Saturday, January 22, 2022

What I learned in a heat wave


It has been hot here, and for a long time.  Perth has broken its record for the longest stretch of days over 40 degrees Celsius, as it swelters through one of its hottest summers on record. Little over halfway through summer, Perth has also broken the record for the highest number of days over 40C between December and February.  So far, 10 days have broken that mark this summer.

Summer is only beginning- we have the months of February and March to go through yet.

The beach is a lovely way to start the day -but we don't stay after 9 am as it is too hot and too hard to stay safe from UV rays. Even though we are only 7 km from the beach, the wonderful 'sea breeze' which is so famous in Perth for racing in after a hot morning, to cool things down, has been weak and hardly made it to our place, for about a week now. 

DH and I have been remembering how things were when we were kids -in those days people had no insulation in their houses. They used to sleep outside on hot nights, or just put the sprinklers on and let the kids run around in their bathers all day. Some people who live in rentals are still in houses that are poorly set up for hot weather, and that makes it very hard.

Here are some things I have learned during this heat wave: 

1.. Most of the garden has survived on it's regular watering, but you get some emergencies. There is one chilli plant in full sun which got very shrivelled, but a couple of days or watering has brought it back. Please note -chilli won't germinate unless it is over 30C, and it generally looks fabulous in hot weather, but this is weather is extreme.   Roses are pretty cheery too, even if the flower crisps and dries in one day. The grapes are fine with the hot weather. I have been giving the eureka lemon some extra water because it really was stressed. Don't know if it is going to pull through.

We are still harvesting blueberries, and some eggplants, and herbs, grapes and rhubarb. 

The little pond in the wine barrel, tucked in shade under the patio, still loses a lot of water through evaporation! I am topping it up every 2 days. 

WORMS - I nearly lost all of the worm farm, but read about a technique of putting bottles of frozen water in the farm to cool things down and so far they are still alive. I also throw a wet hessian coffee sack over them to try to keep them cool. 

We have had tiny ants trying to get in the house -and anywhere else they might find moisture and coolness. It takes a bit extra diligence to make sure there are no places they can make ingress.

The local birds are heat stressed! We have a lot of water bowls out for them, and in this weather we need to refresh them in the middle of the day. Birds I don't normally see are now coming into the garden for water. These big trees to the west of us, in the Council owned walkway, are wonderful! In the late afternoon, from about 4:30pm, they cast a shade over the house and bring the temperature down immediately. Mature trees and green spaces help to cool communities by as much as 10 degrees and the shade they provide cools our homes and streets. 

Our older cat is not really interested in eating much at the moment. I guess I understand that! She is sleeping in the coolest place she can find. 

2. We probably will need a RCAC  or some other kind of air conditioning soon. Up till now, with Perth's usual pattern of just a day or two of extreme heat before a cool change, the passive cooling strategies we have taken have kept us pretty comfortable. In a week of hot weather, however, the house just heats up, and it doesn't get cool if the overnight temperature doesn't drop very much. We have shade sails, we have a grape pergola on the north side, we have extra insulation, we have thermal curtains. We operate this house like a yacht- we open to the breeze, we close against the heat, but it isn't enough.  

This may in fact be the new normal for Perth- climate change is making every extreme 'more extreme'. Cold is colder, hotter is hotter and for longer. Drought goes on and on, or rain brings floods. 

Of course the very worst time to try to buy airconditioning is during a heat wave! There are no stocks in the shops, due to transport problems due to COVID, and the installers are flat out. We are thinking of installing a split system to service just our bedroom and our daughter's bedroom, as it is the heat overnight which is really debilitiating. If we can do that, then a "swampy" - an evaporative air conditioner- would be something we would add to the rest of the house at a later date. I am swinging wildly in opinions about the best options here, and continue to do research. I need some quotes for installing systems which will work here before I decide. 

3. It is better to stay busy than think about the heat! I have a new book about preserving the italian way, and have made some pickled onions as one of the first things to try. I am also working on my quilt.  Reading is a way of escaping into another world, and my local library is a treasure! 

4. When it is hot it is OK to cut yourself some slack. I allow myself to buy bread rather than making it (I just feed the starter and hope for the best). We sometimes have sandwiches for dinner! I cook a roast chicken in the slow cooker to avoid heating up the house with the oven. We want salads, watermelon, icecream. Sometimes a risotto or a quick pasta is OK but no-one has much energy or desire for hot food. I have read that heat kills more Australians than any natural disaster, so it is important to take hydration seriously. 

