Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Paper Bricks

Hubby, somehow, stumbled upon a second hand paper brick maker while he was checking out eBay. We both thought we could re-use all the newspaper and maybe some cardboard from recycling and make them into 'firewood' to use in either the pizza oven or the wood fire when we get one (which could be sooner than later!).

Having never done this before we did what any self respecting DIYer does - we googled it! So first we made a lovely paper mache type mix. There are many and varied recipes, but we thought we would go plain and simple to begin with - water and newspaper. Hubby is using a paint mixer attached to his drill to mulch it up a bit more. I think it was just an excuse to use a power tool of some description!

Next we placed the mulched up paper in the press. We had lots of helpers for this.

Once this is full, then the squeezing begins! We didn't realise until we went to use the press that it is actually broken, hence the need for the clamps. Buyer beware i guess :( It stills works though, but you tend have have less skin on your knuckles than what you stated with.

After squeezing a couple of times to make sure as much of the water is out as possible - voila! - one paper brick!

The bricks then need to be left to dry out. One suggestion we found was to put them in a greenhouse on a top shelf so that is what we did.

The ones piled on the left are the first batch we did a couple of months ago and the most recent at the right and bottom.

We have yet to use them as it is now 'fire season' and no fires without a permit, but hopefully come autumn I can report back on whether it is worth the time and effort!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Parties and 'To-do' lists

Phew! What a weekend!

First, my eldest daughter turned 7! (that went by crazily fast! Hubby pointed out she is almost halfway to getting her licence! Crap!). We had a Star Wars party and thankfully the rain held off (we had 3 inches in the previous 48hrs leading up to the party). I always like to make the kids' birthday cakes and although this one was a compromise (she wanted a light sabre but I just wasn't creative enough for that one) I think it still turned out OK. My hands are still stained black from the icing though.

So with the party out of the way and a couple of hours of sunshine we were able to mow the forest of weeds that we affectionately call 'the lawn' and didn't get the mower bogged in the process - double yay!

Sunday, after a leisurely breakfast of fresh homegrown scrambled eggs (yum!), we were out to cross some jobs off our 'to-do' list. First was to net the fruit trees as the birds had already gobbled up all the cherries  (grrrrrr). We we were too slow getting around to those ones. So netted at the moment are the three apple trees, plum, nectarine and almond. HOPEFULLY we will win against the birds this year :)

Next I finally planted out the beans I have been meaning to do for weeks, and am trying to grow red kidney beans for the first time.  I also planted the tomatillo plant that a friend gave me, along with a great salsa recipe for the fruit. It looks much happier now it is in the ground and out of the greenhouse.

Next we finally strung up the onion and garlic harvest that had previously been sitting on the shed floor. The onions were substantially heavier than what we thought, so hubby came up with this idea to use the trailer frame to hang them off. Works pretty good I think! Just as long we don't need the trailer frame in the next little while I guess!

Then we made some more paper bricks but I'll do a more detailed blog about that later.

Kids were still happy playing outside at this stage so we thought we would finally start planting out our mountain of dirt left over from the pool excavations. I picked up some native tube stock a while ago for a couple of dollars each but they have been sitting in the bottom of the greenhouse waiting to be planted. Poor plants must feel neglected in there! Anyhoo still have a long way to go - like some edging and mulch would be good!- but its a start. We planted grevilleas, bottlebrushes, banksias and some westringias that I had left over from the hedge around the pool.

I know I blogged previously that we were going to plant the pumpkins on the hill this year but I didn't feel that the soil had been prepared right so we decided to plant then on the front bank and let them grow down towards the tank. This year I have planted QLD Blue, Kent, Butternut and a vegetable spaghetti. I planted the watermelon and rockmelon seedlings here as well but they are sort of behind me in this pic.

(OK pic is not the best, and we need to mulch here again too, but you can just make out the bamboo stakes!)

After that we had a BBQ dinner with salad from the garden - and the kidlets got to have the first cherry tomatoes of the season.

Hubby and I were both exhausted but happy we were able to cross some things off our very long 'to-do' list.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Stop the Clock!

Seriously need to hit the stop button as time is moving way too quick and I have way to much to do!!!!

