Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting into the mind-set

We've already been experimenting with our "no-spend" challenge planned for next year. We didn't put any stringent rules to it, but we decided to see how winding down our spending activities early, would go.

So last Sunday we decided to visit our local markets in Plainlands; as Dave had the day off from work and we'd always been "meaning" to go there. We only took $30 as a cap on spending, with no intention to buy anything. Most of the time however was spent talking to stall holders. It was a great way of socialising and it distracted us from spending money. In fact, if we had only intended to go with spending money in mind, we may not have taken the cues to chat to the stall holders at all. We met some pretty interesting people too - a guy who bred miniature horses and a couple who grew cactus.

Why is it that making a financial transaction seems to take up so much of our time and social energy, when simply talking is so much cheaper and easier?

By the way, we did end up spending small amounts of money getting our daughter a ride on a miniature pony, and I also bought a succulent known as "hens & chickens", or "house leeks", as they're meant to be edible and water wise. We wanted to support these particular locals because they supported us by coming out for the day, and giving us something to do as a family.

On the way home from the markets however, we decided to visit the annual Celtic festival being held in Helidon. We saw a young lass dancing over some swords, heard some bag-pipes and our daughter even tried her hand at archery, for which she received a little certificate of participation.

Free archery at the annual Celtic festival, Helidon, Qld

What did it cost us at the festival - zilch! It didn't even cost us petrol money, because it was on the journey back home from the markets anyway.

More remarkably, was discovering we hadn't switched on the TV or computer for the whole day either. It was Dave who first mentioned it, as we sat down to a late lunch at home. Our daughter had this big smile on her face because even she hadn't missed the TV. Later that afternoon, Dave and she played a board game, while I baked some muffins, chocolate cookies and a rice pudding for dessert.

I don't think the TV went on until the next morning, for ABC children's programs.

What happened...???

Some where along the way to limiting what we intended to spend that day, came a family with so much to give one another. None of us expected to realise that. The mind boggles at how we managed to miss this for so long.

So the challenge is looking more encouraging than limiting, from where we sit now. But I will say we've had a few dramas with money too. Mostly to do with the actual process of spending it. I'll expand on that in future posts, but needless to say, spending money can sometimes bring great stress with it too.

I'm looking forward to dropping that part of our lives, more and more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The challenge conditions

We have outlined the conditions we're setting on our no spend year - it's just an outline at this stage, but it's a good place to start as any.

Firstly, the $5 for each member of the family. This is our own personal spending money, we can do what we want with it. Doesn't that contradict the no spend concept though? Technically, yes, but we also consider it a pressure valve for the challenge. If one of us suddenly weakens, we have that limited means to money. Limited, being the target reason we're getting the $5. It's there but it's limited.

When we do the maths $5 doesn't sound like much on it's own, but each member of the family will receive $240 for the year. A total of $720 for the period of the challenge. This money is for our own uses, but we can also pool that money for gifts. For example, on Mother's Day, Dave and our daughter have the option to buy something for me individually - or they can pool their money and give a joint gift. They may not want to buy me anything at all, choosing instead to make something - saving money.

If it comes to giving someone else a gift, we can pool our money together too. The objective isn't about "how much" can I have, but rather how much can I do on a limited amount of funds. By including our daughter, we're hoping to help her understand how to manage money better too.

The other condition we're contemplating is a set amount of money for projects. By projects, I don't mean anything our hearts desire. Pretty much, all projects will come to a halt for 12 months. However, one of the conundrums which almost talked me out of doing this challenge in the first place, was the need to maintain our property. There are a few projects/items which would not be sensible in the long run, to hold up for the year of the challenge.

What we were considering were:

1. A freezer: to store bulk foods cooked in advance, and to be able to buy in bulk when there are specials. As we don't have the ability to grow food at this stage, we will still need to buy it in. We will have a set budget for food which won't alter. Having a freezer expands our options of doing more with our food budget.

