Citrus chips ahoy!

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I may have finally harvested the last of the Tahitian lime tsunami and the inaugural Rangpur limes but the rest of the citrus is just getting underway. Parrots cheekily taste-testing the sweet-tart Navel oranges that hang on the tree herald their ripeness. The white grapefruit tree is the only citrus fruit we don’t especially like and, of course, it is far and away the biggest, healthiest and most abundant of all the trees. Late harvest Valencia oranges are still a way off, the lemon tree was a fizzer this year and the mandarins are losing the last of their green bottoms and should sweeten up to be ready any day now.

So I wanted to find another large-scale use for all this beautiful fruit. I had an idea for citrus chips. I wasn’t sure if they were a “thing” or not, but it turns out they are dead easy to make and ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS! My google searching revealed a smattering of recipes but after trying a time-consuming oven-baked version, I ended up doing my own thing and put my trusty dehydrator to good use again.

I recently purchased a deli slicer, primarily for slicing bulk meat, but it worked a treat on the citrus, slicing them into uniformly thin rings. I dusted the limes, lemons and grapefruit with icing sugar and left the sweet oranges unadulterated. About 10 hours later (overnight), we had crispy citrus chips that hit you with a sweet sour tang and have a wonderful crunch.

Beyond being a simple, healthy and delicious snack, they look sensational as a garnish floating on the surface of a Rangpur lime gimlet and as a cake topper. I took them to a recent Hills Permaculture pruning workshop where they were a hit with adults and kids alike.

I love discovering new ways to use my garden gluts because for me, my favourite type of cooking always starts in the garden.

Rangpur lime gimlets, oh baby!

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Rangpur limes are not limes at all but are best described as a Lemon X Mandarin.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to use my first ever harvest of Rangpur limes. A friend had given me a stunted little tree in a pot and it had languished there for at least a year or two before I finally planted it out last year. It’s now thriving. With masses of new growth, it has yielded an incredible first harvest, half of which I gave away to the fine folk who attend Hills Food Share.  But more were coming and, never one to waste a yield, I figured I had to learn what to do with these mouth-puckeringly sour mandarin X lemon citrus fruit.

 

So the first google search for a recipe brought up this little gem for Rangpur Lime Gimlets and, oh wow! I’m always up for a good cocktail and it just so happens that the weekend before I’d visited the home of Australia’s finest artisan gin and vodka (so say the awards). Old Young’s distillery in the Swan Valley is barely celebrating its second year and has a swag of international and Australian awards under its belt including Champion Australian Distiller. I’m a gin enthusiast and more than happy to become a gin connoisseur if given enough opportunity. And this divine gin gives me plenty of that!

I made a double batch of Rangpur lime syrup as per the recipe for a rainy (and not so rainy) day. Apparently it’s also good with sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic drink… ppfftt!

This fine gin made an oh so fine martini style cocktail using:

  • 20ml Rangpur Lime syrup
  • 20ml fresh lime juice (from Tahitian limes)
  • 60ml 1829 Gin (infused with cardamom)

All in favour, say “I”!

War On Waste: winning hearts + minds

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The ABC TV’s recent three-part series, War On Waste, has been phenomenally successful in penetrating the mainstream consciousness.

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It’s a part of conversations in the schoolyard, at my local shops (Wasteless Pantry) in community groups (Hills Food Share, Mundaring in Transition), BBQ and dinner talk with friends, media articles and coverage on Gen Y-focused programs like The Project and, of course, chatter plastered ALL OVER Facebook. This is one seriously hot button issue!

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an incredible buzz from the mainstream population in the wake of an environmental documentary. Obviously, screening it on ABC gives it a certain clout and wide exposure, but it feels like more than that. An issue like this would typically elicit a response largely from fringe and activist groups. But perhaps we’ve reached that magical tipping point where it gains traction and real progress can be made, for example on legislation to #banthebag. I’m so disappointed that Western Australia still lags on this issue. Oh Premier, just do it!

