We have spent the past week continuing to work on the new fence.
The fence is now finished the construction phase and we have been getting on with cutting up the dead trees that had to be removed to clear a straight line for the fence.
I had to have a few days off to rest my back and forearms that got a bit over worked.
I estimate that I have now cut and stacked 1200 to 1500 billets of timber. Enough for 2 years firewood, if not more. Of course some of them are only small, down to 50mm dia.
But some are up to 450mm dia. I cut up the whole tree. Nothing wasted.
All the felled trees that were within 50 metres of the house are now cleaned up, cut to stove lengths and stacked near the wood shed, ready for use in the winter.
The other trees that were felled are all still stacked along side the fence line. I may get around to getting out there, right down the back and cutting them up.
However, experience has taught me that by the time I have used up all these stacked timber billets, All the logs laying on the ground will have been degraded by the white ants.
There are still so many standing dead trees within just a few metres of the gateway through the new fence that I will most likely be choosing to work on those trees.
Each morning we get up early and do a few hours work wheelbarrowing broken bricks down the back to fill in the deep gaps under the fence.
This is to stop animals from shinnying underneath the fence in the lowest spots. We have almost finished this job. Maybe just one more cool morning’s work.
Once all the gaps are filled with brick bats and rubble, I start carting some left over crushed gravel from the pottery site footings, down to the fence line.
This gravel and dirt mix will cover the crushed bricks and level out the surface to make it easier in the future to keep the fence line mowed and clear of re-growth.
After lunch, it’s too hot to work outdoors in the full sun for us oldies. So we retire indoors to work on other projects in the shade.
I’m currently working on welding up a set of 3 gates to complete the fence line securely. Our neighbour on the back fence line saw a full size stag in his yard the other day.
I really need to get this unscripted and unfunded crisis done and dusted as soon as I can, so that I can get back to my real work in the pottery.
In the evenings we make Tomato passata, Plum sauce and Onion jam. These all need to be made and stored away for later use to make the best of our excess produce.
Bottling tomato passata
Plum sauce bottled and cooling.
At this time of year every meal starts to take on a certain ratatouille aspect. Tomatoes, basil, capsicum, zucchini, and squash.
Summer garden Ratatouille with steamed fish and hand picked capers in a white wine reduction.
Garden beetroot, home made onion jam, and 2 cheeses tart.
Desert is freshly picked blueberries baked into a tart. We are picking 3 kgs every few days at this time of year. Some get preserved for later in the year. Some eaten fresh for breakfast, some are used in cooking like this and the rest are given away to neighbors and friends.
It’s a tough life, but we just have to work our way through it.
Over the solstice break, I’ve been having a bit of time off.
A change is as good as a holiday I’m told. So I took some time out to weld up a steel frame to make a fume extraction hood to go over all the electric kilns.
I have been ‘making-do’ with a bathroom exhaust fan set into the kiln room window, but it doesn’t catch all the fumes.
So we now have a ‘proper’ hood that covers all 3 kilns and there is room for a 4th kiln at the end, if I ever get round to building it.
The frame is welded out of 20 x 20 RHS sq. section tube and then primed, undercoated and top coated with a strong yellow industrial grade paint. Something resembling ‘CAT’ Yellow, just to give it that heavy duty industrial look. Actually, I was thinking of the sort of colour that big factories have to paint over-head cranes, gantries and such.
It has turned out to be a massive edifice measuring 4.5 metres long by 1.5 m wide and 500 mm. high.
I had to build a special little trolley to manoeuvre it out of the welding area and into the court yard, where I could rotate it so as to allow me to screw in the poly carbonate lining.
I decided to use light weight RHS construction and poly carb sheeting because of the weight factor. I have to lift it up into the ceiling. But I also noticed after the fire, that poly carb doesn’t burn. It just melts, even at really high temperatures. So I thought that I’d give it a try as a fume hood lining. It wont get too hot, so shouldn’t melt. It is very light weight. It lets the light through, adding to the ambiance of the kiln room. It is cheap compared to any other sheeting. BUT most important of all, it doesn’t rust. The big killer of overhead hoods is the condensation of acid gasses and the rust that they create. This could be a solution?
Time will tell.
My son Geordie and my friend Warren came over for our Solstice lunch get-together, so before we ate, we did the install. It took all of 5 minutes, because I had every thing planned out and ready.
Now, the bathroom fan will be more effective at removing all the fumes from the kilns, and there is room for expansion.
Hopefully, a cheap and effective solution to the kiln vent fume problem.
While we had both Geordie and Warren here, I got them to help us move an exquisite old Japanese cupboard into our bedroom.
We were given this gorgeous old Japanese cupboard by my lovely friend Anne, who I have known for a very long time, getting on for 58 years in fact. Where does the time go?
Thank you Anne!
Somewhat disappointingly, we had another flood in the new pottery shed this week. Each time it happens, I look at the causes and find a solution and fix it. This time we had a brief, but severe storm of just 25 mins, but we got 25 mm of rain come down in that short time. It caused the gutters to over flow into the court yard around the kiln. However this time the rain all came it, not from the open wall leading into the courtyard, but deep in the enclosure against the kiln room wall from the gutters that couldn’t cope with the intense volume of water.
