Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chapter 8: A walk through our garden.

Chapter 8: A walk through our garden.

This is our lemongrass that Joe's sister gave us a cutting of a year ago, thanks Lou.

When Jo and I first married we never spoke of gardening. Terms such as 'heirloom varieties', 'no dig garden' and 'companion planting' were foreiegn to us and never used in our day-to-day vocab. My Mediterranean gardening gene lay dormant  during the several years that we flatted in apartments and Joanna suspected nothing. As far as she was concerned, she had married a low maintanence yet incredible and very handsome man...but all the while my metamorphasis from pleasant docile husband to fanatical gardener was germinating somewhere in my deepest psyche.
 When we began our very first vegetable garden box at Umina, Jo thought it was 'cute'. Secretly though I had plans to take over the world and turn it into one, giant, vegetable garden. I would use throw-away one liners in order to prime my unsuspecting wife, such as "I think we could fit one more vege box just over there in the corner" or "how about we dig up the entire front lawn for a new vegetable garden and if you like you can have that little patch over there for some pretty little flowers or something...darling."
Remember Dear?

Yes I remember, only too well. I was always suspect...albeit a little unprepared, but always suspect. One day whilst visiting Joe's parents I heard his Dad say to Joe, "Come, look at the broad beans I have grown, they are as big as da house..." This exaggeration I was used to, but it was Joe's response that made something down my neck tingle and my hearing became unusually alert. "Broadbeans hey, yeah show me Papa, easy to grow you say, needs lots of cow manure you you have any seeds?"

It was also about this time that Joe gave up smoking and began exploring other 'habits' that he might enjoy. He ran for a while, he shamefully dabbled in miniatures for a while... but it was the day he planted a handful of Papa's broadbeans that I knew he had found that missing something...but not just for a while. It was just like Jack and his bloody beanstalk, ever since he got his hands on those beans, things have become out of control.

                                                 macadamia nuts from our lovely tree

That was two and half years ago.
When we first moved here to Springwood, we were very lucky to have some existing and well established trees such as the Mulberry, Macadamia, grape vine and a variety of citrus. Over the last twelve months we have added eight vegetable beds, three Blueberry bushes, a blackberry bush, a lychee tree seedling, two more grape vines, a passionfruit vine, two pear trees, a banana tree, an olive tree, a bay leaf tree and a fig tree . We also have a few experimental, interesting plants such as lemon grass which is super easy to grow and yummy in stirfries, a loofa vine which you can either eat young of allow to dry and use it as a sponge or scrubber. We have also grown Quinoa, a fancy Aztec grain that is really good for you but also really expensive in Australia. You can eat it like a porridge, a cous cous, with salads etc and whilst we have managed to grow about 5 plants so far we have not yet followed through with the task of preparing the seed for eating.

Take yourself on a tour, here is a map of our garden:

 Apart from the trees we also set about establishing some garden beds to grow our vegetables. So far we have the following 9 vege beds.

Vege Beds:
  1. Shallots, Radish, Rocket, Silverbeet, Beans.
  2. Tomatoes, Chillies, Mini-Capsicums, Carrots, Turnips.

  3. Sweet Potato, Leek, Lettuce, Basil, Herbs, Asparagus, Coriander, Celery, Pumpkin.

  4. Zucchini, Beans.

  5. Chillies, Broadbeans, Kidney Beans, Beetroot, Purple Carrots.

  6. Blueberries x 2, pumpkins, nasturgiums, marigolds.

  7. Rosemary, Swedes, beetroots, kidney beans, chick peas, lazy housewife beans (no reference to the real house-wife residing at this address), pak choy, bok choy, purple carrots, lettuce, garlic.

  8. purple carrots, garlic, mulberry cuttings, all-season carrots, potatoes.

  9. carrots, lettuce, lazy housewife beans, potato bags x 2. (forgot to draw this one in - its near the mulberry tree).  
This sounds like we have food coming out our ears but many of the things we are growing won't be ready for months and others years. For example this year we planted asparagus, however it needs two years before it can be harvested. This sounds like a long wait for a bit of asparagus but unlike other vegetables, the same asparagus plant can be harvested for over twenty years. Likewise the blueberries won't be ready for another twelve months but will then fruit annually for years to least that is what an optimist would say.  A pessimist might say that the birds will eat every single last one and then stain our balcony with runny, purple poos, which is probably closer to what will happen as opposed to our blissful, blueberrian, utopic aspirations. It's hard being an optimist sometimes...

