Hunting, Gathering and Preserving

Yesterday I GATHERED the potatoes that have been growing in one of the wicking bed bath tubs.
Potatoes
I have to say I much prefer this method of growing them. No mucking around with potatoe grow bags which didn’t do at all well last year. I just popped in half a dozen potatoes that had sprouted in the pantry and look at how many I dug up. Best of all they were easy to find, there was no heavy digging and lifting and they look amazing. We will be having them boiled in their skins for tonight’s tea.

Today I HUNTED down the first cucumber of the season from my vine/bush.

Fist Cucumber

Last years effort was a complete failure due to powdery mildew and plants turning up their toes at the slightest sign they weren’t happy.  Fingers and toes crossed this years plant is a good one. It should be I grew it from seed I had saved from another years crops.

As of ten minutes ago the cucumber is no longer. James spotted it and has just eaten the lot.  Show much for showing Ashley my efforts…lol.

This morning I PRESERVED Peaches using the Microwave method of bottling fruit.

Microwave bottled Peaches

The method worked perfectly, the kitchen didn’t heat up and I had everything done and cleaned up by lunch time.

This is the book if you want to have a go yourself.

Microwave Bottling

Isabel Webb has written several books on Microwave bottling and preserving and while you might have to hunt to find them they are definitely worth the effort.   I borrowed one other book of hers from the library and  I knew that when I saw this book for $5 in Bendigo the other day it was a must buy. The books are simply written, have loads of recipes and cover every possible detail you might want to know on bottling fruit in your microwave and yes you do bottle the fruit with the lids on – it’s ok and doesn’t arc in the microwave.  I can’t imagine not using the Fowlers Vacola preserving unit – in fact a year without putting fruit into bottles, fitting on rings, lids and clips and having the preserving pan bubbling away in the laundry is pretty much unthinkable – but for small amounts of fruit the microwave method is brilliant.   Plus it has the added benefit that I can preserve smaller bottles of fruit than I can with the Fowlers which are the ideal size for Mum and Elise where there is only one person eating the fruit.

Yesterday I GATHERED Garlic Bulbils and Garlic Cloves which will be planted next year and picked the one onion that didn’t run to seed. Not sure what I did wrong with the rest of them – but at least there will be plenty of seed for sprouts this year.

Giant Onion and Garlic Bulbils

I’m going to cut up the onion and dehydrate it for those days when there are no onions in the cupboard but I desperately need some. I did some onion not long after I bought the dehydrator and it was brilliant. To make onion flakes I just ground the dried onion up in my food processor.

Tomorrow I might just have to make some Apricot Chutney as I have a box of apricots sitting there calling my name.  Despite the heat I do love this time of year.  All this preserving and storing of food that will feed us in the coming months and seeing all those bottles of fruit, chutneys and jams gives me a warm glow and that’s not just from standing over a hot stove.  ; – ))

Dehydrating

Well I’m not dehydrating – not yet anyway and certainly not with a cup of tea sitting right beside me – however I’m fairly sure that by the end of the weekend my garden will be.

The weather forecast is predicting 40 degrees this weekend and according to the forecast James and I watched, while waiting for our breakfast pancakes to cook, there is a very real possibility that the weather will reach 44 degrees by next weekend.  If you need that translated basically it means “Stinking HOT”.

This morning I have spent a couple of hours putting plenty of water onto my vegie garden.  The rest of the garden will just have to survive as best it can on what irrigation water it receives.

Most of the vegies are finished.  The onions and carrots have headed to seed and I will save heaps to use as seed for next years crops but also as sprouts for salads.

Onions and Carrots going to Seed

Likewise the Rainbow chard has run to seed and that will also be used as sprouts along with the broccoli seed.  I looked up the price of broccoli seeds for sprouting (apparently they are lovely in salads) and it was nearly $10 for 100 grams.  With the amount of seed pods on my bush looks like I might be saving some serious money.

Rainbow coloured Silverbeet setting seed

I left some of the Bulls Blood Beetroot in the ground as it looked like it would run to seed and it has so there will be plenty to plant next year….yipee.

Bulls Blood Beetroot setting seed

I don’t have to many plants in the garden now that I have to tend over the summer months.  The corn I put in far to late as seedlings, is only about a foot high and is starting to produce cobs already – so that was a waste of time. Pumpkins are in and doing very well and I’m hoping to get a good crop off them.  I managed to forget the hose was going on them the other day and they got a super good watering which has done wonders.  There is Sweet Potatoe planted in  lots of wicking beds and I’m hoping it too will do well with minimal attention.