2. Wood heater: it will be a free source of heat, utilising an on-site wood supply. It will reduce our winter electricity bills, as well as a continued supply of heat during power outages. The chopping, stacking and collecting of wood becomes a source of activity for the family during winter and the months leading up to it. The heat generated will also allow us to do a range of inside activities (in the living areas) with a degree of comfort. Most importantly though, it also helps reduce fuel around the property during the low bushfire risk period - winter.

The above two outlays, I would really like to do in the next 12 months. I will describe a few more soon, but I would consider them "optional" outlays. One and two, described above, would really assist us in our no spend year. I can't imagine how difficult it would be during winter, to not want to crank up the electric heaters if there is money saved in the bank. We would have achieved so much half way into the challenge, only to be thwarted by having to freeze our butts off inside.

3. Fencing: if we could include this one, all the better, as it's possible our dog will be returning to us next year, when a relative sells their property where she's been living. But the fencing is also required to protect livestock (and plants) from other animals. We have received quite a few visits from our neighbour's dogs - on both sides; and this is a concern for us for our daughter's safety. While they seem like nice dogs, that all changes when a child may not have an adult standing around for protection. I have also caught one of the neighbours' dogs, charging our Hilltop coop, to see the chickens fly around in a tizzy.

4. Carport: to protect the cars from the elements, thereby reducing maintenance bills and generally improving the life of the vehicles. At present we have no protection for the cars, not even the shade of a tree. Of course, I could only see this outlay happening if we could find a second-hand carport or one given to us.

5. Curtains: to help improve the insulation of the home. Our two sliding glass doors (dining room & laundry) currently have no curtains and is a terrible heat escape during winter.

We have not decided if we will proceed with these outlays, but the option for a set amount of money put aside for necessary improvements, is something we feel is important. I was thinking anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 as the set budget for outlays. When I look at those large numbers, I feel like the challenge is not worth the effort - but I also wonder if I don't put a cap on possible outlays, then we may not last the distance of the challenge.

Giving up spending on unnecessary desires is one thing, but giving up spending where it will save money in the long run - that seems a little contradictory too. Improving the life of a vehicle, saves money in the long run. Providing a free heat source during winter also saves money in the long run. Fencing saves us from having to replace damaged plants and livestock.

With any money spent on outlays however, the aim would be on sourcing second-hand items in reasonable condition.

This is our general (first draft) outline of the conditions for our challenge. Any comments and suggestions welcome. For example, how would you number the 5 outlays according to importance? Could we do without the freezer perhaps? Maybe fencing should be the top priority? Perhaps we should do without the heater for another 12 months?

What do you think...?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New financial perspective

We've been mulling over money for quite a while now. First it involved getting our heads around the new house payments and everything to do with the property. Then we suffered a set-back when Dave lost his job suddenly. Now he's found new secure employment, we've reached that level of comfort again where we don't have to worry.

Still, we can't get money out of our heads - or at least, I can't. Something doesn't sit quite right with me. How much is enough to live on comfortably, without living to excess? The answer to that question came via my daughter. We've always taught her that she just can't have everything she wants. There is only a certain amount of money to go around. Yet, hidden in those words, was the denial that we were spending every spare cent we had on meeting our own desires.

We came to realise that Dave and I don't have any perspective on how much is enough. We don't have a parent in control of our freedom any more, so it's been left up to us. Well, now it's time to develop a new perspective.

We've devised a plan (a challenge) that will last a year for our family. It will be a no spending year. For 12 months we will not spend money on anything we desire. Of course, this is our first attempt at doing such a thing, so there needs to be a few concessions.

Dave & our daughter, mentally prepare for the challenge

I will go into the specifics later on, as we're still in the planning stages, but the general guidelines for concessions will be:

1. We will each receive $5 a week but that's all the access to money we'll get.

2. We need to spend on a few outlays before the challenge, to save money during the challenge.

Like I said, I'll go into the specifics later on, but the intention of the challenge is to limit our desires for an entire year. If something unexpected happened in the future, we would be forced to live like this anyway. Before that happens, we'd like to voluntarily discover how much is enough. It's only for 12 months.

