Manure tea

As it is Full Moon phase, later this week I will have to brew up some manure tea as a supplementary fertiliser for my lettuce, silverbeet, and spinach seedlings because they have a high nitrogen requirement. Manure tea can also be applied to flowering annuals, cabbage, celery, leeks, also Brussels sprouts that were planted out in February, or earlier.
I usually brew this up during Last Quarter phase as it only takes about a week in warm weather. As the weather has been much cooler than usual for April, the brew will take a good twelve to fourteen days to mature.
Manure tea gets its name from the fact it is applied to soil around plants at weak black tea strength, and around young seedlings as very weak black tea strength because strong fertiliser solutions can burn delicate roots. As it coats the foliage when applied to very small plants, I always water the seedlings after application because it is better to feed the soil than the plant.
Manure, and other fertiliser “teas” are easy to make. For this brew, I place a shovelful of horse manure into an old bucket, and fill the bucket with water. Then I cover the bucket with an old plastic tea tray. The cover prevents loss of nitrogen to the air, and flies laying eggs in the mixture, but a tight fitting lid will usually “pop” because of the gases formed as the manure ferments. The mixture should be stirred every couple of days, will be ready to use during New Moon phase. Sap flow in plants increases as the Moon is waxing, and New Moon and First Quarter are good phases to apply liquid fertiliser because they plants use them quickly.
I strain some of the brew through a piece of old pantihose into a watering can and add enough water to achieve the correct strength for the plants I want to fertilise. After fertilising, the bucket can be repeatedly topped up with water, and the brew can be used until it is quite pale. The residue can be added to the compost heap.
Always wear rubber gloves when handling manure fertilisers. They not only prevent smelly hands, they will prevent the manure coming into contact with any cuts or scratches on your hands.

Pumpkin update

Now that the pumpkin vine is dying off, we are able to find the entire crop – 27 pumpkins from one vine. Compost and plenty of water are the secrets to healthy pumpkin growth. Despite prolonged periods of rain, the vine has remained healthy without a hint of mildew because full access to nutrients has provided the vine with a healthy immune system. The only down side to this luxurious growth has been that it has provided a multitude of places for our chooks to hide their eggs.

Garden seat

Another chain saw carpentry project, this garden seat is one of my favourite spots in the garden, in all seasons. It is situated on the south side of our vegetable patch, under one of the Jacaranda trees that grow beside our driveway. It’s a wonderful place to relax for a cuppa, admire our work and discuss future projects. The seat was constructed very quickly using hardwood from a demolished shed. The “coffee table” was made from a fallen ironbark on our property.

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This unique garden seat was constructed from a fallen tree at a property we visited recently.

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What’s chain saw carpentry?

It is a term my husband uses for various garden projects that are cut out using a chain saw, or where constructions are nailed, screwed or bolted together and the left over bits are cut off with a chain saw (after making sure those pieces are nail-free, of course). More refined DIYers can use a carpentry saw, if they wish. It is a useful method for people who are intimidated by precise woodworking projects, but like to build things. Basically, it utilises imagination and materials that are on hand, or from the building recycling centre. So far, this carpentry method has produced a small frog pond from the lower half of a swimming pool filter drum, a potting bench annexe attached to our shade house, a mobile hen house, and a garden bench and coffee table.

Frog update

Arthur from the Frog and Tadpole Study group (FATS) has informed me that the mottled frogs are “Bleating Tree Frogs”. We have heard these frogs in previous years but had no idea what they looked like. We thought we had lost them when one of our dams dried up during the drought, and our evenings became much quieter, so we are pleased to see that enough survived to restock their species.
Once the majority of the frogs had left the pool, we rounded up the few remaining stragglers and transferred them to our small frog pond. Among the stragglers were this tiny frog, and a similar froglet with a tail. Despite a thorough search of the pool, we were unable to find any more of this variety. I have never seen such a tiny frog before. He is sitting beside a 5¢ piece on the rim of the frog pond.

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Oleander butterfly

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In autumn, caterpillars of the Oleander Butterfly visit my potted Weeping Fig. The Oleander Butterfly has a wing span of 7.5 cm and is very dark brown or black, with white blotches on both wings and body. The caterpillars arrive in an amusing little caravan formation, travelling head to tail, then spent about a week munching on the fig foliage before each forms a chrysalis. I don’t know where they breed because we don’t have any Oleanders, but they seem to enjoy leaves from plants that have milky sap. I leave these creatures in peace because they do little damage to the tree, and the chrysalises are so pretty.

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Red leaves on citrus

Jane e-mailed: I have a question about my lemon tree. I bought a new one and planted it in a few weeks ago, and this week we have had a lot of rain. It has a fair bit of new growth, but the new leaves are red in some places. Is there something wrong with my tree?

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You have no reason to worry Jane, as you certainly have a healthy-looking tree.
Red colouring in new leaves is a common occurrence in plants that have adult leaves with a leathery texture, including avocado, citrus, eucalypts, oaks and roses. The colour is caused by the tree producing red anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant). These are believed to protect the young, tender leaves from ultra-violet light. The leaves will turn green as they toughen.
When citrus produce a lot of new growth as the weather cools, an application to the soil around the tree of seaweed extract at weak black tea strength will build the tree’s resistance to the effects of cold weather. Seaweed contains compounds that strengthen cell walls.

Slaters and earwigs

Slaters and earwigs feed on decomposing organic matter. If they are becoming a pest around your vegetables, you have probably added immature compost or uncomposted manures to your topsoil, or have a lot of semi-decayed organic matter in your soil. We get slaters in our compost heap but we don’t worry about them there as they are contributing to the composting process and dining in the heap keeps them away from the vege patch. Slaters and earwigs are attracted to stressed plants. Give your vege garden and any affected perennials a drink of seaweed extract tea (Acadia, Eco Cweed, or Natrakelp) at weak black tea strength. This will make plants more resistant to pest attack.

