Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Living in regional Australia - pros and cons

Pete and I live in the South Burnett region of Queensland.  We are about two hours drive from Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Dalby and Toowoomba in each direction, which are all much larger towns and cities.  Its not exactly the middle of nowhere, its more like nowhere in the middle of everywhere else.

An afternoon walkies on our quiet country road


Only about 10% of Australians live in rural areas (although I'm not sure how they defined rural).  In fact, 25% live in Sydney, so there's more people in Sydney than living in rural areas.  This made me think that many of my readers have little experience with rural and regional Australia, but given that you're reading this blog, maybe you're interested in moving away from the city and into a regional or rural (or remote!) area at some stage.  And maybe you're wondering what its really like out here.

We've had a few trips to Brisbane lately (and of course Pete grew up there and I've lived there on and off a few times), which has helped me to contrast our quiet rural life with the busy city routines.  Our Eight Acres property is close to Nanango (population 4000), and Cheslyn Rise is close to Kumbia (population 350).  The biggest centre in the South Burnett is Kingaroy (population 12500).  I always think you can gauge the size of a town by the number of pubs and supermarkets.  Kingaroy has four pubs, three supermarkets and nearly all the other shops we need most of the time.  We pop in there every few weeks, and we go to Brisbane or Toowoomba every few months.

What I like about living in the country
I like going outside to lock up the chickens after dark and being able to look up and see the stars, smell the gum trees and hear only leaves rustling in the wind and the frogs and insects calling.  No neighbours, no cars and no streetlights!

Everyone is friendly.  We wave to everyone we pass in the car, we say g'day to everyone we pass on the street.  I tried that in Brisbane and all I got was funny looks.

Everyone is connected to the land and the weather.  Even people who live in town drink tank water and care about when its going to rain next.  Unlike the Brisbane conversation I overheard in which too ladies were complaining about the much-needed rain ruining their hair!

You can park anywhere.  Even in town.  I have never ever had to worry about where I was going to park.  Also, no traffic lights!  Well there is one set in Nanango and Pete can still get mild road-rage if he has to stop there for a minute :)


The Brisbane River


What is hard about living in the country
You can't always get what you need at the local shops.  I have to mail order a lot of things, but that's not so hard now with the internet, you just have to be organised.  And some things we have to drive into Brisbane to collect, like a new sofa, and floor tiles, but at least we are only two hours away.

Health care and education opportunities are limited.  I think it you're elderly, ill or young, its pretty tough living out here.  There is a small hospital, but if you need chemo or specialist care you have to go to a bigger centre.  There are highschools and a TAFE with limited courses, you have to leave to go to university or get a decent apprenticeship.  Jobs are pretty limited for young people.

Entertainment and other amenities are limited.  There is no BIG museums, art galleries, theatres, or libraries.  There is a small one screen movie cinema (which mostly shows childrens movies, we've never been to it).  There are other things, like country shows, rodeos, church concerts and local theatre groups, a small library, local galleries, that fill the gap.  These were the things I enjoyed in Brisbane while I was there.

There is no public transport.  Well there is a bus once a day on weekdays only that stops only in town centres and goes to Caboolture train-station, which is then an hour on the train to Brisbane.  But for general commuting to work, there is no public transport.  So you have to own a car.  When I lived in Brisbane for two years I had no car, and only used public transport and it was no problem.

Lack of diversity.  Nearly everyone here is a white Australia.  Some people have never left Australia, some have never left the state of Queensland.  There is a distinct lack of diversity and interest in other cultures.  I think its more ignorance than actual racism.  It wouldn't be easy living here if you looked different, even having a New Zealand accent is bad enough!

Postal service.  It can take a week for parcels to arrive from Brisbane, which is a 2 hour drive away.  I don't know why (possibly they go to Sydney to be sorted and then come back here, I wouldn't be surprised).


I'm not saying its unbearable out here, but I want you to know that some of the conveniences in the city are not available.  But for me all the positives make it worth the small sacrifices.  Before we moved here I had never really thought about what we might miss out on, so its good to know about these things if you're thinking about moving.


