-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Sunday, February 27, 2005

RHS advice about growing potatoes

We were in a panic this weekend thinking we had to get some of the potatoes in the ground right away as they were sprouting (or chitting as it is apparently properly known. That was why we attempted to work yesterday even though it was so cold. But, great news... as I was researching how far apart we needed to plant them I found this: "Keep the trays of tubers in a cool but frost-free place with at least moderate light, such as in an unheated room. Direct sunlight is best avoided. Sprouts will form within a few weeks. The tuber is therefore ready to grow away as soon as planted. Tubers can be laid out to chit from January onwards, but planting should be delayed until March in sheltered and southern areas or April in less favoured districts. Earlier plantings can rot in the ground or the shoots can be frosted off on sharp nights. By this time the sprouts should be about 5cm (2in) long and dark coloured. Longer thinner sprouts are caused by excess heat or too little light or both, and tiny sprouts suggest conditions are too cold. If the weather is unsuitable for planting, tubers can be left to chit further, even into May, without too much loss of crop.
Although unsprouted tubers can be planted, the chitted ones benefit from their flying start. Early cultivars will crop earlier and more heavily if chitted. You can help the process by rubbing off all but the four strongest sprouts so that the tuber's energy is diverted into a few really strong shoots that form new potatoes as early as possible. Second early and maincrop potatoes also benefit from chitting but they don't need thinning of sprouts. Chitting later cultivars results in earlier foliage before blight or drought strike and they mature earlier and can be gathered before slugs damage the tubers."

Brilliant, means that we don't have to fret about planting them yet as it is still way too cold and also they only have sprouts which are about 1cm long.

We have 3 varieties we're going to try and grow:

ORLA: this is an Early kind which means they mature in 100-110 days from planting and you eat them right away as new potatoes. So if we planted at end March they'd be ready in late June or early July. Apparently we are supposed to plant these 300mm apart in rows 600cm apart. Their description from the Organic gardening catalogue site: "Has the highest blight resistance ever seen in a first early, plus resistance to scab and blackleg. The appearance and flavour are pretty good as well".

SANTE: an early maincrop, which I think means we can use it for either? Maincrop potatoes mature in 125-140 days and you plant them a little later I think. e.g., plant end April, ready mid-August. I guess if we plant it early they will be littler but we can eat them sooner, and if we plant it later and leave longer they will be bigger and better for storing. The description: "The most commonly grown variety on organic farms. A strong growing early maincrop with a reasonable yield. Resistant to white and golden eelworm and blight. Oval/round tubers with creamy yellow flesh."

CARA: a late maincrop, so I guess that means we plant early/mid May? These would be the ones that we store for winter use. "A well known household name. Stores very well and has good blight resistance. Expect a large yield of red eyed tubers with creamy flesh ideal for roasting and baking".


I came across ZipWall in a post on the Domestic Anarchy blog... oh how I wish we'd had this when we were renovating here. Maybe by the time we come to do it again at Amherst this will be available in Australia

The Hardest-Working Room in the House

The Hardest-Working Room in the House is a great article about designing a kitchen, made credible because the author's kitchen is so nice. I especially like the idea of the dappled light through the window screen things, and I love the island unit.

lovely timberbeamed kitchen

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Earth Garden: March-May 2005 issue

For Christmas Mum got us a subscription to two Australian magazines about eco / environmentally sustainable living. Although the tone is sometimes a bit gungho and self-righteous, there's a lot of useful information in them. For future reference, thought I'd make a note of the articles and interesting ideas from each issue which could be handy for Amherst. It saves me having to put little post-it tabs on each page!

Here's the snippets from Earth Garden issue #131 (March-May 2005):


Scandia in Seymour - they recondition old wood-burning stoves and re-sell. They could be really helpful in getting the old Raeburn stove working, plus if we want to buy another one for the inside (Dave is eyeing off the Raeburn to have in his shed!) Tel: 03 5792 2388. Also Castworks sell all sorts of wood stoves

A UK company Centre for Alternative Technology sells a paper log maker: "Free heat from old newspapers...just thoroughly soak and squeeze the paper, place into the mold and dry. You'll have a log that will burn as well as wood". I'm going to have a look and maybe order one, Dave might like it for the little outside fire.

