31 March 2008

Simple Family Life - Part One

I have asked my friend Belinda Moore to write about raising children while living simply. Belinda lives with her husband and six children to the far north of me in Queensland. She is a fine example of a modern woman who has not been caught up in the trappings of department stores and "I wants". Belinda writes from her own authentic experience, I hope you enjoy her story.

Living simply is an easy choice for an individual, I think. I’m married with six children aged 4-14, and sometimes I wonder about imposing my frugal ways upon my children. I feel a pang of regret that they don’t have bedrooms that look like pictures in a magazine. I micro-manage their wardrobes so I rarely pay full-price for shoes and clothing. Sometimes I make a deal that instead of going to the cinema to see a movie they’re really hanging out for we’ll buy it on DVD as soon as it’s released. We eat well, but simply and to a set menu, with few packaged goods and very little take-away, especially not from any of the fast food giants. There is a lot of pressure to provide our children with the best of everything – their own rooms, fresh new fashions each season, outings and holidays to expensive destinations. But we are choosing not to succumb to the pressure.

We bought a farm last year with a smaller house than we are used to, so the children are sharing rooms full of mismatched furniture including old wardrobes and bunk beds. For us this means keeping clutter to a minimum and ensuring they each have their own space within their room. There are other areas in the house to play and relax, and more than enough room outside. Our children generally get along well, know how to share and work together, and have company at bedtime. As we extend and renovate our house, some of them will still share rooms by choice, because they are friends as well as siblings.

Our children wear hand-me-down clothing, especially at home on the farm. I do love clothes though and they always have lovely outfits for going out – these are the better hand-me-downs, gifts, end-of-season and op shop bargains, occasional home-sewn items and store-bought for anything that’s missing when it’s required. To clothe six children in this way, I believe that I spend less than what it would cost to clothe a single child by buying all their needs in season, at a regular department store. And no complaints so far! This does take a bit of organising – I clean out their wardrobes and take stock of what they have and what they need well ahead of the change of season. I also keep a list of everyone's upcoming needs so I know what to look out for.

We choose quality toys and look after them. My kids don’t expect to get something new each time we go to a store. I prefer that they don't watch commercial television, especially the children’s shows because of the advertising. When they have birthday or Christmas money to spend I let them choose how to spend it, but do discuss the value of the items on their shopping list. Sometimes we end up with plastic, battery operated toys as gifts or bought with their own money. This doesn’t sit well with me at all, even with rechargeable batteries. These are the least-played-with toys, never last very long and usually don’t encourage creativity or imaginative play. They seem great in the box on the shelf, or on TV, but in reality are usually a disappointment destined for landfill.

There are many choices to be made by parents today. We need not listen to the advertisers, or try to keep up with what other households are doing. Ask yourself what’s best for your children, your budget, our planet… and don’t compromise your ideals to suit anyone else! If you’re being fair, and living an abundant lifestyle in other ways, your children will not wish for anything more.

* First in a series of guest posts by Belinda Moore.


Shopping tote swap

Hello ladies. No, I did not fall off the ends of the earth, I spent Spring Holiday in California visiting old friends and my youngest daughter. I will post a couple of photos later. I just wanted to remind everyone that the deadline for the shopping tote swap is Wed., April 2. I would also remind all the swappers to make sure they have the correct address for their swap buddy through a quick e-mail. When each of you receives your parcel please take a photo of the tote and e-mail it to me including your name and your buddy's name. I will be posting them on the blog as I receive them, so keep a look out for yours. This swap was very large and we will have a lot of photos to post. I also wish to thank all the ladies who have been so wonderful! I have several ladies that have taken extra swap buddies and everyone has been so sweet as I have fixed up glitches-this swap has been such a joy for both Lorraine and I. Rhonda wanted me to choose the most creative tote, but that is going to be very hard and if the totes are anything like the tea cosies-everyone would win!! Rhonda, Lorraine and I will be starting another swap Fri. April 4, but this is a bit different in that it is a heritage seed swap, so there is no crafting and everyone who decides to join will swap within their country. I will be explaining the Seed Swap on Fri., April 4. Please start thinking of ideas for our next craft swap-so far we have dish towels and pin cushions mentioned, so if you have an idea that you would like to share please e-mail me (cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) and remember that swaps are for learning a new skill or practicing an old skill and even better- meeting a new friend so if you have an idea please let us know!! Happy Swapping! Sharon and Lorraine

Work, worms and a cat

I love being able to balance out the time I have at home with my voluntary work at the neighbourhood centre. Today is the first of my three days there this week. Monday is always busy because I have to write articles for the local newspaper and have them ready before lunchtime - as well as answering phones and dealing with the people who come in. After Monday morning, it's all down hill. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd find such joy in voluntary work. When I retired it was one of the things I wanted to do but I didn't have a clue where I would work or what I would do. Fortune, they say, favours the brave - one day I just walked into the Centre and asked if they needed helpers. Now I run the place and do things like teach budgeting, train volunteers, talk to people who need a little help and a hundred other things. It's a wonderful place with good people and I get a lot out of being there. If you're thinking of doing some voluntary work - dive right in. You'll find real joy in being able to help and if my experience is anything to go by, it will change you in many unexpected ways.

I had a very relaxed and slow day yesterday spent outside in the garden with a little indoor work thrown in for good measure. Our cat Hettie was asleep in the bushhouse when I went in there. She's sort of caught up in a vine because she had to sleep in a corner near my orchids.

I was sorting through photos earlier and came across these three photos of our garden in 2006. I studied them for a little while because I wanted to see where we'd planted certain vegetables back then. One of the benefits I've found in blogging and taking photos of my garden is that I have this ready reference of what we did, and when. I thought I should post the three photos as I know there are a lot of gardeners getting ready for the season and these photos might help you work out a plan, or at least help you see what others are doing.