Every Australian household is comprised differently with a variety of incomes, interests and available time. What some can/want to do, others can’t/won’t. That much was made very clear to me watching the documentary. However, as with most things, it’s about education and questioning the status quo, which is exactly what the War On Waste did for everyone who watched it. There’s no point preaching to people, you have to motivate and educate so they WANT to change.

Waste @ Edgefield

I like to think I was already a conscious consumer and a “waste reductionist”, but I found the War on Waste documentary life-changing. I, like so many other Australians, was shocked and appalled at the waste this country generates and was subsequently inspired to redouble my efforts on reducing my personal and household waste. And I’ve been delighted by the response of so many like-minded people around me.

These are some of the actions I’ve taken to further reduce waste in my household. I write this in the hope that perhaps it might inspire others with new ideas, NOT (I hope) to appear sanctimonious or self-indulgent.

  • All food scraps are given to our flock of 13 chickens.
  • Coffee grinds are thrown into the garden to add organic matter and/or used to deter snails around vulnerable seedlings.
  • All green waste is either given to the chickens, composted or mulched.
  • I’ve set up a shredding and composting bin station centrally in my home. All paper is shredded for chicken bedding and anything else (tissues, serviettes etc) is composted directly.
  • The Paper Trail: office/work use (one-sided) > kids’ artwork (the other side) > shredder > bedding in the chook yard > (fouled paper) compost pile > garden.
  • Newspapers and cardboard is stored for sheet-mulching new beds in the garden.
  • I wash and reuse all glass jars and some plastic containers too and have a dedicated storage cupboard.
  • Recycling bin (whatever is left)
  • Pantry set up using mostly glass jars and bottles (Vacola bottling equipment) to enable me to take them in cloth bags to my local bulk food store, Wasteless Pantry, for refilling.
  • Cloth bags, produce bags and plastic containers live permanently in my car ready for shopping trips.

Hasn’t Coles heard of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSA)?

I recently took my own containers to Coles deli section to have them filled, sans plastic, and was met with a very grumpy response. At first, the customer service rep told me she couldn’t do it. When I politely insisted and told her how to weigh the container on the scales, she promptly used a plastic bag to pick up the ham anyway, so it completely defeated the purpose!

I decided to speak with the Store Manager later and was unceremoniously shut down. He told me “don’t be ridiculous” when I suggested they use tongs for each product. I would have thought there was a better way to handle the situation. I didn’t expect this particular store manager to promise me on the spot that they would change their policy. But I did expect him to listen to my concerns as a community member, take on board my comments/suggestions and perhaps offer even a placation that he would do something with my feedback.

“Company policy” will have to change, like it or not, when single-use plastic is banned. Get ready Coles, it’s only a matter of time.

 

Catching the fermenting bug (microbiome)

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Recently, I’ve been enamoured with the idea of fermenting, namely for its incredible health benefits and also the practical solution it offers for garden gluts and waste minimisation (another current obsession of mine, but more on that later) . So I bought the seminal book on the subject: “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz, a guy often referred to as the Godfather of fermenting and a self-described “fermentation revivalist”. I’m only two chapters in, but what a tome of delicious information!

Singularly impatient to my core, while waiting for the book to arrive in the post, I planted out an entire garden bed of cabbage seedlings in anticipation of the oodles of sauerkraut I was going to make, and then bought two practice cabbages from the shops (purple and green). In the meantime, I finally got along on Sunday morning to my local Hills Food Share run by Mundaring in Transition where I got talking to an avid fermentationalist (did I just coin a new word?) who offered to drop a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) around to my house later that day so I could try making Kombucha (fermented tea). So Sunday was Fermentation Day, like it or not. Actually reading the book would have to wait.

Sweet sauerkraut

I knew my son, Hugo, would be delighted to help with the sauerkraut when I told him he could “bash the cabbage”. So we set up on the outside table (good call) and proceeded to bash, pound and squeeze the living daylights out of three large bowls of salted cabbage, which Hugo was fascinated and a little perplexed to discover quickly shrunk to one large jarful. On a whim a fortnight before, I’d bought a Kilner fermentation set from my favourite local store, Wasteless Pantry, so I was ready to go. The resulting mix is quite pretty and looks fabulous sitting up on the bookshelf near my kitchen where I can keep a close eye on it.