It has become apparent that the builders were pretty sloppy with their levels, such that the concrete slab is high at the edges and low in the middle of the kiln/glazing rooms. The result was that all the water flowed in under the gal iron wall and pooled in the centre of the kiln room, with some seeping into the glaze room.
There is absolutely nothing that I can do to change to the contour of the slab to stop this happening again. So my only option is the make a drain that can intercept the water before it reaches the wall and enters the building.
To this end, This morning I used a diamond saw blade to cut two 8 metre long slices through the 115 mm thick concrete slab down to the substrate of compacted rock dust and gravel. It was one of those nightmare jobs that nobody would ever want to do. But someone has to. Meet muggins.
You can see in this image, where I had initially tried (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to create a small diversion channel around the wall using a circular saw and a friction disc. This wasn’t deep enough to cope with the flood of water from this last storm. I realised that the drain needed to be substantially larger and deeper.
Then, I hired a jack hammer to break up the concrete into rubble. That was another big job.
Finally, I removed the broken ‘rio’ bars and the strip of black plastic waterproofing membrane, and then shovelled out all the larger pieces of crushed concrete and re-installed all the finer gravel.
This allowed me to then lay pavers over the rubble to make an ‘agg’ drain.
With my remaining energy, I completed the job by laying a line of terracotta pavers to cover the scar, but leaving a gap all along the trench to allow any future flood water to flow down into the rubble drain and seep out along the alley way between the two sheds. Hopefully a simple and effective solution to yet another problem left by our slack and seemingly incompetent builders. ( who have now gone out of business I’m told). I have noticed that any rain that is driven into the courtyard by the storm, just sinks into the porous pavers and their gravel bed. That paved part of the kiln shed/courtyard never holds any water. It’s just a total bummer that the slack builders cast the slab with the fall in the wrong direction.
It’s been a hard day. I’m pretty worn out from the effort of jack hammering, crow-barring and wheel barrowing all the broken-up concrete out of the trench, but very happy with the out come, now that it’s done!
I’m hoping that it will work. I’m getting too old for all this strenuous high energy stuff.
A new tomato crop is developing. I managed to get a few early tomato plants into the ground in September. I cheated and bought a punnet of seedlings. September is long before our own naturally germinated ‘wild’, self sown tomatoes seeds emerge. I bought a punnet of seedlings from the garden centre. In the past, if I got them in the ground in early September, then we might get a ripe tomato in the week between Xmas and new year. The past decade had been unusually hot and drought ridden here up until 2019. The extra heat allowed the tomatoes to establish so early.
This past year however, it has been cooler and wet in comparison, so the season is delayed somewhat. We do have tomatoes climbing up the tomato stakes, the tallest being about one metre high so far. There are even a few small green tomatoes developing now. However, I doubt if there will be a ripe, red tomato for Xmas, never mind in the next 2 to 3 weeks.
I have planted 4 beds so far, around 10 plants in each bed. The earliest ones are all flowering well now, so it promises to be a good crop in the new year when the warmer weather develops. Well, I’m hoping so anyway. I like to make all the jars of ‘passata’ that will last us all year, as well as all the tomatoes that we will consume in salads and ratatouille dishes over the summer.
Tomatoes need a warm soil temperature and longer daylight hours to thrive. Our own naturally germinating ‘wild’ tomato seeds are just now emerging in among the other beds. So the soil temperature must now be more or less OK. The ‘Diggers Club’ guide tells me that the soil temp for tomatoes must be above 16oC, but I’ve never bothered to go out side with a temperature probe to test the soil temp to find out. Early September seems about right and the plants grow, albeit quite slowly at first. In years gone by I even started the young tomato seedlings off in late August under a sort of home made ‘cloche’ made by wrapping the industrial sized ‘glad-wrap’ that I used to have in the old kiln factory for delivering kilns, and wrapping this around the old wire mesh frames that we used to cover the garden beds before we built the bird proof enclosure. This early frost and cold night protection worked for the important first month, until the weather warmed more, or until the plants got so tall that they out-grew the height of the temporary cover.
Yesterday I went into the garden after lunch to do a bit of tidying up and weeding. I ended up hammering in tomato stakes and tying up the tallest tomatoes. One thing led to another, then I suddenly realised that the chooks had put them selves into their house and were ready for bed as it was after 6 pm. The afternoon had just slipped away while I was being busy.
Tying up tomatoes is such a great job. The season is still early and there is no hope of seeing a tomato any time soon, but just touching the tomato leaves or even brushing against them gives off such an appetising smell. It makes my mouth water with anticipation. I don’t know what chemical is in the tomato leaves, but it is delicious to smell. So spending a few hours hammering in the wooden stakes and tying up the leaders with lengths of soft cloth is a wonderful experience. It promises so much. There is so much optimism tied up in each of those soft little bows.
