Solstice garden update and merry christmas

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. 

Cicero

I thought I would end the year with a garden update given that it’s the summer solstice down here in the Southern Hemisphere. The garden has proven to be a sanctuary over the past two years in Melbourne where we’ve spent almost a whole year in lockdown. It was the one place I have been legally allowed to be outside without wearing the obligatory face nappy. It’s not lost on me that the drive to suburbia in the earlier part of the 20th century was in large part a drive to get away from the pollution and disease of the inner city. In some of the older inner suburbs of Melbourne, where property prices these days are astronomical, it’s still considered necessary to have your soil tested before growing food producing plants because those areas were previously set aside for heavy industry and heavy industry comes with toxic byproducts that decades later are still hanging around.

It was away from this pollution that the emerging middle class moved seeking the fresh air and clean soil of the suburbs. The possession of enough land to grow a garden was also considered a positive and prior to the wars everybody would have had a kitchen garden and a lemon tree as a bare minimum. In the postwar boom years the kitchen garden was replaced by a lawn. These days, there’s almost no lemon trees to be found and the lawns are a lot smaller. The new suburbs are full of properties that are lucky to be on 1/8th of an acre with a McMansion that stretches from one fence to the other. A garden of any interest is an impossibility on such a block. Although, this is no problem for most people for whom even mowing the lawn is too much of a chore. The reason people move to the suburbs now is not to avoid the inner suburbs but because they cannot afford the inner suburbs. The result is that the outer suburbs are more or less like the inner suburbs, at least as far as size of land goes.

When I made the move to the suburbs it was with an old fashioned garden in mind and so I deliberately chose a place in an older suburb where the new fashion of sub-division hadn’t yet taken hold. The house came with a lemon tree which, by a random meeting with the daughter of the ex-owner, I learned was planted in the 1950s by the original owners.

Old eureka lemon still producing beautiful fruit all year round

Sadly, the subdivision trend has now arrived in this area too. Just this year the property at the end of my street was split in two. It was once a quarter acre with a number of big fruit trees near the fence. I admit to helping myself to some of the peaches when walking past a few times (the owner didn’t seem interested in them). But the peach tree, perhaps planted around the same time as the lemon tree on my property, is no more. Along with the others, it was uprooted to make space for a huge house which takes up basically the entire block. Where I used to reach over to grab a peach you can now touch the side of the house, that’s how close it is to the fence. This kind of subdivision has been happening in Melbourne for two decades now. It’s all inflation, of course. The prices of properties continue to go up as the size of the land goes down. The median house price in Melbourne is now more than a million dollars and is completely untethered from underling reality much like the rest of our society these days. 

One of the valuable things about a backyard garden is that it provides close contact with reality. This year I’ve had to battle aphids who did some damage to one of the apple trees before I managed to get them under control. I had to learn the hard way that the grass I planted, even though it said “drought proof” on the box, is not suitable for the climate where I live so I’ll have to plant something different once summer is over. And I’ve also had the usual battles with pests, although this was the first year I remembered to net the almond trees before the cockatoos got to them so baring unforeseen circumstances I should get an almond harvest for the first time. 

I’ve also been in the process of changing the design of the garden from the original edible forest garden concept to an orchard-and-separate-veggie-garden setup. In the process I added 5 new fruit trees which brings the total to 25 along with 3 grape vines and a number of passionfruit vines. In addition, I added about 8 square metres of veggie gardens to bring the total to just under 20. I expanded my composting operations with the aid of the chicken manure from the coop and I have achieved another goal which is to grow all my vegetables from seed. Next year’s goal will be to grow all vegetables from seeds which I saved myself. Now that high summer is here, there’s nothing much to do except sit back and harvest the goodies.

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks to knuckle down and see if I can’t finish off my fourth novel “Once Upon a Time in Tittybong 2: Catch My Disease” (yes, the theme is heavily influenced by corona). I wish everybody a Merry Xmas and a happy new year. Doing either of these things now amounts to an act of rebellion so embrace your inner rebel and remember the Devouring Mother wants you miserable.

Here’s some updated garden pics.

