Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fighting heat with heat

I am choosing to avoid blogging about the carnage in the Balcony Garden until this heatwave has passed. Although I must allay many fears and say that in yesterday's 43 degree heat, while water restrictions precluded me from watering the garden (except for recycled water which I did when I could) the garden did survive - well mostly. But this is a post about happier things - those tomatoes I have already salvaged from the garden - and icecream. The picture above is technically from my travels in Adelaide - an icecream flavour I just HAD to try (fairyfloss/cottoncandy, it was hyperinducing-sugary-goodness) but it got me thinking about food and if icecream could be a meal substitute in a heatwave. Nio nutrients, but taste and coolness aplenty.

Mostly I lose my appetite in the heat, except for goodies of the frozen kind. However, given I have so many tomatoes and chillis at the moment my mind has wandered to main course ideas. On the comments from yesterday's blog there was a smart suggestion for Gazpatcho Soup, a chilled and refreshing use of tomatoes. But is that really the only and best way to combat the heat?

In India they pull out some damn hot curries, which go a long way to match the weather in temperature. So too in other parts of Asia where strong-in-heat chillis are paired with limes to sate the palate in tropically-warm weather. When travelling in Egypt and Turkey I recall that tea (Hibiscus in the former, Mint in the latter) was always on offer to combat the heat (even though I've been told rather unequivocably by totally learned male source that the cooling effects are pure myth, I choose to have faith in the practice) So my question is - which of the following should I make tonight to combat what will most certainly be another 43 degree day

1. Black Russian (padded out with some largish red cherries) Gazpatcho Soup - as stated earlier uses the ingredients, is chilling and refreshing
2. Black Russian paste Chilli con Carne - hot enough in taste and temperature to match the ills of outside
3. Just use the Chilli for Salt and Pepper squid, served with Salad which can at least use up some of the tomatoes, Asian inspired, fresh seafood is alwaqys a summer winner and a cool Salad with just enough kick from the Chilli
4. stuff it all I'm having icecream!?!?! (i made a cranberry and vanilla 'icecream' last night)
5. something entirely different ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tomato Hauls and the Heatwave that is in the post

Low and behold the spoils of yesterday's Oh-My-God-The Sun's-Gonna-Kill-Them-Better-Pick-Em-Now Tomato Haul

One bowl full of Black Russians, A Green Zebra, and numerous red and yellow cherries. To be honest I got double this haul but my totally awesome best friend was over yesterday and took a similarly sized and varied haul home for her mother (her own tomato plants were 'defruited' by sneaky rats so I am glad to make her and her mother smile)

The forecast top of 38 degrees yesterday never appeared, though we did get to 35 degrees late in the day and the night didn't cool down too much. Slight relief. But as it was already 25.7 around 9am this morning, the revised top of 41 degrees Celcius should appear, by oh, say around lunchtime. And looks like it is not going anywhere fast Thing is they revised the temps again, so now the numbers of fear read

41, 43, 40, 40 (that's an extra day of scarily searing sunny heat)

Apart from moving to Antarctica has anyone got any garden (or personal) survival tips?!?!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

38, 41, 40, 40

38, 41, 40, 40

No that is not part of an odd mathematical sequent, Fibonacci did not get it wrong nor is it my phone number. Those numbers above and in my post title represent the forecast in Melbourne for the next four days (today inclusive and in degrees celcius) At least this time the wind is supposed to be minimal.

As an ex-Adelaide girl I know what a heat wave means. Four days in the high thirties/early forties - no problem, I eat those sort of temperatures for breakfast. Heatwaves were a right of passage growing up there, and summer seemed to be one long slog where the number 40 was a regular occurence. I've often heard people say that Melbourne gets Adelaide's weather just one day later. They obviously have never lived in Adelaide - it is consistently a few degrees warmer in Adelaide, and the nights rarely cool down. Melbourne gets more water (even if only a slight difference), the temepratures are high but not extreme, and the nights often give some respite to the heat. Despite being quite accustomed to the heat, being a native Adelaidian, I have never been a gardener in this heat. The balcony garden used to be one herb pot and a long suffering lemon tree. About 6 months ago it ballooned out to its current size. So yes I can stand the heat, with a few whinges and complaints, but what about the balcony garden?

