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Suburban Jungle

Reuben and Veggie Beds

Gardening

Poppy

Garden

Daisy

Planting

We spent a lot of the weekend in the garden, building two more veggie beds, planting a couple of citrus trees, pruning and pottering. Though our garden isn’t producing much now, it feels good to be building something for the future. From little things big things grow.

I must admit, when Reubs and I moved into this house I was a bit worried about going overboard in the garden. Our block is very small and awkwardly shaped and I seriously doubted that we’d ever be able to make it particularly productive. Reubs was keen to make the most of our limited space and cram it full of edibles. He immediately wanted to rip out all the lawn and replace it with a giant veggie patch, and was adamant that we had enough space for a number of fruit trees, but I was reluctant. It seems crazy to me now but I didn’t like the idea of not having any lawn and I was scared that if we planted too much our yard would look messy and unattractive. (What would the neighbours think?!) So we started small with two little veggie beds, a couple of fruit trees and two chickens, and bit by bit we’ve added more and more. We now have four large veggie beds, ten fruit trees, two passionfruit vines, a couple of berry plants, two elderflower bushes (for making cordial) and hopps (for making beer) which we plan to plant next to the car port so it can climb. We are also hoping to turn a whole corner of our yard into a large chicken coop, so we can keep a bigger flock of chooks. Slowly, I’ve come to realise just how much can be done with a small space (we still have room for so much more!) and I now have a completely different kind of vision for our garden. Not a tidy lawn, tidy veggie beds, tidy trees and small tidy chicken coop, but a rambling patch overflowing with homegrown fruit, veggies, flowers and chickens.

I recently bought Backyard Self Sufficiency by Jackie French (which I highly recommend) and today I was having a read when I stumbled across a quote that so perfectly summed up what I’ve been thinking and feeling, that I had to share it with you. Jackie says:

“I have two images of suburban life today.

The first is of a neat house set in a mown lawn with trimmed shrubs and a sandpit; a clean kitchen with yesterday’s takeaway containers in the sink; and the latest DVDs to fill your life after dinner.

The second is of a suburban jungle: a maze of tangled apple trees and grapevines, carpets of strawberries, and kids with mulberry-stained faces who don’t come inside till dark. You trip over a box of apples in the laundry and the kitchen smells of summer tomatoes and of the basil on the windowsill.

The kitchen shelves are full, so are the lives of the inhabitants.

The richness of our lives depends on our surroundings and what we fill them with.”

I know which one I’d prefer. Bring on the jungle.

Katie xx

PS Just in case you are wondering what our “chicken tractor” is doing in our new veg beds – we were using the girls’ scratching skills to get a headstart on digging up the grass.
PPS My cute apron and trowel are from lovely Brenda‘s wonderful new shop.

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5 Simple Homemade Cleaners with just 3 Ingredients

5 Recipes for Green Cleaners with 3 Ingredients

I originally put this post together for Kidspot, but I thought most of you probably wouldn’t see it over there and it might be helpful, so I’m reposting it here. I might share a few of my other Kidspot posts in the coming weeks.

In the last year we’ve drastically reduced our use of commercial cleaning products. The only ready made products that we regularly use now are oxy action laundry soaker (which we add to the laundry when we wash our white sheets and white towels), bleach and dishwashing liquid. Just about everything else I make. When I first began making my own cleaners I thought it was going to be time consuming and was concerned about how effective homemade products would be, but I soon realised there was no need to worry. All of the cleaners I use can be whipped up in moments, with just a few ingredients, and they work a treat! Every bit as effective as store bought products, without the expense, chemical nasties and wasteful packaging. It makes me so happy that we’ve been able to replace some of the toxic products in our home with more natural, more safe and more environmentally friendly alternatives.

So here are five of the simplest homemade cleaners that I use. All of them have just three ingredients and can be thrown together in minutes!

