A tough decision

It’s now 3 1/2 months since the fire cleaned us out. We have been working hard to clean everything up and bring our life back to some semblance of normality. Well, the sort of ‘normality’ that we chose as normal for us.

I keep thinking, well hoping is probably a more apt term, that I have finished with chainsawing blackened logs. But they are every where and I still find myself at it after all this time. I haven’t even started t think about clearing up the rear section of our land, down the slope behind where the pottery used to be. There is a lot of blackened sticks down there that will have to be tackled one day. For the time being, I’m concentrating on just the front half of our land. The part that will face the next fire in 5 or more years time after the forest grows back.

With global warming increasing at an increasing rate, and world leaders with their heads in the sand, its going to come around again in the next decade. A long dry spell with increasing temperatures, The east coast will burn again. I need to work now to set us up to be better prepared for the next episode. I thought that I was well prepared before, but you learn from experience, and I had never experienced anything like that before. I had no idea what a catastrophic fire event could be. I’m a bit wiser now. No-one should have to go through that.

So with this idea firmly fixed in my mind, we are back into it, cutting and stacking the last of the stumps, fallen branches and pruned dead limbs from the front garden. Of course it’s not a front garden any more. It’s now just a front yard of bare scorched earth. We will keep it as a meadow of wild flowers into the future. something that we can mow down when required to keep a clear space to the west, where the next fire will most likely come from.

Janine loads the smaller logs with the help of the chook formally known as ‘Ginger’.

These logs are so heavy that I can’t lift them onto the truck, so I use the tractor to do the lifting, but even then, the tractor has a load limit of just under 200 kgs. and one load was so heavy that I could only get it just 100mm. up off the ground. I learnt to limit the load to just one lump at a time.

So now it has become the time to make that really big decision. it’s one of the toughest decisions that I have had to make. We have decided to take out the stone fruit orchard and move the pottery up the slope a bit onto that site, farther away from the bush at the back of our land and closer to the centre. We will re-plant a new orchard in the front area, on the other side of the entrance driveway. This new ‘orchard’ location will be easier, and therefore cheaper, to build on.

We rented a weathboard pottery studio up in Dural to the north of Sydney when we first started out in the early 70’s. It burnt down in the bush fires of 1976. We moved to Balmoral and built a pottery out of galvanised iron, hoping that it would be more fire proof. It burnt down in 1983. The next pottery was build of mud bricks, I hoped that it would be more fire proof. but it still had a timber ceiling and roof framing. Now it has burnt, I’m slowly getting the message. This time I will build in steel. I’m a slow learner!

The first pottery we built here in 1976 was on 3 levels to accomodate the slope of the land. We build it over several years, one room at a time as we could afford it. When it burnt down in 1983, the next pottery was rebuilt on the same sloping site on the same 3 differing levels. We had no money, or any prospects of earning very much of it, so we worked with the lie of the land to save money.

As this will hopefully be my last pottery building. I need it to accomodate me in my zimmer frame and wheel chair in the future. This pottery needs to be all on one level. This also probably means building it on a concrete slab. I have strictly avoided using concrete in the first 3 potteries because of the huge carbon debt that cement incurs, but I need to be both practical and economical. a slab is looking like the smartest option. So I’m selling out my green credentials and going with concrete for the first time in my life, thinking of our old age.

So the orchard is gone. We planted all those trees as bare rooted whip sticks in 1976. That’s 44 years of nurturing, pruning, fertilising, watering and mowing. It’s all gone now!


We have engaged our friend Ross, to dig up all the top soil that we lovingly created over the past 4 decades. The top 200mm of soil has become a rich dark brown humus rich soil. Far too good to bury under a concrete slab. The original native soil here was an orange/yellow sandy loam when we started. I was delighted and surprised to see how deep the top soil had become over time. So good in fact that we couldn’t bear to waste it. I decided to ask Ross to dig it up and transport it to the front garden to fertilise and enrich the new orchard site.

