Sunday, January 31, 2016

Relationships - part 5

This will be the final post in my series about exploring relationships. I didn't mean to wait this long to publish it, but I was, um, sorting out my relationships. You've got to make time for what matters, and relationships matter a whole lot. Ignoring them, is a fast track to dissatisfaction in life.

Remember in part 1, when I said; "The beginning of all things, I'm convinced, are the relationships to all things. The ability to relate external substance, to our own". So it starts with us. However, it doesn't end with us. We have to connect with other living things, to evaluate any meaning to our own.

With only twelve of the daylight hours to interact in those relationships however, we have to make them count. They have to be in our face, obvious and enhancing to our daily lives. By developing a daily ritual of acknowledging those living things around us, we get a little boost of self-awareness. Which is really important if we live in a high stress environment, pulling us in all directions.

I'm fortunate, I can unplug from society on our property. But you know, I have little rituals for when I leave here, to go into town also. I pack a bag of home baked goodies, some fruit and cold drinks, chilled in a freezer bag with an ice brick. I can stop any time in my jobs, and have these treats to soothe me and those I'm travelling with. Getting out and stretching our legs is another important ritual when we go into town too. I always find a car park under shade (preferably a tree) and if it involves a walk to our destination, all the better.

But here's the biggie and it tops the list. We work together as a team and make sure everyone is comfortable. If someone needs help, we stop what we're doing and alternate our strategy to best meet the situation. Paying attention to details rather than purely meeting an objective, makes the difference between experiencing life or simply tolerating it.

Because that's where satisfaction can enter the equation. Satisfaction has the wonderful side-effect of making us feel happy, but we don't necessarily, have to be in an optimal situation all the time, to find satisfaction. It's about what we practice the most in our relationships though.

Which brings me to the summary of my series on relationships.

Hold someone's hand if you need to


1. Recognise how we translate relationships - connected or disconnected?

2. Learn how connected relationships work in nature. The permaculture principles and the community which supports them, are places to start learning from. If you're someone who struggles with human relationships (feeling vulnerable or excluded from them) engaging with nature, is that bridge to seeing how connected relationships work.

3. Look for ways to integrate nature into your daily life, even if you live in the city. This point alone, will increase your perspective - even if you don't get around to the first two steps.

4. Ask others around you, if they want to get involved with enhancing nature in your community. Even if its just adopting a few plants for the office. By inviting others to get involved, it helps the community become more self-aware also.

5. And probably the most important, is committing to the process like a loving relationship. You don't expect something to love you back, if all you give is your cold shoulder and a few indifferent glimpses of your time. Commitment doesn't have to mean physical torture, every day, either. It just means touching base in some way, every day - and actually missing it, when you've tuned out for too long.

6. Practice your commitment by supporting businesses which honour the autonomy (or natural cycles) of nature. This is not a prerequisite to following the above steps, but it can help shape the world we want to reflect our connected relationships in to.

7. Repeat above steps, until you don't recognise them as steps any more.

I haven't said much about point 6 yet, of practising your commitment by supporting other businesses. By spending where the autonomy of nature is respected, however, its the ultimate compliment we can pay our communities. Because it reflects the greater abundance of natural cycles, than the continual decline of man-made ones. These actions can accumulate and pay off over time, rather than running at a continual deficit today.

As individuals, families, communities and nations, we don't practice a unique identity, which is self-aware of our environment, as part of our culture any more. Instead, we focus only on the objective of "freedom" as a goal, with no defined responsibilities, other than what the law sets out. So its good to remind ourselves of the inclusive paradigm we're actually part of.

Perhaps Earth day is an attempt, to recognise we all need to collectively take part in something bigger than ourselves. Although, I feel its somewhat limited to one day, when a person can live a whole lifetime. So every day, should be indulging in connected relationships, with other living things.

There was a time, we didn't always know what things were called, or what their purpose was, before we found a connection with them. That is our ancestral language as a species. We connect, automatically, and we are drawn in, to respond to them.

