Monday, 21 October 2013

Crab Apple Glory

 These are my Crab Apple 'Plena' trees that line our driveway. They only flower for one week in October each year and they look so pretty in the sunlight yesterday I just had to share. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Free Bees!

Free bees!...Freebies!.....(bad pun I know)

Hubby was very excited this week as he collected his first swarm of bees from a lady's backyard in Queanbeyan.

I can't recall if I have mentioned it previously, but we lost a hive over winter. They were not a strong hive to begin with and with little food around last season we had serious doubts they would make it through the winter. Becoming more consciously aware of potential 'bee food' last summer, I realised we have a serious lack of flowers and flowering shrubs in our garden, as well as most of our neighbours compared with urban environments. I have been trying to grow more flowers from seed in the greenhouse over winter to hopefully help them out a bit more this year. However everything appears to be in bloom early this year due to the mild winter we have had, and the canola fields not far from our house that were ravaged by beetles last season, are just coming into bloom. 

The girls are settling in well to their new home and have been very busy little...bees. We won't be collecting honey from them this year, but hopefully they can build up a strong colony before winter next year.

Our other hive is doing well and fingers crossed we may actually be able to get some honey from them shortly!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Spring time happenings on the block

Finally spring is here! After receiving over 50mls last week, everything is growing before my eyes in this balmy 25C weather :) 

Thought I would give a picture tour of the happenings in our food production area.

The veggie garden as of this morning. The red dirt piles are the posts for fencing off our veggie garden to the chooks and the fat resident bunny who keeps popping his head up from time to time.

Broad beans in flower

More broad beans and snow peas in the foreground (the broad bean felafels were a hit last year!)

Savoy cabbage which I am hoping will come to a head and not bolt.

Our newest addition - rhubarb

Plenty of seedlings, herbs and trees to plant out in the next month. I'm keeping the milk cartons to make cloches and maybe some wicking pots.

This morning's harvest - silverbeet, cauliflower and eggs

Carrots found hiding in the weed infested salad garden. They are now in my belly!

The strawberries are going ridiculous since the rain

Blueberries in flower with strawberry plant companions...and weeds

3-way pear in flower

Cherry tree just starting to come into bloom

Our mulberry tree - all baring late frosts we should get a decent crop this year! (You may need to squint hard to see the fruit but they are there)

The almond tree - with almonds already!

The peach tree with tiny peaches forming

and same with the apricots.

Happenings around Murrumbateman
Floriade is on again in Canberra and I have been helping out at the Urban Agriculture Australia stand enticing people to grow more edibles on their balconies, courtyards and backyards. If you are heading to Floriade, check out the display and also their website which has some very useful fact sheets 

Murrumbateman Field Days is gearing up again for 19/20 October. Check out their website for more details 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Getting back to some basics - breadmaking and laundry detergent

After helping out with some teaching at an Intro to Permaculture course on Saturday, it was hard not to get inspired and re-energised by being around like minded people. It was fantastic listening to everybody's ideas and personal takes on information and I came away with a renewed vigour to get 'my hands dirty' in some basic, from the roots, homesteading.
And what better homesteading past time is there than making bread.
Last weekend I attended a sourdough bread making workshop, and although I have dabbled in bread making, I have never made sourdough. The whole growing the starter-thingy scared me off a little, but for this past week, I have been keenly growing my starter and today, turned out my first loaf to proof overnight. Fingers crossed it actually turns out OK! The kids are very keen to taste test for me.

As it was cold outside, cloudy and threatening with rain I decided to make some raisin bread as well.

Here I am using the heat from the fire to get the loaves to rise. Where we live, the air is very dry and not ideal for making bread. The shower caps over the tins increase the humidity and helps the loaf to rise, as well as creating a 'steam oven' with a shallow tray with water in the bottom of the oven. After attending the course last weekend, I realised I had been over-proofing the bread, and hence why it had been sinking when I put it in the oven. Not today! Rose nicely in the oven.

I have also commenced making my own laundry detergent. With four little kids and one big kid in the house, I seem to be doing endless loads of washing. So given my choice to try and reduce our chemical intake further and also help out the hip pocket, I thought I would try it out. If it didn't work, well, not too much would be lost. This is the third batch I have made (each batch makes about 8-9 litres), and I am happy with it enough to continue using it and not go back to commercial laundry detergents. The ingredients are fairly simple - water, soap flakes, grated sard wonder soap, washing soda, lavender oil and a smidgen of blueo. I got the recipe from one of the girls from the Urban Homesteaders, Sally, and I think it works a treat. After I make it up and combine with a stick blender, I store it in reused juice plastic bottles.

