Crisis in the Chook House

With the news last week that the State Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, had resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations and had been called to appear before ICAC, there was some very disturbing cackling noises coming from the chook house. Our two chickens, given to us after the fire by out 2 very thoughtful friends Warren and Trudie, were making a bit of a fuss. These two lovely chooks arrived here from Balmain as tree change chook refugees. We had to wean them off their previous diet of smashed avo on chia sourdough rye and sipping chardonnay! They arrived with names already given, assigned to them by their previous owner. They are Edna and Gladys. We decided to call Gladys Berechickenlian, it seemed funny at the time. Now all of a sudden it isn’t appropriate any more! and Gladys is a bit upset.

So we have re-named her as Gladys ICACkle !

With the longer days and warmer weather creeping in in fits and starts, in-between cooler days and bouts of rain, everything is growing very well.All the seeds that I planted a month ago are now up and starting to grow.

The mulberry tree has set a good crop and the berries are starting to turn red. We will be eating them in about another two weeks.

The young berries are in full flower as well and the blueberry crop is just about ripe. We have already eaten our first few blueberries.

The avocado tree seen behind the youngberries is in full bloom, so much so that it has turned from green to yellow with all the flowers obscuring the leaves.Hopefully, there will be a good crop of avocados in the autumn/winter. This tree was badly burnt in the fire and lost all its leaves, completely scorched off. Many of the small branches were killed by the heat. It still has a lot of dead wood that I need to prune off, but it is a long way down on my jobs list.
There will be no ‘hungry gap’ this spring. The hungry gap is a time in the year, when long ago, there was a gap in the food production from peasants gardens at the end of winter, when the winter vegetables were mostly consumed, and the spring planting was done, but no eatable food was ready to harvest until the beginning of summer.


See <https://tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com/2015/11/24/new-and-old/>and  <https://tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com/2017/09/17/the-hungry-gap-risotto/&gt;


We harvested the last of our 3rd or 4th pick of little broccolini shoots last week, and managed to pick the first of the new season large round broccoli heads this week. Excellent timing on my part. And although I’m flat out busy building the pottery and starting to make the first of our new work, testing clay bodies and glazes. I’m proud to say that I have still managed to get into the garden every now and then to do some weeding, watering and planting. Janine goes to the garden every evening to pick what is available and ready for dinner. We have no money, but we eat well and healthily, because we don’t buy most of our food. We grow it. 

Our biggest expense each week is protein, ie, fish from the fish truck that comes up from the south coast on Thursdays and Fridays. We go to town and do all our food shopping on one of these days to coincide with the fish truck. We also make up a list of things that we need to get from the other shops like hardware, iron mongers, and plumbers supplies. As I’m building a lot of this building myself and doing 100% of the fitting out, I always have a list of steel, bolts and screws etc. that I need to make all the tables, benches, shelves, racks, stools etc. etc.
This last week, I made a dedicated wedging bench to sit against the wall in the pottery. I used one of the massive slabs of pine that we milled a year ago from our own burnt pine trees that we felled. Waste not, want not. This is beautiful timber. I’m really pleased to be able to make my bench form such lovely stuff.

Bugs au Vin

A few months ago a baby rabbit managed to find its way into the netted vegetable garden. I don’t know how it got in, but it did. I first realised that there was a rabbit in the garden when a new batch of germinating seeds and seedlings suddenly disappeared overnight! A few days later, I flushed it out while wartering. I was watering a dense patch of plants when suddenly a rabit scampered out of that patch when the water from the hose hit it. It ran off down the garden and disappeared into another dense patch.I flushed it out again and chased it towards the open gate, but it swerved away at the last moment and hid higher up in another bed.I spent some time running back and forth chasing it about, but it steadfastly refused to run out the door. I eventually gave up when I got puffed out from the running.
I thought that maybe we could encourage a friend with a dog to visit us, and then the dog could do the running and chasing.On Sunday we spent the day in the garden. Firstly, I decided to get the whipper snipper mower out and clean up all the garden paths. Once that was done, I continued to mow some of the big clumps of weeds that had grown up in and around other fallow beds.After lunch, I kept on with the mowing, eventually getting the the point that there was only 2 dense patches of plants left. At the top of the garden there is a patch of gooseberries, and at the bottom of the garden, the asparagus patch was still full of weeds, as we hadn’t got around to weeding it yet.
Earlier in the morning we had spent some time chasing Bugs Bunny up and down the garden. Both large garden gates were full open, but the rabbit refused to go out through them. We gave up again as it being just too difficult. Back to the mowing.
It came to me that if I kept on mowing the big clumps of weeds, then there would be nowhere left for the rabbit to hide. it would have to run out to find new cover.I chased it again. but with no success. He refused to leave. When there was only one clump of weeds left in the asparagus. I could see Peter Rabbit hiding there. Just like Farmer McGregor, I caught him.
And dispatched him quickly. 



