Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bargain Yarn find ! Now, what do I do with it??

Oh dear, it seems I have become a little bit of a yarn-collector!

I already have quite a big wicker basket full of assorted yarns and oddments such as random granny squares and knitted sqaures from when I practiced new stitches. It didn't feel excessive though, until yesterday ......

We were enjoying a day out up the road in Bathurst yesterday, and stumbled across a small market in the town park - always a pleasant surprise! I had been hoping to pop into Spotlight to check out any cheap yarn they had, but instead I found a charity table at the market stall, selling a whole load of new mixed yarns- talk about serendipity! Well I couldn't resist now, could I??

The stall holders had no prices, they just asked for a donation for any items. I took 2 of the 3 yarn boxes and 1 pair of 8mm needles (I have thinner ones already) and asked if $20 was ok - they were thrilled with that and I was thrilled with my new stash. Win-win :-)

Since getting home and checking out my new goodies properly I think I have a real bargain -- 75 balls of yarn altogether!

One box contained 44 balls of 50g cotton (38 denim blue blend, 6 cream blend) They all have 'sale' stickers from spotlight, reduced to $2 each, so there is $88 (even at sale price) worth right there!

The other box contained 31 mixed balls, (although most have decent amounts of each) and apart from a few 'novelty' type acrylics, most are wool blends, lots of mohair and even alpaca wool!! Some expensive looking yarns there.

All of the yarns are either Patons or Cleckheaton.

So now dear friends, I just need some ideas of what to do with it all !! I much prefer crochet to knitting, although I can knit at a basic level I still feel quite awkward with knitting needles. I find crochet is much more comfortable, quicker and easier to follow patterns.

I've been making scarves and granny squares lately, and checking out amigurumi (Japanese crochet toys) which looks like a lot of fun and great for using up leftovers. But now I have a bigger stash......

....Any ideas you crafty lot??!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Clueless Broody and the Emergency Rescue

We had been planning on adding to our existing flock this year and Spring is the perfect time to do it. The weather is warming up (well, maybe not so consistently where we are!) and it's the time that more chicks hatch naturally as mother hens go broody.
That's another reason for our timing - we had a broody hen, Blondie, for weeks now. She has hogged the nest and made herself appear scarily huge while she guards her non-existent chicks. So it seemed the right thing to do at the perfect time.
We wanted pure breed chickens again, I have talked before about our reasons for this and against short-lived crossbreeds, bred for intensive egg laying. Australorps and Rhode Island Reds are good layers and well suited to our climate, as well as making good pets, and generally lovely looking chookies :-)

We travelled down to Barters Hatchery who were extremely helpful and not only gave us the eggs we wanted, and gave us 15 for the price of 12, but also gave us ones that were in the process of hatching so we didn't have to wait the usual 21 days! The owner said he was worried that our broody would finish her stint before the 3 weeks was up as she had been sitting for so long already. So home we rushed with our Australorps and Rhode Island Red chicks, with 4 hatching out on the way home (!!!!) wrapped up in their boxes and towels for warmth, carefully guarded between our 2 kids in the back.
We got home and quickly prepared the area and calmly popped the eggs and new chicks under Blondie. She seemed happy so we left her to do her thing in peace and privacy.

It seems no-one had explained to Blondie what she was meant to do. Now most hens will naturally know how to hatch and raise chicks, they've been doing it on their own for thousands of years after all. But when we went back to check about half-hour later, she was off the nest, making a huge fuss and racket, and there were the eggs and chicks ...... left alone and very cold. In fact she had buried the 4 chicks under the wood shavings in the nest.

Hubby quickly gathered up the eggs and I got the 4 chicks (3 of which were very cold and lifeless) got them inside in my jumper and then between my cupped hands to try to warm them, breathing on them and rubbing gently. We got the incubator out and set it up in record time (about 1 minute!) luckily we kept it from our last hatching although I didn't think we would need it with having a broody hen.... grrrr...
anyway, all we could do is pop them all in to warm up and cross our fingers.

