Recycling at its Finest

Chapter 7
Recycling at its Finest
One of the features of our new home that we were very excited about was the expansive workshop.  Over the years we have dreamt of having a space for all our tools and a place to work on all the projects we have imagined we would make.  Somewhere that you could leave a project half done and walk away from it without having to pack it away.  So now we have a massive shed with a nine meter workbench running the entire length of one wall.  One weekend Benny got to one of my old cutting tables and dismantled it to make a second wall length bench with bottom storage shelf on the opposite wall.  To give you some idea of the size of this space, with both benches in place we can still drive a vehicle down the centre of the shed!  At the end we store the ride on mower and an assortment of bits and pieces that wont fit under the bench.  On shelving and in boxes are all the tools and fittings and fixtures from a variety of household projects and refurbishments.  
We have a bench vice and a place for the drop saw to be permanently located.  A section allocated to painting has mountains or rollers and paint brushes that when we unpacked all our boxes just seemed to multiply.  How many paint rollers and trays does one family need, and caulking guns?  The shed has sections for camping equipment barely used, old fish tanks have a home until they are needed to house reptiles or guppies once again.  Bits and pieces are all neatly laid out so that when you want something you can actually find it and not have to take yet another trip to Bunnings to buy something that you are sure you have, somewhere!  Best of all, there are racks to house timber, old shelving, a dismantled bunk bed, some off cuts from an old kitchen, some used cupboard doors.  All the bits that are so useful when you want to “make something”.  
So now to the projects…
We have this space by the back door that gets cluttered with shoes and I envisaged a bench seat with boxes under it to house the discarded footwear.  So off I went to the shed armed with just an idea, and hours later the old bunk bed was recycled, into a distressed retro painted park bench (the boxes are yet to be made) and installed by the door.  It has been so useful for parking your butt to pull your boots on and to put boxes for the courier to pick up so that they dont get dusty, or chicken pooped.
The next project was a team effort.  The chickens had up until this point been housed in a “blue box” inside their run, made long ago by a previous owner and slowly being eaten away by white ants.  I noticed the back leg deteriorating just in time and put bricks under the back edge to prop it up in case the inevitable happened and it collapsed.  Which is just what it did!  So it was time to build the Taj Mah Chook House.  I had surfed the net for various designs but finally agreed that it needed to be a bit free form to fit in the weird shaped space at the end of the run.  So I drew a sketch and showed it to Benny, who did the measuring and came with me to Bunnings for the blue board and framing timber to make sure I got the right stuff.
He decided that because we were making it up as we went along that it would be best if we put it together in the shed first to make sure it worked and then undid it and transported it to the chook run and put it back together again!  Only a man would think of doing this I swear!  So that’s how we tackled it. 
On the first weekend we put most of it together except the doors.  A couple of weeks later we put the windows in and then several weeks later (after loads of unseasonably cold nights which I worried was going to freeze the chooks to death) while I was cooking breakfast one morning Benny dismantled the frame and brought it up in pieces.  
We put it back together reasonably quickly and it worked!  Some roofing clip lock aluminum that we were given by our neighbours was used to make the angled roof.  I used some acrylic panels to make the windows.  We wrapped a wooden ramp in some marine carpet courtesy of our friend Glen who was busy doing up his yacht in our back yard.  This stopped the rather steep wooden slope being too slippery.  I put in a couple of perch options, reused the old nesting boxes but put a store bought plastic egg in to show them that this is the new place for laying.  I left the old laying box on the ground until they got used to it but on the first morning one girl had laid where she was supposed to and everyone else followed over the space of the next week.  
The chooks were very impressed and after the first night (when I had to go and physically put them in it) they knew what it was for and where they needed to be.  The following morning Lawson and his friend Cory (who had a sleep over) painting the house bright red and when we ran out of red they used up some old spray cans of blue paint on the back to make it colourful and help protect the boards from the weather.
I put in fresh sugar cane mulch and raked the area and then stood back and admired what we had done.  A true family project!
Benny manages a resort, if I hadn’t mentioned that before.  This means that every couple of months there is a Board Meeting that takes up family time on Saturday but in lieu he takes Monday off to do some projects around the house or have a day of rest (HA HA!).  I keep to my regular work week and try and stay out of his way during his day off so that I dont get dragged into his projects instead of concentrating on my own work.  This particular Monday not so long ago, I heard many noises coming from the shed, at least one trip to Bunnings was had and Benny didnt come up to the house to ask for a cuppa or even lunch!  
By the time it was almost time to get Lawson from school, I thought I had better go down to the shed to investigate what was going on.  It turns out I ruined his surprise as he was almost finished a pressie he had been making all day, just for me.  There is no particular name that he has given to this tool but I call it a mobile potting bench and wheel barrow. He has made it the exact height for cleaning out the chook house and the barrow space is just the right dimension to house the bag of sugar cane mulch I buy fortnightly from Bunnings.   The bench section is great for potting plants or transporting tools, storing gardening gloves, or housing a curious chicken.  He jokes that it looks like it has been made in a sheltered workshop and I think it is useful, practical and best of all made with love! Oh and it is recycled too, all except the wheel.

