30 October, 2008

10 Fantastic Foods and Drinks You've Always Put Off Making

All we hear in the news, these days, is that the world's economy is faltering. But we don't need news reports to drive it home that property values are stagnating, fuel prices aren't matching up with the decline of oil cost, and food prices are higher than ever.

Take heart! In our home, this financial necessity has birthed some lovely invention, especially in the kitchen. I've spent a good deal of time researching what, exactly, I can avoid buying at the grocer's and begin making for myself.

Added bonus? You get the emotional satisfaction of these hand-crafted treats, made to your perfect preference. Sure, it's a lot of work at times, but in the end it's more than worth it.

Here are ten family favorites you can make all on your own.

1. Bread: The most obvious of this week's list, and still so few actually put hand-to-dough. It may take a bit of trial-and-error to get the flow right, but do give it the old college try. A basic wheat bread couldn't be easier, but why stop there? Spice it up with some cinnamon, sweeten with raisins or jam, or, if you're feeding a strapping Aussie like I am, paint the unformed bread with Vegemite, tomato paste, and sprinkle a bit of cheese for an amazing breakfast and snack bread.

2. Goat Cheese: Ohhhh, nothing will set the City Mouse drooling quite like a tangy, creamy chevre. I'm not sure if it's the farm-fresh in me or the food-snob, but whatever it is, this homemade treat tops my personal list for foods to make in the new year. Find a local goat and as her kindly for a pint or two, or visit your nearest market for some milk-to-go. Roll those chevre logs in your own blend of homegrown herbs and serve it up with the next delectable snack on the list.

3. Wheat Thins: These delicious darlings will be spreading their toasty aroma through our kitchen, tomorrow. What wonderful sensory therapy! Costing next to nothing in materials, and with only minimal effort, you can have these crispy warm crackers anytime you want, sans the $3-$4 price tag. If you're watching your fat intake, like I am, substitute margarine for butter, and use light milk.

4. Cordial: Better than soda, cheaper than juice, this UK and Aussie staple may be unfamiliar to North Americans. Raid the nearest berry bush and simmer yourself up bottle after bottle of this flavor-maker. My favorite use? A dash of cordial into an icy glass of soda water. Instant Italian Soda, right in your kitchen, without the trip to Starbucks.

5. Yogurt: And Yoghurt too. Say it however you like, but what breakfast can't be improved with a creamy little dish of this honeyed, fruited or vanilla-flavored dream? We have a small bit every day. Unflavored, it is the ideal starter for tzatziki sauce, labneh, and other tempting Mediterranean accouterments.

6. Salad Sprouts: Nothing spruces up a hummus sandwich like a handful of refreshing alfalfa or broccoli sprouts. And what Pad Thai is complete without healthy helping of crunchy little sprouted beans? When store-bought, these crispy additions can often be soggy and slimy before they even hit the plate. Home-sprouted, they can be grown in amounts small enough for the occasional muncher.

7. Tea: Why rely on a shelf-weary tea bags for your cuppa when you can have your own satisfying assortment of home-mixed brews? With homegrown berries, chamomile, mints, roses, dried tree fruits, and your own aromatic camellia sinensis (basic tea) plant, you can craft any number of soothing blends of black, green, and oolong tea. Want to give the trendy White Tea a go? Just pick the baby tea leaves as you would for green or oolong, and skip the roasting and fermentation stages, heading straight for a fast, early dry.

8. Soda Pop: If, like my husband, you go through one or two canned sodas each day, you can rapidly find yourself spending $50 in fizzy drinks each month! How great would it be to bottle up an array of your own, personalized root beers and sarsaparillas, cream and grape sodas, and ginger beer and ales? Not only could you keep cool all summer, but a basket of your home brewed, hand-labeled bottles would make a beautiful gift for loved ones. We're definitely giving these recipes a try at the Holidays!

9. Beer and Ale: Kiddie-pops not working for you? With some experimentation you can cook up some adult beverages, microbrewed to your specifications. Don't try it for a quick fix, as proper beer takes weeks to ferment and fizz properly, but a swig of your home brew on a hot day just can't be beat.

