It’s a few days since the fire died down, I’ve been out there in the paddock collecting the ash for use in glazes. If I try to get there and dig up the ash before it is mostly cooled. I can get burnt, so I must be careful. I wear my oldest thick soled boots, as the ash and charcoal from the burn pile holds its heat in the ground for ages. I have melted the soles of my boots in the past, going in too soon.
If I wait for too long for it to cool, then there may be a strong wind, and that will simply blow away the finest particles of ash, scattering them all around the grassed area. Worse still, is rain, as that will dissolve and rinse away the solubles in the ash. Its the solubles that are the fluxes, and these are so important in ash. They are what makes ash melt and be so useful in glazes. It’s also important to me to be as self-reliant as possible, so I don’t want to waste this important potential resource. Doubly so in this case, as there are no more pine trees left on our land. The bush fire here was so hot and intense, that it killed every single one of them, and I haven’t seen any seedlings germinating out of the ashes in any of the paddocks. It’s the end of an era here.
In fact we did have a little shower of rain on the 2nd night after the fire was finished, so some of the usefulness of the exercise will have been lost. I won’t know how much was lost, until I get it all sieved, processed and tested to find out. I suspect that it will be too far gone to be useful to me as a glaze ingredient, but that wont stop me processing it to find out. We only have a burn pile like this once in a decade where we burn off stumps and big logs. It was the big pine logs that made this burn pile ash so attractive, as pine ash is very different to the hard wood eucalypt ash that we collect from the slow combustion kitchen wood fired stove every week. The slow combustion stove works best on hard wood fuel, and that is what we have plenty of here. Now especially since the fire leaving so many dead gum trees to deal with.
The ash from our Caribbean pine trees here is clearer, paler and more fluid than the ash from our local stringyback and bloodwood eucalypts. Their ash melts to a matt yellow/mustard colour, and is rather more firm, being lower in the alkalis than the pine. They are both good, just different.
I set about digging into the pile of still warm ash and charcoal and found it littered with calcined lumps of subsoil from the tree roots and stumps. Not a good sign. I was hoping for a deeper cover of fine white ash before hitting the heavier stuff. Pity!
I started by sieving the ash through the first 6mm screen to get rid of the big chunks of soil and charcoal, then down through the next 2.5mm screen.
I filled a large metal garbage bin with this first pass. I use a very old and slightly ruined bin for this, as if the ash turns out to be still a bit too hot, it will melt a plastic bin, or burn the zinc off a good bin.
As the burnt pile of ash decreases, the pile of discarded sievings increases.
The second pass is through a finer sieve. It can’t be too fine at this stage as ash is very sticky, and will clog up a very fine sieve. I use a 40# lawn or about half a millimetre, as the ash will pass through this fairly easily. It’s a stainless steel sieve that went through the fire in one of the sheds that burnt down, but not too hot, as the fine mesh didn’t crumble. All my other sieves that were burnt, were completely ruined.
I shovel the coarse ash out of the first bin and back through the fine mesh into the second bin. 1 1/4 bins of coarse ash becomes 3/4 of a bin of fine ash. The discard pile grows as the fine detritus mounts up on top.
Mission accomplished for the time being. The next step is to wash the ash with water to get it to pass through a 100# sieve. But that is for another day. At least this garbage can full of dry ash will keep indefinitely in the storage room, safe from the vagaries of the weather.
All packed up and ready to go. This much ash will last a few years of glaze making.
Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts.
This week we have been hard at it everywhere, in the garden, in the pottery In the kitchen.
We thought that we had harvested the last couple of wheel barrows of tomatoes, but then we looked again and there were more.
Janine made two seperate 1 gallon boilers of passata, which I put through the mouli sieve and then reduced down to 1 gallon, or 4 1/2 litres of fine liquid, which Janine then reduced down further on the wood stove each night progressing a bit at a time until we had just 2.5 litres of dense concentrate, down from 11 litres of initial pulp. It takes a couple of nights to get through it all. It’s better than trying to find the non-existant intellectual shows on the idiot box.
While the wood stove is hot after dinner is cooked, it’s a shame not to use up all that potential heat embedded in the stove. It not just cooks the dinner, it warms the house and heats the hot water tank. So to get an extra bit of benefit from it is very frugal and efficient. F@#k the gas companies and energy retailers, gouging excess profits from the misery of war and bad forward planning. We are very lucky here to have been through a terrible fire that has left us with thousands of dead trees in our forest that I couldn’t have ever brought myself to cut down in their prime. But now that they are dead from the bush fire they need to be cleaned up to make the place safe again. Fuel for the rest of our lives. As I said, very lucky. You have to look on the bright side.