The only thing I would have liked to have accomplished today was to get out into the garden and get some seeds planted. Tomorrow, I am going to leave the mess of the house behind and head outdoors. Definitely tomorrow.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Winter Cold

I'm cold. Freezingly-turning-into-an-ultra-frozen-icicle-cold. Brrrrr.
After having a lovely little holiday away in a 'sweltering' 26 deg  (I kid you not that is how the English press described it) in London, the Italian summer of around 34 deg and a melting 44 deg in Dubai, I get back to a high of 6 deg. 6!! I don't think it could even be classed as a 'high' as it hasn't reached double figures! I am finding it a little hard to warm up.
After seeing so many veggie patches in the estates on the outskirts of London and through the Italian Tuscan countryside, I was starting to get a little homesick for my own little patch.
Luckily, everything had been well cared for by good friends, and was going well.
Overall view of veggie gardens
Here we have broad beans, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, silverbeet, lettuce, leeks and carrots
Snow pea seedlings
Bit of a mess but I call this my 'reality' shot :) In the greenhouse we have chilies and eggplants potted up from last season, a peanut bush still hanging on, a sweet potato vine still hanging on, bok choi, silverbeet, assorted herbs, tagasastes and some salvia cuttings my mum gave me to hopefully plant out in spring.
And look at these cute little guys! I have managed to sprout 9 little Mary Washington Asparagus plants from seeds. Won't be ready to harvest for another couple of years yet, but so far so good. I seriously need to get in and repot them though.
An update on the retrofitting of the orchard. Not an overabundance to information to share here, but we have moved the oranges and feijoas (companion plant) nearer to the pond to hopefully displace a bit of the frost and deflect some heat onto the plants from the rocks and water during winter. You never know if you never try. I have planted some comfrey with them as I have read that the comfrey draws up minerals from the deep to make available to the orange's shallow roots. We have also planted a Cox's Orange Pippin apple and another apricot in the orchard.
The tagasaste are growing super-doper well and are on track to be planted out in spring in the orchard when it gets a little warmer.
I was speaking with a friend yesterday and we came to the realization that winter is almost over as the first day of spring is only about a month away! Can you believe it! I feel a little behind as I have yet o plant any seeds for the spring planting and I have a list a mile long for jobs to do in the garden before it becomes too hot.
I will hopefully have some more time on my hands as I am taking a break from studies this semester. This is for a couple of reasons, firstly, because I'm not sure what I'm studying is exactly what I want to be doing. Its not my passion and I have been finding myself 'cheating' on my studies by looking up much more exciting permaculture and food gardening topics when I should be studying instead. I have put my name down to assist with the Urban Agriculture Australia's stand at Floriade this year and hopefully will gain some really good contacts with the people around this region. I have given myself these six months to see if I want to go back to it. But I really don't want to.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Some slow progress

After submitting my first uni assignment this week, I am going to sneak some time to blog and update on our progress, however slow, since last time. Its funny, for the last couple of weeks I have been using housework as an excuse to procrastinate, and now, after handing my assignment in, find myself procrastinating from doing housework.....

First definite foggy autumn morning this morning although the fog didn't last very long. The leaves on some of the trees are starting to turn and I really should be getting my butt out into the veggie garden to prepare and plant the winter crops. Yet here I sit with a cuppa instead of doing.

In my last blog, I mentioned I had completed my PDC and am now venturing down the path of retrofitting our blog with permaculture principles, or at least trying to anyway.

In our PDC, when we were looking at designing our block on course, I found it helpful to outline what our aim for our block was and what we wanted to achieve. So this is what we came up with:

"To be as self-reliant as possible in fruit, veggies, herbs, wheat, honey, energy, materials and water"

With a focus on:
 - water and using water on site
 - increasing soil biology, and thus soil fertility
 - ensuring food availability for bees
 - cooling of house in summer
 - increase solar production and decrease energy use
 - alternative cooking sources
 - productive fruit and nut trees, veggies, herbs and vines
 - learn more skills

Now that I am retyping this, it does seem a little lofty for a two acre block, but if you don't aim high, you never know what you could achieve. Our 1m sq of wheat trial, although successful, would take an enormous amount of time to produce and we are unsure of whether we will do this again. But we have planned possible sites for it anyway.

So? Where to start? Well, permaculture can start right at your back doorstep and that is basically what we have done. The following pics are a snapshot of what food we are growing right outside our backdoor.

