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.
Zucchinis come on so quickly. I planted all the new summer vegetables together at the one time back on 12th of September, then six weeks later, we had or first pick of new season fruit on the 22nd of Oct.
All the other summer vegetables are still growing a frame work of structure but not even flowering just yet, However, the earliest tomatoes are just starting to flower, but they are still a long way of having edible fruit. Due to Global Heating, in the last few years, we have been able to pick our first few ripe tomatoes just be fore Xmas.
I decided to pick the small fruit with the flowers still on and stuff the flowers with cottage cheese seasoned with a few chopped olives, capers and an anchovie. I fried them in a little olive oil for a minute or 3 and then added a little white wine and put the lid on to steam them for a further couple of minutes. The delicate flowers collapse around the seasoned cheese stuffing, while the fruit remains firm, but heated through. The flavour is very delicate and the texture matches perfectly. Our first of many such meals this season.
If I were Italian, I’d probably batter them and deep fry them, or in Paris they might cook them with a lot more butter. But I’m me, so I don’t use any salt, except that in the olives and anchovie, and I only use olive oil and then only a dash of that. This is meant to be healthy, fresh, organic, nurishing food. But not boring. I’d actually love to be writing about building the pottery, and better still about making and firing pots, but alas, all this rain has put back the builders start date another few weeks. I’m starting to be resigned to the fact that we won’t be making anything meaningful in the pottery till this time next year. Disapointing, but it is what it is.
We enjoyed yesterdays mulberry pie so much that I decided to have another go at it. That first one didn’t last 24 hours. Between desert, breakfast and morning tea, the two of us managed to polish it off.
Just in case your interested, de-stemming takes about 25 minutes per kilo of berries, or part thereof.
Prick the base, before lining with paper and blind baking.
For this pie, I experimented with 100 grams of sugar to 500 grams of fruit. I kept all the other ingredients the same. That’s just 1/5th of the amount of sugar to fruit and it still tasted sweet enough for me.
But maybe that’s just me? Anyway, it’s the ratio that I will use in the future. We had a special guest visiting today, so I had to give it another try for him, for afternoon tea.
In keeping with my philosophy of self reliance, we eat as much as we can from our own property, using whatever there is in the garden. This week the mulberries are on. The season will last a month and the birds will get the bigger share of the crop. We have a bowerbird that survived the fire somehow and a new arrival of a wattle bird. They spend the day in the foliage cackling, croaking, clicking and chirping. It must be beautiful for them in there with such abundance.
When we moved here in 1976, kookaburras were the only birds around. As we slowly developed the place digging dams for water storage, mowing the weeds to create some lawn and planting native shrubs all around the edges. We created a small paradise. Over the following years we had thousands of smaller birds move it to colonise the ‘new’ territory. It made it very hard to harvest any fruit from the newly developing orchard. It sort of proved the old saying ‘If you build it they will come’. The fire cleaned out all the shrub dwelling passerines, as they went to low dense cover to hide. This part of the forest burnt fast and fierce. However, we have started to see some migration of the smaller insect eaters back into the garden from territory farther afield.
We currently have 2 nascent populations of just a few individuals of superb wrens and fire tails. They are very busy nesting in the 4 remaining established native hypericifolia shrubs in our garden. These small trees were part of a much larger, longer hedge and somehow survived the catastrophe. Which is good for the small birds. I hope that they have a good breeding season and that their numbers recover quickly. We have been having some nice rain lately, so it could be a good summer for them. Back in the noisey mulberry tree, it only takes a few minutes to pick a bowl full of plump, ripe fruit at this stage with so many ripe berries to choose from, but picking isn’t the slow part. What takes time is snipping off the hard little stalks. These stalks are very firm and spoil the mouth feel of the soft, luscious and sweet, juicy fruit. You don’t have to de-stem, but the resultant pie is so much nicer without the annoying little hard stalks getting stuck in your teeth.
I use a recipe that I got off the internet. I like it because it’s so easy. However I have adapted it to suit myself. Most puddings and cake recipes I read seem to me to have way too much sugar in them. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I halve the quantity of sugar in most recipes, to no noticeable ill effect. Fruit recipes often call for equal parts of sugar and fruit, or half the weight of fruit as sugar. I have reduced this to a 1/4. Then I also add a squeeze of lemon or grated zest to give a little bit of tartness to cut through the bland sweetness.
