OCTOBER – NOVEMBER 2022: Water, water everywhere

This post, for reasons that will become obvious, is both very brief, and very late. October for us at Greatrakes was pretty much non-existent, due to the fact that we boarded a plane on the 6th of the month and jetted out to Prague for the start of a nearly month-long sabbatical in Europe. We left the house and dogs in the capable hands of my mum during that time, and only returned to Axedale in the early hours of November 3rd, having missed some of the wildest and wettest weather ever to have hit the region.

More rain

The big wet, as you will have seen from our previous posts, had actually been going for several months already, and with each downpour the flooding had been a little worse, so with a few days to go before our trip began, the last thing we wanted to see was another huge frontal system heading down from the north.

As October began, the floods from the 27th and 28th of September had finally started to recede, leaving behind them piles of debris stacked up against the fences of the lower section of our paddocks, with the fences completely pushed over in several places.

Luckily, with the help of a neighbour and a four-wheel drive, I was able to straighten them sufficiently to keep the sheep and alpaca confined, and to restore the electric fence along the creek line to working order, a day before we were set to leave the country.

The creek levels dropped before we left for our holiday – but for how long?

Fast forward to just over a week later, and in the early hours of the morning of the 14th of October, we were waking up on the Danube River in Austria to news that the rains back at home had reached biblical proportions, with dumps of over 200mm overnight throughout the catchments of Axe Creek and the Campaspe River. Lake Eppalock, which had been sitting at around 47% capacity when we moved to Axedale in late May, was now around 133% capacity, with water levels above 1.8 metres flowing across both spillways. In fact, so ferocious was the flow on the second spillway, that it had washed away the road below it. Of course, all that water was heading into the Campaspe River, and the first chance it had to escape its banks was at the McIvor Highway crossing at Axedale, which not only resulted in the road between Heathcote and Bendigo being cut, but also removed the entire road surface from a section just above the bridge, images of which were now making news across the globe.

The water levels reached to well above the dam, the highest since the house was built in 2015

We checked in throughout the day and night with mum to monitor the conditions, and despite the fact that the water levels had reached halfway up the final rise before the house’s ground level, plus the fact that the house was now literally cut off from all road access in and out, she seemed to be handling it quite stoically. The sheep and alpaca were all securely locked up in the top paddock, out of harm’s way, and the house was still very much high and dry, so she resigned herself to a couple of days indoors and soldiered on.

The sheep were certainly not in any danger of running out of food during October and November

Pastures aplenty, but fences – not so much

When we finally returned in early November, most (but not all) of the rain had cleared, and we were faced with the sight of paddocks towering with pasture. Unfortunately, the floods had completely destroyed around a third of our fencing, meaning that the livestock had to be confined to the top paddock until such time as I could erect a temporary electric fence across the main paddock to keep them from straying into the creek or the neighbouring properties.

Rosie surveys the acres of fresh pasture after all the rain.

Even then, the amount of pasture in the top paddock was way beyond the scope of the small flock of sheep that we had to keep down to a manageable level, and after sorting out the issue of getting them all shorn before the impending summer (if and when it finally arrived), we ended up enlisting the help of another Axedale local to come and slash the main paddock for us.

Picking & planting

In the meantime, the vegetable garden was finally starting to offer up some excellent produce, with rows of healthy cauliflowers and cabbages ready to pick, along with radishes, lettuces and carrots. A lot of the radishes, cauliflowers and cabbages ended up in various forms of pickled produce, such as piccalilli and sauerkraut, although I ended up having to throw most of the sauerkraut out a couple of weeks later due to it drying out (I’ll explain why in a moment).

The first of many cauliflowers from the garden.
Several of the cauliflowers ended up as delicious piccalilli

After harvesting the vegetables that were ready to pick, the most important job in the vegetable garden was to transplant all of the tomatoes from the glasshouse into the garden, as well as replacing the lettuce that had gone to seed with some fresh summer herbs. The tomatoes that I had experimented with planting out early were also doing well, as despite the rain and the cold days, there had been no frosts during our time away. I potted some of the seedlings up and planted the rest into raised garden beds, before refilling the planter box in the glasshouse with potting mix and a light top dressing of seed raising mix and sowing a bunch of different varieties of Basil and Dill. Little did I know it, but this simple action of emptying the remains of a bag of potting mix that had sat for a month in the glasshouse into a planter box would have a profound effect on the next two months of my life.

