#Sew10 and #Art10

The idea: Ten days, some attention each day to the chosen area. Sewing for me, Art for Robin.

Yesterday – my “warm up” day where I took up two pairs of trousers for Zac and made attempts to repair the gaping holes in his jeans.

thirtynine 25062011

Credit - ElliGill

Today for me – replacing the broken invisible zipper in a speckled grey skirt I had made many moons ago by one of the Diploma of Fashion students at TAFE. Each year, the Fashion area would put out the call for guinea pigs willing to have a student measure them, not stick pins in them, come back several times for fittings and at the end of the process receive a custom made garment for the cost of the fabric and notions. While I went through some time of not sewing, this was a wonderful treat to have someone do the hard work, and tackle projects I wouldn’t have done myself – fitted trousers anyone?

I still wear several of the pieces regularly – a couple of silk tops, the grey skirt under repair (only becauce I wore it out, not because of any defect in its construction), and there’s a dress with the cutest summerbund covered in ravens I look at and wish I could fit into still. After a while they didn’t offer the course anymore due to changing enrolments and courses. At the end of a recent year, I once got asked to come down and be measured by a series of students so they could practice taking measurements for different types of garments, and practice their client interactions and compare notes for accuracy.

Warning: Long story ahead, go make a cup of tea and come back if you really want to read my rambling… I won’t be offended.

Having to go into Spotlight in town used to drive me insane. Now that I allocate a good 15 minutes of the trip inside the doors to stand in a queue waiting to be served, its got a lot easier on my nerves. I put it down to understaffing – measuring and cutting fabric and advising on fabric, patterns and things like lining and interfacing is not quick if it is to be done well, and why they only have one register and eftpos terminal, when the cutting benches are set up for 4 staff, makes no sense to me. So buying fabric was not attractive. The start of the process was too painful.

Back in March when I went to Sydney I went to Lincraft with the aim of buying some fabric to make a garment while I was on long service leave. And the bug got me. One day in the meditation retreat I drew detailed pictures of the decorative shoulder of the shirt sitting in front of me. I spent a day in Newcastle and tried on some skirts which didn’t quite fit right, and thought “I could make that”. And made a deal with myself that I would. On my trip back through Sydney on the way home, I had an unplanned day (planned to be unplanned if that makes sense?) and headed out to Tessuti in Chatswood. Oh dear! Some gorgeous orange dotty skirt fabric, and some plain orange linen to be a highlight. And a remant of white shirt linen about 2 metres long. Not sure how that qualifies as a remnant but I’m not complaining!  I came home, made a dress and discovered the overlocker was so seized up from sitting in the cupboard it wouldn’t turn full stop. A little WD40 made it move enough to gnash its teeth together in nasty ways. It’s happier now a proper sewing machine mechanic has looked at it, twiddled its knobs, sharpened its teeth and straightened its spine.

Fast forward to the last few weeks.

The orange dotty fabric is now a skirt. I went into to Spotlight to get some interfacing and came out with blue fabric for a skirt and a  grey knit for a cowl neck top. And sat down on a Friday with terrible weather and sewed.

The little wooden table I scrounged off Freecycle ages ago has now had its top sanded and oiled and is officially the home of the sewing machine and overlocker.

You Sew Girl has to be the best sewing book I’ve come across in a while. Just a little bit biased because of my love for wide or cowl neck tops. I bought it for this top alone!

Trapeze Line Top from You Sew Girl Book

And #Sew10 commences…

Subversion in the Suburbs

Two weekends ago I mulched the fruit trees we’ve planted on the back nature strip and felt kind of shifty while doing it. Last summer we planted a couple of pumpkins on the fence line and that didn’t feel too much like we were infringing on shared space. I figure we’ve stretched out the space we are responsible for, and I’m keeping an eye on when it needs whippersnippering a bit more carefully than I used to. And if people eat a couple of apricots, well and good.

Ages ago I spoke with the local council and they said as long as we didn’t put a new driveway across or block the view for traffic we were OK to use the space. Earlier in this year I dug through the council planning regulations and could not find any restrictions about planting – although I did find rules and regulations about not being allowed to remove trees from the nature strip.
So ours are there to stay now :-)
For about 2 -3 months we’ve had a pile of carpet underlay out there covered by a tarp too. And no-one’s complained about that either. Maybe they’re worried about upsetting the crazy people?!

