Monday, November 6, 2017

Mantid in the morning sun, and a relaxing long weekend.

I've been struggling with life since Marty started working. Initially, I tried to do everything all at once to keep the house going, and of course, that trick never works for very long. I wore myself out fast. I've never been very good at pacing myself, and routine has always been a struggle. This last weekend was an extra long one, because Marty has been sick from work since Thursday and after a trip to the Doctor, he's been resting at home for 4 days straight. It's been awesome having him home! I feel like we both got a break, a proper rest and some quality sleep.
We ate breakfast in the morning sun, taking our time and relaxing. I found a little mantid that we've never seen before, and probably never will, unless it explores the pink shopping bag again!

Spot the mantid

This mantid!
It rained all night last night and is still raining this morning. It's the most wonderful gentle consistent rainfall we've had in a very very long time. My gauge says 30mm, but I honestly haven't checked it for months now. A combination of forgetfulness, having other things (far too many other things!) on my mind, and any rain we did get has been too light to be excited by.

As for me, I'll keep trying my best to get things done, and even though I get frustrated and angry with myself, constantly loosing focus, forgetting why I came into a room or what I was doing, I guess I have to keep in mind that everything I do get done is "better than it was", and as long as I keep plodding along, we'll get there eventually. It's a very long and winding road, in a thick fog, a severe lack of signage and my GPS seems to be wonky! Then again, it seems like I spend more time off-road in the rocky dirt and sticky mud, than on it.

Marty is feeling better and back at work this week and I miss him already.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The weird and the wonderful

Lace Monitor
Lace Monitor tracks
I don't even know what to say about this. All I could say at the time was "WOW!" I heard it walking around the cottage just as I was eating lunch. Needless to say, it was a cold lunch by the time I got back to it.

It was a beautiful lace monitor. Or goanna if you like. Of course, you can click on the pictures to make them larger. Around here, goannas have a yellow band on the tail, and it seemed to be searching for something good to eat. The Noisy Miners made sure everyone around knew exactly where it was, and our rooster alerted in a hushed tone. It didn't have any problems going under the electric chook fence, but luckily that fence doesn't have anything living in there (and the fence isn't "live" either). It didn't find the main flock with the day's eggs and two broodies with the single little chick they're mothering. Either that, or it wasn't worth the trouble.

The chimney has been pointed a bit, well, the biggest holes have been filled by a lime mortar mix. I think it was only a mud mix used previously, so I guess it's an upgrade. More mud has gone on the walls to help fill some of the holes left over from the concrete plaster falling off. The incidence of blowfly getting into the kitchen has dramatically reduced as a result. Well worth the effort. There's more to do, of course, but there's always more!

Mid October 2017

Fungus on the strawbale
with native bee and spider
After a fairly dry winter, there isn't a lot of green growth on the plants, but lots of flowers none the less. A lot of grass pollen, which is causing our hayfever, the purple flowers from the wild Salvation Jane, yellow from the Cats Ear and plenty of white flowers on the radish we grew.

Willy Wagtail egg splat!

Grapevine moth
(Phalaenoides glycinae)
An odd thing happened this morning. Two Willy Wagtail's were singing while sitting on the fairy lights under the veranda, when I heard the splat of a little egg hitting the step. There are no nests or anything above.. Nature is just weird sometimes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mega catch-up!

I haven't blogged since Marty started working in town full time. It's been a whole different routine, it takes me a while to adjust! (3 months?!)

 The frost has been a bit harsh this year. Plants that have otherwise survived many other years suffered this year. It was only a week between there being morning frosts and 30°C (86°F) weather with strong northerly winds. You have to be tough to survive that kind of thing.

I mustered up the courage to use the Kubota to dig out some more of the north of the house. It's a little scary doing things like that alone, out where no-one can hear you scream.. ok, it's not space or anything!

Using the front end loader on the tractor, I was digging down and managed to get the backhoe stuck on the higher ground and the back wheels of the tractor spinning in the air. That was a little scary! Lifting the backhoe worked, although the pins that held it in place were tight due to the force. Oops.

