Thursday, September 30, 2010

A new vegetable garden - in progress

When we first bought our place we started renovating the inside, then the exterior of the building, the front garden and now we are concentrating on our backyard. As we live on a sloping block it is a little tricky, but the previous owners had pretty much terraced the land and we now have three distinct levels to work with. We have decided to deal with each area bit by bit, which is what we have done with the whole house. An area is chosen, decisions are made and then we set about working on that project until it is done and then we move on. I find that this system works so well for us. It is a large property and if we had bits and pieces started all over the place it would all look like a big mess and feel even more endless. This way we get to enjoy the areas that we have done and look forward to approaching the next space.
I have mentioned that clever husband is working on a new project and I thought that I would give you a sneak peak!

This is the first terrace directly behind our house and has been one of my least favourite. It's been a bit of an eyesore for a long time and we have had trouble deciding what to do with it. Well, it does receive the most sun and I need a bigger vegetable garden, so the decision has been made to turn it into a series of raised vegetable beds.
Using some corrugated iron sheets that were scattered all over the property when we bought it and some recycled hardwood that Dave got from work (he works on building sites and is always bringing things home that were going in the skip) Dave is fashioning what I think are the most beautiful raised beds. So far all we have spent is the cost of some nails and it is going to cost a bit to fill all of them with compost and manure but considering the area that we are dealing with, overall it is a cheap project.

There are still two more beds to come but as Dave builds them I start to fill them. I am doing a no dig method which means that I am placing distinct layers within each bed that will give the vegetables good drainage and layers of goodness to spread their roots down to. I start with a thick layer of newspaper to suppress any weeds, then I add a good amount of branches and sticks which will help with drainage, then a thick layer of lucerne straw, a layer of manure and then finish it off with a good layer of compost. I am buying in all these items, except for the newspaper and sticks but the difference it makes in having good quality soil is incredible. I have already planted one box and the seeds germinated so fast and are growing really well. I don't have enough compost to initially fill the boxes but will have enough to top them up in the future. Once you harvest a crop you just add another layer and plant again. It is a little work now but later there won't be hardly any at all, there will be no weeding and I just have to keep planting which is the fun and easy bit!

Between each bed I am layering newspaper and cardboard to suppress the grass and weeds and then will layer mulch that we got free from the local council. I wouldn't put this mulch on the garden but it is perfect for pathways, I used it on Jonty's playground and it has done a good job and looks great. Basically the council chops down branches and trees, puts it through the chipper and uses it for council gardens or drops it on the side of the road for people to take. We will then have even pathways (important for little toddler feet) that will need no mowing (yay!) and it will look all neat and tidy (important for me!). I will show you the area again once we have finished.

The end of a good day's work, now time for a nap!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the garden

We have had a lot of rain lately and then add some sunshine like we have had over the last few weeks and you get plants that seem to grow inches overnight! I have started to harvest the heirloom radishes that I planted a little while ago and am loving the little surprise that you get from planting a bunch of seeds that are all different. When you pull them up you don't know what colour you are going to get! So pretty.

Everything seems to be going really well and in a month or so I think that we will definitely have enough veg to sustain us... can't wait to stop buying them from the supermarket!

The silverbeet above has been going strong for at least six months now. I continuously harvest it and as I have enough plants I am able to let them grow again to nice sized leaves before I have to pick from that plant again. It's such a great vegetable. I use it just like I would spinach but I find it easier to grow (I have had problems with spinach bolting) and it also goes further when you cook it. It has that great earthy flavour.

I have three varieties of garlic planted and I am hoping it will be enough to keep us going until I can grow it again next year and also enough for planting as seed. It seems quite happy. The brussel sprouts have also taken off after seeming like they would never do anything. We are really looking forward to watching them grow as they are like nothing else!

Above is a planter box full of potatoes. It's a great way to fill new raised beds as you add straw, compost, manure, etc on top of the plant as it grows. I have another plot of a few other varieties that are further along. I am going to have a go at storing them to see if we can get them to last the year. I have done some calculations as to how many we may need (I have done this with other vegetables as well) and am hoping I have got it right. But it's the first year of doing all this and I will learn for next time and make adjustments. I think that I will have to keep a really good log book.