When I walked home from work on a Thursday I noticed the same-same nature of the front gardens through Newtown/Mt Stuart. Some lawn, a feature tree or two, some with flowerbeds. I reflected that our front yard takes a similar amount of space, and will give us some tasty fruit too. Once the espaliered trees grow more, they will become more decorative. At the moment they are short twigs with sparse leaves. Progressively I’ve spread a bit more mulch out there and planted more strawberries. So our front yard is still quite ‘decorative’ but also hopefully productive. I was nearly out of suburban Mt Stuart  when I finally spotted a edible front yard – in amongst more traditional garden beds were two raised vegie garden beds, one full of garlic – cooks in that house for sure! The following week, I spotted another front yard vegie planting – broccoli that time.

The side path linking the front to the back now has a better turkey barricade – while I was inside one day, they’d dug about 10 of the strawberry plants up – some were even tossed down onto the path. Many rude words later, the barricade is better, and the strawberries replanted.

Scavenging and Seeds

Last weekend I drove around the corner into a neighbouring street and saw a skip full of bricks and other building detritus. Happy! We’d been dropping into the tip shop on a semi regular basis looking for bricks to continue our garden bed edging and not having any joy. As we were loading the trailer for the second time with an assortment of half and three-quarter bricks (very sensibly, the people who had been demolishing the walls had kept the good whole bricks to themselves) another neighbor wandered across the road enquiring if we wanted to buy some good, cleaned bricks. You betcha! Another trailer load of bricks. And some sheets of concrete reinforcing mesh to make trellis for the kiwi fruit. We’d been thinking we’d need to go look at mesh and then arrange it to be delivered. Instead, we picked it up and walked it home!

Skip Scavenging Success

Last weekend I also planted out carrot, radish and beetroot seeds. After a very wet Friday, the soil was ready on Saturday. I used the cornflour slurry that Steve Solomon recommends to spread the seed a bit thinner, and keep it damp to support germination.
Carrot Planting

Carrot Planting

Squeezy bottle full of seeds in a slurry


I also used some of the Renew fertiliser I picked up at the Farm Gate Market. It is made from wood pulp waste and poppy waste and composted. A local product that uses waste to create something valuable. The texture is great – light and spongy when wet and holds moisture well. On the to-do list is to go buy a trailer load.

Renew Fertiliser

Renew Fertliser

This weekend started with a soil blocking ‘workshop’ with Mum – to see if the soil blockers were comfortable for her to use (I didn’t want to be responsible for damaging a weaver’s hands), and to start her off without having to make a huge batch of the mix.
Soil blocking with Mum #1

Apparently they travelled well and made it home to their place in one piece.

Soil blocking with Mum #2

I continued on the theme with planting lots of seeds, and ‘potting on’ some of the tiny soil blocks into the larger ones. So easy to just pick up a little cube and drop it into the larger block.

Teeny Weeny soil block seedling

Transplanted mesclun seedlings

Also using a standard sized tray, it is possible to fit 180 tiny cubes! I’ve got quicker at picking up individual seeds and placing them in the little indentations too, meaning only one seed per block. Less work down the track, for only a little more care at the beginning seems like a good deal to me.

Planting 2 October

Despite adding some more shelf space in the greenhouse, i’m getting tight for space. So some seedlings, the sturdy cucumbers, beans and zucchinis etc as well as some delicate tomatoes have gone into some plastic storage tubs aka cold frames on top of the chickens’ sleeping area. The idea being during the day the sun will warm them up, and at night the chickens will provide some background heat from underneath.

Chicken heated seedling area

Robin started the new garden bed outside the chicken house. When we built the new shed we were concerned it might get rather hot in summer as it gets full sun through the day, much more than their old shed did and we don’t want roasted chook. So the roof trusses were extended over about 60 centimetres so we could attach trellis and grew climbing beans up to make a shade front wall for the chooks. And get more vertical growing space too. Today, Robin started by removing the clover we’d planted, and any grass, and moved it into the chook shed for them to pick over and scratch.