Miracle Eggs

Chapter 6
Miracle Eggs
Our Bubba Chookens, as we affectionately call them, began to grow very rapidly.  All eight were almost fully grown, their baby down replaced with feathers, their cute status updated to full grown chicken almost as we watched.  Then one morning at about four am we heard the sound that we were dreading “cock-a-doodle-doo!”.  Oh no, one of our hens is a him!  Well that would have been just fine, in fact we were kind of aware that at least one of the girls might be a boy, but we weren’t prepared for each morning more and more birds to join in the chorus! One, two, three, four, and then FIVE!  Out of our eight little chicks five where declared officially not egg layers.  
What were we to do, we grew them from chicks, we had named them, fed them, looked after them and now they were waking all the neighbours at 4am and worse still US! Being new to all this chicken stuff we weighed up the options.  I was even offered money by one of my Vietnamese machinists to take them off my hands…for dinner!  I just couldn’t bring myself to do that I’m afraid, they had to go to a happy home or more reasonably many happy homes.  So I rang around and found that the people at Nerang Stock Feed would take them the next time they were receiving point of lay hens and would offer them as a free giveaway to those who wanted to take them to make new baby chicks.  Gives new meaning to “Buy this and receive a free chook!”.
I must admit that we put off the inevitable for a few weeks, neither of us willing to catch the somewhat aggressive big white birds.  We were spurred on (he he) one weekend when we had some sleepover guests (luckily from a country property) who were also woken at 4 am by the roosters.  Armed with a big cardboard packing box and a bit of tenacity and encouragement, Benny caught them, stuffed them into the car and drove them to the stockfeed place just minutes before they were due to close.  Bring on the sleep in!
I made an off hand comment to Lawson that I reckoned within the week that the remaining three hens would begin to lay without being harassed by the roosters.  They really were copping it bad from being dominated five birds to three.  My optimism was rewarded only two days later with the first of our “miracle eggs” (Lawson’s name for them) which was cooked for breakfast that weekend on the BBQ, YUM!
Another really amazing thing happened the very next day, when unexpectedly two little chickens, not much younger than ours just walked into our yard!  They were obviously hens (I was learning how to discern the difference) and it was getting late so I locked them away with our girls.  I thought that perhaps the owners would come looking for them in the morning, but this never happened.  So we named them Kentucky and Scramble and added them to our brood of Schnitzel, Omelet and Hazel .  So eight became three and then five, awesome.  Looking forward to waking up to five eggs a day for the next four years.  
Some time later our neighbour up the back gave us his two white chickens as he, his Mum and his sister were “over them”.  One kept straying back up the hill but the other “Georgina” was happy to stay.  Eventually we lost Scramble and one of the white hens (no idea where they went although we hope they are with a good home), so five became seven and then five again.  Nowadays we have five eggs a day, which is enough to give us what we need, sell some and give the occasional dozen away in exchange for help in accounting, babysitting or just because we can.