My go-to reference about my vegetables and fruit growing info is The Oxford Book of Food Plants. It tells me that Tomatoes, ‘Lycopersicon esculentum’ are a native of the lower Andes, and are valued for their high vitamin content. It is part of the solanum family along with deadly nightshade, datura, petunias, the potato, capsicum, chilli and egg plants. In fact eating green or unripe tomatoes can make you sick. Unripe tomatoes contain a toxic alkaloid called ’tomatine’ which is an insecticide, fungicide and has anti microbial properties which are there to presumably protect it from predators, but are easily broken down by cooking, so it is OK to eat them in chutney. No one I know eats them raw when green. However, I did see in ‘wikipedia’ that tests have been carried out and you would have to eat more than half a kilo of tomato leaves, where the tomatine is more concentrated, to get a toxic reaction, which wouldn’t be lethal. I love the smell of touching tomato leaves, but I have no inclination to eat them.
It also tells me that it needs a minimum temperature of 55 to 60oF or 12 to 15oC. This is considerably less than that stated by ‘Diggers’ and may explain why I can get away with starting them in a closh in August here.
The Oxford also tells me that the tomato was originally called ‘pomo-d’oro’ or golden apple, presumably because the earliest varieties brought back from the Americas were a yellow variety? Quite possible? I don’t know. I did read online on a New Zealand web site that only the yellow tomato can be digested properly by humans and that all the red coloured varieties are only digestible by animals!!! Something to do with different forms of lycopene as I remember. However, I have grown a few different yellow tomatoes and they were universally bland and lacking acid in the flavour profile, so I have avoided them ever since. Not worth the trouble to cultivate. I seem to be able to get all the lycopene that I need from the tasty red ones, but do I need any at all?
Michael Pollan, in ‘Defence of Food’ (p67), advises that red lycopene can be easily digested when cooked in olive oil. Italian cooks have always seemed to have known that. Dr Norman Swan in his book, ’So you want to live Longer’ (p 81). Lycopene reduces oxidative stress in the body from free radicals. “There’s a multi-billion dollar industry which sells this idea in a bottle. – Trouble is that they don’t work.” “you’re on much safer ground betting on what’s on your stove”. He consistently returns to the idea that tomatoes cooked in olive oil are really good for you – as part of a Mediteranian diet, low in meat and high in coloured vegetables and whole grains.
I have read elsewhere that all domesticated tomato varieties today are descended from the red-fruited wild tomato, Solanum Pimpinellifolium. Perhaps named after the scarlet pimpernel? One of the other early names for tomato, besides ‘love-apple’ and ‘golden-apple’ was ‘wolf peach’. Which accounts for the latinised name ‘lycopersicon’ used by Linnaeus to describe them in 1753, and still in use today. Tomatoes first appeared in Europe in around 1535 on the return of the Spanish conquistadors from Peru, It took over 150 years for the tomato to be integrated into everyday cuisine, starting in Italy, then slowly spreading across Europe. It’s acceptance was rather slow.
John Ray, The English Botanist, son of a village blacksmith, went on to study at Cambridge, Trinity College, He became the college Steward. He travelled widely in England and Europe, and while in Italy in the 1660s he wrote. ‘The Italians cook tomatoes with marrows, peppers, salt and olive oil’. Perhaps the first ever reference to ratatouille?
During the week between the two Open Studio Weekends, I ventured out to check out the mulberries. The crop wasn’t good, but there were quite a few coming on. Possibly ready to pick in a week or so once they ripened up a bit more.
After the last weekend sale, when I found some time to get to the orchard again, I realised that the birds had eaten all the mulberries. ALL THE MULBERRIES!
Recently, we have had quite a good number of wattle birds, Dollar birds, Frier birds and the constant regiment of endemic bower birds
There were just a very few immature pale hard berries left. So no mulberry tarts this year.
Instead, I decided to make a youngberry tart, using last years Youngberries that I preserved and bottled on the 4th of December ‘21.
It’s a lovely tart. It isn’t quite so good as when I use fresh berries, as fresh berries retain a lot more texture and structure to the substance of the tart.
This years berries aren’t ready yet, but the pantry has a few bottles of last years berries that have survived the hungry gap. Principally because we are trying to cut down on our sugar intake.
I don’t add any sugar to the preserved youngberries. They are sweet enough, and every little bit of sugar adds up. But they are wonderful, so rich, so lively with that special mix of acid and sweetness. I love them. They are so special, really unique to this time of year. I really look forward to their season. They follow the mulberries and preempt the cherries.
I couldn’t net the mulberries, the tree is too old and too big, so they are all gone, but I can net the youngberries, as they grow on canes at ground level.
I blind-bake the pastry first to cook it through and then add the fruit, and bake it again to set the fruit.
As soon as we could find the time, we were out in the garden and netted the youngberries. Safe for this season now.
The chickens come out to see the new Tesla Battery. Perhaps they want to know what it is like to be a battery hen? They don’t appear to be very impressed. Battery hens! What’s all the fuss about?
