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.

A Man Needs a Shed

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We have lived in this house for almost 15 years. There is plenty of space in the lockup workshop as well as the open space under the house. Off and on over a number of years we have debated the value of a small, freestanding shed for extra storage space.

Since we have some long-term plans for part of the workshop, we decided to bite the bullet about 3 months ago. As with everything during COVID19 there was a delay before it was commenced.

Towards the end of August the slab was laid.

A few days later the shed was assembled and completed. We were about to head off on holidays for 3 weeks so there was no further action for a while.

Once we returned we transferred some of the equipment to be stored in the shed.

The ride-on mower needs a ramp to be able to safely manoeuvre it into the shed. So, we built a ramp.

There are still a couple of finishing touches to do – compacting the pavers and sweeping some fine sand into the joints.

A New Measuring Device

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We used to have a rain gauge but we removed the last one when the verandah railings were replaced. Like most rigid plastic items which are exposed to the weather, it had become brittle with time and a couple of pieces were cracked/broken so we decided that we needed to replace it.

This did not happen immediately and time went by. Fast forward about 4 years and a couple of things have changed. The local Council have done some remedial work to the verge adjacent to our driveway where the water used to pool. This had been our unofficial rain gauge for some time but now that the water seems to run off properly the ‘rain gauge’ is no longer much use.

GMan received some money for his recent birthday along with a suggestion that he put it towards buying a new rain gauge. This was just the impetus we needed.

After considerable research he made a decision about which one to buy. One of the considerations that needed to take into account is that we can receive in excess of 250mm rainfall in 24 hours so the rain gauge needs to have substantial capacity. However, he discovered a digital rain gauge which does not need to be manually emptied but the amount of water passing through it is measured using the sensor.

The gauge with sensor is mounted on the pergola (top right-hand corner).

The information is recorded on the screen which sits conveniently on the kitchen bench.

As an added bonus, it also records indoor and outdoor temperature as well as the indoor humidity.

He is very pleased with the new rain gauge and all we need to do now is to wait for it to rain. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a high chance of La Nina (significant rain event) occurring in 2020 so we will wait in anticipation. At least we are ready.

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.

 

 

More Modifications

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A few months ago I wrote about mending my mop.  You can read about it here.

Well, I have made another modification or addition to increase its versatility.

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We have a large expanse of timber decking which we recently had revarnished.  It can get quite dusty so I wanted to mop it.  However, I was not keen to destroy the sponge head which I use for the hard floors indoors.

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So, I set about making a removable cover.  This is a piece of old towel from my stash of rags which live in the cupboard below the laundry tub.  I actually remember this as my father’s beach towel about 50 years ago.

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Using the mop head as a template I cut a piece of towel and mitred the corners.

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I checked to see that it fitted before trimming the excess and finishing the raw edges.

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On the mop.

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I obviously needed to keep it in place so I sewed some salvaged elastic inside the edge to draw it over the mop head.

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The addition of a couple of ties to fully secure the cover in place.

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Ready to go.

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The end result.

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I was pleased to be able to create a solution using salvaged materials that I had on hand.  I addition to the old beach towel I used elastic retrieved from worn out underwear and the ties were from a long ago pair of trousers that had worn out.

The cover cannot easily be squeezed out so it is not suitable for indoor use but is perfect for washing down the verandah floor.

The Lid is On

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It is over 2 years since we commenced building the walkway/pergola entrance to our property at the eastern end of the house.

This is a photo I posted in a blog post in mid-March 2018.

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The 6 sticks marked out the proposed location of the posts.  You can also see the newly-planted shrubs to the right of the pergola site.

By July 2018 the majority of the structure was completed as per this blog post.

In September 2018 GMan laid the repurposed pavers that we had salvaged from when the entrance stairway was demolished and rebuilt.

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The mandevilla creepers have been planted close to the pergola and the garden beds on either side have been mulched.

But, there is still no roof covering on the pergola.  We would still considering our options.

These things take time but a couple of months ago we finally agreed that we would cover the top with wire and we would also need a couple of horizontal rails to support the wire.

We sourced, painted and installed the timber rails a couple of weeks ago and today we added the wire panels, or as otherwise described, put the lid on.

The finished entrance to the eastern end of our house and the vegetable garden area.

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The shrubs and mandevilla creepers are well-established and we now have a well-defined entrance.

Lemon Curd – My Way

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It is early winter where we live and that means we have citrus fruit in abundance.  The fruit on the Meyer lemon were ripe and we picked them all as this particular variety does not seem to hold well on the tree.

We gave away heaps as well as freezing some juice and using it generously in drinks and recipes.  GMan asked if I would make some lemon curd, also known as lemon butter.

