Winter Solstice

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.
Best wishes
from the re-imagined, re-used and resourceful sweeper upperer.

Winter Marmalade Workshop – Everthing Good Takes Time

Winter brings on the lemons and not just on Monday or Friday!

All the citrus a coming on and although it is very early in the season, we have a load of fruit to get through.

Our citrus grove is now 7 years old and the trees are starting to produce more fruit than we can eat. We could manage it if it were spread out over 12 months, but it’s all coming on in a bit of a rush now. Even though we are in a drought, we did have a surprising down-pour of rain last week that gave us 27mm. Just at the right time to swell out these citrus crops nicely.
The mandarin and cumquat are not really fully ripe yet, but the Seville oranges are almost there, there are just a few ripe fruit on the North facing side of the tree. Everything else is booming. Lemons, lemonades, tangelos, limes, navels and grapefruits. All these are just ripe enough for making marmalade now.
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Janine decided to offer a marmalade making workshop to help us use up this fruit productively. All we ask people to do is turn up with their glass jars, so that they can take home their produce, and something to contribute to a shared lunch. We offer to provide everything else. The fruit, sharp knives, cutting boards, sugar, big copper boilers and a couple of citrus juicers.
Janine spread the word through the local ‘greens’ and the ‘Seed Savers’  + the organic gardeners and the Picton art group. It just so happens that all these contact points are almost exactly the same people! Gentle, creative, thoughtful sensitive caring people have the same interests it seems.
Fortunately for us the Wollondilly Art Group had their monthly meeting postponed a week so that it clashed with our marmalade making workshop. I say fortunately, because we had 8 people and if we had had any more it would have been a bit tight in our little kitchen.
We started by walking down to the citrus grove and picking the fruit. Each person filling one of our wicker baskets with a different fruit.
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We spend the morning peeling, slicing and dicing. Everyone brings along their own individual approach to dissecting the citrus fruit quite finely, some more finely than others. Janine and I have different approaches and we each demonstrate our own way. We also have two vastly different cooking methods and we prepare  batches by both methods.
I get the job of peeling the grapefruits, Seville oranges and eureka lemons, as they have a thick white pith. I have no trouble in being told to ‘pith-off’!
I’m told that the white pith isn’t needed in marmalade. So off it goes, the thin curly ‘peels’ can then be sliced very finely.  To very thinly slice the peel takes a lot longer. But I like it that way,  I don’t mind the time, I’ve set the day aside for this, it’s a pleasant activity and I know that I’ll enjoy the reward. Everything good takes time!
The remaining whole peeled fruit are cut in half and juiced, as we only use the juice, the peel and sugar. We don’t use water, nor do we soak the fruit over night. Just our very own ‘quick and dirty’ whole fruit method.
Once the fruit is on the stove, we settle down for a shared lunch and a chat while our handiwork simmers and fills the kitchen with that devine smell. One by one, as each boiler begins to ’gel’, we fill the glass jars as they come straight from the oven where they are sterilised for 10 minutes at 120oC and cap them off with simmered lids.
Everybody got to take home 2 or 3 jars of different marmalade blends. We made 4 different batches altogether.  I think that everyone enjoyed the day. I notice that no one was in a hurry to leave.
We are left with a dozen jars of different blends for our own pantry. It takes all day, but it’s a really pleasant day, well spent. Everything good takes time.
My car has just sent an email to my phone to up-date me on the progress of our driving. We have had our Hyundai Ionic ‘plug-in’ electric hybrid car for 5 months now. We have driven 5,000 kms so far and nearly all of that has been done on our own solar power. We have driven the 5,000 kms on just $70 worth of petrol. We have filled the petrol tank twice with $50 worth of fuel, but we still are only a third of the way through the 2nd tank full.
The first image that I have downloaded here shows that for the time period of one month, and the mileage that we covered over that time, the car should have generated 26grams of CO2 per kilometre. In actual fact we generated only 2 grams! It seems that the Hyundai software aggregates all the information from all the cars of the same make and model in Australia and rates the usage accordingly.
On this basis, we were rated 1st for the month February
This second image shows that our average litres per kilometre. was 845 km/L. Apparently the expected amount for this car should be closer to 20.
For this month our fuel consumption was 0.64 litres to travel 545 km. The expected fuel consumption should have been much higher, closer to 26 litres. So we are achieving 50 times better than the average.
I’m very pleased with this information, as this is just what I hoped to achieve when I bought this plug-in hybrid car. We have demonstrated that we can drive almost totally on sunshine. However, when we need to go on longer trips, there is no ‘range anxiety’, as we can use the small, fuel-efficient, petrol engine to go up to 1,100 km when both the battery and fuel tank are full.
It’s no accident that we can do this. We have spent all our lives working towards this situation. Making our own livelihood from our own small business, growing our own food, collecting our own water supply, dealing with our own sewage, making our own electricity and storing our excess solar power in our battery, all these choices leading up to this point, so that we can simply plug in our electric car and drive on sunshine.
Everything good takes time.
Best wishes
Steve
Dr. Steve Harrison PhD. MA (Hons)
hotnsticky@ozemail.com.au
blog; tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com
Potter, kiln surgeon, clay doctor, wood butcher and Post Modern Peasant.