Where has the last three weeks gone?!? Sheesh! Its like I'm standing still and time is flying. I was looking at my diary today and there are only 3 (!) days in the next 3 weeks that I don't have something planned. 3! Please tell me other people are this busy!

I still have my watermelon and rockmelons to plant out, as well as planting some beans (I'm going to try red kidney beans this year - has the potential to be an epic fail but we shall see!). I have harvested my first 3 tomatoes tonight, and am about to harvest my first of a zillion zucchinis for this season. The garlic and onions are out (might be a bit early for the onions but if I left them any longer they would have been the size of overgrown squash!) and eggplant, capsicum and chilli seedlings are about to go in. I planted my pumpkins out the other day, but not up on the back mound as previously mentioned, but down the front instead. I also picked my first handful of raspberries tonight but they quickly disappeared into four hungry little mouths.

And the most exciting thing is that my kiwi fruit vine has its first two flowers on it! Yay!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Once last chance.....

I may be a glutton for punishment, but this time, is the last time....I promise.

After killing countless passionfruit vines  - some with too much love, some with not enough love and others just plain freezing them to death in our cold winters - I have decided that these will be the last two passionfruit vines I plant on our place. If these two don't survive, then that it is it. No fresh passionfruit for us.

So here they are. The last two passionfruit. I have decided to encroach on a small part of the kids play area and plant them up against the north facing shed wall which will hopefully keep them warmer in winter, and the kids trampoline which normally sits in front of them on the grass, will protect them from frosts. If they grow big enough, they will also help cool the shed as well.

Fingers crossed .......

Monday, 31 October 2011

Choc Chip Cookies

Felt like baking this morning so here is a double batch of choc chip cookies fresh out of the oven. They are pretty good with a cup of tea, but the best way is to crumble them over some decadent vanilla ice cream and then drizzle with caramel sauce.....nom nom nom!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Whats happening on the fruit front

One of the first things we wanted to get cracking on when we finally moved out here was to start the orchard, given we knew it would take a couple of seasons before the trees were to start producing fruit. As we get strong NW/W winds here, we also planted a wind break of local wattle trees to help protect our fruit trees in their infancy. We dug all the holes (OK well my hubby dug them all as I was pregnant with the twins then. It was convenient I'll give you that!) and planted our first row of fruit trees, starting off with apples, pear, almond, mulberry, nectarine, apricot and cherry. How exciting!

We have expanded on this each year until this year where we have now three rows of fruit and nut trees (can't see the third row in the pic above), which in addition to the above mentioned, we have added hazelnuts, pistachios, another cherry, peaches, more apples, plums, oranges, mandarin, lemon, lime, and some olives as well (but they are in a different spot).

We have also added four trellis' which include a LOT more raspberries (I was sick of not getting any raspberries last year as the kids would fleece the vines!), grapes (although it appears I have lost one), kiwi fruit, and this year I have also added a thornless blackberry, blackcurrant, and a boysenberry as well (with the sole ambition of making boysenberry ice cream! Is there any better reason for having one of these vines?).

OK You might have to squint and look pretty close, but there are raspberry canes there somewhere. And I obviously haven't finished the irrigation system yet. But its a good pic of the wattle wind break in the background.

Here is the said boysenberry bush in flower - yay!

This is our little blueberry patch. It has been moved around a bit as the last place was a bit too hot in the afternoon summer sun. I have also mulched them with pine needles as I have read it increases the acidity of the soil which they like. Anyway they seem  pretty happy here nestled between our garden shed and soon to be photinia hedge on the other side, and they have heaps of blueberries coming on!

Here are some other pics of what is currently happening in the garden:

This is the strawberry patch I have going on underneath the rose bushes just outside the house. My goal is to have the strawberry bushes as a thick carpet underneath the roses. The netting is so my lovely chooky girls are kept out while the plants are getting established. The strawberries are just coming into season - yum!

And check out the almonds on our tree! They are massive this year!

