Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stink City

I've been in Sydney with my darling sister and her youngker the last two weeks, having abandoned Tim in Lalorland where he's kept Harriet and Bea Cat in the comfortable lapitude to which they've become accustomed.

I moved from Sydney to Melbo eight years ago, in February 2007. At the time I'd been appalled that despite Melbourne's being 900km closer to the Antarctic, its temperature that Summer was regularly 12ºC hotter than Sydney's. "At least it's not humid," people would say as north-west winds sucked at their eyeballs, and I was all like "Bah! Of course it's not humid! You've been in life-endangering drought for the last ten years. There hasn't been a cloud over this city for eighteen months." (Finally Autumn kicked in and everything was lovely, and then – some years later, after the apocalyptic fires of 2009 – the drought broke and everything was even lovelier.) 

But hanging in Synny for two weeks in February, the subtropicalliest month of Sydney's calendar, has made clear to me how much I've come round to the whole Mediterranean climate thingo that Melb's got going on. Because sweat behind the knees, actual puddles gathering in the crook of my arm, really not my thing.

The rainy warm wet warm rainy not-too-warm rainy clime makes for lush green rampant life. And it also makes for rampant abundant glorious multiple-generations-in-one-season fruit fly. Which is perhaps why Sydney is not full of backyard fruit while Melbers is.

Having said that, every day on the walk to my nieceling's school, I've been helping myself to a small handful of these ladies:

The lilly-pillies of loveliness! They're a bit Granny-Smithesque in their sweetness/tartness combo, juicy and abundant and apparently fruit-fly free. 

The lilly-pillies are in the Syzygium genus, part of the Myrtaceae family that includes the eucalypts, feijoas, and other fluffy-flowered indigines of the once and former Gondwanaland:

Much fancied by bees.

And there are these, my old friends the bunyas:

The cockatoos have been systematically dismantling the bunya cones, dropping half nibbled nuts for the brush turkeys of Turramurra to tidy up, and dropping the odd un-nibbled nut for me to gather.

Last year's Festival of Eating My Bodyweight in Bunya Nuts got old well before we'd actually eaten our bodyweights in bunya nuts. We gave bunya nuts to beekeepers and bunya nuts to people in pubs and bunya nuts to colleagues, and still we had bunya nuts. This year I've amassed no more than 12 of these little fellows, which I think may be close to the perfect quantity for a person who already lacks not the carbohydrates.

Finally, on the bounties of Sydney's wild life, check out (if you can) these teeny native stingless bees (Tetragonula carbonaria) living in a terracotta drainage pipe not two metres from the entrance to my niece's school. They're fond of the humidity and warmth, obvs., and thrive up north while they won't survive in Melbers.


  1. Another interesting and entertaining read, thanks.
    I live at Lindfield, not far from Turramurra.
    I certainly agree about fruit fly prevalence.
    I had a big crop of apples all stung when they were still only walnut size.
    They destroy all my Feijoas every year.
    It certainly does seem like Melbourne produces a lot more backyard fruit than here.
    And the assault is relentless on multiple fronts - fruit bats, birds, rats.
    One nice thing about Sydney though is you can grow bananas, and I have been able to protect bunches successfully by enclosing in a wire cage and plastic.
    Really bananas have the ideal fruit arrangement if you want to do some heavy duty protection.

  2. Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

    Being able to grow bananas makes up for a lot of other things (and I should say, now that I'm back home and can see how water-stressed half the garden has gotten in my absence, that there's something to be said for reasonable rainfall!).

    We get codling moth larvae in our apples, and the (somewhat laborious) solution to that is to sheath each young fruit in a length of nylon stocking, tied with an elastic band. It should work for fruit fly too, I'm guessing. I doubt you could do the same for feijoas, sadly.

  3. I did try somethings like nylon stockings on my fig tree.
    They are called organza bags ($6 for 100 on ebay) and they worked to a degree.
    I managed to harvest about half the figs.
    But individual bags often get a good mauling here.
    I plan to try something like the net you used on your almonds and apricots,
    maybe with metal trunk collars to try to stop climbing rats.

    1. Try the collars that have a shelf standing out from the trunk, such as those used by the Norfolk Islanders to stop rats getting at palm kernels.

    2. Thanks MM, thats a good idea, I will try that.

  4. Ha, banana's grow in Melbourne (just veeerrrrrrrry slooooowwwwly). I'd happily trade being able to grow cool climate things like apples, cherries, plus and peaches for more regular bananas. Yes, I know there are low chill varieties, but it's not the same. And the fruit fly! It'd kill me. Good thing I don't live in Sydney. :)
    I love the lillipilly! Mine has been nuts with flowers and the resultant bees, and I'm looking forward to making lillipilly cordial.

  5. You are letting the marauding possums off lightly with all this fly-blaming. I suppose, as a bonsai-chivvier rather than a fruit-handler, I have less to fear from fruit flies than others ... Apart from the marauding possums, the really big Sydney pest as far as I am concerned is scale, which drives me bats even on my tiny balcony patchlette. Pick, pick, pick, is all I do, it seems. But as an afterthought, I have to say, I quite love the humidity even while I don't approve of feeling sweaty and lassitude-y, because it does wonders for one's skin (hydration!) as well as the green world ;) x

  6. You make a good point in favour of humidity, Kate. Once I reconcile myself to the fact that I am devoting the day to wallowing in wet air, then I'm fine with it, and the green is dizzyingly beautiful. It's just very unconducive to any kind of movement.

    Otoh, I'm there with Bek on the pleasures of being able to grow a good variety of cool temperate fruit. Indeed, I would happily have things just a smidgen cooler and my garden several smidgens (hectares) bigger, which would allow for sap-tapping (my latest fetish is the Tasmanian cider gum ... though I'd settle for sugar maple, and birch at a pinch.)

    George G, the bird/insect exclusion nets seem to work well, though you do need to keep the tree fairly compact for it to fit in underneath one, and they're not cheap, alas. Lots of public trees in Melbourne wear possum-retarding collars, some are perspex, and some are some sort of metal sheet - I guess anything slippery, and malleable enough to be wrapped around the tree would do for possums and rats alike.

    1. Thanks Alexis, I really appreciate your advice and replies.

  7. I would love to grow Lilly-Pilly here but I'm just out of range. Perhaps I will find a way to stuff one into the greenhouse...

  8. Hi David
    Lilly Pillies in Australia usually refer to the genus Syzygium, and most often to the species Syzygium smithii (as above).
    And S.smithii grows as far south as Wilsons Promontory in Victoria (39° S) .
    So I think maybe it would grow well in North Florida where you are (30° N ?).
    I don't know if any are available near you though.
    The fruit is edible, but only just, from what I have read and those I have tried.
    The tree can be quite beautiful though, and get very large.

  9. Missing your quirky take on the world, and hoping all is well with you and yours.