So the question becomes, WHAT do we want to be drawn into, and how aware are we, in the process of that relationship? I hope, if nothing else, I've helped you think about your relationships a little more.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Relationships - part 4

If you've missed the previous posts in this series about relationships, you can visit by clicking on part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Our family ~ made by Sarah
Gully Grove, 2012

While I only came to discover my indigenous heritage, four years ago, my biology remembers a language about the environment, which has been teetering on my consciousness, since I can remember. Even before I could form sentences, I was listening and watching for animals in the landscape. I could see the slightest rut in the ground, of an otherwise perfect lawn. Locate that pin which dropped on the ground, camouflaged by sticks looking exactly the same. And I was always noticing the slightest movement at the corner of my eye.

After living at Gully Grove, for nearly nine years, those early observations and keen instincts are gradually returning. They're a little more blunted by the passage of time, and the busyness of young family, but I still remember them. Which is why I have hope, others can remember and hone their observation skills too. It can be helped along, the more you place yourself in a natural environment though.

The pond

My story became entwined with our property, but that's not going to be everyone's story. People will often adopt public parks and spaces, as their own too. They even get together to create organic community gardens in the city, or nurture a shrine of varied container plants, on a rented balcony.

I've even known a money centric individual, to adopt a neglected plant in their office, without being asked to. Because it elevated the feeling of their artificial space, in a way, they didn't want to be without. I remember asking them, as they ferried a jug of water to the plant, if there was a roster for people to do this job. They shrugged their shoulders and said, nope, but they would miss seeing this plant in the office, if it died - and sure others would too.

 My colourful container plants

So in the city, stuffed into an office building, covered from head to toe in designer clothes, with a diary full of social gatherings - but still, they saw the need for the plant. You see, its in our DNA. If that person could notice it, surely there's hope for many more to tune into that call for nature? Savvy businesses who actually want more productivity from their employees, will often integrate plants in the office, or build a dedicated garden outside, for individuals to take their breaks in. It helps you to relax, as nature is inclined to do.

If you don't have any of that where you are, plan to become the change your community, home, or office building needs. Invite other people to get involved in the process too. It doesn't matter how or where you start, its that you actively attempt to integrate your daily life with some natural aspect in the world. This will press all those biological buttons which say, this makes me feel happy. You're entitled to that feeling, as earth was fashioned with you in mind, as you were fashioned to keep earth in mind. Together, you are complete.

 Banksia Rose, on a cloudy day

The more you do that, the more you won't be able to fall into the daze of not noticing where you're going or what you're doing. You'll start to see things at the corner of your eye again, and find it difficult to lose your keys as often, because you'll start to see in connections again. Everything connects, you just have to sharpen your senses to remember how they do.

Nature is the place where community and nations can find their identity again. We need reminding because we're easily distracted by everything we build. A great nation will fashion its policy respecting the autonomy of nature though. It will give financial incentives to individuals and corporations, who respect the autonomy of nature to function in our communities also. It may be a pipe dream, some ways off in the distance still, but its worth mentioning anyway.

I think every generation can claim some responsibility for ignoring the environment. Some more than others. I think every generation can claim some envy for progress too. Let's just put that all in the past, apologise to nature and get on with mending our relationships in a proactive manner. That means exposing ourselves to natural things more often, and finding new ways to make connections flow into every aspect of our life.

Can any more be said than that? Well, stay tuned for part 5 soon.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Relationships - part 3

One thing I have realised, as I write this series on relationships, is that it started to be about me, and the family I came from. But then it evolved into something else. It inevitably became the story of others too. The story of how a nation was formed, as it comes to terms with its identity. We don't really get to experience the fullness of a relationship, when we experience them alone. So, its important to recognise the other players on the scene with us.

Beyond our immediate family, is our community - beyond that is our State, and the last tier is our nation. Because we see ourselves through all those perspectives, its important to recognise them all. They are each a facet of how we experience the world around us. If you're a religious person, there's another influence to fashion perspective from also.


