A caravan life

When we decided that we needed to be on the farm full-time, we did not even have a shed erected on the site.  Council approvals and bad weather had delayed us for over 6 months.  Originally we thought we would have two sheds up by the time we wanted to move here, but obviously this didn’t happen. We moved to the farm anyway …  to live in our caravan for the short term until we got further accommodation sorted out.

Those who know me may remember me as a city girl who likes her creature comforts. Having been a regular day spa visitor and not being a big fan of dust, windy days or hot weather this was a big change for me. In fact in the last few weeks before we moved I started quietly looking at the Real Estate online rentals section to see if we couldn’t get ourselves a few creature comforts for a small price. And then I would do the maths and realise that it would cost us at least $1000 per month to do that – that seemed like an awful lot for a few creature comforts and it also represented a lot of things we couldn’t do on the farm that we really wanted to do if we spent that money in another way.

So we moved into the caravan – I kept telling everyone I met that it is part of a ‘rite of passage’ for anyone who builds their own home on acres. And I did think it would only be short term.  I still think it will be relatively short term.

caravan

Moving into the caravan, though, meant we needed a few more things than we did if we just stayed down on weekends.  Simple things like electricity.  We invested in a 2600W generator which will become the backup to our off-grid solar system for the future house.  We also bought a 750W, 12V solar system which runs the deep cycle batteries for the caravan and from this we can run lights, hot water and pump water into the shower and sink.  So we have hot running water.  For at least 15 minutes a day we have hot running water.  In that time 2 people can have showers and wash their hair – personally I never would have thought this possible even 3 months ago. But then I had tresses halfway down my back.  Now I have short hair – I had over 12 inches or 30 cms cut off the length soon after we moved here – I didn’t even consider it a sacrifice and now I love my short, easy to manage do and I can get through a shower in under 8 minutes which I never thought was possible!

The generator means that we can charge laptops, phones, modems for about 1 – 2 hours per day and we can survive on this amount of connectivity every 24 hours.  If the modem goes flat from over use (or forgetting to turn it off when not in use), or I run out of battery on my laptop, then we have to make a decision as to whether to re-start the generator or to go without. Depending on the day we choose one or the other although I like to challenge myself not to restart the generator more than once a day – it keeps my carbon footprint small. But on days when I am on my own on the farm all day it does seem that more often than not I need the connection to the outside world, so I am prepared to use a little extra fuel for that.

First Tank

Water has proven to be challenging too. Our only rainwater tank is about 500 metres from the caravan and was connected up after the first shed was erected, which was after we moved here.  We had about 450mm rain in the winter months leading up to the time the tank was connected, so that water went down the creek – literally!  Since we had the tank installed we’ve had a total of about 120mm in the last 2½ months and we’re coming into summer which is usually dry. So we have had to buy some water in – but it still cost us less than a month’s rent!  The challenge is that it is 500 metres from the caravan and we don’t have a hose that long … And so we have carted water, 200 litres at a time from the tank, down the hill, across the creek and up to the caravan where it is siphoned in 100 litres at a time.  100 litres is about three showers and two or three sinks full of dishes. So this can last us 2 – 3 days, depending on who is showering where (sometimes my husband showers at work before he starts his shift).

We have also installed a small rainwater tank for the garden – no food without water!

Garden Rainwater Tank

For heating we have a small gas powered radiant camping heater which heats the caravan in about 20 minutes on a very cold night. Living in small spaces has its advantages!

So while these are some of our daily living challenges, in the past few months, I have learnt to start the generator, fill the generator with petrol and stop the generator when I need to. I even fixed the generator this morning when the on/off knob vibrated lose and fell off in the trailer while it was being used by the shearer.  I now know where the screwdrivers and pocket knives are and often have need to use them. I have been practicing how to drive with the trailer and lately I have been practicing reversing the trailer which is a whole new world of challenge – if you’ve never tried it, don’t try it without supervision!  Today I filled up the water barrel for the first time and managed to get it strapped into the trailer and towed back to the caravan without spilling it or tipping it over.  I’ve learnt a lot about securing things in the trailer too.

But the really important things that I have learnt in these first couple of months is how little I can actually survive with. I don’t need an extensive wardrobe of designer clothes, I don’t need to apply conditioner to my hair every day – twice a week is all it needs. I don’t need TV. Although I do watch some programs over the internet at times, selectively. I don’t miss seeing all the ads on TV and I don’t need to watch the news every night to find out what’s going on in the world.  I don’t need to buy the latest fad – I don’t even know what it is. I don’t need to buy books and CDs when I can borrow them from the local library.

Birthday 2013_2

Birthday 2013_1

What I do need is the support of my family and friends in this adventure, the love of my husband and time to make our plans reality.  I need a bit of chocolate now and again. I need to write and think and ponder this life. I need fresh food, shelter, rain, fresh air and a few things to wear. It’s a simpler way of living, but I have surprised myself by how little I need.  Some days I reflect back on where we have come from and I am amazed that we are doing okay – actually doing better than okay – in our little caravan on the hill.  Sometimes smaller, simpler, down to earth, yet challenging, invigorating and demanding at times.  It’s a caravan life!


