Autumn in the garden

Janine and I have just had our first Covid jab and it has knocked us around a bit. Headache and achy bones, a few cramps, not sleeping well. I’m still working, but going slowly and had to have a rest after lunch.

Although we are working full time as builders, trying to rebuild our ceramic workshop after the catastrophic fires, we have still managed to keep a bit of spare time for the garden, as it is our chief source of food. It’s late autumn and the trees in the orchard are loosing their leaves. The cherries start first in early autumn, as they are the first to bud and sprout leaves in the spring, they are the first to go dormant.

In late march their leaves were starting to turn colour as the tree slowly withdrew its chlorophyll from the the leaves, this is converted to energy and stored in the sap to support the new growth in the next season. not much is wasted, just recycled and reused.

By April, most of the leaves are gone from the earliest varieties.

now, in May they are all bare.

The vegetables that we are using in our meals now are mostly all the brassicas.

The spinach is growing very well, so we are having a few spinach pies.

I like to mix in at least 2 different cheeses, one of which is a blue cheese to give the pie a little piquancy.

We have also been having a bit of our own home made junk food with a high GM like pizza and pasta as comfort food during this stressful busy time.

Janine has been making puddings for desert. Often a baked fruit sponge pudding using our own bottled fruit from our summer garden.

Sometimes served with Janine’s home made ice-cream. Yum!

Approaching my use by date

The outside of the shed is now finished. Although there will be a lot of cleaning up, organising drainage and landscaping to do, but that can wait.
All the inside was just silver paper and a bare steel frame. We are working on putting the insulation into the wall cavity and then lining the internal walls with more old rusty gal iron sheeting. Then we have to paint it out and finally build some benches before we can start to install any pottery equipment. I think that there is still at least 3 months work in all of that. I’d really like to be in before the end of the year.
Then we can relax a bit and enjoy the results of our hard work, by doing what we are trained to do and are good at.
We have already started on lining the walls with insulwool insulation. We have chosen a product made from recycled beer bottles. Keeping it close to home!

We haven’t even started any internal work on the pottery studio yet. That will be the last room to be lined.

But we have completed the lining of the gallery room.

This ‘Gallery’ room is now ready for painting. We had a few friends here to help us get the insulwool installed and some sheeting done last weekend, Andy, Cintia, Fi and Brian – thank you! We wouldn’t be so far advanced without the help of so many friends, and Janine, of course!

The gallery has so many different types, profiles and colours of old tin that paint is our only option. I might have preferred something else as a lining in there, but as I managed to scrounge enough old tin to do the job, and it’s free, then there was no issue, it had to be old tin to spare the budget. A lining of steel sheeting is also non-flammable.
The kiln room is still very much a work in progress, only partly lined, but we finished putting all the glass-wool batts in the wall cavity yesterday. A big job, but every job is a big job. It all takes its toll. We fall into bed straight after dinner.
Sometimes it all seems a bit too much. We just have to break every job down into manageable chunks and then bits of chunks, so that we can tackle one part of it each day. Just plodding along, bit by bit. It’s all a bit mind numbing in its endlessness. I just try not to think about it too much. Head down, butt up, gets it all done. There is an end in sight.

I got 3 long sheets of iron up before dark yesterday, but stretched, tore, pulled, or otherwise damaged a tendon in my left forearm trying to lift them up. They are 5.3 metres long and pretty heavy. So something had to give. I’m having a week off to let it rest a bit.


On the bright side, and there always is one. My damaged knee that I buggered up, 12 months ago next week, when I fell into the electrical trench, is getting a lot better. I can climb ladders again, but still have difficulty getting back up from being on my knees on that side without straining it.
As for ladders, I have re-written the rule that you shouldn’t climb ladders after you turn 60.  70 is now the new 60, as far as I’m concerned.

A 3 metre step ladder is only just high enough.
So, it seems that I’ve reached my limit. 
Pity, as there is still so much to do. Especially the ceilings, as they are quite high up and will involve a lot of lifting. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will have to pay someone to help me to get this finished. I’m past my use-by date for this much continual hard physical work. Once all this heavy work and ceilings are done. I can probably manage the painting and other lighter jobs myself.