We have two young orange trees - a Washington navel and a Valencia - can't remember which one this is but I noticed that we now have buds! I have companion planted them with lavender. All my citrus (lime, lemon, mandarin and two oranges) were looking a little sick over the last month so I mulched them with compost (hence the netting as the chooks thought it was great to scratch in it!), fertilised with dynamic lifter (special fruit and citrus one) and gave a couple of hits of seaweed solution. They were a bit slow on the uptake but I have finally started to see some new growth on all the trees.

And the good news is we had 20mls rain on Saturday which was brilliant as I didn't have to water all of these fruit trees!

MM xox

Thursday, 27 October 2011

'I can feel it in me waters...'

to quote the affable Kath off the 'Kath & Kim' TV series.

Such a long time between posts, I know, but time has been flying and I have been thinking. A lot. About life, kids, stuff and self sustainability. I don't normally have the time to think deeply about issues as I am normally over consumed with the ever persistent 'Mum! Mum! M.U.M.!', but I have been lately. And it has been consuming more and more of my waking time.

There is change in the air...I can feel it. And I know that I am not the only one. Defining or pinpointing the change is hard, but I have this inner drive to succeed in providing the essentials for life  - food, water, shelter, warmth - if by chance we could no longer acquire these from an external source. My first and foremost priority is to keep my kids happy, warm and safe, but I have been asking the really hard question of myself lately - if push came to shove, could I really do this?

To take a step back in time, it all started in the oddest of places really. After channel surfing free-to-air TV on a Saturday night some months ago (and we all know how dismal that can be) I tuned in to watch 'The Day After Tomorrow'. For those who also have a similar boring life existence to sit through that movie - bare with me for a sec - but for those that actually have a life, its the movie that basically has these major storms colliding, creating massive tsunamis, and then massive freezing temperatures and heaps of people get caught out and die. Yadda Yadda Yadda. Anyway, there is a scene towards the end where the freezing temperatures are encroaching on our band of heroes, as they struggle to keep the fire alight in the massive library fireplace by burning a huge array of texts and bound books. And it hit me. We don't have a fireplace and we have no way of keeping warm in an electrical blackout. Or some other freak act of nature. Or chronically expensive electricity prices that are beyond the average family's ability to pay.

This is bad, especially out here in Murrumbateman, where we have had more than our fair share of sub -5C temps this winter, as my struggling reverse cycle heater will attest. But this is really an issue for me. Skyrocketing electricity prices aside, I have no way of keeping my four little kiddies warm and snug and happy.

And then I started to think more about self sufficiency. I have bandied the 'self- sufficient' term about a bit I admit it, but when you really think about it, being 'self sufficient' is not buying anything really. If you are 'self sufficient' you don't have to. You can barter/exchange but essentially you don't have to visit the supermarket. Ever.

I am SO not self sufficient.

Could I feed my family if for some reason or another our lives depended on it? Well, if that were the case, this is all we would have eaten for the past week

Although lovely and healthy and packed full of vitamins and grown organically from our garden...its not enough to feed all 6 of us. OK I do have a lot of lettuce and herbs in the garden as well, but I still don't feel that its enough. I seriously need to lift my game.

I have also been reading with interest Greening of Gavin's blog and his posts on Suburban Retrofit , and post peak oil, energy descent and things to consider.

I highly recommend you read it and I am not going to re-hash it here, but I guess if TSHTF we have our own water supply (tank water), our own septic, we have a small solar system but we could always convert that to off the grid if need be, we have a wood fired oven and we have a firepit area where we could cook 'camp style' if no gas and no electricity (recently found out in a power outage that my gas cooktop stove needs both gas AND electricity to run!). We have our veggie gardens and fruit trees and we have our greenhouse to grow food all year round. We have our chooky girls to lay us eggs. We do have the space to run few animals such as lambs or goats but I am not going to go there just yet. But still we have no way to keep warm......

So maybe its not as all bad as I think it might be. I have cleaned out the pantry and am starting to store more flour and rice and essentials ...just in case. I am going to try and pick up my game with preserving this summer (if I can fight the cockatoos off for our fruit harvest) and I am going to go through and re-do our budget to see if that fire can become a reality before next winter.

*Sigh* So is it just me thinking about these things? Should I just get me some 12-odd stray cats, let my hair go wild and grey and be known as the crazy cat woman up on the hill?

