Of snakes and snakebeans

This sight out the window as I stumbled into the kitchen for the first cup of tea of a Monday morning made the caffeine hit mostly redundant.   Snakey the diamond python’s back in town.

Last time we saw her was early spring a year ago. I looked up from the computer, wondering about the din the little wattlebirds were making, and there she was, stretching up for a sunny rooftop.

I’m worried about the timing of Snakey’s visit.  After a good five years of prevaricating, we finally decided to use rat poison near the house. You can predict and even understand when the vermin demolish your nearly ripe corn-on-the-cob – it’s almost obligatory for your quasi-rural pest population.  But when they won’t leave your broccolini alone it’s all gone too far.

Leaving the house on a late-night mid-winter drive, I saw a tawny frogmouth flash out of the dark.  Another evening a surprised visitor landed on the balustrade of the back deck, only to realise three humans, stock still with beers half-raised to their lips, were unexpected keeping the rodents away.  And we’ve seen Snakey wait, poised for hours, then suddenly strike a rat on a twilight mission for chookhouse grain.  A glorious sight.  But pythons might only eat one a fortnight – it’s that low energy lifestyle.  Sadly there’s no sign of such dietary modesty in the case of the sweet potato munching rattus rattus.

We tried humane traps too.  But what do you do with the terrified beasts, usually the littler, stupider ones, after their night in a cage?  Counsel them?  Release them in the nearest industrial estate?  Figure out some new, psychologically gruelling way of killing them, all the while deluding yourself that it might be somehow be painless?

So not so long ago we reluctantly, guiltily, laid down baits in inaccessible places and endured our penance, the smell of death.

So over my cup of Earl Grey, I anxiously inspected Snakey’s features for signs of toxicity.  She’d chosen her spot judiciously, beside our neighbour’s chicken shed and right above the rat run down to ours.   She looked torpid: had she taken a poisoned rat, one dying slowly and easier to catch than the others?  Wasn’t her jaw somehow slack and asymmetrical, her pose ungainly…?  All I can say is, don’t try phrenology or poker with snakes.  They are danged hard to read.

By the time I got home from work she was gone.  I must confess, in the subsequent days, I have become slightly more cautious with my footing as I head down to peg the washing on the line.

Snakey seems to have brought the subtropical summer with its run-to-the-washing-line storms.  I was that nervous commuter, glancing up at the looming alien mother-ship and hoping I’d get home before all hell broke loose.  Then, same thing, same time, next day. And the next. A regular 4 o’clock Apocalyse.

It’s like the Nile River Delta out back.  As you can see from the flood-art-installation above, every item a child or lazy BBQ tender has carelessly discarded in the backyard now has its own rich pile of alluvium.

The subtropical plants are glowing.  The tumeric has reappeared in the understory as just suddenly as the snake has in the vines.  It dies right down over the winter, and come early December, just when you think it’s a goner, the leaves start nudging through the soil.  Given my dodgy record with propagation, I’m specially pleased to see the this year’s young ‘uns.  Instead of wimping out and buying plants from the ever reliable Daleys, I buried some fresh rhizomes from my weekly organic veggie box and crossed my fingers.

Inspired the marvellous Sri Lankan cooking of my clever sister in law and her mum, I’m trying to grow the ingredients for my favourite mid-week meal of 2014, snake bean curry.  I probably don’t have the stamina to harvest and process my own tumeric powder, but thanks to the big rain, the “Red Dragon” yard long beans are leaping out of the ground, and my baby curry leaf plant – in a pot near the house where I can nip off its weedy berries and quash any suckers – seems to be doing well so far, despite attentions from a nearby lebanese cucumber.  Now, if only I could keep my coriander from bolting for more than 15 minutes I’d be ready to hit the kitchen.  With luck, I’ll still be under the steady supervising eye of Snakey.

