Sunday, September 30, 2012

The duck dome that Grug built

Pretty much every morning, we're awake with the sun, and we peek out our window to see what we can see. Sometimes something's changed - a new flower has bloomed or there's another couple of buds on a tree - or the weather's a bit different or the sun's shining in a more summery way. It's always exciting, but this morning's excitement was a little bit extra because yesterday some new friends came to live on our land with us - 3 Indian Runner ducks

A few months back, while we were still in the throes of our insane hand-building-a-house-while-working-full-time-and-trying-to-raise-2-little-kids adventure, I answered a freecycle offer of a family of 17 muscovy ducks. I thought the offer was too good to pass up! Pretty much everyone I told laughed at me, except Pearl, who absolutely and very definitely told me that I was not to take custody of 17 ducks. Reluctantly, I let them go. But when the same guy offered 3 Indian Runners a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't going to be put off, so I accepted, and set the date for pick up, this time keeping the excitement to myself. Friday, while Pearl was marketeering, Olive and I built a duck dome. I followed Linda Woodrow's chook dome instructions (our dome will eventually house chooks) and thought I was doing a pretty good job of it too, measuring and drilling and reading the instructions word for word. When it was finished, though, it was more than a little bit wonky. 

In fact, it looks like something that Grug would build, which is, I suppose, fine, given that pretty much nothing here on our baby farm is very square or straight.
And the ducks don't seem to mind at all, even obliging us with an egg, only 12 hours after arriving! Olive is no novice egg collector, but she was more than a little bit thrilled by the surprise egg we found laying in the early-morning grass of the dome.

Olive, aged just-turned-six, thrilled to be holding the very first bit of produce made on her very own farm

Olive, aged 2-and-a-bit, thrilled to be holding the produce from her very own suburban backyard
The ducks are ridiculously cute, and we are all a bit smitten with them all. I am allowing myself to love - they're all past their prime, so none of them will be eaten. It's only their offspring who will end up crispy-skinned at some point down the line when we have the infrastructure to support ducklings (and a broody chook who will oblige us by sitting on the eggs - Runners are not the best sitters). And for now, we enjoy gentle quacking and regular eggs. Yay!

Muttley, our man-duck (also known in the biz as a drake) showing of his cute little curly tail feathers and lady-friends Bluebell (left) and Indi (right)

A little further along our orchard path, Olive and I made a stop at the beehive and, joy of joys, discovered not only 3 bars of the hive being busily filled with stunning, pure white comb, but some cells already filled with honey! 

Ok, Ok… it's not actually honey yet, seeing as it hasn't been capped and cured, but it looks bloody good, and my heart was beating pretty happily when I realised that there is some happy-bee-action happening in our hive.

The queen-cage, which now, mysteriously, has 4 normal bees in it, but no queen...

Pearly was feeling a little snotty headed and beleaguered this morn so she had a bit of a lie in while the kids and I roamed the farm. But once she was up we had the most delicious breakfast we've had in some time. You see, when we were on our duck pick-up road trip yesterday, we passed a teeny roadside stall selling asparagus, eggs and lemonade fruits. Ever the sucker for a roadside stall, I stopped the car and peeked inside the esky and discovered the most exquisitely fresh asparagus spears I had ever seen. They were so fresh and sweet that the kids and I ate some raw on the way home. To complete the deliciousness we ate a breakfast of grilled asparagus spears, soft boiled eggs and freshly toasted herby breadcrumbs sitting in the warm Spring sun under our soon to be finished pergola (more on this at a later date) followed by a breakfast dessert of homemade chocolate chip biscuits and lemonade fruit. Oh how good is this life?!

Friday, September 28, 2012

We got bees!

