Archive for October, 2006

Developing the Nearest Area First

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

We like the advice from Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture: “develop the nearest area first, get it under control, and then expand the edges” (10). When we’re feeling a bit daunted by the current disarray of the Farmlet, these words are comforting, and help us find a focus. The book also advises that the area of most intense cultivation, which needs to be visited most often, should be closest to the house. This sounds like a compelling shot of common-sense to us! In line with this advice, I’ve just started to create a herb garden right outside the kitchen door.


Our “nearest area,” or our house paddock, still has a long way to go in terms of its permaculture development. Bit by bit, we are trying to make it as productive as possible, replacing invasive and undesirable plants with plants that will produce food or otherwise be of use to us. Apart from one small potato patch over the fence, all our vegetables and other annuals are planted in the house paddock.

As spring warms the ground, our vegetables are not the only plants taking off in the house paddock. A few troublesome weeds are also coming to our attention. Over the past few days, we’ve been working at getting rid of young privet plants from around the yard. Privet is a very invasive weed in this climate, and will grow to form a wide and dense thicket as it seeds and spreads. A thicket of privet is not part of our plans for the house paddock, so those plants have to go. Once privet matures, it is very hard to get rid of, growing back from the stump whenever you cut it down. Luckily, younger plants are not too difficult to pull out.

Our first spring on the Farmlet is also bringing to light a few welcome surprises — purple irises and red hot pokers helping to hold the soil on steep banks by the driveway, and apple blossoms in the area that the previous owner started to establish as an orchard.

Building a Clothesline and Other Subversive Behaviour

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

What’s one of the simple joys of life on the Farmlet? Kevin and I relish the freedom to line-dry our laundry in the fresh air. For much of my life, I might have taken an outdoor clothesline for granted. That was before I went to live in Irvine, Southern California.

Can you ever be too far away from Irvine?

Back in Irvine, the student housing complex where I lived forbade subversive practices like air-drying laundry. (Such rules are commonplace around Irvine, and not just in student housing.) One was supposed to use the expensive coin-operated tumble dryers they’d supplied, of course. Coming to New Zealand from Southern California, we really think it’s nice to be able to dry our laundry

a)without wasting energy,

b)without being threatened with sanctions by angry bureaucrats, and

c)without fearing we’ll be branded as enemy combatants.

Recently, we have had to build a new clothesline. Our old clothesline died a sad death when we cut down the gum trees that were threatening to fall on our roof every time the wind blew. With no clothesline, we resorted to hanging our laundry to dry on the fences. This was fine for small items, but didn’t work so well for big items like sheets. I was afraid we might end up with no clean sheets and a very stinky bed if we didn’t make a new clothesline soon.

We are pleased with the new clothesline. It’s made with scavenged timber and rope, but we had to buy a bit more rope, as well as the concrete for the post holes. In the end, it was very inexpensive to make — especially compared with a tumble dryer. And then there’s the matter of the electricity it doesn’t use. . .

Kevin and I do not have a washing machine or tumble dryer here on the Farmlet. Our laundry setup is very basic:

  • One large plastic tub
  • One plunger
  • One garden hose
  • Water
  • One bottle of plant-based non-toxic laundry soap
  • One clothesline
  • One basket of clothes pegs

Wash cycle

Closeup of our washing “machine”

Originally, we were using a toilet plunger (it hadn’t been used in a toilet) to plunge our laundry. Lo and behold, when we were helping my parents to move, we unearthed a fine copper laundry plunger! Mum says she thinks it may have belonged to my great grandmother. My parents have very generously allowed us to bring the laundry plunger to the Farmlet for safekeeping — and for much enthusiastic use! Believe me, it’s much easier to use and does a better job than the toilet plunger. We now feel that we have a deluxe laundry system.

There is one more aspect of the laundry system that still needs to be put in place: Back in February, I bought an antique hand wringer. We have it here in the garage, but need to find a suitably sturdy bench or stand to mount it on.

Grain Mill

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Finally our hand-powered grain mill is up and running. We’ve mounted it on a wooden butcher’s block that we bought at a garage sale. So far, it seems to be working really well — achieving a nice fine grind without taxing our arm muscles too much! We’ve already milled wheat to make a batch of scones and a loaf of sourdough bread. We thought the results were very tasty! We are very pleased with the 25 kilo bag of organic hard wheat berries that we ordered direct from the supplier. I’m amazed at the subtle scent of the freshly ground wheat flour. It smells nutty and sweet.

Kevin mills wheat with the Country Living Grain Mill

Once we’ve developed a bit more garden space, we hope to experiment with growing and milling our own grains to eat. Hard wheat wouldn’t be a good choice to grow in our bioregion, so we’ll be trying other grains — corn and amaranth, perhaps.

What kind of grain mill is it? It’s a Country Living Grain Mill. We bought it before we left the USA, and shipped it out to New Zealand with some of our other personal effects. We did some reading and asking around before we purchased the mill, and this one seemed like the best choice. The grinding plates are made of forged steel, which means they should be very durable. It also got good reviews for ease of use and the quality of the flour it can produce.

When I called to place an order for a Country Living Grain Mill, I found myself talking to the man who actually designed the mill. He obviously (and justifiably, we think!) takes real pride in his grain mills, and was very kind and helpful. We ordered a mill with a superficial blemish, in order to pay a lower price, but I’m not even sure I can see a blemish on our mill. Actually, we think it looks beautiful. It has the elegant solidity of a machine designed with care and built to last — something that has become rare in this age of plastic and flimsy throw-out appliances.

Contributions to Farmlet

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Two Farmlet readers have made generous contributions:

AS sent US$20

Anonymous sent US$30

Becky and I thank you both very much! Some of the money is going to used to buy the seeds for growing Bushman’s Toilet Paper plants.

Unfortunately, I Had to Use the Pick Axe

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Becky and I are frantically trying to get enough garden space ready to plant out all of the seedlings that are coming up. We pulled back another swath of black polythene and I went at it with the shovel, as usual, breaking the clay open so we can add gypsum, lime and compost.

It all came to a halt when my shovel found a vein of sandstone just near the surface. Not broken up sandstone, but a single, solid mass.

There’s only one option at a time like this: Pick axe.

When I bought this pick axe from a garage sale for NZ$2, I sincerely hoped that I would never have to use it. But when you need a pick axe, you really need it.

Used pick axe: NZ$2. And the less I have to use it, the better!

As I gazed upon the scene above, I thought about my past life in the doomed corporate IT world. When asked, “How’s it going, today, Kevin?” by “Bob in Marketing”—I’m sure you know people like “Bob in Marketing”—my favorite response was, “Just breaking rocks all day, Bob, as usual.” I guess the Universe got me back for using that one a few too many times!