Friday, February 25, 2011

Last Days of Summer

Bolting basil, meshed marigolds, storms, spent sunflowers, lettuce going to seed and more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mantis Patrol

Several months ago, a host of tiny baby praying mantids appeared amongst the pot plants in our courtyard garden. They were a delight - a quick cup of tea in the backyard would become a Where's Wally adventure... the closer one looked, the more of the chocolate-brown babies you'd spot, hiding amongst the detail of the foliage and flowers. Over the weeks their numbers dwindled but the one or two that survived have been busy gorging all summer on pesky plant-eating insects. 

my mate the mantis
Now, all grown up and green they stalk the stems, welcome assassins. The one in the photo hangs out on the olive tree by the lounge room window, eating up unwary backyard bugs, and I'm guessing, insects attracted to our lounge room lights at night. I suspect that along with all the wet weather, the mantids are one of the reasons I haven't noticed as many caterpillars on my plants this year. It's a great partnership we have, the mantids, the plants and I. Everyone is happy, except for the Snippers, the yabbie, whose favourite food is a fat, juicy, mint-fed caterpillar, fresh from the garden.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Strangest Thing

strange but true

At a barbecue the other day a friend asked me - what was the strangest thing growing in our community garden? At the time I said I wasn’t sure but that I’d look into it and write it up as blog post for him. Walking past after my jog the other morning I had a good look through people’s plots – I found tomatoes, basil, chives, cucumbers, corn, cornflowers, common mint, Vietnamese mint, marigolds, sunflowers, lettuce, eggplants, carrots, LOTS of zucchinis, nasturtiums and pumpkins. Someone has even planted a mini watermelon at the back of their plot, it’s adorable for sure, but I couldn’t find anything that really qualified as “strange”. And then, walking by the fruit tree bed, it struck me.... the strangest thing in our garden isn’t growing in one of the plots. It’s not even a plant. The strangest thing things in our garden, without a shadow of a doubt are... the cherry slugs!! 

Ah, cherry slugs. Even the name sends a creepy shiver of delight down my spine. And the beasties themselves certainly do not disappoint. I had no idea such wonders existed until last week when I was in the garden watering. Gav, our lovely site manager was cursing as he pulled grubs off the leaves of the cherry tree and squished them between his fingers. When he uttered the words “cherry slugs” I thought he was making it up. But a closer look soon revealed little moving blobs of greenish yellowish brown, scattered like alien snot across the upper side of the leaves on the cherry tree. There, in all their bizarre glory.... cherry slugs! Not since I saw a bott-fly larva blow me a kiss after I pulled it from the oesophagus of a dead kangaroo, have I been so transfixed with equal measures of disgust and delight. 

tiny, slimy, sluggy beastie
It turns out cherry slugs are not truly slugs. This much is kinda obvious because under their weird little sluggy bodies they have legs, much like a caterpillar (not at all like a true slug). An internet search soon revealed that they are the lovely, pesky larvae of sawfly and they feed on the upper surface of the leaves of cherry, pear, plum, apple, quince and hawthorn trees. The adult wasps (sawflies are actually little wasps) lay eggs in the leaf, from which hatch the cherry-slug larvae. After feeding on leaves, the larvae drop to the ground and dig into the soil, where they pupate. Adults emerge later and fly to the leaves to mate and lay more eggs. And so on and so on. 

But don’t let this mundane entomological description fool you. Cherry slugs are my latest reminder that when it comes the weird, wonderful, fascinating and well... just plain strange, the natural world never fails to disappoint. With their delightfully evocative name and their semi-see-through jelly-slime bodies, cherry slugs are like something from an episode of David Attenborough does Doctor Who. And yet... for all their shiny, sludgy strangeness, there they are in the garden at the bottom of my street. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Water under the Bridge

reflections at the back of the velodrome

The Merri Corner Community Garden gets its name from the Merri Creek, which flows merrily past at the bottom of the Donald Street hill. Torrential rain overnight has done amazing things to the creek. Jogging up the eastern bank this morning was incredible – most of it was unrecognisable. I knew I’d have to take the route on the high side, I usually do after heavy rain. But even so, Lucy and I had to go cross country on numerous occasions because the water was up over the path. Well up. Lucy was pretty excited, and I have to admit, so was I. It reminded me of walking through the flooded park across the road from my parent’s house when I was a kid (on one memorable occasion I found a big freshwater turtle in the middle of a puddle).

I’ve never seen the Merri even close to as high as it was this morning, but reflecting as I jogged, I realised that four years isn’t all that long. Fortunately I ran into a friendly old Irishman walking the creek with his German shepherd. He (the Irishman, not his dog) cheerily informed me that he’d never seen the like.... and he’d lived here 15 years. Now that's more like it!

After my jog, I grabbed my phone and took a couple of quick snaps. As if the internet wasn’t already overflowing with flood pictures, here’s a couple more for your viewing pleasure.....

from the South side of the Moreland road bridge - swirly!

Moreland Road bridge, Northern side

sodden, behind the velodrome this afternoon
Oh, and yes never fear, the garden itself is unwashed. Thoughts are, of course, with those in other parts of the country who got flooded for real.