Last week of Autumn

In this last week of autumn, the days are noticeably shorter the weather is so much cooler, and the frosts have started. The tomatoes are dead, but wait. What’s this? Still just a few green tomatoes in among the undergrowth and weeds. AND, 3 red ripe ones!

We are picking plenty of broccoli and cauliflowers. Winter is almost here.

There are just a few very small zucchinis still on the bushes. I need to pick them before they get frosted again and go mushy

All the apples are finished and we have just picked our last pear. We have started to pick the winter citrus. All of the citrus trees were badly burnt in the fire, as they were growing along side the pottery kiln shed wall. The closest ones were killed, those further away got badly scorched, but with a severe pruning away of the dead wood, fertilising and watering. Then planting new trees in the vacant spaces. We have a citrus grove once again. Because many of the trees are still very young, just two or three years old, We have a lot less fruit to look forward to. We are almost through the Japanese seedless mandarins. It was a small crop of 30 or so. The tree is still very young and this is only our 2nd crop, so not too bad. The Japanese yuzu has just two pieces of fruit on. This is its first crop. The kaffir lime trees out the front of the house got very badly burnt, but are making a come back with a lot of pruning and TLC. The stronger of the two trees had over 60 fruit on this year. We only grow it for the leaves, so the fruit is picked off to allow the tree to flourish.

I don’t like to see anything wasted, so I decided to juice 20 of the kaffir limes and make lime juice ice blocks for next summer drinks. I think that it might go well with tequila? It’s a quite sour and bitter form of lime juice perhaps best suited to cocktails?

We have also picked up a fallen grapefruit off the ground, our first, which was very tart and sour. Plenty of room for improvement there as the frosts and winter sunshine sweeten them up.

The other fruit that is plentiful at this time of year is Australian native lilli pilli. This tree survived the fire in behind the house, away from the heat and flames, but it’s a very tall tree and the top branches that extended above the roof got burnt off. It is doing well now with a good crop of pink berries. You can’t eat them, they are only used to make jam or cordial.

I got up on the tall step ladder and picked enough to fill a basket, once I sorted out all the leaves and twigs, there was sufficient to fill the big 10 litre (2 gal) boiler. Simmered for half an hour and then the fruit is discarded and the liquor left to simmer down to a concentrate of about 750 ml, a bit more than a pint. Quite a big reduction to concentrate the flavour. It needs half a cup of sugar to make it desirable.

We had to light the wood stove in the pottery for the first time this year. The pottery is so well insulated, that just keeping a small fire ticking over in the stove heats the throwing room area to a gentle comfy warmth. It’s a very nice place to work, great light, comfy warmth, plenty of space.

What more could you want?

Nothing is ever finished, Nothing lasts and nothing is perfect.

Latest wood kiln firing.

This weekend we did a wood firing, now that the weather is cooled and safer.

I could have fired anytime after March, but I was a bit too overwhelmed with everything, to be able manage to get it together straight away. However, since my effective experience of EMDR experience, I have regained my Executive Functioning capacity. So now I can make decisions, make plans and carry them out and get things done again.

I had to clean out the ash from the last firing. I had been a bit slack in not doing it earlier, but the last firing was just before the last Open Studio weekends. I was a bit rushed at the time. I cleaned the out, cleaned the mouse hole cover and washed the floor with alumina.

At the end of the summer, I had collected all the seeding heads off a row of celery plants. I collected the stalks and dried them in a sunny spot in front of the big glass doors in the pottery, then stripped them to use the celery seeds. I used the dried stalks as kindling. It works very well as a fire starter/kindling.

I did a Friday night pre-heat to dry everything out, then started proper, very early on Saturday morning, assisted by my firing friends Len Smith and Warren Hogden. It was a very easy firing. I learnt to use my pre-burnt logs a bit better this firing. I tried splitting the logs much finer this time and it worked so much better. This might be the solution to my bushfire fire wood issue. We fired in 12 hours, including one hour of side stoking the 2nd chamber.

For this firing, I have built and ‘After-burner/Spark-arrestor/Scrubber’, all in one chimney adaptation.

I didn’t work as well as I had hoped, but it did work. I had not attempted anything along these lines previously. I have built spark arrestors before for clients. I have built after-burners for people. I have built flame tubes previously and I have built scrubbers for potters who do salt firing, to strip out the chlorine fumes from the exhaust gasses in the chimney.

But I had not attempted to combine them all together in one unit previously. Unifying them seemed like the logical next step. I gave it a go with my best bet, but it needs extra work to become more effective. I was very pleased with how it performed as an experimental prototype. I used all stainless steel sheeting for heat resistance.