We piled up all the best dark soil into a heap, not unlike a mini Mt. Everest in the garden. The chook formally known as ‘Ginger’ decided to climb the mountain of soil looking for bugs and worms. This top soil is extremely rich and alive with life.

I noticed that she attacked the problem from the North Face, the hard way, without ropes or carabinas. She will now be known as the chook called ‘Hillary’!

We will plant another orchard on the new front site, where we will plant all new trees that are mostly grown on dwarf grafted rootstocks. This will make the orchard easier to manage in the future as we grow older and less vigorous ourselves. The opposite of the fruit trees. We will grow the new orchard under a full netting cover, just like the vegetable garden has been now for 15 years. What we have learnt from the veggie garden experiment, is the kind and size of netting to keep out the fruit eating birds and rabbits, but let in the smaller insect eaters.

Once all the top soil has been moved to the new site, I will to start extending the poly pipe watering system all around the new orchard site to allow for access to plenty of irrigation water in the future.

So many jobs and so little time. I hardly notice that the rest of the world is in lock-down, we are happy being busy here on our own little piece of land and our self created world. We have been living ‘self-isolation’ voluntarily for decades.

In the afternoon I set fire to one of the many piles of dead trees and branches that we have stacked up, and in the evening after dinner, I roast, sweat, peel and pickle the huge crop of bell capsicums that the recent rains have brought on.


Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts! I’m grateful to be still here doing this. I have to try and creative a positive outcome from the unmittigated disaster that this is. I take up the challenge that has presented itself to me. I could never have pulled down the old pottery to ‘improve’ it for my old age. I couldn’t have ever concieved of digging out our beautiful old orchard that we had worked on for so long. This is an oportunity to re-define ourselves here on this piece of land that we love. We have been offered this once in a lifetime opportunity to make our homestead age sensitive and apropriate to our coming frailties. Gone are the steps and in with the ramps.

We will be better prepared for both natures next holocaust and our old age.

Self-reliance in this time of C19 isolation

With the recent rain and the last of the summer heat, the vegetable garden has grown like crazy. We came back from WOMAD and the Writers Week to find the garden was totally overgrown.

I had a couple of attempts to tame it with the strimmer, then Janine could get in with the mower. We spent a day pulling out weeds and clearing space for the new plantings. I should have been a lot busier in the garden a lot earlier, but have been distracted with fencing and other jobs around the place. Everything needs doing no! I still haven’t finished chopping up the last of the pine trees in the back of the house. My tractor broke down and needs some work, so it’s gone off to the tractor whisperer to be made good again. So until I get it back, I can’t move those last few huge logs.

I have finally got around to planting out the winter crops of brassicas, quite late, but better late than never. I’m also planting out the garlic, also a bit late, but OK.

we are practicing social distancing !

We have recently harvested our rather poor crop of red grapes, What with the drought, then the fire, now the very hungry wild life, and in particular, the bower birds, we were lucky to get any crop. Janine has been maintaining a wildlife feeding station down at the back of our land where there are a few possums and we don’t know what else eating the fruit and veg that we put out for them. She has created a an ‘apple’ tree out of a burnt out native tree and its charred branches.

She places the slices of apple there each afternoon and they are all gone in the morning. There isn’t much else to eat in the burnt out forest, but there are now some green shoot appearing from the trunks and root lignotubers of the blackened trees.

We made a small batch of summer wine from our tiny harvest. Best enjoyed straight from the keg as it ferments after a few days. A delightful combination of sweet grape juice, spritz bubbles and a little alcohol.

We may be burnt out. We may be unemployed. We may be in self imposed C19 isolation, but we are eating well as mostly vegetarian and gifted with an amazing group of tremendous friends that have given us so much support and assistance, up until lock-down.

We wouldn’t be be here now in this lucky position without you!

Thank you. You have been so wonderfull to us and helped us through this testing time.

