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!

First Peaches of the Summer

We are only 10 days into summer and we already have both our first tomatoes and now our first peaches. We’ve been picking zucchinis and cucumbers for weeks already. Nothing quite like the flavours, tastes and aromas of the summer garden. Although this all sounds idyllic, it’s possible because of the worlds unabated consumption of carbon based energy. With global heating racing away, unabated like it is and coupled with an embarrassing total lack of political will here in Australia. We also have to accept the changing weather patterns associated with all this heat, like catastrophic bush fires and massive storms. From someone who has lived through a catastrophic fire event. I can clearly say that I’d rather not have to experience it again and the early tomatoes are not worth it.

Back in the garden, the pumpkins that I planted on the 12th of September are now 3 months old and taking over the bottom of the garden.

From this to…
to this!
They are setting a nice crop.

Strangely, we are just harvesting our citrus crop now almost half a year out of seasonal sync. We should be picking them in the winter. Everything has been dislocated by the extreme weather and the catastrophic fire event. All the citrus got burnt, some very badly, such that we lost half of the trees facing the pottery as it burnt. The citrus grove was planted next to, and on the north side of the pottery, using the building to protect the trees from the worst of the winter’s southerly winds. Sheilded in this way and facing the north winter sun, they were in a bit of a sun trap and it suited them very well. We had good crops.

After the fire we watered them well for the first few weeks, whenever we could find the time during the clean-up. Sometimes this meant in the dark before dinner at 9.00pm. The result was that they all re-shot leaves, some only on half the tree that wasn’t so badly burnt. They went on to flower again as if it was a new year, but totally out of sync. We got the strange out of season crop and they then flowered again out of sync, such that we are now harvesting again in summer and not winter.

The entire right hand side of this tree was so badly burnt that it has remained completely dead and needs pruning off. I’m hoping that the tree will eventually put out new shoots on the right hand side and balance itself up.

Apart from the strangeness of it all. They are probably suffering from PTCD. Post Traumatic Citrus Disorder! Also, when the fruit is ready, it isn’t the usual colour. For instance, the tangelos are pale yellow like lemons instead of bright orange. While the lemonades are green like limes instead of yellow. Strange times. I assume that they will slowly revert to the normal seasonal flowering and fruiting regime over time?

All the peach trees were burnt in the stone fruit orchard, but just before the fire. I had lifted two of the smaller trees that were doing very badly in the draught, as I couldn’t keep enough water up to them. I put one of them into a big plastic tub that was hanging around and the other into a large synthetic plastic fibre plant bag that someone had given us. I placed them in the veggie garden where I could water them better, just to see if they would survive. They had recovered well and are now ready to plant out again, but because they had flowered and set fruit, we thought it better to let the fruit ripen and plant them out next winter when they will be dormant.

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing!

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing! And so unexpected. Janine also picked the first apricot off one of the newly planted stone fruit orchard trees. Where the trees were doing well and growing strongly, I left one piece of fruit on each tree that I thought could cope with a ripening fruit and still grow well. That applied to one apricot, one almond and two apple trees. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing and tasting the new fruit varieties.

The pottery shed is slowly progressing. Today the builders are putting the roof on the pottery studio. That is really good to see. It was ready to roof yesterday, but it was windy and slightly foggy and damp, making it too slippery and too difficult to roll out the silver roofing insulation in the wind. Today is calm and overcast but not wet, so it’s all go on the roof. I can hardly wait to get inside and see how the light is in there. We now have two roofs on. the kiln room and the creative studio.

I spent a long time working out how to get the best light, at the lowest cost, but not interfering with the structural strength, allowing for enough metal strap ‘X’ bracing, covered with corrugated sheeting to provide sufficient structural wind resistance strength. I’m no engineer, but the shed company’s computer program allowed me to input different options, increasing the glass area until the ‘Computer says No!’

Edna the Chook, came in to check out the new studio too.

I then worked backwards from there, to find the biggest size of standard ‘off-the-shelf’ cheap aluminium windows that would fit the space. No use in paying double to get a custom window made that is only 100mm larger. So I back-tracked down to the best available size. We ended up with 4 windows that are 2.4m. x 1.2m. (8 feet x 4 feet) plus a sliding glass door that is 2.4m x 2.4m.

It will end up darker inside when it is lined and not so oppressively metallic and shiny.