5. Respite can be lovely -we went to the local pool today, and the other day we took Mr 7 to the local cinema. A few hours in airconditioning is a lovely thing, to escape the hottest time of the day -our son and daughter in law invited us over to their place last night, where the evaporative ducted air conditioner was working to perfection. 

Escaping to a library, shopping centre or museum is a bit more complicated as our COVID situation makes some indoor settings problematic, but so far it has been OK. We got our third vaccine shot -the booster recently. 

I found some good stories here, that you may wish to check out

Self seeding plants -they come up by themselves! 

A lovely story of permaculture in indigenous communities in our North West of WA Here 

Surving in the heat -don't make these mistakes 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Mid summer Christmas

The forecast for Christmas is HOT -that is over 107.6 degrees fahrenheit. As usual here in Perth, really. We do all the usual Christmas things -but of course we don't have snow, and we don't need huge roast meals and pudding! We eat salads and ham and fish. I am making a traditional trifle for desert. 

We had a  Christmas choir performance in a local church. I took the pictures because I had lost my voice for a few days, but it was really lovely.  

With such hot weather, I have put up some more shade around the garden for a few days. A run of hot weather like this usually finishes off the lettuce, but hardy things like passionfruit and citrus usually survive as long as they are mulched and watered well.I am picking blueberries, mulberries, tomatoes, eggplants and rhubarb at the moment.

We helped our son put up a shade sail to protect a western wall of his house. We also spread some mulch under the fruit trees which are still quite young. DH is now making a couple of shade window blinds for the south west front of the house -it gets quite hot there in the late afternoon despite facing the south westerly sea breeze when it comes. 

So here we are a few days away from Christmas. Some parts of Australia already are struggling with the Omicron virus and the disappointment of another disrupted festive season. Our own state government has held on to its very tight border restrictions so our lives have continued pretty much as they did before the virus. All that is about to change. If the virus doesn't escape into the state before, we are supposed to open the borders on February 5th, when we have reached 90% of our population vaccinated. My own COVID booster is due mid January. None of us really know what will happen in February, but it will seem like a backwards step after all this time to be wearing masks and socially isolating. 

Anyway, I guess we will find out in Febrary. In the meantime, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas wherever you are. 

Here are a few things I found which you might enjoy.

Christmas in Australia -the video of a Paul Kelly song which is a favourite at Christmas

Making it better with volunteers 

How Nottingham is cutting carbon 

Syntropic farming for an abundant future

Best permaculture books written by women

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Birak -it is early summer


I have noticed the change of the seasons for a couple of weeks now, as the rain bands  have drifted away further south, and the daytime temperatures are warming up. On Nyoongar boodja the Nyoongar season word is Birak or early summer. The afternoons are cooled by the sea breezes that abound from the southwest.An almost clockwork style of easterly winds in the morning and sea breezes in the afternoon, meant that traditionally this was the burning time of year for Nyoongars.They would burn the country in mosaic patterns for several reasons including fuel reduction, increasing the grazing pastures for some animals, to aid in seed germination for some plants and for ease of mobility across the country.

As for the animals, there are many fledglings now venturing out of nests, though some are still staying close to their parents. Our family of magpies have succesfully got their fledglings out of the nest, but still come to us for snacks and a drink almost every day. 

The birds and I are getting used to a new backyard fence, which is about 50 cm higher than the old one, and instead of crumbling super 6 panels we now have a dark green colourbond fence with extra depth, into the soil, to fend off the glyphosate the Council sprays on weeds in the walkway behind it. It has made a lovely difference to our backyard, which I was not expecting, really. I would have liked something more see-through, so we could enjoy the walkway, but all efforts to get the council to stop spraying have failed. As this is where most of my fruit trees and vegetables are growing, a good high, deep fence is an investment. 

Our new apple tree has been setting fruit. We also have tomatoes and blueberries ripening on their vines and bushes, and I have been planting seedling lettuces. I reckon we have about 4 weeks before growing lettuces will be impossible, due to the heat, even under the 50% shadecloth covers I have installed. When this happens, I try to move into growing seeds to sprout stage indoors, as a substitute, instead of buying bags of lettuce leaves. 

I attended the annual general meeting of CARAD to talk about its history over the last 20 years, and was given this lovely flower arrangement. It was highly perfumed, too. By taking the flowers out of the foam, recutting the stems and putting them in vases, I was able to extend the life of the flowers for about 7 more days. 

