Not-Quite-Total War

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Our yard is seeing a lot of visitors right now, most welcome, others not so much. We’re currently winning the long-standing disagreement about who the bananas belong to (with protests from the rats) but I’m having unusual trouble in the leafy greens!

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I’m not really into absolute destruction when it comes to garden nasties. My usual caterpillar control is largely laissez-faire, based on reasonable consumption, natural predation and a small amount of direct intervention. The main part of the strategy is just encouraging paper wasps to colonise the yard. These ladies carefully inspect the broccoli for grubs, then carry off what they find to chew into caterpillar pulp for their babies.

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I had a reasonable deal going with the cabbage moth caterpillars; they keep their activities modest, I squish only those who make themselves impossible to ignore. Anyone else who evades the wasps is free to inhabit the vegetable beds (and is actually fairly welcome; I like their soft green colour and retiring nature). But these new horrors aren’t content to munch on a leaf or two; they gnaw their way down through the central bud and destroy any new leaves that try to form. They’ll even chew their way down through the bud into the stem and kill the plant completely!

Because these little beasts are safely embedded in the leaf buds, my wasps can’t find them. Even hand-squishing them is difficult, because at a touch, they wriggle backward in the most revolting way and drop further into the plant. No matter how much time Maddy and I spend crouched in the brassica bed with a pointy stick and a gumboot at the ready, it doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m reluctantly considering Dipel as a potential solution but…

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The potential for collateral damage is just too high!

Dipel is an organic control method specific to caterpillars, so it won’t harm my other little visitors, like ladybeetles and bees. It also isn’t airborne, so if I put it on the vegie beds, it’s unlikely to escape. But Hawk Moth caterpillars (like that beauty above) are my favourite summer guests and the real reason why I grow grapes. They just aren’t something I’m willing to risk.

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These lovelies inhabit the grape vines from about November on, and are almost at the end of their current munching season. While they may brandish a menacing spike on their back end, this is actually soft, floppy and entirely ornamental, as is the line of eyes along their patterned sides.

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I love how fat and soft they are, the variety of colours they come in, and the way they pretend to be invisible, while plonking their podgy bodies on the slenderest of stems and dropping enormous, coffee-bean sized poos all over the back veranda. They’re one of my loveliest garden ornaments and as long as they need to use the backyard, I’m reluctant to do anything that might cause them harm.

That said, though, the cold weather is coming, and with it, my need to enlarge the brassica crops. I’m hoping that winter will solve some of this problem for me, but before then, I need my plants to grow! So, for now, I expect to spend a lot of time hunched over in the rain, digging out nasties to squash, with a damp dog as my reluctant company. Whether or not I will break remains to be seen.

What would you do?

Gem

XX

Sweet Nothing

Our long break is over. I’m filled with shame for slacking off, but I’m so happy to be writing again (not to mention gratefully amazed that people are still coming by here!)

Through December, I was just too busy to write. Then, in January, I was spending time on some public health and community issues that didn’t really use up much of my day, but that did ever-so-slightly curdle my typing. Reading submissions that made me cross, coming up with solutions and arguments and wincing every time yet another yellow envelope popped up on my phone soured my mood so that when I did have some writing time to myself. . .  I suddenly had nothing to say!

Life has still been good, it’s just that reporting on it has felt, well, kind of silly.

Who cares about my tomato chutney, Kin’s pottery wheel and Maddy and Fu’s détente? Is my crop of summer vegetables and the beetle on our fence really relevant to anyone? The internet is full of information. Why add my contribution when, really, I’ve just been doing nothing? I haven’t even been able to scrape together enough material to write letters to my friends!

So, since this “nothing” is what I’ve continued to do, why are we back today?

Because I’ve finished with submissions for now. I am instead wallowing in gardening magazines, recipes and Jackie French books and have almost caught up with all of my favourite blogs. In short, I’m immersed in material that inspires excitement and enthusiasm, rather than irritation and tedium. And do you know what?

It’s lots and lots of “nothings” very similar to mine. And I love it!

Pearl and Elspeth’s plans for another strawbale project are really exciting. Nana Chel’s summer garden is lovely to see and I genuinely couldn’t be more pleased about Katie and Reuben’s spare-room clearout. In the right frame of mind, “nothing” can be sweet. And it has completely overpowered any sourness I still had.

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I love nothing! I can’t believe I forgot that! The big stuff is important, it’s true; trips and events, people met, goals achieved. . . all of that does matter. But it’s the little rhythms of our everyday nothings that make those big things possible, and that also keep our lives satisfying, happy and full. And, since I’m so eager to read about other people’s sweet nothings, then maybe, just maybe, it’s worth writing about my own!

Nothing is important. Nothing matters. And isn’t that great?

Wishing you nothing but the best (and the best of nothing),

Gem

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November was….

