An ounce of sustainablity is worth a pound of prevention…

Hi All,

It’s almost Wednesday again and I find myself scrabbling for time to post. I must admit, most of my free time is currently being monopolised by the Wii game Zelda Skyward Sword. It’s been a fair while since I found a game like this that I can actually play! Technology and gaming seem to have decided to bypass my motor neurons in every stage of game development increasing flipping between screens, weapons, items etc. and decreasing the amount of time spent hunting for bright shiny things which, if I am pressed, is pretty much the only reason that I like to play games. I get tired of them very easily and would rather spend time reading than gaming. In saying that I haven’t finished “Tuesdays with Morrie” yet, or “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” which I took out on a whim. Reading is such a romantic retreat from real life that I love to take every opportunity that I can to explore my imagination. With the cold weather around here it is very tempting to put everything on hold and call an immediate hiatus to all things “gardening” and “outdoors” but ironically this is the best time to garden. Steve and I have a few days of fine weather this week with no studies that we have to do and so we have set aside the next few days to plant out all of my beautiful cold climate shrubs so that they will survive the summer with less water and so that they will be able to stretch out their roots and be “real plants” in the soil. No more potting mix (and subsequently, no more annual potting up…) and I have started tuning my radar to isolating cutting material, plants and seeds for our Edible food forest.

“GET OFF THOSE!”…damned rabbits are EVERYWHERE…

The reminder of roosters past…lest we forget

After a year off from propagation I can feel my horticultural bones starting to emerge from their enforced sleep and shaking me gently to remind me that penniless hippies NEED to produce most of their own plants and so I took advantage of some of my time in town to prune back the large Muscat (Vitus Vinifera ‘Poloske Muscat’) grape vine that we planted when we first moved to Tasmania and lived in town. It has done its level best to take over the fence between our place and Margaret’s home next door. I removed the honeysuckle and jasmine from the fence as they are invasive garden destroyers here and had started taking over not only the small side garden but the jasmine had migrated, via runners, across a length of concrete to another garden further on. There is no stopping jasmine! I decided that since I was pruning the grape vine to facilitate us digging it up soon and bringing it back to Serendipity Farm, that I would take some cuttings from the canes and not waste this chance to grow more Muscat grapes. While we were attending Polytechnic on a daily basis in Launceston, we learned as much as we could from anyone who would talk to us about all things horticulture and we spread ourselves around with learning as much as we could about all forms of propagation. We used to talk to the head of the viticulture department as wine is one of the major exports of Tasmania (especially Pinot) and after each course, the students would prune the small vineyard and Mark would use the pruning’s to teach the next group of students how to grow grapes from canes. He gave us some good pinot grape canes and some American table grape canes (not sure which variety) that we got going in our garden. I gave the table grapes away at the time but kept the pinot and we still have a pinot grape vine struggling along in the front garden. He taught us how to take the cuttings, how many nodes to look for, how to cut the top of the cane at an angle and leave the bottom straight so that once the canes have overwintered, had formed callous and were ready to plant out that it would be easy to identify top from bottom. With all of this acquired knowledge I took 30 cane cuttings from the material that I had to work with and stored them in damp newspaper till I could get them into some damp sand to overwinter. Hopefully we get some callous (precursor to root formation) starting and I can plant a selection of Muscat grapes along the fenceline between the church and the veggie garden giving everyone the best of both worlds. At a later date Steve and I are going to plant out a few rows of various grape vines in the top area of the property. It gets full sun and has been cleared of trees by past owners and is on a steep slope so it is perfect for growing a few grapes with the eventuality of us being able to make our own wine.

So you want to grow some grapes from canes eh?

First source some canes…Grape preferably…

Find a recepticle to contain the canes (we used a large plant pot…) make sure it has holes in the bottom and you have a compliant and willing (compliant is more important that willing in this case…) helper to hold the canes while you pour in the sand…

Did I mention the coarse river sand? No? Well perhaps I should have…you need some at this point…

Pour enough sand from your bucket into the recepticle holding the canes so that they are well covered

Shake your pot a bit to settle the sand, water them in well and set to one side with the rest of your potted plants out in the open until you feel like checking to see if any of the canes have produced callous. If you want to know more you can sign up for one of the short wine courses at your local TAFE/Polytechnic…you just exhausted my experience in growing grapes.

That brings me back to my slowly awakening desire to propagate again. My tip find strawberries are behaving like ferals and are going crazy in the shed. I potted them up expecting a large rate of attrition thanks to their languishing in the tip for goodness only knows how long and then spending a frozen night in our trailer and another 2 days lying neglected on the floor of the shed. Nothing kills them! When you take something that has been neglected and show it a bit of tender loving care it rewards you exponentially and my tip strawberries are no exception. Even the teeny tiny little “buddling’s” are greening up and taking off. We have a steep rock wall around the side of Steve’s shed that was previously covered with weeds and African daisies (Osteospermum) that we pulled out and discovered the precarious nature of this area whilst at the same time working out where the cut and fill was taken for the house plot. Our soil is a sad mix of reactive clay laying on bedrock of volcanic stone and covered with silty shallow topsoil due to our proximity to the river. We can ameliorate the soil and make it a whole lot better, but silt has the next finest particles to clay soil (that’s what causes it to be so densely packed) and tends to wash away at the first sign of water and strangely become very hydrophobic (water runs off the top of it) when it becomes dry…which it does VERY easily and so you can see that combining this sort of topsoil with a steep slope is going to lead to problems with soil migration. We were going to plant alpine species in between the rocks to hold the soil in place but Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) is considerably harder to source here in Tasmania than strawberries from the tip and segue right back to the strawberries. They are extremely hardy…they love full sun…they produce runners and make their own new plants (the lazy food gardeners heaven) and the produce an edible crop and love to grow in crevices. The ducks think twice before heading down steep slopes and so the strawberries should require only minimal protection but we will ensure that they are covered with some mulch and protected from possums until we have enough strawberries to form a dense mat. I love finding edible free solutions to our gardening problems that arrive at a win-win situation for both us and the wildlife around here.

