my late summer kitchen garden

cot pieces

goose corner

corner

sprung

digging for poos

fancy lock

pumpkin

the prettiest pregnant belly

watermelon

zucchini

garden bench

corn

blueberry hedge

chickpeas

guinea pig grass

hard at work

pumpkin bed

sweet peas

salsify

shadows

cow poo

cowpoo tea

waddling ducks

You may have noticed that, for years, I have described myself as a passionate sewist and knitter and quilter etc. etc. but have always added “… and pretty hopeless in the garden”.  Well folks … that remains true!

Sometimes this mystifies me.  Both sets of grandparents and my mum are brilliant gardeners – with the grandparents producing most of their vegetables.  I surely did not inherit their green thumbs or innate knowledge of what to do with that soil and seed.  And we had wonderful soil here at Wombathill Farm – dark and rich and hummusy with plenty of earth worms – I was sure that all I would need to do is hurl the seeds in and voila!  A kitchen garden would appear.

Alas this has not happened.  My first efforts, this time last year, were regularly trampled by the doggles and ducks.  What was left was gobbled up by a nightly invasion of bush rats and rabbits.  So we tried little fences around each bed – not helpful.  Then we netted the beds over metal hoops.  Stopped the marauders but also made it very tricky for us to access.  The veggies grew up through the netting thus trapping it into position and efforts to harvest the tomatoes, brocoli and beans resulted in the tearing of plants.  Hopeless!  So then we ditched the hoops and mesh and Julian built a fence around all the beds with a sweet old door.  This has created a lovely space – very secret gardenish and I do love closing that door behind me and spending hours pottering over my beds – however, still no veggie success.

I have planted bed after bed after bed of seeds.  Carefully reading up on the likes and dislikes of each plant.  Digging and composting and mulching.  And watching in dismay as my lovely hummusy soil has turned into powdery cinnamon and very few of those seedlings have sprouted.  I have 3 corn plants.  Five zucchini.  Two cucumbers.  Seven chickpeas.  Three surviving salsify – after I mistook their very successful germination for an invasion of grass and ripped them all out!!!!!  I think a couple of beetroot have appeared.  I’ve yet to see any silverbeet.  Oh there’s 3 watermelon.  And a fabulous pumpkin vine for which I can claim no credit – the guinea pigs planted it and I don’t even know what kind of pumpkins they are!  None of my raspberries produced anything.  My blueberry hedge has survived – so that’s a win.  As have my sentinel olive trees and cornering crepe myrtles.  And I think every one of my sweetpeas have sprouted – too which Julian responds “but can we eat them!” But it will be a miracle if the coffee plants survive.  And there’s no sign of the radishes or carrots.  Sigh.

Why such failure!?  Well, I’m hoping it’s not complete idiocy on my part but probably a dire lack of water.  All those aforementioned kinfolk – apart from Nanny and Grandad’s few years on Mt. Tamborine – have grown their lovely gardens with the on-tap assistance of TOWN WATER.  Us?  We are currently limited to two rainwater tanks.  And when there is no rain there is no water.  There’s been no careful sprinkling of seeds to keep them moist and encourage their feisty germination.  There’s been no early morning water to help everyone make it through the very hot days we’ve had.  Nup.  My poor, carefully chosen seeds are clearly laying in their beds of dry cinnamon thinking to themselves “well we ain’t putting any effort into popping up out of the ground if there’s nary a drop to drink!”

Sigh.

I called into a Canberra Bunning’s recently and made a quick dash to the plant area to ooh and aah over the loveliness – you should have seen it, it was huge and thriving and awash with water! Everything was dripping and glistening.  There were puddles on the ground.  I could feel the water in the air.  I didn’t know whether to cry or gasp in delight.  Yep, it’s fair to say that this summer I have developed an overwhelming appreciation for the life giving properties of water.  I stood there, absorbing all the damp loveliness, green with envy!

However, there’s no point sitting back with a pout and deciding it’s all too hard.  We WANT to grow our own food.  Surely, just as I learnt to knit and quilt and sew etc., I can learn to garden.  And the water?  Well, we just have to put in the infrastructure to catch and use more.  Next week, a local dam builder will hopefully drop by, survey our two small dams and come up with a plan for making them bigger and maybe even adding another up closer to our house.  Then Julian will set up a pump to carry that precious water up the hill to a third newly order tank and we can then use that to water the garden and orchard with the most water conserving sprinkler system we can find.  And Julian has wonderful plans for creating swales to catch and guide the rainwater as it runs down our hill, directing it into the dams and future orchards.