Drought, fire, rain, flood, Greenery

The summer started with extremely dry weather, then the fire. closely followed by loads of rain, slight flooding and now cool autumn weather with a flush of green growth. This is our life. lurching from crisis to crisis, extreme to extreme, drought to flood, fire to rain, barron soil to flush greenery.

I have spent two days mowing to keep the new growth of grass down. I spent a day in the vegetable garden with the whipper-snipper shredding weeds and grass, clearing the fallow beds ready for the autumn planting. and clearing all the paths.

I should have got these winter veggies in a month or two back, but have been otherwise distracted by my close encounter with death and then the never-ending cleanup. I’m just starting to sleep through the whole night again. I have had two good nights now.

I put this down to our holiday escape to Adelaide for Writers week and WOMAD. We had booked and paid for this annual sojourn 6 months ago. If it hadn’t been prepaid, we wouldn’t have gone. There is just so much still to do here, just to get back to tors. Luckily we had paid for it all in advance, so we had to go. I’m very glad that we did. I really needed a break. My neck was so stiff with tension. However, after our time away, where we couldn’t do anything except engage with ideas and concepts, as well as walking several kilometres per day into the city and back. It did us a lot of good and I’ve come back relaxed and able to sleep better. I can now turn my head freely again.

So our time away was good for us, but the garden went to ruin, over-run with weeds after the rain and the last of the warm weather. Under all the over growth there is still a lot of food still to be picked. I hacked and slashed my way through the paths, then returned with the strimmer. Usually, not too much stops this machine, but this level of weed growth really slowed it down. I had to work very slowly, otherwise the cord just slowed down and didn’t work. The same applied to the ride-on mower. I had to drive very slowly to allow the mower to cope with the high level of wet grass. Consequently, the mowing took far longer than usual.

We mowed and whipper-shipped until we ran out of petrol and I ran out of plastic strimmer cord. I used to keep stock of all these consumables, strimmer cord in a big roll, spare chain saw chains and sharpening files, two-stroke mix, ear muffs, chain saw tool kit. They are all melted and burnt. I still don’t know all the things that we have lost. Not until I go to the shed to get something that I always have, but realise that I don’t have a shed anymore. All those small items and tools all gone. Still, all the mowing is now done for at least a week. Time to re-stock all the consumables. I have a long list for tomorrows expedition to the hardware shop.

The garden is starting to take shape – a little. It’ll look a lot better by the end of the week, when I have finished weeding all the beds and planting out new seedlings.

Once I could see what was still in there, I picked a load of vegetables and herbs for a mirepoix. A parsnip. some celery, a few carrots, the herbs, thyme parsley sage and bay leaves, plus a little salt and pepper corns to flavour it up. I bought a beef femur and a pigs trotter, which I boiled in an excess of water without roasting this time, as I usually roast the bones first to caramelised then a little, but this time, to save time, they went straight unto the pot. Another boiler had the herbs and veggies.

Last night we had the wood stove on for the first time this year, because of the sudden drop in temperature with the rain, so I was able to let them both boil down nicely over the evening and into the night. Today I separated the marrow from the cooled bones and drained the mirepoix, discarding the green matter. Then both liquors went back into the big boiler together with a bottle of good red wine and some tomato paste. Here I deviated from the normal script. We have run out of tomatoes, so I indulged myself in the use of a packet of bought concentrated tomato paste. Australian of course!

So this is our new life post fire. All the old standards have fallen. I didn’t roast the bones! I have bought tomato paste from a shop! where will this all end?

I finished reducing the stock down from the initial 9 litres to less than 1 litre. I must say that it is really delicious, savoury, sour, salty, and ever so slightly sweet – just a hint, and very viscous and creamy in the mouth.

You can’t buy stuff like this. its real food! This will be stored in the freezer and just a sliver of this frozen gel with be like a stock cube added to any wintery dish. Beautiful, and so rewarding.