For exactly 2 weeks now we've been anxiously monitoring the activity around our bee hive. Yes, almost a year after Olive and I first installed the swarm lure into our hive on the day after we moved to Bega, we finally have some bees. Not a wild swarm who were inspired to set up home in our hive on account of the lure, mind you. In the end, we decided to buy a package of bees - a queen and a heap of other colony members who come in a box. I wasn't going to wait around for another season and risk missing a swarm, and some friends of ours who had gotten bees from a local beekeeper last season were getting some more, so we just jumped right in!
Our bees hanging in their box, awaiting installation (and slaughter?) into the hive
The delivery was made to Pearl at the markets a fortnight ago. We carefully made sure that the box didn't get too hot, we were gentle with them, and then, at dusk, I shook them into the hive (now positioned in our full-of-spring-shoots deciduous orchard) and we left dishes of sugar-syrup (organic rapadura of course!) to feed the bees while they got acquainted with their new surroundings. It all seemed to go well - no stings - though it was difficult to get some of the bees into our top-bar hive: the box the bees came in is made to go into a conventional (Langstroth) beehive, so it's not sized or designed in any way to fit with a top bar hive. But I shoved it in anyway, and hoped for the best.

Annie rocking a characteristically dodgy beekeeper's get-up consisting of a couple of pairs of work pants (tucked into socks), a fleece and a not-pair of gloves
In the morning, though, things weren't looking too flash. Indeed, to my untrained eyes, it seemed like what we had was a whole box full of dead bees. I panicked, felt terrible, and spent most of the morning feeling like a mass murderer. What had we done wrong??
Mid morning, however, things were looking a bit better, and there seemed to be a good amount of bee activity around the front of the hive. I felt a little better, though there were still a lot of dead bees lying around the place.
As the days passed, things were looking better and better, with more and more bees flying in and out, some even carrying pollen on their legs! This was very exciting for me, and I started feeling that hey, why would they be collecting pollen if the colony was about to collapse on account of my inadvertent mass murdering of many of their comrades? Maybe they'll just make more bees and it will all be OK?
I'm very tempted to look into the hive to see what's going on, but my curiosity is being quelled by a desire to just leave them alone and hope they'll work something out, if something is indeed terribly wrong. Also, I'm painfully aware of the fact that, even if I looked into the hive, I wouldn't necessarily know how to recognise if things were "OK" or "disastrous". Not helping the situation is the fact that my beekeeping books and all my notes from the beekeeping course I did are buried somewhere in the shipping container!
Our Kenyan top bar hive, lovingly crafted by Mr Happy Earth, next to a baby fruit tree
I may have a peek over the weekend to see if they're drawing any comb, and also to check if the queen's been rescued from the cage she comes in. Yep - she comes in a cage. When you buy a box of bees like ours, you're not buying a colony who've been chummy for a while - you're buying a bunch of workers with a new queen who they've never met before, so when you shove them into a hive together, she needs to be protected for a few days in case the colony rejects her, in which case, she'd be killed. Pretty wild. So she comes in a little cage, which is plugged with some sugar, which the bees slowly eat in order to release her. Theory goes, while they're chowing on her cage plug, the bees get the hang of their new queen so they don't kill her. Here's hoping!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Aahh the garden.. (and profound gestures of love)

There's been some sickness in our tiny strawbale of late. Weeks of it. The sickness has primarily been located within the uber-productive Annie. In fact you could say she has been in the grip of a full immune meltdown. I'll spare you the details. But it has meant that things have been moving slowly around here of late. Though not as slowly as you might imagine, given Annie's penchant for productivity... and so despite the sick we have been happily moving into Spring. It's true, our house is not finished, the exterior walls call at us each day asking for more lime render but we ignore them to focus on the garden. 

Ah the garden... we have been quite thrilled to observe the micro-climate we seem to possess on this here side of hill. While the lower land surrounding us gets all frosted up overnight, our top of slope positions remains remarkably frost free. This has allowed us to embark on Spring/Summer planting with little fear of frost damage to our delicate seedlings. Many people we have spoken to in the Bega valley have told us they don't plant anything out until November as it is not until this time that they experience their last frost. And so we have found ourselves exhaling with excitement and embarking on the joy of garden creation. 

