Much to my surprise 2013 has come to a close. And as is natural at this time of year I am reflecting over the year that was.
We have been living here in Ballan a little over 1 year now. We moved up here the weekend of Allegra’s birthday so it’s been a year and 3 weeks. We didn’t do anything to celebrate the big move milestone but we did both stop and look at all we’d achieved since the move and also since settling on the property. It’s very easy to see all that we still need to do but it is important to reflect upon achievements too. We have achieved a LOT! 😀
When we moved up the house renovations were mostly done. Since moving up we’ve completed the external walls of the shed although the internals are still a work in progress. Martin has installed a wood heater (named Ignito) and is working on insulating and putting up internal walls and creating his “man cave” to fit his needs. I doubt it will house a pool table and car memorabilia (not that there’s anything wrong with either) as that’s not Martin’s style, but more likely, a wine rack, his music gear and a desk to work at if the need arises. The storage shed part of it also needs fitting out, mostly with things like shelves and hooks, for things like garlic braids, pumpkins, gardening tools and the like. 🙂 That’s my part of the shed. 😀
The gardens, mostly my baby have come along tremendously in the last 12 months. Our no dig garden beds down the back of our block have all received raised corrugated iron and hardwood edges and have now been through a full 12 month cycle of veggies. We’ve harvested last years tomatoes, zucchinis, corn (didn’t reach harvest) broccoli (didn’t flower until winter) capsicums, onions, cauliflowers, potatoes and so very much more. Many of the harvests from last summer were at best, pitiful but I have learned tremendous amounts, from friends, experience and good old Dr Google about what went wrong, what went very right and what to improve, change and adjust next year. Most importantly I have gained gardening confidence. If it doesn’t work, meh, that’s ok. Wait a little longer, fertilise (organically of course), don’t fertilise, water more, water less and so on. There are lessons begging to be learned in a garden and I have heard gardeners with 20 or more years of veggie growing expertise under their belt saying that they still learn every year something new. Rather than finding that daunting like lat summer, I now find myself itching to get out and learn it! And most of all, experiment. If you feel something you’ve read is wrong, try it differently. Give it a try. 🙂
The peak of my gardening year was harvesting our Christmas dinner. We planned to harvest a duck but when it came down to it, Martin wasn’t comfortable culling a duck (full respect to that as I didn’t step up to do it either) so with a bought duck (needs must) roasted up we added boiled potatoes (not roasting those perfect fresh babies) with olive oil, salt and mint, baby carrots, broccoli (I’d frozen excess crop)baked onions and baked garlic. It was STUPENDOUS! The carrots were so intensely carrot despite being a mere 1-3 inches long, the spuds tiny bite sized morsels of creaminess, the onions so fresh and organic that Martin’s came complete with an organic roast earwig (whoops :() and the garlic was so tender it squeezed out of its papery outside and made me wish for bread on which to spread it. I’d hoped to have parsnips ready but they were a mere 2mm wide at their widest although they’ve got lovely long hopeful tap roots (perfect for gagging on – I speak from experience) and they already taste deliciously earthy and parsnippy. 🙂
Winter harvest is all but done the changeover happening only this week too (see all tuckered out) and I’m awaiting the potato onion tops to dry out so I can extract them from around the carrots planted between the rows. I’ve learned that companion planting works much better when you’re harvesting everything at a similar time. 😉
I also set up the greenhouse I bought where we tried growing a banana (froze solid on a -7°C morning) and where I’ve also grown my mandarin and lemon and I’ve currently got spuds, ginger and sweet potatoes growing in raised beds and tomatoes, geraniums, a peach (grown from a locally grown peach seed) and a few other bits and bobs in pots. The greenhouse has been a learning experience all on its own too. 🙂
Inside the house we’ve worked on storage solutions this year. Our old house in Spotswood was a 3 bedroom, 2 lounge room, dining room and a large living area/kitchen. Our new house has 3 bedrooms and a small room adjoining our room we have used as a toy room, spare room, bedroom and a learning room (for homeschooling), smaller kitchen (with a LOT more pantry space), living area (also smaller) and that’s it. The only extra room we gained was a laundry – our old house has a cupboard laundry. 🙂 We also lost a lot of cupboard space. We have had installed a large set of 3 cupboards with a coat hanging area, sewing cupboard and shelf storage and I could easily use another equivalent cupboard for the rest of my sewing gear (I have quite a stash of fabric scraps and the like). Lynda also passed on 2 great stationary cupboards she had, along with a lot of stationary I haven’t begun to look through yet, to us and those cupboards have become our craft and homeschooling cupboards. Again, I could easily use twice the space, particularly after the influx of gifts from yesterday. We’ve passed on (to op shops or friends) a lot of possessions we simply didn’t need and we are aware that when something comes in, in many cases something must go out. It’s not that easy to stick to though.
