Spring has sprung

Our side garden while the grass is still green

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, spring is either around the corner or happening now. It’s not a huge event for us. The only deciduous trees we have are frangipanis and yes, the leaf buds at the ends of the branches are starting to swell. The very coldest (for us) winter nights are behind us now and the days are warm, in the mid-twenties, and dry. Soon enough the temperatures will rise and with them, the humidity. If we’re very lucky, we might even have a wet season this year but so far, the prospects are not good. We can already see the grass drying out.

It’s that oscillation between the oceans. The west coast is getting some of the rain it missed out on in the last few years and over here on the east coast many areas are enduring another year of drought. Last year the rain expected in the wet season, between December and March, didn’t happen here. The only cyclones were right up north and thankfully not very strong, although one huge rain depression sat over Townsville causing devastation on drought-ravaged pastoral properties. I think the graziers up there are still cleaning up. But at least the rain topped up the dams, the inland rivers, and the ground water.

Lorikeets love callistemon flowers

Here in Hervey Bay the callistemons are starting to flower, much to the delight of the lorikeets and other honey eaters. The mango trees are setting fruit and we have our fingers crossed that this year the rain will come and we’ll actually get more survivors than last year’s two. That’s right; two mangoes from two large trees. Our lime tree is bearing well and we’ve frozen quite a lot of juice in ice cube trays.  They’re lovely to add to water on a hot and humid day.

One tree has brand new tiny mangoes

The other tree is still in the flower stage

This year also we’ll keep an eye on those bunches of ripening bananas. We were warned that if we didn’t collect them when they were just ripe the birds would help us. We were a day late and didn’t salvage any. But the lorikeets, miner birds, and blue-faced honey eaters (also called ‘banana birds’) enjoyed a feast.

Hopefully we’ll get to share this with the birds

Limes

Salad greens and herbs, with three tomato plants down the end. We’ve also planted seeds for snow peas and green beans

We’ve been busy in the garden planting herbs and salad greens. Come summer the plants will bolt but in the meantime, rocket (arugula) and lettuce will be welcome. So will the tomatoes. We’ve planted a large variety, a roma tomato, and a cherry tomato. They’ll go well with basil, coriander, and parsley. It’ll be lovely as long as we can keep the insects at bay, especially fruit fly.

I’ve also planted some ornamental flower seeds to fill in some corners. Who knew petunia seeds were so small? They’re the only ones that haven’t made a showing so far. But there’s time.

(L-R) allysum, cosmos, marigolds, petunias

The main thing we need is rain. If you’d care to help us by sending up prayers, magical spells, or incantations, or maybe suitable ritual sacrifices if that’s part of your belief system, we would be very grateful.

The rain has (finally) come

I’m delighted to be able to report that we have been rained upon – nice, gentle, soaking rain which can continue on for longer if it wants. Encouraged by the 30mm or so we’d had before, I planted a cutting that I’d had under shelter, developing roots. The plant had a good root ball – but the ground where I planted it was only damp for about 3mm. The water had simply run off. I was surprised but that’s what you get after a prolonged dry period. I’m hopeful this time will be better.

All the plants in all the gardens in town have heaved a huge sigh of relief and started to develop new growth. This was, of course, particularly true of the weeds, which always take advantage of any opportunity. The big task now is to keep the weeds under control and give the grass a chance. The callistemons (see above) are flush with new growth and even flowers, which have pleased the resident honey eaters. The one at the top is an Australian noisy miner feasting on a flower. That’s great to see.

The weather has had other consequences. Pete and I, like quite a few other people in town, have contracted a kind of fluey virus that makes us lethargic, hot and sweaty, and achy. The doctor has assured us we’ll get the runny nose and coughs in due course. Something to look forward to.