Flasher

This last week I have been finishing off the roof flashing. I spent time cutting up gal steel off cuts left over from the construction phase of the project. I have pieces of corner section, ridge capping etc. I cut them into narrow strips and then folded them into the pieces that I needed for each specific place.After the brickies finished the walls, there was a gap between the steel shed and the new brick veneer wall that needed to be covered.


In one spot on the wall where the corner meets the verandah. I had to cut and fold a special section that is folded in 5 different directions.


That was a very satisfying little job. I’m pleased that it worked out well. I have no idea how much that would have cost me to get a plumber to do these jobs. But it wouldn’t be cheap.

I also needed to cover the electrical conduit brnging the power into the workshop.



This conduit needed to be protected from sunlight, but also mechanical damage.


I have finally finished the capping on the roof between the new brickwork and the steel shed.
All done, now back to the acid cleaning of the brickwork. I had to finish the steel capping before I could afford to pull down the scaffolding. Without the scaffolding, I wouldn’t be able to reach the central capping safely. Every job has to be done in its own specific sequence.

I’ll be pleased to remove the scaffold, so that I can finally see the arched wall and window in its complete form.

Easter is a Pagan Ritual of fertility

Given that this long weekend is the Northern Hemisphere’s Pagan ritual of fertility. We decided to have a few days off from the relentless building jobs and spend a bit of time in the garden to try and resurrect it from the dilapidated state that it has slowly fallen into, we need to restore some of its fertility. We have been so busy building every day that the garden has been a bit forgotten. Luckily Janine has been going in there every day to pick our dinner from the encroaching weeds, and doing a bit of maintenance at the same time. Otherwise it would all be so totally over grown that there would be little to eat. Thank you Janine!
I started by spending a couple of hours fossicking through the tomato patches, filtering out all those tiny little last ditch efforts of mini tomatoes. The effort paid off and I collected about 7 kilos of the little gems. They will keep us in salads for the next week or so. I made all the sub-prime ones into a tomato passata sauce.




There were just so many of the little buggers. I stated off with onion and garlic in good olive oil, boiled down to a pulp.

Ten added sweet basil and simmered again for a little while. Finally passing the whole lot through the moulii sieve, then reducing the liquid down to half its volume and bottling it.

Janine also made some lilly pilli jelly at the same time.

The lilly pilli tree is loaded again this year. The rain has done it good. We pick all the low hanging fruit and even the not so low hanging fruit. I use the 8 foot step ladder to collect what I can safely reach. a couple of baskets full.This will ad to our breakfast toast options for a few more months.
After I picked most of the last tomatoes off the early plantings. They have done well for the past 7 months. I then spend a bit of time pulling out all the old vines and then weeding the patch. 

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I also clean up the long row of garden that had all the summer veg. More tomatoes, Capsicum, egg plants, cucumber, chillies and pumpkins.Out they go and I dig over the bed ready for some winter veg.

In the new cleared beds I plant loads of garlic, about 400 cloves. I like to try and grow all of my garlic  for the year if I can. This is a good start. I should have got them in a month ago. But this will have to do. I can’t can’t do everything exactly as it should be. There just isn’t enough time. I may put in another 100 cloves later, if I can find the time. If half of them do well , we’ll be OK for garlic for another year.
While I was at it, I also planted out some lettuce seedlings and lettuce seeds as well as some radishes and rocket.

In the evenings I made bread, a flat focaccia loaf from rye flour and a few bread rolls for lunches.

They didn’t last long.While I was doing all of this Janine was harvesting out potato negra spuds.

She called out to me. She was cock sure that she had found something interesting, I pricked up my ears!

You can’t beat a good root crop!
This was our long weekend. All we have to do now is to think of some sort of pagan ritual involving a potato and a knob of butter.