Here is a new bed of lots of seeds that are growing beautifully. It's the first of the new raised beds that we planted out and as it is full of good compost and manure everything is growing better and faster than in other beds I have planted. I'm looking forward to getting seed into the other new raised beds with hopefully the same success!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our kitchen

Here of some before and afters of our kitchen. When we first bought our house it had been deserted for some time and the door didn't even close. Needless to say it was pretty disgusting! Even though the old deco kitchen cabinets had what looked like some potential, on closer inspection they were completely beyond salvation. So, as with the rest of the house it was completely gutted and new plaster including a new ceiling were put in.

Clever husband made and repaired all the window surrounds with the louver windows repaired.

We ripped up the many layers of floor to reveal the original pine floorboards which we patched and stained in a matt, no colour sealant. As we were on a tight budget we decided to go with an Ikea flatpack kitchen and benchtops, and the absolute beauty of that was an instant kitchen which Dave (clever husband) put together in a day. He cut the benchtop to fit but you can also get that professionally done if need be. To cut costs and also to avoid the look of a kitchen straight out of an Ikea showroom we incorporated some freestanding pieces to use as a pantry and more storage and we also decided to go for underneath cabinets with no upper cupboards. As it is a big space the storage the lower cabinets provide is ample.

The stainless steel splash back behind the oven is an off cut from a metal scrap yard that was cut to size then just glued and attached to the wall. Purpose built splash backs are ridiculously expensive but this little piece that we bought which is exactly the same cost less than a hundred dollars. Our appliances were all bought at auction for a fraction of the cost, for example our exhaust fan was $150 at auction but retails for about $65o, our oven was about $1000 and retails for about $4000. Auctions are great places to get good deals but you have to make quick decisions as to what you want and often they come with only short warranties. But they are being sold as their packaging has been ruined or they have a small scratch and there is nothing wrong with the actual product.

Everything else that you see are opp shop, market or roadside finds!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A people chicken

As Jonty and I were having breakfast in the kitchen this morning we heard a familiar "bop, bop" outside the window. We knew it was Priscilla (or Percy as Jonty calls her), our exceptional flying chicken who flies in and out of the chicken yard all day as she pleases. She never usually ventures as far as the kitchen but I had noticed her going further and further from her regular stomping ground lately. Jonty and I went out onto the balcony off the kitchen and there she was to say good morning to us! Jonty was pretty happy with this and I think she was rather pleased with herself as well.

As we moved throughout the house she was always there outside, looking in at us. I looked at her outside the bedroom window and she flew up onto the window sill and "bop, bopped" at me there!

I can just see her curled up with us in front of the fire next! She is definitely more into the company of people over other chickens!

My seeds have arrived!

One of the most exciting times throughout the year is when my seed catalogue from the Diggers Club arrives. I get so excited that I already have it opened as I walk back to the house and frantically flip through the pages to see what is new. For days I pour through the pages circling everything that I'm going to buy and then after I have sent through my order I wait impatiently for it to arrive. And then when it does arrive! I rip open that box and sift through all my seed packets...for days! Just ask my husband, I am constantly looking at them, planning where they are going to be planted and basically just being obsessed! This whole process (not to mention the planting, growing and harvesting) is one of my many joys. Seed raising is so much more satisfying to me than buying seedlings. Not to mention that is costs so little to get hundreds of plants and the variety of unusual and heirloom varieties is vast and never ending. This time around I bought lots of heirloom vegetables, some grain crops and a selection of beautiful old fashioned flowers and herbs that I have been wanting to grow like Queen Anne's Lace, Borage, Hyssop and German Camomile. We also got some great big sunflowers that I think Jonty will enjoy, along with the chickens when they get some of those seed heads!
What also makes me extra excited about this lot of seeds is that I have somewhere very exciting to grow them. Clever husband is in the middle of building me an area of raised vegetable beds in an area of our yard that is ugly and unused and also very sunny! I have already planted out one bed and, as I am using the no dig method and laying down loads of compost and manure, the seeds are powering along!
I will wait until we have finished this new area until I show you but it's going to be great!