Clicking on the photos will enlarge them. In this first photo we had Chinese cabbage growing in the foreground with zucchini just behind them.

In the next bed over was a wall of green beans. I think these were French climbing beans - probably Blue Lake. On the left are a few sunflowers which we grow sometimes for the chooks, with silverbeet just in front of the beans.

And finally a bed of cos and buttercrunch lettuce, JudiB's onions (written about yesterday), celery, radishes, rhubarb chard and a young peach tree.

One of my jobs yesterday was to improve fertility in our current garden. I used a combination of worm juice (above) and worm castings. The castings were scattered around seedlings and raked in, then everything was watered with some diluted worm tea. Worms are a very frugal way of creating fertile soil for your plants. You can keep the worms going with kitchen scraps, they will multiply, so you can give them to your chooks or other gardeners, and they make the most wonderful fertiliser.

When you set your mind to it, you can create, recycle, grow and make do with so many of the things already in your home. You don't need to go to the store and buy new - what you have already at your fingertips can be used for many simple tasks. All you have to do is to work out how to use what you have in a different way, and to think creatively. Forget what advertising tells you, what you buy is usually inferior to what you can make yourself.

With this mindset I have been slowly increasing the number of avocado trees in our backyard. Below is the seed of an avocado we recently had on our salads. I sprouted the seed and soon it will be planted out. Growing from seed takes longer than buying a grafted tree, but you eventually get the same fruit. It just takes more time - and the will to do it. This is a great project for children too. The seeds sprout fairly readily and it's wonderful to watch as it grows a little every day. All you do is to fill a small jar with fresh water, poke two toothpicks into the side of the seed to help the seed stay on top of the jar. The bottom of the seed should be just touching the water. Keep it in a warm, well lit area, like a window sill. In a week or so it will sprout, a few weeks after that it will look like the seed in the photo below. When the green shoot is tall and strong and when there are well developed roots, plant it out into a pot with well draining soil. After a year or so, plant it in the garden. A grafted avocado will produce fruit in about 4 or 5 years. This way will take about ten years. It's a long term project, but a worthwhile one.

Thank you all for your comments last week. I always enjoy reading them. Let's hope this week is a good one for all of us. Take care everyone.


30 March 2008

The oldest blogger

Our little silver Hamburg chook, Stella Gladys, is dead. Hanno found her in a nest yesterday morning, she was wet over the top half of her body, dry below and sitting in a dry nest. It had been raining overnight but the roof doesn't leak. Hanno thinks a snake tried to swallow her but gave up, I think it was the stress of relocation.

RIP Stella Gladys.

It might sound cruel but Hanno and I have come to accept death as part of what happens in our backyard. We aren't what you would call farmers or graziers, but I do see our one acre block as a little farm which supports life and sometimes experiences death. We know this is likely to happen when we get new critters, because, for some creatures, the stress of being caught at their original home, being put into a container and transported by car to our place, is enough to kill them. We are gentle folk, we do care for our animals and chooks, but sometimes kindness isn't enough.

I made myself sit at the sewing machine until I finished two projects yesterday. One was a tote bag for my swap partner, Chas, the other, a tea cosy. I made the cosy from a small part of a recycled cotton jumper that was not able to be mended. I added some wadding for warmth, cotton strips for aesthetic appeal and Bob's your uncle, we have ourselves a tea cosy. I might cut the rest of the jumper in squares, hem each one and use them as cleaning clothes.

Earlier in the day I set up a small enclosure for the baby chicks. You can see them here on the grass, which they pecked at and scratched on most of the day. They are, in order from left, golden Hamburg - Jewels, Faverolles - Heather, golden Campine - Beatrice and buff Orphington - Martha. I gave them a little perch to practise on so when they progress up to the chicken coop, they'll know how to roost at night. I wish I had a broody hen to mother these little chicks. All creatures benefit enormously from a zealous and caring mother to show them the what, where, why and how of life. These babies have to get by on instinct, food and water on tap and a safe environment; the rest is up to them.

The last of the red Welsh onions where picked yesterday. We have problems growing regular onions here - our growing season is just a little bit too short for them, but we get by fine on spring onions. I have just replanted some of JudiB's green onions, which I consider to be the finest spring onion - for abundance and taste - that I've grown. Judi lives a couple of hundred kilometres from me, going west, and she has a bumper crop of them every year. I think she's given away hundreds of these onions over the years. Mine have been growing well and faithfully for two years now, and even in driving rain, the hottest summer and long spells of dry, they thrive. Some of these onions will be a added to silverbeet that was frozen earlier in the year, some backyard eggs, local cream and ricotta and a few sheets of philo pastry to make a pie for our dinner tonight and tomorrow.

It's only 12 C (53F) this morning, the first cold morning of the year. Sometimes I fantasise about living in a cold climate again with hot open fires, mittens and duffel coats, but then the first cold morning hits and I decide I'm best here where the winters are mild. Now that I'm older I feel the cold more than I once did. I think Hanno's the same because often in the winter he makes himself a hot chocolate before he goes to bed. Our dogs, Rosie and Alice, are growing old along with us and now that Rosie is 12 she struggles to stand up early in the morning and she has to be lifted in and out of the car. And that's no easy matter. I wish there could be life without death but that impossibility leads me to believe that while we are all here, we make the most of what we have, we show respect and kindness to all and we leave our home and family better for us having been here.

I'm sounding kind of maudlin and I don't feel sad at all. I just have a full and true awareness this morning of the fragile nature of life and the beauty to be found in just living. I will be 60 soon so I still have at least another 30 years in me. I wonder how old the oldest blogger is. ; - )


29 March 2008

All the time in the world

Sometimes I feel like I have all the time in the world to do whatever it is I have to do, often I slow down too much and have to make up for it later. Like now. The past two days have been quiet and relaxed, I went out yesterday to our local recycle station, then to the Centre to take in everything they donated to us. They gave a slow cooker, a toaster, coffee cups, cutlery, vases, tea pots and a kettle and milk jug. The baby chicks have been taking up a bit of time as they need to be taken to a sunny spot each day, fed and watered frequently, I've been reading, sewing and organising a few odds and ends.