Do you live outside the cities?  What do you love, what do you miss?  If you're in the city, what do you want to know about country life?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Secondhand house update: aren't you finished yet?

If it feels like its taking us a LONG time to finish our house, it is.  We first saw the house in December 2012.  It was moved to our property on the back of a truck in July 2013 (full tour with BEFORE photos here).  We got council approval for it in July 2014.  Then we replaced the roof, and started working on stripping back each room (including removing floor coverings, asbestos, all fittings from the kitchen and bathroom) and gradually painting and renovating.  The bathroom was fitted out about in the middle of last year, but it took us ages to get back to painting it as we had other rooms to work on first.  We painted the outside of the house with the help of my parents early last year (there is still a bit left to do, but its looks so much better).

A few months ago we had the new hardwood ironbark floor installed.  Now we are just waiting for the cabinet maker to build the kitchen (and then the plumber to plumb it, the electrician to the power points and the tiler to do the splashback!) and to finish off the laundry.  I have spent hours with the cabinet maker choosing colours and deciding where the cupboards go, it is tiring making all those decision!  But We Are So Close!  It will just depend how quickly we can get all the trades organised to get their bits done.

Also, we finally got the shed wired, with lights and power points, so that we can start setting up Pete's workshop.  Our builder has built a room under the mezzanine floor, so we that we will have a clean area for honey and soap making and storage.  I have a second-hand kitchen to install in there (not from the house, it was 1960s era, I picked a newer one up locally).  Our builders also fitted the front awning on the house and put in all the skirting boards.  These are jobs that we could have done (slowly), but when the builders are there, I give them all the odd jobs to do as well, just to save us some time (and they do a better job).

Over the Christmas break we painted the new shed room (we picked up some cheap miss-tinted paint from the hardware, it was fun because it didn't matter what colour it was, we went with a cool lime green pastel).  We also stripped the laundry ready for the builders to work on preppping the floor for tiling.  And we took a massive trailer-load to the dump.  I hate how much rubbish comes with building, even though we used a second-hand house, it seems to have generated way too much waste.  I have set aside a few things that we can sell or give away, that might at least be useful to someone - windows and heaps of architrave that we don't need.  I hope it can be used.  And we have a pile of various kinds of timber in the shed at the moment, which "might be useful", just need to find somewhere to keep it.

So here are the photos of the current state of the house:

Here's the front of the house - complete with awning

The laundry is ready for the builders, last room to be sanded and painted.


Another view of the laundry


skirting boards done - need to be painted with primer before we get the floor polished

the shed

the shed kitchen painted (we need to paint the concrete floor now)


the shed kitchen from the outside (we need to paint the outside,
got some miss-tinted grey paint for that too)

What do you think?  Are you renovating too?  Any tips? 


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Beekeeping - boom and bust

We got our first little nuc of bees back in July 2015.  Since then we have been slowly building up numbers, we bought another nuc and three full hives that were already on our property, and we've made several more nucs and hives from splitting those first hives and catching swarms.  Over the last 18 months we've become hyper-observant of all the flowering plants on our property because bees increase their numbers when they have access to plenty of nectar to make into honey.  Suddenly Pete is interested in all the flowers that I've been pointing out for years!  We are also observing our bees and their response to different flowers.

Some of our hives

Since we got the first nuc we have seen hives fill with honey and bees to the point where they are too full and the hive will swarm (a group of bees will fly away with a new queen to start another colony), at other times we have seen them eat all their honey stores, lose numbers and get over-run with the dreaded small hive beetle.  As beekeepers, we have to try to stay one step ahead, by anticipating what will flower next, how much honey it will produce and whether the bee numbers are increasing or declining, whether they need more space or have too much.  All this while not checking the bee hives too often, as it really does disrupt them.

At one stage there we could not build nucs quick enough to keep up with the bees, but now we've lost some of those hives as the 'nectar flow' (that's what beekeepers call it when there are a lot of flowers around) stopped suddenly when we had a run of dry weather and the bees ran out of food.  If we had been alert to this, we could have fed them sugar syrup to get them by until the next nectar flow started.  We are learning!


