Update – Summer 2014 (February)

Last year was a crazy busy year work and life wise and now I have space to breath I thought it would be a good time for an update on our goings on.

Lounge Room

Lounge Room

Kitchen/Dining

Kitchen/Dining

Our house was finally finished and we moved in August last year. It is everything we wished it would be. Small (3 bedrooms, one bathroom) but it feels big, especially the open planned living/kitchen space. The in slab heating and combustion fire kept us warm and cosy during the last miserable months of Winter and our solar passive design and the polished concrete floor kept us cool, even with the weeks of hot dry weather we’ve had this Summer and no air conditioner. Once we have landscaped and added the water features, the trees and plants should provide us with good shade from the sun and a break from the wind during the worst of the Summer heat.

For the moment we’ll have to live with a lack of landscaping around the house but we have so many plans! We want to get rid of our water tank because it blocks the beautiful view to the back paddocks. Instead it would be fantastic to store the rainwater in storage bladders underneath the deck and verandas of the house. Or install an in ground tank between the clothesline and the back deck. Where the tank now sits we want to put in a natural pool, which will serve quite a few purposes: 1) somewhere delectable to take a dip in the midst of hot Summers, 2) an ‘airconditioner’ that cools the hot, dry air down as it blows from the East into the house, 3) habitat for aquatic plants and animals, 4) a beautiful aesthetic feature that can be enjoyed in all seasons (of course we will need to have it fenced but a pool fence is much nicer to look at than a big old water tank).

The front is currently hosting some magnificent weeds and dust. It will be wonderful when we can turn it into a beautifully designed native forest. We’ll probably need help from a designer because we don’t know enough about native plants to create a proper design that provides Summer shade, habitat and food for the birds and insects, possibly a dry creek bed, as well as framing the house nicely.

Front of the House

Front of the House

We also have a hydrology issue. When it rains, water sweeps down the slope towards the house and pools between the shed and the house. The downpipes on the shed also overflow and it sends water into the shed during heavy rains. We’d like to put in another rain water tank to store water from the shed catchment and figure out some ground works to draw the water away from the house and down to the North and East (back) of the yard.

Flooding after Rain

Flooding after Rain

The Northern part of the garden will eventually have a cute little granny flat/studio cottage further down near the back of the house and a native grass lawn for games of backyard cricket, tussles and bare foot musings. This will be hedged by gardens but I’m not sure what to put in near the fence… maybe a deciduous fig, though they might destroy the water pipes. Maybe some citrus though we seem to have black thumbs when it comes to them (the heavy frosts we get in Bungendore don’t help either).

North Side

North Side

The food forest/orchard struggled through the extreme winds that bowl through Bungendore valley, heavy frosts (including a late heavy frost in December!) and the dry, intense heat we’ve just had, as well as infestations of cherry slugs, strawberry weevils and grasshoppers. As you can see it is now thriving thanks to the irrigation David installed just before Christmas. The mint has gone crazy and is competing with the grass, and the strawberries are spreading out and are just starting to produce regularly. Our herbs are thriving and the comfrey has exploded with lots of big green leaves and little purple flowers. It’s nice to see the happy nodding faces of the heart-ease popping up en-masse here and there throughout the food forest.

Food Forest - Nov 2013

Food Forest – Nov 2013

Food Forest - Feb 2014

Food Forest – Feb 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our vege patch I’ve had to get creative with zucchini recipes as our three different varieties of zucchini are producing a glut. Here’s a great ‘paleo’ zucchini brownie recipe that has been popular with the family (remember to squeeze out the juice from the grated zucchini). I couldn’t keep up with the snow peas for about a month but they seem to have stopped producing as much, probably because of the terrible heat waves we’ve had. We’re also getting a good crop from the spinach, silver beet and parsley but I need to start finding ways of using them in our cooking (though I make a mean gluten free tabouli).

Snow Peas - Jan 2014

Snow Peas – Jan 2014

Harvest - Feb 2014

Harvest – Feb 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tomatoes have taken a long time to produce but they seem to finally have come on. The Roma tomatoes just started flowering last week and have a lovely dark green, dense foliage. The heritage tomatoes have started to fruit and we should be able to harvest in the next couple of weeks. There’s another tomato that seems to be doing ok though I don’t know the variety (round) and unsurprisingly the cherry tomatoes are doing well but looking a little ‘leggy’. This is the best crop we’ve ever had and it feels so satisfying to wander down into the garden to pick food for the night’s dinner.

Tomatoes - Feb 2014

Tomatoes – Feb 2014

In the bramble patch, it’s taken a long time for the raspberries to set fruit and they haven’t grown much this Summer. We have had a handful of raspberries in the last couple of days and it was worth the wait! (We keep eating them before I remember I want to take a photo of them). The grape vines we’d planted a couple of years ago didn’t take so they were pulled out at the start of Summer last year and replaced with butternut pumpkin from seeds we’d saved from one of our roasts. The pumpkins were doing really well until the December frost smashed them. They’ve bounced back but aren’t as vigorous and though they have lots of flowers I can only see one very small fruit. I hope they hurry up or we won’t get a crop before Winter sets in.

Surprisingly, the honeydew melons that we’d planted from the seeds of a store bought melon, have flourished and we already have a couple of melons growing with a few more on the way. I wish we’d saved watermelon seeds and planted them, both David and William have been eating watermelon almost every day through Summer. Even better are the random plants that have popped up from when we’d had the chickens through and were feeding them a seed mix. Sunflowers have popped their happy heads up all over the bramble and vege patches, as have fat stalks of wheat and corn. We’ll let them dry out and feed them back to the chickens.

Sunflower - Feb 2014

Sunflower – Feb 2014

Speaking of chickens, they are finally laying properly and we’re getting one to five eggs a day. Sadly three of them were taken by a fox in November (a good reminder to close the chook house well before dusk) and our poor rooster dropped dead one night last month. Not sure if it was from heat stroke or if a fox got him while they were sleeping. Needless to say, we’re making sure to shut them up while there is still a good amount of sunlight. We also need to build a better hen house. The one we have now is far too low, it’s difficult to clean out and only William can get in to collect the eggs.

I finally picked up the Warre bee hive that I’d ordered after doing Tim Malfroy‘s fantastic Natural Beekeeping course in May last year. It’s too late to put it out for the bees before Winter but I’m looking forward to catching our own swarm next Spring, or if we’re lucky the bees will find the hive in the backyard themselves. I don’t see this year being a better one for the bees than last year’s horrible season but it’s nice to see them buzzing around the flowers in the garden.

Busy Bee on the Mint Flowers

Busy Bee on the Mint Flowers

Living here in our little cottage, surrounded by our fledgling garden, sweeping views across the paddocks to the hill, hens happily clucking, seeing Oscar stretch out in the sun or stalk through the foliage like a jungle cat, watching William on strawberry hunts in his rain boots and straw hat or charging up the paths with his Tonka truck, I am starting to feel peace again. I love this little bit of heaven we’ve carved out for ourselves and it’s nice to share it.

Oscar the jungle cat

Oscar the jungle cat


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