And now it's Saturday! Yowzers.

Today I have a mountain of work. There is washing to be done and hung out to dry, folded and put away, baking - a cake and bread and sewing - finishing off my tote bag (hi Chas!). I have to start preparing for our visitors, two sisters and a son, which means I will move some things from the spare room back to where they were before we started painting all those months ago.

And gardening.

We have reached the time when we put structure in the garden. We have a few things planted so now the time has come to put in climbing frames and tee pees for beans, peas and cucumbers. We're adding the vertical to the horizontal, which always adds interest to the look and feel of the garden. There is still one garden to be weeded and planted but that will happen soon. The seedlings have put on new growth, seeds have germinated in the soil and it's all going according to plan.

Hanno is still working on enlarging the chook house but it's taking more time than we first thought. We're trying to use all recycled materials so it takes a while to find what we need either here or further afield. We had a big downpour of rain yesterday afternoon, 60 mms (2.4 inches) in about an hour, and all the chickens ran to the newly covered area and remained quite dry and warm out of the rain. There are nine chooks in there now, and four babies will join them soon, so it was good to see the new space will accommodate them nicely when they're all in there together. The back walls will go on today, new perches will be made and we have to move the nesting boxes. Hanno will make three new nests too but that can wait till after the coop is finished. When everything is in place, I'll take some photos for you. I know Patrick and Renee want to see what we've done.

Thanks to everyone who added a blog link yesterday. I'll go through them soon. I hope you all have a lovely weekend and have time to relax and enjoy life. Welcome to all the new people who still keep coming. I am amazed that there are so many readers here. If you have time, please leave a comment, especially if you've not done so in the past. Take care, everyone.


28 March 2008

Shhhhh, I'm reading

Shhhhhhh, quiet please. I'm reading my favourite blog - it won't take long, there is only one I read every day; though I have a couple more I read when I have time.

I'm not sure where inspiration comes from, or how is it stirred within us, but I know that when I read Soulemama's blog I am urged to think more creatively and to find the joy in my ordinary everyday life. It reminds me that I can make this day anything I want it to be. It shows me the possibilities that are ever present, and that those possibilities could be as simple as knitting with soft wool or a significant reminder of the importance of family. That blog is the one I always read. It is well written, insightful, funny and wise. I really like that girl.

I would love to have the time to search for other challenging and engaging blogs and sometimes, when I have a spare 30 minutes, I do look, but I rarely find what I'm looking for. And, if truth be told, I don't know what I'm looking for. I found it in Jewel's blog, and in Amamda's, but most of the blogs I find, although many are interesting, there is that special element - let's call it inspiration - that eludes me. Maybe I'm too fussy, but I would love to find a handful of blogs that I could read every day and find affirmation, entertainment, truth and involvement.

I wonder if you would share your favourite blogs with me so I could see if I can build on my small list. If you'd like to share, just add the link to the comments and I'll transfer them to this post so we canall easily click through them.


I'm not adding any more links to this post. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

27 March 2008

Clean fridges

As promised, here are some fridges. Are there any others I can include here?

This is my clean fridge. It looks pretty feeble with store bought cabbage and tomatoes. Bring on the new harvest!

Below is Diane's fridge. Spick and span, Diane! Well done.

Here is Tracy's fridge. What a good job she did! Well done, Tracy.


Be confident - own your life

If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavours to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Henry David Thoreau

I sent that quote to one of my sisters the other day when she was struggling with an important decision. It really speaks to me and reminds me that while our lifestyle may not be everyone's cup of tea, it suits us, it enriches us and we must remain confident in our decision to live as we do.

Confidence: freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities.

We humans are strange beings sometimes. We like uniformity, we distrust those who run outside the pack. We like to have our own decisions validated by the mass appeal of them, and when that doesn't happen, when someone runs against the grain, we are suspicious and sometimes resentful. I'm sure many readers here have friends or family members who question your way of life, who want you to come to your senses and go shopping for all sorts of flim flam or who resent and question your decision to stay home with the children and "for go" one wage.

Staying home to raise healthy children is not an easy option. Living frugally to embrace a greener way of life is difficult. Making your home a place of regeneration and cosy safety will put you at odds with most of your contemporaries. So why do we do it? Is it because there is joy to be found in ordinary every day life? Is it because we know that unless we change the way we constantly trash our environment we are in big trouble? Is it that we're just fed up with what modern life has become - we find a feeling of belonging and contentment in a more simple way?

No matter what your reason is in striving to live as you do, be confident in how you live and what you're trying to achieve. Keep moving towards your own independence, keep learning how to do all the things you want to do; reskilling yourself will help you live true to your values. Above all else know that if you are happily settled in your version of a simple life, or if you're just starting your journey, you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours, and you will find contentment and happiness along that track.

Now, the fridges. I hope I've clearly demonstrated that I DO KNOW what you're all doing. ; - ) Anita, Tracy, Quinne, Char - I know. LOL I'm really impressed that a lot of you clean out your fridges regularly - Elizabeth, I want you to go have a cup of tea while we work today. The rest of the ladies and I will be cleaning out our fridges. I'll be back later to post a photo of my fridge. If anyone wants me to add their own clean fridge photo just email it to me and I'll include it later today. Happy cleaning ladies!

