Saturday, March 7, 2015

2014 Our Annus Horribilis

In 1992 Queen Elizabeth declared that year to be “annus horribilis”. In a similar vein, we declare 2014 to be our “annus horribilis”. It has been a real shocker in terms of health issues.
The year got off to a bad start in January, when our son had an accident that left him with a very badly broken ankle which took six months to start to come right. In April, Andrew banged his head which lead to the development of a subdural haematoma, an emergency operation and four months of recovery period. In May, Heather had a bad fall whilst walking, causing a disk in her spine to bulge and put pressure on a nerve; causing almost continual pain in the lower back and elsewhere. Although there has been some improvement, a couple of subsequent falls have meant Heather is still often suffering serious pain.
Without going into all the details, other members of our family have also suffered from medical issues including heart operations, acute neck pain, bowel operations, bad backs from burst disks and a car crash that left the car in an unroadworthy state (but thankfully no medical damage). Even our dog managed to tear a nail off his foot, which lead to a visit to the vet, a course of antibiotics and a couple of weeks of care for his foot. We are living proof that the old saying that “bad things come in threes” is not true- they can come in much higher numbers.
All these health issues have not only caused a great deal of physical pain, but also stress and anxiety and innumerable visits to doctors, hospitals, specialists, radiologists, osteopaths, physios and other therapists.
During all of these horrible events we have tried hard to focus on the positives, knowing that the alternative was very depressing. The main positive is that we are so lucky to live in a time and place where we can seek and get medical help when needed. As a result our son is up and about and his ankle seems to have repaired itself. (Hopefully this will be confirmed in January when he goes for his final check-up). Andrew’s hair has grown back where it was shaved off for the operation and apart from the usual age related aches and pains is back to work on the property. Heather’s back is getting stronger every week and (apart from the odd relapse) the pain is gradually getting less intense. We are so grateful that the other members of our family who have had operations have also all come through them with flying colours and are on the mend.
The other big positives are our main building project (our cottage) is once again moving ahead and we are getting back the motivation to update our blog. Hopefully we will get out some posts in the next few weeks showing what we have been up to.
As a result of all of the above and our present workload, this blog (and our tours of Tenderbreak) will be temporarily placed on hold. Hopefully later this year we will be able to start posting about some of our more positive stories again.

Autumnfest 2015

This year Autumnfest will be held in River St., Healesville on Saturday March 21, 2015. In addition to the regular market stalls, there will be dance  and drumming workshops, face painting, a photography competition, kids activities, community group displays, farm animals, organic food to eat and talks on sustainable living.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tours of Tenderbreak on October 20th & November 24th, 2013

We are running tours of Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm on Sunday October 20 & November 24, 2013

A view of the house from the dam

Features explored on our tours include:-
  • Passive solar house design using thermal mass to control temperature
  • Earth bermed walls, mudbrick construction and radial sawn timber including a peek at our new mudbrick cottage (under construction)
  • Oat roller and motorised grain grinder (using an old washing machine motor)
  • Designing houses to resist fire & bushfire defence strategies including a fire shelter
  • Solar power system that provides power to our house (No mains grid connection)
  • Grey and black water worm farm treatment system.
  • Wood stove for cooking, heating, ironing and hot water supply
  • Fresh water and garden irrigation reticulation systems
  • Large organic veggie garden and use of compost to build soil depth from 10mm to 300mm.
  • Seed saving and companion planting.
  • Organic orchard with over 100 varieties of fruiting trees and bushes
  • Less common plants include yakon, lemonade tree, white sapote, shatoot mulberry
  • Free range hens and ducks
  • Fences, gates, trellises, hothouse and outbuildings made from recycled materials.
  • Our plans to use a steam engine as a back-up power supply for our solar system
  • Fish stocked multifunction dam, and much more
Hopefully all the blossoms will turn into plenty of fruit

Our property is in the Yarra Valley, 65km from Melbourne. If you would like to join our tour, you are very welcome. Bookings are essential as we have a limit of 20 people. The tour runs from 1:30 to 4:30 and the $15 per adult cost includes afternoon tea. Email us for more information and how to get here at

 If you cannot make it on these days, email us, and we will let you know when the next tour is on. Hope you can come.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

We're Back!