We're hoping to start the challenge from the 1st of January, 2010.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Septic tank garden

We finished our landscaping project around the septic tank this morning. While it's easier on the eyes, it also serves a functional purpose. A mixture of plants and rocks, holds the slope in place but it also reduces our need to maintain this area with mowing. I hope our septic tank serviceman has a nicer time doing his job too.

We completed some of the infrastructure 2 years earlier, by putting in sleeper treads for stairs and using some of the logs felled from a tree, for the lower section. But we're talking about our recent developements, which started by weeding this area first...

Afterwards, we started to place the rocks sourced from a local supplier who had a property in the area with bush rock. They were small enough to be handled by the two of us. Placing the rocks "just so" however, wasn't easy - as you tend to want to stand them upright. We stood back several times to make sure it looked more natural than not.

Once we were happy with the final rock placement, we simply added plants and mulched with the free bark supplied from our local tip. The stepping stones you notice in the picture below, were free too. A relative is getting their property ready for sale in the near future, so we helped clean up some of the stuff they won't be needing any more. It helps both them and us.

Some of the plants to go in this area had to be tough. As it can get quite hot and exposed, with little irrigation. So another local find was the Rhoeo plants from a roadside stall, that also sells horse poo. We know the young lad who stocks it as he goes to school with our daughter. It's a form of pocket money for him, but we're also very impressed with how committed he is. His little roadside stall always has something to offer the community. It was only a few dollars for an ice-cream container full of these plants.

Rhoeo plants

The mondo grass below was also propagated from our clothesline landscaping project. I had no idea that mondo grass threw runners - I always thought they clumped. But there you go...a hardy and versatile bit of grass. Best of all, no mowing required!

Mondo grass

Then we have the frangipani tree rescued from my mum's house. I'm hoping the rocks in winter will help keep the frost from it. This little stub has traveled all the way from Coffs Harbour originally, where we used to live. It has been uch larger in the past, but was cut back by frost this year on my mum's property. Here's hoping we get a beautiful tree. It has the pink flowers with yellow centre.

Frangipani tree

Last, but not least, is the dwarf bamboo. It doesn't really grow canes as such, but has beautiful red foliage for new growth. A tough little nut to kill too. Very waterwise in the garden. We bought two of these which were marked down to $3 a piece. Very economical!

dwarf bamboo

It looks pretty sparse at the moment, but once the plants fill out, it will be a lovely area. We've also planted the lower section out, but here's a quick reminder of what it used to look like:

The picture below, is what I edited for my blog header image too. But now it's been weeded, mulched and even the lomandra longifolia grass is in flower. It smells incredibly delicious!

What I really loved about this project is how it took over 2 years to finish. What's so great about that? Well no-one was watching the clock, so no-one was agonising about it! This truly has been an inspirational project. It has demonstrated that as long as you're patient, frugal and committed, you get what you want in the end. No-one died waiting for it to be finished either, LOL.

Cost wise, we spent $6 on plants and $45 on rocks. That's just over $50 and we have a retained wall which is water wise too. I can't remember what the plants cost for the lower section, as that went in last autumn. It wasn't that much - you could safely say we spent under $100 in total for the whole thing.

We're going to be taking a new approach to projects next year, as we're planning to reform how we spend our money. More about that soon.

EDITED TO ADD: I just realised the last picture isn't the one I edited for my header image. It was one taken in-between the two shown. I did a post back in autumn here. You should notice the lomandra was trimmed in the header picture, but this one has grown out again. The little red/black succulent plant, is smaller in the header too - after just being planted.

Thought I'd clarify for those who pay attention to those sorts of details, LOL.
I do!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Busy at work

I've been busy around the house of late. I decided to spend a few days off the computer to catch up with neglected areas and tasks. It's been great ploughing into the work, but hectic too. My patience has been exercised a little: which isn't my favourite pursuit in the world, LOL.

