Someone recently told us that we shouldn’t be climbing up ladders after we turned 60!!!!!That was 8 years ago. I re-roofed the old pottery and re-guttered the barn, both shortly before they burnt in December.The barn is now re-roofed and re-guttered. I’ve spent a lot of time up ladders since then, cleaning gutters and doing all the various maintenance jobs.I own a lot of ladders. Different lengths and formats for different jobs, ranging from one to six metres long. I’m up and down all day. Good thing that I was only just told that I should have stopped all this almost a decade ago.
Recently I have been building a metal frame to hold up the 2nd hand and recycled, plastic, bird-proof netting, that was donated to us for the new orchard cover. This involved burying 100mm dia. metal posts in the ground to 600 mm deep and then installing cross-members between them, also 100mm. dia. I bought a truck load of 40 second hand metal pipes, 5.5m long that were recovered from the HMAS Melbourne before it was scrapped. They had been used as irrigation pipes before I got them. I only needed to cut off the thick reinforcing rings off the end of each pipe to get the joints to fit on the pipes.
Warren suggested that we should get orchard framing made into an olympic demonstration sport! I could see that these old pipes would work OK for my purposes, as they came with an assortment of 90 degree elbows and some ‘Tee’ section joints.The last part was to lift up 8m long galvanised steel beams, 100mm x 50mm. These were quite heavy and unwieldy. Because I’m cautious. I went out of my way to buy yet another ladder, this time a 3mm tall step ladder, so that I wouldn’t have to stand on the last top step of my biggest 2.4m. step ladder, to get those heavy beams up on top of the 3.5m. high pipework frame.
I thought that I was doing quite well for an old guy. This higher ladder gave me a much better and safer working position while I screwed all the beams down to the frame securely.Of course I didn’t attempt do this on my own. I had my best friend Warren here to help me.We got all the beams up in one day! I’m very leased with my new tall ladder. So much safer than standing on the top step of the shorter one.
Yesterday, while moving a little short step ladder in my workshop. I bumped a gas bottle and knocked a steel beam off a tall shelf.It came down on my head, splitting it open with lots of bright red sauce. I saw stars, but remained conscious on the floor. I managed to get myself to the house and Janine drove me to Emergency where I got 10 stitches in my head.Ladders are so dangerous! Especially those little short plastic ones.
Now that things have settle down a little. We have lodged our pottery rebuilding plans and DA application with the Council. It’s just a matter of time now, as we sit and wait.
What could possibly go wrong?
While we wait, I have set about doing a bit of repair work on a few of my burnt out tools. There are so many burnt and buggered tools and pieces of machinery, left ruined by the fire that I will have repair work for many years to come – if I ever get around to fixing them.
I decide to ease into it gently by re-shafting a few of my tools that I now realise that I need to get the project moving. Some hammers, mallets, block buster, sledge and sketch hammer, tomahawk, axe etc.
I found a few old bits of timber in the barn when we were repairing it last week, even a few hardwood tool handles, and a hickory axe handle dating back to the 70’s or 80’s? I set to work re-purposing the split and shattered, used block-buster shafts, cutting the them in half and making shorter handles for other tools out of them.
I get a lot done in a couple of hours of entertaining handiwork. I feel great afterwards. I feel like I have achieved something. Not exactly the feeling I had after spending 9 hours preparing the many, many pages of building application forms for the council building app. But that was last week, and this is now. Something positive, no matter how small, is gratefully accepted and engaged with.
Getting shafted was never so much fun.
These tools were all burnt, rusted and flakey yesterday, just like the axe heads in the image above. They too will come good with a little TLC.
I have a lot of other tools that are on my ‘to-do’ list, all lined up outside on the stone wall.
These few items are the next lot of heads that are on my work bench.
They all look a lot better after and bit of wire brushing. My big problem with the adzes is that I can’t buy an adze handle anymore from the hardware shop. I might have to carve them myself, but I’d rather just buy them, as i have quite enough to do already.
The transhumance is usually applied to the seasonal movement of livestock in Europe following good the pasture from lowland to highland in the spring for example. Janine and I have been in Europe on two occasions and witnessed a small part of this seasonal, ancient, ritual passage of people and animals. It was a beautiful experience, to witness this event, watching the farmer, his family and their dogs walking the herd of cows down the mountain pass, back to the safety of the lowland farm and its barn with its stocks of hay and silage to sustain the animals through the cold winter.
