Saturday, January 27, 2018

Blank slate

When I wrote this post recently, about our predicament with access to permanent water supply - I could almost hear the crickets in the background, afterwards. Not from my readers, but within my own head. I'd accounted for a pretty big, system failure. Which meant, the way we did things around here, was about to change.

Having a realisation though, and formulating a response to it, doesn't necessarily happen at the same time. Hence, the cacophony of crickets. It took several days, pondering the blank slate before me, in order to pick a direction.

Two things happened, during this period of reflection though. Firstly, I started a new online art course, which I poured myself into. You can read about it, at Make-do-Studio. Secondly; was having my mind in Permaculture Solutions mode. Because I had a property with a problem, of not being able to grow food - so how was I intending to use it, in the future?

Native Spotted Gum

This land was successfully used for logging, in the past. It grows 40 metre hardwood, eucalyptus trees, in a very short period of time, on natural rainfall. We have needed to control the saplings, before they turned into those towering monsters. But several have gotten away on us, and are now too close to the house.

So we cannot grow food on natural rainfall, but we can grow weedy, hardwood trees, that NEED to be controlled. Ideas started to cross pollinate, between the two things I was pouring myself into: the property, and my new found desire to create things.

 A beautiful rainbow, fell over our trees, on Christmas 2017

I started to wonder, could they be merged? Could our land be used, to create things, other than food - to trade with those, who CAN grow food? This is what I am pondering at the moment. I have a few ideas kicking around, which have silenced the crickets for now.

Anything I do, has to be manageable mostly, by me though. As that was another system failure, I recognised, in close succession to the water issue. Maybe another post, for another day though? But I have to be able to run a household, a property, raise a family AND (dare I say it) look after myself, while developing a new business I can run from home?

The property was on my mind, so I used it, to create a picture
Titled: "You-eclipsed-us"

In closing, I need to comment on my word for the year. Sacrifice. It has let itself be known, quite often, during these precedings of reflection. I've had to give-up growing food (for the immediate future) and sift through the ashes of what's left. As unpleasant as the notion of sacrifice may be - it's conclusion, creates room for new things to flourish.

So that's how I plan to move forward - exploring new opportunities, which pays homage to our land for what it is, not what it isn't. If I seem a little different than normal, at all, on this blog - it's because I'm sorting through the changes I need to make. For things to continue to prosper, however that turns out. Thanks in advance, for bearing with me.

Are you having to do anything different, than normal, in your daily life? Or have you had to give up something, you weren't anticipating?

Friday, January 26, 2018

You know the day!

If you're Australian, you know today is Australia Day. While some may enjoy the beach, have a barbecue, or indulge a few drinks - nothing feels more patriotic, than baking!

I'm not talking about your Lamingtons, Pavalovas, or even your favourite shrimp on the barbecue, garlic sauce recipe. I don't even want to see your grandma's favourite pumpkin scones! While ALL equally delicious, they're just not as patriotic as Bonza Biscuits.

If you don't have an Australia shaped, cookie cutter, yet, please accept my commiserations. Because you simply cannot bake these Bonza Biscuits, without them. It just wouldn't be patriotic. But feel free to bake them however you want, on any day, but this!

I've adapted a favourite recipe that seems to be kicking around the homemakers forums, a lot: Condensed Milk Biscuits. Only I've spiced them up, to taste more like Honey Jumbles!

Every Bonza Biscuit, must come with The Great Australian Bight...Bite! So you have to eat from the bottom of the biscuit, up. It's mandatory. Keep your teeth AWAY from the Top End. Okay. We're not invading the country, we're eating it! 

So maybe it's a little weird, consuming your own continent and all, on this great day of celebration. But dammit, Australia Day, is all about weird! It's in the constitution. Somewhere underneath the hopping rodent, and flightless bird.

Let me translate for my readers, abroad. The two animals on our National Coat of Arms, are a Kangaroo and Emu. They kind of like to stand around, guarding the six State badges, to keep them in line. Kangaroos are natural boxers, and Emus inherited their talons from velocoraptors. You seriously, don't want to mess with them. Seriously! I'm not pulling your leg.

Back to the Bonza Biscuits...

500g butter
1 can condensed milk (390-400g)
1 cup white sugar
4 1/4 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup custard powder
2 tabs Horlicks or Vanilla Sustagen (powdered milk, otherwise)
1 tab ground ginger
1 tab ground cinnamon
finely grated zest of 2 small-med, oranges.

