Puppies, pumpkins, pesto and pesky predators.

Hello! I’m typing this on my phone from my front step! So apologies if the spelling/formatting is all over the place! I have to blog this way as I’m multitasking: Chaperoning the chickens as they free range at the same time! 
Mrs Fox is back! And she’s picked off 3 chickens in the past 4 weeks. Last week as Ben left for work in the early dark hours of the morning, he caught her staring greedily into our henhouse; Sitting on her haunches at the door like a dog at a butcher shop window! And she comes right into our yard and up to the front door! Cheeky Lady! 
So no un-escorted free ranging for Lennon and the ladies. Grr. 
But today is an absolute cracker! My washing’s on the line, the windows are all open… It’s so lovely even some of my daffodil bulbs have gotten confused. 
“This is spring, right..?”
Wills having a lovely day in a light cotton sheet. I’ve added some warm, boiled barley porridge to his nightly feeds. He’s a bit older now, and he needs a bit extra in the colder months. Plus he deserves it ❤️x

I’m knitting up a red neck warmer for Katie to wear with her school uniform and some thick socks for Ben. These are my first socks! And they’re cuff-down style – which I believe isn’t usual?! – on teeny thin double-point needles. The first one has turned out so beautifully! 

There’s just a small problem: I only have one ball of wool left and the first sock took one-and-a-bit. And I found out from Morris and Sons in Melbourne that Admiral ombré 6 fach is discontinued!!! F%#€+*!?&@!!!!! Does anyone know where I can get a ball of this?! 

And the gardens going quietly into hibernation. The last corn fronds are sagging. The last tomatoes are shrivelling up. The last basil is curling and going brown. The bales around the bale garden are disintegrating as the first frosts come and turn the once lush-green baby fronds to crunchy silver-grey crystals. We’ll start piling up oak leaf-mulch, manure and compost.

There’s a few pumpkins sprawling around, which will come in handy for hot pumpkin soup with fresh crusty sour dough bread. And I’ve planted a few garlic bulbs, just to see if they come up. The chooks are moulting so we’re only getting one egg here or there, but I’ve been bottling passata at fever-pace: can’t let any of those tomatoes go to waste! There’s nothing like fresh pasta with homegrown tomato passata, and pesto made from the spoils of the ‘Basil Forest’! It’s our go-to week night dinner at the moment!
And if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll already know that Hill Shadow Farm will soon be getting a new addition!

Meet little Bluebell! She’s only 3 weeks old, but I’m totally smitten. She’s pure Border Collie. (Her mother Zoe is an absolute stunner, and super smart!) A pedigree working dog! I can’t wait to take her to obedience and agility classes! Keeping Collies active and mentally stimulated is essential, and I’m totally up to the challenge!
So that’s us, up to now. Katie’s at school, and Tara’s napping, so I’m being Chook Shepherd and sitting in the sun.

It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it 😉

Xx
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Pills, poison, patience, and pallid poultry.

Chemo days

This week was totally consumed with chemotherapy. Ben had to go everyday at 9am, sit in a hospital chair, while his body was effectively fed poison, again, and again, and again. He’s been amazing: sleeping lots, woozy and weak, but every minute he feels well enough, he’s helping out or playing with the girls.

He gets nausea – there’s a pill for that.
He gets dizzy – there’s a pill for that.
He gets insomnia – there’s a pill for that.
And he’s been chronically constipated (sorry Ben!) – and you guessed it….

I feel so bloody helpless. All I can really do is make him food/drink, let him sleep, check he’s remembered whatever pill he’s due for, and exit the kids whenever possible so he can have some peace! Phew. It’s tiring and emotionally pretty hard. And this is only after week one.

Eep.

On the Friday I booked both the kids into care, and went with him to keep him company for the few hours in the ward. I watched the nurses come and go: Efficient, professional, and endlessly paitient. I listened to the 93-year-old platelet-recipient in the next chair (“and he says to me ‘what are you in here for?’ And I say, ‘I think Im pregnant’. And then he looks at my paperwork and says ‘*insert medical term here*: I’ve never heard of that!’ And I said, ‘Well it’s probably never heard of you either!’…).  And I crocheted 2 tealight lanterns to sell at some local markets on a friends’ stall.
And I won a free knitting pattern over at Foxs Lane! Woohoo! Another project! I’m thinking a beanie for a certain husband who might need a head warmer/sun-protector soon…
Some people do chemo for YEARS. Thankgod for us, it should only be 9 weeks. HOPEFULLY.

But the garden, it doth provide. It’s all wild and going to seed now. But we still pick cherry toms, basil – loads of that!, lettuce, leeks, spring onion, spinach, corn, oregano, and parsley. Soon, we will hopefully pick our first Grosse Lisse tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, carrots, rocket, and more beetroot.

Corn! BIG success in a bed that nothing else could survive in because we couldn’t keep the slugs away! But the corn was too tough!