10. Toffee and Taffy: Few among us are without memories of wax-wrapped toffees in our grandma's candy dish, or dime store sweet treats bought with a week's allowance. I know I have heady childhood thoughts of the clean, warm scent of salt water taffies made on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Relive it in your kitchen, and have a great project to work on with your kids, twisting toffees and having a real old fashioned taffy pull!

Whether in the Northern Hemisphere or South, times are nearing when we spend more time indoors to avoid the elements, be they snow or sun, and these are great days for finally getting around to that "I'll try it, someday," project you've considered year-long.

Enjoy these ten things on my procrastination list and make sure to share the fruits of your labors!

29 October, 2008

Requiem for a Tomato...or Three

It's so sad. It's waking up to wind gusts of 25 kph (18 mph), looking out your kitchen window as you pour the morning coffee, and seeing three green strings thrashing, loose and wild, when they ought to be tight and sure and holding up your small tomato crop. It's such a peculiar sadness.

I've never had my own vegetable patch before, even though my weekends growing up often involved indentured servitude on my step-family's lot. I had no real emotional investment in any of that work as I didn't really benefit from it. But this is our food. Our nourishment for summer salads and autumn sauces.

Isn't it strange how attached we get to our little plants? How we beg them to grow, curse them when they yellow, and cheer when a new blossom or leaf sprouts? It's a bit like having dozens of little green children that you really just hope will succeed in life and give something back that's worthwhile.

We bandage the wounds, we feed and nurture, we try to protect them from the world, but sometimes all our efforts are in vain and we just have to accept that Mother Nature and Fate will win out.

Good luck, little plants. Hang in there. These winds can't last forever.

28 October, 2008

The City Mouse Goes Global

I'm happy to announce that I've become a writer for the quirky eco-news website Environmental Graffiti.

They saw fit to put my latest article, 20 Wonders of the Microscopic World on today's front page! Further down, they've also featured my story, Biofuel Racing Hits Atlanta.

So, for environment related stories with a major sense of off-beat humor, that's the place to be!

27 October, 2008

Accidentally Green

A lot of people use a lot of things as a measure of personal superiority. Being "greener than thou" is definitely one of these measures.

What you see here are (click on image above for full view) my current estimated personal environmental footprint and (click on image below for full view) my footprint at this time, one year ago. Now, instinct may lead to congratulations for cutting my eco-impact by over two thirds. Hell, in some circles it'd make me eligible for Green Living Poster Child. But that would be a lie. You see, I have become accidentally green.

Until January 2008, as many know, I shared a condo outside Washington, D.C., commuted two hours round-trip every day, drove out to the country nearly every weekend for hikes or markets, used central air and heat, grew no food, bought clothes, shoes, books, and other household items as I liked, and, due to involvement in a trans-world relationship, I undertook over 60 hours of jet travel.

Since the big move to Oz, things have definitely changed. We have a house that's roughly the same size as my old condo, I have no car, I go very few places at all, most produce and meat in stores is locally produced and there are small fruit & veg shops on nearly every corner. We buy next to nothing, recycling is readily available and well utilized, we're growing probably 70% of our produce (though we won't harvest for a few more months), and we have zero plans for major travel for at least another year.

Still want to give a pat on the back? Okay, sure. Give a hug, even. But then ask why. Why is my lifestyle so very different now? Was there a conscious choice involved?


I have no car because the one we bought died and we haven't the dough to replace it. I love driving! I could hardly imagine giving that up willingly. I'd nearly kill to have central air and heat once more, though I would be happy to power those with a solar array, but all this house has are three window units and a gas heater, so that's what we use. We go nowhere and buy nothing due to that same lack of cash and my current position as housewife-extraordinaire instead of bad-ass office-jockey. And, well, Australia just has better recycling programs than my old neighborhood. True, we did decide to grow our veggie patch, but had I the space in my old condo I'd have gardened there too. Though, all things equalled, we would dine out a fair bit more than we do (never) now, if the cash flow were prime.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling above the electricity-guzzling, water-wasting, carbon-spewing masses...ask yourself, how much of your Green is accidental? How much of their footprint is beyond their control?

