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Antics of The Week

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This week has been full of all sorts of activities, despite battling through more winter sickness on the weekend. Oh, the things we get up to. City folk and more consumer-driven folk must wonder what on earth I’m thinking sometimes, but I have so much fun making our lives more healthy, saving money and learning all manner of homesteading skills. The only upside of sickness is that we can’t go out much so we are getting some little things done around the place. When we don’t have a small-child attachment.

Tasty Food Stuff

The week started with an experiment in making a gluten-free, dairy-free happy-study-finishing chocolate cake to share with my Crafty Women on Crafty Night. After cutting a handful of foods out of my diet I am down to my last two suspects: gluten and wheat, which are similar, but I intend to get to the bottom of it. This week I was supposed to be adding gluten back in, without wheat, by using foods like barley. But, things got a bit too busy, too busy to think about what to do with barley and too busy to want to risk getting sick. I will prattle on about food intolerance issues another time. Back to the cake. It wasn’t bad for gluten-free, but it needs some improvements, the main one being less vinegar. I suppose I’ll need to do another cake experiment…

We ate our first homegrown oyster mushrooms this week. They are tasty! They’re a bit more mild than field mushrooms but I still love ’em. I ate some for lunch today, fried in pork lard. Then some for dinner, fried in beef dripping. Happiness! This week I instigated the lard experiments, which I will post about later.

The Husband also got busy in the kitchen, using a big stash of our frozen tomatoes to make 10L of tomato soup. The smaller garage freezer has become our preserving freezer and it is now half full of soup. And there are still more frozen tomatoes that need to be used!

Vegetables and Light

We’ve had to buy a few more veges over winter and have been unpleasantly astounded at the price of some veges, in particular broccoli and cauliflower. The last growing season was a poor one, followed by a rainy, gloomy Autumn and this is further impacting on the increasing price of store-bought veges. Although I don’t have the time to grow everything I want from seed at the moment, buying seedlings to grow is still a lot more cost-effective than buying veges from the shops. At Bunnings you can get a little punnet of 6 vege seedlings for $1.96 or thereabouts, compared to $3.50-$5 for one head of broccoli or cauliflower from the supermarket. And the supermarket broccoli is puny as. I bought one punnet each of red cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower from Bunnings to add to my brassicas in the garden. I will let them get a bit bigger before planting. It has been a pretty mild winter so far, with only a few frosts, so I might as well make use of the milder temperatures to keep adding cold-hardy crops to the garden.

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I also found myself in Mitre 10 Mega one day, where I bought a light for the back porch. This is the final light I needed to add to the house lot of light fittings that I have been gathering and storing for some time. The next step is getting a quote for an electrician to install all the lights in the house, a few of which will be in new positions, and to do a few other little electrical jobs.

As I was exiting the garden centre section, because, obviously, I ended up there, I found seed potatoes! I had been carefully thinking about which potato varieties to grow next season, with input from The Husband, since he was not impressed with Ilam Hardy last season and loves Agria. It’s always good to have more than one variety and to try out new things, so I am planning to grow Agria and Summer Delight as my major main crops and either Liseta or Allura in the planters for a quicker-maturing, early crop. Summer Delight was one of the varieties of seed potatoes available at Mitre 10 Mega, so I bought one 1.5kg bag. It is way early, but I thought I had better get them while I could, as I didn’t see that variety last season. I can always plant them a bit earlier with some protection. They are now chitting in the garage.

 

Tackling the Windows

A less fun activity this week was the commencement of window cleaning. Our windows have gotten so, sooo bad. Today, I finished cleaning all the windows in The Little Fulla’s room. I did such a good job, and, yes, there was a toothbrush involved, that it took ages. Well, the frames were bad! His room is at the shady end of the house. If I can get two or three window cleaning sessions in each week it won’t take too long to get the whole house done, right? I hate window cleaning. I don’t mind the actual glass cleaning, but the window frames? I’d rather clean the chicken coop. One good thing to note, though, is that I used homemade cleaners instead of nasty chemicals. For the frames I used a little vinegar in about 1/4 bucket of warm water and for the glass I am experimenting with 1/4 cup vinegar in 2 cups of warm water with 10 drops of essential oil (I used lemon). The oil is supposed to help prevent streak or water drop marks and I’m pretty happy with it so far. Who needs chemicals, man?

The Chickens

The chickens have been trucking along well through the wet winter weather, enjoying the goodness of The Orchard Pen. But on Staurday morning as I fed the chickens, I discovered that Kitty had a problem. She was barely eating, but pretending to eat, and it was glaringly obvious because she is one of the three who love to eat from my hand and get first dibs. Then I noticed that her crop looked huge. Into Chicken Hospital she went with suspected sour crop. It seems she had been drinking a lot as her crop was so full but there was only a little bad smell and spew was not forthcoming. During the day she got rid of some crop contents from both ends on her own while being kept off food and water, other than epsom salt flushes. As her crop started to go down I realised it was probably more of a case of impacted crop merging into sour crop. This means no induced spewing but massaging a few times a day. And we all know what a sour crop chicken means around here… A spewing human! And sure enough, The Little Fulla was that human yesterday. What is it with these chickens? It’s like they know things. Needless to say, we missed our planned family trip to Auckland yesterday. I hope Kitty recovers well as she is very dear to me. She is the easiest to treat of my oldies and such a lovely girl.

