Friday, November 14, 2014

New blog

Just to confuse you about my "final" post, I have one more to share.

I've set up a new blogging home, about moving at, Small Virtues.

That's where I'll be for now. :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The final post

I'm about a month shy of blogging here, for seven years. There have been some fun times for sure, and some scary times too, but all of it was about real life. So it is no small matter to announce I will be closing my blog down. This isn't a flippant decision, but something I have been mulling over for a few weeks.

After a series of events (I won't call them unfortunate, because its just life happening) but we have decided to relocate closer to the city.

I thought about keeping the blog open, just to share ordinary life, but not only does that seem disingenuous about the new path we're taking, but it will also divert valuable time needed to dedicate to the mammoth task of moving.

Moving from acreage, is no small feat. There are no regrets from our perspective though - not about coming here, nor about leaving. There will be sadness for the things we will be leaving behind (retaining walls and swales, built completely by hand, and the native wildlife too) but if it were possible to stay, we would.

Now is the time to look forward and plan a new direction for our family. 

As needs must.

So thank you for reading over the years, as we ambled through our new learning curve of living on acreage. We will be taking all those valuable lessons back to the suburbs with us, and something we look forward to duplicating on a smaller scale. Our experience here has changed us irrevocably.

I will be opening another blog at a later date, once we get settled. That could take a year or so, depending when we move. I will be shutting this blog down in December, but will still visit all my favourite blogs, to catch-up with your life adventures.

So it is a very fond farewell, from us here at Gully Grove.

 Our family May 2014

Thank you for visiting for long as you have, and may your days be filled with laughter, good food, and great company.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hilltop update

The last time I left Hilltop chicken-coop, looking like this...

Just over a week later, it's changed a little more...

I removed the nest, the tin from the inner wall, and the step in the doorway. We learned how unhelpful the step was, when a chicken developed a leg injury and couldn't get out into the run. It's also no good if you want to push a wheelbarrow into the coop.

If you're looking to design a coop of your own, learn from our experience and avoid "steps" - especially if its the only way your chickens can access outside areas.

I decided to turn the bracing used for the former wall, into a new, roosting perch...


I used short timber offcuts, Dave got from a skip, to help support the beam. When he first brought the offcuts home, I wondered what on earth I could use them for? Only a few weeks later, I found they were just the right size (ready cut) for my roost.

This new roost was essential, because even though I haven't had chickens in this coop for over twelve months, the old roost was in terrible shape...

 The Leaning tower of Poultry

It's was a much shorter roost and on a dangerous angle, due to termites eating out the support. It wasn't treated wood, like the rest of the posts. In fact, after five years in the ground, the support posts were still in great condition - which I learned after digging two up!

Dirty work

I decided to bring the coop size within regulations, so no side can be longer than 5 metres. The longest side on Hilltop was 5.5 metres. It was only 50 centimetres, but it meant peace of mind if anyone from Council (County in the US) came calling.

 old post (left) new post (right)

I had to dig out two existing posts and relocate them in their new positions, plus I had to install a third (new) post, between them. Now is the tedious job of digging up the tin which is 600mm down.


The tin is to help deter foxes and has worked so far. This is really back breaking work though, so I'm taking a few days off. When I started getting irritable, I knew it was time to step-back and rest.

 Looking like a building site

Like any renovation, you have to learn to walk away from an unfinished project. Things don't always get finished in the time allotted.  I promised myself I wasn't going to go overboard with this project, which means physically, but also financially.

I purchased 3 pieces of wood so far ($60) and after some modifications, I realised I won't need it all. I can use the extra lumber for another project later down the track. I'm still able to reuse all existing screws, bolts, hinges and lumber, which is why I'm extra careful when demolishing.

I would really like to have the roof back on, but it will have to wait until I'm ready to get cracking again. I'm happy with the progress to date.

I'll get there...eventually.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The ways of the force

"Gee Mum, why are you pointing that thing at me?" 

"Why, to see you mastering the force, my young padawan!" 

I found Sarah's old watering can (from the days she was a wee nipper) and discovered her brother loves playing with water too. He tried using my big watering can at first, but kept bumping the spout on the ground. Now he has a size which is just right for him!