I posed the question, in part 2, how do we reverse the process of plundering the landscape, and start telling a different story of our relationship with it? Well, the very first step is to recognise its another player in our perspective. I had the advantage of learning of my indigenous heritage, so the stories they were telling for thousands of years, about the landscape being part of who they are - became my story too. But if I were to draw a long bow, I suspect we ALL have this understanding tucked away in our DNA.

Its why taking annual holidays abroad, is so popular. It's why so many yearn to escape the city and take a long, drive in the countryside, or go camping with family and friends. It's the biological knowledge we are to experience the landscape together, as part of who we are. Unfortunately, our modern conveniences (and some of them are sensible advances) have separated us, from the conversation and acknowledgement of our environment. Not just in how it looks, but how we see ourselves in it, and how we respond to it.


We cannot really do that from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, house and office buildings, most of the time. That important association to landscape, doesn't get acknowledged as we go about our days, keeping the industrial complex, operational. Nature barely gets a look-in, while we put our heads down, bums up and keep moving forwards. We are missing a very important piece in our daily lives however, and it shouldn't only be relegated to domain of gardeners as a hobby.

I sometimes imagine what it would have been like, if the Australian government forming at the start, decided to give the Indigenous Australians some autonomy, and asked them to contribute to how the nation was formed. For example, if they were to keep a portion of their native lands, what would be the sacred places which must not be desecrated. Giving them territory around those sacred places.

 Devil's Marbles Northern Territory
sacred site for local Aboriginal people

Perhaps, we may not have seen the destruction of habitat which so quickly followed the boats of colonisation, and progress along wit it. Maybe the droughts, farmers experienced in the 19th and 20th century, wouldn't have hit so hard and caused such large stock losses? We already know if settlers had listened to the aboriginal advice, not to build a community on the floodplains of the Murrumbidgee River, the original township of Gundagai, would not have been flooded. With 89 people loosing their lives. It was local knowledge of how flood waters moved, and the very simple technology of bark canoes, which saved 69 lives from the floods, that same event. Thanks to two aboriginal men, Yarri and Jacky Jacky.

The way we treat the environment however, is not so different from how we used to treat indigenous cultures, or those with a different background to English.  They weren't given rights, they were perceived as an abomination, rather than an enhancement to society, and they were actively targeted as the recipients of "policy" to dilute their influence on progress. We have developed new ways to treat people (to the betterment and richness of our communities) so its only a natural step to address how we treat other living things around us, better too.

 Where to start?

This is where I'd like to thank Bill Mollison and David Holgrem, for introducing the concept of permaculture to our society. It demonstrated a teaching model of how living things connect and relate to each other. More importantly though, how we should be connecting and relating within that model also. Its the first teaching model we have from a Western perspective, which is not designed to destroy living cycles, but to enhance them (and us) in our culture instead. It breaks from that singular narrative, we are so used to learning from.

Another person I'd like to thank is, Peter Andrews, for helping to create the Natural Sequence Farming, land management techniques, for our country in particular. Which helped address farming the landscape, in a completely different way, than simply scraping or burning everything from the surface, and expecting the rain or irrigation pipes, to keep things alive. It's specifically tailored for farming, which addresses the issues of food security in a much broader context, than the corporate models would have us believe is our only option.

And Joel Salatin of Polyface Inc, introduced the idea of mass production of food, while maintaining the natural cycles of the land also. How is this different to Peter Andrews and the permaculture principles? Two things. Firstly, its designed to maximise production, so the model can feed more people. As an extension (because its connected) it can also benefit the land regeneration process, quicker too. Secondly however, Salatin pushes the model as a business to make a living from and sustain communities with. Its not just the farmer out in the field, but the farmer connecting to their customer base, for local supply. That's why its called Polyface "Inc". It's a model that works, and teaches others how to feed local communities, to the betterment of the land and animals. Something corporations don't want us to believe is possible, anywhere but through their advertising of what is meant to be good for us.

 Where shall I purchase my connection today?

These new ways of discussing how the landscape SHOULD work, are the conversations we need to be having as individuals, communities, States and Nations. And we are having them, which is great. But it hasn't really shifted government policy on "progress" and the means by which, we assume prosperity for all.

