Organic Gardening at our Place

Let me tell you a little secret: I don't have an organic garden. There, I've said it. It feels better to be out with it. Actually, even more shocking, I'm not really trying to have an organic garden. What I would like is a garden where herbicides and pesticides and commercial fertilizers just aren't needed. More of how I'm trying to get to that point later.

There are actually two main ways that my garden isn't organic. Firstly the typical way, where some of the things I put on my garden don't have organic certification. Certainly the compost I make isn't organic because I put in things to compost that aren't organically certified (fruit and veg are only part of it, last time I checked the SMH wasn't even claiming to be organic. In fact, some of those columnists are downright poisonous!) but also there is so much INORGANIC MATTER in my soil left from the last owners of the house, that I can only hope to minimise it, not to get rid of it entirely. The solid things like glass, metal and asbestos (!) aren't the biggest problem, more difficult to get rid of are the things the previous owners used to attempt to keep the weeds down. Well, I can only assume that they carpeted many of their garden beds in fake grass, or lined them with plastic, to keep the weeds down, although I may be wrong, they may just have had a very different aesthetic. The astroturf stuff is actually really problematic as sunlight (UV radiation) has started to break it down, leaving many thousands of little 'tufts' of fake grass throughout the soil of my garden. From my reading it seems that UV light breaks some of the polymer bonds, so the plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, which to me suggests that it gets into the food chain more easily. The problem with plastics getting into the food chain is far to big for this blog, but google on the gyre, pthaletes, BPA and endocrine disruption (Not safe for people with anxiety disorders! This is some freaky shit!). So, I remove what I can but I try not to think about it all to much so I don't wind myself into an anxious knot.
That green stuff is tufts of plastic grass

Given that I can't ever hope to have a garden that could be considered organic I do try and stay green in my garden. Just like I firmly believe in 'good enough parenting' (google it!) I am aiming for something I think of as 'organic enough gardening' which allows a certain amount of flexibility, considering what I'm working with. So I minimise the external inputs of pesticide, herbicides and fertilizer to saves energy, both in terms of production and transport and doesn't add even more weird chemicals to my garden. What I do, and plan to do is:

  • Weeds: I manually weed my garden, use mulch and newspaper and I'm planning to try black plastic for some tricky bits too. High strength vinegar on a hot day is very effective on things that I can't get to easily in other ways (such as between the pavers). I'm also going to use green manure for some areas, so the weeds can't get a hold.
  • Pests: Again, manual removal is excellent for insect pests. Apart from the decrease in pest numbers, it also means I spend more time in the garden. Obviously this isn't always possible, but as Peter Cundall says, just wandering around observing is very important for gardeners, so that's what I aim for. I am also doing things like a bit of companion planting (Marigolds! Yay!), exclusion (especially for chooks, possums, other birds and bandicoots) and hopefully the chickens will also help by eating insect pests.
  • Fertility: We have two compost tumblers that are working well, and the added joy of chook poop means that we should have some really good quality compost by the begginning of summer. I do purchase sugar cane mulch, which I use for the hen house as well as the garden, but that should decrease when I start growing green manure and when my comfrey starts growing.
Currently we have two raised beds, soon to be three. One is planted out with lettuce seedlings, coriander seedlings and cucumber seeds the other is still resting so the compost has time to loose it's heat and the worms can start their work. We have some eggplant and capsicum/pepper seeds germinating inside and plans for sweetcorn, bush beans and sunflowers (I'll put the sunflowers out the front to protect them from the chooks and provide some much needed cheerfulness to our front yard). Yesterday the kids helped me plant some pretty, low maintenance, pollinator attracting, flower seedlings (a white, scented allysium, a small white salvia and a white and pink coastal daisy). We are also planning to put a tent-style trellis between two of the beds, made out of some weldmesh that we found hidden in our garden somewhere. We also have some herbs around the place and a potato tower that is growing brilliantly. I would also like a passionfruit vine, and I think that it would be nice near our front door, where it would enjoy the northerly aspect and keep a bit of our wall shaded.

Raised beds, with coop behind the clivias

Potato tower, needing mulch


Hen Happiness

I picked the 'chookens' up the day after my birthday, so we've had them here for about 10 days and I'm still  besotted.
Chook looking pissed off after
spending 40 mins in a box.
The people we picked them up from (City Chicks in Marsden Park) were just lovely. They showed me how to clip their wings, they let my little boys go exploring in their yard, showed them baby chicks and the advice they gave about feeding and husbandry all seemed very sane and matched with what I have read already.