However we must press on beyond all our bird pecking pessimistic thoughts and believe in our grand garden plan. We would love to one day turn our garden into an ongoing supply of lots and lots of lovely foods. The hardest thing we have come across so far is developing an ongoing crop rotation. If you are not planting something every week, you are not eating something every week, its the old feast or famine scenario. In our case we have to plant something everyday to keep up with Jo's ravenous pregnancy binges. 

In the short term in preparation for our F.F.F.C. we want to build another vege bed in the front garden. In the long term we have plans to plant two apple tress and lots and lots of flowers. Today we ordered some foxgloves, chamomile and borage.                          

Fab Flowers
Flowers are really important for a healthy vegetable garden as they have many benefits. For example chamomile improves the growth of most vegies, borage attract bees and is edible, nasturtiums improve the growth of many root vegetables and all of them look great. Flowers have another important benefit in our case, they mean our neighbours might actually stop to admire our gorgeous displays of colour and somehow miss the pumpkins that are crawling over our fence and across the communal thoroughfare which everyone so far has been very gracious in ignoring (except for the crazy lady who walks her dogs, stares at us from the darkness and always looks like she is about to steal our largest pumpkin).

                                            Eyes off crazy lady.

Growing Heirloom Vegetables

We told you last week that we would share where you can buy some of the best varieties of fruit trees and vegetable seeds on-line. Our top two are the Diggers Club and Eden seeds. Just google either and you will easily find them. The great thing about both is that they supply many heirloom varieties (heirloom refers to many old varieties that are no longer sold in shops because genetically modified types are more favoured for mass production). Fruit and vege like purple carrots, Turks turban pumpkins and tigerella tomatoes are heirloom varieties which you will rarely find in coles and dare we say even Aldi. So why grow them? If you are as big a fan as we are of the earth shattering news reports on 'Today Tonight' you may have seen the program on purple carrots. They have the highest antioxidant levels than just about any other food. Tigerella tomato plants yeild around 20kgs of fruit per plant and you will be challenged to find a variety that surpasses that. As for the old Turks Turban, it just looks and sounds wacky. There are many, many more heirloom varieties and you will be amazed at the shapes, sizes and colours that your vegetables can come in. We have bought our pear trees, blueberry bushes and plenty of seeds through Diggers and it has been delivered straight to our door.


Next week, pests, bugs, grubs and general disasters. We would love to tell you about some simple, non-toxic solutions to save your shrubs from the possums, birds and slugs. Also our first recipe from the garden in preparation for the F.F.F.C.

P.s. If you have been trying to write a comment unsuccessfully you can now do so by selecting the anonymous option, we would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chapter 7: Woo Hoo for home-brew!

Woo Hoo for Home Brew!
Welcome back our fine followers. It seems that the number of followers is becoming less exclusive by the week, increasing by a staggering 130% in seven days! Is cyber space big enough to fit all 7 of you... who can possibly tell. There you are, all hot and smelly after building your compost heaps, crammed together in that possibly unventilated cyber space you currently share... you must be thirsty. They say you can get it milkin' a cow... I wouldn't know, but i believe you can get it brushing your hair, or even sitting on a chair. Yep, you can get it any old how... matter'o'fact I'm getting one now... right out of the fridge... a home brewed beer!

There is something inexplicably satisfying about drinking beer that you have brewed yourself and best of all, its remarkably cheap and easy! We are by no means guru's at brewing. In fact, we are relatively new to it all. But if we are going to survive this F.F.F.C., a home-brew is most certainly required at the end of each day of the challenge. Currently we have only brewed about 10 batches of beer, and we have also dabbled with making our own wine from mulberries and grapes that we have grown on our yard.

