Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Shifting The Goal Posts

In considering our recent experiences it has become clear to me that humans can define success in a fashion that is relative to current experiences. In the beginning we set some expectations of what we defined as success, and then worked toward that goal. As events have unfolded, and the goal posts have moved further away, our definition of success has been adjusted to suit the new information.

There have been times when we have railed at the fact that we have needed to go further and further each time we reconsider our ultimate goal, and this reinforces the mystic idea that it is expectation that is one of the primary causes of unhappiness. We were unhappy because we expected that our original goal would be set in stone and we would be able to work towards it, achieve it, and then move on.

The universe has different ideas. It has "reasons" for making us take a certain path in life. Certain events must unfold before other events can take place, things must happen in their proper order. In the dark times when we are ruled by our expectations it is hard to see this, but it generally takes a display of generosity on behalf of the universe to set us back on track.

A case in point is the fact that we now not only have to get a construction certificate before we can buy the land, but we also have to begin construction. Now this is so far from the original advice given to us by the council that we were quite upset and wondering what on earth was going wrong. After a couple of angst ridden days considering this, we decided that if we could afford it we would forge ahead. In order to satisfy the certifier and council we would need to construct the new entrance to the property and do the earthworks for the site.

So yesterday I called the council to organise an on-site meeting to discuss the entry way to the property. The first DA on the block had a set of conditions on road signage, a new public intersection and the gateway to the property. These had been transferred directly to our new DA.

The first spot we stopped at was where the old lane joins to the new lane, which currently runs through a gate, dog-legs and then runs up the boundary fence of two blocks of land, through a paddock. We were required to put in a heavy-duty stock grate, and fix up the intersection. The stock grate alone is in the vicinity of three thousand dollars.

After discussing this with the gentleman from council we arrived at the conclusion that it would be alright to fence the road from the paddock, and do away with the stock grid and associated access gates to bypass the grid. Doing this could result in a massive saving on that bit of work.

Buoyed by this tentative bit of news (we still need to get approval from the owner of that land for that little scheme) we drove up to the top of the hill and stopped at the current gate to the block of land. Now the old DA was on an envelope further through on the block, along the new laneway, winding above some impressive hillside, over culverts and what-not to the furthest point on the property via another gate. Our decision was to have our home at the "front" of the block, the eastern-most side (the lane runs roughly east to west along the northern boundary of the property).

The fellow from the council pulled out the DA, then his itemised list of costs for the signage that would need to go in on the public road. He immediately began ticking and crossing things on his list. Because the conditions had been transfered directly from the old DA without consideration they included close to four thousand dollars worth of signs, three of which weren't needed as our house site was nice and close to the old lane. We would need only a T-intersection sign, and two for a culvert crossed on the road up. No winding road signs, no "don't drive over this cliff" signs, no signs for the four culverts further along the lane. Total saving in the vicinity of three thousand dollars!

So in one short meeting the universe was out to show me that it wasn't trying to make things hard for us (well not too hard, anyway) it was just organising things in it's own inscrutable way. When we can accept this and flow with it then we can be happy. I think ultimately it's a distinction between whether we believe things are meant to work out for the best, and we can therefore put our faith in the mysterious forces that direct events, or whether we feel negative about it all, and descend into the unhappiness of disappointed expectations.

Our "Sacred Lily Of The Incas" or Ismene

Friday, 30 November 2007

Round And Round We Go

Returning to more mundane matters after the recent rantings, we've hit another crisis with respect to securing our new land and home. I am, at the moment, pondering the workings of councils, wondering how they end up achieving anything given that one hand does not seem to know what the other is doing, and that they are invariably working at cross purposes even whilst attached to the one being.

We have been informed that, contrary to all previous advice from the particular person, that having a DA for our house on the land is not actually enough to secure things through the boundary change that is pending upon the lot. The thought now is that we need to also have a construction certificate. Advice I have been given from other quarters seems to see this as redundant, one is much the same as another given that both documents are tied to a particular folio number. If one is at risk of disappearing when the folio number changes, then surely the other is just as likely to evaporate.

I generally don't enjoy taking a grim view of people's actions. Most act from their own knowledge, doing what they think is best at the time, and for this reason I think even foolish actions can often be forgiven and attributed to lack of complete knowledge. I'm having serious doubts in this case.

Why would a person, who is hired to perform a particular task, not actually know the things involved in the performance of that task? Why should there be such a great shift of knowledge in such a short span of time? What was true and proper yesterday, becomes today something that is false?

Building a house is a big job, whether we're doing the work ourselves or not, and the decisions that go into it are not to be rushed or taken lightly. We would ideally have liked to have at least a year to consider things, before turning the first sod. This attempt to require us to have a construction certificate prior to settlement is rushing things along way to swiftly.

To top that off, chances are we may not even be able to get a construction certificate. We were considering owner building, and to do that we need another certificate. To obtain that one, a person needs to own the land they intend to build upon, or at the very least hold a three year lease on that land. Now why on earth would we want to take out a lease on the land that we are hoping to finalise purchase of within the next month or two? For that is the only way forward. We cannot purchase until we get the certificates, and we cannot get the certificates until we purchase. I get the feeling we are going around in circles!

The option of taking on a builder is similarly mostly a non-option. Besides the greatly increased costs we would be facing, how many builders will sign up and pay the construction insurances for a block of land, the purchase of which is in doubt? More pertinent, would I be wise to sign on with a builder in such a case? That worthy tradesman is sure to want some compensation if it all went sour.

I like to contrast my thoughts here with those I had in the earlier stages of this adventure. I seem to recall writing that the universe was helping us along, looking after us and ensuring everything was going to work out at the right time and in the right order. Do I still feel the same now?

I think that I do, though I am also hesitant to decide which way to go next. There is certainly a lesson in this, but the trick is figuring out what it is. Is it that I should not lie down and accept without question what council has to say in this matter? Should I fight rather than flow? Are there times when we should swim against the current and on into calmer waters? Or is it that this is actually the best course of action (if we can somehow work out the issues surrounding the certificates) but I just don't yet see all the variables in play, so cannot comprehend the value of the course?

One thing is for sure, regardless of which course of action is chosen, only time will tell.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Cornucopianism, The Darkest Path

We face a crisis, of energy supply, of raw material supply, of climate and ecosystem instability and destruction, of these things I have no doubt.

There are numerous possible paths into the future. I wont say there are numerous "solutions" to these problems. A solution implies resolving a difficulty, but also infers that it is resolved within a certain set of parameters. These parameters make a particular solution "valid".

The problem of a broken down car can be solved by replacing the damaged parts so that it will run again. We could also scrap the vehicle, but is this really a valid solution? Any solution that leaves us without a car is not really a solution at all, but we cannot determine this from the simple statement of the problem, that the car is broken down. We need to look deeper and restate the problem along with all the hidden requirements in order to decide why a certain solution is or is not valid.

The problem is not just that the car is broken down, it is that we no longer have our transportation, and it is this that must be considered in resolving the problem. We cannot look at only part of the problem definition and set the parameters for a valid solution from that. Scrapping the car solves the problem of having a broken down car, but not the problem of lack of transport.

It is for this reason that I don't think we can speak of "solutions" with respect to the crises we face. If we state the problem as "we are running low on critical resources" we can come up with numerous solutions to this that are entirely valid. The cornucopian worldview states the problem as: "we are running low on critical resources and we need to maintain our current lifestyle of extravagant overconsumption" How can such a problem be "solved"?

Back to the paths. We can look to the future and see the continuance of humanity, and we can take a number of paths from this point that have the potential of achieving that outcome. Whilst there are a myriad of possibilities, in my mind I see them on a spectrum ranging from energy descent to cornucopian technofix. There may be some validity in seeing these on a left and right style spectrum, most people ready to accept energy descent seem to have leftward leanings, whilst the most fervent cornucopians tip toward the right.