One of the pots of strawberries that show no sign of shuffling off this mortal coil any day soon

The sign posted between the Exeter Thrift/Op shop and the golf course next door…I guess it’s one way to stop people wandering onto the greens!

A mans dog needs a mans drink! (Any representitives of the Guinness corporation reading this post can feel free to contact me about sponsorship money 😉 )

I spent Monday checking out the height and width parameters for my cold climate shrubby babies that have been living in pots for about 3 years now. When we first got bitten bad by the horticultural bug we went on a mad propagation and collection run that encompassed all kinds of plants. I started out with cacti and succulents that the ducks recently took great glee in eating almost to extinction and branched to other exotics (living in the glasshouse) and finally settled on cold climate shrubs before moving to Serendipity Farm and getting serious. Having both Steve and I fall victim to horticulture meant that there was no-one to put the brakes on when it came to propagation and collecting and we spent a lot of time and initially money on increasing our potted plants to the vicinity of 900 (300+ conifers alone) and whilst it was quite easy to keep these babies happy in town, out here on Serendipity Farm it’s a nightmare! We have to fight off the possums, wallabies, rabbits and anything else that feels like a snack (including Earl) whilst trying to minimise our potable water usage and our precious babies have slowly been falling by the wayside as the real world interjects itself and teaches us some life lessons. No more precious babies that can’t take a period of water stress…no more cossetting plants and no more wasting water on them. If our potted plants can’t take the lean times then they can’t live on Serendipity Farm. We have been giving away plants to our city dwelling friends to save them from the possums and everything that is left in our collection is hardy, water wise and able to survive out there in the garden because it’s been sitting there and surviving all of the unprotected night time raids for over a year now so we can be confident that it should survive planting out in the garden.

Some of my thrift shop bargains sourced in Exeter

My $3 glow in the dark strip designed to stop cars from squishing me in the dark…now I just need to source something that will get me out of bed and actually “walking” in the dark…

“Bargain…”

An attempt to justify paying $3 for something that I know I am most probably (still not giving up on it…) never going to wear

This hand made non tip pottery mug was my idea of a way to stop the dogs from tipping over Steve’s coffee in the loungeroom…Steve has a London mug that he is choosing to use at the moment in patriotic fervour (that won’t last long…) and so it’s not being used. I wonder if it works?

I sadly also discovered that in our horticultural zeal to isolate and collect many species of conifer, that many of them grow HUGE and that 4 acres isn’t enough to do them justice. We will be (sadly) giving away a fair few of our conifers to ensure that our collection is able to be integrated with our food forest ideals. We have several conifers that yield edible seeds and indeed spruce needles can be used to make a vitamin C rich tea (no scurvy for us!) and there is room on Serendipity Farm for our Bunya nut (Araucaria bidwillii) trees that we grew from seed collected in Carlton Garden’s in Melbourne where we attended our very first International Garden Show. Most of our other conifers are water sucking atmospheric generators that future generations (you know who you are…) will stand at the bottom of looking up into the stratosphere wondering at the mind that thought it possible to plant Giant Sequoia’s at the entrance of their property when said Sequoia has now taken over the entire driveway and is threatening to uproot the house. The reason why people (who shall remain anonymous as is their constitutional right according to the law…) would want to plant a Giant Sequoia next to the entrance of the driveway is because said anonymous person grew that Giant Sequoia from a teeny little seed. That teeny little seed was the ONLY BLOODY SEED out of the entire packet of “Bonsai Mix” that grew and by HECK it is going to be planted next to the gate so help me them!  We shall speak no more about the subject…I said NO MORE!

Sequoia gigantea grown from seed in his first horticultural certificate course and soon to be planted with pride and joy at the front gate…take note Stewart…we are putting a caveat on this tree so you have bollocks all chance of removing it! 😉

I cleaned out the freezers on Monday because I like to torture myself. There was no room left in either of them and “stuff” needed to be frozen so I was forced into it. The main problem was that since we had killed and subsequently gotten the most out of 11 roosters over the last 3 months or so there was an inordinate percentage of freezer space being taken up by chicken stock. I have discovered, since waxing lyrical about the benefits of chicken stock, that we tend not to use it much. This has resulted in a glut of chicken stock in every orifice of the house that is somewhat cooler than room temperature and it was breeding exponentially. Having completed with a “PASS” certificates 2 and 3 in commercial cookery I am MORE than aware of the dangers of chicken stock when not kept at a specific temperature over extended periods and after adding up the dangers and needing more than my 2 hands and both my feet to count them I decided that desperate times called for desperate measures…something had to be done about that chicken stock! At this point of time the super hero usually appears and “BIFF KAPOW’s” something and everything is sorted out and Gotham City is saved. The superhero wasn’t available on Monday for some reason so a tired addled sleep deprived Zelda addict had to work out a solution all by herself…not a pretty sight especially on a Monday morning. I came up with a brilliant solution if I say so myself. First you analyse the problem…”no space thanks to tonnes of chicken stock”. Next you remember that your life mantra is “Think smarter NOT harder” (that’s the one that I share with the public…my REAL life mantra is “Shit! Maybe no-one will notice?” but that is another story…) and so I slowly formulated an excellent plan. I had only recently been reading my rss feed reader. Yes, I am THAT clever 😉 and realised that the solution was right in front of my eyes…

http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/homemade-bouillon-recipe.html

No…I am sorry. I have spoon fed you enough! If you actually want to see what it was that I did, you are just about going to have to go to that website and take a look you lazy bollocks!…I will wait here while you do… (Insert elevator music and wonder if they play “The girl from Ipanema” in Korean elevators…)…ok so I KNOW that you didn’t go there…look maybe this will help…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJkxFhFRFDA

Can ANYONE tell me why elevators chose to use this song?!!! Just watching Astrud makes my eyelids start to droop! I guess it was last century and who can guess at what olden day’s people were thinking about when they wrote music like that…

Ok I made concentrated stock! Easy peasy. I turned a kitchen sink overflowing with bags of stock into an eighth of a stockpot of gelatinised rubber that the dogs will do tricks for. I am going to bounce it all off the deck down to the waiting chickens and feral cats and see if I can’t skim some down to the Tamar River. Again…we shall speak no more of this!

