Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The compost bin – Where will I go when I grow up?

Monday, September 19th, 2011

flyLife is a journey and every stage in ‘life’s journey’ brings change. How we make preparation for these changes will determine if we travel comfortably and arrive at a good place.

Modern families are spread out, often on a global scale.  In the past grandparents have played an important role by helping to maintain the home and especially helping with child-minding within an extended family-hub. Today many working families move town every three-to-five years and both parents (and often single parents also) are working full-time.  Subsequently there has been a breakdown of the traditional family and today the extended family is no longer there to provide care for its aged or disabled members.

Recent changes to Government policy means that now there are support and care packages for people needing assistance to live at home. In many cases this means that older or disabled Australians can receive help to stay in their home for the remaining years of their life, even when they live alone. The other alternative is to enter a retirement home.

Ibis turning over the compost in Warinas bin

Ibis at Warrina turning over compost in the bin

To discover what is available for older members of our community I visited Warrina Innisfail. I was met by the Chief Executive, Peter Roberts.  Peter walked me around the beautifully-kept gardens of Warrina and as we walked Peter greeted the residents we passed with a friendly smile, by their name and said “hello,” sometimes even a joke. We walked through the residents village and out to the lakes, with the view being outstanding.  Close by an Ibis was turning over the compost in a bin and a kookaburra in the distance ‘laughed’ in a tree.

We walked back over a little bridge and met Warrina’s gardener Hans who proudly showed me his spectacular hibiscus blooms.  To Hans this is not a job it is a labour of love. As I walked around Warrina I felt that the atmosphere was more like a big family home. Peter had somehow put the ‘home’ back into Warrina.

Warrinas gardens

Warrina gardens

I asked Peter how Warrina had its links to the community of Innisfail. He explained that a “Mother’s Club” meets at Warrina every week. “This really brightens us up” Peter said “It’s great to have little children’s laughter singing out across our lawns.”  I noticed the visitor’s car park was full when I arrived. “Yes,” Peter stated “we have lots of travellers and families visiting and we really welcome them.  Our big event of the year is Warrina annual cent sale, and the residents use their skills to make items to sell to the wider community. We also have special functions for Easter and Christmas.”

“Volunteers help in a wide range of areas especially with activities like music, singing, craft, cooking, dancing, gardening, bingo and much more. The Board of Directors also commit many hour of volounteer time on behalf of Warrina. We have a wonderful supportive Innisfail community.” Peter said.

Hans shows off his hibiscus

Hans shows off his hibiscus

I also discovered that residents help in the daily running of Warina: helping with organising events, gardening, laundry, kitchen and most importantly the general running and management of Warrina. Warrina is an interactive community of people and they get involved through committees and generating ideas through suggestion boxes.

Peter showed me the Warrina newsletter and explained that it was particularly important in keeping everyone informed.  “Families, staff and residents can read about the events planned and read comments about past events. Through the newsletter residents can also keep track of staff initiatives” Peter told me. “We are truly blessed with staff that delivers excellence in aged-care services.”

I thanked Peter for his generosity in showing me around Warrina and lakes. I have seen that the Innisfail community is indeed fortunate to have a facility like Warrina.  It is staffed by a skilled and caring workforce and furthermore is supported by a very large number of self-less volunteers from the Innisfail community. Well done all.

Pendas of far north Queensland

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

This month’s cover photo

The bright yellow stamens of the Golden Penda, Xanthostemon chrysanthus, offer their rich pollen to birds, butterflies and insects

The bright yellow stamens of the Golden Penda, Xanthostemon chrysanthus, offer their rich pollen to birds, butterflies and insects

For the next few months, golden penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) will be flowering in backyards and forests all over the Wet Tropics, making for a spectacular sight.  The flower of this beautiful Australian rainforest tree is the floral emblem for the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, bright yellow and appears in spring and autumn. Multiple flowers are borne on the end of branches and attract birds, butterflies and flying foxes to feast on their high protein nectar.