I decided to use plastic ‘polypipe’ hoses and fittings to save cost. I knew from my bush fire experiences that polypipe filled with fast flowing pumped water will not melt. They didn’t here either! I had used plastic polypipe and fittings on the fire protection sprinklers that I fitted to my out buildings, they didn’t melt, even as the building burnt. The sprinklers kept on working!

At a guess, I’d say that I managed to remove perhaps 1/2 the smoke from the chimney top during the side stoking, which can be a very dirty firing technique. Very effective, but very smoky.

The clear rain water in the 200 litre plastic drum reservoir, before the firing. You can clearly see the submersible pump sitting on the bottom of the tank.

The tank is filled with black sooty water after the firing. This is all the soot removed from the smoke at the chimney top. The submersible pump is completely obscured.

During the main part of the firing the scrubber removes most of the smoke. It’s less effective when the degree of smoke increases. Particularly when a load of butt ends drop from the hobs, there is a flurry of intense smoke and some flame.

At the peak of the side stoking part of the firing, the scrubber removes some, but not all of the pollution. You can see the intensity of the flame entering the afterburner at the base, but only 1/2 of the smoke is removed. If the afterburner/scrubber wasn’t there, there would be a tall pillar of black smoke going up above the kiln.

Still, it’s a great start. nowhere near perfect, but I have several ideas about what I can do to improve this first unit. Watch this space.

Terra Nova Ceramics Exhibition

I will be having a few pots in the ’Terra-Nova’ Exhibition at Sturt Gallery opening on Sunday 28th of May.

It’s a big group show with loads of potters putting work in.

If you are going to be in the vicinity some time over the next couple of months, it will be worth seeing.

Should be a lot of very nice pots.

I will attach a few images of my work that will be in the Terra Nova show.

I have spent the past 3 years recovering as best I can from the catastrophic bush fires of 2019. This has been an ongoing process for both me and my immediate environment. Such a traumatic event for me has left me changed and somewhat self reflective about who I am and what I am doing. This new work is a response to those events.

The bowls in this show are all made from single stone, sericite porcelain and are pieces that I have been nurturing through the drying, firing, glazing process for the past few months. Today I unpacked the final lustre firing for the show.

I hope that you can find something in them of interest, and that you consider them beautiful. I do.

Collecting Ash for Glazes

It’s a few days since the fire died down, I’ve been out there in the paddock collecting the ash for use in glazes. If I try to get there and dig up the ash before it is mostly cooled. I can get burnt, so I must be careful. I wear my oldest thick soled boots, as the ash and charcoal from the burn pile holds its heat in the ground for ages. I have melted the soles of my boots in the past, going in too soon.

If I wait for too long for it to cool, then there may be a strong wind, and that will simply blow away the finest particles of ash, scattering them all around the grassed area. Worse still, is rain, as that will dissolve and rinse away the solubles in the ash. Its the solubles that are the fluxes, and these are so important in ash. They are what makes ash melt and be so useful in glazes. It’s also important to me to be as self-reliant as possible, so I don’t want to waste this important potential resource. Doubly so in this case, as there are no more pine trees left on our land. The bush fire here was so hot and intense, that it killed every single one of them, and I haven’t seen any seedlings germinating out of the ashes in any of the paddocks. It’s the end of an era here.

In fact we did have a little shower of rain on the 2nd night after the fire was finished, so some of the usefulness of the exercise will have been lost. I won’t know how much was lost, until I get it all sieved, processed and tested to find out. I suspect that it will be too far gone to be useful to me as a glaze ingredient, but that wont stop me processing it to find out. We only have a burn pile like this once in a decade where we burn off stumps and big logs. It was the big pine logs that made this burn pile ash so attractive, as pine ash is very different to the hard wood eucalypt ash that we collect from the slow combustion kitchen wood fired stove every week. The slow combustion stove works best on hard wood fuel, and that is what we have plenty of here. Now especially since the fire leaving so many dead gum trees to deal with.

The ash from our Caribbean pine trees here is clearer, paler and more fluid than the ash from our local stringyback and bloodwood eucalypts. Their ash melts to a matt yellow/mustard colour, and is rather more firm, being lower in the alkalis than the pine. They are both good, just different.

I set about digging into the pile of still warm ash and charcoal and found it littered with calcined lumps of subsoil from the tree roots and stumps. Not a good sign. I was hoping for a deeper cover of fine white ash before hitting the heavier stuff. Pity!

I started by sieving the ash through the first 6mm screen to get rid of the big chunks of soil and charcoal, then down through the next 2.5mm screen.

