29 February 2008

Swapping helps develop your simple living skills

Graphic from allposters.com

I'm pleased to see so many of you joining the tote bag swap. I think the swaps have three major benefits:

  • they give you a simple project on which to practise or improve your knitting, crochet or sewing skills;

  • they give you a practical homemade item to use;

  • they connect you with a like-minded soul who also aspires to live simply.

If you haven't yet joined one of the swaps that Sharon and Lorraine kindly organise for me, I want you to give it a go. You don't have to be an expert seamstress to join, Sharon has found some excellent tutorials to guide your project and no one expects perfection. If one of the reasons you haven't joined is that you think you don't sew well enough, put that thought aside right now. This swap will help you improve your sewing skills. Besides, it's all straight sewing, it's not complicated. You don't even have to buy anything to join, we want you to use fabric you already have at home or recycle fabric used for something else.

Our tote bag swap will give you a non-commercial shopping bag unlike any other. You can take it to the store with pride, knowing it's been made for you by someone with good intentions and using fewspecially bought materials.

I'm going to ask Sharon to pick her favourite bag, or the bag she thinks is the most unusual or imaginative, and I'll send the swapper who made it a copy of the current Warm Earth magazine.

I send a sincere thank you to Sharon and Lorraine for their help. The swaps have grown too big for me to do alone and if we didn't have those two fine ladies, there would be no swaps. So thank you very much, Sharon and Lorraine. If you have any queries about the swap, please email Sharon at cdetroyes at yahoo dot com.

If you've been doubtful about joining the swap I hope you decide to dive right in. There are plenty of good sewers here who will answer any questions you might have, so if you've been thinking about starting to sew, but haven't yet done it, this is your time right now.

28 February 2008

Calling all swappers!!!

We are pleased to announce the new swap. After many wonderful suggestions and ideas Rhonda, Lorraine and I have decided to do a shopping tote swap. We think this a wonderful way to participate and encourage the three gift challenge. We also encourage everyone to use fabric and material that they already have in their stash or to refashion something into a shopping tote. If you are interested in participating in this swap, let us know by March 5th. Please leave your name, email address, and a note if you are interested in swapping internationally (remember to spell out your email address to avoid spam). To help get those creative juices flowing, here are some wonderful websites and blogs that have shopping tote ideas:


A "Partial Parade of Tea Cosies" photos will be posted in the next day or so. I have 15 photos so far and hope to get more soon-don't forget to e-mail me with your photo if you haven't sent it yet (cdetroyes at yahoo dot com). Happy swapping everyone!!!

Here's to new beginnings

I'm not going to work today. Hanno and I are totally exhausted. With the help of the removalists, a few volunteers and various spouses, we moved. On the penultimate load I thought we might not get everything into the house but when we starting moving a few things to their permanent places, some chairs were rolled to other rooms and boxes stacked, slowly space opened up and when the last truck load arrived, it did fit in the house. Phew! I got cold drinks for everyone, we sat outside in the garden, and I realised we had done it.

We had moved!

I wasn't sure I'd be writing those words today because it rained constantly the night before. When we woke, however, the rain had clear to a sunny day. Not too hot, not cold, just right for moving. We woke everyone in the neighbourhood by cutting off the avocado branch with a chainsaw at 6am. Not a great start to the day but necessary if we were to get the large truck in. The removalists arrived at 7 and it was all systems go. We finished at 2pm.

There will be four people at the Centre today so I've decided to stay home and go in tomorrow. There are things to be done here, and I'm tired. I need to regain my strength and get back into it tomorrow. Hopefully most of the unpacking will be done today and I can set up the computers tomorrow. The phones will be connected then so I think I'll spend a bit of time answering messages left on our message bank, the rest of the time I can fiddle around moving this and that and making the house as warm and inviting as it can be for our people.

There is plenty to be done here today. I checked my precious Brandywine tomato seeds yesterday afternoon and they were underwater! I planted one seed in each tall seeding pot and placed them all on a layer of gravel in an old plastic container, so they didn't fall over. I didn't expect the entire container to fill with water overnight and submerge the six inch tall seedling pots. When I saw them yesterday my heart sank. These were the last of the seeds from the best tomatoes, I have no others. I started picking the pots up and draining them and noticed a tiny shoot, then another. The seeds had floated to the top of the soil and germinated there! So I drained the water out, sprinkled over some new seedling mix to cover the seeds and Bob's your uncle. They're still growing.

A small miracle.

I'll check the rest of the seedlings today. I also have washing to do, bread to bake and some quick sewing that Bernadette needs done. Hanno is going to look at this car for Shane. Some of you will remember that Kerry rolled the 4x4 that belonged to the resort, now there is no car for Shane to get to the resort from the fairly isolated house he's living in 12 kms (7 miles) away. They told him he needs a car, so Hanno and I will buy him this one and he will pay us back. He has always refused to buy a car (for environmental reasons), using instead a push bike to get around. With this ute, he'll be able to keep his bike in the back for riding around the bush, but still be able to get to the resort, to town and, most importantly, to home. ; - )

Ulterior motives.

I have another sad update for you all. Our chook Sarah, the one I photographed on the nest the other day, died. She was about four years old and not ill so we're guessing she was bitten by something. Hanno found her lying on the floor of the chook coop when he went in to feed them. We're having a really bad time with our critters lately and it makes me very sad when any one of them dies.

One of the ladies who reads this blog bought our aquaponics system so that will be gone soon. I accept that death is part of life and that all living things will die, but I hope we have the death part of it behind us for a while. I want to settle back into our steady routines of growing food and enjoying the time we spend with our animals and chooks. All we want is to live a quiet and productive life here at our home. This past month has been one when disappointment, grief, hard work and change mixed in with the joy we find in living this way. I hope our new beginning at the Neighbourhood Centre is also a new beginning here - for us and our backyard friends.