Give him one bucket of water and one empty bucket, and he pours the water between them. When the water runs out though, he starts turning to the dark side. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The right connections

We had this silly little dream, around nine years ago - wow, has it really been that long? It's when we first started looking for land. Move to the country and grow our own food - life would make more sense.

Unfortunately, the romantic notion of changing from supermarket junkies to homegrown heroes, overnight, was somewhat disappointing. There was an incredibly large disconnect from our food and our environment, which wasn't going to be alleviated with mere land. The way we lived every day, had to change.

When I glance briefly back at what we've done, its really looking to connect to things we probably didn't fully understand. Getting into a rhythm that life had to be constantly threatened (our livelihoods, food supply, the weather, etc) really had to become our new normal.

Because only out of the conflict of nature, comes the most amazing diversity. That's the reality of food production. Something has to die, so that something else can live. Ancient civilizations which lasted more than a century, knew that reality well. They kept the rhythm of their landscapes, and only continued living because of that close connection to their environment.

So now, every time a flower blooms in my garden, I get to witness a miracle. When a bee lands on that flower and dances over the pollen, there's a million-year evolution I get to be privy to as well. That makes me feel pretty special. These things have been going on for centuries, and I've only just noticed in a manna (wink) which matters?

There's no real secret to food production, other than learning to dance along with the bees again. Collecting those natural seeds (pollen) and storing them in soil cells around the yard. Then nature can surprise us with what the season brings. Something does eventually bloom and feed us.

Will it be what we expect though?

Part of the course of living here over the past seven years, is coming to terms with changing our expectations. How can we take part in the life on offer, while so worried about the many fates of mankind's future?

The seasons have always been thus, and so we should always dance along with them.

I actually don't expect to have a garden, so I'm surprised when one materializes before my eyes. I knew I took part in it. I knew I didn't fully understand what I was doing either. But here it is, surprising and delighting me.

Maybe I can grow better food in the future, but really, loving what's already here, is the important connection to make. So wherever you live, find something in nature to dance along with too. You'll be surprised at what you notice, afterwards. :)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

It has begun...

Give me a few hours in the afternoon, some tools and a chicken coop, and you better stand back - because today I started demolishing Hilltop chicken coop...

One sheet off...

Off with some metal roofing, and then removing the metal sheeting down the side. I was surprised how quickly it went, with just me working away. David was baby wrangling, and I'm grateful for it. I've been wanting to start renovating this chicken coop for months.

What's this?

I even found a mud wasps nest, parked in behind the metal sheets and timber holding up the chicken nest. I noticed the wasps last summer. With the wall gone now however, they''ll find it difficult to rebuild.

Two sheets gone...

I'm opening up the inside, because while I've liked having an enclosed area, separate to the run - I quickly discovered ventilation was reduced. I think my new design will be much nicer for the chickens, and I've got further changes which will benefit us too!

Now I just have to wait for another vacant day, David will be available, to continue.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Lovely limes

There are so many uses for limes. I love them! Especially when they're overripe and turning yellow. More juice, so more deliciousness for me.

Just add water

I stumbled across a wonderful new use for limes though, which I will surely be using over the summer months. A little squeeze in a glass of water, is so refreshing to drink. I was worried about this summer, as its normally when I drink a lot of diet softdrink!

I know, softdrink isn't good, but water doesn't seem to quench my thirst in summer. Just outside my backdoor however, was the answer.

Lovely, lovely limes!

By the way, I've tried this with lemons before, and it was not as refreshing. So if you've never tried it with a lime, give it a go!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Just a little potty

I've been doing quite a bit of pottering around the garden lately. Pottering is all I can manage, it seems, as I have a little shadow...

The ginger hasn't sprouted yet, but thanks for checking

Like all shadows, I'm followed everywhere.  Which means what I do, has to be child-friendly. That overdue chicken-coop renovation, will just have to wait!

Even though I'm only technically pottering, its still important stuff though. I'm planting a lot of seeds at the moment...

New seedlings

I try to plant more pigeon pea trees, every year. Not only are they great forage trees which lure the kangaroos away from my vegetables, but they also double as mulch. In our dry season (winter) they will naturally shed their leaves, which helps improve the soil around the property. Gotta love the potential held within those tiny seeds.

