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26 November 2015

How to grow blueberries

I forget when we bought our blueberry bushes, it must be at least eight years ago now. We planted them along the fence line that we then had in front of the garden to keep our Airedale girls away from the tomatoes (they picked their own) and the compost. The blueberries struggled in full sun for a few years and although we got the odd berry, I can't say they were a viable crop for us there.  When we took the fence down, I put the blueberry bushes into pots to wait until the following spring when I intended to replant them in another spot. Well, those bushes started growing in the pots and looked very healthy so I decided to replace the soil, add compost and mulch and see how they did in the pots full time.

If grandchildren or birds discover the berries they'll be picked as soon as they change colour but leaving them on the vine for as long as possible will improve the sweetness and taste.

In that first year they gave us a couple of cups of blueberries, the following year is was more and this year the bushes are full of berries. They're in full sun most of the day and partial shade after about 3pm. I keep them fertilised with comfrey and a sprinkling of potash in spring and they're watered with rain water about three times a week. Good water is critical for blueberries. They thrive on rainwater and don't do so well on tap water containing minerals. They don't like any manures but they love acidic soil - so if you're growing camellias, you're in the right area for blueberries. I give them the cold leftovers and grounds of the coffee pot occasionally to boost the acidity in the pots a bit.

Keep the berries close together to aid in pollination. There are two blueberry seedlings on the side as well as one avocado I'm growing from seed. Propagation by cutting is quite easy and a good way to increase your stock of blueberries quickly.

As I was watering the garden yesterday morning, I noticed that two of the bushes are now as tall as me. They can be pruned which you would do after they finish fruiting. I prune ours like I prune my roses - vase shape, open in the middle, prune out any branches that cross over each other and any branches that touch. You can cut back any shoots that grow too tall. Once they get to the stage where you're pruning, they take off and grow into strong bushes.

Blueberries come in many different varieties and can be grown in cold and warm climates. We have Biloxi and Sunshine Blue. Of those two, here, Biloxi is the better. Both Biloxi and Sunshine Blue can set fruit without pollination from another plant but fruit is increased if you provide a means of cross pollination. Check varieties and pollination requirements here at Daley's site. It's easy to propagate blueberries. I took six inch cuttings at the end of winter and they started growing new leaves in spring. Doing this you can develop a nice stand of blueberries, just make sure you have the right varieties for your climate and at least type types that pollinate each other. If you're growing them in the ground, they must have good drainage. They like to be wetter rather than drier, especially in summer, and here, watering three times a week with rainwater seems to keep them happy. Otherwise their a hardy plant, easy to grow, despite what you may have heard, and definitely worthwhile addition to the back garden.

25 November 2015

My tribe - near and far

You probably remember that I don't go out much. I am naturally a bit of a hermit so it's never bothered me that I stay in more than I go out.  Now when I do go out, I feel out of place. There is nothing familiar out there and the only place I feel at home, is, well, at home. But this week I will be out in my community again with a few talks at my local libraries. I actually enjoy these outings because after wandering about feeling like a fish out of water, I find my tribe waiting at the library. We talk, share, compare and laugh a bit, and I go home again feeling that, maybe, my little bit of the world is not so unfamiliar after all. There are still a few vacant places so if you want to come along, book on the Sunshine Coast Libraries website and I'll see you there.

I found a new friend today, someone I could easily live next door to. Unbeknownst to her, I crept into her kitchen, her home, her farm and looked around without anyone knowing I was there. Of course I wasn't there in person, I found her blog after she posted a comment here and followed the breadcrumb trail back to hers. I love finding blogs that feel very familiar to me. I realise all over again that I'm not such a funny fish out of place in the general scheme of things and that there are many others out there doing what I'm doing, finding joy in the small things and living true. 

Sally and Brian live on Jembella Farm in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, one of our great wine regions. They run their farm along biodynamic principles to produce organic food for their own table and for sale. They have cows, alpacas, bees, sheep, chickens and geese and live in what looks like a beautiful house, tucked into the valley away from the rat race. I'd love to have a cuppa with Sally on that shady verandah of hers. Go over, have a look and be prepared to be charmed by her and learn a little about how these small farms are run.

While I was there I noticed another familiar name - Farmer Liz, who lives closer to me here in Queensland. Liz runs her property with husband Peter using permaculture to produce organic food. She writes about her life on Eight Acres and has a lot of good information on her blog so she's worth a visit too. It makes me feel very hopeful for the future when I know that people like Liz and Peter are coming through as the younger generation. If anyone will save us from ourselves it will be people like them who do it. Check out Liz's info on dairy cows, cheese making, butchering, chickens and so much more.  I doubt I'll ever tire of looking at the faces of Jersey cows. 

I've added both Sally and Liz to my sidebar so if you forget to bookmark them you can find them again over there.

