Well, the verdict is in on the coir pellets. They’re useless. I think only 4 tomato seeds sprouted, so needless to say I won’t be buying them again.
The coir pellets are a bust. Only 4 plants have sprouted, so I won’t be buying them again.
However, another tomato experiment that I don’t think I wrote about has succeeded brilliantly. When I was clearing the wicking beds at the beginning of winter, I noticed that two baby tomato plants had sprouted. I decided to see if they’d survive the winter, so I mounded pea straw all around them and left them to it.
WOW. They are huge now and are already sprouting tomatoes. Unreal. I still have 4 bags of chopped-up tomatoes left in the freezer, so the tomato glut of 2019/2020 has seen us through the whole year. Who says food gardens aren’t worth it?
Though it’s not all fun and games. This is the second year I’ve had the asparagus patch and only 5 plants have come up. (I planted more than twice that.) I don’t know whether to just leave them and hope that, over time, they’ll multiply, or buy more crowns and dig up everything and start again.
On Thursday I planted out 20 Lazy Housewife beans that I harvested last year and around 15 seedlings that I grew from seeds. The garden is starting to come back to life!
In the interests of getting things done around here before I retire, I hired a nice man to put in a brick path to the letterbox and install a curved garden bed against the front fence. Now all I need is to get the side fence replaced and then the bones of the front yard will be complete.
I’m hosting Christmas here again this year – how great that our covid case numbers have been at zero for the last two weeks so Christmas will be a normal one! – so I’m thinking I’ll just buy some cosmos and shove them in. The dark colour of the fence will make the flowers stand out and they’ll look pretty when people come through the gate. I’ll work out a more permanent planting layer, but it’ll have flowers to bring the pollinators to the orchard.
I’ve also been making soap for Christmas presents. I bought some cornflower and calendula petals so they’ll look noice and fancy. Thanks again to the people who helped me last year when the recipe I loved was removed from the internet. You guys are great!
I wanted to make 3 batches, which will be enough for work friends and family, but the third batch seized. I’ve only ever had this happen once before and I saved it by melting it in the crockpot and basically cooking it again.
I tried it this time but it went a weird brown colour, so I philosophically cut it into chunks, thinking that I’ll just use them up here. I made a fourth batch yesterday, which I haven’t unwrapped yet, but when I went into the sewing room I saw that the weird brown colour has morphed into a delicious caramel colour. It’s a Christmas miracle!
I’ve only got 5 weeks to go until I retire, so the release of this new book was very timely. I finished it yesterday and it’s very informative. I won’t lie – it has a lot of numerals in it (ugh) but it sets out everything you need to know about investing long term, Centrelink, pensions, health, wealth and happiness. It’s available from his website if you’re interested.
OMG!!! I just checked and I haven’t updated you on my Next Big Goal. I wrote about it on the other blog HERE.
Here’s what Evan24 sent me for my birthday. HOW I laughed when I opened it! If you’ve never heard this podcast, you’re missing out. It’s hilarious. I started listening to it soon after it first came out, then Evan 24 (who would have been Evan20 or 21 back then) asked me why I was laughing so much one day. I pulled off my headphones and told him what I was listening to. He pulled up the first episode, started listening and it’s been our ‘thing’ ever since.
When a new ep is released, one or the other of us will text the other with, “A new one’s out!!” or “What did you think?” Monday, when a season is being released, is ‘porno day.” When you say that in the staff room while downloading a new episode so you can listen to it while driving home, it can earn you some strange looks.
The premise of the poddie is that “Rocky Flintstone”, Jamie Morton’s Dad, handed him a manuscript of a pornographic novel he’d written one day and asked him for feedback. The writing, the knowledge of female anatomy and the overall situations were so spectacularly bad that Jamie and his friends turned it into the podcast.
Jamie reads a chapter a week. His friends, like us, are hearing it for the first time so we hear their reactions as Jamie reads. When I first started listening, I was taking the rain to work and sometimes I’d be giggling so much that I’d have to fixedly stare out of the window because people were glancing at me.
I guess it’s a perk of having grown-up children. There’s no way I would have steered any of them onto this when they were kids!
If you’re curious, you really have to start at the beginning. Each season is another in the series of books, so you have to start from the first chapter – ‘The Job Interview.’ The first 4 books were written before the podcast came out, where Rocky had no idea how deliciously awful his writing was.