At the moment, all my tasks piggy-back one another. So one little job can hold-up a raft of others. That's where my patience is required - and a truck load of persistence I may add, too! It can be difficult spending an entire day, just getting one job completed, and then realising multiple half-done jobs are still waiting for your attention.

It's like watching a pot boil, I know, it's not going to happen. Still, I must persist - work, toil, work...find my happy place...did I mention work? I guess someone's got to do it, LOL.

These rocks remind me of my head sometimes, but they're also one of the gardening projects we can tackle in the heat. It's a very small area to work in, so results happen quickly. I originally purchased plants for the front retaining wall which were beginning to look poorly. With the wall not being anywhere near ready for plants yet, I had to improvise. This patch of garden was the likely candidate.

But I'll have to leave the rest of that story (and project) for another day. Did I mention it's 2am in the morning?!!?

Ah's perfect. ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Summer craft - waffle dishcloth

I always know when summer is approaching, as I do more undercover projects to get out of the sun. It wasn't long before I put my new basket to work either, to hold my waffle dishcloth knitting. It was sprawled all over the table before and very messy. Now I can move it to the table (or from it) very quickly.

The waffle dishcloth must be the most done to death knitted cloth project around - and why not - it's a great design!

I found the original pattern on Deb's Homespun Living page didn't work with 4 ply cotton very well. I could only find 4 ply at my local Spotlight store, so I set to work experimenting with the original pattern.

I did a very minute change, which I will bold, but it just requires a few extra stitches and a change in needle sizes. Trying to do the original pattern with 4 ply and the 4.25 needles, gave my wrists terrible cramps. Save your wrists and use smaller needles if you're going to be using smaller than 8 ply cotton.

I loved the avocado coloured cotton and have other colours to experiment with also. These are my first two dishcloths which I hope to add to.


Waffle Knit Dishcloth
from Homespun Living

Materials: 1 ball 4ply cotton yarn; additional yarn for colored stripe, if desired.
Size 9 needles


Cast on 44 stitches.
Knit 3 rows for border.

Row 1: (right side): Knit.

Row 2: K 3, purl to last 3 stitches, k 3.

Row 3: K 3, (P 2, k 1) 12 times, p 2, k 3.

Row 4: K 3, (K 2, p 1) 12 times, k 5.

Repeat these 4 rows, 6 times. If a colored center stripe is desired, change yarn now and work rows 1 – 4, 2 times in desired color.
Change back to main color and work the 4 row pattern, 6 times.

Knit last 4 rows.
Bind off and weave in ends

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From pre-loved to loved again

In line with my recent Date & Walnut loaf tins, discovered at our local Op Shop (Thrift store) I also came across another serendipitous item. I say serendipitous, because I was just thinking the week before, I need a mirror for our 6 year old daughter. We have a mirror in our room and the bathroom has one of course, but she's now of an age where dressing up is fun and having her own mirror would be useful.

She spotted it while I was looking through the furniture section and pointed it out to me. She didn't ask for it, she just said how pretty it looked. Well, I almost turned it down because it was $25, but after I'm done with it, I'm sure the price will be long forgotten. Here's what she found:

Of course, I had a piece of furniture in mind when I bought it - another pre-loved item, way back when my now 24 year old brother, was a wee little newborn. It was back in the mid 80's and my mum bought this second-hand dresser for $35. Which by today's currency value, would equate to forking over $100. But when it first came home, it was used by my older sister in the bedroom we shared together. I think I got to use the bottom drawers because I was shorter, LOL. Then it became my brothers set of drawers, when he was older.

My mum gave it to us after we moved into our new house, as a family heirloom. But it's like the two pieces (when put together) were made for each other. Of course, I'm going to give them a new paint job with pastel coloured paints, to suit a young ladies bedroom. I want to do this for my daughter, as I can remember how my mum would buy pre-loved furniture and tailor it to our needs at the time.