I filled a large metal garbage bin with this first pass. I use a very old and slightly ruined bin for this, as if the ash turns out to be still a bit too hot, it will melt a plastic bin, or burn the zinc off a good bin.

As the burnt pile of ash decreases, the pile of discarded sievings increases.

The second pass is through a finer sieve. It can’t be too fine at this stage as ash is very sticky, and will clog up a very fine sieve. I use a 40# lawn or about half a millimetre, as the ash will pass through this fairly easily. It’s a stainless steel sieve that went through the fire in one of the sheds that burnt down, but not too hot, as the fine mesh didn’t crumble. All my other sieves that were burnt, were completely ruined.

I shovel the coarse ash out of the first bin and back through the fine mesh into the second bin. 1 1/4 bins of coarse ash becomes 3/4 of a bin of fine ash. The discard pile grows as the fine detritus mounts up on top.

Mission accomplished for the time being. The next step is to wash the ash with water to get it to pass through a 100# sieve. But that is for another day. At least this garbage can full of dry ash will keep indefinitely in the storage room, safe from the vagaries of the weather.

All packed up and ready to go. This much ash will last a few years of glaze making.

Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts.

Just when you thought that it was safe to go back out into the garden

It was only last week that I thought that we had finally finished with the tomato crop, but surprise surprise. 2 more baskets full. and now all that remains are a few stragglers that will be fine over the next few weeks for salads or fried up for brekkie. The last 8 jars have taken us up towards 90 jars! A lifetime record for us.

This is definitely the last batch for this year. A new project will be to find extra ways of cooking with tomato passata that we haven’t tried yet. If you have a favourite recipe, please contact me.

The saffron crop keeps on coming, bit by bit. An extra crocus flower opens each day and we carefully pick the stamens out and dry them on a paper towel in the kitchen.

We wont be retiring on this new crop anytime soon, but we are looking forward to making one dish of saffron rice when we have the whole crop harvested.

Over the weekend we were busy in the garden and yard. Janine decided to burn off the pile of hardwood stumps that we generated from all the clearing along the new fence line. I’m pleased to report that we have had no more deer inside the garden since the fence went up. However, we have seen fresh scats outside, and along the fence line. So for the time being, the fence is working. Now to deal with the pile of stumps.

Janine worked very hard, all day, both days, patrolling along the fence line and taking out the small trees that had been pushed over and out of the way of the fence. Using her electric chain saw, she could move anywhere along the line and chop up the trees, then drag them back to the bonfire pile. In this way, she kept it going all day.

I helped out intermittently with the toy tractor, moving heavier pieces, but I was also busy.

I made two trips to the sand and gravel yard in Mittagong, a 50 km round trip, to buy a couple of cubic meters of mushroom compost. I ploughed over the English cottage garden and also along the front of the new pottery shed, spread the compost, chicken manure and lime, then re-tilled the mix into the soil with the cultivator. A few packets of English Cottage Garden seed mix, and a few punnets of seedlings later, and the new spring garden is underway.

It doesn’t look much just now, but in a couple of months it will come to life, once all the seeds germinate and come into flower. Below is how it used to look.

The strip along the driveway is a new venture, to try and give a bit of a colourful lift to the front of the pottery. I hope that there will be a bit of a splash of colour in time for the mid year ‘Pop-Up’ studio sale on 10, 11 and 12th of June. Save the date. Certainly it will be in full bloom for the December studio sale.

Once I got the gardening done. I was back to help Janine with the bonfire. There was a big pile of huge pine logs left over from the bush fire that burnt everything here. When we milled all the burnt pine trees into slabs and planks to line the pottery, there were a few difficult logs left over. I had thought that I might cut up these last few logs for kiln fuel. But as it has taken me 3 1/2 years to get my act together on this job, it is far too late, I’ve been sitting on my lazy arse too much and these pine logs have all started to go rotten. A shame, but what can you do? I tried splitting them, but they were mostly pithy and full of mush.

I sorted out the better ones and split those and got another half a stack of hob wood logs for the kiln. Better than nothing. But they won’t add many calories to the kiln firing, maybe just a little extra ash?

All the rest were just too big, too heavy, too rotten or too branched and knotty to do anything with. So as we had the fire still burning on the Sunday, I added them all to the bonfire and got rid of the ugly, difficult mess.

I’m getting old now, so I can’t man-handle those big, heavy rounds of pine like I used to. I don’t want to do myself so sort of damage wrestling with them. Those logs are 670 mm long and 600 mm dia. and probably the best part of 100kgs. Just too big for me now.