The henhouse
We got home late afternoon and popped them in the coop. I fussed around trying to make sure they knew where food and water was located (we are using Dine-a-Chook and Wet-a-Chook for food and water - a bit different to what the chooks were used to, so I put some scratch grains (AKA chicken treats) around the feeder and even inside the feeder and the hens got the idea at once). The black chicken (an australorp cross) managed to escape and I realised that she was the feisty one. The kids had their first lesson in chicken catching (slow, quiet, no sudden movements and try to corner her) and I discovered that hunting a black hen through the shrubbery at dusk was something akin to trying to catch a shadow. Luckily it only took us a few nervous minutes!

The next morning I heard some noisy clucking, and when I went to check on the girls I found TWO EGGS! 
First Eggs!
We haven't had two eggs every day since, but we've had one egg most days (and one hen hasn't come into lay yet). When chooks are stressed they stop laying, so the fact that despite the big move, and despite the kids wanting to pat them and talk to them they are still laying, albeit not perfectly regularly, is fantastic.
Six year old learning to catch and carry a hen
They were named mostly by the boys - Kiz said he wanted the brown chooken to be called Henny Penny, so that was fine. I wanted the black one to be called Kali and Asher wanted them all to have the word 'hen' somewhere in their name so the Light Sussex became Henrietta and the black chicken became Henny Kali.

So far the thee chooks are doing everything I'm 'paying' them for. Providing eggs, teaching the kids about caring for animals and providing all of us with amusement (Asher said to me yesterday "We have the most fascinating chooks mum!"). Of course, I now need to get the planned raised beds with bird netting sorted pronto, and some more fencing organised - the chooks are scratching up my seedlings, stomping on my new lavender, discovering new and creative ways to escape, pooping in  remarkably inconvenient and I strongly suspect Henny Penny has started laying her eggs under a bush or somewhere because the last few days have only been one-egg-days. Despite all that, they are funny and friendly and the whole family is glad we have them.

The girls saw the treat bucket!


Today is my birthday...

They are pretending to be frogs
...and unsurprisingly it started like a regular morning. I was woken up at some ungodly hour (not just your regular gollygoshthisisearly 6am but more of a holyfuckingshit 4:30ish am) by my eldest who has been having nightmares and coming into bed with us. Unfortunately he sleeps like he's wrestling tigers which is, ah, uninspiring in a bed mate. So he cuddled me and rode his dream bicycle and I tried to sleep, with a kind of desperate terror that this would be IT and I wouldn't get anymore sweet, sweet sleep til I went to bed, far too many hours in the future. At some point he sat up a bit and said sleepily 'happy birthday mum' and, despite knowing that was the end of any chance for sleep, my heart got warmed in a way it rarely does. My kid's first thought for the day was of ME.

Despite finding things pretty overwhelming some times (OK, a lot of the time) I just adore those two kids and I'm surprised and thankful by what pleasant people they are turning into.

(Chickens should be coming tomorrow - I'll post pics!)


Chook-shed progress

Y’know how they say ‘measure twice, cut once’ well we now say ‘measure more than three times, AND get someone who isn’t hung-over to check your workings, before concreting once’ – because a concreted-in post is hard to move, and if you don't get it right you don't have much wiggle room. 

The high vis gear was just for show.
Despite small challenges such as these Michael and I worked hard and over two (part)days, we got the chicken coop floor installed on our steeply sloping, poorly terraced site. The shed itself is a kids kit cubby house that we are re-purposing. I then spent Sunday painting the trim and giving the inside a coat of this rather unpleasant cack yellow that I got very cheap at Bunnings. It’s just to protect the cheap pine from chickens, not for looks. The outside is a storm grey with white trim, and a green colourbond roof.
Installed floor, from above. The hole is chicken-access to what will be the secure run underneath.

The next steps are to cut pop doors for the chickens and egg collection in the walls of the cubby. There will be two chook doors and a person door – the two chook doors will be on different sides, so we have the option of making movable day runs, using chicken wire and star pickets. This should allow us more flexibility to do things like to rest the run area, maybe grow hen-fodder or even attach a broody box if we ever get that far (shhhh! don't tell my husband of my expansionist plans!). The person door will now need steps or a ladder - we ended up raising the hen house higher than planned.

After the pop-holes have been made we will touch up the paintwork then install the walls and roof. We are going to use weldmesh to screen the bottom part so that the chooks will have a fox proof area underneath the coop itself, for dust-baths as well as food and water. We are planning on raising the roof , gable and all,10cm or so, and putting mesh around the gap for ventilation. I can't really imagine a chook getting too cold in a Sydney winter, but I remember cubbies being pretty stuffy when I was a kid, and apparently stuffy is BAD for chooks. There is also a window that we will cover with weldmesh, a hole in the floor for the chickens to go downstairs and the plan is to cut a hole in the person-door to allow for ventilation. If we work out that it's not enough we will add more vents.
Installed floor, showing the sloping site.

