Weekly catch up and weekend links

This week started off quite slowly after the kids came down with a cold/gastro at the end of last week. Little Elsie was sick over the weekend with vomiting and a cold but thankfully all the kids are recovered now. Though it is clear we are getting to that time of year where end-of-term-itis is setting in. We are all beginning to lag a bit. 

A beautiful gardenia from my garden, the smell is divine. 

We were planning to go to a Christmas Carols service on Sunday, but it seems to have come in wet the last couple of days. Hopefully, the weather clears. I love carols nights and it always helps to put me in the Christmas spirit of thankfulness and appreciation for all our many blessings. It's been so cool I could almost have lit the Aga, in December no less! Utterly bonkers. The rain is at least watering the pasture and flushing out our creek. At least the frogs are happy!

While at home I have been working on a couple of sewing projects. A Waldorf doll which I'm finishing for a friend and I have started the kids snuggle pouches for holding the guinea pigs. I'm not sure what I was thinking but I made the first one extraordinarily long. I need to cut it in half and made a second out of it I think. They are made out of an old wool blanket and covered in soft flannel. The aim of the pouches is to catch guinea pig accidents. They are poopy little creatures and I do not need to find guinea pig deposits rolling around on my couch. Which has happened in the past, despite using old cloth nappies as a wrap for them. This way the pouches contain the mess and can be shaken out over the garden and before going in the wash. 

Trialling a guinea pig pouch with one of the alpaca guinea pigs. 

I have started getting veggies at the fruit and veggie shop again, and I scored a lovely massive cabbage for $2.99 last week. So a batch of sauerkraut is now fermenting on my benchtop. The quality is better the variety is much greater as well. I do most of my shopping via click-and-collect as it is already a two-hour return trip to town for me. Lately, the website has been showing lots of things as unavailable but I know they are on the shelf in the store. I understand the problem, it's a company-wide website and they can't guarantee each individual store will have all the things given the massive recent flooding in Australia. Fresh veggies are dependent on supply/demand. But it defeats the purpose of click-and-collect if I have to go into the store to choose my veggies. So, I'm making the effort to instead support a smaller, local business just down the road. To be fair shopping at the fruit and veg place is a much nicer and more personalized shopping experience as well as being better value for money. 

Making Sauerkraut from Nourishing Traditions. 

On Thursday Elsie and I went to playgroup which was lovely, and something I'm happy to be a volunteer of. It's a Uniting Church-based playgroup. It's welcoming, inclusive, affordable and full of kind and dedicated volunteers who want to support families. It seems there are so many expensive options for playgroup these days, which to be honest makes me a little sad. These kinds of community-based playgroups that many churches offer are a precious resource for families. Our playgroup is $2/session and includes craft/tea/coffee/sweet treat for the carer. As well as story and music time. Carers bring morning tea for the kids, though there are always crackers on hand if someone doesn't have a snack. Anyone can attend and if someone can't pay they are still welcomed with open arms. Church volunteers can also help them find community organisations to help them like food banks/op-shops etc. Community gardens, Churches, public libraries....These are the kinds of places that are absolutely vital to the well-being of a community. 

Well, it is about to pour again so I best log off before my rural internet crashes and I'm unable to post this! I hope you have a peaceful, blessed weekend and enjoy browsing the links I have put together for you. 

Much love,
Grass Roots Magazine
Grass Roots have released its December/January edition and I have a gentle, encouraging Christmas article in there. As always it is full of excellent, practical and sensible articles, written by people living a Grass Roots lifestyle. Available at all good Newsagencies or you can order it from their website. It would make a wonderful Christmas gift!

Talasbuan - This family has been living in the Swedish woods for 10 years
This in an incredibly lovely, calm document of their day on their little Swedish farm. 

How do you feel about older homes? 

These are a great idea. It is an advertising video for Sew Easy but it's well filmed and claer. You could use up-cycled fabrics and fill them with packets of seeds, little pencils, nice lollies, lip gloss, small soaps, mini stamps, mini sewing kit....The options are endless!

Working Effectively When You're Overwhelmed

simplifying the christmas season

Can you believe we are about to enter the month of Christmas?

Christmas this year is going to be tough for a lot of families, and I suspect this season is filling a lot of people with apprehension. Perhaps for financial reasons, relationship tensions or the thought of the mental load and all the expectations there can be to juggle.

But rest assured, there is still time to put in place a peaceful, frugal plan! 

My dear Friend Allie summed up some wonderfully helpful strategies to start conversations about change HERE and I thought I would expand on her thoughts a little more. 

What makes a meal special for your family? 
Do you enjoy cooking on Christmas day or do you find it stressful?
Do you enjoy a hot meal or would you prefer salads and cold meats? 

There are a lot of expectations about what people 'should' do for Christmas. For many, Christmas lunch was and is a traditional roast with all the trimmings. But in Australia Christmas is in the middle of summer, and cooking a hot meal in the middle of the day can be an unappealing thought. Just because it is how your parents did it, or your grandparents did it, it doesn't mean you have to continue that tradition. You can start your own family traditions and there is no time like the present. 

Over the last couple of years, we have asked our family what makes Christmas lunch special. You know what they love? Fresh prawns, crackers/dip, salami/cold meats, trifle, ice cream and lollies. We love a lovely roast with all the trimmings, but a roast is a common meal here in winter because it's an easy, affordable meal to feed a big family and you can stretch out the leftovers. There is nothing like cooking a roast in a wood oven, something I am certainly not able to do in our hot Australian summers. So we often don't do a roast for Christmas these days.

