Friday, November 18, 2011


Just letting y'all know that out computer is busted, so we'll be offline for a few weeks while my baby bro does his best to get it back up and running. Apparently he got a lot of computer genius genes, which is lucky for me because I got none... Hopefully I'll be better at building a house than I am at operating electronic gadgetry...

Monday, November 14, 2011

There's nothing I love more than a Very Productive Weekend. People say to me "Dude, you should relax! Just sit down and chill out for a bit!" and I say to them "No way! Impossible! My genetic makeup dictates that I must be busy at all times!". And so I pretty much am, and that's fine, because I love getting shit done.
This weekend was fab because I hung the hammock between the fig and the mulberry, bottled my ginger beer, spent a morning chopping out thistles on the land, mowed the lawn at our house, made 2 tops, a bolero, and a skirt, went on a bike ride to the river with the kids and picked up an awesome 20 litre drum which will be perfect for watering the windbreak we're about to plant, and went for a swim at Nelson's Lagoon. Now it's sunday night, and I'm buggered, but man, am I feelin' gooood!
The tops are for Sally, as a thank you for all her help with my skirt sale.

The bolero is for Lilli of Frocks n Frou Frou, who requested a wattle/native flower-flavoured bolero for the springtime.
Any time someone requests a native flower theme, I call upon a souvenir from WA, as this is the wildflower state (and also the black swan state - awesome!) and the souvenirs are gorgeously reflective of this. I LOVE the linen tablecloth I used for this, and had actually cut out a skirt for myself from it, but never got around to swing it together. So I chopped it up for a bolero for Lilli. And super-excitingly, and totally by fluke (or course, because I am disorganised and planning is not a strong suit of mine) the fringed Lily is on the front! Lilli, I hope you dig fringes...
The skirt is a repeat for Kelsey, in Seattle, who was comin' back for second helpings of Australiana. That's what I like to see.
The beer is my inaugural Bega batch! I got my home brew kit for christmas a few years ago and it was seriously one of the best presents ever, because I LOVE beer and I LOVE making stuff. If you've ever thought of making your own beer, just do it. It's not at all difficult, it's super-fun, makes a nice gift for your man friends if you're a bit man-craft challenged like me and it's awesome for ye olde planet because you get to reuse your beer bottles over and over and it's not transported from lands far far away. Also looks very nice sitting on the kitchen bench with afternoon sun filtering through it.
Also good if you're a beer snob like me, but the We're Actually Building A House budget is prohibiting the purchase of gourmet microbrewed 6packs valued at $20 each, then home brew is the way to go. Once you get good at it, you can even experiment with fancy schmancy ingredients like chocolate malted barley. Woooooooo. But for summer, I'm giving ginger beer a burl, with the intention of having a bit of a dark and stormy summer.
But the thistles... That was hard one. I think that thistles are beautiful. I love having them around. So much so that I actually have quite a large tattoo of one.
But they are a weed! And they are not child friendly! So they must go. Chop chop. Gave me an excuse to traverse the land, looking at plants, so not really a dreadful experience.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When we bought our land - hey, well before we bought our land - we knew that we would build our house from straw. Building my own house has been a steadfast bee in my bonnet since the age of about 15 when I visited the mud brick home of a friend of my dad's. She'd built it herself, and it was small, imperfect and, in my mind, absolutely beautiful. Mud brick, however, with all its attendant labour, waiting, labour and more waiting, was most definitely not the medium for me. Strawbale, on the other hand, is for me, and for many many other people, the most perfect building material imaginable. Strawbale building is quick, easy for the novice owner-builder, super Earth friendly (local, waste material with fab, off-the-scale insulation qualities) and kinda cheap, amongst many many other outrageously endearing qualities. In other words, I'm in love.
While working at the Watershed, I was lucky enough to meet Tracy, a building designer with the awesome double-whammy skills of strawbale and working-with-council experience. Tracy, you see, designed the award-winning Nalawala hall for Fairfield council. Yep - awesome.
We knew that it would be incredibly beneficial for us to have some input and feedback on our humble house plans, so approached Tracy to be our plan-drawer-upperer and general sounding board, though the scale of our project was positively minute in comparison to the Nalawala phenomenon. Over the last 5 or so months, though, our relationship has evolved into something more. Tracy has absolutely gone above and beyond our expectations, and she has done a brilliant job, not just of drawing up our plans, but also talking us down from crazy, rash decisions, helping us through the not-super-fun DA process (actually, she pretty much did it) and, most specially, totally accepting our budgetary limitations and general low-fi approach to home planning and building. Early on we negotiated a bit of a half-barter for the work. Tracy needed some sewing and gardening done, and we needed some house designing. Cool. What ended up happening though, was that Tracy got so into our project we ended up doing the whole thing as a labour exchange - LETS style, and crikeys were we grateful! Being as we were in the midst of relocating our entire life to a little town over 300km away, our families pitched in too, my Nana and mum taking their share of the sewing and mending work, and Pearlie's little sister Meg helping me with garden makeovers and chook-shed building. And you know what? I think we all got something out of it, though I have to admit that the stunning drawings Tracy did for us are, ultimately, the awesomest.
So, after all that rambling back-story-creating, I finally get to the crux of this post, which is the felt leaf collar that, in addition to the mending and sewing and planting and weeding and building, formed part of Tracy's trade.

