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.