 

November was green, warm and quiet.

We’ve kept close to home (as our photos show!) but there have been plenty of visitors, human and otherwise and a new furry family member to keep us busy. The garden is green and productive, with even more promise for the coming months, work is steady and the house is clean (and almost organised!)

Restfully busy, November was exactly what we needed.

To active tranquillity.

Gem

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Say “Hello” to Miss Madelaine!

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Last week, we added another furry face to our household! I’d like to pretend that Madelaine is a rescue dog (since we got her through a rescue organisation) but to be honest, a semi-Labrador less than three months old is definitely appealing enough that she doesn’t a lot of help to find a home. If her foster mother had been the unscrupulous type, she probably could have sold Maddy on, not just charged us an adoption fee that barely covered her microchipping and vaccinations (and can’t possibly have paid for her food and regular worming). Rescuers are definitely not in it for the money.

I’ve desperately wanted a pup for years and years, but we’ve known since 2007 that we’d be returning to Japan one day. Asking family to mind cats is one thing; dogs are more demanding. That means that sleepy little Madelaine isn’t just our newest family member; she’s a real symbol of our homecoming. And, with both of us working part time, it’s the perfect moment to introduce a new baby to the house. Because goodness me, babies are a lot of work!

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Feeding, playing, grooming, etc are all fairly straightforward at this age. But toilet training is definitely an issue (2 a.m. generally finds me in the backyard chanting “Go pee. Go pee,” to a yawning pup) and getting other family members used to the situation is also a bit of a trial. Fuji, our mad, weird little cat is extremely unimpressed at the new introduction, despite all of Maddy’s best efforts to ingratiate herself. Thus far, grovelling, barking, whimpering and rolling around under Fu’s nose have all failed to impress. My housekeeping has suffered a little as well, with my office overrun by cushions and toys, while their smelly little owner snores under my desk. And we’re stretching our already-stretched finances a little further, since Madelaine is going to need her booster shots and desexing very soon.

Still, all new parents have to deal with these problems, don’t they? Whatever their species, babies are expensive, messy, time-consuming and take a lot of effort to fit into your household.

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Unfortunately, not everyone understands that.

Summer is a terrible time for animal rescue organisations. The kitten-breeding season reaches its peak, adult pets are abandoned over Christmas by holiday-makers who can’t find anyone to care for their pets and, in the early months of the New Year, shelters are inundated with dog and cat surrenders from people who didn’t seem to realise that kittens don’t come toilet trained and that puppies need to be exercised.

It’s a horrible, heartbreaking period for the workers, who either have to accept that they will be euthanising perfectly healthy animals or that overcrowding will force them to turn some animals away, with no idea what will happen to them. Our local RSPCA has been trying to deal with this period by holding events at the shelter where people can meet the animals as well as by reducing adoption fees during periods of heavy occupancy.

That means that, if you’ve been thinking about adopting a new family member, now may be the perfect time to start checking out not just your local RSPCA website, but other local animal welfare organisations. The amount of surrenders over this period mean that it’s easier than ever to find the right pet to fit into your lifestyle. Both groups can help match you to the right animal and can give you lots of advice (and, often, financial assistance) to help you properly care for your new pet.

For example, if your life is too busy to deal with the demands of a puppy in the house, you might be matched with an older dog or a litter-trained kitten. If you work long hours, an adult cat, or even two might be exactly the right companions for you. Even if you live in a tiny apartment or have one room in a share house, all is not lost. They can fit you out with a guinea pig, a friendly rat or even a ferret like Esteban to keep you company!

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Just remember, though, pets, even the perfect pet, require food, exercise, vet care, a clean environment and your regular attention. Even if you’re matched with the ideal animal for your lifestyle, you’re still going to have to make some changes yourself, because your pet’s needs are not going to alter according to your capacity to give. You may be sad, tired or broke; they still want walkies! If you don’t feel that you can adapt to anyone else right now, the time may not be right for you to adopt.

On the other hand, it’s not all work. Interacting with a pet isn’t nearly as demanding as interacting with another human and we manage that every day. And they will offer you their constant companionship, loyalty and unconditional love, even on days when you probably don’t deserve it. If you are sad, they will comfort you. If you need exercise, they will run with you. If you just want some company while watching T.V. or washing the dishes, they will sit on your feet and just be with you. Forget matching teatowels or a potted fern; pets are the best, fastest and most rewarding way to make your house a home. There is no other feeling of well-being that compares to a contented Fuji purring in our laps when the day’s work is done. And being greeted by Maddy’s funny, whiskery, little face in the morning brings happiness to the start of every day.

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We love our furry family and are so happy to have them.

Gem

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P.S. You can find the RSPCA Australia website here. If you’re in the Hunter Valley or Central Coast, here and here are some other rescue organisations. There are plenty more, if you google!