Dinner at our place

This is a regular dinner at our place. As Dave gets home from work at about 5pm every day we are able to enjoy having dinner together. Even though it may not always be a relaxing time at the end of the day while Jonty is still little as we have to work at getting him to eat and then getting him to stay at the table long enough to qualify for a reasonable "dinner" amount of time, it is still us having a meal together as a family. This is important to me. It seems that in our world of long working hours and busy schedules families don't get to sit down together much anymore. Well, I want Jonty to grow up with this being a normal activity in our house. Where food is respected and enjoyed, where we talk about our day and where we are are just together.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let the preserving begin!

My Vacola rubber rings and clips arrived and I was eager to start! I already had the pear recipe ready that I had found on the internet and the fruit that I had bought previously. The recipe was for Belgian Pears went something like this...

2kg pears
500gms sugar
150ml white wine vinegar

Peel pears leaving stalks on. Melt sugar and vinegar together. Add pears and simmer for 3 hours with lid on. Remove lid and simmer for another 3 hours. Put into jars and sterilise.

I did four times this recipe and as I didn't have any white wine vinegar I used a mixture of vinegars that I had to make up the amount needed.. it ended up being a concoction of red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar and regular white vinegar! The red wine vinegar gave it a lovely rosy colour and it all tasted yummy. It all went to plan except I added a little water at the beginning to make sure my pears had enough liquid in the pot to stop them from catching on the bottom, after that they produced their own sweet liquid to keep them covered during the long cooking process. I thought that after six hours of cooking they would have lost their shape and gone sloppy but they held well and were easy to scoop into the jars looking all pear shaped inside! I am yet to try them but I love looking at them sitting together on my shelves!

I also made about 7 jars of tomato chutney. I read a few recipes, got the idea, and then made up a batch with what I had. All chutneys use the same principles of tomato, fruit (I used up the last of the pears), vinegar, sugar and spices. I was really happy with how this turned out and we are already plowing through our first jar!
I was really surprised as to how far the ingredients went. I always thought that to make it worth while you would need 5-10 kgs of fruit or vegetable to be able to bottle a reasonable amount. But I got loads of chutney from about 4kgs of tomatoes, enough to last probably half the year (if I don't give it all away!). I realise now that it is definitely possible to grow enough fruit and veg to sustain us at the time and also ample to preserve and make lots of products from. Now I just need to watch my tomato seedlings grow so that I can make a batch of green tomato chutney next!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mr Two Year Old

I've had a difficult week with Jonty. I guess this is the terrible twos that they tell me about! From the day that he turned two he started messing with his routine that he had been keeping for quite a while now. It was a routine that I could rely on. No matter how hard the day was I knew that he would go to sleep at 2pm and have at least two hours and then Dave would soon be home to help me keep him happy, occupied and do the bath, dinner, etc. But now, from day to day I don't know what is going to happen, not to mention that he has occasionally been waking over night!
The last few days have seen him settle down a bit and get back to some sort of regular sleeping but he has been throwing tantrums and just being generally unhappy.

I know through talking to other parents that when the sleeping routine goes out the window we all struggle. That routine is what you cling to some days. You know when you will get a chance to have a quiet cup of tea and get some chores done, or in my case it is when I can work. Take that sleep away and you feel stressed, overwhelmed and lost.

I have learnt something through all of this, and previous hard times however. I know that with Jonty there will be difficult times. Sometimes he will be cranky for no reason or will wake during the night...just because. Sometimes I just can't control any of this. So, I have found that the best way is to stay as calm as possible and ride it out. If I let it get to me, or get angry with him that only makes things way worse... not just for Jonty but for me too. I have decided that just because Jonty is having a bad day it doesn't mean that I have to as well.
I'm not saying that I can do this every time but when I can manage to the day doesn't seem as bad and Jonty is much more likely to get over it faster. Also you tend to focus more on staying calm rather than on how bad things are and this helps as well. I still discipline him but I don't yell.
I know this wouldn't work for everyone but for me if I raise my voice it makes me more upset and through all of this I am trying to save myself as much stress as possible... and Jonty!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Step by step to sustainability