Buying a few extras in your grocery shop each week in the lead-up to Christmas can help to buffer the overall expense. Look out for specials and remember ham/roasts/seafood etc can all be frozen. Smoked meats often have a long shelf life, as do many kinds of cheese. Chocolate and sweets can all be bought weeks in advance too. By spreading Christmas baking out you can enjoy it over the season rather than putting pressure on yourself to serve all the Christmas foods on Christmas day. I mean how much can your family realistically eat in a day anyway?

Historically the Christmas meal was so special because meals at other times of the year were simple. Meat and veg, a hearty stew, and soup made with basic, seasonal and local ingredients. When we practice self-restraint and simplicity in the lead-up to a celebration or event such as Christmas, we build anticipation. This magnifies the experience and it becomes something to be savoured. 

Elsies present which I made from a kit I had stored away for many years and never done. She is fully jointed and is made from mohair and stuffed with wool.  Next is a little dog for Henry and a few other small bits. 
It took me a long time to reframe my mind around gifting second-hand items, despite being an avid lover of second-hand shopping. You can get so many things in brand new condition for a fraction of what you would pay for new. Marketplace/Gumtree/op-shops are all worth a look. I find Marketplace seems to suit us best these days as I can find what I want and pick it up without wasting time browsing and often people want to re-coup some money if items are still brand new and unused. Perhaps the clothing was bought for the wrong season, or it didn't fit and can't be returned. Perhaps a child was given multiples of the same thing or the people had a change of plans and they have things surplus to their needs they want to pass along. 

If you are buying second-hand, don't be afraid to offer less than the asking price. Be polite and friendly, perhaps explain your budget in a few words. Don't expect to get it for your offering price, they may counterbalance, or they may say no. But also they might be happy to compromise, they might not know what the second-hand value of that item really is and it could have been listed for ages. I often see items that are overpriced on Marketplace. It doesn't matter what someone paid for an item 2 years ago. An item is only as valuable as someone is willing to pay in today's market. But if you are certain you want/need the item, and the price is fair it's best to snap it up before someone else does.

Try to give useful items, or items you know will be used over and over again. Books, sports/swimming equipment, board games, Lego, Duplo and even items for the new school year make excellent presents. (lego and Duplo can easily be bought second hand too. Win-win!) Do your children need a new school bag/lunch box/stationery? These make excellent Christmas presents and teach a child to value the necessities of life. Do they need a sleeping bag for an upcoming school camp? What about a new set of fun sheets? Think ahead of things they will need throughout the year. 

When it comes to adults consumable gifts or items of need are a great option. Jams, chocolates, homemade gingerbread, honey biscuits, a beautiful Christmas cake, a plant in a pretty pot, or something handmade which will be loved for many years. If you can think of a gift from the shops that will be loved and appreciated that's great too, for me books fall under this category and can often be quite affordable.  

Don't give 'joke/token' presents unless they are actually going to be useful long-term. That funny/cheap 'joke' required the earth's precious resources, fossil fuels, manufacturing, transportation and was probably produced with slave labour. And after everyone has had a laugh, or a kid has played with it for 5 minutes before tossing it aside, it will end up in landfill. That kind of consumerism is selfish, short-sighted and entirely unnecessary.  

When it comes to a 'fun' but useful present, I like to give funny socks and jocks in stockings, (making sure they are cotton or cotton rich) they bring laughter and the kids love to wear them. Will even wears his funny socks with shorts and will go through the clear sock basket to find just the right pair. There are plenty of ways to create fun that are not wasteful.

Many of us can't afford to only support small makers or have the time to give only handmade items this Christmas. Though we may be able to afford to buy some things locally and ethically from small makers. The fact is, sometimes big box stores sell what we need in our budget. And that's ok, but it's important to look at quality. If your child wants a plastic doll they can bathe, can you make some cotton clothes for it rather than buying synthetic accessories? Can you buy a doll that is BPA-free?

This year I bought Elsie a wooden wobble board, I was unable to source one second-hand locally as I have been looking for a while. Brand new they are upwards of $110. I can't justify the cost of that so I purchased one from Kmart for $19. The reviews were good and it feels well-made and strong. However, it is not sealed so I will need to seal it before I give it to her. Being wooden, it is at least a natural material. It's not ideal, but sometimes we can only do our best. 

I am also making her a natural fibre bear and a little apron. She has a few small gifts coming from family I bought with money they gifted her that are ethically made. I do prefer to buy less and support more ethical/sustainable businesses if at all possible.   

The boys will get solar-powered torches, books, some sports gear/goggles, a new school bag each and money. Henry wants me to make him a little soft toy dog and the boys all want handmade little snuggle pouches for the guinea pigs. Family will give them things too, and often tend to give more 'fun/exciting' items.    

When it comes to what we remember about Christmas, it is likely to be the traditions we keep. Setting up the Christmas tree, piling up in the car and going to see the Christmas lights with snacks and cold drinks, watching daggy Christmas movies with bowls of popcorn, visiting family and friends, or maybe attending church or special carols by candlelight event. 