26 February 2008

This is a good place

I am often surprised and delighted by the generosity of people. As we worked away at the Centre yesterday, a woman, who I interviewed recently to work as a volunteer, came in to help us pack. She is an older lady and she worked harder than all of us. Another woman brought in packing boxes for us to use. Almost everything has been packed for our move now, we just have to pack up what is in the room the Flexischool uses, defrost the freezer and fridge, take all the notice boards and blinds down and clean up. Many hands really do make light work.

Built in the 1930s, the cottage was formerly the home of the town's first librarian. She lived there with her family for many years and died last year in her 90s.

I had a cleaner come in to deep clean the empty cottage for us. After lunch Bernadette and I went over to check how she was going, found she'd done a wonderful job and that the technicians were working on moving our alarm system over. The electrician will be back today to finish off his work and then all is set for our move tomorrow. There is one hitch - it's raining and there is a forecast of more rain tomorrow. No matter, we're all really excited about moving, soon all memories of the hard work will fade and we'll happily settle into our new space.

There is a very old avocado tree over the driveway that we'll have to cut back. A new drive way and car park will go in next week.

I have been working voluntarily at the Neighbourhood Centre since August 2006, have been the co-ordinator since about mid-way through last year and I'm still surprised at the number of people who drop by with a TV they don't need, an old computer, a piano, or whatever. Just last week I received a cheque for $1000 from a couple in another State who have been reading about us in the local newspaper that is posted to them. For some reason, that Centre attracts generous and optimistic people who see the good in what we're doing and want to give of themselves or something material. It's wonderful to be a part of that.

Hydrangeas growing along the side of where the Flexischool will be.

From my own experience, I have noticed that generosity is never static. Once in motion, generosity keeps bouncing back to you. It creates a kind of circle and when you give freely and with an open heart, that circle will be completed by something coming to you. Something happens when you give to others. I think it might be similar to what happens when you declutter and open space up for good things to come in. When you give, you open a space for something to be returned. I wonder if others have found this to be true.

Here is the old glasshouse with the compost bays next to it. You can't see it in the picture, but the glass house has a glass roof, louver windows all round and lots of benches inside for seedlings and plants.

Hanno is coming to work with me today to do some heavy work. There will just be Bernadette, Hanno and myself working there but I'm sure we can finish off what has to be done. There is something to be said for new beginnings, even when there is a lot of work attached to them. I see our new cottage as being a good place to nurture the disadvantaged folk in our community. It has a kitchen where we can cook hot meals for the homeless; we'll be able to make hot scones for mornings teas when people come to visit; we'll have a quiet and calm garden to take those who need to relax and reflect. There is even an old glasshouse, a green house and compost bays next to old, long dead vegetable gardens. We're going to hold a few permaculture classes there and grow vegetables for our food bank.

This is a good place.


25 February 2008

A beginning and an end

All systems go! This is the week we move our Neighbourhood Centre into another premises. It will be a tough few days but the payoff will be working in a beautiful old cottage in a garden setting. I'm not looking forward to the move at all, but I love the idea of the new space. The removalists come on Wednesday, we have these two days to finish packing and to get the new house ready for us. I'll be working every day this week, tomorrow and Wednesday Hanno will go to work with me to help with the heavy work of removing notice boards and blinds and carrying boxes.

Hanno, Rosie and Alice waiting for morning tea.

We had a quiet day yesterday. Hanno mowed the lawn so we now have a lot of clippings for the compost heap and the chooks to pick through. We also picked five more dead fish out of the tank. We thought we turned the corner with the fish but no matter what we do, they keep dying. There are very few left now. We've decided to sell the aquaponics system. I really hate giving up on it but I can't stand seeing the fish die. It's also too much for Hanno when things go wrong. He'll be 68 this year and the days of shovelling gravel should be in the past for him. We now have our new season soil vegetable garden to concentrate on and further trouble with the aquaponics isn't part of the plan. So it has to go.

While Hanno worked away in the garden, I was busy ironing, folding and baking. I baked bread and a few simple oatmeal cookies for our snacks and morning teas this week. There were also tables to be tidied - why is it that everything seems to land on the kitchen table, and a bathroom to be cleaned. It wasn't as hot as it was on Friday, which was 40 C (104F), I think it was about 10 decrees cooler. Nevertheless, when we both stopped for morning tea, which was icy cold lemon cordial instead of tea, we took the time to relax and cool down on the front verandah.

This is the cowl scarf I'm knitting on circular needles. I'm using a really soft 100% merino wool and have just started the second ball.

Hanno continued on with the lawn after our break and I worked on my Warm Earth article; I'm writing about feeding chickens. After lunch, we turned on the TV and the fan and watched the cricket. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon - sitting there, being cooled by the fan, cordial glasses clinking occasionally, knitting and reading the paper, the dogs wander by and look at us when a wicket falls and we cheer, the phone rings, peeling vegetables in a big bowl in front of the TV, then I make dinner. It nice being here with just the two of us.

(Chookasmum) if you read this can you email either me or Sharon.

24 February 2008

Random thoughts on planting

Everyone develops their own way of gardening and raising vegetables in their own microclimate. Things I need to protect, you might casually throw over your shoulder into fertile ground and walk away. My easy crops might cause you angst and disappointment. It’s all in the soil and the climate. After you've been gardening for a few years, you'll know what works and what doesn't and you can develop your way of gardening to suit your conditions. The important thing is to start and to record what you do.

The one thing that will spell success or failure in your vegetable garden is the soil. Don’t plant seeds or seedlings in virgin ground and expect to see lush growth. Virgin soil, or compacted ground around a housing development, will need natural additives. If you are new to gardening, I urge you to spend time on your soil before you plant, otherwise you’ll be disappointed. There is an old saying: feed the soil, not the plant. That is one of the principles of organic gardening and if you follow it you won’t go wrong.

