Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cracking the front wall

What a few weeks we've had lately! Actually, try nearly a whole year to get the front retaining wall half done. It's taken us that long to get to this point. We had the 5 pallets of bricks delivered last December (2008) thanks to the Rudd stimulus package money, and a small tax return we'd put aside since July.

Here are the bricks out the front...and there they waited for 6 months while we got the earthworks done by hand. Once the middle of summer hit us we slowed progress on the wall dramatically - but then we also had chicken coops to build as well. At least that could be done under shelter.

But back to the wall! This is the big beautiful beast in all it's eroded glory! Looks a bit like Ayres Rock, don't you think? Not quite as big - but certainly big enough! We had always wanted to deal with this wall since we moved in, but money, resources and time had to be juggled. The first priority was building the garden shed to hold all our tools, so we could get to big projects like these. If you don't look after your tools, they won't last the distance.

Ours certainly needed to go the extra mile. Using our firm favourites - a mattock, shovel, rake and wheelbarrow (oh and garden gloves) we started to dig in the middle of the wall.

And kept digging...but be patient, this strange plateau has a purpose!

After months of dirty hard work, we finally completed the plateau for our RAMP. Why build a ramp I hear you ask - isn't that just creating extra work? Yes, it certainly is!! But the length of this front wall is over 30 metres. Rather than having to walk up or down either side of the wall, we decided to plonk a ramp straight in the middle. The idea was also to create a gradual incline to make traversing the hill easier.

But wait, there's more - heaps more! We're talking over 6 months work here.

After the plateau was dug, our next step was to retain the front section. So we dug a trench according to the manufacturer's instructions (450mm wide x 130 mm deep). The white post is an approximate marker for height.

We then filled the trench with 100mm depth of road scalpings, compacted, then laid the first blocks. We had to use a string line to get the wall straight. Note that the coloured blocks for the wall is "Sandstone" too. It blends well into our soil which does have naturally occurring sandstone in places.

Here is Dave, ceremoniously laying the final block! We wanted to jump for joy at that moment, but we knew there was still a long way to go yet.

We set-back the bricks 2 and a half blocks, with each new course laid, on either side. So it created a kind of pyramid shape. In the front we planted out an old wheelbarrow - ironically the one which had helped us build the retaining wall for the garden shed! It's like an old retired worker now, laying back in the garden watching the flowers grow. Thank you old wheelbarrow, you helped make the front wall possible!!

Now on to an ugly photo - one I could've easily kept out but it's important to demonstrate the reason for this wall in the first place. Soil erosion!

We intend turfing the ramp to stop the sediment running down, but here you can see what a bit of heavy rain can do. When the run-off wasn't coming from this ramp, it was coming straight down the hill. So this is the more serious side of this project. It's not just something to look at. We need to stop the soil eroding away!

With that in mind, we recently finished one of the other walls behind the ramp. We had to cut the wall back a little, neaten the base and cut the trench into the ramp. You always get excited with the first few barrows of dirt, but then...

They keep coming as the trench gets longer...

...And LONGER...twenty metres long, in-fact. Sure, I can boast about it now but we darn well earned those 20 long metres of barrowed dirt. Especially when we hit rock in the middle. It threw an extra week of work onto our schedule. Dave got a bit arty with the rock too, but I'll save that for another post.

We finally got to lay the first bricks, after the trench was filled with road scalpings. Quite a ways to go yet!

Here I am in the middle on the first course. I can tell you, my back was really feeling it too. Dave was working hard at his casual job (no permanent work yet) so I plugged away at the first course during the two days it took to complete. You really do have to pay attention to your first course. They *absolutely* need to be straight. Any irregularities will show up in the following courses of bricks. I used a spirit level and rubber mallet to make the bricks level.

You'll be happy to know I'm nearly at the end now.

Here are the 5 courses of bricks, laid and backfilled with their drainage layer. Rest assured we have ag-pipe laid at the base of all these bricks too! You need the water to be able to get away, or it messes with your footings.

Another photo taken from the ramp plateau - or as Dave likes to call it - the Mezzinine. You may notice we chose a different coloured brick to the ramp. This was "Autumn Brown" and we deliberately chose a different colour to add perspective. It really shows up when you look at the front of the wall.

And here is where I'm up to at the moment. Back-filling with dirt! Yet another job for the trusty old mattock, shovel and rake. Once I get this done, I'll cover the lot with bark mulch. We get it free from our local tip, the first Sunday of every month. All it costs is the fuel to go get it.

We've had quite a few misadventures building the wall too, but I'll save that for another post!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hilltop gets a nestbox

Made with scraps of pallet wood, it's basically just a box I knocked together. A little later I added a divider with some bracing to attach to the internal wall. Measurements of each box (once the divider was installed) is 40cm x 40cm. I used snake mesh as a base so the nesting material can breathe too.

