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Rain’s wondrous and not-so-welcome gifts | The Canberra Times


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The coriander is growing nicely with all the rain, thank you, and the rhubarb has become a small jungle. Both coriander and rhubarb are obvious rain lovers. But there’s been unexpected bounty in the last few weeks, too – more cobs of sweet corn on each tall stalk than we have ever had before, and each cob nicely filled, which means it had good pollination despite mist interspersed with deluges. The native finger limes have also produced a vast crop of fruit. Decades ago I asked a woman in central Australia when a certain local tree fruited. She looked at me in astonishment. “After it rains, of course.” The rain might come in a month, or not for six years. The tree would wait till it did. Many native fruits have very sensibly adapted to extremes of climate: Do nothing till it rains, and then do it very fast, and in large quantities. Slugs and snails also like the rain. The most recent New Scientist has a fascinating article about Oregon scientist Rory McDonnell, who has been looking at non-lethal ways to attract slugs, so you don’t kill earthworms and other soil life, or pets who might ingest the more lethal kinds of snail bait. His best bait? Bread dough. Mix flour, water and yeast, leave a ball of it in your trap, and collect the snails each morning. He finds one ball of dough keeps attracting slugs for about eight days. Years ago I experimented with snail attractants, including the traditional saucer of beer – very alluring to neighbourhood cats and golden Labradors – and hollowed-out lemons or raw potatoes. I found that snails liked food that was sweet, full of calories, or yeasty Mc Donnell’s bread dough would seem to qualify on all counts. I’d put the ball of dough in a plastic container – an old ice-cream tub, or even a garbage bin, or in a length of wide polypipe – anything that has a smooth base for slugs and snails to glide over, and has a top on it to stop the bread dough drying out, and so the slugs and snails who munch your garden at night will choose to shelter there for the day. You then collect them each morning. Slugs and snails make an excellent addition to the compost, once they have been humanely deceased. The process is up to you. I mostly use the “English method” – stomp on them wearing gumboots. I haven’t tried the bread dough lure yet, partly because if I am going to make bread dough for the slugs then I want some to bake for us too, preferably into some sweet finger buns which I have a hankering for, so we need visitors to help eat the finger buns. Due to rain, floods, a few landslides et al, there has been a shortage of visitors in the past week. If any readers try the bread dough before I get around to it, I’d love to know your slug and snail count. If it works, send a photo of your haul and there will be a book prize for the biggest slug and snail collection i.e. the biggest collection, not the biggest slug or snail. The rain has also been paradise for our giant leopard slugs, which are even more enormous than usual. Leopard slugs also eat other slugs. Our other gift from the rain has been a glorious profusion of many kinds of fungi, almost all of them toxic to some degree. Sadly, many of our trees are also sprouting bracket fungi on their trunks, or lines of toadstools above where their roots should be, a sign that while the tree has come into leaf again after the drought, its dead wood has rotted and become host to the fungi, which will keep spreading through the tree, especially if the fungi are growing from the main trunk. (You can sometimes – only sometimes – save a tree by cutting off a rotting limb before the rot spreads, then sealing the cut.) The fungi are a true gift, as otherwise we might not know we have half-dead trees due to fall over the washing line, the driveway, or onto my car, always at the most inconvenient time. Come to think of it, there is no truly convenient time to have a squashed car, though some times are worse than others. The fungi are also beautiful, and so for the moment we will enjoy them, and marvel at the variety of shapes and colours, frills and umbrellas and pale luminescence. We will not, however, be eating them, as I can identify only three kinds of edible fungi, and I am not even confident about those. Besides, we have all that corn to eat. And finger limes. And someone, please … would you like some rhubarb?

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