Be green. Better still, be kind.

26 October, 2008

Winter or Summer-Pick one, already!

Bonkers weather and gale-force winds have been kicking the crap out of our semi-established veggies. In the course of the last week, we've been as cold as 3c (37.4f) and as hot as 33c (91.4f)!!! That's just not fun for a garden that's really just finding it's roots.

Saturday was spent in garden-free pursuits, what with the oppressive temperatures, hot north winds, zero humidity, and a cloud-cover so heavy it may as well have been a wool blanket. I baked up some yummy banana bread and we took care of every imaginable errand, including buying the last of the spring-planting seeds, a little strawberry bush, and a handful of dime store Halloween decorations.

Today? Barely 20c (68f), and filled with the smells of my husband cooking brunch. He felt guilty for playing video games all morning, so I'm getting a treat of his meal-a-week being far more extravagant than Vegemite-cheese toast. Guilt is a wonderful (and yummy) motivator!

Before too long, we will be out in the dirt and weeds once more. I've a second Three Sisters mound to plant, hubby wants to check on the tomatoes he literally bandaged up this morning (pics soon), he has more bulbs to replant, and it's Watering Day on the Fleurieu. That, along with re-seeding some bald patches of lawn, kneading up some homemade pizza dough, and putting up our meager Halloween display , will keep us right busy 'til the sun goes down.

Oh, how I long for a slacker's weekend.

25 October, 2008

10 Best Fruits & Veggies to Grow in Small Spaces

Photo by Dawn Perry
A handful of my friends have dropped by The Suburban Plot and are envious of my new found space for gardening. As a former apartment-dweller, with nought but a balcony to call my own, I wanted to make a list of tips on what someone with limited wiggle-room can grow for themselves.

Of course, most of these require a fair bit of sun, but you don't need a lot of space to eat fresh even if you have nothing more than a small patio or postage-stamp yard. So let's get started!

1. Cherry and Plum Tomatoes: The best of the best, tomatoes can brighten up any salad, make the perfect sauce, and are the key to any good salsa. The best part? These smaller varieties of tomato do beautifully in pots, or even hanging upside-down! Just buy your seedlings, a pot, and mix up some good compost-rich soil and you're on your way. Keep the soil moist and the plant in good sun.

2. Lettuces: This salad staple is made-to-order for container gardening, what with its compact shape and shallow root system. A window box would show off your multi-colored lettuce display and they only need around four hours of light each day. Grow varieties you just can't find in your neighborhood store.

3. Climbing beans & peas: Hooray for climbers! And big cheers for fresh green beans and peas from your own little cement patch, adding tons of vertical visual appeal. Rig up a trellis pot or build a decorative cage and have sweet greens to munch all summer long. Be brave—experiment with yellow, white, and purple varieties, and all the flavors of peas.

4. Carrots: What, you say? Yep! Carrots can do very well in containers. Go for smaller, early-ripening varieties, like Chantenays, and sow into pots twice the depth of the full-grown carrot. Consider round, bulbous varieties like Thumbelina or Mini-Round as well. Less length means less soil, means easier container growth. The foliage is like having your own tasty pot of edible ferns!

5. Herbs: This one is likely a given. Most apartment dwellers in search of green-gourmet immediately pot up a bunch of rosemary or mint. Done properly, herbs of nearly every imaginable flavor can cheer up the window sills of your little home. Be sure to investigate the soil needs of each herb, as they do differ, and don't be afraid to grow something unusual. How about Thai basil and choco-mint? Give it a go!

6. Dwarf fruit trees: In honor of my friend, Maggie, I can't leave dwarf fruits off the list. How jealous will all your party guests be when you grab limes, lemons, or even pomegranates from your own patio?! Keep them sunlit and well-drained, bring indoors during the frosty months and these little treasures will sweeten your days.