In the garden, we have picked the last globe artichokes. They are a bit past ‘best’, so need to be cut in half and have the ‘choke’ taken out.
I cut them and trim them down to the essential core of flavour and drop them in lemon juice acidulated water, eventually to make a pasta sauce out of them with our home-made tomato passata sauce from last summer and some little zucchinis and broad beans from the spring garden.
I stuff the zucchini flowers with broad beans, olives, cheese and some chopped gherkins. Not my filling of choice, but I am committed to use what we have in the garden and live with the seasons. We have a lot of broad beans at the moment, and
the last of the winters cauliflowers.
We eat the cauliflower raw with just a little bit of mayonnaise. It makes a lovely entrée.
In preparation for the up-coming Open Studio Weekends on the first two weekends in November, we have been hard at work making and firing to get everything ready in time.
We are still working on the pottery shed, as it isn’t quite finished yet. So much to do, but it is almost there. We have to stop the building work to concentrate on making pots now.
There are so many little bit and pieces of the building that need to be cleaned up and properly finished. The team of shed builders who erected the frame for us were working very quick and rough and left a lot to be desired in terms of details. I’m still finding out the places where they didn’t finish off the flashing, or didn’t put enough silicon in the joints here and there. But their biggest crime was not using metal screws with rubber seals, so I had to go around the whole building and squeeze silicon rubber over all the external screws to waterproof them. It probably only saved them $10. Such is the state of modern building trades. Fortunately we didn’t buy a high rise home unit with cracks in it, so we couldn’t live in it, but still had to pay the mortgage. That is so unforgivable. With all this rain over the past year, I’m still discovering places that leak or just little annoying drips that need attention.
The framing crew did at least get the frame level, square and true. I’ll give them that much. The building inspector from the council who came and inspected our job, told us that this was one of the better frames that he had seen. Some were so bad, he had to call the builders back to straighten it up.
Janine and I have done nearly all of our building work over the years as owner builders here for the past 45 years, but this rebuilding job was just beyond us in our ’senior’ years. Especially the scale of it and particularly after working ourselves into the ground with all the clean-up work that we did after the fire. By the time it came to start re-building, we just didn’t have the energy. After the 6 months of cleaning up, we were ready to hand over to a team who supposedly knew what they were doing when it came to erecting a steel fame shed — sort of. They were certainly well practised at making short cuts.
This last weekend we fired the wood kiln. This was our 2nd firing in this new kiln and we are still learning how it works and getting to know its peculiarities and character.
We had Len Smith, Rob Linegan to help and Jan Kesby called in after her workshop at Sturt Pottery to give us a hand, as she was in the neighbourhood.
The kiln at full fire, burning logs on the hobs.
Rob and Len doing their bit.
Jan Kesby showing us how it’s done.
We will unpack later in the week after it has cooled down.
Janine has been crushing and grinding her beach pumice stones to make her sea-ladon green glaze. Made from just beach pumice and beach cuttle fish carapace ‘shells’.
She has also been making up her ‘Chun’ or ‘Jun’ blue opalescent glaze that she makes from the ash from the kitchen slow combustion stove.
They both require crushing and then grinding in the ball mills to get the best result. There are so many little steps that go into being a self-reliant artist that most people just couldn’t imagine.
Then there is the splitting and stacking all the wood for firing. Everything takes time. We only have pre-burnt logs to fire with now, as every tree on our block of land was burnt. So we have a few hundred tonnes of standing dead wood to use up for the rest of our lives, but regrettably, since it is already pre-burnt. It has lost a lot of its volatiles, saps, kinos and resins. This means that we have to invent new ways of using it up in the kilns, as it is a bit like firing with charcoal than fresh timber. It still burns, but with a short flame and doesn’t really crackle and roar like it used to pre-fire. One solution I’m trying is to split it finer, where that is possible, but the stringy back that grows around here has a very twisty, gnarly, well integrated grain, that doesn’t easily lend itself to fine free-splitting.
Another option is to re-build the fire box to adapt it better to this charcoal rich environment, larger and with more provision for burning charcoal and ember? That’s a much bigger job, so I’ll try all of the easier options first. Time will tell.
I’ve been reading a few books on French cooking. Not, cordon bleu, or bistonomy, but old peasant recipes for home-grown, self-reliant peasants cooking of the South West of France in the Perigord and Gascon regions.
I’m interested in how people manage their vegetable gardens to keep a steady flow of food coming all through the year. How they preserve their excess and particularly, just how inventive they were at creating wonderful and delicious recipes from some quite un-promising ingrediants.
I was introduced to organic back-yard vegetable gardening by my grandfather and mother. But didn’t take sufficient interest in the details of it all at the time, as I was quite young, and kicking a ball around the yard was more fun.
When Janine and I moved into our first own rental property in 1975. One of the first things that I did was to dig up the back yard, start to plant veggies and build a compost heap. It seemed so natural to me. It was just what you did if you wanted to live cheaply and frugally. Planting vegetables went hand in hand with building the first little kiln, both equally important.