SCOBY Dooby Doo makes kombucha

True to his word, Danny, my new local fermenting friend, dropped by mid-afternoon with a cream-coloured disc floating in brown vinegary liquid, which enthralled Hugo when I told him it was ALIVE. He is now calling it SCOBY Dooby Doo and is acting like it’s his new pet, saying goodnight to it and talking to it when he gets home from school…that kid, he’s awesome! He also helped me make our first batch of Kombucha with English Breakfast tea, rapadura sugar and SCOBY Dooby Doo. Let the magic begin!

Preserved lemons

I was on a roll, so why stop there? There’s nothing like inspiration for doing something fun to motivate myself to quit procrastinating on that work project. I needed to finish it today before I could spend a guilt-free afternoon playing in my kitchen. Check.

I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for Lime Pickle that I wanted to try. I’m currently drowning under a deluge of fruit from my ridiculously abundant Tahitian Lime tree, so I’ve been looking for any and all recipes in which to use them. The recipe called for preserved lemons in addition to limes, which I did not have. However, I had gladly swapped a basketful of limes for a handful of lemons at the Food Swap on Sunday (my lemon tree is located on our rental property and suffered from a lack of water this summer, hence I am suffering from a dearth of lemons.) So first I had to make preserved lemons! I found a recipe on the SBS website of all places and it looks great.

What I didn’t think through was the obvious fact that preserved lemons need to sit and sog for about a month…er, no Lime Pickle anytime soon then? Not to be thwarted, I found a recipe for Chocolate Chip and Lime Biscuits and so made them instead. A double batch only used a measly two limes (of zest) but damn, they tasted delicious!

I see Key Lime Pie in our future…

The Preservation Society

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“Father: It’s been nine months since my last confession.”Nah, I’m not religious but Holy Moly has it been a long time between drinks on this blog!

Busy, busy, yeah you’ve heard it all before…work, kids, life. Doesn’t matter; here we are. And just this week life presented a lovely little window of garden abundance and time: two sweet things that rarely coincide so I grasped it with both hands and my pantry and fridge are slowly filling in its wake.

First, let me just say: TOMATOES.

And, oh what a glut we’ve had! However, I’m proud to say I’m learning from years past and this time I’ve succession planted. So while we’ve had a tremendous short-term haul of Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Tommy Toe and others I can’t even remember, they’re still coming! Green Zebras are ripening (although it’s hard to tell with that variety) and the orange Jaune Flammee and stripey Tigerella too. I planted six different varieties of cherry tomatoes that grew to such gargantuan proportions it was almost a little scary how much fruit we were harvesting. Reinforcements were called; it was all hands on deck!

One of the pleasures of growing so much food is giving it away to grateful friends, family and neighbours who rarely, if ever, experience the superior flavour and quality of homegrown produce. But that said, I  would still rather keep as much of it as possible to feed my own family. And so began the wave of preserving, a joyful yet time-consuming necessity.

Here’s a taster of what I’ve made so far:

  • 14 bottles of tomatoes made in my Mum’s old Fowlers Vacola system, which I subsequently overheated and broke. Ugh!
  • Tomato Ketchup (3 bottles)
  • Tomato and Eggplant Chutney (6 jars)
  • Dried cherry tomatoes (3 bottles) sprinkled with garlic salt and dried basil and marinated in virgin olive oil
  • Slow-cooked oven-baked tomato sauce (2 bottles). This is a recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook.

