Category Archives: Family

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…

Spring Project Central

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There’s been so much going on at Edgefield lately, along with a busy work schedule, that allows no time to write this blog (my usual, boring lament)! As cliched as it sounds, spring fever has gripped me and, by association, Jeff. We are powering through our big jobs/infrastructure list! It helps that with both of our consulting businesses going well, there’s actually some money in the kitty for discretionary spending, something we haven’t had much of for a while.

Bike race track and extending the driveway

The boys are happy little campers now that they’re finally off their bike training wheels (hooray!) and they have a new bike path of compacted Ferricrete that loops from the driveway around the top of the block. Hugo’s scratched up knees are testament to the thrills and spills of the racetrack…Henry, not so much. We also extended the driveway partway up the block with a 3-point turn for backing up trailers to the four new compost bays Jeff built from recycled pallets we had stockpiled from the house build.

Fruit Trees

I was late in finalising my orchard plan and when I finally made it down to the lovely Joanne at Guildford Town Garden Centre, the winter bare-rooted fruit tree stock had been well picked over and they had started to bag up most of their remaining stock. Still, I managed to purchase five of the trees I wanted to add to the two heritage apples I had sourced from Poppy’s Patch in Mount Barker and a double grafted Nashi from Tass1Trees. A very expensive truckload of poo (Vegetable Concentrate) from Green Life Soil Co. later and we were in business.

Recently planted:

  1. Apple Dwarf “Pinkabelle” Pink Lady
  2. Nashi Multi-Graft “Nijisseiki”/ “Shinsui”
  3. Peach “Crimson Rocket” columnar
  4. Nectarine Dwarf “Flavortop”
  5. Plum Dwarf ‘Mariposa’
  6. Plum Dwarf ‘Satsuma’
  7. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Adam’s Pearmain’
  8. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Sturmer Pippin’

Still to come:

  1. Almond Semi-Dwarf “All-in-One”
  2. Apple Dwarf “Granny Smith”
  3. Apricot Multi-Graft “Moorpark”/ “Trevatt”
  4. Peach Dwarf “O’Henry”
  5. Pear Dwarf “Bartlett/Williams”
  6. Pear Dwarf “Beurre Bosc”
  7. Avocado ‘Hass’
  8. Persimmon ‘Fuyu’

My good neighbour Tony once again came to the rescue with his excavator to save our poor backs on this heavy clay soil. So with holes dug, we planted the trees in mounds, staked and fenced them off individually to protect them from our rather large and intimidating neighbourhood kangaroos.

Moving the ATU blackwater reticulation to extend the lawn

Edgefield has undergone many, many design iterations and in the latest round we extended the lawn in a long triangle further up the block. (See recent post: “Guilt-free green lawn”.)

Water strategy

FINALLY, we’re making headway on our perennially perplexing water problem: how to sustain this thirsty, abundant garden we want to create into the future? We have explored ALL our options in detail:

  • Scheme water
  • ATU
  • Existing wells (2)
  • Magnetic water conditioning device
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Bore
  • Sub-surface drainage capture

To make sense of all these options, their viability and cost effectiveness, and to finally make a decision on a way forward, we engaged the services of Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who Jeff had worked with some years ago on an eco-village project in Chidlow. He was highly knowledgeable, slightly quirky, but genuine and friendly. We discussed everything including soil, plant biology and chemistry for two hours before even heading outside. Anyone who knows me will laugh at the thought of me discussing chemistry but I actually surprised myself with how much I knew. I kept up with him on (almost) all of it!

Anyway, at the end of it he flipped over a piece of paper and in minutes scrawled a design based on average calculations of our water use and centred on using our existing two wells as our primary water source. Let’s hope they continue to recharge throughout summer! The plan goes something like this:

  • install a water conditioning device on the wells to combat the poor water quality and a submersible pump to pump to a small holding tank
  • scheme water will be used to top up the well holding tank when/if it runs dry at the end of summer (they’re currently overflowing)
  • a 30,000L steel tank for our household use/drinking
  • dripline irrigation for the intensive veggie patch, orchard and other small areas bordering the house, plus separate “germination sprinklers” on a separate station.
  • 2-3 new taps

I’d hoped the advice we’d received earlier that a bore would likely be saltier even than our wells would prove to be false, but Nigel concurred with the bore guy. No silver bullet there unfortunately. So we are now waiting for a quote from Earth and Water to implement the plan before summer hits with a vengeance! Hand watering is taking me close to an hour already and I’m doing a light job in this balmy weather.