We’ve also learned to cook on a wood stove and in a wood oven. We’ve burned bread black, cooked it insufficiently, cooked unevenly and also cooked perfectly. We managed to reduce our electricity bill dramatically using the cooktop rather than the stove and we’ve also learned about burning wood, how to heat the house efficiently and also alternative ways to stay warm (a nice woolen jumper and a blanket on the knees goes a long way to eking out the wood supply 😉 ) Ignisa has come with challenges and if we had our chance again I think we would, knowing what we know now of course, put in a proper wood oven, hook up the hot water jacket to heat with hydronic heating (radiators) and install the kitchen to incorporate the wood oven too. still, it’s been a great earning curve. 🙂 Still I’m glad of her heat and my cosy rocking chair right by her toasty side.
We heat our hot water by Ignisa but she’s the secondary heating source. The primary heating for our water is the sun via a solar hot water system. We’ve had days where the water is tepid (like it will be today and likely tomorrow, where the weather is too warm by far for the fire but the day is overcast, preventing the sun striking the panels as it needs. We’ve got a gas boost on the system (3rd water heating source) but due to general busyness we are yet to connect the house with gas and we deliberately turned off the electric boost (4th and final back up for heating the water) as we don’t want to use it unless we are desperate. It’s just a flick of the switch should we need it though. 🙂
We’ve also had fun times learning about animal husbandry. We started off with chickens as I’d grown up with egg chooks but we made the decision to try to raise dual purpose birds, great for eggs and also for meat. We chose silver-grey Dorkings and learned through experience and a newly made friend, just how long they take to mature (26 or more weeks). We lost a few through illness, a harsh but necessary experience for the kids and then finally reached time to kill our first bird. Lessons learned for sure but a tasty meal or 2 was had. We have since culled several roosters and have plenty of ethically raised and butchered white meat in the freezer.
We also decided to give ducks a try. We opted for Muscovies as they are very quiet birds (unless you’re raiding their nest in which case the squeaks can be pretty loud ;)) and our 3 ducks grew up to be 2 randy drakes and a duck. Mandy has sat 4 nests (including the current HUGE pile of eggs laid by her and her daughter) and hatched 2 from her second sitting. Yin and Yang have grown into a beautiful white drake and a lovely black duck. Culling them for Christmas meat, as planned, has been an interesting experience and we hope to get someone comfortable with the kill part so we can finish off the clean up. I love duck meat but I really don’t like purchasing supermarket birds as I know that free-range means little in a commercial world and organic, whilst great, means nothing in terms of raised and slaughtered humanely. Although our birds aren’t organic, we do try to give them a good life and keep them as organic as possible. They get commercial grains but free range when possible and have a huge space in which to live together, food scraps and open air.
