Monday, December 29, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge Update

Sowing seed or Planting

Not much happened in the garden this week. We went away camping for a few days and then there was the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

The lettuces have gone to seed, I've been feeding them to the rabbits and chooks who think is a wonderful treat. A couple of lettuces will be left to set seed and the seed saved.

The snails have left a few cucumber seedlings and they have established themselves well. Maybe we will get a few vegies this year after all.

Planning for The Future
We've had a look around the property and decided what still needs to be done to prepare for the upcoming bush fire season. Some work has been completed but there is always more to do.

Working for the Future
While on our camping trip we visited a local organic berry farm and bought yummy berries at a fraction of the cost of supermarket prices. Closer to home, my husband found a strawberry farm which sells direct to the public. I asked him for 3 punnets and he bought home 16! They sold 16 punnets for $20.00 ($1.25 a punnet, currently they are $3.50 a punnet in the shops). His logic was that they were much cheaper that way. True, but 16 punnets! We used some at Christmas, our son took some to work as a treat, a few punnets were given away and I've enjoyed fresh berries with my breakfast for a few days.

Building Community
Enjoying Christmas with family and friends, this was the first Christmas in many years we were all present.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge Update

Sowing seed or Planting

The snails and other various bugs have had a feast on my new seedlings. I'm so not impressed. I've been collecting snails and adding them to the chook bucket but the snails seem to be winning the war. I think I am going to have to resort to snail pellets at least until the snail population is under control a bit.

The tomatoes have flourished and are setting fruit.

Planning for The Future

Planning Christmas dinner for 24. I'm off to the op shop today to buy more cutlery rather than use disposable plastic cutlery. This way I'm supporting a charity, not buying a one use product that is definitely not 'green' and I'll have the cutlery for future years.

Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc

Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Sent a long over due thank you letter
Learn a new Skill
  • I went fishing. I didn't catch anything but the other fishermen did. Fresh fish for breakfast - yum.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Promise of Plenty

Our fruit trees are loaded with fruit this year. I went for a wander through the main orchard area and was pleasantly surprised to see branches loaded with fruit. Home grown fruit is DELICIOUS. Nothing comes close to the flavour of an apricot picked fresh from the tree. The birds and local possums agree with me. They raid the trees and it is a race to see who gets the fruit first. They usually win. We normally net the peach tree close to the house but not the trees in the orchard. They are too big and its a bit difficult. I've been collecting net bags the onions come in (10kg bags) so I'll net a few branches and at least get a taste of our own fruit.

The parrots and lorrikeets do look beautiful sitting in the trees, their colours are stunning, I try and ignore the fact that they are only there for a free feed.

The peach tree in the photo above grew from a seedling. Every year it is loaded with sweet juicy fruit. It is kept pruned smallish as it is quite near the house and its easier to net that way. We have planted another seedling peach tree next to it and I'm hoping it will be as good as this tree.

You can't complain about fruit trees, they give loads of fruit for little work and even if the possums and birds beat you to the fruit you still get shade, leaves for mulch in the autumn and lovely flowers in spring.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The View from the Kitchen Window

This is the view from my kitchen window (maybe I should have cleaned the window first!). Its a pretty good view, peaceful and shady on a summer's day. The bug on the window was made by my daughter years ago and stuck on the window and its just stayed. The large pots contain herbs, mostly mints which I don't want marauding through the garden. I hope you have a nice view from the kitchen window. Can you see the gnome hiding in the ga

This garden is next to the one outside the kitchen window (does that make sense?)The tree shelters the house from the worst of the summer sun. Who do you think lives in the little house?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Pretty Dress for Summer

More sewing for Christmas - this pretty dress will be perfect for the hot summer weather to come. Its a Christmas gift for one of my nieces. I love the simplicity of these dresses. This one took about two hours to complete.

That's the end of my sewing for Christmas. I've enjoyed getting back into sewing and will continue making new creations when I have a bit more time after Christmas. I have to make more things - I have all that fabric to use up!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

All wrapped up

One of the nicest parts of Christmas is having all the gifts wrapped and ready to go under the tree. There is a nice feeling of accomplishment in having everything ready and the excitement of hoping that everyone will like their gift.

I don't normally buy Christmas gift wrap. My kids supplied paintings for gift wrapping when they were younger and now they are older I improvise a bit. One year all the little girls had their gifts wrapped in coloured tulle (very pretty), another year we decorated paper shopping bags. The kids thought these were great as they had something to pack all their gifts into to take home. My favourite wrapping paper is brown paper. You can stamp it, tie it up with a pretty ribbon, draw on it, paint it or whatever you choose.

This year my gifts are wrapped in plain brown paper with red and green raffia tied around it. Its frugal and recyclable.

My gift tags this year are made from scraps of card cut into a label shape, a small piece of scrap paper from my card making and a sequin shape or two. The Christmas sequin shapes were bought a couple of years ago. They cost less than a dollar and there were so many in the packet that they will last for years.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge Update

Sowing seed or Planting

The snails and various other bugs had a feast on my home grown seedlings (very unhappy about that) so I purchased some seedlings and planted them out. Seedlings planted:
  • heritage tomatoes - Black Russian, Green Zebra, and two other varieties I've forgotten
  • basil
  • cucumbers
  • celery
The recent rains have made the vegie garden flourish. Lettuces are popping up everywhere and taking over. I picked a large bucket of lettuces today and fed them to the chooks as a treat to create some space in the garden. The snails have taken advantage of the wet weather and feasted on the bean seedlings. The parsnips and carrots have bolted to seed and the leeks will be following soon.

The lettuces are taking over - the tomato has to fight for room.

The carrots and parsnip have gone to seed.
Planning for The Future
  • Cooking and freezing meals for my son when he is working shift work
  • Cooking and freezing meals for the family for the nights I get home late

Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
  • Opened a savings account to save for the deposit for our new home or renovations on our existing home.

Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Sent Christmas cards to serving Australian service personnel
  • Caught up with some old friends
  • Had a big clean up and have a large box of goods to be donated to the Op-Shop
Learn a new Skill
  • Repaired a canvas tent by patching a tear and replacing two grommets.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two more shopping totes

I was very industrious and finished off two more shopping totes for Christmas gifts. I think I have finally figured out the best way to make them after quite a few oops. The totes are fully lined with nice long comfortable handles. They are large enough to fit two large sized cereal boxes in each one. It takes me about two hours to make one. I'm sure a more experienced sewer would be faster. Hopefully my sister and mother will like their shopping totes. I'm packaging them up with some homemade soap and various other bits and pieces.

I still need to make myself a shopping tote as well. I've started one, the prototype but it had to be unpicked as I didn't like the handles. It will have to wait until after Christmas as well. Next week is really busy as we have visitors arriving then Christmas then hopefully some free time.

I've bought some funky teenage fabric to make a bag for my daughter - even she approves of this idea. It will have to wait until after Christmas though.

I've been searching the op shops (thrift stores) for fabric but so far I haven't found anything that appeals. I've been told of a store that specializes in fabric and old sewing patterns so I'll have to visit it after the Christmas rush is over. It will be something to look forward to.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Living on Tank Water - every drop counts

We moved to this house almost 11 years ago, how time has flown. When we moved in the house was not connected to mains water, though mains water did go past the property, but was supplied by 3 water tanks. Most people assumed we would connect to the mains water, quite a few thought we were crazy when we announced that we were going to buy some more tanks instead. This was 11 years ago, water was cheap and plentiful and people thought we were nuts.

We replaced the two rusty tanks up the hill with one very large plastic tank. It has a 25 year warranty but the guy who delivered the tank said no one knew if the warranty period was valid or not because the tanks hadn't been in general use for that long. 11 years on the tank is still performing faultlessly. A few years later the other tank down the hill blew (that was spectacular) so we bought another plastic tank to replace it.

Why did we stick to the tank water?
We liked the idea of being self sufficient, the water quality is better than the town water (though that has since improved) and it was about the same price to buy a tank as pay the connection fee and upgrade our plumbing.

Our first tank was ordered, delivered and installed in weeks. The last tank we bought took 5 months from being ordered to delivery and I was told that was good. Tanks are now popular though few people do as we do and have no other water supply.

What's it like living on tank water?
Well the water tastes better. You quickly get used to pure rainwater and taste the chemical taste in town water. My kids refused to drink water that didn't come from home. We do conserve water but it doesn't effect our lifestyle too greatly. All our appliances are water efficient. We have a front loading washing machine and an efficient dishwasher.

In Summer we collect water from the shower, fill the washing machine with it and then collect the washing machine water in a large plastic bin. This water goes on the garden. The dish washing water is also collected in Summer and emptied on thirsty plants.

Our biggest water saving is in the garden. Our garden is made up of hardy plants that don't need a lot of water. Everything is mulched, deeply. I have quite a number of plants in pots but they are large pots with lots of compost worked into the soil. Most of the pot plants are succulents or hardy herbs. The more tender pots are under shady trees.

The vegetable garden has its own water tank. Its watered in the cool of the day and is also mulched. Weeping hoses are run under the mulch to water efficiently with little evaporation. The fruit trees were watered when they were young but fend for themselves now.

What about cost?
When we bought the first tank we worked out in would pay for it self in 10 years. The next tank added another 8 years to the bill. Those figures were based on water rates from 10 years ago. As water rates continue to go up tanks become more economical though the cost of water tanks is rising as well.

What size tank should I get?
Someone once told me, work out what size tank you want and then double it. Our first tank was the biggest we could buy, 30 000 litres. There were no space restrictions on where it was being installed. The next tank is smaller, 15 000 litres, because it had to fit into a restricted space. The vegetable garden tank is smaller again as it had to fit under the eaves of the shed.

What type of tank should I get?
Our tanks are now all plastic except for one old galvanized tank which is empty at the moment (the tank stand needs maintenance). Plastic tanks have worked well for us. They keep out the bugs, are easy to install and have been maintenance free. A plastic tank can be installed on the ground so you don't need the extra expense of a tank stand. Don't buy a cheap plastic tank though. I've heard many stories of bulging tanks and even bursting tanks. Plastic tanks do bulge when they are full but it should be a small all round bulge, not one area only bulging or excessive bulging.

Was it the right decision to stick with tank water?
It was for us but might not be for you. We are lucky in that our rainwater is OK for drinking. It probably won't be if you live in a city. You can still use rainwater for watering the garden, flushing the toilet and washing your clothes. I like knowing that we are self sufficient with our water supply. Watchig the water levels drop in Summer makes you more conscious of how precious water is. Seeing the tanks overflow in Winter is very satisfying.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Washing the Dishes

Where do all the dirty dishes come from? They seem to breed in the kitchen sink. I'm the chief dish washer in this household but I do have some pretty good helpers. I don't mind doing the dishes with my kids as they tend to chat as they work. You can find out all sorts of stuff over a sink full of hot water.

I've been making and using my own dishcloths for a while now. They are knitted from pure cotton and are lovely and absorbent. The pink and brown coloured one in the photo is knitted from bamboo yarn. Its lovely stuff, soft and silky, but it is a bit more expensive and tends to split as you knit.

Our dishes are washed in pure soap. The soap above is one I've made and scented with lemon oil. It smells wonderful. It almost makes doing the dishes a pleasure. The homemade soap seems to be better than the Velvet soap we were using earlier. The Velvet soap makes the dishes very slippery, they need rinsing. Soap doesn't bubble like detergent, it takes a bit of getting used to. Its not the bubbles that clean the dishes.

A niffty idea I got from a country friend is to put your soap in a container with holes punched in the bottom (I use a plastic jar), fill the container with water as you fill your sink and allow the soapy water to run through. She tells me country people have been washing the dishes that way for years.