26 March 2008

Cleaning the fridge

How long is it since you cleaned out your fridge? I haven't done mine since just before Christmas! There are a couple of jars in there holding sugary jam and last night I found a jar with one slice of bread and butter cucumbers. Isn't that crazy! One slice. Why would one slice be left? Hanno must have done that. ; - )

I try to clean out my fridge before I do a big stock-up but for some reason I've left it three months without cleaning it. I usually don't put jobs off, there's no point. All the work I do here in my home is for Hanno and I, no one else lives here, so putting off a job like this is shortchanging us. Tomorrow it will be the first job I do. I'd much rather have a clean and organised fridge rather than a dirty one. In the interests of safety and frugality, we have to be careful with our food.

Cleaning a fridge is a simple and straightforward job. The main thing to remember is to do the job thoroughly but quickly. You don't want to have the fridge door open too long or the food to warm up too much while it's out on the bench. I remove everything from the fridge, including the shelves and fruit bins at the bottom. I wipe out the fridge using a clean moist cloth and bicarb. When I've wiped every surface thoroughly, I get a clean cloth, dip it in warm water and wipe off the residue.

I check the seals, clean them with a toothbrush dipped in homemade all purpose cleaner, then wipe with a clean moist cloth. I remove everything from the outside fridge door - yes, even the Kath and Kim cut out dolls - and wipe the outside of the fridge, again with a moist cloth and bicarb. I wipe the residue off, then dry the surfaces with another clean cloth.

Finally, I replace the clean shelves and fruit bins, that I wash in the sink, and close the door for the fridge to cool down again. Then go through the food that was in the fridge. Sometimes old food is given to the chooks or worms instead of being returned to the fridge, sometimes we have a meal that night using leftovers. I always try to limit the amount of food that's not eaten by us or the critters and I'm happy to report that over the years I've cut down our food wastage a lot.

I wonder who else needs to clean out their fridge. Let's make it a date to do it tomorrow. How many of us will clean out our fridges? Are you game? I'm going to post a photo too, if you want to show your clean fridge to the world, send me your photo and I'll post it later in the week when I post my photo. Cleaning a fridge is a tedious but necessary job, we might as well have some fun with it.

Graphic from allposters.com

25 March 2008

Easter eggs and chooks

We closed the gates on Thursday afternoon when we returned from our day out and they have remained closed since then. We've been shut off from the world, working on this and that, and content doing it.

Little Lotte, the silver spangled Hamburg.

My main concern has been the care of Martha, Jewels, Beatrice and Heather - the youngest of the chickens - and I have to tell you they are a hand full. Beatrice, the little Campine, is an excellent escape artist and at one point we had to take some pickets off the fence when she wedged herself between a sheet of corrugated iron and the fence. My intention was to have them on the grass in the sun, but the wire circle I made didn't keep them in because the holes were too big. I then fenced them off in the vegetable garden with a length of lattice and while that kept them in securely, it blew over just before a downpour of rain and I thought it wise not to put them back there. In the end, they stayed in the 200 litre box they sleep in and that was under cover because of the frequent showers. We have some smaller gauge wire which makes up a wall being replaced on the chicken coop, so when Hanno puts on the sides of the enlarged house, I'll have my wire circle. I have a feeling that circle will happen today as Hanno has to look after the babies while I'm at work. ; - )

It's been a slow and quiet Easter here. I did some sewing on my tote bag and the stitchery, sorted through yarn, organised my work notebooks and diary for next week and did barely enough cooking to keep us going. Seeds were planted, pots moved around, worm castings harvested and scattered on the vegetable garden and fertiliser was made. I did all my house chores and watched part of two DVDs one of the ladies here sent. Most of all, I enjoyed my new book, Green Mountain Farm. I finished A Very Small Farm on Thursday and found it wonderful in places but a little light on substance; Green Mountain Farm is making up for it in the best way.

Visitors arrived yesterday to look at the new chooks. My step-son, Jens, and daughter-in-law, Cathy, arrived with Cathy's mum and dad. They only stayed for a short time as they were about to go back home, a drive north of about 200 kms.

The ever watchful Anne Shirley, our Hew Hampshire girl.

I had to go looking for Cocobelle on Saturday. She's sulking because we have new chooks and she disappeared and didn't come home to roost. I knew she'd be safe because there are a lot of trees she could sleep in but nevertheless, I went searching for her down by the creek the next morning. The path down there is rarely used, it winds down from our backyard to a jungle of wild maiden hair fern, vines hanging from the rainforest trees and little palms struggling up to the light above the forest canopy. It's cool down there, a noticeable drop in temperature, and with the sound of the creek ambling by, it was the perfect place to just stop and look. Shards of sunlight broke through to light the green jungle and although I heard a whip bird and the rippling water as it snaked its way to the ocean a few kilometres away, there was no other sound. It's like another world down there and I am ever thankful that it's part of the land we live on. Cocobelle broke the silence with her gentle cackle. She was sitting up high on the ledge above where I was standing. From there she could see the creek and our back yard, and, of course, the new chooks. I told her she has to get used to the new girls, and came back up to the yard. I'm sure I heard her go pfffffffft.

I love living here. I love being separated from the rest of the world and being content with that. We have plenty to do, in fact there are times when there is too much, but never times when there is too little. We are kept busy, interested and satisfied with all the small tasks that help sustain us. There will always be something to do in the garden, always food that can be cooked, sewing and mending to be done, eggs to collect, herbs to dry and soap to make. Those tasks that make up our days help us live this free and easy life. And while I look forward to my time at work with all the challenges and joy that brings, it is the drive back down the mountain and coming home that fills me up.

23 March 2008

Chook house and tomato seedlings

There will be more work done outside today. Hanno is enlarging the chicken coop, a project likely to take a couple of days, so I'll take over gardening duties why he's doing that. The production of food in our vegetable garden is vitally important, as is the well being of our growing family of chooks, so this requires a team approach to make sure all the required work gets done.

