Category Archives: projects

Season of Mists…

mistAutumn is my favourite time of year, as the weather cools but you still have warm, sunny days to enjoy outside. Nights can be chill, but there is nothing quite like snuggling under your quilt, which I find much more conducive to a good night’s rest. I am not a fan of those hot, sleepless, summer nights.

We are already starting to wake up to misty mornings, and it is definitely not getting light until quite late, which makes fitting my morning walk in before heading off to school a bit tricky.

mist over the valley

Matt seems to be finding plenty to do outside during the day, and high on his list is getting our woodpile built up again before the cold weather does hit, but he is also hoping to find a day when he can complete some repairs on our drinking water header tank which is leaking a bit.

Not today. Too windy.

Which also means that it is not a great day for trying to tidy up some of the garden beds with a bit of paper over the weeds and mulch on top of that… I tried pulling weeds, but the little darlings just regrew before I had a chance to cover up the bare earth with something ‘not weeds’.

The circular bed at the front of the house – where we planted our anniversary roses a couple of years ago – seems to be scarily short of soil over the tree roots after my zealous attempt to pull out copious quantities of grass and clover. I don’t want to import soil, but our rocky ground doesn’t have a lot to spare. I’m thinking of cutting the clover that has regrown and simply digging it back in (gently) as a ‘green manure’ and mulching over the top with dried poa grass.
Rose

The veggie patch is also in dire need of some tidying up. After a season where nearly everything either bolted or just refused to grow at all, nothing in between, the biggest success seems to be our asparagus babies which are just plodding on, and a whole pile of carrots that have self seeded everywhere!

I’m thinking that a scythe and a sheet of black plastic spread over the top of each bed is the way to go, to let it all compost over winter, ready for a bit of work come spring. I also want to work on building a better enclosure, something that surrounds the area as a whole rather than each individual bed. It has proved too difficult to work with the mini-enclosures, although they have been relatively effective in keeping wallabies, possums and goats at bay.

The early strawberries were great, but I suspect the late end of the season was too wet. That, and a cheeky burrawang who uses the wallaby- and possum- deterrent fence as a perch to spot young strawberries to thieve! At first I thought he was chasing insects and snails, but I’ve seen him fly away with a beak full of not-quite-ripe fruit several times now.

Our new raspberry plant provided a few pieces of luscious fruit, over which we all drooled as we shared out the meagre pickings. Enough to persuade me that we need to work on building up our supply of canes for next year.

The big project – a tiered garden bed above the dam – is still waiting for us to afford the tractor or ‘dozer to do the hard work of terracing the rocky hillside, but each year my vision for that changes a little and I am now imagining a quarry garden, sheltered and sunny like our front garden, lined with a vine covered glasshouse across the back and semi wild beds surrounded by a small mixed orchard.

Or, as Matt says, dream on!

 dreams of a quarry garden for our veggies, similar to the lovely shletered area atthe front of the house

In the meantime, the title quote comes from a poem (a favourite of mine) by John Keats:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

…when the bough breaks

There is always something that needs doing around the property.

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

This little project has been waiting for a while, but really needs to be sorted out, sooner rather than later, to protect the pump that makes sure the garden water tank is always full.

In the background is the large tree that fell on it, another ‘little project’ that we are still working on clearing up.

There is some nice wood in the old tree, so we aren’t too keen on relegating it directly to firewood.  Matt thinks he can do some rough planks to make a bench and possible picnic table if we can be patient enough to let it dry out properly.

In the meantime, the tarpaulin that we threw over the top of the old pump house to keep the weather out keeps getting blown off, and when I went out to measure the concrete pad it sits on this morning, I really couldn’t be sure what might be lurking amongst the alluring blue folds.

I maintain a healthy respect for some of the more slithery brands of wildlife that we share our home with.  The tarpaulin has to go.

We haven’t been able to source a replacement shed of the same size at a reasonable price, but Matt found some fairly cheap prefab sheds at the local hardware store.  The one he snapped up looks like it might be too small to fit the pump and all its bits and pieces inside, as well the power point, but, it’s okay, he already has alternative plans for that shed and has his eye on another ‘bargain’ in a slightly larger size.

While the original pump house was just tall enough to fit the pump, the new shed will be able to house some tools as well so that we can leave a few things down near the dam.  We have plans to build a garden on the north facing slope that runs down to the water – maybe a small orchard or some grape vines , or possibly even an extended veggie patch.

