Hello, my name is Sandy.

Garden things in July 2016

The flower bed has progressed, with the addition of pansies (Viola tricolor var. hortensis) and lobelias. I believe some native violets (Viola hederacea) have sprung up as weeds; not sure if that's actually what they are, but we've had them as weeds before. And on either side of the geranium (Pelargonium) at the back, I've planted aeoniums (Aeonium arboreum, also known as houseleek!).

The bed is still a mess, though!

overview of the flower bed

This house has Hedera ivy and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) all over it, which will serve as lovely coverings for the very plain fence. I'm expecting the aeoniums to grow to just above knee height as the geranium gets bushier and taller. With the rosemary and lemongrass too, this is going to be one odd flowerbed, but hopefully it won't look unattractive.

tiny flowerpot and tiny triceratops

I found a tiny triceratops in our yard, and for some reason, we have a tiny flowerpot too. I'm sure there are stories behind both, but their new life will be in a yet to be decided tableau. Would be nice if this was the start of a floral arc sweeping around that bare front section.

main garden bed with arum lilies and nasturtiums

Here is an experiment. The three arum lilies seem happy doing their own thing. So between them, I've placed the bottom half of the broken pot, filled it with soil and scattered cat mint (Nepeta spp.) seeds in and around.

There might not be much to look at when the lilies and nasturtiums take over the bed, but when those die back, I'm hoping what's left is a lovely patch of catnip continually growing and self-seeding.

In front, there's an osteospermum daisy to provide colour on a similar schedule.

maroon osteospermum daisy

I'm not sure yet what to plant around it, but we're getting there. Maybe next week, I'll decide. After five years of playing in the garden, I'm satisfied that these things take time to cultivate - mentally and horticulturally.

purple pansy

pink pelargonium with a purple pansy perimeter

Time, however, is now something we don't have a great deal of. I thought we'd live here a couple years, but we've pulled the trigger on moving again, aiming for sometime in the next three months or so. I've decided that's my timeframe for making the garden presentable for the residents after us. So maybe next week, I'll have to decide.

rainbow radishes

Harvested a little rainbow of radishes! They tasted sooooooo peppery and went straight into my pickle jar. We have coriander, garlic & chilli salt pickles now.

rainbow radish row

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more garden make-nice adventures. :)

Garden things in June 2016

Confession time - I've had almost no motivation for gardening since the summer. For some reason, the fact that we're renting has weighed heavy on my mind, despite every assurance when we moved in that we could treat the place like our own.

But you know how it is. When something isn't yours, it's hard to pretend it is. I don't want to leave a legacy the owner or next tenant might not want. I don't want to add all these adornments we'll end up having to shift when we eventually get our own home.

Yet, maybe it's none of these things. Maybe this comes from being in my mid-30s and feeling the urge to nest my way. Whatever the reason for this horticultural malaise, my garden has become unkempt.

Not totally forgotten, though. Let me show you things.

nasturtiums spilling over the garden bed

The nasturtiums are going nuts, as they did this time last year. I thought they'd all died over the summer, but they seem to be a permanent seasonal fixture in this garden. Same with those arum lilies you see peeking over the top.

I see now why people say to observe your garden over a year before making drastic changes. I had intended on adding mediterranean plants over the warmer months, but now I realise they would simply be overshadowed by winter growth. To ensure our garden stays beautiful without severely upping the effort factor, I'll need to account for its natural ebbs and flows.

What I have done is expanded our no-dig bed (to the left) with kitchen waste, twigs, prunings and lawn clippings. But instead of using the space as a food producer, I've decided to make it a flowerbed. Something pretty and relatively low-touch for however long we remain in this house.

geranium in a broken pot

So far there's a Geranium Calliope (Pelargonium) in the back, decorated with a piece of broken pot we found by the side of the road. It currently looks like crap, but over time, the setup should look nice and quaint enough that it won't bother whoever lives here next.

Not sure what to plant there next, though. Maybe some flowering ground cover or pretty weeds.

rocket weeds

Speaking of pretty weeds, our rocket plants went mental and have made babies all over the yard. We now have them growing like weeds pretty much everywhere. I'm OK with this. It's been nice going outside and sitting around snacking on fresh leaves. They're super peppery and very satisfying.

radish overgrown with rocket

This (above) was my attempt to convert the rocket bed into a radish bed. Well played, nature.

white alyssums

flowers and herbs in a no-dig bed

In another part of the garden, we piled on more clippings and prunings, and planted herbs and flowers. Initially, the pile was as high as the grey brick, but eventually sank to a more reasonable level. As these plants grow and spread, this bed should become a pretty little sight in place of what was once a barren patch.