I have two dozen tomatoes planted in two different beds.  Brandywine in one and Amish Paste, Moneymaker and Silver Fir Tomatoes in another. They are looking good and I thought I saw a flower or two starting to appear – but didn’t look to closely in case it got a fright and disappeared.  It will be a bit of a battle to keep the water up to them but I am determined – there is nothing better than a fresh home grown organic tomatoe to eat.

Purple King Beans

My purple king Beans are flowering and they are so pretty. I think I could easily grow them just for the flowers but am hoping for good crops along with the bush beans that are also starting to flower.

Lacy Lady Pea Seed

I have also picked the Lacy Lady Peas and saved the seeds. There aren’t many but it doesn’t worry me that it will take a few years to build up crops enough that I have both seeds and enough for eating. By taking it slow each generation of pea has time to acclimatise to my garden and soil and for that matter me, and will do better for a bit of patience. I found these peas seemed to cope far better with the powdery mildew that invaded my garden this year.

Dehydrator

A couple of weeks ago I lashed out and bought a dehydrator. For less than $50 with postage I thought it was a good buy and I did heaps research to sort out exactly what I wanted. While I will dry fruits and vegetables I can’t see myself doing so many that I need a ten tray $1000 machine – so this little cheapy will do the trick.

So far I have dried celery leaves – now have a jar full to flavour soups and stews and I have experimented with drying apples, kiwi fruit and mangos.  Not bad but I’m not sure it’s worth the time, effort and electricity to dry them. What I have dried won’t go to waste – the fruits can be used in fruit cakes – but it did take two days and the kids have said they wouldn’t eat them dried – they would much rather the fresh fruit.   I also bought a really good dehydrating book that I borrowed from the library first.   Making and Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson I found was excellent.  Full of basic information – how to dry each food in the dehydrator, in the sun or in your oven, recipes to use the foods you have dried and good advice made it a winner in my eyes.  Best of all most of the book is using basic fruit and veg that we eat – not loads of exotic stuff that we either can’t get or wouldn’t buy  cause it’s too expensive.  No affils and all that but of all the books I have looked at and borrowed this was the best I have found.

Of course, with the onset of the hot weather, comes the high electricity bills.  While we open the house up at night to cool it down and shut it during the day in our climate that only works providing the nights are cool and the days semi reasonable in temperature.  So today Ashley put the generator at the front of the house ready to plug it in to provide us with cheap power.

Generator

We have solar panels and they are excellent but until we can get enough panels and batteries there simply isn’t enough solar to run the whole house.  The generator will provide a much needed back up and cheaper option.  Before anyone asks yes we have considered the neighbours and the noise levels. This is a silent pack generator which means it does make noise but no more than having cars or trucks  drive past or the industrial estate’s (which we live on the edge of) machinery running.   It is also big enough to run everything in our house from the washing machine to the cool room to the air conditioners.  Yes the diesel to run it can cost a few dollars but in the long run it is cheaper than paying the high prices of the electricity companies which especially, as the Smart Meters have just been installed in town, could rise at any time depending on demand.

A Valuable Lesson

For months, possibly even years, I have a secret (and sometimes not so secret when I’m really frustrated) desire to have some gardening help. Someone to help mow lawns, to prune, weed and mulch and most importantly they would do the gardening  the way I wanted.

Towards the front of the block

Tractor Mowed. Solar Panel in the background – I hand mowed around both sets of panels so Elise wouldn’t risk hitting and breaking them.

Today I did have gardening help in the form of Elise.  It was very good of her to help me -although she really didn’t have much of a choice. We have having an early Christmas Party here this weekend for about 20 friends and we want to have it outside on the lawn. The weather has been amazing -crossing my fingers it will be this weekend – and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  So today Elise drove the tractor with the mower deck while I pushed the hand mower around and collected lots more grass clippings which are now residing on several garden beds.

Near the Pool

Between the Pool and the House – always hand mown as I can see it from the Dining Room and the Pergola….. I know…. I’m fussy.

I discovered that I am becoming incredibly fussy with my lawn and in particular the way it’s mown.  It’s not a good thing to be so fussy and I’m probably shocking you all by admitting it but finally, after many years the lawn nearest the house and pool is starting to look like the lawn of my dreams.  Green, lush – in lots of places, semi smooth and relatively weed free.  It probably won’t last (especially with the hot weather still to come) but while it’s there I’m enjoying it.  Now I’m almost hesitant to tell you this but today I made Elise mow a  couple of sections of the lawn – TWICE!!!!!!  In my defence I didn’t think they were mown properly and yes she did give me that “look” but she did mow them again. If I wanted to be really super fussy I would stop typing this, rush out and start up the hand mower and redo those bits of lawn – but I’m restraining myself.  It’s difficult…..I don’t mind admitting that.

Lawn where the party will be held.

The Lawn around the Clothes Line which will be folded up for the party. It’s lovely and shaded during late afternoon and really the best spot in the whole garden for a party.  