A new addition to the front yard contains perennial veggies, herbs and flowering plants for the bees and butterflies
The giant peppercorn sucks up all the moisture from the soil, so these beds are all raised wicking beds which cuts back substantially on the amount of water needed for irrigation and turns this part of the garden into a productive area
The “orchard” has apple and pear trees to the right, newly planted olive and mandarin in the middle and lemon and macadamia to the left
I introduced Diogena, the cynic chicken, in an earlier post. In recent weeks, she has decided that the dry, warm, secure environment of the chicken coop is not to her liking and has decided to start roosting on, of all places, the pipe that leads from the gutter to the rainwater tank.
Like a true cynic, getting ready to sleep under the stars

26 thoughts on “Solstice garden update and merry christmas”

  1. Merry Christmas and a happy new year mate. Lets hope next year gets a bit less crappy.
    We still got the big blocks here in Ipswich. Quite a nice town actually. I just wish it wasnt in Queensland.
    And if you think house prices in Melbourne are crazy, what would you call Byron Bay? Pushing 3 mil these days.

  2. Roland – there’s some promising signs in Australia for next year but time will tell. First time in two years we have politicians who are not talking crazy (well, a couple of them. Obviously, not the Qld ones). Byron Bay would have to be one of the worst property investments in the world, right now. But I guess the people paying those prices probably don’t need the money too badly.

  3. Merry Christmas Simon. I’ve been enjoying your posts these past few months. I left QLD with my family in May and have been doing “a lap”. During very interesting times to say the least. Currently in Tassie looking at possibly staying here. Good opportunities still for large blocks and very much looking forward to being a steward to a garden once again….

  4. Luke – wow, you’ve chosen a hell of a time to travel. Hope you got through all the borders without too much fuss. I’ve been pondering a move to Tassie as well. Would probably go for Launceston if I did. Whereabouts are you thinking of settling down?

  5. We’ve been incredibly lucky with our timing really. Apart from an emergency short trip back to QLD in July, we were able to travel almost restriction free for most part through northern QLD, NT, WA and SA. Admittedly, we have continued in an act of defiance! We’ve so far timed our movements amazingly well, such that border gates have “slammed shut” (as they say! smh) behind our tail.

    Launceston does look like a lovely area I agree. We are considering one of the east coast townships, but have a fair statewide traversal in mind to scope it out first.

  6. Luke – well, it’s the best time of the year to be there. I’ll take Tassie over Qld in Dec/Jan any day of the week :). Enjoy!

  7. What a beautiful garden and inspiring post. In here we are entering winter and the snow is about to start, but I have big plans for the spring. I also plan to ask my landlord if he would mind if I set up a small quail operation.

    Aphids are annoying, but have you considered releasing ladybugs in your property? Here in Israel you can buy them in boxes with 500 Beatles, and if you give them a habitat they will happily set up in your garden, and their larvae eats aphids.

  8. Bakbook – I saw a few ladybugs in the garden this year. I’m presuming they were eating some of the aphids. Sparrows also eat aphids and I saw them going branch to branch helping themselves on the tree. I think some years the numbers of various insects just shoot up for whatever reason and this year it was the aphids turn. It has been a very wet year so maybe that has caused the boom in their numbers. Good idea about the ladybugs though. I’ll try next year to see if I can’t encourage more of them into the garden.

  9. We’ll done on the garden, likewise, the summer crops are doing their thing.
    I’m hoping the 20 or so paste tomatoes ripen together, so I can get them into jars.
    At this time of year, I eat an awful lot of zucchini, onion and garlic.
    I believe all really good for the immune system??
    I’ll be getting a bunch of apricots from my sister’s friend, so I’ll be bottling them too.
    I cut some of my fruit trees back hard last winter as they were just getting too big to handle
    Hopefully back in fruit next year.
    The dwarf stone fruit out the front are producing.
    My two almonds? Never had one. Even netting didn’t stop them being pinched.
    Ive designated them ‘ornamental’.

    I just got delivered 2 trailer loads of compost this week. I had a good chat with the truck driver; one of ‘us’.
    My sister will bag some up and take it, I’ve given her a you tube link to Charles Dowding, the ‘no dig’ guru.
    She’s already started doing some stuff in containers. My niece is also getting into to it as well, with a few raised beds.
    They are both very much novices, but, you have to start somewhere.

    I now have 9 Quail, I got 2 more females this week, and the 5 hatchlings are now 5 weeks old, about one week off maturity.
    The group dynamics was thrown out a bit with the two new girls, and it’s still a work in progress. The fact that the 5 babies are almost grown ups and have hormones raging, has also contributed to the pecking order process. As youngsters they were not considered a threat. Fortunately there has been no blood spilt, just what you might consider minor bullying.
    It should settle down and they can re-concentrate on their cushy lives!
    Not many Quail get to live on grass,
    most are on wire.

    All the family members have invested in a separate freezer and are in the process of stocking up, in anticipation of shortages/more singling out for the unjabbed.

