Sunday, January 29, 2017

Instant forest

I've enjoyed keeping my container plants on the verandah, over the years. My small plants, become quite big and soon graduate to larger containers. What I love most about keeping container plants for several years, is how they become an instant forest, wherever you want to keep them.

Only something happened recently, which made me have to find a new home, suitable for my container plants. Somewhere not too exposed, or too starved of light. We had to clear the verandah recently to complete a large project on it. More about that, umm...later. I don't know how much later, because it could go on for a while.

So where to place all these plants, which were mollycoddled on the verandah?

I had a big mulberry tree, over a swale. Literally, this was the only place I could think to place a verandah full of pots, which wouldn't cook them to death. The leaves will fall closer to winter, but they should hold for several more months.

Hopefully, enough time to have our verandah project finished, and I can place my plants back again.

The exterior of the mulberry however, gives very little indication of what's happening underneath...

Remember what I said about instant forest? Within the hour, I had moved quite a few pots, and some even David had to help lift. Thankfully, we had a little trolley that did most of the leg work though.

It shouldn't have surprised me, this instant garden effect. I mean, that's what container plants do! You can shift them to different places, for different effects. Pile them all together and you get a miniature jungle. But I was so in love with this new arrangement - I wasn't expecting it to look so natural.

The swale was perfect for holding all these containers. I kept a little ally in between the two rows, so I could water them, once a day. Now the weather is starting to cool however, I can probably get away with 2 days between drinks.

The container plants are loving it! They're putting on new growth and I thought it was cool under the mulberry before, but now it's a miniature forest kind of cool. The mulberry is benefiting from the new arrangement too, with the regular watering. The tree canopy, lets in dappled light and the under-story holds in any moisture it can capture.

So if that wasn't enough function stacking, in this particular guild, did I mention my little marcot experiment?

I'm hoping to get three more mulberry trees, by air layering on the branch themselves. Youtube has plenty of videos if you're curious about this method (marcot) as I was. It's pretty easy, once I had the materials together.

The birds have taken a keen interest in the shiny alfoil too. I find peck holes in the medium, and sometimes the alfoil comes away from their constant inspections.

We have success though...see the tiny root showing through the cling wrap? I really love mulberry trees, which is why I love to propagate them. If you have the space, do plant LOTS of mulberries! Or just one if you're limited. It took a few years, but I now have a nursery tree, where I can utilise the cool under-story, the mulberry creates.

Who would have thought that so much could happen under just one tree? I have a swale to help capture the moisture to hydrate the mulberry, a deciduous tree which regulates its canopy cover, according to the climate, a temporary nursery for container plants and it's also a propagating area. Oh yeah, and it also produces delicious fruit!

In permaculture it's called stacking functions, and its one of the reasons I love the design principles permaculture teaches. If you're going to use energy for growing something, try to stack as many functions in and around it, to make the energy used, more efficient. 

Do you have a tree or dedicated area, that does more than just produce one yield (ie: fruit) for you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


I've been a bit haphazard in getting my blog going for the year. I had some really amazing ideas before Christmas, which kind of fizzled. I'm not quite sure where I will go with it, but change is still in the air. It's been hanging around quite a lot lately. Making itself known.

Our eldest started her new school year, yesterday. Another change. Only, this school year came with a myriad of realisations.


After Sarah completes this year, she will enter her first Senior year. Senior. Isn't that when the world starts to get a little more interesting? It was nine years ago, she started her first day of school. For me though, it still feels like yesterday. As if to emphasise what has already come before, my world suddenly started playing in stereo-phonics.

It began when I saw Peter drawing in the Spiderman, Colouring & Activity book, we got him for Christmas. Nothing unusual about that. Only he wasn't colouring Spiderman or attempting to get the stickers out, as he did formerly. He was attempting to draw the letters in his book, for the first time, instead.

It suddenly occurred to me, this would be the last year, Peter would be at home.


I knew it was coming, because I was planning for his first day of Prep, already. But seeing him drawing in that book, owning every new discovery, was just another realisation that change was in store, for all of us. Sarah will start her first year of Senior, next year, and Peter will start his first year of school.

Each of them are graduating to the next step, they need to take. I'm not upset or distressed by that, but it made me realise I have a difficult relationship with "change", nonetheless. Like I said, it's been hanging around, making itself known.