New garden bed

To get them scratching the exposed earth in the new bed I scattered some seed, and suddenly the soil was covered with the girls. With some more encouragement (seeds) in the evenings the girls should have the area prepped for planting by next weekend.

Hole in the deck

We have a lovely brick wall that faces north, yet is sheltered from the late afternoon hot summer sun and prevailing winds. It is on the back of the house bordering the deck. We’d talked about planting a kiwi fruit but finding the right solution took a bit of lateral thinking and a jigsaw. One option would have been to buy a really big pot, such as a half wine barrel and put that on the deck. The problem with that was the very real potential for it to dry out in the hot sun through summer and it would not be easy to repot when the potting mix got tired. And I don’t have a good history with large pots on the deck. So I cut a hole in the deck…


Kiwifruit Planting

Trying the space for size. Deciding how many boards I would need to cut. You need both a female and male plant if you want kiwifruit. The male plant is the larger one as it was a year older. This was the treasure I got with a Stoneman’s voucher I’d received as a goodbye. So I better not kill them!

Kiwifruit Planting

Dug out about 100 litres (measured in 20L buckets) of icky sticky yellow clay by lying on the deck digging blindly with a trowel after loosening what I could with a fork. I dropped the soil level directly under the hole by about 20 cms  giving a 40′ish cm height to the planting area. The rest of the hole was more like a flattish bowl. Deep enough to lie on the deck and put my head down the hole at any rate.

Icky sticky clay

Kiwifruit Planting

Milly checked under the deck and came out with spiderwebs on her.

I filled a rough circle about 3 feet in diameter under the deck with the contents of 2 compost bins, a bag of potting mix, some gypsum (clay treatment) and perlite (was hanging around from another project). As the soil settles a bit I will tuck more compost down the sides of the hole. We can water through the deck across the eventual root zone.

Kiwifruit Planting

Happy in their hole after  planting.

A week later and the leaves are really coming along and I need to investigate reinforcing mesh to attach to the brickwork as trellis. Apparently a good vine can produce up to 80 kilos of fruit. Mum remembers getting 200+ per year from their 2 female + 1 male vine in Melbourne years ago and giving them away to people in egg cartons. Strange furry eggs.

Kiwi fruit after one week in their deck hole.

Kiwi fruit after one week in their deck hole.

Kiwi fruit on muesli. Kiwi fruit for morning tea, Kiwi fruit sorbet. mmmm


Soil Blocking

Today really sold me on the soil blocker.

I’d spent some lovely time last night playing with my packets of seed. Selecting out which packets would be planted today. Writing up labels. Vowing not to buy any more packets of seed until winter crops need sowing.

This weekend's planting.

This weekend’s planting.


Compare these photos – all were from the previous seed sowing (24th July) and transplant (7th August) occasions. As part of tidying the greenhouse this weekend I wanted to plant some seedlings out and really was surprised by the difference from a single seed planting day. Finger included for scale.

Seeds were planted in clumps, then transplanted off into soil blocks (A). The rocket in the second photo here is from the same batch as photo D, the only difference was the transplant to a soil block. These got planted into the garden yesterday (17th September).

Transplanted into soil blocks   Transplanted into soil blocks

Others into the individual cells (B).

seedling thinned out, left in seedling cells

Some were planted direct (and thinly) into the individual cells (C).

Seed planted thinly

Also are some seedlings planted into toilet paper rolls and not transplanted (D). Worm farm is the destination for D.

Destined for nothing really

I couldn’t really believe the difference. All were in the greenhouse and got watered the same. On the same shelf so sunlight wasn’t a factor. Same seed raising mix for all.The individual cells even had a solid tray underneath so theoretically they should have been more consistent in moisture. The toilet paper rolls do dry out more quickly.

Needless to say all the seeds I sowed today were into soil blocks.

And planting out! with the soil blocks you just pick them up, place them in the hole or trench and backfill. No tapping out of pots, no turning upside down or teasing apart seedlings planted too close. No picking up pots from around the garden after I’ve forgotten to collect them all and they get blown around.

