It is the season of slowness, both internally and externally. The urge is strong to spend my days inside, reading, writing and watching the grey winter days slide by. Outside my windows the garden waits, pleading for love and attention but it’s cold out there, and windy, and the pickings are slim.
I got my winter brassicas in too late, after a bout of wild weather destroyed my little plastic greenhouse and the green shoots nestled within. Unseasonal warmth at the start of winter confused things: one of the apple trees attempted to flower and the potatoes I missed in the harvest sent up floats of green leaves just in time for the frosts. My leeks, beets and carrots failed to germinate (I suspect the blackbirds). The kale, my winter staple, got powdery mildew while I was away and hasn’t really recovered. Dandelions will be a bigger part of my diet this winter than the last…
I have rocket though, and a small but steady supply of sprouting broccoli. The salad burnet just keeps on giving and makes a nice mix with nasturtium leaves and the tender shoots of the sweet peas that came up in the warmth. The tatsoi in pots is slow-growing but tasty: the plants in the garden perform better but I have competition for the harvest from the brown rats that have set up home in the neighbour’s wood-heap. Too smart for their own good, they ignore the baits the neighbours have laid and the tasty morsels I place in my big steel trap (I have ethical issues with using poisons: I don’t think anything deserves that kind of horrible death or the chance of such nasty things getting into the food chain). Strange rats, they prefer to graze on my vegetables and decimated my winter lettuce crop.
I had to get the oca in a little early after they discovered the tasty tubers and started nibbling. Some things I’m not prepared to share. Now I have 2.5 kg of this delicious Andean staple to keep me going through the cold months, and just as well, since the June warm weather sent my stored potatoes sprouting despite dark storage. Not a bad effort for a new-to-me crop, grown from a half-dozen donated tubers thrown into a hastily-dug garden bed and largely neglected for nine months. I like plants that grow themselves.
I did motivate myself a couple of weekends ago to re-edge the garden beds in an attempt to keep the grass out and the mulch in (as much as possible when there are blackbirds…) and was pleased to discover that, for the most, the soil was in good condition, rich in humic matter, retaining moisture and alive with worms and insects. Given the dry, compacted wormless dirt that was here on my arrival I’m pretty happy with the improvement. It’s amazing what lazy composting, liberal applications of manure and enthusiastic mulching can do!
Mostly though, I like to sit at my table, taking my time over a pot of tea, looking out over the winter landscape and watching the birds. There are crescent honey-eaters in the banksia hanging over the fence, and they sit on the house wire, chirruping their cheery call, “Eegypt! Eegypt!”. The little friarbirds are a rarer visitor during the cold months, but I sometimes see them perched high, surveying the scene. Flocks of cockatoos wheel way up overhead in the afternoons, on their way across the river to roost. Some winter days flocks of silver-eyes flit among the brassicas, feasting on the aphids in a rush of tiny feathers.
On cold, clear mornings, fog glides down the river as the sun rises. On clouded afternoons the sunset paints pale pastels across the sky, and on crisp winter nights the stars shine ever so bright as I peek out through the curtains, the cottage warmed by the wood heater. Best of all, though, are the days when the raindrops ping and trace patterns across the glass, when I can stay inside, reading or writing and drinking my tea without any guilt, knowing that nature is providing exactly what my garden, and I, need right now.
I have slowly been getting my life back in order and recovering from a little souvenir illness I brought back from Peru. After so many weeks away or otherwise indisposed I feel like the world has got away from me a little.
Still, the list of things to do is – very slowly – getting shorter, as are the days. Although it’s technically still autumn, winter arrived here in Hobart a few days ago. I’ve been enjoying the frosty mornings, cold blue-sky days and crisp, starry nights. Having the wood heater going really does help with enjoying the cooler weather, I must admit, and I’ve purchased another load of ‘sustainably-harvested’ firewood.
Meanwhile there’s always work to be done in the garden, no matter the time of year. I’ve harvested the last of the beans, tomatoes and potatoes, plus the surprise Jerusalem artichokes (thank-you former tenants). While I was gone the lettuce went to seed, so at some point I need to dig the seedlings out of the lawn and find a better place for them. The winter brassicas are coming along nicely too, with staggered plantings of broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts and tatsoi to get me through the coming months.
Really though I’m looking forward to the slower pace of winter; to quiet nights in front of the fire, slow cooked meals, sleeping in and time spent with good books. The challenge now is making that happen, with everything else I want to do, and still finding time to research and write.
