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11 March 2008

The weather is a bit like childbirth

The weather is a bit like childbirth, you quickly forget about the bad bits.

It was quite cool here yesterday, it was showering most of the day, overcast and windy. It was one of those days you get at the beginning of the cold seasons when you feel glad to be alive, you wear layers of clothes to keep you snug all day and you look forward to hot tea and coffee and being able to warm your hands on the cup.

I'm looking forward to the cold days ahead, when I can wear jumpers, scarves and gloves and make hot soup in big pots that will keep us going for days. I love the time when I perform the yearly ritual of changing from a summer bed to a winter bed. When the cool summer sheets are replaced by flannel ones, Hanno has an electric blanket on his side of the bed and I add an extra quilt. We're already in the first stage of that winter bed process because for the last few nights we've slept with the windows shut tight. The next stage is to change to the warm bed.

They are simple pleasures and if you are mindful of them, they make such a difference.

I was at work yesterday and while I was attending an afternoon meeting, I sat mesmerised by the rain falling on the Flexischool roof. The falling rain took me back to the front of an open fireplace at my parents' house and gave me the warm and cosy feeling of being looked after when I was young. We have a combustion stove where I work and that is one of the things I really like about being there. Even when it's just sitting there
unused, it makes me feel comfortable. When it's cold enough to light it, I doubt they'll be able to move me away from the warmth it. There is ample room for a coffee pot on top and I have no doubt that when it's cold enough for the fire, there will always be the smell of coffee to welcome people to the house.

But I remember back to the end of last winter. I was glad the cold weather was over and looking forward to warmer days, clinking ice cubes and summer dresses. We quickly forget the bad bits, don't we?

A couple of ladies asked for more information about growing vanilla orchids. On the left is a photo of several of my vanilla bean cuttings that have now grown to a good length. Producing vanilla is long drawn out process and probably reflects the high price we pay for genuine vanilla beans.

I've grown vanilla vines for a few years but I've never moved them to a place where they could grow to the required height to stimulate flowering. Basically they need about 50% sunlight and are usually grown up a tree. When they're a certain height, you cut the top off or flick the top off the support so it's hanging down. That triggers flowering if the vine has reached the right height.

Once the orchids have formed you must hand pollinate them. We have no natural pollinators in Australia for these orchids. If the orchid is not pollinated within 24 hours of flowering, it dies and falls off the vine. It takes about nine months for the vanilla bean to form and grow to the right size. When they're picked they need to be fermented for six months. This is done by dropping them, in boiling water, wrapping them in cloth, then allowing them to dry naturally for several months. It's a long drawn out process but certainly worth it if you're a keen gardener and cook, and you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate. They're very easy to grow in the right climate. There is some excellent information about growing and processing vanilla beans here.


  1. Hi Rhonda, I hope Hanno is feeling better now, dizziness is a horrible affliction. We are having unseasonably hot weather, zingy cool mornings and then hot ( for us) and uncomfortable days and NO RAIN, my poor garden.

  2. Well we are having a winter like no other. Honestly Rhonda, 2 1/2 feet of snow this past weekend in a 36 hour period. I will try to post some pictures when I finally have time to blog this week.

  3. Rhonda....I've always felt being hit by a car was a bit like childbirth....and I've had experience of both to prove it!!!! Trust me to rain on your parade of metaphor.

    Did you ever post a snap of your knitted cowl, or did I miss it? It seemed like just the very thing I need.

    Oh, and I've already got the flanno sheets and doonas out down here. 4 degrees overnight warrants it I think.

    Enjoy the crisp air up there. Lisa x

  4. I didn't realise that vanilla was that difficult to produce. Another one of those things you just take for granted because you can pick up a packet in the shop.

    Thank you so much for sharing that. I do hope you are successful in producing them. It's not something I think for south west France.

  5. Thanx for all the inspiration I get from your blog. I'm knitting again and feel more creative and I'm enjoying it!

    it's funny to read about the weather in Australia and that for you winter is coming. A few years ago a friend of mine went to Australia in July and she had warmer weather and less rain then we had in the Netherlands...

    Greetz and have a nice day,

  6. Hi Rhonda, I started reading your blog for two of reasons. Firstly because I have started to simplify my life and you seemed to be simplify my way.
    Secondly my eldest daughter now lives in NSW with her partner. They are getting their first garden together and ask for advice. Your blog is a mine of information about what she could grow, how etc. As a keen grdener in the Uk I have no idea of your seasons and when to plant. Thank you so much for all the information and inspiration you have given me.

    The weather here in my little bit of Uk has been a tad windy to say the least and I will be glad for the Spring.

    Pippa in the UK.

  7. Rhonda Jean
    Good on you for attempting the vanilla bean growing. I had no idea either how difficult that was. The whole 'hand pollinate' within 24 hours or else has well and truly frightened me off for life.

    Please tell us though, for the pollinating naive, how exactly do you hand pollinate a plant?


  8. There was an article in the Guardian on Saturday a couple of weeks ago (by the wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) about vanilla. I hadn't realised until then how difficult and time consuming it is to produce. How lucky you are to be able to try growing it yourself. I'm also very jealous of your bananas and lemons. :-)

  9. You know it's funny you should mention this now, because just the other day I was mulling over how I get bored with the seasons half way through them and that I really need to live in a place with 8 season per year. But it's maple season where I live and the sight of the buckets is a real harbinger of spring!!! My Mom lives in a more urban setting than I do and because of the heat sink there she should be seeing crocuses and snow drops in another couple of weeks - I'll have to go visit. I get like this at the end of February and then again in August and it's such torture to me to have to wait an extra month or two for mother nature to get around to changing the seasons already. The birds are singing, and I can't wait to smell mud. Enjoy the flannel.


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