I’m too lazy to make my own pastry, I’m always busy, so it’s amazing that I can make time to cook anything from scratch. So I buy frozen pastry packs in a dozen sheets at a time and they last half the year. Clearly, I don’t make a lot of pies. It’s not that I’m keen on home made fancy deserts, it’s more to do with the fact that I hate to see waste, and I can’t eat all the fruit raw!
In the early years here , we used to bottle the mulberries and vacuum seal them in ‘Fowler’ jars. but as soon as the youngberries were planted and came in to full production, we forgot about the mulberries, as the youngberries are just so much better in every way. So these days we eat the mulberries for a couple of weeks until the youngberries come on, then we leave the rest of the mulberries to the birds. We have to net the youngberries to keep the birds off, other wise we wouldn’t get hardly any.
Once the mulberries are de-stemmed, I mix 400g of the berries with 100g of sugar in a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons (approx.) of flour, the juice of 1 small or 1/2 of a large lemon, I also add in the pulp off the glass juicer. A squeeze of vanilla essence and a dusting of cinnamon powder.
I pre bake the base @ 180oC for 15 mins filled with a glass jar full of dried, home grown, baking beans that I keep in the pantry for exactly this purpose.
Hint – Put crumpled up, non-waxed, plain lunch wrap paper in the pie first, so that the beans don’t stick to the ‘pricked’ pastry base during cooking. Remove the beans and paper and continue cooking for another 5 mins until golden. If the base lifts up, just press it down again after it cools a bit, don’t burn your fingers. Pour all the ingredients into the pie crust and if you have some left over pastry, lay a few strips over the top as decoration, or you can lay another whole sheet over the top and prick holes in it to let the steam out. Bake @180 for about 15 to 20 mins, or until it looks done.
The smell of this pie when it emerges from the oven fills the room. It is enough to melt the Heart of the Knave and induce him to steal. My mother always said that the way to a mans heart was through his stomach! So, as I live with The King, and don’t want to be ‘beaten full score’, I surrender the tart to my King and we enjoy it en-concorde.
A nice seasonal desert, or afternoon tea. To be savoured and enjoyed in late spring, and then anticipated for the rest of the year.
Janine and I finished the wall and had a dozen visitors, Mark and Judith, who lost their house in the fire, Elizabeth, who lost her house in the fire, Jules, who lost her shed in the fire, Len whose house was damaged in the fire and lent me his generator in the week after the fire, Kevin who ran the recovery centre post-fire, The cars kept coming and stopping, complementing us on the wall, even the little trail bike rider who usually screams past in a cloud of annoying dust, slowed, stopped, did a bit of circle work in front of us , yelled out “nice wall”! and roared off in another cloud of choking dust.
I’ve started work on the big new arched window for the new pottery. It’s meant to reflect the big window in the house opposite. We’ll see how successful it is when I’m done. This window will be entirely made of welded metal so that it will be more fire resistant.
Finally, Vale our lovely chook, the last of The Spice Girls, the hen Formerly Know As Hillary, FKA Ginger and many other non-de-plumes, teller of great tales and the inspiration of many adventure stories has passed away. She had been going blind over the past month. She couldn’t perch any more, as she couldn’t see the rail, she wasn’t eating much, even a treat like snails, that she loved, she just didn’t know I was holding them out for her. I had to hold them in my hand and gently bump them up against her beak, then she would peck blindly at my palm to try and hit them, mostly pecking my fingers. On Saturday she fell off the verandah when I called her, as she couldn’t see the stairs and missed her footing.
Yesterday, she was very slow to come out of her house. I talked to her quietly encouraging her, she followed my voice, bumping into things that she would normally walk around, finally settling into the corner of my workshop. Her happy place, where she usually went to preen in the afternoon. She just sat on the floor with eyes closed. I fed her some bacon fat trimmings, her second favourite thing in the world and then sent her off play with her other sister chooks with the youth in Asia.
