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