For Janine and I here on our few acres, we ‘husband’ the passage of water back up hill from the lower dams, up to the higher ‘house’ dam for safe storage over the coming hot dry summer. Back when the weather was more reliable, the winter rains would flow into the upper dam and it would overflow down into the next dam, and then from there, when the 2nd dam filled, it would over flow down into the next dam, etc. etc. We have created what is known as a ‘keyline’ system of dames, so that nothing is wasted. That was of course when it used to rain.
These days it doesn’t rain enough to fill all the dams, but they do have a small amount in each of the 2 lower dams. The big top dam, ‘Max Like’, is totally dry. but it is worth harvesting the water from the two lower dams and collecting it all in one place to minimise evaporation. The surface area is essentially the same, but the water storage is 3 times deeper.
So today I started the water-transhumance for this year. The water is supposed to flow down in the winter and be pumped back in the summer. I don’t have much to work with, but in this way I can get the best out of what I have.
I pumped the bottom dam down to a level that gave me most of the water, but left a little bit for the locals.
My next job is to move the pump up to the 2nd dam and start shifting it up to the top dam. By the end of the day we should have moved most of the water. There is a big rock in the top dam, when we can see the rock, it means that we are almost out of water. By the time I’ve pumped all this water up to the top dam, the rock will disappear.
Mission accomplished. The home dam is filled sufficiently to cover the rock. That means that we now have over 600mm. deep storage, all in one spot, which minimises the evaporation in there coming hotter weather.
While the water was pumping up by itself. I only need to check it every 15 mins to make sure that all is going well. In the mean time I finish filling in the syphon guttering trench and I make new guttering for the western side of the barn. I was quoted $110 per meter for a professional guttering job. I manage to do it in 3 hours for $147! I just saved myself over $1,000! This is how we can manage to live here on such a small income. Independence through frugal self reliance.
I have spent this long week doing repair and maintenance jobs, from replacing the tin roof on the pottery, renewing the syphon gutter and digging trenches through hard packed dirt, making gutters and down spouts, now shifting water.
Every step I’ve taken this week was involved in water in some way. You never miss your water till your well runs dry!
I’m hoping that I won’t miss any water and that my tanks won’t run dry.
As the weather has slowly dried out over the four and a bit decades that we have lived here, the dams that we dug when we arrived here in 1976, and worked so well for 20 years, are now all dried out. We haven’t had significant rain fall to saturate the ground and flow down the gutters and channels into those dams. So we find ourselves towards the end of spring now with virtually no water in the dams. This is the 3rd year with no significant flows into the dams and the 2nd decade where the dams don’t fill to overflowing. i can’t remember a time when they were all full.
It is quite shocking to me to have to start the year with just 500mm. of water in our main dam. That will only last a couple of hours in a fire situation – if it came today! But there won’t be this much water left in there in a month or twos time, at the height of summer – if any! Evaporation will see an end to that little bit of water that is left.
Our biggest dam, built specially to irrigate the vineyard, we called Max Lake! It is now bone dry since last week, the final little puddles evaporated away in the heat and the wind. No water flowed into it for at least 3 years. It was once a glorious swimming hole in years past. Particularly when our son was young, we had a lot of fun swimming in there over summer. 2 metres deep of serious fun filled water. Now home to just a few dried out reeds.
We used to rely on the dams for our irrigation water and fire fighting reserves. But no more. We have to think differently now. This is now the new normal. We have managed to get through the past few summers using our tank water storage. We have put a lot of effort into installing water tanks on every roof on our land. This has worked very well up until now, But this year we are not quite through spring and we have almost emptied one of our two large water tanks, mostly through watering the garden and orchards. With the global crisis deepening, I can see a time when we will run out of water before the end of summer in coming years.
The most pressing question on my mind right now is what will we use to fight bush fires in late summer and autumn. I guess that we will have to buy water and have it trucked in. Not a happy thought. In particular because when disaster strikes, every one will be wanting water delivered and only the regular customers will be getting service. I know how it works. We have never bought water for 40 years. We don’t even know who sells it these days. So we shouldn’t be relying on that to save us. In a funny quirk of fate, those of us in this village who are poorly prepared and always buy water, will get it, as they must, because they are the most needy. We, on the other hand, have spent our lives trying to be prepared as best that we can be, and are almost totally self-reliant, We will be the the ones to be left to fend for ourselves – as we always have.