What do I need to make home brew?
There are plenty of resources online about brewing, but if you want to keep it simple, you can buy all that you need to get started from K-Mart or a home-brew shop for around $100 - $120. We actually found most of what we needed on ebay for around $60. Your bare essentials include a carboy (that's a big plastic container), an air-lock (a squiggly tube that sticks in the top of your carboy - it lets gas out but stops air getting in), a bottle topper, a cleaning agent such as bleach (cheap), bottles, lids, and the yeast/malt/brewing sugar kit (about $20). Once you are set up, a batch of 65 beers or so will only cost you about $25. That's pretty good for 2 and a half cases. A brew will take about 1 week before you can bottle it, and another 2 weeks minimum before you can drink it. It is better to leave it longer (6 weeks or so).

Mmm is for Mulberries
In our yard we are lucky enough to have an established and very old mulberry tree. It is huge! We are also very lucky to have a grape vine which produced some lovely grapes, although most of them were eaten by the Rosella's. Throughout spring and early summer, Joe and the kids spent hours picking mulberries. They are truly delicious. If you have the room, a mulberry tree is a must. Very low maintenance, grow from cuttings and grow quickly. Just remember, they can get big, so plant them in the right spot.

By the end of spring, we had collected about 5 kg of mulberries and stored them in deep freeze. We also managed to save about 1kg of grapes from the birds. The mulberries are delicious in pancakes, or heated into a syrup to drizzle over ice cream, or in apple and mulberry pie. mmmmm.

Mulberry wine
Also as it turns out, they are not a bad fruit to make wine from. After some research and a visit to a brewing store, we mushed our grapes and mulberries in the blender, added water, sugar, lemon juice and some cinnamon sticks and of course some wine yeast, to make our very first home made batch of mulberry and grape wine. How exciting! That said, wine takes much longer than beer to mature, and ours is still in the carboy, so we have no idea how it will turn out. Fingers crossed it will be a wonderful summer wine that we can serve at our end of challenge dinner party.
Why don't you give it a try? The whole beer thing is dead easy. Okay, you may not have a grape vine, but why not take a trip to the hunter and snip yourself a few cuttings before next spring? (because its illegal). Alternatively you could visit your local nursery or Bunnings and see what vines they have in stock. A grape vine costs about $10. Surprisingly, you can make wine out of lots of other fruits, including just about any berry, even kiwi fruits and bananas!

I know, its a big step... but we have already inspired you to have chooks, right? Not to mention a compost heap and a veggie garden, and your neighbours already think your a hippie. Hell, what does it matter if they call you an alco too. How awesome would it be to invite friends around for a dinner party and pop out a bottle of 2011 uniquely home made wine. And if it tastes really bad, don't despair, give it away as a Christmas present, someone will drink it.

What's growing in the Garden
OK, enough about the home brew, back to the garden. In preparation for the funky front yard challenge we have decided to expand out vegetable garden. With the onset of Autumn, we have planted several new crops, including Papa's broad beans, beetroot, pak-choy, bok-choy, swedes, more all season carrots, garlic, shallots, lazy-housewife beans, red kidney beans, chick peas, silver beat and radishes. Spinach, strawberries, turnips and leek are also good to plant now.

Hot Potatoes
Most exciting of all is our potato experiment. Some months ago, a friend mentioned the mysterious method of growing potatoes in sacks in order to increase the yield. The general idea is as follows. A sack or porous bag, such as an old potato sack is rolled down so that it is only about 20cm deep. Add soil and 2 or 3 potatoes (eyes facing up). As the potato plant grows, unravel the bag by 10cm or so and add more soil, leaving the top of the potato plant exposed. Continue this process until the bag is full. Throughout the process the potato plant is tricked into growing new tubers, growing far more potatoes than usual.

We thought we would give it a try. If it works well, we can start a potato bag or two every month and work out how many we would need to grow. Potatoes take about 120 days to mature, and can be grown almost all year round in temperate conditions. Traditionally they are planted from about July through to December, although this will vary depending on your climate.

Potatoes are super easy to grow, but it is recommended that you don't plant them in the same soil again for 3 years to prevent diseases building up in the soil. This is another benefit of planting in bags. The soil can be tipped out and used elsewhere. Potatoes are good companions for cabbage/corn/peas/beans. Garlic and French marigolds are good at preventing pests and diseases with potatoes, and nasturtiums help improve their growth.