If you put in the time, effort and money into growing your own vegetables, make sure they’re organic. You can easily add natural fertilisers that will add to the health and fertility of your soil without leaving behind man-made chemicals that might do you and your garden damage.

I use comfrey as a nitrogen fertiliser, a little blood and bone, seaweed extract, sulphate of potash, Epsom salts, compost tea, compost and chicken, horse and cow manure as my fertilisers and tonics. I’ll write a post on how I use all these next week.

A lot of people don’t dig their garden beds, but we always do as we believe it aerates the soil and makes things easier for our friend, the worm.

Some seeds can be grown directly in the soil. It’s wise to always plant root vegetables directly into the ground. They will suffer if they’re transplanted. Carrots and radishes can be grow together. The very small carrot seeds are difficult to sow far enough apart, if you add radish seed to the carrot seeds and sprinkle them along the drill, the carrots will take much long to germinate than the radishes do. The radishes will come up quickly, showing where the carrots have been sown, by the time the radishes are ready to be harvested, the carrots will be forming. Pulling the radishes out will give the carrots more room to grow.

Cucurbits, like pumpkins, squash, luffas, zucchini and cucumbers, should be placed in a mound built up a few inches above the surrounding ground. They’ll rot if they’re water logged.

All the legumes (beans and peas) should be planted in the ground. They like being sown into moist, fertile, well drained soil. Once you plant the seed, generally you don’t water it again until the seed has germinated. The obvious exception to this is if your surrounding soil is extremely dry, then you’d water the seed as little as possible.

Tomatoes are one plant that really benefit from being sown in a pot before being planted out in the garden. I’ll do a separate post on planting tomato seeds, hopefully next week.

Most of the other vegetables can easily be started early in trays. When they’re large enough you either plant them on or plant them out. Planting on means that when the plant is big enough, it’s transferred to another pot before being planted out. Planting out means planting in the garden bed.

The most important thing you need, beside your seeds, tray and seed raising mix, is an identification tag. Tag everything you plant, preferable with the name and date of planting. You’ll also need a spray bottle to spray water on the seedlings. Usually a hose, even on a fine spray, is too forceful for tiny seeds. Never let the trays dry out, those little seeds need to be moist – first to crack open the seed casing, then to help the plant grow. They will die without moisture.

Make sure you read your seed packet for the right time to plant. Planting seeds out of season will result in tall lanky plants that will struggle when you plant them out. Seeds need water and warmth to germinate, your seed packet will probably tell you how warm it needs to be, so be guided by that. Plant the seed according to the instructions. Generally you plant seeds according to their size – estimate the size of the seed and double it, that’s the depth at which it should be planted. For instance if your seed is ¼ inch, you would plant it ½ inch deep. If it’s 2mm, you’d plant it 4mm deep. Sow seed into moist soil and keep it moist by spraying with your spray bottle at least three times a day.

When the seed germinates, it will need light. If possible, move the trays outside during the day and bring themin at night. Make sure they’re not in a windy position as that will dry out the soil and damage baby seedlings.

Growing vegetables from seed, particularly seed you've saved from your own vegetables the previous year, is very satisfying. You won't get it all right the first time but it's just a matter of learning from your mistakes and being careful.

Sharon will be announcing a seed swap soon. This is separate to our sewing and knitting swaps. You'll need open pollinated seeds or heirloom seeds to join the swap, so if you have no seeds yet, now is the time to get cracking.

Scarecrow's garden has a lot of helpful advice and photos for new gardeners
Green harvest sell seeds but they also have very useful information about growing vegetables
There is a wealth of info at path to freedom
There is plenty of information at Garden Desk, with good photos.

I just thought of this and it's worthwhile adding. About a year after we arrived in our home, we added another bedroom and bathroom and we had to have a soil test before we built. That soil test told us that the ground around our home had not been dug or disturbed in any way for thousands of years. Luckily we'd already dug our garden beds and had begun the process of building them up with organic matter. Our soil was originally clay, now it's beautiful friable soil that grows everything we plant in it. The process of adding organic matter still continues though via our compost, straw mulch and worm castings.

Passing it on

I'm a bit late with this but here it is. Melinda over at Elements in Time gave me this excellent blog award a couple of weeks ago. Thank you Melinda. If you need ideas, encouragement or inspiration, check out Melinda's blog. You won't be disappointed.
I would like to pass on this award to my two favourite blogs Path to Freedom (Journal) and soulemama.
Path to Freedom is much more than a blog - it's a way of life for a wonderful family of very productive people. If you've never visited them before, do yourself a favour and visit today. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time because you'll get hooked fast.
Soulemama is one of those gems you sometimes find on the internet. It shows you a loving family raising their children according to their values. While it is soulemama's blog, soulepapa fills in when needed. It is truly a wonderful writing partnership and you get the impression that things are like that in real life too. The thing that stands out for me on this blog is that mama and papa write about about ordinary life and how special it is, and they do it beautifully.

22 February 2008

Two sides of the same wall

Two sides of the same wall. This is inside.

This is outside, just on the left, past that red and white check curtain.

I sometimes think I'm repeating myself here. Yesterday, as I wandered around the yard with the camera in my apron pocket, I thought there is not too much of our home that I haven't photographed for the whole world to see. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the right thing blogging about our lives here; sometimes I think I tell too much. It's not in my nature to be doubtful and I wonder if this is the conservatism and carefulness of age setting in. I sat knitting yesterday afternoon and thought a lot about this blog. It sometimes feels like such a solitary exercise, but then I remembered that it takes so little to make it seem significant and the right thing to do. All it takes sometimes is the right comment or email, or to visit my favourite blogs to make me feel like I'm part of a community and that all this is as it should be.

My home seems so ordinary to me, it's what I see every day and often it doesn't feel like anything to write about. I wandered around the yard yesterday, clicked photos and looked, really looked, at what is here. I could see that even the empty garden beds and a lizard on bricks hold a special kind of beauty. I wonder though if others see the ordinary in the same way I do and if it's enough to make a blog. There is definitely something to be said about living simply, but is it enough to just live it and not write about it?

