In praise of sewage

“Cockle Creek? Ooo, I wouldn’t put in there” my sister’s mate, the local, said “They’ve been dumping heavy metals in that spot for years! And there’s the sewage farm up the river as well.  I’d steer well clear”.

I muttered to my sister as we walked away “What do you think? Are you worried about heavy metals and sewage?”

“Nah!  Let’s do it!”

Sunrise on Lake Macquarie

Sunrise on Lake Macquarie

The power of poo.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve been hearing a lot about it from my fabulous friend and colleague, Cath Simpson, at this very minute writing a documentary for Radio National full of plops and splashes.

Thanks to some bad experiences with cholera and typhoid, we modern city dwellers generally a bit iffy about human excrement. But the bacteria that dwell in and on us – our own personal ecosystems – seem to be quite critical to human health.   While I’m a huge fan of the toilet, poo is not all bad.  If you have a nasty case of Clostridium difficile, for instance – an infection that kills 30,000 Americans every year, often older people in hospitals who have had their bacterial ecosystems depopulated by antibiotics – a “faecal transplant” from a healthy donor is might well be your best chance of a cure.

If the much of Western world, with its convenient superphosphate fertiliser and cow-pat free central heating, has been a bit “ew” about excrement, one sub-culture has held the faith.  Bird watchers have never lost confidence in the value of ordure.

Cormorant diving crop for trim

Painterly pied cormorant fishing in Lake Macquarie

When Birdlife Australia asks “where’s your favourite birdwatching spot?”, do you choose an offshore island, fringed with white sand?  the lush splendour of the tropical rainforest?  Or choice number three, a sewage treatment plant? And you guessed it, the first comment is a ringing endorsement of the glories of the Alice Springs Sewage Ponds.

So I wasn’t really surprised at the new and exciting birdlife I saw up  Cockle Creek in amongst the drowned computer monitors, abandoned bridge footings and Impressionist riverscapes subtly enhanced by a discreet discarded tyre.

So many striated herons I got bored of taking photos.  White-cheeked honeyeaters.  Orioles.  Black faced cuckoo shrikes. White breasted woodswallows, showing off their 80s batwing styling.   Double-banded finches with their neat dress shirts, black ties and cummerbunds.

Why are sewage treatment plants so great for birds?  Well, wetlands are a particularly threatened habitat – a third of Victoria’s wetlands have been drained over the last two hundred years, for instance – and old-style sewage ponds offer alternative places for birds to feed and rest, especially during droughts.  With plenty of nutrients, the settling ponds of sewage treatment plants actually offer more invertebrate snacks than natural wetlands, and sustain a greater range birds. Christopher Murray’s research in Victoria has found that newer treatment plants – the dynamic sounding “activated sludge” facilities – that take up less expensive real estate than old-fashioned waste stabilisation ponds (and smell better) are less appealing from a waterbird’s point of view.

If the news on sewage plants is pretty good, I’m not so sure about the heavy metals. Cockle Creek really has been a dumping ground for cadmium and lead, among other things, from the smelter in Boolaroo, on and off for more than a century.  There’s black slag from the plant tucked away in all sorts of unexpected places around the lake shore and lead, zinc, mercury and cadmium lurk in the creek’s sediment, 70 centimetres deep.

The smelter closed down in the noughties and the site is still being “remediated” for housing.  Previous “abatement” strategies seemed to involve scraping off a few centimetres of topsoil and (after most of the local pre-schoolers were found to have worryingly high levels of lead in their blood) urging kids to  “Wash wipe and scrape – you’ll be right mate!”. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the streets closest to the “The Sulphide” were rented out on the strict condition that the household should have no children or pets.

There’s a giant Bunnings there already, though, amidst the rubble.  Perhaps the logic is that the visiting DIYers are heading home to put a mallet through an asbestos wall, so where’s the harm in throwing in a spot of bonus lead?

The local birds seem to be doing okay, though.  A pair of ospreys nest at the top of a Norfolk pine at Speers Point, where Cockle Creek flows into Lake Macquarie, and this last year they’ve had chicks.  Osprey are locavores and since they’re at the top of the food chain, anything toxic in the fish they eat ends up in their chicks.  Eventually.  It takes a while for our endlessly updated array of contaminants – from DDT to teflon, fire retardants and hypertension medications – to make it into the bloodstream of the baby raptors.