Water storage is very finite and with every roof already having a water tank connected to it. Our options are limited. We have purchased a new, smaller sized, water tank every year now for the past 4 years. Installing those tanks on all the smaller tin roofs on the little sheds, and even the little railway station building has two. Just so that there isn’t any water allowed to be wasted. Once caught and held, then we can use it later at our discretion.
Having thought through the possibilities. We decided to up-grade to a much larger water tank on the barn. The barn has a huge roof, but only a relatively small 1,000 gallon/4,500 litre water tank that we put on there almost 20 years ago when we built the barn, to satisfy the local council building inspectors. We don’t use it for the garden at all. It is there with it’s own independent pump to supply the roof and wall sprinklers that I fitted to the building specifically for fire fighting. As it’s only been used twice in its life. It remains constantly full. However, when it rains and the tank overflows, I have the overflow connected into the plumbing system that delivers the water from all 3 big sheds into the 120,000 litre concrete water tank at the bottom of our block. This is the tank that is now almost empty. I can connect the new proposed tank in parallel with the old one. That way, I only need to do a bit of plumbing.
I realise that I can add a 7,500 gallon/35,000 litre water tank on the other side of the building. This is a significant exercise, cutting a 4.5 metre diameter level base through the top soil and placing 2 cubic metres of fine basalt dust, then spreading it and compacting it to make a solid base for the tank to sit on. I’ve been at this job since Friday last week. The base is done now, so I have turned my attention to the roof plumbing. I need to put in a syphon gutter system to take the water to the other side of the shed.
I wonder why it is that I seem to end up doing these jobs in such hot weather. Answer. every day is hot these days. Summer starts 3 months earlier and goes on for another 3 months longer. We are having 9 months of summer these past few years.
The old saying goes, When is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, 20 years ago! That is also the answer to when I should have put in this larger tank, but I was already fully committed 20 years ago to installing the water tanks that we already do have now. So now is the best time for this new tank! When it rains again, as it most certainly will. We will fill this tank with rain water and be better off in the future. This is just forward planning!
So, today I’m digging this trench into rock hard dirt that is as tough as concrete. I end up having to use a crow bar and a pick to penetrate the soil. I give up pretty quickly and go and get the tractor to try ripping a groove into the hard packed, baked soil. I end up bending parts of the the tractor and need to go to the toy shop, formally known as the kiln factory, to put the bent and broken parts under the hydraulic press and bend them back into shape. If nothing else, I get to spend a few minutes out of the full sun, in the shade, in the shed, making good the repairs. I love the toy shop! I can fix almost anything in there – one way or another.
By the end of the day, I’m pretty rats, but the hole is dug and the pipes are laid and blue-glued together. The new lengths of guttering should be delivered tomorrow?! I should have it all back together by the day after. It can rain by the end of the week and I’ll be OK with that.
As for the new water tank, well, I haven’t even ordered that as yet. First things first. Watch this space !
At the end of this days tough work, I go to the garden and find that I can pick the first of this years crop of tomatoes. 3 red tomatoes, It’s the 26th of November. I can’t remember an earlier date for the first red tomato of the season. We can usually get a few before Xmas, but this is a whole month earlier than Xmas. If global warming is a communist plot to disrupt Western economies, as Donald Trump claimed, then, thank you to the Chinese Communist Party for these unseasonably early red tomatoes here in Australia. I wonder how they do it?
Maybe every dark cloud has a silver lining? I’d be happy just to see some clouds! Dark or otherwise.
I used a wooden framed, foot operated, treadle, potter wheel. It’s a very old ‘Leach style’ potters kick wheel. Designed by Bernard Leach, way back, early in the last century. That’s almost a hundred years ago, coming up sometime soon. This actual wheel was handmade in Australia under licence sometime in the 1970s. That makes it almost 50 years old.
When I started to learn about hand made pottery in 1969 I bought a 2nd hand ‘Leach’ kick wheel to get me started. I loved it so much, that I have used them ever since. I have tried other pottery wheels, but keep on coming back to this energy efficient, human powered potters wheel. Tragically that first wheel was lost in one of the two fires that have devastated our pottery workshops over the 50 years of my career as a potter.