The seeds planted two weeks ago are off to a good start. I'll plant some of these in the water garden, some in the soil garden and the pumpkins will go over near the fruit trees.

Things really do look good out in the back yard, even though we have almost empty vegie beds, there is a promise of so much to come. The sun was shining brightly yesterday and that sometimes poses problems for me. When the weather seems so optimistic, I start thinking there is something hidden and maybe it's not as rosy as it looks. I'm much better on dark days. Everything seems possible to me on a dark day. Strange isn't it.

But as I looked around yesterday, the bananas are growing
well ...

... the lemons are juicy and there are a lot of them, there are oranges and grapefruit and even blueberries starting to grow ...

... and then I saw Sarah laying this morning's breakfast, so all must be right with the world. Mustn't it?


21 February 2008

Home alone - the sequel

No wonder I love Wyandotte chickens. Read this! It could be a description of me (LOL) but it is a description of Wyandotte chickens from the fabulous Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart:

"well adaptable to confinement or free range; calm, industrious, usually docile, but can be aggressive; some are aloof, others friendly."

We are getting more eggs to hatch. Helen emailed a few days ago to tell me her chickens are laying again and she will collect some eggs to send. This time a neighbour lady, Margaret, will hatch them for me. I'm really looking forward to raising these beautiful chicks.

Photo from this site that has very good information about chickens in general but most particularly Wyandottes. This chicken is a partridge Wyandotte bantam, which is what I hope we hatch from the eggs Helen is sending.

Raising pure breed chooks is similar to growing heirloom seeds. They both need backyarders like all of us to keep the irreplaceable and important stocks going, they are both unchanged since our great, great, great grannies day and they both add that wonderful old-fashioned dimension of sustainability to our backyards. Heirloom seeds and pure breed chooks are just like they were 100s of years ago and have managed to survive, so that we too can enjoy their true and genuine nature. They both have big business doing their best to modify and change them to suit the market place so I intend to do my bit in helping them survive my generation so that my grandchildren can also know the pleasure of eating real vegetables and raising pure chickens for eggs.

I'll be home alone all day today because Hanno is driving to Warwick with Shane. Shane will start work at his new job tomorrow. They'll have an early breakfast soon at 6am and then start the drive. I'll make scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast, with tea and juice. While they're eating, I'll pack some food for the trip. I have leftover potato pancakes, walnut and choc chip biscuits, grapes, tea and water. That should keep them going to a while.

At home here I'll make the bed, do some laundry, tidy my linen cupboard, sweep the floors and clean the kitchen. I have six Brandywine tomato seeds left from last year so they'll be carefully planted so I have some for the aquaponics garden and some for the soil garden. Three more fish died yesterday. :- ( Before lunch I want to tidy up the bushhouse and make room for seedling trays. There will be more trays planted up soon and they need to be placed in a sheltered position that gets a little sunshine but mostly shade.

It's been a very mild summer here with very few days over 30C (86F) but there are some hot days predicted. I'll get all my outside work done today and when it's hotter, I'll stay inside, sewing.

This afternoon I plan on resting and knitting. I had three very busy days at work this week organising our move and I'm feeling quiet tired. I might have a nap after lunch. It looks like a good day ahead for me. I hope yours is a pleasant one too.

20 February 2008

Vegetable seeds, how to test viability

I've been slowly sorting through the vegetable seeds I have here - those saved from my own garden and those bought from places like Green Harvest and Eden Seeds. I now have a list of the vegetables we'll grow this season, I don't have all the seeds yet, and some of the seeds I have I'm not sure of. If you're not sure of your seeds, it's best to test the viability of them before you plant. There is nothing more frustrating than planting rows and rows of seeds that never germinate.

There's a simple and old-fashioned way to test for viability. Recently I tested several packs of seeds that were over their use by dates or were saved seeds that I'd forgotten to write a date on. I threw some out as they didn't pass the test and some had a slow and patchy germination rate, so I threw those out too because I want strong and healthy seeds. However, there were quite a few packs that had a very good germination rate, even though some of them were over their use by dates. It pays to check.

This is how to check old seeds for freshness and to see if they will germinate and grow in your garden.

  1. Write the name of the seed and the date on a piece of paper towel or paper napkin (this is a good way to use up your old stock if you're now using fabric napkins in place of paper towels). You'll need a separate piece of paper for each lot of seeds you're testing. Eight lots of seeds - eight pieces of paper towel.
  2. Moisten the paper towel. It needs to be moist, not wet.
  3. Sprinkle about 10 seeds onto the surface of the towel and roll it into a loose cigar shape. The seeds should be inside the towel and firmly held by the paper.
  4. Get a large plastic bag - and old plastic shopping bag would suit very well - and place all your rolled up paper towels in the bag.
  5. Gently twist the top of the bag so it keeps the humidity inside the bag and place the bag in a warmish spot, like on top of the TV or near the stove. You want to provide warmth, not heat.
  6. Leave for four days.
  7. On the fifth day carefully unwrap the bag and check each roll. If they haven't germinated, reroll the paper carefully and place it back in the bag. If they have started to germinate, mark that roll so you know it's already start germinating.
  8. Check the rolls every day now, but be careful not to dislodge any seeds.
  9. Now you have to use your common sense. If, after a period of a week or so, no seeds in a particular roll have shown any signs of life, Google the germination time of that seed and if that time has passed with no signs of life, those seeds are probably dead. Some seeds like parsley and carrots take longer to germinate so make sure you check the germination time for the seeds you're testing. If the germination time has passed and less than half have germinated, the seeds have a low germination rate and are probably not worth planting, but you be the judge about whether you want to try them or throw them on the compost heap.

    Germination guide for some popular vegetable seeds.