Apart from wanting to use up some of the lemons, I was keen to find a reasonably ‘healthy’ version of this sweet treat.  So, I turned to the ever-useful Google.

This is an indication of the usual lemon butter offerings.

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 125g butter

After a bit more research I found a recipe which seemed to align with my goals.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 4 tablespoons lemon zest

I was keen to try it but moderately sceptical as the proportions are vastly different.

The full recipe is here.  My slightly amended version is below.

First I collected the utensils I needed.  You can read more about my kitchen utensils here.

Low Fat Lemon Curd

Ingredients

2 large lemons, juiced
Lemon zest from 2 large lemons
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs

Grate the zest from the lemons and set aside.

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Juice the lemons.

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Place the strained juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low and stir until sugar has dissolved.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl.

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Remove lemon syrup from heat and pour slowly into beaten eggs while stirring the mixture with a whisk. Continue to whisk by hand for one minute.

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Return mixture to saucepan; add lemon zest, and heat on low until it thickens―about two minutes.

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Allow to cool then refrigerate.
NOTE:
My concerns were realised as the mixture did not thicken as much as I would have liked.  So, I resorted to my back-up plan.
2 teaspoons arrowroot blended with a little water.
Gently reheat the lemon curd until it reaches boiling point the stir. Add the arrowroot mixture slowly and continue stirring constantly.  Cook for one minute.  Cool and refrigerate .
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This version of lemon curd does not have the smooth richness that additional eggs and butter creates but I am very happy with the result.  It is definitely worth trying if you are looking for a healthier version of the traditional lemon curd recipe.

Almost Finished

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We are on a mission to try to finish several projects around the place.  Hot on the heels of the completed cold frame, we finished replacing the handles on our latest restoration project.

It is now over 6 years since I wrote about the silky oak dressing table/drawers that we restored.  You can read about it here.  This piece has now been relocated to the guest room.

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The latest restored piece is slightly larger and now has pride of place in my bedroom.  It is also silky oak and a very similar style to the other one.  The mirror for this one is larger and rectangular rather than oval.

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The final step is the new mirror which we hope to pick up this week.

I do not think we are likely to be restoring any other large pieces of furniture in the foreseeable future but there are plenty of other jobs.  We are now working on finishing the top of the pergola/walkway.  This has become rather necessary as the mandevilla creeper has now almost reached the top of the wire on the sides of the pergola.

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This was just after we had planted them in September 2018.

 

Cold Frame Completed

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Following on from this post.  We retrieved our jigsaw on Tuesday and were able to cut the polycarbonate sheeting for the final step of the cold frame.

Once the pieces of polycarbonate sheeting were cut to size, it was relatively easy to screw them to the timber frame.  The only thing left to do was to fill the post holes and level the ground.

Finished and ready for use.  You may be able to see the tray of basil seedlings near the left-hand end of the structure.

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Another view of the cold frame as part of the wider vegetable garden layout.

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Since our winters are really quite mild, this is really only necessary for overnight protection.  I will need to make sure I open it up everyday or otherwise the basil will be cooked by the end of the week.

 

Cold Frame Construction

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What is a cold frame?  The best description is a mini glasshouse which is low to the ground.  You can check out one from Gardening Australia here.  They are predominately used in much colder climates than ours, however, the primary reason that we built one is that I want to grow basil throughout the winter months.  It will also be perfect for starting spring seedlings a bit earlier than usual.

For the past few weeks we have been taking small steps towards building a cold frame.

Two hardwood sleepers form the back wall.

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Deciding on a location, sourcing materials (the majority secondhand) and developing a design have all taken time.  GMan has cut and painted timber as well as replacing putty in the window frames.

Everything has moved up a notch in the last couple of days as we began building in earnest.

The construction is almost complete with only the polycarbonate sheeting to be added to the front and ends of the enclosure.  This last step is on hold until we retrieve our jigsaw (lent out recently) to cut the sheeting.  Hopefully this will happen early next week.

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We won’t win any prizes for our carpentry skills but the structure is solid and functional.

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A pair of casement windows from the timber salvage yard form the top of the cold frame.  They are hinged at the back and we attached some old cupboard handles to the front edge to facilitate easy access.

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Apart from the polycarbonate sheeting on the sides, we also need to finish levelling the ground and filling the holes around the uprights.

In the meantime I have put the tray of basil seedlings in this space overnight as even without the sides completed it still offers a warmer and more protected space than their previous location.

The components which we purchased new for this project were the sleepers, hinges, window putty and long screws for the frame.  The windows, handles and timber all came from the salvage yard while the screw used with the hinges and handles came from our collection of odds and ends at home.

I would love to hear of anyone else’s experience  with a similar kind of set-up.