A bunch of radishes destined for the pickling jar
A big hearty Iceberg lettuce

Struggling to breathe

By the Tuesday afternoon of the week following our return to Australia, I started to develop severe asthma – or so I thought. Having been hit with bouts of it off and on throughout our European trip, I suspected it was just a return bout, and given that I had a journey into the office in Melbourne planned for the Wednesday anyway, I made an appointment to see my doctor in the city before work. He prescribed me another inhaler and a preventer and sent me on my way, but on returning to the office it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to do much, so I hopped back in the car and drove the two hour journey back home to bed.

The next day I felt worse and stayed in bed all day – by the afternoon I’d started to get hot and cold sweats. Given the wave of COVID 19 sweeping the state again, I took a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and expected the worst, however after a few minutes it came back as negative. The following morning my fever was running at 40 degrees, and I was struggling to even breathe lightly, so we called an ambulance. After testing negative on another RAT, and despite the advice of the ambos and the doctor on the virtual ED call that it was COVID and I should just wait it out at home, I insisted on making the trip into the emergency department. After passing yet another RAT and then lying in the waiting room for an hour, dripping with sweat and gasping for air, I was finally taken in for a chest x-ray before being sent back to the waiting room again. It wasn’t long however before the nurse came back in to inform me that I had a severe bout of what they suspected was pneumonia, and that I was being admitted to hospital immediately.

Things take a turn for the worse

Over the next two days my condition continued to worsen, despite the copious amounts of antibiotics I was being administered, until one of the doctors suggested they switch to treating me for Legionnaire’s Disease, given my recent history of working in a confined space with potting mix. Sure enough, within hours of the change in medicine, I started to come good, and I was finally able to go home on the Monday afternoon. The recovery from Legionnaire’s though is a very slow process, and the rest of November (and much of December) was pretty much a write off for me, both work wise and gardening as well.

We’ve all read the label hundreds of times, but how many people actually wear gloves and a mask when using potting mix?

A hearty drop

One thing that we were able to do during November was to finish bottling our own wine, thanks to the wonderful people at Shiraz Republic and their Rent-a-Row program. Given my lack of energy, I wasn’t able to do much myself other than stick labels on bottles, but Vanessa and our friends Jarrod & Aleisha did all of the heavy lifting to clean, fill, cork and seal 72 bottles of lovely Shiraz. I did manage to stick the labels on the bottles however – labels that I had designed myself based on an oil painting I had completed of a red gum by the roadside just near our house. As a tribute to our new home and location, we’ve named the wine “Sugarloaf Road Shiraz”. It’s drinking nicely already, but it should really start to peak over the next 5-7 years. If we can make it last that long…

SEPTEMBER 2022: Spring has sprung

If August was busy, then September at Greatrakes was absolutely frantic! Not only have we been gearing up towards our overseas holiday in October, but we’ve been making preparations for the change of seasons in the garden, and we’ve also been inundated with visitors.

Golden hour at Axedale
Golden hour, the evening sun lights up the Sugarloaf after a storm at Axedale

La Nina 3.0

Axe Creek in flood at the O’Brien’s Lane crossing during September 2022

For the third year running it looks like we’re going to have a wetter than average spring and summer, thanks to the return of La Nina. Much of the ground in Northern Victoria is already saturated, and every new rain event brings fresh flooding. The Loddon and Murray catchments have been on flood-watch for most of the month, with weirs at Cairn Curran, Tullaroop and Laanecoorie reservoirs all spilling into the Loddon, and large water releases into the Murray from the Hume Weir at Albury.

Looking downstream from the O’Briens Lane crossing on Axe Creek

Closer to home, the Coliban and Campase rivers have been steadily flowing into Lake Eppalock, which may also spill in coming weeks. It’s currently sitting at around 85%, and is visible from the McIvor Highway at Derrinal, where it has started to back up into Mount Ida Creek.

Axe Creek reached a hefty 1.4 metres above the road surface at O’Briens Lane during September

Our own Campase tributary, Axe Creek, has been steadily flowing all month and has flooded on several occasions, with the water at the O’Briens Lane road crossing reaching a hefty 1.4 metres above the road surface.