Downsizing … downshifting … down south

Well we have finally moved onto our farm property.  While the shed is still under construction and the house plans are still, literally, on the drawing board, we have moved into our 30 year old caravan. It might sound aged, however it offers what I like to call the ‘master suite’ which includes an en suite, and dressing room. The “family room” offers compact kitchen facilities, including a gas stove, dining table and lounge.  We are exploring how much can be done with 12V power and a gas light and heater.  We do have a generator which we are trying to use for only 1 hour per day… so once the generator goes, on, everything goes on – phones, laptop and modem are charged, battery back up is charged, water is heated for showers and we enjoy 240 volt lighting for a short time.  I have a small herb garden by the front of the van, from which I can pick basil, thyme, parsley, mint, oregano and chives.

caravan

As the morning sun streams through the front windows we jokingly boast about how we are harvesting the sun for passive solar heating as we pull up the curtains for light and a little warmth.  A hot water bottle and another significant human being provide warmth at night and we are surviving on around 220 litres of water every two to three days!  Once the shed is up we will connect it to the tank which is already in place and we will have lots of rainwater soon – especially if this weather keeps up.

Since we arrived it has rained every day – some days from dawn to dusk and other days it rains in the morning and clears by lunch time.  It is challenging to keep your mind entertained in such a small space when there is not much option of going outside without getting soaking wet. So today we went and signed up at the local library and I discovered that I can sit and do jigsaw puzzles in the comfort and warmth of the library, courtesy of the local council, as well as borrowing books, CDs, talknig books and all the usual suspects normally found lurking in a local library.  Their organic farming and gardening section also looked like it has plenty to offer.  I think they are going to get to know me very well!

And being on site now means we will be able to do something towards our dream every day, not just on days off.  Each day we can make a little progress towards our ultimate goal of a more sustainable life.  In the meantime we will learn to adjust to a smaller style of living, smaller spaces, smaller demands on the planet and smaller power bills and enjoy the view from our residence every day.

View from the Van


Catch and Store Energy

The second permaculture principle is all about saving for a rainy day, or making hay while the sun shines.  Whichever part of the world you find yourself in, rainy or sunny, this is a great principle for making the most of what you’ve got.  More ideas can be found on the Permaculture Principles page. I hope it gives you some ideas of how to make your future life easier!

Blackberry_Jam


Blackberries

Isn’t it funny how one word can produce such an array of emotions?

We have blackberries on our farm, big, out of control, never-been-sprayed blackberries.  While I recognise that they are considered a weed in our part of the world, I also recognise great resources when I see them. They are mostly in the middle of open paddocks and they are not really getting in the way.  In fact, since we now have a bee hive in the scrub section of the farm, I am keen for the blackberries to keep flowering and for the bees to keep pollinating.  It’s great for the bees and gives them plenty of food to store, to eat and to turn into luscious honey.  The second advantage of having blackberries on the farm is the future promise of blackberry jam.  One of my favourites, and if the flowers are anything to go by, we shall have plenty of fruit for jam making in a couple of months’ time.

blackberry 1

And yet they are considered a pest.  There is only one type of blackberry  that I would consider a pest.  It’s the technological type on which one can receive emails and work phone calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Since when was it okay for our bosses to be able to contact us anytime of the day or night?  The words “on call” don’t appear in my employment contract. Somehow in about the last few years a lot of people have been encouraged to feel like they should always be contactable by work – I used to be one of them.  Perhaps it gives us the sense of being indispensable – and if I’m indispensable they can’t get rid of me, right? Wrong. I’ve read the Fair Work Act and Australia’s National Employment Standards and there is nothing in either of these legislative tools that protects workers who carry work-sponsored communication devices any more than any other workers.

I had a blackberry for a while in a former job.  It went with the executive title and was considered by many of my colleagues as a perk of the job.  I was expected to answer it whenever it rang (even on Sundays or at 10 pm at night).  I was expected to respond to my boss’s emails on the weekends.  In the end it was one of the reasons why I left that job – I wanted my life back.  When my new boss ‘kindly’ offered to get me a blackberry  – again promoting it to me as a perk, a reward that I had ‘earnt’, I turned down the offer – she was a little surprised. I suggested that if it was urgent she could ring or text me on my personal mobile.  So far there has only been one urgent and I still have my weekends. It is so easy to get caught up in the fast pace of life and forget to stop and smell the roses,or  the cow manure, or the pine needles, or the fresh unpolluted air, or even the jam boiling on the stove top.

Pretty soon my weekend is going to be ruled by blackberries again, only this time they will be the real deal, the edible kind, and I will be spending time picking blackberries and making blackberry jam.

Changing my life and deliberately choosing to slow down and live deliberately and consciously sometimes means that I have to move out of the main stream, protecting myself from being dragged back into the madding crowd, the fast pace and the futile commercialism to pursue what I know is really valuable in life – blackberry jam, spending time with people who allow me to be myself and all those other things which give me energy and life.  I guess when the times comes, I will have to bake some scones too …

Blackberry_Jam


Jagged Crow Farm

It has finally happened.  After three years of searching, looking, walking over blocks, thinking about what’s important, setting criteria and reviewing possible purchases against that criteria, we have finally become the proud owners of our very own farm.  Well, its really a bit of land that will become a farm.  It has a rusty old farm gate, good fencing around the perimeter and some cattle yards which need a bit of TLC.  And it might just look like a big open paddock and a bit of scrub to some people, but to us it is a farm.  This is the patch of land where we will build our more sustainable life, reduce our carbon footprint and become a bit more self sufficient.