Back Home and Busy

I’m back home again from my month of researching in Korea now and I’m suddenly very busy.

Not just catching up on the past emails and book orders, but immediate things like the fact that the big gum tree on the corner of our street that was hit by lighting just before I went away, has needed to be lopped and made safe. The fire brigade came and put out the fire, but didn’t fix the mess, as it’s not their job. The tree was badly damaged, burnt, split and shattered. It’s not our tree either.

While I was away, Janine had been ‘at’ the council to make the tree safe, as it is out on the foot path and is not on our property. We can’t legally touch their trees. There are rules! We could get fined.
So now the tree loppers are here and have pruned the tree back to a stubby trunk. They leave all the loppings at the base of the tree, so that we can collect it for fire wood. If we hadn’t asked, they would have shredded it all down to wood chips in their huge shredder. So the current, pressing job, is to collect the wood. I have a load of other things on my list, but priorities change day to day as we respond to each situation.
As soon as the tree loppers go we are out there. I know from bitter experience that some particular neighbours will take it from under our noises if we don’t act quickly.
A few years ago,property I helped our direct next-door neighbour to chop up a tree that had fallen on his property down by the back lane. I couldn’t take it all away at the time, but cut it all up into small slabs, so that I could handle it and clear access to his drive way. Before I could get back to it, a distant neighbour stole it all. I’ve learnt my lesson. Act quickly!
This time I get it all up onto my truck with the assistance of my very good friend Len, who just happens to call in to visit. No such thing as a free lunch Len.
I also go to the barn and install my hydraulic crane onto the truck. I use this to lift the largest blocks up onto the truck. They must weight more than hundred kilos each, when they are freshly cut and full of water-based kinos and sap. The longest pieces will be used to fire the wood kiln, the shorter pieces will be used in the hose in the kitchen stove.
Over the hotter months, we collect all our garden prunings and pile them up, saving them up for a time like this that is cool, and damp after a good fall of rain. We had just over 25mm of rain the other day. The weather is just right for us to do a hazard reduction burn. We wait until the evening, for the temperature to fall and the humidity to rise. It only takes 20 mins for it all to reduce to ashes and a few embers. However the core of the ember pile keeps on glowing through the evening and into night. We make regular trip to the pile to check on it. Hosing water all around the site to make the ground very damp.
We have two piles to burn. One pile at each end of our 7 acre block of land. One each night, After the fire dies down and all the hard work is done we share a beer!
I get to drink my home-made, home-brew beer from a porcelain cup that was given to me by my Korean friend Hae Jin.
We are still able to pick ripe tomatoes now in June. Only just a bowl full each week now, but they are still lingering on. I’m so amazed. This is the latest that we have been able to continuously pick tomatoes. We haven’t had a frost yet. Such a strange time. We have lived here on this piece of land for over 40 years. In the 1970s we had severe frosts in May that burnt off every plant that was tender. Now we are now in June and it’s still warmish. 5 oC over-night at this time. No-where near a frost. Global warming. What global warming? Or as the Guardian Newspaper has started stating it. Climate crisis! What Climate Crisis?
Wake up everyone! Choose to only buy green power. Put solar panels on your roof if you can. Insulate your ceiling instead of turning on the air con. Wear a jumper in cooler weather. Choose energy efficient appliances when they need replacing. Many small things make a difference.
The lead article in today’s Guardian Newspaper; 12/6/19
“Australia is missing an opportunity to easily meet its emissions targets through energy efficiency measures, new research has found.Australia could cut greenhouse gas emissions halfway to its Paris agreement target, and save $7.7bna year in bills, by adopting existing global standards on household and business appliances such as hot-water heaters. The report, from the Energy Efficiency Council, found that adopting the measures used in Germany would save the average Australian household $790 a year on power bills and create 70,000 extra full-time equivalent jobs.”