Self-reliance in dry times

As the drought deepens and the climate crisis escalates unchecked, with our politicians heads firmly buried deep in the sand. Crisis, What crisis? We muddle on in our independent, self-reliant, way. With the dam water very low. Actually, extremely low. We are saving what water we have in it for use in the coming weeks with the imminent arrival of the massive bush fire that is ravaging a lot of Eastern New South Wales.

The fire closest to us has burned over 112,000 hectares, or half a million acres, in the last two weeks. It is now just 17 km for our Village. When the next hot, dry, North Westerly wind blows in it will bring it here. Currently, the wind is in our favour and mostly blowing from the west. Inevitably to will swing around at some point. Then our time will come to deal with it Nothing can put out a fire of this scale – only good heavy prolonged rain. That is unlikely in the next month or two. So we just sit and wait.

We have tested all the roof and wall mounted sprinkler systems on the house, pottery, barn and kiln shed. I have even set up temporary, ground mounted, sprinklers on hoses in front of the wood shed and Railway Station building. We have done everything that we can, so now we wait.

The sun is orange because there is so much smoke and fall out from the sky of charred leaves and fine ash, it slowly blankets every thing. The car is covered in fine dust. All the roofs are dusty. Today I had to wash the solar panels 3 times, with mop and squeegee and 3 changes of water in the bucket, in order to get the water to run almost clear. The output from the system jumped up almost 500 watts straight away as I was washing the panels. Not just because they were cleaner, but the washing would have cooled them and made them more efficient.

We have scaled back our summer vegetable garden to just about half its usual size to reduce our water usage and we are only watering the younger and most dependant fruit tress that are one and two years old. All the older trees with deeper and more established root systems are having to fend for themselves. Several garden plants and a couple of older native trees have just keeled over and snuffed it. The times they are a changing. We will emerge from this very dry period with a different garden. When the rains come, it will probably flood. We have been told to expect more extremes in the weather. We will find out which plants can cope with draught and flood.

We have been doleing out our drinking water from the water tanks to keep the blue berries and young berries alive and producing, as well as the early peaches. That will be the sum total of our fruit for this summer. It’s all we can manage to support. Other trees that are not being watered, like the quince trees, have shed all their small partially formed fruit in an effort to save them selves. Ditto, the apples and pears. All four of our fig trees appear to have died, dropped all their leaves, turned brown and lost any sign of green tips at the dried out buds. I spoke to our neighbour at the shopping centre yesterday, and she told me that her parents are buying two truck loads of water each week to keep their garden alive. That’s hundreds of dollars worth of water being trucked in. We have never had to buy water in the past 43 years of our life here. We are frugal and we have planned well in advance. I guess that we will have to learn to live without figs. A small price to ask. But I can’t help but think, which trees are next?

In the mean time we have peaches, youngberries and blue berries to pick and preserve. This last basket full of the early peaches smell divine, fresh off the tree and so warm and fragrant. They are such a treasure, we eat most of them raw for breakfast and deserts, but we also vacuum seal some of them for later.

Todays job was to pick the berries. Both Young and blue. This will be the last pick of young berries, the canes started producing on the 24th of November. A whole month earlier than when they were first planted in 1977. We remove the netting and let the chooks in to clean up. The birds will get all the other higher odds and ends. We roll up the net and dismantle the hoop frames. Stored away till this time next year.

This last pick is about 700 g, making a rather small harvest this year, but exceptional, given the difficult conditions. We harvested about 5 to 6 kilos altogether. We have youngberry ice-cream in the freezer and 5 jars of vacuum sealed fruit in the pantry. It’s a pleasing reward for our efforts.

Janine whips berry puree into our local, pure, Picton dairy cream to make ice-cream. Nothing could be more natural and flavoursome. This has to be the most delicious way to get plaque build up in your arteries. At least there are no colours, preservatives, chemicals or artificial substances in there. Not too much sugar either.

The blue berries haven’t looked back since we potted them and moved them into the netted vegetable garden as a border. This keeps the birds off and makes sure that they get a bit of water every time we water the veggies. They reward us with their fruit. 3 kgs so far this summer and the season has only just begun. The will continue fruiting for a couple of months, into February, as we have chosen early, medium and late varieties.

