Monday, March 21, 2016

Autumn means

It's autumn, so the temperatures are dropping and its time to get propagating again. Doing this in autumn means, I'll have cuttings ready for planting in spring. The reduced evaporation, also means the chances of cuttings, successfully striking, are greatly improved.

Rosemary - centre

It's been a few years since I've done rosemary, but I've decided to try and get some more in the ground, for bee food. Its a favourite for them it seems. Plus its extremely hardy in our climate. An excellent hedge and windbreak too.

Various cuttings

I've also taken some more pineapple sage, as with their fragrant red flowers, it's another bee favourite. I've also taken some lavender, daisies and pepino cuttings too. I want to plant the pepino in my hugelkultur bed, along with some bananas we propagated earlier.

Propagating larger plants

These four dwarf Ducasse bananas, have gotten much bigger, since we cut them from the parent plant. We also have another three banana trees, out of shot. So there's plenty of propagation material to find places for in the garden. A pumpkin has also sprouted from the compost I had in the wheelbarrow too!

But now for something new I'm trying this year...

Mulberry cuttings

I'm attempting to strike mulberry trees, in water with a dash of Seasol for nutrients. I initially read about it here. Scroll down the bottom, for the water technique. It's very simple.

After several days sitting in the water, I'm happy to report...

Click to enlarge

There appears to be roots forming, albeit, tiny ones. I have to change the water every week, to ensure there's a fresh supply of oxygen and mould doesn't start developing on the stems. I hope these will transplant well into potting mix after the roots get a little longer, and stronger.

I only managed to strike one mulberry cutting in soil, last year, out of a whole bunch. So I'm hoping this new technique, will be more successful. I love mulberries trees. They grow so quick in our hostile environment, feed themselves every year with a leaf drop, and simply make it cooler, wherever they are planted.

So here's hoping I get some success from this year's propagation attempts.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some inspriation

I was looking through some youtube videos recently, for some inspiration. Then I thought, why keep them all to myself? If I found them interesting, you might too.

In relation to our hugelkultur beds, I discovered an interesting take on a hugel/wicking container, being done in Alabama. I just may experiment with this myself.

In relation to simple living in a suburban backdrop, I discovered a renoun couple doing it their way in California. It just goes to show, you don't have to have a large property, to be more self-reliant.

I'm not so much of a fan of their tall palm plantations, down the street though. But I guess its part of the LA character now, so it won't be changed any time soon. I'd much rather see their streets planted with food forests.

It's still a suburban settlement, with a lot of green happening though. I found the comment interesting, that families have been keeping livestock and growing food, throughout time. It's only been since the 2nd world war, we have forgotten. Or we were encouraged to be good consumers, more than being self-reliant.

On that note, here's something from Sepp Holzer which speaks in more direct terms.

There's an interesting mix of thoughts to be had from all three videos. The first two, make the change doable. But Sepp really tells us why its essential, at the end.

I hope you enjoy them, as much as I did.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Busy as a beaver

We are experimenting with some hugelkultur beds. The details are for another post however, as we're only mid construction at this point. But as we've been collecting material for our hugelkultur beds, it got me looking at ALL the material we have laying around.

There's quite a lot in fact! With bush for a backyard, we are self-sufficient in woody material. But for our recent hugel beds, I used it as an opportunity to clear the areas around the house, first.

Laying near the verandah

These are black wattle saplings, David removed from a location we were clearing. He brought them down to the house, where I had the chipper at the time; dispensing prunings. I used some of what he brought down, but didn't get to it all. So it sat here, in a pile, for about a year.

Perfect aged material for a hugel bed. Plus, clearing combustible materials from around the house, is a sensible bushfire mitigation, strategy too. These had been on my mind all summer. Now they have a valuable purpose, amending soils and moisture, in a hugelkultur bed - away from the house.

Offloaded from our trailer and left insitu

Then there was the odd log, David collected from what others had dumped by the side of the road. We weren't sure what we were going to use it for, at the time, but we don't like to turn down a free resource when its available.  We knew we would find a purpose for it eventually

It has aged a lot, while waiting around for us to make up our minds though...


...which became apparent, after turning it over. Rotting and extremely brittle underneath, a piece broke off as I tried to lift it. Perfect, spongy material for a hugel bed. Though, I wasn't going to use it for that purpose.

