Bagging a Bargain

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Last week I bought 13 pineapples. Why 13, you may ask? There were 13 medium sized pineapples in a box at the front of the local fruit and vegetable stall where I shop.

It pays to keep an eye out for these occasional bargain boxes as you can see from this post from January this year. This time the pineapples were in perfect condition apart from being slightly odd shapes and I did not need to discard any of the flesh. My $10 box of pineapples yielded one which we ate fresh and 12 others at 77c each.

Some were sliced and others pulped. Here is the results ready for the freezer.

A Long Road

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Many of the projects we have worked on here have taken a considerable length of time to achieve. Sometimes it is the planning, sometimes the money or resources and others are simply a matter of time and competing priorities.

It is almost 15 years since we moved here and growing some of our own vegetables was an early goal. Although we have 1.5 acres of land, much of it is unsuitable for vegetable gardening – too steep or flood-prone so we identified an area close to the house as the spot for our future vegetable gardens. It was all grassed so the first version looked like this.

The soil is excellent and our efforts were reasonably successful, however, we had a somewhat grander plan.

Early in 2011 we built the first raised garden bed. The plan allowed for 9 beds eventually.

Still just one raised bed as we needed to source more suitable uprights.

Progress and by late in 2012 there were 3 raised garden beds. The star pickets on the left of the photo show the position of the next ones to be made.

In reality, 3 beds was probably plenty for us to manage while we were working fulltime but our agenda was long-term.

By the end of 2016 the plan was definitely coming together. We had 6 raised garden beds and woodchip mulch to create paths and suppress the weed and grass growth. The area was also fully fenced.

Late 2017 shows further development but no more garden beds.

The last 6 months or so have provided plenty of opportunity for working on projects at home and thanks to scoring some additional secondhand Colorbond we have finally finished the last of the garden beds.

There are 9 nine beds as per the original plan. We will be buying some soil for the last 3 and also to top up the soil in the others. The woodchip mulching of the paths also needs to be extended to include the areas around the new garden beds.

Then it will be time to get planting. I hope the predicted rain arrives in the next couple of weeks.

All of this has been achieved with salvaged, secondhand and excess materials.

Big Weather

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Did you watch the latest offering from Craig Reucassel on the ABC last night? It is ‘Big Weather (and how to survive it) and if you missed it you can watch on iview. Last night was the first episode of a 3-part series.

Watching this was a reminder to check our preparedness for a range of scenarios. Last summer was a wake-up call for me because although I have always considered myself to be reasonably prepared for most situations, bushfires had never really been a consideration. This was due to our location, however, the summer of 2019-2020 changed my perception of that as the affected areas were unprecendented in both location and scale.

For the first time in our lives, GMan and made and articulated a clear bushfire evacuation plan last year. You can read about it here. While bushfire is certainly not the only severe weather risk, it is probably the one most likely to put you in the position of potentially having to make a split second decision to leave.

Emergency planning for severe weather or other events should really fall into 2 categories.

  • Evacuation – this is primarily due to destruction, or potential destruction of property. Examples include bushfire, storm damage or unwanted/unexpected incursion.
  • Self-reliance – total or partial isolation. Possible reasons include pandemic, other illness or weather events which isolate your property from some or all services (flood, fire or storm damage).

There are 3 possible responses when presented with the need for emergency planning.

  • Ignore – simply believing that ‘it will never happen to me’. After the past 12 months, this is a foolish and totally inappropriate response.
  • Inertia – being overwhelmed by the enormity of possible scenarios.
  • Logical action – regardless of how prepared you are or not, starting to take incremental steps to improve your overall preparedness.

Everyone will have different needs and priorities but there are plenty of checklists and hints online. Reading and considering these could be an excellent first step in developing your personalised plan. The Australian Red Cross one looks like a good place to start.

An emergency evacuation plan and kit does not need to be complicated or impact significantly on your day-to-day living arrangements. In fact, the more simple it is, the easier and more likely it is that you are going to be able to implement it effectively if required.