The first stage of the chook project got underway yesterday afternoon when Hanno climbed on top of the coop to clean off all the debris there. It doesn't look like much but it's already been standing for 10 years and in all that time, even with many local foxes, pythons and feral cats, we've only had one invader - a small dog that killed a few of our Rhode Island Reds.

In the photo below you can see the small cement slab running from the shed to the gate. This is the area we're enlarging. There will soon be a roof and walls surrounding the cement slab which will enable us to house about 20 chooks.

The coop is made up of a small shed where the girls sleep and lay their eggs. Just outside there is a fenced area that we're currently using as a pen to keep the older of the new chooks. This pen opens up to a larger run, just at the back of the vegetable garden, that is shaded by a fig tree, a lemon tree and a pecan. There is a lot of room for the girls to scratch and wander in the larger area but most days we open the gate and let them free range in the back yard. Often they'll wander through the fence and go down to the creek, or, during summer, they'll have their dust bath under the palm trees and then sit quietly in the shade.

We will keep the older new girls in this pen for two weeks. Then they'll know this yard is their home and even when they wander outside the confines of the fences, they'll know to come home at night. By then the four babies that we now have in a 200 litre plastic tub, will be big enough to go into the coop with their older sisters. They'll be kept in the pen for two weeks as well, to familiarise themselves with the other chickens while being separate from them, as well as seeing and feeling that this is their home. After their time in the outside pen, they'll be allowed out with the others. By then it will be time to bring our new Wyandotte babies home and they'll go through the same routine.

Yesterday afternoon, while Hanno worked on the roof, I was busy in the bush house, potting on the brandywine tomatoes. The photo above shows them a couple of weeks ago when the seedlings where starting to get their true leaves. I have found that tomatoes really benefit from special treatment before planting in the garden, so when I have the time, and when I want to make sure I get enough tomatoes to sink a ship, I go through the following procedure.

Each of the seeds is planted in a single long pot. I like these long pots as they encourage the roots to form and grow straight down. I do have two seeds in one pot above, but that's the result of my poor eyesight, or carelessness. After the seeds are planted they're put into a sheltered position that gets sun but no wind; I also put them into a container so they don't fall over.

A few weeks after planting the seeds, the seedlings will develop their true leaves and it's at this point I pot them on. I get a slightly bigger container, pick off the lower leaves and plant the seedling deep in the pot.

Tomatoes have the ability to produce more roots further up their stem, and to encourage them to develop those roots, I plant them deeper into the potting soil than I normally would with other vegetable seedlings. Bury the stem a good two inches lower than it was in the previous pot, firm the potting mix and water in with diluted weak seaweed mix. This helps the seedling cope with transplant stress. If there are any leaves touching the soil, pick them off, carefully.

The lower in you plant the seedling, the more roots will develop. The more roots you have on the plant, the bigger it will grow, giving you more tomatoes. I planted these on yesterday, next week I'll fertilise them with a week compost tea (you can use any weak nitrogen fertiliser) plus a pinch of sulphate of potash, then I'll wait for them to produce flowers. When I see the flowers, I'll plant them in the garden.

When I plant the seeds, they don't need sunlight. When the seedling emerge and put on leaves, they need sunlight, so they're left to grow in a sunny spot out of the wind. After potting on, they go back to their sunny position, and then to the garden.

Never let your seedlings dry out. There is a fine line to be drawn between too much, and too little, water. You'll develop the feeling for watering as you gain experience, but when you're unsure, feel the potting mix with your fingers and if it's dry, water, if it's moist, wait another day.

Later this morning I'll be planting more seeds and fertilising the seedlings already in the garden. Now is the time when there are a lot of small and fiddly jobs in the garden but I know that if I tend to them all they will make a big difference to our harvests later in the year.

I hope you are having a lovely Easter. Thank you for stopping by and reading. For all those folk who have emailed in the past week or two, I hope to reply this afternoon. Thank you for your patience. : - )

22 March 2008

Names have been chosen

After much thought and help from family and my friends here, I proudly announce the names of our new chooks. We have golden Campine - Beatrice - above, and Faverolles - Heather - below. Look at her blue eyes, she is so pretty.

The other two babies are buff Orpington - Martha - and golden Hamburg - Jewels (yes, for our friend). The older girls are Australorps - Mary and Kylie, buff Sussex - Margaret (Olley), New Hampshire - Anne Shirley, and silver Hamburgs - Lotte and Stella Gladys, my grandma's name.

The littlest chicks were put into a safe area in the vegetable garden yesterday and scratched for the first time. They also jumped onto the top of their box, stood in their water dish and ate - boy can those girls eat!

The older girls are fenced off from the three large chooks but kept flying out of their secure area. Cocobelle, our last remaining black chook, ran off into the jungle down by the creek and sulked all day. The two Rhode Island Reds - May and Nell - are unconcerned by the new arrivals except if there is grain thrown for scratching, then they peck any little chook who comes near. Late yesterday afternoon I found a bush turkey sitting, watching, in the grass and later it came into the chook pen. There are many wild bush turkeys around here so I had Alice gently chase it off as they can devastate a garden (by scratching) in a very short time.

Overall, the new chicks have settled in well and have been accepted by the older ladies. Thanks to everyone who submitted names for my list. I have several Wyandotte bantam chicks coming soon, they are currently under Margaret's broody, and I'll choose more names from the list when they arrive. What a colourful and varied clutch of chooks we'll have in a few months when they've all developed their distinctive plumage and features. They'll be wonderful backyard entertainment.

It seems to me that chickens are in their rightful place in a backyard. They provide eggs and manure and will clean the bugs right out of a vegetable garden better than any human worker. Today I'm going to suggest we make a new garden bed just for chicken food so we always have enough greens for our feathered friends. Feeding spinach, Chinese cabbage and silverbeet to chooks guarantees deep golden yolks and the tastiest of eggs. I also have some open pollinated oats, barley and rye seeds here, so I might try those as well. I would like to supply as much of their food as I can. Not only would that cut our costs but it would also help us close that chicken feeding system, where we would supply everything they needed from our own land and not have to rely on bringing in food from outside. We aim at closing a lot of our systems to become as self sufficient as possible but we often have gaps. Maybe, with these chooks, we'll be able to do it.