7. Pumpkin and Squash: Aside from my husband, who doesn't love a tasty, cool summer squash? Varieties of yellow squash, acorn, butternut, and zucchini will be a nostalgic delight on hot summer nights. If you have a railing or fence line, try training some squash vines across it and simply harvest what grows! (I don't recommend this method for those gardening above ground level, ouch!)

8. Spring Onions & Garlic: Sick of paying ridiculous prices for jars of minced garlic and bunches of spring onions that waste away in the crisper? Grow them yourself! These indispensable flavors grow like a dream in confined quarters. Spring onions can be grown from seed in the most dense conditions and can, within reasonable time limits, be picked as needed. Garlic is even better, though not terribly attractive. But it makes up for beauty in what it adds to your cooking. To store your harvest, get a needle and thread and do them up Italian-style, hanging, as edible art, from the kitchen ceiling.

9. Peppers: Be they chilis or sweet peppers, these beauties can open the door to cuisines from Mexico, Asia, and the Mediterranean. And they do love a pot! Sunlight and warmth are the keys to getting these little darlings to do their best. Be careful not to over-water, and keep harvesting to coax more peppers off these yummy plants.

10. Berry Bushes: Want some fresh strawberries on your morning cereal? How about a blueberry tart for dessert? Berries can thrive in small spaces if care is given where it's needed. Water carefully and fertilize with a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and other trace elements. These tasty treats are mostly perennial so, with love, they can keep you in berry-goodness for years.

What do you do if there's no available sun? Make a small investment. Even we space-rich gardeners have to shell out for supplies now and again. Buy some decent quality grow-lights and it can be daytime anytime you like!

I really hope this list helps the small-spacers out there. No one should be deprived of their own homegrown goodies. Happy growing!

24 October, 2008

Bizarre Night Behavior

I had a brilliant idea tonight. A Late Night Drinking and Digging Party!

This was the test-drive for a future night when we'll actually invite over some age-appropriate family and friends and try it full-scale. Tonight? Just me and the man.

DISCLAIMER: Don't try this at home without careful attention to safety, nor should you get so drunk that fun becomes danger. Thanks!

It was great! We drank, and dug, and dug, and drank. He polished off four beers, me a modest (nearly) two. But, more importantly, we dug out somewhere between ten and twelve wheelbarrows full of future-patio dirt. The hole to Brazil, in our back garden, is becoming quite the impressive sight. We figure there's about 60-70% remaining, but we're making a lot of progress.

Now, should you want to throw your own Late Night Drinking and Digging Party, here's what you need:

  1. a really warm night
  2. two shovels
  3. two wheelbarrows
  4. two or more willing and questionably-sane people
  5. a big hole that needs digging
  6. a lot of good alcohol
  7. a camera to document the ridiculous event

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, we're not your average gardeners.

23 October, 2008

A waster of water is a waster of better

Dune. Arrakis. Desert Planet.

Not quite—that's a view from the Northern Territory of Oz—but it can often feel that way in my neck of the woods.

In Australia, there is a crude-but-accurate saying that the weather is "drier than a nun's nasty." Okay, so that's really gross, but it sums up just how little rainfall we really get. And I live outside the driest of the dry, when it comes to civilized regions. Sure, the Simpson Desert is definitely hotter and absolutely devoid of all moisture, but that's not terribly suburban.

To make matters worse, we've been in a catastrophic drought for five, going on six, years, and have adopted strict water-use restrictions as simply a part of life.

Average Annual Precipitation
Charlottesville, Virginia: 68.5"/1740mm
Columbus, Georgia: 48.6"/1234mm
Dallas, Texas: 37.0"/940mm
Manchester, UK: 31.8"/807mm
Onkaparinga, South Australia: approx 19.7"/500mm
Phoenix, Arizona: 8.3"/210mm

The heat and lack of snow runoff don't help, with summer temperatures getting up to/past 44C/111F and so-called winter bottoming out this year at 2C/35.6F.