How does a balcony garden that lives in the sun from about 1pm to sunset survive those conditions? Even the shady part is hostile - the lack of airflow brings on instant powdery mildew. And given the heat no fertilisation nor helpful seaweed solution can be used (nay even watering can mean third degree burns). Today was water restriction day, so they all got an early morning dousing. Given that the next watering day is not until after the heatwave, and I am housemateless at the moment (loving the solitude but missing her more and more) means my water saving techniques (veggie washing water, shower warm up water) are halved.

It seems a challenge, bigger than Ben Hur, but seeing as I like challenges I am ready to meet it. Below is a pre-heatwave glimpse of the balcony garden ... lets see how it survives the week!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Return to the Balcony Garden: On Balance ...

Upon return to the Balcony Garden ...

The Bad

* Not even totally awesome balcony sitter could stand up to the searing heat and strong winds that ravaged the balcony garden (and all of Melbourne) while I was away. Despite her best water-saving methods she could not defeat the destructive power elements. The heat dried out the leaves, burnt the flowers but worse still was the wind. Not only did it also cause considerable burning, (evidenced very clearly in the above photo) it broke stakes and sent tomatoes tumbling to the ground.

* The other tomato evils snuck up while I was away, powdery mildew caused massive defoliation, which in turn led to sunburn on the fruit. Spots too have taken hold, and alas unlike on teenagers, these spots will never go away.

but never fear, when it seems all is lost there is always hope ...
AND ingenuity!

The Good

So after a trip to the nursery for sturdier stakes and with gardening equipment in hand I set to work fixing up the balcony. You can see the difference in the before and after shots, it seems a little more bare as the hanging plants and tomatoes have been moved to shadier ground.

Why is this in the good category you ask?!?

* Firstly I managed to find a good use for all the leftover yellow rope cluttering my fourth drawer

* Secondly, it gave me an excuse to clear up some of the clutter, some of which was turfed but some of which will be turned into culinary delights (basil pesto here we come). This cleanup also meant I could dive into the seed drawer (golden beetroot yum yum yum)/buy some hardier seedlings. Nothing like a good garden makeover.

* Thirdly, and most importantly, just look at all the spoils!!!

On balance, despite the hostile winds and searing heat, it seems all will be well in the balcony garden.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Littlest Obsessions

This is a bit wordy, and at first seems a little off topic, but I promise you it has some gardeny goodness.

I read on Fern@LOTB's blog that the average age of container gardeners is 55, thus being mildly discordant with the ages of both blog writers and blog readers. She and I and others out there are avid pot/container gardeners that fit well outside this age definition. At 28, I'm a long way off 55, and I have a veritable jungle of pot plants on my balcony. I love living beyond the fringes of normality.

I recall occasions in my early teens, nattering away with my girlfriends about our hopes and dreams for the future. We (almost) all had subconsciously bought into the societal norms that would make my current academic female companions quake in their Campers and Birkenstocks. We wished for loving and attractive husbands (at that stage half resembled Luke Perry, the other half Jason Priestly) good jobs, largish houses with a pool and a garden (complete with cleaning lady), 2 children (or 3 as long as two were twins, Sweet Valley High books were still in vogue) and pets. And there was a definite timeframe, by age 28 this mosaic of suburban bliss was to be ours. Oh and we would all still be the best of friends ...

Well I am 28, and I can safely say I have none of the above, I rent, not own, I have had relationships, so which teetered towards matrimony but luckily fell well short and nowadays have male friends but no one with whom I have a mutual 'withstanding', my job is certainly not stable, nor is it well paid, water restrictions stop the pool and curtail the gardening ambitions. Yet I am, despite the dire predictions if these clauses were not met, deliriously happy. I'll perhaps get the family thing going one day, but for now my thesis, my balcony garden and my friends take up my time. I don't harbour a hate or any ill-will for those in families, I wish them all the best. Indeed I have friends who have hit the nesting stage, borne children, and enjoy the cozy family life. Moreover I am just enthralled in the idea of plans, failure to attain said plans and how happily wayward life can get from naive dreams.