I’ve been gathering all the punnets and small square pots from around the garden and taking them in to Paulette of Provenance Growers at the Farmer’s Market as she reuses them. (I refer to  her as Wasabi girl as the first thing I bought from her was a wasabi plant, now I’m working my way through all the thymes she has. More keep appearing in her range though – happy sigh)

Handmade hand soap

Last year I bought several bars of goats milk soap and noticed after a while it wasn’t having the same scratchy drying effect on my hands as normal soap. One of the blogs I read fairly regularly, Down to Earth, has included soap recipes from time to time. The soap was running out (we only use bar soap at the kitchen and bathroom sink) so I decided to make some. Just to see what it was like. No committment to make it ever again.

August 19th I made some soap using olive oil, coconut oil and caustic soda.

 One of the advantages from my perspective was that I could get all the ingredients from one of the larger local supermarkets. The instructions Rhonda provides are super useful and easy to follow. The only equipment I bought was a $10 stick mixer from Chickenfeed which survived the first batch. I’ll only use it for the soap so it is now stored in the laundry with other ingredients.

The caustic soda (lye) and water combo is very, very stinky – I mixed this on the deck and then moved back to the laundry once the fumes dissapated a bit. Mixing with the stick mixer took about 4 minutes to transform the warmed oils and the lye into a thick gloopy mix.

I used a shoebox lined wtih baking paper and some muffin trays as moulds to let it set. Being me, I managed to get some dirt on some bars when I went back to check it later in the day with muddy hands from the garden. After 24 hours I turned it out of the moulds and cut the large block up into soap sized pieces. I let it sit to cure for about 4 weeks and started using it. I used a sharp knife to tidy up the bars with speckles of garden dirt.

And it works!

Circle Planting Combos

The wind is tearing around the house today so posting about the garden rather than getting my hands dirty…


I've been working out what we will plant for the main summer vegie garden, and finally doing something I've been thinking about for a while  – plotting combinations of vegies that are reasonable companions, also allowing for a record so I can do some crop rotations into the future. I'm not going to call them guilds as that seems to imply a greater degree of combination, multiple families, and wisdom, ha!

A: Tomato, Basil, Parsley, Broccoli or Cabbage

B: Carrots, Spring Onions, Capsicum, Red Salad Onions

C: Salad Greens – Lettuce, Rocket, Spinach, Beetroot, Coriander, Dill

D: Bush Beans, Lettuce, Borage, Celery, Carrots

E: Corn, Spinach at edges to start with

F: Zucchini & Cucumber, Chamomile, something with flowers to attract bees

G: Climbing Beans or Peas, Cabbage, Leafy greens, Borage, Carrots

H: Potatoes

I: Pumpkin

I've separated out the climbing and bush beans so that it is easy to allocate to a space with trellis of some kind.

Lots of carrots to ensure supply through the seasons.

My goal is not to plant everything all at once as that would mean everything ripening at once also.

This plan will get tweaked further – I noticed this morning that the Lost Seed packets have good/bad companion information listed on them too, including many more herbs than I have listed.

The other thing I noticed this morning is that the only seed I now need to buy will likely be Corn, everything else seems covered.

Spring Weather

The beautiful apricot blossom is out, and thus the windy spring weather comes and 'thins' the crop. Last year we agreed we needed to thin out the fruit more to protect against brown rot on the apricot trees. Also we promised the apricot trees we would prune them once their sap started moving. The wind took care of the first item, and we pruned the bottom apricot tree on Saturday morning. Above the blossom there were long whippy growths about 5-6 foot tall which we lopped off. And that tree looks comfortable again. The shape of the tree makes it possible to climb up inside it which made pruning easier.


A bonus this weekend was the free green waste disposal at the local council tip. After we emptied the trailer which was jam packed with about 6 months of tree prunings, we refilled it with mulch – $10 for a cubic metre. Bonus upper body workout shifting it to the front garden when we got home. The rain yesterday has washed away some of the stink too. Ewww – smelt like compost with fish waste. Cheap though. That'll be my garden job this coming weekend – spreading out the wee mountains of mulch and pulling out/ burying some of the emergent weeds.


The chickens are averaging 4 eggs a day at the moment. And I'm saving the small ones (about 25 grams each) for an egg curry as part of a dinner with friends on Friday night. Should be decorative.
‘scuse the mud on the eggs – it’s been damp here and the chooks have muddy feet.

