Tuesday, 30 September 2014

An Unexpected Harvest

With spring well underway, I thought I should get back in the garden and get things ready for my summer crops. To start with I had to weed out one of the beds left empty over winter after adding some compost to improve the soil and be ready for summer plantings. Apparently the compost must have had some of my potatoes that went a bit squishy in the cupboard and chucked in composter, as when I started weeding, up pulled a big handful of potatoes! In the end we got a whole basket full of new potatoes, ranging in size from the palm of my hand down to little tiny round ones (which taste the best anyway) and ended up having them and a bunch of snow peas from the garden with dinner. Best weeding I've ever done!

 We also have quite an abundance of eggs at the moment, so on the dinner menu for tonight is a homemade gluten free quiche with garden vegetables. I'll post some pictures of how it turns out tonight. Anyone have any suggestions as to what they do with an abundant supply of eggs? We're running out of ideas!
 This is the plan for our gardens this summer, now I just need to make it a reality!Just got home from picking up some organic heirloom tomato seedlings, and a bunch of different heirloom seeds to plant out this summer.
Well that's about it for now, just a quick post this time round. :)

Friday, 5 September 2014

Spring has sprung

With the days getting longer and the air getting warmer, the whole garden seems to be growing faster everyday.
I've managed to squeeze in a few more fruit trees around the back of the house over the winter, with two types of pear, (Nashi and Bartlett), and a dwarf apricot for Dave. These are now starting to bloom with the anticipation of our first years production of home grown peaches, nectarines and pears, not to mention apples, cherries (hopefully!), lemons, and olives.
With this in mind I thought I would share some photos from around the gardens on how the winter veggies are faring and how the fruit trees are starting to come into flower.

Enjoy! :)

Front Veggie Beds:

Peas then (mid July)
Peas now (early September)

Cabbage then
Cabbage now
Garlic, onions and leek then
Garlic, onions and leek now
Fruit trees:
Columnar peach tree in flower. This type of peach tree is great for us as it naturally grows skinny and straight up, which means I can fit more around it.

Dwarf peach tree given to us as an engagement present :) Still grows full sized peaches believe it or not!

Apricot tree planted this winter for Dave. Just started to flower which is exciting as I managed to kill his last apricot somehow.

Nashi pear I planted recently just for me! Dave hates them but I think he's crazy, they are so delicious!

Barlett pear tree, no flowers yet but I did just plant it about two weeks ago, so we shall see!

I'm a notoriously horrible flower gardener, I seem to kill anything not is not a vegetable or a fruit, but I thought I should try and attract some bees and other beneficial insects into the garden so should get my act together and replant the front flower patch which had died off over winter. Not quite finished but looking much better I think. :)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Wood fired pizza oven

So over the last few months Dave and I have been slowly working towards our goal of getting our own wood fired pizza oven built in our back yard. Well we've finally finished and have now been enjoying some delicious home baked wood fired pizzas, and thought I would share some of the pictures from along the way.
The base at the very beginning! The hard work all before us.
Bottom refractory bricks placed, ready for the dome to be put on.
We got the help of a few of our mates, as each piece of the dome was around 100kgs each. I directed and generally made sure all fingers were still attached at the end of the process.

The joins between the pieces filled, ready for insulation and rendering.
Insulating the dome was a real pain, as multiple layers including the fluffy insulation, tin foil, and chicken wire all had to all sit on top of each other and lay flat to the dome before we could start to render. It was a slow process that took longer than either of us had anticipated. But we persevered and got there in the end.
Dave starting to mix up the cement render as the final stage of oven building. This was tricky as neither of us had ever worked with render and had no idea what we were doing, and the realisation that if we mucked it up badly that it would stick out like a sore thumb and be very hard to fix down the track.
In hindsight we started rendering a little late, and ended up finishing the render in the dark. Living room lamps and camping lantern came in very handy!
Getting close to the end, some fully rendered, and front face spray painted with a high heat enamel paint.

We decided to do a mosaic tile around the base of the oven, and had a custom slab of marri made for the front assembly area.
Our friend Mark enjoying his first homemade pizza from our oven!   
In the end we've had heaps of friends over for pizza parties on more than one occasion and everyone has commented on just how amazing the pizzas taste coming out of the wood fired oven. By far they're the best homemade pizzas I've ever made, and would highly recommend one if you don't mind a little hard work and sweat equity!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Chick Magnet

Since getting back from Canada around a month ago, I've been hard at work to finalize arrangements for adopting a few new chooks for our backyard. I had pretty much finished constructing their coop, but needed a few little extras, like a feeder and waterer, something to put down on floor of their coop, and decided I wanted to fence the whole area in where I wanted them to spend most of their time. That was in hindsight one of the best decisions I could have made, becuase as I have found out, the girls can make a nice tidy backyard look like a bomb had gone off. They particularly seemed to enjoy digging up the earth around my fruit trees and flinging it as far onto our paved walkway as possible. After that little excursion they now spend most of their time in their fenced in enclosure. But they seem to like it in there, I have a little watering hole for them in the hot days they like to wade in, lots of shade and areas to dust bath themselves. They get scraps from leftover fruit and veggies, and even the new crop of silver beet and rainbow chard are producing enough that I can pick off leaves and put in their yard. 