This was a new project - the salad green garden. I know. Its current state looks a little sad. We pulled out the lavenders and have planted with lettuce, carrots, shallots amongst other things. Most of the lettuce has now gone to seed but was very convenient for a salad for dinner.
This is our herb garden on the other side of the steps straight outside our backdoor. I have been attempting to plant many different species of herbs in here and the latest edition is the horseradish (far right next to side of pizza oven).
On the other side of our pizza oven is the strawberries and roses. I am going to plant some borage amongst them in the spring as well. I have also planted yet another passionfruit (I am not giving up!), so hopefully it will be kept warm in winter up against the retaining wall and the frost won't settle as much here due to the rocks and pool being close by. Also, if it does get hit by the frost (which happens when we get a severe one), the leaves should have time to defrost before the sunlight hits them. Fingers crossed....yet again.
A little further back down the other way from the salad greens is the lemon and lime. I have planted with some nasturtiums and I also have some companion herbs growing in the greenhouse to plant amongst the trees. They seem happy since their move.
We have also been planting quite a few trees around the place. Here is a pic of the ones we have planted down the front. Although these are ornamental and not fruit trees, I have planted them for a few reasons - privacy to block the main road, bee fodder in spring, leaf mulch and beautiful colours in autumn, shade and temperature control in summer, and hopefully improving the soil and breaking up the clay a little as their roots grow. We have planted a mix of manchurian pear, chinese elm, prunus nigra and liquid amber behind the existing crab apples.
Up the back of the block we have planted a couple of liquid amber. These have been used due to their fire resistent qualities (they are in between the house and the most likely direction of a possible bushfire), shade on the house from the hot afternoon summer sun, mulch for the garden and autumn colour.
And look what sprung up in our garden! An oak tree! So we have relocated up to the back of the block as well. Along with the liquid ambers and lipstick maple, it will hopefully make a fire resistent strip of trees across the back of the block.
I have also repotted some fruit trees that have sprung up in our veggie garden - I think they are a couple of peaches and an apple. If they survive, I hope to plant them out in the refitted orchard in spring (oh and that is water iris in the bucket which is destined for the bee pond which we have yet to complete).
Here are some Tagasaste that I have grown from seed. I have only had about a 50% strike rate, which is OK as the ones that have come up are more than enough to plant out in the refitted orchard in spring. Tagasaste are nitrogen fixers, are evergreen and are hopefully going to be useful in dispersing late spring frosts from around the fruit trees, excellent bee fodder in spring, and if my dream of ever owning some sheep becomes a reality, the tree can be 'chop and dropped' fodder for the animals.
This is an elderberry bush which is growing outside my garage. The berries and flowers are both useful in the kitchen. I have started growing some violets underneath which eventually will be a living mulch.
In terms of improving the soil, we have been mulching with lucerne hay to improve the quality of the soil. We have already used one bale and are still attempting to find the time to use this bale. Maybe now the weather is starting to get a bit cooler we will be able to get out and do it.
I have also managed to get some comfrey plants. Although they are currently here in a wine barrel, I will be moving them to another bed where we moved the compost from. The vine is a loofah vine (the one on the other side has much bigger loofahs). Comfrey leaves are very good in the garden and can be added to the compost or a liquid fertiliser can be made from them.
We moved the compost bin after analysis of nutrient flows in our block and realised where it was positioned at the back of the veggie garden, was downhill, and all nutrient leach was going into the neighbours! Also, the conifers our neighbours have planted, can inhibit the decomposition process of the compost so it was best just to move it. Although hubby wasn't too impressed!
In addition to planting, we have also been harvesting and preserving. We have had some lovely apples, plums and apricots this year off our trees. Although I haven't preserved as much as I would have liked, I have made strawberry jam, plum jam, caramelised onion and beetroot relish, pickled beetroot, zucchini pickles, tomato sauce and tomato passata, basil pesto as well as freezing a lot of garlic, zucchini, beans, corn, and raspberries. Its good when you can tempt the kids with homegrown stuff!
After going through all those pictures, we have actually been achieving a lot more than I thought! Hopefully next blog I will be able to update on the retrofit of our orchard.
(If you are interested in permaculture, a good website to check out is the

Friday, 8 February 2013

Where the heck is Murra Mumma?

I'm in the Yass Valley! I'm still here!

Wow nearly five months since I have last posted.

This, I guess, has been for a couple of reasons. I have been toying with the idea of closing down my blog as I just haven't had the time. We have had a lot going on over the last couple of months. I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), I started back at uni, my boys started preschool, Christmas/New Year and the whole silly season shebang, we renovated an old caravan, went on holidays, my youngest girl started kindy, school and preschool have resumed and now we are back to almost starting uni again.

But here I am...blogging again.

I have decided to continue, perhaps on a whim, based purely on the fact that I need to make time to do things for me - just me, and not the rest of the family - to hopefully preserve what small piece of sanity I still have. The occasional blog, along with a renewed vigour in Yoga, will hopefully do this. Well, one can hope.

So what have I been up to?

Since completing the PDC I have been doing a lot of Garden/House/Block/Life in General "soul" searching. The PDC made me think differently about the way things are 'supposed to be' in order for this place to work in a sustainable way in conjunction with nature and not against it, and the way in which we have done things completely not in line with these ideas! We have toyed with the idea of more land, to be as self sufficient as possible, to have a house that is orientated correctly, to be able to produce our own meat and grains, to be able to start from scratch again to do things 'correctly'. But realistically this is just not going to happen. Its not going to happen as it would be financially stupid for us to go into more debt, we can't actually manage the two acres we have and still have a 'life', and most importantly I am happy and content here regardless how stuffed up it is. There is a positive, calming vibe here, we are producing a yield and we are turning a once over grazed sheep station into a more productive and healthier piece of land. That can't be 'bad' can it?

So, with that established, we are going to attempt to retrofit our already established block along permaculture lines to improve the long term viability of this place. Will we be successful? I don't know. Can you really retrofit permaculture principles? Probably not really but we are going to give it a go anyway. Better late than never, right?