Solar panels

We have a consultation tomorrow with Jeremy from Solargain to talk installation of solar panels on our lovely north-facing roof. While the feed-in tariffs are pretty average these days, for Jeff and I who work from home during the day while the sun shines, it makes sense as I understand it. I’m looking forward to learning more about the details and ticking another major box on our “road to sustainability” list.

I’m so excited about the progress we’ve made recently on Edgefield. It is coming together beautifully.

A glorious winter weekend

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You gotta love Perth in winter. Almost balmy conditions by some people’s estimations, it was t-shirt weather this past weekend and the Thierfelder family made the most of it, gardening and playing outside.

My garden bed construction guru, Brad Miles, returned recently to build me another four raised beds, which doubled the size of my awesome patch to a daunting 8 x 4m long beds. So after bribing the kids with footy fundraising Caramello Koalas, we oiled them ready for filling with soil. It took us two weekends to do it (completely manually I might add). I’m proud of the fact we used every single bit of cardboard and paper I’d been diligently stockpiling for the past few months, diverted from recycling, and used for our very own landfill, together with soil from our property, mulched green waste, straw from the chook yard and purchased topsoil/compost/manure. The aim is to get as close to self-sufficient in that respect as possible but we’re a way off it yet. Building compost bays are on the agenda!

Still we got a lot done and had fun along the way.

Professional horticultural advice to the rescue

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My son, Hugo, at the Museum of Natural History in Guildford.

My son, Hugo, at the Museum of Natural History in Guildford.

I had a lovely afternoon with my family in Guildford last Sunday. Being school holidays, we all had a bit of cabin fever and needed an outing. So after soccer in the park, lunch at Little Guildford cafe and a visit to the Museum of Natural History, I took myself off to Guildford Town Garden Centre while Jeff took the boys home. Hooray!

Guildford Town Garden Centre is owned by the effervescent, delightful Joanne Harris who runs an incredibly beautiful, old school garden centre. Here are some of the reasons I love it:

  • It’s intimate but not small; clean and tidy.
  • It’s fully stocked with a healthy, diverse range of plants (yes plants, not just giftware) arranged in eye-catching and easy to navigate displays.
  • There is heaps of helpful signage and good labelling on the plants.
  • The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and drop everything for their customers (bonus points: the owner is actually present and on the floor serving customers).
  • They promote sustainable and organic practices wherever possible.
  • They have developed a niche market in fruit trees, exotics and hard to find plants.
  • They provide consultation services and garden visits.

Sadly, it seems to me, this kind of establishment has become something of a rarity these days; a fabulous relic of an era when the independent nursery industry in this country/state was robust, influential and highly visible. Of course, I would think that given that my Dad, Barry Waldeck, was a pioneer of the industry and founder of Waldeck Nurseries, a household name for a while here in WA. In fact, he mentored Joanne Harris in her early days and it was heart-warming to hear her talk so kindly about him (Dad passed away in 2003). Evidently, he was a mentor, great friend and advocate for Joanne and her business.

Joanne and I hadn’t met before but had been in email contact and she had recently helped redesign and plant my Mum’s garden and advised my sister on her garden. So it was lovely to sit down and have a good chat about Dad, nurseries, businesses, kids, education, family, gardens, architecture and, of course, Edgefield (yes, we’re both good talkers!)

My reason for going to the garden centre was ostensibly to buy a few bits and pieces, a Eureka lemon and Navel orange tree, and of course to meet Joanne. But I have been feeling overwhelmed about my garden (or lack of) at Edgefield for some time, particularly my inadequate plant knowledge (although I’m sure I know more than the average punter given my history). I feel this has stymied my efforts to progress the overall design much further than high level ideas about infrastructure and the different elements we want included. When it comes to plant selection and how to put it all together in just the right way to make a glorious, holistic permaculture paradise where everything works in a symbiotic manner…well, that’s where I become a little daunted.

So as I wandered around the garden centre, it occurred to me (durr) that I should book Joanne for a consultation visit to Edgefield to provide me with her general thoughts on our permaculture design and more specific horticultural advice including drafting a list of plant species. So I am now SUPER excited about her upcoming visit to Edgefield in May.