However the little tractor is the best investment that I have made in a long while. I bought it for myself when I turned 60. I traded up to a new model with a front-end 4 in 1 bucket. So much more useful than the old one, that was just a glorified mower and rotary hoe. I was able to push, roll and cajole those big logs onto the pile and keep them all up close together all day as they slowly burnt away. As the big logs burn, they get smaller and slowly move away from each other, then the fire can dawdle and start to go out. It is necessary to keep pushing the lumps closer together, to keep them burning fiercely.

The site looks so much better now and will be lovely after I get in there and scrape it all smooth, then keep it mowed and clear. That pile of huge lumps of wood were just too much work to chop up, so being able to burn them away was the right solution to get the site clean again. It’s taken me 3 1/2 years to getting around to dealing with them, but it is almost done now. Another job ticked off the list.

This is all that remains on Monday morning. it will be all gone by tonight.

Bush Tucker, Safron and More Tomatoes

This week we have been hard at it everywhere, in the garden, in the pottery In the kitchen.

We thought that we had harvested the last couple of wheel barrows of tomatoes, but then we looked again and there were more.

Janine made two seperate 1 gallon boilers of passata, which I put through the mouli sieve and then reduced down to 1 gallon, or 4 1/2 litres of fine liquid, which Janine then reduced down further on the wood stove each night progressing a bit at a time until we had just 2.5 litres of dense concentrate, down from 11 litres of initial pulp. It takes a couple of nights to get through it all. It’s better than trying to find the non-existant intellectual shows on the idiot box.

While the wood stove is hot after dinner is cooked, it’s a shame not to use up all that potential heat embedded in the stove. It not just cooks the dinner, it warms the house and heats the hot water tank. So to get an extra bit of benefit from it is very frugal and efficient. F@#k the gas companies and energy retailers, gouging excess profits from the misery of war and bad forward planning. We are very lucky here to have been through a terrible fire that has left us with thousands of dead trees in our forest that I couldn’t have ever brought myself to cut down in their prime. But now that they are dead from the bush fire they need to be cleaned up to make the place safe again. Fuel for the rest of our lives. As I said, very lucky. You have to look on the bright side.

We were a bit shocked when Janine had to re-arrange the pantry cupboard to fit these recent jars in. We discovered that we now have 79 jars of passata. We could easily go into business selling this stuff. It’s not as if we are not eating our fare share of tomato and egg for breakfast, tomato salad for lunch, tomatoes in ratatouille for dinner, as well as giving away tomatoes to everyone who calls in and visits

But still they come ripening, even now in this cooler weather. However, they must come to an end soon, as the night time temperature is dropping rapidly down to 3oC this week. Soon there will be frosts again and that should put an end to it.

I was so looking forward to the start of tomato season back in November/December. I could just brush the young leaves and smell the tomato fragrance that promised so much. Now I don’t want to touch the leaves so much any more. I’ve had my fill. This is the reality of living with the seasons. The promise, then the first taste — so good, then the glut, and now enough.

I’m sure that we will appreciate the bottled tomatoes over winter in all manner of cooked dishes, to add and extend flavour to almost anything. Passata is a useful and flexible as chicken stock. We have some of that in the freezer too.

We have already picked another few baskets full of prime ripe red produce to make the next batch. Anyone want any tomatoes?

In the pottery, I cleaned out the small Venco pugmill that I use for porcelain. It was starting to allow a few small bits of dryish crumbs through the screens and into the extruded pugs. It has been a year since I last cleaned it out. Unless you use it every day or at least every week. Bits dry out inside the barrel and eventually cause trouble. I hadn’t pugged any porcelain since last year. So now is the time to deal with it. Starting out fresh for the coming work load through till Xmas.

I have found that it is easiest as a two day job. Strip it down last thing in the afternoon, Scrape off all the easily accessible plastic clay. Leave it over night to dry out, then scrape off all the dry clay, and finally sponge it until it is all clean, then reassemble, first thing in the new day.

I have been throwing some gritty clay, making some rough textured bowls for the wood firing. 

I have also been making some porcelain dishes for the wood kiln as well.

Back in the vegetable garden we found a great surprise! Our first crocus flower. Janine picked out our first two saffron stamens. We ate one each, just to see if we could taste the fine flavour. We couldn’t. But we did get just a little hint of orange colour on our tongues. Hopefully there will be more to follow, as we have 20 crocus bulbs in the garden. We might double our harvest each year? We might eventually even get enough to be able to taste it.

I made a bush tucker pie for dinner from our massive crop of wild warrigal greens – native spinach. It turned out really well. Cooked with 3 cheeses and one egg to bind it. Not a tomato in sight!

Cheesy grins all round.

Preparing for the first wood firing of the year.