1. Cream, first 3 ingredients together
2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, until dough is formed
3. Cut dough in half, wrap one and put in the freezer, for another day
4. With remaining dough, roll to 6mm thickness, and cut out shapes
5. Space on 3 trays, and bake 10 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius
6. Rotate and alternate trays, half way. Cool on wire racks


1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 egg white
squeeze lemon juice
4 drops blue, food colouring

1. Place ingredients in bowl. Stir until slightly runny, and smooth
2. Add more liquid if too stiff
3. Dip biscuits in icing, or apply with a knife - depends how soft they are
4. Make a separate batch of white icing - reduce to 1 cup icing sugar
5. Place in piping bag: pipe around edges, Union jack and Southern Cross

It makes a lot of biscuits! If you're going to be having a lot of guests, you just might want to bake up the whole batch of dough. Otherwise, take it out of the freezer, for another days baking - and thaw before use.

So how are you celebrating Australia Day, that makes you feel patriotic? Or how do you celebrate your own national day? What I like about being Australian, is how we all talk funny. Even between our own States.

Queensland: "drink fountain". New South Wales: "bubbler". Now you know why the Kangaroo and Emu, are employed.

Disclaimer: Kangaroos are marsupials, not rodents. But the emu is still flightless. If they weren't, they'd sure give those drop-bears a run for their money!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

REAL land life - water

I'm hoping to develop a new series to write about. The way life is "really" like, on the land. I show a lot of my successes, with a fringe of the failures. This is not an intended deception, rather I needed many years experience, under my belt, to determine what actually constitutes an unmitigated failure.

Unmitigated failure means, they're failures which seem to be set in stone, no matter how I address them. The approach changes, but the repeat of the failure doesn't. The information I share, is therefore applicable to my location and climatic factors. It may not necessarily apply to yours. So don't feel like anything I talk about, MUST be set in stone for anyone else, who owns land. Remember to keep it real, where you are.

First big admission: we don't grow our own food. Second (relating) admission: the land and climate, is not compatible with growing food. BAM! There it is. I've not wanted to believe this was true of our land. I thought if I just kept trying new things (permaculture, hugelkultur, wicking beds, shade cloth, buy another rainwater tank, etc) then the pendulum would eventually swing in our favour.

 Fig tree fruited when rain came in spring, but withered in summer
~we won't be able to eat these

But let's get real: the laws of physics "real". We live in an area that receives no prevailing winds from the coast, so any radiant heat, builds - making evaporation high. Plants get stressed. When we do receive rain (in very high amounts) the humidity arrives, along with the pests. Because it's clay soil too, the heat dries it out quickly, once the sun returns. And it always returns. This cycle happens every summer, and even showed last winter, when we had summer temps in the middle of it.

The opportune moment for growing food, successfully, is getting more unpredictable. Even when we DO manage to get something to crop, it's often attacked by pests, bacteria or simply falls off the plant/tree, because it's struggling with the prevailing conditions.

 What leaves are left on the fig tree, are being devoured by grasshoppers

The unmitigated failure, is the prevailing conditions, not being compatible for growing a reliable food supply. Maybe bush tucker? Maybe kangaroo and brush-turkey meat? But not fruits and vegetables. It would not be suitable for pigs even. Small livestock, such as chickens, only.

I know the missing link, that would make ALL the difference. Access to permanent water. We have 11,000 gallons of tank water, as our ONLY supply to our house. No permanent water stores, such as a creek, dam, or bore (well, for the US readers) otherwise. Which ensures every protracted dry spell, the first thing to suffer to conserve water, is the food we grow.

 Small bowl of chat potatoes, almost killed by water logging

We might get a hand-full of tomatoes, a couple of potatoes, or some silverbeet, before the dry (or even wet) starts killing off everything. But it has not been enough to sustain on. We still purchase 97-100% of our own food. Depending which season it is. We seem to get all our water at once, or no water at all.

If we were pioneers (or even indigenous) we'd have walked away from this land already. It's not yielding the kind of reliable food stores, to keep people alive. Reliable, is the key word. Therefore, it's the industrial network, still feeding our family almost, all the time. We try and source our fruit and veg, from local growers, but even that is unpredictable. With five acres, who wants to admit they're still buying up to 100% of their food, off site? It's not for the want of trying.

I thought the overall problem was my lack of understanding, how things grow. But I have succeeded, every time the prevailing conditions, allow. Very small windows exist, where the natural elements favour the foods we attempt to grow. And we've deliberately selected hardy varieties. For the most part, we lack enough natural rainfall, and prevailing winds to keep temperatures down.

