Monday, September 14, 2020

Keeping things simple

 Since last week's post we have celebrated Father's Day and our Number 2 DGS's third birthday. As a result we had a lot of lovely family time. Not only that, but we also had some warm spring days so I was able to enjoy both the beach and the river. We are so lucky to have these things fairly close to our home, so we can enjoy them regularly. I don't need a lot of entertaining - a walk outdoors will please me, especially if I have company. 

At home I am as always trying to keep things simple. My achievements this week included:

  • Sowing some snake bean seed I saved from a vine growing over a fence nearby -and they have started to come up!
  • I gave away a pallet garden to a neighbour who had more use for it than I did. DH made this a few years ago, and I had tried various places and various uses, but decided it wasn't really working for me.
  • Planted more peas and beans
  • Sprayed the grapevines with a 10% milk solution to manage fungus problems- I am told I need to do this every week for a while until the summer sets in
  • Did some weeding and made a 'weed tea' to use as a fertiliser. This is the thing where you soak the weeds in a bucket of water for a couple of weeks and then use the water as fertiliser. I was told it stinks, and it really does! I am experimenting to see if it is worth doing.
  • Did a bit of a re-organisation of a few cupboards and drawers to make things easier to find under the sink and so on
  • I made a some Russian Black bread and some sourdough bread too
  • I have been working behind the scenes on some admin for the community choir we are involved in
  • I picked up a glass bottle which a neighbour was sure was 'too good' to just throw away - and I repurposed it as a vase for my iceberg roses. 
  • I made a batch of onion jam which my DDIL and DS rather enjoyed. The recipe is here  DH added a cup of chopped fennel tops to it when he made it and that is a lovely variation. 

I am trialing a new-to-me budgetting software progam and I think we will find it more simple to use. I won't name it just now, because it is early days, but if it turns out as it has started it will make it even easier for both DH and I to know what our money is going on and why, in real time. 

Apart from all this, I have had some good books to read, some music to watch on YouTube and some happy chats with friends and family.

This is the life I wanted all those years ago when I took those first tentative steps on the simple living path. I wanted a slower, more creative and happier way of life. It is a good life and gives me opportunities to grow and develop as a person in my resilience and skills. Even though we all know the times are bad, we also know that we can only take one day at a time, one moment at a time, and do the best we can. I try to see the positive where I can, and stay true to my values and ideals. As the permaculture people have it "Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share."

Thanks to all those who commented on my quilt last week. I am taking it to my quilt guild tomorrow to 'show and tell'. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

My garden quilt is finished

I have just finished my "garden quilt" and taken a picture of it in the garden, thanks to DD who stood on a set of steps to hold it up. The cute feature panels were given to me by my DDIL and DS, who really know how to bring my two favourite things -quilting and gardening-together. It is now in the washing machine, with three colour catchers! I always wash my quilts when they are finished. I bung them into the clothes dryer on warm afterwards -what I want is that very slight shrinkage (about 4%) of the cotton wadding, which helps to create that soft, crinkled look which I think is so much better than completely flat. 

It is a happy day when I finish a quilt. I always have another in mind -sometimes many more than one in mind, to start almost straight away. I also know that in order to finish the quilt I have had to overcome a number of obstacles -making decisions on colour and shape, recovering when things don't go the way I thought they would, overcoming performance anxiety about some stage or another. This time I was rewarded -finally-with a binding that went on first time- I have had some issues with the past couple of quilts about this -so it is good to have that little problem behind me.

Many people wonder what I am going to do with each quilt that I make. Some are so special I will keep them with me, and display them around my house. Some are just for snuggling under, and draping over the backs of chairs. Some get given away to family and friends. Some I give to the WAQA community quilt group. I don't know what the final destination of this one will be. I will wait and see.

Yesterday was Father's Day here in Australia. We had a lovely day with our son and daughter in law and grandchildren here for lunch. Then we went to a performance of METSO ( the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra) doing some wonderful Beethoven. Our son was playing violin. So lovely to be able to enjoy live music again! The audience is 'socially distanced' to mean that we don't sit in every row, so the concert hall is roughly half full. We can do this because our state of Western Australia has not had any community transmission of COVID 19 for a very long time. 