And finally today, my friends, I have the recipe for my new muesli, asked for by Jules. It's simple and you can use whatever dried fruit you have in the cupboard.
  • 3 cups of rolled oats - we're working our way through Quaker oats at the moment but we usually have the cheap Woolworths traditional rolled oats on hand.
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup flaked almonds
  • ½ cup sesame seeds
  • dried fruit - as much or as little as you like. I used a small pack of dried peaches, two dried pineapple slices I had in the cupboard and a hand full of dried cranberries.
Mix it all together and that's it. Simple. I put the muesli in a bowl and pour milk on, then leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning the oats are on their way to sprouting and the fruit is plump and soft. In summer you can just take the bowl out in the morning and start eating, in winter you can warm it up. I hope you enjoy making your own version of this. 

24 November 2015

Controlling your own life

Last Friday I linked to a forum post written by one of the members who is working on reducing her spending and doing the grocery shopping on, or under, budget. She wrote about  using a calculator to add the purchases as she shopped which helped her come in under budget. But the sentence that really struck a cord with me was this: "... it felt so good to be taking more control and knowing that it is helping me to reach my savings goals." I smiled when I read that, I've heard it so many times before, I feel it myself.

I get a lot of emails from people who've consciously moved away from the mainstream idea of living above their means to become more frugal and pay off debt. This usually involves writing up a budget and working hard to bring in all planned purchases under budget so that the debt reduction plan moves ahead every week. The common theme in these emails, and I felt this very strongly myself back when I changed my life, is the feeling of control you get from carrying out and repeating these humble actions.

When I decided I'd had enough and would change how I lived, I stopped listening to advertising and just concentrated on what I was doing instead. I thought that if I stopped buying 'stuff' I would be better for it. And that is what happened. Look at me now, I ended up here, living a life I could barely dream of back then. When you turn off the advertising and stop caring what your friends are buying you realise you don't need the latest dress, shoes or phone and at the supermarket you stop buying convenience. That results in less money spent and more debt paid off. When you keep repeating that and actively try to reduce your cost of living without sacrificing your quality of life you're well on your way to living the life you want for yourself.

And instead you do something like I'm doing today - cooking a piece of corned beef in the slow cooker to use as cold cuts because it's much cheaper than buying them already cooked, sliced and cold. This week I'm making good quality ice blocks for Jamie too. I have one of my sponsor Biome's stainless steel icy pole sets and I'll be filling them with yogurt and fresh fruit, and making an egg custard and freezing that instead of looking for expensive good quality ice blocks. It's not as quick and easy as buying cold cuts and ice blocks, it takes more time and effort but I'm not prepared to pay for someone else to do those things for me. I'd rather do it myself, know what's in our food and pay less. I don't get caught in that convenience trap anymore and I'm in control of my own life again.

Advertising and the habit of convenience tells you to sit back and everything will be taken care of for you. Everything is for sale as long as you work enough to pay for it. And that creates a cycle that starts with you wanting the best for yourself and your family, you work hard to buy the things you need and want, and tiredness creeps in, you buy more convenience to get you through and then you have to work more to pay for it. I know it's difficult finding the time and energy to become more productive at home when you're busy with paid work or small children. The trick to doing it is to choose the right things to start with. It's a slow process of picking what will make the most difference in your life, starting with that and adding more as you go along.

I'd encourage you to start with making your own laundry liquid , then use that to clean other things in your home so you can stop buying those cleaners and save that money. Homemade laundry liquid will cost you about three or four dollars for ten litres and even the commercial liquids in bulk packs will cost between $4 and $6 per litre. It works and doesn't take a lot of time to make - about 15 minutes for ten litres and that should see you through at least two months, depending on the size of your family. It might be a year's worth of laundry liquid if you live alone. Fifteen minutes every couple of months isn't much. Combine those savings with shopping at Aldi and cooking from scratch as often as you can and you're well on your way to significant savings and paying off debt. And when you do, you'll feel that elation that taking back control of your own life gives you. You never get that when you keep buying 'stuff', you just get to work longer.

20 November 2015

Weekend reading

I'm looking forward to the weekend. I have three busy weeks ahead when I'll be speaking at our libraries and sewing here in my work room. The weather is getter hotter now so there is less work in the garden but I still have those elkhorns to set up on the verandah. I'll take a photo to show you when I'm finished, it should look beautiful.

Thanks for your comments and visits during the week. It's always amazed me that I have such a readership and you're still here plodding along with me after all these years. Thank you. See you next week. ♥︎

We often see women's sewing blogs but here is one from Peter in New York. He's making some great men's clothes at Male Pattern Boldness including jeans, pyjamas and shirts.
This is for everyone who wants to make a natural door wreath this Christmas. Let's get rid of the plastic ones!
Thanks for the inspiration - 1st grocery shop under budget! This is a new thread on the forum so you'll have to join (it's free) if you're not already a member.
Five myths about the common cold
Mapping words aroundAustralia - do the survey
20 Fun and Creative Crafts with Plastic Soda BottlesI can't see myself ever using the Jedi knitting needles but there are some great ideas here for crafters.
How to make tomato passata - Italian family method
Garden party quilt
20 well-rounded and perfectly packed lunches

19 November 2015

A day in the life

This is my 2500th post.

