Sunday, March 31, 2013

An anniversary

When we open iphoto, it defaults to the 'last 12 months' folder. I kinda like it, because every time I open the program, I get a little look at what we were up to exactly 12 months ago.
March 2012 - Moonie chops up our land to make way for home-building and driveway-making
March 2013 - home and driveway complete. Well.. almost...
Last time I opened it, I saw the pictures of our excavations and home-building. These photos - especially the ones from our workshop, especially the muddy ones - make me feel kinda funny inside. There's a big bit of pride at what we've achieved in only 12 months since breaking ground here, but there's also a bit of residual anxiety (it was stressful!!), lots of love (all those people helping us!!), relief (thank goodness we're not building load-bearing again!!) and joy that we're now living our dream, and that our relationship and family love has grown so much as a result of this adventure we're on.
April 2012 - mixing render by hand with my little 'helper'. I could barely keep my footing in that crazy mud...
March 2013 - Ahhh... gravel.
As I'm a results-driven kinda lady, I get immense pleasure from looking at what we've made here, and looking back on these photos is a big part of that feeling. When you're in it every day, it's hard to realise the progress you're making. These photos remind me that yeah - it's only been a year. We've achieved a lot. They help me to slow down a little and take it in (I can be impatient), and enjoy what we've built rather than rushing on to the next project. Anniversaries and birthdays are good like that - they're the most perfect opportunity to reflect on what you've got, where you've been, how you've grown, and where you'd like to go next.
April 2012 - final days of the strawbale building workshop, and the roof's finally going on, providing much-needed protection for our little house

March 2013 - and now she's got solar panels and a pergola and a garden!!!

When the earthworks started, 12 months ago, I felt so nervous to be disrupting the earth and all the things living on and in it. I felt nervous to be really, physically embarking on this building thing with, I realise now, very little knowledge. Sure, we had guts and determination to spare, but real, hands-on building knowledge was quite thin on the ground, though I felt, at that time, like we could do anything we wanted. And I suppose these photos show that you can, with love and determination and help from friends and family, and a willingness to ask questions of everyone, everywhere you go, and books, and helpful people who are happy to share knowledge, skills and experience. You can do it.
June 2012 - building detritus a-go-go and still plenty of mud
March 2013 - nasturtuims: the speedy gardening solution 

The objectives of building this little house were always to 'see if we can' (just like David Byrne wrote Psycho Killer just to "see if he could write a song"... I think that worked out OK for him), to provide somewhere to live while we saved up to build something else, so we wouldn't be enslaved by a mortgage for our whole lives, and to learn from our mistakes. 
And it has been an amazing learning experience. We've learned so much about building, about our land, about ourselves, about each other, about the resilience of kids, about the fun-ness of lofts and fire-baths, about the differences between wants and needs, about the seasons, about living on the land and working with it and learning from it, about happiness and tiredness, about plants and animals... the list goes on.
We feel really really lucky.
June 2012 - what the hell do we do with this???
March 2013 - steps, veggies, flowers, native shrubs, a barbecue, trampoline and cubby house - of course!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do any of you clever people know what these plants are?

Don't you just love garden volunteers? Those plants that come up - seemingly out of nowhere but often out of compost or worm castings - and proliferate in you garden? We usually get a good number of volunteer tomatoes, pumpkins and rocket. Tis year we had some stella tomatoes come up out of some worm castings, which we'd put in when we planted some geraniums along our mattress fence. Unusually, they weren't cherry tomatoes, and even though they're growing in very heavy clay and haven't been watered or cared for in any way during their growing season, they're now bearing beautiful, tennis-ball-sized perfect tomatoes. Crazy!
In addition to the tomatoes, we also have a couple of volunteers we've been unable to identify. We're hoping that the esteemed readers of this blog may be able to help.
Exhibit A is some kind of cucurbit that popped up all by itself. Really.
The leaves are unusually soft and velvety. Curiouser and curiouser...
There's wasn't even any compost or worm castings around. I let it grow, as you do, and got really confused when it flowered: the flowers were white. Have you ever seen a cucurbit with white flowers? I haven't. The fruits are getting to a reasonable size now, and we still have no idea what it is - melon or pumpkin of freaky hybrid gourd??
Exhibit B is some kind of grain which has popped up all over the place. 
It's quite tall, and bears many heads of seed, which the chooks love.  I'm keen to find out what it is, since it might prove handy as home-grown stock fodder for when our pastured poultry enterprise gets off the ground.
Soooo... if you recognise any of these here volunteers, give us a hoy!