Now before you wonder why I am on a diatribe about little girls and modern suburban expectations and curse as to where all the usual pretty flower/tomato pictures are, bear with me. I was out last night with my parents, visiting some old family friends. The family friends' children are a little older than I, and have all started gorgeous families and long-term careers. My poor, suffering mother who desperately, though largely secretly (bless her), desires grandchildren one day, but is happy to wait until the doctorate is done, and then some, sates her wishes by living vicariously. She asked the family friend if she had any photos of her grandchildren, and the two, actually three because my Dad joined in, happily poured over albums full of adorable grandchildren. It is great to see my folks happy, but it compelled me to pull out a happy snap of my own. I keep some photos on my digital camera (does anyone else?) Just my favourite ones, of dear friends, of very special occasions, and one, in particular that makes me smile. As they were finishing I asked the hosts if they would like to see a picture of my babies. They looked a little perplexed, Dad reached for his Savingnon Blanc, Mum smiled, then looked confused, then smiled again. Everyone seemed to wonder how much wine i'd consumed and had I gone a little more bonkers than usual.

I handed over the camera, set to the appropriate photo and this is what they saw ...

My babies, or at the very least, my littlest obsession.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The horror of statues and dresses and water restrictions

Yesterday's post was intended as a casual stroll around the semi-clad women of my mother's garden. One in particular, the striking amazonian in the backyard is my absolute favourite.

She (the statue, less so my mother) also loves a bit of a party and at my halloween-themed farewell from Adelaide in late 2006 she got into the spirit of things. Donning what we affectionately term the 'pirate stripper dress', a tiara, and clutching a cigarette in one fist, knife in the other, she would have won best costume, except for Marty's exceptional performace in drag.

It's pretty creepy, but remember it was halloween (in February, kind of like an inverse Christmas in July thing) but what is scarier is on occasion, usually in aid of fancy dress or a goth nightclub, I wear that dress myself! And even scarier than that is the deterioration of Mum's garden over the past two and a bit years, that beautiful and carefully tended hedge is long gone!

* A late addition - for all those who wondered how humans and statues could share clothing, i scoured my photo collection for one of me in the 'pirate stripper dress' but alas could not find anything that did not feature me in a shocking display of overt alcohol consumption. Instead i give you the below picture, taken from my Halloween Party of 2007, wherein I am dressed as Devil Red Riding Hoodie complete with water pistol in boot holster, Friend 1 is - well - we never guessed what he came as, i thought a strange version of Colonel Sanders - and Friend 2 came dressed as - wait for it - me! Hence she wore the pirate stripper dress!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Mum's Ladies

As the heat of the day fell away slightly in the evening (although it was still 30 degrees at around 11pm) I finally took the stroll around my mother's garden to view all the statues she had in attendance.

She seems to have a thing for scantily clad women!

Then there is this little fairy in the bird bath

And the cherub who holds the bird bath in place.

While these are the stone cold women of the yard here is the lovely woman herself, modeling the brand new apron i made for her during my stay.

She certainly isn't stone and cold, and with that apron need never be in the same semi clad state as her garden statues! She was once an artist, long since retired and although the statues were not of her making it is wonderful to see she still embraces this old love.

Monday, January 19, 2009

what was to be a post on stone cold women

I intended to post today on the plethora of semi-naked stone women in my mother's garden, but that little gem will have to wait until it cools down a fraction. Today is set to be another scorcher and Inept BG prefers the comfort of inside the home on these occasions.

Instead I will leave you with a couple of purple pretties from the balcony garden. I am beginning to miss my own garden, and purple is my favourite colour, so I am sharing these pictures for your amusement and to sate my homeward yearnings.

The first is a snap dragon that i purchased on a whim, never repotted and has lasted incredibly well despite the odds.

The second is my purple basil in flower - simply stunning

and what oh what has happened to my tomatoes ... ???

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play

Look who came out to play in my parents' garden while I, Prudence, was in town!