 

Kitty and co

Has Kitty (front) been pigging out on hay or has she eaten something weird that got stuck? Time will tell. Get well soon, pretty Kitty.

A Stone Mission

One evening we found ourselves on a stone mission. I bought a pile of used small river stones on Trade Me for $40, with the intention of using them in The Driveway Expansion Plan. That’s a new plan. Actually it’s not new, it just has a name now. We will need some more firm gravel as well, but this was a good start. The Husband went to get the stones with the borrowed trailer one day after work. But the pile of stones was a bit bigger than I thought it was. He came home in a fluster because they wouldn’t all fit in one trailer load, it was a lot of work shoveling them and he had to take the trailer back in the morning. We both shoveled and raked the stones off the trailer onto a tarp as fast as we could, which was not very fast at all, then bundled up The Little Fulla, took our shovels and headed off on a family stone mission. We shoveled the next load of stones onto the trailer, which came up to about 3/4 full. Shoveling stones is a lot harder than shoveling dirt. They look small, but they are heavy! Especially when they’re dirty and wet. It was hard work, but we gained a big pile of stones for a good price and got it done before the darkness of night descended. The arrival of more rain has helped to clean some of the stones.

At the moment, we have a short driveway with the only proper parking being the carport at the end of it. The Husband parks his work van on the drive behind the car or on the grass on the west side of the drive when it’s not too soggy. But sogginess has become a very real thing around here with all the rain we’ve had. When the road flooded and we had to do some awkward maneuvering for me to get the car out one night, wading through water with The Little Fulla in tow, it became clear that we needed to do something about parking space sooner rather than later. I have always intended to turn the bit of garden on the west side of the carport into a parking space. The main reason nothing has been done about it yet is camellia stumps. Always the camellia stumps! There are a bunch of small stumps in there that need to be dug out. Now there’s a tarp with a pile of stones sitting on top of some of them… Aren’t we good at making piles? We could be pile-making specialists. Need a pile? We’ll make one for you.

Stone pile

Our latest pile: The Stone Pile. The Husband had a small not-paying-attention-to-wife’s-directions moment, hence the wayward stones at the front.

That Patio Woodpile Area Thing

We have been continuing to chop or saw up wood from the long/large bits of wood woodpile beside the ‘covered’ patio woodpile.

Chopping woodpile

The long/large bits of wood woodpile. It looks pretty messy, but it’s a LOT better than it was before.

The patio woodpile area that The Husband has been fiddling with is not going very well. High winds keep blowing his wood and plastic covering off, leaving the wood wet again. The good news is, the wood is going to have to be moved into the woodshed now, for I have done things. Good things.

I have been watching auctions for loads of pavers on TradeMe since The Husband started doing his weird patio woodpile thing. There is a paving company that has a bunch of $1 reserve auctions every week for pallet loads of various styles and amounts of pavers. Some go for well over $100 and the cheapest I saw was $40-something. I found a small load of end-of-line pavers that I really liked the look of, worth $252, and got them for $2. Two dollars! That was totally meant to be. Now we just need to pick them up…

It’s Winter, But The Garden is Alive

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The shortest day of the year is almost upon us and although most of the winter is still to come, I’m feeling fantastic! There is so much happening around here and I’m enjoying seeing the progress in our yard and thinking about the opportunities to come.

I got my garlic planted. I didn’t get to plant it as early as I was intending to, but I still got it in before the shortest day and well before I usually do. I am really hoping to survive the rust this season. Starting from scratch with store-bought seed garlic is not fun when you’ve worked to grow bigger cloves of your own! I didn’t buy as much seed garlic this time, just in case. I planted 20 or 21 cloves of Printanor garlic in the vege garden and 2 cloves in The Herb Garden, as a small measure to avoid the rust. It’s better to get something than nothing. Then I planted my giant cloves of elephant garlic: 4 in the vege garden and 1 in The Herb Garden. This is the first time I’ve grown elephant garlic so I’m excited to see how it grows. And tastes. We all know I’m a fan of giant veges

I watered the garlic in with some compost tea. I forgot to tell y’all about my compost tea. When the comfrey was growing like bonkers last season I chucked a lot of it into a barrel and filled it with water. Some time later I added some chicken poop in there for some extra goodness. The barrel has a lid that is weighed down by a brick. And boy, does it need a lid! It doesn’t smell quite as bad now, after brewing for many months. I didn’t use it as much as I should have last season as I kept forgetting about it. That’s what happens sometimes when you put things in a far away corner. I dilute it to about 1 part nutritious, stinky tea to 10 parts water in a watering can and water stuff with it. I am going to make a point of using it a lot more and would like to experiment with some different kinds of compost tea if I have the time.

