Making the Journey Count

Grass Roots Magazine 2010

We live on a half-acre property in a cottage within a productive but slightly overgrown garden. Life is busy and I have to remind myself that life is a journey not a destination when it all seems to be going crazy. Peter and I juggle activities that include running a small manufacturing business, looking after our son Nicholas, and trying to live a life that is interesting, active and encompasses the ideals of sustainability and sufficiency.
It is our sanctuary, a place to play and rest, to hear and see the ducks and chickens, spend time pottering and feel ones pulse slow and mind quieten, especially after a busy day at work. I have 
completed my Intro to Permaculture course and have tried to incorporate many of the principles into our garden design.
I believe we all need to be more responsible for what we eat. We’ve planted 17 different varieties of fruit trees to date and this year the crop was either stewed and frozen or turned into jam. We’re enjoying our own jam on toast and our own fruit on porridge. The dried apples have proved a big hit as an after school snack. We tried bottling but need to perfect this skill.
There is a large strawberry patch, and alongside raspberries, loganberries and blackberries. The red currants were a sight, like glistening Chrissie decorations and we’re trialing white currants, black currants and gooseberries. Our main pest has been a plague of harlequin beetles, which sucked the juice out of the berries, especially the raspberries.
The vegie garden is located close to the house and we eat well from it. The beds for annual crops grow tomatoes, silverbeet, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, beans, capsicums, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and pumpkin. The perennial bed has rhubarb and asparagus. There is definitely an art to growing a continual supply without either famine or feast. I haven’t quite got this under control but who doesn’t have a zucchini glut?
We get much enjoyment from sitting down to a meal and saying, these are our spuds, carrots, apples and so on. I’m hoping that as our production increases and I get the timing right all our meals will be planned around what’s available in the garden. This is the challenge I will set myself in spring.
Along with two dogs and two cats, we squeeze into a two bedroom Victorian cottage that’s located in Teesdale, 20km from Geelong. Although small, we use every part of our house daily. We have a 1 KVA grid connected solar power system and solar hot water, a large water tank (used for the toilet and washing machine and to water the garden) while grey water is recycled back to the garden. Soapnuts are used to do the washing so the grey water will not harm our soil. No cleaning chemicals are used, instead Nature Direct products meet all cleaning needs.
Heating is supplied by a combustion wood heater, wood sourced locally (usually from farms) and we recycle old pallets, etc. Peter is forever hunting up supply sources and cutting it up. He’s even trained Nicholas to keep an eye out! Over the last couple of years we’ve insulated the walls and ceiling and the difference it’s made to the house in summer and winter is amazing. We’ve also built a large covered deck across the back of the house where we ‘live’ in summer months.
Our home doesn’t have a TV aerial. For a while we had paid TV but didn’t watch it enough to justify the expense so it went. We are now TV free. It amazes many people when they realise and the most common question is ‘what do you do in the evenings? Well we read, listen to the radio and CDs, knit, talk and occasionally watch a DVD. Peter is attempting to master Sodoku. We probably are like many Grass Roots readers who don’t have TV.
We have lived with chooks for 16 years. We used to supply family and friends with eggs but now they have their own fowls and so we’ve gradually let our numbers drop from 20 to 10. The birds are getting older but still supply enough for our needs.
We have two chook runs. The first is home to the 10 layers which comprise a mix of numerous breeds and is located in the orchard. It’s a second-hand metal garden shed, well shaded with facilities inside. The second pen is nearby under an old plum tree and houses the pet hens belonging to Nicholas, several of which came home from kinder. The nursery is located outside the kitchen window, a distraction when washing up. Nicholas was most impressed with the two sets of chicks that hatched over Easter.
The ducks, Khaki Campbell crosses have been a strong-minded lot, the females nesting, relocating, making new nests and finally hatching three live young. Peter assured me they were females so we sold the breeding trio. The ‘girls’ turned out to be drakes and are to be rehomed and now I have my eye on Pekin females to wander and keep snails under control.
Peter is a qualified tradesman and 16 years ago decided he liked what he did but not where or how. So his business started. We operate in Bannockburn, an easy 10-minute country drive from home. Basically if it’s made of metal we can manufacture or repair. One benefit of owning such a business is that in the garden I’ve got a lovely garden seat, small windmill and custom built berry towers (solid steel, not hollow).
About 12 years ago a local brought in a treadle chook feeder for repairs, a model thought to have been fabricated in the 1930s.We thought it a great idea, Peter took the measurements and designed and manufactured one for us. Our fowls have been using one ever since. Over the years we’ve made improvements to the design and road tested with our hens. Some less successful improvements have gone by the way. A classic example is the lid, originally it was flat but after observing the flock, especially the bantams that were cheekily perching on it, we redesigned so the lid sloped.
With the increased interest in keeping poultry, demand for our feeder has grown. We love the design because it cuts out free loaders like rodents and sparrows and it enables food to be available without contamination from rodent poo or the like when the flock wants it even if you’re away. We had our first outing with the chicken feeder at the Ballarat Rural Living Expo recently and found people loved it. We took 10 feeders and sold them all.
This has encouraged us to sell at the local farmers market and direct from the factory. Because we’ve had chickens and understood their need the feeders have been designed accordingly. We found a 10kg and a 20kg were handy sizes and so have produced the chicken feeder in these two feed capacities. There is only $20 difference in price and this is often questioned but they take almost the same time to fabricate and there are only marginally more materials used.
Our aim has always been producing a well-made product at a reasonable price.
With Nicholas school aged, we had the difficult decision of choosing the best type of schooling for him. The education system as a whole does not reflect the way we are raising him and while we considered home schooling, ended up choosing a very small school. It’s motto of ‘country education for life’ and the commonsense approach offered by the teachers appealed to us.
The school is complimenting our lifestyle wishes for Nicholas but we will review our decision each year and should we feel he would benefit from alternative style education, follow it up. Our property and lifestyle has evolved over the years and we have many more ideas and dreams we would like to implement: installing a secondhand Raeburn stove, replace a small window on the north side of the house with sliding doors to catch the winter sun and assist passive heating of the house, install a second grid-connected 1.5 KVA solar power system.
Then there’s the garden, and installing a beehive for honey and pollination, maybe a goat … The most important aspect of our dream is to remember to slow down and enjoy the journey.