In summer the dishes will be washed in a plastic tub which fits in the sink and the dirty water thrown on the garden.

Making your own dishwashing soap and dishcloths won't make doing the dishes fun but it does make it more bearable.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Simple Christmas Card

I finished my Christmas cards last night (yeah!!). The last of them will be posted today except for one I'm waiting for an address for. Its nice to catch up with friends and family at Christmas time. Some of our family live interstate so we rarely get to see them. I write a Christmas letter each year and send it with a Christmas card to family interstate. Its a good way to keep in touch.

Our Christmas cards are handmade, not because its cheaper but because it seems to be less commercial and more in the spirit of Christmas. I've collected craft supplies over the years (stamps, punches, papers etc).

One of my favourite handmade cards is the simple Christmas tree below. Its made by punching holes in a triangle shape in the card then sewing across the holes to form the tree shape. As you sew, thread the sequins on to form the 'decorations' on the tree. The star at the top of the tree is punched through the card and a sequin star glued behind it. Its simple but effective.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge Update

Sowing seed or Planting

not much planting happened this week. Most of the time in the garden was spent cleaning up for the coming bushfire season. A number of garden beds were mulched ready for the summer weather.

Planning for The Future
  • All Christmas gifts planned and most purchased or made. I was hoping to make about half but the reality is more like a quarter. Next year I'll start my planning and gift making much earlier (that's the plan anyway).

Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
  • Dried some apple - its very yummy. Hopefully I'll get time to do some more before Christmas.
  • Found a supplier for local (as in roasted locally) organic fairtrade coffee. Will purchase coffee from here in the future.

Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Voluntary work with a local youth organization
Learn a new Skill
  • no new skill this week

Friday, December 5, 2008



I love fresh oregano. It is one herb where the fresh stuff beats the dried version hands down. There is a big patch of oregano in my herb garden and it gets bigger each year. Oregano is closely related to marjoram and they are a member of the mint family. Oregano is a hardy plant and spreads easily by layering, root division or seed. I've let mine spread as it makes a good ground cover under the bay tree.

Oregano needs a sunny spot and survives on minimal water. It dies down over the colder months and shoots up again when the weather warms up. It has purple flowers in the summer which the bees love. To ensure a continuous supply you will need to dry some for the winter months. Pick leaves early in the morning when the oils are strongest if picking for drying.

Oregano goes well with tomatoes and is often used in Italian cooking.

My favourite oregano recipes

Chilli Con Carne

2 teaspoons dried chilli
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon allspice
2 onions finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
500g mince beef
diced vegetables - carrot, capsicum, celery (whatever you wish to use)
vegetable or beef stock
tinned crushed tomatoes
1 cup kidney beans, soaked and cooked or 1 tin kidney beans
finely chopped oregano

Add spices to dry pan and heat for 1 minute or until spices are fragrant. Remove from pan.
Add onion and garlic to pan with a little oil, cook until browned, add mince and brown.
Add diced vegetables, spices, enough stock to make a sauce (about a cup),and tomatoes. Simmer until vegetables are tender, add beans. Tomato paste can be added if desired. Add oregano, cook further 5 - 10 minutes.

Serve with corn chips and a little grated cheese.


Note: freezes well

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Making a Shopping Tote

I've made my first shopping tote! I often take a green shopping bag with me when I go shopping. I take my bottle of water, spare shopping bags for the grocery shopping and various other bits and pieces. My daughter considers this embarrassing (she is a teenager, everything your parent does is embarrassing). I thought this bag was a bit nicer than my green bag (teenage daughter doesn't think so). I've used a heavier drill fabric for the bottom and handles to make it more durable. They orange is quilting fabric which was on special.

The bag is lined in unbleached calico. Now to make some more as Christmas presents!

Now I'm inspired to make a few more. Of course I'll have to buy some more fabric, its really becoming an addiction. Luckily there is a coffee shop near the fabric store to keep my husband happy while I'm browsing through the vast array of fabrics and agonizing over which one to buy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Two cute skirts

I was inspired to try more sewing (again no buttons or zips!) and made these two cute little skirts for another niece. Add a couple of colourful T-shirts and she has two simple but cute outfits for the coming summer. Another Christmas present finished!

The pattern is very easy, each skirt is made with four lines of straight sewing and took about an hour to finish. I probably spent more time agonizing over which fabric to buy than actually making the skirt. The pattern can be found at

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Cards

'Tis the season for sending Christmas cards. It seems to come around faster and faster each year. Surely I just sent the last lot, how can it be Christmas again?!

Many years ago my kids and I sat down each year and made Christmas cards together. As the kids got older their enthusiasm faded and now its just me who makes the cards each year. Making your own Christmas cards is not the most frugal way to send cards. I could buy cheap cards for a lot less than the cost of card making supplies. Handmade cards do seem to be more in the spirit of Christmas than store bought cards. I was surprised to hear that some people have kept all my cards from over the years and look forward to receiving them each year.

There are hundreds of ideas for card making on the web. Cards can be as simple or as complex as you like. Have fun making your cards, involve your kids. If your kids want to help out remember its the thought that counts and don't worry if the result into perfect.

An assortment of cards made this year. I have a new toy which does the embossing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to Basics Challenge Update

Sowing seed or Planting

  • Beetroot (seeds)
  • Weeded and mulched my herb garden. Most of the herbs are growing well so I'm trying to incorporate more fresh herbs in my cooking, after all if you take the trouble to grow them you should use them.
Planning for The Future
meal planning, the next seasons garden plan, working out storage plans or more long term goals and projects like plans for digging root cellars
  • Meal planning - I'm trying to plan meals for a few days ahead to cut down on trips to the shops. I used to shop once a week but got out of the habit. Hopefully with a bit of practice and planning we can go back to the weekly shop.
  • Wrote a list for people we give Christmas gifts to and planned which gifts I would make and which I would purchase.
Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
  • Visited the local orchards and bought 3 boxes of local, unwaxed apples and 1 box of cherries. The apples will be cooked and frozen, made into pies and dried.
Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Voluntary work with a local youth organization
Learn a new Skill
  • More sewing. I've completed a shopping tote and altered my daughter's jeans.
  • Making soap - another new recipe but I don't think it is going to work. It looked great but 3 days later the essential oil has separated from the mixture. Apparently this can happen for a number of reasons including not enough mixing. Oh well, you learn from your mistakes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Walk with the Dogs

This afternoon my daughter and I took her dogs for a walk around the roads near us. The recent rains have made the grass lush and green. I thought I would share some of the photos with you.