Notice the light blue paint of the old cot? I recycled the lightweight moulding as a brace between the wall and box. Very crude and very simple, but it's nice to know the bits of old cot still come in handy.

Both the Wyandottes and Araucana pullets checked it out. I introduced the bantam Araucana's to Hilltop yesterday. It was a smoother transition than I anticipated too. Agape, the rooster, was a real gem. Not that the two Wyandottes were ever going to be a problem. They're more curious than territorial, but Agape made sure he kept them a civil distance away from his girls.

The only minor aggression I've seen - and it was only really today when the nests went in; was the Araucana pullets chasing the Wyandottes from underneath the nest-box. There was no pecking or squarking - just a persistent nudge to get away from the new play thing.

I really love the Wyandottes - they're such friendly things. They couldn't even wait for me to finish installing the darn thing, before they jumped onto it. I had to kindly remind one that I was still working. Afterwards though, I sat on an old milk-crate inside the pen, to see how they liked it. Once the Wyandottes had satisfied their curiosity with the box, they decided to come check out my milk-crate and pants.

If I had any specks of dust on my pants, I'm sure it was left squeaky clean after the girls had finished. They're really funny.

Look at the cheeky things. I took this photo from the milk-crate. One is pecking at my pants while the other decided to see what that shiny thing in my hands, was. Very amusing! It makes my time in the coop all the more special.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Calendula or Pot Marigold, growing around the chicken pen.

I don't know if it's winter doing it to me, the hard work, or our financial security changing - frankly, it could be all three. But I've gone a bit mellow and retrospective of late. It's like you dig your heels in to fight the next challenge in life, then everything you come to depend on falls away.

Suddenly you're a helpless child again, feeling vulnerable and naive that you didn't see it coming.

Well if my mum taught me anything important, it's that you kick hard once you touch the bottom again. It gives you thrust to tackle your circumstances, no matter how difficult. If you're worried about job security, a mortgage or paying bills, well you should be so lucky to have anything to stand losing.

Those who have nothing, have nothing further to lose.

It's weird because everything seems to be going wrong at the moment. I've been sick, it's cold (with winter and all) my husband's on casual rates and his job situation precarious. I don't know how we're going to pay the bills - will we have enough to go around? Oh yeah, and did I mention my car wouldn't start the other day and Dave's car is making strange noises.

Retrospectively however, we're fortunate to have two cars in the first place and a means to generate income. The RACQ guy told me to get a new battery for my car - sure it's more money at a time we don't need, but at least it's a feasible expense in the scheme of things.

Things can get worse and things can get better. Don't we like to shout it from the rooftop when we hit the jackpot. Well I want to shout from the rooftop that I feel alive, even when the chips are down. In fact I feel especially alive when the chips are down, because that's when you need to kick to the top again.

Don't feel the least bit sorry for our situation. Cheer us on, run with us and feel alive too!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Later that day...pie!

I did get around to making our pumpkin pie. It was a recipe I gleaned from either a magazine article or book.

Back when I was a maturing teenager, I was too broke to buy my own cook books so I went through many library books and my mother's own collection, to create a folder of mixed recipes. I wish I'd noted titles of books or editions of magazines I poached them from, as now I can't credit the original authors.

With that in mind, here is the, "American Pumpkin Pie", recipe.


Rich Short Crust Pastry

1/2 cup (125g) butter
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
squeeze lemon juice


1 1/2 cups cooked, drained & sieved pumpkin
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt

Initially preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. I do this when I'm ready to line the pastry dish.

For the rich short-crust pasty, just sift the dry ingredient into a bowl, then dice the chilled butter into it. I let mine sit for about 10 minutes before rubbing the butter in - until it's the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.

Mix the yolks, water and lemon juice together. I used 3 bantam eggs for the 2 required in this recipe.

To separate my yolks, I use one of these little do-hickies. Some people prefer to use their hands, but with fresh bantam eggs this gadget saves a lot of drama. Placing it on top of a glass, collects the whites neatly too.

Next step is to add the combined liquid ingredients to the bowl, then mix together until a moist ball leaves the bowl clean. You'll need to use your hands for this bit. I wrap the ball in cling-wrap then set aside in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

Now comes the interesting part of rolling the pastry out. Flour your working surface lightly, then place ball of pastry in the middle. With a lightly floured rolling pin, work pastry carefully to make it cover a 26cm (10 inch) flan dish. You'll need an extra couple of inches to cover the sides of the dish as well. I like to lightly grease it before placing the pastry in.

I also use my rolling pin to help lift the thin pastry into the dish.

Once lifted into the dish however, lightly press against the entire surface, so the pastry isn't pulling. Then use a knife to cut the rough ends off, leaving a neat finish. Now your flan is ready fill.