I’ve been amusing myself by re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the first one, Wee Free Men, Tiffany is nine years old. It won an award for children’s books and I suppose an older child could read it. But I was nine about… let’s see… sixty years ago and I’ve enjoyed the book several times already. Like all Terry’s stories, it’s a mix of hilarity, mythology, and life lessons. Oh, and it breaks that Rule of Writing that states you should use dialect sparingly in novels, just enough to get the flavour. The Wee Free Men are Feegles, fairy folk six inches tall who could easily be mistaken for Scots, right down to the kilts, the swords, and the wode. They speak in broad Scottish accents. All the time. Here’s a wee example. “Rob Anybody looked offended.  ‘We ne’er get lost!’ he said.  ‘We always ken where we are!  It’s just sometimes mebbe we aren’t sure where everything else is, but it’s no’ our fault if everything else gets lost! The Nac Mac Feegle are never lost!’ ”

If you’re bored with Brexit or Orange Don, have a look. Wee Free Men.

Apart from that, I’ve had some fun creating posters for my books in Photoshop. Here are a few examples.

To find out more about the books just click on the picture.

Waiting for Oma

This “wet season” has turned out to be a pretty dry season. No, a VERY dry season. In previous posts I’ve mentioned we had 1mm of rain in January. So far in February the rain gods have managed 35.5mm, which is slightly less than two tenths of bugger all in this part of the world. I’ll show you what I mean. This graph shows cumulative rainfall per month per year over the last ten years. 2019 is that tiny yellow bump at the bottom.

Mind you, these things can change very quickly hereabouts. Townsville, which is usually a pretty dry place nicknamed ‘brownsville’ was absolutely flooded just a few weeks ago. I mentioned those floods a couple of weeks ago in the post entitled ‘a typical Australian summer‘. We did ask nicely if they’d share, and I’m sure they would have been delighted to oblige but it doesn’t work that way. Townsville is about 1,100km north of Hervey Bay, so the system would have had to come down the coast to reach us. It didn’t. It moved out to sea, where it became Tropical Cyclone Oma.

When the old lady (Oma means grandma in Dutch) started moving towards Hervey Bay we got all excited. Not that we particularly wanted all the wind and such, but we did like the idea of rain.  Mind you, Oma was a cat 3 at its worst, then downgraded to a 2, but it’s wise not to underestimate the power of a cyclone.

Here’s the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) best guesses for the cyclone’s track on the 19th.

This is a very good indication of how well the weather bureau, with all its fancy computers and wonderful algorithms, can predict the path of a cyclone. In this diagram the most likely path takes it round about through Fraser Island.

We got a cyclone warning and everything. Expect over 100mm of rain per day for the next several days, perhaps more. Clean up your yard, empty your gutters, make sure you have emergency supplies in case you’re cut off and/or there are power outages.

Emergency supplies

So we bought a couple of cans of baked beans, a packet of mixed nuts, Cadbury’s favourites, and stocked up on Scotch. Then we tidied up the yard. Pete took garden refuse to the tip and we put away our garden furniture and anything else that might have turned into a projectile.

The wind picked up on Thursday afternoon, but the clouds scudding up the coast from the south missed us – and most other people’s properties.

On Friday morning the BOM’s cyclone chart looked like this. Oma looks as though she’s going to stall and then head north again, well out to sea. If she does cross, they’re guessing poor old Townsville and Cairns which have both had quite sufficient for this wet season, thanks all the same, will be in for a little bit more inundation.

So… we’ve still had no rain. Windy and dry is very hard on plants and many of ours are suffering.

If any of you are in to pagan rituals, offerings to the rain gods, naked dancing, weird chants and whathaveyou, any offerings or supplications on our behalf would be gratefully accepted.

Seems to me if all the meteorologists were given a coloured marker and then blindfolded and asked to put a dot or several on a map of Queensland, they might well have ended up with a similar result to those projection charts. And although I know ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ are two different things, if the algorithms they use to predict one cyclone’s path are in any way analogous to the climate models that predict the climate in one hundred years’ time… well, make your own conclusions.

I remember years ago watching a wonderful documentary about the Chaos theory (entitled ‘Chaos’). It talked about the development of the mathematics around fractals, and the work of Benoit Mandelbrot whose name was given to the basic mathematical formula that produces the wonderful patterns (the Mandelbrot set). In the early days, computers were used for weather forecasts. Even then, when the best of computers weren’t a match for the processing power of the phone in your pocket, a computer did a faster, more accurate job than a human. The algorithms were complex and calculated figures to nine or ten (or something) decimal points. One day something went wrong and the forecasters lost their data, although they did have the final results. They re-entered the figures, using only three decimal places. The results they obtained were vastly different to what they got from the raw figures, which led to the question ‘why’ that leads most ground-breaking science. Which goes to show that tiny fluctuations can make huge differences. The plotting for cyclones is a great illustration of that truth.