If you need to buy new seeds this year, try to find heirloom or open pollinated seeds. These are the old-fashioned seeds that have been passed down through the ages and not modified in any way by seeds companies. If you see "F1" on the package, those seeds have been modified. Here is a good explanation of heirloom and F1 seeds from the Gardening Australia site:
"Heirloom varieties of vegetables usually predate World War 2. They are open pollinated, which means that you can save the seed from year to year and from generation to generation. Heirloom varieties have been bred in the first place for flavour, and then for other qualities such as growing well in short summers, or dry summers, or wet summers or long winters etc., so they are much more useful for the home gardener. By contrast modern F1 hybrids are bred for qualities like their ability to be harvested by machine, their ability to withstand the transporting process over long distances and their ability to be refrigerated. They are bred for qualities that give them longevity in the processes before and during their life in the consumer market place. They are in fact bred for almost everything except flavour. The other disadvantage of F1 hybrids is that you can’t save the seed from generation to generation. Gardeners can’t save their own seed at home, and neither can farmers who have to go back to seed companies year after year. Allowing these heirloom varieties to set seed enables the seed to be collected and distributed, ensuring that it has a wide dispersal and so preserving them for future generations. Heirloom varieties have good disease resistance and the yields are often higher than the F1 counterparts. Hybrids are often bred so that they crop all at once so that they can be harvested by machine efficiently, whereas heirloom varieties crop over a longer season making them much more beneficial to home gardeners because it means that they won’t get a glut of fruit or vegetables all at once."

This link has a list of the average time various vegetable seeds remain viable.
How to save seeds.
Heirloom seeds - USA
Heirloom seeds - UK
List of heirloom tomato types
List of tomatoes - Australia
American seed site

Happy gardening everyone!

19 February 2008

Trouble with the fish

We have been having terrible trouble with our aquaponics system and the fish have been dying. About two weeks ago we noticed the water going a revolting shade of pea green. The fish were fine but something was happening with the water. When it started getting worse, we changed the water. We put the fish back into the clean water, the next day is was brown.

Our aquaponics system is made up of two grow beds that sit above a 3000 litre fish tank. One of the grow beds was cleaned out recently and replanted. When the water didn't improve, we changed it again. Luckily it's been raining a lot, and as we use only rain water in our system, we had the tanks replenished every night.

But replacing the water didn't improve the situation,
so we ripped out all the plants and cleaned the second grow bed. It was full of green slime, roots and duck weed. This is an all day job that involved shovelling out the gravel, washing it in a sieve, placing it in the wheelbarrow and buckets, cleaning out the galvanised container and shovelling it all back in again.

When we did that, there still wasn't much of an improvement so we changed the water again and waited. Overall, the water was changed three times and it's been every colour from bright green to a mid brown.

Every day a few fish died. It was horrible. I felt really bad that we had these fish and we didn't know enough to keep them alive and healthy. We did a lot of reading and realised the increased temperature and the afternoon summer sun on the water caused an algal bloom. The algae consumed a lot of the dissolved oxygen, and that is what made the fish sick. They didn't have enough oxygen, even though we had four bubblers running all the time and water was falling from the grow beds that created more bubbles.

We now have a cover over the water to protect it and the fish from the sun. They like living in dark water so I think they're happier than they were when it was unprotected. Over the past two weeks we've gone from about 80 fish to around 50. Yesterday was the first day we had no fatalities. I think the balance has been restored. We've lost a few of the larger fish we were hoping to eat fairly soon. The largest of the fish that died was about 22cm (8½ inches).

So now we're starting from scratch again. We'll have to replant the grow beds and wait until the beneficial bacteria in the gravel starts growing again. Luckily it has been kick started with a couple of buckets of unwashed gravel. The bacteria converts the fish waste into nutrients for the plants.

My hope is that the fish remain healthy and we repeat the success with the plants that we had last year. The brandywine tomatoes we grew in the system last year were the best tomatoes I've even eaten - they were sweet and juicy and had that old-fashioned flavour of real tomato.

It's still too dark to see anything outside but if, when I go out, I find the fish well, I think we'll be over this horror session. This lesson has taught me there is still a lot to learn about aquaponics but I hope we can continue learning and provide a clean and healthy environment for our fish.


18 February 2008

Tea Cosy Swap

Hello swappers- I just wanted to remind everyone that most of the tea cosies should be winging their way to their new homes this week. When you receive your parcel please let us know and e-mail a photo to me (Sharon) cdetroyes at yahoo dot com so in a bit I can post a "parade" of the tea cosies. The photos I have received so far are a reminder of what a creative and artistic blog "family" we have. Every time I open a swap parcel sent to me it is like a long distance hug and the talent is just amazing!! We are already thinking of the next swap, so be ready for more fun! Sharon

17 February 2008

Not the step-by-step guide to simple living

As I clicked away on the needles yesterday I tried to compose a blog post in my head that would help those much younger than me work towards their own version of a simple life. I would really like to visit each and every one of you and discuss various approaches to simplicity and help you all get started on this path. Needless to say I didn't compose that blog post and although I would love to give you all a step-by-step guide to simple living, there isn't a one size fits all approach to this.

I am acutely aware that many of you read my blog to find a way of starting, and some of you want to find the motivation to keep at it, but I can't give you a magic formula, I can't say how I would live if I had small children, I am what I am and this is all I offer. I hope that by reading here about my daily life, and all the joys and disappointments it holds, you will see me as all too human role model who shows that life is not always easy, but there is joy to be found in the simple tasks of daily life.

If you look for it, you will find beauty and joy lurking in the ordinary.