This is, of course, in addition to gorging on fresh tomatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner. Eggs poached in chopped tomatoes for breakfast, bruschetta for lunch, Tray Baked Salmon with Olives, Green Beans, Anchovies and Tomatoes for dinner (thank you Jamie Oliver).

img_3692But it’s not all tomatoes. The cucumbers are starting to assert themselves in the pecking order of the vegie patch with a tidy harvest of 14 cucs in an afternoon (right after I’d just bought one from the shops – what was I thinking?!) So I thought I’d turn my hand to pickling given my son’s penchant for dill pickles. And this was the result: Bread ‘n Butter Pickles. It’s another recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook and I’ve got to say: absolutely delicious! Surprisingly so. I’m not usually the biggest pickle fan but these are incredibly moreish and the kids we’re in there with forks, shovelling them into their mouths. So there’ll be more of them to come.

What else? We’ve made Decadent Chocolate and Beetroot cake and Beetroot Relish with all the beetroots coming out of the garden (one of my all-time favourite vegies for its versatility.) Basil pesto is next on the agenda. I do this at the end of summer every year and freeze it in ice cube trays, then bag ’em. They’re great for popping into your spaghetti bolognaise sauce, as a pizza sauce base, adding them to fresh pasta with parmesan and olive oil for the laziest mid-week meal ever (my kids love it!)

Ah yes, I haven’t had this kind of time for ages so it’s just dumb luck that it coincided with harvest. I’ve changed my work situation (for the better I hope) as there are new business ventures to explore. Stay tuned for more on that later.

Gin & tonic anyone?

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Why does lime season not coincide with gin and tonic season? It’s just not right. 

This is but a small sample of the tsunami of limes coming off my Tahitian lime tree at the moment. We have juiced and filled bags with lime ice cubes, made lime and coconut cupcakes, lime delicious pudding and next on the menu is something Mexican, perhaps, with a whole lotta guacamole. Love a good glut. 

Sunday Mango Magic

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I can’t believe that I once hated the funky taste and slimy texture of mangoes. Now I think they’re divine! So when we went to the Kalamunda Markets last Sunday and saw a stall selling the most ENORMOUS mangoes I’d ever seen, well, we couldn’t resist. They had large boxes of second grade R2E2 mangoes for $20 – BARGAIN!

Despite a few black spots on the skin, which I assume is caused by Anthracnose, a common fungus affecting mangoes, the flesh was flawless and absolutely superb. And jeepers, there was a lot of it! The R2E2 mango has a sliver of a seed, unlike the Kensington Pride variety, which I have planted at Edgefield, so the amount of meat we got off these ginormous fruit was impressive.

We got home and set to work preserving them because they weren’t going to last much longer fresh. Needless to say, we gorged ourselves on fresh fruit but we chopped most of it up and put it into large ziplock bags to freeze. Mmm, mango smoothies. We also thinly sliced a couple to dry in the food dehydrator and I then made a double recipe of Jamie Oliver’s “Black Rice, Hazelnut and Mango pudding”  for breakfast during the week. I could barely keep the kids hands off it!

Preserving takes time but when you can get your hands on in-season gluts like this or better yet, grow your own, then it’s SO worth doing. We actually went to the market to see if we could get a couple of boxes of end of season tomatoes in order to bottle them for the winter but we were too late.

Turns out it was Sunday Mango Magic instead!

 

Medicinal lunchbox for happy chooks

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Now that we have reticulation to approximately 90% of Edgefield, a world of opportunity for planting perennials has opened up, which was previously unsustainable. Slowly but surely I’m developing the perennial garden, focusing my attention particularly on the east orchard at the moment, which sits to the side of the house bordered by the driveway.

The current chook house and yard is in this zone but we have plans to fence off a much larger area that will encompass the east orchard and the developing “chook herb garden” (plus build an entirely new chicken coop eventually). Here my spoiled feathered friends will be able to roam, forage and scratch to their hearts delight without destroying my veggie patch and herb planters, which they do every time I let them free range.

