Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gingerbread Men

Has Christmas gone already? Thought I would show what I was busy doing on Christmas Eve - baking Gingerbread Men!

Baked fresh out of the oven, complete with dried currant buttons.

...and after being dressed in their royal icing clothes. They proved popular with the kids and didn't taste too bad either. They were my first attempt at the infamous Christmas treat and I'll be doing them again next year.

I also made coconut ice and mini meringues, which proved to be popular as well.

Our little girl even coined the mini meringues, "orangutans", because she was familiar with that word. So we now call them mini orangutans!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pumpkin vines

My butternut pumpkin vines are finally starting to overtake the overgrown weeds.

I was a little worried when the rains arrived and the weeds shot up out of nowhere. But testimony to the hardiness of the good old pumpkin vine, she's come a cropper.

And here is the first pumpkin I can see. Still green but hopefully not for long! I just planted four seedings in my regular garden to help keep the soil together. It's the only vegetable I've got planted in the ground. The rest of my growing attempts are limited to planted containers.

I love the good old pumpkin vine though. They are the true survivor of the veggie world. Give 'em an inch and they'll sprawl a mile!

Tyre retaining wall

We received another downpour yesterday, which overflowed the tank again. Only this time we had installed a temporary tyre retaining wall.

It was a freely available resource we could aquire at any tyre fitting business for nothing. Best of all it doesn't damage the tank being butted up so close. The size of tyre which seemed most popular was the 175's. Other sizes didn't seem to come up in multiple numbers beyond 2 or 4.

There's actually two tyres to every tier here, but you only see the one sticking out. It took us the best part of a day to ram them full of dirt so they wouldn't move. They did the job too!

The water which escapes from the inlet pipes once the tank is full, now diverts past the tyres instead of cutting a deeper channel beside the water tank. Our main concern was the stability of the base of the tank.

It's not going to be the permanent solution but it will certainly do for now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

First tomatoes

I'm so proud this morning when I picked ripe tomatoes straight off the bush and ate them. They were still warm from the sun, and boy did they ever taste good!

I planted quite a few tomato bushes but these are the only edible ones so far. Many got eaten out by pests before they made it to the table. But at least I can say I've tasted home grown tomatoes in the end!

I don't have a proper vegie patch yet so planted out an old wheelbarrow we don't use any more, and a few terracotta pots. I've had a few strawberries which tasted nice but were so scrawny. I also have some butternut pumpkins which have sprawled into the long grass, so I can't see if they're producing anything yet.

I hope they do, because home grown vegies taste awesome!

The house

It took about a year after signing our building contract, before we could finally move in. There were hair-pulling moments during construction and some problems which still exist - but it has more to do with how the land was cut and filled.

First of all, here is our house:

That's our neighbours' house and driveway in the background. They built on the south facing slope, while we built on the north so we get sun exposure all year round. It was part of the reason we have a wrap-around verandah, but also because it makes an ordinary rectangular box look heaps better.

To save on heating and cooling costs we had the brick walls insulated with poly-fibre batts, as well as extra foil underneath the roof. Most of the heat comes in via the windows now, which run along the whole north and south facing sides of the house. The solution we've found is to partially close the thermal lined blinds. That way we still get enough light but not all the heat with it.

We have solar hot-water panels on the roof and plan on more panels in future, to help offset our electricity usage on the grid.

Many of our projects in future will deal specifically with erosion though. My advice to anyone contemplating building on a slope, is only do a partial cut if any at all. We were naive when it came to sloping sites and went with our building contractors' options. Their options however were meant to cut-down on costs for them. Next time I would consult an earthworks professional before even considering what type of house to build.

Despite all the dramas however, we still got a home and a comfortable one at that. I can't ever go back to drinking town water though, after living off our rainwater now.

We have to be careful how our tanks are sited on the sloping block too. A word to the wise, if anyone suggests placing your water pump directly underneath your inlet pipes - tell them to take a hike!

Here's why:

One tremendous downpour and the pump and electrical outlet got washed out! You can still see the water pump in this shot, but once the viewing portal cap blew off from the pressure, our pump was pummelled with water. They installed two large inlet pipes for water to enter the tank, and only one smaller pipe for excess water to drain out of it. Doesn't take a genius to figure out why the water began escaping where it could.

We didn't think to question how the water pump was positioned. It's downright dangerous to have the electrical outlet directly underneath there too. Its just one more thing to fix that the builders got wrong.

We're torn between getting the builders to come back and fix it under warrantee or paying for our own water-tank specialists to fix their mistake when installing the next tank. We've lost confidence the builders will fix it properly. Beware the cheap construction company - they're able to offer a reduced price mainly by cutting corners.

It's been a big learning curve for us though and I'm sure there's still more to come!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The land

Our dream really started over two years ago, when a friend emailed a picture of land for sale in her area. This is the very same picture from the website:

It was the right size, the right price and located close to a rural city.

Had we waded through the high grass during our first inspection, we'd have noticed how steep the land really was and also the three gullies criss-crossing through the block. Still, the soil test was good and it was the right price for somewhere so close to the city we were living. In a way I'm glad we didn't scrutinise it more, or we may not have ventured to live the dream.

Fast forward two-years later and we're now residing on the block!

Overall, we intend keeping most of the block "natural" and developing about an acre for ourselves. The other four acres will go towards sustaining the wildlife who were already here.

We've seen so many frogs since the rains arrived - especially baby green tree frogs and a brownish one that burrows under the moist soil. Other residents include wallabies, native quails, lizards (including goannas) gorgeous red-breasted wrens, all manner of finches and even a hawk!

By far the insects are the most prevalent than anything else though. I've counted at least three varieties of ants so far and about four different kinds of hornets and/or wasps. Don't forget the cicadas, stick insects, grasshoppers, lady-beattles, spiders, aphids, bees and so much more!!

It's all part of the same eco system though and we're lucky to be able to see it up close.