Even if you don't go to church, many churches offer wonderful, professional and free Christmas events like carols by candlelight. Usually, you just bring a picnic rug, snacks, drinks and find a space to enjoy the show. It doesn't matter if you don't normally go to church, they love to welcome visitors and often spend many months planning their advent season to ensure visitors feel welcomed. 

If you have kids, Christmas crafts can be fun in the buildup to Christmas. We enjoy making a gingerbread house and gingerbread biscuits every year. In the past, we have also made salt dough decorations, which you can find a link to HERE, and felt decorations. You can make some excellent decorations simply using cardboard, paint and scissors too. If you want to preserve cardboard decorations you can spray them with some varnish. 

And finally....
In this day and age, we have become used to having what we want when we want it. Can't afford it? Put it on the credit card. Want a pineapple in winter? Buy imported. Want some new clothes? You can go to any bulk store and buy fast fashion pretty cheaply. I mean it won't last, is probably synthetic and may well have used unethical labour. But basically, we can buy whatever we want whenever we want it. Though there are good things about this. (Really there are) It's this kind of mindset which is a large part of what's sucking the joy out of Christmas for so many. It creates a sense of pressure and empty consumerism where our expectations can never really be met. The solution? Lower them.  

But Ma asked if they were sure the stocking were empty. They put their arms down inside them, to make sure. And in the toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny! They had never even thought of such a thing as having a whole penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny 
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Though our children may not be able to find joy in as little as Laura Ingalls, we can teach them to find joy in experiences over things, but first that has to come from us. 

Much love,

Twins! And weekend links

Well hello there! Thankfully this week on the farm has been significantly more successful than the last. There have been no escapees and all the animals are happy and content. 

I'm pleased to report that Walrus the goat (nicknamed Walraus because she was as wide as she was tall) gave birth to a healthy set of twins. It was a long and difficult delivery, and Grant had to pull the first twin out by the jaw, which is not an ideal way to deliver an animal. But he was well and truly stuck with his legs tucked behind him and it was the only thing Grant could get a grip on. After labouring hard all night, and a failed attempt at re-positioning the baby, it was clear she wasn't going to manage on her own. Thankfully he was born alive, though understandably stressed. His sister slid out with ease a few minutes later. Walrus has shrunk back down to a more normal size now so I'm not sure if her nickname will stick now she no longer resembles...well a walrus. 

After watching the trio for their first hour, we found the boy laying flat on his side and not making any effort to stand. The poor fellow was exhausted and shocked after a rough entry into the world. If a baby goat can't show some fight and get up, there is little a mother can do for it. She doesn't have arms to help prop him up. Thankfully the baby girl was up and trying to feed and Walrus was being a wonderfully attentive mother to her. With little choice, I wrapped him in some old towels to warm him up, expressed off some colostrum from Walrus and brought him inside to let him rest and have his first vital feed. Colostrum is incredibly nutrient and energy-dense, and an hour or so later he had picked up considerably and I was able to return him to his mother. He immediately tried to stand and Walrus accepted him back without hesitation. The trio have continued to go onwards and upwards and is doing brilliantly, the twins are robust and gaining weight fast. 

Look at the size of that bulging udder! It's settled down now and she's producing ample milk. 

It's never an easy decision to step in and help an animal birthing. As a general rule, mother nature knows what she is doing and it is best for all involved to let nature take its course. By taking a kid away soon after birth you risk the mother rejecting it and though you can bottle feed the babies, it is labour-intensive. You also risk scouring (a form of diarrhoea that can kill them) as formula doesn't have all the vital good bacteria and antibodies in it. Due to being a small farm, we handle our goats a lot and they are used to our presence and our scent, which I'm sure helps when we have to step in.  They associate us with kindness and occasionally a mother goat will seek us out if one of her babies is in trouble, bleating at the fence until we find what is wrong and help her. Once they have been reunited, they will wander off happily. The first time I saw a doe seek us out for help I wasn't sure if I was viewing the situation through a human lens, but no. They are clever animals and they are quite amazing to watch. 

In other news, Elsie and I went to playgroup on Thursday and brought along two of the boys' alpaca guinea pigs for the children to pat. In a world where so many families are stuck renting, it is easy to forget children often don't have the same level of exposure to animals children of my generation had. When I was growing up everyone I knew had a cat, dog, bird, rabbit, chicken or guinea pig. At the very least they had fish or hermit crabs, and it was quite common for families to have numerous pets. They seemed to be a right of passage in childhood. These days I meet many people who have no pets due to not being able to buy their own home and fearing not being able to find a pet-friendly rental. Though there are laws to protect renters and their pets in Australia, landlords still essentially hold the upper hand. This makes me sad as I think the right pet can be a wonderful companion and experience for people of all ages. They are good company, are often very funny, can give us a reason to get out and about and can be wonderful at helping people feel less anxious and stressed. 

By the end of the week, the boys had either come down with gastro or had a cold so on Friday they all stayed home and rested. Thankfully they seem to be on the mend today, though poor Gussy is still flat. We are supposed to be having hot chips on the beach tomorrow with some of his friends, so he will be sad if we have to postpone. 

Now Elsie is older and becoming a little more independent, I am finding I am settling into a good rhythm with blogging again. During the week I've been putting out a more article-style blog and then on the weekend putting out a more personal weekly catch-up post along with various links I have enjoyed. This routine is working well for me and I'm enjoying the different styles of writing. I hope you are enjoying it too. 

ANZAC biscuits, stewed apples and banana cakes were on the menu this week. 