The only way we can really make that shift as a nation, is to connect our communities, States and even our religious communities, to a food supply which honours the model of nature's autonomy. I was tempted to say, a "sustainable" model, but its a kitch word adopted by corporations and government nowadays, to mean anything but nature's autonomy. What it should address however, is respecting the right of the land to exist as it has for thousands of years. Even if we tweak it to increase production, it should always "keep" nature's cycles in tact.  Not destroy them. But we have to appreciate and observe the cycles, for that to take place.

Animals need the land, like we need the animals

Change doesn't have to be an aggressive shift to more natural models of food production, but we do have to make a choice to shift in great numbers if we are to have an impact. We cannot expect immediate results, if we're working at nature's speed. It will take a season or more for things to start linking up again. So we have to be patient, and keep building momentum in the direction we want to go, as a culture anyway.

The land is "our" story after all. And its time to allow it a place of respect, on our mantle.

How do we make that shift though? More to share in part 4.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Relationships - part 2

So in part 1 of Relationships, I wrote about learning to disconnect through my childhood, and finding new ways to connect again, through our property. But there was something else in my family, I didn't even know until I was 38, and pregnant with our son.

It was uncovered through my mother's extensive research, into our family tree. As she was part of the Forgotten Australians (institutional care for children, due to families, living in poverty) she was now, allowed access to government records, kept about her family.

After quite a long and involved search on her part, she finally received confirmation of what she suspected all along. Her grandmother, was an Indigenous Australian. The people she had worked with tracking down records, said it was the most complete and longest running family tree, they had on record, of Aboriginal descent in Australia, to date.

Mayor of Geelong (J C King) 1922-1923

Why was it so hard to find all this information, when the other part of my family tree, couldn't be more English? My great-great grandfather, was the Mayor of Geelong, in Victoria (Joseph Charles King) for example. The reason why we knew nothing about the diversity of our family tree, is because when Australian government was new, it was also in the process of occupying an existing culture.

In forming our nation's identity, early on, policies took into consideration English descent alone. The new White Australia policy, demonstrated just this, by applying restrictions on immigrants. Indigenous populations, didn't even factor into the White Australia policy - as their work simply wasn't recognised as requiring pay, like immigrant workers were.

Many Indigenous worked for food and board only, others were given government rations as they lived out their natural lives on reserves and missions, having been evicted from their lands. These government rations were starting to show tooth decay, and skeletal deformities in their young, for the first time in their history. As research had been conducted on their pristine health, before and after, government rations were applied.

These new illnesses showing up in their children, was attributed to the Aboriginal lifestyle and perceived neglect. Which brought about other restrictive policy on their culture. What we now term as the Stolen Generation, were acts passed in various levels of government, which allowed children of mixed heritage to be legally removed from their Aboriginal family, either by State, Federal or church missions, and placed into institutional care.

Some tried to speak out, like the father of my great grandfather (J C King) who was a missionary. He wrote a letter, asking to allow the aboriginal people to maintain their own autonomy from government. Noting, how it was important to maintaining their culture, and survival in general.

All these policies of a new nation however, became my invisible family story. It became both my connection and my disconnection to the land and its people. We never knew my grandfather was part of the Stolen Generation, or that my great grandmother, was Indigenous. Not for nearly 40 years of my life and 60 years of my mothers. Because they were never told in stories, or put on display as proud photographs of where we came from. Instead, they were locked away in dusty government archives, waiting for one determined lady - to put all the pieces back together.

The only reason I can write about this story now, is because of my mother's desire to connect the pieces together. A quality more telling of our Indigenous roots, than our English ones. Because Indigenous culture, without exception, connected the individual to family - to the landscape and to the animals. Everything was connected on a far greater scale, than just the one point of view. My English roots however, only ever told one story. Their own.

I cannot be that singular point of view any more. When you learn a part of your family, was hidden in the shadow of the other side of your family, the question naturally arises - well, who are you? The land I'm connected to, helped to answer that one.