The two worldviews have endpoints, out in some distant future. Not so much goals, as ideals of living to aspire to and strive for.

As I see it, the energy descent crowd are heading toward various shades of agrarian/hunter-gatherer lifestyle with a focus on human development, evolution as a biological species within the bounds of nature.

The cornucopian crowd are heading toward a technological lifestyle, with a focus on the development of machines, on re-engineering the human being in the same fashion. Escaping the bounds of the biological and the natural.

Generally I would be content to let people choose their own course and make no comment on either pathway, indeed when I was younger I was torn between the two paths myself. This was long before I learnt anything about the state of the environment, or civilisation's overshoot. It's nothing like choosing between red or green curtains, it is a choice that can and will affect the entire earth.

For a moment disregard our current population problems, and consider an idealised future world on either of these paths.

The energy descent folks can make room for people with other points of view, it is not a mutually exclusive philosophy. They farm parts of the earth, and live within the bounds imposed by nature. If you wanted to upload your mind into a machine, fair enough, there is the room to do so, and so long as living within the bounds nature imposes is the predominant ideology then taking such action would be essentially the same as choosing to get a tattoo or not. People may think you're a bit weird but that's the extent of it. It is not going to fundamentally affect the potential for others to live out their lives in a manner that they see fit.

Consider the cornucopians though. Their very worldview hinges on maximising the production of every energy producing system on and beyond the Earth. If we can possibly suck more energy out of something in order to power another iPod, then they would have us do it. The philosophy is mutually exclusive with any other philosophy. If they see more benefit in wiping out the entire ecosystem and replacing it with a single genetically engineered "super plant", then that is the path they will take. Anything less efficient is done away with in the name of progress.

There is no room for inefficient organic production of food, no room for remnant woodlands, or nature reserves, all of these things and more reduce the potential maximum population that can be "sustained" on the earth, the potential economic output derived and the potential "standard of living" that can be gained. The economic systems in place would give preferential advantage to operations based in the worldview (as we already see today in many places, take subsidised agriculture, for example) and propagate these in favour of more environmentally benign methods of existence.

The cornucopian worldview will wipe out all competing worldviews, if it comes to predominate.

The unfortunate thing is that the cornucopians will always get the better publicity, better funding and better results, in the short term. Nobody much bothers to think about the future any more. "Damn everyone if I cannot drive my car and watch my TV!!" The cornucopian path will lead to a scramble for solutions designed to bleed more and more from the earth in vain attempts to ensure the continuance of our current unsustainable way of life. The results of any potential course of action will be measured in terms of how well they go towards preserving the status quo.

Even if they ultimately fail, their actions will have a severe impact on the world we will be left with. Consider the calls for a massive program for building nuclear power plants, thousands of them, across the Earth. What legacy is that construction program going to leave? What legacy are those plants going to leave?

The energy descent path will leave a positive legacy. Even if scientists were to develop workable fusion next year, the few short steps taken along the energy descent pathway will have given people a better appreciation for the value of the natural world around them. (Though sadly I'm sure it will be swiftly forgotten once they turn back onto the path to a techno-utopia.)

The energy descent pathway does not exclude a future change of direction. The cornucopian pathway has a very good chance of doing just that. It's hard to follow any path in the midst of a contaminated biosphere. If there's no life on earth it's hard to follow any path. Only those pathways with a focus on opening up the number of possibilities for the future should be considered. Those pathways that shut out the majority of alternatives should be cast aside, and denigrated for what they truly represent.

It's time for humankind to look at where it is headed. To lift our eyes from the sumptuous meal we are sitting down to on the deck of the Titanic. What do we really want for the future, for our grandchildren's grandchildren? Life inside a computer chip, thoughts alone etched on silicon, living on electricity as the only possible adaptation to the nightmare biosphere we have created? Or a life as a biological organism, under the sun, amongst the natural beauty of the earth? Perhaps not surrounded by consumer flotsam as we are today, but perhaps, for once, happy to be alive.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Forest And Field

Following on from my recent post about building forests, I had the scientific department out doing some research ( :-P ) and they came up with the following:

From the ABC's News In Science: Native trees key to cooling climate

Some excerpts below:

Extensive clearing of native trees is making Australian droughts hotter and is an under-recognised factor in climate change, research shows.
And, my favourite:

He says native vegetation plays an important role in moderating climate because it is deep rooted, which leads to more moisture evaporating into the atmosphere over a longer period.

This is then recycled into the environment as rainfall.

Native vegetation also reflects less short-wave solar radiation into the atmosphere than crops, which keeps the surface temperature cooler and helps in cloud formation.

I agree with the general aim of the proposed measures of course, but I feel it hasn't been taken to it's logical conclusion, possibly due to political and social factors. I think we can do better, at least in some areas.

Drawing on the previous post, many natives actively resist evaporating moisture into the air as part of their evolved survival mechanism. Rather than planting these natives, put in other trees that are deep rooted, and evaporate more moisture than their Australian cousins, whether this be rainforest plants or non-indigenous plants from other areas of the world. Rather than returning to the sunburnt country, go the next step and move to a moister country all round.

Put in trees that build up humus that works to improve moisture retention and infiltration. Plant trees that face their leaves to the sun and thus cool the earth beneath them more, rather than Eucalypts that hang their leaves down in an attempt to avoid catching (and therefore collecting and/or reflecting) the sun.

I think the idea of open pastures, orchards and vineyards is perhaps a bit of a throwback to the European origins of our practices. The lower light and heat levels there required that the plants have more access to sunlight. Here at the top of the earth (if you're holding the globe up the right way!) we get more intense sunlight, so a little bit of shading comes in handy. Take a browse through some of the Aussie gardening blogs and see how many put up shade covers in summer so the plants in their vege gardens can survive.

It's obviously a trade-off, as the start and end of the growing season would be adversely affected to a degree, but I think there is room to fit trees into our grazing land with benefit to the entire system. If soils are improved, and cooler, and more moisture is retained, then growth during the peak of summer should make up for that lost at either end of the season. Cooler grazing animals should also require less water (and moister feed should also assist with that) and be happier if they aren't standing in the sun all day, or fighting one another to occupy the one tiny bit of shade in a big paddock. Lamb chops may also be tastier if they aren't coming in from the paddock already sun-dried.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

It's not a raft!

I've been reading a bit of discussion on the topic of liferafts and the survivalist approach to Peak Oil. A particularly interesting pair of articles were Why the Survivalists Have Got It Wrong by Rob Hopkins at Transition Culture and Communities, Refuges, and Refuge-Communities by Zachary Nowak at Energy Bulletin. Whilst I found a lot I could agree with in Zachary's piece (and the associated article Preparing For A Crash: Nuts and Bolts) there were also a lot of arguments in Rob's post that struck a chord.

I found myself considering my place in the world, as you do, and what path I was actually on. There is a lot of talk of moving to the country onto some land, and setting it up for self-reliance to insulate and protect from the dark times ahead, setting up a life-raft to use the common term.

Now I'm pretty sure that when I first started thinking about peak oil making such a move seemed like a pretty obvious way to go. The only problem was, we were already on that path for various other reasons. The prospect of peak oil changed the scope of the project to be sure, but it did not alter the basic direction we had chosen for our lives.

But are we survivalists? We want to survive, so that may be a black mark against our names, but we certainly don't fit this description from Rob:
We will, they argue, be able to get by, in utter isolation, up a dirt track somewhere, seeing no-one, with no external stimulus, eating borage and 3 year old baked beans, and attempting to be entirely self sufficient, despite having little previous background in the way of gardening, farming and homesteading.
So where do we fit in? Another couple of pieces from Rob's article begin to give me an answer I can be comfortable with:

The irony is that these survivalists who have the insight into the urgency of peak oil and who decide, in response, to head for the hills, are, ironically, most needed in the places where the rest of the people are, sharing their skills and their insights.