The breed I got are called ISA Browns, and for the life of me I still can't tell them apart. I was originally planning on getting some form of bantam breed as my recycled dog house chicken coop wasn't terribly tall, but the lady who I bought them off highly recommended these over the bantam breed she had, so we decided to go with the taller more productive birds and rejig the coop to accommodate them. That entailed a weekend or so of taking the whole roof off the coop, adding about a foot extra height and reassembling the whole thing. Dave was very helpful with this, especially after I dropped a board on my toe and had to retire early from injury. Then we decided the roosting pole I had in the coop might be a little small for the new larger birds feet, so took that apart and got a thicker wooden round roosting bar and put that up for them. The latest in terms of coop modification has been to change the feeder I use, as at the moment the hanging feeder allows the chickens to throw a lot of their chook pellets out of the feeder and onto the ground, once there they refuse to eat it. After deciding not to spend upwards of $200 on a commercial 'no spill chook feeder' I set about looking for DIY options. I found plans for a cheap (cost me under $10 in materials) plumbing pipe feeder that claims to be spill free as the chooks have to put their head slightly in the pipe to get at the food and therefore can't throw the food around while pecking. I just finished it off today and removed the old feeder, so we'll see what the chooks think of this new improved one around dinner time. If you're keen to try and make one, the link to it can be found here.

In terms of egg  production the girls have been fantastic. We have gotten three eggs a day everyday for around the last two weeks, which has prompted me to try and use them in my cooking as much as possible. Even my egg allergy has started dissipating which is very exciting, and I hope it goes away all together soon with all this egg desensitization going on. Even our lovely neighbour Linda popped over to ask if we had gotten chickens and said she loved hearing them in the morning clucking around. I gave her six eggs to ensure our healthy neighbourly relations remain intact. Here are some pictures so far of the chookins doing their thing. Hope you enjoy!

Full of eggy goodness :)

Chickens pecking at the muddy pond I set up for them to get through the hot weather

Full view of enclosure. Top screening put on after as one of the chooks loves flying over the lower fence

The three triplets

She was ready for her closeup

New DIY chicken feeder installed and ready for chooks!

Eggs I collected earlier today from their nesting boxes

Friday, 3 January 2014

Living off grid in Canada (in winter no less).

The first thing you might notice about my parents house just outside Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada would be a large bank of solar collectors on the south side of their steeply pitched roof. The next being the rather large dome shaped greenhouse, still under construction, although fully enclosed enough to be protected from most of the harsh winter weather and currently supporting a rather healthy looking crop of lettuce.
A solar powered wood drying hut sits just in front, finished to look like a mini me of the larger house. Nearby are long raised vegetable beds, and in the far background a small wind turbine.
The rest of the house looks in keeping with the local architecture, a mixture of wood siding and local rock for the lower portion. A screened in porch and wrap around verandah complete the outside. Inside, it looks like a perfectly normal house. Nothing missing or noticeably different from any other on grid home you might visit. They have a dishwasher, a front loading washing machine, laptops, wifi, and a TV. The first two are run on sunny days, and the rest can be run on the large stores of batteries they have in the basement. A large black wood stove sits in the kitchen, which in the winter runs nearly constantly and is almost the sole source of heat for the house in conjunction with the solar panels on sunny days.It is warm, cozy and bright inside, with a large wrap around kitchen and island extending out into a large seating area and living room taking up the majority of the main level. Two modest sized bedrooms complete the main floor level, and an upper loft serves as both TV space and office for my mother. My father has the basement portion of the house, and he has it complete with workshop, storage area, office, and cold room (to store preserves and the homemade apple sauce they make each autumn). Small things are the ones you notice most after awhile. Remembering to turn off lights in rooms as you leave proved challenging for me at the beginning of my visit. All the hot water for the house is made by either the solar thermal panels on the roof or by running the wood powered boiler. Thus showers are shorter but still not rushed, with the boiler getting run only about once every week to ten days if it's cloudy.
On a typical day, the first thing done is to restart the AGA wood stove in order to make coffee and toast for breakfast and to take any chill off from the evening. After that, the AGA gets about 1 log every hour, which keeps the house at a nice temperature of about 21 degrees. And considering that at the moment there is a howling blizzard whipping around outside our windows that has shut down the entire city of Halifax, having one wood fired stove heating an entire house is a pretty awesome experience. I quite enjoy tending to the AGA, there is something about the crackling wood that makes it far more enjoyable than simply turning on an electric stove.
My mom prefers to do most of her cooking on top of the wood stove in winter, although they also have a gas powered cook top and oven for use in the summer.
All the contraptions my dad has in the basement for controlling the PV solar panels, solar thermal panels, hot water tanks, and boilers, is impressive. I barely understand even a fraction of what he tries to explain to me, but I feel in good hands for when I get solar panels on my own house, that I have the right man to take with me to the solar companies.
Not only are my parents busy around their house, but they are also very involved with the local community, both being members of the local St.Margarets Bay Transitions chapter, and also starting  up a local farmers market around two years ago that has taken off and going strong. Summer time means lots of gardening in their raised beds, and constantly improving on things around the yard. Last summer alone they planted two large peach trees (and made the raised beds to put them in), two spruce trees, a rock garden, and two additional raised beds currently filled with garlic awaiting the spring thaw.

I still have a few more weeks left in Canada, and always enjoy visiting my parents, both as I always find what they are managing to do on their own rather mind boggling, but it always gives me inspiration on what I can adapt to my own house when I get back to Perth.
If your keen to check out a lot of the goings on around my parents place my dad keeps a blog of his own - with lots of detail on dome construction amongst lots of others which you can check out here