The logistics of putting it all together will be more daunting than I expected too - I was thinking I could do it myself, with a bit of help from the lovely husband, but since it's all a bit higher than planned it's going to be more difficult.

I think I might end up having that barn raising that I've been joking about after all!


The New/Old House

I’m at work. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be blogging at work, but I’m doing ‘creative’ work and for me that requires a certain amount of effing about and procrastination. At least writing something here is better than repeatedly clicking refresh on my email and favourite forums. So, if I wasn’t sitting here what would I be doing? Well, the things that have been taking up my time recently, apart from hanging out doing school holiday things with my kids, have all been centred around our garden and house.

We moved in about six months ago, and we are still unpacking and organising. Although the house is a lot bigger, there are fewer closets and places to store ‘stuff’ combine that with the fact that family members have given us piles of ‘stuff’ that they either think we should have (I’m looking at you, ugly barstools!) or things they want us to store for them (Yes, I know I’ve left boxes at my parents for years and now they are finally exacting revenge – we have their car and a whole pile of their belongings while they are off travelling).

The other thing about our ‘new’ house is that it’s old and a bit rundown. It was given a quick coat of paint, the cheapest possible kitchen and cheap carpet when it was put on the market. This is a good thing – the new bits mean that it is totally liveable for us but it also meant that it was a bit more affordable (at least the owners didn’t have a fancy remodel that they needed to recoup costs on), we aren’t too precious about our kids staining the carpet or scuffing the walls (ahem, toilet training!) and when the time comes and we have plans and money (hah!) we won’t feel bad about ripping things out and replacing them.

Our first steps in making this place just the way we want it is just to live in it. We are seeing what works and what doesn’t in each season of the year. So far we know we need to do something about the outside covered area which is roasting in summer and freezing in winter (it’s also ugly!). We would like a bit more street appeal (the last reno was probably in the late 60s or early 70s and is…. Unsympathetic) and I feel that we need an architect to help us with flow and using space better. I want a roomful of built-in bookshelves as well, but that’s not necessary in the short term.

Since we don’t want to do much to the house, considering we might have to un-do it reasonably soon, when we have more of a plan, we have been concentrating on the garden. I am desperate for chooks and veggies and we are starting that process now: we have a potato tower, a few beans, heaps of herbs, some of the over-abundant weedy vegetation that was smothering the yard cleared and a site for the chook house. We are composting and I’ve been collecting fallen leaves from the deciduous trees on the street for mulch. The chook house and raised veggie beds are next on the list, with the lovely Michael, my brother and chook-shed-engineer supremo, helping me out (it helps that he’s skint and I feed him. It’s a cheap and truly wonderful birthday present as well!).

I'm going to include a few more house and garden type posts here, just so when we have a lovely, flourishing garden and a pretty, organised house I can look back and remember. I'm having a great time withPinterest too, pinning mostly ideas for home and garden, as well as some kid stuff. So follow along, or better yet, send me things that you think I'd like!

 Follow Me on Pinterest


Today my baby, my first baby, turns six

Last night, as I tucked the blankets around him, I hugged him tight and told him ‘this is the last time I’m going to get to say goodnight to my little five year old’ I saw his face light up. It lit up with the realisation, not just that it would be his birthday in the morning, that there would be presents, and cupcakes to take to school, but that things were changing for him. I consider six to be one of those liminal times, where the mother-centred life of early childhood elides into something more external and outward-focussed. If I remember correctly, in his book ‘Raising Boys’ Steve Biddulph talks about six being the age when boys go from being (and I wish I had a more elegant way of saying this) their mother’s children to being their father’s children.

It’s a happy coincidence that his birth happened so close to the winter solstice – these are the darkest, most home and hearth focussed weeks in the year and as the light increases, we tend to become more outward looking. Less interested in hanging around home with our nearest and dearest, more likely to head ‘out’ somewhere. This mirrors what I feel is happening for Asher.

I’m feeling really good about this blossoming. I feel somehow safe, like this is the right time for this. I don’t want to keep him a baby or push him away. I want to walk half a step behind him, ready to answer his questions and share his joys, ready to note points of interest and encourage him to get up when he falls. I want to watch him grow into himself.

I think I might start him catching the bus to school after these school holidays, just one or two days a week. That way I can let him know that I trust him to be safe as he goes out into the world.


I luv youse all!!!