As this area is directly adjacent to the house, we want it to look attractive, not a giant, ugly chook pen like the current eyesore. So I got a quote for a post and rail fence with robust chain wire fencing that will support vines so I can grow edible, flowering greenery up and over it. The quote made my eyes water. So, like many projects, it’s gone on the backburner for the moment and we’re looking into whether it makes sense to build it ourselves. Sure, fencing isn’t rocket science, but DIY, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing, can elicit a huge time/opportunity cost. Food for thought…

Edgefield site map - chook garden

The east orchard/chook garden is highlighted in green on this sitemap of Edgefield.

Food and medicine forage for healthy, happy chooks

In the meantime, while my chooks are quarantined to their relatively small yard, I had the lightbulb idea of growing a medicinal herb lunchbox (in addition to other edible trees/shrubs) in the area that will become their new yard. Hopefully we’ll get the fence built before the end of the year by which time these plants will be established and thriving, giving the chooks instant nutrition, medicine and shade.

So far, this is what I have planted, with plenty more to come.

  • Tansy
  • Yarrow
  • Comfrey (4)
  • Wormwood (2)
  • Lemon balm
  • Rhubarb (3)
  • Geraniums (4)
  • Blueberries (five different varieties)
  • Mango, Kensington Pride
  • Lime, Tahitian
  • Lime, Rangpur
  • Lime, Kaffir
  • Olive
  • Plum
  • Pomegranate
  • Curry leaf tree
  • Mulberry

Other helpful chicken-friendly plants include chickweed, feverfew, garlic, ginger, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, rosemary, rue, nettles, horseradish, catnip, pennyroyal, pyrethrum, fat hen, wandering jew, tagasaste and there are plenty more!

I won’t be planting all of these as some are unsuitable for my soil and climate, some are invasive weeds, some are too big etc. But you get the idea. Whatever I plant, it’s going to need to be robust, hardy and as mature as possible before I let my ravenous flock of ladies (and two gentlemen) out into it.

 

Rockmelon, but not as you know it

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 Yes this is rockmelon (or cantaloupe for my North American friends) not pumpkin. It’s an heirloom variety called ‘Delice de la Table’ and it’s fragrant, juicy, firm and absolutely delicious. Been checking these babies daily outside my laundry door till finally they were ready…today. Hooray! 

  
 

The scourge of being organised

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I have a list. Actually I have many lists. I even have CATEGORIES for lists. Part of me thinks that’s a sad, sorry little confession and part of me is unrepentant, even proud of my anal organisational streak.

My problem is that the lists never seem to get any shorter no matter how hard I work. They brood silently, accusingly, ready for me whenever I open the Reminders or ShopShop app on my phone/computer.

I would happily write in this blog several times a week because I love to write but, alas, it sits low on my priority list. Events, milestones and achievements come and go at Edgefield and they often go undocumented. So  I started yet another list. This one is a reminder list of all the blog posts I want(ed) to write that may never see the light of day, some of which are already redundant.

  • The ongoing reticulation conundrum
  • The Great Chook Yard Clean Out
  • Blueberries and the east orchard plantings
  • Chicken medicinal herb garden
  • Garden Planner software
  • Homesteading – beetroot relish, basil pesto, watermelon ice blocks, lime juice
  • Bio-fumigation with mustard
  • Autumn planting

So even if I never manage to write another word on the above subjects, I’ll know that I have indeed been doing something, in fact, rather a lot, in the past month. Of course, the busier I am, the more I have to write about, in less time. It’s a cruel irony.

Sunshine & love in a jar

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We simply couldn’t eat them fast enough, those soft, scarlet globes of goodness. Something had to be done because there was no way I was going to watch the mountain of gloriously ripe tomatoes slowly sink into a mushy, fetid puddle and I didn’t want to give them all away just yet.

However, ripe, organic tomatoes I’ve found also help grease the wheels of commerce with a little welcome baggy given to Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who we called back to fix the pump YET AGAIN. We gave tomatoes and cucumbers to a mate who had lent us some camping gear for our recent holiday and received rapturous appreciation. A heavy bag was given to my favourite neighbour whose daughter Niamh goo-ed and gaa-ed over the tomatoes and scoffed the lot.

It feels great to share the love.

