Monday, May 4, 2015

Gardening with Nature

The last 12 months seems to have been a turning point in my garden, where I am more often successful at growing things than not. So that's been 15 years of trial and error to get to this stage.

Personally, I think the secret to a successful garden really is time. I mean look at those gardens they feature on gardening shows, almost always at least 10 years of work has gone into them. You need time to learn about the climate zone you live in, the seasonal variations and the soil type, and to modify your little personal ecosystem to suit what you grow. Perhaps more organised people than me get there a bit sooner, by documenting the process for future reference, but for me it's so haphazard it seems more by chance than design.

I decided early on that I wouldn't use chemicals, except where absolutely necessary, and chanced upon a great book called The Natural Gardener by Jeffrey Hodges, which talks about treating your garden with respect for all creatures great and small, allowing the garden to develop its own balance. This means not naming and blaming, but seeing those little visitors who eat your greens as being just as welcome as the next one. It's not about making a pesticide from natural ingredients, because that is an attitude that continues to promote imbalance. Instead, you allow nature to restore the balance, where you allow some things to get eaten as long as there's enough left for you. There's also the option to see those little green caterpillars or snails as kamikaze soldiers who sacrifice themselves to the chooks for extra protein, as well as to the myriad wild birds and lizards who help themselves. Excessive greenery aren't weeds, but chook food and compost fodder.

At first, the greedy visitors were winning, but over the years, as I built up the soil, learnt when to plant and how to keep those plants alive (daily hand watering and summer shade are my 2 main strategies), the plants developed resistance to being taken advantage of, and the birds and predatory insects come regularly, knowing the prey isn't poisonous. Sure things get eaten, but total devastation doesn't happen, and there is more than enough food for both me and the visitors.

But I do spray the citrus with white oil. The leaf removal method was only resulting in me losing all my new growth, and as this is where the flowers and fruit develop from, I was going nowhere. So no, I'm not perfect, even though the oil I use is botanical oil, not petroleum based.

I have even got to the point where I am saving seed from the previous year's crop, which in my opinion is a real coming of age for a gardener, because you are storing and then propagating food that you know grows on your patch. It's also incredibly rewarding to give away seed to friends and to encourage them to grow their own food.

With all the rain we've had in the last couple of months, I've been waging war on the kikuyu growing in my driveway and along the verge. Kikuyu, being a running grass, is pretty tough and very invasive, so I remove it, wait for the next flush of green to reveal missed runners, then round two, three and four ensue. As my driveway is gravel and mowing isn't an option, grass just isn't welcome there. I am afraid that's just one visitor who not only isn't welcome but doesn't serve a purpose either. The chooks aren't even interested in it, but if it takes root in the chook enclosure (unlikely) I won't mind at all.

an almost weed free driveway

This weekend the red dragonfruit got a little prune job, and because a few of my friends are somewhat challenged in the gardening department, I have potted the succulents up and will pass them on to my friends once they develop roots (the plants, not the friends!!). If I just give them the cutting they'll not know what to do, or will forget to plant it, etc, whereas a succulent in a pot is almost impossible to kill. I believe my last donated plant is doing very nicely, according to a recent Facebook post!

Last month I purchased a kumara seedling from Julie at the permaculture nursery. She's a Kiwi, so I have it on authority that this particular variety, sourced through a local growers network (there are quite a few Maori and Pacific Islanders in town), is the bees knees for roasting in your hangi. I think I'll probably stick to my oven. The seedling, however is taking over. That can only mean one thing, and it's sure to be both bountiful and delicious!! I shall have to ask my house sitters to keep some for me....

My mango tree is putting out heaps of new growth, which is awesome. Still probably 3-4 years before I can expect some fruit. Ah yes, gardening is all about patience.

I had a glut of ripe dragonfruit and papaya a week or two ago, but I've managed to polish them all off and am waiting on the next batch of papaya to ripen. The dragonfruit are definitely done for the season, which is why I pruned it, but the papaya continues to flower, and I continue to do a little assisted fertilisation. Those big green fruit can be agonisingly slow to turn orange. You can still eat them green though. I make a pretty mean, very spicy, green papaya salad.

those brown bits are gouges from the big hailstones in March

Let me take you along into the "tropical garden" along the northern side of the house. With all the rain the canna have been shooting like mad, and the princess lilies are beginning to green up, no doubt they'll be flowering in a month or so. I've a few more papaya along here, including one of my original plants, which supposedly started life as a bisexual but it looks all female to me!!