The 4 first to hatch, with one Australorp just hatched in the incubator

Incredibly, the 4 chicks that I had tried to save have all lived. They are now happily chirping away as I write. Of the remaining 11 eggs, one was half-hatched and unfortunately dead in the shell when we found it. The rest all hatched later that day or the following day, although a couple had difficulty with the shell membrane drying out as they had very prolonged hatches. I had to assist a couple with drops of water onto the membrane, and also peeling off tiny sections of shell as they had trouble breaking out. Probably because of this and the time they were left cold, we did have one chick born that was unable to walk. It was painful to see it throwing itself around blindly, knocking the other chicks over and generally suffering. We waited until day 3, but when it was clear it wasn't going to improve we had to put it down. It is an awful thing to do, but I suppose also part of responsible ownership.

From this .... this- in under an hour!!

First lot, out of the incubator and into the brooder box

We have also had a couple of chicks with suspect limps, but one improved over the first few days and is now walking perfectly and another I have splinted at the moment and is looking very good now. The splinting procedure for splay legs is explained HERE -- although our chick was not nearly as severe as that one, just standing with one leg too far out to the side rather than under its body.

Chick physio! Section of band-aid used as a spacer

So, all in all we have ended up with 13 chicks from 15 eggs, which, although it is sad we lost 2, is an incredibly good hatch. We have 7 Australorps and 6 Rhode Island Reds. Of course buying them at 'almost-hatch' helped (whilst giving them to a clueless broody did not) As for Blondie, well most annoyingly she went straight back to being broody and is still hogging the nest. It is difficult to be sympathetic now, after we gave her a chance and she blew it. Mind you, we do get to keep this lot inside now ----

Because our hen rejected the chicks they will not be properly cared for outside,  so we will continue to raise them inside for a while, until they are fully feathered and large enough to cope with outdoor weather and our other chooks.

We plan to keep some hens for ourselves, maybe 2 of each breed, perhaps a rooster too. Since we still have our existing 5 girls, I think any more would classify me as the local mad-chook-woman! The rest I am hoping to sell on to good homes once we find out who is who.....

Love my chickies  :-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My first blog award -- awww, thanks!

I was very pleased and flattered to receive my first blog award today, from the wonderful Chris over at Gully Grove. The Liebster Blog award is given to little blogs like mine with less than 300 followers, to promote the lesser known blogs and also to provide links to others we may not have otherwise found.....

The idea is to link back to the persons blog you received the award from (I am sure there is a better way to write that grammatically!) and then nominate 3 blogs of your choice to recieve the award.

So thank you Chris x If you haven't checked out her blog at Gully Grove yet, have a peek. Hers was one of the first blogs I came across when I started, and she has inspired me, made me laugh, and I have even cried at times! She is an amazingly strong and resourceful woman.

The 3 blogs I would like to nominate for the Liebster Award are:-

Eat at Dixiebelles - a wonderful woman and mother with a social conscience who really strives to make a genuine difference in this world of ours. She cooks, she grows, she even permablitzes! Is there anything this woman can't do??!! I think not! And yet she is down to earth and so honest in her blogging.

Loopity Lou - Anne is a fabulous woman who can whip up amazing creations with nothing more than a pair of knitting needles and a piece of yarn! Her creations are so lovely, elegant but earthy at the same time. The kind of clothing you would ooh and ahh over if you saw it in a store (while trying to not stroke it!)  And shes a mountains woman- yay!

Funky Frontyard Farmers is my surprise choice- surprise only because I just found their blog yesterday!! Jo and Joe are also in the mountains here, and have a fantastic blog full of great reading. They are working very hard on their own garden but also spreading the word in the community, and not just talking-the-talk, they are walking-the-walk (!) and have started a local 'Crop and Swap' group which sounds like a mighty fine idea, and on that basis they definitely deserve a Liebster Award!!

So thats my 3 choices, if you were nominated, please pass the Liebster along by linking back here and nominating your own top 3 blogs (with under 300 followers).