Whatever we decide on, the first job will be to erect some kind of enclosure to keep ‘the wallaby’ out.  He doesn’t just eat the fruit, he eats the entire plant, as we have found to our detriment with a cherry tree, an apple, a green gage, and our pear tree (which was doing so well) in our back garden.  I chased him off the peach tree the other day, but some of the lower branches are looking a bit sad.

The impromptu chicken wire fences around the existing garden beds have done their job at keeping young Wally, the possum(s), and the goats at bay, but, sadly, were unable to repel the late frosts that killed off our tomato plants and seriously stunted everything else, or the hot, dry days over summer that took their toll on our veggies.

I’d like to spend more time in the garden, bringing on more edibles by preference, but when school is in, time is regrettably short, so the garden just isn’t looking all that bright at the moment

If nothing else, there’s a lot of weeding to get done.  Not Matt’s favourite job, so it generally comes down to me.  That, and putting up scrappy looking chicken wire fences (that sag, so the possums don’t feel confident climbing over them).  Still, the roses are starting to recover inside their wire-y prison, so I can’t complain too much.

a couple of brave roses putting on a show...

a couple of brave roses putting on a show…

I’ll let you know how the shed project goes.

One bite at a time…

 

...a serene morning filled with golden light

…a serene morning filled with golden light

Another serene morning, so still, so calm. The sunlight is just touching The Hill with a soft golden glow, there isn’t even a breath of wind, and the early visitors to the garden have included a little swamp wallaby, two different kinds of rosella, and the ubiquitous and strangely haughty magpies.

 

Yesterday was cool, especially the evening when quite a gusty wind blew in from seawards, but today the thermometer is predicted to be rising again. Nothing like the super hot days we had this time last week, but enough to keep us on our toes.

Both Matt and I have a new morning ritual which involves checking both the Bureau of Meteorology website (BoM) and the Rural Fire Service site (RFS). A couple of weeks ago we received both an official phone call and a call from our local RFS captain when the following day was deemed to be ‘catastrophic conditions’, but we don’t want to rely on others. We want to be ahead of the game.

The sad reality is, however, that we have a long way to go to catch up.

We live on a bush block.

We chose it because it is a beautiful, healing place to be, away from the rush and clamour of life in the suburbs of a growing city.

We chose it for these serene mornings.

But it is a bush block.

Trees and tall native grasses surround the house, and although we have quite a large, mostly open garden, they are very close.

Our nice, friendly, neighbourhood RFS people have been working double time to help residents around here become ‘fire-ready’.

We are not.

We knew that.

Last week we did a walk-around of a ‘model block’ with the RFS and a few other locals. We learned two things.

We really are not ‘fire-ready’.

‘Fire-ready’ is achievable.

It might just take a few years.

Project One. Increase the buffer around the house site.

We had already started this, although Matt stopped after he realised that the long grasses that he was brush-cutting had stopped being a tall fire fuel (we are reliably told that fire burns at about 4 times the height of the fuel – these grasses are taller than me!) and had become a mobile fire fuel. Many of the houses that burned in the Canberra Fires of 2003 (we were there) were as a result of ember attack. Here we were, producing potential embers. Large ones.

Query – what do we do with the stuff that we slash?

Solution – render it down to a small manageable pile that can be kept wet, by raking it together and mulching it.

Query, the second – how do we do that for an area the size of the model block’s buffer when he has a tractor with a slasher and we have a brush-cutter and a domestic mulching machine?

Solution – same way as you eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

So we started again, picking a small area just outside the gate to the house site. Matt cut, I raked, Will mulched. Three hours later, and you could see a distinct difference to the area we had picked. Admittedly I was still raking and was also using the long handled choppers to ‘lift’ the lower branches of the trees in the area, and Matt and Will, both mulching by now, had worn out the machine which had decided that it was time for a break and needed a little TLC.

...before we started, tall grasses around the base of a black wattle

…before we started, tall grasses around the base of a black wattle

 

 

...after

…after… with still a lot to do

There’s a lot to do.

Apart from an extra 10-20 metres around the house block, we want to clear across to the main dam and down to the grey-water dam, and then widen our track clearing, and hopefully slash under the power easement, too. Wow. Put it like that and… doesn’t bear thinking about. We just plan to chip at it, a bit at a time.

Iain said it took him about three years to get to where his block was cleared sufficiently around the house, and it only took him three days to slash now (with his tractor).

I’m thinking three is the lucky number.

His place looks great. There are still trees, it doesn’t look like a big, bare area, but the ground cover is super short and the trees are all ‘clean’. The rest of his block is like ours (‘unimproved’).

I’m thinking that a tractor is next on the big purchases list. One that likes steep, rocky slopes.

In the meantime, there’s a lot to do.