This week is the mid point of autumn, Half way between the equinox and the solstice.

The weather is certainly a lot cooler and we notice that the days are so much shorter. I really like this slightly cooler alternative the long days of summer. Our summer wasn’t so hot as it used to be during the decade of el-nino years. These last few summers have been so much nicer, cooler and wetter, everything has turned green and grown its head off. We have harvested more tomatoes then we have ever grown. It seems that all the planets aligned for the tomatoes. I haven’t counted the bottles, but there must be over 40 jars. Quite enough to last us well over 12 months, possibly even 2 years?

We went to Canberra over Easter for the National Folk Festival.

We caught up with people that we haven’t seen for over 4 years, as we were confined to home because of;

1.  The fire, 

2. The on-going clean-up,

3. The rebuilding,

4. Covid, followed by a year of lock down. 

It’s only now that we feel that we have the time, space and safety to go out again. Womad was on again this year, but we chose to stay home, save time and money and get on with some of the long list of jobs. However, we decided to go to Canberra for ‘The National’, as we can drive to Canberra in just 2 hours in our electric car. Travelling to Adelaide for Womad is looking more and more extravagant and carbon intensive, regardless of whether we drove or flew, we were responsible for burning loads of carbon each way. I just can’t justify it anymore.

The long weekend of music was wonderful, so many great acts, too many to list, but a few stood out.

The ‘We Mavericks’, Lindsay Martin and Virginia vigenser, were excellent. We have had them here in our home to perform for us in one of our house concerts a few years back. I believe that we were their second only performance together. They get better and better.

Billy Bragg was also really good. He was the best that I have ever seen him. Powerful voice, smack on key and few very powerful, short spoken interludes between songs, on why we should care about the state of things and the world. He also explained what he is doing to make a difference. Very inspiring. However, it crossed my mind that he must owe a tremendous carbon debt?

We also enjoyed Gleny Rae Virus, Leroy Johnson, (above) the Park Ranger from Mutawintji National Park out near Broken Hill, and Farhan Shah & SufiOz. singing Sufi devotional chants. + many more.

Back at home we have been Splitting wood for the kiln firing, and working in the garden. 

We met up with our friends Susan and Dev in Canberra, and they called in here on their way home to give us a hand with those jobs.

My friend Len Smith also called in and we had a little reunion. As Len, then Janine and finally myself, were Susans teachers at different times in her life, at different colleges.

Together, we ripped out 3 beds of waning tomatoes, that had reached the end of their productive life and added them to the compost heap.

Afterwards, I planted out lettuce and radish seeds as well as lettuce and spinach seedlings.

The garden suddenly looks a bit more loved again after a few weeks of minimal up-keep and absence.

My last job was to plant out 160 of our own self grown and stored garlic cloves. I should have been onto this a month ago, but better late than never.

I did two rows of 80, one of our purple garlic and the other of our white skinned variety. They have started to shoot from their skins. A very good sign that they are ready to be planted out now!

Everything takes time and time needs to be made or created by making decisions about what is most pressing and needs to be to be done NOW.

Tomorrow it is back into the pottery to unpack and repack the electric kiln for yet another bisque. Learning to Juggle my time and energy has been a life long exercise in developing this skill for me.

I want to do so much each day, Even summer days aren’t long enough. I need to triage my desires to fit my capacity to actually achieve outcomes. Added to this, I really don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.  I’m reasonably well trained in making pottery, and I have taught myself to grow vegetables and orchard fruit trees, but I have such a low basic understanding of building techniques and mechanical engineering, I just muddle through as best that I can. I rely on asking more knowledgeable friends for advice on what they would do, or where is the best place to buy the correct parts.

I’m so grateful to all of my friends for the advice and help that they have given so generously over the years.

When we built the new ‘kit-form’ tin shed for the new pottery. I paid a bunch of so called ‘expert’ tin shed builders to come onsite and erect the kit. They had experience and all the fancy gear to do the job. A bobcat loader, a scissor lift gantry and a truck load of power tools. They put the frame up OK. It is at least level and vertical. But when I asked them to screw on all the 2nd hand, grey re-cycled old rusty gal iron sheeting that I had collected to give the shed some character, they did the worst job that you could imagine. They chose to use roofing screws without any rubber ring to seal out the weather, and as a consequence, all the walls leaked in heavy weather. The windows weren’t ‘flashed-in’ correctly or at all, and leaked. The cement slab was cast with a definite hollow in the centre. The verandah wasn’t ’stepped-down’ 50 mm to stop water blowing in under the doors, so that when it rained hard, the building leaked, all the water ran to the centre of the building and pooled there. I’ve spent over a year discovering all these faults, omissions and bad workmanship and then correcting them as best that I can. If only I’d known something more about the building trades, I might have spotted these faults occurring and got them seen to at the time. But I trusted them. BIG mistake.