We haven’t been anywhere, but we decided to have a break from blogging for a while- a sort of hibernation over winter. We have not been sitting on our laurels though – here are some of the things that have kept us busy.

Our main focus has been on finishing our mud brick cottage. Completion has become urgent as we have just gained another 6 month extension to our permit and the authorities made it clear that they do not want to keep extending the permit. We are equally keen to finish the project so we can get on with other tasks, and are now aiming to finish by February next year. (Even though the permit gives us until April).

The Cottage is taking shape
So far we have laid over five hundred mud bricks and have about 250 to go. Most of the internal timber frame is up and ready to be cladded. The external west wall has been framed and has been clad with corrugated steel. We couldn’t use mud brick here because it gets the full brunt of the western sun. Our solution is to have a cavity wall with insulation and use mud bricks on the inside to provide thermal mass to help moderate internal temperatures.
We haven’t done much in the veggie garden apart from planning out our summer crops, mulching, building four big compost heaps, laying down sawdust on paths and transplanting a few plants. However, we have had a steady supply of food right through winter- including carrots, parsnips, cabbage, kale,  silver beet, warragul greens, parsley, spinach, rhubarb, pumpkin and the asparagus is providing a steady supply now too.
There are plenty of greens in the garden
It took over a week to prune deciduous trees in the orchard, and this year we focussed on reducing the height of many trees to keep the fruit within reach. We are not expert pruners but judging by the blossoms, we have got potential for some great fruit crops this year. We won’t get too excited yet though, as there is a long way to go before all those flowers turn into ripe juicy fruit. The citrus trees have produced masses of lemons, limes, mandarins, tangelos and grapefruit which we eat fresh or in tangy citrus drinks- plenty of vitamin C. The amazing thing is that they are already starting to flower again and hopefully produce an equally good crop next year.

The Tangelos make a very refreshing drink
We spent another week giving the hothouse a makeover by cleaning out unwanted growth, adding compost and planting some early summer crops and seedlings. So far we have planted five varieties of tomato, capsicums and several varieties of lettuce in the ground. The seedlings include zucchini, silver beet, cucumbers, pumpkin and more tomatoes.
The tomatoes in the hothouse are going well
Early spring is also our main time to start preparing for the coming fire season- hopefully it won’t be a bad one, but we have to do as much as we can every year- just in case. Since August we have spent one or two days each week clearing our firebreak areas of fallen timber. Logs and large branches are sawn up for firewood and the grass is kept mown in these areas.
Another area that has had a makeover is our shade house. This area had become a real tangle and apart from the fact that it was all overgrown was also a worry in terms of fire risk. Luckily for us, our daughter Kathy offered to help get it under control. We have now positioned a seat in this area (a wonderful Kathy idea), so we can sit and enjoy it from time to time.
Our shady Shadehouse
Of course life is not all about projects and work. Each day we walk Cobber (our dog) around our track and enjoy the beauty, peace and quiet of our recovering environment. This year the wallabies seem to be particularly prolific, the swallows do their daily displays of incredible aerobatics and the wombats and echidnas snuffle about doing their “thing”. At the moment we are just starting to see the first of the native orchids coming up and the mass yellow flowering of the wattles was spectacular this year.
August was a very exciting time for us, because our new grandson Logan was born. We have been making regular trips to Heathcote (about 120kms) to visit Sally, Liss and dearest beautiful baby Logan.
Beautiful Baby Logan
 During our hibernation we haven’t taken on many helpers, but did have two wonderful helpers (Kido and Tim) from Taiwan. Some lifelong friends of ours from Queensland dropped in for a few days whilst on their holiday. We had a wonderful catch up time and they were also eager to help with collecting firewood and building the cottage.

