Thursday, 28 January 2016

He’s Back!
This colourful Tonguey was a larger specimen of 35 to 40cm.

Yes, he’s back! 

Another surprise visit… and I almost stepped on him. There he was, warming himself in the stream of hot air coming from the air-conditioning unit, right outside our side door. As I bowled outside to empty the vegetable waste into the compost bin, he simply ambled out of my way, walking through and over our potted chilli and banana plants. Was he concerned? A little… but no reason to flee. I even had time to do my chore and return to the house to fetch the camera. Blue tongues lizards are very comfortable with human company…

Today’s meeting seems to indicate that we have a colony of these adorable reptiles in our block. This ‘Tonguey’, our pet name for Blue Tongues, was beautifully coloured with a fawn background highlighted with black and ochre banding, as opposed to our smaller October guest of grey with black banding.

Our smaller October guest

Over recent months, I have wondered about a phenomenon which has occurred within our garden. For two years, we had a major problem with snails: literally hundreds of them along our fence lines, invading the gardens after rain. These days, I rarely spot one and our soft vegetable seedlings go largely unharmed. Are our resident Blue Tongues doing us a wonderful service in consuming all our snails?

Our ‘hutan’ or ‘jungle’, with its luxuriant plant growth and many hiding places, such as rocks and low-growing ‘cover’ plants, provides an ideal home for Blue Tongue lizards. Furthermore, the dense planting also attracts a ready supply of insect and snail ‘bush-tucker’ for our resident friends.

By the way, I use the words ‘he’ and ‘him’ advisedly: it is very difficult to tell apart the male and female Blue Tongues.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Latest Resident Revealed

There was a scurrying in the bean patch… a flash of brown… then nothing…

Something scuttling across the rocks… a hurtling streak… vanished…

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… Not quite! From our sightings, we knew that a skink larger than the normal Garden Skink or Fence Skink was living in our garden. 

Let’s call him ‘Superskink’.

Superskink has been living with us for at least the past two years. He loves our goldfish pond, living at the back near our pretty little ‘waterfall’. It provides him with lots of rocky hiding places, as well as a water source which allows him to regulate his body temperature on hot, hot days. Furthermore, it provides Superskink a readymade source of food: water beetles, snails, tadpoles, spiders and maybe even some of our baby goldfish! For such a luxurious and luxuriant home, Superskink simply has to avoid the cat! And the blue-tongue lizards!

Superskink is skilled at avoidance. We spot him regularly, but fleetingly… We see him. He sees us. Gone in a flash! Never, ever a chance for photographic evidence. Then, last week, along came our opportunity. It had rained for most of the previous day. Overnight, it had been a very cool summer’s night. It was 8:41. Morning. There he was, warming himself on the red garden bridge which crosses our goldfish pond. Four glorious photographs later, child in arms, we went to investigate. There was no sprinting away today. Superskink simply ambled from the bridge into the Okra patch…

So, who is Superskink? Superskink is the Eastern Water Skink. He is twice the size of a normal Garden Skink. He is a valuable backyard citizen because he eats many of our familiar garden pests… Best to avoid those nasty chemicals… And keep the cat indoors at night!


Monday, 25 January 2016

Easy Weeding of a Bush Rock Path

Bush rock paving creates a relaxed feel, especially for a native garden, or for an eclectic, informal East-meets-West garden such as ours. As my wife would say about our garden, it is ‘rojak’ or ‘Malaysian fruit and vegetable salad’. In more familiar terms, it is organised chaos.

Relaxed by nature, but not by effort, the path can be difficult to maintain. One is always hesitant to utilise inorganic herbicides like ‘Roundup’ to keep it clean, instead preferring to be on bended knee, toiling away, pulling and digging weeds which are reluctant to part company with their narrow patch of turf… it is a never-ending battle of wills between weeds and weeder! A battle until I read the article below…

I have experimented with the writer’s suggestion to use white vinegar as a herbicide. These are the photo results…




Most of the weeds were killed ‘instantly’ by applying a spray of pure white vinegar. Others were mortally wounded. The white vinegar is not a selective treatment, and if we are inattentive it will damage valued plants. Therefore, we need to be careful to limit any spray drift when using this treatment.

Importantly, white vinegar is inexpensive and easily obtainable from supermarkets.

Kikuyu grass is no match for white vinegar

A tufted grass appears to be resistant to the vinegar spray

Friday, 22 January 2016

Pea Eggplant… A ‘Tree’ for the Ages

Unlike any other eggplant which we have grown, the Pea Eggplant has become a beacon within our garden. Much taller and faster-growing than we had expected, reaching well over two metres in height, clearly it has received ideal growing conditions with its location alongside a composting bin. It will definitely need to be pruned severely in the autumn. 