Blue berries ripen over time, with only just a few ripe blue ones every so often spread out over all the little bunches. They are quite time consuming to pick. But which fruit isn’t? We have to pluck each individual berry from its neighbour in the tight little clusters. Today we manage 700g in half an hour with both of us at it. I have no idea how they produce these things commercially for just a few dollars per punnet. Slave labour?

Its a beautiful and rewarding thing to share this wholesome activity together. We are managing to eat them all fresh for breakfast and desserts so far, but there comes a time when the novelty wears off and we start to freeze some for later. Janine has experimented and learnt to make a beautiful blueberry sauce with a little brandy and cream. We force our selves to eat it 🙂

Banana fritters with berry ice-cream as a second course for breakfast after the berry fruit salad. Someones got to do it!

Making the Most of Winter

It’s another blowy, blustering cool day, with a wind that is bringing down a few branches. Luckily, it was quite still yesterday evening, so we decided to burn off our pile of garden, orchard and vineyard prunings. We manage to assemble quite a pile of these prunings during the autumn pruning period. We pile them up to dry out for a couple of months and then burn off the pile at the end of winter, just before the spring fire bans come into force. In the past we have waited for a cool damp night after rain, but it just hasn’t rained at all for months, so the pile just sat there. 
Last night was forecast to be damp with the possibility of a slight shower. That was good enough, After dinner we went down to the burn pile site, next to the Pantryfield garden and lit it up. It was a very slow quiet burn that took 3 hours to get through all the sticks, twigs and branches. By 11 pm it was just a pile of white ash and a few glowing embers. It’s a good feeling to get the fire hazard out of the way before summer, otherwise it would have to sit there for another 8 months. Fortunately it started to rain ever so gently later in the night, just half a mm. in the rain gauge this morning, but enough to settle it all down.


 Today a fierce, gusty wind has settled in, so we are back inside, after doing all our jobs, collecting fire wood and stacking it inside ready for tonights fires, watering the small seedlings and cleaning up. Now the sun is fully up, we drove the car down to the high amperage charging station down by the kiln factory. The kiln shed has 3 phase power installed, so we placed the fast charger down there, as there is no electricity in the car port. The kiln shed roof also has 6kW of solar panels on its roof, so direct access to the solar power for charging the car and firing the kiln.
As we’re inside, we decide to deal with kitchen duties. We held our second marmalade making workshop at the weekend, so there are numerous small jars of marmalade to be washed and dried , then labeled and stored away in the pantry. We made 3 batches, each slightly different, but all of them centred on Seville oranges, of which we have a beautiful crop this year. Hard to fathom, as we are currently in a drought. But we have been watering the citrus grove regularly.


Each large boiler, makes between 7 to 10 jars of marmalade, depending on the size of the jars. Our very good friends Toni and Chris turned up and the afternoon eventually wound it’s way into evening and dinner.


The other job on the kitchen list is to make a stock out of the bones left over from a duck that we have in the fridge. I start by browning some onion in olive oil, then garlic and water. Our organic garden garlic is getting close to the end now as the winter peters-out. What we have left is stored, hung up, outside on the back verandah in long plaits. This is starting to sprout now, but it still gives us the good garlic flavour. The new crop of garlic is filling out in the garden, but is still 3 months away from maturity.



I add water, the bones, a lemon, chillies, the very last of our late season tomatoes that we picked 6 weeks ago when they were still a bit green, as the bushes had been burnt off by the frost, and some pepper. After simmering for an hour, I pass it thorough a sieve to separate the bones and mirepoix from the stock. I add a bottle of ‘fume’ wine and return the clear stock to the stove to reduce. It happens in among all the other jobs, slowly and steadily, filling the kitchen with a warm, delicious fragrance that is so welcoming on a cold windy day.
 Domestic jobs can be really engaging and fulfilling sometimes. This is one of those times.You’ll notice that I don’t write too much about cleaning the grease trap!
Our enigmatic friend Annabelle Sloujé sent me this image that she saw somewhere, after I wrote about making a beef bone stock last week.
Best wishes from Steve who is making the most of winter – while it lasts.