I could have picked more if I was allowed! I would certainly have mentioned the chook woman herself - Jacqui at Life in the Dome but Chris had already nominated her, and I wouldn't want her to struggle and juggle 2 awards :-)

Hope you enjoy reading some new blogs  :-)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Not-So-Quiet Winter

If you believe the gardening books, winter is supposedly a quiet time in the garden. A time for rest and reflection, maybe planning ahead for the following year. Are they kidding??!!! I have been busier than ever this winter working in our garden.

I posted about building our veggie patch a few months ago after we moved here. I am pleased to say that although it was a fairly rushed job, with me desperate to get something (anything!) into the ground before winter hit, it has done extremely well and has fed us many greens over the colder months.

 Plenty of kale, spinach, silverbeet, rocket and lettuce through the winter

Following that, in the past 2 months I have :-

  • Planted a row of 6 bare-rooted rose bushes, outside our main front window (as a bit of a privacy screen from passing bushwalkers and locals walking their dogs!)

I have since made this into a long strip of 'rose bed', with mulch to keep out competing grass

  • Planted a hedge- row of  5 hazelnut trees I bought 2 years ago. see here   for the original post. Somehow they have miraculously survived living in large pots (thank you) and hopefully will thrive now they are in the ground.

  • Planted over 500 flowering Spring bulbs throughout the front, back and side gardens, and in pots which can be moved around to suit our window view when they flower. Some of the daffodils are just starting to flower now. I also planted tulips, freesias, jonquils, muscari, anemones, ranunculi, ixias, snowflakes, dutch iris, chincherinchee.... so many more!

  • Established a small garlic patch of both Australian Purple and White bulbs (around 30 plants) and a separate potato patch (around 30 seed potatoes) including Sebago, Nicola, Desiree and Ruby Lou.

  • Planted 2 varieties of blueberry bushes -Northland and Anna- in the back garden. The area I chose to plant them in is a sunny spot but has pine trees hanging over the fence from the property behind- this means the soil here is naturally acidic which blueberries love, and the pine needles that fall create a natural acidic mulch. Ideal conditions for them, less work for me!

  • Planted a variety of dormant berry canes- thornless blackberry, boysenberry, and 13 raspberry canes. All are against fences where they can be tied up when they start to grow (hopefully profusely!)

  • Started transforming the side garden into a mini orchard (we call it the side garden, its the equivalent of a normal front garden but our house is long and sideways on a corner block). In there we have planted 3 apple trees- (Granny Smith, Red Fuji and Gala), 1 nectarine and 1 peach (all dwarf varieties) along with rhubarb and the raspberries. I am thinking of buying a double-grafted pear as well, if I can make a space! The garden was already quite full with deciduous trees and a few other random trees, including a huge cypress which is beautiful but creates a lot of shade Luckily this is a sunny North facing garden so the fruit trees should do well. Our daughter has claimed the Gala as her tree, and our son has always loved Granny Smith apples and wanted his own tree since he was 3, so it was a happy day when he got to plant it :-)

    This corner was not even visible when we moved in- covered in overhanging trees
  • Oh and of course not forgetting our feathered friends! We put up a brushwood fence along the back boundary to hide the tangled mess of ivy and other weeds in the property behind us (after lopping off several huge pine tree limbs that were overhanging our garden). We then built the chook pen similar to the first one we made. Chicken wire and star pickets, old gate, A-frame inside for shelter, sleeping and nest boxes. It is approx 25 m2 so plenty of room to scratch around in.

Our hens were so happy they immediately started laying again! After our egg-less winter, the very next day 3 of our 5 hens had laid! And they haven't stopped since. we are now getting over 20 a week from the 5 chooks which is great.

It is exciting to see my vision coming into reality, although I can be a little impatient at times (!) and the vision is a pretty fluid one, and often morphs into other ideas.
Our ultimate aim is not to be self-sufficient here, but to provide as much as we can for ourselves of fresh, healthy food, whilst enjoying our garden and also living in a practical and beautiful space.