One of the jobs on my very long list of jobs now that I’m back, is to make a batch of porcelain clay from my Australian materials. I have all the materials ready to go and I use the ancient one arm dough mixer that I bought 2nd hand 40 years ago. This dry-mix method is only appropriate if you have all the materials prepared in a pre-powdered state. I blend them all thoroughly for some time and then add in some suitable acidic water from the old galvanised water tank, that collects its water off the pottery roof. This water is enhanced by the addition of rotted gum tree leaves from the gutters. This composted, highly acidic material lowers the pH of the water quite a lot. This flora and fauna creates a thriving micro biome. It all helps the clay that I’m making become a little bit more plastic and slightly better to work with. And it’s free and totally natural.
When I use a blend of wet-mixed slip added to dry-mixed clay like this, I get the advantage of speed, without sacrificing too much in the way of plasticity. I am due to lay this ‘quick and dirty’ sericite blended porcelain body down to ‘age’ for a while, to get it to ‘sour’. All clays, no-matter how they are made and from what, will benefit from a relaxed period of ageing in a damp, dark, cool place for what ever time you can spare. I have a few packs of very old, hand made, single stone, porcelain that I have been mollycoddling for over a decade. What started out as wet sand, is now a quite plastic throwing body. If only you could buy time! Or make it.
I have built a new pug mill table out of my spare off-cuts of gal RHS and stainless steel sheeting from the kiln factory. I have designed it so that the pug can be extruded out over the end of the table onto the extended table, I can then fold it away again after the pugging. I set it up with a diagonal retractable brass brace that hooks into place to hold the extension horizontal when needed.
It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s hard working, reliable, rough, but acceptable. A bit like me!
Another thing that I have done since my return, is to take my crippled lap top to bits and install a new 1Tb solid state drive into the old hard drive space. It starts to work again like a new one. It’s 6 years old and by any ordinary reckoning should be pretty much dead by now. This new digital ‘heart transplant’ should give it new lease of life. It certainly seems to have.
It’s not too technically difficult, even I can manage it! But it does take me about 4 hours. Most of this time was spent in duplicating all the old hard drive data onto the new drive.
Everything that is worth doing takes time, or so it seems.
It’s not just ageing clay that takes time!
I started pickling olives before I went away. Soaking them in water, changing it every day, rinsing and changing once or twice a day for two weeks. I also cut a couple of slits into each olive, to speed up the de-bittering, by allowing the water to penetrate into the flesh easier.
Olives have a very bitter taste when harvested. This bitterness needs to be rinsed out over a couple of weeks. I taste them every few days to check how they are going. It reduces slowly, but they never seem to get past a certain level of bitterness. The next step is to start adding salt to the water to make a brine. I add 1 cup of salt to 10 cups of water. This is just enough to cover the olives, with a dinner plate on top to press them down. I change the brine everyday as well, just as with the first two weeks of water. They get salty now and still a bit bitter.
As I was going to be away for a month. I added a couple of cups of vinegar to the brine on the last change before leaving. I don’t want them to ‘go off’ while I’m away.
When I returned, one of the first things I did was to go back to rinsing the olives each night in plain water. This change of concentration draws out more of the remaining bitterness due to osmosis, from acidic/salty to clear water. It works nicely. I change the water each day for a few more days and when they taste about right, I pickle them in a brine of;
 1/2 cup salt
 1/2 cup sugar
 2 cups vinegar
 6 cups water
I heat the glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. I make up the brine and add slices of lemon, garlic, fresh herbs from the garden, bay leaves, chillies and pepper corns and let it cool down to just warm, then pack everything into the jars and pour over the warm spiced brine. They taste all right sweet, salty, bitter, spicy, and fresh and slightly lemony, with a chewy texture.
      
Best wishes
Steve

Sunshine Came Softly Through My Spy Hole Today

This is the research paper that I presented to the recent Ceramics Triennial Conference in Hobart, Tasmania.  On the ‘Sustainability’ Panel.

Steve Harrison – Sunshine Came Softly Through My Spy-hole Today.