Just be warned, it’s definitely not safe for work.
Evan24 had a parcel posted to my place. When I texted him asking about it, he replied with, “Oooo, it might just be your birthday present!!!” When I called him, laughing, after I’d opened it, he said, “I thought it’d be something that you’d like but you wouldn’t buy for yourself.”
That’s another perk of having grown-up kids. They’re VERY good at buying presents for me now. David26 bought me a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ coffee mug. Makes me smile every morning.
As Australian readers would probably know, most school kids go back to on-site learning tomorrow. This of course means that their teachers have to go back too. I’ve loved being at home with 2 of my boys and the dogs, pottering around while teaching my classes, but these days are now over. (At least while the numbers remain low...) Tomorrow an alarm will go off on my phone and I’ll be driving off to work.
Meanwhile, I’ve been frantically knitting. Evan24’s girlfriend’s Mum sent me a parcel from Adelaide last month for my birthday, packed with nibbles, snacks and wine from South Australia. How nice was that? Especially after they’d been housing my son with them for a couple of months during our second lockdown.
I quickly checked FaceBook to see when her birthday was. November. I rang Jenna and asked if her Mum would appreciate something handmade. (I’ve learned that there’s no point giving hand made items if the person doesn’t appreciate the time and effort that goes into them.) When Jenna enthusiastically replied in the affirmative, I asked what her Mum’s colours were.
“RED. Just red.”
So I’m knitting a Just Red cowl. I made two of these for myself – one went all around the UK and Europe with me in 2015 – but I forgot just how long it takes to knit. Thin yarn, small needles… there’s be around 16 hours of work in this baby before it’s done. Still, it’s looking fabulous and I hope she’ll like it.
The smooshy looking ball of yarn in the top red corner is wool I bought to make Izzy a cowl for her birthday, also in November. That one will knot up far quicker, thank God!
I’m coming to the end of the stewed fruit cubes that I made during the summer. They’ve been terrific. I bought up big while plums and apricots were cheap and stewed them on the stovetop with a little water. I like the tart taste of stone fruits, so I didn’t add any sugar.
Spooned them into ice cube trays and when frozen, popped them into zip-lock bags in the freezer. I made 3 big bags’ worth of these, plus apple and rhubarb with our own rhubarb. When I make my breakfast porridge, I only add some water – no milk or sugar. The taste is wonderful, like a party in my mouth, especially if I mix up the flavours.
The breakfast of champions! This one sticks to the ribs.
I’m hearing quite a few ducks flying overhead this morning. Strange. We don’t often hear them, but for some reason they’re criss-crossing us.
Remember the coir pellets that I put my tomato seeds in?
It’s been around 3 weeks now and so far only one strong seedling has germinated, with a few other weak, sickly-looking ones. It’s fair to say that I’m not that impressed with them. I’ll keep an eye on the seedlings, but I doubt I’ll be buying them again.
Bev from foodnstuff has sent me some extra tomato seeds, so we should still be right for our tomato crop. I also have a couple of plants in the wicking beds that were tiny seedlings that sprouted at the end of autumn. As an experiment I piled mulch all around them and let them overwinter. They’re already producing flowers – it’ll be interesting to see which sort of tomato they are!
Tomorrow when I go back to school, there are going to be 3 very unhappy dogs left behind. After being in lockdown pretty much since April, these dogs have become MORE attached to me. I didn’t think it was possible but they have. Clearly, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ doesn’t hold true for these three!
David27 is going back to work too, but fortunately Ryan25 will still be here during the day. His uni is still doing remote lectures. We’ll have a rapturous reunion when I come home at the end of the day!
If you look at the bottom of this photo, you can see what happens when you are casting on in the round and you twist the join. I’ve never done this before and I didn’t notice until I was well into it – far too late to ull it off the needles and start again.
I like it though. I’m making identical cowls for my sister-in-law and niece for Christmas – I’m going to call them the “Mother/daughter dog walking cowls.” At least now one of them will be slightly different from the other.