A sudden cold spell

We have just emerged from a sudden cold spell. We were glad to find a few jobs to do inside for a while until the cold winds blew themselves out. Our good friend Annabelle Sloujé lives a little bit farther south of here and a lot higher up, she had a low of -9oC, I’m glad we live here in Camelot where it doesn’t get so cold. My friends in Korea report a range of -35 to + 38oC. They probably think that I’m a wimp for talking about a winters day of -1 oC. They possibly think that -1 is quite warm, in comparison.

However cold or hot it is, we found things to do out of the wind. I shelled nuts and Janine made a cake from the last of last years hazelnuts that she milled into flour. It’s one of those recipes with reduced flour and usually almond meal. The Lovely down loaded it from the internet, but as we didin’t have any almonds left to shell, she used all hazelnut meal instead. All recipes are just a guide. Living where we do, we have learnt to compromise and use what we have rather than drive for an hour to get something specific. We save all our jobs and shopping list for that weekly trip.

Glazed with melted 85% dark chocolate and a few chunks of chopped crystallised ginger. It was just right for cold weather and didn’t last too long.

For my part, I made a beef marrow bone and vegetable stock over a couple of nights, using the free heat from the wood fired kitchen stove after we cooked dinner.

I make stock like this a few times each year, especially during the colder months when the stove is always on. I have come accustomed to always having our own personal, giant, frozen stock cube in the freezer. We don’t own a dedicated freezer, so we only freeze what can’t be preserved by other means like vacuum sealing ‘Vacola’ jars. The special conditions required for safe preserving in vacuum jars is that the food must be boiled in the jar to seal it, so that counts out pesto. Also, it is best if the food is naturally acidic like fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Meat can be preserved this way, but it is recommended that the vacuum sealing be done twice to make sure that it is perfectly safe. A bit of a bother.

After the cold spell blew itself out, we have had a few glorious cloudless sunny days with no wind. I took the opportunity to move my chair out into the sun and get a little vitamin D and finish decorating my last few pots doing scraffitto, carving into the surface with a sharp tool. This will show the pooling character of my local granite blue celadon style glaze when fired in the reduced solar fired electric kiln.

Winter Citrus and Candied Peel

The citrus crop is now coming into its own. We are harvesting ripe citrus every few days for our breakfast entre.

Because we have so much fruit, I decide to try and preserve some of the citrus in something other than just marmalade or frozen lemon juice ice cubes.
I decide to try and make some citrus candied peel.
I have a couple of different approaches. First I try amd make some finely sliced candied peel.
I peel the bright orange peel from the fruit with a standard veggie peeler. I separate it from the pith off the fruit and then slice it finely with a knife.
I’m using grapefruit, lemonade and tangello peel. Why? Because that is the fruit that we shared for breakfast.
I boil the peel in water for a few minutes, then change the water and repeat to reduce the bitterness.
I change the water about 3 times, then let it simmer gently for quite a few minutes to soften the peel.
I drain of the water and weigh the fruit. Add the same amount of sugar as the weight of the damp fruit.
Then return the water to the sauce pan with the fruit and sugar and simmer for 30 mins.
Once they are softened, I drain off the water and put them on a mesh tray to dry.
After drying in the wood stove oven that is cooling down overnight with the oven door open, dip them in melted dark chocolate and store in the fridge.
Delicious! They are crisp, crunchy, sweet and citrus sour.
The next night, I try repeating the process using whole slices of navel oranges.
These whole slices are boiled in the same way and then candied as above.
These are very nice after drying and dipped in 80% dark chocolate.
They are particularly nice! They don’t last long.
I’ll have to make another batch using 10 oranges next time, so that they can last a few days.
Winter does have it’s advantages.