This garden we are creating is our first in a place that is actually our own. I think this adds to our excitement as it is more of a forever project rather than a temporary response to a desire for growing one's food. It has allowed us to plant our first swathe of orchard and berry canes and asparagus beds and to start planning olive and pomegranate groves and a temperate food forest system. Oh but I am getting ahead of myself. Though this getting ahead of oneselves is something we seem to do each day as we traipse across our hill imagining the fruity, nutty abundance it will one day contain. 

Our first little orchard has been planted in the contour that carries water down to our (soon to be) duck dam. Unfortunately the slopeyness of our block will slow down our food tree planting a little bit on account of the fact that plonking fruit trees into the side of a hill without a swale or some kind of water slowing/catching earth manoeuvring is just silly. However swale building is either extremely labour intensive or else expensive. Further earth works are on our list of things to do when we have more money. For now, we content ourselves with nurturing our first twenty-something trees. We have four apple varieties - Cox Pippin, Sturmin Pippin, Pomme de Neige, Pink Lady, a few different pears - Corella, Williams, Nijiseiki Nashi, two Apricots and two Nectarines, some Plums - Sugar plum, Santa Rosa, Greengage, D'Agen, three peaches - Golden Queen, Anzac and Elberta, a couple of figs - Black Genoa and White Genoa and a couple of quinces - Smyrna and Pinepapple. Oh yes and two mulberries - the white mulberry 'Shatoot' and 'Hicks Fancy'. We got most of the trees as bare rooted stock so it felt like we were just purchasing sticks on massive root stock. We were relieved and excited when we first noticed the green buds appearing towards the end of winter, then the blossoms were an added bonus. Recently I've noticed no less than twelve teeny tiny peaches on the Anzac peach. We've been mulching with straw and Azolla, watering with worm juice, planting comfrey around each tree and trying to keep the damn kikuyu away from the burgeoning trees. Kikuyu! Whoever thought that was a good idea?! Soon we will have some fencing and our ducks keeping busy in the orchard so our our orchard maintenance will be made a little easier.

thyme growing amidst the sleepers

We've also been busy out the front of our little house with a mattock, broad fork, bags of collected cow manure, azolla and straw mulch as we make our zone 1 vegetable and herb garden start to happen. It's been so good to refer back to our favourite ladies of permaculture - Rosemary Morrow and Linda Woodrow as we've been planning what and how we plant. We've revelled in rediscovering these wonderful and practical writers on permaculture and felt happy in how much more illuminating it is to read something in the context of creation. We've also enjoyed mulling over the disjuncture between the planned semi-formality of a permaculture approach and the laissez faire approach espoused by Jackie French. Annie enjoyed re-reading 'The Wilderness Garden' while lying sick on the couch. And truth be told, she would love a crazy feral garden like that suggested by Jackie. Me, not so much. In a gesture of love she built a tomato trellis from some lovely hardwood stakes. It was a profound gesture of love because she would be happy for the tomatoes to ramble on endlessly, while I like to know how they are going and feel certain that no fruit has been wasted, rotting under endlessly rambling plant. 

While reading and discussing and debating the virtues of various systems we've been in quite the planting frenzy, planting a mix of perennials and annuals (gotta keep those roots at different depths in the soil!) as we start to create a kitchen garden that is bigger than any we have created before. So far we have rhubarb, asparagus, spring onion, violas, calendula, globe artichokes, strawberries, comfrey, cucumbers, lettuces galore, rocket, geranium, sugarloaf cabbages, coriander, parsley, sorrel, cavelo nero, salvias, salad burnet, pyrethrum, yukina, choy sum, pak shoy, ruby chard, English spinach, silverbeet, bloomsdale spinach, wormood, nasturtium, dandelion, chicory, chololate mint, choumollier kale, watercress, Vietnamese mint, thyme, marigolds, daisies, lavender, lemon balm, tansy, lemongrass, zucchini, chives, many heritage tomato varieties, bush beans and climbing beans for eating fresh and dried and there's still so much more to come.... Yes so much more to come.