Earlier this year we introduced a goat into the mix. Anna came from a friend of a friend who was keen to rehome her as she was their only hornless goat and also was missing some teeth so she was at the bottom of the goat pecking order and wasn’t able to forage efficiently due to her missing teeth. Her previous owners didn’t have a set up where she could be stable raised as such whereas we were after a goat who was comfortable in a stabled situation. Anna came to us rather thin and although we didn’t realise at the time, pregnant with twins. We worked at fattening her up and then on August 3rd she surprised us with birthing twins, a boy and a girl, both sadly stillborn. We had only realised maybe 10 days before when her udder had begun to fill and her belly dropped that she was indeed pregnant and although we had increased her nutrition it was all too little too late for her premature kids. We set about moving on from the loss and milking her as she was still in milk but sadly her malnutrition meant she also was unable to produce milk. After milking out and freezing a small amount of colostrum we set about drying her up. Our introduction to goat keeping was not easy.
We followed up our caprine experiment with one in keeping Ovis Aries – sheep. 2 lambs came to live with us in October to help us manage the grass and by extension, snake risk. Our neighbours had reported the surprise visit of a tiger snake in their chook pen so we realised we had to get the grass down and NOW. With broken mowers and having planned for lambs, the time was now. 🙂 The lambs will, once the grass is gone, be culled to provide our family with meat and as we are pretty much out of grass now we are lining up a butcher. We don’t want their last few hours to be filled with fear, a long drive in a trailer and then lined up at an abattoir listening to the fear surrounding them.
Our most recent acquisition is Pandora. She’s a baby doe goat, daughter of a Toggenburg (milk breed) doe and a Boer (meat breed) buck and we have options, depending on with whom she is bred as to whether or not we get kids for meat or for milk. Either way, Pandora should grow into a lovely milking doe given her lineage. 🙂 We hope to breed Anna and Pandora in alternate years to provide us with an ongoing supply of milk for us all.
And most importantly, this year with our family. The kids have adjusted to the move and are loving the extra garden space, the trampoline, the cubby and mostly, the area of dirt known as the diggy dirt dump where they sit and dig up dirt for hours, carting it around in their Tonka trucks. They’ve both been helping me in the garden, Allegra with tomato planting, both with planting pumpkin seeds and harvesting the garlic and broad beans. They’ve also eaten the broad beans, both raw and cooked and Jasper has a new-found love affair with raw broccoli.
Jasper joined a homeschooling gymnastics group, learning to do all sorts of fun things. As much as we had our challenges with him attending near the end, he hasn’t stopped talking about it since. It’s been really good for him although we are undecided as to what activity he will do this year. Allegra has been gagging to join in at gym but as she’s only just turned 4 she has been until now, too young. All things considered though we’re hoping to enroll her into a ballet class in Bacchus Marsh in the new year which, given her dancing and singing around the house, she will love.
Jasper has challenged us this year as he’s old enough to have been in kindergarten. After much discussion, we decided to keep him home an extra year and although this was the right decision there have been some seriously challenging moments none the less as he’s needed the stimulation kinder can provide but he just wasn’t ready. Further discussions have led us to look into homeschooling which we intend to try next year, a mixed kinder/prep (prep is the first year of school in Victoria) year and if this works we will continue on homeschooling but if not we will enroll him into a primary school. It promises to be a very challenging year but a good one educationally for all of us. 🙂 Jasper is also learning to cook, showing great dexterity with a knife or whisk.
Jasper’s skills and strengths have come to light this year too with a very good memory and huge thirst for dinosaurs (he will tell you all about ankylosaurs, tyrannosaurs, triceratops and styracosaurs, why a pterodactyl doesn’t exist and much more ;)) and he had a surprising head for mathematics. 🙂 He’s also quite the artist although has inherited my impatience and likes to get things finished quickly. His artwork is beautifully coloured and he’s not afraid to mix his colours and experiment which he did not learn from me. 😉
Allegra has picked up on her father’s musical abilities, singing songs in English and also learning Frere Jacques in French which has been a challenge as neither Martin nor I speak French. She is also artistic but is still developing the fine motor skills necessary for many of the activities. We love listening to her singing “Summertime” too although her words are all her own. She loves to ad lib and to make up her own songs too. 🙂 She enjoys the opportunity to play on the piano and we hope to start a few lessons with both the older children in 2014.
