Crop Circles

Chapter 10
Crop Circles  

If you took an aerial photograph of our house and land you might be mistaken for thinking the aliens have landed and left their mark.  There are six perfect circles about an metre and a half in diameter in a pattern somewhat resembling the Olympic Rings in our garden.  These Crop Circles are a combination of my idea of recycling rubbish left behind by the codger who owned the place before us and my desire to have some raised garden beds in the “no mans land” near the herb garden.
Recycling is a great concept and one that most of us don’t think about often enough.  I think that “reuse” is a long lost art.  Remember the days when pickles and chutneys were home made and stored in oven sterilized jam jars adorned with little dolly caps of pinked gingham.  Paper shopping bags made great masks for children or were reused to hold garbage and newspapers were cut and folded to house the peelings of the potatoes, bean ends and pea pods before they went into the bin.
Some recycling however costs more than it saves and here is one such story…
I wish I had a picture of it, the great grey cylinder of concrete (about 1.5m in diametre and three metres in length) that was once part of a water pipe and was just left, dumped, in our back yard (far enough away that we didnt have to look at it every day).  The artist in me had thoughts of a mosaic sculpture of a face with great orange aggie pipe hair coming out of the top.  So the first time our mate Ian came around to clear some land for us with his excavator and bob cat, we had him lift it onto one end.  It stayed that way for the best part of a year and a half.
Next I priced some of the terrific raised garden beds that were out there in Bunnings and on the net.  Way too expensive for the budget (or lack of one) that I had.  Treated sleepers were taboo because the copper oxide could leach into the soil and eventually be taken up into the vegetables (particularly root crops) and ingested.  Untreated sleepers would eventually succumb to white ants and help to bring them closer to the house which wasn’t a great idea.  Plastic sleepers were again too expensive.  No old water tanks lying around to be ground into several circular sections… but it did give me an idea about what to do with the water pipe.  
So I called a couple of concrete cutters and got some prices.  To make five pieces was going to cost about $250 cash.  Five garden beds for $250, which wouldn’t deteriorate or poison us, sounded like good value to me!  About a week later the guy came and cut them after I had marked them as best I could with a line for him to follow.
 We envisaged that once in sections and lying on the ground we could lift one edge and roll them onto the trailer and one by one bring them up to the herb garden and roll them into place.  We had NO IDEA how heavy reinforced concrete was, even in sections.  The smallest one Benny couldn’t even budge, let alone get it onto its side, and he is very strong!  So we thought we would call up our mate Ian again and thankfully with our special “mates rate” it wouldn’t cost much more to get the crop circles put into place.  The problem with this thinking is Brent.  Once he has a bobcat and excavator on the property he never wants to let them go.  So $300 later… we have lots of lovely cleared and tidy space and the circles are in place.  
Weeks went by and I eventually had some time to start filling the beds.  I had decided I wanted to go the way of the “no dig” garden and had in the shed enough left over mulch and organic potting mix to give the first one a go.  I piled in the newspaper (not nearly enough to suppress the weeds) and the mulch and then thought about the water supply.  Talk about cart before the horse!.  Benny loves to put in sprinkler systems.  He has done this in various homes both ours and other peoples and will sit back and watch his handwork regularly spring to life.  So off to Bunnings we go hi ho hi ho.  Poly pipe, risers, sprinkler heads, filter, dual tap controller, timer etc. 
Anyhow you get the message.  Then with seedings and more organic potting mix and the next five circles worth of mulch our garden beds are coming along nicely.  Have we harvested enough produce to reclaim our $800?  Not yet, probably not ever, but I love looking out from my work space at all our vegies growing and most weekends there are sufficient variety to make an otherwise ordinary omelet quite special.  Benny turns the sprinklers on most mornings and marvels at the symmetry of the water spray. 