I found this website online and you can get this fantastic catalogue on recycled paper sent to you once a year. I doubt I could source the seeds through this guide but its full of hints, tips and other fantastic “stuff” to help people who want to live sustainably and thats us!

What I am reading at the moment…(I LOVE you library!)

The latest copy of Feast magazine (FAR better than Delicious magazine you ABC snobs and MUCH more interesting) accompanied by my bucket cup  of tea that enhances my reading pleasure (durex for the mind)…by the way dearest daughter Bethany…if you are reading this post, I really REALLY would like you to renew my subscription for my birthday for another year 🙂

Ok we are getting close to me having to wind up this post and I haven’t told you everything that happened since Saturday. Here is a quick rundown…

  1. Fatty ate one of Effels babies and is skating on thin ice even though it was a rooster (it’s the principal of the thing!)
  2. We went to Exeter and I got bargains from the thrift shop that I will share pictorially and kill 2 birds with one stone
  3. Steve is very tired of his shed being liberally coated in nitrogenous chickeny deposits and is about to integrate Pingu into the main herd post haste…
  4. I can’t bring myself to clear out any of my hard sourced blogs from my rss feed reader even though I can’t hope to read all of the posts that I get a day in a 24 hour period let alone fit anything else into my day. Sorry to anyone that I usually comment on regularly… you now know just what it takes to get me to shut up…DON’T tell Steve!

There you go. A couple of manic days in the life of “Us”. I hope you liked it…I can honestly say that it’s kind of too bad if you didn’t…it’s in the public domain now and I guess you are stuck with it. My daughters “Madeline and Bethany” now have to read this post because their names have been mentioned and my son is having a ball dressing up as an ancient Sumerian Godlike creature and getting in the Roswell times whilst wearing a pair of “Butterfinger” underpants given to him by the purveyors of this diabetes inducingly sweet American treat. I am totally engaged by Stewart’s American holiday and it certainly appears that he has been packing it to the rafters with non-stop memory inducing episodes. He does appear to have inherited his grandmothers ability to take photographs of nondescript road scenes and blurry road signs (they say that it skips a generation…) but his whirlwind tour of the USA is just about over and he is heading across the Atlantic ocean and then a hop-step-and a jump across the Irish sea to Ireland (Not much of a quiz question that one is it?). I hope he has an amazing time and his memories are burned into his mind so that he never forgets. Ok, so photos might be a good alternative…I was being metaphorical there! (Sheesh you guys are a tough audience!). You got off lightly today because I now have to go and tackle that behemoth also known as “RSS Feed Reader”. I am going to have to tear out my ongoing desire to hoard each and every blog that touches a nerve and keep a core group of blogs that feed my soul. Please don’t take offence if you never hear from me again. I didn’t dump your blog…I just couldn’t find a way to separate myself from ANY of my 729 (and growing every day) blogs that I am currently following and decided that hoarding blogs is NOTHING like hoarding rubbish or cats. See you Saturday when I might just have collected enough colourful gems to save Spain, Greece AND Ireland (I owe it to Stewart and Kelsey) in Zelda. Whatever you choose to do in the meantime…do it well people and don’t skip bits…you only get to pass this way once…you may as well enjoy the ride :o)

Cock a doodle DON’T!

Hi All,

As you can most probably tell by the title of this post…our growing rooster population has reached climax and needs to be dealt with post haste. Our neighbours appear to be avoiding us and with a house situated closer to the hen coop than ours is, I dare say I would be making night time raids with my strangling hands on if I were Frank…it’s time to get brave again and wield the hatchet of doom. A couple of the roosters will be no problem to dispatch. They are greedy, nasty and have started to mistreat the hens and so they will be dispatched, minced and turned into dog food. Earl will get to eat them one way or another! Big Yin will remain…sorry Frank but 1 rooster can hardly be construed as a flock…little red who lives somewhere in a giant conifer with his 4 non-conforming sisters will need to be dealt with very soon as he has started to make his voice heard before 5am. It only gets light here around 7am so you are holding your own sword of Damocles above your head little Red! After we dispatch our 2 greedy guzzling rapist roosters and little red we will have to consider Big Red. He is a lovely rooster…appears to have his head screwed on straight (unlike the majority of rooster kind who appear to be born with only a rudimentary brain stem that constantly signals EAT EAT EAT much like a European mother…), is respectful (at the moment) of Yin and doesn’t show any signs of being a rapist. Like dealing with the feral cats…that makes it SO much harder when you are dealing with a reasonable creature rather than something unlikeable. I guess that is what it means to live in the country. Sometimes you have to act and react in ways that your urban cousins might find irksome…you yourself might find irksome…but the word “irksome” is in and of itself a terribly urban word! Death is something that you have to get used to when you decide to live with animals and death by your own hand is right up there with some of the tougher decisions that you have to make.

This pile of debris has been sitting on our “Fire Site” (aren’t we lucky? We get a small patch of earth dedicated to setting things on fire…) for about a month. Its very satisfying to set fire to a heap of nasty blackberries and old rose canes

Nothing like a nice big blaze to get the fire plane out having a bit of a look…

The fire was starting to die down in this photo and we have since removed all of that banana passionfruit from that poor long suffering shrub. It’s a hebe!

this is to show all of you planning on planting out Pittosporums just what happens when a fire is almost out and you throw a freshly cut Pittosporum sapling onto the dying embers…I would never have thought that anything could go up like Pittosporums can. There are so many people planting them out all around their houses and this should show you why that is a very VERY bad idea!