Grass and weeds are having their wicked way right now, so it'll take more attention to make beautiful, but we'll get there. Bit by bit.

wild veggie patch

Finally, my veggie bed. What can I say? It's a mess. Nasturtiums are poking through and will have to go. The basil is going nuts and we haven't the time to harvest and make pesto. It's a race against the flowers, because the plant will die back after going into full bloom.

The tomatoes are... I can't tell at this point whether they're succeeding or failing. Two tomato fruits started to grow on one of the plants, but they look like they're withering on the vine. The foliage in the back bed is looking healthy, but that end doesn't get enough sunshine to really take off.

At least we know planting basil and tomato in autumn is not a dumb idea in WA. :)

Outside the beds, grass has been growing beautifully. I think it's a type of buffalo grass, but I'm not sure. Last winter, this whole bed was a pile of thorny prunings we dumped deliberately with this exact situation in mind. It is now looking mighty lush.

So, there's a lot of green in this post. If I'm lucky (and not lazy), the next garden update should include other colours too.

10 creepy garden bugs that are actually OK

I'm sorry the title sounds like clickbait, but this post really is about 10 crawling, flying, squirming, stinging, creepy things I wanted to share with you.

There was a (very recent) time where I freaked out at all these bugs, but while learning to survive in my garden, I've made my peace to some degree. I'm still getting over these fears, so hopefully writing them down will help me process them constructively.

Let's begin...

1. Bees

bee collecting pollen from a lavender flower

Bees have freaked me out since forever because they sting. Watching My Girl didn't help. Yes, I know a bee and a hornet are different, but it's all the same to a neurotic 10 year old. And the buzzing sounds angry ALL THE TIME.

But bees are OK because of their contribution to our food system. I love me some good bread, corn, berries, fruit, honey and 100% cotton shirts (to wear, not to eat), and would be very sad to see those go, or become stupidly expensive because our primary crops have to be hand-pollinated. Plus, I was stung by a bee some few years ago, and didn't puff up and die. That gives me one less reason to be scared of them. :)

More interesting stuff about bees:

2. Wasps

European paper wasp resting on a planting tray

Everyone knows wasps are not your bros. The jewel wasp zombie video and Body Invaders video will be enough to turn you if you're not already creeped out by wasps. I just... agggh, eeyuk.

But wasps are bros because they eat the caterpillars that eat my veggies, so I guess we are kind of bros. This imgur gallery on wasps gives a balanced view on why they're OK. I still wouldn't want a nest in my garden, but near-ish my garden is fine.

More interesting (not horrible) stuff about wasps:

3. Ladybugs / ladybirds / lady beetles

Admittedly, I like ladybugs, except for the idea of being caught by their stink juice. Their dots occasionally trigger my trypophobia (nsfl, this is the 'fear of dots/holes' thing), but aside from that, they're OK.

I'm all right with ladybugs now since learning they eat aphids who wreak havoc on my plants by damaging leaves, encouraging fungus, and attracting ants to my home.

Some interesting ladybug links:

4. Spiders

Jumping spider pausing before eating a fly

I don't know why I'm scared of spiders, but the fear has been with me for as long as I remember. I should never have watched Arachnophobia in my teens. The necrosis thing (omg gis nsfl) is just awful. I know spiders are useful, but when they just sit there waiting to scare you shitless when the lights come on, it's hard to think of them as friends. I'm looking at you, giant a-hole garden spiders who weave webs across a whole sidewalk for people to walk into.

But yes, ahem, spiders are your friend because they help control the population of real pests, they're a tasty meal for birds, a tasty snack for humans in some cultures, and providers of silk. And Christmas spiders are too cute.

Some interesting spider stuff:

5. Ants

my ant friend at my auntie's house in Brunei

So, ants. We have a love-hate relationship. In summer, ants are everywhere in Perth, but we've been lucky so far to only get the tiny black and red ones. I say lucky with tongue in cheek. Once, they climbed from the garden to our second-storey study to get at my pizza. No exaggeration. My back was turned for half an hour, and when I went back for the last slice, there were ants all over my plate, trailing out the window.

But I tolerate ants because they do some useful things in the garden. And them coming in for crumbs probably keeps the house cleaner than if they didn't. It's important to remind them who's boss, though, so they don't steal your pizza all the time. Where possible, we avoid poisons and find that cinnamon is a decent deterrent. My mum also reports good results with white vinegar spray.