We have carrots, celery, onions, garlic, kale, parsnips, brussel sprouts and capsicums in the garden currently, and he had feasted on them all. In fact he ate everything that wasn’t covered by netting. We had netting within netting trying to keep some small plants and seedlings safe until they were more advanced.As he was fattened up on these veggies, I decided that it was best to cook our Bugs Bunny with exactly those veggies.I made a classic French style ‘Bugs au Vin’ sort of stew, all good, local, low carbon miles, garden produce, including our organically fed Peter Rabbit and half a bottle of good red wine. 


I know I’ve been rabbiting on about this, but I hope that you have been Lapin it up.  He was quite nice, although a little tough. I could have cooked him a bit longer. My good friend Leonard suggested that I should serve up my ‘Rabbit au Vin’ in a Hares fur bowl 🙂

This is all part of our self reliant life style.

Winter is Here, Time to Cut Fire Wood and Clean up

Winter is here now and we are having frosts each night. Janine and I took two days off from the building work to clear a lot of regrowth that has colonised our wood pile site. If I don’t clear these young trees now. It will be a massive and expensive job to take out and clear bigger trees and their stumps later. But more importantly, there are loads of weeds setting seeds that need to be cleared and burnt. Before I could clear the site and mow it. I had to cut up a lot of fallen trees that we didn’t ever get around to clearing up last year.

The old wood storage site being overrun by weeds and regrowth.


I was just so overwhelmed by the scale of the job of clearing up after the fire. There were other jobs that were more pressing at the time. Actually, everything needed doing NOW. But as that was impossible given our age and energy levels, We had to prioritise, a kind of palliaire sort of thinking. Cloaked in our selective thinking, or perhaps blinkered by it, we set about doing what we could manage and afford. Now that things are more settled, I can briefly get back to the cleaning up.

There were two things on my mind. It wasn’t just that the regrowth needed clearing to minimise the fuel load and therefore fire danger in the next hot summer, but all that wood laying on the ground needed to be removed, just to be able to drive over the site. Plus, as it is winter now. we needed to think about refilling the wood shed, as we are lighting the slow-combustion fuel stove in the kitchen every night to cook dinner, and also the slow-combustion heater in the lounge room.


All of the other trees that were burnt on our land are sprouting new growth from epicormic buds, but there are hundreds of dead trees that are going to fall sometime in the coming years. Is so dangerous in there that I will have to wear a hard hat when I walk in there. There is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. I will just have to leave it to sort itself out and stay out.

For the time being, we have loads of fire wood.

Autumn in the garden

Janine and I have just had our first Covid jab and it has knocked us around a bit. Headache and achy bones, a few cramps, not sleeping well. I’m still working, but going slowly and had to have a rest after lunch.

Although we are working full time as builders, trying to rebuild our ceramic workshop after the catastrophic fires, we have still managed to keep a bit of spare time for the garden, as it is our chief source of food. It’s late autumn and the trees in the orchard are loosing their leaves. The cherries start first in early autumn, as they are the first to bud and sprout leaves in the spring, they are the first to go dormant.

In late march their leaves were starting to turn colour as the tree slowly withdrew its chlorophyll from the the leaves, this is converted to energy and stored in the sap to support the new growth in the next season. not much is wasted, just recycled and reused.

By April, most of the leaves are gone from the earliest varieties.

now, in May they are all bare.

The vegetables that we are using in our meals now are mostly all the brassicas.

The spinach is growing very well, so we are having a few spinach pies.

I like to mix in at least 2 different cheeses, one of which is a blue cheese to give the pie a little piquancy.