I was really relieved to put it away and be done with it all. Any more adjustments can be made with a shovel! The Kubota is pretty awesome and powerful, and I couldn't have done the job without it, especially with the peppercorn tree roots all over the place.

This year I'll be covering the soil with cardboard and straw to help protect the ground from storing the sun's heat. Eventually it'll be an enclosed glass house, but in the meantime it's keeping the water and soil from building up around the house.

We finally got around to making a cage like the one we had in Stawell. It's super handy for de-brooding chooks, and for caring for sick or injured ones too.

Poor old Little Roo was the first to spend time in there. I suspect she was egg bound, and this way we were able to easily administer caster oil and vitamins to her. She perked up for a while, but when it became clear that she wasn't able to pass the egg and she was getting worse again, we put her to sleep.

It's like I've heard, the favourites and named birds tend to live the shortest lives. Little Roo was a rare character, and she has place in our hearts and memories.

Then all of a sudden everything is blooming and bees are going crazy with all the flowers to choose from. The wattles and the almond trees are always first to bloom, and this year the chaenomeles went crazy too.

I have been reading the Square Foot Gardening method, and while I don't exactly have perfect square foot sections in the shadehouse, it still works, and I learned a lot from the book. I have onions at the far end, beetroot next, maybe some garlic down the left side (I found them in a seed tray which was over-run with weeds, the tag too faded to read), I have more beetroot under the fowlers jars which have just popped-up today, and some carrot seeds under the hessian which stays moist with a Wobble-Tee on a timer near-by, and the worms are loving it under there! There's just enough room to get my foot between the beds, but I can reach easily to the middle of the bed. Weeding has been easy so far, but I don't expect my luck to hold out! The running grasses are just waiting for warmer weather.

I've got 2 more beds to prepare like this, one for fruits and flowers like tomatoes and cucumber, the other for legumes like beans and maybe some peas too. They've been resting under straw since winter and should be pretty nice by now. The leafy bed has a couple of broccoli plants producing now, and a cabbage starting to get growing, and two silverbeet plants who were planted in slightly the wrong place for the system, and I would have removed them if they weren't so very tasty still. Next year I'll switch it up for crop rotation purposes. It's fairly small, but hopefully productive and manageable too.

I've been playing with irrigation in the shadehouse. I had trouble finding much information about irrigation with tank water and no pump. I already knew that Wobble-Tee was an option since I've used one before, but all my garden beds are long, not round! I decided to try a dripper hose and a low pressure garden timer. The dripper hose dribbled water in one spot, slowly dripped in a few others, and did nothing for most of the rest. In order to see if the problem was the garden timer, I plugged in a Wobble-Tee and turned it on. I tried this set-up in the kitchen garden a couple of years back with a normal mechanical timer. The Wobble-Tee didn't work at all, the timer had reduced the little pressure we get down to a dribble. No such issue this time, in fact, it worked amazing because of the slightly lower location to the kitchen garden! So, the timer is a winner, and so is the Wobble-Tee!

I've moved the drip line down to the huglebed to see if being lower again might help - but if not, I didn't spend too much money finding out at least. (It will probably be on the Permie "Giving table" soon, I imagine!) I have to run the plumbing down there next, which shouldn't be too hard, then I can test it out.

The garden tap has been replaced with a ball-valve tap to maximise the pressure and to make it easier to turn on and off. I love how it's a 1/4 turn to open and close it, especially if I've gotten distracted and the watering can is almost full. That happens more than I care to admit!

It has been a pretty dry winter here, and I fear for the summer. I have a huge list of things to do that should help keep us all a little cooler. It's my main priority now, apart from trying to keep everything going, and making life as easy as I can for Marty, who's working hard to pay for it all. :)

Shade house love

In loving appreciation for the shade house. 💚

It's more of a shade tunnel, running roughly east-west and very roughly on contour. Made with steel pipe, heavy duty electrical conduit, and the help of a few of our friends.

6m in length, with 6 hoops about 1.2m apart on each side. It's about 3.5m wide.

A star picket and a length of old wood hold up the middle of the arches on each end.

A hole is drilled into the wood for the 4 way connector to "plug" into. It's also expertly wired together (Thanks Alan!). The blue glue holds the hd conduit into the connector. We used 20mm conduit and connectors, which seem to be holding up, despite the southerly winds giving it a little lean to the north.


It took 2 separate pieces of shadecloth sewn together with fishing line to cover it. The ends are left open, although some bugs and bees get stuck on the west end, most seem to figure it out by the next morning (I think they follow the sun). A strategic hole could be made to help the critters out.

The 20mm conduit fits inside the steel bars - a hole is drilled through both and wire secures the lot.

The 50% shadecloth reduces evaporation, damaging winds and hail and softens heavy rainfall. It reduces the effects of frost (although this year was harsh and a light frost made it into the shadehouse on a couple of occasions).

If I could change anything, I'd make circular shade domes with a sprinkler in the centre. Drip lines and length-ways irrigation doesn't work well without pressure, and I find the Wobble-T to be the most effective watering system here because of that. However, the Wobble-T does work fine in this style of shadehouse (and this is easier to build and cover with shadecloth than domes would be) I just need a couple more of them!

Lastly, we've noticed that green leafy vegetables grown in the shadehouse are very delicious in comparison to the tougher leaves of the plants grown out in the extremes. I guess I also tend to spend more time watering (and weeding, feeding, talking to..) the plants in there, because it's a more comfortable environment for humans as well!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June Update

It seems like we play with the IXL No.4A every year. A beginning of winter tradition perhaps. This year, we decided to pull it out and fix the bottom properly.

Starting with taking the whole thing apart, piece by piece. A reminder for next year though: take photos of the fire and ash box cheeks - they're tricky to remember how to get back together again!

After a friend of ours welded together a small crack on the front we also welded on some flat steel to repair a silly mistake we made in year 1. Welding steel is easy enough, but we left welding cast iron to someone who knows what they're doing. :)

Then we replaced a bolt that we didn't bother putting in in year 1. Turns out it helps hold the bottom up and keeps the flu gasses from taking any shortcuts. I then used air set fire cement to seal up the joins.

Back together again (you need skinny long arms to get to everything, we both were bruised the next day!) after some frustration, lit her up, and used some stove polish to tidy her up. We achieved almost double the oven temperature! Last year it managed to get to 60°C (140°F) and this year we got it to 110°C (230°F) -ish. Ok, still not quite high enough for baked potatoes, but getting closer. We're thinking that she'll need another lot of air set fire cement EVERYWHERE. Every single place where sections meet. We're feeling pretty confident we can get her working, even having an oven rack made to size. Old wood stoves need lots of maintenance, lots of wood, and this one offers very little in return for the effort, I'm sorry to say! Although, it did give a gentle warmth to the kitchen after being on all day. I sadly admit to looking forward to someday replacing her with something more modern and efficient.

My family came for a visit recently which was nice! Mike left behind his metal detector for us to play with, and it's absolutely amazing just how much metal and junk is lying around this property! Sadly, I still havn't found Marty's lost wedding ring, but I have found bucketfuls of junk! Nails and bits of old barbed wire fence (and chicken wire too) - they're the worst. Melted metal (often under areas of no vegetation or where plants have died like in the photo above), tin can lids and window parts, railway ties and rusty metal of every size and shape. Not just in one location either, but strewn around the property everywhere.

I borrowed a book by Alanna Moore called Sensitive Permaculture from the library last year, and if she is right about fairies in the garden being sensitive to metal, then the fairies must be avoiding this place like the plague. Bummer, I need all the help in the garden I can get!

Speaking of the garden, things are pretty slow growing here. I would assume it's because of the winter, but the days have been surprisingly nice. The silverbeet that was attacked by red legged earth mites has recovered mostly and we're able to harvest some for the kitchen. I'm using chilli powder on the ground where I've put new seeds of spinach, carrot, peas etc. I know the mice love digging them up and eating them, and hopefully this powder will discourage that activity. The frost wiped out the potatoes (which goes to show that there wasn't enough time between summer and winter to get a crop of potatoes out, at least in that position), but I'm not giving up. We've got hedges started, more trees being planted, and more aromatic understory companion plants going in too.

So, we're plugging along slowly.  The way I see it, it's not a fail if we havn't given up. :)