I like being able to promote other blogs and I am still trying to get the long list of blogs I follow up in my sidebar. I used to have an extensive blog list that automatically rotated those who had recently posted to the top, so they were easy to find for those that were looking. If someone wasn't writing their blog would drop off giving others space until they posted again. I really liked the system and though I have moved my reading list over, they are not rotating as they should. It is very frustrating and I shall continue to ponder and meddle about until I can get it working again.    

This weekend I have put together a mixed bag of links for you to explore. I hope you find something that takes your fancy. 

Much love,

Some great tips here if you're interested in homesteading/small farming.

This is a lovely little YouTube channel. Elsie and I really like listening and watching the little house on the Prarie excerpts. It's gentle and slow, with simple animated illustrations which she finds really soothing. I will often pop one on after lunch for her and she will drift off to sleep.  

I'm fascinated by the Amish, the way they live out their strong Christian faith and how their communities function. Here is a lovely online store that sells a lot of Amish goods which is based in Mount Morris, New York. I really enjoyed browsing their stock. 

A great little film on utilizing stinging nettle for health benefits. 

These two have been living off-grid for many years, in this video, they show how they do their washing with a nifty human-powered washing machine and wringer.  I would have liked one of these when we first started out and I was doing our family washing by hand. 

Choosing done over perfection

Waiting until the timing is perfect or wanting to do things perfectly can be a major hold-up when trying to live a simpler life. 

Kids are masters at giving things a go, what is it that causes self-doubt to creep in as we get older? 

Some people might be waiting to make a shift in their lives until they live in a place with a bigger yard, or until they have read alllll the books about preserving before giving it a shot. Perhaps you're saving to buy a fandangled piece of equipment so you can do something the 'best' way. But I'm not a big fan of perfection. Mostly, because perfection is an unrealistic goal. We are imperfect humans so achieving perfection in anything we attempt is an unlikely outcome. 

For most of history, humans have been growing, harvesting, drying cooking and preserving food with simple tools. The kinds of tools that are readily available to you and me. They would hand sew things for the house, make soap and look after their homes using what they had. Upcycling wasn't trendy, it was a normal and necessary part of life. Buying anything new was considered a luxury. It is easy to look at the past, especially those of us who haven't lived it, with rose-coloured glasses. Although I don't want to go entirely back to the ways of old, considering our consumption more carefully before we shell out our hard-earned dollar bucks on any items would certainly do us and the environment a lot of good. 
Banana cake, risen unevenly due to not pre-heating the oven properly, but delicious anyway. 

You don't have to have the best of something for it to still be good. Herbs can be dried by popping them in paper bags and storing them in the car which acts as a dry heat source. Or they can be tied in bundles and hung to dry in the home. If you have a lot of herbs you can spread them on trays, put your oven on the lowest setting and dry them that way.

Let me share an example of doing something despite it being imperfect. About 18 months ago Grant started laying flooring in our yurt. He did the kitchen/lounge/dining area/loft and it looks fabulous. But then there was a buckle in the flooring he didn't know how to fix and he was worried the floor in the master bedroom wasn't entirely level in one spot. Because of that, the progress on the flooring stalled. He wanted to get it just right. While he pondered how to finish the job well, he left a stack of timber taking up precious room in the yurt. I won't lie, this situation caused me great frustration. Mostly I tried to ignore it but occasionally I would stub my toe on the timber and express that frustration. I couldn't see the issue with the floor he was concerned about and the reality is we live in a yurt, not a show home. Our home is never going to be perfect. 

Simple baseless GF quiche. Good simple food. 

But a week or so ago he decided to get cracking and finish it off, imperfect subfloor and all. And you know what? It looks great and is coming along brilliantly. The issue he was concerned about was less of an issue than he had convinced himself of, and that buckle in the floor he had been wondering how to fix? Well, he made a small cut in the buckled join with an angle grinder, and the board popped back neatly into place. Unless you look closely, you would never know there had ever been an issue.
I'm not entirely sure what made him decide to get cracking on it, given the issue he was worried about hadn't changed. I suspect it was a reminder to 'just do it' after watching a YouTube clip about a fellow who is building a homestead in the UK, similar to what we hope to do here. The fellow has built some great little natural building structures on his property. One was a timber-framed round house with an earthen roof. He and his mates got together and started building and he had set them an 8-week deadline. When people would start debating about how to do something better or try to make an improvement that hadn't been part of the plan, he would remind them "8 weeks! This has to be done in 8 weeks!" Due to the mentality of done over perfect, the big project was completed within the 8-week timeline. It was a wonderful little structure too. Creating self-imposed deadlines was a method he used regularly on his property. They would set themselves a deadline, do what they could in that timeframe and then move on to the next task. I really liked the philosophy and goodness they had achieved a lot and were doing some very cool things. 

It was a reminder to me that things don't have to be perfect to still be great. We don't have to have all the answers before we start and often, getting the job done the best we can is more than good enough. I know I have fallen into the trap of holding off from starting things not believing I had the knowledge or experience.  Or I would start and then lose momentum in the middle when things are looking their worst. For example, the first coat of paint on something looks terrible, the second looks ok, but the third is what really makes the difference. Or take writing. I can have a great idea in my head, then as I sit to get it on paper it can be a mess of redlines and jumbled thoughts. Sometimes after I have done a big brain dump of an idea I can look at it and wonder if there is anything worth salvaging in there. But if I  persist past the initial jumble, links form between the thoughts and with a bit of editing and shuffling a readable article or blog post begins to shore up. 

