Thursday, July 31, 2008

Make homes for native bees.

A simple way to make some homes for solitary native bees and other insects is to get a big piece of wood, preferably a chunky post or pillar and drill holes in it about 4-6 mm wide for the bees and some a bit bigger for wasps and spiders.

The holes can be on all sides and be 2-3 cm deep. If you don't have a drill maybe try hitting a fat nail in then pulling it back out.
Some wasps can actually chew through the wood a little bit or may use mud to make a cosy coccoon for its babies.

The bees are good pollinators for your garden. Wasps are predatory on caterpillars and insect eggs and some even eat spiders.
This is a good website for native bees.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The FrogWAtch tadpole exchange.

The FrogWAtch tadpole exchange list is updated and back online.

It is getting updated from time to time now.

In my garden there hasn't been much croaking and squeezing going on in the frog world; I suspect it is the lower temperatures just lately that is slowing down. They like it about 20-24C or so, I've found.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A butcher bird catching a mouse.

This is a picture of a butcher bird with a mouse in its beak that it had just caught in the garden. It grabbed the mouse from the ground then dropped it into the birdbath where the mouse swam around a few times before the butcher-bird grabbed it again (the picture) and flew off.
I'd be quite happy for it to do that more often. When we first moved in here 11 or so years ago a black-shouldered kite caught a mouse in the back yard. Since then we've planted more trees and shrubs so it's not so easy for raptors to see our pesky rodents.
If the bobtail skink (Tiliqua rugosa) was here again it could eat baby mice. I try and make the habitat suitable for these creatures but I suspect that lizard was just passing through. It's not very good lizard territory here anymore

Growing vegetables from seed.

As with all gardening I think it's a good idea to start with something easy. That way you gradually feel encouraged to keep trying new things. Another way is to try and get things right the first time around - not always so easy.
Growing your own seedlings is a very economical way to grow food. A packet of seeds often costs a similar amount to a punnet of 6 or 8 seedlings from a nursery.
I will explain here some of the steps to growing your own seedlings, but firstly you need a few things.

Propagation area.
Make sure this is somewhere you will see or can visit easily every morning. It can be easy to forget to water in summer or miss a snail in winter and your seedlings will fail.

Seed-raising mix: Seedling mix is usually finer than general potting mix. It has less chunks in it and less fertliser. A seed has enough energy in it to germinate and grow to a size where you can move it into a larger pot or the ground.

Seeds: Seed catalogues are beautiful things. I love to peruse a Digger's Seeds or Greenharvest catalogue. You may prefer to get organic seed. It's a good idea to get open-pollinated, heirloom varieties as you can save the seeds of them and acclimatise them to your area.
Labels: Cut up some stiff plastic and write on them what the seeds are. It can be easy to get some plants confused.

Ok, so get some empty seedling punnets or a tray and fill it most of the way to the top with seedling mix. Pat it down.
Make little divots in the soil or rows if it is finer seed.
Generally with seeds they get buried at about twice as deep as they are wide, so bean seeds (big) go about 1 centimetre below the soil level, while carrot seeds (tiny) only get a little bit of soil sprinkled on top of them. This makes them a little trickier to germinate as they need to be kept moist and the thin layer of soil above them will dry quicker than the deeper soil over the bean seeds.
Label the rows or punnets as you go.

Water the seedling mix gently so you don't disturb the soil surface too much and expose the seed.
Now wait. Seeds have different germination rates. Some will come up in a few days, others can take up to 2 or 3 weeks. Be patient and don't let them dry out but don't drown them either.

Pricking out/transplanting.
When the seedlings have their two true leaves, (not the very first two leaf-like bits, which are the unfurled seed, but the first things that look like real leaves) then you prick them out into a pot or into the garden. Don't leave them too long- it will retard their growth if they get too big before transplanting.

Fill your pots with good potting mix or get the ground ready by making holes a few centimetres deep to place the seedling into.
Pricking out is kind of an art, which once practiced becomes much easier. Take a teaspoon or a short blunt knife, about 1-2 cm wide and push it gently about 3 or 4 centimetres into the soil near one of the seedlings. Ease the knife back a little and pull upwards. You will have the little seedling and hopefully most of its roots on the knife. Now gently place it into the prepared hole, make sure the roots are all pointing downwards, carefully push the soil in around it and water in gently using a seaweed tonic to help them settle in quickly.
Congratulations. You have created life! Some seeds are trickier than others but with the right set up and a bit of water you can grow pretty well whatever you want.

Good luck.