Mowing done we moved onto a little pruning. Nothing to strenuous …just “Cut this here Elise”…and she did. The trouble was where Elise cut was six inches away from where I had indicated. Ok so I’m fussy here too but after years of tending my plants I know where I want stuff cut.  To make matters worse I kept thinking of all the times I have had Ashley help me prune and he uses a chain saw. I tell him to cut something and he would – right where I wanted it.  Actually I think it was fear that I might grab the chain saw and have a  go myself.  There is one tool that Ashley will not let me play with and that’s his chain saws.  Probably a very wise idea now I think of it.

Mulch disguises many gardening sins

Milly posing as usual next to the bed we covered with mulch to hide a multitude of sins.  One day that dead bit of lawn behind it will be lush and green too.

After pruning came weeding – as it always does. One path right near the house (photo above) is right next to where the guests will walk out onto the lawn.  I turned around and there was Elise digging out plants (not weeds!) left right and centre. Luckily what’s in there is tough and will regrow given water and time – so in the end I dumped a couple of loads of mulch on that bed and pretended it was deliberate.

So what lesson did I learn?  Tthat quite frankly I am far better off gardening by myself. While the rest of the family regard it as a chore for me it is very precious minutes of pure peace.  I can think of nothing nicer than wandering around, secateurs in hand, snipping off dead heads of roses into a bucket to go into the compost bin.  Mowing lawns is a (somewhat sweaty and physical) delight and the slow pace of hand mowing allows me to observe what needs to be done in the garden.  Even weeding, mammoth chore that is it in a garden of this size, can almost be pleasurable as I clean up a bed, lay down plenty of mulch and dream about what new plants I can put in.  While I certainly did appreciate Elise’s help – and you have to keep in mind she doesn’t really “garden” – I don’t mind admitting that I did say to her that I had discovered I don’t like gardening with her or anyone.  She just smiled and said “that’s ok – I don’t like gardening at all, least of all with you”.

It’s a good thing we agree on something.

Beetroot

I have been bottling beetroot.

Gorgeous, ruby red beetroot.

Beetroot

Bullsblood Beetroot which according to Peter Cundall is the best kind of beetroot to grow.  He’s right. It’s colour and flavour are amazing and I love that it has dark and light coloured rings when you cut it.

I have managed to preserve 11 bottles to use over the coming summer…. Yumm…..and this year I finally found a recipe for the preserving solution that I like….

250 ml of the water the beetroot was cooked in

250 ml brown vinegar

200 grams white sugar

Pinch of salt

Heat all ingredients gently until sugar is dissolved and pout over sliced, grated or whole beetroot.

At this stage you could just pour the mix over the cooked  beetroot in a container and pop it in the fridge to use in your salads however I wanted to preserve far more to use in the months ahead.

Cook the beetroot in plenty of water until soft.  Allow to cool slightly, peel off skin (it will come away really easily) then slice or grate or just cut into chunks and place in clean preserving jars.  Pour  solution into the jars until beetroot is covered removing any air bubbles that may be trapped.  Pop on lids and seal with clips and “cook” the jars in  a Fowlers Vacola preserving unit for 1 1/2 hours on 210 degrees, then turn the unit off and let the jars sit in the hot water for another 1 1/2 hours then put the bottles on a towel with another towel on top and let them cool over night.

All the information I can find says you shouldn’t preserve vegetables this way due to various health risks however Mum always told me that Grandma preserved vegetables following the chart that came with the preserving unit (which shows just how old the unit is when Grandma used it and now I am) and it says it’s fine providing you “cook” the veg twice in the unit.  So far I have stuck to just beetroot and of course tomatoes but I am keen to explore different ways of preserving vegetables.  Perhaps a dehydrator might be next on the list – either that or another freezer….which I might add Ashley is looking into except he wants to buy a 12 volt one that will run on solar power.  I’m quite keen on the idea.  Anything to cut the power bill but give me more room for produce.

 

This, That and The Other

I can’t  quite believe how long it is since I have blogged.  I have missed it…..sort of…but to be honest it’s so chaotic around here that blogging was the very last thing on my “to do” list. I have kept up with reading everyones blogs though which has helped keep me sane.

James - School concert

We had the final Primary School Concert a couple of weeks ago. I say final because its the very last one that one of my children will be performing in, no doubt the school concerts  will continue as they are a fantastic way to fund raise. With James in Grade Six this year our primary school days are ending.  I will be the first to admit that James hates being the centre of attention.  He would much rather be on the sidelines looking on so for him to be up on stage in front of a hall full of parents and children is a big thing but as always he pulls on his “big boy pants” and gets on with it.  This year there was a very happy smile at the end of the concert and I was greeted with “thank goodness that’s the last concert I will ever have to do”.  I didn’t like to tell him that no doubt there will be many more moments when he will be front and centre.