This afternoon I went to the park with a bunch of other Kindergerten parents. I'm shocked at how 'on the outer' I felt. I know I'm prone to these feelings (try being bullied at school and growing up with a bit of social anxiety - making nice-nice with the other mothers becomes torture. Ugh. Anyway, it brought into stark contrast what awesome older friends I do have. I was late home, so they hung around my back yard, with their preschoolers. They cheered my kid's first ever wee on the potty then made me lunch and coffee while I went and put my tired kid to bed. They laughed at my jokes, they commiserated with my failings and difficulties. At other times they have ensured that a drunken Keda got home safely, they still love my kids despite having seen them at their worst, they appear to cheerfully tolerate my grubby bathroom and they do a really good job of pretending to be interested with whatever my current project is (Chooks this month). In short, these lovelies, and my other old mates, are the ones I want around my when the proverbial hits the fan. Thank you ladies :-)


Loving The Crazy

This is not going to be a post about loving partners with mental health issues, just some of the ways it's nice/not so nice to be back home with the familiar crazy.

Spending a bit of time away it was easy to call lots of things 'crazy' - in Singapore the kiasu thing seems extreme and leads to behaviour that I would deem crazy (imagine driving along and trying use a roundabout or merge lanes where no one will accept being last). We also played 'spotto' with crazy fashions - there are plenty of 'what not to wear' exasmples. Everything from warm jackets and coats (which must be more than just snuggly on a 30C day with 90% humidity) through extreme short skirts and shorts, to cute little families all wearing matching outfits. Then there are the harajuku-esque sartorial weirdnesses that I'm impressed by, but can't hope to describe.

Back in Sydney we get opur fair share of fashion oddities (like the girl with the gold sparkle ugg boots and the little black dress I spotted on my way to work this morning) but our crazy dressing is generally weird in a different way. The warm jackets don't usually come out in summer, but as soon as the weather drops below about 20C you see people walking around with scarves and beanies on. If it's windy this might be only a short stretch from sensible, but it weirds me out totally when the people with the rugged up heads and necks are also wearing skirts and sandals.

The other type of Crazy, the one I really wanted to talk about, is the specific breed of crazy belonging to my workplace. It's not only the stories my colleague tells about his partner who is convinced she was abducted by aliens and buys countless boxes of cereal when it's cheap in case they ever run out (really!), it's more the weirdness actually IN my workplace. The mad push to get a project finished, only to hear, at final draft stage, that it won't be needed any more, or that it's being put back another year. We also have an 'emperor' who get's completely riled up at the length of people's coffee breaks, but instructs their assistant to spend hours, days even, scanning family photos and transfereing music from analogue to digital format. The people here who are most successfull look busy all the time, but don't really do much, because work that gets completed tends to get holes picked in it. It's a nice stable job, but I'm not sure how long I should stay here for....


I *heart* KL!

This will be the last post from KL and the last post from my lovely little holiday. I'm at KL's budget airport, which reminds me of a train station, rather than a modern airport. The air on is lacking, the food outlets are somewhat hit and miss, there are flies and there are a lot of people waiting around. I'm one of those waiting people. My dad, bless his worried little cotton socks, decided we needed to be at the airport four hours early. His reasoning was that the traffic out of KL on Saturday evenings is horrible, and he may have been right, but it has meant I had a lot of time to kill. He is off to Europe and we shared a taxi, but he was dropped at the regular international airport, not the cheapie terminal. I didn't realise that there were two airports here in KL until the taxi driver asked which one we wanted. I can't help thinking that it would have been pretty hilarious to rock up to the wrong airport for BOTH my flights on this trip. Anyhow, I've managed to waste over an hour and a half eating sub-standard chicken rice, looking at ALL the watches, trying on ALL the perfumes and spending an overly long time choosing which packet of nuts I would take on the flight with me. I actually spent so long in the limited number of shops that by the time I left each shop I had a staff member tailing me suspiciously. I've also eaten a scone (random!) and found that I can use the airport wifi for three hours for free. That means all I need to do is make sure I find a comfy chair and I should be fine. I'm going to head through customs pretty soon, despite the warnings of the woman at the check-in counter, because a beer or two would make the next two and a half hours slide by more comfortably. I have the most awesome trip though, catching up properly with my brother, getting to know my sister-in-law so much better and holidaying with my dad for the first time once the mid-eighties. Despite all the fabulous catching up I also got enough alone time, and was quite proud of how easily and comfortably I got around in both Singapore and KL. I am now missing my little boys terribly, I can't wait to hug their strong little bodies as they try to escape, and I'm not-so-secretly hoping both of them fall asleep in my bed this evening so I can snuggle down between their warm little bodies and breathe in their loveliness. On that note I'm going to go and attempt to clear customs and find my boarding gate - I should have less than two hours to wait there (!) and I'm REALLY hoping that the good Muslim thing is relaxed once I'm through and I can find a bar!