Orik has been the biggest surprise of all as far as art goes. He has a startlingly delicate hand and has shown a serious love of all things related to shapes and painting/drawing etc. He loves chalk, crayons, pens, pencils and most especially paint. He can throw quite the temper tantrum too, especially should Mummy decide to take away the paintbrush. 😦
All this artistic talent has been put to good use for Christmas too. We’ve painted and crafted, glued and drawn many gifts for family, all which have gone down very well. Although I’m not too fussed if the gifts are kept or not (toilet roll Santa’s aren’t really a gift to treasure for always) I know the kids had a blast making them. And Christmas in return reciprocated, with almost all of the kids gifts being craft kids and the like. We are well set for art activities for the year. 🙂 And what wasn’t an art project was a kitchen set or books. We have 3 very spoiled and very happy kids.
Martin and I have been busy adjusting too. Martin walks up to the train each morning and mostly enjoys the trip into work as long as he gets a seat. The journey only takes a little longer than it used to from our house in Spotswood. He leaves home at 7:30am and arrives at work at 9am. Before, he left home at 7:45am and arrived at work at 8:45am. Rather funny given we are nearly 70kms further away. 🙂
I too have had a lot of adjusting to do. Things are less convenient in the country. Less shops, less activities and 30 minutes further away from grandparents. With all the extra we’ve added to the place in terms of gardens and animals too, it’s been a steep learning curve. We’ve also embarked on a refined sugar-free diet and more recently we’ve cut out gluten so I’ve had a time trying to replace both bread and pasta, 2 mainstays in our diet. Still and all, despite missing both with a vengeance the changes in our behaviour have made the effort worthwhile.
I’ve also recently taken up archery, partly because it’s been something I’ve always been keen to learn and also because it’s one more way I can emulate my new-found hero Katniss (from the Hunger Games). Sad isn’t it. 😉 Still, the archery is great fun and I’m actually getting fairly good. Last night I didn’t miss the hay bale once! 😀 I realised now just how high a standard I hold myself to though. I was berating myself for missing the small cardboard target I shoot at. Since I’ve been shooting a mere 3 weeks or so I’m actually doing very well but cutting myself slack is something on the list to achieve in 2014 I guess. 😉
Other achievements for the year are digging our pond, building 5 hugelkultur garden beds, the 9 raised veggie beds out back and a further 6 out the front, a shed for the goats and sheep, chopping out many of the poplar trees on the property, spending time with friends, indeed making new friends, Martin joining a music group/band and rehearsing once a week and more recently I’ve started up archery with friends in town so we’re trying to accommodate a shoot a few times a week for me too. Jasper has also had a go at archery, although his set is plastic with suction cap arrows but he’s loving it as much as I am. Orik is beginning finally to speak, surprising up with “triangle”, “square”, “circle” and “dinosaur” and last week to my utter amazement he started to whistle! He’s also started to count from 1 to 8. Jasper is full of questions and curiosity and Allegra is a natural-born storyteller so all of this is adding incredible richness to our lives. 🙂
Finishing up the year with Christmas, a home-grown tree covered in a few carefully hoarded wooden ornaments and lots of homemade ones, with gifts from us of experiences rather than toys, with dinner from the garden and simplicity has been wonderful. Christmas day was spent with my brother and his family and our parents and the kids all had a great time. We stuck to our dietary restrictions and feel the better for it too and I feel great not having overindulged too. A wonderful finish to a great year. With less than 12 hours left in 2013 I have thoroughly enjoyed reflecting on the year that was and I hope you have too. I plan to spend the last few hours of 2013 in my garden and with my children finishing off with an early night. I’ve got far too many things lined up from 2014 to want to waste the morning sleeping it away. 😉
May the 4 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle) become second nature (if they aren’t already). May your vegetables grow tasty and large. And most importantly of all may your 2014 be filled with love, laughter and a light carbon footprint. 😀