This is ours.

One plastic crate and two sturdy plastic bags. Our household is two able-bodied adults so we could literally grab this and make one trip to the car then leave.

One bag holds the feather doona and the other has a woolen blanket with space to quickly add a spare set of clothes for each of us – long pants, long-sleeved top, socks and closed shoes. The plastic crate includes a box of important documents as well as the list of items to add before leaving and a notebook and pen. The list is the afore-mentioned clothes, medications, toiletries, wallets, car keys, laptop, phones and chargers. A second list is a reminder of extra things we have identified that we would pack if we had some extra warning time (more than 10 minutes).

Do you have a plan? When did you last review it? Is it still fit for purpose?

I am interested to hear your thoughts.

Rebalancing in Retirement

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I retired from full-time, paid employment in July 2019 so it is now 15 months since I was last in the office. My finishing date was pretty much decided at least 2 years prior to my retirement. I did not really contemplate gradually reducing my hours or other strategies to ease into retirement. This bemused many people who continually quizzed me as to what I was going to do when I retired. I did not really have a clear answer which made them even more convinced that I would return.

The last 15 months has been somewhat of a rollercoaster. 6 weeks after my final day in the office, we headed overseas for a much-anticipated 9 week holiday. It was an amazing adventure which we thoroughly enjoyed. Towards the end of the trip GMan and I independently came to the same conclusion – that we would have a break in 2020 and not go overseas. What a fortuitous decision that proved to be. We had previously considered travelling to Scandinavia this year.

Upon our return from overseas towards the end of October we had barely 2 months at home before setting off on a road trip to Victoria. We spent Christmas with family and then planned to visit areas in eastern Victoria and south-eastern NSW but the worst bushfires in living memory crushed that plan. We did manage to visit more family in Canberra and experienced the impact of the smoke first-hand. Not a pleasant experience.

Home again in early January and we imagined that 2020 would be a time to settle into a steady routine. Enter COVID19 and the world seemed to be completely upturned. We were very grateful for the space we had – house and large garden, a well-stocked pantry as well as a garden which supplied at least some of our food requirements, not having paid work to try to do from home or children to homeschool. We were unable to see or visit family and friends for several weeks but this was barely a minor inconvenience compared to what some people have had to endure.

In fact, COVID19 gave us the opportunity to focus on projects around our home. A quick scroll through previous blog posts provides a bit insight. Compost bays, a cold frame, more raised garden beds and finishing the pergola are some of the outdoor improvements. Meanwhile, I prepared meals made predominately from our homegrown produce as well as sewing and mending. Furniture restoration completed.

As restrictions were lifted we resumed some of our activities and interests outside the home. Which brings me to the essence of this blog post.

It is easy to become immersed in a particular interest or activity to exclusion of most others. Therefore, my goal is to identify broad categories and try to include a mix of activities/interests. It is probably not feasible to try to do this each day but I think that it is possible within the timeframe of a week.

After some thought, I have come up with a list of general categories which cover most of the things I do. Yours may be a little different.

Administration
Appointments
Community engagement
Craft and creating
Family
Friends
Garden/outdoor maintenance
Garden/outdoor projects
Health and fitness
Homemaking – regular/frequent tasks
Homemaking – seasonal/occasional tasks
Planning
Relaxation
Socialising and entertaining
Travel

Of course, some of these definitely overlap and some activities may even cover 3 categories. The list is in alphabetical order so that no-one can question my priorities. I do not envisage making specific lists but it certainly helps to keep things in perspective.


Finally, to those people who were convinced that I would not have enough to do in retirement – you were definitely wrong. My days are occupied, interesting and most of all, fulfilling.

Shopping Expedition

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When we went to Brisbane on Friday I made the most of the opportunity and bought a few things that had been on my ‘to buy’ list for a while.

My lipstick – yes, I only own 1 lipstick – was almost depleted.

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I bought a lip brush so that I can utilise all of the remaining lipstick.