The Pumpkin Patch

Chapter 9
The Pumpkin Patch
Gardening is all about experimentation to me.  Perhaps it is more about my lack of motivation to do any research before poking in a seed or planting a cutting, but I am enthralled by the results that very little prior preparation and planning can still produce.  
After a recent tour of a friend’s wonderful acreage with organic vegie garden I learnt that one of the best things to control weeds is the planting of running vegetable plants such as pumpkins.  He had a wonderful crop of robust Blue and Kent pumpkins running mad around the bases of his stands of banana trees.  They seemed to be cohabiting quite well and there certainly didn’t seem to be a weed in sight.  
Taking this information on board I thought the perfect place to employ this technique was one of the car tyre retaining walls (oh so attractive!) which was both eroding and constantly overgrown with weeds.  
We have a number of vegetarian friends (as I may well have previously mentioned) and so I constantly make a big tray of feta, pumpkin and spinach quiche.  Every time I peel and deseed a store bought pumpkin I scoop the seeds into a container to allow them to dry out in the kitchen.  So I had plenty of seeds to propagate in some shallow trays, which soon produced about a dozen healthy butternut pumpkin plants.

I know well about caging my vegies when you have free ranging chooks, so after planting the seedlings at the bottom of the tyre wall (thinking they would climb UP it), I put a frame over the plants, covered it with chicken wire and the chookies were not impressed.  From then on the weather was bad and good and wet and bad and eventually with little help from me the plants took off.  And “took off” is exactly what they did… in the wrong direction.  As I watched the plants grow and send out tendrils strangling the “mother of millions” or “cobbler’s pegs” as I had instructed them to do, I also noticed that they were heading downwards towards Brent’s workshop and across the driveway leading to it.  So the tyre hill was still covered in weeds, eroding and UGLY!  The best part is that even though they didn’t GO where I wanted, they did DO what I wanted them to do and we were happy to receive about a dozen lovely little butternut pumpkins which were quickly turned into quiche and so on and so on.
Okay so we live an learn.  Back to the original premise.  The top of the tyre wall unfortunately was not retained in any way.  It is the top of the walkway and goes off on a steep slope towards the shed.  So the new idea was to retain a boxed plot at the top of the hill, plants some new seedlings and hope that they would have no choice but to cascade down and give the desired end result.
Projects like this really do excite me.  I am even more chuffed when I tell my husband and he asks “how can I help?” rather than telling me it is a ludicrous idea.  So we cut some boards from some rubbish timber lying around.  He helped me run some stakes into the bank to support their weight and we cut some triangle shapes to enclose the ends.  We ended up with a box about two metres long and half a metre wide.
I weeded the area as best I could with a little help from the curious chooks, and then it was my job to back fill it with soil.  So I hooked up the trailer to the mower and took it through the gate (closing it behind me) and down to the compost heap.  
Each shovel full was teaming with worms which was quite encouraging and I was secretly hoping the curious chooks wouldn’t come down and see what I was doing and get in the way.  I shoveled and shoveled until the trailer was full (no mean feat) and then drove it up to the yard and as close as I could to the walk path which was still a few metres away from the planter box.  Then shovel by shovel I walked all the soil to the box only to discover it was going to take at least another trailer full to come close to filling it!
Back again to the compost heap, more hard work, back up to the walk path, and guess who is in the planter box eating all the worms?  There is nothing like a fresh pile of dirt or a heap of garden mulch to get chooks excited!
After I finished shoveling in the dirt I shoed the chooks away to plant the seedlings and cover them with mulch.  In quite a hurry I caged the new plants behind a mesh fence and gave them a drink to help them settle in.
Weeks have passed.  Much rain has fallen.  The only problem with the location of the pumpkin patch is that at the top of the hill is it doesnt get as much sun as at the bottom of the hill.  The plants are growing and I havent lost one yet but they arent really growing very fast.  I should also mention that it is now winter so maybe that has something to do with it.  Experimentation. Live and learn.