When it's the end of the summer season, to ripen the last tomatoes on plants rip out the whole plant (roots, soil and all) and hang upside down under north facing shelter... the fruit will continue to ripen for the next month or so even as the weather turns, although the skins will get tougher the longer you leave it. (nb: guessing that in the UK we would replace "north" with "south")

There were a few ads for Australian companies who make natural and non-toxic paints. http://www.naturalpaint.com.au and Biopaints (who stupidly didn't list a website, but phone number is 1 800 809 448)

Awfulness, an article talking about snakes getting into enclosures and eating chickens! And how snakes get into everywhere, you find them on kitchen benches, in the toilet, etc. I *so* do not want this. I didn't think snakes would come into the house; we shall just have to design it so that they simply cannot. Every window must have mesh, etc so that nothing can sneak inside.

There was a good article about how to pickle your own olives... maybe we can start doing that sooner than we thought considering that there are already olives on our little trees! Also, in a sidebar they mentioned the problem of "feral olives", where birds eating the olives and then dropping seeds in native forest lead to olive trees growing wild and taking over from other trees. I don't quite know how we're supposed to stop the birds eating some of the olives, I'm not going to net all the trees, and besides there are other olive plantations nearby. But it's something we'll have to think about if the birds prove to be too greedy.

In the regular section about poultry, they mentioned that there is a homeopathic way to worm chooks. Apparently you crush up one clove of garlic per bird and put in in their water for a few days. You do it on a regular basis, traditionally at every full moon! This may be a good thing to try with the C's. Also there are some herbs like wormwood that if you finely chop in the tips into wet mashes can help, but I don't like this approach as if you do it too much it can be toxic, and how much is too much? However, maybe in Amherst we might be able to grow some as according to this it "succeeds in any soil but it is best in a poor dry one with a warm aspect. Established plants are very drought tolerant. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil... Wormwood is occasionally grown in the herb garden (although) the growing plant is said to inhibit the growth of fennel, sage, caraway, anise and most young plants, especially in wet years. But wormwood is a good companion for carrots, however, helping to protect them from root fly. This herb was at one time the principal flavouring in the liqueur 'Absinthe' but its use has now been banned in most countries since prolonged consumption can lead to chronic poisoning, epileptiform convulsions and degeneration of the central nervous system"

Oasis Windmills (again unfortunately no web address) make windmills that they say are very affordable. Best of all they look like the old-fashioned kind of metal windmills on stilts! They say they are simple to install, able to pump to 80m head, low maintenance, no expensive rebuilds, able to pump up to 4 gallons (18 litres) per minute, and with auto-turnoff in high winds. They come in towers that are 3m or 4.5m tall. They're based in Dookie Victoria tel: 03 5828 6452. Another wind generator that is not as nice looking is from Precision wind technologies

First of a two-part article about how to make a cheap dry composting toilet, like the ones that sell for several thousand dollars. Unfortunately not accredited yet but who knows in a few years... worth remembering about anyway if we want to ever add in an extra toilet to a shed or something.

Weekend hippy person mentioned tree onions... Onions that grow at the top on stems, and when they get fat fall over to the ground and start growing a new bunch. Sounds interesting, like a cross between a normal onion and a spring onion. Apparently they are good especially because they're not fussy to look after, can cope with not being watered except at weekends. I just found a herb nursery in the UK - on Ebay no less - that sells them, so have ordered a few to try them out along with some Angelica that have been meaning to get for ages, and Comfrey for the compost.

Schnitzer sell very nice looking mills for making your own flour, grinding grain etc. I think the idea is that if you ever need flour you can just make it on the spot from the raw grain, as much as you need for cooking. It is really nicely finished in timber too.

Today had a very busy first half then a very slothful second. We were up early because the guy from AngloPacific shipping was coming to collect the trunks. These were the shipping trunks that we bought from Camden a month or so ago, which we'd pack full of stained glass panels, tiles and various other things like sheets, fabric for sewing, Dave's t-shirt collection... They've now embarked on the long sea journey to Australia. We decided that even though it's more expensive to ship things in small batches, that's offset by the cost we'd have for storage here in London since our flat is just too small to have a lot of things lying around. With this shipment we've cleared out everything we'd been keeping, so with luck we won't need to send anything back for another year or so as all the things we buy now can go into the recently vacated "hiding spots"! Because of the nature of the things I'm buying, you just have to get them when you see them. Although I'm being very disciplined these days... eg: only buying stained glass that I adore and would regret not buying, rather than just things that I really really like.