"brrrrrk brrrrkk... nom nom... this volunteer seed sure is delicious!"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Is that a Leona Edmiston?"

Recently, I made my little sister Meggy a frock-&-bolero set for a wedding, which she went to last weekend. As you can see, she looked freakin' gorgeous. The wedding was in the mountains, and celebrated the love between her 2 good friends, Hev and Nibs. Yay love! Yay handmade-and-nature-inspired weddings!
Yay love!
As you may know, if you know me or you've been reading this blog for a while, I'm pretty into weddings. I love the party, I love the fact that they get people feeling all out and proud about love, and I love the opportunity to get hands-on with any and all varieties of wedding-related craft activities including (but not limited to) wedding dresses, bridesmaids dresses, and wedding bunting.
Even though I've never actually met Hev and Nibs, I was more than happy to make a frock for Meg (in exchange, she's going to lend us her superb tree-plating skills this Easter holidays) for their wedding, and help out with the little statues that adorned their wedding cake. And what a cake it was! 
Well, unfortunately I didn't actually taste the cake, but it sure looks good, right?? And I reckon it looks even better when you hear that it was made in the mountains, using organic and fair trade chocolate. Niiice...

Now. The dress. The green fabric came from a shop in Cabramatta (an excellent location if you're in the market for new fabric for wedding and/or other fancy kinds of frocks ('twas where we purchased materials for Pearl's and my wedding frocks, and Meg's year 12 formal frock). The bolero fabric - which is nothing short of STUNNING - came out of the nurse's quarters at Temorah hospital, where Meg's super-spunky and uber-lovely boyfriend, Jerry, works as a nurse. It's vintage, giant yellow-and-pink-rose-print barkcloth. Yum. Meg also used it to cover the giant button on the front of her dress, so it's all nice and matchy-match.
Jerry the nurse-cum-fabric-supplier on the left, Meg and matchy curtain adornments on the right
In all, the outfit was a success! Meg looked - and more importantly felt - "pretty much amazing" in the outfit. Someone even asked her if it was a Leona Edmiston! I'm taking this as a compliment, though I don't go in for designer threads much myself. But I suppose as far as designer threads go, Leona does design some pretty wares. Though I doubt she'd do a trade for some help with planting out a shelter belt, and I can guaran-damn-tee her stuff isn't made at an outside table, under beautiful late-summer blue skies, on a machine powered wholly by the sun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pretendy farmers for a day..

We've not been long in our tiny strawbale. And while the render remains incomplete and the pergola is still unfinished and our duck dam needs a bit of serious regenerative work and the list of 'to dos' is ever infinite, we can proudly say that in a few short months we have created a very abundant and very tasty zone one garden. It's true, we are blessed with soil of 'black gold' and a pretty perfect northerly perspective, so yep, growing stuff, is not so hard. When Spring came, we planted as diverse a garden as we could, not really knowing what would thrive and what would struggle in this new place. In short, not much struggled and we have found ourselves picking and eating and saucing and frittering and pickling up the proverbial storm as we try and make use of everything. Despite this, it felt as though the leafy greens were starting to get the better of us. We were giving them away to anyone we could, sending bunches home to friends in Sydney, feeding them to the chickens and ducks but still, they grew and still, we could not eat them all. 

just a little sample of the leafy green abundance
Then one day last week, Annie was in our local wholefoods co-op talking to Linda (yes Linda of the food swap) and offering her more leafy greens, anytime she wanted, as they had lost many of theirs in a recent mega-hailstorm. It turned out to be a most serendipitus conversation as one of the Co-op members overheard and expressed an interest in us selling greens to the co-op. What a thrill! Of course we would love to! And so our foray into actually selling some produce began. In the scheme of things, it wasn't much - some ruby chard, some silverbeet, some Caldedonian Kale, some Cavalo Nero, some rosemary and some basil. But we felt so happy. 

It felt so good to be providing some form of nourishment to our broader community. As we've discovered, since we moved down here, our initial plans for a self-sufficient life have changed a little. We now know we want to create something beyond our own needs. We want to contribute something more. What form this will take, we are still ruminating on and it probably won't be a market garden. However this little entree of growing and selling our own produce felt so very good. 

Oscy, taking care of the aphid covered leaves for the chickens

Yes, this was my measuring technique. These bunches look kind of the same don't they?
There is something inherently joyful in sharing produce that has been such a labour of love. Moving through the garden, picking and checking each leaf last Monday morning was such bliss. Observing where each plant was at, finding snails for the ducks, watching the bees work their awesome magic and stumbling upon unexpectedly large zucchini, all the while creating beautiful and bountiful bunches of edibles was a perfect start to this week. 