Monday, July 14, 2008

But I still like plants and gardens,

Having said that earlier today about being a bit off gardening, I still like plants and helping people do the right thing with their gardens. I just can't be bothered about my own garden. I'm still quite happy to help people figure out what can go in and when, figure out pest and disease problems and improving their soil; I know that stuff, it's easy for me and I'm very happy to share it.
Until the mouse 'problem' in the garden is solved I'm not gonna bother with vegetables. Mmm, except those lettuce seedlings I got yesterday. Perhaps I'll grow them in tubs away from the rodent zone.
When our garden has brief visits from ring-neck parrots and New Holland honey-eaters I just want to plant more native shrubs for them but know that I should be growing more human food stuff.
Improving habitat helps with pest control so its good to combine the types of plants.

Planting natives.

For someone who is supposed to be a keen gardener I'm not very keen sometimes!
At the moment my vegetable growing efforts are being badly thwarted by mice which eat any seeds, parsley or broccoli I try and grow. It's a bit more difficult killing mice outdoors. I don't want to use a rodenticide as they cause secondary poisoning of birds that catch the poisoned mice while they are dying. Most baits cause internal hemorrhaging of the poisoned animal causing a slow death. When a raptor eats one they take in the poison too, slowly dying in a lot of pain.
Racumin is the only choice if I were to poison as it doesn't kill things that eat the poisoned rodents, but still, I'm just not into poisons! I may have to resort to Racumin though as I just noticed the mice are also eating the silverbeet which until this point had been untouched. Grrr.
I have just planted a Chorizema cordatum in the garden. It is a pretty understory plant from the forest here. I am hoping it will grow in the shady spot in the garden underneath an Acacia cyclops.
I am sometimes quite torn between the idea of growing food for myself or food for native fauna. We have a lot of legless lizards and fence skinks and the frogs but I love to see birds visit the garden and I also love insects. I want to grow food *and* create habitat. Most of the native plants are around the edges of the garden or out the front but the centre beds and other areas with more sun are best for food. Except the mice are putting paid to that. So just for today I'll just look at the locals and sus' out where to get some poxy Racumin and how to put the bait out in a safe way so my dogs can't get at it.
Edit: I bought some traps and put peanut butter on them. It's gross but necessary. I might put the 'humane' trap out too. We usually freeze the little's meant to be one of the most humane ways to kill something.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Useful weeds discovery of the day.

Nettle, comfrey and nasturtium are a great combination of weeds to add to compost. Between them they access all the nutrients in the ground that plants need. They are all great plants in their own right and grow readily in the cooler seasons in this climate.

Nettles: good indicator of plenty of nitrogen in the ground. Highly nutritious edible leaves - after wearing gloves to pick them they are not prickly once cooked.

Comfrey - brilliant for compost and 'poo tea' for gardens. It has a long root system so it can bring up nutrients that are a bit below others range. The leaves can then be used for the above applications. It also has medicinal uses, which are controversial. It is also edible in small doses. Comfrey is probably a weed in some wetter areas than Perth.

Nasturtium: common nasturtium is quite rampant in the cooler rainy season but is easily controlled by pulling up. The flowers are edible and look good in salads. There are other varieties of nasturtium that behave a bit better and stay where you plant them. The Alaska nasturtium (pictured above) is a variegated variety that stays put.

Of course, always check before foraging for weeds that no one has sprayed or its not getting road run-off or some nastiness on it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mundaring Weir.

We were going to the hills to buy a cheap CRT monitor from some one as ours had died so thought we'd check out some bush nearby. Since the dog was with us we weren't allowed into Lake Lechenaultia, so stopped up the road a bit and found a spot he could run around. There were a few Hibbertias in flower and a pretty little Daviesia. There were flat sundew plants here and there.
From there we went to Mundaring Dam and had a ltttle walk across the top. It has been a long time since I visited there; I'm quite positive the water was much higher back then.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We can't ignore the trouble we're in.

I heard a not-so -hilarious comment the other night.."Kevin Rudd (our new Prime Minister) has made petrol prices go up. It's only happened since he came in." I know I'm a bit better educated than most, and care a lot more, about the environment, but it's not Kev's's Peak Oil and the fact that the previous government was keeping prices low through subsidies. Many goods are subsidised and petrol is one of them.
It's not one persons fault that the price of oil has finally started to go up. It's everybodies fault that lives in the modern world.
How long can we continue to ignore that we are deep in trouble with all the solutions possible but no direction being taken to start on the good road to living in a future that is not all food riots and starvation.
Living in ignorance is not going to save us. Pretending there is no climate change is not going to help. Alternative energy needs to be made more affordable. Emissions from industry need to be reduced.
We can't keep putting our heads in the sand. Unfortunately the modern person thinks its okay to spend huge amounts of money on useless crap that is polluting in its manufacture and used a few times before it goes to the tip and leaches its toxins into the groundwater.
Changing peoples behaviour is a hard thing to do. It will be forced on us.