I love my early mornings… And more (of course).

I really do! I can’t believe I’m even saying this but I simply adore my early mornings. 😀 As long as they’re not interrupted by small people wanting food/water/Daddy (so go and annoy HIM then 😉 ) and everything else under the sun. Those mornings are a little less lovable. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids but those early mornings are my sacred time of waking up my brain and then cramming it chock-a-block full of information for the day. It’s much harder to do that with the constant interruptions of little people. 😉 Continue reading

Autumn in the garden

The weather the last 2 days (and continuing on into next week) is a last hurrah to Summer. Well, I’m hoping it’s the last one. The weather has been lovely and Thursday was nothing short of sensational. 25 degrees, light breeze, lower UV index which means I was outside enjoying the sun and I didn’t get burned! 😀 Continue reading

Autumn is here

Autumn is here and I am so excited. For several reasons. Remind me of this post again in 6 months when I am tired of clearing ash out of the fire and over waking up on icy mornings in the darkness and heading out into the darkness to milk the goats too (no we don’t have them yet but I’m sure we will soon) but I can’t wait to need to have Ignisa glowing away in my living room. 🙂 There really is something about fire, ad I can totally understand our ancestors worshiping it, much like I can appreciate worshiping the sun (and I don’t mean sun baking either). But I am a little over giving homage to the sun that turned my greenhouse into a 53 degree hot house the other day. I mean, it’s Autumn for goodness sake!!!

The last day of Summer was an icy affair. Ignisa was on all day and we pulled out winter woollies  The first day of Autumn, and since if truth be told, has been worthy of flannelette jarmies in the morning ad t-shirt and shorts by 10am. I am over the hot days, although my pumpkins and tomatoes are appreciating it. SO is my washing. 🙂

Bring on the colder weather

Bring on the colder weather – Ignisa burning after lights out on the last day of Summer.

But I am ready to break out the Winter clothes and pack those shorts away until next year. I’m ready to hunker down with cool weather jobs, like building up compost and knitting (I do that year round but it’s more comfortable to have a large pile of woolen goods on your lap on a cold day) and I am most ready for Winter foods too. Soups, casseroles, stews. Cooked my the gentle heat of Ignisa in the Schlemmertopf, started at 1pm and served at 6:30, full of rich flavours and hearty goodness. Yum! I’m looking forward to closing up the oven and stove in favour of our bonus cooking abilities to double (and triple) use the wood we burn. Ignisa was chosen for just this purpose. She is charged with the duty of keeping my family warm, of warming our water when sister sun is hiding and her stove and oven qualities allow me to cook with that heat too. Her ashes can then (in some quantities) be returned to the soil and added to our compost. I added some a month or so ago and my compost heap looks wonderful. 🙂

However, the bit that I am most looking forward to is the gardens. Sure, my fingers will be frozen, the rain will be icy (if we get much which is never a given in this climate change challenged world of ours) but it’s garlic season! And the added bonus is that the cabbage moth season will be over too! Those nasty green buggers have decimated my broccoli, rocket and radishes. 😦

I took a trip to the garden of St Erth again yesterday with a friend and her son. Between us we faced the challenge of 4 kids unhappy with their lot, 2 running around like fiends and 2 screaming their displeasure at us. Challenging. Sorry St Erth. Next time I’m thinking babysitter! But I still managed to buy myself some seeds and bulbs so I’m raring to get into my gardens. I also have some seedlings which were a giveaway – red spring onions, beetroots and chard – which have recovered and I am eagerly anticipating planting. But the garlic is our big one this year. Martin adores the stuff, even more so than your wallabies Fran, and has given me permission to plant out HEAPS! I’m planning on early harvest and late harvest varieties and hoping to cover the entire year for edible garlic for next year. Early varieties harvest between October and December and have a shorter storage time – up to 6 months, some a lot less. The later harvest ones I’m guessing are ready to harvest around now maybe, if not already done. They last until October to December when the next harvest is ready. If all goes to plan we will have kilos and kilos of the stuff. I know how quickly we go through a kilo so I think 10 might do us for the year? 🙂 Yes, we are not friends with any vampires. 😉

Edward, you are NOT welcome here! And no, I have not seen the films, nor read the books.