Pretty cool stuff about ants:

6. Centipedes

I grew up accustomed to small, un-alarming garden centipedes. It wasn't until I was much older that I realised one of these nefarious things could have easily been waiting round the corner. And there's nothing like a good centipede story to turn an otherwise inert discomfort into visceral paranoia. Except maybe two stories.

But centipedes are actually OK when they're tiny and living in your garden. They're carnivorous, so will prey upon cockroaches, flies, moths, silverfish, spiders, worms, and even other centipedes. They're not ideal in large numbers, but will do good in a balanced garden ecosystem.

Fascinating centipede things:

7. Cockroaches

I remember a desensitisation test in a first year psych tute, where I had to sit and stare at a box of cockroaches, and periodically report on how creeped out I felt. In theory, you're supposed to feel less creeped out over time as you get desensitised, and one guy grunted that I was surely faking it when I said I was more creeped out by the end of my 15-minute test. Bless him.

But cockroaches aren't so bad from far, far away and out of sight. They feed on decaying organic matter, so their poo releases nitrogen back into the environment. This is good for the soil, so it's good for the garden. Cockroaches are also a food source for birds, lizards, and rodents.

Interesting stuff that makes roaches seem less icky:

8. Snails

a garden snail holding up its own poo

I hate moving a pot and seeing a cluster of snail shells stuck to the wall behind - maybe that's another trypophobia trigger. The idea of killing snails with salt was exciting until I actually saw what happens. Then it was horrifying. This all left me in that in-between "you scare me, but I can't do anything about it" zone where anxiety doubles on itself.

But now I like snails because they help out with compost the same way worms do. They don't just eat your live plants, they'll eat the dead ones too. Once I get over the initial shock of finding a surprise snail colony, I am delighted to acquire more minions for my fertiliser army.

Interesting snail (and slug) things:

9. Worms

squirmy worms in the compost

Ah, my wormy babies. I've been a worm mama for a few years now, yet I still feel a pang of disgust when I see a ball of squirmy worms. I keep imagine baby worms bursting out of their saddle like wasp larvae, even though I know they lay eggs. But that's my prejudice, which I'm working on.

Loving worms is easy cos they're useful. Simple as that. They turn kitchen waste into black gold, which in turn gives us food.

Interesting worm things:

10. Mosquitoes

Finally... Uh, yeah, so fuck these guys. Or should I say, ladies. It's the female mosquitoes who buzz and bite and be generally annoying. I still hate them. To the point where if I hear a mosquito and my partner doesn't help me do something about it, he becomes the target of my ire. Once upon a time, I experienced uncontrollable meltdown-level rage, but I have mellowed out over the years. Now it's just an itchy, uncomfortable seethe.

But let's try to see the good in everything, even these bitches. According to experts on ResearchGate, mozzies are good because they're food for nicer species like spiders, bats and fish. They also pollinate plants, and I wish they'd spend more time doing that instead of biting me.

Interesting mosquito things:

And now you know more stuff about bugs. :)

First and ferment

First project of the year: fermenting.

I have begun my adventures in breeding microscopic livestock. Let me tell you about this smelly and already-tasty undertaking.

Making kombucha

Just after Christmas, we bought a bottle of MOJO Ginger Kombucha after rattling around our area looking for a health food shop that a) was open and b) sold SCOBY. SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast, sometimes referred to as a "mushroom", but it's no fungus. It's the kombucha mother, which floats on the surface of a sweet tea, producing tasty kombucha through fermentation.

kombucha mother beginning to grow

I found an article on how to grow your own kombucha mother from a store-bought drink. It was a long shot. The first 4 days were intense. I'd check on my jar 2-3 times a day to see if any fuzzy mold had formed, but none did. Instead, from day 2, I saw a film begin to form on the surface of my tea. This would grow thicker and larger each day until it formed an ugly blob. My mother was born.

SCOBY mother at day 4

Last night, my SCOBY got to 1/8" thick and, according to the article, ready for another feed. Before topping up the jar with more sweet tea, I poured out half of the original liquid and had a sip.

After just 9 days, we went from having bottle dregs to something that definitely tastes like kombucha. :) It's been more than 12 hours since, and I've not been sick yet. Can't say for sure until the SCOBY is ½" thick and producing regularly, but looks like we're doing all right so far.

I've read that mother grown from bottled drinks might not make strong children, so we may end up having to do this all over again at some point. As a home science experiment, though, I'm very curious to see how well this baby mother will go. Right now, I'm brewing only black Madura Tea Premium Blend, but I've read it's worth trying other types of tea for different flavours, so there may be more experiments to come.