A weekend off

We are having a weekend off from the brick wall. We need to get into the garden, as there are tomatoes and chillis that need to be picked and preserved.

There are also capsicums, cucumbers and the sweet basil is always wanting to go to seed at this time of year, so it needs a good trim, taking all the flowering tops off to encourage it to put on new leaves and shoots.

I picked a 3kg basin of small egg shaped tomatoes. I didn’t select these plants, they were given to me as an unknown variety. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Too much work for so small a return. But they will make good passata sauce.

8 litres of rough chopped tomatoes, in two boilers, gets reduced and concentrated down to just 3 litres of sauce. But its really nice and intensely flavourful sauce. You can’t buy concentrated, intense, organic home made , small batch passata like this. Or if you could. I couldn’t afford it!

The kitchen smells so good. Especially when I come back in from working outside in the fresh air. The intensity of the fragrance hits me. You don’t notice it as much when you are working in amongst it. It becomes common place. You need a break away from it to realise/recognise the true intensity. Just like so many other things in life. Home made passata is concentrated life in a jar.

We need the weekend break to catch up on other jobs too. We have been collecting timber planks to use a scaffolding. There isn’t a single stick of timber that survived the fire here. I used to have loads of stacks of re-cycled lumber, all stacked under cover, just waiting for a time when they would become useful for some job or other. They all burnt.

We have managed to scrounge enough – I think, to do the job, but it all needs to be de-nailed.

It’s all a bit tough on our wrists, elbows and lower back, so we spread our attack over the weekend, a bit each day. It’s all done by Sunday lunch time. We are taking part in the ‘Clean-up Australia’, so need to be all done before that.

I also picked a load of spinach from the garden, so Janine made a couple of spinach and 3 cheese pies for dinner. Ricotta, feta and gorgonzola, extra yummy.

While I finished the de-nailing, Janine was inside milling up the red and green chillis into chilli paste with a little salt and olive oil. This will keep us going for a another year.

Then finally she stews up some pears for breakfasts, later in the week. This is self-reliance.

The Old Feed Mill striped bare

I returned to the old feed mill today to finish stripping all of the old grey weathered galvanised iron sheeting off the sheds. I was joined by my son Geordie and we finished the job of taking the walls off in intermittent rain. I’m so glad that Andy and I took the roof off yesterday when it was mostly dry. I wouldn’t have gone up there today. Far too slippery in the wet.

We loaded the truck with another full load that flattened the springs. Another good tonne of steel. This load was mostly all the long 5.3 metre long sheets. Altogether we collected over 150 sheets of old corrugated iron, totalling over 530 linear metres of roofing.

Not too bad for 2 days work! I shudder to think what this would cost new. of course I couldn’t be buying any of it new! I’d find something different to scrounge and re-cycle, or up-cycle, as it’s so trendy to say these days.

I’m very lucky to find such lovely old weathered, matt grey and slightly rusty material. It’s just what I really like. Most of these sheets will line the walls of my metal working workshop, which is over 4 metres tall, just right. Some of the other rooms will benefit also with the kiln room and the gallery getting a wall or two also. I’ll have to wait and see how far it all goes, as there are always losses in cutting the sheets to fit the size of spaces required.

It’s important to me to use these old recycled materials in this new shed. It would look awful if it was all shiny and ‘off-the-shelf’ new. This shed needs the sabi wabi feeling that this weathered old iron will give it. It needs softening and ageing in this way to make it ‘fit’ in this creative and sustainable environment that we envisage for ourselves here in our new post-fire future.

In the evening Janine makes a fabulous dinner of garden veg with a little bit of feta. She was watching A TV show about cheese making and the presenter explained that this was a local recipe from Greece. She thought that it sounded interesting, so wrote down what she remembered after the show. So there is immediately a little bit of interpretation and creative adjustment going on. Whatever was originally intended doesn’t really matter, as this works aa treat.

Spinach, capsicum, zucchini, onion, garlic, and potato slices baked in the oven in a tomato passata sauce. We just happen to have all these ingredients in the garden and a bottle of home made passata in the fridge just now. The only thing that is purchased is the feta cheese.