We have also had the dramas of Elise’s car breaking down yet again and me having to drive to Bendigo the Thursday before the concert to take Elise to Uni and bring her home.  The Daewoo is still in Bendigo in a non going state.  We, or rather Elise, bought a Mitsubishi Magna that weekend and she loves it.  It is cheap to run, is automatic which she says is wonderful with the tight parking at uni and it’s comfortable and (crossing fingers) reliable.  Of course there were the usual dramas of getting the car road worthied and the tyres balanced, the actual registration and insuring of the car was the easy bit  but it all worked out in the end.  Both Ashley and I are so thankful that she now has a good car to drive (we were very disappointed in the Daewoo) as Elise is doing a lot of miles at the moment as she has practical placement here in Swan Hill every Monday for the next couple of weeks and has to go back to Bendigo Monday nights to be at Uni first thing Tuesday.

Of course there is the usual unexpected happenings on the home front.  The fence between us and the neighbours is up but the garage the men were supposed to have been building has stalled. Not sure why but no doubt they will get around it to…..hopefully sooner rather than later. The fence is all packing sheets that come up with bulk lots of other fencing sheets. Our friend saves them for us when he knows we have a project on.  We get the benefit of a lovely colourful and cheap fence, he gets the benefit of not having to store them or try to dispose of them.  It’s a win win situation and I truly do love a fence of many colours.

New Fence

There’s a new man in my life……”Stanley”.  My wood stove.

Stanley

The plumbers came and put in the flue and it’s all systems go.   More details on Stanley another day but trust me when I say there is one very happy cook typing this post.  Last nights roast was magnificent…..as was the bread I have made, the fruit cake, the biscuits and various other items. Can you tell I love using my new stove…..vbg.

There was a small hiccup to our day last week despite Stanley being operational- well big hiccup as it turned out. There was a bulge in the plaster in the passage right where the kids shower is.  Ashley cut a big hole – and I do mean BIG – to discover that ants (not white ants thank goodness) had filled up the cavity to the lowest stud with dirt and were happily living there.  It looks like the shower has been leaking for a while too as most of the dirt was mud and now we have to have the shower repaired and new tiles put in.  Even our builder was shocked when he came round to inspect the damage. Thank goodness for insurance as it’s another expense we just don’t need at the moment.  The good news is the insurance is through and the builders should be here tomorrow to make a start.

Leaking Shower

On the gardening front – I’m just starting to get organised for Spring Planting. The weather is slowly but surely warming up and we have had wonderful sunshine and even some days of rain which has lead to me being a happy gardener.  I planted potatoes – from those that had sprouted in the cupboard – the other day and sweet potatoe.  I refuse to Pay $6 or more for a bag of seed potatoes that I wouldn’t even get meal from when I have potatoes reporoducing themselves in my pantry.   I bought a huge cabbage while I was in Bendigo for $4 – it was the size of a basketball and locally grown which was nice and Nicola and I spent a couple of hours preparing and freezing it into meal size portions.  The cabbages I planted did no good at all.  Too crowded I think – obviously my vegie garden has to grow size wise in order for me to get decent crops.  I have picked out the area I want to grow pumpkins in – the chook pen would you believe. Once the pumpkins are up the chooks won’t both them and the ground is nice and fertile from the girls so I should (crossing fingers) get a good crop.  Pumpkins are priced at $4 a kilo and over at the moment and sweet potatoes aren’t far behind them so I’m determined to grow all I can.

I really wanted to get some sheep for their fleece but also for meat but Ashley said no. Luckily he swapped some work for meat with a friend and now I have two sheep cut into chops and roasts in my freezer. I swear those sheep were dinosaurs looking a the size of the chops and my freezer is now full to busting with lovely home grown meat that Elise and I saw being cut into chops and roast. Is there anything better than seeing your meat be prepared right in front of you.   I saved all the fat from the dog bones and spent yesterday rendering it down to tallow or is it Lard?  I can never remember.  I’m going to have ago at making soap with it.

Crocheted Lap Top Cover

The crafting side of my life is going ahead in leaps and bounds. Heaps of knitting, crochet, spinning and even some felting. Wool is the great leveller when the going gets rough I have discovered. There’s nothing like creating something out of wooly goodness to make all the “crap” stuff fade into insignificance.

Despite everything that has been happening we have had fun motor bike riding.  With the really lovely weather it was beautiful riding around checking out all the cattle tracks on a friends farm and generally exploring.  As always there is trouble getting the bikes to start. Who knows why – probably because the bikes just sit in between being used or maybe cause they know that James and Ashley will end up riding them through creeks – regardless of the reasons this time it was my turn to push Ashley as he tried to start the bike.