I had another problem I needed to deal with, and this rotting log was going to help.

helichrysum petiolare, or licorice plant

I planted ground covers above our new retaining wall, but summer was particularly brutal. This is a licorice plant (a native of South Africa) and even it struggled with the lack of rain. Mulching to reduce evaporation, didn't seem to help either. It needed water, to avoid suffering the same fate as other plants which didn't make it.

So my solution was to place the rotting log, near the base of the plant. Any rain that hits it, will drain down to the base, keeping the roots of the plant, cooler and moist. You wouldn't do this to a licorice plant in a wetter climate, unless you have perfectly draining soil, as they're susceptible to root rot. But I'm hoping this plant will eventually cascade over our wall, to help reduce the heat it collects in the warmer months.

With rain predicted over the next few days though, the log should retain some extra moisture, as it settles in to its new location. But the forecast, also meant another job was in order.

Rainwater tanks

It was time to fill the rainwater tank, near Hilltop. I haven't got a gutter up yet, to collect rain from the chicken coop roof, so I run the house hose up, when rain is predicted. More room in our house tank that way, and we're storing a valuable resource, for later.

The two tanks near the chicken coop, help our plants get through the dry spell between spring and summer. It's not a lot of water, so it still has to be rationed during dry times, but collecting water when we have a surplus, is important for this reason.

Making the hugelkultur beds and seeing all the moisture under the ageing wood we have around, assures me, we can store a lot more water in the soil as well. So long as we have enough organic matter. Rain is often sporadic and the sun exposure during summer is extreme. So our soils always struggle to grow anything. But that's where we plan to utilise our abundance of rotting wood, to our advantage.

Being observed

While I was in the yard, moving materials around, I found a sensible old chook, taking refuge in the shade. She's nesting between two broken lawn mowers, we are keeping for parts. There's also a stand above her, creating the shade. It's a favoured spot, and she's perfectly camouflaged with all that black. I saw her with her baby brush turkey friend again, earlier this morning too.

I, on the other hand, continued to wrestle with branches and logs during the sunny morning. Finding patches of shade along the way, under mulberry trees, eucalyptus and acacias. I was noticing how cool it was under the mulberry in particular, as it has a swale on the upper side of it, absorbing sporadic rain.

 Under the mulberry ~
a favoured spot for 'this' old chook!

This tree also gets fed once a year, when it sheds its leaves in late autumn. We don't cart the leaves away to the compost, as the tree needs it, to grow fruit in spring. So the soil is rich underneath, and responds quickly to any moisture. The rest of the exposed yard however, even with the canopy of native trees, seems unquenchable in its thirst for moisture. We need more of these trees, which I'm currently attempting to propagate.

The more I work in the yard though, the more I realise as a species, we are perfectly engineered to benefit nature. We can collect wood, and position it to take maximum advantage of the rain. It's especially important as rainfall becomes less reliable too. We're kind of like beavers in this way. Australia doesn't have an equivalent native animal, that does the same kind of work with wood. So maybe us humans, will have to do.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Nature adopts

I am so in awe of nature sometimes. When you think its all about you, and how to transform the natural elements in your own space - nature suddenly adopts you, and starts showing what's, what.

We had a disturbance in Hilltop chicken coop a few months ago. One of our old dames (former Matriarch) was found with a lot of damage to her comb and wattles, with feathers plucked from her backside. She's of Australorp descent, and just like her father, she's used to standing tall. It's not pride, its a trait I have noticed from all the Australorps I have raised.

Anyway, standing tall makes you fair game in the hen-house *wink* if you're being ousted from top billing. Which is why she sustained so much damage. If she could cower, she would, and then the rest of the hens would be happy to leave her alone. So it became a management issue, I had to deal with, while David was away at Army Camp.

I wasn't going to kill her, but decided instead, to let her take her chances out in nature. It would also show those bossy hens, old Matriach, was still in MY favour. She loved it and looked forward to being released from confinement every morning. I put her in again at night, because we get foxes.

Frolicking in the grass

So it was to my surprise, when I discovered a little friend with her. A shadow. But its not another chicken. It's a baby brush turkey. This is her, defending them. I had to sneak around the back of the coop with the camera, as the baby brush turkey usually runs at the sight of me. To my surprise, it met me half way. But old Matriarch heard me, and came bolting around the corner, wattle flushed red, and posturing to confront me.