The road seems to wind on forever.

Amber having a rest.

A view to the distant hills.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Afternoon Tea

Its just my son and I home this afternoon. He is 18 and eats A LOT. I'm constantly amazed how someone so thin can eat so much. He has finished school for the year (yeah)and has a couple of weeks off before he starts full time work. Having the human vacuum cleaner (he cleans out the fridge)home means the food bill has soared.

I made a couple of dozen muffins today for our afternoon tea in the hope they will fill him up for a while. Muffins are great because they can be sweet or savory, don't take long to make and don't create lots of dishes.

Mixed Berry Muffins
4 cups SR flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinamon
3 cups mixed berries (frozen are fine)
2 1/4 cups yoghurt
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients together
Mix wet ingredients together
Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just combined
Spoon into muffin tins lined with paper
Bake for 25 mins at 195 Centrigrade

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Knitting dishcloths

I've slowly been progressing on my knitting but its certainly a slow process. I don't knit as much now the weather has warmed up but I still occasionally pick up the needles at night. I've knitted a few simple dishcloths and now I've progressed to trying out some patterns. I was given a book on knitting for my birthday which has pages of sample squares showing different patterns. I've been knitting the sample squares as dishcloths. I learn a new stitch and gain a useful dishcloth. Pretty good eh? My dishcloths are knitted with cotton yarn so they are wonderfully absorbent. By buying the yarn on special I've saved money and each dishcloth costs about $1.00 in yarn. Not bad for a cloth that can be used many many times and should last years. I throw mine in the washing machine when I'm washing the tea towels etc. Much more hygienic than a smelly old sponge.

Some of my friends will be receiving a couple of knitted dishcloths and some homemade soap for Christmas presents, a simple but useful gift.

The dishcloth above is one of my favourite patterns. Its actually very simple but looks impressive.

Pattern for two colour dishcloth
Cast on 39 stitches in main colour (MC)
Knit three rows
Pattern row 1: Slip 1 purl wise, knit two and repeat until end (MC)
Pattern row 2: Knit (MC)
Pattern row 3: Change colour (CC) knit 2, slip 1 purl wise repeat until end
Pattern row 4: Knit (CC)
repeat pattern until desired length
Knit three rows in MC
Cast off

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Make soap when the sun shines

The sun shone today which was wonderful after the rainy days we have been having. The rain was very welcome but its nice to have some sunshine.

I've been waiting for a sunny day to make soap so that is what I did today. I make my soap outside in the sun. I have an old ceramic casserole dish which I put the oil in and place in the sun. It soon warms up to the correct temperature for soap making. Some pretty nasty fumes come off the lye mixture so you need good ventilation when you make soap.

There are lots of tutorials on the web about soap making. I made my first batch with a friend. Its a very simple process so find a good tutorial and give it a go. Remember though that caustic soda burns. Always wear rubber gloves and goggles for eye protection at a minimum. Make your soap somewhere the kids can't reach it and the pet dog and cat can't access it. Don't use aluminum pots or utensils to make soap, the caustic solution will eat into it. You will need a kitchen thermometer (preferably two), do not use a clinical thermometer. The lye solution gets hot!

Soap making is simple but it does take time. You need to be able to stir the mixture for about 20 minutes and then every half hour or so until the soap traces. The olive oil soap I made today won't trace until tomorrow. I'll stir it every hour or so until tonight and then give it a good stir in the morning. Most soaps do not take this long to trace. The coconut oil soap I made a couple of weeks ago only took an hour to trace.

Olive oil soap (castile soap) is great for your skin. Its very moisturizing. The recipe I use is below. When the soap traces you can add essential oil for a lovely scent , colouring if you wish and other additives such as ground oats to exfoliate.

My soap making work bench.
Always protect surfaces with plastic and have vinegar on hand.
My brown ceramic pot heats up enough in the sun that I don't need to heat the oil on the stove.

Castile Soap
500g olive oil
200g filtered water
67g caustic soda

Heat oil to 37 degrees centigrade.
Measure caustic soda. Measure the water into a plastic container (I use an old icecream container). Add the caustic soda to the water NEVER the water to the caustic soda. This mixture gives off irritating fumes and gets very hot. Do not breathe in the fumes.
Allow the lye (caustic solution) to cool to 37 degrees centigrade.
When the oil and lye are at the correct temp add the lye to the oil in a thin stream and stir to combine.

Stir the mixture slowly for about 20 minutes then every half hour after until the mixture traces.
Add colouring and essential oils at trace stage. Pour into greased moulds. Leave to set in a warm place then remove from moulds (could take a few days). Leave to cure for 6 weeks in an airy place.

If a white powder forms on the outside of the soap, scrape it off (wear gloves). If there white powdery bits in your soap do not use - this is caustic soda which has not combined with the oil.

Give it a try, it really is easy, you just need to take care with the lye solution. Keep some vinegar on hand in case of spills. When I'm finished I wash all my soap making tools in a strong vinegar solution to neutralize any caustic.