That roof will never fall down
 We have only had one tour of Tenderbreak over winter and that was a visit by the Dibble and Hoe Garden Club from Seville. They were a lovely group of people and we had a great day enjoying their company as we talked and walked around our property.

Now that we are “out of hibernation” we are going to run another tour of Tenderbreak on October 20. We will post all the details in our next post.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Challenging Summer: Planting an “Insurance Garden”

Every year is different in the garden. Some things do well and others don’t. Amongst the mix, there are usually a few disasters and a couple of successes. This is one reason why it is so important to diversify. If one or two crops fail, you can focus your efforts on the other crops and still get by.
Disasters first
The pears looked great at the start of summer
This year was our driest summer since we have been keeping records (19 years). December rainfall was low and then the rains virtually dried up until the last day of summer, when we got some relief. It was also our warmest summer ever, so evaporation rates have been high too. The heat did not stop with summer, as Melbourne is likely to have its hottest March on record too. This hot, dry weather was very disappointing because at the beginning of December everything pointed towards a bumper season and harvest (See We have gone Crazy this Year!). Most of the apple trees were loaded with huge crops. It looked like we would be getting our best crops of avocadoes, macadamias, pears, nectarines, nashis and so on.

And so did the nashis
But then the big dry set in. We tried keeping up with the watering but as each week became drier and drier it became harder. By early February we had to let some plants go and survive the best they could. We didn’t have the time, were exhausted with the total workload (and heat) and had to maintain good quantities of water in reserve in case we had to deal with fire. Some areas of Victoria have had terrible fires again this year and they took weeks to get under control, so that possibility was always on our mind.

Our beautiful apple crop started dropping off the trees well before they were ripe, and our lovely crop of nectarines and plums started to burn and shrivel on the tree and other crops suffered too.
Five Crown is one of our most productive trees
Although all the apples trees did suffer, some managed better than others. The five crown dropped a large amount of fruit but kept perhaps 50% (about 20kg). The Opalescent once again produced a crop of large juicy red fruit and being on a dwarf rootstock we were able to cover it with bird netting. The Orange Cox’s Pippen produced its best crop yet. The fruit is not very big, but their flavour is delicious with a distinctive taste- almost a lemony touch. 

Our total apple crop would have amounted to several boxes of fruit, which was more than enough for our needs. There was plenty to eat fresh, stew and the hot dry conditions were perfect for drying. Our pantry has a good store of dried apples for use after the season finishes.
The clothes horse made a good drying frame
There was plenty of other good news too.
Most of our berry crops such as blackberry, blueberry and currents withered on the plants. However the raspberries came in, just before the hot spell with its withering, dry northerly winds, so we were able to turn our harvest into enough raspberry jam to last the year.

We planted 5 varieties of pumpkins and although 3 patches struggled to survive, we focussed on the two strongest ones. We kept the water up on these patches and they have produced a reasonable crop – enough to last us through to next summer. What we lack in variety we’ll make up for in quantity.

Our carrots, parsnips and beetroot are just springing out of the ground and we will have our best crops yet. Our two small successive crops of corn have kept us supplied with corn for six weeks now and there are quite a few cobs still left. Cucumbers grew almost faster than we could pick them. The self sown parsley has produced around one hundred good sized bunches (which we sell at our organic market) and is still going strong.
Our bean tepee was very productive
We have been feeding off our climbing beans for over eight weeks now. We planted 3 small crops about 3 weeks apart. We are just starting to pick the third crop and have already harvested about 20 kg. The first crop which was planted around a tepee frame is still flowering so we should be getting many more.
Nothing beats summer strawberries
Our biggest thrill though was our strawberry bed. Although only a fairly small bed we have had 3 or 4 feeds of strawberries every week for over around 2 months. They have been so flavoursome and delicious.

We planted 6 tomato varieties and over 50 plants. We lost a few and some did not come to much, but most produced huge crops. The two best performers were Tommy Toe (our favourite for salads) and Principe Borghese  (a first timer for us). Altogether we have had plenty to eat in salads, soups and other meals, as well as enough to bottle for sauces and soups during the year.