A year or so later, after we were burnt out in the first of 3 bush fires that we have lost potteries to, we bought the Old School building here in Balmoral Village, we started a vegetable garden as soon as we got the key, even before we had the title deeds. Long before we moved in. We would come down on weekends and plant and then water the seedlings, so that there would be food for us when we arrived permanently.
We were lucky to meet and become very close to a couple of the local residents, John Meredith the writer, musician and folklorist, and Dot and Roger Brown, who were the village’s longest residents. Dot’s mother was still alive then, she lived till she was 103 years old. Both of these older residents had extensive vegetable gardens and small household mixed orchards. They were a great inspiration to us and were so supportive in each passing on either chickens or ducks in breeding trios to get us up and running. We set up a pottery throwing room in the front room of the 2 room school classroom. We also cleared the land, fenced off the area for the stone fruit orchard, all in the first few months and had 30 fruit trees planted that first winter.
A few years later Sally Seymour came to visit us from Wales. She and her husband John Seymour wrote books about their life of living off the land in a small scale, self-sufficient way. She was so knowledgeable about everything that we needed to know. She was also a potter. Sally returned a couple of years later and lived here with Janine for a few months, while I was away in Japan studying.
We had already bought and read both of their earlier books before we met Sally. Sally is still alive and living in Wales with her daughter and son-in-law. You can check out how they still live and work creatively and sustainably at their web site. <https://www.pantryfields.com/sally-seymour>
‘The Fat of the Land’ is still in print and available from their website.
I enjoyed reading about Kate Hill’s life and travels on a barge boat in Gascony. I didn’t learn very much that I hadn’t already read elsewhere, or already learnt to cook myself, but it was a good read.
I picked up this book for $2 in a 2nd hand book shop, an interesting read by an American food writer about his one year sabbatical spent in Gascony learning to cook.
Peter Graham was a professional writer who lived in France for 40 years. He died recently. He was ‘The Guardian’ newspaper’s food and restaurant critic for 20 years. The book is a list of recipes linked by anecdotes, and has less story line to support it, more in the vein of Patience Gray’s ‘Honey from a weed’. However, I actually preferred the book ‘Extra Virgin’ by Annie Hawes, which is all amusing story and no recipes, but she has humorous descriptions of the local wives preparing food and cooking. All described in a very lighthearted manner.
Jeanne Strang’s book was interesting mix of personal story line and recipe book. I learnt a few things that I have incorporated in to my cooking. On and Off.
None of these books are your typical recipe books. None of them have full page glossy photos of luscious food. You’ll need Jamie Oliver or the English food porn lady for those. These are all black and white, text based books, printed on cheap, pulp, paper by people who love cooking, and living in France. They have all lived and worked in Gascony and collected their anecdotes and recipes over extended periods of time living the life in amongst the locals.
Having digested all that these other books had to offer, I tempered my appetite for goose fat and foie gras, by reading Norman Swan’s latest on how to live a healthy life for longer.
Basically his recommendation is not to eat all those fatty, rich, calorie loaded foods, instead he recommends to intensionally starve yourself – albeit with moderation. He recommends following the ‘Mediterranean diet’, based on pulses, vegetables, a little lean meat or fish and to avoid preservatives, salt and smoked or saltpetre treated meats. He also says to put in at least one hour of vigorous exercise each day. YES, one hour vigorously, each day! To stimulate metabolism and burn off calories to keep your weight down.
I think that I might probably be OK, even better off, to just eat those French cooking books listed above. Paper is fat free, high in ruffage and low in calories, just right.
There is such a beautiful optimism about spring. The weather is warming up. We even have clear, bright, warm days when we take our jumpers off! My brown work jumper that I wear when I’m welding and/or firing the wood kiln has had a lot of holes burnt into it over the past 15 years. I have been slowly working on it over that time repairing the holes by darning colourful threads over the gaps. It has started to become something more than just an old, repaired, work jumper now, it’s becoming a work of art in itself. I’ve spent this last week of evenings in front of the wood fire fixing it up for another year of hard work. It’s become something more than just a jumper. It’s becoming a treasured item, embodied with effort and work. Not just the work that resulted in all the holes and burn marks, but the extra effort in its recovery and repair. It’s a bit like doing a kintsugi repair on a treasured pot that got broken. I do that too.
I also have a better, but also quite old woollen jumper that I used to keep ‘for best’. ie. for going out in. I keep it in a plastic bag over the summer months, filled with herbs and lavender, to keep the moths out. But over the years, the little tenacious critters seem to have found their way in every now and then and now this jumper too has a few holes in it. So after I ‘finished’ the brown jumper. I started on the next one. It only has a few small moth holes, so it was a quick ‘two-nighter’ job. Done sitting in front of the wood fire, keeping warm and getting next years woollens up to speed for the next winter, before I put them away for the summer. Back into the fragrant herb lined plastic bag.
This series of repair sessions that began 13 years ago trying to extend the life of a good quality piece of clothing, slowly took on a life of its own. I think that I may have made this old brown jumper a bit too special for welding and firing now. It’s become rather special in its lovingly repaired old age.