In the interests of trying to use up the yarn I have in my stash rather than keep buying new stuff, this yarn is baby wool from WAAAAY back in the day when I had an Etsy shop and was knitting baby hats to try and bring in a little more money. I have 10 balls of this, all in the same dye lot, so I’ve knitted a different cowl in this yarn for Mum as well. She’s turning 80 on Monday.
I’ve received word that the portraits from England have been posted. Mary asked me, “Do you want the quickest or the cheapest?”
Naturally I said the cheapest, so I’m hoping that the parcel arrives before Christmas.
The garden is slowly waking up for Spring. My cauliflowers have bolted, so instead of plump cauliflowers we’re eating a weird blend of caulie and broccolini. Tastes the same, so it’s all good.
This little tree is a special one. In 2015 I taught my first year 12 Theatre Studies class and we bonded like glue. They bought me this tree to put in my food forest at the old house. By the time I moved, it was still in a pot so I brought it with me. There it sat sulking for years…
Just under a week ago I was throwing the ball for Scout in the front yard when it went behind my car. When she came out, carrying the ball in her mouth, she was also sporting a limp. Turns out she broke a nail and the whole nail bed had to be amputated.
It only took about 20 minutes.
She was a very brave girl.
She felt a bit sorry for herself that night, but now, a week later, she’s bouncing around as if nothing ever happened. There’s always the worry of infection when it’s a wound on the foot but *knockonwood* we seem to have dodged that bullet.
Honestly, these girls are so prone to trouble. Jeffrey, on the other hand, rarely does anything so he stays incident-free.
Oops. The timer on the microwave has gone off. Time to give my sourdough another kneading!
Someone nearby has just got chickens in the last couple of weeks. At around 9AM some mornings I hear that sound of a chook complaining about laying an egg. It brings back memories of the old house and I like hearing it.
Being on BookFace sometimes leads to some amazing things. I’ve been ‘friends’ with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder in England for years. She breeds the most beautiful dogs you’ve ever seen and even though I’m not a breeder or a show person anymore, I still love looking at them.
In August this year, during lockdown, she picked up some paints that someone had given her years earlier and decided to have a go at painting portraits of her dogs. Turns out she has quite the eye for it. Her paintings are exquisite. As she said to someone who asked how long she’d been doing this for, “It’s as if I woke up one morning and could speak an entirely new language. It’s quite extraordinary.”
She was putting up a succession of Cavalier paintings up on her stream and, as a joke more than anything, I asked if she’d like to try a totally different face – that of a certain miniature wire-haired dachshund. She said yes, we agreed on a price and then I asked if she’d consider doing my whole pack.
These three little dogs are something special to us and I love the idea of having their portraits hanging up next to each other.
I asked her to make Poppy and Jeff’s ears a bit longer. I got my sister to shave their ears back during their “last shave before winter” visit. I had no idea that I’d be getting them immortalised a few months later, otherwise I’d have let their ears be!
The Cavaliers were easy to capture. They’re pretty chilled – especially Jeff – and all I had to do with Poppy was get her to think I was about to throw the ball I had next to me on the couch. That’s why she looks very intense; she’s willing me to throw the ball with everything in her.
Scout is a different kettle of fish. It’s far more difficult to take a good clear photo of her, probably because all of the blacks in her coat tend to merge together. Also, her muzzle is so long that when she’s facing the camera the lens tends to focus on her nose to the detriment of everything else.
I’m not sure which photo Mary’s working on for Scout. We loved this one but David27’s camera gave her a golden hue that she doesn’t have in real life.
Maybe this one? The colour is more true-to-life. I have no idea which one it’ll be- it’ll be a surprise. She’s finished the Cavaliers and has started on Scout’s. I’ll let you see how they all turn out when they arrive here.
I’m so pleased that Mary agreed to do this. I imagine that it’s all still a novelty for her to ‘speak’ in this new language and I’m glad that I’ll have my crew captured while she’s happy to daub away. I’m pretty sure I know where the paintings are going to hang and I’m looking forward to seeing them when they arrive.
One of the benefits of growing your own food is that you can (hopefully) save the seed from your crop each year and then sow them the next – in effect growing free food. Over time, the theory goes, the plants adapt to your little corner of the Earth and get better and better.
These seeds are from our tomato crop. I’m not sure that I saved any seed from the millions of tomatoes that sprang up from the compost I was bringing home from work, but I DID save some heirloom varieties.
