14 February 2016

Last week we started the blackberry harvest – a good 3 weeks earlier than last year, possibly due to a hot and dry Spring and Summer.  The maze has afforded us with easy access to a greater number of blackberries and this year they seem bigger, rounder, firmer and more numerous.  Yesterday the girls and I collected about 5 kilos, and today I made 10 jars of jam (about 400g each) from 3 kilos.  Last week from 2 kilos I made 5 bottles of blackberry vinegar (500mL each), because last year it was so enjoyed by the girls –  wonderfully refreshing during a hot summer and great on salads as a dressing. There are plenty more blackberries to be picked over the next weeks and time to get creative with what to do with them.

Also at the Bloch we are harvesting corn, and still more zucchinis, though they are smaller than these whoppers!

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Leonora with marrows

The tomatoes have been slow to ripen and we are only now getting the occasional ripe lemon cherry, black Russian or mortgage lifter.

Eug continues to mow the Bloch in stages, but now that the grasses are extremely dry and the mower’s blades have been replaced, it is far easier and quicker.  However, only one third of the hectare is cut, and it will still be another week or two before the whole Bloch is completed. The Crown Land adjacent has also all been recently mown.

A word on the trees:  The Ornamental Pear took a hammering over the hot Summer and nearly died, however I think it was saved by some timely rainfall in January and subsequent watering.  One of the Poplars has snapped in half, most likely by wind during a storm.  It will need replacing so the height of the four in a row are consistent.  Fruit trees on the eastern boundary are struggling to survive, let alone grow and produce anything.  The dwarf lemon has lost all its leaves.  Everything else is fine.  It is disheartening to report on the failures, but the reality in Australia is that unless there is adequate water supply and constant monitoring, plants will suffer.  Unfortunately we are many kilometres away and visit, at best, once a week and then only for limited time.

The plan after the harvest is to slash the remainder of the blackberry bushes, all along the northern boundary.  It will be an enormous job.  The other boundaries continue to sprout blackberries – it’s a constant battle to keep the ground clear.

Check out the beautiful hedging I’ve created in this path on the northern boundary…

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In the maze on the Northern boundary

 

 

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11 January 2016

The veggies have outgrown the boundaries of the fence with pumpkins crawling up the wire and finding their way amongst the corn and zucchini.  Corn, tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkin have all grown vigorously over the past month, and we have started harvesting enormous zucchini – marrow would be a more accurate description.  The potatoes have been disappointing. I may have planted these too late in the season. All in all though, I am constantly surprised every time I visit the Bloch that the veggies are still alive.  Watering has been deep but less often than I would normally water at home.  I think that the soil holds moisture really well, and that our preparation over winter has made a difference to its quality.  We can reap the rewards now.

Veggie patch Jan 2016

Veggies Jan 2016

I noticed lots of little lizards in the veggie patch and also ladybirds on the corn.  I also notice there are no pests or bugs in numbers that I have to worry about. So far, so good!

Today I used all the beautiful compost which had been maturing over the last couple of months to compost the fruit trees, including the lemon, and also the silver birch and the ornamental pear – 6 trees.  A whole bin of compost doesn’t seem to go very far!  I made 5 trips up the hill and across to the eastern boundary with wheelbarrow loads of compost, mulch and hoses as I simultaneously watered and mulched.  I now can connect two hoses together and a drip hose to water the 3 first fruit trees on the eastern boundary.  The others other two trees along this boundary are a dead cherry tree which I must replace with  perhaps a plum or two, and an experiment with a neglected nectarine which is looking just fine.

I filled the empty compost bin with some lake weed I had collected from the Council’s dredging dump, and kitchen scraps and chook poo.  There is very little composting material at the Bloch, so I am compelled to ship it in at the moment.

The grasses are long and crunchy dry, and blackberry shoots are coming up everywhere.  It’s terribly hard work to keep them in check, but Eug replaced the blades on the mower and next time we will cut them as close to the ground as possible on the southern boundary.