Thankfully, others have also started the process of changing the conversation, for our nation, too. The former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, in 2008, gave a formal apology to the Stolen Generation - and then, to the Forgotten Australians. Note; this applies to two generations of my family, even though both had little understanding at the time, why they were apart from their families. But the ball is rolling towards acknowledgement and change now.

Wouldn't it be great if it ended there? But surely there's another apology, our nation needs to make, in great earnest. The way we form our government policy needs to reflect this also. For the great disconnect for all of us (Australians, and the rest of the world) is the disconnect with the landscape, and the diversity of life we all share it with. How can we talk about "our' food and "our" people, when we don't even acknowledge the land as anything but a trophy to hang our list of accomplishments on? We fight over it, draw our boundaries through it, but we never recognise with great reverence, how lucky we are to have it, or that anyone before us, has preserved it with great intellect and patience.

Mending the rifts of the past with each other, is important for our nation. But the land has always been part of our story too, and its time to see it as something other than, what we conquered and grew wealthy upon. It needs our recognition, to see it as part of our family again. Allowing it to be what it is, without diminishing it, to our singular point of view any more.

All the pieces, connect. Without them, we'll always have this question mark, hanging over our heads. How can we reverse a process of conquest, and start telling a different story though?

Well, there are some already leading the charge, but more about that, in part 3.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Relationships - part 1

This year, I wanted to share more personal thoughts about my life. Which is difficult, when I assume visitors expect to read about land management and things to do with chickens. However, behind this property, are the people who manifest its design, and they always come with their own story.  To share a deeper vein of our property, therefore, perhaps its not such a stretch to demonstrate what connects me to it?

The beginning of all things, I'm convinced, are the relationships to all things. The ability to relate external substance, to our own. The groundwork for all this starts in childhood. Everything we are exposed to, becomes our blueprint for life. Probably the most important relationship to rule all relationships, is our connection to family. This is where we learn intimacy, rejection and the subtleties between negotiation and respect.

But sometimes, not all childhoods go smoothly, so not all relationships come without a sense of detachment. Relating to external things becomes more of a challenge, when your internal self is, somewhat, out of alignment.

Me at 4 or 5 years of age

My childhood had a few displaced relationships, at a time I needed to know where I belonged. At a time I was forming my identity. So instead of developing who I was, I took on the roles of missing, or unreliable people. Which has led to an imbalance in my ability to relate. Because I can empathise greatly with what other people are feeling, but often struggle to nail down my own.

What I do know is, how displaced I often felt in relationships. Why I constantly did stuff, being actively busy, in order to make that connection felt. Similar to the perfectionism, I wrote about earlier, I didn't realise, I had a vacant lot, where my sense of self should have been planted, many years ago. It was still there, it just didn't receive the kind of attention it needed to bloom.

Our house behind a Callistemon ~
 'Kings Park Special'

This is where Gully Grove enters the picture (in my story) and has a profound effect in my life. Should it come as no surprise, there were plenty of vacant lots to plant on 5 acres? So many plants went into the ground, along with many casualties that didn't quite make it. But something amazing, always managed to emerge and surprise me. Little did I realise, through this landscape, is how I started relating all those disconnected relationships, back to me.

Only this time, the land wasn't asking me to become anything, but myself. The more I was exposed to its lack of boundaries, and all those delicate relationships tying everything together, the more I felt myself emerging as part of it. I could finally appreciate what a "connected" relationship felt like, with me at the centre. Instead of trying to relate all that external stuff, to a question mark.

That could be the end of the story. Sign off and move to the next post about chickens. It does make for a happy ending. However, there are more turns in my story, which I will write about soon. Because while I realised I could learn something from the landscape - there was a deeper, still hidden connection, which was waiting to emerge as well. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

A new smoothie

So I was weeding the vegetable patch yesterday, in the cool of the afternoon, and I pulled up some beetroot, which I thought had succumb to the heat of summer. They had wilted, tiny leaves. But to my surprise they had small bulbs, and I thought of what I could make with such a meagre offering from the garden.

A recent post from a friend, had me contemplating a beetroot smoothie the following morning. So that's what I did. I cleaned, boiled and then removed the skin of the beetroot.