We are off into the garden again today. Yesterday we removed a patch of Osteospermum daisies. My father would be turning in his grave…”what did you pull them out for…they were bloody flowers you stupid woman! And you call yourself a horticulturalist…” Osteospermum daisies, when allowed to run rampant for 20 years are a terrifying thing. Some of them were over 2 metres long and had covered vast areas. Now that we have removed them we now need to ensure that the large areas of uncovered earth are covered as quickly as possible. We are thinking about using a green crop to add some much needed nitrogen to the soil and allowing it to reseed as it sees fit. Some native grass seed might also be a good idea. Unlike the side garden that we demolished last week, this area of the garden has been totally untouched for a very long time. It has tree cover (large Eucalypts) and undercover trees (mainly Syzygium luehmannii /Lilly pillies and some overgrown Pittosporum) with very little shrubby growth because of a lack of light. We have been opening the area up to light, now we have cleared the soil of weedy overgrowth we are going to get a massive influx of weed species, notably forget-me-nots (OH what a fitting name!) unless we act now to ensure that we get groundcover and grassy species that we want in the area. We are intending on opening this area up to planting with edible plants of all sizes. We have been researching species that will cope with our conditions. We have an extended dry period over summer that can last for up to 3 months and in winter we get plenty of rain. We are lucky because we live on a steep rocky slope and directly next to a large water source which keeps the temperature on site from delivering us frosts so we can grow things here that people slightly inland from us can’t. We keep coming up against problems associated with our lifestyle choice. Penniless hippies can’t just head out to the local nurseries and buy up big on edible plant species and so we have to grow our own or find a cheap source (read “barter”). Some of the more interesting and international species we are going to have to source but anything easy to grow we will be doing it ourselves. We have collected walnuts (Juglans regia) from 2 local sources and some of them have started to sprout so we should get at least some walnuts to plant out in a couple of years. We already have some chestnut trees, some hazelnut trees (with more stratifying) and 4 loquat japonica that we sourced from seedlings growing on an embankment. We always have our eyes open for sources of seed and cutting material for our edible food forest, preferably those that have had hard lives and that will find living on Serendipity Farm heaven (much like the animals that move in…). Having been in horticulture for quite some time now we are under NO false apprehensions that this is going to be an easy job. We just know that it is something that we should be doing. Food security is definitely something that all of us should be thinking about. If we can plant some olives, some nut trees, some fruit and a good vegetable, herb and spice selection then we can minimise future shortage problems and can free up the system for those people who can’t grow their own food. Idealism doesn’t enter into it. Next on the agenda is minimising our reliance on fossil fuels. My next goal is to save up for a wind turbine for the property. Tasmania is a very windy island. Some of it is to do with our politicians and their overinflated egos but most of it comes from us being an island on its way to Antarctica girt completely by sea and as we spend most of our year under cloud cover, solar is NOT the way to go. I shake my head whenever I see people installing solar panels in Tasmania. Our friend (who must remain anonymous) is completely off the grid. Not because she wants to be, but because at only 15 minutes inland of Launceston city, power, phone and water infrastructure are simply not available to her and so she relies on a mobile phone, an enormous tank (for rain water collection), 2 dams (for garden and animal water) and solar panels with a massive bank of batteries. She told us that solar energy is very overrated when it comes to a place like Tasmania. Her house is completely free of vegetative cover and a check on Google Earth shows it’s pretty much free of vegetation for about 2 acres around her house. You would think that a large bank of solar panels would deliver consistent power but Glen (her partner) has had to retrofit their wood fire to heat water because there simply isn’t enough power generated to allow them the luxury of hot water. Even in summer the system doesn’t deliver all of the family’s needs. Wind turbines are most DEFINITELY the way that Tasmanian’s should be aiming to deliver their future power.  I found this wonderful creation and can’t wait till power generation can be delivered consistently and reliably by artistically balanced systems like these…

http://www.treehugger.com/wind-technology/enessere-wind-turbine-sleek-works-any-direction.html

How beautiful is that? One day we will be given a choice with how we power our houses and we will be able to choose to go off grid and save the government billions in infrastructure costs. Until then, we are going to have to do what we can to minimise the costs as they appear to be growing exponentially! I might even have to make my own! Hey…I have instructions you know…

http://www.instructables.com/pages/search/search.jsp?cx=partner-pub-1783560022203827%3Anpr2q7v5m6t&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=wind+turbine

Good old Instructables…not only do they tell me how to make a rubbish bin out of coke bottles, how to knit myself a pair of slippers and how to make cheese but they tell me how to use quantum physics to make myself a wind turbine…man I LOVE that site :o)… (Now I just need an Instructable to explain quantum physics to me and I will be A-OK!)

This is the view from the pathway behind the garden on the side of the house. Everything that goes dormant is losing its leaves and the grass has turned from a dull brown to green again. This garden was full of the most overgrown Diosma plants that I have ever seen. Steve and I took 2 days to remove them. We have just cleared out this garden so that we can start planting out my cold climate shrubs (some of which are in the photo off to the right)

This photo was taken from the same position but looking back the other way. We have been doing some serious removal of vegetation of late and it is starting to pay off

The garden over to the right of this photo is the garden we just cleared out so that we can plant. Hopefully the rain refrains until we can plant out my poor long suffering cold climate shrubs.

Looking down from the deck over the lawn and garden towards where I took the first of the “garden photos”. Isn’t that maple lovely?

Same spot but facing the other direction towards the river…I think this maple is paying us back for saving it from a massive overgrowth of jasmine when we first moved here 2 years ago. It was totally engulfed by it and we didn’t know if it was going to live it was so bare of leaves.

Its Saturday already…where is autumn going?! I was going to have just about everything planted out by the end of autumn and at this rate I had best work 24/7 to do it. We spent the morning sorting through all of our potted plants, separating them into piles of “maples for the front garden”…”Fran’s cold climate deciduous shrubs etc.” for the side garden and those plants that will have to be repotted and hang about in a pod until we can sort out what to do with them. Some of them will be planted out in the 1st paddock area behind the house. We have plants to extend the dogs run up into this area and where dogs are concerned…the more trees the better! We bought some Larix decidua a couple of years ago…40 to be exact. What on EARTH would anyone want with 40 Larix decidua (larches) you might ask? Well…we were going to graft them. We had a source of some very nice scion wood at the time and were assured that we could use Larix decidua as rootstocks but on closer inspection the union would only be short lived at the best…we no longer pay much attention to our “source”! Needless to say, we have a fair pile of Larix decidua wanting to stretch their feet despite giving a Larix away to every visitor that we get…”Here Jehovah’s Witnesses…we don’t want your pamphlets but we would like to give you one of these fine Larix decidua’s…could you please tell the Mormons to head on up and take a couple as well?”…sigh… so we are going to take our Larix decidua’s that life handed to us and make Larixade. More accurately, a Larix grove. We have some amazing conifers in our collection and most of them will find their way onto the property somewhere. We will have that amazing conifer vista one way or another Christi ;).