I am constantly amazed at the “miracle eggs” and look forward to collecting them every day.  I was surprised to find that white chooks have white eggs and brown chooks have brown eggs, but even these vary in shades from cream to purple/beige to caramel.  When you add our eggs to a vanilla cake mix it become so yellow it looks like it should be lemon cake.  The yolks stand proud when you crack them into the frying pan and the whites also are thick and gelatinous not runny like store bought ones.  The most amazing thing is the fattest greediest chook, our Hazel, lays the biggest eggs and almost all of her’s are double yolkers.  One morning we were amazed at the size of this particular double yolker and thought “ouch, that must have hurt”.  It was twice the size of the normal eggs that she was used to laying and we couldn’t even close the egg carton on it! 

We have had our share of eggs taken by peewees, crows and bush turkeys but luckily few and far between.  I have fixed the massive holes in the wire roof over the run in an abstract pattern of criss crossed wire web that no spider would claim or be proud of, but it works to keep the crows out.  
While I was cleaning out the chickens blue box (rudimentary chook house) one Saturday I noticed the trail of white ants around the crumbling timber of one leg the box was perched on.  I grabbed some bricks to stabilise it just in case they were to eat  right through.   Just as well it seems because only days later it collapsed onto the bricks.  I dragged Benny in to the run to have a look and announced that we had to build our bubba chookens a new home post haste.  A project for the whole family wouldn’t you say!

The Spice of Life

Chapter 5
The Spice of Life

I have in my mind all these grand ideas about cooking with herbs and spices grown fresh in our garden, but really when it comes down to it my usual kitchen repetoire is very boring and bland.  Not because I don’t love the aroma and the subtle flavours that herbs can add to a meal but when I cook anything a la Jamie Oliver covered in Thyme leaves, Rosemary sprigs or fried Sage leaves I face the same old disappointing comment, “It looks like you dropped it in the grass!”  ARGH! What am I to do?  I have made the most beautiful fresh basil pesto with hand picked leaves, carefully toasted pine nuts and had it go off before it was finished because I am the only one who eats the stuff.  
I have even spent ages on a cushion on the deck pulling the tiny coriander seeds off their desiccated stalks to half fill a jar with the potential for a delicious curry.  It was therapeutic I must say, even enjoyable, as it really did represent for me my first “crop”.  But alas, no one else in my family eats coriander.
Anyway, regardless of the family’s lack of culinary adventurousness, the first time my sister from Sydney and her partner came to visit our new project, I roped them in to help me plant the herb garden.  We pulled heaps of weeds that had well and truly embedded in what looked like old weed matting (lot of good that did!).  Under instruction I dug the holes, half filled them with organic potting mix and gently eased the little plants out of their pots and placed them into the ground. Collections of local newspapers were placed over the ground and watered in and then topped with a layer of sugar cane mulch to keep in the moisture and repel the weeds.  We did a terrific job in such a small space and I held great hopes for the herbs progress. Weeks later I worked out that I needed to fence out the chickens as they scratched all the newspaper to the surface and I had to do the whole process all over again!
Everything flourished for a while and produced my crop of coriander seeds and garnishes for many salads.  Unfortunately with our business being my first priority the garden was left to care for itself. We first lost the parsley (lack of water), the coriander (went to seed way too quickly) and a couple of the sage plants (water again).  I must say though that we have the biggest healthiest rosemary plant that I have ever grown.  I have always chuckled when Jamie Oliver used rosemary sticks to skewer meat… I didn’t even know that rosemary could grow large enough to produce “sticks” as mine always died before the plant grew to get woody.  Now I see marinated lamb kebabs on the horizon!
We have since added the egg plants and as mentioned have been rewarded with fruit.  We planted some strawberries that we found sprouting in a strange space in another garden and now we wait hopefully  as they have bloomed with dozens of little white flowers.  
I knew that in order for anything to grow prolifically we needed to put in a water reticulation system on a timer because dragging a hose to that part of the garden was a chore which I neglected to do often enough.  
Another couple of hundred dollars later (did I mention we call Bunnings the $200 shop?) and we have all the parts we need; the hose, the risers, the sprinkler bits coupled with an old garden timer we found in the shed.  Now it is just another job for Benny that needs to be scheduled in to his many tasks.  I wonder when it will makes its way up the list of priorities?