Our previous three potteries that burnt down were all home made on a shoe string budget mostly out of wood and other materials that we could scrounge off the side of the road on council clean-up day, or from the tip. They too had character, but a very different character. This last shed is so much better in all sorts of ways, but mostly it will be easier to defend against fire. Metal clad, metal frame with metal lining and the cavity stuffed full of insulation. All the previous buildings were made of wood and therefore were very flammable.

It seems that I have discovered all the problems with the poor workmanship in this shed now. I’ve discovered all these faults bit by bit over time and fixed them myself. The builders have shot through. There is something to be said for self-reliance.

Do it yourself, do it right the first time. I do it to the best of my ability. If it isn’t the most professional job, at least it is mine and any mistakes are honest ones. The stuff that I do has my character printed all over it. I own my mistakes, my lack of skill and my incompetence, but in the end I figure it all out and I can live with the result. At least I’m not upset with myself for ripping myself off. AND everything is done on a minuscule budget. We have never earned much money, so have learnt to live very frugally.Everyone seems to be obsessed with money these days, as if it solves everything. I heard on the news that the 3 richest Australians have more money than the bottom 10% of the nation. Pretty shocking! It’s a shame that there isn’t a way of making life a little bit more even and equitable for the disadvantaged. The Lovely and I have done very well for ourselves, being able to have built a simple, largely non-acquisitive, low carbon, organic lifestyle here, without ever having had a ‘real’ job. We’ve managed to ‘get away with it’ for all this time, living an engaged, creative, self-employed, part-time amalgam of a life. Without credit card debt or interest payments, doing almost everything ourselves. Living within our self-determined means. We’ve never been on the dole and never asked for handouts. Money may be essential in the modern world, but we don’t let it ruin our lives.

As an example of this frugal self-reliance I recently fixed up an old Chinese wood splitter. It needed a new/old/2nd hand starter and air cleaner to get the engine going again. That wasn’t too difficult. I just stole the parts off another old ruined motor that was in the barn. Best not to throw things out if they might have useful parts on them to keep another machine going for a few more years, There is a lot of embodied energy stored in those old bits of machinery. So it’s better to try to repair something old and get extra life out of it, than to give in and buy a new one. It’s also much, much, cheaper

Once I got the engine working, I decided to make it into a bigger splitter with a longer stroke. All cheap Chinese hydraulic splitters have a 600 mm. (2 ft.) hydraulic ram. That is the upper limit of their log capacity. My new kiln has a fire box length of 690/700 mm. (2’ ft, 4” inches). To give the splitter a longer stroke I decided to cut 75 mm. (3” ) off the cutting wedge to make it shorter ,and therefore add extra length to the logs that can be split.

I wasn’t sure that it would work, but it seemed a lot easier than cutting the end off the frame and welding a new section of RSJ onto the frame to make it a longer machine. 

By shortening the blade I achieved the same outcome with much less work. But an hour on the angle grinder was a bit of a chore, as 20mm thick steel plate doesn’t cut easily.

You can see in this image that the blade used to go all the way to the bottom of the backing plate. 

Scrooge’s technique of making a bigger splitter out of an old small one.

The old small engine managed the longer wood OK. I filled the truck with wood cut and split to 675mm long.  That is about enough to fire the kiln to stoneware in 14 hours.

2 1/2 stacks of Hob wood,  

A couple of piles of smaller kindling lumps for firing on the floor,

and then a couple of stacks of thinner side stoking wood for the 2nd chamber. Thanks to Dev and Susan.

I finish the day by servicing the chain saw. Best to do it when it’s fresh on my mind, even though I’m tired from all the work, fixing the splitter, then testing it out and finally stacking all the wood.

I hate it when I go to use the saw and find that it is blunt and needs servicing, So I do it straight away. Sharpen the chain, blow out the air filter, rotate the bar, fill with 2stroke and bar oil.

It doesn’t take so long and everything is ready to go again, — except me!  I need a rest.

Autumn is finally here

We are almost half way through autumn now, the Indian summer is over and the weather has turned cooler. No more 30 degree days. This past week has been steadily in the 20’s and with rain or showers almost every day. However there are bright sunny patches in between. I’ve been working my way through the big pots that I threw to begin this throwing session, bisque firing them in the electric kiln using only pure sunshine. The recent addition of extra solar PV panels last year, bringing us up to 17 kW total and the addition of the 2nd battery, means that we are able to fire without any withdrawal from the grid. I can even fire both electric kilns to bisque at the same time, or just one kiln to stoneware. This is a great sense of independence.