All Purpose Spray

1 Cup Vinegar
1 Cup Warm Water
1/4 Tsp Tea Tree Oil

Combine the ingredients in a clean spray bottle and shake well. To use, spray on surface and wipe with a clean cloth.

Glass Cleaner

2 Cups Warm Water
1/4 Cup White Vinegar
1 Tbsp Cornstarch

Combine the ingredients in a clean spray bottle and shake well. To use, spray on glass and wipe with a lint free cloth, paper towel or a sheet of newspaper.

Toilet Cleaner

1 Cup White Vinegar
1/2 Cup Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Tea Tree Oil

Combine the vinegar and tea tree oil in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray mixture all over toilet, including inside the bowl. Allow vinegar mixture to sit for five minutes, then sprinkle baking soda all over the inside of the toilet bowl. Scrub inside of bowl with a toilet brush, then flush. Use a clean dry cloth to wipe vinegar solution off exterior.

Drain Cleaner

Boiling Water
1/2 cup Vinegar
1/4 Cup Baking Soda

Pour the baking soda down your drain (if the drain holes are small you may need to sift the baking soda first). Pour the vinegar down the drain. The mixture will froth up, so pop a plug in to stop it from bubbling into your sink. Leave the mixture to sit for 5-10 minutes, then flush with boiling water.

Laundy Powder

4 Cups Soap Flakes
2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing Soda (not to be confused with Baking Soda!)

Mix all the ingredients well and store the powder in and airtight container. Use 2 tablespoons of powder for each wash.

Happy cleaning!

Katie x

PS I’ve been using these recipes for while now so (unfortunately) can’t remember where they all came from, but the laundry powder is from Down to Earth. You can find more of Rhonda’s recipes here.

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A New Deck

When we bought this neglected old house of ours, we made a list of all the things we needed to fix. Somewhere down the list was the item “replace old deck” but despite being older than the pyramids, the pile of weathered wood outside our front door that we called a “deck” somehow managed to hold our weight, so replacing it never made it to the top of the list. That was until Friday morning, when little Clover decided to pull a large piece of the old deck up and eat it (as you can see by the missing piece in the picture). And so this weekend became dedicated to deck replacement! Here is our sad (and dangerous) deck before:

Deck Before

I naively thought the job would be fairly easy. I made a trip to the hardware shop and bought some replacement decking boards, nails and a circular saw, planning just to rip up and replace the old, brittle boards. But once I started pulling the deck up and saw the joists underneath, my heart sank. Below our weathered deck was a tangled mess of rusty nails wriggling their way out of old rotten beams. In one spot there was even evidence of a small fire! Scarily, the joist beneath an uncharacteristically new section of deck was actually half charcoal. So it was back to the hardware shop to buy new joists!

Burnt Joist

Dogs Watching Reuben

Once the new joists were in place, the it all came together rather quickly and by this afternoon the job was complete! We still have to oil the boards for weather protection but we now have a nice safe deck, and one more thing ticked off our never ending to-do list.

Reubs and Dogs on Finished Deck

Reuben and Clover

Daisy and Clover seem pretty chuffed with their new sunbaking spot too!

Reuben

PS. You may have noticed that the bottom panel of our front door is cracked and has been taped up. It turns our my dad was right, that is what happens when you run around inside the house. Another thing for the to-do list – “replace front door”.

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Lessons from our First Year as Home Owners

It’s been a little over a year since we bought our first home. As is always the case, in some ways it seems like we’ve been here forever and in other ways it feels like we’ve only just moved in. We had grand plans for this sad old house when we first moved in and, though we’ve made some progress, there is still so much to do.

Hall Before

Our hall in January 2013.

Hall

Our hall now!

Living Room Before

The fluoro lights in our lounge room in January 2013.

Living Room Lights

The lights in our lounge room now.

Oven Before

Our old, dead oven.

Oven

Our new oven (and the hole we had to bang in the wall to squeeze it in!)

Bedroom Before

Our bedroom in January 2013.

Bedroom After

Our bedroom now.