teeny tiny burgeoning kitchen garden

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Making a photo stick

Before we even moved into our little place I had suspected that fixing things to the walls would be a bit of a drama. With a cement-based render you can pretty much just fix things using masonry screws and fixings. But our clay/sand render is so crumbly I just knew that wouldn't work.
Some people plan for their hangings before the rendering stage, and attach pieces of wood to the strawbales, then render around the wood and attach screws/cupboards/picture rails etc to the timber once the place is rendered. We had planned on doing this as well, but the frenzy of our workshop, trying to build as much as physically possibly in the minutes when the rain stopped whilst also trying to keep everything covered in tarps when the rain did inevitably come down, meant that several things - like our cupboard and picture fixings and conduit for the electrics - fell by the wayside. We just couldn't afford the time.
Now we're in, it's not actually a huge drama. The orange and yellow sunshiny crockery cupboard above our kitchen bench was hung from our trusty rafters using the gal strapping that's normally used to brace roofs. A crafty and functional solution!
Bigger, framed pictures are hung, gallery-style on long wires which are also attached to the rafters. But what to do with all our little photos and cards? Some kind of display method was called for, and, as in all of my how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-that moments, I turned to my trusty pile of fence palings and made…. drumroll please… a photo stick! You can make a photo stick too. It's super-easy-peasy and, like all things made with recycled hardwood, it looks super-awesome. 
Step 1: Find the most beautiful, interesting piece of old hardwood you can lay your hands on. (I was really excited when I rummaged through the pile and found the paling that I used, because it had a little crescent-moon shape that had been eaten out of it by critters! Gotta love creatively-chewing critters helping out with the decor). While fence-paling are clearly the most beautiful building material in the world, I believe that something like this would also probably look good made with driftwood or a really interesting/gorgeous branch, if you're into that hippy stuff.
Step 2: drill randomly-spaced holes along its length. Or less-random, if you're a non-random kinda person. That's cool too.
Step 3: Thread small-guage wire though the holes, to make flattish 'loops' on the front side.

Step 4: Attach lovely photos of people you think are awesome and landscapes and reminders of happy times using little wooden pegs clipped onto the wire.
Step 5: Stand it up and enjoy!
Photo stick in action

If you don't have fixing-challenged walls, you could also hang something like this horizontally, with photos above and below your sexy fence-paling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

one month in

It's been a little more than a month now since we moved into our little strawbale home, so we thought it was time for a little reflection on the things that we've learned and are still learning about home building and living on the land.

Probably the most surprising thing has been just how liveable (dare we say 'spacious'?) the place actually is. It's just on 24 square metres. Just so you know, the size of the average house being built in Sydney these days is around 300-400 square metres. So it's small. It's one room, with a loft. But it has everything we need, and still room for toys and books and fun stuff like that. And we haven't even built our undercover outdoor kitchen-y bit yet. We're feeling really good about keeping things small, though Pearl is missing having a kitchen (new birthday books like The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book aren't really helping on this front). Yes it's true, Pearl can feel her fingers aching for some baking action or some handmade cheese action but none of this is possible with our current bare bones infrastructure. However, on the up, we will be building a wood-fired cob oven sometime soon and so we anticipate some great baking days ahead. Also the delay on having a home with a proper kitchen is a good thing in terms of having the time and space to really think through what our kitchen should entail - mega-pantry and cold store anyone? Special room for hanging handmade smallgoods? Oh yeah....

Annie is still not totally over the floor debacle, and it seems that our 'flagstones' are still shrinking, so the puttying/grouting/filling task remains ongoing. The rug (complete with springy, freecycled underlay!) in the 'loungeroom' helps things, and Annie is slowly working on a braided and coiled rag rug, so it's not all bad. In fact, Annie is pretty sure that if the whole thing hadn't been such a bitter disappointment, she probably wouldn't even notice it. She just doesn't cope well with failure. But it's OK! It's been a learning experience, and we've definitely made note of the things we'll do differently next time (yes, we will be making another earth floor when we build again) like not using any bagged clay and making a more sturdily rammed substrate using something like road base. We'll probably also do a cob floor, rather than rammed.

