Friday, 28 December 2012

Favourite things

The practical reinventor has finally gotten her sewing machine sprinkler.  It's a late 1950s Auto So that had its cords removed by someone with no respect. 

It came to Marmalade Cottage via an op shop, discovered under a shelf, covered in dust, five minutes to closing.  It was $5.  It was quite a sophisticated machine in its day, with a variety of decorative stitch cams. 

The foot went to another vintage machine, and the bakelite plugs have been put into a drawer of interesting bits and pieces, perhaps to have another life too.

It's the perfect combination of two of the practical reinventor's favourite things: sewing and gardening.

Thursday, 27 December 2012


Last year there was much pumpkin leaf action, a bit of flowering, but not a single fruit.  This year the bees have been busy.

We have boston marrow pumpkins, carefully raised from seed

And something that went through a chook and ended up on the vegie bed when the chook pen muckings-out were spread.

And there are these:

Despite Perth's record temperatures these last few days, the established plants are holding up well under their blanket of mulch.

Monday, 24 December 2012

At the front door

When the reinventors are at the back of the house, or in the back garden or listening to music, it's impossible to hear anyone at the front door.

There has been much discussion about some sort of device to alert the reinventors of the arrival of a guest.

This is where it needs to go.

Here's the creative reinventor hard at work.

When you come to visit, you can ring our bell!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Getting ready for Christmas

The practical reinventor has a new sewing table - it's one of those clever ones that has a gas lift and folds away to look like an innocuous corner cabinet.  She has the luxury of not having to fold it away, as she has a whole room dedicated to sewing.  She also has the luxury of the creative reinventor who finds her wonderful birthday presents and always indulges her sewing and craft projects. 

On the new table at the moment is

a selection of tree ornaments, and

a Santa hat for the practical reinventor's Executive Director, a Yamaji Man.  The Yamaji are the Native Title Owners (Aboriginal people) from the Mid-West region of Western Australia.  He has very graciously agreed/been bullied into having a division Christmas party and playing Santa for the compulsory Kris Kringle.

That garland along the bottom is supposed to be gum leaves and the astute reader will recognise the Aboriginal flag.  The practical reinventor had never seen sparkly felt before - it makes a very good, Christmassy gum leaf garland.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Chook update

Shirley is still being terribly pleased with herself and talks constantly to the chicks. 

She's taught them about real food, and they've embraced the varied diet that the Marmalade Cottage CWA enjoys.

Watermelon is a particular favourite.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

With a view to the future

The practical reinventor loves gardening surprises - only the nice kind, of course.  Which is why she usually leaves plants to go properly to seed before pulling them and redoing the garden bed in question.

After only one real growing season, Marmalade Cottage has rather a lot of surprise seedlings.

This is the most beautiful, soft carpet of rocket seedlings.  There are also marigolds, assorted tomatoes, lots of pumpkins/zucchinis (they're too small yet to be able to tell the difference), silverbeet and capsicum.

Friday, 30 November 2012


After the heartbreak of the last lot of chicks, the practical reinventor swore the next time a hen went broody she'd be unceremoniously dunked in cold water and frog-marched into the sun.

And then our remaining chick, Shirley, who had only just started laying, went broody.  There was frog-marching, but before a regime of cold baths and firm talking-tos could happen, the creative reinventor prevailed and we got her some fertile eggs.

And so she sat on her nesting box, with feathers fluffed and looking self-important.

And three weeks later the Marmalade Cottage CWA boasted five new members: Violet, Enid, Marjorie, Gordon and Barry.

Of course, neither of us has a clue how to sex chickens so the names are pure whimsy.

Then there was the first casualty.  We're saying it was Barry, because young boys are generally self-destructive.  One chick got out of the re-re-re-reinforced chook pen - goodness knows how - and we found it eviscerated up the other end of the garden.  Poor, pathetic little thing.

At least this time, we're confident it wasn't kelpie Jodie or tabby Lola.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Our first planting of tomatoes were mostly sick plants rescued from the trolley in the corner of the garden section of the Green and Orange Temple to Lost Weekends.

They seem to be doing all right.  The next lot has been grown from seed (Rouge de Marmande), and will be ready in six or so weeks.