Heres where my mass planting of shrubs will be most prevalent. The chickens are doing their bit to soften up the earth ready for planting. Now I just have to hope that the rock problem that is all over the property doesn’t manifest itself in this bit!

This next set of photos is to act as proof that we actually are studying our Diploma of Landscape Design…Here you can see the theodolite, the staffs and the tripod used to house the theodolite needed to take horizontal and vertical levels. What you DON’T see is the amount of algebra and trigonometry that I had to learn to facilitate understanding all about triangles etc…truly terrifying!

Here you can see Nick our lecturer (with his permission) and Steve setting up the tripod ready for the theodolite to be set up so that we can take some levels. We are in the process of learning about vertical levelling because we already learned about horizontal levels in our last Diploma. The area that you can see here is adjacent to the Polytechnic where we occasionally have a lecture. We study from home and wouldn’t have it any other way!

You can count yourselves as VERY lucky to see this picture. I HATE having my picture taken let alone showing anyone else so this is one of the very VERY few online photos of me. Again, its just here to prove that I actually am doing what I say I am doing…now I just have to convince Nick that I am doing what I am doing and I am half way there! You can also see that autumn has hit home hard here and I was the only one dressed warmly enough to be out in the field.

After lugging pots back and forth, weeding the pots, pruning off any dead bits and thinking about them all (by far the hardest part of the equation…) we managed to reduce our potted specimens by half. Now all we have to do is set aside a day to pot out the lovely weeping maple collection that we amassed 3 years ago and get stuck in digging mole holes all over the side garden to plant out all of my gorgeous cold climate shrubs that have been just hanging on for this day. I want to ensure that this area is mass planted to give it the best chance of surviving and becoming relatively self-sufficient. We found plants that we didn’t remember we had as well as some that we had given up for dead that have returned to the land of the living. I just know that once I plant out everything in my cold climate section (which is a terrifying event that will take at least 3 days) I am going to want more. Andrew of Red Dragon nursery fame got me addicted to cold climate shrubs. Now I have something that is going to make the side garden something quite special. Lots of beautiful scented flowering shrubs to perfume the air and no doubt they will be ecstatic to get their feet out of their pots and into the earth. Once we plant out the maples (I need to agree to doing this first as to be honest…its really Steve digging the holes and so I need to humour him by letting him get his babies into the ground first…) and all of the shrubs, ground covers, bamboos, bulbs and perennials in the side garden we will be left with quite a substantial amount of pots left to work out what we want to do with them. Earlier on in our horticultural career we both went a bit mental about collecting. Steve has several Chinese elms that we have NO idea what we are going to do with. We have a really big collection of conifers that will need to be planted or given away. We are trying to reduce our potted plants down as far as we can to minimise excessive summer watering. We have done really well to reduce our electricity reliance (and bill…) and minimise water usage but potted plants tend to die if you don’t keep them hydrated. We had a long hot summer that was also very dry. Very little rain (we were starting to wonder what rain was for a while there) and it became very apparent that we were using too much precious water on our potted plants. When plants are mass planted in the ground they are more able to survive extended periods of water stress. Potted plants can die in a matter of hours depending on how lush their leaves are. We no longer want anything that is going to become possum or wallaby fodder in our garden. When it comes to edibles, we are going to get creative. If the possums want to scoff garden plants then it’s bad luck to the garden plant. It needs to be able to survive here to stay here.

Here is the building where we study in Launceston. It has the dubious honour of being called “G Block”…we spent the first year and a half of our horticultural career sitting in the classroom on the right before we were able to study from home. I LOVE studying from home :). Its the very best way to study so long as you are disciplined enough to make sure that you do what is required of you. I think being mature aged students has given Steve and I an edge for the discipline needed to put the time in each day to make sure we study what we need to for our meetings. I hated sitting in a classroom with other students because everyone learns at their own pace and if you can pace yourself, you are not wasting your, or anyone elses time.

Steve took this photo this morning. It was dead still outside and the smoke from our rekindled wood stove was drifting down the slope and into the garden…he titled it “smoke on the water” being the old rocker that he is but I know for a fact that it never made it to the water…it kind of hung about until it dissipated into the ether leaving  that amazing early morning smell of warm future possibilities that only wood fire smoke can do

This is a sweet potato thief. I was showing him my wonderful sweet potato and he lulled me into a false sense of security by being cute. I relaxed my grip on my sweet potato for 1 second…and he grabbed it and ran off! Steve was NO help whatsoever…he was laughing hysterically as Earl zoomed all over the place with me in hot pursuit…Bezial tried to help but as Earl only had a boring sweet potato his heart wasn’t in it and he soon stopped and returned to his nice warm seat near the fire leaving me to try to catch the canine equivalent of a racehorse on steroids… I got my sweet potato back after a long chase and a stint under the bed…it was full of doggy toothmarks and even though I scrubbed it really REALLY well…it still tasted suspicious when I steamed it…

I have been hunting for all sorts of plants (especially trees) that will serve as foundations for the garden as well as having edible or medicinal properties. This garden is going to be cram packed with edible specimens…so many that the possums and wallabies may even send themselves to an early grave in their efforts to consume a small proportion of its bounty! We have plans to remove a large hedge of Photinia x fraseri ‘Robusta’ that was allowed to engulf the fence between the church and our property. We will be planting grape vines, kiwifruit and various other edible low shrubs and vines along this fence to replace the hedge. Thank goodness that we chose to study horticulture before we inherited Serendipity Farm because otherwise we would have had no idea how to make all of this work. When problems arise, we know where to look to attempt to solve them. Apart from constantly being tired these days, we are gaining a degree of satisfaction that we hadn’t been able to gain before. I love country living. I just wish that Earl would settle down like Bezial did so that we could let both dogs out with us when we work in the garden. One day they will be able to walk freely around, but until Earl learns that chickens + teeth = “BAD DOG!!” it’s only going to be a pipe dream. Have a really great Sunday everyone. Enjoy yourself doing something that makes you happy and make sure that whatever you are doing is worth it. See you on Wednesday when we will have (probably) managed to get The Odo Life (our alternate blog) up and running with its first post and you can all check out what Serendipity Farm looks like from inside my head…if you are game that is! 😉