Until then?  Well, I shall keep slipping down into my garden, closing the door behind me, brewing my cowpoo tea.  Pulling out the weeds.  Ooohhing and aahhing over each wee seedling that finally uncurls its head.  Sweet talking the pumpkins and blueberries.  And you never know, I may even eventually prove equal to those guinea pig gardeners of mine!

 

tiles

finding our place in the valley


sign

windy road

barn

dairy and piggery

doors

windows

chimney1

metal topped

mower and cooker

cot

who knows
barn

meeting luna

noah and luna walking

patting luna

typewriters

raggedy ann


bathtub

shoe lasts

tiles

 

new skirt new clogs

lily and cattle race

all packed up

Well it’s been just over a year since we made Wombat Hill Farm, in the gorgeous Bega Valley, our permanent home.  And much to my daily delight and appreciation, it seems we are fitting right on in.

Surely, this is well helped by me taking up a new nursing position at a small hospice literally over the hill from us, where I help care for young people with profound disabilities who require round the clock nursing care.  It’s an amazing centre (and community resource!) staffed with lovely, caring, funny people who are passionate about providing the best environment for our community’s most vulnerable people.  I love every shift – after a few short months I am already filled with love for the people I care for, and many of my colleagues have quickly proved to be kindred spirits and become good friends.

Just last night, we had an absolute hoot of an evening.  As the afternoon mist closed in, and soft rain peppered the roof, we gathered all of our clients into the kitchen, popped The Sound of Music into the DVD player – followed by excerpts from The King and I, and My Fair Lady on youtube – and sang and waltzed away the night.  Our clients were beside themselves with laughter and excitement as we swung them round to the music, sang to them, acted out all our favourite bits …   It’s amazing how much more fun giving endless medication becomes when you pretend to be a puppet singing High on the Hill was a Lonely Goatherd!  Or how much more tolerable a hated nebuliser is when there’s a crazy waltzing nurse to keep your eyes glued to :-)  Without doubt, even though as the only RN I usually spend the entire shift on my feet, moving from one client to the next and back again, and sometimes it can be very emotionally draining, it’s the most delightful nursing role I’ve ever held.

But back to the fitting in bit :-) … Yesterday, Noah and I were driving home from Tilba – third village along where we’d gone to buy a pair of Naot clogs I’ve been coveting for weeks – when we noticed a “garage sale” sign stuck to a tree.  Mmmmmm!  Garage Sales in the country can be really really exciting – think generations worth of old farm and home goods dragged out of multiple sheds!  And Noah, being such a good sport, agreed it was definitely worth checking out.  So we turned off the beaten track and headed out across the hills and through the forest …

After a few kilometres, we realised we were almost certainly heading to a farm we’d already met last year when we were buying old windows to build a green house – yep, same place.  But this time, the neighbours had joined in and they were hosting a community garage sale.  Oh be still my racing heart!

We chatted with our “old friends” and caught up on all their news since last seeing them.  We made new friends – including Noah’s favourite four legged variety.  We found treasures that we were sure new friends would love, so quickly passed on the info of what and where so they could come out to the sale too. We listened to wonderful histories of the old buildings around us and the intrepid adventures of those that farmed these lands through the Great Depression.  And we heard tell of local happenings that we already knew of through my new job – I’d already shared cups of tea with the people involved, listened to their heart rending stories, and have made a start at contributing to the community that flourishes when people, that moment in time and unrelenting determination combine to create wonderful things out of hardship and sorrow.

And we came home with a few gems for Wombat Hill Farm too.  And I made a new skirt – really loving the incredible simplicity of stitching up a metre of cotton jersey into a tube, hemming it, adding an elasticised waist and popping the whole thing on and getting out the door in under half an hour.  True story!

Yep, we are definitely where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and all the while surrounded by wonderful, interesting and quirky people and such beautiful, nourishing country.  For all of this, I’m so very very grateful.

patchwork

let’s start again!

swimming

on the rocks

in the shade

tea

noah

yellow door

lamb

house skirt

rabbit skirt

bridget

patchwork

juno

checked shirt

plums

pantry rearrange

at the beach

making baskets

little door

baby doll

rocky beach

rochet

luna lapin

crepe myrtle

quail eggs

fennel

Heeeelllloooo!