The other day I was throwing a large pot of 3 kgs of clay. Not so big compared to what other younger potters can throw on an electric powered potters wheel. But about as big as I like to go on this old wooden treadle wheel. Well, I was pushing hard to get the mass of clay onto the centre, when ‘CRACK’ ! That was the end of my throwing session. I had busted the leather bearing that connects the foot treadle bar to the steel crank shaft. It was reminiscent of peddling your bike when the chain suddenly comes off the derailleur gears. Everything sins free and there is no response to the effort of peddling.
Now it just so happens that only last weekend I was at a ‘Lost Trades’ weekend market and exhibition and my good friend Warren, the guy who can do anything. Warren decided to buy a hand made leather belt. But his plastic card wouldn’t work on the ancient, lost trade, candle powered, banking machine that was available on the site, so I lent him some money to pay in old fashioned cash. The Lost Trades traders still have the ability to take cash! That is a skill that isn’t lost!
I asked the leather worker if I could have the excess leather from the very long blank belt was was being custom fitted to my friend. I got 300 mm of leather belt material. The leather worker, who I knew, knows that I am a potter, and I have bought my belts from him in the past. He asked me what I wanted the leather for. I told him about my very old potters wheel and its antiquated leather bearing. How amazing that the very same piece of leather bearing would snap just a week later. I am so lucky!
So I had to stop work and do a running repair. I was prepared. In less than an hour I was up and running again. I bought this potters wheel 2nd hand, after the last fire in 1983. The old leather strap had lasted 36 years! Not too bad for a thin leather strap.
I’m wondering how long this new one will last? I only used half of the piece of leather for the repair, so I still have another piece in reserve for 2055.
I’ll be over a hundred years old by then, so it probably won’t be my problem.
I’ve been away for a while travelling and researching in China. It was a very interesting trip and I will have some stories and images to write about here in the next few days and weeks, as soon as I can get around to it. I have been very busy these last few days, since returning home, doing a number of things. All of which needed doing all at once as soon as I was back.
We had some terrible storms and gales while I was away, so there were a couple of days welding the chain saw, wheel barrow and rake, getting the driveway clear and the various fallen limbs off the fences etc.
We had one really big she-oak snap in half and fall, but not quite to the ground, so it was left hanging precariously until I got home. A definite no-go zone for all and sundry, until I could get in there and cut it down to make it safe. Janine and I then cut it up into fire wood sized small pieces to clear the space again. A big job and I’m always relieved when events like this are resolved without damage to property or me while I’m in there and under the branches cutting the wedge out to encourage it to fall into a safe place.
It all went well, but it makes me realise that I’m getting a bit older now and I have think these things through property before I start. It’s probably called risk analysis or some other clever name these days, but it’s what I have always done. Pace it out, measure the space, asses the weight and any bias in the load on the trunk. I want to do this safely.
Sometimes I put a 13mm. steel cable around the tree and winch it over in the right direction using my slow and steady ‘come-along’ hand winch. This tree wasn’t so tall any more, so I just used the tractor to winch it along with a suitably heave load chain. Needless to say, that with a wedge cut out, a slice in the rear and the tractor pulling it along, it fell precisely in the right spot.
I insist on working alone when I’m doing dangerous jobs like this. Any other person on the site is one more risk. The chickens always come running when they hear the chainsaw start up, so luckily for me and particularly for them, they didn’t get to where I was working before I had it felled.
So now all that heavy work is doneAll the wood cut and stacked in the wood shed, it is time to give the vegetable garden a bit of a work over with plantings of spring vegetables, seeds and seedlings to get it all ready for the summer. The soil temperature is almost up to 15oC, so a good time to get started. The asparagus is up and we have had a few meals already. That’s a good sign that spring has sprung.
I have been pulling out wheelbarrow loads of red ‘Flanders’ poppies. The come up wild, like weeds everywhere that the soil is disturbed. I love them, they are so delicate, beautiful and very short lived. Each flower wilts the day it is picked. They are only good for one day in a vase. However, they come up absolutely anywhere and everywhere that I have gardened or worked the soil the previous year. Of course that usually means in the garden beds. We like them so much that we usually have a lot of them overwintering in the fallow beds.
Well, the time has come to thin them out. I remove them from each part of the garden as I need the space to plant out the new vegetables. I leave as many as I can along the edges and in the paths. They will flower all through the spring into early summer and set seed in the autumn to replenish themselves again for next year.
Beauty and frugal practicality in balence. The cycle will go on, as long as we’re here to keep tilling the soil and creating that fertile environment.