Mr volunteer sunflower, in his tightly bound, monumentally-sized, thistlesque granduer opened up over the past week. In a garden which struggles against a lack of water this is one brightly coloured, surprise joy.

Oh how I want one for the balcony garden now ... the challenge of the century ... potted sunflower!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Out the Front

Tearing myself away from a self induced Anne of Green Gables marathon (ahhh Gilbert Blythe, i know he is as unreal as Ghosts, Dracula, the Loch Ness Monster or Mr Darcy, but a girl can dream) I though i'd finally post some piccies of the front of the folks' front garden (the back garden featuring in an earlier post).

It's smaller but still quite manicured, and bordered by fort knox style security gates (wouldn't want a fire in this place, it takes forever just to open the door) In fact there is some added security in my former bedroom wherein the windows are not only locked but now painted shut!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day

Following the crowd on this one and thought i would join in on the fun og Garden Bloggers Blooms Day this sligtly cooler 15th of January.

The blooms are, alas, not from the balcony garden (which totally awesome balcony sitter assures me that apart from a couple of tomato leaves the rest survived the recent very hot spell) but from my parent's garden in Adelaide where i am still staying. We recently had a very hot dry spell here too, so most blooms look a little worse for wear (or don't even exist as i remembered them!)

We have white and purple agapanthus (nothing kills agapanthus, well except me that one new years eve but shhhhhhhhhhhhhh)


I have no idea what these flowers were (even though mum just told me!)


and some roses that were in the garden until yesterday, and would have died if it weren't for mum cutting them and bringing them inside.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mum's tomatoes

Ohhhhh I wonder how my tomatoes are doing. I am sure totally awesome balconysitter is keeping them alive in this extreme heat, and is enjoying their tasty goodness.

In the meantime I am lucky enough to be tasting the fruits of my mother's gardening labour. She has some cherry tomatoes and some money maker tomatoes in her little veggie patch. They were divine drizzled with a little olive oil, basil, kalamata olives and seasoning as my impromptu dinner last night.

But no interesting Heirloom varieties in her garden this year - as for next year, I certainly have some plans ...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fake Plastic Trees

No this is not a post about Radiohead, though i would have preferred to wake up with this tune in my head, probably My Iron Lung would have been better if we were going for a track off the Bends, or really actually i would settle for any of their tunes in my head rather than the horror that i did wake up with in my head, Meatloaf!!! (and no, no cider or cheese was involved in this waking musical calamity, it was sheer bad luck)

My parents invested in fake grass. They only have a small patch of grass bordered by cottage garden goodness. It used to be real grass, that battled against the odds and mostly appeared as a scratchy, brown shade of uselessness. So sometime in the not too distant past the folks changed over to the fake variety. It is top notch stuff, proper fake grass. In fact i think they had it the last time i was here but it was winter and i hardly ventured out the back, so through a window haze i did not even notice the difference.


* There is a drought on, so obviously plastic doesn't consume water, thus being somewhat environmentally friendly
* No burrs or prickles to penetrate the delicate soles of the feet
* No mowing (which is a definite bonus because my Dad's back is still way too bad to walk short distances, let alone pushing a mower, my Mum gardens but doesn't mow and my brother sleeps 25 hours a day)
* It stays green which is, at least, aesthetically pleasing


* It gets REALLY hot in the sun, so those soles of the feet are not really saved
* It's plastic, so really what is it made of and what is it doing to the soil underneath for the future when maybe just maybe someone wants to plant something else there?
* I am supposing there was a significant monetary outlay at the beginning, though this is offset by the fact that no replanting is necessary, at least until it wears down

Can't seem to think of anymore negatives to this garden venture? Anyone got any that i missed?
Although it is a tad sad when ersatz is better than the real thing ...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Borrowed Surroundings

At present i am taking a working break (though technically i guess if i am working it is not really a break) in my old hometown of Adelaide. I am reading the memoirs for my thesis and writing a chapter at my parents lovely suburban home, surrounded by two lovely little puppies (one of whom just tried to eat a bar of soap!!!) and a house without a balcony. Ok so there is a sort of porch out the front, but it is very different to the balcony garden i am used to.