Watch this space.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bread.... and the book that inspired me

I've been making a lot of bread lately, and I've been so pleased with the results. I have been making no-knead bread like this for quite a while now, but still had that niggly little voice in my head pushing me to try making bread the 'real' way again.

So, for a bit of inspiration I bought myself this book -

Its part of the River Cottage series of book and I have to say, it is the best bread book I've seen (and I've borrowed A LOT from the local library!) It goes into a lot of detail initially about the ingredients and the whole process of making bread, as well as the history and why we should all try making our own, before it shares a whole load of recipes. I found it strangely interesting! It even has instructions at the back on how to build a clay oven ... something I would love to do with the ugly old brick bbq we have out the back.

I've been making Roti breads -fabulously quick and simple, great to make with kids. The whole process takes about 10 minutes from getting the ingredients out to flopping the big puffy pillows onto plates (or maybe 5 mins without children helping!) We were all cheering as they puffed up in the pan! Perfect with winter curries and casseroles and they cost next to nothing to make (flour, water, salt).

bread dough using 1kg flour (note my daughters hand for size!)

Then after making a batch of dough that could rival the 'magic pudding' story, we made 2 loaves and 4 large bread rolls with this lot above. I generally use both unbleached white and wholemeal flour, often around 3 parts white and 1 part wholemeal (or whatever I feel like!)

Some I left plain and others coated in oats. All turned out perfectly! The crumb of these breads is very different from my usual no-knead loaves, which is much more like a sourdough texture. The traditional bread texture is much more even and is much easier to slice and use for lunchbox sandwiches.

I think I much prefer the free-form shape, rather than baking them in a loaf tin. Perhaps its the more home-baked look, with each loaf taking its own shape :-)

I have made quite a few now, each working well, and trying different shape loaves and coatings. I have recently tried using bakers 'strong' flour, but actually found the cheap brand plain white worked better for me. I think I will try half/ half next time.

Last week we made pizza bases for the first time and it was so easy I am kicking myself we haven't been doing this earlier! No photos unfortunately, I forgot this time and the pizzas vanished so quickly, even though from 500g flour we got 8 smallish pizzas (about 15-20cm across)
I put out bowls of various veggies and pineapple, and the kids delighted in making their own combinations- all 8 different to each other. So different to greasy take-away pizza, much more like the traditional style.

I am looking forward to trying more recipes from my book, everything from focaccia to croissants, and poppy and caraway crackers.. mmmm!
I bought my copy from The Book Depository online- only cost me around $16 which was a bargain, (amount changes daily with the exchange rate) I've easily saved that in bread already, not to mention it was the only book that actually got me great results!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What a difference a day makes ....

.... 24 little hours..... since yesterday- this is how my patch looked today!

Snow came from nowhere, extremely exciting for kids, beautiful to look at. But I hope my veggies survive!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My New Winter Veggie Garden

I think its about time I showed my new veggie patch- it is still very young and new but showing lots of promise! I picked this area as it receives sun most of the day and is very sheltered. Our back garden is much warmer than the front (open to wind) or side (shady) which is important in our cold climate. The colorbond fence at the back and the shed to the side make a little microclimate, which I am hoping will equate to more food in less time!
We roped in my in-laws to help while they were staying here (hey, no such thing as a free lunch eh?!!) which made things take shape pretty quickly. We used whatever materials we had for borders- some timber offcuts and old timber posts, short star pickets and even an old sign was cut in half! Hopefully one day they will be replaced with handsome hardwood sleepers, but for now I was happy to just get something to hold the soil in. A few bricks are makeshift 'steppers' so I can get in to the middle without crushing the plants.

My helpers and the newly filled bed.
Only these few herbs were plants, the rest raised from seed.