Apple gum blossom

I don't mind feeding them sugar syrup as a last resort, but I would rather try to plant our property with more trees and flowering plants.  The main bee food on our property is gum trees - ironbarks and apple gums, which only flower for a few weeks a year, as well as purple heliotrope (which seems to be less popular, but ok with they have nothing else) and wattles.

People say that it can be easier to keep bees close to town, as there is always something flowering in gardens that are watered regularly.  This got me thinking about my own garden.  As part of my garden/food forest/orchard, I want to have a range of flowering fruit trees, flowering herbs, natives (bottle brush is very popular) and plants like roses.  I have NEVER been interested in roses before, but a large climbing rose can flower prolifically throughout the year, it might just provide a bit of bee food when other sources are not available.  Flowering trees seem to be the best option for providing sheer volume of blossom, however they will take a few years to grow large enough.

What do your bees eat?  What flowers do you notice are popular with bees?  What should I plant??


Monday, January 9, 2017

Farm update - January 2017

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had some time off to relax.  We had a few days at the beach and then we got back into house reno work.  I'll have an update on that for you next week.  We had really hot and dry weather until last week, when we finally started to see some of the monsoon rains, so the season hasn't been too bad so far.  When I say hot and dry, I mean I left an egg outside and when Pete cracked it into the dog dish, it was half cooked!  We have been running the aircon in the bedroom and I'm so glad we got that installed.  I can handle the heat until I need to sleep and then its just really hard without aircon.  The dogs LOVED the beach, and then LOVED taking a dip in the dam to cool off while we were working.


the dogs enjoying beach playtime


Food and cooking
Its mango season here and I got a nice tray of mangoes for only $25, it came all the way from Bowen QLD.  I'm looking forward to planting our own as soon as we get the water organised for our orchard.  I find that one or two trays is plenty, we will be sick of mangoes by then!

I have started posting our work lunches on Instagram each Sunday night (you will also see them on the Facebook page).  Over the weekend we usually cook up a big batch of something (stir fry, casserole, curry or roast etc) and make up 8-9 lunch meals to take during the week.  Yes, it is the same lunch every day for a week, but it is cheap and healthy.  Our work is remote, so the only other option is a canteen, which seems to serve fried food or fried food, and its expensive.  Taking a packed lunch is frugal and better food , so I'm posting our lunches as inspiration.  I'll post the 'recipes' (you know that's a pretty lose concept for me) once a month, if you need ideas.  If you take a packed lunch yourself, post it on Instagram and use the hashtag #packyourownlunch and tag me @eight_acres_liz so I can see what you're having for lunch (and everyone else can be inspired by your lunch too).  Let's make 2017 the year of taking your own lunch, for better food and saving some money!


the best part about summer - Mangoes!


Land and farming
Once again, we haven't got out and done much at all on our land, we've been in the house painting, however we have been observing all our wonderful gum trees starting to flower, and its great to know that they are working for us even though we don't have to pay them any attention.  They are producing flowers, shade, timber and pumping water up from deep down in the soil.

Apple gum in flower

Chickens
The hens are laying well again, although they are losing a few feathers (from the heat and nothing more serious I hope).  We have been letting them free-range as much as possible so that they can find some shade.  We've had two older ones die, one who was clucky for ages, I think she just got too hot on the nest, even though I kept moving her off it.  We're not going to hatch any chicks this year (sad face), so we don't have too many animals to move later in the year.  Don't worry we still have plenty of chickens, I haven't counted them for a while, but its around 16 hens and 2 roosters.  We also have the 2 bantams and I've started letting them free-range too after my friend who gave them to me told me that she used to let them out with the big chickens.  I thought the big chickens would pick on the bantams, but the big chickens just ignore them, so they wander around the yard together like Camp Mother and Camp Leader on little adventures!