Making kefir

homemade kefir and muesli

Perth has been warm lately, and my little workers have been going like the clappers! Mum gave me kefir culture less than a week ago, and I've already had two little serves of homemade 'yogurt' with muesli. Did not get sick after. I call it a win.

The kefir process was less involved. I had someone to show me how to do it, which brought my stress levels way down. I don't think I could have done this before, when I was first offered kefir cultures. Yogurt wasn't on my regular menu, and I didn't understand fermentation enough to feel safe trying it. But it's easy now, and seems to fit well into my life. Let's see how long that lasts, huh?

A kefir culture looks like little cauliflower florets. They're also a SCOBY, bunch of yeasts and bacteria just hanging out. I got a culture that was wet and already working, but if you buy them from a store, they may come dry and require 'activation' (basically soaking them in milk until they're soggy and plump). I added full cream cow's milk and my kefir got to work.

It takes a little doodling to figure out how much milk to use and how long to leave it for, but a reasonable guess worked well enough for me. Again, the first few days saw me checking a few times a day. The pantry smells odd, with both kefir and kombucha fermenting together, but not unpleasant. Sour and clean.

my kefir and kombucha cultures

What else to make?

I'm only a week into fermenting, so it's hard to say whether this is a sustainable activity or just flavour of the month. The hot weather has all but destroyed my motivation to garden, which makes me doubt my commitment to everything. Ho hum. I thank last autumn's surge of activity for providing us with zucchini, basil and grape tomatoes over the last month and a bit.

We did get sunflower seeds after all. Learned it's much faster and less painful to harvest the seeds first, then let them dry. Plucking tiny kernels from a rock-hard flower head is for people made of stronger stuff.

Anyway, sourdough is next. A friend gave me a Herman the German sourdough starter today, so maybe we'll bake something wholesome and fuddy-duddy soon. :)

Garden things in November 2015

my veggie patch at the end of spring

This is what my veggie patch looks like after a growing season (3 months exactly!). Mental, huh?

We have:

  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Corn
  • 3 sunflowers
  • Spinach
  • Basil (sort of)
  • Lavender
  • Zucchini
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtiums

The flat leaf parsley went crazy. My big mistake here was overestimating how much we actually eat parsley, ie. hardly at all. I've been told tabbouleh is the way to use this all up. Parsley pesto ain't half bad either. There's a chance we won't have that much after removing the crap leaves anyway.

an ear of corn

Out of the four corn kernels I planted, three got eaten by something. Probably birds. I replaced them, and only one sprouted, but hasn't flourished. Only the one proud hero stands, bearing two hairy ears of corn. As soon as those hairs turn brown and dead, we'll have our first proper homegrown cob snack.

The sunflowers are crazy tall. Taller than me. Taller than niaalist. Probably taller than if I were sitting on his shoulders. The tops of those giant stalks have buds that look like they'll put out a decent flowerhead. We may have some tasty sunflower seeds to nibble on through summer.

Our spinach was a success. Too successful, in fact. We had more than we found appetising. Don't know if we'll grow it again. We planted a lavender in the middle of them, as a bug repellent. Seemed to work well enough, if we got that many edible leaves, I guess?

zucchini fingers

After my run-ins with powdery mildew, I thought our zucchini crop would surely fail, but to my surprise, we're getting nice healthy looking summer squashes. We harvested a handful for the last BBQ we went to. Gosh, they tasted so good. We'll be having some tonight in a pasta bake!

mo junk in da trunk

Especially this weird one. The front half looks like a little courgette finger, but the butt is huge like the ones you get at the supermarket. I wonder why it did that, and why it's the only one?

grape tomatoes

Just outside the veggie patch are a couple of grape tomato plants that seem to be thriving. I didn't plant these. They sprung up like a weed from our worm compost. Yes, we do the dumb thing of letting seeds go in with our scraps. I don't see it as a bad thing. If they're seeds from our food, they'll make plants we're more likely to eat.

I'm annoyed that the tomato plant I actually made a point of planting and fertilising and paying extra attention to is pretty much dying. Balls to that. But I'm excited to actually get some tomatoes out of this season.

It was the same story with basil. I sowed seeds, I fertilised and watered - in the end, the only one that grew and survived was one that sprung up as a weed. Just a couple weeks ago, I did see that one of my deliberately planted seeds has sprouted. It's in the shade of the zucchini plant, so it'll grow slowly, but I expect it to get going as we clear areas of the bed for the next planting.