We took a trip to one of those hippie organic produce shops in Katoomba last weekend, and did our best to blend in with the tie-die and long, naturally greying heads of hair cleaned only with blossom oil and herb extracts. To their benefit, and ours, they had a wonderful range of organic fruit and vege and dried beans and grains. The purpose of our visit was to select seeds, and vegies to plant for the winter. We left with some lovely Dutch cream, Kipfler and Pontiac potatoes which we have used in our potato bags. You might be wondering why you would bother growing your own potatoes when you can buy them relatively cheaply from the shop? Just wait til you try your own home-grown ones, oven-roasted, drizzled in olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt, totally more delicious than anything you have ever bought. Home-grown potatoes store for much longer than those you buy as well.

Bags of poo

Joe and Noah also took a trip down into the Richmond farming district in search of horse manure for the garden. If you live near any farms its worth doing a poo-patrol. The occasional farm will sell their manure for about $2 a bag. Big, heavy, 30kg bags of poo. For 20 dollars, you can fill your entire car with 300kg of poo for the garden and drive home with the windows open and a satisfied smile on your face. If you live near the Richmond district. Our top poo stops are on Londondary road and The Driftway. Use well rotted manure in your compost, or dig it into your garden beds before planting hungry vegetables such as pumpkins and tomatoes. For the brave hearted, make a potent poo-tea and use to fertilise the garden every week or two.

There you go. You have no excuse to pay extortionist prices for beer or poo ever again.

Next week, we will give you a tour of our funky frontyard garden, and look at some crops in more detail, such as the our super spicey chillies, purple carrots, and blueberries which are all wonderfully high in anti-oxidants. We might even share with you where to buy such rare heirloom vegetables right here from your very own computer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chapter 6: Compost and our Garden Challenge

 Chapter 6: Compost and our Garden Challenge

To our dear three faithful followers, a special warm welcome for you guys. We have something exciting in stall in this chapter, tonight we are unveiling our super blog challenge countdown.

The Funky Frontyard famers Challenge Begins

As you know we have a vegie garden in our front yard. In it we grow plenty of different things, but it has up until now remained more of a hobby than anything else. Would it be possible, from a regular sized suburban block, to grow enough food to sustain a family, for a week, a month, or even permanently? We aim to find out!

Over the coming year, we are going to prepare to withgo our food grocery shop for at least a week, and hopefully longer, with enough food produced from our front yard without eating the chickens by day four, or inviting ourselves over for BBQ's at our friends homes at short notice.

We aim to start the challenge on the 11th Januray next year to give ourselves time to prepare and we will fill you in along the way. This shall now and forever more be known as the Funky Frontyard Farming Challenge (our faithful three followers may refer to this as the F.F.F.C.). pronounced "fffffffffffffffffffffk".

That said, there are a few things that we have decided we can't live without! Coffee, milk, olive oil and flour will remian on our Aldi's shopping list. All the other food items will have to come out of the ground or a chook!
In the meantime, we will do some research on how to preserve and store certain vegetables and fruits, and prepare a seasonal guide to determine what to grow when, as well as recipes based on home grown produce, including mulberry wine, and home brewed beer. It should be very exciting!
Joe is even thinking of farming fish, but more on that later. But most exciting of all, we will host a garden dinner party to end our challenge, and if your good, you might get invited.

Now! compose yourself for compost...

Composting is an easy process to start in your backyard and has many benefits for you and the garden. The basic concept is that organic matter, like leaf litter, grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps can all be turned into lovely rich soil for your garden.

Building your compost bin:

If you are in a hurry you could go and buy one from Bunnings but in our opinion they're not super and you can make a great one for alot less using wood, bricks or even chicken wire. whatever you choose to make it from the main thing is that your compost bin is about the diameter of a cubic meter. It needs to be this big to develop the heat that allows microbes to break the organic matter down. If you don't have this type of space available, look into worm farms which you can also buy, they can be used to break down your kitchen scraps in a much more compact way.

