Saturday, 8 August 2015

A sustainable property in Flowerdale

Last weekend we visited the sustainable property of Trent and Vikki who live in Flowerdale, roughly 60km north of Melbourne.  

Our visit was prompted by buying several hundred tree guards and stakes that Vikki and Trent had listed on ebay. When chatting to them on the phone beforehand to arrange pickup we discovered Trent and Vikki are committed environmentalists who live off-grid on a 70 acre property with solar-powered electricity, solar hot water and a composting toilet.  Needless to say we were looking forward to meeting them and seeing their property.

Trent is a full time environmental campaigner and Vikki is a nurse who strongly believes that one can't be a humanitarian without also being an environmentalist. Both are actively involved in campaigning to save the endangered Leadbeater's possum in the Central Highlands.

In 2009 the Black Saturday bushfires tore through Flowerdale. Fortunately, Trent and Vikki managed to save their home. A few months after the fires, they were married on the property.  On the wedding day, rather than bringing gifts, the wedding guests helped the bride and groom plant 2000 trees. Today those trees cover the hillside behind the house.

After a cup of tea and a nice chat by the fire, Trent and Vikki were kind enough to give us a tour of their property.  Trent built both the house and the barn himself, living in the barn loft while he built the house. Both buildings are clad with waste wood from a sawmill on the Murray River. But he didn't stop there - Trent even made the dining table and seating from sustainably sourced Ironbark

The barn hosts a PV installation

 And a building adjacent to the barn holds the battery bank that stores the captured energy.

Here's Trent and Vikki's son Jarrah showing us how it all works:

The family grows their own food, having a nice big vegie patch and an orchard. Chickens supply eggs and carry out pest control in the garden.

Waste wood was also used to make the post and rail fencing around the property:

After the tour they helped us pack up the tree guards and stakes. Here's what we came home with:

It was great to meet Trent and Vikki and see a couple putting into practice their values of trying to live sustainably and treading lightly on the earth. 

In the garden .....

It's still winter here, but in our garden the almond pollination is in full swing ...

 The girls are working the rosemary too

We have a good crop of oranges and lemons 

And then there are the flowers ...

What's happening in your winter garden? 


Sunday, 2 August 2015

Backyard Inspiration

Loving this DIY bean trellis recently featured on


Once the beans have grown they are easy to harvest. Looks pretty good, doesn't it?


Check out the full Gardenista post for the DIY details.

Friday, 31 July 2015

In the garden .....

I had some company while weeding the garden today - a couple of Eastern Rosellas were very interested in the proceedings....

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Spoon carving workshop - Part 1

When we were at the Lost Trades Fair, we signed up to do a spoon carving workshop at Rundell & Rundell.  A few weekends ago we headed back to Kyneton to learn how to carve spoons from experienced spoon carver, Pete Trott.

There are lots of ways to make spoons from green wood.  Some methods use power tools and other machinery to get the spoon to the point where it's ready to hand carve.  The method Pete taught us used 3 tools only: an axe to shape the spoon blank from a piece of wood and 2 simple Swedish hand carving knives. That was it - we're not even talking using sandpaper here.  So what do Pete's spoons look like? Well as you can see below, they are beautiful as well as functional. Unfortunately my photo doesn't do justice to showing how smooth their finish was or how lovely they felt in the hand.

Okay, the first thing we did was select a piece of blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) for our spoon.  The wood was cut that morning. Here's what we had to select from:

As you can see, there was a long way to go to turn that lump of wood into a spoon!  

For a workbench we each had stump with a divot cut out of the centre where we could place the wood to stop it slipping while we were using the axe.

Once we'd selected a piece of wood we drew our spoon shape on it.  Looking at the grain and the shape of the wood helped determine where best to draw the spoon. The thicker end became the bowl as that enabled a deeper spoon.

After a safety demonstration it was time to start axing that wood.  I'll admit first up that I have no axe skills.  It's Mr PragSust who chops all our wood at home.  So it took me a while to get the hang of it.  Pete drew a picture showing us the chopping directions we'd need to use. 

We held end of the wood in one hand and used the axe with the other, making sure the hand holding the wood was well away from the axe.  I eventually chopped out a rough spoon shape, known as a spoon blank.

Here's a shot of the axe I used:

And here's Pete, providing instruction on the shaping of our spoons and encouraging us:

Once we had the rough blank it was time to start shaping it. The lines across the spoon indicate where a wedge was to be made using the axe.

And here's my wedge:

Now it was time to start shaping the underneath of the spoon. First was to cut away the portion underneath the tip - that's the part underneath the black line in the above photo.

