Thinking outside the square

Posted November 13th, 2006 by Penny Wise

I'm so excited! It seems reading Linda Cockburn's book has unleashed a bona fide Richard Briers in Noel to match my Felicity Kendall aspirations! Hardly surprising, I was just the same when I read it too; with every page I was filled with enthusiasm: 'I want to milk goats and make my own cheese! I want to grow luffa plants!' and I was hoping that Noel would 'accidentally stumble' on the book I had placed in his path and experience the same. My cunning plan worked and we all spent a brilliant weekend in the garden. Thinking outside the square has saved us thousands of dollars over the last few days. It all began when Noel decided to prune a few trees which were growing too close to some power lines. Our garden is full of established trees, but the ground all around them is thick with ivy and a landscaper friend informed us that there was nothing we could do but pull the stuff out of the ground. The plan was that we would pull up the ivy (which stretches along the entire driveway and all round one side of the garden), then cover it with weedmat and bark and replant with baby shrubs (slower growing but so much cheaper!) My Mum is currently renovating her bathroom and after reading the recent Hint of the Week Add value to your garden with carpet, I wasted no time in requesting that the builder leave the old carpet behind for Noel and I to collect.

Anyway, we envisaged this to be somewhat of a costly and labour intensive project, but we could put it off no longer. The first thing we had to do though was cut back some of the trees, in order for us to be able to clear the ground of ivy underneath. Our neighbour kindly lent us his chipper, so we were able to turn all our prunings into mulch. What a great little machine! A bit of team work soon got the job done. The boys dragged the branches, I lopped them to size and Noel fed them into the chipper and before we knew it there were two big piles of wonderful pine-scented mulch. We stood back to admire our handiwork and couldn't believe how much land there now was under our trees – there was going to be far more space to clear of ivy than we had envisaged and far more expense to bark and replant it. It was going to look brilliant – but the bank balance wasn't! I hopped over the other side of the fence to put away the tools and couldn't believe the 'new view' that greeted me. We had never been able to see anything but ivy and tree branches through our driveway, but all of a sudden the beginnings of a view had appeared of the orchard behind – and it looked gorgeous! I decided then and there that this was what I wanted to see – not a mangle of lopsided, overplanted trees strangled with ivy. The thought was immediately appealing – but what was appealing to me even more was the difference in cost.

'Come over this side!' I called to Noel and Mum and showed them the same. 'I reckon all these old trees should come out', I explained. 'We can make far better use of all this land by incorporating it into the orchard and planting more fruit trees'. The front garden would still be surrounded by trees, much nicer ones too, but the driveway would now be opened up. They agreed and Noel realised that he could also extend our vegetable garden to twice its current size. He just loves pottering in his vege garden, especially as his job involves driving around in his car all day! We still have a heck of a mission ahead of us pulling up all that ivy, but what a difference in cost. We can borrow a friend's tractor and rotary hoe for free to rip the ground up, Noel can get grass seed at discount through work and it will cost us nothing to remove and rebuild the fence as we already have all the materials. I can't wait, it's going to look terrific! No bark or weedmat needed and we only need to buy a few more fruit trees. I was just glad of the recent prizewinning hints about hedging options: Grow your own edible hedge and Saved $39,400 on fencing, that made me think outside the square and come up with a cheaper alternative. The biggest challenge will be keeping the dogs off the grass as it grows!

I'm also encouraging Noel to think outside the square regarding a garage too. We burned down the previous one, as explained in a recent blog (on purpose too, I should add!) and have yet to come up with the means to replace it. The current options are as follows:

Noel's idea:

Get rid of current tool shed (very small, rotten timber and an eyesore in general but is all we have to store things)

Purchase materials we need to build a large three-bay shed from scratch.

Enlist help of former garage builder friend to help build it (he has already offered to do this for free)

Move fence on other side of driveway to accommodate garage, which will encroach on the neighbouring paddock and entail having to pay a contractor to fill in an area with gravel in order for us to have an area of land both large and level enough to build aforementioned garage.

Cost – Goodness only knows, but heaps, even with the free building help.

My idea:

Get rid of current tool shed (it's hideous and has got to go!)

Replace with nice new tool shed in same size, availabe in kitset from Mitre 10.

Purchase two tarpaulins from the Warehouse to cover our cars with and protect from the elements when not in use.

Cost - $300 for the tool shed

$50 maximum for the tarpaulins.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer, I just have to convince Noel! He reckons that there is no way I could be bothered covering up my car every day, but I reckon it's a small price to pay for a saving like that. My reasoning is that his car gets replaced every two years by the company he works for anyway, so the only vehicle which would suffer long-term effects from being stuck outside would be mine. We cope perfectly well with the tool shed being its current size and we have other sheds available for storage. If we have a bigger garage, it will only make room to store more clutter and we have already proved that we don't need the space. Do you think my idea is feasible, or am I just trying to be too frugal?

I guess these days I'm just plain scared of debt – I never want to be living beyond our means again. This is why we have decided to put our trip to Australia on hold for a while. With so much that needs to be done around the house (new water tank, painting the exterior, replacing deck boards) we were already scared that we were over-committing ourselves – and we hadn't even booked a flight yet! So we're going to postpone it for another 12 months or so and see where we're at then. It's a bit of a shame, as I was really looking forward to 'gatecrashing' some Savings Group meetings in Queensland, but already we feel much happier having made the decision to wait. A far cry from the old days when everything had to be 'now!'

Besides, by then we should be a whole lot more self-sufficient if Noel has his way. Growing as much of our own food as we can and making the best use of our land. Noel feels that it's probably a wee bit ambitious for me to be milking a goat just yet; as he rightly says, I have enough trouble getting organised in the mornings as it is, without fitting goat milking into the equation. We did have to come to a deal about the sheep though. 'Now then – if we're going to do this sustainable living thing, you're going to have to harden up, just like Linda!' he glared at me. 'If our land is going to be productive you're going to have to get over your emotional attachments to the animals and put those sheep in the freezer as we planned – that's what we bought them for after all. What's the point of you buying lamb at the supermarket when a whole sheep only cost us $40? Besides, it's not as though you eat meat anyway, so you won't have to eat them. Do we have a deal?' 'No!' I said staunchly. 'I'm sorry, but I cannot cook Friday and Bob – I couldn't even imagine pulling one of their leg roasts out of the freezer. Their job is to clean up the orchard and they do a good job too, so they can be our cleaning sheep and if you want to get another sheep 'done' for the freezer, well you can jolly well find one that I don't know!' I didn't like my chances, but amazingly he agreed. So Friday and Bob are safe for now. I just wish Friday would refrain from jumping on my back every time I go to collect the eggs – it's rather disconcerting!

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