First Tomatoes of the Summer

We harvested our first few tomatoes on Friday, 4th December. That is so early for us, reflecting on our more than 40 years of history here.

This variety is all folded wrinkly and is called Rouge de Marmande. It’s one of several different varieties that I planted this season. There a many more on the way just turning colour now. I’m really looking forward to cooking up some of our summer garden ‘passata’ or ‘sugo’ sauce.

The thing that I really enjoy most at this early stage of the season, is just brushing past the tomato bushes while weeding or watering and getting that distinctive smell, that the leaves give off when touched. That’s the promise of summer. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.

Seasonal Dining, Stuffed Zucchinis

Now that the new crop of zucchinis is starting to produce in earnest, we are able to pick half a dozen small, day old, or even just hours old, flowers with small fruit attached every morning. So we are enjoying the experience of stuffed zucchinis every second day.

Of course we don’t have to pick them so young, but there are so many in this very fertile early period, that we don’t want them to get any bigger, or we won’t be able to eat them all.

We have 7 plants. That’s too many, but when you plant the seeds, you just don’t know how many are going to germinate, and then of those how many will survive the onslaught of the snails and slugs, to grow to maturity and fertility. This year every plant seems to have grown well, with a few others lagging behind as late germinators which are still coming up.

I’ll have to do a cull. But in the mean time, we have plenty of zucchinis to stuff for lunches or light suppers.

These flowers were picked later in the day and have been fertilised, so the flowers have closed up, and if left on the plant the flower will drop off as the fruit grows.

On the other hand, these flowers were picked first thing in the morning and are still wide open. In this form they are much easier to fill with the cheesy stuffing.

So what’s in the stuffing? I like to mix cottage cheese or ricotta with any or all of the following; chopped garlic, chopped olives, chopped up dried tomatoes, preserved artichoke hearts, split and diced into smaller bits, capers, a diced chilli and perhaps even some finely diced chorizo. I also sometimes add sage or thyme leaves, even preserved capsicum section. What ever you have in the fridge or pantry. Give it a good stir and spoon it into the flowers. Squeeze them closed onto the stuffing and place in a wide pan with a little olive oil and a dash of white wine. cover and steam them for 6 minutes.

This results in the zucchinis being just cooked, sort of firm snappy fresh, but heated through. The filling will have cooked together into an homogenous mass inside the flower, which will have wilted completely. I don’t use salt. There is quite enough in the preserved veggies, but a grind of pepper is nice.

You know when summer is about to arrive when the zucchinis are coming on. They are the first of the plantings that we made in the garden mid way through September to start to produce. Zucchinis are the first summer veggies to produce fruit. The tomatoes are still small and green. The capsicums still haven’t flowered yet, nor have the aubergines. But the nights are getting shorter and the days hotter. I just brushed past the tomatoes plants yesterday, and the aroma of tomato foliage was so strong and promising. I can hardly wait.

I can eat these every other day for a week, but them I hit the wall and I don’t want to see another zucchini for a while. That’s when it’s time to slice them longways and BBQ them. Then there is always cut into rounds and steamed with a few sprigs of mint. Or grated and mixed with a little grated potato and an egg to make zucchini fritters.

By the end of summer, we’ll be sick of them and hanging out for some Brussels sprouts! you know that it’s autumn when we start to think about zucchini bread and zucchini cake! Just to use them up!

This is seasonal dining

Summer approaches, hot days of fruit and fenestration

It’s not quite a week since I wrote that we picked the first youngberries of the season. Now, 6 days later we are in full harvest mode. This morning we picked 4 kilos of berries, we also picked 250 grams of blue berries and half a dozen strawberries.

Up until today we have been keeping up with the harvest. Eating them as we go in morning fruit salad. Then Janine made a sorbet/icecream sort of thing with just fruit and fresh cream, whipped up by hand intermittently every hour or so through the day as she took the batch out of the freezer as it stiffened. It made a pretty delicious dessert after dinner.

We have been up since early to do the watering and picking before the heat of the day set in. We are expecting 30oC today, so will spend the middle part of the day inside and out of the sun.

I also picked half a dozen hours old zucchinis with their flowers still attached. I will stuff these with cottage cheese and olives for lunch. This is our simple seasonal cuisine.

