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!
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.
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.
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