The main patch is a raised bed as the garden is kikuyu lawn, which truly is like digging into carpet. Much easier for quick results was to put down cardboard and thick newspaper layers (to block the grass growing through), then heap up with around 30cm deep of good soil. We bought our soil in from a local nursery and it is a rich mix of animal manures and mushroom compost, a specific product for vegetable beds.
The main bed pictured here is 6 metres long x 1.2 metres wide, and used about 2/3 of the 2 cubic metres soil we bought, so cost around $70 to fill. I think it was worth doing for the quick results and less back-breaking for us :-)

....and yesterday, starting to look a lot greener

So what did I plant? Well here in the Blue Mountains winter choices are pretty limited for this season. I chose things that we will actually eat, that don't take a lot of room and that work in our climate.

English Spinach
Curly Kale
Tuscan Kale
Italian Lettuce
Broad beans
Sugar Snap peas
Massey (shelling) peas
Snow Peas
Broccoli (Di Cicco)
Broccoli (Romanesco)
and various herbs- parsley, thyme, oregano, lemon thyme, lemon balm, coriander

English Spinach

Trying to coax my peas to find the string!

Each has its own section, but given that I had my kids 'helping' some of the the seeds were broadcast thickly rather than sown in rows, such as the curly kale which germinated fantastically, possibly because a whole packet of teeny tiny seeds was spilt! I'm working on the permaculture principle of having no gaps to block weeds :-)

I have used no fertilisers other than a couple of waterings with diluted worm juice from our worm farm. I think the soil has enough goodness to last quite a while.

Curly Kale- enough to feed the street!

We will certainly not have enough to feed our family, (unless we live on kale!) but even supplementing our shop-bought groceries is a great start. It is a great on-going project for the whole family, our kids have learnt so much and now get really excited when they see the huge fat worms in the patch because the soil is so good!

Leeks in recycled poly-pipes to blanch the stems

I have just started another section as well, up to the shed, to plant my garlic and potatoes into, but I will leave that for another post.

Happy gardening!  :-)

Propagating Rosemary & other lovelies

OK, this must be one of the easiest gardening tasks I've done. I know it is supposed to be easy, lots of people have said that, but I never propogated anything before so it was a first for me.

I started with a bunch of rosemary bought from the local fruit and veg store for $2. I cut the tips off 8 stems to roughly 8-10cm or so, (the rest of the stems were dried for kitchen use) removed the leaves up to about the top 2-3 cm (I don't really do exact measurements!) and dipped then ends in some honey before popping them all into a plant pot of seed raising mix.

The honey apparently does a similar job to hormone rooting powder- it encourages roots to form. And seed raising mix works better than normal soil because it is fine and well draining (although a coir peat/compost/sand mix can work well too).

That was done a couple of months ago and I'm very pleased that all the cuttings have taken and are growing happily. 3 of them have only small roots and so are still in the 'mother' pot (!) but these 5 were very vigorous, and were planted into their own pots last month. I placed them in front of the veggie patch and when I moved them yesterday I found the roots were coming out of the bottom and growing into the garden!!!

small but strong- these have roots out of the pots~!

Now I have the happy task of finding permanent homes for my new plants. 2 of them have gone near the back door, close to the kitchen.

I also have some hydrangea cuttings taken from our last house before we moved, they have also taken very well, I think I have around around 6 out of 8 survived, using the same technique.

Dizzy with my success (!) I am also trying lavender propogation, from a big overgrown lavender I bump into every time I walk out the back door (I don't mind though, it smells incredible!) I want to ensure it lives on before it the mother plant gets a severe haircut!


Monday, May 23, 2011

And now.... exhale.

Well it has taken me a long while... but I am finally ready to do an update! We were very busy for a while moving to our new home (and all the usual dramas that brings!), then within a few weeks we were busy again with family staying from overseas, but I am very pleased to report we have all settled in to our new surrounds beautifully.

Early morning mist in the valley

We love the house - which is much larger than we are used to but strangely not too big at all - it still feels cosy in the right places! Our kids now have a very large open playroom with lots of tables for creating, and shelves for their books and games. They just love it! And we love not tripping over toys and standing on lego in the lounge room.
We even get to watch the sunset from our dining room, or upstairs out on the balcony, something that always stops us in our tracks.