Apart from all this fun, our lives continue as we like to live them. I spend as much time in the garden as possible. DH makes useful things for us in his 'shed'. We read library books - I have just found the Sulari Gentill series of crime mysteries about her character "Rowland Sinclair" - a good read.I went on a mini 'shop hop' with some quilting friends last week- we are trying to support our LQSs (local quilting shops).

We bought a whistling kettle when our electric kettle died. In Australia we commonly have plug in electric kettles to boil water for beverages, but now I have my induction cook top, I can boil this whole kettle full (2.5litres) in 2 minutes. It takes me back to my childhood! There is something quite comforting about the gentle whistle as the steam announces that the water is boiling. 

Well, that is all for this week. Thanks for staying with this to the end! How was your week? 


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

New in my garden this week


We have added two new raised garden beds to the back garden this week. I had them made in non-standard sizes to fit into the spaces available. One is 900mm in diameter and one is 700 mm and both are 400 high.  They are the same colour as my oval ones, but a bit taller. I have learned that I need to be able to walk around the garden to do maintenance and to harvest my crop, but that there is still quite a bit of space available for more crops. 

I filled the new beds with half a bag of rehydrated coir, half a bin of compost and 2 bags of potting mix. I feel that I am getting better results from my compost this year due to the addition of more carbon material and the shredder I got for Mother's Day. I have learned to be more bold with my scrounging for carbon -I forage in the park out the back of my place for fallen branches - I have to be quick after a storm because the council comes and takes them away! I have also made contact with someone with guinea pigs who is willing to save the bedding and droppings for me. 

My nearly 3 year old grandson helped to plant one of the beds with some seedling lettuces. 

In the picture above we have an oval bed with asparagus, snow peas, rainbow chard and beetroots; one oval bed with more beetroot and garlic and lettuce, a new round lettuce bed, a former olive tub with a small fig tree and a former olive tub with oregano -waiting for its summer crop of mild chillis. The other bed will be planted with kale and beans.

There is a bit of a casual edge planting under these raised beds -thyme and marigolds are self seeding along the edge and softening it a bit. I noticed a borage plant has emerged too. 

You can just see the citrus grove -we have tangello, grapefruit, mandarin, meyer lemon, lime and kaffir lime in this part of the garden. In spring they are blanketed with nasturtiums which self seed.

I am continuing to try to document my gardening with a simple journal -and it is already worth the effort because I can look back to see what I did as an intervention, and how long it took to get a result. In the summer, for example, I give the roses a dose of worm wee and the next week I get more flowers!

Speaking of worms, I cleaned out the worm farm this weekend, harvesting the 'garden gold' of worm castings for the new beds and giving the worms new bedding. I saved a small bucket of the worms for my DDIL for her new garden over in Ellenbrook.

If you are a person of faith, or no faith, I wish you all joy in waging peace and caring for the earth. 

Here are some inspirational links for you this week

Learning to love weeds

How to start a garden diary

Monday, August 24, 2020

Some achievements

 Finished and Installed

DH and DS were able to finally install a wonderful bench in DS's Ellenbrook home this weekend. This project included revamping/upcycling an old pine buffet style cabinet to be extra storage space, and a lot of work on a unfinished Marri slab of wood to make it fit and install it into the kitchen to be a 'breakfast bar'. Both DH and DS worked long and hard on this project, and it is lovely to see it come to completion. MY DDIL is thrilled. We are proud of both of them. The quotes they got from tradesmen for a similar job were very expensive, but by doing it themselves they not only saved a lot of money but had the satisfaction of getting a big project done. 

Refinished and Hung

I am always on the lookout for art work for our home, but I have some stipulations:

  • It has to be cheap (less than $50 including frame) - I often change the art in my house, as I like variety and I can't imagine being happy looking at the same thing for years. 
  • It needs to be something I can connect with -some local connection, or something of our history, or someone I know made it, etc
  • It has to fit and look good with my decor at the moment. 