Coconut oil soap made in moulds from orange drink containers. I scented this soap with lemon oil so they smell yummy. These soaps still need to cure for a few weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge

Sowing seed or Planting

  • Blue Lake climbing beans (seedlings)
  • Bush beans (seedlings)
  • Yellow Crookneck Squash (seedlings)
  • Strawberry plants
Planning for The Future
  • Redesigning the vegetable garden to include lots more wicking beds. My first wicking bed is a great success and drastically cuts down on watering.
Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
  • More work on the 'pest proof' vegetable garden. The first row of fencing wire is up so the dogs can no longer get in and trample my precious seedlings. The look on their faces when they bounded down to the vegie garden and discovered they couldn't get in the dig up the nice soft soil was quite comical.
Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Voluntary work with a local youth organization
Learn a new Skill
  • Learning to sew, well at least attempting to sew. This week I learnt to make a very simple dress using shirring. Its simple and looks good and I'm becoming addicted to fabric stores.
  • Making soap - I've tried a new recipe. It is supposed to lather well so I've made a batch for washing the dishes. It smells heavenly (lemon) so here's hoping it works well. I'll tell you in 6 weeks when its cured.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pots of possibilites

We bought these pots a few weeks ago. I love the colours and can't wait to see them filled with colourful flowers. The pots are lined up along the edge of our paving to serve two purposes - the first is to give the area some colour and the second is to define the edge of the paving so no one falls off the edge.

The big question is what to put in them? Something colourful but hardy. Everything in the garden here has to survive two big boisterous dogs, echidnas, wombats, wallabies and rabbits as well as limited water. It has to be tough to survive our garden.

The rose in the background is growing over an arch. Under the archway is always cool, dark and inviting in summer, its the kind of place the fairies would live.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back again

Where did the time go? I kept thinking I must get back to this blog but time just flew past. It was bad time management on my behalf. Here's hoping I'll be more organized in future (we can hope).

So what have I been doing all these months? Nothing that exciting really. We've been looking around for a new home but haven't found exactly what we want as of yet. With the financial crisis we do wonder if it is a good time to move and take out another loan anyway. For the time being we are staying here.

I had been learning to knit with varied success but as the weather has warmed up I've put the knitting needles down and started sewing. I'm not really what you would call someone who sews. Actually its probably pretty true to say I avoided sewing if at all possible. I did sew on the odd button and did a little hand sewing but that was about the extent of my sewing.

Just recently I was inspired by other people's wonderful creations so decided to get my sewing machine out and wipe off the layers of dust. I made my first ever dress! This will be part of one of my nieces Christmas present. The dress has elastic shirring at the top so no buttons or zips are necessary (which is really good because I don't think I'm up to putting in zips just yet). The whole dress is made with straight lines of sewing - quite a few straight lines. Its easy but looks very cute. There is a great tutorial at

Now to find some more simple patterns to sew creations for my other nieces. My own daughter just glared when she saw the sewing machine and said "you had better not be making anything for me". Don't you love teenagers!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dropped stitch shawl

Feeling adventurous I started on a new knitting project. It had to be simple as I am a beginner knitter and I knit while watching the TV. I'm not too keen on counting rows and stitches so the pattern for the dropped stitch shawl appealed to me. Basically its a large rectangle knitted in stocking stitch. Simple.

The only complications are the casting on and off which must be very loose, one row where you drop the stitches to form the final pattern and using three different types of yarn and changing yarn type each row. None of it is hard - hey, if I can do it anyone can.

The most tedious part is pulling all the dropped stitches. The result is worth it. My shawl is light, lacy, warm and looks much more complicated than it is. Now for the next project - learning to crochet.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bin Night Again

Tomorrow is bin night - again, where do the days go? Seeing a week's worth of rubbish make its trip down the driveway to be collected by the council rubbish truck makes you think. How can four people generate so much rubbish in one week?!

Our council supplies each household with one rubbish bin and a much larger recycle bin. Generally our rubbish bin is about half full each week and the recycle bin close to full but that is emptied every two weeks. I've been trying to cut our waste down but still fall a long way short of the ideal.

We have chooks (chickens) who happily eat most food scraps and rabbits who like carrot peelings, apple cores, cabbage and broccoli stems. Some food is still thrown out but not much. The biggest waste contributer in our house is packaging. I try and avoid it but somehow it still makes its way in. I regularly refuse to buy over packaged food products much to my kids frustration. Off the shopping list is anything that comes in a single serve cup or bowl (instant noodles, pasta dishes etc), anything wrapped individually and then rewrapped as a multi item package (some soaps, multi bags of chips, biscuits etc) and anything where you seem to be opening layer after layer of packaging to finally get to the product inside.

The next step to make use of some of our household waste is to build a worm farm. I already have an old bath tub and some bags of horse manure. I haven't decided where to put the worm farm. It has to be close to the kitchen or no one will bother to make the trip out to the worm farm with the scraps. The worms will also need shelter from the sun and rain. A bit more thinking is required.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Knit one, purl one

I have a new obsession - I'm learning to knit. The emphasis here should be on LEARNING. I'm getting there but it is a slow process. I have knitted before, I did the obligatory sewing course in year 8 at school and had to learn to knit. My baby booties were not a thing of beauty.

Recently I was in an op shop and saw a big container of knitting needles. I grabbed a pair for 50 cents and took them home to give knitting a go. Casting on was easy and I even remembered how to knit and purl, wow! maybe that year 8 sewing course was going to be handy after all. My first project was a dish cloth because it is simple, quick to knit and it doesn't matter if you make a few oops. I had no idea how to cast off so I searched on the Internet and found a site which explained the process, it wasn't even that hard.

Next project was also a dishcloth which looked better than the first so I figured I was ready for something more challenging. My daughter now has a new scarf knitted by me and surprisingly she likes it (teenagers are the fussiest creatures I know). Now its on to bigger and more complicated projects.

Two of my knitted dishcloths

One of the best bits of knitting is going to the shops and seeing all the beautiful yarns and dreaming what you could make from them. So many colours and so many interesting yarns. I love the yarn with the bobbles on it but haven't come up with an idea for it as of yet.