I had thought about getting professional advice like this before with permaculture people I know. In fact, I’d tried to get someone to visit once but encountered little interest despite offering to pay for their time. I still feel a little torn between getting  “mainstream” horticultural advice and “permaculture” advice. I want both but I’m not sure they both readily come in the same package. I need a “plantsman”, as my Dad would say, as well as someone who understands my overall sustainability and permaculture objectives. I hope Joanne will be a good choice.

Autumn is ticking on, rain is falling and the soil is rapidly cooling so I am very impatient to get things underway before winter takes hold. While we are very lucky in WA that we have a year-round growing season, winter is generally not the time to plant. I’m oh so tempted to put in an order for some of the bare-rooted pome and stone fruit trees Joanne is having delivered by the hundreds to her garden centre in June. But if I am sensible and patient (a rare occurrence when it comes to my garden) I will wait till I have laid all the groundwork before buying trees. This includes finalising our plan, laying reticulation (a massive, expensive job), digging monster holes and preparing the soil just so. Not a small undertaking but one I really do want to do properly. I have become a bit of a perfectionist as I’ve gotten older (a trait my husband does not always share!)

So baby steps is the order of the day…

Five months of silence: Where to start?

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It’s been so long since I last posted on my beloved blog it was becoming untenable. Either find a few minutes to write for enjoyment or call it a day. So here I am. I am under no illusions I write almost exclusively for myself but perhaps an explanation of the last five months of silence is warranted, if not simply to remind myself that no online activity does not equate to no activity at all, quite the opposite in fact.

There have been a number of monster projects undertaken and milestones achieved lately, on top of life’s usual hectic pace:

  • My regular communications consulting work increased to 3+ days/week (often more, sometimes less) – October 2014.
  • We finished building our new house – 22 December 2014.
  • We moved into our new house just before Christmas – 23 December 2014.
  • Jeff quit his corporate city job and started a new housing, urban design and planning consulting business, Edgefield Projects, working from home – February 2015.

And within each of those simple little bullet points lies a veritable tsunami of work that it only just starting to subside and equalise. Having Jeff working from home full-time is still a novelty and has not been without its hiccups, but we are quickly finding our rhythm. There’s pretty much only upside to this situation, for both of us, but especially for him. He has joyously cast aside the ball and chain of commuting and is loving being able to drop the kids at school; shoot some hoops with Henry in the afternoon; eat dinner together as a family; and work when, where, how and as often as he pleases. It seems like such a simple thing, setting your own agenda and prioritising the activities in your life, yet it’s often so very difficult to achieve.

Finding balance

Jeff and I have held a long term goal of achieving “balance” in our lives. That elusive little word means different things to different people but for us it has underpinned a desire to more evenly split financial and domestic responsibilities for a raft of reasons, which we hope will generate positive outcomes for our family. Some of the simple mechanisms by which we do this also have greater implications for the environment and the community, which is part of our goal, such as:

  • Working from/closer to home:
    • saves up to 10 hours a week not commuting, which is time that can be spent on work or play
    • reduces our energy consumption and bills
    • builds the local arm of our two consulting businesses, increases connections and networks
    • enables us to become more involved in the local community, school, volunteering
    • enables us to spend more time on projects at home, such as the garden, which builds resilience and self-sufficiency, among other things.

Of course, the benefits of Jeff being a hands-on Dad are enormous. The kids are loving having him around more, as am I (for the most part). We still need to find our rhythm on the domestic front. I anticipated that was going to be the biggest hurdle we had to jump. Of course, Jeff doesn’t see any issue there, but he wouldn’t, would he?

It’s early days yet in our new family and financial structure. While things are looking really positive for Edgefield Projects with a number of small jobs already on the books, consulting is a roller coaster ride that never ends. You never know when or where the next job will come from. We are in “claw back debt” mode, and when we are on more stable financial ground I will breathe a big sigh of relief and stop to look around and smell the roses. But for now, it’s heads down, bums up, working on building our businesses.

Our glorious new house

In regards to our new house, there’s little to say other than we are feeling supremely happy and incredibly fortunate. Good design, great natural light, beauty and space – what more could anyone want? Living in it is a transformative experience.

So, what now?

We’ve achieved an awful lot in the last year but 2015 is set to be just as big. Building a new business is no small feat but hopefully the lifestyle we’re trying to create will allow us more time to do what’s important to us and what we’re passionate about. With all that I juggle in my day-to-day life at the moment, that idea seems fanciful. I know I need to learn how to slow down and do less (Jeff tells me this constantly). A Physio, of all people, once suggested I operated on a permanent adrenalin rush, which he said was unhealthy and unsustainable (hence the reason I was seeing him). I often feel that no matter how hard I work, my “to do” list is endless and forever growing. But I also recognise that my “to do” list is self-generated and much of it consists of projects I want to do, primarily in the garden and on our property. So I’m not complaining. I just wish, like everyone else, I had more time. And therein lies my problem and, perhaps, its solution.