Osprey wings bent crop wide

Osprey with fish at Speers Point, Lake Macquarie

I’ll be back to Cockle Creek for sure, to see what the local sewage has in store for me.  Trying to tread lightly, and hoping not to feel too much lead and mercury squelching between my toes…

D in canoe at dawn small more waterReferences

Murray, C. G. & Hamilton, A. J. (2010). Perspectives on wastewater treatment wetlands and waterbird conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 47(5), 976–985. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01853.x

Murray, C. G., Loyn, R. H., Kasel, S., Hepworth, G., Stamation, K. & Hamilton, A. J. (2012). What can a database compiled over 22 years tell us about the use of different types of wetlands by waterfowl in south-eastern Australian summers? Emu: Austral Ornithology, 112(3), 209–217. DOI: 10.1071/MU11070

Murray, C. G., Kasel, S., Szantyr, E., Barratt, R. & Hamilton, A. J. (2013). Waterbird use of different treatment stages in waste-stabilisation pond systems. Emu: Austral Ornithology. DOI: 10.1071/MU12121

Murray, C. G. & Hamilton, A. J. (2012). Sewage ponds a refuge for wetland-deprived birds. ECOS, 175.

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.

Implausible vegetables

I don’t know if it’s spring or the big rains we had a while ago, but bamboo shoots from the neighbours’ giant hedge are popping up everywhere.  I say it’s the neighbours’ bamboo hedge but since it’s running bamboo, it’s ours as well.  It makes a frequent guest appearance amongst the native shrubs, pokes through cracks in the concrete driveway, squeezes its way around the foundations of the house. Regularly hacking it back is the only thing stopping our yard slowly transforming into panda paradise (in fact, every time I get out the saw the kids accuse me of species-threatening habitat destruction).

But rampant bamboo is actually fine.  In fact, it’s great, since I consider myself to be an artist whose natural medium is bamboo stakes and zip ties.  So far my oeuvre includes four gates, a 10 metre long enclosure for the vegetable garden, five trellises in a range of styles, a pergola, some windchimes and more bean tripods than you can shake a stick at.  Obviously, if you did shake a stick in my vicinity I’d probably grab it from you, attach zip ties to it and turn it into a trellis.

The wall of bamboo is a magical swaying whispering verdant thing.  Every year it manufactures the living fenceposts that keep our property’s ancient teetering side wall more or less upright.  And now it feeds us!  Okay, it feeds us with grass.  In fact, grass laden potentially fatal amounts of cyanide.  But it’s still food, even if you’re not a panda.

Bamboo shoots, I think, should be included in a new class of produce I’m calling “implausible vegetables”.  I’m not 100% sure how we define this category of foodstuffs.  One possible definition: “a vegetable that, in the process of preparation for human consumption, shrinks to a tiny fraction of its pre-preparation size.  The amount of the implausible vegetable that can actually be eaten is dramatically smaller than the quantity of peelings, husks, stems or leaves destined for the compost bin”.  Another possibility: “a vegetable which even rats refuse to eat”.

But is it simply implausible vegetables, or should it be implausible and dangerous vegetables?

The pics above were taken for our 7 year old’s class presentation: an explanation of a  simple procedure in the kitchen.  In her notes, she did stress that you needed to boyl the sliced shoots for at least 20 minits or you will be poysned.  Even so, if a wave of year twos with histotic hypoxia turn up at the local hospital, we will be keeping a low profile.

After three meals on the trot containing home-grown bamboo shoots, there has been some hypochondriacal consultation of Dr Google.  Hard to distinguish the early symptoms of toxicity, though, since weakness, confusion and headaches are, in my experience, a fairly normal consequence of a day at work.

Globe artichokes, of which I am a passionate admirer, are also clearly implausible, to wit:

But lethal?  Well, for a start, it’s clearly a mistake to allow anyone as unhygenic as I am near any kind of sterile procedure.  The throwaway line in my recipe that inclusion of raw garlic in the jar could induce botulism did not significantly reduce Home Canning Anxiety, either.  And to me, pickled veg and stuff in jars just scream deranged-scientist-in-subterranean-lab-full-of-body-parts-in-formaldehyde.  My own disturbing inaugural effort at artichoke hearts in oil was no exception.