I found this picture in an op shop this week for just $5. It had a horrible purple frame but I noticed the artist had written the description of the scene, which is of a local holiday spot just off our coast. I brought it home and DH sanded the frame back to it's natural wood. We both love it!

Planted and weeded

I have been working in my garden this week, as the feel of spring is definitely in the air. I am out in the garden for a couple of hours every fine day.

The days are lengthening and getting a bit warmer. I have been watching the sun move higher in the sky, and so the decision I made to move some roses to a tricky spot in the garden is looking less risky. The spot is in deep shade in the winter time, but hot sun in summer. I figured the roses would be dormant in winter so what do they care, but the summer would be in their element. This picture was taken at 11 am about a week ago, and the sun was just at the edge of the garden bed behind the trellis. Today it was almost in front of the trellis. The roses have new leaves on them, so that is evidence that they did not mind being moved, and I have great hopes for flowers later in spring when the sun is actually hitting the leaves. I am growing a new passionfruit on the trellis and if it is anything like one I had there earlier, it will cover a lot of it in no time. I also have a climbing rose which I hope will grow on half of the trellis. 

I am planting late winter and spring seeds -but I feel that it is a bit early for the tomatoes yet. I did find a couple of self sown volunteers which I am encouraging as an early start on the season. I have planted some Diakon Radish in places where the snow peas have finished. The chives and the parsley have come back again after their winter dormancy, and the pomegranate is just putting out new leaves. 

I leave you with some inspiration!

Read this: food plant solutions How to beat malnutrition by knowing what is edible in your area 

Listen to this Pico Iyer on Dumbo Feather

Pico Iyer is regarded as one of the best travel writers of our time, but he’s not just an explorer of the outer worlds, he writes beautifully on the inner journeys available to us, too.

Having written 14 books, travelled frequently by the side of the Dalai Lama, done four TED Talks with over 10 million views and written for Time Magazine, New York Times and many more, he is a wise voice for our times on matters of stillness, transformation and the heart.

Monday, August 17, 2020

New Stuff to DIY

We have been experimenting with some new things to make ourselves, here at home.

Soft Cheese
DH is the yoghurt maker in this house, and he makes great yoghurt. Recently he found out a friend was using similar skills and equipment to our yoghurt making, to make their own soft cheeses like cottage cheese, ricotta and even brie. 

It turned out we had some equipment that DD had brought home from an op shop, so this week he made our first batch of ricotta. It is very satisfactory and easy. That left us with 2 litres of whey, which I then used to make this loaf of sourdough bread -and it rose very well.

Diastatic Malt
I have learned that there is another additive for bread  which can be made at home from barley! After the first green shoots appear, I will dry this barley and grind it up to make diastatic malt, which I am told supports a strong rise, great texture and brown crust. As I already had a seed sprouter, a dehydrator and have a good grinder, this will be easy enough I think. I wonder if it will make a big difference? I have some 'bread improver" which does not seem as natural in its ingredients as diastatic malt, so I would be interested if I can make an additive for bread here at home which is more natural 

Instructions for making diastatic malt for bread!

Grow new fruits

We have bought ourselves two trees, both of which are grafted with two varieties of fruit. One has Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, and the other has Flavour Supreme and Maraposa plums. We planted them in two big garbage bins, as they were the largest and cheapest pots we could find. Eventually they will go in the ground here, but we wanted to test them in this spot, to see if it was too hot for them, before commiting to the digging up of the paving, etc.

There have been sunny days and a lot of wet days lately. The garden is showing signs of spring -the bottlebrush is coming into flower already. I have shoots on the roses, the borage is flowering, and the birds are nesting.

When I am not dodging the showers to turn compost or pull weeds, I am either cooking or reading. My latest favourite book is Rosemary Morrow's Earth Users Guide to Permaculture. I have the Kindle version. It is a fantastic resource, and I am now re-reading it and working my way though it's suggested activities. 

I leave you with this quote

Howard Zinn said, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

Monday, August 10, 2020

There is another way of doing this

Years ago, my husband was made redundant -just after we took out a mortgage to buy this house. We were without his full time income for 18 months, a scenario we had not expected at the time. Money was very tight -we had two growing children and two cars and lots of expenses. 

