Category Archives: Garden

Cross training in the garden

Heavy work = good cross training

After going out for a run with Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers this morning, I got stuck back into the garden. I spent 4-5 hours yesterday and 3 hours today working hard in the garden to create a new garden out of what was a weed fest. It is proving to be excellent cross-training.

The weed fest

This is the task that faced me a few weeks ago when I spent two full days pulling out the huge and plentiful weeds, loading them into a ute and taking them all to the rubbish dump.

How it looked yesterday morning

Yesterday morning I decided to start creating the new garden bed that will replace the weedy mess that has grown in the bottom garden. To achieve my goal, I had to dig out all the grass using a mattock and spade. It was backbreaking work in the hot sun. Over the past two days I managed to remove the top layer of earth, including grass and roots for an area 25m (82 feet) long and increasing from 1m (3 feet) to 2.5m (8 feet) wide.

The hill; hard work with a loaded barrow and flat tyre

I had to shift every heavy load of dirt and grass to the front of our block, about 70m from where I dug it up, where we have a low point that needs to be raised. To get it there I had to push the wheel barrow up a short steep hill that climbs 2.5m in height over the space of about 10m (25% grade). To make things even more interesting, my wheel barrow has a flat tyre. Not just a soft tyre but one that is totally flat because it got a nail through it a month ago.

The result

After removing the rubbish, I dug large deep holes for each plant. Our soil is heavy clay so it was hard work digging the one square metre (10 square foot) holes about 2ft deep. I then filled the holes and surrounding garden bed with topsoil. To shift the 1.5 cubic metres (2 cubic yards) of toptopsoil I had to shovel it into the wheelbarrow out of the ute. I then had to push it downhill on the flat tyre. I then planted the shrubs and mulched the area with 1 cubic metre of forest mulch.

I still have another 20m (60ft) x 3m (10ft) to dig out, plant up and mulch. I’m sure it will make great cross training for another day.

The end result will be amazing. We’ve planted native plants that flower and attract bees. This will both prevent the weeds taking over again, create colour and, importantly, entice bees to our garden so they can pollinate our vegetable and fruit trees so that I can fuel my body with high quality home grown organic fuel.

Total: 6.5km club run at unknown pace and 3 hours heavy gardening.

Taking a balance day

First nectarine of the season

I’ve run 63.39km this past week, bringing my yearly total to date to 458.53km. These 63.69km represent over 16% of the total number of kilometres I’ve run this year. It also represents a 450% increase to my average weekly kilometre. So today I know I need to let my legs recover from the efforts of the past week.

It’s also a good opportunity to regain some balance. It’s been a wet winter here in Brisbane. So, while I usually don’t have to do any garden maintenance at this time of year, I have quite a bit of weeding and lawn mowing to do. It’s also the end of July now so I need to prepare at least one vegetable garden bed so I can sow summer seeds in early August.

One of the 30-odd sugar loaf cabbages

It’s been a good winter so far in my garden. All the work I’ve done since we moved into our home three years ago is paying off. The orchard, vegetable beds and native garden are looking healthy. While the citrus trees haven’t yet started producing fruit, they are finally growing now that I’ve raised the garden bed. The tropical peaches, nectarines and apples are flowering, so hopefully we’ll get some fruit again this season. The sugar loaf cabbages I grew from seed have taken off like rockets and we have about thirty that will be ready for harvest progressively during the next 3-6 weeks.  We have eight broccoli heads that are coming into harvest and pigeon peas, which I need to harvest and shell to turn into pea and ham soup. The only thing that didn’t grow well this year were the peas. I just don’t think it got cold enough for them to set pod.

One of the 8 heads of broccoli

I can’t emphasise enough how important my garden is to me. Long before I rediscovered running, I discovered gardening. We even chose this block of land where we built our home based on the potential for garden. We have four ‘garden rooms’: a raised orchard, vegetable gardens, a native Australian garden and a more ornamental area. All this on a block that’s only just less that one-third of an acre.

Gardening helped me overcome my grief at not being able to have biological children of my own. It also helped me get grounded after I started my transition. My transition was a crazy, almost science-fiction, experience. In those early years of living as Andrew I alternated between the euphoria of making the transition and the anguish of feeling like a freak.

And then I discovered gardening. I put my hands in the soil and felt it’s texture. I realised I was connected with thousands of generations of humans who have all done the same thing. Not only that, but I could sow seeds and nurture them until food grew. My experiments started small: I bought seedlings until I was confident germinating seeds and I only had a small garden. Then I gained confidence and we bought a new block of land that I could turn into our own little sanctuary.

Over the past three years I’ve spent thousands of hours adding topsoil to our property, building raised garden beds, creating dry creek beds, laying turf and planting. I’ve designed the layout, redesigned when things haven’t worked and changed plans when I’ve needed to. It’s been a huge physical and personal achievement that I’m proud of. It’s going to take another two to three years before the garden really starts to show signs of maturity; but that’s a good lesson in patience that I need to also apply to my running.