It was totally yummy, and absolutely local with the exception of the feta cheese, mostly zero kilometres of carbon debt, just 30 metres of travel carbon debt, expended on foot.

Janine also made red grape jelly jam.

And we picked our first apple from the the new trees in the new orchard. It’s a beauty!

A busy day of getting on with all this self reliance stuff.

The Old Feed Mill Factory

Today I spent the day demolishing the old feed Mill factory sheds in Moss Vale. I had known about the sheds needing to be demolished to make way for a new steel fabrication factory. The owner had offered me all the roofing iron for free if I took it all apart. I looked at the site a month ago, but wasn’t ready for the iron until now. The Old Feed Mill has been on that site for a very long time. I was told by one person that their father went there as a kid with his father and his father is now over 80! The original feed mill was built and run by the Hirsh family. This shed appears to be a more modern building. It doesn’t look to be 80 years old, possibly dating back to the 50’s or 60’s. The current owners, who bought the company in 1992, finally closed up in 2017. I know this because the last message was still scrawled up on the black board at the entrance.


The pottery rebuild has got close to the stage of lining the sheds. The electricians have started wiring the building, but will still be another few weeks before they finish, as they are doing my job in their ‘spare’ time in between doing a huge factory installation in Mittagong. so I only get them when they have ‘spare’ days.Once the electricians have all the wiring installed in the walls, I can then start to put the insulation batts in the wall cavity and then line the buildings. The iron from the old feed mill will do nicely as a fire proof lining material. The shed will be steel framed, steel lined and steel clad, with fibreglass insulation. Not too much to burn there.I would have left it for another couple of weeks until the electrics were done, but I got a call asking me if I still wanted the metal, because if I didn’t, there are plenty of others who do. So I had to move now.


I asked my friend Andy to help me on this one, as I thought that it was just a bit too big for me alone. also, working on ladders at heights and on high roofs, it’s best to have a friend there just in case. I’m a decade past the age when I should have stopped doing this kind of work, but nobody told the bush fire that.


We started at 8.00am and hammered, ground, levered, screwed and bludgeoned our way across the two roofs prising off the old rusted nails and screws, then throwing down the liberated sheeting to the ground in a rather messy pile. It all went to plan – almost, except for the rather strong gusty winds that picked up, just after we started, we had to time the picking up and carry the loose sheets to the edge of the roof and throwing them off to coincide with lulls in the gusts. It could have ended badly if a severe gust of wind hit me with a full sheet in my hands at that height. Long sheets of iron act like a sail or even spinnaker.


We finished taking the roof off by 2.30 and then spent an hour cleaning up the mess on the ground and loading some of the iron onto the ute. We got about half of it on. 104 sheets on the ute, which was a really full load for the one tonne ute, but I made it home OK with out being booked. Andy had more sheets on his trailer. We stacked them all in a corner of the new workshop. They can wait there until the sparkies are finished.



We finished stacking the first load of 100 sheets in the shed around 5 pm. A big day for an old guy.
I’ll be going back tomorrow to take the walls off and bring the 2nd half of the load back home. That’ll keep me off the streets for a while. I’ll certainly sleep well tonight.
I know that I shouldn’t really be doing all this ladder work and roof work at my age, but I gave the Work Fairy a month to get it done for me, and she never showed up. Fictional and imaginary friends are just So unreliable! There is nothing much that a passionate and committed human can’t do – given time.

All this self reliance is hard work!

Like Father McKenzie

Finally, a post that isn’t about building!We have been working hard every day. We work outside until dusk, but that isn’t the end of the day. We have to deal with the days produce from the garden. 


Summer is always such a busy time, but this year it’s so much busier with all the building work taking up so much time. Janine has put in nearly all of the garden harvesting work this last few months, as I have been up the ladder, on the roof, or in the ground digging trenches.
The tomatoes keep on coming, so before we cook dinner, we slice and dice the red globes and simmer them down to pulp, while we prepare dinner. The following night I push the pulp through the moulii and then re-cook and simmer the passata down to half it’s volume, concentrating the flavour, before bottling it while it is still hot.