We were a bit shocked when Janine had to re-arrange the pantry cupboard to fit these recent jars in. We discovered that we now have 79 jars of passata. We could easily go into business selling this stuff. It’s not as if we are not eating our fare share of tomato and egg for breakfast, tomato salad for lunch, tomatoes in ratatouille for dinner, as well as giving away tomatoes to everyone who calls in and visits
But still they come ripening, even now in this cooler weather. However, they must come to an end soon, as the night time temperature is dropping rapidly down to 3oC this week. Soon there will be frosts again and that should put an end to it.
I was so looking forward to the start of tomato season back in November/December. I could just brush the young leaves and smell the tomato fragrance that promised so much. Now I don’t want to touch the leaves so much any more. I’ve had my fill. This is the reality of living with the seasons. The promise, then the first taste — so good, then the glut, and now enough.
I’m sure that we will appreciate the bottled tomatoes over winter in all manner of cooked dishes, to add and extend flavour to almost anything. Passata is a useful and flexible as chicken stock. We have some of that in the freezer too.
We have already picked another few baskets full of prime ripe red produce to make the next batch. Anyone want any tomatoes?
In the pottery, I cleaned out the small Venco pugmill that I use for porcelain. It was starting to allow a few small bits of dryish crumbs through the screens and into the extruded pugs. It has been a year since I last cleaned it out. Unless you use it every day or at least every week. Bits dry out inside the barrel and eventually cause trouble. I hadn’t pugged any porcelain since last year. So now is the time to deal with it. Starting out fresh for the coming work load through till Xmas.
I have found that it is easiest as a two day job. Strip it down last thing in the afternoon, Scrape off all the easily accessible plastic clay. Leave it over night to dry out, then scrape off all the dry clay, and finally sponge it until it is all clean, then reassemble, first thing in the new day.
I have been throwing some gritty clay, making some rough textured bowls for the wood firing.
I have also been making some porcelain dishes for the wood kiln as well.
Back in the vegetable garden we found a great surprise! Our first crocus flower. Janine picked out our first two saffron stamens. We ate one each, just to see if we could taste the fine flavour. We couldn’t. But we did get just a little hint of orange colour on our tongues. Hopefully there will be more to follow, as we have 20 crocus bulbs in the garden. We might double our harvest each year? We might eventually even get enough to be able to taste it.
I made a bush tucker pie for dinner from our massive crop of wild warrigal greens – native spinach. It turned out really well. Cooked with 3 cheeses and one egg to bind it. Not a tomato in sight!
This weekend we spent Saturday over at the Village Hall, helping out with the clean-up, maintenance and garden building.
Janine did a lot of pruning and mulching of the existing garden beds, while I helped with the wheel barrowing of several tonnes of road base , then gravel to create new paths, followed by filling the new garden beds with another few tones of topsoil and mulch. The final part , was to plant out all the donated plants to fill the new beds.
A terrific effort from a lot of the Village residents.
Janine shovelling mulch
Road base spread to level out under the gravel paths along the tennis court.
Next we filled the garden beds with top soil and then covered it with a thick layer of mulch before planting out the flowers and shrubs.
Janine watering in the new plantings. It’s a lovely feeling to be part of a communal group activity.
We finished up with a BBQ. A great day of work, that wasn’t too onerous, because everyone turned up and got stuck in.
Many hands = light work.
Today, Sunday morning, Janine and I spent time communing with nature.
Janine engaged deeply with nature by walking into the muddy dam fully clothed to hook some very heavy load chain around the dead tea trees bushes that were killed by the fire, and have been sitting in the water, standing dead and ugly for 3 years now.
We decided that today was the day to snig out as many of them as we could reach safely, and drag them out of the water and up onto dry land, then cut them up for fire wood for next winter.
It has been raining so much for the past few years since the big fire, that we couldn’t even get close to the dam bank without getting bogged. This has been our first opportunity to get this long-term job started.
We have cut about half of the wood that we will need for the next winter so far. Cutting and splitting fire wood is an on-going job all year.
We have achieved as much as we can at this stage. We will come back to it when and if the dry weather continues, so that we can walk further into the dam safely to get to more of the branches.
This small dam used to be our most reliable swimming dam in summer, because it was the deepest, and therefore held water the longest. The largest dam is beautiful to swim in, but only when it is full, as it is quite shallow and the water soon seeps and evaporates down to a waddling level.