We're all completely in love with our sleeping loft. We probably always thought it'd be a nice cosy place, but it's far surpassed expectations. It is beautiful. The sunrise/sunsets are beautiful, the Bermagui-oiled ancient floorboards are beautiful, the fence-palings are beautiful and the view is freaking amazing. And yeah - it's comfy and cosy as well. We actually don't know that I'll be rushing into having a bedroom any time soon, so enamoured with the loft are we.

We're really pleased with how the lime-washing has stabilised the clay walls. When it was just clay it was a little dusty, but the lime-wash seems to have bound it all together. It's also just so beautiful and light.  We love the bale walls, perhaps more than we thought, and can safely say that we are absolute card-carrying strawbale devotees and would not even consider any other type of building. Not that we're absolutist or anything... 
No but seriously, this little straw bale is just so comfy temperature wise. When we were building, and people asked us what kind of heating we'd have, our answer of "We're not having heating - it's a passive-solar-designed strawbale house - we won't need it" was inevitably met with chuckles (read:"damn hippies don't know what they're talking about"), wry, knowing smiles, or comments like "Ah... you've never lived through a Bega winter, have you...". 
So relentless were such responses that we actually started doubting our little building before it was even finished, and started looking around for a little wood stove or some such. But, even though we moved in here in Wintertime when the night time temperatures get down below zero and we wake up and see frost all around, in our little strawbs with the old (ie. non-double glazed) curtainless windows, we have been quite snug without a fire or any form of heating. Is that not amazing?

The land itself continues to delight us, and has shown us some quite lovely little surprises in the form of stunningly rich black soil with crazy-good water-holding capacity and a spring-fed dam, which is a major asset. We are, of course, still discovering it all, and expect more surprise and excitement as the days go by..... Seeing how happy our kids are here on our land has been so heartwarming. It's like the physical space has allowed their imaginations to soar and they spend so many hours immersed in amazing play scenarios together and alone. We're seeing new sides to both of them as they embark on new adventures and journeys and discover their new world.

We still have so much to do. The coming weeks' to do list looks something like this: finish the outside lime render, instal more fence paling sealing inside, build a covered pergola over our dining room, paint, instal solar system, finish kid's cubby, slash grass, get ducks, build fences, get chickens, mulch kids play area, prepare the ground for the 850 trees we are planting as part of a windbreak/wildlife corridor, continue to plant out our first veg and herb garden, start to plan our first food forest garden, plant citrus, olives, pomegranates, almonds and avocadoes,  make some decisions re livestock... Oh and on it goes.... But now we're here, actually here on our land it all feels very possible and really pretty fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let your little light shine