Abundance in Gidgegannup

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At the invitation of a dear old school friend, we recently headed to her glorious farm ‘Lilydale’ in Gidgegannup (15 minutes from Edgefield in Mundaring) for a divine afternoon of swimming, eating, drinking, lazing and chatting.

Of course, no visit to Lilydale is complete without a stickybeak at her incredibly abundant covered orchard of  which I readily admit to being more than a little envious. Whenever I visit, there is seemingly always something in fruit and today it was Satsuma plums. Dark red, juicy and sweet, they were delicious and despite feeling totally stuffed from a magnificent lunch, I ate two.

There was plenty more developing fruit waiting in the wings too.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the ingenious yet simple method by which they are training their young trees into an open shape. Painstakingly tying each outer branch with string and weighting it to a brick or stone to bend the supple branches, George says it only takes a few weeks for them to become rigid and fixed into their new position. This helps with airflow, which in turn helps to reduce fungal problems. It also opens up the tree into a nice shape and makes it more accessible.

The massive covered orchard is located a short drive from the house on this bucolic 50-acre property and irrigated from a dam that sits slightly above it. Until recently the chooks were left to free range in the orchard but foxy loxy discovered them and the remaining four are now back up near the house in the chook pen. Given the obvious benefits to having the chooks in the orchard (cleaning up rotten fruit, weeding/scratching, eating fruit fly larvae and other pests, manuring the trees) George would like to build a new chook house adjoining the orchard in which the chooks can be safely locked up at night but have free range access to the orchard during the day.

She also has a Warre beehive nearby and they have plans to create a large covered vegetable patch next. A cool room is also on the agenda to enable them to butcher their small flock of Dorper sheep. Not a bad set up really!

Oh and did I mention what a magnificent homestead it is? Surrounded by spectacular, mature deciduous and evergreen trees, lush lawn, avocado trees groaning with fruit, lavender fields, pool, tennis court and parkland cleared paddocks, this is a delightful place in which to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Blissed out on tomatoes

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This is what it’s all about.

We arrived home from our two-week holiday in Denmark after a 5 ½ hour drive to a clean house, dinner in the fridge (thanks to our fabulous housesitters Bill and Sue), a happy dog, a new clutch of four chicks and a vegie garden bursting at the seams with the most INCREDIBLE vegies you’ve ever seen. It was Christmas all over again!

I was singing as I collected 43 huge, ripe tomatoes (Tommy Toe, Mortgage Lifter, Black Russian), cherry tomatoes (Pink Bumblebee, Tigerella, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant) cucumbers (Lemon, Double Yield, Suyu Long, Richmond Green Apple), beetroot, basil and a massive bowl full of green beans. La la la!

So in reality, each of those mouth-watering, soft, juicy, flavoursome, lovingly tended, organic tomatoes probably cost me $20 each (especially in the light of the recent reticulation project). But hey, that’s not the point. You couldn’t buy them from the shops if you tried.

Besides, the enjoyment I got from unwrapping each tomato from its fruit fly protection mesh bag to reveal the warm glow of its deep pink and scarlet belly, to feel the soft give against my fingers of its ripe, bulging mass, to smell the fecundity in the air – well, that’s priceless (and pretty sexy in a totally geeked out gardening kinda way.)

So, needless to say, henceforth we are eating tomatoes (and cucumbers and beans) for every meal. My lucky neighbour Rach and my sister will be on the receiving end of some glorious tomato goodness soon but other than that I’m going to selfishly binge out. I’m already dreaming of the Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad I’m going to make for dinner tonight. Bruschetta and poached eggs for breakfast, Caprese salad for lunch…I could go on.

Reticulation monster bites

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I didn’t get past Day 1 in my blog posts about Edgefield’s reticulation project because it morphed into a monster that devoured our time and money in a way we hadn’t anticipated.

I would like to focus on the positive: we have Stage 1 of a sophisticated reticulation and fertigation system, which through its network of pipes takes water/fertiliser to almost the entire property and will facilitate the building and planting of an amazing garden. I’m thrilled about that.

