The Price of Bananas

Chapter 3

The Price of Bananas
 The Queens Birthday long weekend , the forecast is for rain and we have a gazillian projects that we still need to accomplish.  Typical!
Our dear friend Karen has complained incessantly about having banana withdrawal since the price of them went through the roof because of the unreasonable weather that Queensland has suffered this year.  The start of 2011 brought flooding in the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane.  Northern Queensland suffered a tropical cyclone and then there was more flooding.  Any banana crops that survived were scarce and the bananas that could be found became soooo expensive that a banana in some instances was worth $6 at the checkout!  Outrageous!.  
So one of the benefits of having an older Queensland property was that many of our forefathers has the foresight to plant a couple of banana trees or more. So we have several stands of banana trees and the crazy thing is that I am allergic to them.  Love the smell, and the taste but some enzyme lurking in the DNA has the ability to cramp me up something chronic.  Anyway, for the greater good and my friend Karen, today we decided to cut down one of our banana trees which held the biggest and best looking banana fruits.  
Up the top paddock or the “house pad” as we call it, we could see the tree and the bananas and could almost reach out and touch them, except they were growing on the side of a hill and it was very hard to reach.  Benny (husband) shuffled down the muddy slope, tripping over the vines that grow rampant and strangle every other living plant on the property, chainsaw in hand.  He slipped and slid a bit but found purchase against another banana sucker and proceeded to neck the aforementioned tree.  It didn’t do the right thing of course and fell away from us and back down the bank.  Held in place by the vines, I made the suggestion that if we tied a rope to it maybe we could bring it back up the hill and claim our prize.  
Benny tied the rope and then hacked away at the vines with the chainsaw, stopping every few seconds just to free the clogged up chain.  Then he climbed back up the hill and tried to pull the tree.  But it was held tight by the strangling vine.  I even tried tug-a-rope style with Benny to pull it up.  Inevitably I slid on the mud and fell on my butt into a spiky apple tree, sustaining huge itchy scratches from our noxious weeds and rope burn.  Still laughing we decided to get the Triton Ute and attach the rope and haul the tree out.  Great idea!  I ran back to the house and brought the 4 x 4 back with me.  Benny attached the rope and without any drama we hauled the bananas towards us.
The big bunch yielded 90 bananas. You do the math, at Coles prices we could have netted $540, but instead we will share them with all the banana lovers we know, make banana muffins, banana bread, banana custard and use several of them “as is” in school lunches.  Got to say it was a cool bonding experience for Benny and I, as was the whole day as it turns out.
We started the morning with Benny attempting to take down some dead trees to use in our fire pit.  He fought the battle of the strangling vine as it held up the dead tree even thought it had been cut straight through.  Benny taught me how to use the chainsaw for the first time and I marveled at how scarily easy it would be to become complacent about those rotating teeth.  The timber was dry and soft and riddled with borer holes so it sliced like butter under a hot knife.  Heaps of fun for me and I get to chock that up to another power tool that I know how to use, although I don’t think I would be game without Benny’s supervision at this point.
So the bananas sit on the kitchen bench awaiting the paper bags and ripe apples that I will buy tomorrow to help them ripen.  The dark pantry will have a shelf dedicated to this process and I will smile every time I open its door.  I am so grateful for the small harvest that we get at this point and look foreword to many more fruits of our combined labours.

Chook Whisperer

Chapter 2 
Chook Whisperer
I had a priority in mind from the first moment I set foot in our new back yard and saw that there was already a run and coop in place, CHOOKS!  Having lived most of our lives in apartments and resorts or in rental accommodation our son Lawson hadn’t had the benefit of being able to grow up with a pet that didn’t live outside of a fish tank.  He craved (as did I) to cuddle a pet, have it follow you around, greet you when you came home and generally give you that unconditional love that only pets can.  
We had a friend who lived on acreage on the Sunshine Coast who introduced us all to the concept of chickens as pets.  We spent ages at their place watching chooks roam the yard, hearing them cluck, chasing them off the deck and feeding them kitchen scraps.  We even learnt how to pick them up and give them a cuddle.   Breakfast was harvested from the nesting boxes each morning and then cooked up on the barbecue, with bacon and toast.  The fluorescent yellow yolks standing proud from the chooks varied diet of human food, insects, grasses and weeds topped up with laying pellets to keep them healthy and egg shells strong.
I spoke to our son’s Drama teacher, who owned chooks on a suburban block about the pros and cons.  She convinced me that it was better in the long run to raise chickens from “day old” chicks rather than take the cheats way out getting point of lay hens.  I didn’t know if I was up to that challenge… but when she phoned just days later with the offer of baby chicks I just couldn’t resist.  
I had asked her for six chicks, for just enough eggs every second day to fill a carton.  However, she had a “good news – bad news” scenario.  Apparently the incubation program at her friend’s school had eight chicks left and all those that weren’t taken by well meaning households would be euthanased!  I’m sure that if the preschools knew that this was the fate of the baby chicks the children delighted in seeing hatched from eggs, they would think again about doing the program! 
For the first few weeks we kept the chicks in a plastic box our lovely Drama teacher had leant us, with holes drilled in it for ventilation, a light bulb for warmth and newspaper, straw and food containers.  This all sat inside the shower recess of our spare bathroom.  As they got bigger they became messier and the smell became worse in that warm confined space.  When it was apparent that there were going to be house guests for the following weekend and the second bathroom was going to be required I spent the weekend securing the old chook house inside the run to make sure it was snake and vermin proof.  We plugged holes in roof and walls engaged my father in law’s help to make a sliding hatch that they could walk in and out of once they were bigger.  We placed the plastic box on its side inside the chook house, barred the sliding door and walked away.  I was silently hoping all night that they would be okay.