Somehow, though, I always find time to stop and appreciate the beautiful world around me.
What do you like best about winter? Tell me how you celebrate the cold season.
It’s that time of year again. The days are still hot, the soil still concerningly dry and the breeze still smells of smoke but they are getting shorter. Summer is slowly sliding into autumn.
The garden knows it. The leaves on the last potatoes have been yellowing. The beans, so prolific this summer, are finishing. A lone pumpkin is beginning to ripen on the self-sown vine. The red winter kale has finally admitted defeat in the face of powdery mildew and aphid attacks and gone to seed. Summer’s bounty is fading.
It’s been an odd growing season, and my first summer here at the Cottage. It was exceedingly hot1 and dry,2 with horrible winds that stripped the moisture out of everything. I don’t like to water much, but even my well-mulched, water-conservative garden has needed a good weekly soaking. The eggplants and chillies enjoyed the heat and I’m looking forward to harvesting a handful of aubergines. The tomatoes haven’t done so well though, or the zucchini: where I was expecting great gluts I’ve ended up scavenging from friends to gather enough for preserving. Still, I’ve had plenty to eat and largely kept myself in veg this summer (with the notable exception of carrots, of which I grew just one).
As the season progressed, so did my weekly harvest!
Now it’s time to prepare the garden for autumn and to stock my stores with the excesses of the summer. Yes, it’s relish time again!
The over-ripe tomatoes I scavenged from a friend’s garden have been turned into jars of rich, summer flavour. Soon that same friend’s surplus giant zucchinis will be cooked up with Indian spices for a spicy savoury relish. A couple of kilos worth of beans – green and scarlet runner – have been chopped and blanched and bagged up in the freezer for winter meals to come, and rhubarb has been stewed and frozen for winter porridge breakfasts. The apples that survived to worst of the weather only to fall prey to codling moth have had the edible parts rescued, been poached in vanilla syrup and stowed away: a delicious sweet treat despite the beasties. A good three kilos of potatoes are paper-wrapped and await a dark place to be stored.
It’s time, now, to prepare the garden for my winter crops. There are beds to dig, seeds to be sown, and if I don’t do it now there will be no backyard harvest through the cooler months. The soil needs a lot of love in places before much of anything will grow, so the compost bin has been shifted and I’m prepping green manure to get some much-needed organics worked in. One over-worked bed will lie fallow this season, then be planted out with herbs come spring.
For now, though, it’s autumn and winter veg I’m thinking of. I have interesting new heirloom seeds to sow: golden beets, fractal (romanesco) broccoli, ruby sprouts, mammoth leeks and purple cauliflower. Poor little plants will need to fend for themselves though, as soon I’m heading overseas again for a while. I’m relying on the kindness of friends and neighbours, on my little community, to tend my garden while I’m gone.
That’s the magic of a garden though: it doesn’t just grow food, it grows connections.3 This summer my surpluses have been shared with others. I’ve traded beans and potatoes for apricots and nectarines. I’ve swapped seeds with other growers. I was given the most amazing types of tomatoes by Pauline Mak and traded garden pest info with Provenance Growers.
My garden does so much more than feeding and nourishing me: it feeds the bees, provides home for the birds, it binds and enriches the fine black soil and it creates places for all sorts of crawlies to scuttle about. It creates a topic of conversation with friends and strangers alike, and allows the free trade of information and sharing of experience. It supports simple acts of giving and sharing and, like the sunflowers blooming down the bottom, spreads a little beauty through the world.
This is what my garden grows.
What about you? What’s happening in your patch right now? Are you starting spring planting? Still awaiting the thaw? Or, like my parents up in south-east Queensland, waiting for the saturated soils to dry out enough to plant?
What do you love about your garden? Tell me, what does it grow?
 Records were set for the hottest single day (41.8oC), the hottest summer overall (highest mean summer maximum) and the number of days above 30oC – source: Bureau of Meteorology.
 Only 39% of our average summer rainfall fell - source: Bureau of Meteorology.
 The social benefits of a garden – source: Irish Food Board.
As may be apparent, 2013 has got off to a busy start for me. Summers in Hobart are jam-packed with things to do, I’ve struggled to find time to write and I’m not as on top of things as I’d like to be.
It can be challenging to maintain balance during busy times and so often I hear people say that they’d like to be more environmentally-sound in their choices but they lead busy lives and they just can’t find the time. And so we let unsustainable choices sneak into our busy lives. We go to the supermarket to do our shopping, instead of visiting the local grocer and the farmer’s market. We drive places instead of cycling or walking. We buy ready-made and processed foods to eat on the run. Gardens get neglected… In the name of convenience, of saving time, we make a thousand small choices that make our lives less sustainable, that lock us in to being busier and busier, that have negative consequences on our health and the health of our planet, our one and only home.
