Let the Essential Oil Distilling Begin!

Fox Hill Hollow Eucalyptus Oil

We had to trim a termite infested branch of one of our Blakelyi Red Gum trees the other day and rather than waste the leaves by using them as kindling I really wanted to make essential oil. Being a cosmetic chemist whose been keen on making their own ingredients since I was about 19 this day has been a long time coming but finally I got to cook up some oils!

I wrote all about the experience on my Realize Beauty blog here and am now inspired to try more and learn more about the distillation process as I think it would bring a great new dimension to the lessons I plan to teach out at Fox Hill Hollow.  I’m sure that everyone will appreciate the chance to go home with their own little piece of aromatic heaven, fresh from the farm and I know I’ll enjoy cooking it!

Dogs and Logs on a winters day.

There is nothing better than seeing the excitement on the dogs faces when we arrive at the land.  The only down side is that Maisy started to get a little too excited a while back and her killer instinct kicked in thanks to our lethargic local Kangaroo and Wallaby population who seem to take rather a long time to come up with an exit plan when we arrive, no matter how slowly we arrive!  Rather than end up with Maisy having to be tethered up during our non-walking time I looked into getting her a backpack that I could use to weigh her down a bit with the hope of slowing her down.  I’ve been using the backpack on her walks back home but have not been putting any weight in it as I don’t really want to beef her up any – I’d struggle to hold her back if she got much stronger, she’s already pretty sturdy – but today was the first time using it here and using it full!

Into the backpack went 2 x tins of diced pineapple and 2 x tins of soup – just under 1Kg of weight into each pocket. Not enough to stress her but enough to slow her down and allow any curious Kangaroos or Wallabies to hop, skip and jump away in time.  Maisy did jump a bit at first when the tins clattered together and I could see that she was a bit miffed at having to carry the extra weight around but within about 10 minutes she seemed to just get on with life as if nothing had happened and I could get on with stacking up the wood that Aub had chopped.

A good day all round, no animals were harmed and the food tins lived to be eaten another day 🙂

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House plans in, site office construction starts

There’s nothing quite like a full moon on a crisp winters night to get you in the mood for some thinking and that’s exactly what we were out at Fox Hill Hollow to do. Our plans have gone into council now and hopefully (fingers crossed) within three weeks we will know if we can get started or not.  We are both so excited even though it might take some time to finish as we plan to build this step-by-step with money saved along the way rather than taking out a loan.  So, in light of that we need to think about our immediate comfort and ability to work and that’s where the site office comes in.

The site office was chosen a little under two weeks ago, a 20 foot shipping container that we now just have to decide where to place.  We have somewhat outgrown the small caravan now that our children are taller than me (that’s not too hard though) and with nowhere to house granddad when he comes to lend a hand this container office/ spare room can’t come fast enough!  We opted for a 20 foot rather than another 40 foot container as we didn’t want to over-containerise the block (our permanent house will be made of 4 x 40 footers).  Also we didn’t want to commit to having to ‘do up’ a massive space.

The plan is for this 20 foot container to be split into two rooms,  one site office with a sofa bed and the other with a double bunk on the bottom and single bunk on top (or something similar).  That way we go from one to three bedrooms if and when we need it – we might even be able to start our retreat venture early!

After a bit of puzzling it was decided to place this new container out the front of the 40 footer which has become the garage/ shed really.  There will be a walkway between the new and old container that ends in a small portaloo style toilet facility (for night-time emergencies, our proper loo is a pit toilet further away) and the bush shower which we are about to plumb in heating for – can’t wait for that.  So all up it should be quite flash in a glamping kind of way.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the space we cleared for the new container.  Come next weekend it should be all placed and ready for us to start the building work.

A Hazy Shade of Winter

Even on a damp and cold (by Australian standards) winters day Fox Hill Hollow still stretches out its warm embracing welcome to us, welcoming us into what seems like another world!  This world is mossy and quiet, every changing yet timeless and wise, a world that has tiny little eyes that follow you from behind the grasses and trees, like the Wallaby that followed up on our morning walk, stopping just far enough away to secure a good view for her and a too-distant photo for us.

This weekend the night was lit up by a beautiful full moon  – a strawberry moon apparently and one that sweeps its bath across the sky, starting its journey from behind our caravan window.  Mum tells me that one of her earliest memories of my first days on earth was of me settling to the glow of the full moon that illuminated the sky on my third day of life.  I have been smitten ever since and still find silver a peaceful and calming colour and the moons soft glow strangely comforting.

We needed to come out for some quiet time this week, a bit of a recharge of the batteries after a tough couple of months.  Stress places an immense toll on the body both Aub and I had been feeling quite sick on and off because of it.   Life can get heavy at times. One night of woodland peace doesn’t solve everything but it does create a pause and sometimes that’s all you need to feel like you have slowed the world down enough to step back onto it.

Here’s to tree therapy at Fox Hill Hollow on this hazy winters day and look, I even managed to find a mustachioed face made from poo with Donald Trump hair! I promise I didn’t touch a thing, it was pooped that way 🙂

Understory – A connection through trees

I have just finished gorging myself on this, a book that I bought half heartedly at first, thinking it would better suit a close friend of mine than me – I was going to give it to her as a present but then I thought ‘stuff it, I’ll read it first’ and I’m glad I did.

I am such a tree girl myself. So much so that last year my vision board (I do a board every year) had me declare my mantra to be ‘be strong, stand tall, you have deep roots and can weather any storm’.  I am tree woman. I love living with them, find it easier to breathe when surrounded by them and feel most grounded in their presence.