What to plant next, what to plant next… 😉

We were so proud of our spotty apricots (BEST JAM EVER. SERIOUSLY!), our “Accidental we-thought-they-were-ornamental-but-they’re-not-actually-they’re-just-undersized Plum Jam” and our poor bent apple tree’s 4 little green apples (I juiced em before the birds ate ’em!) . But our figs are so disappointing. They’re HUGE! We had high hopes! But inside they’re dry and completely tasteless. And before they get a chance to go really black, they get eaten (but not by us.). It’s not looking good. I dont know whether it’s because they dont get a chance to go fully ripe, or because the whole massive tree (well over 12 ft!) appears to be thriving from between 2 concrete slabs in an old garden bed and is deprived of water/nutrients/space..? However, every chance it gets, it send out new shoots, and it is massive and loaded with fruit, so I figure it cant be fareing too badly! Truly, you wouldn’t believe the mutant base of this tree and where it’s growing from. Isn’t nature’s resilience amazing?!

Tomatoes and basil: perfect bedfellows x (and that garden bed literally used to be A BED. Recycling, doncha know!?)

And can we recommend SWEET BITE as a cherry tomato variety?!?! Holy crud, these guys PRODUCED! For such a compect little bush (I’m talking balcony-pot-plant size!) they are LOADED with fruit, and the girls snack off those 2 little bushes every day! Highly recommended!

Discovery! We lay our glass panels (used for mini ‘glasshouses’ over our foam-boxed seedlings) on the weed patches in the direct summer sun! Who needs weedkiller & chemicals? Just leave it a few days, then move it somewhere else! The weeds cant handle the heat, and go brown and die! #AccidentalFarming

And our poor chookies appear to have… um… colds?! I’ve noticed a few looking listless, and they appear to have ‘snotty’ beaks and bubbly eyes… OMG – what?! You guys cant be sick too?! So Im frantically googling and I’ve added some garlic granules to their drinking water. and I swear I saw some lice on one of them… (There’s probably a pill for that.)

So tonight I’m listening to the wild wind, contemplating a shower and the washing up, googling chook antibiotics, wondering WHY THE HELL Katie isn’t going to sleep, drinking tea, savouring a belly full of cauliflower crust pizza (TRY IT), feeling grateful to live in a country that offers subsidised childcare in difficult circumstances, and trying to breathe deeply and evenly.

One day at a time.

-xx-

Teeth, twigs, and time ticking away!

My Mother in law’s bluebells – FLOWERING! ❤

Just when I thought summer was here… Today is freezing again! yesterday afternoon I had to walk my horse down to the neighbour’s place to have him seen to by the Equine Dentist through gale force winds and icy rain! I felt completly mad! But today is the old boy’s 18th birthday, so its nice to know he’ll be able to crunch comfortably on his birthday carrots!

 

Cant believe I’ve had him 13 years now! Gee it seems like a long time! And it also means I’ve been riding horses for 24 years! I started riding at 8, but I think the horsey-bug has started to bite Katie a little earlier…

I also went to a Home Harvest seminar night last Wednesday where I think I was about the youngest there by 20 years… but I did get some good ideas and affirmation about what we’re doing. Here’s Ben’s great custom ‘glass house’ over our pea seeds in our bale garden…

Re-purposed windows from a demolition!: Genius.

And here’s my silver beet seedlings that I swapped for some citrus (score!) but that I am taking NO CHANCES with! As you can see I have surrounded them with twigs (blackbird deterrent!), coffee grounds (slugs!) AND crushed egg shells (snails!). Hopefully Ive been cautious/paranoid enough for something to survive for once!

And here you see my custom Lady Bug hotel! I’m trying to encourage GOOD pests to my garden! (Wanna know more about Bug Hotels? Try here.)

Still no sign of the beans yet…

But plenty of these.

Still, there is one cute furry critter round the place-

Naaaw, Tufty!

What critters help your garden? 
Do you put any sustainable practices into place at your place?

Keep your coffee grounds!
xx 

Parasites, productivity and ponies!

Ugh. After the death of 2 of our lovely chooks, we found the beginnings of a lice infestation! Seriously?! Come ON! So hopefully a dusting with Pestine (on the girls and round their home), a thorough worming (chooks, dog, horse, and us!) and a little prayer, that will be the end of this particular run of unfortunate luck! Grr.

Hubby did get productive last weekend: Mowing the back lawn, collecting some bales and putting them around our garden beds, and putting up Katie’s swing! She’s a bit chuffed about that 🙂

So now she spends most of her time either on the swing, on the trampoline, on my hay bales, or in one of her many farm castles/hidey-holes…

The weather’s a bit wet today, so the girls and I went and joined our local library (ESSENTIAL) and now Tara’s having her afternoon nap, so I’ve ducked round and taken a few pics to introduce you to some of our equine residents…

Shy showpony ‘Electra’
Bigger on the inside ‘Tufty’
(Who could resist a face like this?!)