Click to enlarge

Indulge me a little detour into my own childhood. I drew the picture above, for my mum's new book, she self-published recently. It was about how we survived as a family, through cyclone Tracy - Australia's worst cyclone. I finished reading it, and I'm amazed how close I came to not writing this blog, or having my own children. I was only five months old, on my first Christmas Eve, and it was a day my family would literally fight for their lives. Not just during the cyclone, but afterwards.

More bizarre than reading the book however, was drawing myself as a baby in my mother's arms, during my early 40's. Or hearing from a friend who endured the cyclone with us, say I captured the day after Tracy, perfectly. Yet I was only 5 months old. Now I'm 40. Did I blink or something?

Well, that change - you see, it happened all along. To me. To my family. We just didn't get to appreciate the highlights fully, until we developed hindsight. Which takes time, for change to occur.

 Preschool 1978 ~ 
I'm like a deer, gazing into headlights

This brings me back to my difficult relationship with change recently. In my childhood, we moved around a lot. With these new moves, always came stress and making new friends, all over again. I'm sure as a child I loved the adventure of it all, but in truth, I don't think I learned to appreciate change, in a healthy way. Somewhere inside, is a personal trigger I try and avoid. The trigger of change, where things unfold in ways you don't fully understand. So it makes you feel different ranges of terrified.

As I was coming to terms with my children evolving recently, I experienced a new range of terrified. So I contemplated it for a while, and realised their growing up, wasn't the problem. It was my relationship to change. What does it mean for me? How will I cope? Will there be more to this change I'm not expecting? All questions, I cannot answer right now. Change unfolds how it's meant to, not according to our understanding of it.

A new day dawning

So I decided it's probably time I work on my relationship to change. Give it some freedom to evolve, and stop seeing it as a reason to doubt so much. Because I only end up doubting myself, or other things. Which doesn't actually make a difference to change occurring anyway. It just makes me less able to cope with my circumstances.

So I finally picked a word to focus on, for the rest of the year. Change. What comes to pass, ever so gradually - or what we don't realise unit it arrives, all points to acceptance on a personal level, anyway.

How is change evolving in your life lately?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kitchen update

I'm a few days late from Saturday, for my kitchen blitz update. But the world has been a busy one. School starts next week. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Like a busy bee, collecting pollen. Only it looks more like uniforms, books and other assorted fluff, attached to my legs! No wonder it's been hard getting around lately.


But I have made progress on my kitchen blitz nonetheless. I'll start with the last job completed, which brought the greatest amount of satisfaction. We have a short fridge, because it doesn't have a freezer on top. So as clear spaces tend to go, they often collect stuff.

Stuff like, well meant, Christmas presents. They were lovely gestures and I kept them for a while, but then they became a magnet for a raft of other things I'm not quite sure to do with either. I bit the bullet and decided to remove these items to find another home.

New arrangement

This space became a far more practical use, for holding large containers, which are often difficult to store. My home-made vinegar jars are on the fridge, fermenting away, and more importantly - out of the way. The tall spaghetti jar in the middle, hardly gets used; except for winter, when I make a lot of chicken noodle soup.

By far, the best improvement of this tiny space however, is bringing my large cake tin down from the top cupboard. It's used a lot, so getting it off the high shelf meant getting the step out to reach it. Now it's just within reach, and I can also store my baked goodies here. Instead of taking up counter space, when I put food in it.

I also found a safe haven for the cookie jar. As we have a little cookie monster who helps himself if they are in reach, presently.

 Baking paraphernalia ~ before

The next cupboard to tackle, was my baking cupboard. It's used quite a lot, so it needed to be organised. It had a cull, a few years prior too, but it was time for another purge - just to be sure.

Not surprisingly, I didn't remove a lot from this cupboard. But hey, you've got to check, right?

Two pins

Just because you're only getting rid of a few things, doesn't mean it's easy to cull either. I have two rolling pins. The small one, was one my mother gave me. The larger one came with my husband. He's a chef and that was part of his professional kit.

So naturally, which one do I use the most? The one designed for professionals of course! It's larger, heavier and requires less "oomph" when it comes to rolling pastry or cookie dough. The smaller one, had some sentimental value because it was my mums'. But she was the one who taught me, not to hold onto things which only collect dust.