In other words this is a time where the only valid and practical response is to embrace society rather than run away from it. This is the work of now. People are starting to wake up, peak oil is becoming clearly visible, and everything, it feels to me is up for grabs. Energy descent planning has the advantage that it is a response to peak oil that might actually work.
If I understand it right, our primary failing is that we are not engaging our local community in planning for peak oil, we are letting society down by going our own way and doing our own thing, and that this may lead to our deserving the title of isolationist-survivalists.

Any community tackling peak oil in a head-on fashion must necessarily have some proportion of the population who consider peak oil to be a real and impending threat. Whilst I do believe that one person can make a difference, one person, without being able to convince others, is not going to have an effect on a community, is not going to be able to bring about the kind of changes we see in places implementing plans like Transition Towns.

When considering many rural areas, there just isn't this critical mass to allow the ball to start rolling. Try too hard to convince people and you tend to alienate them. Due to the social structures, alienation from one person usually flows on to alienation from many people, as your “reputation” spreads through the tight knit community. Get too radical and you could swiftly find yourself doing your shopping in the next village over.

The question is, are we being selfish and insular by remaining in our communities in the country and not taking any direct social action?

I think not, and here's why: A “life-raft” can be built up so that it is insulated from the worst that may come to try us as a society. In doing that, the location becomes a storehouse of information, knowledge and experience, as well as, perhaps most importantly, genetic material.

There will come a time when the people in country communities are bitten hard by peak oil, and they will be looking for solutions. As long as you haven't alienated them entirely, you will be in a prime position to support that social network, perhaps not by being able to feed it outright from your stores, but certainly by being able to help it transition through education and provision of materials such as fruit trees, plants and seeds.

If you're like me, you may have amassed a library of books on all sorts of strange and wonderful subjects in preparation. The argument is often used that a person, or family, wouldn't have the time to read, much less learn all the skills in all the books. What if that is not the purpose?

Once the community does begin to pull together and face the problem head on, the number of people available to learn new skills expands. You can pass on the books about electricity to the local electrician, and he can work on getting alternate power supplies running. The local mechanic may be very interested in your books about biodiesel, and with the help of the guy who finished his first year chemistry at university, they can knock up a plant and make the adjustments to the vehicles so some transport is still available, for a time at least.

Whilst this approach is not ideal, it would certainly be better for everyone to be prepared in advance, given the circumstances, it is often the only way. It is a whole lot better to have one family prepared, than no-one in an area being prepared.

As a flow on from this, it is probably better to be the only one prepared in a small community than to be the only one prepared in a big one.

Life-rafts shouldn't be seen as personal escape vehicles, they should be seen as the seeds of the future communities in the country. Be prepared and secure in your knowledge and ready to share it with those around you in their time of need. This is the critical first step as I see it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007


Things are still grinding along in the background with respect to the DA, and therefore the purchase of the new land. We got hit with some surprise fees for the DA, must be a new experience for the council, so that has set things back by a week, as they wouldn't even begin to consider it without those fees being paid.

We're going to be organising another visit to the block this weekend, if the vendor is accommodating. I haven't yet taken my mother out there, and she's keen to see it, and we're all keen to see it again. Most amazing, the twins, at three years old, are also keen, and often ask when we're going to be building our new house. I'm quite surprised that their little hummingbird minds retain such things.

The picture above is part of the site we're considering for the new orchard and vineyard. It gets a good dose of sun, and should have reasonable frost drainage. I'll need to see how deep the soil is there, but it's well situated all other things considered.

This next visit I intend on taking as many photos as possible of the important sites, the spot for the house, potential orchard sites, shed sites, dam sites etc, to allow us to better plan from the comfort of our (current) home.

Last weekend I finally made it through the "Big Mowing". Things have dried out so quickly that I will probably only need to mow that one time for the entire season, well, maybe once or twice more, but we wont see the rampant growth again until after next winter, unless we get a heap of rain.

The place looks very different with short grass. All the trees are readily visible, and they're all looking great so far. I modified the irrigation so that we are doing two zones high up on the "hill", where the pressure is lower, so each should get a better dose for the time they run. I'd like to do the same to the older orchard, the younger trees at the top of the block don't seem to be getting enough water, whilst the older ones down lower shouldn't need the same frequency of watering.

Also got around to cleaning the glasshouse out and potting on the vegetables, out of the seedling punnets and into something more substantial that will last them until they go out in the ground. We're still getting a few nights a week close to zero, so I'm wary of putting them out too early. Now that we've got the glasshouse we're not losing a lot of growing time waiting, so I'm not so concerned, and it saves me a heap of time that would be spent covering tender plants every night.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Building A Forest

I mentioned a couple of posts ago my great love of propagating trees, and how the new block of land was going to allow me close to free reign in that department. If I can grow a tree, then I can find a place to plant it. I had purchased a range of seed from Phoenix Seeds in Tasmania, all unusual trees and shrubs that I was not sure what I would do with if they ever came up.

For most of the varieties chosen it was indicated that they would take rather a long time to sprout, up to two years for some. All of these empty-looking punnets of soil in the glasshouse have been teasing me, with the exception of the Kangaroo Apple, a shrub native to southern Australia, which sprouted in record time, and 100% success.

We've since had some European Elderberry come up, only about 10% so far, but there is still hope for the rest, and best of all one, then another Witch Hazels, over the course of the last month. These two seedlings will be treasured and cared for, as I've never seen the plant in the nurseries, even online, and there's only one thing I love more than trees, and that's hard-to-get, if not rare, trees! There are of course other criteria, generally they will be Old World trees, which for some reason have always had a special place in my heart and mind. I've gotten over my initial dislike of our natives, but I'm still an alien, a stranger in a strange land, even though I was born and have spent all of my life here.

I think it comes down to the moistness of non-natives (the ones I prefer at least). Eucalypts and other spiny natives always seem so dry, boney almost, and perhaps it is the longing for rain and moistness, the stories of the lush England of my parents and grandparents that has warped me this way.

I also like to think of another thing. What if the vegetation of a region maintains a particular climate? There is often talk of a climate maintaining a certain type of vegetation, and our land is used as a prime example, it's dryness and heat meaning that non-natives have a poor chance of survival.

But what if it also works the other way? Trees transpire according to their type. Eucalypts only a little, whilst a hazelnut for instance will probably transpire a lot in comparison. Now that transpiration, along with other factors, goes to make rain, so the Eucalypt will only produce a little rain, whilst the hazelnut will produce more. Similarly a field of wheat or other grain will produce only a marginal amount of moisture in the air, and all of that by drawing water from the top few inches of the earth. The old timers around here certainly talk about changes in rainfall as a result of the mass clearing of certain areas around the village to turn it over to farmland.

Another thing to consider is the cycling of nutrients. Deciduous trees will drop a load of nutrients every Autumn, building up the humus in the soil, increasing it's fertility. The native vegetation on the other hand will drop firewood and tinder over the course of the year, tough stuff that breaks down only slowly and burns in preference.

Now those reading this (if any :) ) could most likely accuse me of grandiose plans for environmental engineering, and they would probably be right at a certain level. The idea is not one that I comfortably accept, for I am torn over the arguments in favour of preservation of natural ecosystems. But, sadly, weighed against that is the fact that, at least where I reside, there is very little in the way of natural ecosystem left. Change has always been a natural part of the Earth's life. At this point in it's history we need to be seriously considering creating humus and moistening the environment in order to mitigate the future effects of climate change. Cooler, moister forests cool and moisten the earth, and may be a way for us to avoid living in a parched and sunburnt country (and after a while not living here at all when it goes completely to desert)

Monday, 24 September 2007


It's been a short couple of months from a vague inkling of an idea to today, and looking back there is no way we could have known that we would be where we are today, but, well, here we are!