The Japanese have a single word that sums up this concept. Mottainai!
As for the concept of kintsugi that I mentioned above. I have been slowly working my way through a number of special pots that survived the fire. They are all broken, but still rather lovely in their own special broken and shattered way. I have re-built all the broken and missing sections of the bowls using my own home-made epoxy-based filler which I hand-build in small sections, layer upon layer, grinding back and sanding each layer, then adding on another little section, slowly building the missing section back up to where it once was.
The really beautiful thing about something that you have done yourself, by your own hand, is rather special. These repaired items are more valuable and unique than they were beforehand, not in a financial way, but something more cerebral and emotional. The loving workmanship has transformed them up to another level of complex value. And, in the final analysis, probably also some sort of increase in monetary value, but this is hard to quantify, as such special personal items rarely ever really come onto the commercial market.
In these last few weeks of late winter, we have been picking loads of citrus for both juice and marmalade.
The avocado season is also in full swing with quite a good crop on this year.
I have finally finished building the car port shed, Started in March 2020, completed August 2022. It’s only taken me 2 1/2 years. Slow but thorough.
One other reason for the long time interval from start to finish, was that apart from the initial frame, everything else was scrounged, re-cycled and repurposed.
The last job was to fame up the East wall and clad it with poly carbonate sheeting. We were gifted a couple of very large recycled glass doors, by a lovely friend who had them taken out of her house to do extensions. I designed and built the wall out of left over steel sections that the pottery shed builders thew out on the scrap pile to go to the tip. I couldn’t bear to see such waste, even to see it go to the re-cyclers was a great waste of embedded energy, so I welded all the small section of scrap together to make long 6m. useful beams. I designed and built this last wall around the donated glass door sizes to make a snug fit.
I’m glad that it is finally done, as there was a lot of 5 and 6 metre high ladder work. More than I was comfortable with. Luckily, I had my very good friend Warren to give me a hand for a couple of days to get it completed. These beams are just too long to lift and fit one handed on a ladder by myself.
You can read the story of re-purposing the short steel off-cuts from a previous blog post here;
I started framing this wall last December. I’ve been working on it on and off since then as time permits.
Winter is also the time for fruit tree pruning. It’s been an on-going job for a few weeks now, on and off, as time allowed.
I didn’t do a lot of pruning over the last 3 years, as most of my orchard trees got burnt. Those that survived, just got ignored, as I was way too busy doing other more important jobs at the time.
So this year was a big year for catching up, reshaping and thinning out.
The small chain saw got a bit of a workout as well as the usual range of secateurs and hand saws.
We generated quite a pile of prunings by the end of the work and had a good bon fire to clean it all up last week at the end of the work, but before the fire bans come back into force.
Recently, it was our sons birthday, so I made him a panforte as a birthday cake.
The Winter Solstice has come and gone and the days are going to start getting longer and the nights shorter, but the coldest part of the winter is probably yet to come.
We had a crackerjack frost a few days ago, Everything so shimmering silver/white. This mornings frost was much more mild, with just a light dusting of white in the open spaces, less so under the bare branches of the cherry trees in the Chekov orchard. The winter is really just starting, so there will probably be a few more frosts yet where that came from.
In the evenings, as there is nothing worth any attention on the idiot box. I have started to repair another pair of jeans.
These jeans are about 4 or 5 years old and the front of the thigh part has worn through. That is the most usual place for wear for me. They were the cheapest brand of jeans.
I had already replaced the pockets with some excellent, robust, pale yellow, linen cloth that should outlast the original flimsy thin cotton that wore through in just two years. Initially in the pocket where I carry my car keys, but then the other pocket as well, just after that. Then it was the edge of the pocket where the new linen lining meets the blue denim.
I reinforced that edge with some red Japanese silk, It look great when it was fist done, but it isn’t really up to it, and is already starting to wear through, so will also need to be redone in the future.
This time I added a front panel of indigo dyed cotton that I bought in the markets in Kyoto a few years back.
Every time I go to Japan, I keep my eye out for street or temple markets where I can find lengths of indigo dyed, or other interesting old fabrics. These are usually some old piece of clothing that someone has unpicked. The hems and loose threads along the edges where they were stitched together are often still visible. Much of this old cloth was woven on small looms in bolts that were only 13” or 330 mm wide. The clothes were assembled by stitching these long thin strips together, to get a wider fabric.
It is an interesting phenomena that cloth dyed in indigo does not rot easily, nor is it eaten by bugs. It seems to last for ages. It certainly makes good patches for work wear like shirts and jeans.
This pair will be good for another 5 years if I keep up the maintenance. The pair that I’m currently wearing to work in the pottery are over ten years old now and still going OK. They have patches on the thighs and knees, as well as new pockets.