12 thoughts on “Of snakes and snakebeans

  1. Wow, that diamond python is an amazing looking creature and quite large.
    I would like to see one in my backyard, though I don’t know how the neighbours would react.
    I have seen a red bellied black snake twice in my backyard, which is OK by me, though I hope the sightings don’t get too common.
    I actually harvested my first sweet corn today and no sign of rat damage yet, so maybe the snake got them.
    I do have a Eastern water dragon that is getting quite large, and quite a beautiful lizard.
    I really like him – he runs up to me every day now for a free feed, usually earthworms or any insects I can find.

    • Jealous of your water dragon (and your corn – maybe I should try to grow some myself!). I’m amazed it lets you feed it. I see sometimes one on my regular walk for work, near a natural spring. They do seem quite relaxed around humans… it seems like the top predators have the “born to rule” attitude!

      • I wouldn’t be be surprised if the water dragons become even more common, just like brush turkeys.
        Maybe natural selection is working to breed human tolerance, along with reduced fox numbers and better controlled cats.
        I have been researching the snake bean you mentioned above.
        (“Red dragon” variety, yard long – about the full grown length of a water dragon lizard – theres a connection there somewhere)
        This bean could be ideal for me at moment.
        My standard “blue lake” green beans have been decimated by rust lately (not enough crop rotation on my part).
        Snake beans apparently are rust resistant (different species completely) and warm climate, so good for summer.
        I usually like to use a few beans everyday in my cooking and snake beans could be a nice variation.
        Anyway thanks for mentioning them, I have just ordered some seed.

      • LOL, you don’t have to worry feeding a dragon, but best not to let your fingers get too close to their food – apparently they have very strong jaws that can break finger bones.
        And I read that they can surround the barbeques at Lane Cove national park on the weekend, waiting for a feed.
        I found this first hand account of living with a colony in the backyard quite interesting.
        I think the author lives in your area.

        I have probably gone overboard with the bananas, since I don’t really have room for them all.
        Anyway these are where my bananas came from:
        Dwarf Cavendish, Lady Finger (suckers from friend – most common old varieties found in Sydney backyards)
        Pisang ceylan, Senorita, Goldfinger, Dwarf Ducasse, Dwarf Red Dacca (tissue culture from Qld DPI, just $3 each !)
        Blue Java, Bluggoe plantlets (tissue culture from “Blue Sky bananas”, just arrived and still tiny).

        When they establish, you can have any suckers you want.

        (sorry the reply didn’t go further down, but there was no “reply” button there)

      • Hey Juke, you’re spot on right there.
        I have started throwing him bits of banana, and he pounces quick smart.
        Nice because I like bananas too and am trying growing 9 varieties at the moment.

      • Nine species of banana!! Wow! I have a few young trees, gifted from my sister, but they’re all cavendish (I think). Must make more of an effort!! Where did you get your trees from? Must keep the lunchtime banana handy when I go past the water dragon’s spring on the way to work… Or will that make them go all aggro a la Fraser Island dingos and leap for my throat as I cross the car park??

      • Very odd replying mechanism… must check out Queensland DPI… Had heard of Blue Sky Bananas, but it seemed to be rather seasonal. If ladyfinger is the old style variety, maybe the ones from my sister’s place in Wallsend are they… I shall have to wait and see… Would love to get some more varieties down the track, especially if this tropical weather continues!!

  2. I see you are all the way down in Sydney, great you are able to grow all the tropical plants. I love nothing better than making a curry using ingredients grown in my garden. I dont dry my turmeric, simply grate the fresh rhizomes as I do ginger. It keeps well in the freezer, and I grate it straight from there. Have you heard of sawtooth coriander? That is what I grow up here in the tropics, it doesnt look anything like coriander but it tastes the same and is perennial here.

    • Thanks for that tip on grating – I must try that. I have to steel myself to actually dig up the tubers though – last year I just couldn’t bear to but I think I have 6 plants now so I’ll have to identify “Ensign Disposible” as the Trekkie say….

      • I wonder if sawtooth coriander is the same as Vietnamese Mint – which has a coriander taste though looks very different. I did grow it here, but it seemed to be very weedy in this environment so I decided to stop – there’s lots of bushland downhill from me. I guess if I just relentlessly sow coriander eventually its 10 minutes of edible leaves will have to coincide with the ripening snake beans!!

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