This is a glimpse of the backyard of this place, a sort of cottage-style garden built with drought resistance in mind (they get precious little rain here in Adelaide and are on pretty severe water restrictions) although there is still an ability to maintain a lovely little veggie patch.

Below we have two views of the backyard, complete with roses, succulents and more.

Then this is the veggie patch. It holds leafy greens such as silverbeet and lettuces, tomatoes (consisting of Money Maker, a cherry and apparently a volunteer tomato plant of unknown background, truly yummy though) and various herbs, including the oddest tasting basil, perhaps it just grows sweeter on the balcony.

The folks with kill me for this photo but this just shows how much they enjoy their outdoor area, BBQing there in the summer (despite the mozzies, which seem to all find me far more tasty a morsel than any others at the dining table)

Don't worry, i have another two weeks here, there are plenty more pictures to come, including mum's odd need for scantily clad female statues (i've spied a good half a dozen around the garden) parts of the outdoors which are tucked away but so full of pots it makes me feel at home, and the lovely indoor plants that liven up the place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bathtime on the Balcony

As well as succulent corner I have two hanging succulents on the balcony. These were early features in the balcony garden, one being an impulse buy at the markets one day, the other a lovely birthday gift last year from totally wonderful housemate. They suffer from supreme neglect, given that i managed to get my housemate to hang them so high that i cannot reach to water them without standing on a chair! Moreover if i do water them it takes approximately 1.24553 seconds for the water to drain through and shower me. Yes they need repotting, but the last time i bought pots to put them in, i ended up putting tumbler tomatoes in them and hanging them elsewhere (it is amazing where i can seem to find space even when i think life is all full at the inn)

The cactus guy at the Vic Markets (which i oh so conveniently live half a block away from and keep me in fine cheeses, fruit, meat and more) said that i should soak them in a bucket of water for a while. As i was set to head to Adelaide i figured i would give these two fellows some TLC, so bathtime it was. I used the water bowl from the kitchen, which we catch our veggie washing water in, and scooped the succulents in one at a time for their bath. Of course i bathed them in the shade, on the wooden bench behind our shade slats. Who wants to lose their bathing benefits to evaporation?

After their bath (this is only one of the succulents, i have another, whose name always escapes me but we in Inept BG land call it dragon's tail) they were happy little vegemites, and retained more of the green rather than purple or brown. Time will tell (two weeks to be exact) if they behave for the the totally awesome housesitter!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nostalgic Seed Drawers

As i am in my hometown at present i tend to be swept up in a sea of nostalgia (spurred partly, i'm sure, by my chosen occupation as historian-in-training) Although now in a different house to the one i grew up in i float back to memories of that blissful abode. Fruit trees of variously climbing heights, a veggie garden, so many different flowers that seemed to bloom all year round. From these days i recall a special set of drawers that lived on the patio. They were black, with oriental curves, or at least mangled dark coated iron, as i recall, then again they could have been neon pink with green polka dots and i would only recall them the way my rose coloured nostalgia glasses intend me to. Inside these drawers was a mass of half used seed packets. Possibly exotic, or perhaps the mundane staples. Surely most of these had long since passed their useby date, wherein maybe one seed in a thousand would have a hope of germinating. Still my mother persisted in keeping them, and i guess they worked, because her garden was immaculate.

Now it is my turn, and thanks to a lovely present from my birth father and his family, this set of small drawers with oriental artwork, i can carry on my mother's hoarding tradition, albeit inside my apartment.

Where does my darling mother store her seeds since moving house a few years back? Well, synthetic grass doesn't need much in the way of seeds, and the garden beds are ornamental (with only a small but useful veggie patch) Drought like conditions dictate the sparsity of this garden. So the seed drawers have long since passed. I did spy the mortgage lifter tomato seeds i gave her for Christmas next to the breadmaker in the laundry but i am not sure if they will ever have a similar home like the one in my memory.

And don't worry, pics of the parents smaller non balcony garden (including the fake grass) will be up soon.