Ready to go

Now I don't have a fancy piece of equipment to make smoothies with, so in the past, they've been kind of chunky, with my regular blender. My Bamix stick-blender, on the other hand, probably had more chop. So I decided to give it an extra helping hand, by cooking the beetroot first and making it easier to pulverise.

 Frozen, cooked and raw ingredients

I sliced the cooled beetroot, got some frozen strawberries from the freezer, and readied a small portion of cashews for protein and healthy fats. From experience, I knew I had to help the cashews break down easier too. So in came the handy grinder, which attaches to my stick blender.

First grind

This made a rough meal, to which I added a teaspoon of flax seeds. After a bit more whizzing, it broke it down into a smoother meal. Flax seeds are a good source of manganese, vitamin B1 and Omega 3 fatty acids.

 Finished meal

Then it was time to load up my tall jug with everything, and see what my stick blender could do. I changed attachments of course, and ditched the grinder. As it whizzed around in the jug, I added some water and apple juice, to make it less thick and a little bit sweeter too. But not too sweet. I found it did need the apple juice to connect all the flavours.

 A beautiful red smoothie for breakfast

The texture was the best I've managed with my limited equipment before. Not chunky, just not liquid smooth. My taste tester, was delightfully enthusiastic as well.

What is this delightful concoction?

Not that you can tell by the picture, because it looks more like an impersonation of Heath Ledger's, Joker, from "The Dark Knight" movie, don't you think? Peter really liked it and so did I. It gave me quite a buzz for the morning. I also used the leftover beetroot juice, for mixing into our chicken feed. What was left of the beetroot leaves, also went to the chickens.

So I reckon I got my value's worth, from two surprise morsels in the weed patch vegetable garden.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Oh Mother

Mother of vinegar. What is it? Where does it come from? And can you get some for yourself? Well, yes, you can get some, by making your own vinegar. What? You can do that!


 New batch of vinegar

I made a batch of vinegar recently, which I will describe how to soon. The "mother" of vinegar is just cellulose, which is created by the harmless bacteria in vinegar. You can see it, in the above picture, floating on the surface of my new brew.

Mother created, from old batch of vinegar

Taken from the surface of the old brew, you can see this mother has several distinct layers. The top layers are thin, slimy and pink. I didn't have any mother to colonise my old brew, so it basically had to start from scratch, which is why the top layer isn't as healthy.

The layers underneath are a lovely healthy white however, and they easily peel away from each other. I took the last layer and placed it on my new batch of vinegar, to help colonise it faster. If you make consecutive batches of vinegar, like I do, be sure to keep some of the mother from the old batch, to help colonise the new batch of vinegar, faster.

So how to make vinegar?

Three stages of processing

It's really easy. You just need some leftover peelings, or even fruit which has gone soft. I regularly use the peelings and cores of apples, pears and pineapples. I've even used a bunch of grapes I forgot about, at the bottom of the fridge.

You put them in a jar which can fit them comfortably, add water until an inch before the top, and depending how big your jar is, add some sugar. For jars over a litre, I use 2 heaped dessert spoons. Smaller jars are one heaped dessert spoon, and for something around (or under) 500mls, I might use a heaped teaspoon. Then you simply place a breathable cover over the top, secure with an elastic band and let sit for several weeks, out of direct sunlight.

In the above picture, you can see on the left, a jar of peelings I was about to add water and sugar to. The middle jar has been sitting for several weeks, and the last jar (right) was my brew jar, which was about to receive the strained contents of the middle jar.

Ready to go to the bottom of the pantry

I love my brew jar, its big and came to me, missing a lid, so it was perfect. It carries several litres and was recycled from my husband's workplace. For new readers, he's a chef.

I generally try to make batches of vinegar, so when my brew jar starts to run low, I can add new fermented batches of vinegar to it. What I need vinegar for (mainly to use as rinse in my washing machine) comes from this main brew jar.

Strained jars and remaining solids

These were two jars I strained recently, to add to my brew jar. I just use a strainer over a bowl, lined with cloth and pour the liquid out. The cloth in the strainer catches any solids. Then I pour the contents of the bowl, into my brew jar.