Once the dam dries out once more, we will get all the dead tree branches out of the small dam, we will clean it out, so that we can swim in it safely on the hottest summer days once again.
Everything worth doing takes time. This is a long term plan.
Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 or 4 months to put a small amount of petrol in the plug-in electric hybrid car. I always forget where the switch is, to open the petrol cap cover.
In our old petrol powered car, I used to go the garage and get petrol almost every week, so I knew where the lever was. It was on the floor next to the drivers seat.
Now, because this car is so different — all electric everything. I have to remember to look for the special button to do the job.
Previously, I was only putting $20 in to last 3 months, but with the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, the petrol company has been forced into ‘Putin’ the price up.
I put $30 in this time. I’ll see how long it lasts. This is only the 3rd time I’ve been to the petrol station this year. It remains a quaint and unusual event for me.
This electric car is beautiful to drive. So silent, but with heaps of torque. All you hear is some faint tyre noise, depending on the road surface. On the newer, smooth road surfaces, it is silent.
I’m pleased to be able to drive home and plug it in to the solar panels for a re-charge. If the sun isn’t shining, we still plug it in, and charge it off our Tesla battery. In this way we can use yesterdays stored-up sunshine.
I’m very pleased to say that even during winter, with shorter days and a lot of rain so far this year, we are still over 95% self powered. We can run our house, charge our car, plus run the pottery and even fire the small electric kiln on our 6 kW of solar PV.
So far this year, we have paid just $75 for electricity from the grid, and this was our first power bill in 16 years since we installed the first 3 kW of PV panels. This bill was largely due to the fact that the feed-in tariff has been reduced to just 7 cents per kW/hr this year, while the cost of green electricity has increased. The feed-in tariff won’t be going up any time soon, if ever. So we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Up until recently, we were getting 20 cents per kW/hr for our electricity, and getting the best part of $1,000 per year in rebates.
However, because I have been doing a lot of regular firings in our electric kiln, we have therefore used a lot more electricity than we normally would. This is becauseI have been working on my Show at the Sturt Gallery. It has taken a lot of research and testing to get this new body of work completed. I haven’t made pots like this before. I haven’t decorated my work with brushwork like this before, I haven’t used most of these clay bodies before and I haven’t fired this wood kiln before. Almost everything is new and therefore un-tried. It was a lot of work to get it all together in time, involving a massive amount of glaze and body testing and test firings. Hence the large power bill. So this is why it is so rewarding to realise that we were able to cover over 95% of it with our own self-generated power.
All this testing also has another more important purpose. I need to make the specially commissioned work as my part of The Willoughby Bequest for The PowerHouse Museum. My original idea all went up in the flames, so I have had to find a new approach, and this new work is my way into that place.
The show at Sturt gallery has been well received. It’s been open for a week now and they have sold 17 out of the 23 pieces. So that is a very good result and I’m very happy with that. I’m very happy with the work and I think that it stands up well. It expresses both my angst and trauma, but also the terrible beauty and energy of intense fire.
We have passed the shortest day, but the weather is still getting colder, as it does. There always seems to be a bit of a lag from the shortest day to the depth of winter. The reverse is also true for the longest day and the hottest weather. So it is now time to do the winter pruning of all the grape vines and deciduous fruit trees.
This was always such a big job in the past with all our stone fruit trees being over 40 years old. They had grown quite massive. Now, post fire, and all new dwarf fruit trees planted in the new orchard, it will not be such a big job, as the trees are still quite small and should remain that way. No more ladder work for pruning.
The first, earliest, peach tree has suddenly broken into flower. This is a strong reminder that I need to get on with it, stop lazing around, and get all that pruning done.
All this cold weather, frosty nights and chilly mornings has inclined me to make a few curries. They are a good comfort food, warming and filling, without being too bad for you. Veggie curries are great, I have been trying to use mostly what we have growing in the garden, which at this time of year must include broccoli, cabbage and even a few Brussel sprouts. I even managed to used most of our own spices.
This Asian influenced meal had the last 9 small tomatoes from the garden, our garlic, chilli, lime leaves, curry leaves, coriander and the last two small capsicums. All from the garden. I had bought a few pieces of fresh ginger, galangal and turmeric from the green grocer because we cant grow these plants in our garden here, even in summer. We had 3 curries over the week. Each one was slightly different, from Thai to Indian. Curry seems to be more warming than other meals.
Maybe it’s all that chilli?