But the more I think about it, the more all plant-based foods seem deeply implausible and highly likely to be dangerous.  You grow grass, pick the seeds, grind them into dust with rocks, add a single-celled micro-organism found on the human body, warm the mixture til it produces carbon dioxide, pummel it until the carbon dioxide diffuses, warm it again, pummel it again, heat it in a fire until you kill the eukaryotic microorganism, cool it and eat it.  What a lot of effort.  No wonder we all used to eat gruel.  And I’m not even factoring in the possibility that along the way the grain might have collected another fungus that causes hallucinations, convulsions, burning of the limbs and gangrene.   

But it’s not just modern, non-paleo foods.  You eat the tiny tiny flower buds? You eat the tiny tiny inverted flower buds?  You eat the stems of a plant traditionally giftwrapped before eating? You eat the extremely sour stems of a plant whose leaves are full of a toxic chemical used as a metal cleaner?  You eat the fruits of a carnivorous plant closely related to deadly nightshade? You grow and then systematically bury a plant closely related to deadly nightshade so you can eat its roots without them going green and prompting delerium, hypothermia and paralysis?

And I’m not even considering the implausibility of cheese – stealing the breast milk of a lactating mammal, mixing it with the stomach lining of a ruminant until it curdles, straining it, pressing it, putting it in a cave until it gets mould on it and then eating it. Hard to imagine the weird circumstances that led to this culinary breakthrough – although I guess cow-keeping cave dwellers with an acute food shortage and limited access to the internet were less thin on the ground in the past.

My conclusion: hungry people will eat anything, even if it takes weeks to prepare it and if, at the end of all that effort, it may well kill them.  We’re just lucky we have so many things that will potentially kill us on our doorstep.

Bluetongue’s back

There’s was something in the woodshed when I went down to feed the chooks this morning.  A scaly tail sliding out the door.  At first I thought Snakey was back, since the woodshed was a favourite haunt of hers (conveniently close to a regular supply of breakfast eggs).  But it was someone else warming up in the morning sun.

I reckon I’ve seen that face before.

After spending a disturbingly long time counting and colour-swatching scales, I’ve come to the conclusion this is the same bluetongue, way back in 2011.

Documentary evidence of a skink psychologically scarred by a standoff with a chicken. As I recall, there was a lot of awkward staring – the bluetongue blinked first.

Apparently blueys can live for 20 years or so.  Since our place is rich with “habitat” – that is, great big  piles of rotting sticks – the guy (or gal – apparently you have to dissect them or set up a fight to find out, thanks to the male’s insignificant hemipenes… *snigger*) may have been hanging round the whole time.  It’s a nice thought.

I had attributed our pleasing lack of slugs to vigilant chickens but maybe lizards have been doing their bit as well.  This sort of thing makes being an organic gardener seem less like a sequence of indecisive moments in the “slug bait” aisle of the hardware store and more like a practical pest management strategy.

The chooks seem to have a remarkable diffidence towards reptiles.  They were completely uninterested a couple of years back when Snakey took up residence in the chook run.  The sight of a snake in this position in my bedroom would freak the hell out of me:

But the gals toddled off to sleep, completely unfazed.  It was a different story on the day a white goshawk  drifted into the trees above the chook house.  The hens bolted into the undergrowth and were very very very quiet.  Gorgeous as this bird is – the only pure-white raptor in the world – even I found it quite menacing as, in Bond villain style, it flexed first one set of claws and then the other, gazing intently around the yard.

Maybe its not a simple matter of scales good-feathers bad. I’ve yet to see the chooks handle serious snake action, despite the occasional sightings of a red-bellied black by the neighbours.  The potential for reptile-avian dinosaur show-downs is definitely not exhausted. For more updates, I’ll certainly be tuning in to the upcoming episode of Bluetongue Encounters on tomorrow’s Chicken TV.

DIY by subtraction: the kiwifruit arbor

I’ve been laying low on the blog a bit lately while we’ve been doing cut-rate eco-renovations on our house, a poorly insulated 50s fibro place clinging to a steep south-west facing slope, thermally enhanced by a dense cluster of giant evergreen trees perfectly aligned with true north. Short of an avalanche burying the house in boulders or it sliding unexpectedly into the Marianas Trench, it’s hard to imagine a more unpromising scenario for “solar gain”.

Since I’m lucky enough to work from home a day or two a week, seasonally I spend large slabs of time hunched over my laptop in  thermal underwear, jeans, flannie, woollens, scarf, beanie, winter coat and laprug, with my bedsock-and-slipper-clad feet resting ecstatically on a hotwater bottle, thinking obsessively about winter sunlight.