the chickens always like to help with gardening


Cows and cattle
Its been hot and dry, so we've fed out a few round bales of hay to keep the cattle going.  The calves are looking nice and fat, but their mothers are getting skinny.  And now that all the little boys have lost their balls and healed up, its time to decide how we want to wean them (i.e. who goes into which paddock for a while).  Also, the one cow who hadn't had a calf yet, which we were going to eat, just turned up with her own little baby.  So now the calving rate is 100% (nine from nine) and we have no rations!


well hello little calf, where did you come from

Bees and Beekeeping
We checked our bee hives and some hives had way too many small hive beetle, so we loaded them up with traps and hope they will be able to get it under control.  The apple gums are flowering now, so that should help them to build up some more honey supplies.

busy bees
Garden
There is a lot going on the garden and its very difficult to get a good photo of it all at once, so I'll do another post later with more details.  We should soon have plenty of zucchini and beans, I have been watering and spreading worm compost and mulch around.  Lately we have just had silverbeet and celery and some very determined capsicums from last summer.  I have put up even more shadecloth and there are empty beer bottles everywhere!

the garden jungle
House
There is so much to tell you about the house, I will need another post with all the photos.  We spent the Christmas break painting the room in the shed, wrecking the laundry and the builders have been busy installing skirting boards.  Its exciting.  Now I'm just trying to organise all the trades to get the kitchen and laundry finished asap.


spot the difference?

Permaculture
Last year in my monthly updates I reviewed the twelve permaculture principles from David Holmgren's book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (affiliate link) and then I went through Bill Mollison's principles. I want to keep talking about permaculture.

 I thought this year I could work through Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition (affiliate link).  This is particularly significant as Toby sadly died recently.  I first came across Gaia's Garden in 2013 and although I had tried to read other permaculture books before that, this was the one that really helped me to understand the concepts, both what to do and why.  Toby made an enormous contribution to permaculture and I'd like to remember him by reading his book again.  The book as twelve chapters, so I can review one each month in 2017.




Chapter one: Introducing the ecological garden

In this chapter Toby explains his concept of the ecological garden as a combination of an edible garden, an ornamental garden and a wild space.  Not just combined, but connected and multi-functional.  I think I am only just starting to see this, as I want more flowers for my bees, my vegetable garden is evolving into a more wild space with ornamentals (mostly geraniums) as well as edibles and herbs.  This chapter also contains several pages of permaculture basics to get you started and a very interesting discussion about the benefits of native vs exotic plants.  He also brings up an interesting point that the more you grow for yourself (even if you're not completely self-sufficient) the more you are helping to avoid habitat loss in other places and on other farms.  I hadn't thought about it like that before.

Are you reading Gaia's Garden?  Join in and let me know what you think!

Create
We didn't do "gifts" for Christmas, but that doesn't mean that we don't give each other a few bits and pieces of handmade, found or foraged items when we see family and friends.  This year I asked Pete's mum if she could spare any rose petals from her lovely garden and she was only too happy for me to help dead-head the roses!  I brought home a massive bag of petals.  I have dried most of the them and also made a large jar of rose infused oil which smells wonderful.  I will share more about the process when they are ready to be made into soaps and salves.


so many beautiful petals!
How was your December and Christmas break?  What are you plans for 2017?  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blogoversary and time for a Christmas break

Well I can't believe I have just past 6 years writing on this blog!  I've been taking some time lately to go back into the archives and update old posts, and I really enjoy reading what I wrote back then, seeing how much I've learnt on some topics, and how much I've forgotten on others!  I'll keep reposting them as I work through them.




This year I've seen some good bloggy friends stop writing, which has been quite sad (I miss them even though I've never met them!).  Ohio Farmgirl who has blogged for years and has a wealth of information on self-sufficiency, particularly butchering pigs and just general common-sense stuff about growing your own food, has stopped blogging, but at least can still be found on facebook if you know where to look ;)

And Our New Life in the Country, which I enjoyed mostly for the sweet doggies, but also more common sense chats about gardening, chooks and downsizing, has announced her last post.

There are more that have not officially stopped, but haven't posted for so long, I miss them too.