On Sunday I was up before dawn and drove up to the North side of Sydney, a few hours drive away. Up to Oxford Falls. A place where I used to live. I grew up and went to school there. I used to live at number 41 Oxford Falls Road. This time I went to the far opposite end of that long road to collect some old and rusted galvanised iron roofing so that I can rebuild my wood fired kiln’s wood shed and finally create a new and hopefully permanent home for the rebuilt big hydraulic wood splitter.
It was a really lovely sky at dawn with the horizon turning from grey to pink for those precious few minutes.
I had been given a tin roof off an old chicken farm shed. I was told about it a couple of years ago, when we were casting about looking for old re-cycled roofing iron to use as cladding on our new pottery shed. I wanted to use all old, grey, weathered and slightly rusty re-cycled gal sheeting on this new building to make it look more in keeping with all the other old buildings on our site. Our home is the Old School building from 1893 and we also have the old railway station built in 1881. I managed to save both of these buildings from the fire. We wanted to keep the heritage look and feel of the place and a brand new shiny corrugated iron pottery shed would stand out like dogs balls, I managed to find just enough old, weathered roofing to complete the job while I was still waiting for the roof to be taken off the Chicken shed in Oxford Falls.
That roof was finally replaced this year. Too late for me to use in the new pottery, but just in time for me to use to re-build the dedicated wood shed for all the large billets of timber that are required to be split, stacked and dried for use in the wood fired kiln. I’m quite fond of the old heritage buildings and their ‘settled-into-the-environment’ look, so it is appropriate for me to build the new wood shed out of old and slightly rusted stuff.
When I drove into Oxford Falls Road, the road I grew up on, but where I left to find my own way in life in 1972. I found some old memories flooding back. I remembered that we used to walk down the road a few miles to get to the creek at the bottom of the hill and go yabbying. A yabby is a fresh water crayfish. This time, instead of turning to go up the hill to where my parents old house was. I turned the opposite way and crossed over the ford just above the falls and went West.
I hadn’t been here since I was in my teens and used to drive the family truck down here with my grand father, to collect chicken manure from his friends egg farm. My Granddad was a very committed organic gardener, health food devotee, and a strict vegetarian. He brought my mother up that way, and she me. In fact, my grand parents lived behind our house. The two houses back to back, on different streets but with a common back yard joining them. This back yard was huge, as land sizes were very generous in those post (WW II), war days. That shared back yard was dedicated in the most part to a huge vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. And, of course two massive compost heaps.
It was a regular chore to go with granddad and shovel chicken manure from the deep litter floor of the chook sheds when there was a change over of birds and the various sheds were empty for a short while. We had to take it in turns either holding the bag open or digging the manure and wood shaving mixture into the hessian bags, then lugging them out and up onto the truck. I shared this job with my older brother for a few years until he eventually left home and I was old enough the get my drivers licence and took over the driving. Old man Rigby, who owned the farm and my granddad were great friends. They were about the same age and shared the same interest in ‘health foods’, as they were called back then. Old Mr Rigby baked his own bread. As did my grand mother and she taught my mum. She then taught me. I still make most of our bread, as well as grow my own organic vegetables. Family traditions are passed down in this way. Give me the boy till he is 7!
Well, you can image my surprise, when I turned into the driveway of the site to collect the old roofing iron to find that it all seemed strangely familiar. I recognised the old shed with the hand split stone walls. It all came flooding back. I’ve been here before. Almost everything is different now, but the old shed is the same, just more dilapidated, but I remember that Old Mr Rigby lived in there. The first room served as his kitchen and his office, it’s now the pottery studio. The remaining bigger part of the old shed was his machinery shed. It’s now got one of my wood fired kiln designs in there. Who could possibly imagine that !
I remember sitting in that room waiting while Mr Rigby and my Grand Father chatted on about compost and other organic gardening stuff. I was bored. I wanted to get going, so that I could go to the beach. I didn’t take sufficient interest in their healthy organic gardening and wholemeal bread baking chat. My Granddad was probably thinking…
Last weekend we fired the new wood kiln for the first time. Not the best firing that I have ever had, but OK for a first firing. There is always a bit of a learning curve getting to know how a new kiln works. Becoming familiar with its particular traits and ‘personality’. We are also using pre-burnt wood from the bush fire. Burning in the kiln, what was recovered from the trees in our front garden. It’s strange and burns quite differently from the trees that we are used to burning from our forest that were unburnt.
We fired for 14 hours through the day, and into the night. A very comfortable time frame and just about standard for the sort of firings that I have developed over the decades in this style of kiln.