After that, we went up to the allotment since it had stopped raining. Our seed potatoes are sprouting in their boxes so we wanted to get them into the ground. Unfortunately, the beds where they're due to go aren't ready yet so we had to do some digging, although that amazing new upside-down spade thing makes it a lot easier. It was so cold though that I got frozen even through my thermal gloves, so we gave up after we got just one bed ready. Tomorrow we have to hope the weather is better. For the potato beds we're just doing a rough job... not attempting to get out all the stones, weeds, etc like we have for the others. Partly this is because of sheer lack of time, but also it's a test to see what a difference it makes in terms of the weed volume. Potatoes are meant to be pretty resilient though so hopefully they'll not have a problem, and at least I know what potatoes look like! We did go stupidly overboard on seed potatoes though, suspect we will end up with 4 beds worth by the time they're all planted. But that's OK, potatoes are good for the soil and it's not like we won't use them.

I got so cold at the alloment on my hands, but so hot with the two scarves I had tightly tied round my neck and head that I started to feel really sick, so when we finally got home I went to bed! Of course, that meant I was asleep by 6pm which is why now at 11pm I'm wide awake. *sigh* Hopefully tomorrow the weather will be a little kinder and we can do some more up there, at least get one lot of them in.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

yabbies and olives!

Dave's brother Paul and his wife Denise went up to Amherst recently to check on the trees and give them a water. Here's pictures of Dave's pride and joy Olive trees, looking really healthy, and they even have little baby olives growing! Also while they were there they threw a net in the dam and found there were loads of yabbies. (Yabbies are kind of like a fresh water crayfish native to Australia)

olive trees growing paul with yabbie
yabbies in net

Ebay win: picture stained glass windows

This kind of window very seldom comes up. The last time it did that I remember was about 2 years ago, when I bought them but that was a set of 5 small windows. I love those still but these ones are even more amazing because they're so big. Also fortunately they're in Kent too so not far from the russian chests... we shall make a dash down next weekend probably to pick them all up together! The description for all said "You are bidding for a stained glass window that has been taken out of a gorgeous manor house in Kent. How old these windows are I honestly could not tell you (1920/30's roughly)but I have never seen such lovely colours or fantastic workmanship like this"

The first window: Size of glass (not including frame) - H850mm x W430mm (10 different glass colours). Pane missing where pointing in picture and a crack in small clear glass pane by handle is the only damage

The second window: Size of glass (not including frame) - H1170mm x W460mm (7 different glass colours). Undamaged.

The third window: Size of glass (not including frame) Top vent- H430 x W430mm Bottom window-H700 x W460mm (10 different glass colours). Undamaged.
bigpicturewindow3a bigpicturewindow3b

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ebay win: amazing victorian stained glass door

We bought this on a bit of a whim, because it was one of the nicest doors I've ever seen listed on Ebay. Also, because stained glass windows with hand-paintings in them are always a lot more expensive, and this door has two of them. The description:
"This is an original victorian stained glass door with raised mouldings on the front. The two stained glass panels have painted landscape scenes. As far as I can see none of the glass is damaged however some of the the lead work in places is perished and needs to be addressed. Some of the coloured glass in the panels doesn't seem to match but in my opinion it is original to the door and appears as though they have used what glass they had available to them. There are a few bumps and bruises throughout the door, nothing major but consistent with more than 100 years of use. Measurements: Width 28 inches, height 74.5 inches. Glass panels: 7.5 inches width, 35.5 inches tall. Landscape paintings: 6 inches in diameter"

victorian door1

Here are some more pictures of the door taken at Aunt Marion's (where we'd had it stored). You can get a better idea of the details in this. I like it because it is beautiful but retains an amateurish, down-to-earth feel.

stained glass door panel

closeup of glass painting 2

closeup of glass painting 1

Sunday, February 20, 2005

More ideas

We went to Mallorca for a long weekend last week, plus a few new books arrived. Combined, they sparked some more thinking and ideas about the house and garden design. Nothing that's inconsistent with anything that's gone before I don't think, but it all adds to the pot! Here's the latest set: Additional ideas (Feb 2005)