As a kid, it felt great to have a parent dress up the bedroom. It made you feel special, especially when they found a new way to store all your favourite books and toys.

Speaking of which, my mum also gave us one of her bookshelves recently. It's one of those cheap MDF made ones, but I loved the thought of extending it's life a little further. With a new lick of paint, it too will be transformed into a young ladies bookshelf. I even managed to find some gorgeous teddy-bear family bookends, from the second-hand shop too.

It may take me a while to finish decorating her room with pre-loved items, but I hope I can share with her the adventure of creating new stuff from old stuff - rather than buying it new. Why stop at furniture though? We also found some pre-loved books for her to re-discover.

Dave actually found these and thought she'd like to do some of the craft projects inside. I hadn't looked inside the books until we got home; but guess what I found upon opening the first page of one of the books?

A decorated kids bedroom, all with handmade stuff! Our daughter is a bit over the dinosaur stage (as a bedroom theme) but it just re-enforced the sentiment that creating stuff for your child's bedroom has a charm all of it's own. It says..."I had you in mind when I made this"...and they get to keep those memories for a lifetime.

But I also had to take a few goodies home for myself too, as I want to start bringing more pre-loved items into the home. In many cases, they're far superior than a new item, as they've stood the test of time and wear. Many are often personalised too.

Like this notes holder, made from wood but decorated with flower decopage and covered with clear varnish. I can hang it on the wall in our office. But I'm always looking for storage items to organise things better. The wicker basket with carry handles is always a handy thing to have around too. I can store my knitting projects in it, craft stuff or anything I may need to take on the run. But I also found something I have been looking for, and that's a scrap-book tote.

Not brand new - pre-loved, but it only cost a dollar and it will get a second lease of life. To think I've turned down buying a brand new tote on several occasions - I'm glad I did!

If you're prepared to be patient and wait for what you're looking for, buying pre-loved items (even being given them) becomes a very satisfying exercise. Not just because you were prepared to wait for it, but it also asks you to take part in a personal journey - what do I need and who has needed it before me?

That's where the satisfaction comes into it - rediscovering what someone else had a use for in their life, and transforming it into something new in your life.

While it looks like I bought a lot, I actually spent very little - and each piece has an intended purpose. Pre-loved can be loved again...and again...and again. :)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Date & Walnut Loaf

I personally haven't made this recipe before (until today) but I have glorious memories of eating this loaf with old people. It always seemed to be the elderly who knew about this particular recipe and took the time to make it. I suppose it has to do with the cylindrical baking tins. If you haven't seen them before, they could look like some weird kind of storage tin with two lids. They aren't that common nowadays.

Ready to go in the oven, top and bottom lids on

So imagine my surprise when I was looking through the Op Shop recently, and found a couple of loaf tins. They were five dollars each but were in excellent condition. I took them home with me and here I sit today, with that satisfied feeling in my stomach, after eating the classic Date and Walnut Loaf...mmm...

I'll share the recipe so that others may start a new tradition - but don't worry, without the two loaf tins you can still use an oblong (4 cup capacity) loaf pan instead. Here are a few images of the classic nut loaf tin in action, first.

Top lid comes off to check with a skewer, to see if it's ready

This has almost risen to the top after baking, which is why you only ever fill the tins a half to two-thrids full before going into the oven. Another tip with filling, is make sure the base is on securely, place it on a baking tray (standing up) and don't ever lift it to meet the spoon as you're filling - or you'll loose the lot on the floor or bench. Carry the tray to the oven and slide it (with the tins) in together.

The base will always be more flat than the risen top

Here is the base after baking, when I removed the lid. Do you see the seam on the side as well? It has three clever notches which hold the tin together, then only releases once you remove the top and bottom lids. Like so...

Cake comes away easily from the greased tin

This smelled so good when I removed it from the tin - kind of like sticky date pudding, only more nuttier. The reason these tins are so good with heavy cake mixes however, is they steam as well as bake. You end up with a really moist cake. For this reason, make sure at least one of your lids has a small hole in the top, to help some of the pressure escape. All my lids had a small hole.