There were a few losses. Two of my large 450mm dia. porcelian platters dunted on cooling. There is always a possibility of this with very large flat ware, and especially so with glassy, dense porcelain bodies.
Despite these couple of losses. I managed to get a few more nice pots out for the show at Sturt Gallery next weekend.
I used the iron rich soil from the side of the road off the top of Mt Gibralter near here in one mix. This moderates to inky blueness of the cobalt.
I also made another batch of smalt-like pigment with local iron rich ochre with metalic flakes of iron oxide that I scraped off some of my burnt machinery that I was recovering for re-use. The mild steel parts that got burnt in the fire and then left in the rain for a year before I could find the time to get back to them, had rusted badly.
I flaked off the worst of the rust and collected it in a container for use as pigment. It’s a nice idea to re-use some of my old ruined equipment and incorporate it into my new work creatively. I think that this flakey iron oxide is probably mostly FeO and some Fe3O4, with very little Fe2O3.
Since the firing, I have been out splitting more wood for the next wood firing, helped by the chickens of course. They even followed me into the workshop where I had 2 girls in a man shed!
We were busy last weekend with a bunch of friends paving the court yard area around the new, almost finished, wood fired kiln.
I still need to finish laying the last of the floor bricks in the chamber, I would have finished this small job a couple of weeks ago, but when the court yard flooded with 70mm of water sloshing around in there. It wasn’t very appealing to be kneeling done and doing the bricklaying. Then all that water was sucked up into the floor bricks like a wick and they became saturated so that any new mortar wouldn’t stick in place. Finally, they have now turned green with algae. I’m sure that they will dry out – eventually!
This severe weather event, although not life or property threatening for us, like it has been for our friends and relatives up on the North Coast. It has been a good warning and trial run for what we can expect in the future as Global Heating increases unchecked. No one in government seems to be taking this seriously, so what can we expect for the future? Well my guess is more of the same, only much worse. We’ve been warned.
So this extreme weather event has been a great warning to us as to what we can expect in the future. I have learned from it and and I’m taking actions now to limit the sort of damage that very heavy rain fall can cause. To start with we have paved the kiln area with a significant fall away from the kiln and out into the open. I have also ordered some more steel batons and some more poly carbonate roofing sheets to wall in half of the courtyard directly behind the kiln. With contour drainage to take the water to the edge of the retaining wall. Although the pottery didn’t flood, it has become obvious that we need to create a dish drain around the front of the building to carry all the excess ground water away from the front of the building, because another event will eventually be worse.
This is a start
Back at the kiln, I also need to fabricate a stainless steel firebox lid and a stainless steel chimney flame tube incorporating a spark arrester. I planned to have started this job already, and 3 weeks ago, I ordered the Stainless steel sheets and some Stainless steel wire mesh for the spark arrester. The sheeting is here, but the couriers have lost the SS mesh. The supplier won’t replace it until he knows what has happened to the first order. The courier company won’t pay out to replace it until they know what has happened to it. So I’m stuck in a catch 22 situation. I can choose to wait it out until the original order is found and delivered, or buy a second sheet of stainless steel mesh and get on with it, but it’s not cheap stuff, so I’m waiting and continuing to write emails of enquiry.
We had a great weekend with our friends laying the paving tiles. We also met two new people who volunteered and turned up all the way from Newcastle, who will surely become friends now. They were a great addition to the group. The stayed over night with us and we got to know each other over a home grown meal from the garden. I had previously made a big pot of tomato passata from the last of our tomatoes, so we had an easy meal of pasta. Dan and James are environmental campaigners and organisers, so we shared a lot in common. James took this image of Dan, Janine and me standing on the new paving.
This is all great progress and I’m really happy to see so much getting done.
Janine and I started the levelling and paving earlier in the week. As a trial run, to make sure that everything would work out the way that I planned. As we haven’t done any paving since we built the last pottery shed in 1983, I’d completely forgotten what to do and had to re-educate myself and get my skills back up to date. It’s not rocket science, but does need concentration and quite a bit of back bending work. I decided that at my delicate age, I should not do so much bending and instead get the knee pads on and work down on my knees to keep my back straighter. This worked out much better. But then getting up became a bit of an issue.
As we are in Autumn now and the weather is getting cooler and the days shorter, we have thought that we may need to light the fires in the kitchen and lounge room soon. The slow combustion heater in the lounge has started to wear through and rust out in the top fire box steel sheet. A crack started to appear at the end of last season, so I made a mental note to repair it once it cooled down, during the off-season, well that time is running out now, so it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I decided to attack the problem by fabricating and new roof for the firebox out of a scrap piece of 2mm thick stainless steel sheet.