I believe there is no one way to live simply. I have lived in Europe, in the Australian bush and in the city, in houses, flats and caravans, and I know with no doubt, I could have lived simply in all those places. Whatever your circumstances are, you can fashion a life that will simplify your daily tasks, help you nurture yourself and your family and lead you to discover that a simple life is like a patchwork - it's pieced together slowly, unpicked sometimes, composed of a mish-mash of colours and textures and is different for everyone, depending on the fabric of your life. But when one stands back from a completed patchwork, it's complexity becomes apparent. It's no longer pieces of this and that, it builds into a functional piece that gives warmth, beauty and comfort. That's how your simple life will build too.

So here are some general suggestions, some things that I have done, that have helped me find this happiness. I encourage you to pick your pieces from this list, and discover fresh pieces from your own life and surroundings, and make them work for you in your circumstance. You might use only one thing here, or you might use all of them, there are no rules, except the one to live well.

This is in no particular order, it's just the order they fall into my brain:

  • Keep your family close and teach your children, by example, both the little and the adult, that happiness is not on sale at any store, it is a homemade commodity.
  • Reduce your spending, pay off your mortgage as fast as you can, but enjoy life as you do it.
  • Learn to cook from scratch.
  • Learn to garden- even if you live in a flat or an apartment you can do this with sprouting, window boxes or a mushroom farm. If you have some space in the backyard, your options are greatly increased.

  • Simplify your laundry routines with homemade laundry powder, soap and green cleaning.

  • Cut down on the time you spend in the supermarket with stockpiling, menu planning and mindful shopping.
  • Don't listen to the naysayers.
  • Teach yourself to knit and sew.

  • Make your own rules. Don't listen to me when you know your own way is better.
  • Find the everyday beauty that surrounds you.
  • Make your bed every day. Make your home the kind of comfortable you enjoy. Fluff up your nest everyday so that your home is a haven and the place you want to come home to.

  • Push the envelope. Your life will probably not be the same as those around you. Try to find a role model but if you don't, walk your own path with confidence and know that you're teaching those who come behind you.
  • Learn to grow some of your food in your backyard. Eggs and fish are the obvious ones for me, but there are other options like meat chickens, milk cows, goats, quail and much more.

  • Develop simple values like generosity and kindness, then be amazed at how they will change you.
  • Look after your local environment. Get rid of all the poisons in your home. This must be done responsibility after contacting your local council or rubbish tip for guidance.
  • Save water, gas and electricity. Learn how to read your meters.

  • Slow down and learn how to appreciate the ordinary aspects of your life. About 90% of your life will be ordinary, the trick is to appreciate it.
  • Develop your independence. This will involve stepping away from the mainstream to reskill or learn how to look after yourself with a minimum of outside input.
  • Help others by volunteering some time to your community or school.
  • Be kind to yourself. Work out what it is that will make you happy, then do it.
This list is not nearly complete, nor could it ever be because all our lives as so different. If you have a tip that has worked for you, please add it to your comment as you may open a door for someone else by sharing it.

Thank you for stopping by
, I hope you're enjoying your weekend.

16 February 2008

New knitting

It's almost Autumn, so for me, it's time to knit with wool instead of cotton. I went to the shops yesterday - yes, I know, it's scary out there - to buy a longer set of circular needles. I'm going to make a cowl for the cold days of winter. I have two balls of very soft 100% fine merino wool in my stash, all I needed was the needles.

I took my camera to the store.

Knitting is a really interesting activity. It's like a mediation, in that it's often a solitary repetition that calms and slows you down. But it's also something that, when you do it in public, will connect you to all the other knitters in the vicinity. Knitters like watching and talking to other knitters. It's like being in a club. When you knit in public, you make a statement. You're silently saying that you like to be productive, you prefer homemade to mass production and your modern creative spirit is satisfied by an age old craft. When you knit at home alone, you're nurturing your soul with the doing of it and giving yourself, or whomever the knitting is for, the warm and generous gift of the handmade.

On to the store. I thought I'd be able to buy needles at the big department store here - Myer. I drove over there, searched high and low, and guess what! You probably already know what I will write - NO needles, no wool, no cotton, no materials of any kind that would allow me to make for myself what I wanted. They only sell pre-made everything. Pfffffffft! I did get some photos though. Can you imagine, they're already selling Easter eggs!

Clicking on the photos will enlarge them

I went to Spotlight. For those readers not in Australia, Spotlight is our big chain craft store. I knew they had needles and all the yarn to go with them, but it's really impersonal there. You scan the aisles, much like in a supermarket, and then take your purchase to a checkout. I would love to find a small local shop that sells a good range of wool and cotton, where I could talk about my purchase to someone with knowledge and advice, where they had swatches of knitting done in various patterns using a variety of yarns, where my love of the handmade was affirmed.

I bought my needles, and two balls of 100% cotton in the bargain bin for $1 each. One of them is red! I don't know why but red cotton is as scarce as hen's teeth here, so when I saw it sitting there I picked it up without hesitation. Click Click with the camera, much to the surprise of the women shopping there, and off I went.

I felt like the cat with all the cream as I drove home with visions of the cowl and the many knitting sessions in store for me. I've already written that I don't see knitting and sewing as a craft but rather a part of the work I do for my home. No matter what it is called though, knitting is always pure pleasure and the starting of a new project is a time of happy anticipation. And when I settle down on the front verandah later this morning and settle into the rhythm of this new knitting, it will provide the satisfaction and enjoyment of the making as well as a warm garment for me to wear in winter. You can't get much better than that.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

15 February 2008

Two great blogs + a great late addition

I just have to tell you about my two favourite blogs - SouleMama and Path to Freedom. I've been reading Path to Freedom since forever and still marvel at their ability to produce a consistent supply of fruit and vegetables from their 1/5 acre suburban garden. If you're an aspiring gardener, or wanting some inspiration for your new season garden, look no further than here and here. I was pleased to discover today that Little Jenny Wren and my blog have both been listed on Path to Freedom website as fellow travellers.