October 2015. Seven months in the ground...

It is a productive tree. During the removal of one of our trees and the pruning of our main pea eggplant – it was overshadowing our four-year old mango tree - we collected a large coffee jar of pea-sized fruits. Some of the fruits were utilised in a green curry. However, the rest of the shiny green produce we have attempted to ‘pickle’ in a similar fashion to olives. To this time, we have not cooked with the pickled version of the pea eggplants. An experiment to savour!

January 2016. Ten months in the ground... The fence is 1800mm (6ft) in height

…and the little spiders still reside within their protective, thorny haven!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Nasi Goreng Colinas

Fried rice is a very variable dish, which we never cook twice the same way. For example, we alternate our meats between chicken, pork and sliced Chinese sausage. Our vegetables might be beans, choy sum, carrots or sweet corn kernels. Furthermore, we finish the dish with any fragrant leaves available in the garden… Selaseh (Thai Basil), Kemangi (Lemon Basil) or Daun Ketumbar (Coriander).

Be warned… this version of Nasi Goreng is spicy hot! Go easy on the use of chillies if you are in doubt!

What you need…

3 cups, white rice, cooked overnight

4 cloves garlic, crushed
6 red chillies, chopped
½ tsp belachan (Malaysian prawn paste)
1 medium onion, chopped
Oil for stir-frying

200g pork or chicken, diced small
8 long beans, cut into 1cm lengths

3 cups of rice, cooked beforehand
2 tbsp. Light soya sauce
1 or 2 tsp. Dark soya sauce
Salt, to taste

8 green prawns, shelled
Handful of Selaseh (Thai Basil) leaves

Garnish Ingredients…
Red and green chillies, sliced
Sliced omelette, or a fried egg for each serving
Tomato and cucumber slices… optional

What to do…
  1. Stir-fry the garlic, chillies, belachan and chopped onions until the onions go glassy.
  2. Add the meat and beans. Continue to stir-fry until the meat is cooked.
  3. Add your rice. Mix all ingredients well. Then add all the seasoning ingredients: the soya sauces and the salt.
  4. Add the green prawns… these will cook in a very short time.
  5. Add the Selaseh leaves and turn off the heat. Serve when the Selaseh leaves wilt.
  6. Finally, add the garnish ingredients of your choice.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A Tale of Two Jackfruits

During March, April and September, I reported on the progress of our more advanced jackfruit tree. In the autumn months, the tree produced a large number of flowers but over winter no fruits developed. A second small flush of flowers occurred during September with the same result. Since that time the tree has suffered a setback, losing many of its leaves and failing to produce any further flowers.
Ailing jackfruit tree
Growing jackfruit trees in the temperate climate of Sydney is a learning experience of the highest order. Has this first tree been affected by the cold of winter? Has it acquired a disease? Has it lacked nutrition or been affected by ‘wet feet’? I incline towards the first alternative… although our cool season has not harmed the tree to this extent in the past four years.

By contrast, our second jackfruit tree, of the same age, but clearly a different jackfruit variety, is thriving. It has grown very large and has started to produce multiple flowering spurs… side by side with, and growing under the same conditions as, the ailing tree. So, wherein lies the answer?
Thriving and flowering tree

As these fruiting spurs have developed in the summer months, do we have a greater expectation of first-fruit success this time? With time to maturity being about five or six months, we have time to wait… and learn!

Since March I have learned that the male and female flowers of jackfruit can be differentiated by colour: female flowers are a darker green than their male counterparts. It is also a possibility that many male flowers will appear before a female flower is produced on a fruiting spur. So, what do the photos of our tree show?

The video link below (from Malaysia) is very useful and informative, showing how to distinguish between male and female flowers of the chempedak, a ‘cousin’ of the jackfruit tree. Incidentally,the audio is recorded in both Malay and English, so it can be understood without a knowledge of the Malay language…

Regardless of this season’s fruiting outcome, a jackfruit tree remains a very handsome and fascinating tree, even in the warm, temperate climate of Sydney, at the very edge of the cultural range of the species.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Delectable Long Beans

Beans are a family favourite, and our favourite bean is the Long Bean (Kachang Panjang). It has many names, sometimes also called Yard Bean or Yard Long Bean, because of its length.
The iridescent flower of the Long Bean retains its beauty only through the morning...
At the beginning of each growing season, we plant traditional green and butter bush beans, which provide us with an early crop. However, when the very hot, humid days of summer arrive, these bush beans tend to suffer. This is when the Long Bean takes over, providing a plentiful harvest.