With the price of gas having gone up from $1.75 a litre last year to $2.50 this year with no additional increase in the production cost. It’s just profit gouging and it’s a complete rip off. 

So I’m very proud to be able to fire my kilns with my own sunshine. And drive my car off it as well! It’s amazing that there is enough to go around, but we still export our excess on the days when we are not firing. We even manage to export a little in the early stages of the firing.

This is from our most recent electricity bill. Our daily usage is down to 0.76 kWh per day. Down from 1.64 kWh per day the previous year. When we were doing more firings.

The average Australian 2 person household like ours is using 17.6 kWh per day. So, it seems that all our efforts to tread gently in the world are paying off. We run a very efficient, low energy house hold. 

Some time later this year, or maybe next, We will be getting rid of our old LP gas kitchen stove. That is our last big investment in our conversion to fully solar electric living. I’m waiting for induction cookers to become more widely available and hopefully a lot cheaper. I have already installed a twin induction cooktop in the pottery. It was only $350. Very affordable.

A sign that autumn is well under way here is the change in the Cherry trees, as they shut down and prepare for winter. They are early to fruit in spring, and correspondingly, the first to loose their leaves in the autumn. Our bedroom looks out on to the Chekov orchard. We currently have a carpet of yellow leaves out side our window, that is slowly turning brown.

Janine has been collecting more hazel nuts. So far she has picked up 3 baskets full, and there are still more to come. First, she shells them, then checks them for nuts, by bouncing them on the table. If they bounce, they are empty and are discarded. Not worth the energy to crack them to find them empty. The full shells are then cracked open and the nuts are dried in the sunny window for a while. Later she roasts them in a pan on the stove to bring out that superb hazelnut flavour. It’s an ongoing job that is spread over a couple of months. Fitted in here and there whenever the time allows. Most often in front of the idiot box — if there is anything at all worth wasting time on, which is an increasingly rare event

The hazels have already started flowering again. The male ‘catkin’ flowers are out now. I often wonder why? As the female flowers don’t come out until the trees are dormant and have lost all their leaves. The female flowers are quite insignificant and very hard to see, just a pin head sized red dot. They don’t attract any pollinators at all and are wind pollinated, so we have planned out our hazel nuttery of a dozen trees, in such a way as all the best pollinator varieties are up-wind of the predominant winter gales that blow the male pollen down among all the waiting and fecund female flowers.

This is the Hazel nuttery and I am the Nutter. Two of these hazels were bought with an inoculation of French Black truffle spores. So we have some vague hope of truffles in the future — maybe? I planted a dozen different truffle inoculated trees of various types and they all got burnt to the ground in the fire. Only 3 trees re-shot from their root stocks. As truffles are a fungus that lives underground. I’m hopeful that the spores are still active and will one day produce a little surprise for us. But I’m not holding my breath.

In the pottery, I have been making smaller pots that are quicker to dry, so that they will all be ready for a wood kiln firing after Easter. I’m not sure if my skin is getting thinner and less robust with age, or these recent clay body experiments are just more aggressive, but I’ve found that I’m wearing away the skin on my finger tips so much more readily than I used to when I’m turning.

I used to only wear rubber ‘finger stalls’ when turning rather dryish hard stone porcelain bodies. Now I find that I have to wear them all the time when turning.

I’m really pleased with my home made larger format wheel trays that I built for the shimpo wheels. I can turn for an hour without filling them up. They hold 50 bowls worth of turnings.

I have also been throwing on my kick wheel as well. It has a decent sized tray. I made 50 bowls on it yesterday. I started with a dry tray and ended with an almost dry tray. I have learnt to throw with a minimal amount of water. Just a few drips and splashes make their way off the wheel head.

Our local council is offering a bulky rubbish clean-up day this week. So the village has been dragging out it’s unwanted lumpy rubbish on to the side of the road to be taken away. Furniture, mattresses, electrical appliances, etc., it’s all piled up in clumps out in the street.

We have nothing to put out, But I make a point of riding my bike along the street to get a good look at everything that there is out there for the taking.

I went back with my truck and picked up 3 wheel barrows. One had a flat tyre and ruined wheel bearings. I pumped up the tyre and it held air over night, that was good, so I bought a pair of wheel barrow bearings for $6 each and in 15 mins, I have a perfect wheel barrow ready for work.

The 2nd one had a broken tray, but everything else was good, so off with the tray and back on the clean-up pile. A new replacement tray is $59, so I ordered one. The 3rd one is old and has been used for concrete, but works well. No issues there. Good to go.