I am sitting here this morning, flicking about the internet – reading the news on several different sites, checking the rain forecast, looking at my favourite few blogs to see what they’re up to, checking to see what animals are for sale this morning (I’m addicted) – and it occured to me that I really really loved the old blogging days when I could spend a good hour reading wonderful stories from women around the world.  Reading about the projects that were occupying their hands, their dreams, sometimes their sadness, what their families were up to, the lifestyles they were patiently, passionately, creating … it was so incredibly inspiring, meaningful and just plain lovely.

These days, now here I am truly wasting time, flicking between news that is depressing and infuriating at the same time.  Fretting for rain – and investing an awful lot of emotional energy and time – instead of just accepting what will happen today, will happy.  Truly frittering away hours looking at animals that are lovely but that are hundreds of kilometres away and thus completely inaccessible.  And then feeling a little bit deflated when I check in on those old favourite blogs and there’s nothing new posted.

Hmmmm.  And what exactly am I doing here at  :: a Handmade Life :: ?  No chatting about the projects that are filling me with pleasure.  No sharing of my dreams and occasional calamities.  No stories of what we’ve been up to as a family – no recording of those lovely, simple, funny days that make me smile years later.  No excited retelling of the crazy, wonderful adventures we are having as we stumble along, building up our little farm and shape this new life of ours.

Yes.  That’s right.  I’m contributing to that deflating sense of “Oh I wish there was something else lovely to read.  I wish these people I have loved for so many years, were continuing to share the sparkles in their days.

So you know what?  I shall put my best foot forward today and once again, regularly share the things that make me smile (or grit my teeth) here at Wombat Hill farm.  Crafty stories where projects are not regularly finished, but hey there’s plenty of loveliness along the way.  Ponderings from the kitchen where sometimes I’m able to produce something yummy and healthy!  Tales from the fields around us as we work so hard fencing, building animal houses, planting trees, proving I am indeed useless in the garden, and spending wonderful hours with the amazing critters that share our land.  And sometimes, little laments as things don’t work out, things overwhelm, or things are plain annoying.  All of life in it’s glorious ordinary mess.

And just in case you’re rolling your eyes … I don’t think my life is anything spectacular.  My home is often messy, regularly dusty and not much matches anything else.  But to us, it’s cosy, comforting, and colourful, with every corner filled with that which illuminates what’s important to us and how we love to spend our time.  That to me, is what a home should be.  I’m rounder than ever so there won’t be any floaty, dreamy clothing on display.  Just lots of colour and pattern, things that are easy to make and comfy to wear, things that say “yep, that’s lily!”  My quilts won’t be any show stoppers.  They will be pieced with an eye to pleasure – rather than perfection, what’s rocking my boat this week – rather than what technique everybody is obsessed with at the moment, and they will all be quilted onto those gorgeous vintage pure wool blankets I can’t stop buying ’cause I know one day they will run out.  My knitting will be cheerful but probably a bit wonky.  My embroidery probably never finished but delightedly started.  My animals are adored and cared for to the best of our ability but sometimes we will make mistakes and things will resemble more Mr. Bean’s adventures than River Cottage.  And my garden – I wonder whether it will ever get going or I’ll ever know what I’m doing, and I shall probably buy my veg from the shops for the rest of my days!

But.  If that kind of ordinariness appeals to you and you would like to read something chatty and silly but from the heart that makes you hopefully smile during your day, or be inspired to run over to the sewing machine and get stuck into some wonderful creativity, or just something to flick over to because that news is so bloody awful … well then, let’s try again!

Welcome back to  :: a Handmade Life ::

it work

planting our letterbox

my favourite

all in a row

julians favourite

the microwave

interesting use of star pickets

the old one

digging the hole

tamping her down

 

with the neighbours
closeup

it work

Letterboxes in country Australia are quirky things.

They are constructed from all manner of things – and most often homemade.  Old milking cans, perched on their side – and often with the bottoms almost completely rusted out – are a long held favourite.  A more modern take on this is the old gas bottle – one would think they would be a bit sturdier than the milking can – alas, they too seem prone to rust. Even more peculiar is the recent popularity of old microwaves.  I must say, this does not do it for me at all.  I don’t like microwaves at the best of times.  But I guess it’s probably reasonably waterproof – something most country letter boxes are not.

Then there is a never ending parade of handmade skill, ingenuity or imagination – my favourite round here is that white peaked-roof little house number at the top with the sweetly painted door – very traditional and so big – there’d be no parcel too big for the postman to leave in that one!  I could practically sit in it and wait :-)  Julian likes the next one down – a combination of little Swiss Chalet with a heap of mechanical cogs and wheels attached for extra bling.  He plans to make one similar to this.