We have also been having a bit of our own home made junk food with a high GM like pizza and pasta as comfort food during this stressful busy time.

Janine has been making puddings for desert. Often a baked fruit sponge pudding using our own bottled fruit from our summer garden.

Sometimes served with Janine’s home made ice-cream. Yum!

Easter is a Pagan Ritual of fertility

Given that this long weekend is the Northern Hemisphere’s Pagan ritual of fertility. We decided to have a few days off from the relentless building jobs and spend a bit of time in the garden to try and resurrect it from the dilapidated state that it has slowly fallen into, we need to restore some of its fertility. We have been so busy building every day that the garden has been a bit forgotten. Luckily Janine has been going in there every day to pick our dinner from the encroaching weeds, and doing a bit of maintenance at the same time. Otherwise it would all be so totally over grown that there would be little to eat. Thank you Janine!
I started by spending a couple of hours fossicking through the tomato patches, filtering out all those tiny little last ditch efforts of mini tomatoes. The effort paid off and I collected about 7 kilos of the little gems. They will keep us in salads for the next week or so. I made all the sub-prime ones into a tomato passata sauce.




There were just so many of the little buggers. I stated off with onion and garlic in good olive oil, boiled down to a pulp.

Ten added sweet basil and simmered again for a little while. Finally passing the whole lot through the moulii sieve, then reducing the liquid down to half its volume and bottling it.

Janine also made some lilly pilli jelly at the same time.

The lilly pilli tree is loaded again this year. The rain has done it good. We pick all the low hanging fruit and even the not so low hanging fruit. I use the 8 foot step ladder to collect what I can safely reach. a couple of baskets full.This will ad to our breakfast toast options for a few more months.
After I picked most of the last tomatoes off the early plantings. They have done well for the past 7 months. I then spend a bit of time pulling out all the old vines and then weeding the patch. 

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I also clean up the long row of garden that had all the summer veg. More tomatoes, Capsicum, egg plants, cucumber, chillies and pumpkins.Out they go and I dig over the bed ready for some winter veg.

In the new cleared beds I plant loads of garlic, about 400 cloves. I like to try and grow all of my garlic  for the year if I can. This is a good start. I should have got them in a month ago. But this will have to do. I can’t can’t do everything exactly as it should be. There just isn’t enough time. I may put in another 100 cloves later, if I can find the time. If half of them do well , we’ll be OK for garlic for another year.
While I was at it, I also planted out some lettuce seedlings and lettuce seeds as well as some radishes and rocket.

In the evenings I made bread, a flat focaccia loaf from rye flour and a few bread rolls for lunches.

They didn’t last long.While I was doing all of this Janine was harvesting out potato negra spuds.

She called out to me. She was cock sure that she had found something interesting, I pricked up my ears!

You can’t beat a good root crop!
This was our long weekend. All we have to do now is to think of some sort of pagan ritual involving a potato and a knob of butter.


A weekend off

We are having a weekend off from the brick wall. We need to get into the garden, as there are tomatoes and chillis that need to be picked and preserved.

There are also capsicums, cucumbers and the sweet basil is always wanting to go to seed at this time of year, so it needs a good trim, taking all the flowering tops off to encourage it to put on new leaves and shoots.

I picked a 3kg basin of small egg shaped tomatoes. I didn’t select these plants, they were given to me as an unknown variety. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Too much work for so small a return. But they will make good passata sauce.

8 litres of rough chopped tomatoes, in two boilers, gets reduced and concentrated down to just 3 litres of sauce. But its really nice and intensely flavourful sauce. You can’t buy concentrated, intense, organic home made , small batch passata like this. Or if you could. I couldn’t afford it!

The kitchen smells so good. Especially when I come back in from working outside in the fresh air. The intensity of the fragrance hits me. You don’t notice it as much when you are working in amongst it. It becomes common place. You need a break away from it to realise/recognise the true intensity. Just like so many other things in life. Home made passata is concentrated life in a jar.

We need the weekend break to catch up on other jobs too. We have been collecting timber planks to use a scaffolding. There isn’t a single stick of timber that survived the fire here. I used to have loads of stacks of re-cycled lumber, all stacked under cover, just waiting for a time when they would become useful for some job or other. They all burnt.