We have spent this winter weekend pruning the fruit trees in the orchards.
I had my good friend Warren over to help me. Warren is the man who a can do almost anything at all, and do it well — with a smile. He is so good to have around.
We started by shovelling up all the ash from the past burn piles of garden prunings over the recent season of garden clean-ups. These piles of vegetation grow during the hot months as we slowly accumulate material. Finally when the cool weather arrives and there are no more fire bans we are able to burn the accumulated bushy piles. The amount of ash is amazing. We are able to fill two wheel barrows to the brim. All this ash gets put back into the garden and orchards. Sprinkled around the fruit trees as fertiliser. Ash contains all the nutrients that a plant needs to grow. We don’t use commercial synthetic fertilisers in our gardens and orchards. We are fully committed to growing organically. We only use chicken manure and ashes from our fire place and stove, plus once a year like this, the ash from the burn piles.
The ash is spread around each of the trees at the drip line and will get watered in when it rains. Ash has sodium and potassium, calcium and magnesium, alumina and silica, plus iron and titanium, all in various proportions depending on the plant material that was burnt.
I also throw the beef marrow bones that are left over after making stock in the kitchen. After roasting and boiling the bones with a vegetable stock, the bones are given to the chooks for a day or two to pick over, then they end up on the burn pile. I fish the fragile, brittle, burnt, calcined bone remnants out of the ashes and crush them up to add back to the garden. Calcined bones contain phosphorous, which is severely lacking in our ancient, depleted, Australian soils. Bone ash is a great addition to an organic garden.
The winter pruning weekend has a kind of old English folk tale, come nursery rhyme sort of feel to the work. It’s a very ancient activity to get involved in at this time of year. It’s a must-do occupation if you want healthy trees and more fruit next year. It has to be done and it can’t be put off. It has to be done NOW! Janine and I have been doing this for over 40 years.
We gave it the old one-two. We started by putting on our work boots. Unfortunately no buckles involved on this occasion just velcro, laughing sided elastic boots and lace-ups.
Then it was three four. Open the gate to the orchard. It doesn’t rhyme, like ‘door’ would but it allowed us to come and go at will, while we pruned the fruit trees back into shape for the coming spring time flush of growth. The chooks take the opportunity of the open gate to come on in and help us work, by getting in under our feet. They come in here about every second day, but only stay for an hour or so before wandering off to look for something more interesting to do. Because we are in here working all day, they stay and work all day too! They just love a bit of human company.
Pruning takes a lot of effort and a lot of thinking and planning too. It’s not mindless. It isn’t just chopping off branches willy nilly. We are constantly conscious that neither willy gets chopped off. Especially since we are using a combination of mini chain saw, pole pruner, secateurs and various lengths of garden loppers. We both drew blood on several occasions from the large spikes on the branches of the yellow plum tree, and other spiky objects and sharpe tools. Luckily our willies and nillies survived intact. We have to treat each tree slightly differently depending on its shape and age, but also its individual habit. As well as considering that each variety of fruit tree fruits and flowers on different wood. Some only on old established fruiting spurs, like cherries, apples and pears, but others on 2nd year growth wood only, so old 3rd year wood is removed after fruiting, 2nd year wood is retained for this years crop and new growth is encouraged for next years fruit.
Probably the most important thing is to remove any dead and decayed wood to minimise disease and this all needs to be picked up, carted off and burnt.
Next it was five six, and we spent a lot of time picking up all our prunings and carting them all down to the burn pile at the back of our block. There are 30 trees in the stone-fruit orchard, a dozen cherry trees in the Chekov orchard, a dozen almonds in the veggie garden, a dozen citrus in the orange grove and a dozen hazel nuts in the old olive grove. We have over 100 fruit, nut and food bearing trees in total. The picking up of sticks actually takes longer than the climbing up and down the ladder and into the branches of the trees to do the cutting and sawing.
The pruning went pretty well, we are getting better at it these days. However, we totally failed on the next part of seven and eight. Try as we might the burn pile of sticks wouldn’t stay straight. The off-cuts of fruit tree branches are just too forky and twisty to lay straight.
We did however have the constant help and supervision of the ’Spice Girls’ at all times. The big brown hens love a bit of garden activity and are keen to be right in the middle of it scratching and pecking, so nine ten was no problem.