If we really want to make this world, our home, a better place, sustainability needs to be a priority in our lives at all times, especially when we’re tired and stressed. That’s when our bodies and minds are telling us we need to slow down, to rest and to focus on the things that are really important: taking proper care of ourselves and our loved ones. That’s when we really need to nurture ourselves, and we do that best by making sustainable choices, by feeding ourselves wholesome and nutritious food, by connecting with our communities, by ensuring we breathe fresh air and get some exercise, by remembering that living in tune with our beliefs and values actually lowers stress levels and makes us happier.
So stop a while, take a moment to just breathe and remember how it is that you really want to live your life.
Making sustainable choices:
For me, I get through these busy patches by making sustainable choices part of my day’s structure. Daily routines and habits are much easier to maintain than big new changes, so when sustainability is part of your every-day lifestyle, sustainable choices just flow along.
Of course, I don’t have access to an endless well of time so some things do fall by the way-side when I get really busy. It used to be the healthy choices that I let drop. No time for a swim or a bush walk, no energy to cook a proper dinner, and I’ll just finish this or that before I head to bed (oh look, another night of not enough sleep…). Now I’m learning to stay off the computer when I’m tired, that blogging can wait. That I’ll feel better in the morning for cooking a real meal tonight and not opening that bottle of wine. That heading to the pool will clear my head and lower my stress, while an evening on the couch will do the opposite and that no-one is really going to notice if I didn’t do the cleaning this week, but I’m going to feel it I don’t get to the market and stock my kitchen with the sort of food I should be eating.
It’s taken an concerted effort to break these habits and I’m still working on it, but work it does and I’m getting through the busy patches now without dropping the things that really matter to me, without winding up sick and miserable as I push myself too far.
Learning new habits:
- Walk - the daily walk to work is so ingrained into my routines I don’t even think about taking the bus, plus the time and activity help me clear my head for the day ahead. Driving to work or the local shop doesn’t even occur to me now.
- Nourish - it’s very easy when busy to give into the temptation of easy food: processed stuff that will give you a quick energy hit but in the long run is bad for you and the planet (packaging, farming practices, food miles and the rest of it) but preparing and eating real food makes me feel better. When I’m tired and lack the motivation to cook I wander into the garden and find inspiration in what I can harvest there. I also over-cook when I can and stock my freezer with home-made insta-meals to get me through the busy times.
- Prepare - have the little things that help you make the right choices near to hand. I keep fabric shopping bags in places that mean I’ve almost always got one on hand and don’t get caught out needing plastic. I keep my swimming bag packed and hanging my the door. I have raw nuts on hand for snacking. I order seeds so I know I’ll get the garden ready!
- Share - turn chores into a social event by inviting friends, thus helping you to keep the commitment as well as spreading sustainable choices. I make dates with friends to sow the new season’s seeds, to go on foraging missions or get our preserve on to store seasonal surpluses.
- Decide - a friend introduced me to the concept of mindfulness a while back and it’s an amazingly powerful tool I use to keep myself going and being the kind of person I want to be. When I’m tired, grumpy or feeling over it I ask myself who I’m choosing to be, what impact will that choice will have on me? It’s usually enough to get me out and working in the garden or researching sustainability things!
- Stop - I’ve got into the habit now of giving myself a half-hour every evening to just sit and be quiet before bed; time I used to sacrifice in the name of productivity that now allows me to sift through my thoughts and feelings and work out where I’m heading each day. It’s keeping me grounded and has greatly improved the quality of my sleep.
How do you keep yourself on the right path?
I have a few strange habits:
- I keep every rubber band that enters my house in a container in a kitchen drawer.
- The frilly tulle bags from jewellery shops get tucked into a box in a draw.
- I stack up old egg cartons on top of the fridge.
- Glass jars get washed up and stowed in a box under the table.
- A pretty box in the study stores used wrappings, packaging and ribbons.
- What plastic bags and tubs cannot be avoided are washed up and stored.
- I pile up plastic plant pots in an old plaster bucket under the house.
- Bottles of old engine oil get dutifully stored under the house.
- I bring home occasional piles of newspapers from work or bags of coffee grounds from my local cafe.