Me Pushing...puff, puff

Not my favorite of occupations and in the end he took pity on me and tied the bike to the car and pull started it that way.

Pull Starting the Motor Bike

 

 

Proper Gardening Weather

At last we have had some  Proper Gardening Weather. We had rain Tuesday, according to my Mum a whole inch, which was lovely.  Gentle and soaking and just what the gardeners and farmers ordered.

Wednesday the sun was out a soft, and surprisingly warm breeze was blowing and it was time to go outside.  Washing hung on the line, Nicola and James were informed it was a “all hands on deck” day and that Mum needed help in the garden.  Yes there was some grumbling  but as I promised Nicola another driving lesson she worked very willingly and James will always work if he is allowed to drive the Kanga and cart stuff around in it.  When it comes to gardening and getting help I’m always willing to bribe my children.

Nicola weeded the bed with the onions, carrots, leeks and garlic and lots of weeds in it.

Nicola Weeding
She did an amazing job and was very pleased with her work.  Note the bird protection – the blackbirds are giving my garden a real going over at the moment and anything is at risk of being dug out by them….especially small and tender plants.

James bought up a new tub of split wood for the fire. Ashley got a few old fruit bins off one of the growers and we stack the wood in them now. The Kanga has a forklift attachment which makes it easy to pick up the crates and bring them up to the house. Depending on the weather a crate of wood lasts us about a week.  Best of all it saves the long arguments about whose turn it is to fill the wheelbarrow with wood and bring it to the house.

Wood

Then both of my willing workers helped me weed this long bed (photo below), prune roses, dump lots of grass in the chook pen for the girls to pick over and generally tidy up.  The whole exercise only took about an hour and a half and we went inside several inches taller with all the mud on our boots, Nicola with a blister on her hand from hoeing and all three of us nicely exercised  from our work.

Milly Guarding the Garden

Milly helped by running back and forth along the fence barking replies at next doors dogs who were barking rude things at her. She wasn’t impressed by their comments at all.

Lacy Lady Pea

The gorgeous Liz from Eight Acres and I had a seed swap the other week. Both of us wanting to try new seeds as well as old favourites and hoping to spread the gene pool a little more in what we grow.  Liz sent me a wonderful envelope full of a variety of seeds including some I had never grown before.  Red Mustard, Pickling Cucumbers, Poor Man’s Beans (Lab Lab), Spagetti Squash – which I tried once years ago and haven’t tried since,  were just some of the treasures as well as Lacy Lady Peas – photographed above for your viewing pleasure…vbg.

Temporary Hot House

I’m not sure what they will be like but the name intrigued me if nothing else so into the vegie garden they went last week, were dutifully watered in and a temporary hot house set up over them just to encourage them to grow.  The hot house is just an old fluro light cover from a light Ashley had to remove from somewhere. The covers are about a metre long and only narrow and are ideal for covering a row of seeds allowing them to warm up nicely will still letting the light through. In time they do disintegrate with the sunlight but at least by using them this way they are getting reused rather than going straight to the rubbish tip.

I’m hoping the rain we had on Tuesday will give these seeds a really good shove in the growing direction and that I will soon have baby pea plants growing.

In the mean time we have had more rain this morning (Thursday) and there is more forecast which is brilliant. It’s very dry all around here and although farmers have planted crops they must be starting to really worry about those emerging plants.

I’m itching to get out and do more weeding while the kids are home but this morning was spent down the street shopping and having coffee with Ashley then home to tidy up before I have a much needed hair cut.

Perhaps tomorrow I might be lucky to play in the dirt again.

Broccoli

Yes Broccoli. That yummy green vegetable that looks like little trees and tastes fantastic with white sauce.  A staple vegetable in this household.

Finally the broccoli were ready to pick. I only picked three heads as they were the right size – if there is such a thing as right sized broccoli that is.  The other three will be left to grow for a bit longer.

Fresh Picked Broccoli

Cut up they filled the bowl nicely.

Blanching

Blanched they turn a stunning green.  The secret to blanching is to have the water boiling before you put the vegetables in and to time the three minutes from when you put the vegetables in the water – Not from when the water comes back to the boil.  Make sure the water is boiling before you put the next lot of vegetables in however.  It only takes a minute or two and you’re ready to go.

Draining prior to freezing

I put them into a bowl filled with chilled water to stop the blanching process then lay them on a cake rack to drain. This only takes a minute or two. Generally by the time I have put another lot of vegetables into the boiling water this batch is chilled enough.

Ready to Freeze

From there they get put onto a baking tray after any excess water is shaken off them, and put into the freezer. Once they are completely frozen I will pack them into a bag for use later on.