Bev from foodnstuff – I haven’t forgotten that you wanted some “Blue Berries” seeds from the black tomatoes I was growing when you were here. Email me your address and I’ll post some off to you.
Around 3 or 4 years ago I bought some coir pellets from Green Harvest. The idea is that you poke a seed into the top, then keep the pellets damp. When you see roots poking through the sides, you plant the pellet and the seedling is transplanted with minimal disturbance to the roots.
I haven’t tried them until now. I looked at them, said to David26, “Well, it’s a total waste of money unless you use them!” and I’ve planted some of my precious saved tomato seeds in them.I don’t know that I’d buy them to use again – it’s not a cost-effective method to plants seedlings year after year – but at least if it works I’ll be adding a little more plant matter to the soil, which is always a good thing. Besides, I’m curious to see how they go.
This is my record of which variety is planted where, because I’m sure to forget and tomato plants all have the same leaves. From left: 8 X Amish Paste, 4 X Rapunzel, 4 X Tommy Toe and 4 X Blue Berries.
Coir pods on their own – Granny’s Throwing Tomato X 5 – I bought these from Diggers last year and I haven’t planted them before. But who could resist a name like that? The description says ” Italy’s favourite tomato, (like our Grosse Lisse) is used in salads and pastas and is perfect for hurling at your nemesis.”
The Rapunzel is one I’m keen to grow again because David26 gave it to me for my birthday last year. I don’t know if it will grow true to type, but this is why I like food gardening. So many experiments!
The orchard is now completed, ready to spend the next 12 months quietly killing off the lawn and nurturing the fruit trees. This time next year, I’ll be planting flowers, bulbs and beautiful things to soften this corner of the yard and make it beautiful.
I made a ‘no dig’ garden bed in the old house, so I know it’ll work. I may have to spray some off pieces of grass that push through, but by this time next year it should all be ready to plant the fun stuff.
Give this 5 years and it’ll look lush and amazing.
Look at the sunlight beaming in through the window! You can almost hear the choir of angels!
Long-time readers of this blog will remember that when we lived in the old house we had a thriving food forest garden. Over time, I built it up to over 30 fruit trees, over 12 metres of veggie gardens, (both traditional and wicking) as well as having chooks.
When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne I had to leave all of that behind and start again. Thankfully, I have a lot of friends who also garden, so all of the fruit trees were dug up and rehomed. I kept a few that were in large pots and brought them with me.
There they sat on the side deck, ignored and neglected. I was working all the time and was also focussed on getting the back yard, with its veggie beds and outdoor room up and running. Last year I planted an apricot, a pomegranate, a lime and 4 apples out there, so at least I was doing something...
I don’t know how long this lemon tree has been in its pot. When I went to replant it I was horrified to see that something had been eating the leaves. You can see on the right hand side that the branches are bare. Whatever-it-was had travelled across from the mandarin tree next to it. OOps.
I examined the eaves and found a couple of tiny caterpillars and a few cocoons. Killed them and then planted the tree in the front yard near the path for easy access to the lemons.
This tree has the nicest lemons, with very few pips. I’m hoping it gets a new lease on life.
Speaking of oops, here’s the mandarin tree.
The branches are all still limber, so I’m hoping that being in the ground will make it bounce back. I’ve placed it close to the edge of where the garden bed is going to be, near the letter box. If any of the boys end up spawning children, I figure this will be the perfect spot for little hands to pick a mandarin or two.
This one isn’t quite so bad, probably because it was out on the front verandah so I saw it more often.
I’m not a huge fan of blood oranges, but Mum and Tom28 adore them. I bought this one at Aldi a couple of years before we left the house, so it’s ONLY been in the pot for 6 years or so. The leaves are yellowing a bit but the fertiliser I popped in the hole with it should fix that.
But by far the stupidest thing I did was buy these avocado trees last year, then leave them on the deck sitting in a dog water dish. I thought they’d be fine – they’d retain any water and not dry out.
A couple of months ago I went out to feed the worm farm and saw that the avocados were looking AWFUL. They were dropping their leaves and the water dish was full around them.