P.P.S. Internet troubles and Madelaine meant this post was late; we will still update Monday, as per usual. Meanwhile, check our our Facebook page to see what we’re up to!

 

Spring has Sprung (Away!)

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Things are looking very summery this morning. The cat is melting, the grass is turning crunchy and the cicadas are already tuning up for what looks like it’s going to be a long, hot day. Our extended game of musical couches has made us pretty late to the party this year; now that we’re finally feeling like fresh starts and spring cleaning, the season for it is almost over!

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But …. The jacarandas are still in bloom, our coastal evenings are still gentle and cool… the time for new beginnings is not yet completely gone. And that’s just as well, since there’s one very important new beginning happening on the median strip in the middle of a nine-way intersection near our house.

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That’s a plover (Vanellus milus) also known as a Masked Lapwing, a mad, idiotic, insomniac bird found all over northern, eastern and central Australia. Plovers walk around and feed all day, then fly around and scream all night. I have no idea if or when they sleep, but it’s clearly only when no-one is watching.

You get the idea; plovers are very active birds. However that particular plover, spotted on the median strip a little over a week ago was, on first sighting, doing something that a plover simply does not do.

It was sitting.

As soon as our eyes met, the plover leapt up and hurried away as nonchalantly as it could. And I thought “Hmmmm……”

The next day, there it was again. Same place, same bird, same nonchalant trot from its seat. And I thought “Aha!”

With a quick look for traffic, I zipped across the road, up onto the median strip and there it was:

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Now if that doesn’t say springtime, what does?

I have a certain amount of experience when it comes to spotting plover nests, but it isn’t as though they’re very good at hiding them. A plover couple will find or scrape a very slight depression into a patch of short grass or dirt, then the female lays her eggs in it. Kin and I spent much of September annoying the Clarence Town plovers by hunting down and inspecting their efforts.

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The owners of those three eggs had carefully constructed their nest in a wheel rut in a parking area… in exactly the same place where they’d recently lost their first clutch to the back wheel of a ute!  They were most indignant when my mother built a fence around it to prevent the same thing from happening again.

(Indignant or not, that fence did the trick. All three of those babies hatched safely and were last seen trekking about near the creek, with both of their parents in attendance.)

My intersection plover might not have actually built on the road, but she was still very close to it, so I didn’t stay and look at her nest for very long. She’d developed two broken wings and a terrible stagger and I was afraid she’d flap her way under a car if I upset her too much. I took one last shot, assured Mama Plover that her eggs were lovely and walked away quickly to let the poor thing calm down.

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Her husband remained in the air and followed me the length of the block, then sent a sharp gargle back to his partner to give her the all clear. By the time I was back at my gate, Mama Plover’s broken wings had miraculously healed and she was sitting again.

Kin and I checked on them every day for the next week, and that watchful husband delivered a heads-up and an all-clear every time. On Tuesday evening, we were finally rewarded by this sight:

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And then the next day….

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And there were no more broken wings for Mama and Papa Plover! Both of them, swooped us, determined to defend their babies from the paparazzi. Plovers are known for aggressively defending their nests; male plovers even have spurs on their wings, all the better to drive off photographers. Kin and I both grew up blonde in magpie country, though, so dive-bombing birds are not a new experience and we managed to get our shots without anyone (us or the plover parents) becoming too upset.

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The day after that, we decided to stay well away from the family, as the last eggs would be hatching. We knew that once they were all safely out of their shells, the family would no longer remain in the nest. Until they were clear of that busy intersection, we were not going to risk chasing anyone under a bus!

The family has decamped to a stretch of land near the railway line, so we’ve since been able to sneak up on them and check on the babies. I’m happy to report that all eggs hatched, all babies made it across the road and there are now four fluffy little pompoms running around behind their mother who, by the way, still views us with extreme suspicion. As soon as either one of us is sighted, she or Papa Plover give a sharp chiack! and all four of the babies drop to the ground, where they become invisible.

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Well, almost invisible. He’s doing his best.

Our plover family might have brought springtime back to us, but my goodness they’ve made this last week anxious! Building a nest on the ground in the middle of an incredibly busy intersection and then leading your fluffy little stilt-walkers across those roads to another stretch of bare ground where their only defence is to pretend to be invisible at extreme risk of being stepped on… it just doesn’t seem like the best survival strategy. Especially since plover couples generally nest at the same site each year, so every batch of babies will have to face the same hazards!

Still, I guess it’s worked out for them so far; plovers are extremely numerous in Australia, and they seem to adapt quite well to an urban lifestyle. And our plover family is still trekking around with all of its members, so maybe Newcastle railway lines are a better place than they seem for a new beginning.

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Happy springtime! And, if you’re walking to Broadmeadow Station, please be careful where you put your feet!

Treading lightly….

Gem

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