Archive for Nov, 2010

Making marmalade with the mother-in-law

I wish I could say these were our own oranges but we have not yet managed to successfully grow citrus.  We planted a lemon tree when we first moved in, but it died within a year.  We then inherited a kumquat tree in a pot when some friends moved interstate and this tree is doing well enough, but it has only ever produced two kumquats (both of which went into this marmalade!)

These oranges came from the neighbour of a friend.  While we were over at my friend’s place and our toddlers were playing in the yard, her neighbour stuck his head over the fence and offered us each a bag full of oranges since he had far too much off his trees.  We happily accepted and the toddlers had oranges for morning tea.  After we took ours home, we ate a few, but then the toddler decided she didn’t like oranges any more and at any rate we weren’t likely to get through that many so I decided to make marmalade out of them rather than let them go to waste.

Having never made marmalade before I drafted in the mother-in-law who a) makes marmalade reasonably frequently and is therefore something of an expert, and b) is an extra pair of hands and eyes for keeping the toddler occupied and out of the kitchen containing the boiling sugar!  In consultation with our trusty copies of Delia, we set to work this morning…  I don’t have photos of every stage because we had our hands full (and sticky) with the marmalade (and the toddler).

The marmalade consists of 2.9 kg oranges (plus 2 kumquats), 3 lemons, 6 kg sugar and 9 L water.

Softening the peel. We used an old tea towel as a bag for the pips.

Boiling with the sugar added.

After five hours we had sixteen and a half jars of homemade marmalade!  Enough to last us quite a while.  It really is satisfying to see them all lined up.

Sixteen and a half jars


(And it is really delicious)

Darling Delia, from whence all good food comes.



The French drain thing did not work at all.  There was just not enough height on the wall below the under house vents to have a pipe buried with enough slope to drain down towards the drain.  I swear so often I look at some of the bodges around this place and think: who the hell did this?  Who thought it would be a good idea to cement a drain in above the ground level?  Who says shower tiles need a decent job done on the grout?  Why doesn’t the guttering flow towards the downpipes?  … I’m getting sidetracked…

So instead I decided on some surface drainage with builders plastic lining the side of the house.  I was able to get some shallow drains so the slope could be steep enough without having the ground level go above the under house vents.  Sadly I did not think to take photos as I was going, so I only have the finished product!

Drain looking up

Flowing into the drain

Drain looking down

The bed in place

New vege patch

When we bought this place it had this spiky leaved tree outside one of the bedroom windows.  It was quite pretty in Autumn when the leaves went red, but when it flowered in Spring it had fluorescent yellow (I kid you not) wattle type flowers which made us sneeze and attracted bees and wasps.  Plus when any leaves died and fell off and dried out, the spikes became even spikier, and were very unpleasant to step on.  The final straw was when the roots sprouted loads of suckers as it became more and more water stressed (we live in a very dry area- at least usually, this year has been very wet).  So we decided it had to go.

My mum and I pulled it out in September and I have gradually been working on the new space, shovelling out the gravel, digging out what I can of the roots (which are the same fluorescent yellow colour – weird), weeding out the grass etc.  In this process I’ve discovered the drainage at the back next to the house is very dodgy indeed, namely the drainage pipe sloped up to reach the drain!  This at least explains why we occasionally have problems in the house on that side.  So I’m also reading up on how to fix the drainage and this is all becoming a very long process.

The eventual aim is to put in better drainage next to the house (I’m currently thinking a French drain if I can manage it because I should be able to reuse the gravel and pipes I have dug out) plus a raised bed a bit further out to grow veges in.

This is what the place has looked like more or less for the past few weeks.

Needless to say the toddler is loving me working out there – she can get into all kinds of mischief, digging mud pits, moving gravel from the pile to other places in the garden, climbing in and out of the raised bed frame…

The soil in the area is surprisingly good – not too clayey and very wormy.  The toddler loves worm hunting and then saying “bye bye” to the worms as they burrow back under ground.

It’s a pity in a way I haven’t been able to get the bed in sooner since we’ve had such decent rain this year – we’re missing out on prime growing weather.  But fixing the drainage will be worth it, hopefully and we’ll get veges 0ut of it eventually.

The amazing roses

Not very farm-esque, but I had to put in some photos of our roses today as I noticed as I was hanging out the washing how they are all blooming.

They aren’t fancy or anything, in fact I am amazed at how well they are growing – I haven’t pruned them for a few years and they pretty much only get watered when it rains.  They are very much neglected in favour of other garden areas, especially this year as we have been building the coop.

My mum and I did weed the grass out from under them in September, but it is growing back at breakneck speed since it has been so wet this year. I’ll have to do it again soon before it gets too long.

Coop update

Today we’ve been hard at work on the coop again in the horrible humidity and heat (it was only 29°C but it was so sticky it felt much hotter).  We’ve put on two external fibro walls which will form part of the house.  We have the fibro for the third external wall but we ran out of bolts so we had to stop with just two walls done.  If the storms that have been threatening all afternoon don’t eventuate we will hopefully get the third wall on tomorrow.

Here is a picture of the day’s work.  You can also see the screen door we attached into the door frame from last week.

First harvest

We had lettuce from our garden for dinner tonight.  First vegetable harvest of the season.

Goat milk pancakes with home grown lettuce (plus a little left over bought iceberg), parsley, spring onions, slow cooked goat, capsicum and lime.

Chicken coop

A big part of out grand plan of creating the suburban farm is the chicken coop, stage one for eggs, but depending on how we go with stage one we are also thinking stage two will be breeding for meat.

We have been working on the coop since September with the aim of bringing home chickens by Christmas.  It is a slow process because we are determined to do a thorough job to make our chickens a really cosy and sturdy place to live.  Plus we are also trying to use as much reused materials as possible, which means though we have the overall design in mind, a lot of the details need to be worked out as we go along and collect more materials.

We are using parts of a portable car port given to us by a friend as the main structure.  Unused corrogated iron sheets from our neighbour form the base of the walls, dug into at least 40cm to keep foxes out.  The roof is second hand polycarbonate and old hardwood fence palings, the door a cut down second hand screen door.

Here are a few pictures of the coop building process so far.

Collecting materials for the coop

The first trench - it's hard to capture how deep these are (it took two full weekends to dig the four)

Digging the sides in to keep the foxes out.

The roof, the bracing, the door

Spring beginnings

Every year at about this time when the weather starts to warm up again I get the irresistible urge to clean out the house and get into the garden.  I guess that is the general idea of spring cleaning — either that or seasonal affective disorder!

This year we have started to get seriously into the garden to make it what we want.  We’ve pulled out two trees, one because its leaves were horrifically spiky (I believe it was an Oregon grape) and the new space will make room for a vegetable garden bed.  The other had to go because it was a flax/grass tree that shed leaves everywhere, but they are they type that don’t break down so not even the green waste place will accept them, and it was getting so big it was unmanageable.  We’ve also gotten rid of about four trailer loads of grass and weeds.  We’ve started planting – so far lettuce, beetroot, basil, garlic, parsley, blueberries and strawberries.  Hopefully more to come!

The plan is to eventually fully utilize our nearly quarter acre block to provide as much of the food as possible to feed our family — ethically, sustainably and (obviously) locally.

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