It's important to note when setting your oven, to also make sure you have enough height for the tins to stand up. I had mine on the lowest shelf level, and removed the second shelf entirely.

Oh yes...and best served with lashings of fresh, cold butter, on the warm sliced loaf.

~ Date & Walnut Loaf

1 1/3 cups chopped pitted dates
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups hot water
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup (100g) butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

1. Oven setting 180 degrees Celsius/350 F/gas mark 4/fan-forced 170 degrees Celsius.

2. Grease 2 x cylindrical loaf tins or 1 x 4 cup oblong loaf pan with melted butter, fat or oil.

3. Put the dates, soda and salt into a bowl and pour over the hot water. Set aside until cool.

4. Sift flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, then stir in the walnuts and sugar until well mixed.

5. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together roughly, then add the beaten egg until combined.

6. Separate evenly between the 2 loaf tins, or place into the single pan.

7. Bake 1 hour or until skewer comes out clean. Bake another 15 minutes if required.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making do

September has been one of those months where everything seems harder to do. There's been no rain for weeks, so no successive sowing in the vegetable garden. Everything I've put in previously is struggling, if not outright dying, and we still have to make the water last for the household.

Challenging, but not impossible to make do with what we've got. Hopefully October will see some easier times.

Yesterday, we took out a medium sized eucalyptus tree which was near the veggie patch. It would've come out sooner, but it was offering a little shade to the chicken coop and seedlings in the afternoon. But we have a building project marked for the veggie patch soon, so it simply had to come out.

What to do with all those branches? We put some in a pile so they wouldn't be in the way, but we also put some on top of the chicken coop.

My choko vine died and I've yet to plant another (if I can find one) so it made sense to place the medium sized branches on top of the exposed roof line. I couldn't use small branches, as they would've blown away; nor could I use large branches either - in case it put too much weight on the structure. So I settled for medium sized branches, which seems to have done the trick.

I reckon the chooks have got to be pleased - much better than staring at concrete rebar and blistering sunlight. As the eucalyptus leaves are still fresh, they should be moist enough to cool the air slightly. Only until they start dying back and falling off that is.

Maybe just enough time to find another choko vine?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recycled Garden beds

We've recycled some disposable containers from Dave's work (broccoli boxes & 10lt ice-cream tubs) to create some instant garden beds. I was tired of seeing nothing in the veggie patch growing, due to a lack of rain, so it was time for some instant results!

I haven't modified the containers in any way, as they're living underneath our verandah and all water will be strictly measured out. Some of you may be wondering why I didn't just plant straight into the styrofoam boxes? I feel a little funny about growing food in styrofoam, in case the food takes up any nasties from the boxes. I don't know if the plastic ice-cream tubs are any better, but at least it's food grade plastic.

I wanted the styrofoam boxes however, to help insulate the tubs from too much sun exposure, as they do receive some morning rays. I managed to fit 2 ice-cream tubs per broccoli box.

Recycled garden beds

Not bad for an afternoon's work, but I have to say I still paid money for such instant results. The containers were free, but the premium potting mix and seedlings weren't. In total I spent $42 at the nursery for a punnet of capsicums, roma tomatoes, spring onions, basil, a punnet of strawberries and 2 bags of premium potting mix.

I'm already layer propagating the strawberry however, and should have another plant within a few weeks. If I keep doing this as the strawberry throws out runners, I should make my dollar value go even further.

Layer propagating, strawberry runner

I must say, it's nice to have something to tend to which isn't being scorched by the sun, or using up ridiculous amounts of water every day. And I made sure I only selected plants I knew we would eat. I even selected the "roma" variety of tomato on purpose - as ordinary as it is - due to it's pest resilience and ability to perform well in extreme conditions. I'd rather have an ordinary tomato growing in my garden, than have none for the summer season at all.