Anti Pulp, please don’t sue me Jarvis Cocker

Hi All,

Despite my vehement desire to stop the proposed bell bay pulp mill the title of this post has NOTHING to do with this issue. On our walk this morning (time machine people…remember the time machine…) we ran into our long suffering neighbours Frank and Adrian who asked us if we had noticed a whopping great tree falling down right on the boundary fence between our place and theirs…our tree obviously…sigh…no, we hadn’t noticed and when we just went up to take a look at the tree it was completely rotten to the core, had a mangled and long dead possum skeleton in one of the knot holes (habitat?!) and someone out there is looking after us because it caused the bare minimum of damage to anything at all. Remember…the possum is skeletal and so departed the earth a long time ago so it can’t be counted as collateral damage. We figure the tree must have fallen down on Saturday when it was incredibly windy and we were out for 4 hours at the progressive garage sale because something that big falling down would have made a rather loud “CRASH!!!”… We can’t use much of it for firewood because it is rotten but we can heap up the logs in the corner of the property to rot down and improve the soils cation exchange (organic matter + topsoil = happy days…) and provide a little pile of habitat on Serendipity Farm although I don’t think that many of our invading hoards feel the need for natural habitat to be honest…they just move on into anything that will fit them. We are starting to feel lucky to have a few feral cats about as they are catching rats and mice that are attracted to the chicken food and this time last year we had to use baits…no such problem now! As I said…there are good points and bad points about everything.

This is the long dead tree that fell on the dividing fence between our property and our long (and still) suffering neighbours property

Here is the same tree after a bit of time and some hard yards with a chainsaw and returned to the property from whence it fell

As you can see, the centre of the tree was effectively mush and despite not getting much in the way of usable firewood from this decomposing beauty, this delightful “mush” will rot down quickly when the wrens and hens have finished picking at it and will improve the soil in this area

I decided to shield your eyes from the skeletal possum that was well past its mumification date and will just let you use your imagination should you wish to pursue that train of thought. Here is Effel and some of her lovely blue laced Wyandotte babies. As you can see…following me everywhere I go because “Human = food” appears to have paid off this time

We found several of these large borer grubs and Effel and her 7 babies had a feast that will ensure that I have 8 little shadows whenever I venture out into the wide outdoors

We headed off to Beaconsfield to delight our dogs this morning (Sunday TIME MACHINE REMEMBER!). We decided to park in the local school car park and as we headed off with the dogs I noticed that the fig tree that I normally predate had some figs on it. I have no problems eating fruit overhanging fences in Tasmania because the locals don’t seem to eat much fruit. I know…why would you have fruit/nut trees if you don’t actually use the fruit/nuts? No idea people, but their loss is my gain! I picked a couple of last figs to nibble on our walk that the birds hadn’t nibbled before me and noticed a spindly fig branch sticking out of the weeds underneath the tree. I tugged it to pull it up out of the weeds because it might not be “my” plant, but I still care about it and when I tugged it I noticed roots on the stem…layering… interesting folks! We walked the boys around Beaconsfield and I collected some more walnuts from underneath the tree that I got the last lot that are sprouting from. Again, the householder wasn’t interested in harvesting these nuts as they were lying on the ground and most of them had been eaten by rats. I collected what I could and they are now stratifying in the shed along with their second batch of friends (the first 5 that have sprouted are now overwintering in the glasshouse) and a bag of hazelnuts. We got back to the car and I headed back to where the fig tree was located and managed to find 3 long branches with roots on that I could remove from amongst the weeds. I used one of our faithful and always useful doggie doo bags to put the rooted cuttings into and filled it up with leaf mould from around the base of the tree. I can’t tell you how many times we have walked down the road with a large bag of something other than nefarious dog poo! We got back home and put the cuttings and roots into a bucket of water with seasol and Auxinone in it and then potted them up and staked them using the water that they had been soaking in to water them in. They will also overwinter in the glasshouse and hopefully will develop a good set of roots. Taking root or aerial layered cuttings allows you to jump a few years on with fruit and nut production when a nut tree usually takes 10 years to produce nuts from plants grown from seed or cuttings. A good substitute for Auxinone, if you can’t find it, is to use Berocca tablets dissolved in water. When accompanied by a good splosh of seasol, the Auxinone/Berocca’s give the rooted cuttings a better chance of survival and we get very few die on us so hopefully these tall cuttings will like their new home. At least they are vertical now rather than horizontal!

Here are those 3 figs in their new home where they will overwinter until spring later on in the year. Behind them we have our 2 bananas and their “humidity generator” a.k.a. a Monstera deliciosa that allows them to have their own little humid microclimate. They lived through last winter without their new friend so hopefully they will arrive in spring as happy little customers. We tidied out the glasshouse to prepare it for winter and its inhabitants for receival of the maximum light that they can get over the next few months

We are opportunistic whenever we see cutting material that we can use to grow plants for Serendipity Farm or for swapping with nursery owner friends for plants. The same deal goes for seed. There is something really primal about collecting your own seed and growing plants from cuttings. I dare say it harkens back to the days when our survival revolved around our ability to hunt and grow our own food.  I love waking up when it is still dark and quiet in the house and slipping quietly out of bed and heading into the kitchen where I can settle down to see what the world delivers me right into my inbox. I subscribe to some very interesting blogs and am usually not let down by the content of my early morning mental breakfast. I like to learn things. I was born to learn more than my fair share for some reason and where some might crave that first cigarette or that last piece of chocolate, I crave knowledge. I must add here that I crave knowledge for things that interest me! Should anyone want to indulge my quest for knowledge by sending me their old university mathematical physics or chemistry  textbooks they will be returned with “Not at this address” scrawled in bright red crayon (after I eat the first red crayon that is…). There are elements of all of those most noble of mind breaking concepts that not only pique my interest but actively make me swoon but too few to list here and so we will forget about them for the moment. I choose to learn what my mind needs to take in new concepts and sometimes that is maths…so I learn the bare basics to get me through and wing it as I go along.