Inga’s personal life story is entwined into the story of the forests and country that has, and continues to shape her.  The personal stories are neat and as crisp as morning dew yet they touch deeply, leaving a real sense of a person you both know and don’t know in equal measure.  Inga weaves in her childhood inspiration – a land of Tolkien, Dragons and bush camping giving the very real narrative a sense of other-worldliness as if she has stumbled across a porthole to another world when really it is just another way of seeing this world I guess.

Anyway, for a tree-loving, bush-walking, loner like me this book is just perfect and no, I’m not going to pass this copy onto my friend, I’m going to buy her a fresh one and keep this as a permanent reminder of the language and power of trees.

 

Stinging Nettle Soup

Falling into stinging nettles was an occupational hazard of mine when I was 5 through to age 12. This was neither fun nor painless as I’m sure you can imagine but believe it or not every time I see stinging nettles now I am instantly transported to a happy place, a place where the tiny piece of wilderness that I used to play in at the top of my street was my own private universe!  I remember spying on the farmer as he tried to round-up his sheep,  collecting wool from the barbed wire fence to take home and spin, whittling twigs into arrows and spears and, of course, climbing up and jumping out of trees and into stinging nettles. Ouch!  But whatever happened, no amount of temporary stinging pain could take away the joy that I felt just being out there in the country, surrounded by trees. Oh how little has changed 🙂

Anyway, I saw these on the weekend and thought that one day soon I’d better cook up some nettle soup!

nettles large

 

I’ve never tried it as I assumed it would be either prickly (apparently not) or tasteless (maybe so according to this recipe from the River Cottage).  I think I’ll gather up the other ingredients and make some next time we are on the land, before the nettles retreat for another winter as no matter how it tastes it will be a free vitamin boost!  If the nutritional data on the interwebs is to be believed nettles are a rich source in vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and iron – I could always do with more iron!  I am just going to make sure I have some tasty stock cubes to put in there just in case it does just taste like boiled weeds.

On another note I should eat these to get rid of them as they are not even supposed to be here. I bet some English chap brought them over with the foxes, rabbits and feral cats back in the day.  By eating them I’d be doing the Australian bushland a favour probably although I’m not sure if eating the leaves kills the plans? Maybe I’d have to dig it up?  But then what if I like my soup?

Maybe I’ll wait and see how it tastes before I decide whether to exterminate my non-native green friend.

What do you think?

 

 

Starry starry night at Fox Hill Hollow

The nights out west can be pretty magical thanks to ultra-low light pollution and a horizon that stretches out in all directions as far as the eyes can see. One night Aub and I were awakened by a light so luminous and silvery that we thought it must be someone up against the caravan window with a powerful flash light!  Needless to say there were a few tense moments of deciding who should go and look before we both realised that we were being spied on by the biggest, brightest moon I’d ever seen in my life!  Absolutely breathtaking.

This weekend was no different in the magical skies department.  We don’t seem to get as many rainy days out this side of the dividing range and so most evenings are clear and relatively cloudless.   I must admit to being an absolute novice when it comes to star-gazing in spite of it being a childhood hobby of mine but even I was able to make out the milky way wrapping its way over head. Magical!

Milky Way from Wikipedia

The above image is of the Milky Way and it was sourced from Wikipedia.

In other news I was delighted to find out that the rather unassuming neighbouring village of Darbys Falls hosts an observatory which its self is home to one of the largest telescopes available to the public. Having only just read about that today I’m now itching to get back out there and see what I can see.  How amazing to have all of this on our doorstep and to have those un-filtered skies for free.

Derby Falls Observatory page can be reached here.

Let me know if you have been and what you think!

The fork lift tractor

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We bought the tractor with a slasher attached.  While the slasher is a great way to cut the grass in summer, in winter it sits idle so we decided to modify it a little.  The forks were constructed out of mild steel box tubing and formed using arc welding.  The lifting weight is limited by the hydraulics of the tractor and we think that’s around 200kg which should be more than enough for what we want to do!

A job well done!

More Plant I.D’s at Fox Hill Hollow

unidentified plantlet

I found this today on my walk and was quite excited as I knew it was an Orchid but had no idea which one!  According to those that know about this sort of thing, the presence of Orchids in an ecosystem means it is healthy, that means a lot to me as our personal goal is to leave Fox Hill Hollow in better condition that when we found it and so it is good to know that our tramplings and explorations haven’t killed the place just yet 🙂

A quick shout out on Facebook got me a plant ID – Green Hood Orchid.  As per usual there are a few different ‘green hoods’ and on closer inspection it looks like this is the Snake Tongue variety or Taurantha Concinna.

Secondly but not quite so excitingly I finally arrived on the land to see this mystery bush flower and it turns out to be the rather common Grey Guinea Flower -Hibbertia Obtusifolia (family Dilleniacea).

2016-05-13 01.57.49

Last of all I was transfixed by the beauty of these seed pods and by the fact that the tree that these pods belonged too had actually strangled it’s companion tree – a lovely old gum.

strangle treeSeed pods

Anyway it turns out that this murderous tree is in fact a bottle tree – probably a narrow leaf bottle tree also known as Kurrajong or Brachychiton Populneus.  This tree is also native to Australia and it is not unusual to find it in New South Wales so I don’t feel so bad about hosting it now.  Here is a fact sheet on my new best friend – this bright and shady tree!

I love exploring and getting to know the land and lucky for us there is so much beautiful countryside out west to explore.