 Even the watered ginger, under shade-cloth, suffered in the heat.

We CAN grow food more reliably here, we just need about $20,000 to dig a bore. That would give our family some greater food security. I'm hoping it might be on the cards one day. Until then, we have to rethink our growing endeavours. Food for another post!

So my advice to anyone seeking land to grow food on, is to ensure you have access to a *permanent* water supply. No matter how pretty that land looks, or how cheap the price tag - you won't get very far, without water. It will become an unmitigated failure, which stops anything from growing on your land too. You might be fortunate enough to live in an area, with favourable conditions. Which is great. But how long before the prevailing conditions change? Still make access to a permanent water supply, a priority, if you intend to grow most of your food. It's intended for a lifetime, remember.

I wish it were different, or another way around it. But that's REAL land life, for you. Make permanent water your priority, and you'll see food from the garden.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


I have entered the new year, a bit sluggish. Because there was so much to do around Christmas, it was nice to finally be able to sit back and relax. But there's a danger, of staying this way for too long. When do you know it's time to tap yourself on the shoulder, for a bit of honest feedback?

  • Things aren't being done. The regular things, not just the big things. They're not even being thought about during the day.

  • Excuses appear to avoid action, which aren't based in the present. Maybe relevant around Christmas - but now?

  • Avoiding important events on the calendar, in advance - leaving them to the last minute, instead.

  • You're starting to loose track of time in general.

When does rest become counter-productive to enhancing life? It's simple. Avoiding things, without good reason to. Rest gives us a wonderful break from carrying responsibilities, nonstop. A healthy pause. Beneficial to mind, body and soul. However, when there isn't good reason to continue - like the illness has passed, or the holiday period is over, but you're still languishing. Well, maybe it's time for some honest reflection?

If you cannot find a good reason to continue the pause, get proactive in your life and responsibilities again. It sounds extremely simple, I know. But you won't believe how I need to tap myself on the shoulder, sometimes. The events on the calendar are being recognised, early. Regular jobs are being adopted again, and even enjoyed! It's a slow start, but a necessary one.

Do you struggle with the transition between rest and work? What is your approach, to reboot again?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

What's next?

The gauntlet of Christmas festivities, has been diligently run, and ready or not, here comes 2018. There are big changes ahead for us. Not only is our youngest, going to be starting Prep (school) next year, but David just started a new career too.

He received the news, as we were heavily in the midsts of Christmas preparations. Then on the day he signed contracts, we suddenly learned Christmas day, was off the table. He was rostered to work instead.

 Making flat land, for temporary gazebo

Timing...where were you? Because gazebo's had already been purchased, retaining walls, built - relatives planned to drive over an hour, to eat lunch in the new outdoors, entertaining area. Were we supposed to consider, canceling Christmas? Fortunately, David wasn't expected to work Christmas eve, so that became our new Christmas day. Close enough.

There is more to share about his new position, and even about Christmas, but I'll save those for future posts. This one is about the anticipation of a new year, and how we're planning to spend it.

 December 25, closed with a spectacular double rainbow

Rather than make new year's resolutions though, I'm choosing to adopt a word for the year, instead. "Sacrifice", is going to be my word. Because a bunch of things conspired at the end of 2017, to make me focus on it. I'm not planning to make specific sacrifices, nor any challenges for myself. It's simply a contrast, to the reward-based psychology, prevalent in our culture.

I want to practice more identification with "sacrifice", as a possible, positive influence in my life. It seems to be a word associated exclusively with martyrs, or even a form of punishment through self-deprivation. Basically it seems like a foreign concept, assigned to either greatness or unworthiness. My natural curiosity, wants to explore all the layers in between, to see it's full potential. 

What will this examination process, lead to? I don't know. But I look forward to contemplating the perception of sacrifice, in 2018. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Festive times

Unequivocally, it's beginning to look a lot know ~

It's up!

The Christmas tree finds it's way into the living room, in early December. The decorations come out, and we all seem to get a little more giddy. Not entirely because presents are anticipated, but because it's a family tradition.

We're another year older, but this time of the year, never seems to age. Whoever makes up your family, whether you celebrate, big or small, it's simply a reminder to take the time to DO things together.

Even if it's just to send a package off in the mail, or call someone to remind them, you're thinking about what they're up to. Technology can allow us those special luxuries. Whatever you do, however you do it - be sure to do it, together.

Don't cry, I know it's Christmas

Normally, Christmas decorations are the jurisdiction of my family. They always were the ones to jump in, get it done and have fun while doing it. But for some reason, this year, I found myself indulging in Christmas decorating too.