If you're a home spirit with a love of family, knitting and sewing, you can't go past SouleMama. What a wonderful writer Amanda is. It's a joy to read about her life with her family. I discovered the blog only a couple of months ago and read it every chance I get. I'm currently reading through her substantial archives. Please check her out if you haven't already. You won't be disappointed.

I just remembered this very special post so I'm adding it too. I haven't had time to read the rest of Kim's blog but I will, when time is there for it. My most favourite blogs are those that are written well and therefore I might have to add Kim's blog because I do like the way she writes - and the exposure that comes with that.

Hanging laundry

I had to hang the laundry undercover yesterday as it was raining.

There are a few things I do in my daily life that I think are unchanged since Adam was a boy. One of those things is hanging washing out to dry. Drying clothes outside is a chore that connects you to all your great grandmothers. We might have plastic pegs now but most of the other requirements are unchanged over hundreds of years.

Line drying your laundry is remarkably efficient. All you need is the time and a bit of effort to do it - sun and breeze are supplied free to all with the will to use them. You'll need a clothes line, and that can be rope or wire, and pegs. If there is no wind, you could even do without the pegs and just place the clothes neatly over the line - or a fence or large bush. In the old days many women used lavender bushes to dry their clothes.

Start your task by shaking the item before hanging it. That will take out obvious folds and some of the creases. If you can hang your pillow slips, tea towels, T shirts, aprons, napkins etc. well, so that they hang straight without creases, you won't have to iron them. The more creases and folds you remove at the hanging stage, the more work you save yourself later. Even most jeans and some shirts can be hung like this so you won't have to iron them. Shaking is essential.

If you have a rotary line, start with your underwear and the smaller items in the middle and work out to your larger sheets and towels. If you have a long line, hang the smaller items in the middle and the heavier things on the ends of the line. If you have a lot of shirts it might we worth your while to shake them, hang them on plastic clothes hangers then attach the hanger to the line for drying. This might cut down on your ironing as well. If you live in a wet or humid climate, it is better to use plastic pegs as the wooden ones will develop mould over time, and a mouldy peg on wet fabric could stain your clothes.

When the clothes are dry and full of the smell of sunshine, unpeg them, place them in your basket, take them inside straight away and fold them. I do this on the kitchen table as it gives me enough room to work and stack the clothes. It's also a central place from where I can easily put away tea towels, napkins, dishclothes, towels and sheets as soon as they're folded and stacked. Never put off your folding because if you do you'll have creased clothes that will have to be ironed. I have been able to cut my ironing by fifty percent by shaking wet clothes at the line, careful hanging and folding as soon as the clothes are off the line.

Hanging laundry is a wonderful thing to do. You might think of it as yet another chore but it allows you to take advantage of the outdoors, the fresh air and sunshine. You are using the natural elements of your surrounding environment to help keep your clothes clean. It's one of those things we can do that doesn't rely on electricity - it's just you and the pegs.

If you haven't tried line drying yet, give it a go. Your clothes and household linens will last longer as they aren't subject to the heat and constant tumbling action of a dryer. Yes, it does take more effort on your part to do it, but these gentle exercises are good for all of us. Hanging laundry is one of those little things that gives you the chance slow down and to be mindful of the many simple things you can do at home.

I had a load of moist hand towels from the Centre that needed to be washed straight away. These dried well yesterday under the cover of the back verandah roof.

Electric dryers use five to ten percent of residential electricity in the United States!

Save money (more than $100/year on electric bill for most households).
Conserve energy and the environment.
Clothes and sheets smell better.
Clothes last longer. Where do you think lint comes from?
It is physical activity which you can do in or outside.
Sunlight bleaches and disinfects
Indoor racks can humidify in dry winter weather
Clothes dryer fires account for about 15,600 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually. The yearly national fire loss for clothes dryer fires in structures is estimated at $99 million.

Washing and drying clothes - Australia

Hanging Items Upon a Clothesline - UK

How to dry your clothes outside - USA

To Fight Global Warming, Some Hang a Clothesline - Canada

How to make a clothes line


14 February 2008

My scone recipe

I rarely follow recipes. I use them as a starting point and change it to suit our tastes. Scones need to be made in a similar way all the time though. I do add other things to my scones, mostly dates, but usually we have them like this.

  • 2 cups self raising flour OR plain/all purpose flour with one teaspoon of baking powder for each cup
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 30g butter chopped
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to very hot, 220C. Get your tray ready by greasing it or adding parchment paper.
  2. Sift flour into a large bowl. Add butter and rub in lightly until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Pour in buttermilk and mix in using a butter knife, mix to a soft and sticky dough.
  4. OVER MIXING at this point will result in tough scones.
  5. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly for 30 seconds. Press out the dough to form a round about 2cm (1 inch) thick. Cut into rounds using a cutter or floured wine glass.
To make 50 scones, you will need 2 kg (5 lb) of SR flour.

The apology

After all the hoopla, I didn't watch the apology. When it was being said, I was driving to the Centre, when it was streamed from the internet during the morning tea, I was on the phone and dealing with clients. : - (
The morning tea was a great success. About 30 people attended and everyone was moved by the speech and the coverage of the event. The Flexi students and teachers joined us and the kids helped with chairs and moving things around to accommodate everyone. I was really pleased with the kids. When I invited them I asked that they respect the importance of the day and the other people, and they did just that. When everyone was gone there were a few scones and biscuits left over so I told them to help themselves to the food and the last of the coffee. There is never leftover food or drink when there are teens around.
I had a few periods during the day when I could have watched the speech but I decided to save it for later. When I got home I saw some of it on the news and watched the rest on the internet and I was really pleased I waited to have the time to really take in what was said.

It was a very emotional day. The TV coverage of the event showed black and white Australians celebrating, embracing and quietly wiping away tears while they listened to the apology. It has made some truly wonderful promises - that the health, literacy and numeracy of indigenous Australians will improve, that indigenous life expectanacy will move closer to that of white Australians and that we, as a nation, will move towards reconciliation.