Though we haven’t achieved as much as we’d have liked, we have learnt many, many lessons in our first year of home ownership. If we could go back in time and give Katie and Reuben a year ago some advice, we would tell ourselves…

There is so much more to do than you ever imagined.

Even when you DIY, doing any kind of work on a house costs money. More money than you think.

Similarly, everything will take much longer to do than you thought it would. Sometimes twice as long. Sometimes five times as long!

Scraping the paint off skirting boards, windows and doorframes, and stripping floors is not fun. Not even a tiny bit fun.

There is no smell in the world more horrible than you will experience if you rip up 50 year old carpets that have been soaked in cat’s pee.

Sometimes you will wish you could just call a real estate agent or landlord and let them take care of things.

Houses seem a lot bigger when you are painting them than they do when you are living in them.

Old things in old houses (like ovens, gas heaters, hot water systems and air conditioners) need replacing. This is very expensive.

There will be times when you look around you and feel utterly overwhelmed. You will wonder why you ever thought buying such a mess of a house was a good idea and you will fantasise about giving in and running away to a nice, comfortable rental…

But! Despite all the difficulties, every single day you will be grateful for your home.

You will feel so glad that you are building your own future, rather than paying off a landlord’s mortgage.

You will be so happy to have the freedom to do whatever you like to your space.

You will feel so much pride and ownership over every little task completed and every small renovating victory.

And though you’ll probably never really “finish” working on your house and at times it will drive you crazy, you will love it more than any place you could ever rent.

Because it is yours.

Katie and Reuben x

PS Sorry for the lack of post last week! We were having internet connection issues.

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Summer in the Garden

Garden 2

Garden 3

Garden 4

Garden 1

Garden 5

So far our first growing season in our own home has proven to be a quite a learning experience!

At times it has been very challenging. We’ve lost a blueberry plant to an unknown fate. A mystery bug (I suspect earwigs but haven’t enough proof) has eaten one and a half of our two raspberry plants (not the fruit, the leaves and stems!) All but one each of our watermelon and cucumber plants have mysteriously disappeared. One of our passionfruits’ new growth has been repeatedly gobbled up by something, preventing it from growing. We’ve had hot days then cold days and gale force winds. I can’t even remember the last time it rained…

But! Despite all of that, we’ve also had some wonderful successes in our our little garden. Our raspberry is bouncing back. The tomatoes are out of control. The beans have produced more than I could ever have imagined. The zucchinis are in good health. The elderflower is flourishing. We have at least 6 pumpkins on their way. And most happily for me, one of our two Camellia Sinensis (tea) bushes (that we thought had died) is starting to show some new growth, just as we were about to pull it out and replace it with a big blackberry bush! Over the last couple of weeks we’ve eaten homegrown rainbow chard, strawberries, sugar snap peas, basil, zucchini, perpetual spinach, one cucumber and mountains of beans, and now we’re starting to get tomatoes. Though we started small with just two raised beds, we have managed to grow quite a lot!

Even though it can be frustrating at times, we’re really enjoying having a productive garden. We love being able to eat fruit and veggies that we’ve grown ourselves. Nothing makes me happier than spying Katie at the veggie patch, picking something fresh for our dinner. It’s so nice knowing the things we eat don’t have any chemicals on them and that they are in our bellies within minutes of being picked. A lot of the veggies we grow (including all of our peas) don’t even make it into the kitchen. They are so good we can’t help but eat them straight off the plant!

With the successes and struggles of this season in mind, I’m now starting to make plans for the next growing season. It’s time to expand our veggie patch from the two raised beds and I’ve earmarked half our front lawn for some serious redevelopment. Soon it’ll be time to put things in for winter. I’ve already got some kale seeds that are calling me…

What’s been happening in your garden this season?

Reuben

PS All these pictures are from Katie’s Instagram account. We’ve gotten a bit out of the habit of taking photos over the last few months, but we are both determined to get back behind the camera this year!

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