Next step is learning to crochet!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Volunteers are Vital

On our recent trip to the country we attended a community event - dinner and a show. It was a major fundraiser for local groups and was all put on by volunteers. An enjoyable evening was had by all. The next day ,once we had forced ourselves to climb out of our warm beds, the conversation turned to community involvement and volunteers.

Country people have always been volunteers, many organizations including the CFA couldn't function without volunteers. Sadly though it is getting harder and harder to attract volunteers. Fewer and fewer people are doing voluntary work and those that are are aging. I am a volunteer and recently at a meeting the topic of the aging volunteer was brought up. At 40 years of age I was one of the youngest sitting around the table, many were considerably older.

Volunteers are vital - we've all heard the slogan but there is a lot of truth behind the words. Think of all the work volunteers do each day in Australia and image how much poorer our lives would be without volunteers.

Volunteers provide essential emergency services - the CFA (Country Fire Authority); SES (State Emergency Service); St John's Ambulance; Red Cross; Salvation Army and the list goes on.
Volunteers give young people a chance to play sport - sport coaches, umpires, committees of management who organize the competition and provide equipment.
Volunteers serve on committees who organize local events - community fairs and fetes, fundraisers
Volunteers work in clubs and associations to provide activities and educational opportunities for community members - Girl Guides, Scouts, RSL, Neighbourhood houses, community visiting schemes, garden clubs, walking clubs.
Volunteers help the environment - Clean Up Australia Day, Tree Planting Days, Earth Care, Friends of groups, community gardens.

Why volunteer? Volunteers provide a richer life for others but they are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference, meeting new people and making friends and learning new skills. Sometimes these new skills can be used to obtain employment.

Maybe with escalating fuel prices and the cost of living soaring we will be forced to find our entertainment closer to home and community groups will grow. We are losing our sense of community, volunteering helps to bring it back. Find some time to help others - you'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Weekend on the Farm

Last weekend my husband and I were lucky enough to spend some time away on a friend's farm. The farm is located close to Bendigo and at the moment the hills are green and the lambs play happily in the winter sunshine. Time has stood still at this farm, many things are still done the old fashion way. The only stove in the house is a wood stove and it heats the hot water as well. There is a sense of history and of peace in the little farmhouse.

The lady of the house still cooks for the shearers, makes cream sponges for the church fete, biscuits for the CWA meeting and still have time to feed the chooks, horses and sheep. I am in awe and just a little envious.

The photos below were taken last time we were at the farm. It was September. We were too busy chatting to take photos this trip.

You don't see workmanship like this anymore. The frame is made without any nails.

go Slice
1 cup water
1 cup sultanas and currants
4 oz butter
1 teaspoon Bicarb Soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups plain wholemeal flour

Boil water, butter, fruit, spices, bicarb soda and sugar in a saucepan.
When cooled add egg and flour.
Place in greased 11x7" tray and bake in moderate oven 20 minutes.

When cold ice with lemon icing and sprinkle with cinamon.

Note: freezes well but will keep for approx 5 days in an airtight container. Its great for school lunch boxes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oat Chocolate Bars

With two teenagers in the house we always seem to need snack food and lots of it. A 17 year old boy eats a LOT. Its pretty astounding how much he can eat and still stay slim.

I buy very few packaged snack foods, they are in aisles in the supermarket I simply don't go down. The occasional packet of chocolate biscuits does come home though but not often.

One of my favourite recipes is Oat Chocolate Bars. It is simple to make, everything goes in one bowl and gets mixed together, you can adapt it to whatever is in the cupboard, it freezes well and fills the teenagers up.

Oat Chocolate Bars

3 cups rolled oats
3 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups nuts - walnuts or pecans are both good
1 1/2 cups dried fruit
1 1/2 cups choc bits
360g melted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup

Mix dry ingredients together, add melted butter and golden syrup and mix well.
Press into greased 20x30cm lamington pan.
Bake at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes. Bars are cooked when golden brown on top. They will firm up when cooling in pan.
Cool in pan.
When cool cut into bars.

Notes: This recipe makes a lot, you can halve the amounts and cook for approx 25 minutes. It is better to under cook than over cook the bars. If over cooked they become crumbly and fall apart easily. If you have under cooked them too much simply return them to the oven.

I change the nuts, fruit, chocolate to whatever I have in the cupboard. You can add coconut in place of any of these ingredients as well if you wish.


I'll make some this afternoon and add some photos - at least that is the plan.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's in the Fridge?

Making the best use of what you have is very important when trying to spend less and have a smaller environmental footprint. Food is one of the things we seem to waste quite a bit of. It takes a lot of energy to grow, harvest, store and cook food so it seems a terrible waste to throw it away. Thursday nights are leftovers nights in my home. There are usually only three of us home for the evening meal on a Thursday as my husband has a regular dinner engagement. Thursday morning I check through the fridge and decide what needs using up. There is usually something that has been shoved up the back and forgotten. The microwave is great for heating up small amounts of leftovers.

Leftovers include bread products that need to be used. Bread rolls can be turned into garlic bread, toasted with cheese on top, toasted and used as a base for 'pizza' or leftovers on toast. Bread gets a similar treatment to rolls or used to make bread crumbs or even bread and butter pudding.

Leftover rice can be used to make fried rice, thicken a soup or used to make baked rice custard. Making soup is a good way to use all those vegetables that are getting close to their use by date.

When we do the dishes on Thursday night I use the hot soapy water to give the inside of the fridge a quick wipe down. Any spills are cleaned up and the fridge is clean and ready for the week ahead.

Rice Pudding
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Combine milk and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stand 5 minutes.
Whisk eggs and sugar in medium bowl and gradually whisk in hot milk.
Spread rice into greased 6 cup oven proof dish.
Gently pour egg mixture over the rice.
Place dish in large baking dish and add hot water so it comes half way up the sides of the pudding dish.
Be very careful, this can get heavy and hot water can burn.
Place in oven 160C (325F) for about 1 hour or until set.
Serve warm.