The third lot is just emerging (Granny's Throwing Tomato - a Diggers Club variety, good apparently for salads and throwing at one's nemesis)

Monday, 26 November 2012

Here we go again

Neither of reinventors likes painting.  We've put off and put off doing up the guest bedroom, but with very important guests imminent, it can't be put off any longer.

There's a fair bit of filling to be done, then the inevitable sanding.

But once that horrible cream and green 1950s colour scheme has been replaced by lovely fresh white and blue, the room will look beautiful.  

We might even polish the ornate doorknobs.  They seem to be brass.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Up the garden path

When we moved in, the front garden wasn't so much garden as wasteland.  And now we can't find a photo of it, but imagine one dead and one dying hibiscus, a couple of neglected hydrangeas and a few straggling weeds.
Now it looks like this

Much nicer, yes?

The practical reinventor had her heart set on an all white garden, in contrast with the red brick and dark green of the ivy.  The hydrangeas, being blue, were doomed.  There was outrage among all our friends.  Even with a dose of glyphosate, they survived, so they're staying.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Passionfruit update

We have three passionfruit vines, two are your basic grafted Nellie Kelly ones, the other a cutting of a local breed.

This one is doing the best, due in no small part, to its proximity to the chooks.

If the bees are to be relied upon for pollination, we should have a bumper crop of passionfruit in six weeks or so.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Gardening as a radical act

The organised, western world is run on the principle of specialisation.  People are expected to do one thing - hopefully well - and rely on others to take care of other needs.  Some people grow food, other people buy it from them.

When you grow your own food, you're bucking the system. You're taking back control of a vital aspect of your own survival - and sur-thrive-al.

If you plant heirloom varieties and collect your own seeds, you fly in the face of efforts of mega-corporations like Monsanto that is trying to wrest complete control of global food production into its own profit-driven hands.

If you garden according to historic (now called organic) principles, you defy the pesticide and herbicide companies that simultaneously poison the planet and our minds with the fear of naturally occurring pests and diseases, most of which are less harmful than the chemicals used to kill them.  Note that most advertising and information about herbicides and pesticides doesn't use the word kill, rather it's all about control: pest control and weed control.

If you eat food that you can see growing, you take away the power of the storage, transport and retail companies, all of which spew enormous amounts of carbon and other pollution into our atmosphere, while allowing the nutrients in the food to degrade.

If you share what you produce, you're spreading the word that ordinary people do not need to be controlled and dictated to by faceless corporations.

If you can't grow your own, but choose to buy directly from a farmer, you are still taking away the power of the corporations, and  helping a local, small business to remain viable.

Gardening is a very powerful statement. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The force is strong with this one

Avid readers might remember waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the beginning of Marmalade Cottage, there was some discussion about whether the dessicated stick of grapevine in the back garden was still alive.

Here's your proof.  Not quite 18 months on and it's not only alive, but producing.  And producing a lot. 

The creative reinventor took a picture of our juvenile grapes to a viticulturist of his acquaintance who tells us they're table grapes.  Which is a little surprising since the former owner was Italian and grew a huge amount of veg.  We'd expected them to be wine grapes.  But, well, there you go.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Unexpected sweetness

This came to the reinventors as a dried out stick.  The practical reinventor (ever the optimist) stuck it it a jam jar of water on the kitchen window sill.

Sure enough, it sprouted roots, so she planted it.

And look!  It does seem to like life in the corner next to chooks and behind the plum tree.  There are three offshoots.

We wonder whether we could extract our own golden syrup or whatever from it?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Thoughts on the nature of waste

The Marmalade Cottage CWA (that's Alice, Marion, Nancy, Joan, Joyce and Shirley, all of whom have feathers and lay eggs) are getting a little particular in what they eat.

Not for them ordinary white bread!

They love green feed - cabbage, lettuce, juicy weeds, kale, broad bean pods and so on, and they're fond of the crusts and stale leftovers of our home-baked bread.  Several times a week, a reinventor detours by the crate at the back of our local greengrocer, where the scraps are left.

Usually there's a bag's worth of cabbage or celery or lettuce for the taking.  There are a number of chook owners who take advantage of this.

Next to the chook scrap crate, there's a skip.  Depending on the day, there are all sorts of extras in reach.  And this bothers the reinventors greatly.  This skip (dumpster to the Americans) contains an enormous amount of perfectly edible food.