Receding floodwaters in Axe Creek
Receding floodwaters in Axe Creek at the bottom of our paddocks

Thankfully we’re yet to see it burst its banks into our paddocks, although it has come mighty close to doing so twice now.

The dam seems to be holding at around 1/4 capacity

The minimal flows from off the paddocks into the dam have been enough to keep it stable at around 1/4 capacity – one of our long term projects over the next year or two will be to improve inflows and try to maximize water retention.

In the Glasshouse

We have ramped up our production of seedlings in the glasshouse this month as we start to head into warmer weather. The seeds that we germinated from the large red gum on the property have been potted up into tubes ready for planting out next March, and they are piling on the growth.

River red gums destined for planting in the bottom paddock next March

Our trays of marigolds and zinnias proved to be extremely bountiful, with an excellent germination rate on the marigolds in particular. Unfortunately, the zinnias were planted into trays of two different seed raising mixes, and the results in the Yates brand mix have been somewhat disappointing compared to those planted into my preferred Osmocote mix, which I sadly wasn’t able to purchase anywhere nearby at the time.

Zinnias and Marigolds.

The marigolds will make up the first lot of hopefully many annual displays for our new circular annual bed in the centre of the driveway, whilst the green-flowered zinnias will complement them in two triangular garden beds opposite.

Also growing in the glasshouse during September were plenty of celery, celeriac, bronze fennel and French breakfast radishes that have since made it into the garden, along with several varieties of tomatoes.

Tomato seedlings potted up for growing-on in the glasshouse

The very first crop that we planted, the mixed lettuces that we have been growing in the glasshouse, have reached a stage of maturity where we can’t keep picking the leaves as quickly as they are being produced, and I fear it’s only a matter of time before they start going to seed. We’ll most likely pull them up soon and switch to the ones we’ve got growing in the outdoor beds. I plan to grow some herbs such as Dill and Basil in the raised garden bed instead over the warmer months.

Our glasshouse grown lettuce crop has been a huge success

New annual display

One project that we have been working towards for a while now is to replace a bit of an untidy planting of lavenders and Westringias with a bedding display of flowering annuals. The highlight of this garden is an ornamental urn water feature – currently there is no pump fitted to it, but our ultimate goal is to have it bubbling away within a bed of massed colour.

The circular garden bed in the centre of the driveway

The original planting of this bed featured some nice plants, but we felt that the Westringias especially would eventually grow to a size where they would pretty much obscure the urn, which is visible from all of the front rooms of the house. We also had issues with the mulch on the bed washing onto the driveway every time it rained, and the thick planting of bushes making it difficult to control some pretty nasty infestations of clover and cape weed.

Removing the plants

We have re-used a couple of the lavenders elsewhere in the garden, and we’ve offered the rest to a neighbour who is planting up a new garden, so hopefully they won’t go to waste. Unfortunately the Westringias had grown too large to be removed with any real chance of survival, but they’ll go into the compost and eventually return to the garden to feed a future display of annuals.

African and French Marigolds raised from seed in our glasshouse

We raised most of the seedlings for the garden in our glasshouse, from seed purchased from The Seed Collection. Unfortunately due to the issues with sub-standard seed raising mix mentioned previously, the zinnias hadn’t developed to the standard I would have liked, so the rows that had been earmarked for them in the display were instead planted out with mixed colours of a 25cm dwarf African marigold variety, sourced from Bunnings.

Works were carried out under the strict supervision of our site manager, Heide

With the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II leading to the declaration of a day of mourning on the Thursday preceding the Grand Final Friday public holiday in Victoria, we ended up with a four-day long weekend, and we were blessed with glorious sunshine in which to work. All the while we were under the watchful eye of our German Shorthair Pointer, Heide, who set up her office in the back of the car. Meanwhile, our other GSP, Reinhardt, sauntered off to find a shady spot on the veranda. Gardening is not really his game.

Planting out the marigolds

The new display features concentric circles of marigolds, starting in the centre with a 70cm high variety of African marigold called “Kee’s Orange”, followed by the aforementioned mixed dwarf variety and finished off with several rows of a 10cm pale yellow variety of French marigold called “Lemon Drops”.

The finished garden

After nearly a full day of working in the beautiful sunshine, we were completely exhausted, but thankfully we managed to get all of the marigolds planted and watered in well. Hopefully when we return from our holidays, this bed will be a mass of bright orange and yellow.