It seems to me that in the middle of most things worth doing, there is often a big old mess. It's at this point where we need to have a bit of confidence, determination and self-belief to fall back on to get us through. 

But how do we get to the point of feeling utterly useless at something to being proficient? Well, it's a matter of learning as we go. Trial and error and seeking out those with wisdom in the areas we are looking to grow.  Just because we burn a loaf of bread, or cook a dodgy meal doesn't mean we can't cook. It means the oven was too hot, or we simply made a mistake in the cooking process. We all make mistakes, and unless we let them, they don't define who we are or reduce our potential. 

I have since cut the pieces out for this sewing project. 

Many, many years ago I bought a lovely jointed bear kit. The fur was mohair so it wasn't cheap. As a result, I was too nervous to cut it for fear of buggering it up. But this Christmas I am determined to finish it off for Elsie.  What was I thinking not starting? What was the worst that could happen? I could wreck material. Material that is otherwise languishing in my draw, and really what's the difference? Things are made to be used. In the scheme of what I could gain which is the enjoyment of tackling a great project and giving my child a special gift, the risk of failure suddenly seems less significant. 

Much love,

A shemozzle of a week and a weekend reading list

What a week!

The animals were ready to mutiny and this week I have had to round up wayward goats and Hagrid our giant strong-willed Anatolian shepherd more times than I would like to count. I threatened goat curry would be on the menu if there was so much as a cloven hoof out of line again. So far today they have decided to behave. Naturally, they always escaped when I had a toddler in tow, at nap time. Anyone who has ever had a toddler knows that if things are going to go wrong, it will always happen when the toddler is tired and cranky. The cows escaped to the neighbours and there were dead chickens to boot. Walrus the goat is still pregnant, which seems impossible considering she’s nearly as wide as she is tall. Her udder is swollen and virtually  dripping with milk and all the other signs of imminent birth are present, except the kid. Then there’s the plague of cabbage moths and invisible basil-munching critters. I have put my foot down at the basil-munching critters and brought in pyrethrum spray. It seems to have helped my perennial basil, I'll have to wait and see if it helps my sweet basil. Summer is coming and I am determined there WILL be basil this year! Then there has been the usual juggle and bumps in the road that come with parenting a bunch of kids. The riot act was read, and peace resumed. 

It seems it was one of those weeks where everything I turned my hand to, ended in disaster. Yesterday I did the grocery shopping and I kept finding myself in a pickle just as the same kind Irish grandmother passed by. First, the trolly escaped from me with Elsie half in it, her little legs askew. Then I got tangled on the shelving and looked like a right numpty. Then I was either dropping something or climbing a shelf to get an item just out of reach. She had a laugh each time she passed me and she kindly suggested I go back to bed. Ha! Perhaps an afternoon nap with Elsie is in order. 

I have a mostly written blog post I started on Sunday and didn't manage to get back to all week and a nearly finished vlog for YouTube. Perhaps I am not actually behind, but rather I'm ahead with things to share for next week. It's all in the framing, yes? 

Below are some links to things I enjoyed this week and thought you might like them too. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 

Much love, 

Treading My Own Path  
REDcycles soft plastic collection suspension - and why it might be a good thing

A wonderful short film. 

I love goats, and I love using them for this purpose. 

This is a free online event, you just need to sign up! It's going to be fabulous as both David and Morag are excellent to listen to. Full of wisdom, experience and encouragement. 

"A unique ice cream is being launched using Indigenous bush tucker plants including Davidson's plum, peppermint gum, strawberry gum and wattleseed." The proceeds will be going to a grassroots social enterprise so if you see it on the shelves be sure to check it out! I know I'll be splashing out to try it, I think normalising indigenous foods is an excellent thing, and who better to do it than those who have been consuming them for 60 thousand or so years? 

Costa Georgiadis: Heart and Soil. I mean really, what's not to love about listening to Costa? An Aussie legend. 

I loved this post by GDonna, I'm sure you will too. 

Gardening in small spaces and weekend links

Though we have a farm, our current growing spaces are quite small. Currently, we have two seperate patches and a couple of small raised beds. It is surprising how many plants you can fit in a small space, and just how much food you can get from them. It's easy to dismiss a small space as useless or not worth the effort, but if you want a garden you'll make it work. Sometimes we need to work with what we have, rather than what we want.

This is the small space we call Elsie's garden. It's about the same size as a courtyard at around 10m2. Though it's small there are a lot of plants there, and an example of what can be done in a small space. It is pretty with flowers and decorative trees as well as lots of edibles. 

We attempted a big veggie garden two years ago but Elsie was tiny, I was home-educating three children and we had broken pasture that kept trying to take the freshly exposed ground back. Then Grant got a different job taking him away from home more. In the end, we let it go knowing there would be another season, and that all good things take time. 

This area at the front of the yurt is what we call 'Elsies garden' It's home to her little cubby and sandpit while being a safe and secure place for her to play. It isn't a big area at about 10m2, but I think a good example of what can be done with a small yard or courtyard. The cubby could easily be the footprint of a small garden shed and the sandpit area is enough space for a small paved area with a cafe-style table and chairs. If you have a small space and children be encouraged, you can still create a lovely, interesting and natural play space for them. It doesn't need to be big.  