Here is our compost bin, once again made out of some old wooden palettes and chicken wire. As you can see it is split in two, we did this so that we can allow one side to break down whilst we fill the other.

It is important to keep your compost heap well airated. This is why we have used chicken wire on the sides. Oxygen allows microbes to be productive and without it your compost will smell and rot which won't be any good for use on the garden. We give our compost a turn with the pitch fork every week or so to help airate the heat.

Compost also needs to remain moist but not wet. In the hotter months sometimes you may need to water your compost heap to keep it moist.

What to put in your compost bin:

A good compost heap will have a variety of organic matter. Generally speaking a mixture of green/moist matter (such as kitchen scraps, freshly cut grass) and dry organic matter (leaf litter, or even shredded newspaper and cardboard) will make the best compost. If the compost heap is too wet add more dry matter, if it is too dry add more green matter.
We put in things like : coffee grains, tea bags, egg shells, all fruit and vege scraps, lawn clippings, leaf litter and shredded newspaper, chook, horse and cow manure...its all good stuff. Don't put in meat, too much citrus, dairy products or meat-eating animal poo.

We simply have a small benchtop bin in the kitchen for all our composting scraps. It is amazing how much less rubbish we put in our wheelie bins these days.

It will take around 6 to 8 weeks for a compost heap to break down and be ready for use on the garden, during the winter it may take longer. You will know it is ready when it is a dark, rich brown and crumbly matter, just like good soil should be. Now it is ready for the garden.

How to use your lovely compost:

Compost can either be dug into the garden to produce super sized vegies and fruit or you can put it in a porous bag (like a hessian bag) and soak it in a barrel of water to make a compost tea. After about 2 weeks the tea can be put in a watering can and used to water your favourite fruit and vege for that extra kick once a week or so. We just dug some compost in to our zucchini bed as they were a little worse for wear and they have come back with a vengeance.

As you can see our zucchinis are enormous but warning : sustained composting can cause 'lazy eye' and other abnormalities... i still love him though...

Next week, home brew, homemade wine, and growing your own spuds in a bag. Happy Saint Pat's day everyone, to be sure to be sure.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chapter 5: Fowl thoughts…

Everybody has a chicken experience. Like all experiences, some are better than others. Memories like collecting the eggs at Nana and Pops when you were a child, as the morning sunlight streamed through the mulberry tree leaves like shafts of syrup…ahhh, now there’s a good memory. Or, like the time you were overly curious and ventured deep within the arcades of China Town without keeping track of how you got there, only to find yourself lost and confused amidst the swaying chicken carcasses whose tortured claws still seem to scratch the claustrophobic air that reeks of hoi-sin sauce…bad experience. But, today we would like to talk about the good experiences. To begin with don’t think about lifeless, dangling, white, scaly, clawy, chicken feet. Instead, think of yellow and fluffy, sweetly chirping, newly hatched chicks…that I guess do have tiny, teeny, scaly, clawy, chicken feet, which may or may not find themselves one day dazed and confused in a China Town arcade.

You could be instrumental in giving some little fluffy chicks a map out of China Town.

You are not sold on the idea yet are you? I can tell. You are coming up with plenty of logical counter arguments, like having poo squashed between your toes or being scratched to death by scaly, clawy chicken feet. Is that the best you can come up with? You’re so predictable.

There are loads of great reasons for getting chooks. First of all, chooks are super low maintenance, they make great pets and kids love them. Let’s not forget freshly laid eggs, our girls lay one each a day, that’s a dozen every three days! That’s over 700 eggs in 6 months and if you are type that buys organic eggs from supermarkets you could save $600 a year on eggs, poo between your toes never felt so good. Buying a chook will set you back between $15 - $20, so they easily pay themselves off.

Chickens eat all of our spiders and weeds as well as all of our food scraps that we don’t compost including bread, meat, salads, corn, pasta, porridge and just about anything else that we eat. Their manure makes the best fertilizer you can have for your vege garden (but it is so strong it needs two months to break down). Last of all chooks are great company and very friendly.