There's also other 4 or 5 dragonfruit plants powering along, once these all start fruiting I'll be giving them away!

My pond has been overtaken by a dwarf papyrus (god knows how big the non dwarf variety is!), so I really need to get into action and finish landscaping the pond that is part of the tyre wall installation. My back injury has slowed down my ability to do heavy construction work, but with mindful digging techniques it's a project I hope to complete before heading off to NZ in July.

I'm particularly happy to discover that the rain has kickstarted a little patch of "Lippia" that I thought hadn't survived my various earthmoving activities in that area. Apparently it's a bit of a weed over on the east coast, but here it's a drought tolerant pretty little purple flowered ground cover that outcompetes most weeds. It should look nice around the pond and steps.

Now we are on the south side, which is currently a mess of a rock pile and a new wood pile. This area should be looking a little more business like before I head off this winter, still scratching my head as to where I'm going to put all them there rocks.....

Recently I found a seedling in my vege patch, which I potted up and am nurturing until it gets just a few more roots going. I'm pretty sure it's a Tuart seedling. This is not the first time the Tuarts in the easement have self seeded, this is what happened last time.

the Tuart tree planted by Nature, parent tree upper right corner is even bigger

Do I piss off my neighbours up the top of the hill by planting it back there? Or give it to my next door neighbours to replace the dying trees along their other fence? Their paranoid neighbour on the other side thinks they've been poisoning the trees, unaware that the previous owner pruned them heavily every time the greenery obstructed his ocean view. There is only so much abuse a plant can bear, before it succumbs...

From little things big things grow....

Bit like us really. Ciao till next month...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The final months of my career

So, how's countdown to retirement going?

Slowly, far too slowly, but I'm aware that it will probably be upon me before I know it.

Only 10 weeks to go!!

The painful truth is I am mentally over it. It hasn't been helped by my recent back injury, which has caused me a lot of physical pain as well as lack of motivation to get back to work. I've been back at work for 2 weeks now, although I had to take time off last week due to overdoing it in the garden the previous weekend (something to do with too many hours spent pulling out kikuyu runners) and my physio was quite concerned when I saw him on Thursday with the amount of spasm in my back still. He thinks 2 weeks between appointments might be too long, but if I'm going to go to work, I can't really schedule them at 10 days apart, it just doesn't fit.

At work, I am simply going through the motions. I am racking my brains as to whether, after all the preparatory handover work I have done, I have missed anything. I am waiting for people to ask, assuming there are gaps. But nothing. Then I discover nobody actually believes I am leaving!!

Last week I drafted, printed and signed my resignation paper. I gave it to the CEO's personal assistant.  Next week I will send out a very clear email to everybody telling them that I have officially resigned. Then they can all fucking well get over it!!

I also only purchased six months of medical indemnity cover, so come July 1, I'm no longer insured to be a doctor.

I am sick and tired of the negativity I receive, mostly from work colleagues, about my plans to give up my medical career. Just because they can't see any life outside their work/career doesn't mean I can't. To be truthful I've never clicked with my medical colleagues and have kept friends with very few over the years, mainly because I've never bought in to the culture of "being a doctor" or "behaving like a doctor" or whatever "a doctor" as a thing or entity is meant to be. I've always been amused by people saying to me "you don't look like a doctor", as if there is a special look! I will admit though, using the title definitely opens some doors that are resolutely closed without it.

So how are the retirement plans going?

I have officially engaged the services of a real estate agent and lawyer to put my house in Sydney up for auction in July. I am using the agency who has been property managing the house for the last 18 years as they are local, well known and have provided me with a great service already. Auction date is 25th July, so hopefully soon after that I shall be debt free and cash rich.

Since I am looking at paying a large capital gains tax on selling the property, I'm going to lay low for a year, look at investment options, not rent out my primary home and just chill.

However the travelling begins on 30th June!!