It’s the first week of spring. We have just harvested our last tomatoes off the last self seeded plant that germinated after the fire. We are also about to plant our first tomatoes seedlings to get an early start on the spring growing season. We have never had tomatoes this late in the year before. It’s quite unbelievable. I would never have expected it. But here we are still eating fresh tomatoes while planting out next years crop. We really are in the throws of a racing-ahead global warming event, with very few frosts over winter and those that we did have were really quite mild, just minus one or two degrees. Where will this all end?
We are entering what the old-times used to call the hungry gap. This is when most of the winter vegetables are finishing up, but the new spring/summer crops haven’t started producing yet. We have celery, lettuce, tomatoes, raddish and asparagus from the garden for our lunch today, so we are still managing OK. The weather is suitably balmy for early spring just now. Last week and the week before were quite hot, up into the high 20’s. I joked to Janine that we had gone straight from winter to summer, with only 2 weeks of spring! But the weather has evened out a little now. In fact today is somewhat cooler with a little rain. It’s rather nice. I’m in no hurry for the dry heat of summer to set in and burn off all the fresh green spring growth.I have lashed out and bought 10 packets of flower seeds when they were on special at Aldi recently for just $1.20 per packet. I’m hoping that this summer might be a little bit wetter than the last 4 years of drought. I will plant the seeds anyway and hope for better times. I have started on the last 30 metre section of our front fence. This last bit will be 1.8 metres high to give extra fire protection to the house in the next fire event. At the moment it looks pretty awful just a row of steel posts, something like a detention centre. All it needs is some rolls of razor wire on top. I’m hoping that it will settle down visually when we get the stones in the mesh so that it flows on from the existing lower fence line on either side.
Where I dug out the old almond trees in the vegetable garden, I have spread some compost and dug it all in ready to plant this years spring/summer crops this weekend. I have made 15 new garden beds. About 1500mm x 900mm each in size. I have planted just 2 zucchini plants in each bed, so as to allow them some room to spread out as they mature, I have done this with the cucumbers and pumpkins as well. With the tomatoes, capsicums and egg plants have allowed 4 plants per bed, as they don’t spread as much.
As the shadows lengthen and the sun starts to set, I finally get the last of the seedlings planted. It’s been a long day in the garden. 24 metres of new garden beds. It’s a fitting replacement for the dozen almond trees that had outgrown their available space in this part of the veggie patch.
Planting anything with the expectation of it growing and thriving is an act of optimism. Planting a new summer vegetable garden is such an act. I live in hope that I will be able to water these tiny plants and watch them thrive and mature. I will weed them and mulch them with home made compost. Water them and finally pick them or their fruits to sustain us. By the time the rewards of harvest come around, I’ll be digging up the other veggie rows to plant the winter garden, such is the cycle of the seasons and life itself. I am so grateful to be able to live this grounded, positive, creative, harmonic life.
The lawn is green with a new spring flush of growth outside the kitchen window with its view into the new orchard and the dense cove of green clover. It’s nice, and very rewarding. Quite relaxing to look at. Of course, what we are really looking at here is a massive amount of hard physical work. So the rewards are all that much sweeter.