We have managed to scrounge enough – I think, to do the job, but it all needs to be de-nailed.

It’s all a bit tough on our wrists, elbows and lower back, so we spread our attack over the weekend, a bit each day. It’s all done by Sunday lunch time. We are taking part in the ‘Clean-up Australia’, so need to be all done before that.

I also picked a load of spinach from the garden, so Janine made a couple of spinach and 3 cheese pies for dinner. Ricotta, feta and gorgonzola, extra yummy.

While I finished the de-nailing, Janine was inside milling up the red and green chillis into chilli paste with a little salt and olive oil. This will keep us going for a another year.

Then finally she stews up some pears for breakfasts, later in the week. This is self-reliance.

The Old Feed Mill striped bare

I returned to the old feed mill today to finish stripping all of the old grey weathered galvanised iron sheeting off the sheds. I was joined by my son Geordie and we finished the job of taking the walls off in intermittent rain. I’m so glad that Andy and I took the roof off yesterday when it was mostly dry. I wouldn’t have gone up there today. Far too slippery in the wet.

We loaded the truck with another full load that flattened the springs. Another good tonne of steel. This load was mostly all the long 5.3 metre long sheets. Altogether we collected over 150 sheets of old corrugated iron, totalling over 530 linear metres of roofing.

Not too bad for 2 days work! I shudder to think what this would cost new. of course I couldn’t be buying any of it new! I’d find something different to scrounge and re-cycle, or up-cycle, as it’s so trendy to say these days.

I’m very lucky to find such lovely old weathered, matt grey and slightly rusty material. It’s just what I really like. Most of these sheets will line the walls of my metal working workshop, which is over 4 metres tall, just right. Some of the other rooms will benefit also with the kiln room and the gallery getting a wall or two also. I’ll have to wait and see how far it all goes, as there are always losses in cutting the sheets to fit the size of spaces required.

It’s important to me to use these old recycled materials in this new shed. It would look awful if it was all shiny and ‘off-the-shelf’ new. This shed needs the sabi wabi feeling that this weathered old iron will give it. It needs softening and ageing in this way to make it ‘fit’ in this creative and sustainable environment that we envisage for ourselves here in our new post-fire future.

In the evening Janine makes a fabulous dinner of garden veg with a little bit of feta. She was watching A TV show about cheese making and the presenter explained that this was a local recipe from Greece. She thought that it sounded interesting, so wrote down what she remembered after the show. So there is immediately a little bit of interpretation and creative adjustment going on. Whatever was originally intended doesn’t really matter, as this works aa treat.

Spinach, capsicum, zucchini, onion, garlic, and potato slices baked in the oven in a tomato passata sauce. We just happen to have all these ingredients in the garden and a bottle of home made passata in the fridge just now. The only thing that is purchased is the feta cheese.

It was totally yummy, and absolutely local with the exception of the feta cheese, mostly zero kilometres of carbon debt, just 30 metres of travel carbon debt, expended on foot.

Janine also made red grape jelly jam.

And we picked our first apple from the the new trees in the new orchard. It’s a beauty!

A busy day of getting on with all this self reliance stuff.

Like Father McKenzie

Finally, a post that isn’t about building!We have been working hard every day. We work outside until dusk, but that isn’t the end of the day. We have to deal with the days produce from the garden. 


Summer is always such a busy time, but this year it’s so much busier with all the building work taking up so much time. Janine has put in nearly all of the garden harvesting work this last few months, as I have been up the ladder, on the roof, or in the ground digging trenches.
The tomatoes keep on coming, so before we cook dinner, we slice and dice the red globes and simmer them down to pulp, while we prepare dinner. The following night I push the pulp through the moulii and then re-cook and simmer the passata down to half it’s volume, concentrating the flavour, before bottling it while it is still hot.


I start by browning onions in olive oil with pepper corns and chilli, then as the sauce pan fills, I add in the herbs and bay leaves.
When the pan can’t take any more it is left to simmer all the aromatic sauce down to pulp, so that it will pass through the moulii easier.


The grapes have started, so we are making regular batches of grape juice, grape jelly and red grape ice cream. As the citrus trees are still producing, Janine also made batches of juice from navels and sevilles, using some of that juice to make a seville orange ice cream.