The Things you Pick up at a Garage Sale

Chapter 8
The things you pick up at a 
Garage Sale
We had owned the house just over a year at this point and ever since we moved in we have had a “boarder”.  Border Collie that is!  The first neighborhood greeting we received was a visit from two local pooches, the Collie and his little mate a very fat, old Jack Russell Terrier.  Our son Lawson was beside himself with joy at being able to come home every afternoon and play with two dogs.  They were our “Claytons” pets (the pets you have when you’re not having a pet), long before the chooks arrived.  We hadn’t met the neighbours yet and for weeks we were tempted to write a letter and put it in their mail box introducing ourselves and asking the names of their dogs (so that we could properly address them of course).  
As I work from home during the week the Collie had taken up residence at the front door whenever I had it open to let in the breeze.  Not inside the house but on the door mat, like he was keeping me safe, or keeping me company.  Lawson would come home every afternoon and throw the ball for him to chase, which gave an indoor child a well needed excuse to get outside and run around.  On the weekends Benny, not know for his love of dogs, would be caught sitting on the step patting and chatting with the Collie or rubbing the tummy of the little fat Terrier.  We were all very content with this arrangement and made a conscious decision that apart from playing with the dogs we wouldn’t feed them (but we did put out water) or do anything else to overtly encourage them to stay at our place and avoid their own owners.
The little dog was old and arthritic so only managed to go home down their massive driveway in the evening for meals and wander back up once in the morning.  So he stayed on the road or in the yard all of the day.  The Collie was more fit and adventurous and would chase the ride-on mower, birds, motorbikes etc and we often felt that he slept in our yard and didn’t go home at all.  We did start to get worried that he wasnt having any meals but he always looked healthy and cared for so we let it go.  
So our Claytons pets just hung around every day, Collie on the door mat and Terrier just always there keeping him company, sleeping on a mat, the outdoor couch cushions, the new pet bed we bought him (couldn’t help ourselves)…until we realised he was incontinent!   Argh!  Of course by this time he had grown accustomed to getting up on the outdoor furniture, even on the bare bases when we removed the cushions (after a number had to be discarded).  We were at our wits end having to pack everything up every time we left to go out anywhere and weren’t there to patrol the yard furniture.
As hard as it was, we had to discourage the little dog from coming over.  Lots of “shooing” and “go on off with ya” later and he got the message and stayed away.  The collie however recognised that he was still welcome so long as he didn’t get up on the furniture and so he continued to keep us company.
We eventually met our neighbours and told them what was going on and what we had done to dissuade the little dog (now known as Ben) from coming back over.  We also told them that Scruffy (the Collie) was welcome to come and hang out and play catch and sleep over etc if it was okay with them.  They “said” it was okay but secretly I think they were a little jealous of us getting all the attention when they did all the feeding and paid all the bills!
Well, as I mentioned we had owned the house for just over a year and we saw a sign up across at the neighbour’s place advertising a Garage Sale.  We were curious as we had heard whispers from other neighbours that maybe they would be selling up and touring Australia in their luxurious new caravan.  We were desperate to know what they were going to do about the dogs (one in particular) so we thought we would go down the driveway and check out the sale and have a chat.
We were greeted warmly and encouraged to have a look through the mounds of books, furniture and tools that they were hoping to off load.  A couple of hundred dollars later Brent was the proud owner of an air compressor and series of air tools and I bought nothing because frankly that was enough!  
We sat at the table and asked them about their plans and they told us that although they were hoping to sell up, as the market was slow they thought they would rent their place so that they could get on with their plans to travel straight away.  We took a deep breath and asked “What are you going to do with Scruffy?” 
“Well he’s your dog isn’t he?” replied our neighbour with a wry smile.  “We thought you might like to take him.”
Well, we couldn’t contain our relief and joy!  They mentioned how at first they were jealous and tried to keep the dogs at home so that they wouldn’t go over to our house.  They even locked them in the pool enclosure!  But they soon realised they were punishing the dogs for their own reasons and as they were away most of the time working they recognised that Scruffy was particularly in need of companions that would chase, run and play with him.  They said they would be taking Ben in the caravan as he was small and getting on in years and we were also very happy with that news!
They handed us the registration papers which had recently arrived for renewal (timely) and answered all our questions about feeding, worming, brushing, etc etc as this was our first dog and we knew basically nothing!  We were so excited to tell Lawson.  He was beside himself and ran to call his school friends about what had happened.  
Soon after we went for our first of many trips to the Pet Store as new dog owners and stocked up on all sorts of gizmos, gadgets and thingamybobs to claim Scruffy as our own.

Unashamedly an ad for Decor Pet Beds
Again an ad for Decor Pet Beds


I know I know but they are lovely aren’t they!