The gist of this is, it's damn hard to grow what you enjoy! However, it does "force" you to be Green. Earth-friendly irrigation is not a hippie concept, here. It's normal. It's what the yuppie woman down the street does, and the hillbilly grandpa across the road, not to mention the schools, businesses, and well, just about everyone.

Here are some SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for life in Droughtville, and which of those we actually manage.

Rainwater tanks used for gardening
Rainwater tanks piped into house
Grey water used for gardening
Dual-flush toilets
Drip irrigation used max 3 hrs weekly
/1-day-per-week watering w/ trigger hose
/Native plant gardening

Our rainwater tank died last year, but it's first on our list for Xmas gifts, though we can't afford to pipe it into the house. We're planning three tank systems. One catching house runoff for the mid-back garden, one catching shed runoff for the back-back garden, and one catching the eventual chicken house runoff for their own drinking water.

We're not perfect about only watering on our assigned Sunday evenings. But we rarely water more than once per week. And we were using the drip irrigation a lot, but that's before I found out the regulations. Ugh.

As for native gardening.. we're working on it, but most of what we do is relocation of existing plants from around the yard as new plants are pricey.

These are required measures in most parts of Australia. But can the rest of the world afford not to follow suit? My own step-dad is considering rainwater collection and they're in relatively wet Central Virginia! What do you do to combat the effects of global warming on your garden?

22 October, 2008

Beautified and fortified

Man can not live by veggie patch alone...Okay, well, maybe he could, but I sure can't! I adore my veggie patch, and the beautiful old fruit trees on the land here, but I need some flowers and greenery to make my heart go pitter-pat.

There's no real shortage of non-food planty goodness in our plot, but it can always use a little help. We just started digging up what will eventually be our patio (spawned by my randomly digging a big hole in the lawn while fed up waiting to have enough money to hire a Bobcat-digger), which meant three things for the hot-or-not rating of our garden.

1. No dirt means homeless bulbs. Dozens of them. At least 10 canna lillies,
piles of irises, and some random pretty flowers we can't identify.
2. No pretty green-and-floral view out my kitchen window. A real bummer when
you hate washing dishes.
3. No protection from the cruel Aussie sun which pours in our dining area
window all. day. long.
So, we got to work. Strong-man hubby dug up the bulbs and rosebush and, with no small amount of blood and sweat, we replanted the poor old rose, crossing our toes that it survives a mid-season move, and he got busy lining our side of the neighbor's ugly fenceline with sun-loving bulbs. Problem #1 solved! But still no pretty view and lots of blinding sun for the window-gazers in the family. Now it was my turn to work.

For around $30, we bought three coconut-lined green wire hanging baskets and nine sun-tolerant seedlings including grasses, prostrate thyme, native ferns, evergreens, and a couple random ground covers. I potted them up with our own garden soil and a bit of mineral rich fertilizer, et voila! Two birds with one stone. The plants (theoreticallly) will grow and drape and help shade our brightest windows, all while providing me a gorgeous view as I scrub the daily dishes. Bang, pow! #2 and #3 down for the count! We're so pleased with the hanging pots so much that we're going to do two more and finish the full length of the house.

We've been slackers the last two days, but tonight the boy will get back to bulb planting, and I'll finish up the spring veggie/herb sowing then go back to digging up the back yard. Busy times ahead, that's for certain.

21 October, 2008

Near-instant Gratification

There are few things, I've discovered, more satisfying than growing beans.

I planted these climbing lovelies in our "three sisters" garden on October 10th, and only a few short days later they began to sprout. Just days beyond sprouting, they've unfolded their hunched little bodies and grown nearly as tall as the corn, planted two weeks prior. It's a small pleasure, perhaps, but a beautiful one. I think there's an aspect of enlightenment in watching such things grow.