To help them a little more, I'll also be buying some seaweed concentrate to add periodically.

These are just some of the compromises we're learning to make here. Even if we can only ever manage ordinary vegetables, it's still home grown and packed full of goodies. That's what we're aiming for by growing our own. Should the heavens suddenly open up and bless us with more rain, we can then start planning for bigger, more demanding crops.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hitching post or a trellis?

We were relieved to finish building another trellis, as this one will help shade the front of Hilltop chicken coop. Although we couldn't help noticing it bared a strange resemblance to a hitching post for horses.

Being 6 metres long, we're going to grow 2 different varieties of passionfruit along it. They're only seedlings at this stage, but hopefully won't take long to cover the trellis. The two different varieties are, Panama Red and Black.

We'll give them the best chance to survive once they're in the ground. Passionfruit seedlings are hardier than their grafted counterparts, but it all depends on the conditions you're planting them in. Sometimes you need a different kind of root stock, to cope with local conditions. Grafted varieties do cost more, but in some places it's more cost effective than having to replace seedlings which die spontaneously and religiously.

We're going to give seedlings a try first, to see how they cope. We can get a fair amount of humidity in this area which is my one concern.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all the encouraging comments on my last post. It's always a little nerve wracking when embarking on a new change. But you've all been very generous and supportive, which is a wonderful bonus!

Thank you muchly, from the Bushland family. :)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The project changes in 2010

We've been living on our five acres of bushland since Easter 2007. So we're fast approaching the three year mark! I've got to say, the end of this year marks the turning point for us all. This isn't the part where I announce we're, this is the part where I announce we're making big changes (here) next year.

The front wall, before retaining

I was tempted to start a new blog in private (Bushland Project II) as I felt the new direction would be too extreme from where we started. Only when I had something to show for all the drastic changes, was I going to reveal the new blog. But there's no mystery - nothing to hide - it's just another change like so many we've been through. I guess I was afraid people may think us crazy for doing what we're contemplating.

I'll give you an example to mark our new direction...we're going to be selling all our chickens. Told you it would be extreme. But we may keep three; it all depends on reaching our objective which is reducing our responsibilities to meet the function intended.

We started keeping chickens for fresh eggs and I suppose the romantic notion of country life. Soon I became obsessed with breeds. Which isn't a bad pursuit in itself, but when measured against our finances and wider ambitions for this place, it was becoming unbalanced.

Hilltop chicken coop

Time to strike a new balance. Something which meets function, finances and our family. At this stage, the plan is to keep Hilltop our main chicken coop, with chickens bred to produce eggs. I'm leaning towards New Hampshires, as they're still a heritage breed with a good reputation for egg production. We may or may not keep a rooster. It would be desirable to keep one, but it has to meet our objectives.

By doing this, we'll effectively reduce our feed bill by half or more, and free time and resources to pursue the most important strategy here - food production.

Middle ridge chicken coop - marked for new propagation area

This is why our chicken coop dubbed, Middle Ridge, will be renovated to become a propagation area. We've got the shaded run already, where we can propagate cuttings, grow crops and the chicken coop itself will be turned into a potting area come greenhouse. We'll be ripping the roof off and making it high enough to walk through.

This is just a small taste of the changes we'll be making in 2010. It sounds ambitious and radical from the direction we've been traveling. But while country life is kind of romantic, we have to be able to manage it within our finances and main objectives. Food production has been shafted for a few years in favour of setting up chickens. Now it's time to wind that back to strike a better balance between the two.

We feel re-energised now we have a plan to follow. There are other changes on the way also, but all in good time...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New crop

It's out with the old and in with the new - climbing crops that is! We've removed the dried stalks of our snow peas (above) and stored the seeds for planting in late autumn. Next crop will be cucumbers. More specifically, crystal apple cucumbers. What I like about this particular variety is they're more resistant to powdery mildew, which we seem to get a lot of.

We grew these ourselves from heirloom seeds, and they were pretty easy to germinate in the small greenhouse. They've already had a few days outdoors to climatise, and they're just about the right size to go out.

