compost-starting enzyme. Six to eight weeks later the second stage bin has composted to a sweet smelling loam. It is shovelled into the third bin, which is one of those tumble jobs. Here it is stored until needed on the garden, and the cycle begins again.

In five years this compost has added about 10cms of organic material across the approximately 25 square metre veggie patch. Helping to turn what was very dense and clayey clod into a productive and crumbly home for a million worms and in spring, the season’s seeds.

The life and love in the kitchen thus extends both directly into the very essence of our bodies through the food we prepare and share, and also back into the earth as food for the plants that provide some of the basic ingredients we use. We feel the wheels turn of the infinite regenerative cycles that keep life sustained and appreciate our place within them. Existing not as a bystander, but as a singular, interwoven and contributory component of the web.