I raced indoors and googled. Sure enough, avocados don’t like getting wet feet. Another OOps! I lifted them out and let them dry. Hopefully, they don’t have root rot. Honestly, I don’t expect them to live, but I feel bad for neglecting them so we popped them by the fence and made the sign of the cross over them. We’ll see if they survive.
The only trees in this section of the garden that I have no worries about are the plums. This is because I bought them the day before, so they haven’t suffered the out-of-mind, out of sight beneign neglect that I inflicted on the others.
Honestly, Fortnate Frogdancer is a real thing.
I woke up on the first day of Spring and thought, “I’m going to buy some plum trees and get the boys to plant them in the front yard. Today’s the day!”
A sensible person would have thought this a month or two ago, when bare-rooted fruit trees were being sold. Now at the end of the season, they’re not so easy to find, particularly if you are fixated on a specific type of plum.
Gran’s favourite plum was Satsuma. They had one in Inverloch and I can remember her picking one, biting into it and savouring the taste. One of the plum trees HAD to be a Satsuma.
Which of course were all sold out all over the state. Just as I was about to give up, I found one! I ordered it, with a pollinating plum (did really care which one) and 4 columnar apple trees for beside the driveway. I was so happy.
I debated about getting them delivered but decided to save the $30 delivery fee and pick them up myself. Thank goodness I did that.
To days later, when I was at the nursery, I glanced at the trolley full of my plants and gasped in horror. The plum trees were labelled ‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Mariposa’.
“NO!!!!” I said. “I ordered a Satsuma! It HAS to be a Satsuma!”
They looked at my receipt and one of the guys offered to go out and check if they had one left. I saw another guy shake his head at him, and I was sure that I’d have to go home with one plum tree and a store credit to get a Satsuma next year.
But he came back with one. (Turns out it’s a regular sized plum, not a dwarf, but I can keep it pruned.)
“You’re very lucky”, he said as we manoeuvred the plums into my car. The plums were so tall that the tips of the branched were touching the windscreen.
“I know,” I replied. “I think this is the last one in the whole of Melbourne.”
Here’s the final vista. I plan on keeping them well-pruned so they don’t get too big and entangled. The next job is to create a ‘no-dig’ garden bed around them all and next year, once the cardboard under the mulch rots down, plant some flowering shrubs and ground covers here and there to make it all look pretty.
I’ll have stepping stones to the trees so we won’t step on the soil very much. It’s going to look beautiful – an oasis of calm as you step through the gate from the world outside.
Sitting here on the couch, listening to the rain drumming on the tin roof of the verandah, looking at the slick brick paving of the driveway, it’s fair to say that I’m still enjoying lockdown.
Maybe I’m enjoying it a little too much? After mentioning to a mathematically-minded friend that I’ve signed on for another year of part-time teaching, he queried why. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m really worried about Covid, especially working in a school. No one can force those kids to socially distance. You’d need to point a gun at them, and even then they’d forget.
After selling my sweet little urban farm and moving 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne, I released enough equity so that financially, I’m pretty well set up. I haven’t quite hit “the number” that I’m aiming for to feel safe enough to retire, but honestly, if I pulled the pin now I’m pretty sure I’d be ok.
But… I’m a little leery about what is going to happen to the economy once all of the government payments like Job Keeper and Job Seeker start getting wound down. I really don’t want to retire and then have the bottom fall out of my nest egg.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for years will know just how hard the struggle was when the boys were little. I think that once someone goes through poverty like that, it’s very hard to let go of the safety rope that is an ongoing wage. I know that mentally, I won’t want to let it go until I feel VERY financially safe.
At the same time, I don’t want to go to work and catch the virus, either.
I’ve nearly finished all of the retirement-proofing that I want to get done on The Best House in Melbourne. I just have the ensuite and the side fence to go and I already have the money set aside to do them, once lockdown eases and people can go back to work.
For the moment, I’m going to let my decision to go back to work stand. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months. Maybe these harsh lockdown weeks will do the trick and the virus will simmer down and it’ll be safe to go back to work. I suppose there’s nothing stopping me from pulling the pin if I feel unsafe once I’m back. My fear of slipping back into poverty will mean that it’s a decision I won’t make lightly!
Balancing this, of course, is that I don’t want to leave the school in the lurch if I DO decide to leave. I’d definitely want to allow enough time for my 2 heads of department to find a decent replacement. They’re good people – I don’t want to create drama for them. Ugh. Bloody pandemic! I had it all sorted out until covid came along!
