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. πŸ˜€ 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. πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜€ 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. πŸ™‚

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some veryΒ unseasonablyΒ 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 isΒ marvelousΒ that we can use them up. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ˜€ Multitasking and repurposing at its best. πŸ™‚ I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. πŸ˜€ I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in aΒ fry panΒ 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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚

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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. πŸ™‚

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ˜€ 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! πŸ˜€ 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. πŸ˜€ 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. πŸ™‚ Bonus fertiliser cakes. πŸ˜› 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.. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜€ What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

A potential harvest after all AKA not such a bad run of luck after all.

Watering the garden tonight I came across some wonderful surprises! Looks like I might just get something to harvest after all!

I spotted these whilst I was watering a neighbouring tomato plant. Red Tommy Toes looking a little less than red at the moment.

I spotted these whilst I was watering a neighbouring tomato plant. Red Tommy Toes looking a little less than red at the moment.

And more Tommy Toes!

And more Tommy Toes!

And even more Tommy Toes. Yellow this time I think.

And even more Tommy Toes. Yellow this time I think.

And yet more Tommy Toes. Most of the buses are red but there are a few yellow ones in too. So exciting!

And yet more Tommy Toes. Most of the buses are red but there are a few yellow ones in too. So exciting!

My first zucchini. It's currently less than 3 inches long.

My first zucchini. It’s currently less than 3 inches long. (And yes, in this case, size does matter, at least a little bit. πŸ˜‰ )

A female pumpkin flower ready to open. Mr Bee, oh Mr Bee! Come and pollinate my pumpkin please! There are 2 male flowers an inch before it on the stem ready to open too so I might be out there with a brush I think. Isn't that just a little weird when you think about it? ;)

A female pumpkin flower ready to open. Mr Bee, oh Mr Bee! Come and pollinate my pumpkin please! There are 2 male flowers an inch before it on the stem ready to open too so I might be out there with a brush I think. Isn’t that just a little weird when you think about it? πŸ˜‰

I’m feeling a LOT better after finding all this potential harvest hiding out in my garden. I was feeling pretty flat about it all and trying hard to be philosophical but now I feel much happier. AND to boot, as I type this I just found a photo of Jasper and I in the local rag! It was taken at the Farmers Market not long after we’d finished playing our music and we were just buying some organic white nectarines.

The Moorabool News page 15. Not a great picture of me by any tick of the clock but my little boy is looking ultra cute in the bottom corner. :D

The Moorabool News page 15. Not a great picture of me by any tick of the clock but my little boy is looking ultra cute in the bottom corner. πŸ˜€

Oh I do feel more positive now. Looking forward to tomorrow again. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜€

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. πŸ˜€ 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.

Operation Homestead: Days 3 and 4

Homesteading, I’ve decided, is a LOT harder than I thought. I never envisioned putting in the garden beds to be quite as hard as it actually is. So hard that I’ve put my neck out. 😦 I spent yesterday pretty much up close and personal with a wheat pack. My kids thought it was great. They had full free-ranging freedom! lol A trip to the osteopath has eased things up tremendously and another treatment is booked for Thursday. Here’s hoping I can wield a spade on Saturday.

Maxxie and the chickens mutually not caring about each others presence.

Anyway, I’m now on the mend and planning out our weekend. I’ve advertised our new house’s existing kitchen on Freecycle and that will be picked up on Sunday, and the carpets will be picked up probably during the week as well. The new kitchen is ready to be ordered – just awaiting the final quote which we should get tonight. It’s exciting times here.Β We also enjoyed the sunshine in the garden today and to my delight we had 3 chickens free ranging within a metre of our Maxxie cat who didn’t bat an eyelid! We can only hope that our Minnie cat does the same thing.

Allegra helping with the bigger seeds – the pumpkins

In anticipation of the gardens being ready and the warmer weather we seem to be having I started planting the seeds for the “plant after the last frost” plants. Many of them don’t like being transplanted, such as corn, pumpkins, sunflowers, beans, peas and zucchinis, but with the exception of the peas and beans, I can get them all started growing in newspaper pots which can be planted straight into the garden, pots and all. It gives me a head start on the growing season which I am realising will be shorter than what I am used to in Melbourne. The difference between a temperate Melbourne climate and the it’s around 500m above sea level cold climate Ballan I guess.

Anyway, time for the wheat pack and a nice hot chocolate here now that peace finally reigns (children are all finally in bed).