The collar is going to a wedding this weekend, teamed with a black dress and some flash shoes, I believe. And suitably so, too, because it was, let me tell you, a labour of love. So many felt leaves!!! But I actually kind of liked the process. It was like building. You layer, and stitch and layer and stitch, and all the while the collar gets bigger and stronger and more able to hold itself together and then finally, one night, it's done. It's strong and, I reckon most excitingly, it's totally dimensional! I utilised Florence's neck, and actually kind of moulded the leaves into the shape of a neck as I stitched them together. Not as easy as it sounds! But all OK, because the end result is pretty great, I think, not least of all because it looks like something out of Wildwood, Olive's and my current fave to end all faves. If you haven't seen and/or read it, do yourself a flavour. It's simply stunning.
So, here's to trading skills, keeping it real, getting the Fams involved in your bartering shenanigans, felt and the mighty strawbale.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

We have a bit of a plan... by Pearl

You may recall our recent discussion around what we are actually going to do with our 7 acres. So this morn we 4 rolled out of our beds, a little bit excited, and breakfasted on pikelets and buttery pears sitting in the grass on our land in the sun while awaiting our site analysis and mini-consult with local permaculture trainer John Champagne.

We know that we want to grow enough food for ourselves and our visiting friends and family and that maybe we want to extend into some kind of semi-commercial venture in the future - olives? pomegranates? goats cheese? heirloom pumpkins? But right now we have a slopey block with no water and a bit of a weed problem. We also have two young children and not much money. Our experience of gardening to date has involved urban and suburban food growing and while we know you can do some truly amazing things with a suburban block, 7 acres provides a whole new array of possibilities.

Some books that have influenced our thinking and opened our minds to what's possible are The Earth User's Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow and Smart Permaculture Design by Jenny Allen. While an array of possibilities should equate to pure excitement I'd be lying if I didn't admit to some anxiety. It's odd how anxiety-inducing an array of possibilities can be (especially in a world that tells us that Choice is King), but maybe it's just a sign of my privilege, given how truly horrible a lack of possibility really is.

We talked with John about our ideas and about what we want to achieve, we wandered around the block and mentioned what we had observed so far. And within 2 hours he had drawn up the beginnings of a plan. It's a broad plan but it's a plan and frankly, it feels good.

For now we will be focussing on excavation. Far out. Big machine cutting into the earth and moving it around in order that we can build a house and garden that allows us to live more gently on the earth. Not entirely sure what I think of this, but maybe it's one of those things that requires more pragmatism, less thinking especially given our ex-dairy farm is far from being an unadulterated landscape. John must have noticed our soft city sensibilities warning us that the excavation would be somewhat traumatic and that the earth would indeed shake. Goodness. So we'll be sketching a little plan of what we want - driveway, studio site, house site, pond and a bit of extra flat-ness to aid in our Zone 1 veg patch and orchard and hoping against hope that the excavators can do it within our meagre budget. There'll be quite a bit of bush regeneration occurring, in part, to aid as a windbreak against hot westerly and northerly winds and to work as a shelter belt against bushfire but also to provide balance to the overall landscape. We'll be planting a woodlot in order that we can harvest our own wood to burn in winter. We'll be fencing an area for our immediate food production - fruit trees, nuts, berries, veg, herbs, chickens and ducks for eggs and meat with an eye and an ear to what else we may want to grow in the future.

Oh but we can't excavate until our D.A is approved. It's been lodged and the hefty fee has been paid. We're still reeling from the crazily mammoth heft of the fee. In the meantime we continue to research off grid solar systems, follow every lead towards free recycled hardwoods, search for cheap, local native plant tube stock, work out what where we can get a large number of excellent fruit and nut trees for the littlest amount of money and pontificate on exactly what the kids' cubby should be made of.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Last time we went up to the land (for a gorgeous picnic of local lamb and vegetables, delectably roasted by the roasting queen, Pearl) we were a little concerned by the extreme growth of the floating plant on our dam. It had basically doubled its empire in the space of 2 days, which was a little scary given that we didn't know what it was.

In the back of my mind were several thoughts concerning the identity of the plant, most of which involved fears of noxious plant status and/or toxic algal blooms. I took a little sample home, and got to studying my trusty Robbo, who revealed the plant to be Azolla filliculoides, an apparently cosmopolitan floating fern.