    My workmates down at the factory have all had to go get tested and go into quarantine today, due to a ‘close contact’ worker who was positive from Monday.
    So no going anywhere for Christmas for any of them.
    My boss, who has been battling stage 4 colon cancer for the last few years, is unable to go in for his chemo next week.
    He had gone in to the factory on the Monday, so has been lumped in as a close contact with this guy, whoever he is.
    He also has a golden staph infection around the chemo shunt area, so he’s on a drip feed of antibiotics for that too.
    And now, no production.
    December hasn’t been his month…
    Yep, all the work that came in today, (yes every year customers still want orders fulfilled right up to Xmas Eve), plus whatever they still had to finish from days ago, well they won’t be getting stuff now.
    Should have got organised earlier, they should be realising that just in time/drop of a hat is becoming a relic of the past.
    TNT the company we use for deliveries to WA is not taking new orders till late January I believe.
    I’d imagine it must be due to a huge backlog, coupled with some drivers quitting over the mandate.

    Anyway, it’s getting late, I’ll finish up and say, Merry Xmas everyone, may it be quiet and uneventful!

  10. Simon – The weather aphids like best when it’s wet and hot, maybe there were summer rains where you live?

    I have some questions for you about using chickens for meat, I understand from your posts that you have done it in the past. Are you currently using your chicken for meat? Do you mind if I ask you said questions?

  11. Helen – i’ve discovered a magic pesto recipe using the russian giant garlic I planted this year. Swapped out the pine nuts for almonds and then used the pesto with cheddar cheese. There’s definitely some magic there. Dunno if it’s good for the immune system but it’s definitely good for the taste buds. Fresh pesto from the garden is far superior to store bought pesto. Sounds like you’re getting the family onto the right track. Always good to be prepared especially since the government continues to make it up as they go. Merry Xmas.

    Bakbook – there was a lot of spring rain this year so that would explain it. I’m not currently using the chickens for meat mainly cos I’m not breeding them myself. When I was young, I helped my parents with the preparation but our job was just plucking the feathers and that was some time ago so I only have vague memories of it. Feel free to ask any questions, but my knowledge is more theoretical than practical these days.

  12. Simon, this is essentially off topic, but – LMAO. Apparently, Novak Djokovic just got an “exemption” so that he can compete at the Australian Open without submitting to gene therapy. Mind you, this has been a hot topic in the Serbian media for weeks (months?) now. Figures. On the Serbian side, well, he’s probably the most famous Serb in the world right now. And on the Australian side, he’s a nine time Australian Open champion, and apparently, the tournament is in a bit of a financial hole, so shutting out the guy is not exactly in its best interest.

    Special treatment? Of course. But y’know, sometimes, when an exceptional person gets special treatment, that opens the door for ordinary people to demand the same. So, with any luck…

    (I have to say I’m a bit surprised that Serbia didn’t simply arrange a for “vaccine” certificate for him… It probably would have, if he’d asked, but he didn’t ask.)

    Happy New Year!

  13. Irena – ahh, I was waiting to see what happened with that. Good on him. I always liked Djokovic even before all this business. A man of principle that holds to it is a rare thing these days. By the way, things are changing fast here in Australia. I almost can’t believe what I’m hearing but the politicians and authorities are making sense all of a sudden. There are tens of thousands of cases per day here now so it makes no sense whatsoever to ban people from coming in given that we are now even allowing hospital staff who test positive but don’t have symptoms to keep working. Happy new year to you too. What’s the latest from Europe? Looks pretty grim from what I’ve been seeing.

  14. Happy new year mate,
    i agree, it is hard to believe but politicians all of a sudden make sense. Even scomo seems to be growing a pair. Well at least he tries.
    However the general populace is still in a state of panic here in Canetoadistan. Empty carriage on the train this morning. The office too was almost empty when i walked in. Instead there are long lines at the testing stations. Like hundreds of meters. Been so for days. People are queuing outside for up to 6 hours in a Brisbane summer. Temperatures in the 30s. Not healthy i’d say, but at least they won’t catch covid. No virus would survive out there for very long.
    What i’d like to understand is why? In what way exactly will the test result be relevant to them? If it is positive, you got a flu and you gotta isolate for a few days. If it is negative you still got the flu and stay in bed for a few days, which is where you should have been in the first place. And if you have no symptoms, why bother at all?
    Could this be a final self flaggelation to discharge the pent up madness?
    Was in NSW a few times over xmas (not exactly legal, but hey what is these days) and seems to be a lot saner then QLD. No surprise there i guess.
    What’s it look like in VIC?