The golden penda is a large rainforest tree and primary species in the Wet Tropics Rainforest of north Queensland.  The resilience of this tree to cyclones, due to a deep-rooted habit and strong yet pliable wood, was clearly demonstrated by minimal damage and high survival rate of plants seen after cyclones Larry and Yasi.  The timber is very strong and prior to World Heritage Listing in 1988 was harvested from the rainforest for the building of local bridges.

In the mid 1980’s, a nurseryman in Brisbane noticed a spectacular flowering dwarf form growing in a suburban garden in Sunnybank.  He took some cuttings of this plant and “Fairhill Gold” was named and trademarked by Fairhill Native Plant Nursery as an outstanding flowering dwarf form of golden penda. “Fairhill Gold” must be grown from cuttings so they are true to type.  Seed grown plants will grow not true to type and hence into large trees.

The golden penda variety “Trail Blazer“, is a recent new release and a variegated form of “Fairhill Gold“. The stunning green and gold variegated leaves frame brilliant golden blooms and form a very decorative small (to 4m) tree.  It is a great specimen or feature plant that adds colour all year round.

“Little Goldie” was released in 2008 as a small-leafed, compact dwarf golden penda.  However this variety has full-sized blooms and is a great addition to any tropical garden.  One of the benefits of all golden penda is their suitability to be tip pruned. This results in a multitude of flowers on the end of branches, turning the plant into a sea of yellow and stunning as a hedge.

Xanthostemon youngii, the red penda grows in Cape York Peninsula, in forest on sand dunes. Although the red penda tends to have an open straggly growth, it is spectacular in flower.  Large heads of bright red flowers appear for a few days only in spring and summer. It will grow to a height of about three metres and has glossy dark green leaves.

Red penda has a very limited distribution in the wild and is classed as rare. It is not easy to grow and requires very good drainage, an open sandy or gravely soil and a well ventilated sunny position. This plant is not easy to find at nurseries but is well worth the search.  Yuruga Plant Nursery at Walkamin often stocks this plant.

Another dwarf penda is the little penda, Xanthostemon verticillatus.  This is a native of the Daintree rainforest and grows to around 1.5 metres.  The compact shrub is covered in pale lemon flowers that appear repeatedly throughout the year and also makes for a feature specimen in a native or ornamental garden.  It is compact, ideal for hedging and is extremely hardy and easy to grow.  Like all pandas it thrives in moist, fertile, well-drained soil in a full sun position.

Xanthostemon whitei, the Atherton Penda, also known as the red penda, is truly a giant of the rainforest reaching a maximum height of 40 metres. The flowers are yellow and the name red penda was given to it because of the pinkish-brown colour of the thin sapwood.

The Atherton Penda is known to be hard to cut.  In logging times it was sought after for its strong hardwood timber and use for house framing and flooring.

Praying mantis, the garden’s friend

Saturday, July 24th, 2010
Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis.

If you see a strange white or brown growth suddenly appear on a plant in your garden, do not remove! It is most likely an egg sack, which is called an ootheca, of a ‘praying mantis’. The strange hessian-like capsule can contain up to 400 eggs and these are generally laid on small trees or shrubs in the late afternoon of an autumn or early winter day in coastal north Queensland. For egg deposition the female backs up to a small branch before  an oozing frothy mass emits from a gland in her abdomen.  The pile of froth surrounds the eggs and hardens into a white ‘hessian’ sack that attaches to the plant. During winter the white ootheca darkens to brown and hardens further into a protective cradle for the eggs. Then in the warm spring sunshine the eggs develop until on one hot day, an amazing sight occurs. Hundreds of ant-sized mantises wriggle from the ootheca ‘incubation chamber’. Hungry from birth the nymph mantis will eat any small pest-insect in the garden: whitefly, aphids, grasshoppers and even their own siblings. The praying mantis is the gardener’s friend and is valued by organic farmers as a beneficial insect.  As the nymph mantis grow they shed their skin (exoskeleton) up to twelve times and continue to devour garden pests all summer. At the end of summer the mantis are fully grown [a length of about fifteen centimetres] and have developed large wings. The agility of their long raptorial legs enables them to ambush and capture large prey which they grasp with their spiked forelegs. Adult mantis will feed on frogs, lizards and sometimes small snakes as well as grasshoppers and beetles.

