24 January 2017

When we look back at what the Bloch looked like two and a half years ago we recognise how much we have achieved – starting with the blackberry annihilation. The northern boundary is now clear of blackberries, though this Spring and Summer they have persisted in raising their ugly shoots seeking life above the earth.  Where we can’t reach them with the lawn mower along the steep banks near the road they are growing more freely and quickly.  It is a constant battle at present to keep them under control and as it is such a large area we can only do section by section with the hedge clippers.

Our first attempt to create a civilised patch in all this mess, is up around the five trees at the top west corner. Below is a photo of our new flower garden with violas, salvias, euphorbias and an echium. It is a part shady site under the big cedar.img_0845

We laid newspaper on the ground, hopefully suppressing any blackberry activity, and covered it with loads of compost that had matured nicely in the pallet bins on the other side of the Bloch. More bags of bought compost were thrown over as well as some soil from the nearby fire sites. The covering is a little shallow, but enough to pop in our plants and water in well. Just a couple of meters away are some huge logs from the cedar we have arranged for seating.

Two joined hoses will extend from the tap so we can water this patch, but another is required if we need to fill the water bags surrounding the silver birches on the boundary. The water bags are a great success, after some initial frustration. The protective wire around the trees was not large enough to accommodate the water bags, so smaller trees requiring the wire will go without the water bags as they are too vulnerable to animal chomping.  I have laid some bags around the silver birches only for now, needing to create level ground and laying some mulch to protect against sharp objects.  There is happily some evidence of regrowth on these struggling trees. No animals (apparently wallabies are to blame) to date have disturbed the water bag operating properly. Refilling the water bags is a bit time consuming as I have to lug hoses to the top of the block, connect them together and pull the length of them over to the boundaries where the trees are.  It will be worth it in the long term though.img_0821

Some more tree remediation has been completed on two in the middle of the long grass – yet to be mown. The hazelnut and a maple have now been saved by some simple weeding, composting and mulching and a bit of water to get them back on track.

The veggie patch on the other hand, is finally taking off after a cool Spring. Everything does seem a little later to develop this year, however, I have only last year to compare with which was unusual as it experienced early warmth. We have already harvested the beetroot and our first huge quantity of zucchinis, some absolutely enormous!

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We have no ripe tomatoes yet.  There are huge quantities of leaves, a few flowers, and some small fruit, but we seem ages away from any real harvest.  Even at home, I have only now picked the first ripening tomatoes. We can only hope we don’t have too many green tomatoes left over at the end of the season.

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13 November 2016

Sunday was a miserably wet day but we had received our burning off permit and did not want to put if off for when the weather became too warm.  This time we got the fires going easily, burying firelighters in the piles of blackberry stalks out of the wind.  The piles lit easily, burning furiously for an hour or so each before dying out around the edges, unable to catch hold of the wet long grass.  The piles are all gone, leaving flat circles of barren ash.

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Northern boundary burn off complete Spring 2016

The grass is thigh high and we have asked Sean to slash it this year.  Because it has been so wet and quite cold we expect the fire season to be delayed and extend well in Autumn next year.  The cold has delayed the growth of the veggies I had prematurely planted, and a late frost killed the cucumber.  I’ve had to replant zucchinis, cucumber, and in place of some of the beetroot that has not emerged, have planted more tomatoes, of which again I have too many. Potatoes are starting to spring up again in the 1st patch, amongst the herbs, but I think I will just leave it all to sort it self out.  Corn has just started to sprout, as has the fennel. Survival of the fittest wins this year.

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Veggie patch No. 2 Spring 2016

The fruit trees and ornamentals have all flourished so far, having being well fed and mulched. However, the nectarine has developed leaf curl, probably because of the damp conditions.  I will need to start a regime of fortnightly spraying with seaweed fertiliser and removing the affected leaves. The dwarf varieties of apple and pear may have to be relocated because I really need larger trees along the eastern boundary.  I would like to replace them (3) with full height varieties, and move the dwarf trees somewhere – I can’t think where just yet.  Everything looks so lush and green at present, but incredibly overgrown.

In the shed garden bed Elsa and I have thrown sunflowers, poppies and cosmos, hoping they will come up in a messy burst of colour. We watch and wait.

Back up at the northern boundary we have tidied up under the cedar, clearing huge logs, creating some informal seating, and taking out some star pickets holding up a tangled mess of wire fencing. Once some new vegetation takes over the blackberry infested earth it will be a great place to take shelter from the sun and rest from the hard physical days we spend at the Bloch. The views are gentle, and it’s quiet and almost private up there.