Fascinating stuff.

Oh – and I’ve nearly finished that book.

 

 

A long, dry summer

Somebody sent up an alarm call

Here in Hervey Bay we’re begging for rain. It’ll probably have as much impact as praying but at least we can feel we’re doing something. The grass is brown and crackles underfoot, except for the bits that manage to get some water from somewhere. We never water the grass. We recycle the water from our septic system onto the garden, so the bromeliads and the natives are hanging on but one of our two mango trees has a drift of dead leaves under it. The other one benefits from next door’s septic. Each evening we water parts of the garden that look particularly desperate but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like good, soaking rain. Even 10mm makes a huge difference. This is supposed to be our wet season but over the last few years January has been dry. Let’s hope the coming weeks include some wet stuff from the sky.

The line-up at the pool fence

The dry weather doesn’t just affect the plants. Our bird bath is popular and I have to refill it every day. I usually only put out apple juice for the birds in the evening but I’ve had some of the braver parrots coming to the door asking for AJ in the morning and I’ve had to provide second sittings several times. They’re not reliant on being fed. When natural food is plentiful we don’t see that many and sometimes we’ve been completely abandoned. But never for too long.

Strange fruit

The butcher birds and the miner birds are always here hoping for a hand-out and we’re visited less regularly by kookaburras and magpies. We also hear, but not necessarily see, the pale-headed rosellas.

Our resident possum who lives in a tree log on the opposite side of the pool raised a baby, which has moved into a bird house attached to a palm tree. The hole was too small for it so it did some renovation, breaking the marine ply to make the hole larger. I think the house will soon be too small. But that’s nature.

This week we’re being changed over to Australia’s broad band network. That happens on Wednesday. We’re all ready. Let’s hope our ISP is, too.

Apart from all that, I’m working slowly on a new book. It’s SF, next in my Morgan’s Misfits series. I’ll never make a fortune from writing but it keeps my brain active.

If you’re into praying, or voodoo, or witchcraft – whatever. Could we order some rain, please?

Thanks in advance.

 

Just another lazy Sunday

The thing about being retired is which day of the week it is doesn’t matter much. In fact, you know those questions they ask old folks to see if they still have mental capacity? One of them is ‘what day of the week is it’? Just as well I have a computer because otherwise, quite often I wouldn’t know. The state of the shops and car parks is a bit of a give-away. Even with every-day trading, at around 1pm on Saturday afternoon, Hervey Bay shuts down. The roads empty – although there are still plenty of people in Bunnings or the Mall.

Sunday’s a bit the same.

Oh – and Wednesday is bin night, so we have to remember that one to put the bins out for collection. Still, if we forget we’ll know Thursday morning when we see the rows of bins outside everyone else’s house.

Butcher bird doing exercises

The animal life doesn’t give a damn what day of the week it is. This morning a butcher bird came to tell me he was waiting for breakfast. We give him small pieces of bacon rind. He eats the first piece, waits with the second piece in his beak, then I throw a handful out. He (and a couple of others) eat their fill then take the rest back to the nest.

Then the resident lorikeet couple  came to the veranda. The male comes up and virtually knocks on the door. “Where’s ours, missus?”

If it happens to be bath morning we get a hootin’ hollerin’ bunch of bathers in the bird bath. It’s very popular with everybody except the miner birds who still prefer the Big Blue swimming pool and the adrenalin rush of bathing in danger.

You might recall I mentioned a couple of weeks ago our mango trees were covered in fruit? Not anymore. Most of it has fallen off. Even so, there’s something out there that likes unripe, hard mangoes. The windfalls have been chewed by rats or possums, maybe both.

After another very dry month, a large storm system swept past last evening, slapping the Bay area with a sideswipe as it headed out to sea. After a bit of sound and fury it dropped 9mm of rain on our grateful garden. We’d like some more, of course. What else is new? But then, in Australia it’s boom or bust. In a month’s time we might be begging for some dry spells.