Now I don’t know if you are in agreement with me here, but I get the feeling that there is something that smells VERY interesting on this bit of driftwood…

Steve took a few arty photos when we were at the beach the other day. I quite liked this one

And I REALLY liked this one

I am typing while I wait for my “dog pikelets” to cook. They aren’t actually my dog pikelets…I am home alone dog sitting while Steve does the fortnightly shopping 50km away and have 2 sulking dogs who haven’t had a walk yet. Much like children, dogs can be somewhat distracted from actively sulking by waving food under their noses and so after heading out to let the chooks out of their coop and having feral cats follow me the whole way looking pitiful and having seen them catch rats the other day thus earning at least something in return I decided to give the chooks, cats and dogs a bit of a cold morning treat. I headed in to the cupboards and discovered that there wasn’t all that much there that would interest a cat, dog or even a chook. We have reached that time of the fortnight where shopping becomes less of a chore and more of a necessity. I had to get creative with what was available…1 large container of out of date thickened cream (still smelling fine…)…3 free range eggs that our hens have decided to spring on us of late…1 tin of tuna found at the back of the cupboard…2 semi floppy carrots found in the crisper (note to self “CLEAN THE CRISPER”!…sigh…) add a bit of Self-Raising flour and a bit of left over lard from making pork pie pastry to fry it all in. An instant human heart attack but bliss for animal-kind. They don’t look all that bad and 4 of them have disappeared into the dogs so I think I am on to a winner. Consider that my recipe for hump day. Technically these would be fritters rather than pikelets but I have the ump with New Zealand (home of the fritter) at the moment for selling themselves to the highest bidder (in this case China) and for allowing themselves to be the food laundering capital of the world. Your reputation is plummeting New Zealand and if I check a label and see “New Zealand” on it, I won’t buy it because it is a veneer for “Chinese Import”. Almost all of our frozen vegetables are routed through New Zealand from China to give them a fake façade of clean and green and New Zealand is allowing this to their own detriment. That’s why these are pikelets (still semi-New Zealand but like Pavlovas and Anzac biscuits… WE MADE THEM FIRST! ;o).  There you go…I couldn’t let a Monday go past without having a bit of a rant albeit a small one (I will say this for the last time this post… Time machine people…that is how I can jump around from the past to the present so easily…)

I decided to use the 4 teracotta froggy pot stands that I bought for 20c each at the progressive garage sale on Saturday to good use in the kitchen. This little setup reminds me of  the  Discworld which consists of a large disc resting on the backs of four huge elephants which are in turn standing on the back of an enormous turtle named Great A’Tuin as it slowly swims through space. In this case… it is a disc of Huon pine resting on 4 small teracotta frogs who are in turn resting on my butchers block as it slowly wheels around my kitchen. If you don’t know what I am talking about here… you really REALLY need to get yourselves a complete Discworld series of books by Terry Pratchett and settle down for one of the most entertaining, humorous and enlightening journeys of your life

This is Steve’s $5 backpack from the progressive garage sale. We have been filling it with water and allowing it to soak to ensure that we won’t be killing off any of our precious babies with any prior contents. We will be using this backpack sprayer to apply seasol, powerfeed and worm tea along with compost tea…weed tea…liquid manure…anything natural that we can manufacture on site to give our garden an edge

I found this fossil on the beach the other day. No idea what it is but Steve swears it is an octopus… hmmm…does anyone have the heart to tell him that octopi do not have anything to fossilise? No… I thought not…lets just keep it as our little secret 😉

I am trying to be more proactive than reactive. It’s quite difficult because I think I was born to be somewhat reactive (as my posted rants about all things that push my buttons would tend to allude to…) and so this is new territory. When you wake up and the very first song that you hear on the clock radio is “Born to be alive” by Patrick Hernandez and it gets stuck in your head and you spend the morning singing an ancient disco song to a most ungrateful of audiences (if dogs could put their paws over their ears these 2 would…) you soon realise which side of the proactive/reactive fence you tend to reside. I would love to be one of those “Doers”. One of those people who jump out of bed fresh and ready for the new day. They have all of their ideas condensed down into perfect little dot points of action and after a healthy pre-planned vegan super food breakfast they race off to tick off their lives in sequence arriving at the end of their day satisfied, satiated and successful. I have been delving a little bit deeper into these sort of people and have made a startling discovery… they simply don’t exist! Behind every good man is a good woman and behind every “proactive” go getter/doer there are a team of hidden supplicants facilitating their every move. As much as I love Richard Branson, I dare say he just has to postulate an idea and it eventuates with a click of his fingers. Who wouldn’t be happy and always with a smile on their face if they merely had to suggest to make something happen with only the idea as “work” for the day? I know that there are people out there who are able to strategically work through their day arriving at the end satisfied and happy with their lot and they tend to live in the sustainable community living a hard life with all natural hippy rewards but perhaps somewhere along the way they learned to be a whole lot happier with a whole lot less? What I am trying to say is it’s all a matter of how you choose to see things. If you take a good hard look at what you actually have (not what you owe a stack of credit on folks…that doesn’t belong to you!) and make your peace with what you can and can’t immediately afford and learn to live within your means life can take on a whole different slant. Do you really need that investment home? Do you need all of that pre-made food that minimises your time spent in the kitchen to microwave…ding…eat…? What are we actually racing about attaining all this wealth for anyway? I read once, (I have actually read more than once but this is leading into a story and not a literal quantification of how much reading I have accomplished in my life ;o) that if someone gets an increased amount of money to live on…even one significant enough to allow them to save a lot of extra money…most people will simply adapt (more quickly than they would like to admit) to increasing their spending to absorb this amount rather than saving it. It’s natural human nature to want more and we are buying in to an ever increasingly powerful media and advertising sector that seem to be dictating trends rather than trying to get us to follow. We are eager to jump into buying a new car even though we only bought our old one 3 years ago…we need a new bed…a new toaster a new partner! Everything is geared at trying to get us to hand over our readies (whether cash or credit) to pay for something that if we really thought about it, we most probably wouldn’t buy. It’s a lot easier to be sanctimonious about people spending money when you don’t actually have any to spend yourself I will admit. There are entire multinational corporations of people selling “futures”… things that haven’t even happened yet! It is so very difficult to hear yourself think these days because everything has advertising in it including our emails (is anyone else heartily SICK TO DEATH of that bloody grey monkey on the incredimail advertisement’s?) and so the further you can take yourself away from the madding crowd and the more you are able to learn to hear that little inner voice telling us what we REALLY need rather than what society is telling us that we “need” the more likely we are to arriving at some point where we can be grateful, thankful and happy with what we have in our lives right here, right now. Our own private nirvana in our lifetime :o). GO AWAY PATRICK HERNANDEZ!…sigh…it seems that whatever song I wake up to on the radio in the mornings tends to stick in my brain for the rest of the day. I can be sweeping the floor and suddenly find myself whistling that song…throwing bread out to the chooks and I am humming it…I will be collecting the wood up in the paddock and loudly singing it sorry Frank (our neighbour) and today’s menu item is “Born to be alive”…a song that I didn’t even like when it first came out last century and am cursed to vocalise for the rest of the day.