Fresian horse that looks like he belongs to the Black Knight ‘Randolf’

Sweet girl ‘Lily’

And of course the man in my life ‘Will’ (and the other man in my life, ‘Henry’)

I hope you’re having a lovely week. GO JOIN YOUR LIBRARY!!!
x

Disappointments, drownings, damage, and darned good recipes!

Oh dear…

Well, I have prooved my point about not being able to grow a thing and having no green thumbs to speak of…. Of our 5 little herb seedlings we planted last weekend: Not one survived.

Partially – in our defense! – this was because 2 days after we planted the little babies, we had a freak hailstorm (hail the size of marbles!) and there was a bit of damage to their delicate little fronds.

The rest has been eaten by… Something.

Damn.

So far, our food growing/homesteading/’feed our whole family from the garden’ dream is looking pretty grim. 0/5. Not only was I feeling particularly glum about this failure, but then found that one of our poor hens had fallen into a horse water trough while we’d been out, and drowned. And another is looking like she’s not long for this world (although I suspect that’s more to do with her age, than bad luck).

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. How do we combat a pest in our veggie patch when we’re not even sure what it is?! Rabbits? Slugs? Birds? Will this be our fate?: Working hard and spending a fortune to feed the wildlife?!

Something that is still feeding us, however is the citrus – THANK GOODNESS FOR THE CITRUS! It has served to keep my faith that we can grow food here! Oh sure, the cockatoos take a share of the oranges, but we can afford to share! There’s plenty to go round!

Katie’s latest favourite activity is to pick a bucket of oranges off the tree, juice them all like crazy, and make orange icypoles! It’s wonderful knowing she’s learning about where food comes from, but also making a preservative/refined sugar free snack, and she can do it all by herself!
And I found a wonderful EASY MICROWAVE LEMON CURD recipe which I have been making use of to use up all those lemons!
Now Im including this without permission from the author – but only because I dont know how to contact her to ask her! But it’s just too good not to include, and full credit goes to Nancy Johnson of Speers Court – Nancy, I hope you dont mind! x
Easy Microwave Lemon Curd 
(Makes about 600mls-ish.)
180ml lemon juice
zest of all the juiced lemons (I only actually used zest of 2 lemons)
4 egg yolks
3 eggs extra
3/4 cup caster sugar
125g unsalted butter
Place all ingredients into a microwave proof bowl and microwave on medium for 6-8 min stopping to whisk every minute. (You know it’s done when it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon)
I strained the zest out of mine before I chilled it, but you certainly dont have to!

SO SO SO YUMMY!

How do you keep pests out of your garden?
What do your kids/grandkids love to cook?

Just heading out to put some wire over that water trough: Chooks cant swim well. Apparently.
RIP little chookie x

This post is brought to you by ignorance.

I’ve just finished reading Jackie French’s ‘ Year in The Valley’  and something pretty weird just struck me. You might think it’s odd that this just struck me, when I have dreamed of being on land for so long, but here it is:

I have NO IDEA how to grow stuff.

I mean seriously: Beyond ‘stick the rooty-end in the ground, leaves pointing up, and water it’, I am completely ignorant. I have no idea what plants to grow where. I have no idea how to plan a garden. Previous attempts on my part have resulted in disaster.

Like the time I planted 6 snow pea seedlings, which promptly were dug-up and eaten within 2 days by birds. I planted carrots. They grew into all leafy top, no carrot bottom. I planted broccoli, it went immediately to seed without any broccoli. I planted cabbage. The slugs loved me for it.

Any success I have ever had growing ANYTHING was an accident. A mystery vine grew in our backyard. I let it. It grew and produced what turned out to be 4 decent sized but very tasteless pumpkins! Hurrah! I grew lemons. No let me rephrase that. Someone planted a lemon tree on the block YEARS before and it absolutely DROWNED us in lemons each year, through no effort of mine. One year we had a bumper crop of beans. Yeah: That was weird. I tried tomatoes. Since my grandmother supplemented her husband’s income by farming tomatoes around her 7 children, and my step dad grows OUTSTANDING tomatoes, I though maybe – just maybe – I had a genetic ‘tomato-growing’ advantage… The tomatoes grew GIANT. Well the plants did. Too bad they didn’t produce a single fruit.

Yep, if it were up to my gardening skills, my family would starve. But possibly the local insects and birds would be extremely well-fed.

I have a lot to learn.

What struck me reading Jackie French’s book, is that she lives in a very similar environment to that which we will be residing in on Hill Shadow Farm. A bushland valley, alive with wildlife. And the question that kept coming into my head again and again is “How the HELL does she do it?” How does she harvest veritable gluts of food for her family, while her garden is constantly under siege – by her own admission – from wombats, cockatoos and lyrebirds! Why don’t grubs eat all her spinach before she gets to pick any? Why don’t the weeds – which she admits to never pulling out – swamp her seedlings and take over the garden? Why aren’t her cucumbers furry and moldy? Why aren’t fruit fly attacking her peaches? What the hell is the secret?!?!

Oh man.

I have ALOT to learn.