Pruning is one of those jobs that it is really good to finish. See you again next year. Same place, Same time of year. I have a new trimming attachment for my whipper/snipper thing. It goes all the way up to 11!
I can hear Janine talking to someone outside, I can’t quite make out what she is saying, but it is an animated converstion with highs and lows in the flow and sometimes torrent of words. There must be a visitor? I can’t hear the replies to her raised intonation questioning, or the questions that generate her responses. In the end I have to get up from my chair here typing, and go and see who she is talking to.
It’s not a visitor at all, it’s her ‘Spice Girls’. She is talking to Ginger, Maltie and Koko. The chooks!. What is so interesting to me is that they are replying to her with gentle cooing and soft clucking, looking up at her apreciatively and expectantly. She is talking to them as she drops little tit-bits from our kitchen left-overs. She is quite animated in her talk and they are attentive. Of course it isn’t a conversation by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a definite exchange. It’s all about food for them. That’s just about all they seem to think about. If you can call it thinking? However, I’m mindfull that chickens are not just egg layers, they make good pets. They come when they are called and follow us everywhere when we are outside working. They are also very entertaining. So I can appreciate Janine’s engagement with them this sunny morning. I love to hear the lilting rise and fall of her voice drifting into my peripheral hearing.
I’m sitting in the kitchen writing this, it’s a sunny morning and the sun is streaming in through the northern windows flooding the kitchen with bright colour and light. So bright in fact that I can’t see the screen properly. I have to move my chair, so that I’m positioned in the shadow of one of the window pillars, otherwise the light in my face makes me squint and makes typing very unpleasant. I could move to another room, but I love the sunshine on this winter solstice morning. I can look forward to the nights getting shorter and the days longer from now on. Not that it will make any difference in the short term as it always gets colder after the solstice, just as the hottest days are after the summer solstice. It’s more of a mental recognition that things are on the change that is reassuring.
I’m sitting here wearing a woollen jumper, substantial hemp shirt, tee shirt and a merino thermal. I’m comfortable, but all this clothing is essential here at this time of year. We don’t heat our house, this is a conscious choice, specifically to minimise our lifestyle effects on global heating and the climate crisis. Instead, we just rug up. It’s just reaching 12 oC here in the kitchen now that the sun is coming in. It rises from behind the eucalypts down below the big water tanks in the North-East and progresses at a low angle across the northern sky. The angle is so low that it casts its light right across the kitchen at lunchtime reaching 6 metres into the room at its peak.
I’ve been thinking about getting under the floor of the kitchen and insulating the wooden floor boards to help retain this solar heat for longer in the day. We have a wood fired kitchen stove that we cook on in the cooler months. For many years, it was our only form of cooking. It’s a really great piece of equipment. It uses all our tree falls from our 7 acres of native forest as fuel. This means that we are not adding to the carbon load in the atmosphere, as our forest has grown and thickened over the 40 years of our stuardship. This block of land was all cleared when it was a public school in its past life. We have established gardens, orchards and dams for water storage and this increased the bird life from just a few kookaburras and magpies, to what it is now. A thriving environment crowded with all manner of bird life in all sizes from the powerful owl down to the smallest wrens.
Our lovely old enamelled, cast iron, kitchen stove, which we bought for a couple of hundred dollars, 2nd hand, back in 1978, is a beautiful, well thought out, piece of engineering. I have been repairing and maintaining it all these years. It’s beautiful for many reasons, but principally because it is repairable. It’s a very solid thing with a substantial cast iron metal frame that I can work on and make slight changes to, to keep it going and working perfectly for over 40 years now. I looked up the cost of a new one on the web and a new one costs between $15,000 and $22,000!!!!
We can’t buy a new model of our stove. It’s too old now and the company was bought out by AGA. A new Aga is now $22,000 and the cheaper version called Rayburn is now $15,000. That’s the same price that we paid for our Mitsubishi Colt car! It’s hard to believe that a kitchen stove could cost that much, but it does. Such is the modern world. It’s a very good reason to keep the old stove going. It not only cooks our dinner, it heats the room and it also heats the hot water, a job shared with the solar panels. The solar panels work best in summer and the stove is better at heating the water in winter, but they both work together all the time. I set the system up so that they are both connected in parallel.