Rather than try and weld it in place, which wouldn’t really work very well , as stainless and mild steel have different rates of expansion and contraction. I decided to bolt it in place with stainless steel bolts through over size holes and oversize washers. This should allow for the differences in expansion. The 2mm thick stainless roof should last as long as the 4 mm mild steel walls and whats left of the old top sheet. Time will tell. The stove is about 30 years old, so it has proved it’s worth. I’ll continue to work on it and preserve its life for as long as I can. We bought our slow combustion kitchen cooker over 40 years ago now and it was 2nd hand then. I’ve managed to keep it going all this time with home made adaptations and ingenious improvised repairs. I’m proud of that achievement and I’m hoping to extend it to 50 years if I can.
While I was at it, working on the lounge room heater. I also made a new front door frame seal. Afterwards, we went out into the paddock and spent an hour together with chainsaws cutting bushfire devastated and blackened logs. We cut them to stove lengths and stacked them in the wood shed ready for splitting. This will be about 1/4 to 1/3rd of the fire wood that we will get through the coming winter months.
This week I received a box in the mail from Korea. It contained copies of my latest book translated into Korean.
I was such a poor student of English at school. I’m somewhat surprised that I have become a published author of multiple books in 3 languages!
Even my English teacher from High School was surprised, to the extent that when I met him 10 years after leaving school, at a reunion, he didn’t believe me when I told him.
I don’t blame him.
My work building our wood fired kiln continues. This last week I have finished the chamber arches with Janine’s help.
Adding their second layer of insulation bricks and welding on the steel bracing.
I also started work on the chimney with the help of my good friend Warren on the weekend.
The chimney is almost at the height that I can’t build anymore courses until I cut a hole in the roof to allow it to go through.
This will involve fabricating some specialised pieces of galvanised sheet metal ‘flashing’, custom fitted to the brick courses just above the tin roof to keep the rain out.
I hope to complete the chimney this week. More ladder work!
I have declared myself an honorary 59 year old for the past week to allow me to keep climbing ladders 🙂
We have now picked nearly all the apples and I cooked another apple and almond flan tartin for our weekend guests.
I also made the first batch of baked quinces, as the birds had decided that it was time to start eating them, dropping a lot of them onto the ground with just a few holes pecked into them.
They need to be dealt with pronto, or the damage soon spreads and they go bad quickly. I wouldn’t mind so much if they ate the whole thing, but they just peck a hole into the fruit to get to the seeds inside. If the fruit drops, they just watch it fall and start on another. At least the rabbits eat some of the fallen fruit. Quince fed rabbit sounds pretty good!
I wash the fluff off the skin, then peel and core, chop into 4 pieces for small fruit, or 8 pieces for the larger ones. I simmer them for 20 mins in a sugar syrup of 120 grams of sugar per litre of water. This syrup is less than half strength of the recipe ! Use enough water to cover the volume of fruit. Add a few cloves, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and half a small bottle of maple syrup. Once softened a little, transfer to a large baking dish and bake for 2 hours in a low oven at 160oC until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the aromatics and bottle in sterile jars while hot from the oven. I think that they are ready when they start to catch just a little on the tips and have turned a beautiful reddy/orange colour.
The fragrance is spectacular and the taste is amazing. Can be eaten just like this, or can be enhanced a little with the addition of some pouring cream, plain yoghurt or ice cream.
I also managed to find just enough zucchini and squash flowers, both male and female to make up the numbers, so that I could make stuffed zucchini flowers for dinner. I wasn’t expecting to find so many suitable flowers this late in the season, so wasn’t prepared with suitable quantities of cottage or other suitable cheeses. Instead I used a tub of left over risotto from the fridge. extended with some boiled lentils and a few olives. It made up the distance.
This last week also brought a little bit of excitement into our dull, plodding, Post Modern Peasant lives. The State Government Funded green waste clean-up program commenced, for all the dead and damaged trees in people yards that were created by the 2019 Black Summer catastrophic bush fires here in the Southern Highlands.
We had a team of half a dozen blokes here for two days, lopping, topping and chopping dead trees. Some were completely removed and the stumps ground out, but most were pruned back to make safe habitat trees for wild life.
They shortened and made safe 15 trees and took down 3 or 4 smaller ones in the immediate vicinity of our back yard orchards, where we work and mow.