Elsewhere around the garden

The beautiful blossoms of an ornamental pear

With the arrival of spring, there also comes the arrival of blossoms, and none are more magnificent than the ornamental pears that line both sides of our driveway.

Ornamental pears in full bloom

There are 22 in all, and since mid September they have been buzzing with hundreds of bees, attracted to the masses of snow white blooms. There is a slight downside to them though – they do have a peculiar smell. It isn’t too noticeable when they’re grown as an individual tree, but when they’re planted en masse, they can permeate the air with a fragrance somewhat akin to a very strong prawn vindaloo, which is definitely an acquired taste…

A row of ornamental pears lines each side of our driveway

As previously mentioned, most of our tomato seedlings have been potted up to continue to grow in the glasshouse until after the threat of frosts has disappeared, but we have also experimented with a few plantings outdoors into straw bales that we’ve covered over with plastic sheeting to try to get an early start on the season – however this is purely for experimental purposes, and I won’t be too upset if none of these work out.

An experimental planting of early season tomatoes into straw bales

In the vegie garden we are starting to see a number of crops approaching harvest. Our cabbages and cauliflowers have been going gang-busters lately, enjoying the topsy-turvy mix of sun and rain.

Crops of cabbages and cauliflowers nearing maturity

Our potatoes have also started poking their heads up – little do they realise that they are about to be covered over again with layers of poo and straw, as we start to create our “tater lasagne” in a bid to maximise their production. The life of a vegetable in the Greatrakes garden is never an easy one.

The first shoots from our Desiree potatoes have started poking through the straw

We’ve now completely filled all of our available raised vegetable beds with crops. With our overseas trip coming up we’ve put a hold on adding any new ones, but once we’re back we’ll look at popping in a few more. We’ve also earmarked a couple of areas at the edge of our main lawn that are perfect for planting pumpkins, watermelons and other trailing crops, but these will have to wait until we’re back home as well.

Celery and celeriac, transplanted from seeds raised in the glasshouse.

The biggest concern now is whether we get any more severe frosts while we’re away. Most of the stuff that we currently have growing outdoors is frost hardy, but it’s always a gamble on getting your seeds in with enough time to get a decent growing season, versus waiting until you’re sure the threat of frosts is completely over.

Rows of carrots, parsnips, spinach and beetroot seeds have been sown

Sad goodbyes

Sadly this month we have had to say goodbye to the three gorgeous (but very naughty) steers, De Vito, Arnie and Buttercup. As much as we loved them and loved watching their antics as they ran around the paddock chasing the sheep, we’ve come to the realisation that we just couldn’t keep them any longer.

De Vito, Arnie (hiding behind De Vito) and Buttercup waiting to be loaded onto the trailer

A one-off fence escape is one thing, but when they were constantly breaking through fences and getting into the neighbouring properties, the expense of trying to electrify all of the boundary lines was just too prohibitive. Added to that was their tendency to charge and buck at people who entered the paddocks – all in play of course, but still highly confronting and quite dangerous when you’re talking about 1+ ton of cattle bearing down on you.

With the help of local agents McKean McGregor we managed to get them loaded onto a trailer and transported up to the Echuca saleyards. There were tears as the trailer left the property, and even Heide seemed a little upset – she chased after them out the front gate and down the road. After our break we’ll look at increasing the size of our flock of sheep, and possibly getting in some young alpacas (crias) to keep Rosie company.

Out and About

We’ve also had time this month to welcome several visitors, which has allowed us a bit of a chance to explore more of the local area. The highlight for the month no doubt has come right at the end, with a morning trip in glorious sunshine to Heathcote, where we visited the stunning Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve at Heathcote. This was followed by an excellent lunch at the Tooborac Hotel. We’ve also ventured out to check on Lake Eppalock this month, which is steadily filling up. With a bit of luck, before we head off overseas we may even get to see it spill over into the Campaspe River for the first time in 11 years.

Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve at Heathcote

AUGUST 2022: Settling in

The month of August has been a busy one at Greatrakes, with our focus predominantly set on two things – getting our working from home/commuting arrangements into a routine during the weekdays and using the weekends and the hour or so before work when we’re not commuting to prepare the garden for spring.