As for that very old oven, precariously woven onto a quartet of star pickets, well, it sure is quirky, but I’m surprised the postman dares to open it!

I looked up rural letterboxes on google – just to see what they looked like in other parts of the world – and found that there are letterboxes especially made for rugged conditions.  Huh!  Well, I can tell you now, no one around here bothers with that kind of fancy-jiggery.  They go through the scrap pile and make do!

Another feature of country Australia letterboxes is that they usually hold more than your letters!  Frogs, toads and spiders (both harmless and deadly) are common fare.  We had a frog and toad sharing our letterbox all summer – which made me smile every time I peered in – it was like our own little Arnold Lobel tableau come to life – I would not have been surprised to see Frog tidying our mail, and even more delighted if Toad had baked me a cake :-)

Snakes are also common – ugh!  We have plenty of snakes round here – and not your sweet little harmless ones – but red belly black snakes (shy but very poisonous) and browns (quite aggressive and deadly).  Yep, in Australia we don’t like to do things by halves.  Folklore says that if you have red belly blacks, you won’t have browns because the blacks eat the browns’ babies.  I won’t be counting on that. Imagine how big the snake could be that could fit in that huge white letter box!  I’m shuddering just thinking about it!  Sometimes I think it would be wise to check the mail with gloves and a stick.

But the quaintest thing about country letterboxes is that they are not often outside your house/farm.  Instead, they are all perched on the side of the road at the beginning of your road – with road being a euphemism for winding, pot-holed dirt track that may well go for miles, getting more track like and more prone to flooding the further it goes.  I love it :-)  It’s like the pinboard you find in a university department when you hop out of the lift – you know, the kind that has a photo of everybody who works there with their name underneath.  You peer at them – usually an eclectic assortment of easy smiles, sullen stares, and grim frowns – as you’re wondering which tutorial to sign up for, wondering which ones are nice, which ones are funny, which ones are reliable, and which ones will make you wish you never came to university.

The letterboxes are just like this!  They are the street’s version of the photo pinboard with their individual peculiarities inviting you to ponder who lives where and what they are like!  I bet the person who built the Swiss Chalet with mechanical cogs and wheels has a wonderful attention for detail and keeps all his Owner Builder magazines chronologically with a cross reference for different building methods.  And the person who perched the old oven on its stilts loves a laugh and hunting through the darkest and dingiest farm sheds, and probably watches Howl’s Moving Castle once a month.  As for my favourite – well that’s clearly a farm that has been lovingly handed down through the family and great grandad built that letterbox for great grandmother as a consolation present when she gave birth to their fifth son!

As such, Mum decided that our inherited letterbox – the dull little rusted thing with the name Neal – did not say anything useful about us!  So, with the expectation that building a beautiful letterbox will be long way down Julian’s list of things to do, she found a perfectly serviceable little letterbox at the dumpshop (why throw money away on new when the dumpshop almost always has what we need!), sanded it back, gave it a coat of rustkill and proofing, then painted it a divine glossy red – as a tribute to dear old Grandad’s decades of service to Australia Post and because red is always fabulous.  Mum did such a lovely job!

And I, of course, added my own bit of letterbox bling.  A “boot” for the front – with flowers growing out of it – our name, and across the top I painted the number as big as possible – don’t want the postman getting mixed up – and more flowers.  Mum was delighted!  Julian just smiled and shook his head – and maybe moved “build letterbox” further up the list ;-)

So the other Saturday morning, as we sat on the porch contemplating the day’s list or gardening and animal chores, we bumped “plant letterbox” up to the top.  We chucked all the tools we’d need into the back of the car and drove on up to our road’s letterboxes – where we met up with some neighbours and had a good old chinwag and planned a street party! Julian yanked out the old disaster – it was so precarious it was a miracle it had not toppled over – and dug the hole much deeper.  He planted a lovely sturdy fence post (also bought at the dumpshop – yes!) nice and deep and filled around it with fine little pebbles, bashed them down with the crowbar, then packed in more dirt on top.  Next he screwed on our cheerful little letterbox – then realised I had painted it “back to front”. That was a moment.  Well of course I did because it’s not really back to front!  I want to be able to pull up in the car right beside that letter box, flip back the lid and peer in.  Perfect!  He thinks I’m mad – but loveable.

Yep, our little letterbox might not score high on the country Australia quirky letterbox scale but it definitely says “The Boots live here!”, don’t you think :-)  And now we are that bit more firmly planted here in our beautiful valley.  Sigh!