Something new

I'm also trying a new forage shrub, called Old Man Saltbush. Its drought hardy and has good protein content. It will also feed the kangaroos and double as a mulch plant. I use anything which needs a regular trim, and drop it as mulch.

Oh my, Kipfler!

Can you believe there are POTATOES growing in MY garden! After all the years of failing, I hope this year will be a success. I've mulched them with dead grass, dried sweet potato vines, old passionfruit vines, and even trimmings from my wormwood. I'm hoping the scent from the wormwood will help deter pests.

Because I want LOTS of mulch plants, I need to plant seeds and take cuttings when I can. Its what occupies most of my days actually. While my shadow is napping though, I can occasionally be found outside rescuing trees...

Newly re-potted

This was a blood orange I had written off in the garden. I thought it was the root stock re-shooting, because the main graft had died. When I dug it up recently however, I found most of it was regrowth above the graft scion. What a delightful surprise. With a bit of TLC, I won't have wasted the money...and maybe, one day, blood oranges!

Waiting seems to be a pre-requiste to gardening I've found. Especially when you're still learning the ropes and making mistakes. I'm always making those. Like the reason I found myself planting some new Pink-Lady apple seeds recently, from a bag of apples we bought to eat. They tasted nice, so I planted them.

New trees sprouting

We will have to wait several years before we get any kind of crop from these wee nippers! Would you believe I planted these Pink Lady seeds, because I already have a Granny Smith Apple I grew from seed...

At least three years old

Only I didn't quite know it was a Granny Smith apple tree at the time. I did plant the seed several years ago, but it didn't grow. I promptly forgot about the apple seed, until the 2011 floods, and this suddenly sprung up. I couldn't be sure if it was the same apple seed, or a weed species which had trickled in. It was deciduous though and sort of looked like an apple tree. I got confirmation last year, when I sprouted another Granny Smith seed in a pot. Thus the search for a new pollinator began.

Eat apples, plant seeds - can't beat that kind of pottering around! But you have to wait for the results. Nothing happens quickly in a garden. It helps if you've got the snowball effect on your side though. Just keep planting...just keep planting...mistakes can happen but at least you've got more plants!

The promise of healthy food

Then of course, there are the punnets of vegetables, purchased from the mark-down shelf at the hardware store. It's getting a little late for cabbages and cauliflower for our climate. They will just go to seed in the summer. But David bought these, so I had to rescue them. I potted them into a larger, recycled punnet. Plus gave them a little artificial feed.

I'll find some place for them in the garden...eventually. I wonder if I can keep them potted until autumn?

 Cos Lettuce (left) Fordhook Giant silverbeet (right)

In the meantime I have greens growing in recycled styrofoam boxes too. Styrofoam is not my preferred means of growing vegetables, but if you look at the soil in the background, you'll know why I've resorted to them!

We get the boxes for free, from David's workplace, and we put them to use growing pampered vegetables. I've got fresh pick for the guinea pigs and us. That's what pottering around, can amount to.

Taking a step back...

Actually, my pottering enterprise is pretty productive. My whole garden is a pottering wonderland. Like a mad scientist, I'm busy experimenting in my laboratory, to see what works and what doesn't.

I've got a particular new garden bed, I'm trying for the first time. I'll update on its progress during the end of summer. But like everything in my life at present, it will just have to fit-in around my shadow.

I hope that shadow will make an excellent gardener, one day.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bloom'in here

Spring has officially arrived, but in truth, it had been knocking on winter's door for at least a month. Now is the time of year which becomes every gardeners treat - to walk around the garden and see some of last year's efforts, putting on a show.

Pink Aster Daisy

This daisy has finally gone full bloom, after contending with kangaroos determined to push it sideways to get past. This is one hardy plant. I've taken several cuttings already, and placed them around the garden. None have died on me yet, despite not receiving a lot of attention.

Verbena Candy Cane

Another plant I have successfully propagated next to the chicken coop, is the Verbena. It's living in terrible soil but this is an exceptional plant! I love the candy colour, but will find other colours of the verbena to grow as well. Simply because its so hardy.