And yet, I’m not a hoarder. My home is small with little storage and I’m pretty strict about stuff. So why keep these things? Because they are still useful – to me or someone else – and needn’t be thrown away.
The rubber bands go to the market vendors who use the blighters to bundle their veg (with a few kept on hand because they’re always useful). The frilly tulle bags that still look brand new are taken back to the shop (eventually), saving the vendors money. The egg cartons get split between colleagues with chooks and the CWA shop (I tried using some as bio-degradable seedling pots this year, but it was a bit of a fail). The jars are re-used for storing dry goods and home-made preserves, with the excess passed on to a local charity for others to use. Rescued tissue paper and cellophane are kept to wrap another day, post-packs are recycled and ribbons re-used.
Those unavoidable plastics* are re-used to store fruit and veg in the fridge, and to freeze left-overs for future lunches (though I’m a little bit worried about the health implications of this). Pots are recycled (it’s best to sterilize them first, if you can) for the next lot of seedlings, now that I’m growing from seed, or passed on to gardening friends. The old engine oil goes to a guy who uses it for weather-proofing timber for his landscaping projects. Newspapers help light the fire, get shredded into the compost or added to mulch, while coffee grounds are deployed as slug and snail protection around pale green garden things.
This year’s seedlings shot up in recycled pots (but did less well in egg cartons), while an old olive tub gets used again for storing home-made hummus.
These things that would otherwise be thrown out as waste, added to the vast pile of landfill, are still useful. There is no need to throw them away. Each and every item that comes into my home came from somewhere, was made from something. Resources were consumed to make it and transport it to me, and living sustainably is all about conserving our resources as much as possible. Whether it’s the petroleum products in plastics or the plant nutrients in the coffee grounds, I feel I have a duty to make the most of the resources I consume and so I do my best to re-use and recycle.
What I really like, though, is the expression of pleasant surprise on the faces of shop-keepers and growers when I turn up with a bundle of tulle bags or rubber bands. I’m saving them money by my small acts, making a tiny contribution to reducing their operating costs and keeping my favourite businesses going. Now how’s that for sustainability?
Our little choices and small, simple acts can all add up and make a real difference.
* Any tips on how to go about buying locally-grown olives or other deli goodies without bringing home another plastic tub? How to store leafy veggies in the fridge without plastic bags? I’m keen to de-plastic my existence!
It’s been just over 6 months now since I moved here to the Cottage, looking for a home that would better enable me to live the lifestyle I was after; something smaller, lower impact and more locally-focussed. It feels like a good time, now, with the weather warming and winter fading into memory, to reflect on the changes that have been made and the life I’ve been growing for myself.
So how have things turned out? Let’s take a look at my original list of desired aspects and see!
- North-facing, sunny position: a definite success! Once I hacked back the mirror bush that was shading out the morning sun, the Cottage has been filled with light. Sure, my armchair under the window is fading, but I don’t mind. Even on cold days, if the sun is shining the house warms up and stays warm until late evening. Even in the depths of winter, a sunny day means coming home to a warm house. Old but decent curtains help to keep the warmth in (though would be even more efficient if floor-length) and the tiled floor also adds to the thermal mass of the place. I’ve been seriously impressed: this old timber girl was far warmer through the winter than the previous modern brick place I was living in.
- Not open plan: There’s nothing open plan about this place and being able to shut rooms off made for much more efficient heating on those chilly winter nights. If I didn’t get the fire going I could use the electric heater to warm up only the room I was using, which was far more efficient and effective. On the other hand, once I had a good blaze going in the evenings I could open the door to the bedroom and know that by sleep-time it would be cozy warm in there. The place doesn’t feel pokey though, and with all the doors open the place is light and breezy.
- Insulated: Yeah, well, you can’t have everything, right, and the place is 100 years old… The roof here is not insulated and when I first moved in I discovered a few rather chilly draughts! The ceiling is timber panelling (huon pine, I believe), which is unusual, but turns out to have pretty good insulating properties. Well, at least once you’ve had your landlord get up there with gap filler and block up all the cracks and gaps where the timber’s warped with age. No longer are there 2 am “waterfalls” of cold air falling from the knots above my bed. I also sealed the sash windows and now, even in the spring gales with their 100 km/hr winds, no draught gets in. Between the timber ceiling and the proper curtains we stayed pretty warm through the winter, again much better than my old, semi-insulated 1990’s house.