Ok, so I’m coming back to writing now 3 hours later. I’ve had a glorious morning outside in the dawn, gardening. We have 3 garden beds inside the greenhouse but only 1 of them was filled with soil and in use. I just hand’t got to the 2nd and 3rd ones but this morning I did. Martin had picked me up a load of compost the other day and it had been parked outside the greenhouse waiting for 5 days. Well, it’s now inside a garden bed and I have even planted out some seedlings gifted to me from a friend at Phoenix Park. Lettuces and beetroot and a brassica that again I have forgotten what it is. 😦 Sieve brain! The most exciting part of shoveling the compost in was the steam rising from it. Yes, it was steaming! I think it was due to the fact that it had been under a tarp in the sun for 5 days and it had acquired some decent heat which stayed (thermal mass) ad the condensation had moistened the previously hydrophobic soil too and it was rich a d wonderful and lovely. It smelled heavenly. 🙂

So this garden bed I’ve filled started off with some branches and a few logs at either end from our poplar trees, partly to bulk up the bottom of the garden and use less soil and partly to add slowly back to the soil when the poplars break down. It’s also another way to use them up. 🙂 Then I cleaned out the pile of chook poo from the chook pen and spread that on top of the branches. It’s a very nitrogen rich fertiliser and needs to be very very well composted before adding to your garden but as a bottom layer it will compost away from the roots of the plants and just add to the soil. I then added a layer of our homemade compost which is not yet fully composted but also smelled pretty much amazing and finally I topped it off with the purchased compost. I’ve got some leftover compost in the trailer too which will help with the other garden beds which I may even manage to get built today. They will all start off with some poplar branches, then maybe some pea straw or lucerne and then a layer of freshly mown grass for nitrogen (I even have some grass to mow now yippee 😀 ) and a little blood and bone for a bit more, before being topped off with soil and compost. I’ve also got 3 potato beds each half full of homemade compost which is breaking down nicely.

The third garden bed in the greenhouse is going to be an experimental garden bed. I am concerned that my greenhouse will not retain its warmth over the winter and I don’t want to add a heating source which will draw (and in my opinion, waste) electricity. I can’t afford to add solar panels to either house or anywhere else as yet but I saw a fascinating post about using compost to heat hot water the other day and although I don’t plan on building a hot water creating compost wheelie bin, the concept gave me an idea. Compost, as it breaks down, puts out a lot of heat. This mornings pile of compost was pleasantly warm to touch but I remember as a kid sticking my hand into the grass clippings dad had mowed a few weekends before and it was hot. In fact the other day a friend burned their hand on hot compost. Not to the point of blisters and such but still and all enough of a burn to make them exclaim aloud. I drink my hot chocolate at 70C and I need to let it cool a little so as not to scald my tongue. Yes, it’s hot! 🙂 So, I figured that I could use that to heat my greenhouse and at the same time prepare a garden bed for the spring. I plan on using a lot of grass clippings. and a thin layer of compost on top. Our kitchen waste will also go in here and our other compost bins can either sit fallow or I can empty out the composted or cooling down compost in the garden bed and put it out to finish decomposing and then restart in the greenhouse for more heat to keep it warm. It will involve a bit more work but with the help of Trevor and his trailer (or a working wheelbarrow even) it will be worth it to have heaps of rich, organic and home made compost for Spring planting. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Lets see how we go. 🙂

Lessons learned from my garden this year is that corn and zucchinis will produce fruit even under the shade of a large tree but they will be lacking. Watermelons just don’t grow though. I will remove the garden bed they’re in and use the soil elsewhere. I can use the space for more compost bins maybe. I can get the heat happening internally so the lack of day long sun isn’t an issue. I’ve also learned about nitrogen draw-down. No dig garden beds NEED that blood and bone int hem, that’s the ingredient I was missing and my poor plants have suffered for the lack of it. However, since adding it I do have a tomato harvest ripening slowly (it’s a race between getting some colour so I can ripen them completely indoors and the frosts arriving). I also have a very late and small but sufficient pumpkin harvest. This last week has seen at least half a dozen female pumpkin flowers which I have been busily fertilising just in case the bees missed them. In no way do I believe I’m better than bees but we don’t have much to attract their stripey flying selves to the gardens… Yet. I have 5 packs of sweet peas I am planning to plant in pots to add scent and colour to our back porch over the Autumn. The kids will like helping with planting them. 🙂 I’ll be planting more flowers out this coming Spring too to entice the bees to come and work for us. 🙂