Sunrise over Mt Sugarloaf

Axedale Weather

The weather for August 2022 has been a fantastic mix of good rains and some crisp sunny days. The start of the month was actually fairly dry for the most part, although we had enough rain events to keep the back lawn waterlogged and maintain a good flow in the creek.

Axe Creek kept flowing throughout August

We had a Super Moon event in the middle of the month – something we used to dread up in the mountains because of the hoards of tourists it would bring. Thankfully we got to watch this one rise over the top of Mount Sugarloaf with just a chorus of frogs to keep us company.

Super Moon rising over Mt Sugarloaf.

Crisp, cold mornings with severe frosts predominated the early part of the month – one morning I measured the temperature inside the glasshouse at -5 degrees. Little wonder I failed at my first attempt to raise tomato seedlings in there – it was so cold that there was actually a frost forming inside the glasshouse itself!

Thermometer in the glasshouse showing -5 degrees Celsius

Thankfully, those cold mornings generally cleared to be beautiful, sunny days, although the temperatures for the most part still hung around the low teens. This allowed us to get plenty of washing done and hung on the line to dry – something we would never have dreamed of doing in August while living in the mountains.

The livestock in the side paddock enjoying the August sun

Sunny days generally give way to gorgeous sunsets, and they don’t come much better than those we get here in Axedale. We’re lucky to have a view to the west that is dominated by a line of treetops, including a large red gum, which gets silhouetted nicely against the fiery orange sky.

Sunset silhouettes

The end of August saw some significant rain events, with the last couple of evenings for the month producing almost 2 inches of rain. Temperatures overnight were generally warmer, and we had a couple of colossal thunderstorms. Even though a lot of the storm activity seemed to go around Axedale on either side, we did manage to cop a direct hit a few times, which dumped a significant amount of water in a short time. This brought the creek right up, cutting the road at the ford for the first time this year – it even managed to get some water flowing into our otherwise fairly useless dam.

A very wet end to August
Floodwaters rising in Axe Creek
Even the dam got some water

Of course all of this rain and sun meant that the grass has been growing quickly, so we’ve taken every opportunity we can to “make hay while the sun shines” as it were, and give the ride-on mower a good workout.

A perfect day for mowing the lawns

Around the garden

The lawns aren’t the only thing in the garden we’ve been giving our attention to though – we’ve been lucky enough to have been given the use of a friend’s trailer, which has allowed us to make regular trips to the garden supply centre in nearby Strathfieldsaye. This has meant we have been able to mulch the floor of the glasshouse, as well as filling in the rest of the raised vegetable gardens.

No more having to keep the glasshouse floor trimmed with a whipper snipper!

The glasshouse has been put through its paces, and we’ve been producing plenty of winter crops. Nothing beats being able to wander out and pick your own fresh salad leaves before dinner, especially with the soaring costs of lettuce this year.

A bed full of lettuce seedlings

In fact we’ve produced so many lettuce, cabbage and Brussels sprouts seedlings this year that we haven’t had room to plant them all out. Luckily we’re on friendly terms with some of the neighbours now, so we were able to find a home for all of the excess, with none of them going to waste.

Too many vegetables to fit in our garden!

It’s not just vegetables that we’ve been producing in the glasshouse though – we have plans for a spring/summer display of annuals in the driveway, so we’re growing several trays each of a few different varieties of marigolds and zinnias.

The glasshouse is getting a good workout

We’ve also managed to raise a bit over a hundred river red gums from seed that I collected from the big paddock tree last month. Being able to collect the pods, gather the seed and plant it out while still fresh has given me fantastic germination rates. These seedlings will be grown out in tubes over the spring and summer, and should go a long way towards starting our revegetation project down by the creek.

Tubes of river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) raised from seed collected on our property

We’ve also been supplementing our own growing with supplies from The Seed Collection. This month we’ve planted out potato tubers, rhubarb, horseradish and asparagus (green and purple varieties), and we’ve started gathering up a bunch of Dahlia tubers ready to plant once the weather starts to warm up a bit.

Dahlia tubers ready to plant

There’s also a lot of preparation work going on to get the garden ready for our spring planting. With the cold overnight temperatures still preventing us from sowing seeds like tomatoes and capsicums in the glasshouse, we’ve shifted to raising a few plants in a tray of jiffy pots inside the house, to get a jump start on tomato production this year.

