Monday, March 20, 2017

The long tail end of summer

Snake skin in the dry grass
The weather has been over 30°C (86°F) every day with very warm nights. It's been tiring, but there's a little moisture in the air this morning. We're hoping for rain this week. It's got to be our turn! I hear there's been flooding in the more coastal areas of the state. Here, the tank is about 1/3 full, and filling watering cans is a slow process. We're not using our water for baths or laundry, just drinking, cooking, dishes and the garden. If the water level in the tank gets much lower, we'll have to stop watering the garden too.

Marty and I have been spending a lot of time planning lately. The longer we plan, the better the ideas become. I think we're ready to put one of the shed plans into action though, which is very exciting! It's also a bit nerve-wracking since we're quite willing to second-guess ourselves multiple times.

I've been reading (and reading aloud to Marty) "The Intelligent Gardener" by Steve Solomon, borrowed from the library. It prompted me to dig out the soil test we had done on the property just before we purchased it way back in 2012. I didn't really understand the soil test when we had it done. Thanks to this book, I am starting to get the picture. I've still got a lot of homework to do, but it looks like our soils are quite deficient in multiple ways, and it would explain some of the difficulty we're experiencing growing food.

In the meantime, summer drags on, everything is holding it's breath in anticipation of (or perhaps just in hope for) rain.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The 2017 almond harvest

8 almonds

We have about a dozen almond trees here, of various ages between 1 year and almost dead from old age. They bloom beautifully every spring, and provide some much needed shade in the summer, so I'm not complaining. :)

We are hoping to improve the health of the soil by adding rock dust as soon as I can find some, and keeping the area mulched, but the water comes from the sky, and that is always variable.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The heat of the Summer

It's difficult to write a post and not mention the hellish weather we have been experiencing the last couple of days. We reached a new record under the varandah area yesterday, hitting a very uncomfortable 46°C (115°F). The house temperature rose to 34°C (93°F) and didn't drop more than 2°C degrees overnight. Grumpiness is only to be expected on these mornings!
Sadly, one of our older Dorking chickens didn't survive the hot weather even the day before.
Our brave broody hen, Toupee the naked-neck, hatched out one baby chick nearly 2 weeks ago (happened to be another 40°+ day with horrible northerly winds), so it's already a tough little chick who is accustomed to hot weather. He or she is keeping cool with no neck feathers (from Mum) and running around on 5 toes (from the Dorking Dad).

Having a bee in our bonnets again about rodents living in our walls (it's a theme continued over from living in the old miner's cottage in Stawell), we pulled down the false walls in the alcove area. The framework needs to remain in place for a little while yet.

Yes, we cleaned up nest sites and all manner of mess. There was a little render left on the walls, and the plinth over the doors are concrete painted white. The walls look in very good condition and we'll protect them with render again real soon.

Marty and I braved a clearing sale or two, brought home this neat meat-safe. It's in need of repair, but we're thinking it'd make a good fruit drying safe. Just need to figure out the best way to put racks in there..

And my favourite part, first thing in the morning, just as the sun is rising, I water the shade house. It's beautiful and green in there, probably THE best spot on the whole property. It attracts plenty of insects, to be sure, but in turn, the Willy Wagtails and more recently, the Grey Shrike Thrush have figured out that the buffet is free. We've seen frogs on the shadecloth and in saucers of water in the evenings, and the strong north winds are effectively blocked by the house and water tank. It's the ideal spot. I took a chance and planted beans directly in the soil on the south side of a row of straw bales and now we're getting a yield! The same beans planted in the kitchen garden have long since gone. Infact, the kitchen garden gets almost as much attention as the shade house does (although, I do raise seedlings in here, so they get attention twice a day), yet the kitchen garden is struggling to survive, let alone produce much food. There are plans for "Shade House Ver. 2" in the near future.. definitely before next summer!

In the meantime, we're keeping the humidity up with a wet towel in front of the fan. It's 34°C inside still, so I can't say we're keeping cool, but it's a lot more comfortable than being outside! It's easy to forget some simple measures to keep cool, so here's a link to an ABC article as a reminder!

Stay alive. :)

Monday, January 16, 2017

The toolshed

We put up the toolshed a while ago now, and it's been keeping various garden tools dry and out of the way (out from under the varandah) for a year now. I always intended to use cob to fill in the front wall, since tin is ugly (there is SO much corrigated iron around!!) and the wood used to construct it was bits of various sizes and shapes that we happened to have lying around. Since there are no straight edges, cob is a great choice.

Then I saw in a borrowed Ownder Builder (no.181) the back page has a great article about installing a bird nest into their cob garage as it was being built. This inspired me! See, we have a great problem, lots of native blue banded bees call our cottage wall home, and this year they managed to burrow right through and into the kitchen. We've plugged the hole temporarly, but I would love to build them more mud walls. I don't feel right about repairing the kitchen wall until they have somewhere else to call home first.

So, we're poking blue banded-sized holes into the cob to start them off. I also would like to add some bamboo on end for some of the small mud wasps (they fill every little hole with mud), and of course the bigger mud wasps are always welcome to add their nests to the walls as well. They're enjoying making a muddy mess of the bathroom mirror right now. Yep, mud wasp central here. Luckily for us they all seem friendly enough.