OK, you really don't have to answer that last question :)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Upskilling the Husband

When we first moved out here, my dear hubby was very keen to get his hands dirty and do some jobs around the place.

First on that list, was to create his dream man cave with every power tool and gadget known to man. As cautious as I was about this, I did encourage him by purchasing a very cool drop saw for Fathers Day for him, with the proviso that he only use it when I was close at hand with the First Aid kit and tourniquet in easy grasp and the phone at the ready to call 000.

I must say he surprised me and built with the help of his Dad, a very sturdy workbench, that I am absolutely sure would survive the wildest of storms or the strongest of earthquakes. And given its thickness, probably most severe bushfires as well.

Next on his list was building our raised veggie garden beds and extending the small chook cage we bought off eBay to fit over the gardens (although not shown in the pic below). Job well done I think. We have since expanded this to add another two big garden beds, and also gravelled the whole area after Mr Whopping Big Brown Snake visited last year!



He then got busy and built the kids their play area, complete with sandpit, cubby with attached garage, fort, flagpole and climbing wall! I never had this as a kid! Again, mighty impressed with his carpentry skills in creating this one.

Recently we have put together a greenhouse, a present for my birthday this year. I helped, with my expert ability to become 'one' with the end frame of the house and blow in the wind. I, being the expert assistant that I am, added no end of helpful suggestions as to how to assemble the thing off the 'Can you believe these instructions are briefer than Ikea's!?!' instruction manual. Needless to say, he saved the day again, made the whole thing come together and also added guttering and a rainwater tank! By this stage, I am getting majorly impressed with his expanding repertoire of handyman skills, that I was struggling to keep the ball rolling with jobs to keep him occupied.

And he made my really cool potting bench in here too...

After receiving quotes for paving and fencing our new pool, it was time to start upskilling the husband again. No way was I going to pay those exorbitant prices, he would just have to learn how to do it instead! After a couple of YouTube videos under his belt, and some skim reading of a 'How-to' manual, he proclaimed that he was unable to achieve these tasks. Too hard. Can't do it. We'll get someone in to do. Nonsense, I thought. So after a little more coaxing, emphasizing the benefits, the self satisfaction, the perfection with which he attends to his work, yadda yadda yadda...he agreed to give it a go. Silly me, forgot to realise with all this talk of doing it ourselves, that I would be the labourer! I am in a love-hate relationship with the wheelbarrow and shovel after digging and dumping countless barrow-full loads of dirt, road base, and sand to prepare the area. I now have 'man-muscles', ie I actually have definition in my little Muppet arms! But after numerous weekends and help from our wonderful family and friends, we are almost finished, and I think the results (and bank balance!) definitely speak for themselves.

So here is to my wonderfully upskilled husband! Now it is time to just chill for a while :)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Whats happening on the veggie front.

Well here is a pic of our veggie patch! Its an eight bed system with little beds in between, which I have lately been utilising for carrots. Our chook run sits over one garden and gets rotated as one crop finishes. There is netting over all the gardens as the girls like to eat and scratch everything we plant. We have an arbour at the front and have planted some happy wanderer to hopefully quickly grow up and over.

Our winter veggies are still in the plots as its still cold down here (currently a balmy 11 degrees! This pic was taken a few days ago). I'm a bit bummed as the broccoli and cauliflower I have raised from seeds are only just getting heads, and next year I think I will start them off a bit earlier maybe Jan/Feb. In the beds we have garlic, onions - red and brown, leeks, peas, lettuce, broad beans (although they are only a foot high but are flowering which is good, I think), silverbeet, carrots and cabbage.

I have started my spring seeds in the greenhouse.....

Just starting off we have apple cucumber, corn, pumpkin (QLD Blue and Kent - hopefully butternut pumpkins will self seed this year), eggplants, celery, lettuce - endive, cos and iceberg, watermelon, rockmelon, vegetable spaghetti, zucchini, capsicum, tomatoes (heaps!), beetroot and some silverbeet. I also have advanced purple podded peas, dwarf peas, beans and potatoes. I have planted some companion plants such as nasturtiums and marigolds as well.

