Friday, August 22, 2014

August in the garden

It has been quite a few years since I've spent my July and August (and September for that matter!) at home at Chez Drummonds. Usually I'm off in my NZ winter playground being a ski goddess. As much as I miss being on the snow and my Wanaka friends, I'm also enjoying reaping the garden harvest back home, and saving a few pennies for my pending retirement.

my vege patch

Best news of all is that I have managed to sell my property in Cairns. I was really worried it would take ages to sell, but we put it on the market at a good time, with a realistic price, and someone snapped it up. So come mid September I'll have reduced the debt a tad and can keep reducing it for the next 10 months. I'm pretty sure retirement is now doable, but it's still a big plunge to give up one's career at 50 to become a bum...

Back in the garden everything is thriving. It may be winter most places else in Australia, but our winters are mild, more like an English summer, complete with that pleasant wet stuff that falls from the sky. The daytime temperatures are a balmy 18-22 degrees Celcius, with glorious blue skies, and the veges love it. Though last week we had a warm spell where the temperatures got up to 29 degrees and the lettuce just wilted!! Ah yes, one can get lured into a false sense of security far too easily.

Unless it rains I still water every day, but with all three rain water tanks full and overflowing I can be as superfluous as I like. I've started adding clay to the compost heap, with the hope that this will lead to better water retention in my soil as I add the rotted down compost to it. It's a continuous battle here with our crappy sandy water repellant soil, but at this time of year, with mild temperatures and lots of rainfall, you can convince yourself you can grow anything.

well maybe not durian!!

The lettuce is beginning to go to seed, especially as the weather warms up. I've been madly harvesting heaps of greens and bringing them in to work, because there is sooooo much lettuce. I'll collect seed again this year, but I think I'll be a bit more cautious about spreading it far and wide like I did last year - though I have enjoyed the lush greenery even if I'm not eating it all. Everyone at work has been surprised at how yummy my lettuce is - yep, that supermarket stuff is just crap!

now this is what happens when you toss a few lettuce seeds around willy nilly

I've been on what I call a "beans and greens" diet recently - eating almost exclusively from my patch, supplemented with chick peas, cannelini beans or tempeh, plus a few sultanas, pepitas and sunflower seeds. I'm pretty sure my intake of green leafy veg and fibre is well above average and with all this stuff about healthy gut bacteria on the news recently, I think I might be ahead of the game. No kale shakes for me thankyou, I prefer my kale lightly wilted mixed in with some rice, beans and home made thai red curry sauce. Mmmm, nom nom..

Mojito supplier

The last few weeks I've been waging war with the citrus curly leaf miner, using an organic white oil spray every 5-6 days on the new growth to try and prevent the little critters from ruining yet another year's chance of setting fruit. The lime has started flowering, and the grapefruit has put on a huge new flush of growth and I can see tiny flower buds forming. If I do get fruit, the next hurdle will be protecting from fruit fly - quite a problem here in Geraldton. The lemon, which I had to cut back really severely when I got back in June, is putting on a new flush of growth, so hopefully a few more weeks of spraying with white oil will work.

flushed with green

The tomato plants have begun fruiting. The cherry tomato plant that Pauline planted has grown so tall it's over the trellis! I've also started transplanting some seedlings for successive harvests. If I time my planting right, I can get fruit right through summer.

cherry tomatoes reaching for the sky

The cucumber vines mostly died - the greedy green caterpillars got to them, and maybe the cold July nights didn't help either. But I've planted some more seeds and they aren't far off beginning their twining journey up the daggy support structure. I'm thinking of planting some beans on the other side to twine up the support and hide its ugliness with greenery - stay tuned.

coriander bolting, new cucumber and bok choy

Talking about beans, aren't they just magical? A little flower one day can be a fully formed and ready to eat bean within less than a week. I love picking five or six beans straight from the garden to go in my dinner that night. This is the pure joy of gardening!

magic beans

Jack's pumpkin plants haven't fared well. Out of the three he planted from seed, two have succumbed and I've replaced them with self seeded ones from the compost. One, however, is powering along, and there are little flowers beginning to form. This plant will be known as Jack's pumpkin from now on. I do hope it continues to thrive.

Jack's pumpkin going strong

The self seeded papaya has begun to flower, and it's a girl. There's a boy in the tub next door so nature should be able to do all the work, but I'm giving it a little helping hand, as I've been doing with the papaya along the side garden, and hand pollinating. Maybe the other self seeded papaya will be bisexual, just to even up the score a bit. If it's a boy it'll have to be sacrificed...

It's a girl!