The purpose of the exercise is to get most of the smaller dead branches down out of the canopy so that it is safe to walk around underneath them in our garden. We had already dealt with the most pressing and difficult problem trees in our front garden 2 years ago at our own expense. I wasn’t prepared to survive the fire and then be killed by a falling branch.
It’s only taken 26 months for the State Government to implement this emergency safety solution into place. I wonder how long it takes them when they take their time 🙂
We still have 3 acres, or one and a bit hectares of dead forrest that is continually dropping dead branches. We just don’t go there, and if I have to, I wear a hard hat.
It’ll be unsafe for the next couple of decades as the dead branches slowly rot and fall. But what can you do? It’ll cost many thousands of dollars to get them all pruned safely.
Now that the pressure is off for taking part in the Open Studio events, we can relax a little. We were lucky. We managed to get sufficient glazed work finished to put on a reasonable show.The next big job is to re-build our wood fried kiln, so that I can make the work for the PowerHouse Willoughby Bequest commission. As we are in need a bit of a rest after two years of constant work and anxiety about finances, materials, parts, Local Council regs, electricians and final inspections. It’s good to have this time before Xmas to do a lot less.
Janine is spending a few hours each day back in our lovely new and very comfortable pottery studio, making a few orders from the Open Studio weekends, but principally because I have promised to make a bathroom vanity sink for our neighbours new house. As we were fully occupied recovering from our own bush fire ordeal, we couldn’t help them rebuild their house very much. So making them a bathroom basin is my best gesture towards recovery. The basin is too large for our tiny electric kiln, so will need to be bisque fired in the bigger gas kiln. We can’t afford to fire the kiln with just one pot in it, so Janine is making work to fill the kiln and make the firing more economical We are not pushing ourselves, just taking it slowly. A few hours a day is enough. There are so many other jobs that need our attention, just to keep the veggie garden and orchards in good nik and under control. Mowing is the main job these days, as it keeps on raining and getting warmer, so the grass grows quicker.
While Janine enjoys the luxury of the new pottery. I am out in the maintenance shed welding together a pile of pressed metal ‘C’ purlin off-cuts. joining them together to make useful longer lengths. I am joining up to 7 small bits into one 6 metre length that is more useful. I will bolt these ‘recovered’ lengths back to back with some new material to make a composite ‘H’ section. These will make very strong uprights and purlins for the new wood kiln roof.
I don’t particularly like working with steel. It’s heavy, sharp, noisy and dangerous stuff to move around, but it surely does a great job of being strong and resilient These thin beams will span great distances. The specific thing that I love about steel is its ability to be welded back together to make it larger and stronger. I’m told that a 25mm weld can hold over a tonne. That’s strong. And if I accidentally make a mistake and cut a piece of steel too short. Well, if it were a piece of wood, it would be wasted. I would have to use it up in another job where a shorter length was needed. You can’t join timber back together. However in the case of steel. It can be welded back together and the joined pieces can be stronger than the original – if its done properly!So I have saved all the off cuts from the pottery shed frame that the builders threw onto the rubbish pile. I put them aside and Janine later stacked them carefully so that now they can be put to good use making the kiln shed frame and roof. Reuse, recycle, up-cycle waste not want not. etc. I take a great deal of pleasure in being able to forestall waste in this way with this kind of ‘thrifty’ building work. It has been being self reliant like this that has got us to where we are now in life on our small income from our creative endeavours. In the mornings we work in the vegetable garden, clearing out swathes of overgrown weedy stuff that has more or less finished its productive life.
Then when the sun gets up higher, we have lunch and stay inside for the afternoon doing our ‘inside’ jobs until the heat of the day has subsided. Sometimes this heat culminates in a thunderstorm, two days ago we had hail with the thunder storm. This is something like the summer weather that we used to get decades ago. Possibly the last time that we had strong La Nina conditions? If I have to be stuck inside at these times, I spend time making something useful that will improve our lives. Today it was some garden bed edging that I cut and folded out of scrap galvanised sheet steel that had been laying about since the fire. We have decided to shrink the garden beds a little bit to make them narrower. This will result in making the garden paths wider. Once this is completed, we will be able to drive the ride-on mower through the veggie garden and save hours manhandling the whipper snipper around the current narrow paths which is becoming quite tiring work for me these days. Especially as it needs doing almost every week.