In other news around the plot, it was a pricey grocery week, though mostly due to buying tons of meat to freeze. However, I nearly fainted when we paid $1.60 for a single lime for this week's pad thai recipe, and that led to heightened discussions of planting our own lime and lemon trees. Hopefully the upcoming scary-birthday and holidays will fulfill our citrus dreams.

The big excitement at home today was the Grand Bee Exodus of 2008. I was out on the porch, grabbing a smoke, and heard a low buzzing din from the roadway. Thinking it just a gearhead revving his heap, I started to sit in my comfy porch chair, then I saw a bee fly by...and another...and another.

This, in and of itself, is not a terribly unusual sight in our incredibly fragrant, floral yard. But the din grew, and I looked out to the patch of road beyond our little green gate. Bees. Lots and lots of bees. Little horrific yellow dots of beedom buzzing in cloud formation only a few paces away, heading down the road in a southerly direction.

I promptly sealed myself inside the house and phoned my husband to inform him I'd be smoking inside the rest of the day. Then I rang up the council and reported the swarm. Shudder central! Yes, that's right. The City Mouse is a severe bee-phobic gardener! I hope they find a home far, far away. Simultaneously, I hope they left a few friends behind to polinate my tomatoes.

17 October, 2008

What is the Suburban Plot?

plot n.
1. a. A small piece of ground, generally used for a specific purpose: a garden plot. b. A measured area of land; a lot.
2. A ground plan, as for a building; a diagram.
3. The pattern of events or main story in a narrative or drama.
4. A secret plan to accomplish a hostile or illegal purpose; a scheme

This blog exists in response to each of the four above definitions of plot. Sure, in simplest interpretations, this is a chronicle of my little family's efforts to work the soil of our small chunk of Suburbia, but there's more to the story. More to the plot, if you will.

What is the great suburban plot, then?

Making money. I know, catch your breath, that was a real shocker, I'm sure. The great suburban plot is to make money from providing goods and services for a population that's forgotten the skills to provide for themselves. And that, more than anything, is what has motivated us to grow our little garden.

To be fair, my husband has quietly daydreamed of constructing a veggie patch in the ample back garden since he bought the house three years ago. And again, in fairness, I have a touch of inner hippie that requires a good bit of dirt digging to keep the peace-sign-flashing demons at bay. But truly, it is a mercenary thing that brought us to this place of gardening goodness.

We're broke! Yep, that's right. Broke. I mean, we pay our bills (mostly) and we've not been late on the mortgage even once, but still...we're broke. This is, in no small part, due to our terrible, unfortunate habit of liking to eat three times a day...sometimes four. Our food expenses ranked second amongst all our spending. Something had to be done.

If you've read back a bit, you'll know that in my past life I was an analytics specialist, deciphering patterns of data into solid trends. In other words, I'm a spreadsheet junky. So, naturally, I applied the trusty tools of MS Excel to our grocery problem and began tracking common purchases at several different local stores over a period of twelve weeks.

In the beginning, the trends showed that, no matter what we bought or where we shopped, we were averaging $140 (AUD) in total weekly grocery spending (food, supplies, personal care, etc). Through some creative shopping and planning, we've knocked it down to $100-110. This is for a family of two adults with no pets. That may not sound like much, but when non-grocery bills total around $1950 per month, and one's total income is about $2600, monthly...well, you do the math. Inspired by curiosity, I also conducted a little poll of an online Adelaide community and discovered we were all in the same fleet of expensive little boats, with average food-only spending for a family of 2.2 (yeah, yeah, I know.) people at $118.24 per week, not including take-out and restaurant food, nor that occasional cappuccino at the corner cafe.

This is an Oz-wide—likely Worldwide—problem, which even led the government to attempt some pitiful semblance of price monitoring, though I think one of the morning talk shows does a better job of it. We don't even have unit-based pricing (ie price per kg/lb etc) here! So, while I'm not a conspiracy theorist by nature, one does have to wonder how anyone, shy of a spreadsheet-obsessed immigrant with too much time on her hands, is supposed to save on food at any of the whopping three main grocery chains.