Who remembers my mushroom-growing adventure? Well, after doing all the required bits and pieces to get my oyster mushroom kit going, which wasn’t quite as ‘easy as growing grass’, I was left with the waiting period. While I got busy with my assignment I forgot to check on the mushrooms and then BOOM! The mushrooms appeared! This is what I found when I finally remembered to check them:

 

I grew mushrooms! Now we just have to wait until they get big enough to eat. Nom nom nom.

On Saturday, The Husband worked on his lumberjack skills. The doomed, unproductive, yellow-fleshed plum tree met it’s fate. I convinced The Husband to cut off more of the top branches before felling the rest of the tree, while The Little Fulla and I carted them off the the pruning mountain. Then, The Husband set to work on the tree with his chainsaw. There is always something to be nervous about when it comes to felling a tree and this time it was the fact that the part of the tree coming down wasn’t a straight trunk, it was leaning towards the paddock fence with the neighbour’s place and had a previously cut bit lower down on the trunk. But, The Husband is honing his tree-felling skills, and is rightly quite pleased about it. He secured the tree to the corner post on the deck with a rope and ratchet, cut a good wedge, made a straight cut from behind, then hauled on the rope, pulling the tree over in the right direction, avoiding the fence, the potting shed, the blackcurrants in the planter, any beings and even all my young plants in the garden bed. He then cut most of the tree up into firewood. We sure are supplying ourselves well with our tree felling at the moment! Don’t worry, we’re not going to fell ALL the trees.

I decided I’m going to keep our second Billington plum tree that is in the planter. I was going to sell it because I thought one tree was prolific enough, but we really like the Indian plum chutney I made and I’m a total fan of the frozen sliced fruit in the less fruity seasons of the year, and the plums just taste so good, even if they all come in a short space of time. So, the potted Billington is going to join its old Billington plum tree buddy in replacement of the felled tree. “But didn’t you buy an almond tree to plant there?” I hear you say… Yes. But, that is going to be planted in the new chicken pen, The Cedar Pen.

Plum Tree Garden

The Plum Tree Garden. The potted Billington plum tree is going to be planted somewhere around where it is sitting here. The mature Billington is on the left.

When I set up The Cedar Pen for the chickens I cleared out a lot of shrubbery because it was weedy, overgrown or needed to be trimmed out of repelling-the-chickens-over-the-fence height. I have been thinking about what I could plant in there, as it is not going to remain so bare. First, the ‘All In One’ almond got allocated a spot in there. Then, I thought, hey, there’s actually space for another fruit tree in here without cutting out too much sun. So, I consulted my Fruit Plan to see where there were harvest time gaps that I could help to fill. I spent some time graphing my fruit plan to get a better visual of which months had low harvesting possibilities, but my two graphs somehow disappeared while The husband was working on computer backup things.

I have decided on a ‘Royal Rosa’ apricot tree. Harvest time is November to December (late spring and early summer) and it is supposed to be good in warmer areas. We already have one very young apricot tree, the dwarf ‘Aprigold’ in The Herb Garden, but we could do with more apricots, especially in November when citrus is the only big fruit available in our garden.

Yesterday, The Husband and I worked on curtains for the woodshed. That makes a quirky mental image! No, we weren’t making it look pretty, we were making it more functional. The woodshed had gotten covered in a hotch-potch of more and more chicken wire and plastic netting in attempts to keep the chickens out of there and it was getting rather awkward to get firewood out. I cut a curtain, or screen, for each bay of the woodshed, nailed them on at the top with fence staples then put three nails down the wooden posts on each side for hooking the screens onto. The Husband fitted plastic grommets over the holes to hook over the nails. We just need a few things to finish this project: a couple more grommets, something to weight the screen down at the bottom and some sort of string system that The Husband wants to do so the screens can easily be hoisted up for accessing the woodshed. It sure looks a lot more tidy now.

Speaking of tidiness, I did some tidying up around the back door, which had been gathering more and more stuff. The back door often acts as the front door so the area does need some work to make it better. The wooden box that was sitting just outside the door was holding paper and cardboard for the fire, but didn’t have much left in it and I had sized it up for another purpose. I emptied it out and moved it into the garage to store The Little Fulla’s outdoor toys in, which is a great improvement on the cardboard boxes that they were sitting in. Removing the box means there is more space for walking around the outdoor table and chairs and that the shoes can be lined up nicely instead of being a major trip hazard. I also chucked out one of The Husband’s pairs of old work boots, since they were falling apart and there are two pairs outside. Unfortunately, he found them in the bin and retrieved them. What does a man want two pairs of old work boots for? This is not the last word on that matter. I would like to build a small, narrow shelf to store shoes and things on up against the wall. One day…

What’s next? Hopefully, tree planting, more wood chopping and woodpile tidying, more weed control, spreading hay in the chicken pen and dealing with the compost heaps.