We only light the stove in the evening. It’s a slow combustion stove, so it is capable of staying alight all day and all night, week in and week out, but we don’t use it that way, because when you turn down the air on a slow combustion fire, it makes it burn very dirty and smokey. This is really bad for the environment and air quality. What we have always done in response to this dilemma, is to light the stove in the evening with full air open and crank the heat up to full, do our cooking for dinner, then do whatever baking, preserving and slow simmering that might be needed. After that, if we need the water to be heated more, then we keep stoking the firebox, but only lightly, still with plenty of air. We try and avoid any smoke, when we are finished, or go to bed, we just let the stove burn down and go out.
This minimises the smoke and air pollution. It satisfies our need to minimise our carbon foot-print and achieves all that we want from a kitchen and a life. It is a very comforting feeling to come inside on a cold evening, into a kitchen that is warm and friendly. Comforting in all its senses, not just the heat. The smell of real food slowly simmering, the kettle quietly rattling and bubbling, the smell of the freshly split firewood. The knowledge that this is a happy home. It’s the kitchen that I wish that I had grown up in. I’ve built my own small creative environment here. A hand made house, with home grown, hand made furniture, the dull gleam of polished copper pans, that I clean with our own lemons and a little salt. Washed under our own wood-heated hot water. It’s a very pleasant idyl, but it has taken and still requires a lot of effort to create and maintain.
It’s no accident that we have ended up living like this. Everything that we have done, every effort, every creative decision in the past 45 years has been edging us towards this point.
Cutting, carting and stacking wood is of course a constant job, but it needs to be done to clear up all the wind fall branches and fallen dead trees that are constantly coming down in the big winds each year. We also have a wood fired kiln that fires on mostly our own timber from our land here, but once people know that you use wood, they are often offering us fallen trees that they would like cleared away for free. The fact that we are creating some particulate matter in the air from burning our wood is a concern for me. I can only console myself that we are not burning fossil fuels. The fact that we are now driving on sunshine, salves my conscience a bit. One very important step for us was to finally get around to building a wood storage shed for the dry fire wood, after it is all split and stacked ready for use. It only took us 15 years to get around to it, then another 15 years to get around to building the same thing for the kiln wood. Everything gets done eventually, in its own time.
On a different note, I wrote a piece a while back about the crappy plastic dust pans and brooms that are the only choice at the local hardware shop. They are so flimsy, poorly designed and made, that I am embarrassed to own them, but that was all there was in our local shop. In response to that whinge, I got a parcel in the mail from our lovely friend Janna who found a couple of natural bristle, wooden handled, hand brooms in her local hardware shop and posted them to me. Thank you Janna! I was chuffed to say the least. But then I was in the health food shop complaining about the plastic junk that we are forced to choose between at every turn, and the next thing I see is that they now stock wooden handled, coconut fibre bristled ‘fair trade’ brooms from Sri Lanka. So I now have 3 new natural bristled, wooden handled, hand brooms. That should keep us going for a while. However, in the meantime, I had made a stainless steel dust pan from old kiln off-cuts, that I folded up on the pan break and spot welded together. That should last us 100 years, if not more. Next, I re-invented and converted the old broken plastic piece of crap broom back into a functioning item again, by making a new wooden handle for the broken bristle head. By simply drilling a couple of holes in the old head and screwing it too the new handle. It works quite nicely thank you.
Where there’s a way.
from the re-imagined, re-used and resourceful sweeper upperer.
A month ago we had a hail storm. Not too bad as hail storms go, but bad enough. There wasn’t a lot of rain with it, – a pity.
A few weeks later we had a lot of rain in an hour. Quite a storm all told. We found to our surprise that we had a number of leaks appear in our old school classroom. We had to find buckets for the drips on the carpet, the computer table and other various places around the house. Having drips of water dropping onto the carpet in what is our lounge room, really concentrates your attention.
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering!
We don’t usually have leaks like this, so I had to investigate. However, I needed to wait for it to stop raining, then to stop blowing, waiting for a day when there was no gusty wind. I once went up on the roof on a windy day and the ladder blew away, leaving me stranded up there until Janine came looking for me, replaced the ladder and let me come down. She must love me!
I finally found a day that wasn’t too windy, glarey or wet and slippery. I got up onto the top roof of the old classroom of the school. I found that the hail storm had pummelled the 130 year old corrugated galvanised iron roofing. Where there was an over-lap of the old sheets the iron had rusted to a very thin state because of the condensation in the over-lap, creating a few quite large holes.