Friday, February 18, 2005

hobbit house update

Dad has been clearing out his backyard, where there are all sorts of useful building materials waiting for a purpose. He writes:
"The pile of usable timber offcuts and leftovers from work I will pile on the trailer and take to Amherst for working into the building of the hobbithole. I took a large load up this week, and while up there went to Maryborough to the quarry and brought a tandem load of concrete making sand and a tandem of screenings. I also brought a tandem load of broken concrete patio from Tex's place for building up the sides of the hole to about chest height. I am still considering how to achieve the excavation. I have some options, but none involve spending much money. That doesn't need to be achieve urgently, so I may use the time-honoured pick and shovel method".

first plantings at allotment

Even though it was freezing, we decided to go ahead and plant the garlic cloves and shallot bulbs. They are in the same bed, half each. We are definitely going to have to get a move-on in clearing out some of the other beds or else we won't have enough space to grow all the things planned! Dave also bought some Scottish onion sets from a local man at the allotment, but we decided not to plant them as could wait till next weekend when hopefully it'll be a bit warmer. (The garlic cloves were already sprouting and the instructions said to plant them as soon as possible).

Also, we did the first of our sowings at home. We made little pots out of newspaper using this wooden roller thing we bought. Then planted 3 trays... each tray holds 24 pots. One tray is full of broadbeans, one is full of tomatoes, and the third is full of various kinds of peppers. Dave did the seed sowing as he has much more like than I at getting things to sprout. I made the pots and helped fill with dirt.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

update on house planning

I haven't posted for ages, mainly because work has been so busy. But, we're at least one step forward on the house planning. Based on the mega brief I wrote back in December, Eric prepared a summarised version which was his own interpretation. Last week we spoke on the phone for about 3 hours (2 separate calls late at night!). Dave and I gave him our feedback and answered questions.... mostly it was all OK but there were a few things that we were worried had been misinterpreted or been given too much emphasis. Eric is now incorporating that into a revised version... and after that he starts drawing! Hopefully that means that in a month or two we'll have the first set of drawing ideas to look at, although there's no rush.

One of the most important things we discussed was the utilities. Here are Eric's comments from an email:
"Two things jumped out as issues to consider early on. One is the idea of
using solar power instead of mains. (We lived for five years out in the
bush with solar power.) Some of the things on the wish list look a bit
ambitious with solar power system unless it is a very big one. Big loads
like air conditioning and dryers are difficult, and small continuous
loads like recharging batteries are surprisingly troublesome. We can
discuss it more later.

Also, dry composting toilets need to be treated very kindly. They like
to be on the north side to get sun to heat the chambers. This starts to
set the location of the bath area. Also, whereas with flush toilet
systems, a second toilet is simply the cost of the toilet and some
plumbing, two composting toilets generally requires the set up of two
full systems. I really like the aerated treatment plant systems because
the water id reused, and there is very little tearing up the ground for
absorption trenches"

After our phone conversation we decided we'd look into wind power as well as solar, and also reconsider whether to connect to the mains or not. Apparently if you can connect to mains for less than about A$20-25,000 it will be cheaper than solar in the long run, once you take into account cost of replacing batteries in 10 years, etc. And of course, you can still have some things solar, eg solar hot water system. We also changed our mind on the toilets and are going to go with Eric's recommendation of an aerated treatment plant system. It means we use water to flush the toilet but it is all recycled so we'll be able to have the cleaned water to go on the garden (onto anything but vegetables apparently). Also it means that we can have more than one toilet... the problem with the dry composting toilet is that if you want to add another one it is the same cost as for the first; whereas with normal plumbing the incremental cost is a lot lower.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ebay win: thistle stained glass panel

We bought this because it seemed like it would fit as part of a garden theme, maybe even in the garden wall. It isn't in perfect condition but then I only paid £5 for it so it doesn't need to be! From the description: "On offer here is a lovely stained glass window of a thistle.This window is 17 1/4" across by 15" high approx.This window is in need of a little tender loving care and a clean, it is in good condition but does have one lead lined area with 3 crackes in it and another has cracked with a small piece missing out of it which has made the larger piece loose, which are both to the right, so it is ideal for a small restoration project as it is on the clear glass only".