We have been continuing to work on our ceramic wall along the front of our property. We have 120 metres of frontage to the street. It’s my intention to replace the old fence with something that is more fire proof for when the next fire comes, sometime in the next decade? The original fence was the old style post and lintel, but being timber and being 127 years old, there were only 3 substancial morticed posts left in the ground when we arrived here in 1976. We know from these relics that it was a 3 rail fence. The very last post burnt in this last fire and smouldered all the way down into the ground leaving a perfectly round hole where it once stood. This new fence is designed to be as fire resistant as possible, hence the steel posts welded in pairs to seperate the front hot face from the back cooler side, to stop the metal bending over in the heat. I have also filled each post with sand and rammed it solid to give the post a solid thermal mass, so that it wont heat up to deformation temperature in the short time that a fire front passes. I looked at all the ruined fences around here, post fire, and timber completely disapears, it’s also very expensive. Cliplok metal fence systems just buckle and collapse and arn’t cheap. Full masonary walls are OK, but are the most expensive in both labour and material. There is also the drawback that a masonary wall needs an engineered footing of reinfored concrete and steel, all more expense. I have been trying to think of very cheap/cost effective solutions to all our rebuilding problems/opportunities, solutions that we can live with aesthetically and also aford. As well as this, everything has to be as fire resistant as is possible. I decided on my poor man’s imitation gabian wall idea, as it met all my requirements of cost and fire resistance. I also need everything that we do to be as beautiful, or at least as interesting as possible. To this end, I decided to fill the gabian sections with re-cycled building agregate in a moving wave pattern, as this is the cheapest ceramic fill available and this makes up about 50% of the wall. We also used 30% of black ballast rock for contrast, as this is also relatively cheap at $70 per tonne. The black wave runs as a countrepoint to the grey concrete wave. We crushed up some old terra cotta to make a colour change and a bit of detail. This is about 5% of the wall and is free, but took some time as we smashed it all up by hand with hammers, as all my rock crushers were burnt in the fire. The terra cotta is placed in ‘lenses’ in some parts of the wall, to hint at a sedimentary reference in the landscape here at the edge of the Sydney sandstone basin. To finish off the wall, we bought a small amout of round, water-worn pebbles to fill up the last 10 to 15% of the wall volume, to cap off the wall. These pebbles are the most expensive part of the wall at $90 a tonne, but we limited our use of these to just a few tonnes to minimise the cost. These pale pebbles accomodate the sweeping wave of energy in the wall pattern and bring it back to equilibrium and tranquility. The dark energy sweeps and undulates through the stoney medium, it represents my dark times, it’s always there, but rarely breaks the surface, the steady, even, bright whiteness nearly alway prevails over the dakness.
We have now completed all the 1200mm high wall sections, about 90 metres, at a cost of $1200 for the fill, this was possible because the steel yard where I have bought all my steel for the past 40 years, donated $2000 of credit into our account to help us in our re-building. We now have 90 metres of interesting and fire resistant fence. The real cost is in the labour that we, and a lot of friends, have put in to make it happen. One very good thing about building such a fence as this is that we can turn up and do a bit when ever we have a day ‘off’, and time to spare. The last 30 metre section of the wall will be built 1800mm high in front of the house to give us extra protection from the ground fire in the next fire event. We have also planted a lilli-pilli hedge all the way along the wall to give somewhere for the little birds to live. Lillipillis are reasonably fire tollerant. They don’t add to the spread of flme. They have small leathery leaves that tend to just shrivel instead of burning. We hope that they will act as an ember filter in the next fire event, as well as acting as a safe bird habitat in the mean time.
Other than that, we have been continuing to burn off the piles of burn trees, twisted branches and clayey root balls that are left over from the 16 truck loads of fire debris that we dumped on our spare block next door. This is where we used to stack all our fire wood, well away from the house. We very good strategy as it turned out, as all 50 tonnes of wood that we had stock piled ready for the kiln and house use in the coming years was all destroyed in the fire. Not one stick of wood was left on our land after the fire had pased through. As we cleaned up after the fire, we cut any straight sections of tree trunks into kiln sized lengths and stacked them. All the twisted, forked and nasty bits have been burnt in 10 tonne piles over the winter. Each pile left a few ugly root balls that didn’t burn, so the last time we had the excavator here, we had Ross collect all these remnant bits together and make a new, last pile. We needed to get this burnt before the spring and the new fire restrictions period begin. We lit it last week and it burnt for 3 days. We now have only two ugly clay and stone packed root balls that didn’t burn. I may be able to knock them about with the tractor to shake off some of the soil and rocks to get them seperated, so that they can be burnt at some later date. It has been a mamoth task to get all these piles burnt and cleared away over the winter, while also getting the orchard built and planted before bud burst. We have run to a tight schedule.
Everything is starting to come together now. We have a delivery date from the steel rolling company for delivery of our steel shed frames on the 19th of September, so just 3 weeks left for us to finish all the fences and garden. before the building work commences. I have worn through 4 pairs of heavy leather gloves, two pairs of light gardening gloves, ruined one straw hat and worn though 3 pairs of jeans, patched the knees and worn through those patches and re-patched them from thigh to knee, ready for the next onslaught of hard work. I hate to throw out anything that still has life left in it. I like to get at least 5 years of hard wear out of a pair of jeans before thay are relagated to kiln factory rags. I am very grateful to be able to live this life of frugal creativity.Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.