We signed our contract last week, on Tuesday to be precise, and our DA went in on Friday, so the ball is well and truly rolling, though it's a strange feeling as we aren't actually doing anything to assist it, so we're sort of out of the loop. Everything is happening off somewhere else, so whilst they're momentous events, it almost feels like we're not really involved at all.

We booked in for another visit to the block on Sunday, and the vendor was kind enough to allow that, so we arranged with my FIL, Graham, to come along and check the place out.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, weather wise, and we started it off with a visit to the neighbours, who it just so happened were already known to Graham. This was another good start to the future, they were superb people, very easy to get along with and able to give us a great insight into the area.

After that we moved across to the block. It's still verdant even though the district has had precious little rain in the last month.

One of Graham's specialties is building dams, so we were very keen to hear any advice he had to offer on the matter, and there was a lot of good advice to be had. Due to the steepness of most of the block, and the fact that the house site is a good 50-100 metres (we don't have accurate topo maps yet, they should arrive tomorrow) above the lowest point of the property, we are faced with the challenge of collecting water and getting it to defy gravity in order to supply the house and gardens that will be around it with liquid sustenance.

A couple of spots I had selected as suitable were discarded due to requiring too much earth to be moved for the amount of capacity gained. A couple of other decent sites were discovered and some initial plans involving piston pumps to transfer water were sketched out. Once we've settled we'll be going back with the level to run it over and see what the best options will be.

We were keen to hear Graham's general opinion, as he's had a lot to do with farming and growing things, and whilst we've had some experience on the small scale, we've never made a decision quite as monumental as buying this land. I guess it would have been ideal to have him look over it before a final decision was made, but circumstances didn't permit. Still, the news was good at the other end anyway. Except for the challenge of getting the water up high everything else checked out. Lots of good timber, good soil and good climate, with pastures in a reasonable state. All in all an A+ as far as we're concerned.

We've started on some basic sketching of ideas for the place, though we're not going too in depth until we've had the time to do a better analysis of the land. We have also started to seriously consider how we are going to approach the building and power issues, with some pertinent questions asked and answered over at Aussies Living Simply.

Still more waiting game ahead of us, but we are now more assured of our purchase. Unless we have a fair disaster of some kind, we should be settling in a little under 6 months (and counting!) and then we will be free to roam at will...

Thursday, 13 September 2007

More Than A Hint

I've been actively resisting getting too excited about the new land, until now! I can't believe that another month has slipped by in that time, but it was certainly well spent.

This morning we heard that our loan for the land has been approved, meaning we can get in and sign the contract sometime in the next few days (well, probably not over the weekend, but sometime)

We may still have up to six months to wait before settlement, given that we need to get a DA approved on the house and site we prefer, and the vendor needs to register a boundary change, but still, that's six months to success, rather than eternity to no result at all.

Now issues that were previously not of great concern can come to the forefront. How do we afford to get the power on to the site? At somewhere in the vicinity of 40k that will be a challenge.

Then, do we go the owner builder route, or fork out the extra cash to get someone else to do it in a reasonable amount of time? The big issue with that part of the plan is that finance for the building would require selling our current residence, which would mean making some sort of arrangement to live elsewhere in the meantime.

This is the tough question, and is tied in to the power issue. If we went with someone else building it we would potentially be able to roll the power costs up into the building loan, allowing it all to be done in good time. Otherwise we need to find the money for the power before any other work can begin out there, and then find time and money to do each step of the building. With the two mortgages we may be a bit too stretched to accomplish much.

As for living somewhere else whilst building went on, that would be very difficult for us to do. It would be hard to leave this place for a move to town, even for the few months it would take to build, though that is perhaps overly optimistic and we could be waiting a year, and there's still a lot of things we'd like to do here before we could feel like we were passing on something worthwhile to the next folks to take it up. On top of that we'd like to propagate all the fruit trees we've collected, so that will need to wait until next year at least.

I guess yet again we will leave the question for a while, and that mysterious force that seems to propel us forward on our path will come up with a solution, it has done so far on this roller-coaster ride, for which we are most grateful.

I would like to share another bit of "universal assistance" we've been gifted with. Due to the way the deal is structured we were looking at waiting up to a year before settlement could occur. This was causing me some concern, as when we get started we'd love to do it sooner rather than later. I'd resigned myself to waiting that year, and had left it.

The solicitor requested the inclusion of a clause in the contract to cover refinancing in the event the whole process did go longer than six months, as we could only get the finance held open for that long. After that we would need to apply for a new loan.

The vendor, upon hearing of this, was not impressed, thinking we were setting it up so we could bail out, rather than understanding that we would need to refinance as the loan offer would expire. Once he had this explained to him, he was off to his solicitor and organised that his 9 month boundary adjustment time was to be 3 months, resulting in a total time to settlement of 6 months. Just like that the year of waiting is halved, and happiness, of course, doubled!!

We've got the most exciting bit to go now. We can begin to plan where things will go, in a pseudo-permaculture fashion. We need to run the block as a money spinner in order to meet tax office requirements, so we will need to blend that requirement with our desire for a lifestyle as self-sufficient-ish as possible. It's a challenge to look forward to.

I've always enjoyed propagating trees, they have such a permanence about them that growing them from seed gives me much greater satisfaction than any other type of plant. Up to now I'd had to avoid growing too many as there just was not the room for them here. 6 Oak seedlings in the glasshouse are now the beginning of a new age of propagational joy, we should have enough room to fit in an entire forest now :)


Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Hints Of The Future

The last month or so has been jam packed with things to keep me occupied. Work has been super-hectic with a major project, which should be calming down at the end of the week as it enters stage 2. I should be able to gain some semblance of normality once the requirement to work until the ungodly hours of the morning is done away with.

Those two special days in the week that are called "weekend" have similarly been consumed with both work and driving to "Sydney" on a regular basis. My dad is moving, and his sheds have become the Steptoe & Son of my dreams. Almost everything he considered throwing out has been accepted, loaded and transported the 400 odd Km's back home.

In reviewing my haul I came to an interesting conclusion. Nearly everything I've idly wished for over the last few months has now come my way through this serendipity.

We have a bodgy standard rural pipe connecting the mains to the house, courtesy of the original inhabitants. In our clay soil, once summer hits the ground moves and the pipe bursts with regularity. So after the last bursting I left the hole open thinking I would get some green line poly and do the job properly. Life got in the way and I never made it to town to get the pipe. The DW's desire that I should fill in the hole won out, and it was done. A few weeks later I arrive at dad's, and lo and behold on offer is close to a full roll of green line poly. Will the miracles of wishes never cease? Indeed not!!

I'd also wished for an outdoor sink, received. A bathtub for the water chestnuts, received. A completely open flyscreen to replace the half closed one on the front door? Recevied. A bike to ride? Done times two. A 44 gallon drum to make a charcoal "factory"? Got one of those too.

When discussing this with my brother he mentioned the secret. I thought, the what? Then he clarified that I needed capitals in there. "The Secret". He's heard a bit about this, and thinks it's the same thing. Wish for things and the universe provides them. Takes me back to the days of youthful idealism reading Deepak Chopra and Louise Hay and wishing it were all so easy. Maybe there is something in it after all?

Now we've been considering moving for some time, idle thoughts, nothing concrete yet, though they have been less and less idle as time has gone by. My dear mother has been telling us to do it sooner rather than later, so we can get fruit trees up and running before the kids are too old to be interested in eating fruit etc etc. Golden advice all of it. So after a recent conversation with her I decided to speak to our mortgage advisor (now she hasn't asked for advertising, but we're chuffed with the help we received on this place, and the help to date on our new adventure, so it would be remiss of me to not name names, Kylie McFarlane at Aussie in Springwood) who helped us into this home, just to see what options were available to us, to see how we would go about moving our plans forward.