Well, sitting here gets nothing done. Time for my Small Man Orik to have his nap then garden, here I come. 🙂

An update and things coming together

It’s all pretty amazing when things start coming together. I mean, you plot, you plan and you dream and you try and cram the plotting, planning and dreaming into reality, dodging around obstacles like time, money, weather, differing ideas, legal requirements and everything else and you hope to come up with a workable situation that hasn’t strayed too far from your first inspired musings.

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Heidi, grandfather and Aunt Dete hurrying away

My initial dreams involved up to 5 acres, an eco friendly house built by my own two hands, robust and healthy children who look liked they had escaped from Heidi, friendly animals, beautifully landscaped (but not rigid) gardens and fresh produce pouring from their richly composted soil. The reality is a little different.

We have a 1/2 acre, the house was not built by my own two hands although I have had a lot of input into the design and materials used and we have been as eco friendly as the budget allowed for (low VOC paints, woolen carpets over recycled fibre underlay and LED lights). My children don’t have the plump legs and ruddy complexions of Heidi fame but they are healthy and happy and sporting somewhat of a tan, testament to their enjoyment of outdoor life. Our animals aren’t quite as keen on us as we are on them but Milly and Molly are getting more comfortable although Mandy still keeps her distance. The baby chicks are well acclimatised to children as they are picked up and carted around by the kids for a couple of hours each day and the silkies are fast becoming favourites (Mrs Silverpants was replaced last night along with her companion Dandelion the white silkie and Goldie or Gold Star the golden silkie). The baby chicks are used to being handled by us too although they still peg it during the day (we go out each night to make sure they’re either sleeping in a nesting box or on the perch which they’ve finally figured out last night too). The gardens are not the verdant oases I dreamed of and their soil, although rich, is not as rotted down as I had dreamed. It’s getting there now though. We do have crops coming along nicely too. I have 2 zucchinis that will be ready in the next day or 2 (they’re taking longer I think due to the still un-rotted garden beds) and my corn are flowering and I can see the beginning of corn cobs. 😀 My watermelons won’t make harvest this year but I will try transferring them even though they hate it. I have nothing to lose at this stage. My tomatoes are still coming along in the garden too. I live in fear of possums discovering them but we appear to have few of those thieving little blighters around thankfully. My broccoli are doing much better since I got up close and personal with them, rubbing the underside of their leaves and squishing all the caterpillar eggs (or are they butterfly eggs – defined by what they hatch into or what lays them?) and caterpillars of the (presumably) coddling moths that had turned their leaves into fine green lace. They still look a little lacy but much happier. My onions haven’t even made it to pickled onion stage sadly but then again I never really expected them to. 😦

The greenhouse garden

The greenhouse garden, marked out with sticks and some used chicken straw for nutrients. I will mulch it when the seedlings are up more. Thanks for the idea Narf. 🙂

But it’s the greenhouse I am most amazed with and proud of in our garden. It’s a Sproutwell greenhouse built from a kit I bought off eBay (they also have a website and the price is the same) and the garden beds I built myself using corrugated iron and hardwood corner posts. The hardwood we already had and the iron, bought from my uncle, makes each bed cost $1.50! WIN! Anyway, I’ve built 3 beds in there and filled and planted 1 of them. I transplanted the tomatoes from the second martie bed as they were very small and not going to make harvest before the frost arrived so I had nothing to lose. I planted my mandarin, banana and lemon trees in there first, then the transplanted tomatoes and transplanted marigolds in there, some beans planted down the side, transplanted capsicums, rocket seeds between them, then planted carrot and radish seeds, some spinach seeds, leek seeds, coriander seeds, transplanted chives and also chive seeds. So far the chive seeds are the only ones I haven’t seen a sprout from yet. I also transplanted in a pumpkin that popped up from seeds I’d scooped out of a pumpkin around Christmas time and planted out mid January. So, although it’s not yet that verdant oasis, it is well on its way to being a nifty little food garden.