Praying Mantis Ootheca

Praying Mantis Ootheca

The large mounted, compound eyes are the hunter’s asset they can move in a 180 degree angle and have good vision up to 20 metres. It is not unusual for a praying mantis to crawl onto your head whilst you are working in the garden. From this vantage point the mantis can see any tasty titbit you might disturb while weeding; somewhat like a cattle egret taking advantage of the disturbance made by cows when feeding. The friendly extraterrestrial appearance of the praying mantis endears it to most people. The large eyes appear to follow you in the garden and any attention to the mantis often results in a rocking motion giving this creature a comical persona. There are a number of different species of ‘praying mantis’ in the Wet Tropics of north Queensland and they are all masters of camouflage. If you look carefully you may just find one in your garden.

The Bottle Bug

Saturday, July 24th, 2010
Phil Reeve

Phil Reeve

Amateur archaeologist, Phil Reeve, has never grown out of playing in the dirt. Young Phil and his mates were playing down at his local creek catching turtles and lizards when he found an old crudely made bottle that had been washed out of the creek. It was then that the bottle bug had bitten and he became obsessed collecting old bottles. Over the years Phil has fossicked through old farm tips, mining towns, and ‘swap meets’ of like-minded collectors, adding to his collection and satisfying the bottle bug. The Cairns development boom of the 80’s and 90’s sadly saw the demolition of many old landmark pubs and other buildings in the Cairns CBD however on the upside this provided opportunities for a lot of old bottles to be unearthed. Phil explained to me that one such site uncovered an old back yard tip containing a variety of items from the late 1890’s including tall tapered ‘Champion’ vinegar bottles, ‘Harrison Castle’ pickles with a castle embossed on the bottle, a toothpaste jar with a picture of Queen Victoria on the lid, a porcelain jug and dolls head, a large Dutch gin bottle marked ‘Avan Hoboken Rotterdam’ plus various other bottles. From these findings of bottles and items we get a picture of the household and what they liked to eat and drink. “The best bottle I found” Phil told me “Is a broken bottle with a picture of a cricketer with a bat raised and a ball coming toward him embossed on the front with the name ‘S.R.Shambrook’  Cairns NQ , this bottle was used for soft drink from one of the early aerated water factories of Cairns around 1896. I am still trying to find an unbroken one!”

Old Bottles

Old Bottles

In Innisfail some old bottles were exposed after the demolition of the Innisfail Hotel and also at the development of the Warehouse store also a bottle dump from the old James Kirk Aerated Water and Cordial Factory was uncovered containing a lot of local stoneware ginger beer and glass soft drink bottles from Innisfail. “ The early canegrowers around Innisfail were a thirsty lot there were at least 12 different soft drink factories in Innisfail which had their own bottles embossed with their own names dating back to the late 1890’s and Collins Cordials the only one  still operating to-day.” Phil remarked. One item in particular that Phil showed me immediately brought me back to my childhood with a shudder, a blue castor oil bottle. Castor Oil was given for every ailment, from tummy ache to fever. If you didn’t feel well in the morning and hoped to miss school, Mum had the answer: a spoon of castor oil, I remember it was amazing how quickly I felt better when threatened with castor oil. So next time you are digging a hole, to plant a fruit tree or make a veggie patch, keep an eye out for those old bottles that could be buried in your backyard and watch out for the bottle bug! If you have any old bottles or jars and wanted to know more about them, you can contact Phil on 0419672350 and he will be happy to identify and date them.

Living with the Orange-Footed Scrub Fowl

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

On the cooling breeze of dusk the call of the orange footed scrub fowl, Magapodius reinwardt, can be heard in ascending, staccato chuckles from the deepening shadows of the rain forest, it is a wakening call to the nocturnal forest dwellers. As darkness unfolds the chuckles turn to excited cries reverberating through the blackness. Spontaneously throughout the night loud cries mysteriously pierce the air while the fowl restlessly scratch leaf litter in search of food. With the first ray of daylight the birds call out with loud guttural screams of joy to announce the dawn. Living amongst orange- footed scrub fowl is never quiet.