Update: i've found a bar and have a large Tiger beer in front of me. Cheers.

Looking for a pun about Singapore Slings...

Did you know that there is a Malaysia - Singapore rivalry that surpasses the Sydney - Melbourne thing? Having only spent days in both places, I'm not ready to make any definitive pronouncements, but I will confirm that I'm really enjoying everything about KL so far. For sure SG is cleaner and safer and the roads are less hazardous, and here in Kuala Lumpur there are occasional betters and touts. By all accounts the going rate for getting off a speeding fine is usually under $50RM (AUD$20) and people tell me that the corruption is everywhere. But here in KL people look me in the eye. They smile. Staff at the hotel and other service staff actually seem to, by and large, enjoy their jobs. Smiling politely and being helpfull is just the start. They also joke with us and I've never encountered quite so many people who seem to really want to make a personal connection and appear to want to serve us with a kind of enthusiastice anticipation. ...anyhow, family is here to share breakfast and chat. I'll write more on the plane this evening.


City Rivalry

I've finally got the definitive answer as to why Sydney is better than Melbourne. Kingsford-Smith in Sydney has free wifi. This is not insignificant when one's flight is delayed for something like three hours. Surely Jetstar's customers today would be less irate if they had the opportunity to, as my boss puts it, sit in front of the greatest goofing-off tool of all time. I can easily let a few hours slip away researching the best software to, I don't know, back up my photos rather than just spending the few minutes it takes to actually back them up.  Like something I saw on Pinterest the other day "honey, can you pick up pizza for dinner on your way home. I've been too busy pinning healthy recipes for our family on Pinterest and haven't had time to cook" which is, of course, funny because it's true. Well, here I am with the iThing running out of batteries, my book almost finished (Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing) and still about three hours of flight time. I left home 13hours ago and apart from being frustrated that Melbourne doesn't have free wifi and having a deeper understanding as to why Jetstar is so cheap (this plane has ashtrays! ASHTRAYS! And doesn't serve gin and tonic. After a day like mine I would actually have been quite happy paying for it). I'm going to go and finish my book and save my last bit of battery life for posting this when I get to Singapore. I'm confident they will have free wifi at their airport!


Adventure abroad

Did I mention I'm heading to Singapore? I'll stay with my brother and his wife for a few days then we will road trip across to KL where we will meet my dad and his new wife for a few days. For me this means leaving my darling babies for the first time and being a grown-up for 10 days. I'm a bit heartbroken about leaving the kids - Kiz isn't even 3 yet and he has a nasty chest infection, Asher is at school and needs his mum- but I'm also overjoyed that I get to exist for 10 days in a world where a closed door isn't an invitation to come in and chat. The adventure started early. I got up just after 4am and got ready to go and the lovely Tinks drove me to the airport. Going to Singapore we went to the International Terminal but I couldn't see my flit number on the board. I asked at the check in counter and it turned out that my flight leaves from the domestic terminal and I go through customs in Melbourne. Tinks had already left and didn't answer her phone so I jumped in a taxi and made it with plenty of time. In fact I'm sitting at the gate writing this, using the airport wifi. Ok, boarding now...


Clauunk-schk (that's the sound of gears changing, without the benefit of a clutch-pedal)

Ssoooo, it's been a while....

I'm still wearing my 'office clothes' (although I have swapped my tights for pyjama pants) and I've applied my lipstick because it's nice to look ones best for old friends with whom one has not caught up with in a while. I also have a glass of red wine beside the keyboard, and one in my belly (dutch courage - something I also need when it comes to old colleagues/schoolmates/lovers).

My life is so different now to when I first started this blog that I was considering closing it and starting again, but instead I'll just draw a line under the past and start again anyhow. I don't want to forget how far I've come - although I don't need anyone else to remember.

A (very) brief recap: born, school, depression, uni, depression, work, depression, more work, marriage, work, baby, post-natal depression, part-time work, another baby, life, depression, medication, more part time work and now, a new house with a decrepit garden.

Now I'm working as an educational designer (whatever that is) and moonlighting helping another project with SEO/social media. I spend three days per week in an office huddled around a computer and the other days working in the garden and/or with friends. Since I'm now helping other people write their blog posts I thought it was only fair that I started writing for me, too. Let's see if I can keep to my aim of a weekly post!