If you have a small garden, don't be afraid to use medium-sized deciduous trees. In this little space, I have a crepe myrtle, elderberry which I am pruning up, and frangipani, which didn't make it through winter. I'll be pulling it out and replacing it with a pink magnolia which I have seen a lot of around here. It's always good to have a sticky beak about what others are growing nearby. I also have a beautiful gardenia in one corner. You could easily plant a couple of deciduous fruit trees like a peach, plum or apricot to maximise your productivity if that's what you wanted. By using small-medium trees you add interest upwards and create a microclimate under them which can support a wider diversity of plants. Celery, coriander and lettuce for example don't mind some shade in the middle of a hot summer's day. The good thing about deciduous trees is they let in the sunshine over colder months. 

Along with the decorative shrubs and trees, in this small garden there is kale, chard, spinach, celery, spring onions, lettuce, edible violets, cherry tomato, snow peas, perennial basil, horseradish, parsley, oregano, lavender, echinacea, sage, thyme, pyrethrum and citronella geranium. Along with seaside daisies, diosmas, salvia, African daisy, native orchid, petunias and foxgloves just because they are pretty as well as helping with diversity.  

Freshly planted seedlings. Spring onions and silverbeet.

This small space is constantly changing and evolving as things come to the end of their cycle and other plants are brought in to fill the gaps. As one area is cleared out, I top it up with fresh compost and aged manure before planting it out again with a couple of punnets of seedlings. If you have a small area, it's easy to buy compost and manure by the bag from your local garden centre. Just check your prices as it can differ wildly.

In the photo above I had just pulled out parsley that had died off and some lettuces which had gone to seed. In their place, I planted silverbeet and spring onion. I also moved the horseradish to the back, brought in compost and moved some heirloom volunteer cherry tomatoes. Then I potted up a couple of cherry tomatoes to give to a friend over the weekend.   

We are growing closer to a time when we can either buy more raised beds or put in animal-proof fencing for a veggie plot. It has now about the third job on the list. Woo hoo! We are not sure which option we will take. Raised beds look lovely, have great drainage which is helpful given the predicted soggy summer ahead, and are excellent for growing smaller things like Asian greens, spinach, herbs, chillies and smaller plants. I really enjoy working with them as they are a clearly defined space. But putting in an animal-proof fence around what will be the big patch would allow us to plant bush tomatoes, corn, cucumber, pumpkins, sweet potato, zucchini, berries, watermelon etc. It would however require more, heavier work, but has the potential to supply us with a larger volume of food. We are undecided about which option we will pursue first. 

I'll share what is happening in my round garden which is about the same size over the coming weeks. I'm currently planting it out with cherry tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, and chillis as well as lots of greens. 

What's growing at your place? Do you have a big yard or a little one?

I hope this finds you well, and that the flowers in bloom bring you a smile.
Much love,

Weekend links

Every time we go to the community garden, all the children gorge themselves on these native raspberries. They are utterly delicious and I'm looking for some bushes to plant on the farm. If you are in the tropics or subtropics I highly recommend planting them!

YouTube - Heidi
I loved the book and the movie Heidi when I was a child, then I found it on YouTube and it was delightful watching on a rainy afternoon. 

Shannon Hayes is one of my favourite authors, especially her book Radical Homemakers. I stumbled upon this talk and really enjoyed it. 

Sophie Thompson, one of my favourite presenters on Gardening Australia makes DIY wicking beds. These are perfect if you are a bit hap-hazard with watering, growing in a backyard situation or want to grow in raised beds for mobility reasons.  

This family lives a wonderfully sustainable life. 

Microfarming. The ins and outs of breeding wood roaches.

Every now and again I get a comment or message asking me what Grant's wood roach business is all about. It sounds a bit weird I know, but it helps to think of it as farming on a micro-scale.

This is the interior of his new shed. Lots of room to divide up boxes as they multiply. And of course a wood fire for warmth.  

Wood roaches (woodies) are a breed of native cockroaches. They are not invasive like the ones you might get in your home. Instead, they prefer to live in leaf litter in the bush. In their natural habitat, they would eat any decaying organic matter. They don't tend to have that really pungent, recognisable cockroach smell. In bulk captivity, like we keep them, they can get smelly if their containers get too dirty. But to be fair, that's the same as any animal kept in captivity.

Now you might be asking why someone would ever consider voluntarily breeding wood roaches, let alone who would buy such things. Well, the answer is there is a market, and it's a good market too. They are sold primarily to lizard breeders in bulk and transported in custom-made boxes via Australia Post. Woodies are high in protein and provide excellent nutrition to lizards. 
Grant is a wood roach wholesaler. He sells them in 1-1.5kg boxes to breeders or people who divide them up into smaller batches for pet owners. Because if you only have 1-2 little lizards, you don't need thousands of woodies to keep them well-fed! Currently, he sells them for $110/kg. 

The woodies are kept in a specially built shed a long way from the house. Though occasionally one tries to hitch a ride in on his clothing. They are kept in big plastic tubs, with mesh for ventilation and live between cardboard egg cartons. They need to live in warm, climate-controlled conditions so they have their very own slow-combustion wood fire to keep them toasty. They are feed chook pellets and vegetables. When we lived in SA he had them cranking along, but since moving here he is still tweaking his set-up. We haven't had a good space for them until recently. They are surprisingly fussy creatures and if the conditions are wrong they can have a mass die-off, or simply not breed.