I know what I need to do to obtain mental balance, I just don’t know how to do it. Perhaps that’s my challenge for 2015?

Winter Wonderland

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Edgefield is so beautiful this time of year. There’s something beguiling about winter in the Perth Hills: dripping trees, misty mornings, citrus trees groaning under fruit, mushrooms popping up and the last splatters of russet-coloured leaves clinging to the trees. Inside it’s all roaring pot belly stove, red wine and slow-cooked casseroles, long cuddly bedtime stories and blankets precariously hung between couches to make cosy cubbies.

It’s also a time of exciting action on our building site with timber frame walls going up yesterday and structural steel framing being installed as I type. The concrete was ground down to its pre-polished finish last week and looks amazing. It’s just the standard plain grey concrete mix with white quartz and blue metal aggregate strewn through it. Indestructible! Just as well given my crazy boys.

 

Jeff and I have been busy too, slowly fixing this place up. We finished building a new fence last weekend, reusing the existing fence panels but concreting in solid new posts and a gate. From what we thought was an awkward, small triangle of land, we have created a substantial, north-facing herb and vegie garden with a new patch of lawn connected to the patio and a gravel pathway leading from the laundry to the new clothesline. It’s a wonderful space which adds a lot to the useability of the outdoor area. Herbs and vegies (mostly greens and beetroot) have been planted, ferricrete purchased ready to do the pathway but we’ll wait till Spring to lay the lawn. It’s looking really great and I’m so happy to have a little garden to potter in again. After some time off, I’ve caught the bug again. Garden, old friend, I’ve missed you. Pots just don’t cut it.

Hulbert Street Sustainability Fiesta

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Henry, Hugo and I got along to the Hulbert Street Sustainability Fiesta today in South Freo. It was a hive of activity with so many cool stalls, VERY groovy music, yummy food and activities for kids and adults . You could hardly walk down the narrow street for all the people – what a buzz! The kids and I had a dance to the percussion group which was cranking out some awesome music at the end of the street. It was fun!

Hugo didn’t have a morning nap so unfortunately fatigue got the better of him earlier than I would have liked and we had to head home at midday. Henry was grumpy too. I could have stayed all day. I didn’t get to meander and check out half the things i would have liked to. Oh well, such is life with little kids. I will definitely be going back again next year, hopefully with back-up on the kid-front this time.

What a great event and a wonderful street to live on.

Spring has sprung!

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Woohoo, everything is coming up! I have sweetcorn, giant climbing beans, watermelon and sunflowers planted direct from seed now poking their heads up through the ground. Beetroot, carrot, lettuce and tomato seedlings are all transplanted. My capsicum remains stubbornly dormant so i’ve planted a bunch more into seed trays. The eggplant seedlings are still a bit little to transplant yet, as is the silverbeet and basil but they’re getting there.

The bloody white cabbage moths are giving me hell! Rotten things have covered my broccolini in minute green caterpillars so the leaves now look like lacework. It’s shredded my Jalapeno chilli to the brink of death. There are clouds of the things fluttering prettily above my garden and Henry thinks they’re lovely butterflies and doesn’t quite understand why I was cursing them. He asked me: “Don’t you like butterflies Mum?” So i explained the difference between moths and butterflies but he didn’t look convinced. He’s certainly getting an education about gardening at the moment and loving it I think. He happily potters about with me for hours, watering plants with the hose, squashing snails with great delight (or so he tells people, although I doubt he has as that’s one pest I haven’t seen much of, thank goodness).

Hugo is another story and I have to work when he’s asleep as he’s impossible to have in the garden. He wants to be right where i am at all times or otherwise crawls obliviously over my freshly planted seedlings or tugs ferociously at the reticulation lines yelling his head off when he can’t get it loose. Thankfully he’s walking now, albeit drunkenly, so will soon cause a little less damage than a crawler.