We have put in a couple of very long weeks lately. The result being that the new orchard netting frame and cover is now complete and the trees are now planted. Three of the 30 trees had already bud-burst and started to flower by the time we got to plant them. But they are now safely planted and watered in. It’s a very good feeling to see them under cover and starting to grow.
44 years ago this month, I was out there digging holes, wheel barrowing compost and planting bare rooted whip sticks. I had put in some very long hours back then too. Getting a dam built, installing a pump, laying 100 metres of poly pipe across the block and fencing off the orchard paddock before I could think of planting my fruit trees.
I did all of this work on weekends, as I was working 4 days and 2 nights, doing 3 different part time jobs teaching Ceramics in Sydney. 2 1/2 days at East Sydney Tech, two days at Alexander Mackie College (COFA) and one night at St George TAFE. It left me quite tired on the weekends, as I had to catch the 6 am bus to get into Sydney and didn’t get home till 11pm at night after the 2 night classes.
Not much has changed over the 44 years. Except my back! The little grafted sticks are so small that you cannot make them out. I had to work hard to keep up the 23% mortgage interest payments that was common at that time. I was determined to get the orchard planted before the winter was over that first year. Not too different from the situation I find myself in now, while I wait for the metal kit frames to turn up for the new pottery building. As it has turned out it’s veggie garden first, then orchard, and finally pottery shed, in that order each time we have a catastrophe and start to make a recovery. Garden beds are quick to plant out, orchards take longer and must be planted in the winter. Finally, pottery buildings need a lot more money, time, planning and Council Approval before they can be built. It fits the same pattern. Everything has to done in a particular sequence for it to work out smoothly. For instance, I had to get the front fence built, as the orchard is up against it, then a metal frame had to be built to hold up the bird proof netting. I was very lucky to be able to buy a truck load of 100mm. dia. irrigation pipes and was also extreemely lucky to be gifted a lot of galvanised wire mesh fencing and also a couple of very large pieces of nylon bird proof orchard netting, along with a lot of other usefull materials from a couple from up north who had de-commissioned their back yard orchard. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way with this by actually turning up and lending a hand, or by donating money into our ‘Go-fund-me’ account. We wouldn’t be here now in this much better place, if it wasn’t for you!
The sequence of jobs that brought us here now involved ordering the new frut trees way back in February and March from 3 different suppliers. Then digging out the old burnt out orchard trees. A very emotionally difficult decision at the time, as we had raised those trees from tiny bare rooted whip sticks, watered, mulched, pruned, tended and nurished those plants for 2/3 of my life. The soil from the old orchard site was trucked across the drive into the former front garden area to improve the soil for the new trees. I found one spare evening to seed the area with both red and white clover, plus poppy and other cottage garden seeds, then plough the soil and wait for rain, which did eventually come while there was still some warth in the soil. The clover has been improving the soil structure and adding nitrogen while we have been waiting.
Now all the required steps along the way are complete, so we can pull it all together and finally step back and admire our handiwork. We had our son Geordie and our friend Warren here over the weekend for the big final effort to drag the huge 30 metre x 20 metre spinnaker of netting up and over the frames, then tie it all down to the wire mesh, A huge job. We used over 3000 metal ring clips and all ended up with blisters on our hands.
This time, the orchard trees are being planted into better prepared soil.
24 trees were planted in one mamoth effort on Monday. They are all in neat orderly rows and well mulched and watered. They are so small that you can hardly notice them, except for the mulch and the plastic tags that show where they are.
I managed to shread 3 pairs of jeans over the past two weeks. I tore the bum out of one pair and tore through and around last months repairs and patches on the other two.
This will keep me busy for the next few evenings.
My last job on this new orchard cover, is to weld up a couple of metal framed gates to keep everything secure from all the critters that like to eat fruit trees, kangaroos, wallabys, rabbits, wombats, cockatoos, etc.