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Under the atlas cedar

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9 October 2016

We had prepared a second veggie patch site in late September and today created the beds and erected the fence.  It is rather bigger than our first veggie patch, where I have already begun raising the usual.  We cleared the ground for the second patch, taking out the top layer of weeds where there were thousands of worms hiding under the surface.  Much of this went on the compost heap, the rest stayed in large turned clumps.  On Sunday when the winds blew at over 120 kph, I attempted to lay newspaper, shouting furiously at Leo to keep them watered so they wouldn’t blow away, and then dumping bags of compost to spread over the top.  While Elsa chased the empty bags over the paddock, Eug collected wheelbarrow loads of mulch from a Eucalyptus that had fallen on the fencing and across the road in Norms corner.  Someone had cleared the road, leaving large limbs on the roadside, and a whole pile of mulched trunk and leaves.  This was also spread over the veggie patch, with some more old horse manure from the shed. On top of this I laid sugar cane mulch, watering to keep it from blowing away.

In these new beds I planted corn, fennel (most likely in the wrong season!), beetroot and pumpkin.  The girls planted rows of flower seeds, and I some sweet alyssum seedlings I had raised in the greenhouse at home. We found more wooden planks in the shed to surround two of the beds.

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Second Veggie Patch Spring 2016

In the first veggie patch during September I have sown tomatoes, radish, beetroot and zucchini after preparing the soil. It has been rather cold, so there has not been much growth to date and I fear I have planted too early.

Also during September I composted and mulched all the fruit and ornamental trees, except the silver birches on the western boundary. I used chook manure pellets, and am worried I went overboard with the amount I used.  I then mulched with sugar cane mulch and waited for the rain.  We received an enormous amount of rain – 178mm, way over the average of about 72mm for September.

Winds had ripped a piece of corrugated iron off the roof of the shed, and while the whole shed looks quite precarious with rotten beams holding up the whole structure, the hole in the roof has provided some welcome light. I am investigating whether it is worth saving the shed as a piece of history, reinforcing the beams and rebuilding the roof and guttering. Unfortunately it may not be worth the effort or money.  I also investigated the pricing of a new fence for at least the southern, western and northern boundaries with a couple of gates thrown in. It will come to about $5000 with a land survey thrown in.

Work on the landscaping of the frog pond has halted with Spring upon us and higher priorities.  Blackberries also threaten to take over again, so once the veggies are established (I have room for some herbs, rhubarb, silver beet) I will turn my attention to getting rid of the ugly piles of sticks and getting the northern boundary under control. And of course, the grass will need mowing in later November once the growth period slows down and it starts to dry out.

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4 September 2016

Over the past couple of months we have achieved a couple of notable projects at the Bloch. Because the winter veggies had done pretty poorly I dug over the garden beds, removing every struggling thing planted months ago – cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and re-composted the beds with chook manure to make ready for spring planting.  The only plants surviving are the garlic and some beetroot.  We now have borders around three of the beds, making it neater and contained. The fourth garden bed is a planting of green manure, a bit of an experiment, which will be dug over in the next month or so.  There is not enough compost on site as yet for the veggie patch so I had to import some in.

veggie patch Spring 2016

We started on the landscaping of the frog pond last weekend, after receiving our order of a crate of flagstones (“new oyster” of about 17 sqm).  I wasn’t sure whether a crate would be enough for what we want to achieve – both the surrounding of the pond and then a winding pathway up the western boundary through the silver birches. I think we should have enough.

Landscaping 2016

I’ve been working on some ideas for a native garden for Norm’s corner, incorporating the frog pond, some logs from the cedar for sitting on, the second lemon scented gum….  There are so many ugly weeds in that corner I don’t really know how to start and how it would be maintained.  Choosing plants will be fun.

Today I fed all the trees with a seaweed liquid fertiliser, walking up and down the hill with my green watering can, making trips back and forth from the garden tap. A couple of magpies circled menacingly for the first half hour, and then must have decided I posed no threat, or didn’t like the stick I was waving about, and disappeared.  Next, I need to compost and mulch the trees, placing my watering bags around the most needy. (I have only 16 ecobags, so will prioritise the fruit trees).  I am determined to get some growth from them this year.

I also spent a couple of hours just going over the ground where the blackberry maze had been razed. The eastern half of this ground is pretty well prepared now for mowing.  The western half still has long shoots hiding under decaying matter, alive and ready to spring back when the weather gets warmer. There are also many stones, rocks and logs in the way, needing to be cleared before taking the lawn mower over it.