A tray of jiffy pots with tomato seeds

I’m also experimenting this year with raising tomatoes in bales of straw, so the preparation work on these is in full swing – lots of watering and fertilising in order to get the straw inside rotting down to a stage where plants will grow in it.

The start of our straw bale garden experiment
Lots of fertiliser and water needs to go into the bales before we start planting

Last but not least, each time we visit a nursery or garden centre we try to pick up a new variety of Grevillea for our Grevillea garden – this is proving to be a big hit with the local honeyeater population!

Local birds

Speaking of honeyeaters, we’ve noticed a stack of different species in the garden this month, including White-plumed, Brown, New Holland, Blue-faced and Yellow-faced varieties. They’re particularly drawn to all of the new Grevilleas, and at times some of the small bushes have been absolutely covered with birds, especially the Brown and New Holland Honeyeaters.

Brown Honeyeater
New Holland Honeyeater
Yellow-faced Honeyeater

There are a lot of birds that seem to be nesting at the moment as well, including pardalotes, thornbills and magpies – we’ve even managed to spot a family of white-winged choughs making a nest of mud and cow dung in the large red gum in the bottom paddock.

Spotted pardalote (male)
Yellow-rumped thornbill
Australian magpie
White-winged chough
White-winged chough on the nest

Other birds we’ve spotted lately include striped cuckoos, welcome swallows, sulphur-crested cockatoos, little corellas, and eastern rosellas. We were even visited by an owl one night, most likely the same barn owl I have seen a couple of times along the road when I’ve been returning home after dark – we didn’t see it this time around, but he left us a deposit – the back end of a baby rabbit, high on top of one of the timber posts near the sheep pen.

Eastern Rosella

Dining out

So much of our time has been taken up with the garden and the new house, but we have found the occasional few hours where we’ve been able to get away to try some of the local restaurants. The local pub here at Axedale always does a great meal, but this month we’ve also managed to journey a little further afield to Kyneton, where we had a fantastic lunch at French restaurant Midnight Starling, to Euroa for an excellent pub meal at Seven Creeks Hotel and a little closer to home in the nearby town of Heathcote, where we had an absolutely stunning lunch at French restaurant Chauncy.

A dish of artichoke hearts at Chauncy in Heathcote

All in all we are absolutely loving life here in Axedale, and we look forward to some warmer weather and longer hours of sunlight in the day as we head into spring.

JULY 2022: Making our mark

It’s been a little over a month now since we moved in at Axedale, and although we pretty much fell in love with the place straight away, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that we’d like to change. So these last few weeks we have set about making our own mark on the place, with a number of adjustments and improvements here and there.

Old sign, new home

Greatrakes sign
Greatrakes sign

The sign that used to reside on our front gate at Mount Dandenong has had a fresh spray of paint and now sits proudly beside our front doors. Unfortunately it was a little too narrow to sit perfectly across the fence railings outside the front gate where we’d originally intended it to go, so we’ll look to get a new sign made for there.

Seedling production

The new greenhouse

One of the first additions we made to the property was this polycarbonate greenhouse, from Maze Products. This had actually been provided to us as part of the insurance settlement after the June 2021 storms at Mount Dandenong had brought a large stringybark down on our previous one. By the time the replacement arrived, we had made the decision to move house, so it spent several months in storage before it arrived here at Axedale.

Inside the new greenhouse

These greenhouses are really tough (it took an entire messmate to bring down the last one), and they are relatively easy to assemble – this one went up in an hour or so with very few issues, and hardly a curse word uttered. The location is perfect – plenty of sun all day and only a few steps away from our compost bins and vegetable beds.

Inside the new greenhouse

Inside we have already started to grow plenty of vegetable seedlings. There are a number of trays of brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts, as well as a few different lettuces – these will all be grown to a size slightly larger than the standard vegetable seedlings you buy at the nurseries, before being planted out into our new raised garden beds once the current crop is done.

Lettuce seedlings destined for the vegetable garden

There are also 4 different types of tomatoes being grown in here – we’re getting a frost here on most nights at the moment, so it will still be months before we will be able to grow crops like tomatoes outside in the garden. The plan for now is to select the biggest and best plants from this current crop and grow a few to maturity in pots that will remain in the greenhouse.

