Saturday, October 31, 2009

Awakening of Cheerful Feelings Upon Arrival in the Country

We spent last weekend at a family reunion in the small NSW town of Carcoar. If you are fond of hills dotted with sheep and cattle, and you like National Trust listed places, you will love Carcoar; I certainly did.

When my husband's distant relative moved to Carcoar, it was the second-largest town west of the Blue Mountains, second to Bathurst. Its other claim to fame is that it was the first place in Australia where the daylight robbery of a bank* took place, perpetrated by none other than Bold Ben Hall.

Of course, because we are all nerds, we were very keen to see the Blayney wind farm. There is a viewing platform near Carcoar Dam, but it faces east, so morning photographs are a bit difficult.

The towers are about 50m tall and each sail about half that. I found the fifteen windmills simultaneously imposing and beautiful. There is a much more picturesque view of them from Carcoar Railway Station, and from Carcoar Cemetery.

Remains of a farm building built by my husband's distant relative.

Another scene from the family farm, typical of well-maintained grazing land in this area with remnant eucalypts for shade. This farmer, as with most, has been reafforesting his property. I explained to the Twig that in my youth, one never saw young trees on farmland -- only remnant specimen trees, probably left from when the land was cleared a hundred years back. These days, it's common to see belts of young trees along fence lines, thanks to Landcare. Grazing animals and crops do better when sheltered from hot summer winds and freezing gales, and our delicate soil needs protection from erosion, water loss and salinity. The earthwork on the right is a dam. Despite the green grass, this area is in drought. I'm glad to say some rain fell while we were in the area.

Before I get into trouble, I'd better explain that the Twig is on a path through this wheatfield! After his tour of the family farm, viewing various historical relics, the Twig complained of fatigue on his way up the hill to the homestead. Then he met some boys playing cricket, and we didn't see him for three hours...

Note for Sydney travellers: the waratahs are out along the Darling Causeway. If you are up in the Blue Mountains, go and have a look!

* Daylight robbery by a bank, on the other hand, is so common as to be unremarkable.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How to Get Rid of Cabbage White Caterpillars

Gavin posted today at Simple Green Frugal Co-op on his adventures in dealing with Cabbage White caterpillars in his garden. I thought I'd put together all I know about the Cabbage White and what has worked for me.

Know Your Enemy

The Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae, seems to be one of the commonest garden pests worldwide. The caterpillars feed on crucifers/brassicas, and have a particular liking for cabbage and broccoli. The caterpillars hatch from single eggs on the underside of a leaf, and stay on the underside until they become large, when they move to the top. They work their way from outer plant leaves to inner ones. Early signs of their presence are pinholes on outer leaves, which quickly become larger until leaves are skeletonised. Green frass (chunky caterpillar poo!) is sometimes visible. Once the caterpillars are in the cabbage heart or into the broccoli head, they cannot be eradicated without chemical use.

In Sydney, the butterflies are more common in the warmer months, and you can expect to see caterpillar damage once daytime maximums move past about 20 C (that is, more than half the year!). The lifespan of the insect is about a month, with the last generation over-wintering in cocoons. The butterflies find each other -- and egg-laying sites -- by sight.


Forget it. Unless your country is killing Cabbage Whites as part of a Four Pests Campaign.


A lot of people overlook prevention, but insect plagues don't just happen. They occur when there is a confluence of favourable conditions. Here are some ways to make the lives of Cabbage Whites more difficult:
  • Encourage insectivorous birds. These tend to be smaller birds, so provide dense (even prickly) bushes for habitat, and compost your cat. Provide a bird-bath. If you have chooks, consider tractoring them in your vegie patch so that they can eat any caterpillars they find.
  • Encourage predatory insects. Stop spraying general insecticides in your garden, and don't kill wasps unless you really have to (when they have inconveniently-located nests). Wasps feed the caterpillars to their young. If your brassicas support braconid wasp pupae, don't pull the plants out till the wasps hatch. Remember the bird-bath -- most predatory insects need water to drink.
  • Hide the cabbages. Interplant them with other vegetables. Patches and lines of identical plants are too easy for passing butterflies to see.
  • Look populated. Scatter white half-eggshells around your brassicas. Apparently, the butterflies perceive these as other butterflies, and head off to lay their eggs in a less populated area. The calcium from the eggshells is good for your garden.
  • Get real. If you insist on growing brassicas in warmer weather, you will get caterpillars on them. Not only are the butterflies multiplying, the brassicas themselves are not as healthy as they are in cooler weather, and therefore attract more pests. As evidence, I give you the photo below of one of my winter-grown broccoli, which is entirely unmarked.

But I Want to Kill Them!

Go out in the early morning and you will find the caterpillars sitting on top of the leaves, usually near the ribs. Pick them off and feed them to your chooks, or throw them onto the lawn for the magpies as Gavin does.

That's Yucky! I Want a Nice Civilised Pesticide!

Probably the most appropriate pesticide to use is Bacillus thuringiensis, sold as B.t. or Dipel. These bacteria attack caterpillars only, nothing else, and Dipel is therefore permitted in most organic certification systems. According to the MSDS, it's about as safe as you can get with a pesticide. Now go away and get over yourself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Move a Chook Dome

It was time to move the chook dome today. Here's a step-by step guide:
  1. Check new site and remove anything you want to keep or eat yourself.
  2. Remove feed and water containers.
  3. Remove eggs.
  4. Remove laying box (ie, old mower-catcher). It's a good time to clean it well and dry it in the sun.
  5. Step inside dome.
  6. Take perch out of its loops and leave on ground.
  7. Grab two opposing ribs and lift the dome about 15cm off the ground. This is low enough to keep the chooks in but high enough to clear small obstacles. Make use of any handy children to shoo the chooks in the right direction.
  8. Move dome to the new location (ideally, right next to the previous one -- no need to exhaust yourself!). Lift the side if necessary to clear any large obstacles.
  9. Place dome on new site and step out.
  10. Check that there are no hollows where a chook might escape under the dome. Bricks are useful to cover any gaps.
  11. Replace feed and water containers, perch, nesting box.
Gosh, that was a tiring ten minutes, wasn't it?

Actually, my move took a bit longer than that, because I spent extra time at step 1. Here's the harvest from the new site right before moving the chooks in:

650g beetroot (one large, the rest small)
550g parsnips
handful dill
2 small heads celery
1 head silver beet

I was astonished by the number of snails I found, but the girls were pretty pleased. The rest of the bed is mainly warrigal greens and flowering chervil.

Last week's Good Living had a recipe (not online) that is actually useful right now: a salad of grilled goat's cheese-on-toast, roast beetroot, hazelnuts and broad beans. My garden has supplied me with the fresh young broad beans as well as the beetroot, so I made it for dinner. Rather fiddly for a weeknight, and not exactly frugal, but it tasted great.