On our road to living a life that it as sustainable as possible I have realised that we are following a general pattern. As we aim to produce as much as possible ourselves we use a step by step principle to get us there. Sometimes we are able to go straight to making or producing the end product ourselves but most of the time that is too big a step and so we take baby steps to reaching that final goal. For example, when it comes to learning how to make our own cheese and other dairy products I started with ricotta, the easiest cheese to make at home. Then I moved on to making mozzeralla and now I have just started making our own yoghurt. I do all of this with store bought milk that I buy in bulk from our local Aldi store. Soon, I hope to try and find a local dairy where I can buy the milk direct from the farmer and then, maybe in the future we will get a milking goat to supply all of our own milk which I can then use to make more complex cheeses. Store bought milk is only suitable to make cheeses such as ricotta, cream cheese, etc but can't be used for cheddar, camembert, and other cheeses due to it being highly pasteurised. So, I have gone from buying from the grocery store milk, ricotta, cream cheese, yogurt, cheddar and mozzerella to now just purchasing milk and cheddar.
I have noticed that when I grocery shop the assortment of products has been slowly decreasing as I replace them with homemade products using just raw, basic ingredients. I think at this week's shop I had about ten items. (Multiple amounts of each)
Our step by step approach is happening in lots of areas. At first I used to buy vegetable seedlings to grow, now I only ever buy seeds and am beginning to harvest and save seed from the plants that I grow. In the future I will only have to purchase a small amount of seed or maybe swap varieties with someone else.

Our vegetable garden is still new and always being expanded so at the moment we are only producing enough to eat on a day to day basis and supplementing that with some store bought produce. But we are constantly planting so I think in a few months we won't have to buy any vegetables and I will have enough to start processing and storing. For example, I buy a lot of tinned tomatoes, but this year I am hoping to grow enough tomatoes to bottle my own tomato sauce. I figure I will need about forty litres to get through the year and then I can cross another thing off my shopping list!
We have planted some olive trees and a lemon and lime but soon we will plant a mini espalier orchard that in the future will produce all of our fruit. It will take a few years to produce the amount we need but in the mean time I hope to grow lots of berries. I will keep purchasing fruit in bulk when it is in season and cheap at Aldi and will process and bottle that until we can grow our own.
This step by step process is necessary for us as we are starting from scratch and learning along the way. If we decided to do everything at once straight away then it would be too over whelming and we would inevitably fail. We move forward towards our goals as we feel comfortable and as we learn each step properly and carefully.

Spring is here!

Finally there have been a few days that remind me Spring is here! It has been so wet lately that Jonty and I have hardly been outside in the yard much at all. But, the last two days the sun has been out and we have spent hours working in the garden and wandering around. As I had hoped, Jonty now seems old enough to play outside without needing me by his side all the time. After all, he just turned two on Saturday! Today he let me quietly garden away while he played in the dirt and watched all the various bugs, slugs and snails that he found. I'm hoping that we will be able to do a whole lot of this in the upcoming months and if so then I have a chance of keeping the garden under control, the vege garden producing and the new landscaping areas progressing!

I have recently been researching preserving jars. I had planned on doing a large purchase of some jars that will last me forever but was holding off a bit as it was going to be expensive. And then, as I was walking out of an opp shop the other day I saw a big container of Fowlers Vacola jars! But wait, there's more...the old man working there informed me of another two big boxes of them out the back! "Yes please" I said and home they came with me! I got about 80 jars for about a sixth of the price of new jars and even better, they are recycled. So, I have already ordered new clips and rubber seals which are on the way and I am excited about getting started.

Today at Aldi I bought about 10kgs of pears that were super cheap and have them waiting to be preserved. I found a nice sounding recipe on the internet which I'll try out. I can't wait to start lining up my jars full of delicious preserves.

This is Jonty helping me in the garden today. He enjoys doing the mulching with the straw!

One of our little chickens, Priscilla, is a particularly good flyer and manages to fly out of the coop so she spends most of the day going in and out of the chook yard and free ranging nearby. She is so friendly and loves being around us. I often find her clucking at the lounge room window looking in at us! She is also close by whenever we are outside and Jonty has taken a shine to her and thinks she is very pretty. I think they are going to become very good friends!