I try not to use the contents of the brew jar for a couple of weeks. When I see the mother on the top, growing more and more layers, it tells me the vinegar is ready to use. The liquid will also become clearer, and not so cloudy.

The plastic white vinegar bottle you can see in the above image, I add to a separate bottle, just for my washing machine rinse. I fill most of this bottle with my home made vinegar, adding about a quarter to a third of the processed stuff. This helps me to spread my costs so I'm buying less processed vinegar, but I'm also using household fruit wastes in a different way.

If you have a range of sizes of jars, like I do, you can make a batch of vinegar, according to how much peelings are made. So if you're living by yourself, you can still make vinegar. You just make it in smaller batches. I've been known to even add peelings to a new ferment, the very next day, because I ate an apple. The vinegar jar was closer than the compost bucket.

So give it a go. Then you can claim you made your own mother!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Coop business

With all the hullabaloo normally surrounding Christmas and New Years, it took seven days into the new year, to give our chickens (plus their coop) a new start too. Here is our first, Hilltop, chicken coop, update for the year.

Freshly mulched

David purchased a bale of lurcerne, which I was able to spread around the floor today. I attempted to rake the ground flat, then decided it was too much work. Once I got the mulch down however, you couldn't tell the dips from the ruts!

The hens will most likely scratch it over and mess it all up again, but that's a chickens' life for you.

Helping hands - er, wheels

The process of lugging materials up hill and loading them into the coop however, were made decidedly easier, with the help of our truck/dolly/trolley, or whatever you want to call them. Love this piece of equipment - levers with wheels, what will they think of next?

The new coop renovations I started back in 2014, enabled me to wheel materials into the coop (yay) instead of having to lug them over a step. Believe me when I say, my back and I, don't regret those renovations, one bit. 

Nests x 2

Then there were the nests to attend to. Since the new hens became acclimatised to using their roost at bedtime - or rather, I had to convince the older hens not to boot them off - I hadn't found manure in the nests every day. Subsequently, I didn't have to scoop them out any more, or bring new sawdust to top the nests up regularly.

So they got rather bare, over several months of neglect...

Wait your turn ladies

Needless to say, when I filled the nests this morning, there was a line to inspect everything was in order. Our hens rewarded us with three eggs in the morning. Thank you, ladies. You're doing a fantastic job, being chickens!

It was a rather warm day today, though. I noticed, because I was closer to the roofing iron than the chickens were. Some where panting a little. At least I have the benefit of sweating to cool down. This coop is always a work in progress, so we've got plans to help reduce climate extremes, as we can get to them.

C'est la vie, chokos

This was how we created cooling, before we roofed the entire coop. We grew glorious choko vines, over a small portion of the top. It was fantastically cool!

Changing the roof design however, meant we had to change how we cooled the coop. We are still experimenting and developing our design, but our new measures are still making a marked difference, in the interim.

Southern side (left) and Western side (right)

Our western and southern sides, have new raised beds, which have performed well. Not as well as hoped for, but its still the first year of growing things. There's much to learn about this particular location. The foliage still helps cool the tin and the ground, on that section of coop, however.

I've got some lovely Giant Russian sunflowers on the southern side, with huge heads. Some are already drooping from being laden with numerous seeds. The choko vine on the western side, however, hasn't grown very much. I expected as such, for its first season - as it builds a thick, fleshy tap root, which will sustain it through drought.

Northern side

On the northern side, this is just overgrowth from the passionfruit vines, a few metres over. In the growing season it tends to swallow the front of the coop. We have plans for dealing with this area, but it will have to wait until the autumn and winter. As there is no point pulling out foliage, which is helping to keep the coop, cooler in summer.

Fresh watermelon

I couldn't bare to see the watermelon we didn't manage to eat over the festive season, go to waste. It was huge and it was cold from being in the fridge. I served up some for the family, and at least a quarter, went to the chickens.

Cold fruit, yoghurt or whatever you don't want to go to waste, is good for chickens in warmer weather. It helps to reduce their body temperature.