I start by browning onions in olive oil with pepper corns and chilli, then as the sauce pan fills, I add in the herbs and bay leaves.
When the pan can’t take any more it is left to simmer all the aromatic sauce down to pulp, so that it will pass through the moulii easier.


The grapes have started, so we are making regular batches of grape juice, grape jelly and red grape ice cream. As the citrus trees are still producing, Janine also made batches of juice from navels and sevilles, using some of that juice to make a seville orange ice cream.



Geordie called in, so he helped us roast and bottle peppers in oil, cucumbers in saline, while Janine made orange juice.Then stuffed capsicums for dinner, with marmalade for breakfast.


If there is nothing on the idiot box, which is most nights. I sit and do a few repairs to my worn out clothes. I added another patch to the arse of my old jeans, as they slowly fade away into a threadbare riot of tears and patches. Finally I sit quietly and darn the holes in my woollen socks. Janine made a lovely porcelain darning mushroom a few years ago. It works a treat. I do these repairs to save waste, prolong use and preserve the embedded energy in the items. I don’t like to throw anything out until it is really beyond repair, but like Paul McCartney’s Father McKenzie. Nobody cares!

But I do!

It’s all part of this busy self-reliant life.

Still on the tools

We have been working on the tools, brick cleaning for the past 3 weeks now. Last week, my wrists began to ache, so I stopped and had a 3 day break to let them rest. Our friends Rei and Fran called in on Monday to give us a hand and I did my share, but that night my wrists swelled up and ached, so I realise that I have reached my limit on brick cleaning. I’ll need to have a few weeks off now to let them recover. We got 2,200 bricks cleaned, so we are about 2/3 of the way through the job, an average of around 100 bricks a day. Not too bad, but obviously too much for my ageing body – at this time of great anxiety and stress.

Instead of brick cleaning, I finished off the claywater/greywater drainage system, digging the trench from the pottery studio to the seepage trench by hand using a crow bar and shovel. Interestingly, this didn’t hurt my wrists the way that chipping away at lime mortar does?


Once the sewerage line was completed, I turned my attention to the LP Gas line. We hadn’t fired our LP gas kiln for the past decade, as we were trying to minimise our use of fossil fuels. But the gas bottles still have gas in them and I’m planning to build another solar electric kiln using gas reduction at stone ware temps.
There are so many services that need to be buried all around the building, I’m trying to get these done, I’ve finished the storm water and guttering, so all that remains to be dug in and buried is the fresh tank water supply to the sink. This has to come all the way around the building from the 2 big rain water tanks next to the barn. I want to get all this done so that I can finish the ground works around the building and start to clean up the site. 
The LP Gas line comes from the 2 big gas bottles past the studio and around into the court yard then up and over the verandah and into the kiln room. I’m really proud that I have been able to achieve this complex installation using only two tools, a coil bender and an expander.

With this minimal tool set, I have been able to make all the elbows and joiner parts necessary for the job from simple copper pipe. I’m using thick class B pipe and 5% silver solder for all the welds, as required by the Australian Standards. The only parts that I will need to buy are the 2 end threads to screw on the LP Gas connection fittings. 
Miraculously, my ancient 1950’s oxy set and the 2 gas bottles survived the fire because I wheeled them out side into the paddock and wrapped them in a piece of 1/2” ceramic fibre blanket. The fire raged past and over them and didn’t even melt the plastic hoses, such is the insulating value of ceramic fibre in the short term. It saved me too!