I've started sowing seeds for the spring/summer garden, including eggplant, okra and beetroot, in seed trays in the grey water garden. The tomatoes did well sprouting this way - it's the best way I've found to keep them moist enough - and the water chestnuts I replanted have begun to shoot too. Soon they'll be ready to be submerged over the summer, and since they've actually shooted now, I can think about eating the water chestnuts I've saved from the last harvest that are sitting in a ziplock bag in my refrigerator.

the grey water garden reticulates my seedlings, water chestnuts sprouting in tubs up the top tier

I've still lots of chillies, the capsicum plants continue to provide me with a steady supply, and the eggplants are flowering again and may even fruit for their third year. This will be a bonus, but I'm sprouting some new plants from seed anyway.

The mango has decided to flower this year. That's awesome, because I've never managed to keep a mango tree alive long enough to get to flowering stage. No doubt putting it in the front yard where I can molly coddle it, vs up the back being neglected, is the reason this one has survived. Can I even dare to hope for fruit???

The recent warm weather and dry spell (though we had rain again this week) has brought the wildflowers out, and the flowering shrubs. Even the succulents are flowering. It's a glorious time in the garden, before the temperature dial starts to crank up and all that green turns to brown.

I'm enjoying it while I can...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Retirement 101

OMG this stuff does my head in! I've spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to work out whether I can financially survive for the next 50 years without being a part of the paid workforce and I think I have at last come to a conclusion. The answer is yes, but.....

In order to survive I want to have a passive income, i.e. money from somewhere that doesn't require me to put in my labour to get it. From investments for instance.

I am completely uninterested in becoming a professional blogger or digital nomad. It just looks like too much hard work! I want to travel, take photographs and write about it for fun, not to make a living. I don't want to be forced into spending hours in front of a laptop merely to make ends meet. Not for me I'm afraid..

Having not had kids or a particularly flash lifestyle (ahem: a few years doing expensive dive holidays in exotic locations on liveaboards??) and a reasonably well paid career, I've managed to acquire some investment properties and pay off my primary residence. This is a good thing, because having debt in investments in Australia means you can reduce your marginal tax rate, effectively getting the government to contribute to paying off your loan.

That's all very well when you have an income and are paying tax, but once you stop working, debt is not a good thing at all. So the debt has to go, meaning selling off my investments. Preferably at a profit.

Unfortunately, that's when the tax man decides to put his hand out and take a little back again. Oh well, he did kind of help me in the first place....

Not all my investment properties have increased in value, in fact two out of three have reduced in value since I purchased them. This isn't really a big deal because one of them gives me a good income, and if I'm no longer paying interest on a loan (currently at 5.2%) this one property can give me enough income to pay all my fixed costs for the investment property and for my personal property, and maybe one day appreciate in value (wishful thinking??). Which means all I need to find is spending money. For food and discretionaries, and that's before factoring in renting my home out and going travelling...

So how to go debt free? First: sell the loser. That's the other property, the one that's devalued since purchase, and doesn't bring in enough income to cover expenses. I have almost paid this property off and after reducing the loan to $15,000 I am just starting to come out ahead. I made $72 on this property last financial year!!

The ATO allows you to offset a capital loss against a capital gain, so this property has gone on the market with the aim of selling it. I don't care how much of a loss I make, because this little baby is an albatross around my neck. Until it's out of the way I can't move forward. I'm pretty hopeful as the real estate agent is both pragmatic and keen to get a sale. And my tenants have looked after the place so well it's like a show home. I have truly been blessed with great tenants.

Once the albatross is gone, I can spend the next few months reducing my debt further. Yes there's still a lot of debt left. But my original plan of retiring in January, mid way through the financial year, doesn't benefit me at all. Because of a potentially huge capital gains tax bill from property number 3.

Property number 3 is the money tree. The house in Sydney I purchased before the boom, which is worth over 4 times what I paid for it. Sydney prices are ridiculously overvalued but when you're the owner of a nice little property in the Inner West, commanding a nice little income as well, you don't complain.

Only problem is that the income won't pay off the debt. It'll service the loan and give me enough to live on, but there's no room for debt reduction. I can't have it both ways...more's the pity :(

When I sell Sydney I make a massive profit, which is when the ATO sends in it's bouncers to politely muscle everybody out of the way and sweep up the spoils. Although I can reduce my tax burden by deducting the capital loss from the albatross, then reduce by 50% (the ATO is actually quite generous) I still end up in the highest marginal tax bracket for the financial year. Yeah, it's a tidy profit I'm telling you...