I chose to hold onto the sentimental value of the lessons my mother taught me, and practice them, rather than hold onto the object.


In the end, the only things to be culled from my baking cupboard, was the rolling pin and two small, cake tins. I have other cake tins I prefer to use, and I decided for the blue moon occasions, I might use these, it wasn't worth keeping them permanently.

But sorting this cupboard, did have it's other benefits too!

The ugly

Namely, getting off all that crud which ends up on the floor of the cabinet. I'm sure it's not unhygienic - I've worked in bakeries with much more crud around, but it's still not a bad practice, to wipe it out, once in a while either.

First I swept it out with a dustpan and brush, then used miracle spray for clean-up. If you haven't heard of miracle spray, you make at home, you should try it. Easily removes those hard marks, like baking crud, or squished food on the floor. Peter has a thing for sultanas, and we always find one mooshed, somewhere.

The pretty

Afterwards though, my cupboard came out looking, brand new! Plus it smelled clean and fresh too. If nothing else, it was worth emptying the cupboard, just to do this job.

So maybe, not all room blitz, have to have a lot of things removed permanently. Sometimes, you just have to make the effort to clean the space, and reacquaint yourself with what's in your cupboards.

Baking paraphernalia ~ after

There's not a huge amount of difference between the before and after shots, of this baking cupboard. I made a few small changes. Like moving the grater up the top shelf. But it can easily be moved back down again, as the changing seasons, often dictate, what baking tins and trays I use the most.

If you have the luxury to be flexible (ie: space) then don't be afraid to change things as you need them. I'm sure my baking cupboard will continue to evolve, as my baking needs change too.

Ironically, the rolling pin, my mother gave me, was when she gave up making pastry and biscuits, once all her kids moved out of home.

The prettiest

To my delight, one of my kitchen drawers, came up sparkling clean, with a reshuffle and wipe out. I'm not normally one to get excited over shiny things, but this drawer full of sparkling utensils, surprised me. I would open the drawer, just to look at them!

It might seem silly, but I earned that little pleasure.

Kitchen today

So this is what my kitchen looks like now. A little more organised. Which makes me happy to look at, and to use.

But in the interests of full disclosure, I don't want people to think this all about making a kitchen look prettier. I mean, it's certainly nice when they are, but the whole point to a kitchen, is this...

Business end

Your kitchen is for making mess! Food mess! On this particular day, the dishwasher was holding my second load of washing, and I'd just finished, hand-washing the dishes from making jam too. If there's not dirty dishes to attend, then there's clean ones to put away! Always making more to put through the cycle. Again and again.

It took me two hours this morning, just to unload the dishes from the day before (both the dishwasher and the hand dishes on the sink) clean up from breakfast and feeding the chickens. Because I make mess, gathering the chicken scraps too! I will soon be messing it up again, by making fruit salad and quiche.

I hope this doesn't sound like a complaint. It's not. It's just explaining the reality of what a kitchen is supposed to look like. So when you see a nice photo in my kitchen, just know I made a tremendous amount of mess first. And another mess will come after that. There will always be cookie crumbs somewhere, a sticky patch on the floor, smudges on my cooking jars, and cobwebs in the corner. Hey, a spiders got to eat too!

Always in use

This recent blitz in my kitchen, wasn't about making a picture perfect kitchen. It was about making it as efficient as I could to work in. Just blink, and the mess returns. This recurring theme, often makes me wonder what kitchens of our grandparents and great-grandparents must have looked like, most of the time?

I remember visiting my grandparents in a cooler climate when young. They always had a pot of porridge, either soaking on the wood stove for the next morning, or holding one in the process of being consumed. There were always piles of dishes on the sink. There was never any clear spaces on the benches, for slabs of butter, bread bins and condiments sitting, waiting to be used.

There was meat in Eski's, sitting on the floor, waiting to be dealt with, to put in the freezer - after slaughter day. Fat sitting in pans or saucepans, waiting to be used for cooking or something else. While we should never feel ashamed for admiring a nice, clean kitchen - miraculously, if it's our own! But equally, we shouldn't feel ashamed if our kitchens looked used either. Because, certainly, that's what they're meant for.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Room Blitz - kitchen

I've decided I'm going to tackle one room per week, in an attempt to organise them better. The only reason I'm doing this is to make working in these individual rooms, more efficient. Nowhere is this more important, than in the kitchen! It's the one room families use THE MOST, because it contains the most storage areas, and the most electrical equipment, per square metre.