The easiest solution when faced with near-monopolistic food-peddling empire and lackluster government policy? Grow it yourself. So we are.

More on this rant later, no doubt!

10 October, 2008

DIY Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is an excellent water-saver, and it's good for your plants too. It allows precise, measured delivery of water to the roots of the plant, helping to prevent watering nearby weeds, or encouraging bolting on certain plants which respond badly to being watered from above.

Bunnings (the Aussie Home Depot) currently sells pre-drilled 30 metre drip irrigation hoses for around $37, and that's just the beginning. Add in fittings and stoppers, timers, and all the other things their project books insist you need, and you could easily drop as much as $100 on just one length of watering hose for your veggie patch. Here's how we cut the total cost under $7.

30 metres of black, UV tolerant poly tube - $4.95
1 stopper fitting - $0.60
1 tap-attachment fitting - $0.60
1 small, sharp metal nail - Free from our hardware stash
A dozen or two metal tent stakes, or similar - Free, but others might not have these laying around.
A hammer
Potentially a saw or metal grinder of some sort, but we'll get to that.

First, stretch out the full length of tube to straighten it as best you can. They come coiled, and they like to stay coiled. Next, step back from your garden and get a real visual plan of the best route for laying your irrigation. Remember, one end needs to attach to a water supply, or the project kind of ends there! Bonus points if you can hook it to a rainwater collection tank, or greywater system if you're irrigating established, non-food plants.

Grab a friend and start laying tube, with the goal being to get the base of every plant exposed to some part of your irrigation system. Use a hammer to nail tent stakes into the soil, with the crooked end acting as an anchor for the tubing.

TIP: If, like us, you don't have enough tent stakes, or your soil is too soft for stable anchoring, make your own anchors. We had excellent luck cutting up an old, unwanted, rusty metal trellis "gifted" us by some previous homeowner. The hubby cut them into a large U-shaped bracket and they worked like a charm!

Once you've secured the tubing to the ground put a stopper fitting into the far end of the tube and, you guessed it, join the tap attachment to the tube and the tap. Now, grab your trusty (but not rusty) nail and get to stabbing! Start with one hole for every plant or clump of plants you'd like to water. If there are just too many, sparsely perforate the tube as needed. If there's nothing planted along a section of tube...don't poke it! Save water where you can. For planted mounds, I prefer a low "rainbow" of tube overtop to trying to wind the irrigation around the whole damn thing.

Once everything is stabbed and poked, turn on the tap. But be careful--Your peaceful little drip irrigation system can easily become a geyser if the pressure is too high. And if you feel you absolutely need a two-hour timer for your tap, that should only bring the project total cost up to $16 or so.

Congratulations! You just built your very own drip irrigation system! Now that you know how to do the basics, on the cheap, you can experiment with adding offshots, T-joints, L-corners, everything you need to flawlessly water your entire patch.

09 October, 2008

How not to grow carrots

Photo by Rob Friesel
In our naivete, as previously explained, we assumed life wouldn't ever interfere with garden glory. In our poorly worked carrot patch, I had sprinkled an entire packet of seeds in rows occupying a space little larger than a square metre. Fools!

Our carrots grew, miraculously enough, though at the most ridiculously slow pace imaginable.

Now, some may ask why this was a problem at all. Well, it's not, really. Not if you are diligent in your tendings and once your carrot-tops are about an inch high (3-ish cm) you remember to go back and thin them to finger-width apart. Then a few weeks later, thin them again, harvesting the in-betweens as baby carrots, leaving the rest, happily spaced, to grow into big, strong mega carrots! We did none of the above.

I say we...It was my job, and I got heavily distracted by life not long after planting in Feb/Mar. In that time, I got married, experienced a bit of life drama, and hid from the winter chill quite a lot! This led to fifty thousand little carrots vying for what tiny bit of nutrition they could suck from the soil.

The upside? We planted in Aussie Autumn, and we finally harvested our last sad little carrots in October. The downside? The aforementioned sad little carrots.

This season, we'll do better.