Well, you wouldn't believe it but there were options for us, and pretty good ones. The message was, find something you like and we'll go from there.

A short while later we turned up a nice block of land, over in a good area as far as our climate requirements went. We ummed and ahhh'd over it, trying to decide whether it was still too soon, but then thought, what they hey, the universe will let us know whether it's possible or not (or the bank managers at least).

So now, were just waiting to see if the finance will be approved. It hasn't been an easy one, there were a number of hidden issues with the place that caused us some concern, but we were able to find ways around them. It's a lovely block of land, 69 acres of it, with a bit of creek frontage, a lot of hillside, and some great stands of massive white box, which is an endangered species therefore protected.

I've decided not to get stressed about it, it either works out or it doesn't. Throwing it out to the universe, making the wish and trying to remain detached from the outcome. As I look back over the path that led us to this point in life, in this location, it seems just like a carefully organised holiday package, roller-coaster rides and all. If only I could remember what we ordered in the first place :-)

I read another example of this kind of universe in a post over at the blog by Lightening: Fast Tracking Our Dreams

So I've not gone totally loopy, yet...

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

New Trees

Our order of bare rooted trees for this winter arrived yesterday! They travelled all the way up from Tasmania, completing the journey safe and sound. They're currently sitting in a bucket of very weak seaweed tea, and will be planted out at lunchtime today, if there's time.

The order was only for three trees this year, well, four if you count the ornamental, but I don't. Two new apples, a Beauty of Bath and Cornish Aromatic, and a pear, Beurre Hardy (also known as a Gellert's Butterbine, a much more appealing name in my opinion).

Why am I buying more trees when we are planning on moving, and actually put them into the ground?? As a young fellow I was a collector, and I remain so today. Stamps, coins, toys, essentially anything of which there was more than one variety was a target for collection. I enjoyed collecting different varieties of herbs, though this interest has fallen a little by the wayside due to the difficulty of obtaining anything outside of the mainstream range.

Fruit tree varieties have become the collectible of choice as I've gotten older, and so another couple of trees could not be resisted. I'll probably end up getting a couple more trees from the local nurseries, a mulberry and a medlar at least, and no doubt anything else that takes my fancy.

I cannot help myself but to keep putting plants into this place. I've been this way all along, even when we were renting houses, I had to keep putting things into the ground. Above and beyond the desire to collect things, there is also the desire to leave each place changed by my time there. I shall no doubt be forgotten as readily as the people that lived, and gardened, here before me, but the changes I make will perhaps live on, in some modified form, well into the future.

Each garden created in a place is either an adaptation or recreation of what was there before. Sometimes the site is cleared and levelled, and started on a blank slate, sometimes what existed before is added to, built upon. In either case, the environment of the garden is in a state of flux whilst humans work it. The garden and gardener grow together for a time, then part ways. The new gardener is subtly (or perhaps not so) influenced by the work of the previous gardeners. The new gardener that takes on a place grows not only with the garden, but with all the previous gardeners who were there.

If I were to resist the urge to plant more trees, then I would be resisting the urge to be a bigger part of the future, even anonymously. Who knows, one day, beyond "peak everything", people in this village may be eating Cornish Aromatics for supper, all grown from a tree in some forgotten fellow's back yard.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

My Mountain

It has now been over a month since the last attention was paid to this poor, neglected blog, and whilst I'd like to think it was because so much else has been happening it's difficult to pick what that might be. There has been a lot of "day job" to contend with, as well as a good dose of family events which have taken us far and wide.

The farmlet has been well and truly frosted now, and we've had a good dose of rain, 67ml for May and 69ml to date for June. We had a sprinkle this morning, but it looks as though it's clearing up out there now. Whilst we've had a couple of good falls in the 10 - 15ml range most of the time it's been the cold and dreary sort of stuff that keeps everything muddy but doesn't do anything to up the numbers. Just enough to prevent outdoor projects but not enough to give a glow of satisfaction.

The walls (from the last post) are essentially complete, at least that stage of them. I've still got to level out the path that runs above them, but the stairs are done and an extra little garden that starts just above the chookyard gate. I've still got to do the part behind the glasshouse, on the western side of a massive boulder, but I'm in no rush. Hopefully I'll get some pictures before Spring.

The rain has brought out a variety of fungi about the place, which got me to thinking. If fungi work to decompose organic matter, then the flush of fungal delights that now spring up after rain must indicate that we are seeing some improvement in the soil on the block. Where before there was impoverished clay that wouldn't support the thought of a toadstool now we have an abundance of them, so somehow we are heading in something like the right direction.

Maintaining an almost constant cover of some form is helping to prevent erosion, as are the mini-contour banks we've put in, so overall we should be retaining more soil, and also getting a better charge from the rain that does fall.

We've also been seriously considering our plans to move on from here. We had our local real-estate man through the place to give us some idea as to what would be worth fixing up and what is best left for the next "guardians". A part of us is a little scared to think that all this work could be bulldozed for the sake of subdividing to get two blocks from one, but we're going to forge ahead in the hope that the right people come along.

We have some motivating factors, the first being that we'd like more land to try out other things. related to this, that our two roast lambs to-be aren't comfortable on their 1/4 acre, even with the best of supplementary feed. It's also not really fair on the neighbours to be running this kind of operation in such close proximity. Now I'm a firm believer in "Peak Everything" (sort of like Peak Oil, only a bit worse) so it may seem strange that I would think this way. Shouldn't my neighbours be prepared to be happy with this kind of thing, as it may just be the way of the future? Perhaps they should, but then they don't necessarily think the way I do, and whilst council by-laws are the way they are, we're living on the borderline of acceptability and at the mercy of neighbourly good-naturedness (of which there certainly is enough, but I'd not like to push my luck too much further!). So it comes down to moving somewhere more appropriate.

In making this decision we've been plagued with thoughts of "what if it's too much for us to handle?", "why can't we be happy where we are?" etc etc. Beyond the rational decisions there are a whole plethora of emotional things to consider too. Thankfully I was most pleased to be browsing through a friend's blog (Down To Earth) where I came across the following link: The Gaping Void - How To Be Creative and found some inspiring thoughts within.

Whilst number 1 "Ignore everybody" is a good start, it was the detail of number 9 that got me most:

9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven. But if you don't make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow-line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed, and all you will feel is emptiness.

This metaphorical Mount Everest doesn't have to manifest itself as "Art". For some people, yes, it might be a novel or a painting. But Art is just one path up the mountain, one of many. With others the path may be something more prosaic. Making a million dollars, raising a family, owning the most Burger King franchises in the Tri-State area, building some crazy oversized model airplane, the list has no end.
Let's say you never climb it. Do you have a problem with that? Can you just say to yourself, "Never mind, I never really wanted it anyway" and take up stamp collecting instead?
Emphasis is mine

This really spoke to me. An Everest is a challenge, but it's also something you want to accomplish with your life, regardless of whatever rational reasons there may be to not bother doing so. Sure it would perhaps be more sensible to work around this village life, making the most of it. We would probably have more spare time (to spend on what??) and more security too, but that's not the point is it? The point is that we have one valuable gift of a life that is given to us to do something with, and it turns out that that something is usually something you're interested in (otherwise there'd be no point doing it, would there?). Ever since childhood my most constant, back-of-the-mind idea has been living as a "farmer" (to loosely interpret the word as grower of food and other needs). It's something I always come back to, regardless of the other side-tracks and courses in my life.