Here is the work in progress. The circle was drawn on the base of the spoon to indicate the area to leave as is.  We're still using an axe for all the shaping at this point.

There was more shaping to do, as indicated by the lines drawn along the handle and the lines for cutting another wedge.

Once I'd cut away that excess wood, it would be time to start using the hand carving knives.

I didn't progress as far as I'd hoped on the day, but it was not surprising given my lack of axe handling experience.  The axe cutting has to be done in a controlled and careful manner - cut too far and you have to start again from scratch with another piece of wood.  

Pete showed us how to use the 2 Swedish hand carving knives and I had a bit of a go at carving out the bowl of my spoon before we had to pack up for the day. There were hand carving knives for sale and I bought a pair so I could finish off my spoon at home.  They are super sharp and it would be very easy to take a big slice out of a finger .... so I will be sure to be very, very careful.  Pete suggested that we use plenty of elastoplast on fingers and thumbs to protect them when we are carving. I'm think that as a precaution perhaps kevlar gloves might also be in order.

For those of us who didn't finish our spoons, Pete advised us to wrap them in gladwrap and store them in the freezer until we were ready to do some carving. Spoon carving is best done with green wood. Once Blackwood dries out it is very hard and trying to hand carve it would be a nightmare.

I'd say I have quite a few more hours to go to finish my spoon.  I'll post an update on my progress. Of course the more spoons you make the quicker you get at it. Pete, for instance, whipped up a spoon blank and had it shaped and ready to carve in next to no time.  We have a good supply of bits of wood that would be suitable for spoon carving so it's something I'd like to get better at :)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Winter evenings.....

Winter has arrived in our neck of the woods, and for me, that means it's time to dig out the needles and enjoy evenings sitting by the fire doing some knitting.

Here's what's come off the needles lately ....

You can read more about why I like knitting socks here.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Preserving Olives in brine

This year our olive trees produced a bumper crop. After watching the olives ripen on the tree for some time and thinking "gee, I should pick those", I finally got around to picking them yesterday. After filling 2 buckets I reckoned I had enough.....

We've tried a few ways of preserving olives and this time I thought I'd just use the brine method. I followed the recipe described in the book Preserving the Italian Way by Pietro Demaio, with a few minor changes.

Pietro has some basic rules about pickling olives which I'll mention here:
- Always use fresh unbruised fruit
- Make sure your utensils are clean and are either glass, stainless steel or unchipped enamelware bowls. Copper, brass and aluminum react with the olives and spoil the flavour.
- Fill the jars so the brine is above the olives. If any of the olives are above the brine, they will turn brown, soft and taste mouldy
- Wipe the rim of the jars well to ensure a good seal.

Okay, time to get started. First up, give the olives a good wash.

Then use a sharp knife to slit each olive.  This wasn't mentioned in the recipe but from my online research (yay internet!) it enables the brining process to work much more quickly to extract the bitterness.  

I wasn't sure how much brine solution I'd need for the amount of olives I had so I packed the slitted olives into clean jars to get an idea. The olives should be tightly packed to minimise floating once the brine is added.

I ended up with quite a few jars...

For making the brine, I used the traditional method consisting of salt, water and a raw egg (still in its shell). Warming 5 litres of water in a large pot on the stove, I gently added my egg and then some salt (non-iodised), stirring gently to dissolve the salt.  To get the brine solution to the right concentration, you continue to add salt, stirring to dissolve, until the egg floats.  It's important to use a fresh egg.  This is because the older the egg, the more air is inside it and consequently the less salt is required to get it to float.

Brine at correct concentration

Once the egg is floating, remove it and bring the salty water to the boil.  Once boiled turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 mins.

Then pour the still hot brine into the jars, covering the olives and seal. I filled the brine to the very top of the jars to minimise olives floating.  I had underestimated the amount of brine I needed so had to make up another couple of litres.

The jars, once cool need to be stored in the dark so I put my jars in a cardboard box somewhere cool.

The recipe mentioned adding garlic, lemon, chilli and a fennel flower to each jar (I didn't) and stated that the olives can be eaten after 6 months. However as I slit my olives, they should be ready in less time than that.  

Other recipes I came across suggested that the jars should be agitated a few times a week. The brining time will depend on the ripeness of the olives and how salty you like them you need to taste them every few weeks to determine when they are ready.

Once the olives are ready I'll need to pour off the brine which will now be very bitter. Then they can be eaten straight away or stored. There are a few storage options to choose from - in a new brine solution, in olive oil or in vinegar.

Fingers crossed for success!