Then she realised it WAS me, and they both went about their business, doing whatever they do, during the day. I snapped away, remaining as still as possible. This was the only decent picture of them both, I could get.

Baby brush turkey, or BBT

Having eaten some of the feed I had put out earlier for my hen, baby brush turkey returned to the bush. I have been noticing this little fella, for a few weeks now. I thought it was a snake at first, because I would hear this rustling in the grass. Followed by little shrills, which told me it wasn't a snake. One day, I saw it hanging around with our hen though, and this morning, I even saw it hiding under the passionfruit vine, waiting for me to drop the feed.

So it has adopted us, for the time being. We've seen its parent, drinking from our top pond when it was full, but it disappeared before this little guy showed up. That's because baby brush turkeys have to fend for themselves, once they hatch. Read more about it (and brush turkeys) here.

So I turned an old hen, out into nature, to survive, and nature turned a baby turkey into her world. While she isn't raising it, neither does it depend on her, they do seem to like each other's company. This is (in permaculture speak) nature adopting the fringes of our endeavours, and valuing the marginals. Old domestic hen, meets, baby brush turkey.

Their relationship has actually helped me, too, because meat ants were starting to become attracted to the feed I was leaving out. Old dame, thought she would leave it for later. But then BBT saw an opportunity to exploit. Suddenly her food became more attractive to her, if it meant someone else would gobble it up. I still only put the same amount of food out, but now I don't have to worry about meat ants, outside the coop. Because they polish it off, between them.

I view brush turkeys in our environment, as a good thing. As they help aerate vegetation, which can become compacted. This in turn, improves conditions for plants to grow. We need all the help we can get, managing our degraded soils. So they are most welcome.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Carrot crackers

Both my kids love cheese and vegemite, on crackers. But it gets to be boring, after a while. So when I grated half a carrot for David's wrap, to take to work, I then sliced the rest into discs.

A few of the batch I made for morning tea

After a smear of peanut butter, and a few sultanas later, they make a great finger food snack, for kids. They're fibrous, sweet and savoury, all at the same time! Peter and I shared them together. He enjoyed them a lot.

The best part being, it takes chewing effort to finish, so by the time the plate is clean, bellies have had a chance to fill.

You could easily exchange peanut butter for cream cheese, with sultanas too.

So much nicer than boring biscuits.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Boot camp

This post is hard to write, because it records a part of the new year, which wasn't very pleasant. Between January and February, David left for five weeks.

He joined the Army Reserves, and needed to undergo his recruitment training. Which is why my blog posts were few and far between. I was extremely busy with all the work, and when afforded the time to rest, I took it! Everything was fine until, the three week mark. And then...

Blurry image taken with my phone

Peter managed to get stuck between the bars of his new bed. Don't ask me how he did it, because Sarah and I couldn't find the way to get him back out again. After 30 minutes problem solving, gentle persuasion and grunting, attempting to pull the bars apart - I finally relented and called the Fire Brigade. And yes, I did take the photo AFTER calling for help.

Not long after arriving, two strong Firemen, grabbed a bar each and pulled. He was out in no time. From that point onwards though, I no longer felt bulletproof. As if to prove this fact, something else happened...


In the forth week, Peter developed the measles, or chicken pox - or whichever he didn't get the last time!  His face swelled, and his incessant scratching ensured the infection spread to his arms, chest and legs. Thank goodness for Calamine lotion, and Antihistamine medication.

He recovered by the time Dad returned home, and we were reunited as a family again. So what does five weeks away from home, recruitment training, do to you? With permission to share, here is David the day before he left:

 Before camp

I've never considered David to be overweight, but apparently he was just a little over his BMI (Body Mass Index) at his last physical.

This is a photo of him, a few days, after he returned from training...

 After camp

I noticed the first time I hugged him, there was practically nothing to hold. It made me quite nervous, as I thought, where has the rest of my husband gone?

His boss actually didn't recognise him, when he turned up to collect the keys, before his first shift back. Everyone has noticed how much weight he's lost. Though I don't recommend boot camp for anyone to lose weight, as its quite a gruelling ordeal. Or so I hear.

While its fair to say, none of us enjoyed the time apart, he did achieve his goal, of the rank of Private. And is now an official member of the Army Reserves.