Is this a desire for a type of art? I'm beginning to think that it is. I enjoy doing (or enjoyed, don't get much time these days) other forms of art, drawing, painting and carving generally, but if I look objectively at my life then I spend most of my spare time shaping this little block of land, working it to capture energy and turn it into life, into food, in a way that is useful and also aesthetically pleasing. I won't be giving up my day job (refer to other points in The Gaping Void, all very sensible IMO) but I can move on to another canvas. This place is perhaps the immature scrawlings and splashes of a beginning painter. I could keep reworking this first canvas over and over, but eventually it will get to the stage where I am expending energy and material resources purely out of boredom, changing things just for the sake of something to do, which doesn't sound so sensible to me. Far better to place this work in the hands of someone else to take the raw brushstrokes and fill in the fine detail as they mesh the fabric of this land with that other great canvas we all work upon, their lives.

(There is also the motivation of getting a larger shed, the one I've got now is filled to overflowing ;-) )

So we're putting the wheels into motion, slowly but surely. We've got a few jobs to do on the house before we could feel comfortable handing it over to someone else, and I'd like to finish off the hard landscaping here (hard as in solid framework, as well as hard work!), so we'll probably aim to put it on the market in Spring, though at a price high enough that if someone wants it straight away we are comfortably able to move. If it takes a lot longer to sell then we'll be okay with that, as we could wait another year or so before moving. I think the twins starting school will be a kind of deadline, best to start them where they'll stay for some years rather than trying to move them after 6 months or a year in a school. They've just turned 3, so that gives us two or three years to get it all done. If we begin to approach that time without any bites then we'll gradually reduce the price.

Know anyone who wants a nice spot in a village? :-)

Friday, 25 May 2007

The Walls

Another week, and some, has gone by. The working bit is over for now, and it's almost time to get into the weekend again. I spent the last one working up a storm building rock walls. Well, some of it was spent that way, a greater part was actually spent digging and cracking the existing rock to make room for the wall to go in, and the set of steps to go up to the higher level.

This weekend, as long as there are no other exciting events waiting to surprise me, will be similarly spent. I should be able to get the wall near the chook run finished off if all goes well.

We had our first frost yesterday, and another again this morning, so my lament about Winter never arriving was premature, just as I knew it would be. They were only light, though a taste of things to come. Hopefully it wont be like last year where we got some -8 degree nights and killed off a few trees that are supposed to survive frosts well enough. With luck the bit of rain we've had is enough to moderate things.

The chillis survived these two frosts, but the basil has taken it poorly. With the clear sky out there I'd say we shall have another dose tonight and most of these tender plants will be gone. I'm interested in seeing how the perennial coloured cotton goes. There was no indication of frost hardiness, but with it being a more primitive strain perhaps it will survive a bit longer. The two I have potted up and put into the glasshouse and recovering well. Still haven't made any handkerchiefs from the cotton yet though :)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Odd Jobs

Autumn certainly isn't in the rush it was last year, by now it had been and gone and Winter was well underway. Whilst there are obvious advantages to a long drawn out balmy Autumn it does have me a bit concerned what with climate change and all. Maybe Winter will never come??

Roses and cotton are both still putting out flowers, though some of the fruit trees have finally started to shed their leaves, and the two ash trees and the pistachio out the front are turning bronze-blood-red and golden yellow respectively. Some of the plants have the right idea, though the temperatures certainly aren't encouraging. We've had low twenties for weeks now, with overnight temps always above the mystical 5 degrees that seems required to set frosts in motion.

We obtained four new chooks recently, freebies from a notice in the window of the local store. At last we have chooks that lay eggs! The existing ones, Silver Grey Dorkings and a single Barnevelder and Spangled Hamburgh go off the lay at the slightest provocation, so we do a lot of feeding for little return. The new birds look to be Isa Browns or some similar factory breed, and they're living up to their reputation. Most days see four eggs come in from them. The Hamburgh has a go every now and then, but I think she's getting on a bit.

On the blacksmithing front I searched the big town for a source of charcoal and came up empty-handed. It looks as though I'm going to have to build myself a charcoal factory. I did try the compressed charcoal briquettes but it seems they have some additives that turn into a gluey slag, definitely not the best.

I've also finished the new blower, a much better one this time around. It is noisy though, and uses electricity, so I'll be looking to replace it with a manual one at some stage. I won't rush into it until the kids are big enough to power it reliably for me.

I'm starting to get into Winter mode on the jobs front, I've begun one rock wall near the chook house, and hopefully by the end of Winter it will be finished, along with a couple of small terraces across the back yard. I've got the spots ready for a couple of new fruit trees, but with our desire to move in the next couple of years we won't be spending a fortune packing the place with trees now. Who knows, the next people who take it on may bulldoze the lot, subdivide and sell it all off.

I plan on taking cuttings of all our fruit tree varieties this Winter, and then next year raising the rootstocks to go with them. It seems a bit backwards, but I learnt the proper method of propagating rootstock recently, but it was too late in the season to do it. In order to ensure I've got the needed material I'll take the cuttings now, that way if we should happen to strike it lucky and move sooner rather than later I've got all I need to reproduce the varieties we've already collected.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Forging A Blacksmith

For a long time now I've wanted to get into blacksmithing, well, any coloured smithing would do as long as it involved fire and metal in some combination. I'd finally set myself a goal to get started this winter.

A series of two (does two make a series? Perhaps not!) events led me to dive in head first rather than holding off until some time in the future. No point waiting around really. The first occurred whilst helping a friend with some aussieslivingsimply.com.au access issues thanks to the recent site move. I took a browse on his blog over here (Day 47), and read that he had put the missing fuse in the line to his blacksmithing shed. That sparked my interest, the very word was enough for me, and was followed by an email conversation about how he had set it up and so on. He posted pictures as a follow up here (Day 50) and it's a great looking setup that had me riled and ready to go.

I was tipped over the edge after leafing through some old magazines and seeing a short article about a young fellow who had received a blacksmithing book and tools and embarked upon his journey. I thought if others can, why can't I? What was I waiting for? It was time to get started.

Anzac Day rolled up, and it was a perfect opportunity to do such a job. Step one was a scrounge through the junk pile I call a shed to get some appropriate bits and pieces, then a careful appraisal of the different wheels on hand to select the biggest and best. I had a piece of metal shaped perfectly to fit inside a wheel, nicely domed, and thick enough to handle some arc welding.

I had some scraps of pipe that would all assemble together to do the job. All my starting materials, excepting the legs, are in the image to the right.

After gathering all the components it was a matter of widening the hole in the base plate (the large round section) so that it would comfortably accommodate the "just below the fire" bit (the large diameter galvanised pipe). Most designs I've seen would have a tuyere at this point, but my materials dictated my tuyere would be an extended affair in order to get all the bits welded together with a semblance of neatness.

The central hole was expanded by cutting slots out of the metal and then bending the remaining triangles out until they formed a snug fit with the wide diameter pipe. The pipe was then prepared in a similar fashion, triangles cut out and the remainder hammered inward until it would form a snug fit against the joiner, the rusty yellow bit that was just the right size to connect the gal pipe to the longer pipe with the tee in it.

All of this was then welded together, and the gaps sealed up with yet more welding. This time around I actually remembered to grind off all of the galvanising to make sure the weld would be clean and I wouldn't suffer the undue effects from the fumes that invariably arise whilst welding through a galvanised coating.

Much welding and grinding later the core of the forge was together. The following image shows the assembly, up-side down, but ready to go. In my plan I wasn't going to worry about welding this into the wheel, it was just going to sit in there and the concrete will hold it in place.

The next step was to cut myself some legs. A pile of twisted star posts gathered at the last council clean up contained three worthy candidates that were lopped off and welded around the wheel. Calculating the locations was a matter of trial and error, measuring the points until I had the three locations equi-distant. I'm sure there's probably a scientific or technical method to achieve the results, but I got there in the end.