First stop New Zealand. I'm flying in and out of Christchurch, where I'm hiring a cheap as chips car for 3 months so I can have wheels and flexibility. At $1300 for the whole time, including insurance and AA coverage, it's a better deal than buying and then selling a vehicle. My travel insurance covers the excess waiver insurance, so that keeps the price rock bottom. Sure it's not a flash car, but I've hired the Nissan Sunny before, and it's fine for my needs, which are mostly going up and down ski field roads, and I'm quite the professional at fitting chains these days!

In Christchurch I'll be catching up with my friend Yuri, who has found true love with a cute Kiwi redhead and is currently renovating an awesome cottage at Taylors Mistake just above Sumner Beach. I'm going to stay a couple of days and see a little of Christchurch, pop down to Lyttelton Harbour where the original port was and if there's snow, maybe convince Yuri to come riding with me.

If there's snow. New Zealand, especially the Canterbury Region, had a dreadful season last year, and although the long range forecast for this year is more positive, it's not glowing. Sure they had a polar blast come through last week and dump lots of white stuff, but it's still 2 months till the first of the ski fields will be open, and they need a lot more snowfall before they can do just that.

I have a plan A and a plan B, dependent on the snow. If there's snow, then I plan to make my way slowly down to Wanaka, visiting a bunch of club fields en route. Porters, Cheeseman, Craigieburn and Broken River are all options, dependent on conditions of course. Now that I've got my learners plates on the nutcrackers I'm ready to rock and roll.

I don't plan to head to Olympus, as it's just too far into the mountains for a day trip, but it's definitely on the cards for the trip back, and maybe with friends from Japan. More on that later...

After Canterbury I'll head down to Tekapo, and ski Dobson, Roundhill, or both, before heading to Ohau, and then on to Wanaka. Two years ago I purchased an earlybird midweek Chill season pass that allowed me unlimited midweek skiing at all the club fields (except Ohau) but I only used it 10 or 11 times so I decided that if I do ski the clubbies this year, I'll just pick up a 10 day pass in Christchurch as the price is the same yet a 10 day pass can be used any day of the week. Also, the fully inclusive accommodation and meal packages at Olympus are such good value you don't really save money on a prepaid pass. Plus there's the hot tub!!

If there isn't much snow by 1st July, then I'll use Plan B, which is to head over Arthur's Pass to the West Coast and do some walking and sightseeing on my way south to Wanaka. Both times in the past when I've tried to head over to the West Coast, I've been stopped by landslides. The road repairs on the Haast Pass have only recently concluded, after being closed fully for 10 days and partially for 18 months, after the tragic landslide in 2013. That was when I was over there last.

Once in Wanaka I'll be working at Wanaka Bakpaka, cleaning rooms and doing evening reception, and skiing Treble Cone in my spare time. The other reason for having wheels. This is a work for accommodation deal so no cash changes hands meaning no income to declare to the tax man.

I'm hoping to do a little backcountry skiing this winter, maybe a snow safety/avalanche awareness course and I might even go heli-skiing. Will just need to see how life, and working at the hostel, pans out.

Later in the season I plan to head back north and spend another week around the Canterbury club fields, hopefully with a crew. A few of the gang from Japan are interested, we'll just have to see how the weather holds out, and if we can get a posse together. Already one down with Kathy having torn her ACL and heading to surgery in May. And Ken isn't answering his emails.

I fly out of Christchurch September 30 (for some reason the airfares all went up in October so you take the best deal) and in to Sydney. Here I'm also hiring a car for 2 weeks and visiting my friends down in Wollongong and Kiama/Gerringong, heading down to Canberra to visit family and go to a school reunion, and just chilling for a while. Usually my east coast visits are somewhat rushed, so it's lovely having the luxury to spend a bit more time. This is the joy of retiring and not having date commitments, and being able to find a really cheap flight back to Perth for well less than $200 carrying 35kg of luggage!

Back home I'll say goodbye to my house sitters and settle in for a spring and summer in Geraldton. There'll be house chores to do, a few more home renovations and then March 15 I fly out to Bali. At this stage I haven't actually decided where and for how long I'll be in Indonesia, but I'm thinking a minimum of 3 months. Just Air Asia advertised these really cheap flights, so I bought a one way ticket!!

So I guess I'll be hunting for more house sitters.

What fun!!