When we started this huge enterprise of the clean-up. We didn’t wait for the NSW Government to organise something for us. We got stuck in ourselves on day one. We had a lot of help and support from our friends. That really helped me get over the initial shock and depression. It’s still there and I’m still working on it, my next appointment with the shrink is on the 4th. She tells me that my anxiety and lack of sleep is probably related to PTSD. Part of the on-going clean up is dealing with the 16 tip truck loads of burnt bush and stumps. We had 16 big piles dumped on the southern side of the house site. We have been burning one pile a week since the beginning of winter, when the fire bans were lifted. We have cleared all the dead trees from around the house area, and a little further afield to where we store our fire wood. It’s important to prune and clear all these dead trees where we work, as they are constantly dropping bits of dead branches, not just in windy weather, but particularly on still days when we are out there working. They can crash down without warning. I don’t want to be hit by any falling limbs while I’m working. We cut up the logs into usable lengths that we will use to fire the kiln for the next few years.
All the smaller, twisted, dead and burnt detritus from the fire had to be burnt in discrete piles to be safe. We have been working on it intermittently for months now. Last week, we burnt the last pile. It consisted of mostly small stumps that hadn’t burnt fully in previous burn piles. These root balls don’t burn well because of all the soil and clay embedded in with the roots. The free burning wood all burns away leaving these lumps dispersed around the pile. Once isolated from the glowing embers, they go out and just sit there.
I spent last week pushing them around with the little tractor, collecting them all together. Janine and I would then spend the best part of the day setting into them with mattock and pick, to loosen the soil and rocks from around the roots. We can’t do this all day, it’s too heavy, so we do a bit at a time and them go back to raking up or chainsawing other wood. Then after a rest, we go back to the pick and mattock. Once the root balls are reduced in size and the weight is brought below 200 kgs, I can pick them up with the tractor bucket and drop them. This loosens more soil and so on. Once they are substantially relieved of their soil, I can place them on the smouldering ember pile and start off another day of burning stumps. The last fire went for 5 days in this way. working on collecting all the remnant root balls and removing soil, then piling them up for the next days burn. It’s mind numbingly dull work, but somehow pleasing to see the site finally get cleared up and the stumps gone.
After that effort there were still a number of very large logs and stumps that were beyond me and the efforts that I could muster using my toy tractor/mower. So when Ross came last week with his excavator, we got him to pile all the remaining extra large bits into a big pile and this should be our last big burn. We really need to get this done before the return of the fire bans at the beginning of spring in just a few weeks. I don’t want to have look at this depressing mess for another year. I’m hoping that we will get a bit of rain in spring, and with the warmth we might see a bit of greenery come back. All we have that is green is a few patches of moss or fungus that I have never seen before, presumably enriched by all the ash and nutrient from the fires.
The drosera is also coming back very well. I’m told that they can live for up to 50 years. They are a carnivorous plant that traps tiny insects on the sticky hairs on their surface.
It’s started raining, so will be working inside today. I have to put stickers with my initials, number and price on each of the pots for my virtual show at Kerrie Lowe Gallery starting next week.
Blue icy crackle glaze with post firing carbon inclusion and sooty patina.
A few weeks ago I was stealing time from the clean-up to put new wooden shafts in a few of my burnt and roasted heavy tools. Like masons lump hammer, pick and sledge.
This week we had the chance to get the excavator here for another day. Every plant operator in the district around here is fully employed in the clean-up. Our Good friend Ross rang and said he was fully booked, BUT, had a chance to get here for a day between other jobs, to help us finish the stone wall around the proposed new pottery site. We were thrilled. Spare earth moving equipment at any time around here is rare, and then to get access to it at a reasonable price is exceptional.
I am very keen to live a self-reliant life. I pride myself on having done almost all the trades around here over time. I only employ trades when it is required by law, – like electricians for instance. But, there are some jobs that are just too big for me to handle alone with my crow bar, chain blocks, tripod, little ute crane and toy tractor. Moving 1 tonne stones is one of them. My only way to handle these big sand stone floaters that I dug out of the vegetable garden area 20 years ago, was to get out the stone masonry tools and using a lot of small ‘gads’, to split the bigger stones into smaller pieces, so that I could lift them with my little tractor.