Indoor crop of lettuce

The previous owners left behind a raised self-watering garden bed that just so happens to fit perfectly across the back wall of the greenhouse – with lettuce prices currently as crazy as $10 a lettuce, and prices on many other vegetables also skyrocketing, our plan is to be as self-sufficient as possible this season by growing as much of our own veggies as we can.

Maze 100 litre water tank

When we set the greenhouse up, we gave it a very slight fall towards the rear, which allowed us to hook up a 100 litre water tank, also from Maze, on each side to collect any water run-off from the roof. Eventually they will sit on their own custom stands, however for the time being a couple of milk crates will have to suffice.


240 litre compost bins

Just outside of the greenhouse we have started a composting production line. At the moment we only have a couple of these 240 litre bins, made in Australia by Tumbleweed, but the plan is to have a whole chain of them going to take all of our kitchen scraps and garden waste. Compost is an essential ingredient in building and maintaining a healthy and productive vegetable garden, and the more we can make of it onsite, the better it will be.

Raised vegetable garden beds

Raised vegetable garden beds

We were lucky enough to inherit a number of raised timber garden beds with the property, and we’ve added to these with a number of raised metal garden beds from Australian manufacturer Birdies Garden Products. These beds are a lot more durable than the timber ones and should last us many years – eventually we will look to replace all of the timber beds with more of these.

Metal frames to support peas

With it currently being the middle of winter here, we are limited as to what we can grow, given that most nights we get a decent frost. At this stage we’ve concentrated on the brassicas, planting several types of cabbages and cauliflower, along with beets, peas, onions and carrots.

Raised garden beds

The beds do take a bit of assembling, as they come flat packed and each section needs to be bolted to the next, plus there was a fair bit of work involved in filling them all, but in the long run we hope that all the effort was worth it – we should be able to produce enough vegetables to be reasonably self-sufficient in coming years.

An assortment of vegetable seeds and tubers

We’ve also just received our first order from The Seed Collection, a Melbourne based supplier with plenty of great varieties. I’ve never used these guys before, so I’m not sure how they will go, but our initial interaction has been positive – the order was packed, sent and received within a few days and everything ordered was supplied. As you can see, the packaging looks to be very well done as well. Time will tell how we go with germination and cropping.

New gardens

Grevillea Garden

There are a lot of honeyeaters and other nectar-feeding birds in this neck of the woods, and with this section of garden within the main view of the kitchen and dining room windows, I felt it lent itself well to low(ish) growing Grevilleas and other natives. As the Silver Birch grow we will trim their trunks so that they emerge out of a thicket of Grevilleas, Banksias and Correas that the birds will absolutely love.

Memorial Garden

The “formal garden” (we’re choosing to call it the Memorial Garden) is a beautiful spot to come and soak in the peace and quiet of country life. The centrepiece is this magnificent pedestal and urn, but unfortunately it was obscured by a planting of Hebes that had grown so tall and thick, it was hard to imagine that anything actually lurked beneath them. While the Hebes were beautiful in their own right, they were out of place, so we have removed them and replaced them instead with Mother’s Love roses.

Gardenia Beds

In the large circular driveway at the front of the house there are two triangular garden beds that had been planted out with a row of Bay Laurels in each. I assume that the intention here was to create a medium height hedge. The front two thirds of each bed had been left empty, so we’ve lined the edges with low growing Gardenias, and we’ll eventually fill the centres in with Orange Blossoms

Winter Wonderland

For the first time in the almost 4 years that we have lived here at Greatrakes, we have had snowfalls heavy enough to settle on the ground, not just once, but two days in a row.

Snow started falling in the early hours of Saturday morning and when I woke up around 5:30 am it was quite heavy – there was a covering of around 5 mm of snow on the bluestones along the edge of the front porch. By 7:30 am the sun had risen and the garden was white with a fresh dusting. Sadly over the next hour the snow turned to drizzle and by lunchtime it was all gone.

Then on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, a fresh wave of snow showers hit, and by sunrise the garden was once again white, however this time it kept snowing, and by 9:00 am there were actually some quite heavy snow showers.

This meant that the snow lasted well into the day, with the drizzle not taking over until well after 10:00 am, and patches of snow still visible in the more sheltered areas of the garden well into the afternoon.

Heide thought it was fabulous stuff, but Reinhardt was completely ambivalent about the whole experience, preferring instead to bury himself in among the cushions on the couch.

Reinhardt is not a big fan of the white stuff.