Scrub Fowl

Scrub Fowl

Most people, including myself, have a love-hate relationship with the orange- footed scrub fowl.  Toward the end of last year with the extended dry wether, as it was in 2009, my moist, worm-laden vegetable garden appeared irresistible and two scrub fowl one night dug up the whole garden whilst searching for food.  I have now constructed a chicken mesh cover stretched over the top of the garden. Touch-wood to date it has kept them out. Animals can be such opportunists and a family of scrub fowl has built a nesting mound under the cover of the nursery soil bay.  The mound is one metre high and four meters across and the birds collect mulch and leaves from the garden and drag up metres of sand from the mangroves.  They work at the mound all year. Egg laying occurs in summer when the mound [compost heap] reaches a temperature of around 33degrees.  One year the birds laid eggs in the soil bay potting mix instead of their mound!  We were very surprised to find two large eggs in the soil which we had lifted onto the potting bench. Realizing what they were we carefully placed the pinkish-brown eggs deep in the scrub fowl’s compost mound trying to replicate the two metre tunnel the birds dig before laying their eggs. Late one afternoon at the end of summer I saw two baby scrub fowl emerge from the mound, they were almost fully grown. They allowed me to follow them as they walked fearlessly down the side of the nursery shade house and out into the orchard. They sat down under an orange tree and as I drew close to take a photo an adult bird, screeching loudly came out of a nearby tree and dive-bombed me while the babies took off in fright. The adult bird followed the babies and they all disappeared into the rainforest. The world heritage rainforests of north Queensland hold many secrets.

Australian Paralympic Winter Team 2010

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010


Australian Paralympic Team 2010

Australian Paralympic Team 2010

A Message from the Past

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

In 1854 the great Indian Chief Seattle when confronted with land acquisitions spoke to the Governor of the Washington Territory Isaac Stevens. The speech was translated at the time by Dr Henry A. Smith.

Part of the speech………….

“Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know, all things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.’

This is a message, passed down through time, which is even more relevant today.

Landscape with indoor plants

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Indoor pot plants can create a fresh, green environment in the home but amazingly they can make the indoor air cleaner. Plants have the ability to remove volatile organic compounds, VOC’S, from the indoor atmosphere. Today’s homes are full of plastics and electronics and they all emit VOC’S that can harm our health.

Most plants require good light to photosynthesize and grow; select indoor plants that naturally grow on the dim rainforest floor; these are plants with low light requirements; ideal  for indoors.

Keep indoor plants clean by wiping the leaves of the plant with a damp cloth every few weeks; when you do the household dusting don’t forget the plants. Once a year place the plant under the shower and give it a good wash. Most indoor plants can manage with one watering a week. If plants are close to an open sunny window you may need to give them water every second or third day, depending on the temperature. Do not allow water to accumulate in saucers under pot plants, fill saucers with kitty litter and place a little olive oil in the saucer every few weeks. Mosquitoes need only a damp place to breed indoors so be vigilant. Most indoor plants die from rot due to water being left in saucers. Every month add a small amount of liquid fertilizer to the plant’s water and once a year top up the soil around the plant with a good compost like 5 in 1. Frequent sprays of liquid fertilizer on the foliage will improve the vigor and health of the plant.

Chamaedorea elegans, the dwarf parlour palm, will tolerate low light. The dark green leaves are graceful.

Chamaedorea Elegans

Chamaedorea Elegans

Syngonium podophyllum is  strong, hardy trailing plant suitable for indoors; can be grown in a basket or on a trellis.

Syngonium Podophyllum

Syngonium Podophyllum

Zamioculcas “Zanzibar Gem” ideal indoor plant, thrives on neglect and tolerates low light. The dark green succulent leaves always look fresh. ZZ requires very little water and no sun.

Zamioculcas Zanzibar Gem

Zamioculcas Zanzibar Gem