21 March 2008

Big day out

Thank you all for your care and concern after my post yesterday. The nurturing power of family and friends really helped me get over the previous day and after an outing with Hanno yesterday, I feel on top of it all again. It's the little things that make the greatest difference. Hanno giving me a little kiss and saying: 'I'm glad you're here.', my sister Trisha gently reminding me of our mother when she wrote in an email yesterday (after reading the blog) to 'take care of yourself', my other sister Kathleen telling me 'I feel like I haven’t seen you for years.' Then all your kind comments and emails expressing concern and love. I am a lucky woman.

And I'm feeling fine this morning.

After writing in my previous post that I would be shutting the gates and cocooning myself inside, this sentence in the same post might give you a hint about what Hanno and I actually did yesterday. 'I might also look around for some pullets or young hens - we are down to three chooks and need more to supply our eggs.'

Yes, we have more chooks!!!

I looked on the poultry breeders' site, found a breeder about 90 minutes away and after talking with her, Hanno suggested we have a day out. I packed a lunch of pumpernickel and Camembert sandwiches, two pears, water and black tea and 30 minutes later we were on the road.

We stopped on the side of the road, at a small picnic spot, for lunch. The photo above is looking out over the plains of the Brisbane Valley, just north of the little town of Esk. We shared our sandwiches there with a family of Magpies - mum, dad and baby. (Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.)

Then it was onwards to our destination - a lovely little property set up as a Landcare refuge for wildlife. The lady there - also a Rhonda - was looking after her baby grandson who came with us in his stroller while we looked first at the older girls, then into the hatchery where we saw younger chooks. We chose 10! Two black Australorps, one buff Sussex, one New Hampshire, two silver Hamburgs, one golden Hamburg, one buff Orpington, one golden Campine and one Faverolles. I can't believe our luck to find all these different pure breeds in one place.

On the way home, we stopped at the Wivenhoe Dam. This is the dam that supplies most of the water for the city of Brisbane. We had a cup of tea here, and had another visit with a mother and baby Magpie.

Driving back into Esk, we stopped here to buy some chick starter and grain.

This is the view from the farm supply store door - out to the ranges and the Esk Post Office.

Then we whisked past pretty little cottages that have been turned into restaurants, on to a farm where we picked up a bale of hay for $2, and made the promise to come back soon for more. Our straw, hay and sugar cane mulch prices here have been sky high because of the drought and we haven't been able to buy our usual 10 bales for the year. When we got home, we made arrangements with my step-son, Jens, to drive out in his tray-back soon to collect as much as we can fit in - both for us and him.

But here they are. Drum roll please!

These are the six larger girls. The two black Australorps and the buff Sussex (centre with black necklace) are the oldest, then the New Hampshire (red girl on the right); the two little silver Hamburgs are the youngest of the older girls.

The Australorps - these are an Australian breed of chicken.

My favourite so far - the buff Sussex.

Two of the four babies - at front is the buff Orphington with the little peach Faverolles. Behind them, in the shadows of evening are the golden Campine and the golden Hamburg.

And one last photo. I had to include this because it shows the true nature of the New Hampshire - the red girl on the left. Since we put her onto the ground that freshly mown grass had been added to, she's been busily looking for worms, eating little blades of grass and scratching around like she's been doing it for years. It's an amazing testament to the instinct of chooks to scratch and look for bugs - they know how to do these things that are good for them and keep them alive, they don't have to be shown it. So here she is, a chook on a mission, walking with purpose and determination wanting to get off that concrete and back to real earth.

Everyone is awake now, we've taken the dogs outside and checked on the new flock. They're all fine and happily eating the first of many breakfasts they'll have here at their new home. It feels good, and right, to have a good sized flock again. When we get the little chicks from Margaret we have around 20 chooks - enough for our needs and for eggs to sell.

Hanno will have a busy day or two extending the chook coop to accommodate the larger flock. I will be researching the food needs of the smaller chicks and making sure the babies are put into the sun today and onto the ground where they will scratch for the first time. These are the kind of chores that make living this life such a pleasure. We want to make sure our new girls live good lives and that they produce healthy eggs. If I were a 'real' poultry farmer, I might not worry too much beyond the care and health of my poultry but I want our chooks to enjoy their lives with us, I want to share the abundance our land can provide and I want to be mindful each day of the joy I will find in doing that.

This is the beginning of another chapter in our simple book. Today will be a good day.

So now I want your help naming our little ladies. There will be a Martha and Nora, and Kathleen wants to name two, so I've given her the golden Campine and Faverolles to name. I'm going to name the two Australorps after our two Australian princesses - Kylie and Mary. That leaves four other names. What will they be? You tell me. : - )

For all those ladies who asked about the tote bag swap deadline: The deadline for posting your shopping tote is Wednesday, April 2, 2008. Less than two weeks. Happy sewing, ladies.


20 March 2008

Shopping tote swappers

Hello ladies, I have done some switching of swap buddies. Stephb and Anita are now buddies, Ania and Bel are swap buddies, and Aslaug and Rebecca are now buddies. If each of you would check your e-mail in boxes I have sent you each others addresses and now you can e-mail each other and start creating your shopping totes! Thanks so much for your patience with the glitches, but we are lucky that we had so few with the swap being so large. Happy Easter to one and all! Sharon

Closing the gates

I need to get back to my life today. I need to fold this life around myself and rediscover the healing benefits of it. After three busy days at work, with one very sad and troubled day yesterday dealing with people who are being kicked while they're down, I have to see for myself that all life is not like that.