I’m not real fast, It has taken me 2 days for this job, but I don’t charge myself anything for my time. One of our past pottery students is a plumber and he has agreed to come and test my line and certify it if it passes, then connect the kiln for us. I saved myself a lot of digging by using the existing stormwater trenching for nearly all of the underground work.
Another of our past students, Tony, a retired builder came and installed the glass french doors. These were donated to us by another ex-student Geoffrey and his wife Sue. They bought the doors 2nd hand and Geoffrey cleaned them back, reglazed and puttied them, then undercoated them. Only to realise that they didn’t really suit what they had in mind and found them to be excess to their requirements, so donated them to us. Tony did a wonderful job of installing them, which required moving one of the studs and me making a new steel header beam and then some new steel door jambs out of 3mm thick gal steel plate, so as to save using a wooden door jamb to save the extra space. This was the only way we could fit them in. They look great and let lots of light into the building. We are really pleased!


I also finished the back verandah with the help of my friend Warren last Sunday. I had made up all the parts to make a new ‘portal frame’ to finish the job that the builders said couldn’t be done. I used the off cuts from the 3mm thick gal steel plate that bought for the french door jambs, and cut out and folded the parts for the frame myself, using the guillotine and pan break, watched over by the always attentive chickens, Gladys and Edna. 


The back verandah is now complete and weather proof.
The brickie that we originally had come out ond look at the job, has now said that he can’t do it. A shame, but I have been in touch with a couple of younger guys who are interested. One says that he can start in 4 weeks, so the pressure is on to get the last 1200 bricks cleaned in 4 weeks! We’ll see what we can do. That’s 50 a day, 25 bricks each. It may be possible? 10 before breakfast, 10 before lunch, and 5 before dinner. We have a few weekend working bee’s organised, so that will take some of the load off our wrists.

On The Tools – brick cleaning, day 6

The weather has turned cooler now with a southerly change coming through yesterday. We were out there cleaning bricks again today and we managed to put in 3 hours from 6.30 to 9.30 simply because it is not too hot. We got over 150 bricks done, plus a number of broken bricks, shorter ones, skinny ones, plus the usual halves and quarters.

We have now cleaned up to around 1,000 bricks in all categories. I have separate piles for 1/4’s, 1/2’s, 3/4’s. Then other piles for bricks that were cut to special tapered shape for use over the window arches. There is a whole category of smaller bricks that we excavated from the footings of the old Mittagong Railway Station. These make up about 10% of the total. I stack them separately, because 33 years ago when we were building our extensions onto the Old School building here in Balmoral, The brick layers would often call out for me to find a taper brick, or a small brick, to fit a particular spot in the bond.

The long original pile of bricks that used to continue all along our drive way, is now significantly shorter. We keep moving the bench up to the pile and then, the next day, the pile has receded back further again, as we clean the bricks and stack them at the other end of the driveway. This stack advances, as the old stack recedes.

You can see where we started on the brick pile on the far right of this picture after the red wheel barrow, there is a patch of green grass surrounded by a ring of white lime mortar. This was where the bench was when we started. When I start again, later today, we will move the bench again up closer to the brick pile.

The cleaned brick pile is looking very healthy.

We are so far ahead of my hoped for estimate of 100 bricks a day for 33 days. Getting close to 1000 bricks in 6 days. We are wearing our way through the stock of Scutch combs.

It’s a small but significant measure of our progress.

The other big achievement of yesterday, was the completion of the big arched window. I had the glass delivered just before Xmas, when the glass shop closed for Xmas break. Unfortunately, I had miss-measures one sheet, very slightly over size. It was one of the triangular sheets at the very top. I thought about trying to cut the curved arch end back by 10mm., but decided against it. The glass shop didn’t open again till yesterday, having had 6 weeks off. So I rushed down to Mittagong and got them to cut 1cm. off the curve for me and then brought it home and fitted it.

The window is now complete. An intermittent job that has taken me 11 weeks, but 6 of them waiting for the glass. I’m quite pleased with it, and in particular the fact that I could do it all myself for about $1,000. A massive saving on the cost of having one made. I’m lucky that I have all the skills necessary to be able to do this detailed work for myself. There is a local factory that makes custom made steel framed windows for architects. I was told that the window would be in the region of $20 to 25,000 to have specially commissioned.

I can finally take the scaffolding down now.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this wall bricked up!