Last night, it yielded a cob of corn, two zucchini, two parsnips and some carrots.  There are often half melons (the chooks adore those), and bread, sometimes potatoes and sweet potatoes, very often bananas.

There are two points here: this food might look slightly soiled, perhaps with a brown spot or two, but it's by no means unsafe; and putting this kind of organic matter into landfill results in emissions of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

So, by taking this food out of the skip and giving it to the chooks or eating it ourselves, we save the planet a bit more destruction, we respect the grower and we save a little money.  Sadly, stupid things like health regulations are against us here.

The practical reinventor has lost count of the number of banana cakes she's baked with bananas from the bin.

(if you're interested: cream 4 oz butter with 4 oz sugar, then stir in two eggs.  In another bowl, dissolve half a teaspoon of bicarb soda in a tablespoon of milk, then mash in two to three bananas and a dribble of vanilla extract.  Add banana mixture to sugar and butter, then sift in 8 oz self-raising flour.  Bake 45 minutes in a 180 deg C oven.  Apologies for the mix of imperial and metric measurements, it's my great-nana's recipe, and the metric conversion is messy)

If you caught the English series The People's Supermarket by chef Arthur Potts Dawson, you'd understand about the staggering amount of food that is simply thrown away.  It needn't be.  Home growers don't do this because we understand the effort and resources that go into producing food.  But if you don't produce your own food, if you've only ever bought it, it's hard to see what goes on behind the scenes and make the connection between production and consumption.

So here's a thought: have a look in the bin behind a supermarket or greengrocer and consider what you see in there in the context of world inequality.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Our sweeties

While vegetables are relatively quick, harvesting your own fruit takes patience.

Last year we got a handful of mulberries from our tree and were very pleased.

This year, the tree is more than twice its original size and covered in berries.

We're also pretty excited to see tiny flowers on the passionfruit vine that will offer the chooks shade this year.

We love plants that are dual purpose.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Not this year, but maybe next

The practical reinventor absolutely adores fresh asparagus.  It's a long term crop.  If you plant crowns, it'll take about two years before they're established enough to cope with being harvested.

If you plant seedlings, you can add an extra three years or so to that wait.

Having only ever had rented gardens, the reinventors never planted asparagus before.  Last year they put in five crowns, of which three survive. 

There are five more seedlings in the bed now along with generous shovellings of chook pen muckings-out (asparagus are heavy feeders) and a thick layer of pea straw.

Next year, we should be able to eat a spear or two.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


This is the grapevine we thought was dead.  It's looking so happy and reinvigorated, we decided to give it a challenge.  The creative reinventor has strung up wires and gently suggested the vine follow them. 

The real test with be whether we get some grapes.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Busy time in the back garden

As we've been harvesting potatoes, broadbeans, garlic, silverbeet and onions, we've been dreaming of summer veg.

That's cinnamon basil (we cheated and bought seedlings, then carefully separated them and crossed our fingers they'd survive outside of their nice, cosy greenhouse) and there are tiny tomato plants in the other pots.

At the back are some divided oregano for friends, and the other pots are seeded with cavalo nero, corn, beetroot, rosella, zucchini and pumpkins.

They're planted in a mix of our clay and the muckings-out from the chook pen.  No seed with any skerrick of life could resist bursting into green!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Digging up our dinner

Sort of experimentally, the practical reinventor had a look at the spring garden this morning.

Here's three plants' worth of potatoes - sapphire and kipfler.  The sapphire ones are purple on the inside too.

Despite the destructive efforts of the chooks and the canine apathy around gardens, this is the first of the garlic harvest.  While we know it should be plaited attractively, with the creative reinventor having broken his thumb in a motorcycle accident and the practical reinventor having done chronic nerve damage to her arms from too many years and kilometres on a motorcycle, neither of us is able. 

And we don't care that much either. 

The garlic is very heavily, erm, scented.  It's hanging up in our outside laundry, which is also pretty fragrant.  We're not sure we'll be patient enough to leave it there to dry out for long term storage.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Eating our greens

Here is proof it's spring:  the first broadbeans of the season.

In a salad with broccoli and fetta from the local farmers market, lemon from our neighbour's tree and parsley and dill also from our garden.
That's an Alfred Meakin salad bowl c1930s and a silver plate serving spoon we found in an op shop.
It went very well with steak and an earthy shiraz.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

She's all grown up!