  15. Hey mate, yeah, we’re seeing the same endless queues here in Melbourne. I think it’s partly hypochondria and partly because people need negative test results to do stuff. Pretty sure you need one to see a doctor, for example. I think the state government is still paying people to sit at home while they wait for a negative test result so there’s a financial incentive too. Anyway, it looks like they are gonna have to stop the madness because things are grinding to a halt in the hospitals and there’s also talk of food shortages now. As for Vic, it’s still bad but getting much better. This Australian Open business with Djokovic is already blowing up in Dan Andrews’ face. The True Believers are not happy. Djokovic will probably win too which will just rub salt into the wound. Hopefully that creates the political pressure for them to drop the vaccine passports.

  16. I quite enjoy watching this tennis but this is gonna be the best Australian Open ever. And I believe that if Djokovic wins he also takes the record for the most grand slams ever won. All while sticking to his principles. Beautiful.

  17. Hi Simon,

    Respect, your garden is looking good and productive. 🙂 You’ve got a good all year around climate where you are and reasonably fertile soils. Yup, the living is good which is why market gardeners have sought out land in your area.

    Dunno about you, but I noticed years ago that society seemed to come under the thrall of the: The Houses that ate the suburbs. I’ve heard serious folks drone on about retrofitting the suburbs, but in my mind that kind of looks like Detroit, and maybe every second or third house needs to just go, if say a Victory Garden was the objective. I agree the houses are constructed from mostly boundary to boundary.

    When I was in the inner suburbs, the final straw was the neighbour seeking permission for a 7.5m wall on the northern boundary for some two story extension monstrosity. The wall would plunge the back garden into shade for about eight months of the year. They got permission, built it, and then moved on. Talk about eating and pooping in the same spot. We were long gone by the end point of that story.

    As a self confessed music geek, I kind of like the title. 🙂

    Cheers

    Chris

  18. “If you make an idiot of yourself, make sure you make an even bigger idiot of yourself, just so no-one is left with any doubt on the matter.”
    – The Unofficial Motto of the Australian Government

    Right. Check out what’s currently going on with Novak Djokovic.

  19. Chris – yeah, once you get an eye for ecological factors and the use of natural resources like water, sunlight, soil, it’s plainly obvious that the way we run things these days is nuts and getting worse. Oh well. What can you do except carve out a small niche of sanity.

    Irena – unbelievable. Well, actually, no, it’s not unbelievable. It’s how these idiots have been running this country for the last two years. Just making shit up as they go. They are a disgrace and now they are making it an international disgrace. I hope Djokovic gets through it all and wins.

  20. Hahaha! So, the Serbian President just wrote the following on his Instagram account (my translation from Serbian): “I just finished a phone call with Novak Djokovic. I told our Novak that all of Serbia was with him, and that our organs of government were taking all possible measures so that the mistreatment of the world’s best tennis player would cease with the least possible delay. In accordance with the norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth. By the way, Novak is strong, as we all know him to be.”

    Now look, I’m no fan of Serbia’s President, but I’m absolutely loving the fact that the Covidians got themselves entangled in an international scandal. Hahaha!

  21. Everything about this story is awesome. I particularly love that it’s taking place in Melbourne which has been the worst city in Australia for the corona nonsense. I also love how one man standing on principle can show up a whole nation living in fear and ignorance. If Djokovic does get to play, it’s very likely he is going to get some very bad treatment by the crowd which will also reveal the dark side of Australia that we have been desperately pretending doesn’t exist and which will be televised around the world.

  22. @irena that sound like the old jazz directive: “if you hit a wrong note, hit it again and hit it harder”
    Works better in musical performance than in politics.

  23. Chris – my understanding is they are just replacing the original PCR which, like everything else, was still under emergency approval (I don’t think they know what the word “emergency” means), with a new test which apparently also tests for influenza. The rapid tests seems to me to be a way to shut the whole PCR thing down because they are trapped in a political double bind. Too many people still demand to be tested and yet the PCR test system is a shockingly inefficient system that is a complete waste of money. My guess was they assumed that if they shut down the test centres and made people queue for hours, the people would stop coming. Except a large number of people seem to be addicted to getting tested, so give them a little plastic thing to shut them up. Good news overall.

    Interestingly, even by the official estimates, the rapid tests are only about 50% accurate so pretty much aren’t worth the plastic they are made out of (from a scientific point of view).

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