And yes it was a joy. However it also gave me a resurgent respect for those people who are actually aiming to make a living from the produce they grow. Our co-op pays local growers for their produce really well, however when one looks at the hourly rate, it totally sucks. For us, this doesn't matter right now. But as the years go by we will start to care about this more and more. And I have to say that there is something inordinately wrong about people (ie. the food buying public) who earn $30 or $40 or $50 or $60 plus an hour expecting potatoes to be $1.99 a kilo. Sorry to get all ranty rant-like but if we don't properly support those that grow our food, how can we expect them to continue? What do we think we will be eating in the future? I know, not everyone, has the opportunity to buy direct from the grower/producer or the resources to pay the real cost of the food they eat. However many of us do, yet still choose cheap supermarket convenience over a paradigm that is far more about community building and environmental and economical sustainability. 

As I wandered and picked and rinsed and bundled I mused on what a luxurious position I was in, given our income is derived "off-farm" for now. But for someone trying to make a living from feeding their community, those hours I luxuriated away would no doubt feel very different. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Happy kimchi day

Kimchi party!
A few weeks ago, Pearlie bought me a copy of Sandor Katz's book, Wild Fermentation. Maybe I'm a dork, but I found this book so exciting that I had to stop reading it before bed because it was keeping me awake at night, with so many promises of delicious and health-enhancing fermented foods.
First stop was a batch of kombucha, made using a kombucha scoby that our friend Thea gave us. I'd never tasted or even heard of kombucha before she offered her scobies on freecycle, but now I'm converted, and I always have a rolling brew on the go. It's delicious! Strangely refreshing, a little bit fizzy, kind of sour (in that distinctive and delicious fermented way) and made from black tea, so there's a bit of that in there too.

If you've never tried it, give it a go. I suppose it's not for everyone, but if you're partial to a bit of fermented beverage, it could be for you. And it's super easy to make! And the good thing is that the scobies multiply with each batch, so you always have one for a friend.

Kombucha's all well and good, and I'm super-pleased to have it in my life, but the real star of my fermenting career so far is kimchi
Oh the deliciousness...
Kimchi is also something I'd never heard of or tasted until our friends Mer and Myoung introduced me to it. As I sat there, revelling in the spicy sour deliciousness, I could not believe that it'd taken me 34 years to discover it. Massive kimchi convert right over here.

Mer and Myoung's supply of kimchi came from Myoung's mum, who, being in Sydney, cannot provide a regular supply. So it was time to take matters into our own hands. After many many hours on the phone to his mum, Myoung had the recipe and the process down pat, so we ordered some wombok and bok choy and organised a kimchi-making day, graciously hosted by some lovely and generous friends of Mer and Myoung's, who were also interested in learning the secrets of the kimchi.
Salted and double-rinsed womboks await their kimchi bath
The day was perfect! Lots of chatting and beer-drinking and chopping and eating in a gorgeous house in a very beautiful location, with kids running around playing and occasionally interrupting the preparations with absolutely hilarious skits and musical interludes. 
The kimchi mix. Looks gory, but it's actually just because of the tomatoes and chilli
I learned about fascias and barges and saw an entirely awesome in-progress bush pole shed, and we all took turns julienning carrots and rubbing the kimchi mixture (a kind of magical puree of nashis, tomatoes, cooked white rice, chillis, garlic, ginger...) into the womboks (2 garbage-bins full of them). We even did some experimental zucchini kimchi.
Pearlie and a mountain of kimchi
And then we had dinner. Curry and special Korean hand-made noodle soup called SooJaeBi and rice and, of course, kimchi! It. Was. Delicious.
Nellie making little hand-rolled noodles for the dinner soup
SooJaeBi - a traditional Korean soup made with potatoes and little hand-rolled and torn noodle-y-dumpling things.
One thing's for sure: We WILL be making kimchi again, and we WILL be growing our own womboks for the occasion. We'll also be eating yesterday's kimchi for some weeks. There's a whole lot of it... An esky-full, in fact... which is alright by me! Koreans eat it with every meal, which seems like a very good idea to me.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

welcome to our inaugural local food swap

Our contribution
Last Sunday we had the pleasure of participating in the inaugural Springvale food swap. It was a blast. The lovely Kim has also posted about it over here. 