Unfortunately, it comes at an excruciating cost. And it’s not finished yet.

We were given an hourly rates estimate for the labour component of the job equating to approximately three days, which blew out to more than eight! We have yet to receive the final bill and I am panicked at the thought. While we expected there to be perhaps 10-15% leeway, we certainly hadn’t budgeted for such an inaccurate estimate, especially given that nothing unexpected happened, like hitting rock while trenching or any other issue that could have derailed the project. In an effort to stem the financial bleeding, Jeff and I put our own work on hold and spent several days fitting reticulation, filling trenches by hand and doing as much of the manual labour as possible.

Aside from the financial, we’ve had ongoing issues with the new pump in the well, which is supposed to automatically pump water when the levels in the holding tank drop – the linchpin of the whole system. It doesn’t. And all of this was happening right on Christmas, as we were packing up to go on holidays and briefing the poor housesitters on the nightmare they had just walked into. NOT what I would call a relaxing Christmas.

Taking a break

However, I write this now while sitting under the peppermint trees of our campsite at Ocean Beach Holiday Park in Denmark, Western Australia’s South West. Sipping on an exceptionally lovely Willoughby Park Ironbark Riesling, somehow it all seems a little less stressful. Jeff, Jamie and the five kids have gone fishing. Kate is taking a nap. Life is good (and very dirty).

We’re camping on an unpowered site up the back of the park where it’s first in best dressed for an expanse of dirt under the trees. A film of fine black dust covers everything so there’s no point being precious. The kids (Hugo, Henry, Finn, Lily and Charli) are having a ball riding bikes, playing games, competing, posturing, laughing and fighting incessantly. They are ALWAYS hungry! I’ve given up on telling Hugo to wear shoes. Showers are optional. Swims, unfortunately, are not as common as we’d hoped given the cool weather. So the kids are filthy yet unfazed, of course. We’re having a ball.

Postscript

We’re home from holiday and the retic seems to be working correctly now. Our house sitters deserve a bloody medal. They were awesome! We have named two of the four new chicks born while they were here, Bill and Sue, in their honour.

It was an epic journey. We have the final invoice from Earth and Water. They have been generous and fair given the circumstances so we are satisfied yet still licking our wounds a little.

We told our Freo and Floreat friends about our the experience while we were away on holidays and they looked at us like we’d lost our marbles. No-one could remotely grasp why we would spend that kind of money on reticulation for a garden that they view simply as hard work. It got me thinking that perhaps I need some new friends that share my love and passion or simply accept that I am seen as that “weird gardening lady”- a moniker with which I am totally fine.

No designer wardrobes for this lady: I spend all my disposable income on trailer loads of shit and poly pipe!

Day 1: water installation begins

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Day 1: Trenching, pipes + pumps

“My God, the place is destroyed…in a good way.”

It’s been a long time coming but we are finally making tangible progress on turning our water strategy at Edgefield into reality. And it’s a dirty, messy, destructive business.

An excavator spent the morning digging trenches for water pipes and electrical cable in a ring around the house. A little more rain and we’d have a moat! The white/orange clay at about 400-500mm deep is ridiculous! I could line a dam with it. Little wonder I opted for raised vegie beds.

The 5,000L holding tank is now in place on the western boundary and it will be fitted with a pump and a water conditioning device to improve the quality of the well water, which currently has too much salt and iron to use on my vegies. I don’t pretend to truly understand how the device works (and many doubt that it does). But suffice to say, the proof will be in the pudding!

We tested the new zippedy-do-da Grundfos submersible well pump and pumped out all the water from the wells in order to also test their recharge capability. Please God let them recharge within 24 hours or else this entire operation is based on a false assumption. So far so good…

 

 

Sun shine on!

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5kW solar power system installed at Edgefield

Just a little bit excited about the 20 new solar panels and 5kW Fronius inverter fitted on our house today by Solargain. It’s been a long-held dream and a very big box ticked on our journey towards making Edgefield as sustainable as possible.