It's a surprisingly good money earner when it is running well. Grant's record for selling woodies was $25,000 one year, though he hasn't managed anywhere near that since moving to the farm due to too many variations in their conditions. Currently, they look healthy and active, but they don't seem to be breeding which is frustrating. It takes a whole breeding cycle, over a period of months to see an improvement. Because they can be fiddly, prone to mass die-off, and the ick factor, there are not that many breeders able to reliably turn off large quantities. Grant has the space and experience to have a seriously big production. It will just take a little more time to get the breeding conditions just right.  

The next job for the shed is insulating it, adding external cladding and putting on a solar system to help with heating during the day. This will ensure they can be kept at an even temperature day/night without the hassle of keeping the fire going around the clock.
When it comes to being a part of a small mixed farm, the woodies tie in brilliantly. They happily eat the dodgy or diseased waste from the garden and their waste is thrown to the chickens, who jump on it to clean up any stray bugs. The cooks scratch about and break up the potent woodie poop, turning it over which in turn helps to build healthy soil. The soil then grows the pasture that feeds our cattle and goats, closing the loop. Nothing is wasted. 

If you have a decent-sized backyard and room for a garden shed, breeding insects might be something that you could do to bring in a bit of extra income. Mealworms and crickets are also common insects bred for the pet food industry, though you might not want to keep a large number of crickets in the suburbs. I imagine they could get a bit noisy. 

While our farm may never be able to support our family of 6, we fully believe it can cover its costs, providing us with a lot of nutrient-dense, quality food and that it will eventually run at a small profit. However, we will only be able to do this if we diversify, bypassing modern monoculture farming methods and utilising what we have got. 

Clearly, we will never be cattle moguls. But we choose to live simply and cheaply. We don't crave fancy cars, expensive holidays or expect our money to entertain us in the form of shopping. What a person chooses to spend, above and beyond their basic needs, is a big contributing factor to what they need to earn. We can choose to find contentment in a simpler life in nature, community, gardening, and creative outlets, or we can look externally for entertainment and value. I know what I choose, and if you are here, I suspect you do too.  

Much love,

An anniversary and weekend reading

Today Grant and I celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary, we have been together for 19 years. (Well, Technically it was yesterday, but today we are together.) 

Unlike many people of our generation, we married young and children followed soon after. Grant and I have grown up together in a sense, and I think that is one of the things that make us strong. We have learned over the years about give and take, and we have adapted and adjusted to each other's ways. 

We first met at my best friend's birthday party (now my SIL, so lucky!) and over time we got to know each other better and eventually we became a couple. We were 20 at the time and we have been inseparable ever since. There is nothing I like better than the two of us hanging out. It's rare these days with 4 kids but fortunately, they are pretty great sidekicks.
Grant is the kind of person who is endlessly patient, he is hard to ruffle and quick with a smile. He sees the humour in even the most frustrating situation and often dispels tension with his cheerful chuckle. Because of his easygoing nature, people sometimes mistake him for being a pushover, which couldn't be further from the truth. He's as steady as a rock and once his mind is made up there is no changing it. 

When we owned the general store and post office, I remember many times he would extend credit to people in a tight spot, usually regulars. No cigarettes, but food and essentials. Especially if they had children. Being the postmaster in a small country town, he knew everyone and most things that went on. 

Occasionally people would be caught out when our eftpos system would be down and they didn't have cash on them. Grant would extend credit to them too. People nearly always paid it back as soon as they could. Occasionally someone would disappear and not show their face for a year or so. But eventually, thinking enough time has passed that the loan had been forgotten, they would return. But he never forgot an amount or a face. He would cheerfully pop their order through and then ask "do you have the x amount you owe me from x months ago now?" They would look stunned for a second, before sheepishly handing over the amount. Their shock at being caught would amuse him no end, and he would always chuckle to himself as he cheerfully bid them farewell. 

Grant is also quick with his words, though always polite and calm about it. He doesn't get flustered easily if someone decides to take their bad mood out on him. More than once I have watched him neatly return a serve at an obnoxiously rude customer with such style they would be left spluttering in embarrassment before storming out, leaving Grant to chuckle as he got on with his work. It's a true delight to watch.

He's also one of the hardest workers I know. He doesn't believe hard work should be a bad thing and he's happy to spend a day swinging on a shovel if that's what's needed. Though to be fair, he prefers to drive his excavator these days. He's like a kid in a sandpit with that machine.

The years haven't always been easy. Eleven years ago we lost our home and virtually all our belongings in a flood, and then we very nearly lost Grant in a bushfire several years later. I was chronically unwell for two years with a heart condition that left me struggling to get out of bed and unable to walk 100m without needing a rest, and though we have been blessed with the arrival of 4 wonderful children, two pregnancies were sadly not meant to be. Despite the challenges, we have been so incredibly blessed. When things have been tough, we have been able to nurture a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for all we do have rather than focus on what we don't. Our strong Christian faith has given us a sense of hope and security in something bigger than us, it has helped us keep our perspective.
There won't be an anniversary celebration as such, as this is an uncomfortably tight fortnight due to one thing or another. But we will sit as a family and enjoy a nice home-cooked meal,  escape for a short bushwalk by ourselves and once the kids are in bed we will sneak some chocolate and no doubt reflect on how lucky we are and dream about what the future might hold for us on Barradale Farm. 