The chickens grew rapidly and it wasn’t long before we had them running around inside the pen during the day and just secured in their comfy box at night.
They spent the required time in the run to know that this was their home and then just a week after they had had free reign of the run, we opened the gates.  
There’s nothing like a free range chook.  We still sit for ages watching their antics as they clucked around us on the grass.  It was very apparent that they had adopted both Lawson and I as their parents and we were both content to hold that role.

Chapter One – Cold Cup of Tea

Chapter 1
Cold Cup of Tea

So, here I am… my french polish covered in dirt and grime from pulling out a stubborn weed, Italian cotton PJ’s damp from the ankles up with morning dew, my first morning cup of Twining’s Irish Breakfast in my favorite orange lilly china mug going cold on an ant infested brick, and me with a grin from ear to ear.  
“Farewell my manicure”, I giggle quietly to myself.

An absolute novice at gardening, a recent trip to visit my sister in her rented Sydney terrace got me excited about just how much fruit and vegie  you could grow in a postage stamp sized piece of back yard.  

My sister and her partner had achieved a great deal in their patch, with their own worm farm, composting, raised garden bed from Bunnings, a subscription to The Diggers Club and odds and sods of pots and vessels in which to germinate and cultivate .  They were and are still, avid watchers of Gardening Australia and own many DVDs on permaculture and the like so were a great source of knowledge and inspiration during the trip.

Faced with our two acres of potential I was keen to find out just what was possible for us.  After many cups of tea and glasses of wine discussing permaculture, chook tractors and worm farming, an in-depth tour of the postage stamp garden and an invitation to a “sustainability feast” at the local community centre, I felt enthused and excited about our prospective garden.  

Looking through their massive bookshelf loaded with an eclectic mix of tomes, I plucked off two books on sustainable living to “borrow” and take back to the Gold Coast; “Living the Good Life” by Lisa Cockburn, and “The 100 Mile Diet” by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (both informative, enjoyable and highly recommended).  On opening the latter I laughed out loud finding an inscription inside the cover wishing my sister a “Happy Birthday from me and mine”.  Guess we are on the same page now sis!

Foreward – There’s a House in there Somewhere

A city girls experiences on acreage
Julia Schafer
Foreward- there is a house in there somewhere!
We were spoilt for seven and a half years.  Managing a country resort on 90 acres in the Gold Coast hinterland with our own sewerage treatment plant, water treatment plant and lake we (or at least my husband) learnt heaps about living on acreage, we had space, more space than we had ever had before and that got us thinking…  when we have our own place…
So after years of moving from resort managers apartment to rental property, to another resort managers apartment, to another apartment we were finally ready to buy our own place.  The search was long and disappointing.  Prices on the Gold Coast are notoriously high and anything over 4000m2 was priced like gold.  Used to camping we figured that even if we could buy a block that was large enough to put up a big shed and a deck for our BBQ and outdoor setting we would be happy.  But even that was hard to find (at our price).  
We put a contract on a large peaceful block on the way to Springbrook and then backed out once we worked out that by the time we put all that we needed on the block we would be bankrupt.  After months and countless trips to view vacant blocks, out of the blue an agent phoned us!  Unheard of in this real estate market, we were stunned and surprised.  The property he described sounded like just what we were looking for in fact more than we were expecting, so automatically we knew we couldn’t afford it.  I went on the net and looked at the price and sure enough it was more than our budget.  But the agent assured me that the vendor was keen to sell having bought a block elsewhere, suffered a marriage breakup and wanted a fresh new start.
We went to see the property on a day when another agent was showing another family through, so as not to run into them we decided to start at the back and work our way towards the front.  Set on two acres, we walked down one driveway to the back yard skirted by palm trees and other indistinguishable foliage was the good old Hills hoist, a couple of rubbish bins, a chook run (SOLD), a performance stage (SOLD), and a three bay garage (SOLD). We walked further down the back to see an industrial shed (husband SOLD), further on to see a mown patch of lawn surrounded by a grove of palms, mock orange and assorted other trees, a secret garden no less (SOLD).  Up we went to another level with an additional house pad already cut!  Well, needless to say by this stage we didnt need to see the house, we were already SOLD.
But there was a house as well, in disrepair, a swimming pool, not registered and non compliant pool fencing, a half court tennis court, no net, no posts and lots of overgrown unkempt gardens.
PHEW!We were home.