Once the legs were on, all the joins got a coat of anti-rust primer and once dry it was put together. My grate is a cast iron drain grate from the local hardware, and along with the concrete and an end cap are the only purchased parts of the whole thing, oh, and the welding rods. I positioned the grate and then moulded some concrete around the sides to form a bowl. Now it was just a matter of waiting for it to dry.

The next step in the process was putting together a blower of some kind. I've got an old rotary blower, not sure whether it was hand cranked or run by a machine, but it's missing enough bits and in such a state that it would be an epic undertaking to get it running. As I'm an impatient fellow I put that aside as a project for another day and set about making myself a blower out of a hand-held vacuum.

Once completed, the blower was a work of art. Two tins from a couple of recent homebrew kits were moulded to form the air-flow management system, and all of this was hooked up to the outlet of the vacuum. Everything seemed to be ready to go.

Sunday rolled around, and it was time to fire it up. I'd collected some charcoal I'd buried up the back yard from a bonfire we'd had not long after moving here, which was still in fair condition. A bit of drying (first decent rain in ages fell the two days beforehand) and it was ready.

After starting a small fire in the bowl and getting that running along nicely I loaded some charcoal around the edges and waited for it to warm. Judging the time to be right I pushed my first bit of metal into the coals and switched on the blower. About a minute later it switched off. Seems the rechargeable vacuums don't run for a long time at all, top of seven minutes when fully charged. Thinking I'd be smart I installed it on the charger base and powered it up, only to find it won't run and charge at the same time, unlike a mobile phone for instance.

Frantically searching for a solution I realised I could apply the same style of solution to a big vacuum that I had in the shed. A cut up plastic bottle covered the outlets of the vacuum, and fed into the hose and then into the forge. Half an hour of panic later and we were back in action.

After a test run with a scrap of light metal that bent nice and easily I tried to think of something useful to make, before my scrounged charcoal ran out. I didn't have a pair of tongs, not plain ones anyhow (the ones I've got I believe are used for making holes in things, perhaps horseshoes?). I chopped myself a bit of rebar into two appropriate lengths and set to work.

There are no pictures of the action, being a bit busy at the time, but next time around I'll try to get some. The tongs below are not quite finished, I need to bend the handles back in a bit to make them easy to use with one hand, but they're not a bad start (if I do say so myself).

At one stage the air flow started to decline, and a quick check of the underbelly of the beast revealed that the whole was glowing red hot. I'd forgotten to let out the ash at intervals and the whole pipe was clogged with glowing coals. This was swiftly sorted out and work resumed.

I've been doing some research on how to make charcoal, and I think sometime in the near future I'll be undertaking a project to make myself a home charcoal factory. The only bit of design work and research still needed is a method to clean the smoke that comes off, hopefully to gather some other useful products like wood spirits. I know in theory it should be a matter of bubbling the smoke through water, but I wonder whether this will choke off the draw of the chimney, meaning the charcoal producing flames will go out. I may have to do a few tests.

I also need to re-work the blower. I began pulling the vacuum apart to remove the excess cleaning elements and work with just the motor, but got side tracked when an old friend arrived for a visit, but also needed a hole in the muffler of their car repaired. It was certainly a metalworking day.

On the garden front, we've still not had a frost, though I fully expected one after a few days of cool rainy weather. I also got myself an order of unusual tree seeds, which were potted up and put in the glasshouse. Some of them take up to two years to germinate, so I hope I'm devoted enough to keep the water up to them and the weeds out. Got myself some Tea Tree, Witch Hazel, Juniper, Siberian Pea Tree, Boldo, Cornelian Cherry, Bunchberry and Kangaroo Apple. They should add some interest around the place when compared against the usual apples and pears type forest fare.

Monday, 23 April 2007

People With Glass Houses

I'm not sure if I'm setting a poor precedent for the future or simply if the last few weeks have been extra busy, but updates to the blog aren't as frequent as I'd like. Perhaps that in itself tells the tale.

Since last posting I've started, and finished, erecting a glasshouse, on loan from my father. I drove down to Sydney in the ute (which at the time had a bung thermostat, so required a pitstop to top up the water every hour of the journey) and together we pulled it down. I did my best to try and remember how it all went together, but the excitement and worry about whether I'd make it back with the malfunctioning vehicle (or end up stranded on the side of the road with a ute full of glass) meant I didn't retain nearly as much as I'd hoped.

I did make it back over the mountains, with no glass breakages, surprisingly. The structure sat in the shed for a month whilst I contemplated a location. At first I toyed with the idea of digging out a spot level with the shed, central to the vege garden, but that would have required moving about three cubic metres of clay, and all of it would have had to go up hill. It's not that I'm afraid of a bit of hard work, but if I can avoid it when the energy would be better spent, then I will.

My brother visited for the birthday of the twin gremlins now three years old, youngest of the flock, and whilst strolling about the back yard he pointed out a spot at the back of the berry patch, hard up against the rock terrace where it wouldn't shade out valuable growing space, and would benefit from the mass of stone as a heat store. Not bad for a guy living in inner Sydney who rarely gets to see the Earth in it's unpaved form. (He does maintain a collection of potted veg and herbs to his credit, ensuring the vital link to the Earth even in the midst of corporate Australia, and one dreams of one day escaping the race himself)

The next weekend work began in earnest. There was still some digging to do, as well as clearing all of the rock that I'd gathered at the base of the precipice in anticipation of building another drystone terrace. Once this was done I laid in some sleepers, and did my best to level them. One of my greatest failings is the inability to spend the time levelling things properly, and this time around was no different. It looked flat, seemed flat, but by the end of it I knew it wasn't flat. Probably only out by a centimetre or so, but it can make all the difference. I like to blame my spirit level, which tells a different story depending on which way up you have it. I've since shelled out for a nice new sturdy one of a more reputable brand.

The glasshouse is well designed. All the bits fit together with nuts and bolts, sliding into slots in the various pieces. My dad was able to pass on the instructions, so I wasn't operating totally in the dark, and construction went smoothly. Figuring out how the windows went in was a bit of a challenge, eventually overcome. The worst part was realising that some of the glass would not fit into the frame due to my lack of level-headed levelling. An order was promptly placed with the local glass supplier for some sheets perfectly sized to fit into the newly reshaped frame. Fudging at the end is the best solution to not doing it properly in the first place.

It all went up, and without too many great dramas. The benches were installed and the plants moved in. At the moment I've got my new tea seedlings in there, chillis and tomatoes that I'm hoping I can at least over-winter in there, so I can come out of the gates at a flying gallop
next Spring. Tomatoes and chillis before Christmas next year perhaps?? I've also got seedling trees and other bits and pieces, like a pineapple top. Some of these would survive a frost or two, but by keeping them in the glasshouse they will do better over winter.

During the weekend just gone I finally got the misting system installed, so now I can say it's complete, well... almost. I'd like to hook it up to the water permanently, rather than having to plug it into the tap with a hose whenever I want to get it running. Maybe next weekend...

Lipstick Capsicum, tea plants and a pineapple top.

I also found the time to learn some new skills on the weekend. The first was whipping. Not the sort that causes suffering among the slaves, but the kind that ensures the usable portions of your ropes don't get smaller and smaller as time goes by, due to the unravelling of the ends. It's amazingly simple and gives a great sense of satisfaction knowing that I've preserved my ropes for a good deal of time to come.

My second new skill is paper making. After cleaning up the office last week I was left with four boxes of paper that couldn't be sent through the council recycling service, so turning it into new paper was the first thing that came to mind. The kids helped shred it up on Friday evening and on Sunday night, after making a mould and deckle I turned out the first fifteen sheets of A5 paper. My technique needs some refining and the mash needs to sit a bit longer to break down some more, but the results are good for a first attempt, as long as you don't mind the odd letter appearing in your paper.