Sunset from our balcony

We love the area too - very peaceful and beautiful, friendly people and the village is perched on an escarpment overlooking magnificent valleys, which provides us with fabulous bushwalks!

Our local bushwalk/ dog walk- only a couple of minutes away

All animals made it through the move too. At the time we had 2 chooks broody and the other 3 moulting, so they looked a bit rough for a while, but are back to normal now -fat, feathery and happy! We are even getting a decent egg supply, 10-12 a week which is great considering the colder weather.

It didn't take me long to get a food garden going- I was planning it within 2 weeks and building shortly after! With nothing in place to start with, we picked a sunny area across the back of the garden, and built a long garden bed 6 metres x 1.2 metres, using whatever we had to hand, and bought in 2 cubic metres of 'veggie mix' soil to make a raised bed. Excellent stuff, full of manures and mushroom compost! I will post some pictures of the patch soon when its looking a bit greener, but already everything has germinated and so we have a bed full of little green sprouts, ready to provide us with winter goodness. I planted lots of winter greens, peas, broad beans, broccoli, herbs.... and am waiting on my potatoes and garlic to arrive, though I'll have to extend the patch as its full already!

This house has also inspired me to try something new in the garden- flowers! I've always admired others gardens that burst with glorious colour, but to be honest I kind of thought flowers were a bit frivolous, after all isn't this the age when we should all be turning our land into something more productive? Well, I'm not sure exactly what changed, but you know what? For the first time, I think I deserve some frivolous flowers!! Of course, when I've waited this long, I'm not doing things by halves, so I bought 2 bulk packs of Spring bulbs from Garden Express, a total of a whopping 405 bulbs!!! Sounds a lot, but some of them are really small ~ lol ! A bit crazy, maybe. But we have space on all sides of the house, with lots of deciduous autumn trees (which looked amazing when they turned) so some will go under the trees, others will be planted outside our windows and some in pots.... I'm sure I'll find a place for them. Watch this space and see how I did!

Its all a work-in-progress of course, there is always more to do in the garden and inside, but it feels like we are home again at last, and I can finally exhale.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Ready, set, GO!

Well as I hoped we have certainly hit the ground running this year! Lots happening in our little world- the biggest news is that we will soon be moving again! Everything has finally fallen into place for us and life has become a whole lot easier this year.

Following my last blog post we did some major house hunting around the area (our record was 10 houses seen in one day!) and I am very happy to report we found a truly fabulous house- Woohoo!! It ticks all the boxes for us, and much more! It is a much bigger home than we have ever had, but somehow still feels cosy and homey inside which is important to us. It has that 'good energy' kind of feeling that is hard to describe, but you know when you find it. There are enough rooms to host our family from England when they visit (and they are coming....!) AND I get my very own dedicated sewing/craft room! There is an ENORMOUS family room, perfect for lounging around/ kids toys/ art tables/ lego villages ..... oh how lucky we are! On top of all that we got it for a really great price, far less than we budgeted for or expected, which means much less financial pressure. YAY!

The block is pretty much average size, but we will have 2 gardens due to the layout. One is a bit park-like and peaceful, the other is fenced and perfect for our children /dog/ chooks. The gardener in me is already planning fruit trees and veggies, though I will try to be patient and get to know the place first to plan it. As it stands it is really quite pretty and will be nice to move into.... until I get the itch to don my gardening gloves and grab the spade and secateurs !!!

We are all very excited about it, the kids are happy as it has stairs (strange fascination!) and they can choose their bedrooms and have their own bathroom (though unfortunately not the ability to clean it themselves lol!)

We are currently in that odd period of waiting for settlement, hopefully it won't seem like a lifetime, although clearing out our 'stuff' will definitely fill a fair amount of time. Where does it all come from? I admit I am was a bit of a hoarder, but really we are not the kind of people that buy or keep a lot of 'stuff', and yet our garage tells us otherwise........ :-(

A few other things happening too, but since I have raved on so much I will take a break now and post again later!