My family has lived in Australia since 1797 but I doubt any of my ancestors ever felt as proud of being Australian as I did yesterday when I heard that apology. And when I saw our Prime Minister welcome individual black Australians as they came to Parliament House with the words: hello, I'm Kevin, and a handshake or an embrace, I knew that I was watching something really significant happen.

There are times that we look back on, and with the benefit of hindsight, know that time was important. We don't need time to know that what happened in Australia yesterday was significant, decent, honest and long overdue. Along with all the tears, a lot of joy came from that apology and I believe we've been changed by it. I hope we remain as united as we are right now. As the first item of business in our new parliament, this set the tone for what will come, and I for one am very optimistic about what will follow.

Here is a part of Kevin Rudd's apology speech:

It is time to reconcile. It is time to recognise the injustices of the past. It is time to say sorry. It is time to move forward together.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry.

I offer you this apology without qualification.

We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted.

We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied.

We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.

In making this apology, I would also like to speak personally to the members of the stolen generations and their families: to those here today, so many of you; to those listening across the nation - from Yuendumu, in the central west of the Northern Territory, to Yabara, in North Queensland, and to Pitjantjatjara in South Australia.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the Government and the Parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally.

Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that.

Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing.I ask those non-indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you.

I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive.

My proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia.

And it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us. Australians are a passionate lot. We are also a very practical lot.
For us, symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.
It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history. Today's apology, however inadequate, is aimed at righting past wrongs. It is also aimed at building a bridge between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - a bridge based on a real respect rather than a thinly veiled contempt.
Our challenge for the future is to cross that bridge and, in so doing, to embrace a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - to embrace, as part of that partnership, expanded Link-up and other critical services to help the stolen generations to trace their families if at all possible and to provide dignity to their lives.
But the core of this partnership for the future is to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities.
This new partnership on closing the gap will set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for indigenous Australians, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between indigenous and non-indigenous children and, within a generation,to close the equally appalling 17-year life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous in overall life expectancy.
The truth is: a business as usual approach towards indigenous Australians is not working.
Most old approaches are not working.
We need a new beginning, a new beginning which contains real measures of policy success or policy failure; a new beginning, a new partnership, on closing the gap with sufficient flexibility not to insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for each of the hundreds of remote and regional indigenous communities across the country but instead allowing flexible,tailored, local approaches to achieve commonly-agreed national objectives that lie at the core of our proposed new partnership; a new beginning that draws intelligently on the experiences of new policy settings across the nation.
However, unless we as a Parliament set a destination for the nation, we have no clear point to guide our policy, our programs or our purpose; we have no centralised organising principle.

Let us resolve today to begin with the little children, a fitting place to start on this day of apology for the stolen generations.
Let us resolve over the next five years to have every indigenous four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs.
Let us resolve to build new educational opportunities for these little ones, year by year, step by step, following the completion of their crucial pre-school year.
Let us resolve to use this systematic approach to build future educational opportunities for indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote indigenous communities up to four times higher than in othercommunities.
None of this will be easy. Most of it will be hard, very hard. But none of it is impossible, and all of it is achievable with clear goals, clear thinking, and by placing an absolute premium on respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility as the guiding principles of this new partnership on closing the gap.
The mood of the nation is for reconciliation now, between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The mood of the nation on indigenous policy and politics is now very simple.
The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide.
Surely this is the unfulfilled spirit of the 1967 referendum. Surely, at least from this day forward, we should give it a go.
Let me take this one step further and take what some may see as a piece of political posturing and make a practical proposal to the opposition on this day, the first full sitting day of the new Parliament.
I said before the election that the nation needed a kind of war cabinet on parts of indigenous policy, because the challenges are too great and the consequences are too great to allow it all to become a political football, as it has been so often in the past.
I therefore propose a joint policy commission, to be led by the Leader of the Opposition and me, with a mandate to develop and implement, to begin with, an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years.

It will be consistent with the Government's policy framework, a new partnership for closing the gap. If this commission operates well, I then propose that it work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians, consistent with the longstanding platform commitments of my party and the pre-election position of the opposition.
This would probably be desirable in any event because, unless such a proposition were absolutely bipartisan, it would fail at a referendum. As I have said before, the time has come for new approaches to enduring problems.
Working constructively together on such defined projects would, I believe, meet with the support of the nation. It is time for fresh ideas to fashion the nation's future.
Mr Speaker, today the Parliament has come together to right a great wrong. We have come together to deal with the past so that we might fully embrace the future. We have had sufficient audacity of faith to advance a pathway to that future, with arms extended rather than with fists still clenched.
So let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection.
Let us take it with both hands and allow this day, this day of national reconciliation, to become one of those rare moments in which we might just be able to transform the way in which the nation thinks about itself, whereby the injustice administered to the stolen generations in the name of these, our parliaments, causes all of us to reappraise, at the deepest level of our beliefs, the real possibility of reconciliation writ large: reconciliation across all indigenous Australia; reconciliation across the entire history of the often bloody encounter between those who emerged from the Dreamtime a thousand generations ago and those who, like me, came across the seas only yesterday; reconciliation which opens up whole new possibilities for the future.
It is for the nation to bring the first two centuries of our settled history to a close, as we begin a new chapter. We embrace with pride, admiration and awe these great and ancient cultures we are truly blessed to have among us cultures that provide a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet.
Growing from this new respect, we see our indigenous brothers and sisters with fresh eyes, with new eyes, and we have our minds wide open as to how we might tackle, together, the great practical challenges that indigenous Australia faces in the future.
Let us turn this page together: indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, government and opposition, Commonwealth and state, and write this new chapter in our nation's story together.
First Australians, First Fleeters, and those who first took the oath of allegiance just a few weeks ago. Let's grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land: Australia. I commend the motion to the House.

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