The northern grapevine trellis is now offering useful shade, which will deepen as the season goes on. It keeps the hot sun away from the walls and windows whilst allowing any cooling breezes to get through. The grandchildren like to bring a blanket out here and sit under the vine for an afternoon tea picnic.

Last Sunday we decorated my house for Christmas. Our 7 year old grandson made these cupcakes with his Pa, to keep us all going as we worked. I used the classic whole orange cake recipe but added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon -could have been 2- for an extra seasonal spice. They were great. I am about to start wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. I have a few which were ordered early, to try to beat the problems with shipping and supply issues. 

This year my advent table is decorated with four Kosta Boda 'snowball" tealight holders, which I have collected from op shops over the years. As we get hotter days, most taper style candles struggle to stay upright, but tealights are easier to manage. We light one each week, adding to the number lit until just prior to Christmas all four candles are lit. The central candle is lit on Christmas day and is used daily to Epiphany on January 6. 

As I write the new Omicron strain of the COVID 19 virus has been detected in Sydney. I guess we are all hoping that it won't impinge too much on our Christmas celebrations, but only time will tell. The most important thing is to stay safe and take care of each other as much as we possibly can.

I leave you with these things I found recently. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Kambarang 2021


The Noongar season of Kambarang is a time of lengthening periods of sunny weather, with rainy days. The temperatures are rising, the days are getting longer, and there are birds nesting all over. We have a LOT of rain, and also some very sunny and warm days. I installed some 50% shade over a couple of beds after we had a 29C day predicted. The shade structures then had to survive a couple of very windy, rainy days, which is pretty much how Kambarang goes. 

This very dark pelargonium is looking splendid in the front garden.

And my new verge garden has flowers!

My gardening has been more constant, as I can get out for a couple of hours on most days of the week. I have been planting seeds and taking cuttings. At the moment we are enjoying rainbow chard and parsley. It was not a great season for the asparagus, but the blueberries are looking good. 

We have accepted a quote for a company to make us a new back garden fence -finally replacing the abestos and corrugated panel board fence that needed replacing decades ago -and which, through all the storms since, has tenatiously hung on. There is a bit of a supply problem with some of the materials, but I hope it will be installed fairly soon.

We had three great musical events recently. Our choir performed a concert, and it was very good. We attended a WA Symphony Orchestra concert -all featuring baroque music- which was absolutely fabulous. Then we listened to the WASO Chorus perform a Dvorak mass, in the beautiful St Mary's Cathedral, where the sound just echoes around and around. 

I have been enjoying cooking recently, visiting old and new recipes. My collection of Nigella Lawson cookbooks is always popular -the storecupboard Chocolate cake is a reliable standby.

I am avoiding baker's yeast in my cooking, because I find it upsets me. It was good therefore to have a go at a sourdough pizza crust, which was well received. 

My first apple scrap vinegar got nice and bubbly! 

I have completed my "Reef Dreaming" wall quilt and hung it up. It was constructed of batik fabric which was given to me, and reminds me of the colours and shapes in the reef at Mullaloo.

I had to attend Jury Duty some weeks ago, and afterwards I received some money as a 'sitting fee"- I decided to turn the money into beautiful things like this lovely cornucopia vase, and also I bought some new Accuquilt dies for my quilting.

These are lovely things!

Multicultural fashion in Perth 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Coping with rising food prices


Around the country, people have noticed that food prices are rising. All kinds of things are in short supply, as supply chains are stretched due to the pandemic. Choice Australia says "The most recent reported that 71% of Australians are worried about how much food and groceries cost, topped only by concerns about electricity, fuel and healthcare costs. And many had cut back on spending on essentials, including groceries".

Read about it here 

We are on fixed incomes around here. DH and I are now retired, and living on a adequate combination of pensions from our super funds and government allowances. This is both in cash and in kind -truly, the number and amounts of discounts for seniors and pensioners have astonished me- we can get everything from discounted haircuts on certain days of the week, to discounted food in restaurants if we shop at certain times. We are very grateful! 

We still have good reason to be careful when someone starts predicting rising food prices -after all, we must eat! I use these strategies listed below, all the time, even though the hard times of our lives, when DH was made redundant and our mortgage was huge, are behind us.

Disclaimer: I am in awe of what Jack Munroe has found out about managing on a tiny income, and the recipes she creates are the essence of frugal, so if you want to know some really good advice, just visit their website and don't bother with the rest of this! Or enjoy Jack's fabulous recipes and then come back and read this! 

The following are my strategies for making the food budget go as far as possible.