Grevillea Honey Gem

Behind the other chicken coop, is the beautiful Grevillea Honey Gem, living up to its name and drawing every kind of honey-eater to its display. There are wattle birds, Rainbow Lorikeets and Hummingbirds feasting whenever they can. There is one particular, territorial wattle bird, which has claimed our front yard for its own.

Wattle bird

They do their best to perch on top of the highest branch, to search for intruders. I'm doing better this year with more native flowering plants, so spats are fewer. I'm doubling my efforts this year, to get more flowering natives into the ground and prune back the others to increase flowering times. I love having birds in the garden, so its something worth committing to.

Lavender Avonview

I didn't think this lavender was going to make it last summer. The western sun scorched it to a near crisp. It's looking much better now and is currently blooming. This one threw three seedlings nearby, which I happily scooped up and even created a rock wall for transplanting one in. I'm hoping those seedlings make it through this summer.

Eremophila (native fushia)

Another bird attracting native, which is currently in bloom, is the Eremophila Glabra. There is a lovely range of colourful flowers to select from this particular group, but I love something about the light-green flowers contrasting with the silver-grey foliage. It's very subtle and refreshing.

Recent wall project

This was the mature specimen I had growing on top of the rock-wall I recently built too. I've propagated from this plant successfully, and have three cuttings planted in different spots around the garden. The small honey eaters seem to especially love the flowers from this plant, but even the much larger wattle bird, will happily feed from it too.

Black mulberry tree

The mulberry is sporting new leaves and fruit. Maybe we'll stand a chance to eat some this year? The birds always seem to beat us to them. This tree is only a few years old, and we're so impressed with how low maintenance it is, that we put in another tree too. More berries for the birds, and us!

Star Jasmine

As mentioned previously, the jasmine is in full bloom and smelling so sweet and delicious. It brightens up this edge of our garden, and makes it worth the trip to the garden shed.

It wouldn't be the end of winter, without the ever faithful kumquat tree putting on a vitamin C show...

Kumquat 'Marumi'

This is our favourite snack food in the garden at the moment. We grab a bight on the way to feeding the chickens, or hanging clothes on the line. It's planted in an ideal position to snack on. Fruit which isn't edible, gets rolled across the lawn, for the cat to chase. She loves chasing kumquats. Strange cat!

Seeing what worked in the garden and what hasn't (another post) has given us some ideas to try different strategies this year. There's quite a lot of work to be done and material gathered for writing other posts. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, or savouring Autumn which has just started for North Hemisphere gardeners.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blowing in the wind

August is our windiest month and true to its reputation, blew many a gale this year. It's amazing what you can find on the ground afterwards.

As long as a four-person table

I've never seen a native bee hive before, let alone one this big! At first I thought it was a piece of bark which blew off the eucalyptus tree in the backyard. I ignored it for several days, before taking a closer inspection. Had I been there on the day I noticed it fall from the tree, I wonder if I could've tasted Sugarbag? That is what it has been coined by Indigenous Australians, instead of 'honey'.

Millions of cells created by an army of stingless bees

The good news is, when I did see this wonderful sight several days after it had fallen, the native bees were back at the tree, the old hive had fallen from. So I assume a queen had survived, or they would have flown away. The acacias are in full bloom now, so they should be able to restock.

Even if I haven't seen as many European honey bees around, I'm happy to know there's still a stronghold of native bees in my backyard.

I did a little research on our native stingless bees, and found while they're harmless to humans, you wouldn't want to be an African Hive Beetle - because that's a whole other story.

UPDATE: Mystery solved in 2016, when we had two trees cut down. The professional loppers we hired, found it was paper wasps (ouch) not native bees, in that particular tree.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Update on Rebar

Just over a year ago, I posted about a small garden project, involving leftover concrete rebar from the house build. I wanted to see how quickly the Jasmine would cover the recycled frame we put next to the garden shed.

Here's a look back at how we left it in July 2013...

New installation

It certainly looked sparse in the beginning. Jasmine is a fast worker however, because in thirteen months, it now looks like this...

Covered in jasmine vine

It doesn't block overhead sun, but it does shade the side the "winter" sun hits, because of its lower position in the sky. When the summer sun hits the roof, this new greenery will help to a small degree, regulate the internal temperature. The other side of the shed has a metre high retaining wall next to it, so gets some shade there too.