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12 December 2015

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Veggie patch

We finally got the water connected at the Block and it has been wonderful to use a garden tap to water the veggies, rather than cart water in plastic containers in the back of the car. I’ve spent a couple of hours at the Block  during the week watering when it has been particularly dry.  The rainfall this Spring has been dismal.  Though the veggies are now well cared for, the fruit trees on the eastern boundary are really stressed, with one pear tree carrying black leaves, the other wilting seriously.  The hose is just not long enough to reach this boundary, so today we repeatedly filled the wheel barrow from the top of the Block, carting water over to each tree in a last ditch effort to save them. We gave the lemon and silver birch a good soaking at the same time.

During the last couple of months, the leaves on the lemon scented gums have been eaten by an unknown small animal.  I attempted to protect one of the them today with wire.  The same has happened to the silver birch, but being a much bigger tree I think it will be okay to leave as is, as most of the leaves are too high to be eaten.

Last month I attempted to plant some salvias, rosemary and sage I had propagated, and some flower seeds at the side of the shed facing north.  Eug built up the earth with horse manure from inside the shed and I had hoped that water dripping from the roof of the shed would be enough to keep them alive.  However, most have died, so I planted some left over tomato seedlings that I can now water.  We built a little path of rocks that were dug up to make the garden bed. It could also serve to protect plants from small animals like possums and rabbits perhaps.

The blackberries have come back with a vengeance, so today Eug mowed the southern boundary and the maze and I am feeling a little better about once again taking control over them.  The mower, though, requires serious blade maintenance – in fact, replacement. I followed up with the hedge clippers for a more thorough attack at destroying each plant individually.  Back breaking work.

I was turning the compost over today when I came across three frogs that had made their home there.  They must have emerged from one of the bathtubs full of murky water.  I hope they find their way back to the compost heap or a new home near by.

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Frog in the compost

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24 October 2015

We have decided against fixing up the shed and water tank for now because we need water sooner rather than later – and the shed is a big repair job.  It has hardly rained the whole month – a scant 2.5 mm, and it is becoming desperate for the veggies we have planted.  So we got a quote to connect to the mains water supply and have organised a plumber to install a water meter and tap.  A 100 metre hose will be laid on the ground to the bottom of the block and a garden tap installed near the veggie patch.  This way we can attach a garden hose and also water the trees – the poplars and the liquid amber, and maybe the fruit trees, though they are a long way away on the eastern boundary.

In the meantime the veggies have all popped up, much to my great surprise and excitement.  We have potatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, corn and I have just planted some Grosse Lisse tomato seedlings that I raised from seed.  The veggie patch needs constant attention as it gets weedy and some blackberry shoots still pop up.  We filled wheelbarrow loads of the last of the dirty water from the old horse trough and carted it over to the patch to pour on the seedlings.  The water is probably high in nutrients, but it was viscous and inadequate.   If only it would rain!

I have some eggplant and capsicum seedlings that I have no space for at home, so I will need to squeeze them into the veggie patch too.  The patch is already too small for what I want to grow!

Potatoes in the veggie patch

Potatoes in the veggie patch

Road opening through the blackberries

Road opening through the blackberries

We cut another opening to the maze through the blackberries, this time from Water Tank Road to make room for the water meter. Eug had to cut through the fence which was buried under the bushes and completely fallen over. The view from here is great, and we don’t get to see it enough, yet!

This month we also contracted someone to mow the grass because our push mower just cannot get through the tough long grasses, and was merely flattening them. We had got the blades sharpened but they have been damaged from cutting the new blackberry shoots and running over rocks and thick blackberry roots.  They will need to be replaced.  The contractor probably took an hour to cover the hectare, where we take about two days of gruelling pushing over tussocks and mounds, up and down the hill and also through the maze.  A $165 well spent.

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19 September 2015

Over the past month the block has been awash with daffodils – a quite unusual looking specimen.  We wonder if it is a particular strain unique to the Block.

Daffodils

Daffodils

Specimen daffodil

Specimen daffodil

We had a visit from a group of sheep a few weeks back which accounts for the droppings all over the paddock and also the chewed tops of the fruit trees.  I had to rush back the next day to secure the safety of trees by surrounding them with heavy duty wire and re-mulching. One of the trees, perhaps a pear, (I can’t remember the order I planted them) is possibly dead as the damage is all the way down to the grafting point on the tree.  There is no sign of life to date.  The other trees, a cherry, pear and the dwarf apple should be fine.  We propped up the fallen down fence so the sheep probably won’t be back, but the wire will also deter any other animals- kangaroos, possums and rabbits.