All six plants are now in the ground, complete with homemade compost! You can still see some of the cardboard. These guys should be ready for cropping in about 65 days.

I'm still debating where to put the Star Jasmine though. I have a place next to the chicken coop which would be perfect, but I'm wondering if it's poisonous? The research I've conducted so far, doesn't seem to mention this particular variety (Trachelospermum jasminoidesas) which is part of the Apocynaceae family, as either toxic to animals or a noxious weeds. But a very similar looking lot, from the Oleaceae family, are known to be hazardous and with weed potential.

I think I need to do more research to be sure where to plant it. My instinct says it wouldn't be detrimental to the chooks, as we've had other suburban animals live with it before, but it pays to be sure.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What style of garden?

Are you primarily an ornamental gardener, or do you prefer yard space to be 95% edible garden? We have been both - but for the first time in our gardening history, our primary focus is on food production. I have to say though, as determined as we are, we're not very good at it - not yet anyway.

And still a funny thing happened recently when I saw a particular plant on sale at the shops. Being the sucker I am for a "reduced" sticker, I couldn't resist this particular special either. Only it wasn't for an edible plant - it was an ornamental one.

I looked it over carefully; made sure the soil wasn't dry and had only a few spent leaves. For the $2 price tag, I have to say it was in great condition. However, I almost talked myself out of it. The "edible garden" blinkers were well and truly on. That all changed with one sniff. The familiar fragrance, suddenly drew me back to all those suburban backyards we'd ever lived in previously.

Who can walk past the Star Jasmine in bloom, and NOT recognise that familiar sweet scent? It was everywhere in our suburban lives in the past.

Star Jasmine or Trachelospermum jasminoides
Picture taken from the Gardening Australia fact sheet

Then it occured to me what has been missing in our gardening attempts here. Ornamentals! Not simply because they are ornamentals, but rather having transcended horticultural realms abruptly, we've suddenly felt uninspired by our poor results as food production gardeners.

We knew how to grow ornamentals however - more aptly put, ornamentals were forgiving to neglect and conditions no veg garden would ever tolerate. They were often prolific in bloom and put on a lot of growth in their first year. How long does it take a fruit tree to be as majestic? Oh, fruit trees are so worth the effort, once they've grown for several years, but in the meantime...

I'm not suggesting ornamentals are better than any edible garden, but they do make the transition more enjoyable. Why wallow in brown-thumb-itis when the corn succumbs to drought, or you forget to progressive sow to fill that empty space created from the harvest? Ornamentals fill those empty spaces, and keep growing long after the vegies have past their prime.

As gardeners, we need little reminders why we're doing what we're doing. Especially if gardening is being attempted in weather extremes, or starting from scratch with poor soils.

You may wonder why I would include "style" of a garden, in my land management series? After all, isn't that what lifestyle programs are for? I consider the style of a garden, the catalyst for drawing you into the garden in the first place. It's fine to make the primary concern habit for wildlife, reducing soil erosion, even attempting self-sufficiency - but it doesn't all have to be hard work.

If by incorporating a style you like (putting your personal stamp on it, so to speak) you are drawn into the garden more - then you're going to stick to it, even when everything else seems to go wrong.

Of course, it wouldn't be responsible if I didn't also include some timely reminders about some ornamentals. If they aren't a native, then they need monitoring and sensible stratagies to keep them in check. Be aware if they have weed status in your area, and take precautions. If they have an invasive root system, plant them inside a root guard. Make sure seeds can't be swept away by water run-off - and of course, don't position a highly flammable plant near the house, especially if you live in a bushfire prone area.

There is always the option of container planting too - if you're worried they may still get away on you. We have a german ivy, for example, which has travelled with us since we've been together. So that's about 11 years now. It's always lived in pots. At the moment I'm attempting to train it over an archway - and yes, it's still in a pot!

Now, the next plan is to find a suitable position for our Star Jasmine...