It also happens to be the hearth of our family's nutritional requirements. Making equipment readily available, therefore, is important. Especially when cooking a lot of things from scratch, or you're simply busy, and need to work fast.

Saturday 7 January - Day 1

This is our kitchen in all its unflattering glory. The island bench, doubles as a breakfast bar, and the area my son regularly likes to get creative with his stickers and colouring books. This may always be the case, but there are many things in this kitchen which can be organised better.

I started with one cupboard, and thought I would progressively work through each one. But as part of the sorting process, I inevitably ended up in other cupboards too. I suspect this is how it's going to work throughout this room.


This is my plastics and extra jars (for preserving) cupboard. This has already seen a cull a few years ago. It looks neat enough, but still not fun, pulling out items, just to reach the ones at the back. I'm always wondering if I'm missing something back there too.

It was easy enough to make decisions about what would go, in the beginning. First, get rid of all the lids from the containers which broke, or have simply gone missing. Second, get rid of all the things I don't really use. I've lived here ten years, and never used some of the items in the back. So they were easy enough choices to make.

Where it started to get harder though, was deciding what items I do use on a regular basis. Should any of those be culled? I had to go there, to answer that particular question.

Cookie cutters

I have a small collection of cookie cutters which I store in a dedicated plastic container. I don't use them regularly, but enough that I'd hate not having the option to use them. Especially at Christmas when I make my Gluten Free Gingerbread men.

But I had THREE gingerbread men cutters. The one in the picture is the medium size. I don't remember ever using this cutter though. It could find a new home, where they don't possess a gingerbread cutter at all. The other two plastic cutters I don't remember using either. Because I have a metal range which have a similar shape, but more appealing florets. So I always end up using those.

It was time to cull these three, from my collection, in order to migrate other cooking supplies into the same container. Sounds simple in summary, but involved quite a lot of evaluation through the process.

Glass jars

The other problem I had was deciding which preserving jars could go. They all had new lids, and the ones above, I intended to keep for when I grew an excess of asparagus or other long, root vegetables. Only my garden has never produced any of those, let alone an excess. Plus, I'd need a pressure cooker to preserve low acid foods, such as vegetables. I couldn't see me buying one of those soon.

By evaluating what I needed now, and used MOST (500ml and smaller) I could cull the others. It was a hard decision to make though. I didn't have a lot of tall jars (more than in the picture) but it was still saying goodbye to something which could one day, be useful. By getting rid of these jars however, I've made the jar cupboard a lot more accessible for the jars I DO use a lot of.

Fermenting Kombucha

These 2 litre jars, recycled from my husband's work, get used for making Kombucha and fermenting fruit peelings for vinegar. They can now be housed in my jar cupboard, rather than taking over the pantry to be stored. Even still, I had to cull these very useful (used regularly) jars too.

Organising for more efficiency, has become an exercise in deciding what level of excess is productive, and what level is collecting dust and taking up energy in the kitchen. It becomes a chore to get past those "excesses", when you'll never really use it all. While someone is going without, and could use it. So evaluate what you can realistically use, and pass on the rest to new homes.

On that note, if there are any locals who want some extra jars, just leave a comment.

 Practical, or is it?

Another item stored in my plastics cupboard, was ONCE a much used item. I purchased this cake holder, to store muffins, cookies and cake, many years ago. It would see the top of my kitchen counter, quite often - or cart goodies to the local playgroup, or some outing where they were required. Then something unexpected happened...

...I was given a more durable metal cake holder, from my In Laws, one Christmas. I didn't realise it, until I sorted through the plastics cupboard, that my once prized, cake holder, was no longer being used.

So that particular item will find a new home too. I have two cake holders in my house. Someone else, deserves the chance to own one. It's been kept in good condition and will be snapped up quickly at our local 2nd-hand shop.


I have a lot more space in my cupboard now it's been efficiently culled. What items I do have to remove now, to reach the back, are now less cumbersome. The fact I will use those items in the back regularly too, means I'll always know what's there. I didn't put anything back, which I don't use regularly. Efficiency requires, I use what I have and don't waste energy on what I don't use.