The Kachang Panjang is a fast-growing climbing plant which will require trellising. We use a simple triangular trellis which takes up little garden space and which provides us with sufficient beans for us… and then some!

A simple triangular trellis sytem
We plant our first crop in October, and then a succession crop in December. When the beans begin to bear they can be prolific. They will wane from their bountiful beginnings, however, yet still continuing to provide some beans right throughout the growing season.

You should inspect your vines and pick every day. Kachang Panjang are at their best when young and thinnish. As they age on the vine, the flesh becomes a paler shade of green. However, if you should miss picking some – some do hide! - allow them to dry on the vine. These will become your seed supply for next year.

Today's small harvest. Long beans will keep well in the crisper section of the fridge if wrapped in newspaper.
These ones were hiding... Ready to dry for next year's seed.

In Malaysian cooking, there are many ways to cook Kachang Panjang. A favourite method is to stir-fry the beans with garlic, chillies and belachan, a type of fermented shrimp paste. Our personal favourite is to slice the beans into fine rounds and cook them in an omelette. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Cuckoo Has Landed

For some time, perhaps three months, we have been fascinated by a melodic but unfamiliar bird call, emanating from a magnificent Silky Oak tree, three doors up from our home. Judging by the volume and clarity of the call, the suspect bird needed to be a very large one. Almost every evening we have noticed its lovely call, making us determined to locate and distinguish the source.

This morning, with a 400C (1040F) day forecast, the garden needed to be watered well to withstand the searing temperatures. As I completed the watering of young plants in pots, there was a rustle at ground level. Suddenly, a large mottled bird flapped up on to our garden seat. A little apprehensive, but not overly frightened, the bird tolerated my presence and began to cheep, at first regularly, then later demandingly: it was clearly a baby seeking out its mother.

Its behaviour appeared to indicate that it had come to our yard in search of water: it sipped droplets of water from the leaves of our blooming jackfruit tree while it waited for its parent to respond to its cries.

Having photographed and videoed the performance, I retired to the house to research the bird I had stumbled upon. It was an Eastern Koel (Asian or Pacific Koel), a member of the cuckoo family of birds. According to my research, the black, male Eastern Koel migrates to northern and eastern Australia from Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia during September and October for the purpose of breeding. The buff-cream and black-barred females arrive soon afterwards.

Because these birds are members of the cuckoo family, they parasitise the nests of some larger native birds. Keeping in mind that the young Koel is an enormous bird, it must be quite a trial for their foster parents to feed a most insistent baby.

The Koels fly back to warmer climes in March, so we should have the pleasure of the melodic song for a few more weeks. Whether, we see the birds again is another matter: they are apparently very shy.

The videos can be viewed here… and here


Bako National Park

Bako National Park borders the South China Sea and is very close to the city of Kuching in Sarawak, East Malaysia. Because of its proximity to this major city, it is truly worth a visit. However, you need to be prepared to walk.

The park consists of a number of nature trails. These range from easier forest trails up to full-day rainforest treks. Because of the variety of its trails, which contain a huge array of Sarawak's vegetation types, it has become a very popular destination for visitors and tourists.

During our visit to Bako National Park, our first stop was at Kampung Bako fishing village. Here, we organised motorboat transport with two other couples. Then, ten minutes later, we arrived at Teluk Assam where we registered for our trek.

We selected to walk to Teluk Pandan Kecil, a distance of 2.6 kilometres. This was recommended to take 2.5 hours. Along the way, we passed through sections of closed rainforest, then open scrubland, along speedway platforms, up bush ladders and goat tracks, and finally down steep gorges. At times, it was wet but sandy, rather than muddy under foot.

We witnessed wonderful sights… bush orchids, pitcher plants… and eventually, the cliff-face and cove beach at Teluk Pandan Kecil. Here, we met an Aussie couple, who invited us to join their boatman to remove to Teluk Paku, home to a colony of proboscis monkeys. The short boat trip was stunning: we passed some spectacular island and rock formations set in the jewel-blue sea.

On arrival at Teluk Paku, I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a proboscis monkey in the cliff trees adjoining the beach. With confidence of sighting more of this endangered species, we took the track back to Teluk Assam, 0.8km, for 45 minutes. The walk was very pretty, but our luck had run out, for we did not spot another proboscis monkey… even though those walking before and after us had ample fortune. Sayang!

Back at base, we rehydrated and took a simple meal. Here, it was interesting to note the 'wild' animals which prospered from human company, particularly macaque monkeys and Bornean bearded pigs.

Finally, we met up with the original couples to take the motorboat back to Kampung Bako.