After the departure of Horace the Rooster last weekend, we started to wonder when our last remaining chick, Shirley, would start to lay.

She's about six months old, so it's time.

And then today, we found this:

The picture doesn't really show it, but it's really small and a bit blotchy.  It was also in an odd place.  Like a chook had been caught by surprise.

We do think it's her first egg.

We're rather proud.

Monday, 10 September 2012

First ever!

At least, we hope so!

This is passionfruit lemonade marmalade.  Made from lemonade fruit (a hybrid lemon/navel orange) and passionfruit.  It tastes great (although not at all like Passiona).

We might enter it into the marmalade section of the Swan View Show.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Decision time

Just lately, Horace, one of our two surviving chicks, has started to asset his masculinity.  He's quite a magnificent creature - tall and glossy and his comb and wattles are getting bigger.

He's also started to experiment with crowing, luckily not too early, but we don't expect that to last.

He sounds like a teenage boy whose voice is breaking.  The hens are picking on him less and less.

If we don't find him a new home soon, he's going to be too tough and stringy to eat.

Monday, 3 September 2012


Last year, the practical reinventor went to rather a lot of trouble to use this horrible old bathtub that had been dumped in the backyard for, oh, about 10 years.

Our preferred crop: water chestnuts.
They struggled and died off, and we got busy, so they got left.

They're supposed to grow through summer, then you harvest the corms (the water chestnuts are a sort of root vegetable) in Autumn, then plant the next lot in spring.  Since we didn't harvest them, we figured they all died and rotted away.
Except they hadn't.  Some had started to shoot, but most were crisp and added a definite sharp crunch to a coleslaw.
We've planted half a dozen in new potting mix and hope for a larger harvest next Autumn.

If we remember to harvest them...

Monday, 30 July 2012

A remarkable recovery

You  might remember how sad Joan and Joyce looked when we rescued them - beaks clipped, frightened and missing most of their feathers.

Joyce started feather-up almost immediately.  Joan, well, didn't.  She improved, but still had bald patches and didn't seem to be as healthy as Joyce.

Then, rather suddenly, and for no discernable reason

they are indistinguishable.  Both luxuriantly feathered and rather gorgeous.  We now have no idea who's who.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


After a year of mostly managing with the free-off-Gumtree stove, the reinventors decided it was high time we got a decent one.

For $1000 off its original price and with very good reviews, we have this:

A full 900mm of Belling range.  Getting it installed involved some quite intense conversations about what should go where in the kitchen.  Gas fitting regulations mean that each burner has to be at least 20cm from any ignition point.  In our case, it was the 100-year-old jarrah window sill. 

So we moved a bench and free-standing shelves to the other side of the kitchen, took some shelves off one wall and put them up on another wall, had some new power points installed, shifted the kitchen dresser and rethought the whole barista bench.

And had this put in:

It casts very interesting shadows.

In case you were wondering,

it bakes a magnificent banana cake.  We've yet to have a disaster.  Although there are a lot of other oven settings we've not yet explored...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Spring is springing

Waaaaaaaaaay back in the beginning, when the romance was very new, the creative reinventor mentioned that he loved the smell of jonquils.

Since then the practical reinventor has planted him jonquils in every garden they've had.  About 10 of them.

This is the latest lot.  

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

There will need to be a Decision

The reinventors are members of Transition Town Guildford, the practical reinventor working with another two members on an off-shoot group, the TTG Kitchen Gardeners' Society.

Last weekend we hosted a chook workshop in our backyard.  We sent the neurotic kelpie on a play date with the golden retriever two doors away and let the chooks loose.  They were remarkably unperturbed by the 40-odd people who invaded their backyard.

As well as discussing the ways of chooks, hen house construction, general chook health, the joys of rescuing battery hens and eating scones, cakes and biccies, we asked lovely vet B about Florence.

Florence is a bit more aggressive than Shirley and has a more distinct comb.  We suspect her name should be Horace.

B looked critically at Florence.  Commented on the angle of her bum feathers, and agreed.  Florence is most likely Horace.

Once he starts crowing, something will have to be done.  Neither of us is looking forward to it.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Chook update

A first!  Florence and Shirley's first experience free ranging.

They picked it up very quickly.