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.