1. Find alternative sources of food

We have several large supermarkets within easy reach of our home. They sometimes offer 'specials' where they entice shoppers into their doors with something they sell below cost, and then often put up the price of other things to make sure they don't miss out on the money in the end. If you keep a price book- an actual list of what you pay for each thing you buy, with comparisons to other shops, other dates, you will be able to prove this is so. That is actually a very good exercise to make you aware of your actual costs, but it can be daunting. I used to belong to a website community where people did this, and it was illuminating! 

There is an alternative to keeping a price book, especially for the time poor and those whose heads might just explode at the idea! Choice in Australia regularly surveys grocery prices.

Choice found in May 2021 that the difference between an exactly identical basket of items in supermarkets varied by over $50 depending on which supermarket chain you shopped in, and could be more if you chose generic brands. 

They also found some states of Australia are more expensive than other states. My own state of Western Australia, along with the Northern Territory, are more expensive than the southern and eastern states, which are closer to the distribution centres and have higher populations. There may also be variations in suburban prices -if you live in a relatively wealthy area, it is worth shopping in another place where median incomes are lower, to see if prices are different there. 

I often find there are other sources of food worth trying: farmers'  markets- where they are selling what is now in season and therefore both freshest and cheapest, farm gate, smaller shops, ethnic grocers. It is worth having a look around your area. Ethnic food shops have great bulk spices at better prices than those tiny bottles in the supermarket. They also have a huge selection of flour, tea, coffee and pulses. 

2. Buy in bulk to even out price rises, find discounts

I am a member of our local RAC which means that I get to shop once a month in a wholesale bulk grocery store, which offers this service for members We find this convenient and cheaper. I can get 5 litres of rinse aid for my dishwasher for the price of 1 litre of the tiny supermarket bottles. I buy large, catering sized tins of roasted capsicums, and ladle the contents into smaller packets for the freezer. They become the basis for salads and dips and soups. Often a 5 kilo bag of rice is cheaper per kilo than a 500g gram bag of rice. 

On a tight budget, in order to have the extra money to buy the bigger packet, you might need to save up for these items one at a time, but as you build up a supply you will find it gets easier to afford. You can store non perishables in all sorts of places -in the garage, under the bed, at the top of your wardrobe.  

3. Make substitutions 

I have reduced the amount of meat we buy over the past few years for many reasons, including the fact that growing meat takes a lot of water in these drying times, and I want to do our bit for the planet. We are not vegetarian, we just eat other things than meat on at least 2 or 3 days a week. Meat prices are shockingly high, but I love to buy a good cut from a local butcher if I am having friends or family over for dinner. I am still overwhelmed when I hand over $70 for a leg of lamb! 

For ideas on what to eat when cost is an issue, I recommend looking for  recipe books in op shops. This book below is Elizabeth Davidson's "Vegetables" and is a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. The filling is just onions melted in butter with 2 eggs and a bit of cheese, for a tasty onion pie.

Recipes from 'peasant' cultures are likely to be smart and tasty and frugal. I seek these out in op shops. 

4. Eat what is seasonal 

Today our supermarket had tomatoes for $16 a kilo! Now, of course, they are not in season, so you have to pay a premium if you still want fresh tomatoes. On the other hand, avocadoes are getting cheaper because they are in season. 

4. Grow your own

If you have access to a sunny space and can afford a big pot and some potting mix, you can grow some of your own food. I choose to grow those things which are expensive like blueberries (above). I now have 3 bushes of these, and we will be picking handfuls for our breakfast muesli for a couple of months now. I like to grow herbs because they make ordinary ingredients into a tasty dish, and they are full of vitamins. Anything you can grow is likely to be fresher and tastier, as well as providing some extra backup in case you ever have a supply shortage. I let the veggies and herbs go to seed, and find all sorts of things popping up where I did not plant them. At the moment I have a number of coriander (cilantro) plants growing randomly in the garden. 

Are food prices going up where you live? What do you suggest are good ways to manage the rises? 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Climate movement -just keep on working for change, being the change

I am thinking more and more about resilience -about being 'ready for anything'. In the face of the latest IPCC report on climate change, we are all going to have to be able to adapt as the climate becomes hotter, wetter, stronger, faster, and less predictable. 

The IPCC said it was now "CODE RED" for the climate. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing. But while we can individually do a lot (more on this below) it is now essential that industry and government play their part. I speak as an Australian when I say our government is CR*P at playing it's part -but this must stop. We can't keep exporting coal and gas and expect to get away with it, for example. 