I remember that in those days I had no idea that we could find alternates to many of the expenses we faced week by week. I felt quite desperate because there seemed to be no way out of all of this. We were going backwards! 

The first breakthrough came when I found that instead of buying a bottle of laundry detergent every week, I could make my own,  -and that, when used at the rate of 2 tablespoons per load, it would last for months at at time. All of a sudden I had more money for food! The wash is better because it doesn't have that smell that commercial detergents have. In Perth we can hang our washing out on the washing line to dry for many months of the year, which saves on drying costs. 

I learned to make other things -for example, I have an old spray bottle with vinegar and a bit of dishwashing liquid in it, which I use as a surface spray and general cleaner. I discovered that 'soap is soap' and that I didn't need a whole bunch of different cleaners to clean various parts of my home- any leftover detergents or soaps would clean most bathroom hard surfaces.  I discovered that I could use the waste lemon peels from squeezing lemons for a recipe, soaked in vinegar and make that vinegar cleaner smell nice and be even more effective.  That was more money saved! In the process I became smarter about what care each surface actually required -wood might need wax from time to time, toilets could be cleaned with bicarb or a combination of bicarb and vinegar. I don't use my vinegar spray on the marble surface of the main bathroom cabinet, however (don't want to have the acid eat the marble!) A microfibre cloth can clean most things with no additive except water -and you don't need to buy  expensive ones either!  

My sister in law gave me an old bread maker about 10 years ago, and I started learning how to make bread. All of a sudden wonderful home made bread was available to us for much less than the bakery price. Now I have a dough hook on my kitchen stand mixer, and make sourdough loaves for about $1.50 in cost -at the bakery they are about $7.50 each. 

I love finding alternatives to expensive items! For example, it was a recipe book by Hugh Fernlea Whittingstall which alerted me to the fact that pesto can be made with almost any edible leaf -and almost any nut! He has some suggestions here -but I have made pesto with parsley and cashews, and nasturtiums and walnuts. They are all very yummy indeed, served with pasta or in a sandwich! I would like to try his suggestion of using breadcrumbs instead of nuts -I keep any old bread in the freezer and make my own breadcrumbs.  I am also going to try to make it with peanuts, as they are so cheap (cashews at nearly $12 per bag, peanuts at $3), and see if I can tell the difference in taste. 

In the wake of the Covid19 pandemic we are often facing shortages of one kind or another.  It is helpful to know alternatives to the things we normally buy -so that we can be resilient and feel confident that we can get though these times. 

At that time, I was part of an online forum where people swapped stories about finding alternatives. One person was at home with an injury, so took it on as their task to find alternative ways to save money. She would study the ingredient list of something she was used to purchasing, and then go home and try to make it from basic ingredients -and without the transport, fillers, palm oil, corn syrup and preservatives she found that they were eating better and more cheaply. I have since used that idea for myself -and found that it is quite easy to create things like 'French onion soup mix" which I once used to buy regularly. 

Of course, it is not just food  alternatives which we have found.
  • I have a shopping trolley so I can walk to the shop rather than drive for any small purchases -and save on car costs
  • We don't have many subscriptions to magazines or entertainment channels. Our library supplies a lot of books and magazines if we want them, and we have lots of DVDs to watch should we feel the need. We actually don't watch a lot of TV -it feels like a waste of time. I did buy myself a one year subscription to PIP magazine recently -as a bit of a luxury. 
  • For most of the year, our exercise is free -we walk at the beach, or work in the garden. My DH has recently taken up walking in the local pool to strengthen his knees and back, but when the summer comes we will be back at the beach. 
  • I always look for second hand or op shop or tip shop items before buying new. This morning we found a gorgeous wooden toy bus with little figures in it, for just $10 at the op shop. My grand children will enjoy this. We always are on the look out for toys and clothes in particular. 

This week I have been trying to find a way of adding a couple of raised garden beds to the back garden. I want to make use of every available space, and my garden is certainly not full! Whilst we can grow straight in the ground, I like the raised garden beds as they define where it is safe to walk for our grand children, and I can concentrate soil building to those areas.I want to get more organised as to crop rotations. 

