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. :)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The long last month of autumn

Nearly the end of May already, wow! We've been enjoying the cool weather and mostly sunny days, spending time outside gardening. We have used two trailer loads of manure and compost around the gardens already and going for the third pretty soon. It's a funny word, gardens.. conjures up images of English manor houses.. But I realised when we were getting ready for our Permie Day that we have quite a few areas around the house that I could call a garden, so that's multiple gardens!

Our friends from the Permaculture Riverina group came over last weekend and helped us out by planting an enormous amount of plants, which helped empty out the shadehouse for a start. The photo above is part of the kitchen garden. They helped dig it down and added a bunch of compost and manure to it. They planted seedlings of broccoli, kale, silverbeet, lettuce, and beetroot. There is also a basil plant that hasn't yet quit, and the only marigold I've managed to grow so far.

The photo above is what we called the Pole Garden, only because a pole is all that is left of the old shed that once stood there. Well, that, and a bunch of rubbish still buried in the dirt below. I had a vague idea of what I wanted this area to look like, but it really came alive once the Permie group got their shovels into it! Marty and I worked out which plants we wanted there, but the detailed design was made up on the day, and it turned out better than I could have hoped. Now we have something to work with, we'll be planting more in this area. Actually, we did today!

This is how it looks today from a different angle. The yucca's came from a guy named Clayton that we met at the tip. He had yucca plants with roots and everything, and we were happy to take a few from his green waste. :) There are some crazy suculant plants that Tracy from the Permie group gave us with their long stems are draped over the log. It's an odd spot - we didn't want another shed put there because it'd block a nice view, and the rubbish and old foundations make it difficult to grow anything too demanding there. The plants that grow there are going to have to be tough, but attractive enough to look out onto.

We moved the chooks from their summer home under the apricot and fig trees, and took the opportunity to feed and mulch the apricot tree. We may add something to the figs, but since the chooks spent most every day hiding under them from the hot sun, I imagine they're fertilised enough. Their leaves have fallen and mulched themselves, so there's not much more to do than a little pruning.

The red-legged earth mite loves autumn, and it also loves silverbeet. We learned the hard way over the last two seasons, and this season we're getting them early with a home made white oil and chilli mixture. The photo above is of the hugle bed, only 2 years old. There are lots of mushrooms that pop up, there are 6 asparagus remaining, a few volunteer fig trees, perhaps one apple tree left (I'll know for sure in spring). I planted a lot of garlic in the bed this year, and there's the brassicas in the photo. The Permies planted a lot of food too, and it's weed free and ready for the winter.

Lastly, we've been doing the usual maintenance that goes with living in an old house. The photo above is a little crack that turned into a hole about the size of a fist when I poked at it. I made up a cob mix right away and filled it up. It's dry and ready for plaster any time now. I've also been fixing a hole in the bedroom that we didn't see until the mice started coming through. It was hiding behind a cupboard, so that was a mess for a few days as the mud and plaster dried.

We're expecting cooling weather and some more rain this week, so I think our lovely long autumn is coming to an end. The wood fire is going during the night right now, but it might not be long before it's burning in the daytime too.

Until next time!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Perfect weather

It's absolutely beautiful! Every day is 23°-25° (73°F-77°F). We had a little rain, and everything is fast becoming green. It's a lovely time to be working outside, so we have been gardening. The hugelkultur bed got a good compost and manure layer as well as some lime. The asparagus that survived (all 5 of them) are sending up new shoots now. Completely the wrong time of year, but they're making hay while the sun is shining I suppose. Two out of four apple trees are alive, which is amazing, and the figs that popped-up on their own are thriving. It's going to be an interesting spot in a few more years.

Huglekulture bed with a loquat in the foreground
Amish Rockmelon, uhh.. cantaloupe?
I got some seeds because I thought Marty might like them, so I tried them out this year in the shadehouse. Planted between the beans, they've been easy to grow, not overly thirsty either. The first ripe fruit was left on the vine too long because the seed packet said to wait until the stem was brown before picking. We waited, the fruit turned yellow-ish, smelled amazing, but still the stem was green. Just when I couldn't take it anymore, it was too late!
The second one was picked today, it smells ready..

Home grown Amish rockmelon on the left,
honeydew melon from the health food shop on the right

Inside the Amish rockmelon
It tasted ready too, probably the best melon I've had, however I'm not a melon fan.. but..
Marty loved it! That makes me very happy! I've saved the seeds for next year, I'll definitely grow it again.

The beans weren't as much a success, I grew snake beans this year. They grew fine for a time, producing a handful of beans, then the older leaves became mottled with yellow, the younger leaves became small and deformed, and the beans themselves became small and deformed too. Guessing it's a nutrient deficiency, I looked into our soil test results from a few years ago. Turns out we're lacking a few things, but Molybdenum is missing in action. It's kinda important for beans and all legumes in general. I've since applied a trace mineral product to the beans, but I think they're past due now. Still, it's good to know for the future so we can work on adding Mo, and the other nutrients needed, to the soil.

Summer was very hot, but thankfully short. I'm wondering what this means for winter.

In the meantime, we're enjoying the perfect weather, and wishing everyone a good week.