I haven't had much luck with the herbs from seed though. The only ones that have come up are basil, sage, dill, some flat leaf parsley, one chive!, 2 garlic chive!, and that's about it! The mint and the thyme are MIA. Here is a pic of our herb garden next to the pizza oven (yum!)

At the moment we have tarragon, rosemary, sage, chives, lemon balm, lemon thyme, basil mint, flat leaf and curly leaf parsley. After my failure with the seeds, I bought a thyme and peppermint mint to plant today as well. Oh and I have a wormwood which is currently in the greenhouse because I have been slack and haven't covered it and put it in the chooks pen.

In the back of this pic you can see a massive dirt mound which is all the dirt from the pool excavations. We are going to turn this into a native garden and mulch the lot (still have a bit of work to do here), and as it is also north facing, we are going to plant the pumpkins, watermelon and rockmelon there so they can go as berserk as they like.

If only the weather was better so I could go out and potter.....

MM xox

Monday, 26 September 2011

Reducing chemicals in our lives

When I think back to how our life was before we moved out here, I must have seriously had my blinkers on to most things in life. Or that's how it sort of feels now anyway.

I wasn't growing my own food and therefore had no appreciation of how much time and effort went into growing veggies and herbs. Or how it is so easy to just spray with chemicals to fix issues such as weeds or pests but how that then disrupts the whole ecosystem, not to mention that we then actually have to eat those veggies!?!?! But you don't think of that when you are grabbing something at the supermarket.

Or how I would just plant plants because they were cheap at the nursery without thinking about actually having a purpose for planting the plant - such as producing food, using the falling leaves as mulch or in the compost, or using the flowers such as lavender in a million and one different uses around the home.

Or how as I was breathing in the clean crisp autumn air and wondering why on earth we were then chasing a blowfly around inside the house with a can of fly spray to kill it. And as is so often the case, not getting him on the first go, and continually, helplessly, trying to spray him as he darts past in an effort to get out of the house.

So, outside I thought things were in order, well at least on the way, but inside needed some drastic help.

My first stop was to read 'Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the toxic chemistry of everyday life affects our health' by Rick Smith & Bill Lourie.


OK quite a bit of scientific stuff that I must admit I glossed over, but after finishing that book, I was convinced things were going to change in a big way in our house.

No more plastics. No more Teflon coated pans. No more plastic utensils. All our moisturisers, shampoos, deodorants, sunscreens, hand washes, laundry detergents and the like were going to be replaced with non-toxic alternatives all starting now. Today.

In my frenzy of throwing myself head first into the plastic cupboard with a big garbage bag at the ready, and making a mental note to count the number of kids before disposing of said garbage bag, I can vaguely hear my husband over the avalanche of plastics say 'Whoa hippie girl! What on earth do you think you are doing?'

Hmmm, the cynic. Forgot about him. As I proceeded to explain, with urgency of course, how we are killing our children and our selves with all this toxicity and especially since we are living out here in the clean air, that all things 'bad' must be banished from this house immediately, he calmly stated he was happy to support my current rant under two provisos:

1. It has to be cost effective, ie we switch to alternatives once current supplies are due to be replaced, and the healthier alternatives are not to cost an absolute bomb; and

2. It is to have no to little impact on the way we go about our everyday life.

I had to admit those points were fair.

So I decided to get 'strategic' with the items I chose first to introduce healthier alternatives, and carefully chose areas that would be easiest to implement and have the greatest chance of success, some runs on the board if you like, before I slowly progress my way to tackle the more ingrained items in everyday use. I am glad to report that 18 months down the track we have achieved those initial goals of mine, however it hasn't always been easy to find items. I am still struggling in finding a dishwashing liquid that I am entirely happy with and have only just found a washing powder that I am happy with. My cynic has also come to the party too, and I have him using an organic shave cream which he admits he really likes!! Although there are still a few areas he needs improvement - he can't get past his need for fly spray. I prefer to use the good ol' fly swat and only on the weekend did we have a stand off with each having their weapons of choice in hand ready to tackle an annoying blowfly. He gave me 60 secs to get it before he came in. I had the kids on my side yelling and pointing at which way the fly was going, and after me running around like a mad chooky trying to get this thing, I came in with seconds to spare. And probably burnt a good 100 calories in the process! But the point is that I won, and no chemicals were sprayed.