The mid-century part of the house, surprisingly, is pretty well thought through from the perspective of passive solar heating that is (mostly) about allowing the low winter sun to enter the house as source of heat while keeping the overhead sun of summer out.  In the southern hemisphere, that means having windows on the northern side of the house (or within about 30 degrees of true north) and less on the eastern and especially western walls, where the late afternoon sun in summer will blast in the windows just when everyone is feeling at their sweatiest.

So whoever hammered this place together in the late 50s out of asbestos sheeting and weatherboard put in plenty of north-east facing wooden-framed windows that let morning light in through the bare branches of the liquidambar when that glowing ball in the sky finally peeps over the hill.  The kids’ bedroom and the kitchen even have those cool 50s windows that wrap around corners – in this case, oriented to the north.
Kitchen pic real

But it all went pear shaped with the 1980s extension.  Lashings of leaky and thermally conductive aluminium windows and sliding doors facing south-west (towards the view, admittedly – okay, windows aren’t just about solar gain).

The ceiling (and of course ceiling insulation) pock-marked with that latter-day house-cancer, halogen downlights.  And bizarrely, a whole sequence of interior features and outbuildings, aiming, it seems, to prevent even the tiniest gleam of late-afternoon sunlight from melting the icicles on the extremities of the residents inside. Perhaps the previous owners had photophobia: one can only presume so.

In the quest for light-drenched interiors or at least the possibility of taking my hat and overcoat off indoors, mostly what we have been doing is pulling things down and ripping things out.  Renovation by subtraction: cheap entertainment.

First to go was the hand-made bookcase and cabinets that separated the sunny kitchen and the gloomy dining room.  (The wood got a second guernsey as an implausible shoe rack and series of wonky shelves – the previous owners must have spent their years in the dark doing advanced carpentry by headtorch-light, as their skills with a mitre saw are streets ahead of mine).  Never has so much joy or interior illumination ensued from an hour’s work with a screwdriver.

Next we chainsawed a couple of noxious oleanders on the north western side of the house. When I say “we” I mean RB, with me stabilising the ladder, shouting encouragement through a dust-mask, and hoping like hell the chainsaw doesn’t get dropped on my head. Oleander: a plant that is not only water wise and offers a long-lasting floral display but every part of which – leaves, sawdust, flowers, even the honey made from its flowers – can be used to poison your children.  A fine addition to any home.

Just to ensure that no dangerous beams of afternoon winter sunlight might fall on even the windowless exterior of the laundry (itself a protective barrier between the sun’s horrifying rays and the frigid loungeroom) the previous owners erected a dismal tin lean-to, guaranteeing enduring Stygian conditions indoors and out.  Removing the corrugated iron from the roof of this bat-cave was again surprisingly easy – the work of an afternoon – and suddenly what was a dank storage area for rusty things and part-time creek bed became an mid-day suntrap, a pergola simply begging for deciduous vines.  Too easy.

While I continue to harbour many elaborate northerly-glazing and thermal-mass fantasies, further demolition will require council approval and buckets of money, sadly, so I’ve had to content myself with some eco-thrifty upcycling and, of course, plant acquisition.

So…. the kiwifruit arbor!

I have three kiwifruit growing elsewhere in the garden – a male and female “Hayward” and a Mt Tomah red kiwiberry (a bit of a threesome going there, the Mt Tomah quite happy to make do with the Hayward male as a pollinator).  They do a sterling job of sheltering the granny flat from the brutal south-westerly sun on long summer afternoons but I have a sneaking suspicion that we may not have enough chilling hours here to see them fruitful (to wit, absolutely no signs of flowering yet, though we’ve had bunches of grapes from the Pink Iona vine that grows beside them for a couple of years now).

So I acquired a male and female “Sweetie“, a super-low chill variety from the marvellous Daleys, the fastest and best mail-order fruits in the West (okay the East).  The New Zealanders grow kiwis on trellises, and my notion is that the kiwi fruit and the recently planted Carolina Black Rose grape will offer some shelter from the midday heat during the summer and lose their leaves in time to let the low winter sun warm up my ad hoc bench made of bricks and some junked marine ply that sits outside the laundry, an ideal defrosting area on nippy mornings.

Drainage is apparently quite critical for kiwifruit, so, given that when it rains, that part of the yard becomes a water-feature, I decided to put the kiwis in raised planters (with an open base so they don’t dry out too much in less torrential times). Unlike a real bat-cave, the old lean-to didn’t have the benefit of a stockpile of guano but rather hard-beaten gravelly soil, so I figured planters would keep the vines clear of any limey ground and give me a chance to whack some heavy duty compost around their roots.