Cool! But is it a pest? Its quick growth on our dam indicated that it could well be, so I consulted the interweb and found an awesome gardening site, extolling the virtues of Azolla spp. as a "super plant". Could it be? A super plant already growing on our land? It fixes nitrogen! It takes up nutrient from the water to actually prevent algal bloom! It provides habitat and food for tons of little water-dwelling creatures! You can use it as a green manure (as people in China have been doing for eons between their rice crops)! It inhibits the capacity for mosquito breeding in your water! And its frenetic growth is seasonal, so it dies back in the cooler months.
Still, it was a U.S. website, so I was still wary of little Azolla's status in the Bega Valley. Enter the friendly weeds lady from council, who I emailed this morning (yes, working at council certainly has its perks in the know-how department). She sent me an awesome fact sheet, confirming all of Azolla's super-plant credentials and confirmed that she's A-OK to grow to her heart's content. Woo hoo!!!
Boy, did my mind start to race, concocting many ideas of what to do with our little water-borne gold mine. The most exciting, in my mind, is to use it in the pond at the end of our phytoremediation wetland, which is going to treat all our kitchen, laundry and bathroom water instead of having to get a stinky (and quite frankly kinda weird) septic system.... Ah but that for another post. For now I'm pretty much just thrilled to bits by the auspicious surprises that life chucks up at ya when you're just sitting around eating yer lamb.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some garden ramblings from Pearl

Before this life-crafting blog goes any further it is most definitely time for us to acknowledge that the traditional owners of our land are the Djiringanj people of the Yuin-Monaro nation.

So we planted a little vegetable garden in the backyard of our new temporary house. It's teeny tiny and oh so burgeoning but we hope will soon provide some summer abundance - heirloom tomatoes, basil, chard, beans, zucchini and squash, cucumbers, parsley, mizuna, watermelon, pumpkin and some other tastes of summer. Wowsers! How good is summer eating from the garden! And so daggily exciting for us, the mulch for this little garden came from grasses on our land. Fear of impending snake activity was giving us the willies so we cut a path from the top of the land down to the dam for easy walking and snake spotting throughout the warmer months. It's early days.. baby steps etc but we did get a little thrill about not having to buy mulch from north Queensland in plastic bags from the nursery.
It's a funny thing to plant a temporary garden in a temporary house when we have 7 very permanent and lovely north facing acres just 8 minutes up the road. However those 7 acres are also populated from time to time with wombats, kangaroo, wallabies and god knows what other forms of garden eating wildlife. And while I am really very happy that 150 years of dairy farming hasn't totally desecrated our native friends, the wildlife factor leads us to move slowly lest our efforts be in vain. Jackie French is very adamant about the need to share share share with the native fauna. I love sharing, totally into sharing, total sharing addict. However it seems that initially it will be less a case of sharing, and more a case of wombat takes all. If you have any thoughts or special little tricks for how we can get things started without losing all to our furry friends please, you know, share. My gut tells me there must be some kind of tricksy companion planting that may help ward off the worst of the predation, so any pointers? Oh but another reason for the delay is that we're fundamentally grappling with what to do with our 7 slopey acres... fruit trees, olive trees, nut trees, chickens, berries, herbs and vegetables with a side of bush regeneration yes yes yes, ah but how?

We know that part of the process is to observe and feel - the land, the sun, the wind, the rain to start to get a feel of how things might work together in this place. And it is an interesting thing to stop and observe and to feel ok in this seeming lack of doing. We're going to have a bit of a chat with local permaculture trainer John Champagne this Saturday to get the garden conversation started....Exciting and a little bit heart in mouth scary. Scary because it's so big, so much land. Ah but who said this life crafting bizzo would be quick and easy?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

You may have noticed that things have kind of dropped off on the P&E production line front. That's because my family and I have relocated to a new town, where we are about to embark on the big, giant-sized, family craft event that is going to (hopefully) set us up to be as self-sufficient as possible. We like to call it 'life craft'. That is, the craft that is involved in building a house - strawbale, passive solar, off-grid power, water, and waste-treatment - and setting up orchards of fruit and nut trees, berry groves and vegetable beds. I'm still going to be sewing and crafting, of course - how could I not? I'm compulsive! - and P&E custom items will still be available if you want to tell me what you want, but my energies from now on are going to be focused on another kind of crafting that primarily involves strawbales, mud, a bit of timber and a shitload of plants. Some of which will be grown from the seeds sent to me by poster-girl Amber Rules, as a thank you for her skirts. Lovely!

Hopefully this crafting will also involve adventures on the farm (which we've already been enjoying!), feasting with friends and learning a lot. And it's the 'learning' bit we mostly want to share because we've found it, at times, overwhelming. To want to do the right thing by the Earth, to build a house that is as gentle, simple and beautiful as it can be, and to try to do all of this with your own hands takes a lot of help and a lot of know-how.
Now, I want to introduce to you the 'Pearl' from Pearl and Elspeth. My muse, my love, my co-collaborator on exciting projects of many kinds but none as momentous as this life-craft shindig we have planned. She's going to be co-writing from now on, too, which is, I assure you, going to be a treat.
So now you can be prepared for the change in direction we're about to take. Not that it's a change, particularly, just a different kind of craft.