Our wonderful neighbours Paul and Linda, after frequenting food swaps in another locality of the valley, decided that our locality needed one of its very own. So they offered up their (gorgeous) house and garden for the morning and together we all came, baskets of produce in hand.  I spent a very lovely fifteen minutes alone in our garden snipping and picking and plucking the kale, chard, silverbeet, tomatoes and basil that we would contribute to the share table. It was a joyous start to a very humid early Autumn morning. So many different people, so much late Summer bounty to share.

Table laden with more to come

fruits of the season
oh how much I love a quince

Local as...pasture raised, handmade bacon

Of course, the produce sharing is central to the event. However there's so much more going on. There's the opportunity to meet and connect to people who live near, to forge a real connection around the thing that sustains us all. I feel like so much was shared and gained in those few short hours last Sunday morning. There was the sharing of gardening tips and experiences, the gossip, the sharing of owner building stories, the chat about poultry, pigs, lambs and cows, the conversations about Landcare grants, Diggers Club, Seedsavers, what to plant in your wildlife corridor/windbreak, the opportunity to congratulate the recently crowned champion jam maker of the Bega show and the opportunity to discuss worm farms, composting, water harvesting, irrigation, solar panels, passata making and on and on it went. All of it existing outside of any kind of money-based economy. Hurrah. And all the while, the kids gorged themselves on homemade cakes and cups of tea and ran and hid and explored and climbed... I filled our basket with other people's produce and I felt glad and lucky and eager for more of this sharing kind of life. Thanks friends and neighbours!

Our loot

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Farewell little avian friend...

Yesterday when I left for work, I saw a fox running across our road, barely visible in the overcast dawn  light. An hour later I got a text from Pearl to say that one of our chickens had been taken. I guess when I saw it, the fox was on its way back for seconds.
The fox had gotten into the orchard under the fence, and then rolled aside one of the rocks we had holding down the 'skirt' of the chooks' night-time pen. We'd thought it was fox-proof. Not quite.

The idea of the skirt is that you lay 50cm of chicken wire on the ground around the pen, so the fox can't dig its way under (they won't dig that far). We've had success with the skirt in the past, but this time we underestimated the fox's ability to roll aside the rocks holding the skirt onto the ground.

The chook we lost was one of the baby 'flares' - the bantams that came to us as babies, but were now starting to crow. He was on his way to the stock pot anyway, but it's still sad to think of him being dragged off by a fox. The chicken he was penned in with - also a rooster, also on his way to the stock pot - was injured in  the fray, so his stock-time came early. 
Rooster flare free-ranging in the veggie garden. He was fond of silverbeet...
Pearl was a little apprehensive about eating a fox-injured bird. She was also a little freaked because this pair had both become our pet-like avians, as they regularly visited us. Basically they were being harassed by our larger rooster, John Howard, and escaped the orchard every day to get away from him, coming down to peck around and inside the house, cleaning up after the kids. 

The fox-contamination concern was allayed by a call to our friend Wise David. "If you're really worried, just don't eat the injured wing. But really it'll be fine". The friend concern was allayed by the fact that he had been injured, and the only thing to do was to euthanase him. I really didn't want to waste the chook, so after putting him out of his misery (I'm back on the axe method, which was super quick. I'm pretty sure he had no idea what was going on), and plucking and gutting him (remarkably easier and quicker than last time), we boiled him up with some onions, peppercorns, carrot and bay leaves.

The resultant stock was made into this evening's dinner - a seasonal-garden-abundance adaptation of Jude Blereau's ultra-delicious Healing Chicken soup (incidentally, this was what we made with our very first ever home chicken kill, when we lived in Sydney), which is in her book, Wholefoods. In some ways there's not much else that can be done with chickens older than 18 weeks. 
Veggies and chopped chicken (stripped from the carcass after making the stock) frying up in a bit of olive oil...
The soup is hearty and delicious and warming and super-healthy! Along with Jude's recommendations of lots of ginger and garlic and seaweed and carrot and sweet potato and leek and sage and thyme (mostly, delightfully, from our own or our friends' gardens - yay!), we also packed it with leftover cooked brown rice, and curly kale and zucchini, which we have insane amounts of in the garden right now. 

The chicken was a bantam (I used to jokingly call them the spatchcocks) so there wasn't a whole lot of meat. I'd read that bantams can be quite tough and gamey, and are better for stock than for roasting). The leg meat, in particular, was dark and quite tough, but the breasts, though tiny, were alright! If you did roast a bantam, it's only be a roast for one not very hungry person. Once I'd made the stock I stripped the meat off and ended up wit about a cup of meat. Not tons, but definitely enough for soup like this. Served with some finely chopped chilli, we were all delighted. Even the kids.
Nasturtiums, chilli, a little salt and some hearty chicken soup. A feast.