Apart from busying myself in the kitchen this morning with bread and a cake, I'll be sifting through seeds, planting, mixing potions and giving the worms a new bed. I want to be engrossed with living this morning, I want to tightly close the front gates, bury myself in being here and stop remembering yesterday.

Later today I'll phone my chook lady, Margaret, and find out if she's candled the eggs, and if so, how many chicks we have growing under her broody. I might also look around for some pullets or young hens - we are down to three chooks and need more to supply our eggs. I've gone off eating eggs lately but I still use them in my baking and Hanno eats a couple every day. We also supply our local worm man with eggs, so we need to get moving.

Today is the first of five days I'll have off over Easter. In Australia we have a four day Easter break, with Good Friday and Easter Monday being public holidays in all our States. Here at our little homestead, I'll be relaxing and reconnecting, sewing and knitting, gardening, writing and reading. My two books from Amazon arrived yesterday and are now sitting on the kitchen table waiting for their first opening. All I need now is a comfy chair, a cup of tea and an Airedale at my feet and I'll be right.

19 March 2008

Shopping Tote Swap

Would those ladies who have not been able to contact their swap partners please leave a comment here with their names, the name of their swap buddy, and if you remember, your swap number. I will be switching buddies tomorrow for those who haven't heard from their buddies. If you would prefer, you may also e-mail me at: cdetroyes at yahoo dot com. I would like to finalize the switches by tomorrow evening. Thank you all, Sharon

Folding and ironing

I have a mad secret - I like folding and sorting. Of all the crazy things to develop a liking for!

I'm always looking for low tech ways to do my house work and folding clothes and household linens is just about the lowest of low tech. It's just me and the item - no irons, no machines of any kind, all I need is a firm and steady surface. I came to this fork in the road when I realised how much I disliked ironing. Folding seemed to be my best option. Folding gave me close to wrinkle-free clothes without the involvement of an appliance.

There are tricks to effective folding and it starts with the way you hang wet clothes on the line. The clothes must be hung out well, after being shaken to have creases and folds removed. Then they need to be pegged securely in areas that are not noticed - so for skirts and jeans, this is on the waistband, for dresses, jumpers and T shirts I peg under the sleeve. Sometimes I hang shirts and dresses on clothes hangers. When the item is hanging, I smooth it out and make sure there are no areas that have been caught up or tucked in. I want everything to dry without too many creases and hanging in the same way they'll be used when dry.

I need to fold as soon as I take the clothes from the line - leaving them in a basket for a few hours (or days) is not an option. When I leave them, they need ironing. My routine now is to take the clothes, towels, pillow slips, dishcloths, sheets etc from the line and put them into the basket which is taken inside to the kitchen table. Piece by piece I place an item on the table, lay it flat, spread it out with my hands and make sure there are no folds, smoothing out creases. Then they are folded as well as I can manage, with each fold in the process being smoothed out with my flat hands, so if there are four folds in one item, it has been smoothed out four times. I try to fold edge to edge, corner to corner. If your corners are out, the clothes won't hang well.

The only things I'm ironing now are Hanno's cotton shirts, some trousers, some of my linen tops and skirts and some pillowslips (because I like them ironed). If I hang and fold well, I don't have to iron jeans. I take each piece as it comes, if it looks creased because I haven't shaken it before hanging on the line or I've missed a sleeve twist, I iron it. It's not rocket science - it's judgement by eye.

This has been an easy way to simplify my laundry routines. I've given up the need to have perfectly pressed clothes and am happy with the result I get with this method. It's much easier and less time consuming than ironing everything, no matter what. Best of all though it's a gentle and simple routine that is quite enjoyable.

18 March 2008

Shopping Tote Swap

I have heard from a couple of ladies who are having trouble reaching their swap buddies. If you haven't e-mailed your swap buddy yet please do so as soon as you can so we can make sure everyone has talked to their buddy. If there is a problem please e-mail me (cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) Thank you so much, Sharon

Community life

I've been spending a lot of time in my community lately, and therefore spending a lot of time thinking about my place within it. I used to believe that I was an island and the life that Hanno and I made for ourselves was apart from everything else. Now I know that's a naive view and that what we do affects our community and what happens around us affects us.

I believe strongly in my own individual responsibility. This is paramount to me. I am responsible for my life, I make deliberate decisions to ensure I live the way I want to live and I don't leave much to chance. I know that if I want to eat fresh backyard vegetables and eggs, Hanno or I must make a plan, save seeds or have the money to buy them, do a lot of hard physical work, tend plants, water, fertilise and watch. It's pretty much the same with the eggs, although having responsibility for living creatures adds another dimension of stewardship that I take very seriously.

Having spent so much time working in my community and seeing its strengths and weakness, I now know that I have a responsibility to do what I can to work towards making our region a healthy, safe and caring place that nurtures its people and its natural environment. It sounds like a big task, and maybe it is but I will work on my small part of it so I can add what I believe is valuable, essential and appropriate. I know my ideas for the community are different to what is there now - I want to teach life skills, because I know they're in short supply, I want to show that it's possible to live well without buying convenience and fashion, I want to show that downsizing, decluttering and destressing is not only possible, it's life changing. Others will work on different projects they think are needed, we will all add our own piece to the puzzle. Each generation that lives in my community shapes it and adds to its history.

No one can be an island unto themselves. Living in a community will mean that you use the roads, shops, the library, medical facilities, schools, parks and whatever else there is. All those facilities are there because some one, or a group of people, made a past commitment to your community. I know that unless I make my own contribution, I will be poorer for it. I want to be a part of the process that makes my community sustainable - and I mean that in every sense of the word. If we turn our backs on our community we are letting others - like politicians, bureaucrats, town planners and local councils - make all the decisions about how our communities are shaped, and what is important to us.