I've also inserted a few old Fowlers jars for a little extra light when looking for the shovel. I don't know that they'll make a difference, but they're fun anyway. It's going to take a while to finish, it's not as fast as putting up a few bits of tin, but it'll be a whole lot nicer to look at, and hopefully create some habitat as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 2017

We enjoyed the longer than usual Spring, but the cold and frosts held back a lot of early plant growth. The beneficial bug blend I planted in some newly created garden beds was awesome. It was an old packet of mixed seed, so I threw it around in hopes something would happen. Well, yes, we got radish, radish and more radish! They are great flowers and the bugs went wild! So did Willy Wagtail, the plucky little bird that eats mostly flying bugs. There were also some absolutely wonderful fennel plants too, which went to flower nice and fast, and the seeds have a flavour that is fantastic. I've saved the seeds of both plants and will be spreading it around.

Bill the Chough eating slugs near the radish
Bugs gone wild

4 Willy chicks stuffed into the nest somehow
Willy Wagtail is currently sitting on the third lot of hatchings for the year. They successfully fledged 3 chicks in Spring, 4 after that, and they're sitting on 4 eggs as I type. They're nesting in the lemon tree, so we can watch all the drama as it unfolds.We planted a lot of tomato this year, protected by bird netting simply to keep the Choughs from digging through and removing the mulch. Haven't seen them around much lately though, since it's warmed up. Perhaps they've found alternative food (sick of slugs?) or maybe Willy is keeping them away.

The garlic has been amazing for something so easy to grow. We've both learned a lot about garlic flowers, baubles and seeds, and eating fresh elephant garlic is completely different to the shop bought stuff with no flavour.

The shadecloth was put up over the arches again this year, as the grapes have not yet covered them. The two purchased ones are growing nicely, the "early" one was subject to an early attack of caterpillars, so it suffered the loss of almost all it's leaves, but has since made a full recovery. There was a surprise grape growing on the other side of the trellis, which we have trained up onto the arch. (We have the pleasure of living with a random assortment of old grapes that came with the property) They flowered and the grapes are turning purple now!

The kitchen garden

Little Kubota digging out the north
I admit, I jump around with projects, so here goes another one.. We cleared the north side of the house of some of the concrete and junk, and are digging to bring the land below the level of the house foundations. One day, this will be the green and bath house. :)

 I think I mentioned way back in winter that the enclosed deck on the west of the house is sinking into the ground. There wasn't much we could do about it while it was so wet, so it's another project on the go right now.

Jacking it up
Concrete blocks for support
The remains of the old water tank were put into an old trailer and carted away so we could access that corner. The stumps (piers) were well rotted and doing nothing to hold up the room. We used car jacks and raised it up slowly over a few weeks. It had obviously sunk over a very long period of time, and far further than we realised! The construction leaves a lot to be desired, there's only 3 sets of stumps, only 1 good bit of wood for the bearers, and the other three are pieced together from smaller bits. We may have to pull it down and start over, but for now we've used concrete blocks to hold it up. It's a work in progress, as is everything!

Another project on the go is filling the front of the tool shed with cob. It's something fun to do first thing in the morning and it can be left to dry all day while we hide in the relative cool of the house. I'll be sure to post a picture of that soon, as the ones I have aren't really useful yet.

Now that I have a better idea about how to upload pictures again in Blogger, I'll be sure to update slightly more frequently. I think I'm getting old. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

October 2016

As the rain clouds head south, so we start making a little more progress.

The tables for the shadehouse are complete and full of plants now. Marty and I are getting a little better at welding - less burning holes through the metal! We got to try our cheap metal saw (chop saw) with this project. I got it for about $25 at a clearing sale, probably because it was covered in bird poo and needed a new blade. Thankfully blades were cheaper than the saw, and it cleaned up almost like new, so we got quite lucky with that.

With the dam full, Marty set sail.. well, set paddle.. to find out just how deep our dam goes. We blew up the little boat and tied something heavy to some builders twine. Dropping it down to the bottom, we got 5 metres deep (16.4 foot). Oh well, we're just happy that it doesn't seem to dry up completely over summer.

It's been beautiful weather, and the hayfever is pretty powerful. The bugs are loving the long grass and flowers everywhere (the flies are back with a vengeance), and the birds are making little birds anywhere they can. We've been fixing up the Kubota, changing oils and filters, etc, ready to try her out for the first time making a flat spot for the water tank next to "the structure". We're hoping that it's an easy project for tractor and for beginner operators like ourselves. There are lots of projects after that, but we'll see how she goes. Someone seems to have removed the part that makes the Kubota a 4WD, so we'll soon find out..

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wet day timetable

Every time I think about sharing pictures and words about the dam being full, it rains again and the dam is higher! It really feels like we have the last dam in the southern states to fill up all the way to the brim, and perhaps, over. All around us, dams have been full for a month, overflowing onto roads, and it's only now that we can say yes, our dam is full too. It is a conversation topic here. :)

So, we have water views from the kitchen window.

The earth is completely saturated, any depression is a puddle, the cottage is moving and the walls are cracking. We watch and wait for dry weather before we can fix anything.

The raised garden beds are fantastic, though, and the silverbeet is delicious. I'm quietly thrilled, because I had a goal to grow at least some of our greens this year, and it's happening! We have our own spring onion and eggs too, which together, makes a great omelette.

Marty had the idea to increase the size of the shadehouse, and reconfigure the inside in preparation for summer. During a sunny break in the weather, we extended it out and began working on tables for the seedlings. I was using the wool table, but it wasn't economical with space, so we got some offcuts of 25mm RHS and tried the metal cut off saw, before welding it together to create the tables. Well, nearly, because of, you guessed it, more rain. :)

So, perhaps we'll get some tractor maintenance done, if we can. The little Kubota will be getting a workout once it dries up enough. I'm very much looking forward to it. I've never used a front end loader or a backhoe before!

We have big plans, and more motivation than ever before. We've seriously considered moving, working in town, all kinds of options, but what we want can't simply be moved to. We have to create it. We want to create it.