Fortunately there are new friends, and old friends who have found new energy - Craving Fresh is back up and running with a new garden looking fabulous!




Pete asked me if I thought I would stop blogging.  Nope.  I have too much to say.  Maybe not as much time to say it at the moment, so the frequency has reduced a little, but still books to read and review, new herbs to write about, soap recipes to explain, knitting and crochet projects to show off and so many photos of the doggies, I've got to put them somewhere.  I also like having the record, because I forget what we did, why and how, so some of the older posts are as useful to me as they are to anyone else!

A lot of people are writing about homestead goals at this time of the year.  We don't really set goals as such.  We have a list of jobs that need doing and we work on whatever is the most urgent at the time, sometimes unexpected things (like fences) take priority and other nice-to-have jobs get put off.  I prefer not to stress about that kind of thing.  The house will get finished eventually and other long-term jobs will get done.  As long as all the animals go to sleep happy and healthy, we've had a good day on the farm.  We've let a few things go this year as we've been busy with the house and also planning to move soon.  We won't be hatching chicks this year and the garden has been a little neglected.

For Christmas we're going to the beach for a few days to stay with Pete's parents and then we have a few days off work to do some work around the farm :)  Depending how hot it is. This time of year is really not conducive to doing much after 10am, and very good for extended naps.  I'll be back in January sometime to finish of the Holistic Management series, update you the house progress and write about several new herbs in my garden.  And I've nearly finished my soapmaking book, its going to my proof-readers very soon.  I usually do round-up posts at this time of year, I'll do them in January instead so you can catch up on anything you missed in 2016.

In the meantime, you can find me on facebook and instagram (I love instagram, its so much fun!).

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, thanks so much for all your comments here and on other social media, I appreciate them all.  See you in 2017!

What are you planning for the holidays?  What do you want to see on Eight Acres in 2017?  Do you miss any blogs that have stopped this year?  Any new favourites?  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Planting seeds or seedlings?

Its taken me a little while to learn this, but I think I've now figured out which veges to sow directly in the soil as seeds and which to raise as seedlings and then plant in my garden, so I thought I'd share with you what has worked for me so far.

radish seedlings peeping through the mulch

At first I tried to plant everything as seeds directly in the garden, but I wasn’t happy with the results, too much work to thin the seedlings and some didn’t sprout at all.  So then I tried raising seedlings, it took me a while to realise that I needed to use a good seed-raising mix, and I prefer to use toilet rolls than the seedling trays that bought seedlings come in.  I wrote more about raising seedlings here.

starting veges in pots and toilet rolls (photo from last spring)
Then I decided that I wanted to grow root crops, and they don’t transplant well, so I had to think about how to do this.  I observed that tiny brassicas were popping up through the mulch, and they must have come from the ones that I’d left to go to seed.  Previously I had thought that seeds couldn't sprout through the mulch, but I was wrong.  This is the method that I use to plant carrots, swedes, turnips and radishes:
  • Push mulch aside and dig a shallow trench
  • Fill trench with seed-raising mix
  • Sprinkle seed thinly as humanly possible so you don’t have too much thinning to do later
  • Pat the seeds in the seed-raising mix and lightly cover with a little mulch
  • The seeds will sprout through the mulch and then you just need to thin them a little
  • I try to write down what I’ve planted where so I know which seeds didn’t sprout (and should be thrown out), and which were good.
For more about growing and using root vegetables, see my post here.


For brassicas, I throw a few seeds around the brassica area of the garden.  If I have new seeds that I want to try, I’ll plant them in a shallow tray of seed-raising mix first, to see how they sprout and then transplant them later.  If we are having a bad year for slugs, I start the brassicas outside the garden to give them a chance to get bigger.

The entire bed, planted with carrots, radishes, onions, turnip and swede
Plants like tomatoes, capsicum, beans, peas, basil and other herbs, I plant in the toilet rolls, and if there’s no room in the garden yet, or the weather isn’t quite right, I keep potting them into larger pots until I’m ready to plant them in the garden.

Do you plant seeds directly in your garden? 


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