We had to cut the jasmine quite heavily in 2013, in order to get the rebar in position. We managed to save a few tendrils which I carefully wrapped around the rebar frame...


Today in 2014, it is covered in a plethora of tendrils and filled with lashings of sweet nectar flowers...


As for our desire to attract new nesting sites inside the Jasmine, we haven't seen any yet, but I suspect it probably needs to fill out (inside) a little more, before small nesting birds find it attractive. But as a gardener, I must say it looks ever so pretty on the inside...

The secret garden

I've been working hard making changes in other parts of the garden, which I hope to post about soon. You know those plants which finally grow to full size, after years of maintaining them, but they turn out to be a problem child where they are. I'm biting the bullet with a few of those now, and making some difficult choices.

But all gardens change, its part of their evolution and kind of intoxicating for me as a gardener. Spring is just around the corner, but I think my garden can't tell its still winter because its already blooming!

That's a post for another day though.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

All rounder

The past few weeks have been interesting. I call it the month for things to break down. I cannot believe the number of repairs needing attention! Sarah had a friend sleepover, and guess what happened to her bed? It broke! The supporting legs warped, which caused the bolts holding it all together, to loosen.

warped bed leg - or otherwise known as the lynch pin

It was a secondhand bed (given to us for free) but still, of all nights to lose complete integrity, it had to be on a sleepover night. Everything under the bed was removed, and the mattress placed on the ground. The bed could not be repaired, it was a complete write-off.

It wasn't me!

Same sleepover, and the friend also broke one of our dining chairs too. Not entirely their fault, as our chairs have been threatening to come apart for years. Every Christmas I wonder if we'll end up eating Japanese style, on the floor. I'm determined to fix them before this Christmas...although they are my famous last words. Just mention Christmas, and you'll have to guess which year I get cracking.

But of course, it doesn't end there...why not lose a door-handle to the food pantry, while we're at it?

At least one handle works, so we won't starve

The handle had been semi ripped out, just from regular use. It was a cheap, hollow, door. I removed it completely, recently, to see how I could repair it. Going to need a wooden plug and more screws, rather than just glue I'm afraid. This now joins my growing list of things to repair.

Of course, it wouldn't be complete without some obligatory electrical appliance going kaput, and our front-loading washing machine, was the culprit to apply for its standing vacation.

Drain hose and filter plug

If I wanted to complete a load of washing, I had to manually drain the machine twice, with a fiddly little hose right at the base. My back really loved that idea by the fifth load of washing. Technology is a great thing when it's actually working. Enter the magic of the internet there anything Google cannot solve?

I was able to find the problem was an elastic band which had wrapped itself around the water pump propeller. Hello my dearly beloved, rubber band collector, who doesn't always check his pockets before putting on a wash. ;)

So this is where I start to look for those clouds with silver linings. The washing machine is now fixed without a repair bill, and my back is saved - yay!!

New double bed

We purchased a new bed, after searching for a secondhand one. Sadly, it's a mass produced bed from China, but it's also solid wood and purchased from a local, small business. We could have saved $30 buying from a flat-pack furniture store, but decided to support a local business instead, who also dealt in second-hand furniture.

Native ginger and puddles!

The long months of drought finally broke too. It wasn't enough to rehydrate everything properly, but it was still a very welcome relief. The kangaroos were out and about the very next day, getting the new shoots of green grass. I was happy to see them back at their regular spots.

Click to enlarge

Kangaroos in the garden, really make a difference to why we choose to stay here. In the past when we've contemplated selling, it was the kangaroos which had a big impact on keeping us here. We enjoy seeing them frequent our garden, the new generations of Joey's practicing their jumping skills on our slopes - but its also a reminder that our garden isn't just about us. It's a shared community.

Veggie magic

Of course the silverbeet also enjoyed the drop of rain recently. I've been watering them by hand, but they seemed to really love the rain because they've doubled in size! They're planted with my ginger, while they remain dormant through the winter. I use the soil to produce another crop in the meantime.

So life has been a mixed bag of challenges and relief lately, - truly, can life be anything else?