Now that you are convinced and on your way to Windsor farming supplies, we should tell you there are a few down-sides to having these little feathered friends. They do have a tendency to dig up your garden so consider fencing them in to their own area, we let ours out of their yard every Sunday for a peck around. They also like to explore out opened gates or may fly over fences (but this is easily fixed by cutting the flight feathers on one wing). If your chooks do escape the best way to get them home is to show them a bowl of food, they will follow you anywhere.

Six months ago we took a family drive down to Windsor farm supplies with a cardboard box and two very excited children. We were on our way to buy ourselves some egg-laying chickens. We chose four lovely Isa-brown hens that were 20 weeks old and put them in our cardboard box. All the way home we thought up names until we finally settled on Henrietta, Billy Holiday, Charlie and Stella. We haven’t looked back!

A few weeks before, we set about building a chicken coup for the ladies. Using some spare wood, corrugated iron and some chicken wire we came up with this.

‘Le Chateau de Omlette’ – it had all the modern features, excellent ventilation, a second story, a comfortable straw bed and a tin roof. We also attached a home-made waterer using an up-side down plastic bottle and tray, as chooks get very thirsty and need to be kept well hydrated. On arrival, the ladies were shown to their rooms and then we locked them in for three days to help them get acquainted with their new home. Chooks are creatures of habit and will always sleep in the same place every night. They prefer to sleep perched off the ground, hence why we made the second level. It is important to position a chicken coup in a shady place that still gets some morning sun but that won’t get too hot during the day. If you are worried about foxes, lay a roll of chicken wire under your coup and attach it up the sides as this will prevent them from digging under.

As anyone about to lay an egg would appreciate, chooks like some privacy for laying. Our chooks either lay in the darkest corner of their coup or behind a thicket of sticks next to the fence. The novelty of collecting the eggs never really wears off. Each morning Joe and the kids feed the chooks and collect the eggs.

Our top 5 egg eats are:
1. French toast with mulberries drizzled with maple syrup.
2. Cheesy, Chili and Basil omlette.
3. Warm date & cinnamon whole meal muffins with a spread of melted butter.
4. Poached eggs with Rocket and Pancetta served on crusty penne.
5. Good old boiled eggs with soldier finger toast, and a pinch of sea salt.

p.s. If you are an anonymous yet faithful reader of our blog, show some cyber support and become a "follower", just so that we know we are not only writing to a black hole.

Anyway, got to go, chickens in the oven.

Next week: Composting - the basics and how to get started.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chapter 4: House Hunting Tips, then back to the Garden

Chapter 4 : House Hunting Tips and then back to the Garden

There are some things that will haunt a renter til the day they die (especially if they are still renting when they die). There are the onging mundane aspects of 'renting life' like having to constantly deal with inexperienced real estate agents with names such as 'Sheri-lee', 'Mario' and 'Kaylene', who insist on sending letters outlining your immenent eviction even though your rent is 6 weeks in advance. Then of course there are the old sour pusses like 'Yvonne' who tells you the land lady "is a dear old sweet lady who drops by maybe once a year for a quick dip at the beach and to prune the front garden" but ommits details of any size 26 knickers and the truth about extended stays with her extended family having extended parties in your back yard for up to 4 weeks.

Or there are those friggin cold winter mornings when you shiver to the fridge for the milk, open the door and realise in a moment of renting sadness that the inside of the fridge is warmer than your house...and there is nothing you can do about it...except climb inside the fridge.

Almost all renters have experienced plauges of one kind or another, whether it be the killer wasp hive inside your living room wall, the psycho possum who stares at you through your air vents or the endless stream of german cockroaches that take up residence in every single electrical item you plug into a wall and that no spray known to man can kill.

There is an inevitable period of self deception that every renter undergoes by concocting a series of pschological antedotes such as 'those silly people who are chained to their mortgage, I am free to go anywhere I please, hell I could even live in Brazil tomorrow if I wanted to' or the classic spartan and quasi-ethical excuse for renting 'my house does not define me as a person, I have transcended all need for material ownership, thats why I only aquire my house-hold furniture at council pickup, I am NOT buying into this consumerist ideology damn it!' Last but not least there are those less fortunate renters who have subsided to drugs and alcohol abuse as a final resort, before leaving and joining a commune. Their excuse for renting usually goes a little something like this 'I won't be told I need to buy a block of land, I mean we all own the land, the land is part of us and we are part of it. right? Darren? wake up darren!'