This has worked well in the past, when I wasn’t so pressed for time, but now that I’m flat out busy with the clean-up and re-construction. I just couldn’t find the time to cut and split all these stones. Hence, I was very pleased to see my good friend Ross turn up with his small excavator, to pick up the stones as they were and move them to the last little bit of the retaining wall that needed finishing.
The ‘natural’ shaped stones look a bit rough juxtaposed with the large cut blocks, but they are 100% local off our site here. I dug them out of the ground 20 years ago, when I cleared the land for the new vegetable garden. Working together, Ross and I managed to get both sides of the retaining wall done in one day.
We managed to move and place about 20 large sandstone floaters into position and back fill the site with soil and batter the edges into ramps, that will allow easy access by our zimmer frames and/or wheel chairs into the future.
This ground work is now complete and ready for the foundations of the new pottery. We finally got our building approval certificate from the local council on the first of this month and paid the deposit on the 5 different kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds.
Kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds are not my favourite buildings. I fact they are really pretty ugly in my opinion, dull, flat and boring. But they are cheap! At my age now. I can’t consider building from scratch on my own as an owner-builder, like we did in the early 80’s when we built the last pottery. So, I have decided to buy 5 different shapes, sizes and heights of farm sheds, then bolt them all together, like ‘Lego’, or more precisely, like ‘Mechano’! Such that we will end up with an unusual building with a bit of character. The plan is to have 3 of them in a row, all the same width, but with different heights, then to add two more at right angles, to make a ‘U’ shape and create a central courtyard. The last two will be different widths and heights to the others. One lower and the other higher. This will create a more organic and interesting shape or cluster. Rather than the usual long flat factory unit look that most of these metal sheds end up looking like, dull, boring and predictable. We anticipate getting started on the building in a few weeks time, as we are now in a queue, waiting for our kits to be manufactured at the factory.
I am well underway with the orchard’s bird proof netting frame.
When it is finished, it will cover 600 Sq, Metres of orchard, sufficient area to plant 30 fruit trees. This will give each fruit tree 20 sq. metres. This is more personal space than I am entitled to in a restaurant or shopping mall under the new Covid19 restrictions!
The other thing that we have been doing this last few weeks is working on the front fence, whenever we have a spare day. This project is now almost 3/4 done. A few weeks ago, before the recent increased restrictions, we had a group of potters here to help on the weekend. We managed to finish adding all the galvanised mesh to the metal framework on the last southern end of our new ceramic, fire resistant fence. Janine and I have been putting in the odd day here and there as time allows. It’s a good job to have sitting in the back ground, as I can pick it up where I left off at any time. However, I’ll be pleased when it is complete.
I seem to have ended up working on 4 jobs at once. This allows me to be always fully busy in making or fixing something all the time, even while I wait for parts to be delivered, or other stuff to turn up. Such is my life in these complex times. At least working hard like this alone keeps me self isolating safely. I’m constantly searching for cheap or frugal solutions to complex problems. For instance, Janine and I spent an hour, smashing up old bits of terra cotta with mallets, to make orange coloured gravel to add a detail to our ceramic wall. It was a dirty, dusty job, and our wrists ached afterwards, but it was worth the effort.
Another job I have been tackling over for the last month is the cleaning, sorting and selecting all the burnt pots that we were able to salvage from the ruins of our pottery and barn.
Almost every porcelain pot shattered, not too surprisingly! I only have one piece that has survived. It now lives in the kitchen.
The pots that did survive were all rougher stoneware bodies. Not too surprising there either.
I have spent the last few days documenting, cataloguing and labelling the best of them for my exhibition at Kerrie Lowe Gallery, opening online on the 31st July. All the pots will be physically present in the Gallery, but it will be a virtual show only, with no opening, due to the Covid19 restrictions.
If you are going into Sydney to buy ceramic supplies from Kerrie, you can see the pots in person, but you must follow Kerrie’s instructions about social distancing and numbers of customers allowed in the gallery at any one time. Check opening hours before turning up.
This is a lovely triptych that survived the inferno. It has a very satiny smooth guan-like glaze enhanced with a smokey patina and sooty crackle.