My many attempts at growing chilli failed. From seed again. Maybe summer will be better for it.

I didn't get any photos of our marigolds and nasturtiums because they're not much to look at anymore. I'd always thought they produced smells that repelled insects, but this didn't turn out to be the case. They seemed to attract the insects that would have otherwise feasted on my herbs and veggies. The nasturtiums were especially distracting, and grow prolifically. The marigolds lasted longer than I thought. They actually kept their delicious heads, where previously, my marigolds would be eaten very quickly by snails. I'm hoping their impending demise will leave seeds that spontaneously spring up next season. Hooray for sacrificial plants! A+ would grow again.

a sleeping cat

Freelancing has been going well. I am pretty much constantly working my arse off, but we don't call it work anymore. We call it "life choices". :) Today's life choices are newsletter and website copy, twitterature, researching interactive fiction, and another 1667 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. I also hung out the laundry and ate a sandwich. How am I so good.

What I've been up to lately

It has barely been two months, but offices and cubicles feel so foreign already. This morning, I got out of bed at 9. Is this the slippery slope to becoming nocturnal again? I hope not. I like getting up early nowadays. But for the last few nights - tsk, tsk - I've stayed up past midnight, reading.

Reading. This is now essential to my professional development. Even fun reading has become a matter of study. Heaps of things are now a matter of study. I may as well tell people I'm a full-time student with heaps of prac assignments.

So here's what's been going on:

Gardenhand - After spending 2 years bumbling over how to do this, it's finally live: my gardening blog. Not much to look at now, but I have a pile of notes and drafts waiting to be written properly - answers to questions people have asked me about setting up and maintaining their gardens, little how-to's, and tips for outdoor and indoor planting.

Office Plants - Speaking of indoor planting, this project has also been keeping me busy and out of trouble. Friends setting up small businesses and home offices have asked about putting greenery in drab indoor spaces. So I'm building this site as a resource for busy office people, and as an excuse to study and grow more plants. I am loving my maidenhair fern, which I bought after writing the plant profile.

hand-lettered poster, work in progress

A hand-lettered poster - Some days, I wake up full of self-doubt. My Inner Critic suggests I'm delusional for thinking my recent life changes could ever work. Standing next to my Inner Critic, though, is an odd pair of characters. I can't find a reference to them on wiki, but I call them my Inner Drill Sergeant and Inner Cheerleader. I'm not crazy, I promise. These guys only live in my head. I know they're not real. :) Sarge is all brass tacks. He reminds me that I don't get to eat if I don't get shit done. Cheerleader is sweeter. She hangs onto positive, motivational quotes for the days I need them. Anyway, this work-in-progress poster is of something she's told me often since I started freelancing.

Inktober (day 4) - I started playing Inktober, thinking it would be a breeze after 100 teacups, but... nope. I got six days in, which you can see on my insta. It was fun, but some days, I didn't feel like drawing. I wanted to read about plants, fuss over my new tillandsia, do art that didn't involve ink. Oh well, there's always next year. I do want to finish the story of this boy and his sea adventure. Maybe I can do Inkvember and Inkcember.

Writing, and editing. I can now say I've gone through the process of pitching, writing, revising, and selling a story. Yay, achievement unlocked! More on that later, when I get a copy of the newsletter running the article. I also hit a small milestone last week in writing an article over 2000 words. I didn't think I'd ever have the patience for that, but well - it's done and I feel ever so slightly more capable.

Reading. The damn book that's been keeping me up was "Xenocide" by Orson Scott Card. So good. I thought it would be an extension of a town's relationship with the native population, but it turned into this massive question of philosophy and ethics. I love story books that give you things to bring back to real life. I've just finished reading "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by Justin Cawthorne. It's a fast read, and gave me the creeps, like a good horror story should. It also kept me up late. I'm now confident I'll blitz my 20 book pledge.

Ned's Pup - A fundraiser for an extended family member with autism. Ned's a good kid. :) It was nice to use my website-making skills to help out. The family are running a couple of events to help raise the money - small charity dinners, a quiz night, stuff like that. We're sitting on $2100 at the moment, so there's a long, long way to go.

And finally, Planetbase - It's like Dwarf Fortress, but in space. I love base builder and resource management games. And I love space. After spending the day super focused on tilling the career fields, it's nice to go colonise a planet. Mm, come on, little space men and women. Build me a bio-dome. ^____^

Now, how bout you? What have you been up to?