Unless you have already come to the last intoxicated option and embraced Socialist perspectives of land ownership, eventually every renter faces the cold, hard fact that they would prefer to own their own home.

Here are our top tips for escaping the rental cycle.

1. Start saving and put your money in a high interest saving account, don't touch it, be patient. Getting into a cycle of saving will give you a good indication of how much you are capable of repaying on a mortgage.

2. Start seeing brokers and banks (they will come to you) and get an idea of how much you can afford to repay fortnightly. They will most likely offer you more than they should so be smart. Make sure that the monthly repayments are well under the amount that you are putting aside in savings already otherwsie a simple interest rise will knock you about.

3. Start looking on and and other private sale sites to see what and where your money can buy. The more you do this the more discerning you will become of good value for money.

4. Make a list of everything you want in a home such as distance to work and shops, number of bedrooms, size of block, suburb etc and then work out which things you will and won't compromise on right down to things like floor boards v carpet.

5. When dealing with real estate agents be very clear on your checklist, email it to them, it will save you and them alot of wasted time.

6. Start getting out and seeing houses, see at least 10 before you seriously consider anything. This can be hard, but be disciplined and patient.
7. Think outside the square. Advertise what you want in local papers as private sellers will respond (this was how we bought our house).

8. When you find the house you really like make sure you get a building and pest inspection and if possible get some advice from someone in the building industry that you trust.

9. If all else fails revert to phase 3 of our renting scenario, Yalumba makes a great Dry Red, 2 litres for only $12, if it wasn't for the fact tht Joe kept breaking out in an allergic rash, we may never have owned our own home!

Starting a Veggie Garden
Anyway time to put the funk back into our funky frontyard farming advice. In the garden right now we are growing purple carrots, Pak choy, lots of tomatoes, huge bunches of basil, sweet potatoes, strawberries, butternut pumpkins, baby capsicums and spicey hot chillis. These are but few of the summer bounty which is sadly now coming to a cool close. But do not despair, our fellow funky farmers, there are still plenty of volumptuos vegetables you can grow right now.

"But I don't have time to make a vegetable garden", I hear you think across this cyber space. Don't be silly, even in a styrofoam box you can get a satisfying return of crops. Heres what to plant this month of March:

for the budding first time vege gardeners, try all season carrots, lettuce, Pak-Choy, silverbeet, shallots and garlic.

for the more adventurous, go for beetroot, broccoli, chives, Leek, onions, turnips and strawberries. if you have the room, plant them all.

Some handy hints are as follows.

put your patch in a spot where it will get as much sun as possible, and near a water source. Good soil means good crops. plenty of manure and dark soil will give big returns (top soil and manure is about $5 a bag). add mulch like sugar cane mulch to help retain water. (about $13 a bale at bunnings).

We made this vege box from a wooden pallet i found in council pick up (we were renting at the time).

Some things grow larger than others, so plant your taller crops at the southern end of the garden so they don't overshadow the smaller crops. Don't fret too much about this if you are a first timer. you will pick it up as you go. main thing is to make sure you have a go.

water in the evenings every 2 or 3 days, and after any hot days.

Pak-Choy grows super fast (an asian green that is great in stirfries and laksa's). When sowing all season carrots, mix the seeds with some sand (they are tiny) before sowing to help space out the seeds. Shallots are great - hack them back and they grow back again and again. Garlic shoots are also nice to flavour dishes or can be used to tie chicken thigh fillets flavoured with seasoning etc. Yummy.

sweet potatoes grow like mad in spring and summer. Unlike normal potatoes (which have poisonous leaves) the leaves of sweat potatoes are edible and delicious in a salad. they grow heart shaped leaves as a creeper, and look nice in the garden too.

when things start to grow cover with netting to keep out unwanted feathered or furry freeloaders. There, that should get you started. We will keep updating you with what to grow each month.

Next week - time to talk poultry. Introducing our three lay-dees, Henrietta, Charlie, and Billy Holiday. How we got started, and some eggsellent ideas for anyone thinking foul thoughts.