The last few weeks we've been frantically buying up as many mandarins as we can, while they're still vaguely in season, since we learned how to make these adorable little mandarin lights, and became addicted to their warm glow around the house at night. 
Awwwwwwww... ain't it purdy?
The process for making them is super easy - all you need is a mandarin and a splash of olive oil. One of those things that made me wonder a. why everyone doesn't make these when the mandarins are plentiful and b. why it took me 34 years to learn how to make these little babies.
Mandarin candles drying on the window-sill
At the moment, as we are living without any electricity in the house, the mandarin lights, teamed with some beeswax candles, a gaslight (aka the "noisy light") and a head-torch for reading and skirt-making, have been our only light sources. It's actually been really beautiful, and has meant that we've been doing super-fun things like getting into bed really early each night and just lying there reading or chatting. 
The no-electricity thing has been way easier than we'd anticipated, and there have been some definite benefits to our family. And of course we have a generator for important things like angle-grinding and skirt-making. So I guess we're not really electricity-free at all...
Today I got an email from Phillip, the man who's making our solar system for us, letting us know that the system is now ready to be picked up and brought to us by Pearl's dad, who's making the trek down in the next couple of weeks. 
Our power unit - batteries in the bottom, circuits and what-not in the top. All totally weather-proof so we can just park it out the back of our little house and run a cable to the inside.
This was pretty exciting! Mostly for the following reasons:
1. We are absolutely desperate for some music!
2. It'll be nice to be able to have a light bright enough to craft or read by that doesn't roar.
3. I kinda miss being able to use my sewing machine.
4. It'll be good to be able to charge things like the computer and phone without having to schlep them into town and bludge off our friends' (thanks Vickie!) and employers' power supplies.
5. Pearlie's excited about being able to use the food processor, too,
and of course, last but not least, its going to feel gooooood to be free of the power grid.
The power system awaiting installation of the batteries and....
Batteries in!
When we moved here we were quoted $50 000 to connect to the power lines on our street. Given that this was more than the total budget for our little house, this was out of the question. And also why the cripes would we want to pay $50 000 just so we could pay electricity bills??? While we still lived in Sydney the prospect of off grid solar made us nervous. We didn't know anyone doing it and there seemed to be so much hoo ha around potential battery dramas. But once we were quoted the crazy sums required to connect to the grid we quickly got our heads around not connecting. Once we moved it seemed like every second person (not just hippies) we met had off-grid solar. And so we find ourselves beginning a new life where we are responsible for our own power (and water and waste and hopefully food..)
The system we're getting is small - 1.2kw. But it's more than enough to supply us with what we need. Especially now that we've lived without power for a month. It's really helped us to realise just how much we don't need, much like the whole tiny house shenanigans itself. We're diggin' it, but that doesn't mean that we're not looking forward to having this little baby parked out the back, a handful of solar panels on the roof, music and power drills crankin'. And it's arriving just in time for the end of mandarin season, too.
I love that they're using a power drill to 'model' the system

Monday, September 3, 2012

Our neck of the woods: Monday

OK so I know I said that I was only going to post 2 photo from each day, but this morning was just glorious, and I couldn't help myself but snap merrily all along my ride into town. When I left our place, it was mild and sunny -- almost warm. The mist was lying low over Bega-town, and the many many clumps of creamy clematis that are flowering all along the farm fences and in the trees seemed to be smiling at me as I pedalled along. 
As I started my descent down to the river flat, though, things really started to sparkle, and I reckon the temperature dropped about 5 degrees. It was unbelievably cold, and such a heavy frost was lying on the ground, I couldn't believe I'd only travelled 4km from home. I'm finding the frosts very beautiful as they shine in the early morning light, and I love love love this little trail of frosty sparkles lying in the wombat-track that leads to this old, no-longer-used and lichen-covered gate. 
Lichen is something I'd never really noticed before, until my lovely friend Niki told me about how much she loves it. You know when someone you really love shares something they love with you, then you kind of love it too, even if it's just because that thing then always reminds you of your beloved friend? That's how it is with lichen for me, and I'm lucky because there's a lot of beautiful lichen along our way, so I'm reminded daily of my beautiful Niki, which is pretty nice.
The road along the river flat is littered with flood-washed trees and branches and detritus. Every time the river floods, that road becomes an extension of the river, and massive massive timbers are rushed along, wiping out gates and fences and bridges and other trees in their path. 
It's quite phenomenal to ride past them each day, to think of them being carried along by so much water, while now the river languishes on the other side of the road, almost a mere trickle, wanting, like we all are, for some hearty rain. These awesome logs were sparkling too this morning, as were the striped shadows of the poplars lying in the fields.

Happy first days of spring!

We're really enjoying and revelling in how aware of the weather and season changes we are up here on our little block of land. Part of it has to do with the fact that we're outside a lot, on account of our little house being so small, and all its amenities (and prime fun-and-beautiful bits) being not-inside.

What better way to spend an early spring day (Ok - several days) than dragging a mattress into the middle of a paddock and setting up camp.

This morning, for example, the second day of spring, we were awake with the sun, and not long afterwards (just time enough for hearty cuddles in bed and some reading of our current favourite book, Farm Anatomy) we were outside, cooking breakfast on the barbecue and surveying the clouds, wind and frost levels. Yes, it's the second day of spring, and we're still having regular, heavy frosts. While some people in the Bega Valley can get frosts as late as November, we're lucky here in that the frosts only settle in the bottom of our valley, not near our house or veggie garden or orchard. This is a bonus, because it means we can get started on planting our spring and summer-growing food plants pretty soon, without fear of them being apprehended by frost.