Immediately, the system is producing 4199 watts at 1.30pm on this lovely sunny day, the first day of summer. I’m told that is a lot of power but I really need to get my head around it. To that end we also decided to buy a Smart Meter so we can monitor our power generation and consumption. It has yet to be fitted but it will be a great way to track which appliances use the most power.

Knowing we were going to install PV, we also decided to install two split system air-conditioners (in the office and the main living room), which we hope this 5kW system should be able to run. While the house performs remarkably well in summer without additional cooling (better than in winter), the split systems should hopefully just take the edge off and make working in the north-facing office more pleasant when it’s sweltering outside. There’s nothing worse than working on a computer for hours with sweat trickling down your back. Yuck!

Next week the guys from Earth and Water should be here to install the reticulation system and then we’ll REALLY be in business (and we’ll be totally broke!) Onwards and upwards.

Edgefield’s water strategy is taking shape

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Slowly but surely we’re making progress on our water strategy for Edgefield. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it’s been probably the most challenging and complex problem we’ve yet had to solve. There’s plenty of water in the Hills, plenty AROUND us, but no reliable and accessible sources actually available right here where we need it. Frustrating for this impatient gardener with big ambitions.

So after MUCH deliberation and not a lot of progress, we engaged Nigel Thompson of Earth and Water to design us the most efficient system using what limited available resources we had. This is draft two and i’m getting excited that we’re nearly there on the planning phase. Next comes the quote for all the hard costs and labour for installation. I am bracing myself ‘cos it’s gonna hurt!

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Thankfully Jeff and I are on the same page about all this and committed to investing in this infrastructure to support our dreams of an abundant and beautiful garden. At the end of it, we will have:

  • a 49,000L steel rainwater tank plumbed to the house for drinking water (with a back up to the reticulation system)
  • a 5,000L holding tank for the wells and a water conditioning device
  • 2 x existing wells plumbed to the reticulation system
  • a reticulation system to the entire block – veggie patch, two orchard areas, planters and baskets around the house, perimeter gardens, THE WORKS! It will utilise, in order:
    1. well water
    2. rainwater tank
    3. scheme water

I am pushing hard to get it all in and functional before Christmas. It has to be. We are going away down south for two weeks and we have arranged house-sitters to look after things for us and promised them the garden would be minimal work, which at the moment it’s definitely NOT.

Boy, it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks on the downhill slide to Christmas!

Spring baby season

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The ducks and kangaroos are not the only ones having babies at Edgefield at the moment. There has been rather a lot of hatching going on in the chicken department and mostly NOT in the hen house. Perhaps I can blame my cluckiness on my friend Rachel and her family who recently moved in next door with their newborn baby daughter, Grace, from whom I have been stealing cuddles whenever I can. Oh there’s nothing quite like the smell and softness of a newborn baby’s downy head!

Anyway, I thought I’d give incubating a try with an incubator I borrowed off a friend. The first batch I tried were some of my own eggs, fertilised by my spunky rooster Dirk Diggler, who is getting a little long in the tooth and whose je nais se quoi may not quite have been what it once was. Only one egg hatched from a batch of 10. Two others were fully formed, the rest not at all. The likely scenario is that I drowned the two by continuing to turn the eggs past Day 18, which I now know not to do. Live and learn.

Then a mummy chook went broody so I stuck a clutch under her. Of that lot, only one hatched. Hmmm. So then my friend, Mel, gave me a dozen purebred Australorp eggs, which I got into the incubator a bit late. But we have had better success with that lot and hatched five chicks on 22 and 23 October (3-4 days ago). I managed to stick the first single incubator-hatched chick under clucky mummy hen who immediately took the chick under her wing. I tried to do the same yesterday with the five new little chicks and although she didn’t attack them exactly, she didn’t mother them either. So after leaving them huddled in her pen for about an hour, I rescued them and stuck them back under the heat lamp in the brooder box in the laundry. Looks like I’m going to have to raise these ones NOT as nature intended. Bummer.