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.


Lucky-1 said...

I think with what you have been doing, your entitled to a break from

Oh I am pea green with the hot house. Hope it brings you much joy and helps to grow plants in the colder weather.

Scarecrow said...

Now that is a hot house Geoff!
Very nice.
You have been a busy boy! Well done.

BTW Happy birthday to those twin gremlins!
Is that their truck in the first photo? Or were you just borrowing it for the land clearing?

I can remember our daughter making her own paper. Messy but fun!!

Anonymous said...

Nice work mate, nice work.

I would love a green house, but its one of those things that are far on the horizon for the Nano Farm. That and the fact that our climate is probably significantly more frost free that yours, with a few more warmer days to boot I think.

Be sure to fill us in on your tomato experiment...

Geoff said...

Thanks for the comments folks!

That is their truck in the photo, I was hoping they could help out but they had engine trouble :)

Kimble, I thought the dry centre of Australia had frost all winter long! Goes to show I don't get out much.

There's only one problem with the glasshouse, it's not tall enough to fit a banana plant in there!

Anonymous said...

Yeah Geoff we get some pearlers when it comes to frosts, but I was under the impression that our frosts come later and finish sooner (date wise) than those in your region. You get more or less the same weather as Orange no?

But yeah when we get them they are good 'uns.

Maybe we should compare visits from Jack this year to confirm or deny our impressions.

Geoff said...

We're half-way back toward sea level from Orange, it's at 800m, we're about 400m, so our climate is hotter in summer and warmer in winter, and less rain. It'd be less than 30km away as the crow flies, but almost a world away for climate.

A frost comparison would be good. We haven't had one yet, but last year we'd had about a dozen by now, the first was on the 7th of April, very strange year this one (or maybe it's normal and I'm not used to it :) )