Friday, November 30, 2012

Nice mail today

 A few months back I received a rather nice and unexpected thingamy in the post when I bought a fancypants new work satchel online.  My bag came from Casauri (who make excellent stuff) and the unexpected extra surprise was that passport cover above.  The only issue was that mine didn't look quite like that one as I didn't have anything to stick into it.  My passport (and my children's) expired soon after we moved here.  I had no plans to travel out of the country so there was no point forking out for new passports which would just collect dust in a drawer.

Well now we do have plans and I have been nervously loitering by my mailbox all week waiting for more nice mail.  Today it was a case of PHEW! PHEW! and PHEW! when today's post included these brand spanking new beauties.  

Now I can relax and plan the details of the three and a half weeks between "land in Auckland" and "fly out of Auckland", including a party in Ngahinapouri on my birthday with lots of old school friends (what will I wear!), a stay in Raglan, trips to Wellington and Christchurch and the very important business of paying back our passport identity witness for her troubles and postage - which I hope to do in cocktails.

For NZ folk, if you would like to catch us when we are over then let me know (email address is in my profile) and I'll send you the details of where we'll be when.  For Mandurah folk, this is not an invitation to break in and knick all our worldly goods (i.e. op shop tat) as you will encounter another family having their very own summer holiday at our beach house.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bat guano

Funny how things come in threes.  Up until a fortnight ago I hadn't spent more than a few seconds of my life thinking about bat guano and then suddenly it was everywhere.  I'll work backwards.

The third time it came up was kind of cute. I popped into the front living room to check out whether the screaming coming from that room was happy screaming or call-the-police-now screaming. It was happy and caused by a gaggle of sugar-crazed teenage girls. This was well after Halloween but they were still chowing down on their enormous Halloween haul. (Halloween is big here.) When I asked what the interesting mix they were eating was, they replied "Batsh*t!" and there it is above.

The second time it came up recently was that incredibly cringey news story from NZ.  NZ doesn't often make it into the news here and when it does it is always something dreadful (someone going apesh*t, earthquakes, sport) or terribly embarrassing (someone going batsh*t, Kyoto pull out, sport).  The recent incident where someone who should know better did a great impression of a dipsh*t by spouting some bullsh*t about a hotsh*t soccer player being as thick as batsh*t, was obviously the latter.  The media here lapped it up and speculated on whether he was chickensh*t when there was no apology.  I wondered whether I was the only one bothered that he'd muddled his batsh*t with his pigsh*t (though I guess I shouldn't be surprised given that he strikes me a someone who regularly confuses people of wealth with people of worth)

But as much as I was annoyed by his muddling, offended by his lack of manners and horrified by his lack of good judgement, (Holy Sh*t! This person is the boss of a country?) it was the fact that he was technically wrong that really irked me.  I have recently found out quite a bit about batsh*t and it is not at all thick.  The real deal actually looks quite like tiny ratsh*t.

Soon after moving here we spotted tiny bats while out walking our neighbour's dog at dusk.  So I read up about the local bats in the well-thumbed tome we simply refer to as "The Book" (a guide to local wildlife) then my interest was piqued further after I noticed bat boxes in trees at various reserves. 

So when I heard that the City of Mandurah was holding a "Bat Box Workshop" and a "Bat Night Stalk" I jumped at the chance and signed up.  At the workshop I learned all about the local bats, how to construct houses for them and why these houses are necessary.  On the stalk through a local bush reserve, my family saw plenty of bats out feeding.  We learned lots more about bats from our wonderfully entertaining and knowledgeable guide and also about many other aspects of the local ecosystem.

In this part of the world we don't have the big fruit bats that many of you will have seen in the eastern states of Australia.  The bats here are micro bats, and yes, they are very small.  Below is a picture I borrowed to show you just how small they are.

Man-made homes are necessary because with urban expansion mature trees get felled and then there are no longer enough suitable nesting sites to house the bat population.  Bat numbers have therefore dwindled but the key thing is that Mandurah does still have masses of food for these bats because micro bats eat mosquitoes!

The facilitator of the workshop and guide of the walk, Joe Tonga, has therefore designed and created artificial homes for the bats.  His latest design has been developed over many years and many, many prototypes and has lots of very clever features.  One of these is the angled front to the box so that the bat guano falls straight out the bottom of the box so that even after many years of use, the entrance doesn't get clogged up.

Each one of these bat boxes can house 100 bats and each bat can eat 1000 mosquitoes a night.  Bat boxes are being installed in many reserves but they can be installed in home gardens too.  Evenings in Mandurah would certainly be considerably more pleasant if thousands of Mandurah gardens had bat boxes, the bat population was able to increase again and the local mosquito population was brought back under control.

My partner had a birthday recently.  Sometimes I find that men of a certain age can be quite tricky to buy presents for but this year I bought him one of Joe Tonga's latest design bat boxes. (If you live locally then you can too from and I highly recommend going on one of his Bat Night Stalks.)

Thankfully my partner thought that his present was topsh*t.  No sh*t, well at least not until some bats find it, move in, then eventually cover the ground below it with plenty of their guano.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Kitchen Garden

Here is a bit about an ongoing project that has been keeping us out of mischief lately.

Now that the front garden is planted, thriving and no longer an embarrassing eyesore, we turned our attention to the back garden.  Now that area was looking pretty bad.  By the time we moved in last year the grass was waist high and by the time my mother visited a few weeks later I had simply smothered the long grass with all the old curtains from the house (pure linen from Liberty of London but brown, floral and well past their use-by date), newspaper and cardboard. 

There was method in this madness.  The soil in this part of the world is some of the most gutless and nutrient poor in the world.  Imagine trying to garden on a beach and you'll get the idea.  This wasn't an issue in the front garden because there we planted local natives but out the back we wanted to grow food.  The first job was therefore to create soil.  This we did by piling yet more free tree pruner mulch on top of the curtains/newspaper/cardboard to kill the grass and help it to decompose.  We also added whatever other organic matter we could to the soil including the contents of our Bokashi buckets, used coffee grounds which I collect from a great new local cafe (yes, another one!) and finally after hunting for a year for some, many bales of pea straw.  I've also discovered some amazing stuff called Sand Remedy which is a combination of powdered clay and minerals which helps sandy soils retain water and prevents the depletion of nutrients.  Quite a long process when really all I wanted to do was stick some plants in the ground.

The other complicating factor is that our neighbourhood is still on septic tanks. We knew this was likely to change soon but in the meantime we didn't want to do anything that would bust the existing system, such as plant fruit trees in the wrong place.  It also means that whatever work we do there may need to be dug up when the new sewerage system goes in. So nothing is permanent, just placed on the ground so it can be moved at a later date. After a visit from the Dunny Doctor I knew where to plant and where not to plant.  As of yesterday this is how it is looking.

We simply reused materials that were already on the property including the old water tank as a woodshed, an old shed that was right down the back of the garden to house the garden tools, a friend's gifted firewood stash to make climbing frame teepees (the timber is jarrah) and various old pavers and roof tiles used to make paths and edge the beds.

The garden looks quite bare in those pics but it is already producing a fair amount of food. We have basil, coriander, mint, rosemary, Thai basil, rocket, curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, chives, spring onions, spinach, silverbeet, five types of lettuce, strawberries, Tahitian lime, lemon, feijoa, butter beans, French beans, peas, peppers, chillies, pumpkin, courgettes, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, lemongrass, various other things I have forgotten and also a whole bunch of flowering plants to attract beneficial insects.

It is obviously still a work in progress and we have a long way to go but given that this was our starting point

we have also come quite a long way.