First eggs for late winter 2011

Also – go buy a pressure cooker. Seriously. Lamb Tagine in 25 minutes? Deliciously tender and flavoursome.


Last weekend we put in the star pickets for the fruit trees in the driveway and front gardens, and this weekend finished the job. After memories of arguing with wire in past efforts I was surprised at how easy the job with the right materials, including tensioner doohickeys.


Setting up tensioner

Having squished 8 apple and pear trees across the front fence, they most definitely needed a decent espalier, and the side fence plantings also did.


We ran a string line through the middle of the star pickets to make sure that lines were straight and this is a trick we'd repeat again.


String line to check levels

On the inside of the front fence we have wooden posts so we just attached eyelets directly into them to run the wires through.
Wire tensioning
Bending over the trees to tie down to the wire was nerve wracking after my "attack" on the nashi pear left me ubercautious. But we were very pleased to be able to follow the guidance from Woodbridge Fruit Trees and we're looking forward to enjoying the  ground work we've down this winter for many years to come.

Apple tree tied down to trellis wire

In other work:

Happy Horse Manure

  • Turned compost bins (the one-week old mix of horse manure and chook shed clearings was steaming)
  • Weeded C6 and mulched with horse manure to add more organic matter in prep for summer vegies.
  • Cleared out the rabbit cage and now have a stash of lovely compost booster.
  • Admired the leaves emerging on the blueberries and the blossom on the apricots.

Blossom on the oldest Moorpark Apricot

We're debating what to do with the front of the deck.
front of the deck
We had been thinking of putting an aquaponics system there (fresh rainbow trout anyone?) and then thought in the shade near the side fence might be better, leaving the front of the deck for a combo winter cold frame/ extra summer outdoor rabbit run. We've now come full circle and it really is the best spot for the aquaponics. And through winter we can erect a greenhouse style shelter over the aquaponics growbeds to achieve the cold frame idea. But the rabbits enjoyed their time out this weekend so much I'm wondering about more space for them to run around without having to be with them all the time.



Catch Up Post

In reverse order:

Current state of play in the garden

  • Eating more carrots. Two full circles would be a generous amount for next winter.
  • Silliest carrot so far

  • Apricot and Peach buds are swelling on the trees
  • Apricots in bud

  • Baby chicks are ready to move into the big shed but I want a fine day so they have lots of space to figure out pecking order etc
  • Jet, Salt, Pepper, Black Witch

  • Clover is growing really well – the first planting from about 3 months ago has proper clover leaves (the three together measure about a centimetre across), and the batch I planted 3-4 weeks ago is up and green.
  • Salad box gave us a week of spinach for lunches. It started noticeable growing when the day length stretched out in the past ten days.
  • We are now getting more than the magic ten hours of day light for plant growth. Shame the drizzle diffuses most of it.

This weekend:

  1. Chatted to the seedlings in the greenhouse. They say they like having the shelter from poxy late winter weather.
  2. Seeds in Soil Blocks
    Transplanted mesclun seedlings

  3. Collected two more eggs on Sunday, another hen has started laying as we got two of different colours. Finally!
  4. First eggs for late winter 2011

  5. Promised all the animals I would clean out their cages next week and added another layer of bedding on top.
  6. Dutchy and Nutmeg

  7. Hid inside out of the rain.

Last Weekend

  1. Tasted exquisite pinot at the Tasmanian Pinot Showcase in Launceston.
  2. Sprayed the back garden & driveway fruit trees with a white oil/ copper spray.
  3. Planted Chilliwack raspberries for autumn fruiting at the top of the side fence.
  4. Chilliwack raspberries on side fence

  5. Pruned and tied up the rest of the raspberries, rolled more carpet underlay through the middle as path material.

Weekend before that [ ie I think this was the weekend ...]:

Milly sunning herself on the worm farm in the greenhouse

  1. Planted 2 Mary Washington and 3 unnamed Asparagus into pots while I wait for the ground to dry out where they are going
  2. Played with Used my new soil blockers and transplanted rocket and lettuce seedlings into 5cm blocks, and planted seed in tiny ones.
  3. Soil blocks
    Mini Soil Blocker

Garlic through the garden

Garlic in C4 Garlic in C3 Garlic in C2 Garlic in C2