Prince Borghese tomatoes were a big success
Having diversity in the garden is great for variety, but it is also like an insurance policy. If extreme weather events are going to be more frequent, planting an “insurance garden” is a pretty good idea!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Autumnfest: Healesville’s Big Day Out

The Autumn solstice is always a bit “iffy” in terms of the weather and this year was no exception. A few days ago we had gale force winds, heavy rain and cool temperatures. However, those who worked the weather magic smiled on Autumnfest again this year, and gave us the most pleasant day possible.
Plenty of delicious gourmet food & drink

All the hard work, months of preparation and organisation paid off with our best Autumnfest yet- possibly 2000 visitors over the course of the day. There was a wonderful ambience and sense of community under the century old oak trees of Coronation park as individuals and families came together to enjoy the various activities, glorious food, talks, performances, demonstrations and opportunities to share information and knowledge. Our photos show some of the day’s activities.

Luna's veggies were popular

The crowd enjoyed the Irish Dancing

The goats received lots of loving

Mmmm! Pure Olivetto Oil

During the day we met and chatted to dozens of people and were lucky enough to meet several readers of our blog. Everyone we spoke to, seemed to be enjoying the day and gave positive feedback and happy responses. Thank you to all helpers, participants and visitors for joining in and making it such a successful and special event.
There was great interest in our Permaculture Tours
Hopefully it will all be happening again next year close to the Autumn equinox in March. If you want to join in as a stallholder or volunteer or just be kept informed about the event, keep an eye on this blog or send us an email ( and we will add you to our mailing list.
Winsome's Crepes & waffles went well with Yarra Coffee

Hmmm! Which apple shall we choose?

Pete the Permie had plenty of advice about fruit trees

Suzann and Paul demonstrated their skills

Skipping Stones Circus skills for youngsters

Tour of Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm on Sunday April 7

If you happen to be near the Yarra Valley on April 7 we are holding a tour of our property in the afternoon. Tours cost $15 and bookings are required. Email us for more information.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Healesville Autumnfest 2013

Saturday, 23rd March, 2013
Healesville Autumnfest 2013 is going to bigger and better than ever. With over 40 stalls and displays there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

Our regular market stalls are famous for their organic locally grown food and they will be joined by others selling an even wider range of fresh local produce. There will be tastings of various heritage apples and if you discover a variety that really appeals you can even buy a potted tree so you can grow it yourself. Apart from produce there will be stalls selling clothes, wooden toys, wooden furniture, jewellery, preserves, woollen products, soaps, natural body products, seeds, books and lots more.

There will be plenty of entertainment for all ages. The Healesville Music Festival has a line up of local acts on its stage and Skipping Stones Dance is running a series of activities called “Adventure  Fun - Circus, Dance & Ephemeral Art” for children. There will be milking goats to pet and Edd or Amanda will be happy to answer any questions about these friendly animals. Emily will be there again doing delightful and creative face painting, but you’ll have to be quick because she had a queue all day last year.

As the event is organised by Permaculture Yarra Valley there will be plenty of information about Permaculture and topics related to sustainability. There will even be a demonstration Permaculture Garden in the Community Garden area. 
A program of talks will include a talk about Edible Weeds by local author Doris Pozzi, and you can purchase her book if you wish. Other topics of talks include Seed Saving, Designing a Permaculture Garden, Climate Change, Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm and Propagating your own Plants (along with a propagating activity for children). Many community groups will also be setting up displays to demonstrate their fantastic work.

There will be a number of stalls selling yummy organic food to eat, so forget breakfast and lunch and enjoy a meal of fresh, locally made food under the shade of the gorgeous Coronation Park trees. 

Autumnfest is sponsored by Permaculture Yarra Valley and Yarra Ranges Council and entry is free.  Email  for more information. If you happen to be in the locality we would love to see you there.
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