My woollen jumper was new in 2004, or 2006. I can’t quite remember. It has quite a few patches of repair, where I have darned the holes where moths have eaten through it, or sparks from welding spatter, or possibly damage incurred during stoking the wood kiln have made holes in it. They all get mended in what I think is a complimentary colour to make a colour spill pattern. It’s a work in progress, It’s 16 or more years old and still very warm and wearable. I like to make things last. i never want to throw anything out until it is really worn out. Repair and reuse, before finally recycling.
I just took a selfie of my Sunday morning jeans. I never take selfies. This must be the first time I’ve put one up on this blog. I’m dressed up to receive some very good friends for Sunday lunch, so I’ve got my best pair on. I’ve been working on these jeans for many years now. I still work in them, but this morning they are straight from the wash and are lovely and clean and suitable to welcome our close friends in. I wouldn’t wear them to try and pass through customs in. But my friends know and understand me. They won’t be affronted.
Actually, I think that work like this is verging on Art. If not a work of art, then its certainly involves some aspect of creativity. I don’t just slap on ‘iron-on’ patches from a sewing shop. I mix and match the patterns and colours to suit my mood and proclivity. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Even the arse end has some good work on it. This wear can be attributed to sitting on the wooden saddle-like seat of the ‘Leach’ treadle potters wheel. The slight swivelling/rocking motion of kicking the treadle with one lag seems to cause the butt end to wear out?
This last week we have made new batches of clay bodies to re-stock the clay boxes. I made a batch of the Mittagong halloysite porcelain from the mafia site.
This weathered stone is pretty well kaolinised, or in this case ‘Halloyositised’. This makes the stone somewhat crumbly and easily crushed, because the mica and felspars are broken down and weathered from igneous stone to clay-like substance, this causes the loss of some of the alkali fluxes. The stone can then becomes slightly clay-like and less stone-like. However, this creates a minor problem, because as the stone becomes more friable and easily crushed. It can’t be put through the jaw crusher, as the increased clay content causes the crusher to clag up and jam.
There are two options. The first is to calcine the stone in the bisque kiln and then it will become dry and brittle and easily passed through the crushers and ball mill, but this will completely eliminate the plasticity. So I only do this if I intend to make it into a glaze. If I want to make a porcelain body, I need to retain the plasticity, so the way to extract the clay fragment is to soak the sample in water and then stir it up into a liquid slip. This is called ‘blunging’. However, to make it smooth I need to pass it through a fine screen to eliminate all the unweathered stone fragments that are mostly mica, felspar and silica. In this case, I want all these minerals in the finished porcelain body to create the flux to make it melt and become translucent. This problem is solved by then ball milling the grit residue on the screen and then remixing to two together. This is a rather long and tedious job and I used to do this before I got a roller mill.
The best machine for this kind of material is a roller crusher. I actually have one of these, but it was burnt in the fire and I haven’t managed to find the time to rebuild it. It is still sitting on the crusher room floor in pieces waiting for a quiet period when I get bored 🙂 so that I can find the time to repair/rebuild it. Watch this space. Everything gets done eventually.
In the meantime, in the absence of any mechanical assistance. I decided to crush all the material by hand in the large mortar and pestle, before ball milling it all into a fine porcelain clay body. I used to do this when I was at Art School, as a mortar and pestle was the only piece of crushing equipment that I owned at that time. I still hand-crush small samples up to a few hundred grams for initial testing of field samples. It is quicker than cleaning out one of the bigger machines after use. It’s just like all those kitchen gadgets that are supposed to save so much time, but end up taking longer when you factor in the cleaning and drying, and then reassembly time before returning the gadget to the ‘stuff-that-is rarely-used’ cupboard.
Once reduced to a suitable size, it goes into one of the the mills.
After ball milling, I pass the slip through a 100# screen to remove any coarse particles that may have escaped milling. This halloysite porcelain sample has some iron contamination, so appears a little yellowish in the slip form. This slight iron staining helps create a lovely mahogany ‘flashing’ on the surface during wood firing. The Mafia halloysite is quite variable and is prone to severe warping during the early stages of firing when the halloysite tube-like clay crystals break down and re-form as fractured platelet shards. In this unstable state, the pots can warp and/or crack, so I have found it wise to blend it with some of my other porcelain clay or plastic kaolin to help stabilise the body.
In this most recently collected Mittagong halloysite sample, the site had been eroded badly in the recent rains and all the best and whitest, material had been washed away. Simply because it was the most friable and easier to dissolve in water. Because the remaining material was less weathered and darker than I wanted, I blended it with some more reliable local kaolin based porcelain.
I have been finding the loading and unloading of the porcelain balls into the larger porcelain ball mill jar quite hard on my back as I age. I have had to load the balls in and out in small handfuls. It takes time and requires and lot of bending and effort. So recently, I built myself a couple of new PVC ball mill jars. These a significantly lighter, although the porcelain balls still weigh quite a bit. For these lighter PVC jars, I made a stainless steel mesh inset for the spare lid. I can easily change the lids and simply up-end the jar over a bucket and let the charge all drain out. I partially refill them with fresh water, roll them along the floor to rinse the balls clean then re drain into the bucket.
The jars are then ready for a refill and to be used again. The balls never leave the jar. So much quicker and easier.