Slaters, which are not insects but related to prawns and lobsters, congregate in rotting timber, heaps of rotting vegetation, rock heaps, and shady, dark places. Remove breeding sites from the garden, and turn your compost heap regularly.
Someone told me that they are having great success drowning slaters in beer baits that I recommended in my book for snails and slugs. The slaters are attracted to the yeast smell of beer, as fermenting organic matter has a yeast smell (See post).
Jackie French recommends mixing one part pyrethrum powder to two parts plain flour, and placing baits in, or near, the dark places that slaters shelter in during the day. Try putting the baits in jar lids inside pots laid on their sides with loosely crumpled paper in the top to darken the interior.

Earwigs are slender insects with a set of pincers on the tail end of the body. They can be reddish-brown or black. These little pests will also feed on flower buds and fruit. They like to hide in confined areas in rocks, bark, timber and under debris. Earwigs can be trapped by putting crumpled newspaper into flower pots and leaving the pots on their side in garden beds. In the morning, drop the crumpled newspaper into a half bucket of soapy water to drown the insects, then refill the traps with fresh paper. Remove debris from around your garden to restrict their hiding places. If an earwig refuses to budge when disturbed, it is most likely protecting eggs laid in the soil beneath it. Dig down and dispose of the pale oval eggs.

Chicken tractor

We have a lot of weeding to do on our farm and it seemed a good idea to get the chooks to help. Chooks are very good at removing weeds and bugs as they scratch away at the soil – hence the name chicken tractor. They enjoy having plenty of green feed, and a mobile hen house that could be towed by a tractor or car was the answer to getting the chooks to work where we wanted the ground cleared of grass and weeds between grape vines, around fruit trees, and before preparing beds.

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My husband made this mobile hen house from a discarded farm trailer as one of his “chain saw carpentry” projects. He built the framework from 75 x 50 and 50 x 25 pieces of hardwood we had around the place. He bolted the framework to the sides and base of the trailer, and covered the frame with hardwood planks. The roof was made from alsonite sheets, but corrugated iron could be used. The sloping roof prevents rain pooling, and allows a ventilation area which was covered with chicken wire.
The back flap of the trailer was removed, and replaced with a drop-down door that is made from 10 mm waterproof ply cut to the full height of the structure. The door is hinged at the base so that, when opened, it forms a ramp for the chooks to get in and out of their house. Several rows of tomato stakes can be screwed in across the ramp for traction. Our chooks fly in and out of their home but the “steps” are helpful for chicks and pullets. The door is held closed by a piece of 50 x 25 timber that drops into a bracket on each side of the house structure.
Three nest boxes sit in the timber and plywood structure across the tow bar. This part has a hinged plywood lid for easy egg collection and cleaning, checking on babies, etc.. This trailer had timber sides, and it was easy to remove the panels from the side over the draw bar, but this section can be cut out of a metal trailer with an angle grinder.

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Perches are wedged diagonally across the interior for roosting. We have had up to twenty chooks sleep happily in this sized house. The floor is covered with an old tarp that can be pulled out for quick cleaning. The hen house was constructed pretty quickly – my husband has had no training in woodworking, so it’s an easy DIY project for the average person. This hen house has served us well for quite a few years but, as you can see, it could do with a coat of paint.

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The hen house is moved by tractor (in the early am before the chooks are let out) to an area that needs weeding. We set up a heavy duty chicken wire fence supported by star stakes around the weedy area, with two stakes closer together at one end to form a gate. You can use anything for a gate, really. At the moment we are using a rack from a commercial freezer (perfect). Where the ground is uneven, the 1 – 1.2m high fence is anchored with tent pegs or bent fencing wire. We always make sure the chooks have clean water and shell grit, and the area under the hen house provides shade for the chooks and their water dish if there are no trees in that section of the farm. It also provides a safe hiding place from cruising eagles and hawks.
As well as plenty of green feed, the chooks get the best kitchen scraps (except for potato and avocado), some cracked grain each day, and sprouted oat seed twice a week.

Frogs

After many years of drought, we had a lot of rain earlier this year. It was impossible to keep our pool chlorinated, so we waited until the sky cleared before attempting to clean the pool. To our surprise we found the pool contained many hundreds of tadpoles. Frogs are very welcome on our property because they eat insects and spiders. They are also a sign of a healthy environment. Many pesticides and herbicides are toxic to frogs and tadpoles.
The tadpoles were feeding on the algae on the sides of the pool, and looked quite healthy. Apart from providing some shade for them over part of the pool, and providing some ramps for froglets to get out of the pool, we left them to do what tadpoles do best. An old window screen prevents them from being sucked into the filter when we run the pump. I haven’t fed them because I haven’t had any lettuce growing, and I didn’t want to feed them lettuce that could contain systemic pesticides.

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There appears to be three types of tadpoles, one brown, one black, and a very shy type that is a pale, almost translucent, olive. These tadpoles don’t look the same as the small green tree frogs that bred in our small frog pond, as they were quite green by the time their tails had been absorbed (see below).

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The first to become froglets were the brown tadpoles; the other two types still have tails.
These mottled frogs with a dark stripe down each side, aren’t particularly nervous around humans and will allow me to get close enough to photograph them. In sunlight, the tops of their heads look almost like burnished copper, but at other times they look grey-brown. It appears that these froglets belong to the tree frog group because they have no trouble climbing the tiles at the edge of the pool. I spotted one of them hiding in a Birds-nest Fern the other day but most of the frogs are treating our backyard like Club-Med, and spend the day lolling around the pool. I have no idea what kind of frog they are, and would be grateful if someone could enlighten me.

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