Watch this 2 minute YouTube clip here as a summary: 

 I am a Patreon supporter of Brenna Quinlan. I really love her designs which explain permaculture in such a winsome way, like this diagram below: 

So our home and lifestyle are our attempts to do what we can to work for change and be the change we want to see in our world. 

Our garden is looking great after the winter rains. We are picking lots of snow peas at the moment, along with salad leaves and herbs. My roses are budding. The daisies are in flower. Bees are everywhere on the native hardenbergias. My asparagus is coming up, and the rhubarb is growing. I am shoving seeds in everywhere! I have a lot of sweet potatoes growing in the garden -and if necessary I can always grub some up, add some warrigal greens and we will have food. 

We have an extensive storecupboard of basics to use in our cooking. This gives us options for going for some time without a shopping trip -in one of our regional Victorian cities currently under COVID19 lockdown, they are struggling to get home deliveries of groceries because the supermarket workers are in quarantine! One shopping trip to buy in bulk means less fuel used over a month. I keep bulk rice and flour, lentils and pulses on hand at all times, and have tinned vegetables and fruits as well as all the produce we preserve ourselves. 

Still sharing lemons with our community 

DH and I have had our second AstroZenica vaccines, and are feeling really good about it. We see this as an important contribution to our community as well as to our own health. 

DH got back into his workshop, after recent surgery, and made this table top easel from scrap wood. The grandchildren loved it! Miss 9 said "Now I am a real artist" while her 3 year old brother said it was what he always wanted! 

The ability to make things we need, rather than to buy them, and to turn waste into useful objects, is a skill we both continue to practice. 

Finally, I try to add my activism to my practivism! This means that I attend rallies, sign petitions, write to politicans, support progressive candidates in elections and attend meetings! You might be interested in this Rebecca Solnit article which explains it further. 

Rebecca Solnit article -it is not all our fault! 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Djilba! Waiting for the spring

 NOTE: this post contains messages of support for COVID vaccines. If you don't agree, please don't leave me any messages. I am not interested and will block you. 

We are, we hope, moving into Djilba, a season of the Noongar calendar, where winter rains slowly give way to Spring showers, and the birds and animals and wildflowers get active in their breeding and flowering cycles.  This month has been the wettest July in 26 years, and we actually had 18 days in a row when it rained. We are all feeling it! It is lovely to see the rain recharge the rivers and tanks, but we miss the sunshine. I am missing the hours I usually spend each day in the garden. 

The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted that we will have a drier than average rainfall over the next three months , whilst the centre and east coasts will be wetter. 

We have had plenty to be thankful about this month. DH had important and delicate surgery on his back, and is now at home recuperating. This is yet another example of the wonders of our Australian health care system. The whole thing -his scans, his operation and his hospital stay- was exactly and completely free! This precious Medicare system is one of the jewels of our community welfare system -a part of that 'commonwealth' which every nation should attempt to provide to its citizens. Where there is a need, it should not be money which keeps you away from medical care. This has become especially imporant in the pandemic. My DS and DDinLaw have both had their full COVID Pfeizer vaccines, and we are most grateful. DD -also in their age bracket -however has not been invited in as yet. DH and I will have our second AstraZenica vaccines this month. 

Melbourne's arts community made a wonderful ad to encourage everyone to get their vaccine.  It  highlights the fact that, in order to get back to the good things -music performances, art shows, festivals, theatre -we will all need to be vaccinated. Current modelling suggests we need more than 80% vaccinated to be able to put the vulnerable into a safe situation. Some won't be able to have the vaccine, so the rest of us need to do it for them. 

This month DD and I enjoyed the Stirling Players' production of Into the Woods. My son was playing in the orchestra. We loved it! DH and I also were able to enjoy the Classical Guitar Society of WA's 60th anniversary concert too. At the moment we are without any COVID restrictions in WA, but we all know how vulnerable we are to a break out from quarantine, and it could all go away again. 

I finished my quilt!  I have updated the "Quilting and the creative challenge" page of my blog to reflect this. Just need to wash it and then it is ready for giving away to our Community Quilt group at WAQA. 

I have added a lovely watercolour picture to the dining room wall. I found it in an op shop.DH says it makes him think of fishing boats leaving Oyster Harbour in Kinjarling Albany. I reckon it makes me think of my Welsh relatives who worked on coastal boats operating out of Beaumaris. 

Well, that is about enough of our activities for this post. Thanks for reading!