Because it will take two to three more years before I’m a mature and consistent ultra runner.  Right now I’m like the citrus trees that are still growing roots. Every ultra I run this year will give me stronger legs and mental endurance. Every ultra I run next year will let me expand that base. And then, hopefully, in my third year I’ll finally be able to produce some fruit, just like a citrus tree shouldn’t be allowed to produce fruit until it’s three years old.

While it’s difficult to look at my running with this long-term outlook, my garden is teaching me this lesson and it’s one I want to try to learn. While I might be too undisciplined to stick to any real plan, I think I can still learn this lesson.

A cold wet weekend: Perfect for gardening

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A little joy on a cold rainy day

I had been looking forward to the long weekend all day Friday and had been planning my attack on the great outdoors. However, Mother Nature had other ideas; she turned Sunday and Monday into a wet, cold and windy mess. Weather that made my first and second choice of outdoor activity off-limits.

My first choice was to take a two-day hike of the Conondale Range Great Walk. But I decided that it was silly to tackle the walk if I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the views or experience when there will be perfect winter’s days ahead.

My second choice was kayaking from Coochiemudlo Island. I was going to hire a boat for a few hours and paddle around the island. However, driving rain and winds gusting at 25 knots put paid to that. So that put me at a loose end.

 

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The first of two cubic metres of mulch

At first I got frustrated about the weather’s affecting my weekend. I got cranky and sullen because my plans had been destroyed. I sulked alone at home for an hour before I realised that the only person suffering was me. While I might not have wanted to get out and ‘do’ anything anymore, I could still get outside and enjoy the rain. I raised our orchard a few months ago, had some extra cash in my wallet and could borrow Mum’s ute so I decided to head out into the garden to finally mulch the orchard to properly finish it. Besides, shifting two cubic metres of mulch in a wheel barrow is still exercise.

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Our orchard, looking from the top of the block

And so it was that I spent a few hours each on Sunday and Monday shifting two cubic metres of mulch onto the orchard. It doesn’t look like much right now but there are 14 fruit trees, two passionfruit vines, and lots of herbs and flowers in our orchard. The trees vary in age from 3 months to 3 years so they are at various stages of fruit-bearing capability. Winter was a good time to do the mulching because the stone fruit and pear trees are deciduous, making it easier to move around the garden.

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Another view of the orchard

It was fantastic to get out in my garden. My garden always reminds me of the need to work with the weather and seasons, rather than fighting them. It’s also a reminder of the need to accept the good that each weather pattern brings. Rain is great for the garden because everything grows. Heavy rain is a great excuse to take it easy for a few days and recharge the batteries.

It’s a good time to think about the adventures ahead and how to achieve them.On that note, the wet weather gave me time to surf the internet to research inflatable kayaks. I will have paid my university fee loans (HECS / Fee-HELP for Australians) off at the end of this financial year. At 32 years old, July will represent my first ever pay cheque that will not include a mandatory HECS repayment. I spent over 13 years at university from age 17 to 31 and racked up a massive debt. Out system here in Australia allows us to borrow money from the government to pay for university. The loan is indexed annually based on CPI, so it’s a cheap debt. We have to make compulsory repayments through our taxation every year when we reach the income threshold.

I have been working full-time since I was 17 years old and have always earned more than the threshold of the day so have always had HECS taken out of my pay. So it’s exciting to be paying the debt off. I’m going to blow the entire amount on a Sevylor Rio inflatable kayak, two- or three-piece kayak paddle and touring PFD. I like the relative simplicity of the Rio and believe it will work well on Moreton Bay and the rivers where I will be doing most of my paddling.

My other healthy hobby

Sugar loaf cabbage

The summer months are gone and the flurry of triathlon-related activity is dying down so I have finally been able to spend some time tending to one of the great loves in my life: my organic food garden. It’s been neglected all summer, suffering the indignity of being filled with weeds rather than food. Until now.

Chillies

Autumn is well and truly upon us here in Brisbane, with the clear blue skies and crisp nights of winter just a few weeks away. The change in the weather a few weeks ago sent me crawling back to my garden, seeking forgiveness for having become obsessed by triathlon. And, if the growth of the sugar loaf cabbage, broccoli and pea seeds are anything to go by, my garden seems to have forgiven me.

Peas

The slower tempo of my current fitness regime is allowing me two mornings a week off. Mornings on which I can potter around my garden: sowing seeds, watering the plants, feeding the soil and pulling out weeds. It’s a time to enjoy the sight of flowers, the taste of fresh food and the smell of warm earth in the cool morning air.

I have missed my garden and the vegetables it produces. The summer months are tough on the soil and plants, so next year I will leave my vegetable garden fallow but for the green manures that will provide it food for the April to November growing season. But next year I will not neglect her like I did this year for I will have more balance in my life between the various passions that drive me.