Geordie called in, so he helped us roast and bottle peppers in oil, cucumbers in saline, while Janine made orange juice.Then stuffed capsicums for dinner, with marmalade for breakfast.


If there is nothing on the idiot box, which is most nights. I sit and do a few repairs to my worn out clothes. I added another patch to the arse of my old jeans, as they slowly fade away into a threadbare riot of tears and patches. Finally I sit quietly and darn the holes in my woollen socks. Janine made a lovely porcelain darning mushroom a few years ago. It works a treat. I do these repairs to save waste, prolong use and preserve the embedded energy in the items. I don’t like to throw anything out until it is really beyond repair, but like Paul McCartney’s Father McKenzie. Nobody cares!

But I do!

It’s all part of this busy self-reliant life.

Our Summer Evening Ritual

We are in the middle of a few days of high temperatures now. The real summer heat has set in and the garden is showing it. Everything is looking droopy and tired already at 11.00am, even though we watered everything last night and again this morning. By lunch time it was 42 oC in the shade.

We were up early at 5-ish and were out in the early morning cool to clean our quota of 100 sand stock bricks before breakfast at 8.00am. We knocked off as soon as the sun came up over the pottery roof and took our shade.

Yesterday we had our friends Ami and Kate here for the day to give us inspiration and encouragement. We managed to work most of the day, out under the portable gazebo shade cover, and got 200 bricks cleaned. A good effort for a hot day. We worked slowly and steadily with watering breaks, lunch and finally a treat of ‘Splice’ style ice creams at the end of the day around 4.00.

5 girls working. Ami, Kate, Janine, Edna and Gladys
We have started to make a dent in the brick pile.

We now have a very modest pile of 300 bricks in the ‘clean’ pile. Just 10% of the total, but a good start. Thank you Kate and Ami!

After our breakfast this morning, we went back out and watered the garden and picked the produce. We are just past peak tomato. We started the month picking a couple of baskets full each week, then it was every 4 days, then every 2nd day etc.

This first early planting of 8 bushes were planted in September. The second planting of a dozen bushes were put in in November and are just flowering now, so will take over in a few weeks as the older bushes slow down.

Every few days we make a batch of passata. Before I cook dinner, I fill a 5 litre copper boiler with chopped tomatoes after first frying off a brown onion in olive oil with half dozen cloves of our garlic. I add in a sprig or two of fresh herbs from the garden, always a big bunch of sweet basil, but then a couple of bay leaves fresh off the tree and perhaps some thyme or sage, depending on how I feel on the day. Pepper corns and a little salt, just a tea spoon. As I want to keep my salt intake to a minimum.

Sometimes I add in a zucchini, or some artichoke hearts, other batches get a good dose of capsicums, a chilli, whatever we have in excess on the day. Sometimes, it’s all the above.

I simmer this for 20 mins or so until it all softens and then lid on and put it aside while we cook dinner, and leave it to cool overnight. The next day, before dinner. I pass the whole lot through a mouli sieve and then re-heat it to reduce the sauce to concentrate it down to half its volume.

After dinner, we pour the concentrated passata into heated and sterilised bottles straight from the oven and cap straight away while everything is still almost too hot to touch. As the bottles cool, we can hear the lids make a loud ‘POP’ noise. They are then sealed and safe to put away in the pantry for use later in the year.

One 5 litre boiler of fresh tomatoes reduces down to make just three 750 ml. bottles of sauce.

Last nights passata bottles and this mornings pick of zucchini flowers, this will be dinner. Plus baskets of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums, artichoke hearts and cucumbers.

We’ll be making more passata again tonight as well. Every alternate night and new batch and every other night the simmering and concentrating, then bottling. It’s our summer evening ritual.

Every bug in the garden wants to attack and share our tomatoes, slugs, snails, caterpillars, but as yet no fruit fly. I got in early in the year with half a dozen Dak pots and lures. so have managed to keep them at bay for the time being. Fingers crossed.

Self reliance is a lot of work, but it is the most rewarding work. I wouldn’t work this hard for a boss!

Clay water/grey water

On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier.
We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent.  Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some.  3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.

Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. 
Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with. 


I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.


I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.

It’s a good life if you don’t weaken!