- Workable kitchen with natural light: Ah, the kitchen. I compromised a little on the kitchen here and at first I hated it: dark, no storage, not enough bench space, a single sink and the cooker-of-fail. It took me a little while to figure out what to do about it! Fitting some construct-it-yourself shelving into the empty fridge nook (my fridge is too big to fit it) created an open pantry and solved my food storage problem, while a spare table and old fish tank stand were adapted to provide extra bench and storage space. The limited space is well managed now by having neat systems in place: everything has its place and the space works fine as long as you follow the system (woe betide if you don’t do the dishes for a day around here). The fail-cooker and I, well, we’ve come to an understanding. I’ve adapted what and how I cook and it mostly doesn’t burn my food. I’ve even managed to reduce the gloominess a little by sticking a cheap mirror up on the outside wall opposite the sole south-facing window. It’s subtle, but the reflected light does make a difference.
- Space for a garden: Oh boy, did I take on a bit much in the garden department! The backyard is decently sized and faces north, but had been woefully neglected. Still, with so much growing potential on display every time I look out these lovely big north-facing windows it was inevitable that I’d spend way too much time out there, wrangling it into shape. It’s still got a way to go (and if I owned, the whole yard would be terraced and turned into veggie beds) but it’s a lovely productive garden now, and I’ve had a surprising about of “volunteer” plants come up from things former tenants let go to seed. I’m not complaining about unexpected peas, leeks, shallots and celery! Given time and a liberal application of effort it would make the proper potager I’m dreaming of.
- Community: I got very lucky here. Not only is most everything in walkable distance, I scored great neighbours too! Admittedly I’m yet to meet anyone from the flats across the way, but I’m on good terms with my direct neighbours. The neighbours to the north are just plain brilliant. They’re happy to lend me tools, to mow my lawn when doing theirs and regularly stop for a chat. They keep an eye on my place when I go off travelling and I take care of their dogs while they’re away. I’m also getting to know the folks from local businesses I frequent and create a real sense of connection. It’s really lovely and I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
So the move to the Cottage has been a success, though not without its dramas. A few year of neglect has meant lots of catch-up maintenance and it’s taken some lifestyle re-adjustment. When I first moved in the place felt quite small and I struggled with finding places for my stuff. Now the Cottage feels luxuriously big for just one and I’d happily share the space (though only with someone as systematically organised as me!). I do miss company, living alone, but it’s nice to not have to compromise on my ethics and values or to clean up anyone else’s mess.
In the next 6 months I want to look at how to run the Cottage even more efficiently, reducing my water and energy use and continuing to reduce the amount of STUFF I keep and use. This space challenges me to think about the choices I’m making and work to my values and I love it for that. The Cottage has very quickly become my sustainable little home.
How does your home shape your lifestyle?
Wherever you find yourself, make that place a home.
You may be leaving again, but in the interim see what you can grow.
Wood heaters, eh?
In the month I’ve been living here in the Cottage I’ve developed a complicated relationship with mine.
I’ve learnt, now, how to get a decent blaze going with minimal fuss and there’s little nicer than curling up in front of a toasty fire on a cold night, glass of red in hand. The heat it produces is lovely, and when it’s working properly I can set it before bed and the house will stay toasty warm all night. Poking and prodding the fire into cooperation is fun and it’s immensely satisfying to get a good burn going on a cold night.
It’s less fun, however, on nights like tonight when the weather’s foul and I work late, and at 9 pm it’s still a little chilly even with the fire going. It’s been raining all day so the firewood is damp and the baffle plate on the flue has bent (yet again), jamming the flue wide open and significantly reducing the efficiency of my burn and heat transfer.
Heh, a month ago I had no idea what a baffle plate was, let alone what it did. I’d not spared much thought to wood moisture content or burn efficiency, and I’d never considered the price of firewood by the tonne (between $150 and $200, for the curious).
I still feel a little guilty about lighting the fire. In a State where my power is hydro-electric (not exactly environmentally benevolent, but a darn sight better than coal), lighting the fire is both less efficient (in terms of energy cost by yield) and generates a lot more emissions (CO2 and particulate emissions) than using electric heating.
On top of that, the wood I’m burning has to come from somewhere. The current fuel for my fire comes from a beautiful old eucalypt tree that had to be felled over at the House of the Gumtrees (mmm, free firewood!), however my ex-landlord only let me take what I could fit in my Corolla (a surprisingly large amount when you’re determined…) and I’m about to run out. Firewood sales in Tasmania are unregulated, with many sellers setting up trucks on the roadside with cheap loads for sale. Problem is you don’t know where that wood has come from or what condition it’s in:
- Is is green, wet or rotten?
- Was it illegally taken from State Forests, National Parks or trespassing on private land?
- Were old hollowed trees felled that provide important habitat for wildlife (including several endangered species)?
And that’s without considering if it’s actually the tonnage they’re saying it is!
There’s no hiding from the truth: the wood heater is not an environmentally friendly way to heat my home! It’s what I’ve got, however, so it’s up to me to make the best of it.
I’ve been researching wood heaters and firewood recently and I’ve learnt that:
- The moisture content of your timber needs to be below 25% for an efficient burn.
- Burning green or wet timber increases particulate emissions (as well as being much less efficient).
- Even stored under cover, firewood has an amazing capacity to absorb moisture on rainy days.
- Burning pine needles is fun.
- Baffle plates significantly improve the heat exchange from your wood heater (and having it bend and jam open – again – is a bad thing. *sigh*).
- Burning old painted fence posts is an environmental no-no, no matter how much free timber it is or how much your lovely new neighbours assure you it’ll be ok.
- Accidentally throwing in an envelope with a plastic window results in noxious fumes: don’t do it.
- You can’t add the ash and charcoal to your compost, but a small amount mixed with other things is ok in mulch.
- There’s no regulation of the firewood industry in Australia, and there are a lot of dodgy vendors in Hobart (if the internet is to be believed)
- There is a voluntary industry code of practice that sets out standards that wood will be sustainably harvested, in accordance with all laws and protective orders, stored correctly and sold with moisture contents below 25%, with weighbridge tickets provided.
- There is one supplier in the whole of Tasmania who is signatory to the voluntary code, and they’ll deliver to my suburb.
- The cold metal of my bed frame is very nice to rest my blistered skin on when I inevitably burn myself on the wood heater door/frame/handle
- So. Many. Splinters.
So, after a little research and environmental guilt I’ve come to the following positions:
- The wood heater only gets lit if (1) the temperature is below 10oC and (2) I’m going to be home all night (no fire on taiko training nights!)
- Use discarded newspaper from work and household waste (loo rolls, paperwork from the last lease, letters from politicians) to get the fire started
- Pay the extra to buy firewood from the lone code signatory supplier; it’s not that much more than other suppliers and I know it’s as ethically sound as I’m going to get.
- Keep my garden prunings to burn next winter: at least the damn invasive vine I cut down will be useful!
- When the fire’s lit, actively enjoy it.
Hence I’m writing this sitting on my couch, watching the flames over the top of my monitor instead of working with the lap-top docked in the study. If I’m going to commit environmental crimes in the name of keeping warm I may as well keep the most of it, and once Winter properly arrives and the fire is going during the day on weekends I intend to try my hand at cooking on the coals. I’m thinking coal-roasted foil-wrapped eggplant (that’s aubergine for the northern-hemispherians) is going to be a beautiful thing. Baba ganoush for all!
This weekend I’m going to buy my first load of firewood and spend far too much time hauling and stacking the stuff in the little space under the house, and I’ll be talking to my landlord about getting that warped baffle plate replaced this time instead of another attempt at repair. Right now though I’m going to finish this post then put another piece of tree on the fire, sit back and watch the flames while I finish the glass of red that’s mysteriously appeared in front of me.
Have you ever lived with a wood heater or fireplace? Got any firey tips for this recovered teenage pyromaniac?
Come sit with me and tell me all about it. There’s enough red wine to share and though my couch may be fat and bulky it’s pretty comfy.
Hello. It’s been a little quiet around here, and it’s going to stay so for a little while longer. Life is busy: big plans are afoot.
Last week I found myself a new home: a tiny cottage tucked away in the inner-Hobart suburb on Lenah Valley, neglected gem among ageing flats and renovated grandeur.
The cottage is old, though a thoughtful make-over about 15 years ago has made it comfortable. It’s small, basic, and is going to be a great exercise is living simply, as there’s no other way to make the place work. Aside from a few kitchen cupboards there’s no built-in storage and little room for furniture. There’s a cosy lounge, a workable but modest kitchen, an enclosed porch that’ll be my dining room (under lovely north-facing windows), a crowded bathroom-cum-laundry, a big-enough bedroom, and a teensy “second bedroom” that will just fit my desk and become the study.
I succeeded in getting my northerly aspect and efficient-to-heat spaces but didn’t do so well on insulation. The enclosed porch cannot be insulated and I’m pretty sure the main part of the cottage isn’t either. The floor has been tiled too, which may be a little chilly on winter mornings! Despite this, I don’t think I’m going to be too cold, for the lounge room houses a wood heater, built into the old fireplace. With a fire going the cottage will be toasty warm.
I was a little hesitant about taking a place with a wood heater, I must admit. It is more work and expense, buying and preparing firewood and collecting kindling, and the fire will need some time to get going before the cottage heats up. On top of that, burning wood for heat really isn’t the most environmentally-sound option when your power supply is hydro-electric. Of course hydro’s not a perfect option, but it’s a damn sight better than coal and green enough to make me think twice about lighting the fire.
In the end, the cottage ticked so many other boxes that I decided I could cope with the wood heater. The location is perfect: walking distance to shops and friends houses, a nice cycle to the office and my favourite coffee haunt, on a major bus route and in a surprisingly quiet little cul-de-sac off a main road. Although the kitchen window faces south, the rest of the cottage opens to the east and the north, making the most of the winter sun. Best of all though; it comes with a surprisingly large garden, ripe with potential!
It’s going to take some hard work to realise that potential, but I’m already dreaming about potato patches, beds of leeks, reams of beans and peas and a raft of sunflowers. The yard is fenced, so perhaps I could convince the landlords to let me have a couple of chickens to help keep the bugs down and give me fresh eggs. Oh, my mind is so full of ideas my hands itch to put into action!
I get the keys next week, on Friday the 13th (What better date to start a new adventure?), but there’s much to do between now and then. I’m sorting through and culling my possessions, reducing the amount of stuff I have to manage the lack of storage. The things I don’t need are being sorted into lots to sell, store, throw or give away, with attempts made to re-home as much as possible (I hate throwing out useful things!). I’m tidying the gardens here in preparation for leaving, digging up plants I plan to take with me and collecting seed. I’m refusing to shop, using up the food in my cupboards and cooking up all sorts of unusual but tasty things. Then there’s the inevitable paperwork associated with moving… Oh, and I’m broke. Paying bond plus double rent for a month will do that.
It’s Easter this weekend and the associated days off would be perfect for getting started on packing, but I won’t be here. Instead I’m travelling up to the sunny southern Gold Coast to spend time with family I haven’t seen in over a year. A trip booked in January, long before I’d thought about moving, to soothe the sting of not going home for Christmas. Yep, life is busy.
Wish me luck!
After last week’s cold snap the weather here has returned to autumn glory. Cool mornings, wispy with fog, turn slowly into blue-sky days, ending in golden afternoons, gently warm under the mellow sun.
It’s perfect gardening weather, the lazy afternoons calling me to spend time in my little patch, harvesting the last of the summer’s goodness and preparing the soil for winter. There’s seed to collect and to be planted, late kale and cherry tomatoes to harvest, herbs to prune back and dry for the winter and the compost is long overdue for turning. It’s a busy time for a gardener but this year I’m doing less than usual, and the pleasure of the work is tinged with sadness: I’ve built this productive tiny garden up over two-and-a-half years of living here but now I’m moving on. The thought of leaving it all behind makes me glum, not yet knowing if my new place will have a real garden or just space for a few pots.
When I moved in here I told myself I wouldn’t get too invested in a garden. Just a few herbs for the kitchen, nothing more. I’d set up veggie patches and herb beds before, just to leave them behind in a year or two’s time, never reaping the full benefit of the work. It started innocuously enough: planting out some of the potted herbs brought from the flat I’d been living in, and a basic compost heap to save throwing good veggie scraps in the bin. Then I got a little excited about the idea of spring bulbs (having previously lived in sub-tropical climes), so in went some tulips and irises and a few months later a riot of colourful blooms rewarded the effort.
I turned the soil, added water crystals, clay-breaker and compost, and soon the sad soil I’d arrived to (with nary a worm to be found) was becoming rich and black and good. In went tomatoes, with great success (and many jars of relish). In a fit of excitement at the prospect of berries I planted a raspberry cane. Friends passed on seedlings and so I grew broccoli and kale. I gave into temptation at the farmer’s market, so in went sea celery, spinach, rocket and tatsoi. An artichoke came up, all by itself and another crop of tomatoes went in.
I am a compulsive gardener. I can’t help myself, and this is my patch. I’m going to miss it and can only hope that the next tenant appreciates what they’ll inherit. I hope the new place, when I find it, has space to dig, though if not I’ll keep myself going with what will cope in pots and dream of the day I own a patch of dirt of my own. Oh the things I will grow!
My potted garden basics:
- Italian parsley
- Rocket (arugula)
- English spinach
What are your favourite edible things to grow?
Autumn: it’s my favourite season here in southern Tasmania. Cool evenings, foggy mornings, high blue skies, apples and wood smoke; the season of fullness. This year it just might pass us by. Today Hobart took a short-cut straight to winter, with single-digit (celsius) temperatures, icy winds and a liberal dusting of snow on the Mountain.
Winter approaches and I failed to make the most of the summer just past. Injuries to hips and knees kept me away from bushwalking for the best part of January and all of February. Personal trials and tribulations turned my attention and energies inwards while I dealt with some complex situations and emotions, leaving little energy for the garden or photography, with what energy I could muster expended on maintaining the friendships that ground and nourish me and the life-affirming practice of taiko drumming. I missed the harvest of plums and blackberries: there are no jars of sweet preserves stowed away in my pantry this year. I haven’t sown seed for my winter crop of brassicas. I haven’t been present, in tune with the life around me.
I have been thinking, feeling, sketching out the roughest blueprints for building the next phase of my unfurling life. It’s difficult to act when my employment future is so very uncertain, but act I must. Waiting, rootless, disconnected is so evidently unhealthy for me. I am a creature of action and I need to be moving (physically, metaphorically), so moving I am, in the most literal way.
I’m leaving the House of the Gumtrees. I am done here. It is time to create a new home. The sudden onset of winter weather confirms my decision: this house is cold, and with its open plan design, high ceilings and poor insulation it is expensive and horrendously inefficient to heat. I don’t need to shiver my way through another winter wearing a coat and fingerless gloves while I work at the computer. I dream of a smaller place, easy to heat, quick to clean and much more environmentally friendly in design than this too-big building with no winter sun.
I’m looking for a home that’s more sustainable, and not just in the environmental sense. It also needs to be a place that meets my emotional needs and helps me to look after my health. A place that feels safe and welcoming where I can relax and live the way I want to. I can’t do that here:it’s too big, too expensive, too far to walk places and too badly built. There’s no lagging between the walls or between the upstairs living area and the downstairs bedrooms. My housemate works shifts and his comings and goings disrupt my sleep. There’s no auditory privacy in a house where you can hear the other person talk in their sleep.
Beyond issues of incompatible hours and house design we’re not a good match for each other, Housemate and I. We’ve lived together for a year now and are still just as much strangers to each other as we were then. Our values don’t align and so many small incompatibilities have gradually grown into irritations. I’m interested in low-impact living and growing a sense of community; he’s interested in watching TV and playing poker. I cook locally sourced seasonal produce, heady with spice; he eats McDonald’s and Lean Cuisine. On a good day we manage perhaps 15 minutes of conversation. There is no companionship, only someone sharing the space and the bills. It’s not home.
Our lease expires in 7 weeks’ time so the search is on. I’ll most likely end up living in a place of my own, though I’m keeping an open mind about sharing if I find the right place and person, after all the research shows that those living alone are more likely to suffer from depression, plus it’s cheaper and less resource-hungry to live with others, which makes it the more sustainable option (at least with the right place and people). So what are the factors I’m looking for, as a renter, in a sustainable home?
- North-facing, sunny position: the winters here are long and cold. Sun is a must for mental health, light and warmth.
- Not open plan: it’s far more efficient to heat smaller rooms than big open spaces.
- Insulated: this may be impossible, but it would be great to find a place with proper ceiling insulation, wall lagging and heavy curtains. Why so few houses in Hobart are designed for the cold is a mystery.
- Workable kitchen with natural light: I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. It’s the heart of a home and needs to be big enough to put on a feast for friends and feel good to spend time in.
- Space for a garden: preferably a patch of dirt in which to grow herbs & veggies and to keep a compost heap, but even a sunny, sheltered spot for a container garden will do, so long as there’s somewhere to store my growing-things gear.
- Community: a walkable neighbourhood would be brilliant, but I’ll settle for neighbours who talk and look out for each other. Good neighbours are a joy and one of the things I will miss about this place, along with my little garden and the (dwindling) patch of bush over the back fence.
Of course there are many other things I’d like to have in a home, like a gas cook top, solar hot water, a garage, a wood stove and a decent bath, but while I’m renting they are insignificant luxuries. When I’m able to buy my own place, however… I dream of farmhouse kitchens, chook runs, evenings in front of the fire and other blissful things.
For now I’m just looking for a place to call home and mean it. Somewhere I can live more sustainably.
What makes a place “home” for you?