Tucking in

Our hens were happy to fossick for the black seeds at first, and they will eventually demolish the rest of the flesh, throughout the day.

I was a little nervous the chickens would suffer from heat stress, as we transitioned our coop. We have limited time and resources, so beating summer wasn't going to be an option this year. Though I have to say, this summer has been exceptionally mild. More frequent rain and more overcast days, than I can ever remember here.

This has been a wonderful help, as we work closer to making our chicken accommodation work better for them, as well as, for us. I'm hoping we can fence around the coop this year, and allow our hens access to some of the trees we have growing around the coop.

We will have to see what 2016 brings.

Monday, January 4, 2016


 Our very first, Windsor block, retaining wall

So we've built a few retaining walls at Gully Grove - enabling us to create flat land on our slopes. That first Windsor block wall, was to become our vegetable bed area, and was worth all the effort. Concrete blocks should outlive timber retaining walls, indefinitely. So we still expect it to be standing, long after we've been consigned back to the soil ourselves.

They aren't exactly cheap though. Which is why its taken us many, many, many years, to build the walls we have. But apart from buying them by the pallet, brand new, we've also come across our Windsor blocks, in other ways.


We looked through the local classifieds, under building supplies, and found an ad selling 20-30 Windsor blocks, leftover from their garden project in town. It was a simple matter to collect the blocks with a trailer, and they were even kind enough to throw in some building bricks they had leftover from their house build too, for free.

Our second, Windsor block, retaining wall

I think we paid $50 for those blocks, which saved us well over half price, of what we would have paid new. But there's also another way you can buy cheap blocks for retaining walls.

Visit the manufacturer and see if they are selling seconds. We have collected seconds from them previously, to finish other projects we miscalculated how many blocks we needed. What are seconds? Well, I can show you, thanks to our recent wall project.

Spot the difference

Seconds have cosmetic damage, but don't alter their ability to do the job they were designed to do. In the above picture, you can see one side of the brick (right) is smooth and straight. On the left side, however, its jaggered and not straight. The block on the left, had too much of the facing taken off and consequently, sheered off some of the straight edge. You may notice, a little bit remaining down the bottom.

Minor gap

Same bricks, with a slightly elevated view. You can see the blue-metal (aka: gravel) we backfilled between the blocks. This is part of the process for creating drainage in the wall anyway, but it also ensured the damaged brick, could still hold the soil back.

It's an example of what a "second" would look like, if you purchased them from the manufacturer. Others may have chips the customers didn't want and returned them. They still work, they're just a little damaged and can cost less to buy this way.

We didn't buy these seconds, they came in our new pallet of bricks. We could have returned them for better ones, but we decided they would still do the job.

Uneven front, base

These are blocks we did reject though, but it can also give an example of what "seconds" stock, could look like. This block should have a flat base, but some of it has been knocked off. You could easily put this block down in the first course, and it wouldn't be noticed. We discovered this one after the first course was laid however, so couldn't use it in the subsequent courses, which had to sit flat on the block underneath.

Broken off

The block on the far right, has had its ledge taken off. This isn't good to use on any course, because it wouldn't lock into the road base, or any corresponding blocks it was laid on. But some have only a little bit missing on this ledge, and would be sold as a second. So long as most of it is there, it can be used in a wall. If you were to use them in a wall, just space them well, between good blocks.

If you only wanted one course of bricks as a raised bed however, then it shouldn't be a problem to use. Once you go above two courses, it starts to become unsafe. Because that ledge, is part of the engineering of the blocks to hold the weight of the soil back.

No hope for this one

In all the years and times I've laid the first course of bricks, in our walls, this was the first one to split. I barely tapped it with the rubber mallet, and it split in half. Obviously it has a fault in it, and cannot be used at all. But I thought it was worth noting, as its never happened to us before.

If you wanted to build a wall on a budget and have a means to collect small amounts of blocks over time, this is the best way I know how to do it. Scour your local classifieds, maybe even put a wanted add in, and you can visit the manufacturer to see if they have any seconds to sell.

Do you have any suggestions for sourcing second-hand building materials in your area?