I have had people tell me that it’s not worth growing and freezing vegetables. That it takes too much time and effort.  This whole excerise took me a total of thirty minutes.

I picked the broccoli heads. Cut off a few leaves went down and let the chooks out and gave them the leaves as a treat and collected the two  freshly laid eggs. Back into the house, put the water onto boil while I washed and cut up the broccoli.  Once the water was boiled it only took about 15 minutes to blanch and put onto a tray the broccoli and into the freezer it went.  I then cleaned up.  In the middle of it all I was letting Milly in and out of the house – She was complaining that Ajax had stolen her bone…sigh….and I was taking photos.

I have five meals worth of lovely fresh broccoli that is organically grown, has cost me nothing more than some of my time, some chook manure and some water.

You just can’t get that kind of meal from the super market.

It’s a good feeling knowing that this home grown broccoli has joined it’s carrot friends that I froze a few weeks ago and the cream of celery soup that I made and froze last week.  There’s nothing like a stock pile of fresh home grown vegetables that makes life feel good.

Some Finishes

With the cooler weather arriving, especially at night, it is very pleasant sitting next to the fire  knitting and it has meant that I’m getting quite a bit done  and most of it from my projects bag where I place wool and patterns into bags for that ‘quick I need something to knit” moment.  it saves thinking when the urge to knit strikes me…vbg.

I found the Antelope Hat pattern ages ago and loved it.

Antelope Hat

When I finally found the perfect yarn – it was in my stash all along – it went into the projects bag to be pulled out just a few weeks ago.  Yes that is how far behind I am on blogging my finished projects.

Antelope Hat

It is super easy and knitted up really fast which is my idea of a good project.

Antelope Hat

I knitted the pattern repeat three times to make it a slouch beanie but could have knitted another pattern repeat as I ended up with enough left over yarn.

Antelope Hat by BoHo knits

Best of all the self striping yarn (Moda Vera “Fauna” from Spotlight) worked perfectly to show off the pattern.  James isn’t super sure he likes it, as you can probably tell from his face,  but I love it and can see myself wearing it for work lots this winter as it’s long enough to pull right down over my ears.

Next was the Gossypium Cowl which you can find on Raverly.

Gossypium

Don’t be fooled and think that this is a difficult knit. It isn’t. The pattern is lovely and repetitive and easy and a delight to knit.  The fact I started this cowl several times is irrelevant and entirely the fault of the knitter and not the pattern. First I managed to twist the stitches when joining them in the round and discovered that mistake five rows into the pattern.  Then I decided I hadn’t cast on enough stitches and had to start again adding another three pattern repeats.  Then I decided that I really didn’t like/love the look of the cowl knitted in a single strand of Moda Vera “Bamboo Wave” as it wasn’t showing the pattern enough. So I pulled it out yet again and started knitting with two strands of yarn.  Much, much better.

Gossypium

The pattern is based over four rows and it calls for 8 repeats of those rows. I didn’t do that many as I was running out of yarn but I think it’s fine as it is.  I played a fine game of yarn chicken with this cowl.   I ended up having to cast off the final edge in a single strand of yarn as there wasn’t enough left to knit with it doubled.  I actually like it like that – it’s not such a thick edging and it does sit much nicer.

I knitted myself a vest – finally. In one of my Spin Off Magazines there was a lovely pattern for a vest that is knitted sideways ie from the side seams to each front and then the side seam across the back to the other side seam.

Sideways Knitted Vest

Join all those bits together, knit a band up on front, across the back neck and down the other front and knit a band on each armhole and you’re done. Simple!!

Back View

I’m sorry the photos aren’t better but the wool is black alpaca that I hand spun as a single yarn and then plyed it with yarn from an acrylic jumper to make a slightly thicker yarn that is super soft and so warm.

I did alter the pattern slightly in that I added width to the back middle and to the fronts as the pattern was a small and I’m not – unfortunately!!!  It has stretched to the perfect length and was just the thing on Friday (when these photos were taken) and I went shopping.

Hand spun Alpaca plied with acrylic yarn

Sorry about the photo but this is the best I could take of what the yarn looks like.

Now I am working on the Silver Bells scarf except it’s more likely to end up as a lovely lacey table runner than a shawl.   I’m not sure I will have enough wool to complete it and to make matters worse I’m not sure what the fleece was that I used to spin this wool but I’m predicting it will be way to scratchy to wear around my neck.

Silver Bells Scarf

Regardless of those minor obstacles it is working out very nicely and if it means I have to retreat to a quiet corner of the house every now and then in order to concentrate on the pattern then that’s what I will do.  Actually I can do it while the TV is on providing no one wants my attention and there isn’t anything exciting happening on TV.  The only mistake I have made I think is that I should have used slightly smaller needles as when you look at the photos on Raverly the pattern is much more defined.  I still love it though and am have heaps more progress since this photo was taken.