I took the dimensions but was having trouble finding anything which would fit -in size and also fit with my other raised garden beds in terms of colour and materials. There is a local business which could make me the ones I wanted -but this was quite a lot of money. We tried the tip shop for several weeks without success, we tried online markets, still nothing right. Eventually my DH sold two gas heaters we have no more use for -and suddenly we can get the raised garden beds we want! I have ordered them and they will be delivered in a couple of weeks. All part of the way we are building resilience in our food chain.  

If you have any ideas about alternative ways of doing things, please let me know! 

Here are some links for further reading

Keeping tastes simple -Josh Becker

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Djilba is here -how do we adapt to the seasons?

Djilba is the Noongar word for one of the six seasons they knew in our climate here in South West Western Australia. It is a season in which the yellow and white flowers bloom in profusion, and consists of clear sunny days and cold wet days too. We notice the birds starting to build nests and some of them get a bit stressed and swoop anything they feel is a threat to them. 

We have had some lovely days this week -the grandchildren and their parents came over on Saturday which some home made treats for our afternoon tea, and we were able to sit outside at the patio table to enjoy it. Today however is COLD and WET by our standards (max predicted 15C!) and we are snuggled inside. I have a quilt on my lap as I am writing this post. I am  a bit of a sook (an Aussie term for someone who is easily upset) about wet and cold days -I love the sunshine- but gosh, the rain is wonderful. The garden is showing lots of nice growth as a result.

Recently we started watching a TV program from the BBC called "Tales from the Green Valley" about a reconstruction of a year on a farm from 1620 in Wales. What is quite obvious is that the seasons each brought its own tasks and rhythms. In our modern world, of course, we have the technology to ignore seasons if we wish -we can turn the lights on when shorter days arrive, we can continue to eat summer fruits imported from overseas during our winters, some of us don't even have to get wet when we move from the house to the car. I once had a friend who was diagnosed as being low in Vitamin D -the vitamin which is made by our bodies after we spend about 10 minutes a day outside in summer and about 30 minutes in winter (in my climate, anyway). She was shocked to realise that from her house to the car to the garage at work to her office -meant she did not go outside at all, for whole days at a time.   

What would happen if we lived more in tune with the seasons? I am convinced that we would have more variety, not less in our lives! 

There is a website I found which tells me which varieties of fresh food are in season and on the market now where I live.    This page has separate advice for other Australian capital cities. I  have also learned, over the years of growing some of my own food on my suburban plot, that I can expect to see the blueberries and mulberries over the next few months, and the strawberries, and perhaps, one day those annoying avocado trees I have had for more than 6 years, will one day flower at this time and set fruit! I have a variety of green leaves -sorrel, nasturtiums, sweet potato leaves, fennel, dill, coriander and rocket which I can put in my salad.  We were very excited to see the first asparagus spear come up last week. The time to enjoy these things is now because when summer comes the nasturtiums are gone, the coriander has gone to seed and the blueberries and strawberries have finished fruiting.

Variety like this is also cheaper -even when buying our food -because food which is local and in season is cheaper. 

I subscribe to a free service which tells me what I can plant at this time of the year.  This means that I can think about sowing those chilli seeds I saved from my son's plant, last summer, as soon as the rain stops for a while! I can order some eggplant seeds now, to plant soon. 

The changes which have been forced on us by the global pandemic is another of those 'seasons' in life. We have to adapt, and try to find the tasks and joys of these times. My heart goes out to those in Melbourne who are now in Stage 4 lockdown -and I know there are other states and other nations which are also suffering. 

In WA we are still enjoying quite a lot of freedom compared to other places, as the measures our government took in March and April have kept things pretty stable so far, although we know that it only takes one person to change that! This disease is very contagious! We have had a few dinners with friends recently, and we know that is a real luxury, because there were weeks and weeks when we could only meet via videoconferencing. Maybe this will change -we know that things change quickly, which is why we want to enjoy this season now, as much as we possibly can. 

I hope your season, whatever it is, is bringing you good things, and that if things are difficult now, that the season will change soon. 

Learn more about the six seasons on the Bureau of Meteorology's website: