wet season arrives …

Last night I had a 2metre python in my tent, couldn’t catch it, so it hung out all night not far from our bed …. consequently I didn’t get much sleep !!  Most probably trying to make a late night snack out of Soxy the new kitten (who sleeps on my bed) – a small handful of black & white fluff.  Soxy the kitten and Safari the dog have become best buddies, brothers from another mother you could say.

IMG20170403115141.jpgWell the wet season arrived in January and hit the driveway hard gouging tracks into the clay, after a few adventures sliding backwards & sideways at a reasonably fast pace in my 4WD I got it graded and filled with rock as a temporary measure until the dry season, when I’ll need to spend alot more money and time on it.  1489120675809The drainage around the house has carried the water away beautifully and apart from a few storms where the rain was sideways through the house, we managed to stay dry and have indoor fires most nights – yes it gets cold up here !!

1491748845254I’ve just finished cobbing in two casement windows, putting them in sideways and will cob a half lotus flower into each, a beautiful simple design by Maia. IMG20170208165458.jpg We’ve also done alot of cutting glass bottles with metho/string/fire and embedding them into the walls, time consuming but well worth it to see the final wall with the morning sun shining through the coloured glass, stunning !!

We outgrew the small greywater kitchen garden quite quickly so I made a larger square one which is brimming with water loving plants – bananas, taro, kangkong, tropical spinach, gingers etc.. Everything has easily doubled in size in the garden since the wet season began, such a pleasure to see all the edible plants overgrown, flowering & fruiting.  It won’t be long before the pawpaw and bananas are fruiting also, can’t wait !!IMG_1490772584571.jpg

My basic solar system started deteriorating in the amount of charge the batteries were holding, turns out the batteries are past it so I’ll need to invest in new ones.  At the same time I bought three decent solar panels , 240volt each so will upgrade my invertor and have a decent solar system which should give me lighting at night even, wow, what a treat – might even be able to run a washing machine !!

IMG20170418081053.jpgThe nature around us is constantly changing, at the moment we have alot of spiders, especially the large golden orbs which the girls feed march flies to, also lots of butterflies, especially Ulysses & Cairns Birdwing, microbats flitting in & out of the house at night (even in the tent), fireflys and the usual array of birds (seeing alot more Noisy Pittas at the moment jumping around the place) as well as the usual array of other birds, bees & bugs.  This is also termite season, so we’ve had gazillions of them some nights we had to turn our headtorches off because there were too many !! The girls found that canetoads eat termites, great a good use for canetoads, finally !! This photo is a bio-luminiscent mushroom that grows here …. yes it GLOWS in the dark !!!

IMG20170328163745.jpgI found out recently that the farmer who I get my straw from in the Tablelands is growing Hemp, he thinks I should be able to start purchasing large bales of it in a few months time for my cobbing mixture which is really exciting. IMG20170328163927.jpgHemp is definately a superior product to the Rhodes Grass for cobbing as it is more termite and fungus resistant and not as appealing to rodents.  Looking forward to seeing my locally grown hemp cob house evolve … watch this space !!!

Through the heat of the summer we have spent most afternoons down at the local river, nothing better than a cool dip at the end of the day, bliss !!!

 

cob fire bath, casement windows & bottle walls

This month after our shower pump broke I was motivated to get the fire bath cobbed in, 15416899_1799088067025175_1709591948_n.jpgwow what a luxury !! And in time for the November full supermoon, amazing … fairy lights, candles … just magic !! I was also able to practice cob sculpture & earthern plasters for finishing, 15226551_1794149954185653_2011519807_n (1).jpgall good experiences for when I finish the cob house.  15416902_1799089283691720_1954847012_n.jpgJerome made the girls two different swinging baskets made from wait-a-while (an excellent use for this plant which grows vigorously through the rainforest strangling native trees).  We also had a few working bees cobbing in the casement window frames I’d made from timber offcuts from the dump for the silky oak windows to go in later, 15228052_1794149967518985_263318801_n-1lots of fun & so much learning !! On a weekly basis here I’m tackling things I’ve never had experience with before so its certainly been empowering learning lots of new skills !!  After a call out for a glass cutter, a friend leant me his wet tile cutter for the weekend and with the help of 15226507_1794149770852338_429495139_n-1some more awesome friends we cut through two boxes of coloured bottles to go in the walls, end on end.  15327713_1799087737025208_1719748541_n.jpgThen the creativity started emerging as I could experiment with glass bottles and sculpture, so much fun !!  My girls started volunteering at Betty’s house, she is a Wildlife Carer locally here so every week they get to help look after baby wallabies, kangaroos, birds, bats, possums, poultry, dogs, cats etc… What an incredible experience for us all inspiring an even greater respect for all living things.

 

snake wrangling, scorpians & help arrives !!

After loosing Fluff the cat and taking into account the regular visits from wild dogs and dingos, we decided to get a puppy (Ridgeback Cross Mastiff) called Safari.
He is the most 14610781_1768528263414489_277683317_n.jpggorgeous dog, full of love and trouble.  He has been such a beautiful addition to our family !!

A few weeks ago my friend 14543536_1768526333414682_97364620_nAmy & her partner Jerome moved into the camper van to help me on the property.
In the first week they’d organised where additional edible gardens were going, 14593487_1768602550073727_1503287972_n.jpgstarted two 28 day compost piles, fixed the wiring & battery on my shower and set up a camp for themselves.  I feel blessed to have
two such beautiful caring souls here helping !!  They also brought face paints and hula hoops back into o14585553_1768526456748003_1941694242_n.jpgur lives.14568931_1768531613414154_565079729_n.jpg

We had a bit of an adventure with a couple of night tiger snakes (brown tree snakes) which kept coming around the van.  One we managed to catch & relocate, another one we gently moved off right back into the bush. I also had another run in with a scorpian, 14331699_1757364357864213_1251179970_nit didn’t bite me this time, just hiding in the washing & gave me a fright !!

One Sunday when Jade & I were couch-bound with gastro, Maia got out with battery drill and starting making her own cubby house using timber from the old 14331678_1757364407864208_377697472_n.jpgchicken coup and whatever she could find lying around, love my girls !!  14625454_1768523110081671_1485140306_n.jpgMaia turned ten in August and we took a trip out on the Kuranda Riverboat with her georgeous friends from school, looking for wildlife in and along the river – no freshwater crocodiles to be seen though (probably for the best).

I also managed to get two trailer loads of River of Gold Slate (beautiful colours) from Ravenshoe for my floors, hopefully this will do the entire space – can’t wait to have flooring !!  14580608_1768529036747745_163141438_n.jpg

glass bottle walls, windows & markets…

My sister came up from Melbourne for a spontaneous trip & we had a ball !! cobbing and tripping around Cairns & Cape Tribulation and lying on the beach at Fitzroy Island, bliss !! 14593174_1768527646747884_699825179_n.jpgNice bit of time off !!  14627859_1768525593414756_295921312_n.jpg

After a lot of trialing cutting glass bottles for the walls with meth covered string & lighting it up to cut 14593657_1768526266748022_2146175799_n.jpgthe glass (which the girls loved), we found a great little machine that scores the glass then you pour boiling water over it and it cuts it beautifully !!!14593589_1768531126747536_1815637661_n.jpg

We also installed our first windows, I used large panes of glass from Bunnings (12 mm pool fence) – one square and one round window – a team effort to get 14348846_1757366044530711_1249790290_n.jpgthem up into place, very heavy !!
We had a 14331523_1757365661197416_1578631770_n.jpgvery successful one day working bee with about 10 people turning up, made heaps of progress while drinking sangria and listening to good tunes with yummy fresh food from the garden !!  14607905_1768530873414228_1933910109_n.jpg

Had my first stall at the local markets to sell my screenprinted designs (PASIFIKA) – tropical fruits & designs
handprinted onto tshirts, tights and calico market bags : soursop, jakfruit, taro, coconut, durian as well kids designs gecko, crocodile, etc. I 14627712_1768527693414546_865384351_n-1also took an assortment of 14580607_1768602023407113_1797476540_n.jpgedible plants to sell – different tropical spinach, herbs, lemongrass, passionfruit etc.. Maia also made beautiful earings with unusual beads and guinea fowl feathers, so proud !!

winter in the tropics …

Getting a bit cooler now so we are having fires every night and have zipped up the tent windows, yep serious stuff winter in the tropics.orca_share_media1468816754683.jpeg

Got my 20,000 litre water tank plumbed up finally, hooray – I now have guttering along the back of my roof collecting rain water, divine !!