Radishes

Capsicums and radishes

A bean

A bean

Carrot wisps :)

Carrot wisps 🙂

Spinach

Spinach

Capsicums and rocket

Capsicums and rocket with a tomato and the beans in the background. The carrots are near the icy-pole stick.

Nice mangel wurzels 😉

I’ve also bought some more interesting seeds – mangel wurzels which are like turnips but they get HEAPS bigger and if harvested small they’re good for human consumption or if left to grow out, great for cattle and chickens. I wanted to try them just because I can! I’ve also finally sourced some black carrot seeds (purple/black inside and out and amazing for antioxidants), kale, rainbow chard and some other bits and bobs. I’m planning some BIG gardens over winter. 😀 And speaking of winter gardens, I’ve started building the garden beds to go in. The existing beds will be raked up to fill the new ones and they’re a little shorter but I can double the amount of beds, greatly increasing planting area overall. I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now, something I NEVER thought I would say. 🙂

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some very unseasonably cold weather this last week and Ignisa, our lovely Gourmet Cooker has been alight for about 44 hours although she’s been resting for the last hour or 2 but I’m getting cold again so reckon it’s time to fire her up again.. We need to organise some hardwood to burn (if anyone local has any they’re getting rid of or selling…?) but in the meantime we have been able to make do with our existing poplar stocks which is marvelous that we can use them up. 🙂 We also had a little bit of plum from a tree that we chopped down after it died at Spotswood. I started off by bringing in our old DVD shelves and then arranged them in such as way as to make a surround or frame for the stove. I’ve now got some space for trinkets, wood, kindling and fire lighting paper. The lamps came out and look lovely too, bringing some pleasant ambiance to the room. The fire guard, half of our playpen is doing duty as a fire guard and at night it makes a great clothesrack too once stoo up on it’s ends. 😀 Multitasking and repurposing at its best. 🙂 I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. 😀 I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in a fry pan on top and breakfast this morning was homemade sourdough English muffins cooked on Ignisa and a hot chocolate made with her heat too – another complete meal. 🙂 I also baked bread in her belly the other night but the oven was a wee bit hot (like 350C rather than 200C required). Should be fine once I carve off the top inch. lol

3 bookshelves arranged just so

3 bookshelves arranged just so

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English muffins and hot chocolate – this mornings breakfast

Briquette?

Briquette?

I also did some more unpacking – DVD’s away (not that they will see much use given the lack of tv), my crystal radio set up and working (I need to find a better station with some music although ABC news radio is ok too), and I’ve been knitting away getting clothes ready for winter. The kids each have a new hat and I’ve made a scarf for Orik too. I need to source some more yarn to make Allegra a scarf so it’s time to dig into the stash. I also knitted my first dishcloth using this pattern and I’m happy with how it’s come out. Now to test it and see how it works.

Our food is improving on a weekly, if not daily basis. I’ve committed to making sourdough pasta using this recipe so we are slowly using up our normal pasta which I can’t eat and once it’s gone, that’s it. We’re now drinking real milk, our veggie box arrives each week from Highland Heritage (I highly recommend contacting them if you’re local and interested as their produce is first rate) and I’ve started culturing milk too – milk kefir is like super dooper yakult and it tasted a HEAP better as well as being heaps better for you. Google kefir if you’re interested. I just don’t know enough about it at this stage other than to say it’s very good for you and not unpleasant to taste.

Bertha was also split and fattened up and her daughter, Agnetha has gone to her new home. Bertha will be fed and split again and posted this week to The Eco Mum and Narf so you should see some mail coming your way soon ladies. I had planned to post it today but I haven’t fed her or her babies enough for the rigors of travel. 🙂

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My Bertha, Agnetha her daughter and the tub with my bread in it at the bottom of the picture.