Much love,

Weekend links to explore

Left BBC's Planet Earth to start a dream family homestead-YouTube
I loved this family and their enthusiasm for establishing a diverse permaculture farm and inviting people in. 
Beautiful traditional weaving. Such skill.
Julie has revamped the most beautiful little table and chairs. I'm hoping to do something similar with Elsies wardrobe.

Talasbuan would have to be my favourite YouTube channel. I was thrilled to see they have finished their cellar before winter. Like us they are establishing their property on a shoestring budget. Their filming is beautiful. 
Simplifying is always a good thing. Many people are overwhelmed at the moment and I thought this might be encouraging. 
I have spent quite a lot of time over the last couple of days poking through Grandma Donna's blog. It is full of excellent content. Stories, recipes and reflections. It has it all. Especially if you are passionate about old-fashioned simple living like I am. 

A beautiful blog post by Rhonda about the comfort and refuge to be found in the home.


Barradale Farm. A new chapter.

Three and a half years ago we hitched up a fully-loaded stock trailer to our old Landcruiser and moved our family of five, three dogs, two cats, and a turtle named Squirtle 2000kms interstate, to a 265acre off-grid property with zero infrastructure. 

Our dream was to build a sustainable mix farm, entirely from scratch. 

There have been ups, downs, laughter and tears along with the welcome addition of sweet Elsie who made us a family of six. Despite it all, we are glad we are here. We finally settled on a name for our property, which was harder than I anticipated. Our farm sits squarely between two districts so it has been named Barradale Farm, in recognition of that. 

If I had known how hard the last three and a half years would be, I doubt I would have been brave enough to leap so boldly into the unknown. It has certainly been an adventure. When we are older, I'm sure we will look back at these early years on the farm with great fondness. 

Today I can look back at the last three and half years and feel proud. I also look forward with hope and excitement at how much potential this property still holds. 

When I first started blogging, I did so at a blog called 'A Simple Living Journey'. This blog will always remain as a reminder of where we started, and how we got to where we are now. I hope it will be there for my children to read when they are older if they feel so inclined. It is where I cut my teeth as a writer and explored what simple living was, along with all the beauty and richness it has to offer. But for all intents and purposes, it is time sit my first blog aside and start anew. 

One day, we hope this farm of ours will begin to support us in some capacity. We would like to open up a couple of hipcamp sites, host WWOOFers, and continue to establish a hardy boer goat herd along with growing out more cattle. Grant has his wood roach business and we hope to sell heritage chickens in the future. While simple living remains at the very heart of how we live out our lives on the farm, it makes sense for all aspects of our farm to fall under the same, easily identifiable banner. So, from here on out we will be Barradale Farm on the blog, online and in our farming pursuits. 

Essentially, here at Barradale Farm, we are building a sustainable Australian homestead on a shoestring budget. Though homesteading is a movement more closely associated within an American context, I think it is a good term. In Australia, we might call a homestead a hobby or small farm, but homesteading is more complex than that. Homesteading is about providing for your family and community, building resilience and improving self-sufficiency through growing your own food, raising animals, preserving, stockpiling, baking, building and cooking from scratch. There has been a mass exodus of people moving from cities to acreage and rural centres. I think this trend is a clear sign that people are looking to slow down and live a simpler, more sustainable life.  Lockdowns reminded us of the beauty and value to be found in the home and the garden, of the importance in children having space to play and be free. Now we are navigating an increasingly wobbly economic climate, rocketing fuel prices, inflation,  supply issues and extreme weather events which has contributed to supply chain disruptions. It has become apparent how fragile our industrialized food and resource system is, which has inspired many people to seek out a more self-sufficient, homesteading lifestyle. 

I hope people, whether they have a suburban backyard, own a rural property or perhaps dream of homesteading, can find encouragement here along with some helpful tips. It is easy to start a farm or a small homestead if you have a lot of money or inherit a property passed down through the generations. But many of us don't. It took all our money and years of hard work to be able to buy our farm and we have spent our first three years here scraping together enough to simply get by. Everything we buy or achieve is a milestone to be celebrated and there remains a long way to go. 

Despite that, we have built a small but functional and comfortable home, machinery shed/workshop/wood roach palace and wood shed. We have improved our road access, installed a solar system and put in a header tank. Our livestock numbers are continuing to grow and we are slowly establishing productive gardens as time and money allow. We have kilometres of fencing to finish, an orchard to fence and plant, pasture to improve, and a deck to build....the list goes on, but it likely always will. That is the nature of this lifestyle. It will never be finished, there will always be ideas to explore, livestock to rotate, equipment to repair, food to harvest and gardens to tend. 

But perhaps that is what appeals to us. Life here on the farm is ever-evolving. The seasons change, animals are born, gardens mature, and nature beckons. There is a feeling of realness, of connection to the food we produce, to the animals we raise, to the things that are fundamental to the very essence of life.  Raising animals, growing food, maintaining biodiversity.....they are real. Their value doesn't shift like the latest trends or fast fashion do. The whole of humanity relies on them, no matter a person's financial or social standing in this world.

I hope you continue to follow along here at Barradale Farm, and if you are here from A Simple Living Journey, I thank you for your kindness and support over the years, and I look forward to continuing to share our lives with you. 

Much love,
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