Just so you are not completely bored with all the photos of knitting……

Apples

…..here are some apples from our trees. Granny Smith and possibly Pink Lady although I suspect it’s Royal Gala.  Either way they are lovely eat and as  James is eating apples by the dozen so it’s nice to have some lovely home grown organic apples for him to snack on.

Back To Normal Programming…..

It never ceases to amaze me just how spending time in my garden can ground me back into reality.

A reality where the uncontrollable events of our world cease to exist.

A reality where worries just disappear and time seems to stand still.

A reality where the only battle I have to engage in is the moving of plants, removing of weeds and planning what my garden might look like if there was unlimited money, manly garden help and all the time in the world.

I have spent the entire day out in the garden and loved it.

A row of Agapanthus

James and I planted a row of agapanthus which will in time be a lovely row of lush green foliage and hopefully some flowers although it might be a little too shady.

I spent the day on the Kanga cleaning up this weed infested bed. The agapanthus we planted came from here but the rest have been consigned to the bonfire.  Along with the three self seeded peppercorn trees which I defiantly didn’t want in the garden and especially not next to the pool not to mention all the grass and weeds and stray rose bushes.

Clean - at last

I did manage to avoid running over the Japanese Maple at the other end of the bed and I did leave the bottle brush with agapanthus at the base. Eventually the grass will spread over this area and it will be so much easier to mow and keep tidy.

The stump in the middle I can’t move so did suggest to Ashley, when he came to inspect my work, that a sculpture over the top of the stump would look nice.  He agreed but who knows when I will get it or what it might even be. It could be said the stump may rot away before any sculptures find their way into my garden…sigh.

Bird Feeder

I even found time to hang the bird feeder/water dish in the garden. It took a whole 30 seconds so why it took me so long I have no idea.

Before I went out gardening look at the new ornament we have in the ensuite….

Jess

….it must have been nice there in the sun and the infloor heating is on (Ashley doesn’t like cold toes when he gets out of the shower) and Jess decided it was the perfect spot for a snooze.  Lucky cat.

Living Within Our Mean aka Don’t Panic!!!

Some days I wake up full of good intentions of what I will achieve and sometimes I even achieve some of those intentions.

Today isn’t one of them. To be honest I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Not by home or work or children but by forces I cannot control.

In case it escaped anyones attention the  Federal Budget has been handed down and quite frankly it will affect all of us living in Australia in one way or another.

Now I have to admit I’m fairly cynical when it comes to our government and it’s members. It seems that politicians of any persuasion can say what they want before an election and conveniently forget most of their promises after they get elected.  Must be something to do with the heady rush of being elected into a position of power I guess.  Now this isn’t a political blog and I’m certainly not going to get into a political debate with anyone but this budget has me worried.

Normally I just coast along thinking that life will get a little tougher.  We will have to make economies where we can, keep working hard and basically just keep doing what we have always done.  Lived, worked, raised our children, paid our taxes and got on with our lives.  This morning though I woke with a very real sense of panic.

Do I have enough food stockpiled to last us through what could be some very tough times?

Cool Room

The coolroom slowly being stocked with bottled fruit, home made jams, chutneys, milk and anything else we eat and needs a temperature controlled environment to keep it at it’s best.

Stockpiling has been coming along very nicely. I’m not saying we have enough to last for twelve months – not sure I would even want that much food although that may change – but basics are slowly stacking up thanks to some good specials and careful shopping.  I’m proud to say that my grocery bill for four of us was just over $100 this week.

Should I increase the vegie garden?

Vegetable Garden

Images flashed through my mind of plowing up the front half acre and planting it to veg.  Several things stopped that. One – Ashley wouldn’t let me.  Two – there are millions and weeds and creepy grass that would need to be killed first.  Three –  I’d never keep up with all of it and Four – I would be insane to start on such a major project when I already struggle to keep up with what I have.

What will we do for meat?

There are plans to run a couple of sheep on our lawn but that is in the distant future.  We have to fence the top half acre – the bit I was not making into a vegie garden and the orchard would have to be fenced properly as well.  That costs money – money we don’t have at the moment.  In the mean time Ashley will continue to swap work for meat with a couple of friends which is  a very nice and sustaining arrangement which everyone benefits from.

Nectre Wood Heater

Nectre Wood Heater. One of the best investments we have ever made. I do cook on it although it is some distance from the kitchen which makes carrying heavy pots a bit hairy at times.  

One of the reasons I want a wood stove in the kitchen – convenience.

Irrationally my next thought was what will we do for socks?????