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A new lipstick which will last for several years.  The previous one lasted over 3 years so I expect this will last at least as long, especially as I am no longer going to work every day and sometimes do not wear any make-up.

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It is perhaps a little more pink than I have worn previously but I am sure I will get used to it.  Samples to try out are no longer provided so the best I could do was to look at the small colour chart on the display stand.

I also bought a pair of stockings as I had managed to ruin my last remaining pair around the time I finished work – over 12 months ago.  As you can see from the last sentence, I rarely require stockings but they are not something that I can easily buy locally so it is in my best interests to have a pair on hand if needed.

Painting Posts

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Yes, this is a post about painting but more importantly, we were actually painting posts.

We have a large area under our highset house which was simply an untamed soil embankment when we first came here almost 15 years ago.  This was unusable and generated a lot of dust in the house.  A few years later we had most of the area concreted.  We had no specific plan and for the last 10 years it has mostly been a storage and work area.

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Nevertheless, in the back of our minds was a half-hatched plan to turn at least part of it into an outdoor entertainment area.  Part of the reason is that this is by far the coolest area of our home during the summer.

Our half-hatched plan has developed over a few years but it was not until this year that we have had time to really get started.  We intend to screen part of the area using Ekodeck battens.  The first step of this process was to paint the steel posts.

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Most of the posts are painted dark gray to match the other exterior paintwork on the lower level of the house.  However, we painted the posts which will be in the middle of the designated area in a much lighter hue.  This will ensure that they are easily visible.  We will combine this with strategic placement of furniture and plants to minimise any risk of accidents.

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We plan to create a green screen using multiple hanging baskets hung at different levels in the section which contains the light-coloured cross-bracing.

Several weeks ago we bought the timber for the support rails.  The 21 pieces have been cut to length, painted and are stacked in preparation for the next stage of the construction.

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After much planning and preparation we are finally seeing results.  The difference between the first and third photos in this post is the result of about 5 hours work by GMan and I today.

I think we deserve a couple of rest days after that effort.  We have a lunch date planned for tomorrow and are going to the movies on Saturday.

 

 

Project Preparation

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Well, I had a couple of days off from blogging as we have been out and about. Yesterday WordPress decided it did not want to play the game when I tried to write this post. However, all seems to be well again and I am back in business.

Over the last couple of days we have purchased some materials and equipment for the next DIY project. 

For a number of years we have talked about creating a defined entertaining area under our high-set house.  When we first moved here over 14 years ago, this area was simply sloping dirt which was of absolutely no use and merely contributed to the dirt and dust which made its way into the house.  So, we had the area concreted , albeit on a couple of levels.  Since then it has really been a storage area for materials collected for future projects as well as overflow from the workshop area.  We had decided that the best approach was to screen off an area for casual entertaining using battens and the remainder could still be used for storage.  After literally years of discussion and refinements of the design we are ready to begin.

Initially, we planned to use salvaged hardwood for the rails but realised that we could not source enough timber of consistent dimensions that was straight and true so we opted for new timber from Bunnings in this instance.  After carefully measuring and calculating our requirements we bought the necessary lengths whilst ensuring the minimum amount of waste.

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The other major requirement for this project which GMan had identified was a saw which would make a quick and accurate cut.  There were 21 rails to be cut plus approximately 170 (yet to be purchased) battens.  He decided on this mitre saw and stand.

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The rails were cut to length in no time and are now ready to be painted.  We also need to sand and paint the rusted steel posts before attaching the rails.  

This is clearly not a job which will be done in a week but we are confident that our planning and preparation will ensure the success of the end result.

I am looking forward to being able to use the entertainment area during the summer as our summers are becoming increasingly hotter and this area is definitely the coolest place in the house.

 

 

Construction Progress

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Today I thought I would share some of the progress on a couple of construction projects.  After some time in the design and preparation phase, the cold frame is beginning to take shape.

We bought the 2 hardwood sleepers to create the back wall of the cold frame.

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They are now in position.