Full kit for Parade, every week

Why go to all this trouble at age 42? Good question! Because its something which has been on his mind to try, for a while. He also gets paid, with the benefit of being, tax free, income. Though its not a lot of money, for the few hours he does per week. We aren't going to be retiring, any time soon!

So if you think I've been quiet of late, not recording much of our happenings, this is why. We hope to resume normal operations, after a few more weeks, recovery.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

War and peace

The beginning of this year has taken some remarkable turns, but more on that in another post. This one is about, the way our life often looks. Tackling one thing, often stumbles into a warren of rabbit tunnels.

It started when I wanted to wash the sheer curtain, hanging above our back door. It was about 5mm too long, and it was collecting dust on the bottom hem. So I took it down yesterday, and dutifully washed it.

Tissue grenade

Only to find, when I got it out of the washing machine, a little house elf (aka: Peter) must have placed a tissue in the machine while I wasn't looking. Because the last wash came out, tissue free, and the only thing I put in the machine since, was the curtain. So I had a lovely new mess to clean in the washing basket and table. Not to mention what tissue debris, was collected on the floor

I decided to put a clothes wash in the machine, next, only to discover...

Tissue shrapnel

...more of the former tissue, was to be captured by all the clothes. I expected as such, but it meant another job was created, by now having to rid the clothes of the tissue, once they dried.

I forgot about the curtain as it was drying too, and turned to the rest of the work in the house. There was the regular dishes and kitchen to clean, along with...

Hangover, from the tea party

...negotiating around tea parties, which had been set up by Dad, before he left for work. I didn't want to break anything, left lying on the floor because you know how crazy tea parties can get. Even Dora the Explorer, was laying flat on her back, from all that tea drinking and imaginary cake.

The shoe disaster

Next to the tea party though, I had to negotiate around the river of shoes, which were threatening to break their banks. I believe Peter had decided to try some interior design work, although there's no excuse for this...

The never ending story

We just have way too many shoes. So that was another job I decided to tackle, trying to avoid the mess of the tea party. I simply had to rearrange shoes and ear-mark which ones could go. I cleared a path, one way, but my little house elf, really commits to interior decoration, every chance he can get...

A work in progress

He was trying out some reading books, for floor tiles. I'm partial to the Dr Seuss. He also got some coloured crayon samples out, on his table and under it as well. Being non toxic, he tries to eat them too. Speaking of crayons though...

I can see clearly, NOW

I found some crayons, scribbled on the glass doors when I cleaned them. They were cleverly concealed by the curtain. Remember that curtain? I had to clean the mould which had developed on the glass, before hanging the curtain again anyway. But the crayon took extra elbow grease!

As I was scrubbing away, our eldest asked me to appraise some pictures she had drawn. It helped my back, to stand up straight anyway. She was practising her animation illustration, and has developed really expressive faces. I was sure to praise her skills.

After a few minutes though, it was back to window duty!

Ready for sewing

Later that afternoon, I got my sewing machine set up on the dinning table, to shorten those curtains, another 5mm. Those delightfully simple curtains, I only intended to wash that day.


It was too dark inside to take photos, once I actually got those curtains hung again. So I waited until the next day (today) to snap some shots. Nothing like having clean windows, and fresh white curtains, again!

Modifications, approved

Taking the curtains up, really made a difference. They weren't hitting the floor by much, previously, but enough to catch dust anyway Now I don't have to worry about that, when the wind blows the curtain.

I wasn't in a huge rush yesterday, so I dutifully took pictures as I went along. I wanted to document, what is so often the norm for this season in life. It's walking across minefield's of creative mess, and still having to live with some...

Chalk dust hand prints

...because  you cannot possibly, get to ALL of it, in one day. So the mess is probably staring back at you, everyday, along with new messes that arrive. Rather than get upset, my house doesn't look a certain way and STAY that way, I view it as an opportunity to improve what we have. Whether that's viewing the mess differently (the renegade tea party) or finding reasons to get rid of excess stuff - its all about making do, in this season of life.

Maybe it's too serious a thought, after chalk dust hand-prints, but I had an epiphany when I woke up yesterday. "When we seek truth, we're looking for acceptance."

So I accept, chalk dust hand-prints and Dr Seuss floor tiles, even as I get involved, trying to keep our things tidy. Surely, its a gift to have these days anyway. Tissue grenades, in the washing machine, and all!