Like I said at the beginning though, tackling this cupboard, inevitably meant I ventured into other parts of the kitchen too.

Pantry - note the red apron

My pantry looks neat enough, but they're deep shelves and getting to the things in the back, requires a lot of double handling - because I have to remove the items at the front. This will always be the case, especially when I like to stockpile a few items we use the most.

I knew there were a few small improvements I could make however. Which all came about, through organising my first cupboard.

Using what I already had

I had previously stored my sachet packets (spices and samples) in those large green baskets. They were always falling over, every time I removed something larger from the basket. Plus extra packs of oats, crackers and wraps would always end up on top of those baskets - making accessing the tiny sachets underneath, a pain.

I found the clear plastic container, tucked in the back of my plastics cupboard. I think it was from an old fridge, which is now long gone. It's the perfect dedicated space, for the smallest items in my pantry. Which makes writing the shopping list more efficient too. I can now see what I have enough of and what needs replacing. I love my spices, for cooking delicious food!

Avoiding empty spaces

I also emptied all the excess packets from the pantry, into some of the empty jars I keep cooking ingredients in. Removing packets from the pantry, means there's less stuff to sift through, when finding items at the back.

There was one more thing I did however, to make organising, and accessing my pantry easier.

Out of the way

Remember how I stored the red apron, in the middle of the pantry shelves? It was annoying having to flick that thing out of the way, to see my ingredients. It was a simple matter of finding another adhesive hook though, like I used in this former kitchen storage post.

Oven mitts on hooks

The aprons (yes, they've multiplied) are now positioned opposite the oven mitts, inside the pantry doors. Aprons, oven mitts and a pantry of ingredients. Much more organised. Of course, there's always more I can do, but this was enough for one day.

There was another development which eventuated from the pantry improvements, however. A small, but handy solution.

Keep it together

As I sorted through the ingredients in the pantry, I found an old Muffin Cases container. I was using it to store smaller patty pans in. Those patty pans had been sitting there for years. I prefer Muffin cases (larger) now. So I discarded the few patty pan cases, and had a better use for the container.

In my drawer, where I store a few things like greaseproof paper, and markers for writing dates on preserves and fridge leftovers - I also had an assortment in the back, that were always moving up and down the drawer, whenever I opened it.

There were things like bottle caps (for re-corking glass bottles) coffee scoops and clips that came with the kid's drink bottles, but they don't like. I keep them in case they will ever come in handy. Small containers, within cupboards or drawers, make storing smaller item, easier. They don't end up migrating into the larger space. You also pull the whole container out to find your items. Pour them onto the bench to sort through.

I hope I'll have more progress to share, by next Saturday - when my week's up!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Crack one open

Since the rainwater tank project, Christmas and New Years came in such close succession to each other, I've been taking a well earned break. I was feeling a little burned out and didn't want to have to contemplate big things for a while. And the beginning of a new year, is pretty big.

I've been reading in other blogs, how goals were being set for the year. Which is brilliant, but I just hadn't reached that mental place, for myself yet. Maybe in a week or two?

Large egg (top left) from parent hen, the rest are pullet eggs

A good place to pick up for this year, is the arrival of new eggs! Compliments of our new pullets, we hatched back in late August. It's been many years since we hatched eggs, and I forgot what the ideal number to incubate was. I started with 20 eggs, and ended up with 15 chicks. Too many for our meagre accommodations for them. I'll have to revise that number down to a dozen in future.

"Mumble", facing camera (RIP)

Sadly, one suddenly passed due to complications from their head injury (birth defect). But even 14 turned out to be too many. The small chicken tractor I resurrected, was quickly outgrown by the little scratchers.

It was increasingly becoming a problem, the older they were, to keep the tractor in the same place for just ONE day. They quickly fowled it and weren't able to graze for more than an hour. So it became imperative to decide another plan.

Poor man's patch job

Resurrect Middle Ridge chicken coop! Only it was partially demolished, with intentions to turn it into something else. Well the bones would have to do for now, so we purchased extra shade cloth to go over the top again. It was about 20cms too short, on either side, and the hens eventually figured out how to fly out the gap.