I was raised in the 50’s in a home where the topic of ‘health foods’ and ‘natural living’ was at the forefront of conversation. I came from a loosely quaker/buddhist background with a grounding in ‘healthy’ living. As a child, I was brought up in this environment. Aristotle said “give me the child until he his 7 and I will give you the man”. I am that man. A ‘greenie’ before the greens were invented.

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Since I decided to be a potter, I have always been a wood firer using a small, single chambered, bourry-box kiln. I wanted to fire my pots as cleanly as possible, in an environmentally sensitive way. In 1976 I moved to the country and bought a very old derelict school building, built in 1893, with seven acres of land and started planting a forest. By growing my own trees, these trees took their carbon out of the air, when I eventually burnt this timber to fire my kilns, it didn’t introduce any new carbon into the atmosphere. This was the best approach that I could think of to minimise my carbon footprint at that time.  I’ve progressed!

We have also planted very large vegetable garden and 5 small themed orchards, with a dozen cherry trees, a dozen almonds, a dozen hazel nuts, a dozen citrus, a dozen stone fruits, a dozen apples, 5 avocados, 4 truffle oaks, 3 white figs, two berry vines and a bower bird in a pear tree!

My wood fired kiln has proven to be very fuel efficient, I have worked on the design for over 40 years and written the standard text on the subject. ‘Laid Back Wood Firing’ and it is as clean as a wood fired kiln can probably get, without using an after-burner. I tried adding afterburners to several kilns, but have since abandoned that idea as too wasteful and complex. There is no point in using a premium fuel like LP gas to burn the smoke from an inefficient wood fired kiln. I couldn’t justify it. So I stopped working on that project.

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I did a lot of work on ‘flame tubes’. Fibre lined stainless steel tubes on top of the chimney that allows warm air in at the base, so that it mixes with the unburnt smokey fuel during reduction and combusts with-in the tube. All that is seen is a pale red glow at the top and bottom. The beauty of it is that it has no moving parts, and needs no external fuel source.  The blue haze at the beginning of firings has always bothered me and flame tubes don’t fix that problem. That is a work in progress.

It is possible to fire in reduction at high temperature with very little smoke, but the cold blue haze at the beginning of the firing is a very difficult problem to overcome. It was only later that I came to realise that it isn’t just blue haze smoke at the beginning of the firing when we are releasing ultra-fine particles into the atmosphere from our wood kilns. Wood firing generates loads of fine particulate matter, all through the firing. Some of these are quite fine and are hazardous to inhale. They are known variously as PM 7’s to PM 2.5 particles, they are small enough to enter deep into our airways and lungs and can cause all sorts of unpleasant health effects, even cancer.

Clearly, one kiln, fired intermittently, isn’t the problem, but when it is added to the other emissions of diesel vehicles, wood heaters and industrial pollution from factories, cement works etc. It adds to and is part of the larger problem.

See the EPA web site.   https://www.epa.sa.gov.au/environmental_info/air_quality/assistance_and_

advice/smoke_from_domestic_heating.

Added to this less-than-up-lifting scenario, there is the growing problem of global warming. Contrary to the statements of conservative politicians and the hard right media shock-jocks, the science IS settled and has been for a long time. The man-made global-warming deniers are simply wrong! They are either being disingenuous or choosing to be ignorant. Perhaps I could be generous and say that they are choosing different truths.

We used to be able to fire for 8 or 9 months of the year at home, but over the past 42 years, living in the Southern Highlands, our window of opportunity for wood firing has been reduced now down to 5 to 6 months, May to August. September is now getting too unreliable to book wood firing workshops. We have had to cancel workshops in the past few years due to hot, dry, windy weather and therefore total fire bans, as early as September. Total fire bans in our area used to only occur in January and February.

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Some time ago, I decided to develop a series of small portable wood fired kilns that could be wheeled out, packed and fired in one day. Then wheeled back away again until the next firing. These portable little wood kilns are very fuel efficient and can reach stoneware temperatures in 3 to 4 hours using a wheel barrow of wood. If you are careful, they can be fired very cleanly. They are a fun solution to minimising carbon emissions and avoiding the use of gas and coal. By collecting fallen branches from around our block, we can fire with a zero carbon foot print. This is the ‘vegan’ equivalent of wood firing . No trees were hurt to fire the kiln. The trees drop the dead branches. We have to pick them up to mow the long grass. We have to mow to reduce the fire hazard in summer. So fallen branches do not introduce any new carbon and are tree friendly. That’s nice, and the kilns are quick and fun to fire. But particulates are still a problem.