I still get up early. It's a relic from the days when I was running my own writing business, editing the local newspaper and studying for a degree. My boys were in primary school then so if I woke early, I could get a lot of reading or writing done before they were up and the real work of the day began. So as is my habit, yesterday I woke early, got up, checked emails, comments and the forum and then started my day as a homemaker. After letting the chooks out and feeding them a large deformed cucumber from the garden, I looked at the blueberries and wondered if I should stake one of them, watered plants on the back verandah and lowered the sun screens in preparation for a warm day.

 I invented a new muesli for myself recently so I had a bowl of that for breakfast, sorted through knitting cottons and looked at my knitting basket for a while trying to decide what fabric I'll line it with. Tricia bought me this basket for my 60th birthday and it was lined with the original pink satin. She relined it, again in pink satin, but now that needs replacing. I want the new lining to be true to its 1940s era and when that's done I'll be very happy to have it back in service again.

After breakfast, the sun was hitting some plants on the front verandah so I watered them, sat on the couch and thought about moving a few plants around so they'll survive summer. But then the phone rang, I came inside and didn't give them another thought until now. There are many precious parts of growing old, like grandchildren and blissful days full of sewing and gardening, but I forget things now and I don't like that. It seems to be one of those things that comes with ageing for me so I'm not going to sook about it, and apart from this mention here, I'll just acknowledge the miserable fact and get on with it.

There is a fair bit of media interest in my library talks this year and yesterday, as I was talking to a journalist on the phone, Hanno brought me in a cuppa, and left the room silently, closing the door behind him. I doubt I could do what I do without Hanno. He has been at my side for more than half my life. I'm sure many of you feel the same way about your partners - they make so many things possible and often we just carry on like it's nothing. So let's raise our tea cups to our partners today and recognise them as the mainstays they are. I know it's not popular now to praise a husband, in fact often it seems the opposite happens, but I've never been one to run with any fashion, so my cup is full and raised high for Hanno. If your partner is a strong support for you, I salute them too. I hope you do too.

At some time during the morning, I cleaned the stove and made up a shopping list, I forget when they got done but at 11.30, I started making lunch. We had pork fillet and vegetables so it didn't take long to cook. After lunch, I talked with my Penguin publicist and another journalist and then went outside for a while to look at the elkhorn ferns in the bushhouse. I want to put them on the wall on the front verandah but when I took them out there, there were no screws on which to attach them. They're still sitting out there. I'll ask Hanno to put screws in the wall this morning and I'll hoist them up and see what they look like.

In the afternoon I did some washing, cleaned the bathroom and then a few bits and pieces on the computer. I'm trying to organise myself and my phone in preparation for the book launch and everything that will happen so quickly after that. If I put in a few hours of sorting out my address book and apps, it will make some things easier later on when we're far away from home. I get a bit anxious about going out and meeting so many new people but it's become part of what I do and as my mother would say, don't fuss Rhonda, just get on with it. That is my aim, but I don't aways succeed at doing it.

As usual, I ran out of energy in the afternoon and became quieter and less active as the hours passed. I had a piece of toast and iced water for dinner and did a bit of knitting in the evening before hitting the sack. It never takes me long to fall asleep and when I wake, there is is again, patiently waiting, another day in the life of an ordinary gal.

17 November 2015

The making of Maggie

She came into my life as a flat pack kit all the way from Alicia Paulson in Oregon. The kit was beautifully presented, with good quality materials, and it was a pleasure to work on.

She arrived in August - the makings of a little rabbit.

I didn't get around to sewing her until a rainy Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. Most of the time I spent hand sewing her, I listened to country music, my newest obsession.

Slowly she came together. The ears first, because that was my favourite fabric in the kit, and then her purple shawl.

She was impatient to have me sew her dress but other things took precedence and it took a while to get around to it.

When the dress was finished, she sat on my box of cottons waiting for her boots.

Then the boots took shape.
And I struggled for the first time with the project - doing up the laces on the boots. I had to undo it five times before I got it right.  When I left my desk to do something in the house, Jamie would bring in a little Lego animal that he'd just made and silently leave it next to whatever I was working on - this one was a cat.

And now she's finished.

I decided to knit her a little smock to go over her dress. The pattern, again from Alicia, advises circular needles and I don't have any that are such a small size. So I'm trying the pattern on flat needles. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. We'll see. Soon I'll wrap her so she can be given to a very special baby girl in my life. I hope she likes her as much as I do.

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