If I sell in a year when I'm also working that impacts my salary and how much I'm taxed as well. The thought of my salary increasing two tax brackets to the highest marginal tax rate is not a pretty thought at all! No-one wants to pay more than they have to, so if that means working an extra six months until the end of the financial year and then selling the nest egg, then I guess I'll grin and bear it. The added bonus of this plan is I get to reduce my debt even more :)

So: June 30, 2015 is my last day of work. This time I mean it. After that I'll be living on a minimal income until I sell my Sydney property, leaving me debt free and giving me enough savings to provide not just the spending money but extra to invest for more passive income.

And then the tax man can have his pound of flesh.

I'll be swanning off somewhere by then so as if I'll care, and my agonising over budgets will be a distant memory. However, getting to the bottom of this dilemma, perusing my book keeping over the last 2 years since I started tracking my income and spending on Excel spreadsheets, has allowed me to understand just how much I need to survive. To be able to factor in a ski trip to NZ or a backpacking trip to SE Asia. Or just living at home tending the vege patch. It's been extremely liberating, and although there's been a lot of anguish and fear about the unknown, I think I can finally say I'll be able to make the leap. Sure I'd like to do it in January, but those extra six months can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

This time it's for real. Well, once the albatross gets off my back....

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reuse, recycle, and be creative

This weekend I decided to do something I've wanted to do for a long time, which is to create something from green branches. We've all seen those awesome sculptures made from willows, but I'm not really into buying in materials to make something. I'm much more into finding new uses for things I already have, or something someone else doesn't want any more. Not only is it me doing my bit for the environment, I actually get so much pleasure out of the process. Something you might have thought was junk I can find a new use for.

It's not just because acting responsibly when it comes to waste and the environment is a core value for me, it's kind of become a guiding principle. It started in the front yard, and it's pretty well taken over my life. If you're into stark architectural garden elements and everything looking beautifully manicured and "modern" then you might struggle in my garden. But if you like quirkiness and the junkyard feel, you'll be totally at home.

I'm not sure which came first, the cut down tanks or the arch made from an ex ute canopy, but it wasn't that long before there was a definite theme in the front patch: everything had to have a past life before finding a new home in my yard. Sure there's a few exceptions, like posts, shade sails and a few pots, but everything else started out somewhere else before ending up being incorporated into my garden.

There's the entry sign, made by friends down the road who've now retired to Cocos (Keeling) Islands, who probably understood my nature well before I did!

The pavers that are all donated, though there may have been a bottle of Bourbon purchased in gratitude.

The new cucumber trellis is a combination of a frame that used to support a false floor in my car, some fishing net that washed up in a big pile on the beach, and some old skis. I'm not sure about the skis, I think I could find a better use for them, maybe as mini shelves somewhere. I'm not really very happy with this section of fencing yet, it looks a bit grungy but it serves a purpose.

Of course there's the freaking awesome hall of fame windsurfing fence. That F2 Sputnik used to hold the world speed record!! Well not that particular one, but one the same as it...

And there's the monumental Great Wall of Drummonds...

Which brings me full circle, because in constructing the great monument to halting the movement of sand from the top of the hill to the bottom I also decided to build a pizza oven. Yes it is likely I will actually buy proper bricks for this but since most of the backyard will be held back by rendered over waste products I reckon I'll end up ahead on the green credentials. Yeah even the sand for my render is sourced on the property!!

Currently growing on the future site of the pizza oven is a large mulberry tree. Which needs to be sacrificed to the marching chainsaws of progress. Oh no!!

The mulberry is far too close to the house and my washing line for comfort. Most of the year it's just a nice shady tree, but for a few months it stains everything in sight with those purple berries. It needs to go somewhere a little less intrusive.

First I took cuttings, and they are going well, and hopefully I'll be able to plant a new tree in the next 6-12 months once the roots grow a little more. But now the mother ship has to be let go, massacred to make way for the next new thing in garden design. Yeah, what self respecting person doesn't want a wood fired pizza oven in their outdoor entertainment area??

I began to heavily prune the branches, because I had a plan. Most of the canes are pretty straight, a few kinks and curves, but mostly they grow with offshoots coming off the central branch, which can be pruned back to give me my raw material. They're still green and springy, so they can be twisted and moulded a little without breaking.

I decided to make a gate across one of the garden entries. I love walled gardens and have been slowly trying to create that type of ecosystem in the vege patch without resorting to solid walls - I want the wind to still circulate air, just not blow everything to bejesus! Plus solid walls create turbulence...

I collected the branches, laid them out and then began screwing together a basic layout for a gate. I then weaved smaller canes in and around and tried to create something a little whimsical. I'm creative, but I'm no artist, but I reckon this didn't turn out too bad.

I then decided to find some hinges and hang it. This meant extending the gate a bit wider, and creating a catch so the gate wouldn't swing around wildly in our crazy weather. Then threading a few more canes around to complete the look.

I'm pretty happy with it...