Frosts at the very bottom of the valley, making friends with a blossom tree and some blackberries
One of the fantastic things about moving up here at this time of year is that we arrived just in time for some serious food-planting adventures, which, let's face it, is a big part of why we moved to this block of land in the first place. So it's exciting for us, but also nerve-wracking, because this, hopefully, will be our forever-house, so we really want to get things right. We're already planning the menus for home-grown feasts for birthdays 40, 50 and 60, so we need to make sure that the things we plant get a good start so they can serve us (and our friends!) well.
Nothing like some bulbs to let you know spring-time's a-comin'
Our bare-rooted fruit trees have been the biggest deal for us thus far, and are being tended with lots of loving care and worm juice. The Orchard has been planted along a swale/diversion drain above our house, which, when it rains, captures water from the road, and diverts it (slowly! - no erosion here) down to our little top dam, soaking the soil along the way and watering our collection of fruit trees. There will also be an olive grove and a nut grove added to this collection of food trees, in a similar kind of road-water-collecting arrangement, but that will have to wait…

Peach blossoms: freakin' beautiful

Due to the fact that it hasn't really rained since our workshop, we're watering our beloved fruit trees by hand, using water carted up from our bottom dam. The same is being done for the first 50 of our 800 Landcare grant shelter-belt/wildlife corridor trees, which we also planted this week. We're saving our pennies for a water pump to get water up from the bottom dam (spring-fed and therefore full) to our top dam (rain fed and therefore not so full), which we will then use for gravity-irrigating our fruit and Landcare trees and veggies. This will be an exciting day, but for now we're content with 5 x 20L drums filled up by hand and then carted up the hill in our car.

We also use these water-carrying adventures to harvest, dry and distribute the abundance of azolla we have growing happily on the bottom dam. We're using it mostly as a mulch and putting a little bit in the compost and worm farm, and she's working a treat.
The phase one veggie garden has also been receiving a bit of azolla love, and has been quite a pleasant revelation. I'd been a little apprehensive about how the soil would be in the area designated for the veggie beds we are going to use this spring/summer, as it hadn't received much (OK, any) attention, and basically consisted of a bit of earth right in front of the house that had been used to store all our building crap for the last 4 months. I expected it to be dry and compacted. In a rare moment of forethought, though, I had, during the frenzy of our strawbale building workshop, instructed someone to start putting loose straw and broken bales "kind of over there - I think that's where the veggie bed will be". This small mountain of straw had received no further attention, other than some food scraps and the daily emptying of our night-time wee bucket (essential in a very high sleeping loft like ours). This neglected pile of building waste has been the saving grace of the veggie patch! What a treat to kick back some of the straw to discover that a. the soil wasn't compacted at all, b. worms are diggin' it, and c. the soil is super-moist, even though it hasn't been watered since the build, when it got drowned in all the rain we had. Yee har! I spent a day and half going over it all with our friends' Gundaroo Tiller (which is totally ace, but I'm not going to write about its virtues because Milkwood already did it here), then spread about 10cm of manure/azolla/compost/worm castings, then covered the lot in another 10cm of straw (there's a bit of that stuff lying around here). We're slowly planting into it (a little rhubarb here, some comfrey there) and dreaming about a couple of months' time when it's (hopefully) crankin' out some quality food-stuffs.

New rhubarb leaves unfurl, watiting for next year's apple forage harvest
Even though we're spoiled with the abundance of egads-awesome home-grown and organic foodstuffs available at markets and given to us by generous friends and neighbours (this morning we had scrambled duck eggs from our friend Christa!), we're still itching for a bit of our own home-grown food, and we're watching with excitement and anticipation as our fruit trees bloom, our seedlings sprout and our dreams take shape here as spring unfurls around us.