A hundred years ago, corrugated iron roofing could only be manufactured in short lengths, as it was rotary folded across the sheets to make the corrugations. This meant that to cover a long-span, a number of shorter sheets needed to be used and this required overlapping to stop leaks. All old iron roofs suffer from this same problem of rusting out on the overlaps. We are lucky to have a roof that has survived for so long without too much trouble. We live in quite a relatively dry environment with about 500mm of rain each year.
I worked across the roof systematically siliconing every split, crack and thin rusty patch. The overlaps needed special attention. In one place I had to cut a small piece of rustic, but structurally very sound, old roofing iron into a small square. I glued this patch over the worst section, that was too big to close with just silicon alone.
The big issue turned out to be the ridge capping. This is 130 year old lead! I wanted to replace it 35 years ago, when I was much younger, able-bodied and building the extensions on to the Old School Classroom. I didn’t want any lead on my roof. Unfortunately I struck one massive problem that stopped me in my tracks. The old lead was about 600 mm wide and the old wooden roofing battons were well spaced accordingly. Modern galvanised ridge capping is only about 460mm wide. Not wide enough to reach the old battons. This meant removing all the old sheets of iron and screwing on new battons, then replacing the roofing, then screwing down the new narrow ridge capping. A massive job. Not one that I could complete easily in a day.
Being basically lazy, I decided that I had enough to do with building the new extensions onto the Old School classroom to make it into a house, so I left the old flashing up there. It was just easier to ignore it and hope for the best. The old lead capping has developed cracks and splits here and there along its length over the years. I siliconed these splits and cracks 30 years ago, and 20 years ago and then 10 years ago, Now the cracks are just too big and too long for silicon.
Now my lead flashing chickens are coming home to roost. I will need to re-roof the whole school roof eventually. I hope that I can make it last long enough, so that it isn’t my job to do. I couldn’t do it by myself now. I’d need to employ someone to help me these days.
My creative solution was to lift the old lead flashing and slide in new sections of shiny galvanised ridge capping in underneath the old lead. Then I screwed the old lead down over the new galvanised ridge capping, through into the old galvanised roofing. A cunning plan!
From a distance, no-one can tell that I did anything at all. It looks exactly as it did before I fixed it, and that’s the way I like it.
I’ve only just finished repairing the slow combustion heater in the Old School classroom in preparation for the coming winter, when Janine points out that the fire brick in the wall of the wood fired kitchen slow combustion stove is all cracked and spalled away. The metal casing of the cabinet is showing through. We can’t light it again like this. Being over 40 years old, there are no spare parts available. I will have to improvise – as usual.
I have no real options here. I don’t want to take the stove apart completely to re fit a new home-made fire brick into the wall, so I do a patch job. I use some of my homemade ceramic fibre glue and fill up all the cracks and spalls with ceramic fibre high temperature insulation.
This will have no chance of surviving the intense battering of logs thrown into the fire box. But I have a cunning plan. I find an old piece of kiln shelf down in the pottery that is just about the correct size. So I cut it and shape it with the angle grinder until it fits the bill.
I wedge it into place with a few off-cuts of similar ceramic kiln shelf material and it all locks into place. Only time will tell how long it will last? However, I am confident that it will protect the fibre insulation stuffed in behind until it cracks or breaks.
On close examination, I see that he curved fire brick just inside the stoke-hole door is cracked in half. This is a home-made, hand-built, custom-shaped fire brick which we made from a hand-made mould that we cast back in the 70’s. I made 3 spares at the time. I can see that I will have to make a few more now, as we have used them all up over the 40 years of constant use. It needs to be special shape, with recessed corners that interlock with the other fire bricks, so that it can just slide into place and be held securely, but not too tight, to allow for expansion.
Janine finds the mould after almost 25 years, stored away in the third chamber of the climbing kiln that we don’t use anymore. I knock one out with a rubber mallet to get good compression. One down two more to go. The first three that I made lasted 25 years or so. So this lot should last me until 2045! I’ll be well into my 90’s and won’t be cutting too much fire wood by then.
Last year I repaired the other side of the fire-box, the heat shield that protects the oven from getting too hot. That cast iron plate had completely disintegrated. I replaced it with a home-made kiln shelf that we made in 1976. We still have a lot of them left. I didn’t think that it would last very long, but gave it a go. It has one crack in it after 18 months of use and still going strong. Very pleased, but.
Nothing is ever finished, nothing lasts and nothing is perfect.