A sucker for winter

I came across this little guy the other day snuggled up with 4 of his friends in a nesting box, high up in a eucalyptus tree. Isn’t he divine! He’s a Feather Tailed Glider, an Australian marsupial weighing a tiny 15g. He’s also the world’s smallest gliding possum and inspite of his size can glide up to 25 metres by extending a folded skin membrane that sits between his front and back legs, like a parachute as he leaps from tree to tree.

Because he is so tiny he’s going to have trouble staying warm in the approaching Winter months, especially when there’s a shortage of food. So to conserve energy he’ll go into torpor, a state where his heart rate, breathing, body temperature and metabolism will slow down to allow him to survive the Winter.

Winter seems to be a time when we naturally slow down too, fortunately not quite to the point of torpor mainly because we have the ability to rug up, eat soul warming foods and sleep in warm cosy beds. This Easter weekend we have plenty to do to prepare our home for the onset of Winter and that includes getting our garden ready for the cool season vegies and de-cluttering ready for the next Council cleanup.

I love the cooler months of the year in Sydney and the clear starry evenings and cool morning temperatures tell us that winter is on the way. And so does the garden as the few remaining tomato plants try their hardest to put the final rosy polish on the last of their fruit. It won’t be long before all the summer annuals have completed their life cycles, well for this year anyway but with a bit of luck I’ll be able to continue the cycle again in Spring as I’ve been saving seeds from our best producing plants.

In the meantime, it’s time to get the vegie beds ready for the Winter crops. In Sydney we live in a ‘temperate’ zone and are very lucky to be able to grow a wide range of vegies and what’s more exciting is that this will be our very first full Autumn and Winter growing food in our Permaculture garden.

I’ve started growing seedlings for the regulars like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, leeks and peas but to eliminate root disturbance I’ve planted carrot, beetroot and parsnip seeds straight into the beds. I decided to order some organic garlic and shallot bulbs from Green Harvest this year and I’m really excited as my first round of garlic cloves, planted only a week ago, have already made an appearance.

Because we had so much rain this summer, I’m suspicious that many of the nutrients have been leached from the soil so I’ve been working on enriching the beds with lots of lovely home made compost, worm castings and deep mulch to ensure the soil is in tip top shape for the Winter crop. Our garden faces north so it gets a reasonble amount of winter sun but we’re also quite exposed to drying winds. Because of this we have come to appreciate how important a blanket of mulch is in helping to stop things drying out.

Our new chooks are finally starting to settle in and have broken the barrier with Noodle but are still dodging our boss chook Stickybeak. She started moulting a couple of weeks ago and it seems so unfair that she’s going bald at this time of year but the enclosed house should protect her from the elements. As the old chooks wouldn’t let the new girls into their quarters without a squabble, Chris and I spent last Sunday Winter-proofing the other end of the little chook house and made the new girls their own perch and nesting boxes. They immedately claimed the area ‘as their own’ and it’s hilarious watching them elbow each other out of the way as they vie for the best position on the perch. It all looks the same to me.

Noodle approving the new extension

We’ve started to gather timber to make sure we have enough for Winter  and have various sources including our local Council cleanups, any fallen trees or limbs from our own yard and off-cuts of building hardwood, otherwise destined for the bin. Although our house came with a thumping big airconditioner, our combustion stove has been our preferred method of heating for the last 11 years. It easily manages to heat our living space and efficiently sends cosy heat up into the bedrooms at night and provides us with a constant supply of hot water for washing up, a late night cuppa and to fill up our hot water bottles.

We’re just about to harvest our butternut pumpkins and hope for a better crop next year. As for our fruit trees, we’ll trim back the passionfruit vines and de-sucker and fertilise our dwarf Cavendish bananas to ensure all the energy and nutrients go directly into the main trunks.

We’ll look at banding our citrus trees to keep out the ants and spray our home made bio-oil to help control scale. I’ll be picking the fruit from our very first Rosellas this weekend but still can’t decide whether to make tea, cordial, jam or jelly. If only I had enough to make some of each!

Have a great Easter and I hope you get your hands dirty this weekend in the garden. Stay tuned for my next post on….safer alternatives to household products.

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