So where is all this leading? I realised that I needed to find another way to fire my work cleanly and efficiently into this uncertain, carbon constrained, globally warmed, future. The climate is changing, so we must change with it. Janine and I have had solar hot water for over 30 years and Solar Photo Voltaic panels on our roof, for the past 12 years. We installed 3,000 watts of Australian made, BP Solar, Photo Voltaic panels as soon as we could afford to do so in 2006/7.

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Our first solar panels, with the netted vegetable garden with small vineyard and orchard.

We have been using our electric kiln for all our bisque, earthenware and oxidised stoneware firings ever since then and have always paid the little extra for sustainable green power since it became available. So that if we needed to draw power from the grid, it was sustainably generated power that we used. In the last couple of years we have been working towards firing our work in the summer months of fire bans, using a new low-thermal-mass electric kiln that I built from a pile of spare parts, left over from my kiln building factory, after I retired. I designed and built a kiln that is fired using our solar panels and backed up by our Tesla Powerwall II battery.

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To allow us to fire in reduction, I made allowance to install 2 small pilot burners in the bottom of the kiln and built a small flue hole in the top. These burners aren’t used to fire the kiln at all. They are too small. The kiln fires to stoneware on solar power, the burners are only used to create a very small amount of flame to generate the reduction atmosphere needed to change the glaze colours.   I attach the burners to the kiln and light them when the kiln reaches 1,000oC. They use about 200 to 330 grams of gas to reduce the kiln load of pots steadily over a couple of hours while the electrical elements heat the kiln load of pots. It’s the best solution that I can find at the moment to give us reliable, all year round access to reduction firings that are very, very, low carbon and as sustainable as I can make them.

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The firing can take as little as 4 to 5 hours in total and give perfectly adequate reduced results. Experience with this kiln has shown that we can achieve all the normal reduced colours with our standard local milled rock glazes. I fire the pilots on 5 kpa gas pressure, but have recently experimented with pressure so low that the regulator gauge can’t register the flow and the kiln still reduces. We usually wait to start the firing until around 9 or 10 am, as that is when the sun is up high enough to give us the energy that we need to get the kiln going. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to get to 1000oC, then I attach the pilot burners and start reduction, around noon to 1 o’clock. I reduce for about 2 to 4 hours depending on what I’m experimenting with and finish the firing between 2 and 4 pm. as the sun is going down. We fire directly off the PV panels until 1 or 2 pm, then as the sun passes its peak, and the kiln is drawing its maximum power. The Tesla battery cuts in automatically to make up the short fall to finish the firing. If the weather is cloudy we can also draw down on our credit with the power utility. As we are on a ‘net’ metering system, and are always in credit. We never actually ever pay for any power that we withdraw from the grid. However, it is important to note that we pay the extra to contract to only use green power from sustainable sources when we do with-draw.

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I don’t know if you have ever seen one of these graphs?   It is the screen from the Tesla mobile app that tells me how much solar power I’m producing and consuming and/or selling/buying from the grid.The yellow area indicates the solar power generated. As you can see the solar energy starts off low at 7 am, then from 10.00 am it quickly rises to a peak at noon, hovers for a while, then drops away until 6 pm. and sunset.The green area is the energy required to re-charge the battery from its use since yesterdays sunset and running the house over night. This re-charging is usually complete by 9.00 or 10 am.The blue areas of tiny upward spikes is the fridge turning on and off regularly over night and all through the day. The sharp blue spike is the electric jug and toaster being used at breakfast time. On this day it was at 7.00 am. The white area below the line is the energy that we sell to the grid every day when we are not firing the kiln or charging the car. This generates a credit that we can draw down on in cloudy weather and covers our daily charges. This report tells me that I generated 35 kW/hrs of solar and used just 1.4 kW/hrs to run our home and pottery on that day. We sold 32.8 kW/hrs to the grid. It was obviously a quiet day with nothing much going on. I wasn’t welding in the kiln factory or ball milling rocks and pugging clay in the pottery.

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This is what a firing looks like, We simply stop selling our excess to the grid and use it our selves. The blue block is the amount of energy used to fire the kiln. The taller blue spike on the left, is the car being charged at the same time. It is worth noting that we can do both at the same time and still recharge the battery after wards in the afternoon.