The blackberry bushes are all gone now in the South West corner and the Western boundary.  I worked really hard clipping, raking, and re-clipping the new shoots that constantly threaten to overtake again.  We should be ready to mow along those boundaries now.  I also put together a compost bin made of 3 pallets.  I dug some trenches for them to slot into and strung them together.

The Teepee

The Teepee

Compost

Compost

The girls have been having fun too!

We had another burn off today – three fires of blackberry stalks and dead wood.  It was smokey and awful, but we felt it was the lesser of two evils – chemicals or smoke from fire.  There are no piles left.  We decided that the remainder of the blackberries, the maze on the northern boundary, would remain until after the Autumn harvest.  We just don’t have the capacity to commit to maintain clearing the width of blackberries on the northern boundary, as well as the southern and western boundaries.  It will be hard work over Spring and Summer just to keep on top of what we have cleared to date.  And anyway, it’s getting boring.  We want to plant some more trees, some veggies and some insect attracting flowers.

My greenhouse is now operational at home and I am raising heirloom tomatoes in enormous quantities, and just waiting on the arrival of my big order of Diggers seeds. The next priority before Summer hits is to fix up the guttering on the shed and get the water tank operational.  We need to get a quote soon!

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2 August 2015

One month of winter to go and we are aiming for a summer harvest from the Block.  Over the past two weeks we have prepared a veggie patch between the poplars and the liquid amber.  Eug secured 4 corner posts and dug a trench on four sides to slot in the wire fencing.  We did not complete installing the rabbit proof fencing, as it will require some securing with Brads which we did not have with us today. Part of the garden bed spans old blackberry infested areas on the southern boundary.  There is a marked difference in soil quality – much richer and darker where the blackberries had been.  There are also enormous quantities of worms just under the grassy surface.  However we are still digging out copious blackberry roots and envisage a fight for preeminence on this veggie patch.  We decided on the location of the veggie patch based on the proximity to the water tank and the amount of sunlight it receives.  It is a temporary patch, in lieu of any other infrastructure on the Block to date.

Veggie Patch

Veggie Patch

Today we added 4 bags of bought organic compost, as my compost bin on site is still maturing and probably won’t be ready for another 2 months.  We also topped it with a whole block of sugar cane mulch.  By September we should be ready to plant some veggies that don’t require us to be there daily, but can survive with minimal intervention, perhaps some pumpkin, potatoes and zucchini.  As these take up some space, they will be better on the Block, rather than in our confined space at home.

We planted the silver birch (a Christmas present from Frank) at the top of the block before the northern boundary blackberries.  The soil is very heavy and clay like, but we added some ash from the fires we had in June and hope for the best. It was not the ideal planting scenario, so I will be very happy if the silver birch defies our sloppy preparation and does well.  On that note, the lemon tree is looking rather sorry and will require a bit more loving care if it is to produce as much as we want it to.  The clay soil and lack of mulching and composting is probably hampering its growth and general health.

I can’t wait for Spring!

Silver birch

The daffodils are starting to emerge all over the block, but the difference this year is that the grass is not as short as last year, as there are now no horses on the block.  I wonder if it will impede the viewing spectacular we enjoyed last year.  If so, we could consider mowing the grass in early winter in future before the daffodils begin.

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21 June 2015

Today was a break through day for our Mental Bloch.  I turned 45, it turned one and 4 wonderful Lombardy Poplars were welcomed into the family.  On a beautiful winter day where the frost did not leave the shadows but the sun was warm and welcoming, we also lit our first bonfires.  This proved more difficult than we first thought, with the two boy scouts struggling to get a match alight despite the added inflammatories of diesel and firelighters.  In the end it was good ole bushcraft and ensuring plenty of kindling that got the blaze underway.  Once lit they quickly consumed voluminous quantities of clippings.  By the time we sat down for lunch with Grandma and the aunts, all of whom had pitched in nobly, five mounds of waste had vanished into the ether.  We sat down to picnic on quiche made from our home laid eggs, and remnants of birthday cake, as the last golden light of the solstice crept westward.  A wonderful day at the Bloch.

The open lane

The open lane

Bonfire

Bonfire

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