Fortunately for me, my neighbour decided to re-clad one wall of his house, and we had a bunch of cedar siding thrown helpfully over the fence, so over the course of a weekend, I constructed a pair of 6 foot long, 2 foot wide and high planters from some 2x4s that had been used to frame concrete and an bedframe found in the council cleanup, lined with plastic bags that had previously contained cow poo and finished off with the cedar boards.  I was quite pleased with the result, although given the shonkiness of the carpentry, I doubt I’ll be leaving them to descendents in my will.

A year down the track, it’s so far so good with the “solar pergola”.  As it turns out, while my Hayward vines, getting very little direct sunlight in winter, lose their leaves quite promptly around the solstice, the Sweeties, in a more promising position, cling to theirs in a rather annoying, shade-producing way.  So I’m trying to constrain their enthusiastic growth to the the far end of the trellis-that-once-was-a-bat-cave where they’ll block our view of the neighbour’s yard but not too much of the June sun.  Keeping kiwifruit vines under control is no mean feat, given their crazed energy and my morbid fear of pruning.  I’ve found grapevines equally prolific but much more compliant in autumn, dropping their leaves just as it gets a bit chilly, so I’ll try to get Carolina to do her fine work above the laundry wall.

It’ll be time for the Sweeties to burst from their buds any day now, and I need to clear the way for Miss Carolina Rose, so I’d better get out into that winter sunshine and prune like the wind!

Later updates from the kiwifruit arbor:

Pollination: Sweets from my sweetie

An unhappy threesome: pollinating kiwiberries

The first bumper crop: Experiments with kiwifruit


Delicious monsters

After giving a damning review to one weird home-grown fruit I thought I’d better balance out the report card on the food forest.  The babaco I selected and carefully cultivated myself.  But the Monstera deliciosa (or cheese plant as its sometimes called, because of the swiss cheese-like holes in its leaves) was flourishing here long before we arrived.  It did seem to get a new lease on life when the large gum tree that had shaded it fell on our house – the rejuvenating power of schadenfreude perhaps – and I’ve had to hack it back numerous times since.

While most people grow this plant as an ornamental, I had heard its fruits were edible.  Our rampant vine has had quite a number of fruits over the years, but it wasn’t until I stepped over one knocked down and half eaten by possums that, in a moment of uncharacteristic boldness, I decided I would have to give them a try.  I hacked off the end that had been nibbled by critters, for cootie management, and, peeling off the small green cap on each, tasted a few of the hexagonal berries, compressed together pineapple-style. What a revelation – absolutely delicious, with a hint of a pineapple-like tartness, and the creamy mouth feel of a banana, but perhaps closest in texture and taste to a custard apple (also appearing from the bottom of the garden at the moment – yum!).

At a first taste the berries were sweet but quite firm.  After sampling a handful my throat felt slightly raspy, as it sometimes does after eating under-ripe pineapple, and there was a faint burning sensation around my chin and lips.  Rather hastily, I did some light googling to find that, thanks to needle-like raphides of our old friend oxalates, the fruit salad plant, including its unripe fruits, can be quite toxic. Oops.  There’s a lesson for the kids at home.

So, annoyingly, while babaco with its flavour of newly-laid-carpet is quite innocuous, monstera deliciosa fruits get the following rundown from the Queensland Government poisons centre: they are “considered edible” but can cause “immediate burning pain, and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat… copious salivation and difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking… rapidly developing urticaria or hives, a transient swollen, itchy rash… nausea, abdominal pain and intense gastric irritation”.  Kill joys.

Given that my light snack on allegedly toxic unripe berries had only mild side effects, I decided to try to ripen the rest of the “cob” in a paper bag with a banana, as one site suggested.  As promised, after a few days the little green caps on each berry fall off spontaneously, although the fruit didn’t turn yellow as it appears in some of the pictures online.  The fruit seems to ripen from one end to the other, so I pulled off some of the rather scabrous looking lidless berries, leaving others, still clinging to their hats, to ripen further.  As you can see, the half gnawed fruit looks distinctly unglamorous, but the squoodgy berries underneath tasted great.

I’m going to keep eating them, carefully and in small quantities.  On a cautionary note, my tasters, the possums, haven’t been seen since the appearance of that discarded cob.  So if this is my last post, it was the raphides that dunnit.