Notes: Although I have used brown rice for this recipe white rice does give better results.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Feeding the Dogs

I didn't quite get around to making those scones on the wood stove, mainly because there were already home cooked muffins, biscuits and slice waiting to be eaten. I thought the scones could wait. What we did cook on the stove top was two batches of home made dog food.

We have two dogs. One is elderly with arthritis and the other a very energetic 6 year old. They are both fed a home cooked diet. Actually we are in the transition phase from shop bought to home made. Currently the dogs get home made food at night and commercial dry dog food in the morning.

Why home made food? It was recommended the elderly dog, Bonnie, be fed a grain free diet as apparently the grains aggravate her arthritis. Our other dog is a Labrador and apparently grains can cause problems in Labradors. A commercial grain free product is pretty expensive so I got a homemade recipe from a vet.

The homemade food is easy to prepare, it just takes a bit of time. We cook a week's worth of meals at one time and measure individual serves into plastic storage containers and freeze the meals.

Home Made Dog Food
2 kg dog mince - try and vary the type of meat, don't use the same week after week and include some organ meat (liver, kidney etc)
1.5kg vegetables - grate the vegetables (I use the food processor) DO NOT use onion
1 tablespoon Vegemite - can be omitted but our dogs love the taste and it adds extra vitamins

Cook the above in a large pot. When the vegetables are soft and the meat lightly cooked spoon into individual serving containers. Our elderly dog gets 500g of this food each night and the more energetic dog 600g. Refrigerate food. I make double the above quantity for two dogs for one week.

Before serving add bonemeal or a calcium tablet, omega 3 oil tablet (optional but great for arthritis) and a dog multi vitamin tablet or powder. Follow the directions on the packet for the quantity of multivitamin.

Is it worth the effort?
Well the dogs love it. The food disappears at an astonishing rate. After about 6 weeks on this diet the elderly dog does seem to be moving better despite the cold weather. Its about the same cost as buying tinned food but with a lot less waste. Instead of throwing out a tin dog food can each night we simply wash and reuse our plastic containers.

mince - currently I am paying $1.50/kg at the local butcher or $3.00/kg at Coles.
vegetables - I use any vegies at home that need to be used up - wrinkly apples, celery tops etc. Vegetables from the vegie garden even about to go to seed parsnips and carrots as they are fine when grated and cooked just discard the center if very woody. I pay no more than $2/kg for vegetables by buying what is in season.
Vitamins etc - I can't recall what I paid for these. Fish oil is cheap from a chemist when its on special, we pay $12 for 400 capsules containing 1000mg omega 3 each.

A week's worth of meals for one dog would cost approx $7.50 compared to $6.00 for commercial tinned food (special diet food is more expensive). Of course it is cheaper if the vegetables come from your own garden (about $5.50 per week).

The big advantage is a healthy diet for the dogs and very little waste compared to all those dog food tins.

We are intending to move from commercial dry food to home made but its one step at a time. A dog's diet should be changed slowly especially if they are elderly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A day to light the wood stove

Its cold and foggy again this morning so I've lit the fire in the wood stove. I don't often use the wood stove, its far more convenient to use the electric one next to it. Each time I take the time to light the fire and get the stove going I wonder why I don't do it more often.

The wood stove heats the kitchen beautifully, allows us to cook on the stove top and bake in the oven. All this for a few pieces of firewood. It doesn't use much firewood compared to the slow combustion fireplaces. This is partly because the firebox on the wood stove is rather small so you can't fit much wood in at any one time.

A cup of tea tastes so much better when the kettle has been left on top of the stove to boil. You do have to be careful of not letting it boil dry though. Cakes taste wonderful cooked in the oven and the oven stays hot long after the fire has gone out.

The plan for today is to take advantage of the wood stove and spend some time in the kitchen. I might even make those scones I've been planning to make for days!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Grey Foggy Day

Today the fog is hanging around, it doesn't seem to want to go away. The kids walked to the bus stop in the fog and drizzle. The dogs weren't too keen to go outside from their nice warm laundry and I didn't blame them. I've lit the fire the early today as it is rather chilly. Normally I don't light it until the afternoon to save on firewood. If I'm home on my own I just put on another jumper and brave the cold. The fire is lit mid afternoon so the house is warm when the kids come home.

Back in the days when we had central heating, the heating would be on all day during autumn and winter. For the last 10 years we have lived in a house with only wood heating. It is amazing how much more conservative with resources you are when you have to collect the wood, split it, stack it and light the fire yourself. Days that are just a bit chilly just don't seem worth the effort of lighting the fire, we put on extra clothes, snuggle under a blanket or go outside and do something active.

If we do light the fire early I try and make the most of the heat and dry the washing in front of the fire. Today I'll do loads of washing to make good use of the fire, its also a good excuse to stand in front of the fire as I hang the washing out.

Using wood heating is certainly more work than gas or electric heating but it does have some benefits. You are much more conservative with your resources, you get exercise from stacking and splitting firewood (much cheaper than a gym membership), a fire is friendly, wood is renewable and we seem to suffer from far fewer colds and sore throats now we don't have central heating. There are disadvantages too: it takes longer to heat the house, coming home on a cold, wet night and knowing you have to light the fire to get warmth is not fun; it takes time to source the firewood, split and stack it; fires are messy; and chimneys must be cleaned annually.

All things considered I like the fire. It suits us at the moment but that may change as time goes on. Our son is happy to split the wood for us at the moment and we live in an area where there are often fallen trees that need to be cleared or branches pruned so wood can be collected easily. We also have enough room to store firewood.

The rain has just started so its definitely a day for staying indoors - lucky I stacked the wood box yesterday!
The wood pile waiting to be split and stacked.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Good Intentions

Yesterday I had good intentions of getting lots done in the garden but somehow things took longer to do than I had planned. It seems to happen a lot.