Other than my garden, I’ve volunteered on the Permaculture West stall at the Royal Show which is coming up in a few weeks. I’m also planning to volunteer on the committee at the AGM in some marketing/PR capacity too which will be a year-long commitment. Eeek! I haven’t done anything like this before but i figure I better put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) and get involved. If this really is going to be a career move for me in some shape or form then I had better start meeting all the players and learning as much as I can and this will be the best way to do it. Besides, I’ve always talked about volunteering but never got off my bum to do it. So it’s about time I “gave back” to the community a bit. I have always admired people who do but have never been much of a “joiner” myself. Time to get out of my comfort zone…

Snowpeas: the ultimate kids vegetable

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Ah snowpeas, you gotta love ’em! My kids love them, my Mothers’ Group kids, visitors, neighbours, everyone loves them.

Once you’ve got the trellis set up, which is a bit of effort but it’s a once-off, the rest is easy and the snowpeas just keep on coming and coming and coming! Continual gratification is the key in holding a child’s interest me thinks. Henry checks the vines every day and pulls off snowpeas and munches them right there on the grass. And this from a kid who is typically fussy with his vegies. Brilliant!

I started out taking photos of every harvest I was so excited (my first vegie planting to really produce) but I’ve been pulling off a feed every second day so it got a little ridiculous and i gave up.

Alas, my beloved snowpeas have recently fallen victim to dreaded powdery mildew. As I am now a “trainee Permaculturalist”, the chemical-based treatments of my past, i.e. powdered sulphur, would not do. So off to find an organic treatment. A Google search later and I’m spraying Chamomile tea all over my stricken snowpeas.

However, I think it was too little too late. I procrastinated when i first spotted the mildew, hoping it would go away as i didn’t know how to deal with it organically. So I watched it rapidly spread up the vines until at halfway up I thought I’d better deal with it.  So either I left it too late or Chamomile tea is a load of bollocks!

I’m trying to ignore the loud cynic in me, which i had better do if i’m going to go down this organic route, as there will be a lot of pain to come I think. My brother-in-law who is an Agronomist once said to me about organic methods: “people don’t realise that for every row you plant for yourself, you need to plant another one for the bugs.” And he’s probably right but us “organic urban farmers” don’t have the luxury of all that room and I am desperately hoping that the bugs just might fly over the top of my garden in search of someone else’s lettuces to chomp.

Inspiration flowing from unlikely places

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I must be tuned into a different channel now as it seems I’m running into inspiration without even looking for it. Kaz and I went to Landsdale Farm School today with the kids. It was a stunning day and we had a great morning.

Henry was stalked by a persistent chicken and completely freaked out, Mitchell doggedly chased chickens, Hugo bleated like a lamb (dead set, exactly the same) and Jaxon finally got up the courage to have a miniature horse-cart ride and loved it. And I discovered their amazing permaculture-esque vegetable gardens. I say Permaculture without really knowing what methodology they were using. However, it was a beautifully designed space using flowing patterns and shapes, beds wildly overflowing with a diversity of weird and wonderful plants including several I’d never heard of, lots of medicinal and heirloom varieties, and incorporating The Hen Hilton (I think it was called), ducks, frog pond and various other elements all nicely working with one another. It was a really lovely space.

I came home to find my first package from Diggers Club. So I put the kids to bed (ah peace!) and planted a few more seeds – tomatoes, nasturtium, nettle, dwarf beans – into seed trays. My place is starting to look like a semi-serious gardener lives there!

My super-duper organic veggie concentrate soil mix will be delivered on Saturday so I’ll be raring to go by next week. By God we’ve spent a lot of money on this garden and it’s not even our own. Madness! Oh well. We had better get a damn good crop off this growing season, hence my mad rush to get stuff in the ground ASAP before it warms up too much.

Kalgoorlie St permablitz begins…

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We finally got out into the front yard on Saturday to begin the new vegie patch in earnest. The plan includes ripping up a 4m x 5.9m patch of buffalo lawn to put in three new garden beds. We’ll also be putting in a frog pond around the corner of the house with watercress, water chesnuts and an edible rockery garden, plus another compost heap and chooks!

I ordered a brand new aluminium coop (the Chicken Castle Deluxe!!) from Royal Rooster in SA which I hope will be delivered next week. Spent a fortune on it but we’re thinking of it as a long-term investment and hope that aluminium won’t deteriorate like wood. Henry is very excited about the chickens. I’ve told him we’ll go up to the Swan Valley Egg Farm when we get the coop and he can pick his own chicken and give her a name. He talks about it all the time but hasn’t come up with a name yet. Not sure he really gets it yet…