I don't believe they will make the decisions that will help our region thrive. Oh sure, they'll put in the roads, dams and schools, but they won't add a soul to our community. That, my friends, is our responsibility.


17 March 2008

Easter Baking

This recipe is one of Hanno's favourites. He used to love the time of year when hot cross buns started appearing in the shops. When I started making fruit buns at home, he has never wanted to go back to the store bought variety.

HOT CROSS BUNS - made in the bread maker
(makes about 12)

1¼ cups milk
2 tablespoons soft butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
3½ cups white baker's flour
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sultanas or raisins - soaked in orange juice or water for 1 hour before baking
3 teaspoons dry yeast

Measure ingredients into bread maker baking pan and set to the dough setting. Turn on.

When the dough is ready, remove from pan and divide into twelve pieces or leave in a large bun shape.

Knead the dough for each bun into a smooth round shape.

Place the buns about 2" apart on a greased or lined baking sheet. If you're baking one large bun, place it in the centre of the sheet.

Place in a warm spot and allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake at 190C/375F for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Make a plain icing sugar and butter icing with a little vanilla added and when the buns are coolish, add crosses made with the icing. If you make one large bun, simply ice the top.

Irish Soda Bread

Top of the Morning and Happy St Patrick's Day to you all!

IRISH SODA BREAD (traditional recipe)
This is very much like a scone recipe without the butter.

2½ cups plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb)
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F and grease or line a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, soda and salt and mix together. Add buttermilk and mix first with a spoon and then your hand, until the dough comes together.

The dough should be moist, but not so sticky so adjust the buttermilk accordingly. All flours are different, and flour needs less fluid on a humid day, so watch your dough and adjust as

Don't over mix as it will give you a tough bread. Stop mixing as soon as all the ingredents are mixed in.

Sprinkle plain flour on your bench and roll the dough to smooth it a little, then shape it into a round and place on the baking sheet. Cut an X into the top with a sharp knife and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before slicing. Bread is best served hot.

16 March 2008


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Enriching the soil

A new season of growing has begun. We're late with it, all the beds are not ready, but there are plants in the ground. This has been transformed ...

into this ....

Hanno puts a lot of thought into enriching the soil before planting. The dry, summer-depleted garden beds need help if they were to produce consistent high quality crops for us over the coming nine months. The beds have a healthy blend of composted cow manure, old chook poo, lots of compost, worm castings, blood and bone and sulphate of potash (all organic additives). After the first of the greens were planted - sugarloaf cabbage and kale - they were watered in with seaweed and comfrey tea, the tomatoes, cucumbers and squash were watered in with plain seaweed tea.

It's wise to give your plants some help just after planting out. Seaweed tea helps the little seedlings recover from transplant shock and gets them on the road to healthy growth. We give all our seedlings seaweed tea after planting out. Then we divide seedlings into two separate groups - greens and fruiting plants. Greens are obviously plants with lots of green leaves and no fruit - lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach etc. Fruiting plants are tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), cucumbers, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, pumpkins etc. I put root vegetables under fruiting plants too, because although they don't produce an edible "fruit" they are grown to eat the root, not the leaves. (Although usually you can eat both.) Root vegies are potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, parsnips etc.

We divide these vegetables into two groups because they require different fertiliser. They all need to be planted into well draining soil that's been enriched with manures and organic matter - although with the root vegies, you must be sure the manures are old and well broken down or they will make the roots fork out. Then we give the greens frequent weak feeds of comfrey tea or some other organic nitrogen rich fertiliser; the fruiting plants don't get nitrogen fertiliser as this would encourage the growth of green leaves at the expense of the fruit. Feeding a tomatoes plant (or any fruiting plant) with lots of nitrogen fertiliser will give you a large, lush, green tomato bush with very few tomatoes. The fruiting plants will get enough nitrogen from the manures and organic matter already added to the soil. The additive they need is sulphate of potash. This is an organic compound that will help build up the cell walls in your plants, will encourage flowering and improve the taste.

The photo above is the result of a big pile of wet grass clippings that have decomposed for a year, along with occasional waterings with comfrey tea - to speed up decomposition. Half of this was added to the garden beds after being crumbled up and added to worm castings, the other half was dissolved in water for a few days then poured onto the gardens.

Enriching the soil is the most important thing you can do to give your plants the best chance of producing abundant crops. If you plant your seeds and seedlings into good organic soil, you'll be rewarded for the extra work you do. There is nothing more important you can do than enrich the soil before planting.

We always dig our beds because we get better results when we turn over the soil. It improves soil aeration and allows us to mix in the additives well. Some gardeners develop no dig gardens. If you're new to gardening, you should test both methods to see what works best for you.

The capsicum (pepper) above is one of three we planted last spring. All three are still producing well and all three will probably last another two seasons. They have been given our potash treatment and are planted ingood organically enriched soil.

There are still a couple of garden
beds that need weeding and digging over, and that will be done today and tomorrow. Then we'll put up some trellises and climbing frames and plant beans and peas. We're also waiting on seeds planted in the bush house to mature enough for planting out. There are lettuces, coloured silverbeet, parsley, bok choi and more tomatoes - Moneymaker. We still need to buy seed potatoes that I'll pick up from Green Harvest tomorrow.

Slowly but surely the vegetable garden comes together for another season. Growing vegetables is never a fast process - this is slow food in every way; slow, organic and local. There are many benefits in growing
your own food, it's not just the final product that is the prize. You will enrich your life by connecting with nature and getting your hands in soil, you'll be healthier for it because you'll get some exercise in the open air, you'll built your independence because you'll be able to feed yourself without going to the shops and you'll develop your life skills - skills that can be shared and passed on to your children. There is nothing better than the taste of your own backyard produce and when you finally get it on your plate, I bet you can't eat it without smiling like a Cheshire cat.

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