Thanks to some unexpected help from very good friends this month I got additional side projects completed :orca_share_media1468816756604.jpeg

Don, Elanor & Ned set me up with extra solar, connected to two deep cycle batteries, I’m learning a lot more about 12volt wiring which is a necessity here offgrid !! I also had another friend Nick come and stay, he worked hard to help me finish the rock walls, make a wicked swinging bed and make a sink out of an old plastic table and sink we picked up free from the roadside.  I now have a SINK, wow, which I’ve plumbed out into a banana and taro planter box, collecting the sink greywater.orca_share_media1468816756142.jpeg  I was also given some casement windows and roofing iron from a girlfriend cleaning out her yard. orca_share_media1468816758978.jpeg So used the iron to make temporary walls three sides of the outdoor shower to provide some privacy, thankyou to Nat !! 14627694_1768530540080928_1685655913_n I also had random, “I’m just going to drop in and help today” friends, thankyou Priscilla & Marty for helping with rock walls and taking me to lunch !!

let the cobbing begin ….

May 2016 we ran an amazing cob building one day course here with Christian Cluever from Grow Your Own Home – not even the torrential rain stopped us. The first bit of cob was mixed by foot and put on the walls, hooray !!! orca_share_media1468816364032.jpegAnd to go along with it the food from Elanor was amazing – a mixture of vegan and raw delights. Christian had made a few sample “cob test bricks” a few days before the course and dried them so we could see analyse the different mixtures. orca_share_media1468816375874.jpeg A few different ratios of clay to sand were made to see which ones cracked or crumbled.  We decided on two clay to one sand ratio for the mix and off we went.
Water was added as well as straw I’d sourced from the tablelands earlier in the week. The sand I bought in and the clay was straight from the levelling of the house pad. The mix is all done on tarps with 1-2 people, mixing with their feet – very social and hand’s on process, it helps to have some favourite high energy music playing !!! 13315569_1714500568817259_8809693769902713539_n.jpgOne of my favourite’s to cob to is The Formidable Vegetable Sound System, love those lyrics & energy !! There’s not many songs about methane digesters, he he..  Then the following weekend I helped Christian out at the Eco-Fiesta, he had a stall there educating people on cob building and we did a sample mix with people interested. orca_share_media1468816396862.jpeg 13335837_1714500418817274_213223248459470032_n.jpgGreat day with live music playing, talking to people about alternative building materials, got to have a good boogie to The Formidable Vegetable Sound System and talk to Charlie McGee about converting diesel engines to bio-fuel (fish & chip oil), awesome !.  13307203_1714500442150605_1624101860649577208_n.jpg

Unfortunately this month we lost of beloved cat Fluff, after surviving a paralysis tick she was killed by possibly a dingo or snake, or goanna … unsure, there are a few predators here (RIP FLUFF). IMAG2151.jpgSince fluff passed we have had a sudden influx of melamies (native mice) and bandikoots rifling through our kitchen, we miss you fluff !!!

rock foundations, cob courses & visitors

I finally got the drains finished with ag pipe and rock, levelled off to run away from the house and then watched with a big rain as it worked, hooray !!IMAG2344.jpg  Had a successful working bee to start the rock foundations for the IMAG2437cob walls with a great bunch of friends helping, cooking, playing music – such a treat and fun, yep that’s how you build a house !!
So after the rock went into the drain, we tampered it down and started laying the rock mortared in with concrete. My mum who is 82 years old from New Zealand and my sister from Melbourne arrived last weekIMAG2393 and have been helping with the rock foundation also, bless their enthusiasm and awesome support !! On our way back home one night late we had a little pademelon run out under the car, we stopped and picked it up as it was still alive but bleeding from the mouth, didn’t look promising so the girls and I took it home and nursed it.  received_10154223441382236At least I thought so its last dying hours weren’t on the side of the road and within hours it had pulled itself together and hopped away, incredible to watch the recovery, and relieved !! IMAG2418 I also finally got the pad finished for my huge 20,000litre water tank and because the truck couldn’t get down my driveway, Ron brought it in with his backhoe, hooray. IMAG2331.jpg The plumber came in through the week and we discussed different guttering profiles, he said that the whole tank will fill in one night of our tropical rain, incredible !!! Christian Cluever (Grow Your Own Home) and I have decided to run an introductory Cob Building Course next weekend, he is the man who initially taught me cob building two years ago. So this week I will be preparing for it, getting as much rock wall foundation done so we can start mixing cob on Saturday – finally the cobbing begins !!  I am soo excited to be hosting a cob building workshop, yah !!!