A Dexter. Photo is not such a good one of the cow but gives a brilliant idea of their size.

They come in black (most common) dun and red, polled or horned, short legged or normal. I think these are polled and the black one closest appears to be short legged. Aren’t they pretty. 🙂

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! 🙂 Don’t have a cow, she wouldn’t be a full sized one and nor will she be a genetically twisted (albeit via breeding only) miniature cow but a genuine naturally occurring small breed cow, the Dexter. The average Dexter cow, when fully grown will stand no higher at the hip than Jasper. They stand around and just over the 1m mark although the bulls are up to 1.17m I think (44in) so they really are quite small. They’re easy calvers, easy milkers, friendly animals and make excellent lawnmowers! 😀 They also require a lot less pasture space and although we don’t quite have enough land for exclusive grass feeding we may have access to some good local and I believe organically grown hay. It’s also another reason I want to try growing mangel wurzels as they used to be used for winter and early spring food in the UK for cattle. We are big dairy people here with hot chocolates, homemade yoghurt, custard and cheese (not yet homemade) on our menu with frequency. I want to know that our dairy is organic and hence free of hormones, anti-biotics and all the rest of the garbage pumped into many commercial cows (I’m not sure how much of that is dairy cows rather than beef cows which I believe are treated with regularity in factory farming conditions but any of that gunk is too much gunk) and I also want to know that it’s cruelty free. These cows are prolific milk producers for their size and can easily feed 2 or even 3 calves so I figure that there is no need to remove the calf from mother and we can simply milk the excess. No poddy calves! 😀 I also want to know that our milk is local. Full respect to dairies around Australia but I would prefer to support any in the district and preferably my own back yard… Literally. 😀 I also want to be able to give my children raw milk, full of all the wonderful goodness that milk contains, not pasteurised to within an inch of its life. I understand that pasteurisation aims to kill nasty bugs but it also kills many beneficial ones and a single cow raised at home will be much easier to maintain in a sanitary milking condition than hundreds of them all traipsing in manure and mud. And that brings me to another great reason for keeping a cow… I want her manure for my gardens. 🙂 Bonus fertiliser cakes. 😛 Dexter cows are also great for their meat which is reported to be superior – a wonderful duel purpose cow. They can also be trained to pull like oxen, something that will come in handy in a post peak oil world. Any bull calves would be fattened up for organic, pasture-fed, free-range, cruelty free (need to find an on-site butcher) and utterly local beef. It’s a HUGE undertaking though, with initial costs, commitment (10 months of the year they lactate and they live for up to 20 years, even more) and we obviously need to check council rules and permits (definitely required) and whether we have or can access sufficient fodder (I do not want to grain feed except maybe as a treat) and there is also up to 10 litres of milk a day to work through. I would need to make cheese on a daily basis which would be far too much for us to eat) and I’d still have enough left over for custard, yoghurt, bechamel sauce, Orik’s bottles and all the rest. It’s very exciting to dream though and following up on information and researching is keeping the old brain box ticking.. 🙂

So anyway, that’s the updates for now. There is lots happening, lots in the pipleline and many many more things on the discussion table. It’s a busy time and I’m loving it. 😀 What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

4 whole days!

We’ve been cursed blessed with a 4 day weekend. The first Tuesday in November is the Melbourne Cup and the Race-that-stops-a-nation stops many businesses on this first Tuesday with a public holiday. It often cripples these same businesses for the whole week too. Monday, because everyone wants a long weekend and takes it with either a holiday or a sickie (holiday day booked for us), Wednesday due to the hangovers for those that imbibed a little too much on Tuesday, Thursday due to Oaks Day AKA Ladies Day at the races (further holidays or sickies) and Friday for the same reasons as Wednesday. I’ve never been to the races I must say, although I do usually watch it on the telly. It’s just not my thing.

A public holiday is most definitely my thing though. 😀

So, with a four day weekend at our fingertips, you can imagine all we were able to achieve.

Firstly, our house is ready for its bathroom vanity, some suede paint sanding back and then it’s time for painting. 😀 Tiles will be ordered this week and hopefully will be ready for laying next week.