Now you can see just how warped my thinking was going. Then I remembered I have a box full of sock yarn that is begging to be knitted up – I just have to find time.  Even more irrationally I was worried about what I would do for socks – obviously the rest of the family were going sockless….lol.

Clothing strangely enough didn’t worry me. Not sure why – I guess I figured I would work it out as I have always done and thankfully one of the op shops has all clothes for $1 and I have picked up some real bargains.  Dare I even mention the meters and meters of fabric and piles of patterns I have stashed away in the sewing room?

What about the rising cost of fuel?

There is nothing we can do about that. We need fuel for the work truck and our other vehicles. It doesn’t mean we squander it by driving around aimlessly but our lifestyle is that we need motorised vehicles although the thought of Ashley pulling up in front of someone’s home to do some electrical work with a horse and buggy does give me a giggle.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels which rotate with the sun allowing maximum input.Behind them is the half acre I want to fence for sheep.

Electricity and gas are other big issues.

Gas we can’t do much about although we don’t have much that is powered by gas. The cook top is it – the oven being electric.  Electricity is one of our major expenses but we have started to reduce the cost by installing solar panels which are working beautifully. Because we have the land we have installed more than most houses and hopefully this next bill will see a marked decrease in the cost. Unfortunately the solar cannot provide all our electricity needs – the kitchen and laundry and the cool room (I have a cool room and not a refrigerator), hot water and air conditioners are still on mains power. These appliances there just draw too much power for us to provide it via the sun but there is serious talk of installing a wood stove or perhaps a Nectre Bakers Oven so meals can been cooked on it during the winter. We wouldn’t be using it to heat water for showers so we aren’t sure that a full stove would be necessary – even thought I would love one ; – ).   It will mean some rearrangement (ie take out a few cupboards) in the kitchen but that’s ok – my kitchen is huge and the cupboards we will have to remove don’t have that much in them and it’s work we can do ourselves.  Ashley is also looking at changing the hot water over to solar hot water which will save even more.  As for the wood to fuel the wood stove and wood heater – we get that for free from a friends property. All it costs us is some hard work quality family time, a day in the country and fresh air and the occasional load of wood dropped off at said friends house in thanks.  Plus the trees on our land are now getting big enough that as we prune them the wood is cut and allowed to dry making some of our fuel self sustaining.

Kitchen

To loose three cupboards in my kitchen isn’t an issue – trust me it’s huge.

PS I’m very glad I cleaned it before taking this photo….lol.

One thing that I wasn’t concerned about was Elise remaining at University.  That is a solid, set in stone fact – Elise will remain at Uni and we will find the money no matter what as teaching is her love and passion.  Of course it goes without saying that should the other two decide that they want to attend university as well – and have a real passion and drive for their chosen career path – we will fund that as well.

So in hind sight how are we doing?

Well honestly……….. OK!

Yes money is tight – but I can’t remember a time in the last twenty years of us being married that money wasn’t tight.  We have always lived frugally and within our means. Yes we have some debts – my car and the house and one debt for work but that will be paid off in full in July.  The house and car we are working on as much as we can. We need new carpet but I can live with what we have until we have the cash to pay for it.  We have more than enough furniture and the infrastructure to live comfortably is in place.  It’s more minor and unexpected expenses that will cause some problems but they are nothing we cannot and have not deal with in the past.

We aren’t living “high on the hog” as some would say but neither are we in the position that many are in or are likely to be in in  the near future with mounting debt and no idea on how to live comfortably on less.

As much as I resented it when we were first married – those very lean years were a fantastic way of learning to “make do”.  We quite literally lived on less than someone on unemployment benefits lives on without out the perks of government funded health care etc as Ashley was a partner in his parents business and the books showed we were worth more than we actually lived on in the strange way that business economics work.  We were careful yet we still raised three children, built a new home on 2 acres and had the occasional holiday and enjoyed life.

I had sometimes wondered if in fact as a country, we needed to have another depression such as what was experienced in the 1930’s (not that I would wish that on anyone) in order to realise that we really are living in the lucky country and that we really don’t need all that we think we do in order to  live and live well.  Maybe this is the wake up call that is needed. I don’t know and I feel very sorry for those who are facing financial ruin.  In the end I guess those who want to change will and those who don’t will complain about it to others.  It’s not like there isn’t heaps of information out there on living within your means – but it has to be wanted not thrust upon someone who doesn’t see there is a problem. Time will tell on how we as individuals and as a community and nation will survive.

 

 

Reading aback over this post – which I might add has taken nearly an hour to write and get all my thoughts down – we aren’t doing as badly as I first thought.  The panic is fading. No doubt it will rise it’s ugly head again but we will make it. Yes times will be tough – but we are a tough family who works together and that I think is the secret to succeeding. It’s the old story of many hands make light work.