Three wheel barrows for $70.

Reuse, repair, re-purpose and re-cycle. I’m happy.

Baking Dishes and Mixing Bowls

I’ve been back in the pottery on the wheel on and off all last week, but also fitting in some pressing needs to complete preserving and pickling, tomatoes mostly. We must have sufficient for almost 2 years now. It’s been such a huge crop and they’re still coming.

In the pottery I have been making baking dishes and Grandma style large mixing bowls with a pouring spout. They are fun to make and were very popular last year. I sold out, with only one small mixing bowl left in stock after Xmas. I make them out of my rough crushed shale clay mix. It wood fires really well and has an open texture that is really good for oven use.

I’ve made them in 3 sizes, S, M, L. This is one from last years batch, beautiful flashing on the body and glaze from the wood firing.

The old style cooks mixing bowls also all sold out. I remember fondly the one that my Mother used all her married life. It was exactly the same as the one her mother had, both brought over from England on the ‘Orient’ Line ships at different times.

I decided to make these so that I could have one for myself, but I sold them all, so maybe there will be one left from this batch? I usually end up with pots that are second grade pieces, with some tiny fault, Our kitchen is full of pots like this. That’s how we get to keep them.

On this side of the drying rack, I have also made 3 bathroom sinks for a customer who lives locally and asked specifically for a sink with one of my rock glazes on the inside and unglazed and wood fired on the out side. I couldn’t do that order till now, as it is not realistic to try to fire the wood kiln over the hot dry summer. Just too much risk of fire bans coming into force half way through the firing. That would be a disaster too awful to think about. So we just don’t attempt to fire during the hotter months.

Some of the bigger mixing bowls are quite large, measuring 300mm. dia. and are made from 5 kgs of clay. My ageing wrists are not happy with wedging 5 kgs any more, so I wedge the clay up in two smaller lumps of 2.5 kg. Then join them back together on the wheel. I learnt to ‘slap’ the plastic clay into the centre of the wheel with my hands while still dry. No water involved in this centering technique.

The first 2.5kg lump is slapped into place and rounded off while I rotate the wheel head very slowly. Not using the motor at all, just a slight flick of the wrist as I lift my hands up. This turns the wheel head just 10 mm. each time , so that the next ‘slap’ will be an equal distance apart , so the clay slowly finds the centre. Once it is just about right. I add the 2nd 2.5 kg lump and start the centering all over again.

Once the whole 5 kgs are centred, then it is time to punch out the centre, slowly and gently, bit by bit. Lots of little hits while the wheel is very slowly rotated, just as with the first stage of the technique.

Once the lump is opened up evenly. I ‘slap’ the outside again with both hands evenly to get the lump back into a tight cylinder again.

The 5kgs are now centered, tightly bonded to the batt, and opened up ready to throw in a conventional way. The great beauty of a technique like this, is that half of the throwing is now complete, certainly the difficult and very stressful and high energy centering part, and the clay is still dry and ‘fresh’. With no water added up until this point, the clay hasn’t had a chance to get soggy and tired. It is also possible to stop at this point and take a little rest if you are new to the technique and need to rest your self for a minute or two. This is not advisable if you have already wet the clay and started throwing.

Once you have wet the clay to smooth out the surface and start the throwing proper, it’s best to just carry on and not stop for any reason.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, I have been dealing with the great tomato explosion. This week besides making more passata, I made a couple of batches chilli jam. My friend Ian gave me his recipe, which has a lot less sugar and a little more spice than the one I got off the internet some time ago.

2 Kilos of tomatoes boils down to just 4 small glass jars of chilli jam once it has been reduced and concentrated.

Janine has been shelling and roasting the first few basins full of our hazelnut crop. Unlike tomatoes, there is no urgency to deal with nuts. Once they are collected and inside, they are safe. We have a dozen hazel nut trees and a dozen almonds. The almonds have not recovered well from the fire and are struggling, fighting off an attack of ‘shot hole’ fungus in this damp summer weather.

On the other hand the hazels were more of less burnt to ground level, but they are a smaller and very robust plant, perhaps more suited to be used as a hedging bush. This years crop is our best yet.

Once roasted, they become really flavourful. Before that, they are pretty dull. We don’t salt them for health reasons.

Finally it’s time to cook dinner. Tonight it will be baked, stuffed, ripe, red capsicums. I used a vegetable and herb mix, so it’s a vegetarian meal tonight, as it so often is most nights.

This is a small part of our attempts to be both creative and self reliant while treading as lightly as we can in this carbon constrained world.

Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished, and nothing lasts.

This meal isn’t, wasn’t and didn’t.