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drains, dingo’s & scorpians

We had a few packs of wild dogs come in & take our chickens & guinea pigs a few weeks back and I could see their tracks around our house in the mud regularly.IMAG2207.jpg
Recently we have just had one dingo who cruises around dawn and dusk looking for small meals (our pets).IMAG2233.jpg They are all well caged now …. or already eaten !!! And we are getting used to its visits, it seems more scared of us !! The weather is getting alot cooler here and we are getting more rain so I invested in a fire pit for inside, nice little compact portable one from Bunnings to keep us warm & entertained, awesome !! AND more importantly, it keeps my pyromaniac children happy – lighting it, stoking it, burning stuff …..hours of fun !!IMAG2176.jpg

I’ve had a mini excavator here digging three 400×400 drains at the dripline of the house, then lined them with shade cloth (from the dump, cheap) and ag pipe (also from the dump) then filled with drainage rock.  I then did the same for under the cob walls, nothing like an excavator in your living room !!! And I’ve been left with a large pile of beautiful clay for my cob walls, bless !! At each stage the girls think I’ve specifically built amazing play areas for them to climb, slide, tIMAG2110.jpgobogaan down, childrens imagination is awesome !!!  While laying the ag pipe in the drains I was bitten on the hand by a scorpian, incredibly painful but I realised later, not fatal, I was going to survive he he …. It was a brown mottled scorpian about 3cm with tail curled up, I tried to catch him in a jar to show the girls but he got away !!  We’ve also got a few more leeches around with the rain … we’re slowly getting used to all the interesting creatures that live here with us !!

edible gardens and composting

From the very beginning we made simple gardens bordered by rotten tree trunks and used the rainforest soil and mulched with leaves or straw. Being on the edge of the forest they received a good balance of light & shade   IMAG2215.jpgThe plants thrived, we grew tropical spinach, herbs, arrowroot (good for animal feed & grows fast !),IMAG1814.jpg sweet leaf, kumara (sweet potato),  aloe vera etc… and then as the gardens IMAG0888 - Copyprogressed I added cassava, cranberry hibiscus, moringa, passionfruit, brazilian cherry, lots of pawpaw, lemongrass etc…
I was generously given many beautiful tropical fruit trees including mango, lychee, black sapote, white sapote, longan, tamarind and jakfruit (yum !!!!) which I planted around the verge of the rainforest as well as about a dozen banana plants (cavendish & lady finger) and approx 20 coconut palms, down the driveway and around the house.

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Someone must have ate a pawpaw here

About 2 months ago I started an online Horticulture / Permaculture Design Certificate Course, something I’d been wanting to do for such a long time and now I’m in the perfect situation to utilize what I’m learning as I go.  When I was young my parents bought me a little plastic house (in NZ), it was such a happy place pottering around down the bottom of the garden propagating cactus & succulents, yep such a nerd !!  IMAG2217

 

With all the plants I’ve put in here I’ve dosed with worm wee.  This is our main compost (although not for meat, citrus or onion scraps) and is so easy & convenient.  I add about a cup of worm wee to my watering can, especially with initial planting, and our kitchen scraps go in the top – the worms do the rest, clever little things !!IMAG2219.jpg

 

let the building begin …

My goal here was to build an off-grid cob home, but we were right on the doorstep of the tropical wet season so I was running out of time.  I decided to get a builder in to build a basic structure, roof and poles from the land. IMAG1513.jpg We choose some nice Cadaghi & Hickory trees, well known for their natural termite resistance & hardwood durability.  Eight huge poles went in the ground and a basic roof of iron with insulation under. IMAG1534.jpg This meant I could have a roof reasonably quickly and then rock/cob wall around the structure while we camped. IMAG1578.jpg I put down a very basic crusher dust floor watered in with a bit of cement mix & whacker packed down.  So here we set up our 2 brm tent with sleeping in the front, storage at the back AND finally a roof over our heads, BLISS !!!  I’ve been so lucky, we haven’t had much of a wet season this year, which makes living the way we do so much easier !!  IMAG1662 (2)IMAG1660 (2)

 

 

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