Earl looking a bit the worse for wear after a particularly vigorous race full pelt around the house

If you look REALLY hard you can see Fatty, Felix’s sole remaining kitten peeking out of the conifer

The sight that greets me when I take Steve in his cup of coffee at 7am most mornings

I have mentioned before that I learn more about the real world by wandering around paying attention to what is going on around this 4 acre property than I have up until now in my life. I was throwing out my tuna/carrot/lardy goodness cakes (to keep me getting spammed by the Chinese-New Zealanders about just who invented pikelets/fritters…) to the waiting throng of chooks, sparrows and feral cats below whilst passing morsels sideways to the waiting dogs, when I started to notice interesting societal things about our little ecosystem we call Serendipity Farm. The cats have had to learn to get along with the chooks because it became pretty obvious that if you stalk a chook you get a piece of wood thrown at you. Not only do the cats not attack the chooks (apart from the odd fluff ball that doesn’t stay close to mum and who disappears “somewhere” in the ether) but they are actively afraid of them! This is NOT normal. Chooks are supposed to be afraid of cats but on Serendipity Farm where nature gazes from below up at a benefactor with attitude they learned pretty soon that the cats were not going to mess with them and have turned from terrified cat snacks into bullies who will steal food from the cats mouths. How out of whack are we?!  From the very first group of 8 point of lay chooks that we bought last year and that chased a terrified Felix down the pathway in blatant avian angst our chooks have attained a level of induced fear that would rival a biker gang in human terminology. They strut…they peck…even Pingu runs into the throng of cats and delivers savage blows to the top of their hissing heads should they dare to even LOOK at her. Our chooks are more dangerous than our dogs! Forget Bezial and Earl any burglars out there… you would be sneaking into the danger zone the moment you stepped onto the property. Be afraid… be VERY afraid!

All of this society 101 has sprung from several people over the last week telling us that they envy our lifestyle. Steve and I just turn to each other in wonderment whenever anyone would even think of wanting to do what we do every day. I guess it’s the grass is greener meets the photos that we post on the blog. No-one likes to portray the bad things about their lives and so we tend not to post anything depressing or sordid that might perhaps make someone think differently about us. My dad died on July 7th 2010 leaving us more aware of our mortality and suddenly able to call a few acres of land “mine”. “You lucky bastard!” (Said in Michael Palin’s voice from “The Life of Brian”…) and here it is if you are the poorer for never having discovered Monty Python so far… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EI7p2p1QJI Yes…we ARE lucky and we will always be grateful to my dad for giving us something that we would never have had otherwise but right there is where the scene of happiness and joy starts to fade into reality and hard work. Nothing that is worth having is easy people! We tend to look to the future to deliver us from our lives today and some of us spend our lives waiting for “the kids to leave home”, “retirement”, “that winning lotto coupon” rather than taking stock of what life has actually dealt us and learning to not only accept and live with it but find real happiness in our own personal circumstances. How many of you have watched documentaries about native tribes out in the middle of the South American jungle who despite their lack of anything that we would be able to identify as “wealth” are all smiling, curious and most happy members of the human race with the strongest whitest teeth I have ever seen. I wonder how people living a subsistence life can be so very happy? Is it because they are living close to the earth that feeds clothes and sustains them and they have discovered their niche within this endless ancient balance of cycles. They are living how we all should live. Simply, with few needs and it’s only when you start introducing societies “wealth” that problems start to occur. I dare say I am glossing over the squabbles, the human vices and the general need that we humans have to stuff up whatever we are given that would be present wherever 2 or more people group together to coexist, but in general they would deal with it themselves and they would be very aware of the consequences of their actions. I find it laughable that we in 1st world societies have so much and are always hungry for more when these simple people are very content with their lot. Serendipity Farm is our chance to make a difference to our own little plot of earth and see if we can’t leave it better than when we arrived on it just under 2 years ago. The process of change that we are taking and where we found out how to go about changing for the better is what this blog is all about. I am trying to be as honest as I can about our lives but am as guilty of the next person in omitting some of the more nefarious things or glossing over them with humour. Life is tough enough without being constantly faced by negativity and so I try to temper reality with humour as often as I can.

3048 words! How did I get to 3048 words! I only just sat down! Sigh…surely that word check on the bottom of Word is fibbing…I often wonder if there will ever be an end to the need to splash what’s inside my head onto a page. I don’t think that my muse (who is a combination of Billy Connelly and Leonardo De Vinci with a little smattering of Albert Einstein (probably the dyslexic bit…) thrown in) wants to give up any day soon so other than writing a “Dear Abbey” column, I guess you guys get it all :o). Thanks for listening to my outpourings. I sometimes think I should be paying you all for taking the place of a psychiatrist but to be honest, that should be something that our state government does for the safety of our state so you lose out this time. See you all on Saturday night/Sunday morning (depending on which side of the Equator you are) where we can take up this session where we left off…till then…”Domo arigato Mr Roboto” (because I can’t spell Sayonara)