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Just as an aside, we also have a solar powered electric car. A Hyundai, Ioniq, ‘plug-in’ electric car. I have written about this on my blog on a few occasions with regular up-dates to let readers know how it’s going. v< https://tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com >

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This is what happens when we charge our car. We simply stop selling our excess to the grid for 2.5 hrs. There is enough power to do this, even on a cloudy day, as is the case in the chart above.

We put our pots out in the sun to dry. We call it the ‘solar drier’. The solar drier makes sure that the pots are totally dry before bisque firing. We can charge the car as well in the back ground, both using sunlight at the same time! It’s amazing that there is enough sunshine to go around! The vegetable garden keeps growing and the orchard thrives! We can also walk and chew gum at the same time.

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To help make this all happen, we recently bought into a community bulk purchase scheme and installed another 3,000 watts of Australian built solar PV from ‘Tindo’ in Adelaide. This allows us to run our house, fire our kiln and drive our car, all on our own sunshine. It’s a very nice feeling to be able to live, cook, work and drive, powered almost totally from our own solar power. We do all this and still have a little excess to sell to the grid. This covers our daily charges to be connected and even earns a little bit of extra cash. I haven’t paid an electricity bill for 12 years. You can see from our recent bill that we do all this and still use about half of what a single person household uses, and much less than half of what a two person household like ours uses.

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Now, I know that someone is going to ask me what is the cost benefit analysis? It’s the most common question that I get asked along with the statement, “I wouldn’t put solar power on yet. you can’t make any money out of it!”Well, my answer is, when you bought your new car. How did you make money out of that? Or, when you flew to Bali for a holiday, How did you make money out of that?

The point is that I did this because it pleased me. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I did it to extract myself as far as is possible out of the coal and oil economy. I didn’t do it for money. I do very few things in my life solely for the money. I’m not very interested in acquiring ‘things’. This is the equivalent of my holiday in Bali, or my ‘walking tour of the vineyards of Provence’. I’ve never been to Bali, or walked the vineyards of Provence. We each choose to spend our discretionary dollars in our own way. This is mine.

Now finally, I will add that I bought carbon credits to cover the carbon off-set of my flight here. Real off-sets in the form of planted trees. I buy a few hundred dollars worth of carbon credits each year to cover all the damaging things that I do to the environment in my life, like air travel. I think that it is worth it. I’m not proselytising for solar. You will have already made up your own mind about that. You’ve had a couple of decades to consider it. I’m just telling you what is possible, because you won’t have heard it from the the Federal Energy Minister or any one else in the government. This however, may be food for thought, if you haven’t already though about it. I will end by telling you that the future is here and this just might be what it could look like.

Autumn Draws to a Close and the Cooler Weather Arrives

As autumn draws to a close we have been in and out, travelling to the National Folk Festival, listening to some very good music. Then, recently I was speaking at the National Ceramics Triennial Conference, where I delivered a paper on sustainability. In between, as always, we were in the pottery making and firing our pots, both before, in between and after these events. Making pots and growing food are the two constants in our life.

 

We were also in the garden planting more veggies for the cool weather. The tomatoes are still hanging on with just a few tiny fruits ripening every few days, so that we can have salad sandwiches for lunch with our lettuce from the garden. The garlic that I planted in March is up and doing well. I planted 5 small beds of about 50 cloves each. A smaller crop this year. I was busy and didn’t find the time to get more in. I have planted another 100 cloves today. Maybe a bit too late to do well, but this is real life.

  

Tonight we will have baked vegetables, yesterday it was minestrone, with everything from the garden. Our gardening efforts feed us well.

I planted a couple of new avocados a few days ago. One more type A and another type B for our collection. We now have 6 different varieties. When these trees mature in a few years time, we will have a much longer cropping season and bigger harvests. The chickens love to get involved in any event that involves fresh dirt. They hop in and excavate the hole a little more, but then hop out and start to fill it in again. The don’t get it! but they have fun doing it and their eggs have super, deep, rich, yellow yokes.

 

The latest young avocado tree freshly planted with its with mesh guard to keep the kangaroos from eating the top out. As they most surely will, with any new tree that we plant in the orchard. They can’t resist having a taste of what ever is new. You can see the original 40 year old avocado tree behind the this new one. and the bare branches of the leafless cherry tree to the right.

The peaches are loosing their leaves, the cherries have finished and are barren, the apples and pears are turning yellow in preparation for the fall.