For the filling, cook the pumpkin, drain off, then mash it through a fine sieve. Ideally this should be done well in advance of mixing in the rest of the ingredients, so it has a chance to cool down. To the cooled pumpkin, add the eggs and all other ingredients.

I used an electric mixer, set on low, to blend all the ingredients together. Don't create too many air bubbles however. When combined, gently pour the filling into the flan dish. It should look like the picture below.

Place the dish on a tray, then set in the oven. Once it has baked for 15 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, reduce to 180 degrees for a further 45 minutes.

The centre may still look soft after cooking, but will set evenly as it cools.

I think it tastes even better if left in the fridge for a day. This pie rarely makes it to see another one after that!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Up way too early

So I have this irritating cold of mine. I hate it when they linger. Coughing meant I didn't get much sleep and I'd just about had it by 3 am!!

Boo-hoo for me. I think not!

What to do when you can't sleep and feel hungry, but it's way too early for breakfast? Well you bake of course! I had a ball seeing how much food I could bake all at once.

First I baked off some Anzac cookies (in the background) and cooked some pumpkin for another recipe. That's a combination of butternut and JAP pumpkin.

Then I baked scalloped potatoes to have with our dinner tonight. Leaving a section without parsley, as our daughter turns her nose up at green stuff. She surprised me recently, after eating a fresh snow-pea straight off the vine though! Maybe I'll convert her yet.

While that was in the oven I knocked together some rich short-crust pastry, for a pumpkin pie I plan to bake later in the day - hence the pumpkin cooked earlier.

Of course the pastry recipe required an egg-yolk only. A little bolt of creativity hit me when I was about to put the "white" back in the fridge. Why not make some mini meringues? I just cut up a jube lollie into six pieces to use for the eyes, and sprinkled them all with rainbow sprinkles.

Our daughter should get a nice surprise today. Frankly, I think I surprised myself how much I could do in one morning. We're pretty much set up for the rest of the day. Dave plans to dig some more of our wall today, so I like having sweet treats around for energy.

I will bake the pumpkin pie later during the day, as the oven still has the meringues slowly baking away. Soon I will hang out the washing I managed to put on earlier too.

For a bad night's sleep it's turning out to be a great day already!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chicken count

There have been a few changes in my chicken coops lately. Namely to do with reducing my numbers. It was a very difficult choice, but I decided to put my pekins up for sale. They found a new home recently, with a grandmother and her two grandkids. She was interested in the pekins specifically because of their nice natures around children. The blue pekin rooster has a very gentle disposition too, so I know they'll all get on well.

I also found new homes for both my Gold Lace Wyandotte roosters. One will go to an established flock of Gold Lace Wyandottes, so he will have a harem of his own. The other is going back to the breeder I bought the eggs from. He was happy to take one of his own back to see how he develops. They were already 20 weeks old, but I'm told they still have a lot of growing to do.

So who is left?

The bantam Orpingtons are still with us and we plan to keep them in one of the coops. I've found their natures - especially the roosters' - are very docile and friendly. They are filling out nicely at 30 weeks, or 7 months, and they still have some growing to do. I'm getting an egg a day between the 3 girls. The one in the middle is a blue pullet (along with the rooster who is also blue) and the other two girls are black. They are developing into the traditional shape of an Orpington.

Here is a better picture demonstrating the full figure of an Oprpington pullet. They have a high tail and full breast. Orpingtons are meant to have slate grey legs and black eyes, which these guys have. Come spring, I'm hoping to get some lovely chicks from them.

Also staying are the bantam lavender Araucanas, although one of my girls is looking a little unwell. I've just wormed them, so I hope she works it through her system and comes good. This is the lavender rooster and he's quite a sweety to his two girls. He gets immensely jealous if they demonstrate any attention towards the Orpington rooster.

I've noticed however that some of the Araucana eggs have a little blood on the shell - hence why I wormed them recently. Of course it could just be due to coming into lay, and their bodies getting used to the new process. The worst case scenario however, is her organs are too narrow for the size of egg she's capable of developing. I will keep an eye on things and hope to report an improvement soon.

I suspect the off-colour Araucana is the one laying the shell with blood on the outside.

I will also be keeping 2 of the Gold Lace Wyandotte pullets and putting them in with the Araucanas at "Hilltop house". I should get a nice cross bred chook between them. I'm excited about what the chicks will eventually look like - they should be pretty hardy too. As the father will be an Araucana, his genes will influence the colour of the egg, so any pullets from this cross should lay light green eggs.

I just have to rehome 2 of my other Gold Lace Wyandotte pullets, and my numbers should be more manageable. At least until spring time and I get all those lovely little chicks again.

Although it has been difficult letting go of some of my chooks, at the end of the day I did it for their overall health - and mine. Even though I have 2 coops now, I had way too many chickens to fit in them both - and be healthy!

The best part is, I found great homes for the ones I let go. Surely, you can't ask for anything more satisfying than that.