Saturday, 31 January 2009

Busy Saturday

With temps predicted to be in the 40s again today we were up early to clean the gutters before the sun rose above the trees and started heating up the roof. At 6:30am when we went out to get started it was already 26 degrees. The breeze was cool-ish, but alas didn't stay that way for long.

By 9am we'd finished what we wanted to do outside and retreated inside. I spent much of the remainder of the day in and out of the kitchen. Jerry bought me 20kg of sauce tomatoes (seconds) at the fruit and veg market on Friday, and they needed to be processed. I also had 2kg each of peaches, nectarines and plums to do something with. Yesterday I salted about a kg of courgettes (zucchini) to make pickled courgette so I had to make the spiced vinegar for that too.

Yes, it is mental to be in the kitchen on a day like today, but alas, it had to be done. Luckily there is an openable skylight in the kitchen so I could let some of the hot air out earlier in the day.

By the end of the day I had:
  • canned 8 1 litre jars of chopped tomatoes,
  • canned 8 jars (about 5L) of tomato stock (just the cooking water for the tomatoes with bits of pulp - great for using in casseroles etc...waste not, want not!)
  • made 5 jars of plum jam
  • roasted and pureed about 4 kg of tomatoes - will probably turn that into tomato paste tomorrow
  • finished off the pickled courgettes - 3 jars
  • a loaf of sourdough rye bread rising to go in the oven later

And I'll be doing it all again tomorrow, as there's another 10kg of tomatoes, and the peaches and nectarines to do something with! But right now I think I have earned my glass of wine and a nice sit down with a good book!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Feeling hot hot hot - and I can prove it!

It's 5:30pm............

Yes, that's 31 INSIDE, and 40 outside - and the unit that's recording the outdoor temperature is by the house, under a solid verandah and behind 70% shade cloth.

I think they need a naked man to convey this kind of temperature!

Being Fire Ready

As we head into our 3rd day in the 40s, another total fire ban across the state, and a decent breeze blowing around my thought turn even more to the threat of bushfire. The downside to living where we do is that the lovely bush around us becomes a threat at this time of year. So we have to have a Fire plan, and be fire ready. Not something we ever had to worry about when living in England!!

The CFA (Country Fire Authority) holds fire ready meetings early in the season in and around our area which I always try and attend. It's a good refresher course to make sure our plan has everything covered. They also have very useful website, and Living in the Bush kit its and an interactive CD Rom to help in your fire planning.

In Victoria we have the right to choose if we stay and defend our property, or leave. We can not be forcibly evacuated if fire threatens. But with that choice comes responsibility. We need to have a plan, and most importantly we need to stick to it. We also have a responsibility not to do stupid things that put the lives of emergency service workers in danger (like deciding to leave at the last minute). We also have to be responsible for ourselves and our property. Although they will always do their best, there is no guarantee that the CFA would be able to be here to help us defend our property from fire, and we can't necessarily rely on Elvis being around (not Elvis the king, Elvis the sky crane waterbombing helicopter) . So we have to be prepared. Our Fire plan is to stay and defend the house. As such, we have each year refined and added to our firefighting arsenal and our plans.

The biggest component of our firefighting equipment is our firepump, sprinkler system, and fire fighting tank. The pump runs on unleaded petrol, and will operate our sprinklers in the event we lose power (extremely likely in a bushfire as the substation is in our paddock!). The tank holds 22,500L of water. We fill it up at the end of November then disconnect it from the house system so it stays full and available for fire fighting. This tank should give us a couple of hours to run the sprinklers - more than enough. We also keep the two hill tanks (45,000L in total) topped up so they would be available too. The trick will be not to start the sprinklers too early. We have sprinklers all around the house, and they go 180 or 360 degrees around. We also have gutter plugs to put in the gutters before filling them with water.

Next is the handheld firefighting equipment - which would mostly be used to put out spot fires once the front had passed. On each side of the verandah we have a 250L drum filled with water. This would be used to refill our spray backpacks, waterpistols (The CFA say these are great for "mopping up" around the house - Jerry was delighted! ) a mop could also be put in them and then used to damp down timbers.

A few years ago I replaced the bark chip mulch with stones, to reduce the fuel load close to the house, and we also do our best to keep the immediate house area clear of leaf debris, and to keep the gutters clear.

We have our fire clothing - overalls, long sleeved cotton shirts, face masks, sturdy gloves, hats, and sturdy boots. We will not be insane people watering our house in shorts and thongs! We also have
  • a battery operated radio
  • an old fashioned phone so if we lose power we can still make calls
  • torches
  • enough food stockpiled in the house to last a few weeks at least
  • we're members of a local bushfire telephone tree
And the last part of our fire plan - insurance. We are resigned to the fact that if a fire comes, we will have our hands full defending the house. The sheds, cars and contents we will no doubt lose - we can't manage it all. If fire breaks out there will be a few things we bring into the house, but the's insured and replaceable.

So there you have it - that's an overview of our fire plans and preparations. Fingers crossed we never have to put it into action!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Summer garden update

It's been a strange summer so far. Things that went great guns last year (beans, beetroot, carrot) aren't happening at all, tomatoes are late, and the leafy greens don't really want to grow. In spite of that, there is some action in the garden.