My inside work will be trying to finish off the big 4 metre x 2 metre arched window for the gallery space in the new pottery building. I’ve been plodding away on it for a couple of weeks now. It’s slow work as TIG welding aluminium creates a lot of heat in the metal frame, and aluminium expands and contracts a lot, which can lead to warping. Usually I would clamp a smaller job down onto a heavy steel-plate bench. but this window is so large, its bigger than my welding bench. so I have to be patient and allow it to cool down and shrink back to size between welding sessions. Hence the slow progress.

So far, I’ve been lucky, and it hasn’t warped much and is still within 1mm of square. That’s pretty good for my low level of skill.

Living with the seasons – the first youngberries

We used to say the first ypungberries of the summer, but over the years of global heating progressing apace and nobody in government prepared to admit it or do anything to cut carbon emissions, we are almost certainly heading for a difficult future.

You can’t fix a problem, until you admit that you have one. The carbon industries through their financial leverage on both political parties and continued deceptive advertising have brought us to this critical point and show no signs of letting up.

So now we have to say the first young berries of the season, because it’s nearly all over in the late spring. We only have to put put one net up this year, as all the other fruit trees are either burnt , or badly damaged and cut back very hard to remove the damaged wood, so there will be no cherries or peaches, no apples, pears or plums, no avocados. Just the youngberries. They survived the fire because they were directly behind the house. I am grateful for what I have.

Youngberries are so special, just the right balance of sugar and acid. Unlike the mulberries that we have been feasting on for the past few weeks that have a mild sweetness, but with virtually no acid. They need lemon juice and zest to give them a bit of a kick. See previous recipes.

These berries are so nice, that we will be just eating them fresh off the canes for the first few days, until the crop overwhelms us and then we start to bottle them for later in the winter. We’re pretty lucky to have something so simple and so special fresh from the garden.

Gladys and Edna Change Trees

Our new ‘Tree Change’ Chickens Gladys and Edna have landed.

We have been given a couple of young pullets. This was a nice surprise for us, as I was missing Hillary’s presence in and around the garden these last few weeks. She always kept me company whenever I was working outside – which was often. We had intended to get another coupe of chooks in the fullness of time. I had gone in and cleaned out the chicken house pretty thoroughly, then limed the soil to sweeten it. I took the laying box out into the sun and cleaned it pretty well and left it to bake in the sun to help clean it of any mould or fungus etc. I locked the house up and left it to sit. I thought that that would be it for some time. As we are flat out busy, The thought of getting new chickens was quite low on my agenda.


Last week, our very good friends Warren and Trudie asked us if we were interested in some more chickens, as one of Warrens clients had two to give away. They were living in a small hutch in a carport in Balmain. A small, densely populated, inner city suburb. I gather that their life was largely spent on concrete. We said yes, the time was right for us and they arrived here serendipitously on the weekend. We put them in their new house and they seemed to settle in straight away. They didn’t even explore their new surroundings. The first thing that they did was scratch at the earth floor, start to excavate a small hole, scratch out a few worms, which they ate with gusto, eat some soil and then take a dust bath, laying on their side and flicking dirt all over themselves and each other.They knew they were chooks and this is what chooks are programmed to do.


We brought them snails from the vegetable garden, which they fought over and snaffled down without hesitation. We also brought them a load of chickweed, lettuce leaves, spinach and cabbage leaves, which they torn to bits and downed feverishly. They weren’t very interested in the dried feed ‘layer Pellets’ and scratch mix of grains that we had in there for them. They seem to be very happy with the dirt. I hope so.


We will have to wean them off their inner city Balmain diet of sipping Chardonnay and eating smashed avocado on organic sour dough rye. From now on it’s going to be snails, worms and free range weeds and grasses and whatever else they can find for themselves. The move doesn’t seem to have bothered them one bit. They have both laid an egg a day, without interruption since they arrived. Going from a small inner city flat to 7 acres of garden, orchards and grassland bordered by bush will give them plenty of scope to live out a more ‘natural’ chooks life.


I’ve shown my self to be very shallow and fickle. These chooks have completely taken my mind off missing Hillary and I am now quite happy with the ‘transference’ of emotion. Welcome to your change of trees Gladys and Edna! Happy scratching.

Janine delivers snails fresh from the veggie patch.
Gladys and Edna explore the laying boxes
Cottage garden flowers in the stone fruit orchard.