I decided to turn our lives around after reading this book, and as it was my turn to host our Book Club get together, I decided to choose this book and was very keen to see what everyone thought - good, bad or otherwise. The discussion went off smashingly well and everyone added what they were using/trying and to what success. But I guess the upside was some of the girls were willing to change the way they did things, or at least have a second thought when they did. And what could be a better result than that :)

MM xoxo

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Urban Homesteaders Club

I have recently joined a group called the Urban Homesteaders Club.

Its a newly re-established group in Canberra and surrounds who get together once a month to talk about things such as composting, veggie gardening, baking, preserving, soap making, seed swapping, fruit growing, chook keeping and all other like minded endeavours.

It has reaffirmed two things for me:

1) I am not a nutter.

(Woo hoo! I always knew I wasn't!)

2) I am an absolute and complete novice at all this.

Amongst my close group of friends I could probably say that I have a small knowledge base on growing veggies etc and could offer advice and friendly encouragement. But in this group, I come home with my head absolutely buzzing with new ideas and suggestions and names of plants I have never heard of, let alone would try and grow and actually use to feed my family! (I still struggle with the 'normal' variety). I get home, and all this new found enthusiasm spills out and I can't stop relaying it to my dear husband who patiently nods and adds dramatic 'ohs' and 'mms' at the right moment until I exhaust myself and proceed to  jump on the net and research the latest topic of conversation at the get together. All the while, ignoring my screaming attention deprived kidlets, who want to describe in detail how they have been grossing their Dad out with their newly loose tooth all afternoon (I don't really ignore them, there are four of them and they completely out-number and out-drown me!). Excitement level is pretty high - on par with receiving the latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine in the mail and being able to read it uninterrupted from cover to cover - and that's pretty high! I know, I really need to leave the house more.

Needless to say I am very excited to have found this group and look forward to the next one and unearthing even more information to excite the juices and get me out into the garden.

Thanks Greenie for having us around on the weekend!

MM xo

The Canvas

This is the view from the top of our block, not long after we bought it! Not one single tree or bush to be found on the whole 2 acres. An extremely blank canvas to work with! Looking back at this I can honestly say we have worked our butts off to get it to where it is now!

The story so far.....

We live in an absolutely beautiful part of Australia, in between Yass and Canberra in the south eastern part of New South Wales, smack bang in the middle of award winning cool climate wine country (that wasn't by accident either!). Our little oasis is the hamlet of Murrumbateman.

How we came to be living here is not really much of a story but rather a snapshot on how major decisions are usually made in our household.

After living all over the country and moving house more times than we can remember, returning home to Canberra from a weekend away we spied a sign to a land sale, followed the signs to have a look, called the Agent on the spot and voila! We were going to be fully fledged land owners!

It wasn't just a spur of the moment decision, we actually had been discussing finding a place of our own for quite a while (we had been renting up until this point). We wanted some space to grow some veggies like we both did as kids, and also for our kids to have space to run around and kick a footy, and play, yell and scream at the top of their lungs without having to worry about what the neighbour six houses over might complain about. But the crunch really came when we discovered the trampoline we bought the kids wasn't actually going to fit in the backyard. And if we did manage to put a swing set in (which wouldn't fit with the trampoline, it would have to be one or the other) the kids would touch the house going forward and hit the fence on the swing back. This was just not going to do.

So three years on, considerable stress of building and moving house whilst pregnant with twins over, we are gradually realising our dreams of living on our little acreage. After initially just wanting to grow veggies, this move has turned out to be so much more, and has opened our eyes beyond what we thought was being good environmental citizens such as being a good recycler and trying to grow some herbs in pots, to attempting to grow all (OK well a large proportion of it anyway!) fruit and veggies, installing solar panels, living solely off tank water, reducing chemicals in our household, building and using a greenhouse, planting plants for a purpose rather than planting them 'just because' and being more frugal and more conscious of our purchases rather than just doing what we had always done...because that's just the way we did things! We are now even looking at keeping bees!

Hope you find our travels to 'somewhat' sustainability useful!

MM xo