It wasn't really safe to keep them in overnight, so we let them in the run during the day, and they gladly toddled to their old tractor, for lock up, at night.

Don't mind the jungle!

We placed the chicken tractor, close to the coop door, so at dusk we could open it, and they put themselves to bed in the tractor.

This too worked for a time, until they out grew the tractor. With Christmas approaching, and hens still able to escape the coop during the day, we needed to secure the coop properly. Just so we could leave, and not worry a neighbour's dog, fox or wedge-tail eagle, might make a meal of them.

Hiding the hole, where the "permanent" iron, use to be

What a glorious and ugly patchwork job, that turned out to be. We didn't have time, let alone money to buy anything to do the job. So we scrounged bits of everything which didn't have a permanent purpose yet. From old guinea-pig cage parts, to ancient chicken feed bags, and even heavy pieces of steel we somehow managed to acquire. That's an old chicken perch too, which rotted at the base.

Thankfully we still have chicken mesh up to that orange conduit pipe. Which you can't exactly see. Much like the additional chicken mesh, I had to add above the pipe, to cover that gap the hens were flying through. But now they all live in Middle Ridge permanently.

During all this however (in such close quarters) we realised some of the roosters had to go. I was surprised how quickly these roosters matured. Some began crowing before 10 weeks.

 Blurry picture of the last rooster

Maybe I'll write another post about roosters, but for now, all but one, has been dispatched. Even his days are numbers now too. Limited space with maturing roosters meant, we had to cull many before they even reached a table worthy size. But they made excellent tree fertiliser, so have returned to the land they grew up on. I know that sounds harsh, but so is overstocking a flock with too many roosters, in limited space. The hens only have so far they can run.

Out of the 14 chicks we raised, only 5 turned out to be roosters though. Leaving us with 9 hens! That was quite a surprise. So were some of the features, which came out in the mixed genes.

Motley crew

We got 3 pure white hens, some which looked like regular ISA Browns, and do you notice the missing tail on the hen above? She has a pekin tail, which is a breed I've kept before. The presence of pekin genes, would also explain the feathered legs which appeared on some of the roosters too. So there are definitely some interesting genes in this mix.

Bantam pekin hens, I kept a long time ago

We even got some that looked like a ginger Australorp (the one feeding on the grapes, 2nd image above). We did have an old black, Australorp hen, who wasn't laying much at the time I was collecting eggs to incubate. But I'm sure, with some of the black hackles which have developed in some hens, a few of her eggs must have snuck in.

Unfortunately, she has now passed, as did her sister - Matriarch.

 Guarding her new friend

Matriarch was the one we had to let free range, outside the coop, because her sister had outed her from the new flock, we introduced. She was relentlessly pecked for doing anything, So free ranging daily, it was! Matriarch even became very protective of a visiting Brush Turkey chick, which naturally doesn't have parents from birth. They have to fend for themselves. It was sad when she passed. There are some hens which stand out from the rest. Matriarch was one of those.

But I'm not as sentimental as I used to be. When you are exposed to so many animals passing, or intentionally culled, you realise they carry on, in the landscape regardless. Whether they get buried under a new seedling tree, or they feed you in some other way, they go on to serve another purpose. Those turkey chicks are now fully grown, and I'm reminded of Matriarch, whenever they pass through the yard.

 One egg, two yolks

One eventuality I wasn't expecting though, is how one of the new hens is a regular, double-yolk, egg layer. It will become an issue when incubating eggs, next time. Double-yolkers don't tend to survive incubation, as there isn't enough room for two chicks to grow in the same egg. I was considering, only hatching a dozen eggs next time, but I may have to increase the numbers to compensate for the double-yolk, egg layer.

If you're wondering why we didn't properly prepare accommodations BEFORE incubating eggs - we "intended" to build accommodation straight away. Which I did with the chicken tractor (phase one, for growing chicks out) but when it came to building something bigger, our new rainwater tank project went over schedule by two months! That's eight weeks we could have been preparing chicken accommodation.

We just weren't anticipating how big the tank project, or time consuming it would be. But alls well that ends well, I guess. We're happy to see our recent additions, starting to lay now. We do have plans to upgrade Hilltop chicken coop again. But more about that, another time.

I hope the new year brings my readers, something to look forward to. Even if it's just a little time to recuperate.