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The compost tumbler which can be seen in the background was quite close to where we were working so it has been moved.  GMan is yet to decide on a final location for it.

The area under the house is perfect for storage of materials and construction jobs.  The panels of wire on the left hand side are earmarked for the top of the pergola.

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The wire will be installed once a couple more crossbars are in place.  But first the crossbars need to be painted.

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We normally do the painting under the house but on a sunny and windy day like today it was perfect to paint outdoors.  The shorter pieces on the trestles at the right of the photo are the corner posts for the cold frame.

There will be more photos when the construction is completed.

Some More Structures

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Following on from the completed compost bays, I thought I would share some of our other handiwork in the garden.  Unlike the compost bays, we needed to purchase the materials for our latest endeavours.

Growing food crops invariably invites other critters who also deem it to be food.  While I am reasonably happy to share, I am not keen on seeing the entire crop destroyed.

This year has seen the inclusion of an additional pest in our garden – the citrus fruit piercing moth.  From what I have read it would appear that this is as a direct result of the extended period of drought last year followed by good rain.

We have an orchard of numerous citrus trees which generally produce a bumper crop each year but 2020 is not shaping up so well.  We have lost the entire crop of Washington navel oranges as well as the majority of the grapefruit.  These are the earliest maturing of the citrus and we are less able to assess the losses on the two Valencia orange trees as well as the two mandarins.  Fortunately, the lemon and lime trees do not appear to have been attacked much at all.

In normal seasons the only real pest to the citrus trees seems to be the scrub turkeys helping themselves.  They particularly like the mandarins.

I had previously read about using poly pipe and star pickets to create a frame for netting to cover fruit trees, however, we had never implemented this method.  A few years ago we had simply tried draping the netting directly over the tree but while it was relatively effective the netting ended up with rips in it.

The arrival of the citrus fruit piercing moth spurred me into action and we bought the supplies to create the poly pipe frame for the mandarin tree.  We chose to do this one first as it seemed to have very little damage so far which is probably due to the fruit still being quite green.  Everything I have read plus my own observation indicates that the moth attacks ripening fruit.

We used an unused net which we had over the new poly pipe frame.

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The net barely reaches the ground and I am not sure how diligent the moths are when it comes to finding their way in.  I plan to extend the length a little by adding an extra piece of netting to the bottom edge.  This will be salvaged from the previously damaged net.

The next job is to monitor the tree by torchlight at night to check for any moths which are already inside the netting.

If the netting of the mandarin tree proves to be successful in eliminating the moth as well as the scrub turkeys we will consider doing at least some of the other citrus trees.

While we were buying the supplies we made sure we also bought enough to create poly pipe tunnels over at least a couple of the garden beds.  The critter I had in my sights this time was the white cabbage moth.  Unlike the citrus fruit piercing moth, there are many and varied home-remedies to deter these pests.  However, the best prevention is to eliminate them from the brassica garden entirely.

I am determined to grow a successful crop of cauliflower this year so I  used more of the poly pipe to create hoops over the bed.

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Using some of the damaged fruit tree netting I set about making a cover.

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I included shaped ends so that it fits neatly over the hoops.

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There are a few holes which need to be patched but I am confident that this will make a difference.

I regard the money spent on supplies to create these exclusion zones as a worthwhile investment as there are a few hundred dollars worth of produce at stake – and that is just in one season.

 

Compost Bays – Completed

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We now have 4 new functioning compost bays, and as promised, here are some views of the finished product.

Because of the slope, the ground needed to be levelled once all of the structure was in place.

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Close-up of some of the details.

We wired the mesh panels to the star pickets.

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Geotextile stapled to the inside of the timber lattice.

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The 5 metres of geotextile and 1 star picket were the only new purchases we made for this project.  Everything else was already here and most of it had been salvaged or recycled.

One of the most important considerations when planning this project was the street view.  The back of the bays are parallel to and only 1 metre inside our boundary fence which faces the road.

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I am very pleased with the result, and if anything, it has actually enhanced the view from the street.