Pretty flowering Hawthorn

With vicious thorns

The garden though has been our domain. Yesterday we were very blessed to be able to borrow a post hole digger so my wonderful hubby dug 14 holes for me. 13 plus an oops. Today we got busy with poles and concrete. I hate the idea of using concrete but the other option, rammed earth, really isn’t practical for us in a time sense. It was one of those kinda hafta times. 😦 We did recycle fence posts wherever possible though so my chook pen will have a swish green entrance. We also had to decide where we were going to build our bridge over the creek to the rest of our block which is currently a tangle of towering poplar trees, vicious Hawthorns and a tonne of long grass, forget-me-knots and sticky weed. Clearing it is a task for next year, but we need to do a little planning at least. And we DO have to clear this side of the creek this year. So, in our search for the easiest place to build a bridge we got stuck into hacking back the hawthorn. Out came the chainsaw and whilst the kids amused themselves playing in the water in the wine barrel bath, we started hacking back this beautiful beautiful plant. And then it BIT us! The wretched things have inch long thorns at the base of every set of leaves. I jammed one of the thorns deep into the pad of my left hand and the tip broke off in there. Over the day it got more and more painful. Sore, inflamed and so so tender that driving was hard, let alone picking up the kids. I attacked it several times with tweezers and a needle and FINALLY managed to extract nearly 3mm of thorn that had been stuck in there. Not nice no matter how pretty they are when in bloom. Their days are numbered… I’m thinking wattle might be a pretty replacement.

Chicken run posts.

The results of getting the posts concreted in is huge though. We have 2 more to go (ran out of concrete) but we can start with the ringlock fencing wire now and I can get to digging the trenches between the poles for burying the chicken wire (fox prevention) and start enclosing the chicken run. We’re on very borrowed time now as the temporary housing for the chicks and our existing chickens will fast become crowded.

Digging holes and boys toys all in one.

I had 3 butternut pumpkin seedlings in desperate need of planting too but nowhere left to plant them. I decided upon a temporary garden bed which, since pumpkins do nothing more than put down their roots before heading off to take over the garden, will do just fine for this year. I dug out a small area, lined it with newspaper and filled it with soil and compost and planted in the butternuts. In other seedling news, my tomatoes have absolutely thrived. Some of them were VERY small when they went in on Friday but I swear they have all grown another set of leaves in the 5 days since then! :O You were so right Ingrid and I will be planting out the rest of my baby marties as soon as they show something more than just cotyledon leaves. The capsicums are looking good too, as are the corn and zucchinis I planted on Saturday. The onions planted last week seem to have been hit or miss though. Some are looking very healthy, others I can’t find. Time will tell how they go, and if you’re into moon gardening, the waning moon should help them being root plants. My watermelons are not loving me at all though sadly. 1 looks like it will not last out the week although the other 2 appear that they may just make it. Here’s hoping at least one makes it.

Other achievements involved getting the water tank for the chooks in place, picking up our 9 silver dorking 6 week old chicks yesterday (there is a little expected friction between the older girls who are locked out to free-range during the day as the little girls are locked in), jet washing off more of the side decking area, unpacking my pressure canner and some more preserving jars, chucking a load of washing in the machine (sadly the household chores don’t stop whilst we play up at Ballan), pruning (very carefully) the hawthorn back so we can access more area to mow and chainsaw, pruning the poplars to allow more access into the shady areas, finishing off a portion of the veggie garden fence and of course, time spent with the kids. Today was time for crayon graffiti on an old wardrobe door brought outside as well as heaps of help from them too (Jas moved a heap of chopped up branches for us and they both pitch in with digging). It’s been a crazy 4 days and the best news is we get to do another 2 days of it all in only 3 more sleeps. Yay. (insert enthusiasm tinged with just a little sarcasm).

A few more pictures…

Cleared to the creek. So beautiful

We can see through the trees now yay

Not yet sure what this tree/shrub is but it’s beautiful (not a blackberry I do know that at least)

Found some beautiful lichen but a photographer I am not.