Cage the Veggies and Free Range the Chooks

Chapter 4

Cage the Vege and Free Range the Chooks

 The couple of potted plants that I brought with me to the house were suffering and longed to spread their roots through moist rich soil and flourish.  I planted them into the ground accordingly and so, here we are almost one year on and what should be a metre high miniature capsicum plant is less than half that height and a prolific birds-eye chili plant looks more like ground cover!  What happened you may well ask?  Was the soil not fertile was the sun not shining was the rain not falling regularly?  No, all of that was happening like it should, perfect growing conditions in fact, however our free range chickens were free ranging all over my plants! 

I read just recently in Earth Garden magazine that if you want to free range your chooks you need to cage your vegetables, so that’s just what I did.  Using the new roll of wire netting that was supposed to be the new roof over the chicken run I cut out sections and fenced off a part of the garden just for me.  
We have grand plans to build a large raised vegetable garden down one side of the yard next to where right now our herb garden is doing very nicely.  There is a vacant spot, a “no mans land” that is basically just a wasted space that requires regular mowing.  It is overlooked by what I would call the “sun room” a long thin room running the length of the house from the front door which was originally a verandah that has been closed in.  This is currently where I spend most of my week days as it is also one of the  spaces that we have dedicated to our clothing business.  It houses the cutting table, packing benches sewing machines etc.  A right little “sweat shop”.  To have that space overlook our vegetable plot will be a calming view on those not so calming days when work is overwhelming and all I wish I could do was be outdoors.  
Alas, this garden will be an added expense that hasn’t reached priority status just yet.  With the water tank in and paid for but still yet to be plumbed, the garden will have to wait.  So meanwhile I have decided that every other available space that doesn’t require any monetary commitment needs to be dedicated to my need to grow food.
The good thing about my new fenced area is that is already has water reticulation and with just a few added risers has pretty much got water spraying to every part of the ground.  A trip to Bunnings and not a lot of money later my crops include; snow peas, real peas, rainbow carrots (a heritage variety), asparagus, lettuce that sprung up from an old plant that went to seed, rainbow beetroot (another heritage variety), broccoli, cauliflower, perpetual spinach, and a lone purple runner bean plant (heritage), a lone cucumber (we started with four plants) and the chili and capsicum plants that bravely survived the chook’s garden decimation.  I have other vegies in the herb garden also.  A striped eggplant and lebanese egg plant that my sister and her partner bought me at Christmas and have already given up some beautiful fruit.  I have strawberries that have tripled over the summer and now are laden with fruit that is just beginning to blush with the promise of yumminess to come.  As I mentioned in the last chapter we have plenty of banana trees that previous owners have planted and also a renegade golden passionfruit vine which has yielded a huge crop already even after sharing many fruit with the possums.
When we first bought the house I envisaged a fruit grove running the length of the driveway so I quickly planted some trees; a “lots’a lemons” which has given us three in its first year, a lime, which has only produced one so far, an olive tree, a grafted avocado tree and a housewarming gift coffee tree. 

In the compost heap down the “back forty” which is lush and rich and aerated with the help of my efficient garden mulching chooks, three other avocado trees have sprung up by themselves.  So its fair to say that from virtually nothing edible in the garden we have a veritable bounty in its early stages.  
There is nothing more satisfying than picking and eating some food that you have grown yourself!  The other morning I had a free range egg omelette with home grown tomato, capsicum and gently flavoured with our own chives.  Next I’ll be looking to source an alternative for the cheese and I’m thinking about growing mushrooms.  I look forward to my fist home grown dinner party (with our vegetarian friends of course), and I think they are looking forward to it too.