Decisions, decisions. Still, the really good thing about all of this is that all those years of frugality, making the hard money decisions and sticking with them, and finding pleasure in the simple things around me means that I have given myself options.
In the middle of a pandemic, that’s probably a good place to be.
Now, speaking of frugality – it’s Skinflint Sunday! What have I been doing to stretch our dollars?
* I’m aiming for serving a vegetarian dinner every second or third night, to make the meat in the freezer last. News stories have been saying that the border closures are going to make the prices of goods rise, particularly meat, so I figure that eating more lentils and veggies will have the economic benefit of eking out the meat we have, plus it’s better for us.
Also, Past Frogdancer bought heaps of dry beans, barley, nuts, rice and lentils. It makes good sense to use them up. I have lots of thermomix cookbooks from Thermobexta and Skinnymixers which have DELICIOUS vegetarian curries, soups and, well, everything else you could think of. We’ve been dining like KINGS! Vegetarian kings. Every second night.
* Years ago, when we were driving to the bread shop and getting their leftover bread for free every Tuesday night, I used to use the baguettes as garlic bread. I’d make them and freeze then in foil, then pop them in the oven whenever we had pasta. It’s a good way to fill up teenage boys and make them think they’re having a treat.
It occurred to me that I could use the yeast I bought in a mad panic as the first lockdown hit – the yeast I haven’t touched because I’ve been making sourdough bread – could be used to make thermomix bread rolls. Once cool, slather them with garlic butter, wrap in foil and freeze. Voila! Garlic bread!
We tried them out last night, served on the side with our macaroni bolognaise. Smelled so good, cooking in the airfryer. The boys loved it. The best thing is, I made 2 batches of the rolls so I still have 10 rolls in the freezer, ready to go.
*I’m still working on the garden. I have brussels sprouts (YUM), caulies and cabbages growing, although I’m not too sure if they’ll be successful. They seem to be growing a lot of big outside leaves but nothing much is happening in the middle, which is the business end for these vegetables. I have a MASSIVE silver beet plant which has gone to seed but is still producing viable leaves, so that has been my go-to for leaves to include in just about everything. I loves me some fresh green leaves to keep the Covid away!!
I have a rule that, if at all possible, something from the garden has to be used in our lunches and dinners. Even in these lean wintry days, there’s still the green leaves from the silver beet and warrigal greens, chives, parsley and other herbs, as well as things like the bay leaves from my little potted tree. Surprisingly, even the rhubarb is still going strong. I expected it to die down.
Soon I’ll be dragging out my seeds and starting to plant for the spring and summer gardens. With today being so gloomy and rainy, though, summer seems an eternity away.
*Reading. Boy, have I been doing a lot of this! I set a stretch target on Goodreads of reading 80 books this year. So far I’m 10 ahead of schedule. I’ve been listening to audiobooks from the library as I do things like painting fences and quilting, while also borrowing kindle books as well. I read so quickly that spending $40 on a book that would only take me a day or two to finish isn’t a good use of my $$$.
Around 30 years ago I read a book called Ringworld, by Larry Niven. It wasn’t especially well-written, but on the other hand, I never forgot it either, so it had to have had something going for it! He wrote 3 sequels to it, (of which I read 2). A few weeks ago I found out that he also wrote 4 prequels, plus a final sequel.
Hmmm… I checked the library but they only had hard copies of some of the books. I wouldn’t be able to access them until the libraries open up again after lockdown, and who knows when that’ll be?
I ferreted around and found where I could download these books for free. Since then I’ve been in a deep dive in the worlds of Known Space. I’m up to the stage of re-reading ‘Ringworld’ now, before I tackle the rest of the series. It’s been HOURS of fun. Some of these books are definitely more entertaining than others, but I’ve set my hand to the plough and I’ll finish this job.
Then I’ll tackle the pile of physical books beside my bed. As long as there’s books in this world, there’s no need for anyone to be bored.
Anyway, that’s probably enough Skinflint Sunday for one week. I’d be interested to know what you think about my job dilemma – and also if you have any hints and tips for things that you’re doing to stretch your resources a little futher. There’s always more to learn!