Front Paddock

We have tossed around names for months and finally settled on Jagged Crow Farm.  Both parts of the name have local significance.  We first offered to buy the land 4 months ago – it seems to have been a long 4 months while we have waited to be able to walk across the paddock not feeling like we are trespassing.  And now when we walk across the paddock I say to myself “this is ours – this Jagged Crow Farm”!

There is so much to plan and do now after all this waiting and dreaming.  But I’m looking forward to the fun and challenge of it as we start to create our sustainable life.


Moving

I haven’t blogged for a while – we’ve been moving house. Our large unsustainable house has been sold and we are now renters again. I haven’t rented for over 15 years and it’s lovely to have found a house which suits us for now. This is our in-between house. With a much smaller footprint, this house will become our home as we start to develop an even more sustainable way of life. We chose this house because it met many of our needs even though it is quite small – especially compared to our old house. It has room for me to grow almost enough veggies for us and a place for us to put our cut down rain water tanks for additional garden space without ruining anyone’s lawn or garden. It came with a compost bin and a lemon tree. It has an aviary in the back corner which is perfect for our two chooks, it has a north facing back verandah and back yard – again perfect for growing veggies and warming the house in winter. The main bedroom is on the south side of the house which means it will be cool in summer, supplemented by a ceiling fan. It has an original 1940s bathroom – an art deco tribute to the early 20th century cars, including the 1904 Mercedes Benz and the 1903 Buick.

1903 Buick

I like that this house has been maintained and not modernised. It has what I can only think would be the original kitchen, but it is all in good condition. A house that has been lovingly maintained and cared for and not trashed or stripped down when it became out of date or off-trend. It is a short bike ride for the Gorgeous One to get to his work and a short 15 minute commute for me in the car. It is within walking distance of a supermarket which is not part of the Australian Food Duopoly as well as an old fashioned butcher shop and the post office. All our needs are really within walking distance. Even our favourite pizza shop isn’t too much of a hike!

Amongst the mess and the turmoil of moving, the exhaustion and the aching muscles, we have talked a lot about how our lifestyle will have a smaller environmental foot print now and we are planning an even more sustainable future when we will plant our orchard, feed the soil on our land, and build a strawbale home

Meanwhile, there are still plenty of boxes which need unpacking! Its amazing how much stuff we gather over the years. And we lug it around from place to place to place. Some of it has memories attached to it and is an important reminder of who we are, who we were or who we dream of being. Some of it is just junk and will be re-purposed or recycled or donated for someone else to find useful. Some of it is just functional stuff that we need to live.

It is quite satisfying sorting through ‘stuff’, finding a new purpose for it, or agreeing that we really can live without it after all.

At the moment we are playing the “have you seen the ………?” game – fill in the blank. The key to this game is you are not allowed to answer with “it’s in a box” – that is stating the bleeding obvious. It’s much more helpful it someone says, yes it’s in a box in the shed up near the back on the second shelf. I still can’t get to it, but at least I know it is accounted for somewhere. Moving gives me a great sense that most of my possessions are not that important, its just stuff. Some stuff we need, some stuff we no longer need, some stuff we like just because it is beautiful or functional or has a happy association. The most important things we moved were ourselves and the animals who have settled in well now and are happily exploring the garden and smelling everything, just because they can! The adventure continues and so we begin to settle into a new way of living and dreaming…


Winter Surprise

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I travelled to the west coast of South Australia – to the thriving fishing and farming community of Port Lincoln part of the food belt of both Australia and the world. It’s two biggest exports are tuna and grain crops and for many years of the 20th century it rode on the sheep’s back.  My in-laws live there and have lived on the land most of their lives. We normally visit them in the height of summer, around Christmas/New Year time and the landscape is dry and brown, the crops recently harvested and the sea shimmering blue in the sunshine.   Every other time I have seen this landscape it has been dry and brown – that mid summer dry that Australians see across the outback plains that haven’t had rain for several months.    When we flew in from Adelaide on a cold August day, I was taken aback to see how green everything was.  I was quite overcome by it all.  I kept mentioning it all weekend – no-one else seemed surprised by it – just me.

Isn’t it funny how we can experience something so many times in one way that we don’t even consider that there might be another facet or perspective on that thing, that person or that situation?  Our minds simply get used to something being a certain way – its real term is habituation – and when something changes, it’s as if our brain has been jarred back to life, seeing things in a new way and with fresh insight.

I wonder what other things my brain takes for granted that I have forgotten to appreciate, or haven’t even consciously known about before?  Its refreshing for something to surprise me like that – I hope I go on being surprised and jarred back to reality by life  – I don’t want to be one of those people who sees things the same way all the time and expects nothing to change.  Bring on the change –  at least then I know I am alive!