Last summer I created a 'cage' from an old swing set to grow some vegies in. It seemed to be the only way to stop all the local wildlife from helping themselves to my fresh vegies. It is a small area, about 3 metres by 1.5 metres but was very intensively planted. Green beans wound their way up the walls and out through the roof, cucumbers grew under the beans and wound their way out of the cage and onto the path, tomatoes and sweet corn grew together down one end and parsnips popped up where ever they found room.

Today I cleared all the old vines and dug up the last of the parsnips. Some the parsnips were huge but had gone a little woody, some were small and sweet - perfect for roasting. The older parsnips were grated and used in the dog food I made tonight. There were a number of seedlings sitting on the back verandah waiting for a new home so they were all planted in the cage - spinach, broccoli, leeks and a few kale seedlings. Hopefully they will be protected by the cage and will grow well.

The main job I was hoping to do today was fencing the new vegie garden. I got a little bit done but not as much as I would like. I'm sinking the wire mesh for the fence into the ground to try and stop the rabbits and wombats from going under the fence. Wombats can be very persistent about getting through fences so I'm putting old roof tiles along the bottom of the fence as well. When its all finished it should be like a much larger version of my swing set cage.

Maybe tomorrow I will get more done.

The beginnings of my new animal proof garden.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Day in the Garden

Today promises to be sunny and warm, a perfect day for the garden. The early morning fog has burnt off and the sun is peeping through.

I've got a few morning chores to do and then, all going well, its time for the garden. We have a reasonably large garden and its in dire need of some work. I've had a vegetable garden for some time and have had varying degrees of success with it. Late last year I finally got tired of everything but me eating the vegies. The rabbits came in for a nibble as did the possums, the wallaby, and the birds. The local echidna would come in and rearrange the garden while hunting out the ants. I don't mind sharing but this was getting ridiculous.

When something came in and ate all the onion tops and the hearts of out the cabbages that was the final straw. Something had to be done. It was true that the fence was getting a bit old and wobbly and there was the odd hole where something had dug under but a new fence wasn't going to stop all the free loaders helping themselves.

Then I read an article about a fully enclosed vegie garden using polypipe arches and it seemed perfect. I had dreams of a new garden by Christmas. Work began, the old fence was pushed over, the area cleared and the new area measured out. The article said they completed their garden in 6 half days - I could do this. What it didn't mention is that your ground has to be flat or things just don't work. My ground is definitely not flat. After making a mess and ending up with very unsymmetrical arches I was feeling very disheartened. My son came to the rescue and helped me find the levels and with a bit of creativity we got those arches looking good.

Christmas came and went and the hot weather set in. Life became busy and the garden just sat. Now the weather has cooled down its time to get back outside and into the garden - at least that is the plan.
Leeks growing in the new garden.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dog Blankets

The addition of a new dog to the family meant a new dog blanket was needed because our old dog certainly wasn't going to share hers! I do own a sewing machine although it does spend a lot more time in the cupboard than out being used. Actually it spends a great deal of its time in the cupboard. Sewing isn't really my thing.

I found a couple of very old quilts in the linen cupboard. They were inherited by my husband when he left home and they were old and past their use by date then. We used them for camping for a number of years until they started to fall apart so they were shoved to the back of the cupboard and left to retire. They came to light a few months ago when I cleaned the linen cupboard out - it was a necessity, we couldn't shut the door.

I cut the quilts in half and as one was in reasonable condition simply bound the cut edge and that was that. The other had a few rips and tears so I cut up an old sheet that was quite thick but rather stained and used that to make a new cover for the old quilt. The result was four soft and warm blankets for the dogs to sleep on. As a bonus the blankets are easy to wash and dry quickly. Not bad for $2.00 (the cost of the bias binding) we now have four blankets which should serve well for quite some time (if the dogs don't eat them).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Meet Daisy

Our family grew on Sunday - Daisy the dog came to live with us. Daisy had to find a new home as her family was moving. Daisy is a bundle of energy and wants to play all day. She will be living with our old dog and the chooks. Daisy is used to living with an older dog so hopefully she will settle in well. She has never seen chooks before or come into contact with other small animals so we are hoping she will be alright with the chooks and not see them as meals on legs. The chooks have been locked up for a few days while Daisy gets used to them. We will gradually let them spend some time together and see how things go.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

An Inside Day

More rain today. This is a good thing as we really need the rain, days of it actually, and it gives me an' inside day'. I can happily do inside jobs today and not feel too guilty about the garden.

I've been out this morning and done a few jobs locally- picked up the mail, been to the local shops and called in the community center to pick up items we will need for this weekend's fete. In an effort to cut down on the use of the car I do what I can locally and combine trips. I also park the car centrally and walk to the various places I need to go: the shops, library, post office and where ever else I need to go. Cutting down on the use of the car saves money, is good for the environment and gives me some exercise.

Hopefully today I'll get through a couple of hours of work (I work from home on a part time basis), clean up the house a bit and get some sewing done. I need to sew a banner for the fete on the weekend and make a warm blanket for the dog to sleep on as the weather is getting cold. I have an old quilt I am going to cut up and edge for the dog. She is 15 years old and really feeling the cold this winter. The quilt will be warm for her to sleep on and provide a bit of padding which will be softer than sleeping on the hard floor. Last winter I made her a new coat which she loves so I might even get industrious and make her a new coat as well. At her age she deserves a bit of pampering.

I had better get moving or nothing will get done.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Begining

Today it rained. It is cold and wet and I'm happy because we have finally had some much needed rain. The garden is grateful and so am I as the rain tanks will start to fill and the garden will get a much needed drink.

Autumn is a beautiful time here, the mornings and nights are cold and the days sunny and warm. The leaves are turning shades of gold and red and brightening up the garden.

Its a time to do all the jobs its too hot to do in Summer and a time to get things ready for winter.
We've been getting firewood ready for the cold days and nights ahead. Its a time to plan for next Spring and hopefully a beautiful and productive garden.