These new PVC jars are made from cheap, standard, over-the-counter, plumbing parts. They are larger, but lighter, than the old one, and I made them so that I can fit two of them on the roller at once. So now I’m able to get more done in the same amount of time..
As I have been throwing and turning the porcelain. I have been collecting the turnings, they pile up like so much fettuccini pasta strands in the hopelessly small Shimpo wheel tray that need to be emptied every few minutes. In the old pottery, I took the plastic trays off and had the wheels in enclosures, so that all the turnings just spilt out onto the floor, but it was a big job to clean it all out and wasn’t suited to the sort of work that I now do, that involves using a large number of different, experimental, small batch, sericite and halloysite porcelain bodies.
So I persist with the tiny tray so that I can recycle each different sericite porcelain body separately to maintain its integrity.
I have been collecting and drying the turnings, then calcining them in the bisque kiln and finally ball milling them to a fine powder to make a porcelain glaze from the porcelain body.
The same turnings after being fired in the bisque kiln. The low temperature oxidised firing turns the calcined porcelain slightly pink.
The powdered glaze material in the ball mill after milling, ready to make porcelain glaze. 80% porcelain body and 20% lime.
A simple glaze recipe, Self reliance all the way along the line. DIY.
Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts.
Janine and I had a very good Open Studio Weekend Sale.
We are part of an artist collective organised by a local lady called Erin Adams, she came up with the idea of the ‘Pop-Up’ Open Studios artists collective and herded all of us cats into a cohesive group. A tremendous job of work on her part, and we are very grateful to her for her organising ability.
Over this long weekend, we had over 30 visitors each day, for the 3 days, and almost everyone bought a pot, so we were chuffed.
The weather leading up to the weekend was awful. Freezing temperatures and blowing a gale. We had power outages, with trees blown down over power lines, for 2 days beforehand.
I was starting to think that no one will turn up. Nobody would want to brave all this weather to come out here.
As it turned out. Lots of people came out to Balmoral Village to see us. Most of the ‘Open Studios’ are located in and around the towns of Mittagong and Bowral here in the Southern Highlands. It is a well recognised tourist destination for people from Sydney, and it is easy to flit around and visit all of those local studios about town, without having to spend much time driving between them. You are also in close proximity to cafes, restaurants and coffee shops.
As we are 25 km out of town, it’s a half hour drive to get out here and the same to get back again. So we appreciate the effort that the locals put in to get out here. However, what was amazing was the number of people who drove down from Sydney to come and visit us. About 2/3 of our visitors were from the greater Sydney area. So Thank You very much to all of you who made the long drive of 2+ hours or so each way.
Luckily, we had our friends Susan and Dave here for a few days to help us clean up, set up, and then help us with selling and wrapping for the first couple of days. It made the job go so much easier. Thank you Susan and Dave!
I had made a batch of Tea Pots for the sale and sold most of them. I like making tea pots, they are an interesting challenge. You need to make all the different parts in the correct proportions to fit together in a unified design, but they also need to perform their function properly once fired.
The shelves are greatly depleted now. I love making pots, so its great to have space to make more things.
In the past couple of weeks, I developed a new high calcium porcelain glaze that has a lovely ‘streaking’ quality. I works well with a thin, soft pigment wash.
The pigment highlights the texture of the glaze. It also feels very soft and buttery to the touch.
In the days leading up to the Open Studio, I baked a loaf of bread in the pottery wood fired oven and although it took longer than it would have in the house oven, it turned out very well. This new oven has its own personality and will take a few goes to get used to.
I prepared the dough in the house as usual, and then put it in a cast iron pot in the pottery oven.
I also made a couple of panforte cakes for the open weekend, to share with visitors. Panforte translates from the Italian as ‘strong bread’. It is a small, solid, flat loaf of sweet bread, filled with dried fruits and held together with some honey and flavoured with a few spices like cinnamon and cloves. The recipe was listed here in an earlier blog. Search ‘panforte’ on the home page search box.
The dried fruits are measured out and mixed with the flour, before adding the honey water and spooned into my homemade stainless panforte rings on a buttered baking tray.
Spoon the mixture into the rings and press it down to fill them well, then bake at 180oC for 40/45 mins.
When the cakes come out of the oven, I sprinkle on a mixture of castor sugar, cinnamon and flour as a decoration. Served in thin slices, they go very well with tea or coffee.
Now that the Sale is over, it’s back to work. Our first job is to chain saw logs to refill the wood shed with fuel.
We have been so busy potting to get everything ready, we burnt a lot of wood in the house and studio stoves, to keep us warm during this very cold start to winter. We burnt so much wood, that we started to run low in the wood shed.
So today was wood chopping day. Out with the chain saws, the wheel barrow and the mini tractor.
We have no shortage of dead trees after the fire, but they need to be chain-sawn into short lengths and then carted to the wood shed where they are split and stacked, ready for use.
A good days work and ready for the next job. This is self reliance. Nothing lasts, nothing is perfect and nothing is ever finished.
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