I've still got a great tub of mash left (it only took three handfuls from a twenty litre pail) and three and three quarter boxes of raw material left, so there's plenty to practice on. Learning and practicing skills like this, partly in preparation for the post peak oil (& peak energy in general, given that oil is used to extract and/or harvest all other forms on energy) world, gives me great pleasure. Next on the list is blacksmithing. Over the next few weekends I hope to put a forge together and give it a go.

In the evenings I've been reading a book called "Clearings" by Paul Fox. It discusses the impact of six colonial gardeners on Australia. It's been a very informative read, not only for the insight into where our attitudes on gardening have come from. The most telling bit was the essay on Josiah Mitchell, a man who encouraged farmers to operate in a manner that conserved the resources of the soil. It seems that many areas were actually quite fertile prior to European colonisation, but it was the poor farming practices of early settlers that wore the soil out. He went to great lengths to advocate crop rotations and manuring, and letting the soil rest. The book captures the fervour of the early settlers and their desire to acclimatise plants and transform the landscape very well. A very interesting book all round.

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Map is Not (Quite) the Terrain

If your eyes are strained clicking the plan above will open a larger one, hopefully in a new window. North is actually to the bottom of the page, East is to the left...

So what is it you're looking at? The short answer is four years of growth from a bare patch used for motorbike riding and infested with miniature horses.

The grey box up in the top right corner is the house, around it mixed gardens of ornamentals and herbs, along with a few specimen trees. We're on a hillside, the front of the place, to the right, is the lowest point, the top left corner the highest.

Below the house is the sheep yard, well, at the moment it is. Two lambs are slowly fattening toward roasthood in the dappled shade of some box elder and myrobalan plum trees. We've put in a mighty oak, hoping it will feed off the septic leach field and grow big and strong, but it suffered the ignoble fate of becoming sheep fodder. Thankfully it's slowly returning to it's former glory, all two foot of it that it had.

Moving to the left we travel through the vegetable patch, which gave us a fair serve of tomatoes and heaps of chillies this year, despite the drought (more correctly "thanks to the bore") though very few zucchinis in comparison to previous years.

The bottom of the map, the North fence, is home to a row of tall gums, which whilst majestic, serve to suck the life from a good portion of that area, as well as casting an inconvenient shade over prime growing land. We've elected to put in a laneway up the side of the block to accommodate them.

All the coloured green circles are the fruit trees in the orchard. The block of nine trees and the triangle slightly to the left is our first two years of effort, three apples, five peaches and an almond tree, two Japanese plums, a Valencia orange and a quince. The sharp sighted will notice two extra blobs in the triangle. The rest of the trees to the left, plus these two blobs, all arrived last winter, and with the exception of a pear, all have survived the drought, again thanks to the bore.

In addition to a few more 'normal' apples last years additions included some authentic apple cider apples possessing great names such as 'Foxwhelp' and 'Brown Snout'. A prune, pear, seedling walnut and hazelnuts of various sorts rounded out the locally obtained products.

After poor results obtaining locally any of the more unusual varieties of tree we were after we were able to get hold of a few on our list, a Coe's Golden Drop, a Sloe, and and a Greengage, shipped all the way up from Tasmania, thanks to the marvellous Bob Magnus They were a late order and the season was well under way by they time they arrived but have done very well considering. This year we've planned ahead and already put our order in, so our trees should arrive in early winter, rather than mid spring.

The blue blobs are our pond and intermittent 'stream' i.e. it runs when I need to fill the pond and feel like running the hose up that far. One day we hope to get some form of renewable energy device to power a pump to circulate the water for us, but that's way down the list of 'wants', we don't even have tanks yet, which would almost qualify as a 'need'.

Still on blobs (blobs on blogs, very Dr Seuss) the grey blobs above the pond and orchard is our quarry. We are blessed with an abundance of exposed basalt outcrops, along with a great deal of not-so-exposed boulders strategically positioned in all the places we hope to stick a fork or spade. The mattock and bar are our most used and abused gardening tools.

Right next to the pond is the red square that marks the greeny-blue coloured chookhouse. We've got a permanent high-security run that they are always allowed in, night and day, and then one day-run, in which they are allowed to browse occasionally. The plan is to create at least another one of these and rotate between them. We currently have some Dorkings, and one each of Barnevelder and Spangled Hamburg hens.

The rooster is a bit rowdy, they haven't been allowed out into the main yard since he chased one of the younger sons across the orchard last year. It's one of those memories that son will carry with him forever. There have been calls for a culling over the issue, but so far I've been able to resist them.

Out of 6 chooks we're lucky to get an egg a day, so we suspect we've got an egg eating chook. The plan is to rig up a mobile ark and cycle the chooks into it in small groups to see if we can catch the culprit.

To the right of the chookhouse is the berry patch and vineyard, though it only possesses two grape vines so far. An abundance of raspberries, and currants make up the bulk at the moment, though our three blueberry bushes are doing well, and the youngberries are coming along nicely enough considering conditions. The currants are interplanted with strawberries, and we have a single row of coloured perennial cotton that we're trying out. It's done well enough, but once the frosts arrive I doubt it will be so perennial. We've got enough seed now to put in a bigger crop next year in any case.

Just above the berry patch is a brown box, our borrowed glasshouse, that was almost finished last weekend. There is perhaps enough of a tale in that to make a post of it's own, so I'll save it for later torment. Our ducks, Khaki Campbells, live in the little blue box just to the left of the glasshouse. In reality it's marginally more comfortable than it looks on paper, but only just. It used to be the chook run, and was destined to be a potting shed before we discovered how swiftly ducklings can grow. One day they may move to more suitable quarters up near the pond.

The only place left to describe is the top left section of the map, above the blobs that are the rocky outcrops. Our aim, once we have done some earthworks to help retain soil and moisture up there, is to plant it out to wild timber and bigger trees, to provide shelter from southerly winds. There are currently two olive trees and a black walnut up there. I've read that olives are suited to rocky hillsides, so I'm going to test them out. I also had a cork oak but it didn't make it through the early part of summer, so I'll have to try again with that.

There used to be a seed company many years ago (well not that many, maybe ten or fifteen years) that sold a great selection of tree seeds, including all sorts of oaks. If anyone knows of something similar, please let me know!

Monday, 26 March 2007

The Three W's

What, Where, Why

The Flood Street Farmlet is a single acre (just slightly less to be entirely honest) of hillside to the west of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales. It contains a number of fruit trees, chooks, ducks, guinea pigs, two lambs and three children. It is the nucleus for a future larger version along the same lines.

Whilst the kids are young we felt it better to stay in a village and work on a smaller scale. As they get older they'll be capable of doing some useful work rather than requiring time and effort for maintenance! This place allows us to learn, try new things, and most importantly collect together a nucleus of plants, animals, tools and materials ready for the next place (if time and conditions grant us the opportunity to move on).

The picture above is from upstairs, looking east, almost a year after we had moved in. The little shed is our first chook house. Development proceeded from a dusty miniature horse ridden paddock to it's current state, with an orchard of 30+ trees, berry patch, and vegetable garden.

We moved to this place after a stint in the city, both of us had spent time in the country as youngsters, and longed to move back. That's not the whole reason for the shift though. Whilst country living is certainly superior (in our opinion) to city living, there were a number of more pressing reasons for making the move.

In a nutshell, the state of the world causes us great concern. Modern society is rushing toward the final crisis, the collective collision of scarcities in energy, food, security and wellbeing. People are always prognosticating on the end of the world as we know it, and others are always having a laugh at them. I tend not to laugh at things when the evidence points in favour of the need for a more serious appraisal of the situation.

This blog is aimed at chronicling our quest toward a greater level of independence and quality of life. Now that the three W's have been answered, we are left with the H, the how of it all. You might see some of that here as time progresses. The Why will surely be revisited as time goes by, as the events that we anticipate unfold around us.