 

In the evenings it is cold enough now to start to light the fire every night. We sit by the fire and shell our dried beans. We shell them and then dry them out fully in the oven after we have finished cooking dinner. This extra heat ensures that they are fully dry and won’t go mouldy in the jars in the pantry. It also kills any little bugs and critters that may have bored their way in to the shells hoping to hatch out and consume the lot over winter. They are ideal for minestrone.  We will make many lovely wholesome meals out of them over the winter.

Two Flans and Marzipan, from Two Music Fans

Janine and I have just enjoyed our first house concert of the year.

We spent an afternoon with Lindsay Martin and Victoria Vigenser – again!
We had them here with us in our home last year and they were terrific, such beautiful music. Lindsay is an amazing fiddler.
They work together so well.
A wonderful afternoon well spent.
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We are starting to eat into our summer preserves. We have been enjoying sliced peaches, plums and pears recently.
We have just started to open our jars of preserved whole peaches. These were bottled in December and vacuum sealed into ‘Fowlers’ jars.
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Having been heated in a light syrup to seal the vacuum in the jars, then stored for 4 months in the pantry. These whole peaches are just starting to develop that wonderful marzipan flavour that they get from the stones.
We have also been cooking a few cakes to keep the colder weather at bay on dull days. Janine used our pears to make a flan.
She recalled reading the recipe in a book from many, many years ago. We had to go looking, but we found the book eventually, just where we though that it ought to be. I skimmed past it initially, as the cover wasn’t like I remembered it.
Larger-than-life home cook, turned TV presenter, Ian Parmenter used to present a 5 minute cooking program as a fill-in on the ABC TV, possibly in the 80’s or 90’s? Called Consuming Passions Consuming Passionsand he later wrote a book called ‘Sheer Bottled Bliss’.
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Janine remembered his recipe for pear and almond up-side-down tart. It was very nice as I remembered it and just as nice this time round. Page 143, if you are interested.
IMG_4772it’s quite rich!
I tried my hand at prune and almond flan that I saw Rick Stein make on the Idiot Box one evening when he was in the Dordogne region of France. It look easy and I thought that I’d have a go at it. What could go wrong? Ididn’t have all the ingredients, but what the hell, give it a go.
Soak a couple of cups of your prunes in brandy. I didn’t have enough brandy, so I used half Cointreau. I think that It might even be an improvement!
Mix one of your beaten free-range eggs with the drained brandy. Then add in a cup of almond meal and half a cup of sugar. More or less.
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Blind bake a short pastry base for 20 mins at 180 oC. then pour in the filling over the prunes and continue to bake for another 45 mins or more as required
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I liked it so much, I made another one.
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A Hand Made Efficient Home

As the days get shorter and the evenings cooler, we are lighting the wood fired kitchen stove most nights now. This old stove, that I have lovingly maintained and repaired for the past 40 or so years, cooks our food, heats our hot water, through its bronze firebox boiler, which is connected to our kitchen hot water system. It also heats the kitchen and us while we work, cook and eat.

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In the hottest couple of months of summer, we cook on the gas stove and rely on the solar hot water panels to heat the hot water. We have had to cover the solar panels with wire mesh, as we had a pine cone drop onto one of them shattering the tempered glass.

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It may seem strange that we have our solar panels on the ground. I have a good reason. We have a full copper hot water system, with a copper hotter tank, a bronze boiler in the stove and copper solar panels, all connected in series, so that either or both heat sources can heat the tank depending on the weather and time of year. I used all silver soldered copper piping to connect the system, so there isn’t a separate heat exchanger needed in the system to eliminate electrolysis. A full copper system has no electrolysis issues. Eliminating the heat exchanger makes the system much more efficient. I designed the system so that the solar panels are on the ground, so that the hot water will rise up into the tank by natural thermo-siphon. No pump is need in the system to circulate the hot water to the tank. (as is necessary when the panels are on the roof.) This is another added efficiency and saving on energy. By designing systems like this and others in our hand-made home, we have managed to reduce our energy usage in our home to 1.7 kW/hrs per day for the house alone. If we add in charging the electric car and firing the electric kiln from the solar system, then our total usage rises up to 5.7 kW/hrs per day.

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When we add in our kiln and car, Janine and I still use only half of what a ‘normal’ single occupant household uses. Or just one-third of a ‘normal’ 2 person household. We are quite pleased with this outcome.