 

 

 

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17 July 2016

All the blackberries have now been razed and all that remains are huge piles of ugly stalks dotted over the northern boundary.  The huge atlas cedar looks half stripped as perhaps one or two more large branches have fallen in some strong winds and are balancing precariously high on other limbs, unable to find a way to the ground.  I can’t believe how much ground we have reclaimed now that we can walk over the space previously inhabited by thorns.

Today I begun my woodland themed western boundary planting.  Silver birches, a gingko and another lemon scented gum were planted today in what appears to be a rich dark soil.  It’s shady here in the afternoon, still quite sheltered from the westerly winds by the huge eucalypts that cast there long shadows at this time of year.

Our frog pond that we installed last month has filled with water from the above average rainfall received so far this winter.  By early spring I will put in some water plants, and hopefully do some landscaping using flagstone pavers and some native planting to surround the edges.

Snow fell this week, blanketing the Bloch in mysterious white.

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Today we found the shed in a sorry state, missing a couple of sheets of corrugated iron from its roof.  The wind had ripped them off and they lay in the grass beside the shed.  Time to get the shed repaired – the guttering, the tank, a door, and may some other features.  There is so much light now inside.  Surely we could use some clear perspex on the roof?

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5 June 2016

We have ten new trees on the Bloch now after a frenzy of planting over two weekends.  Each tree has a wire guard to protect it from kangaroos and other animals that may be grazing in the paddock.  Today I put in the nectarine and apple, Christmas presents that we finally brought up from Melbourne, and that are quite a bit bigger than any of the other trees I have planted to date.  The oak and plums were raised from seed, the pecan and maple trees less than a metre tall.  It will take years for these trees to mature and provide any shade or fruit.  No matter, we will be patient and enjoy the journey.  There is a Cork Oak in Norm’s corner and another liquid amber in the North West corner that has been cleared of blackberries now.  This soil was heavily clay, poor quality and difficult to dig.  I’m not sure that the liquid amber will thrive.

The veggie patch has a whole new winter crop – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and beetroot.  I planted green manure on one of the 4 sections of the patch as an experiment. The soil in the patch looks fantastic.  I spent some time preparing the patch, using composts made onsite and some bought compost because I did not have quite enough.  There is no emergence of blackberry shoots, and I wonder if the constant cutting of new growth has killed the roots below and we are free of them in this patch.  Spring will tell us how successful we have been.

In the meantime, Eug has once again hired the brush cutter and slashed away at the blackberries – this time at the Northern boundary.  In one weekend he had slashed about two thirds of the boundary.  The blackberries span an even greater width than the Southern boundary, and there are trees, fallen branches and old sticks to battle with.  It’s a mess right now as you can see from this photo.

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The cuttings need to be raked into piles and dried a bit before we can burn off.  This is the quickest way of getting rid of them, even though not the most environmentally friendly. It’s amazing how much we can now see of the Bloch from the road above.  There is now no longer any privacy!

The enormous atlas cedar that was covered in blackberries at its base has shed a limb which is resting up against the trunk.  I think it needs to be made safe, its high branches to be cut and cut at the trunk at the half way mark. This photo partly shows its fallen limbs.

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15 March 2016

On the weekend we harvested a huge number of tomatoes – finally they are ripening, but as usual, coming all at once.  We took home about 5 kilos from the 6 plants, and another enormous zucchini.  I’ve pulled out all but one of the zucchini plants now, and as the corn has finished have chopped up the spent stalks to use as mulch.  We will continue the veggie patch in the same place for another year, before moving it to a more permanent spot up the hill.  We will need to re-fence the patch, do some weeding as blackberries are still shooting up underneath the great leaves of the zucchini, and then plant some green manures to rejuvenate the soil as much as possible.

I added a couple of pallets to create another compost box adjacent to the single box.  I dug a shallow trench to slot the pallets in, and tied them together with plastic rope found in the shed. As I turned over the heap into the new box I discovered it had all dried out and was worthless. There is no composting action happening at all, and no little micro-organisms, let alone worms.  I’ve got to cover the mulch with a plastic sheet to keep in the moisture at our next visit and try to bring it back to life.

We have continued harvesting blackberries, but concede it over now for the season. It was a great year, with probably more than 20 kilos over 4 weeks – loads of blackberry and apple jam, at least 12 bottles of blackberry vinegar, and some blackberry sauce for ice-cream and even on porridge.  We have three large zip lock bags of frozen blackberries to last through winter.

Eug finished mowing the Bloch on the weekend too, completing the last quarter and going over the southern boundary again to keep the blackberry shoots under control.  I mowed the roadside which is becoming easier the more frequently it is done. It’s looking positively neat!

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