L: Tomatoes, and the corn and pumpkin patch | R: Carrots gone to seed are still attracting lots of good bugs

L: Zucchini(courgette) and baby squash seem to love the no-dig patch | R: View to the fruit cage. The mid season raspberries are ripening nicely

A couple of chilli plants look promising

First cucumber (lebanese mini muncher), and first rattlesnake bean (french)

I interplanted eggplant and capsicums (peppers) this year after reading they go well together - and after a slow start they are taking off. We even have our first peppers forming (Italian fryers by the looks of them)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Feeling hot hot hot

and it aint going to get any better in the next few days. I will be hiding in the house with all the curtains drawn as per usual. It feels a bit like a cave, but at least it's a reasonably comfortable cage. I seal off the parts of the house not in use. I'll be trying to leave the living area air conditioner off as much a as possible. I can normally manage until about 4pm when the house normally tips over the 30 degree mark, and then I have to relent for an hour to get the temp back to 27 or so.

Fingers crossed everyone is sensible and we have no fires this week.

Wednesday Sunny Sunny
19 / 40°C
Thursday Sunny Sunny
23 / 41°C
Friday Sunny Sunny
23 / 41°C
Saturday Sunny Sunny
22 / 41°C
Sunday Possible thunderstorm Possible thunderstorm
22 / 37°C
Monday Late shower Late shower
20 / 36°C
Tuesday Sunny Sunny
20 / 35°C

Monday, 19 January 2009

Time to shade out the sun

It's that time of year again - temps in the 30s, and the sun heating up the black slate porch and reflecting heat into the house. The old wooden blinds that mum was using have fallen apart 1 by 1, so it was time for some new ones.

We looked around for ready-made options, but the costs were outrageous to do the space we needed, so we decided to try some home-made shade cloth blinds. For less than the price of one lot of readymades we bought enough shadecloth to do blinds for one whole side of the house.

We chose a 70% shadecloth in an attractive blue colour. Armed with measuring tape, an iron, and an eyelet maker we set to work!

The new blinds look better, don't you think (photo on the left has old and new)? As you can see from the picture they are very effective in blocking the bulk of the sun form hitting the tiles, and from shining into the house - but you still get a reasonable view through them. The added bonus is the blue tone helps you imagine that it is a bit cooler than it really is!

We've opted for blinds that will stay in place for the next few months (secured with hooks on top, and pegged to the ground with tent pegs)......mostly because that was the easiest option!! At the end of summer we can take them down and roll them and store them in the shed.

We will be making the rest of the blinds next weekend, and over the next few days these ones will get a good workout with temperatures in the high 30s...UGH!!!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Lets get juicy!

For my birthday earlier this week the lovely Jerry bought me a steam juicer (amongst other things - he goes a bit OTT with presents bless 'im - but always excellent and useful). I first saw one of these gadgets at the Holmgren's place on my PDC, and I was fascinated by it. I was super impressed with Mr Jerry for remembering this and with all his research, as they are not available to buy in Australia that he could find.

I had some peaches from a neighbour, as well as some berries, apricots and a few plums so I decided to give it a trial run today. The juicer has 4 parts - the water reservoir, the juice collector, the basket and the lid. You fill the water reservoir with water (duh :) ) then put the juice collector on top.

Load up the basket with fruit, and put it on top of the juice collector, then put on the lid.

Then you bring the water to the boil, and when it starts to steam a bit through the lid start timing - for my fruit combination it was 60 minutes of steaming. Then you drain off the juice using the tube (with clamp) into sterilised bottles.

The end result was just over 1 litre of juice, and because I removed the stones from the fruit I'll be able to use it for pie or crumble filling or maybe in a chutney. The steamed fruit smells just divine....sorry chickens!!

I can see my brambleberry cordial being replaced by brambleberry juice done this way - a LOT less sugar, and much easier to do.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Berry Update

This is our astounding berry harvest tally - and it's not over yet, as the blackberries are still ripening!
  • 27kg (yes, that's right, 27 kilograms) of brambleberries, still more to pick
  • 4.5 kg redcurrants (finished for the season)
  • 1.1 kg blackcurrants (finished for the season)
  • 2.5kg raspberries - and more coming along
  • 2.7kg boysenberries (just about finished for the season)
I have berries in our freezer and berries in mum's freezer. We have berries on our cereal every morning. I have also made 50 jars of various berry jam and jelly, 4 litres of brambleberry cordial, 1 litre of brambleberry gin (no idea how it will turn out but what the heck!) and even 4 large jars of brambleberry and apple chutney.

Soon I may just turn into a berry!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Dusty dog

So dusty that he almost blends in with the floor!!!!!!!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Low-energy kitchen christmas!

This year the lovely Jerry out did himself with low-energy kitchen gadgets to help me while away the spare hours in the kitchen!

A new collapsible shopping basket, for those trips to town - and in it a manual food mill for making pasta sauces and purees - and my favourite new gadget - the apple peeler/corer/slicer/ It's brilliant - and kids that come to stay will love it!

My GORGEOUS new whistling kettle (although the dogs are a bit non-plussed by the new whistling sound) which has replaced my electric kettle (and the added bonus is more bench space!), and my brother and soon-to-be sister in law got in on the kitchen theme and gave me this fab spoon rest (and some toastbags and some green and blacks chocolate). My mother and father in law were in on the theme as well, with a kitchen timer that lets you time up to 4 things at once - great for multi-tasking!

A V-slicer with multi-attachments will make slicing those tomatoes and fruits evenly for drying a breeze! And Jemima Puddleduck is watching over the lovely painted tiles my sister and brother in law and nephews gave us - one a chook and one a pig. Aren't they lovely?

Aren't I a lucky Margo?!!
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