The families are coming to visit this year, and it felt downright hospitable, to get involved in the decorating. So I did. And for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Find meaning in anything you do

In our preparations for family, we somehow turned the house, inside out too - removing things, we're not really sure WHY we stored in the first place. The living areas have looked like a cyclone hit, for the past month or so. Still, it was good to clean out the cobwebs, and appreciate what was truly valuable to us.

In that collection of "things", we found our colourful metal owl, someone had discarded many moons ago. Which may have to do with the fact, it's head had been detached from it's body. We always meant to get around to fixing it, but poor headless owl, languished in the cupboard, as all our unfinished projects, tend to do!

A bit of super epoxy glue later, and owl is ready to see Christmas for the first time.

A new (to us) star

We purchased a couple of new Christmas decorations this year, and David found a woven star, from the local thrift store. Plus, he got it for half price! It's one of my favourites now. I wanted something less glittery, and more organic. It keeps repaired owl, company, on top of the fridge.

This year, David and I, have come to appreciate, not only how we want to spend Christmas; but also, how we wish to spend the rest of our days. The owl and star, have come to represent those aspirations - or how to acquire what needs re-purposing, and become involved in adding value them. Not for the intentions of hoarding, but to replace some of the frantic shopping, that seems to accompany this time of year. ANY time of year, really, if you find a reason to.

We wanted this Christmas to be a humble affair, but nonetheless, found ourselves, spending countless hours at a shopping centre (Mall) and buying coffees, plus hideous cakes (preservatives anyone) to escape the crowds. It was in stark contrasts, to the lucky find in the thrift store, and simply adding glue to something we already had.

 A decoration, given by a family member

After the shopping centre fiasco, we couldn't wait to get back home, to the house we took the time to decorate together. It was so peaceful, and undemanding, in comparison. Plus, the coffee didn't taste burnt! David has a "Super dad" mug, tucked away in the cupboard, and I pull out my lone Willow teacup (minus the set). Both were thrift store finds, as well. They serve us hot beverages, with more pizazz than any franchise ground, coffee bean.

No offense to anyone who actually likes franchise coffee - sometimes it can taste sensational! But ask me what I prefer, and I look forward to my lone Willow cup, waiting for me in the cupboard or dish rack. Because I actually get to participate in making the coffee, and the memorable stories behind what I drink it in.

Home. Christmas. Family. Community. Just participate and make it more of what you enjoy. We'll be entertaining this idea, more deeply over the holidays. Anyway... all

Is there a Christmas/Holiday tradition you look forward to, or would like to change? I have a few up my sleeve, which I look forward to implementing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shady places

Continuing the theme of accumulative work, there's a relatively new project we've been working on lately. It does involve a retaining wall, but not building one! Thankfully. It's the retaining wall, below our hugelkultur beds.

During the warmer months, those blocks, heat up something terrible. Hardly anything grows in the beds. While the avocado tree sprouted near the wall, is helping reduce SOME radiant heat from reaching the blocks - it's certainly not enough to cover the span of wall, during the day.

Avocado (left) shade sail (above)

So we installed some treated timber posts, and a single, 3.4 x 3.4 metre, shade sail. During sumer, when the sun is high, it will shade approximately 3 metres of wall. But it will always creep in, on the east and west side, as the sun rises and sets.

To mitigate this, we're building screens on half the sides. You can see the lattice, installed recently. It was a gift originally, and I was tired of storing, instead of using. While it's not entirely big enough, I intend to add some mesh above it, with a pot underneath, to grow climbers over. That should provide better shade cover. I will do something similar on the west-facing side.

While it looks kinda junky right now, everything in the image above, has a purpose. The styrafoam boxes under the lattice, are shading a couple of pots I have potatoes and jerusalem artichokes, growing in. The plastic pot, on the styrafoam box, has a rock in it, to stop the box from blowing away. The white buckets in the middle, catches the rain which drops from the shade cloth. I then ferry that water, to the hugelkultur beds.

Best pepinos I've ever grown, over the retaining wall ~
now receives morning shade from the sail

The goal here is to create more micro-climate, for growing plants. Mostly edible ones. Also, to use the man-made infrastructure, as a means of capturing energy where I need it (ie: water harvesting) or deflect energy where I don't - radiant heat.

It's another work in progress, as funds and time become available. I intend to use more recycled materials to complete this shady area. In the meantime, we make do with boxes, buckets and other bits and pieces we can find. It's kind of ugly, but progressing us towards meeting our goal of more food production. Which is kind of great!