Everything that we have done since the fire has been oriented towards making our future life here easier. Building the new pottery on a cement slab floor for the first time, so everything can be on wheels – possibly including us in our dotage! We have chosen all dwarf root stock grafted fruit trees for the new orchard, so no more climbing up step ladders to prune and harvest fruit. We planted these dwarf grafted whip-sticks in August 2020. These trees are now 16 months old and in their second summer. Some of them are doing really well and have set plenty of fruit. So much so that I had to go around a month ago and pick off half of the crop and compost it before it drained the vitality from the young trees. I picked off over 100 small apples, peaches and necturines. I also did a summer pruning of some of the tallest leggy shoots to keep the trees in a sound open vase shape to promote good growth and development in the future.
Even though I thinned out the crop, we were still able to pick about 40 peaches and twenty necturines this last week.
We are also picking loads of blue berries at the moment. Half a kilo every second day. We have to find ways to use them up, as there are too many to eat as fruit salad in the mornings now. We preserve some and I have started to make blue berry tarts now, as the youngberry and logan berry crops are more or less finished. They never make it past Xmas. But this year in particular the constant rain and the hail really ruined the usual large harvest. Who’d be a farmer or an orchardist? Two years on we have worked ourselves into a really good place. It can only get better. The past is the past. We are not looking back. Everything is in place to create some beautiful and meaningful moments in our life.
Yesterday we had all three kilns firing at once. A bisque in the little electric kiln, a stoneware reduction glaze in the big gas kiln and another stoneware reduction firing going on in the old relocatable mini wood fired kiln. I recovered it from the ashes of the fire. As it was built from a stainless steel monocoque frame with insulation brick lining, it mostly survived the fire, because it was stored out on the verandah and didn’t get too badly burnt. It just needed some cosmetic TLC on the frame and a new set of castor wheels. Lucky!
It was designed and built as a possible dual fuel kiln to be fired with either wood or LP gas from BBQ bottles. However I had never fitted it with burners and only fired it with wood previously. Now is the time to finish fitting it out with burners. I spent a day making shiny new burners and gal steel mountings. I chose to only pack and fire the bottom half of the kiln , as it is designed to be in two sections. A bottom half with the fire box opening and burner holes – which ever is chosen to be used. Then a top half composed of a removable ceramic fibre ring and lid. The ring can be removed and the lid placed on the base section to make a smaller half sized kiln. Which is what I did yesterday. As it was the first test firing of the kiln, I thought it best to go small for a first firing.
After an initial tweaking and tuning, It worked perfectly and fired to stoneware in reduction easily in 2 1/2 hrs. using less than one 9kg bottle of BBQ gas. I had 2 set up ready with a change over switch just in case, but the 2nd bottle wasn’t needed. I also set them up in a tub of water that can be warmed. In this way I can fire them to dead empty without them freezing. But none of this was necessary yesterday.
I’m a bit more confident about our local rock glazes now after 3 rounds of test firings. The hares fur/teadust tenmoku is a little more stable.
Both Janine and I have been investigating the use of colours over tenmoku.
and I have managed to stabilise the local Balmoral dirty feldspathic stone and wood ash opalescent Jun glaze.
Janine has made some slip decorated lidded boxes.
The stone fruit orchard is looking great after a wet start to the spring season and everything is green and luscious.
The almond grove is also very lush and green. All these mature almond trees were burnt and transplanted into this area that was formally a native garden. We have decided to keep the more flammable native bush at a much safer distance from the house now.
The pottery will be open this coming weekend, the 13th and 14th of November as part of the Australian Ceramics Assn. Open Studios weekend that will operate nationally. We will be open in conjunction with Megan Patey in Colo Vale. Megan makes beautiful Majolica and Smoked Arab lustre.
click on the QR code to find your local potter.
Janine and I will be also open on the first two weekends in December and the Southern Highlands Artists Pop-Up Open Studios group.
We will be open on the 4th/5th and in conjunction with Sandy Lockwood, on the 11th/12th of December.
We look forward to being able to show you around the new pottery on one of these 6 days.
We will be following the government recommended COVID19 safety protocols. So please come if you are double vaccinated and have your vaccination certificate. There is our Service NSW, QR code poster on the door for login
We have a covid-safe plan that includes keeping the space very well ventilated and limiting numbers to 4 sq.m. per person.
Please don’t bring dogs, as we have recently had both wood ducks and brown ducks hatching clutches of little ducklings that waddle all around the property with their parents feeding on the lush grass. These are timid wild animals and we have no control over where they wander. So please keep a respectful distance if you are walking around the garden.
This last week, we have been working on getting the gallery room finished. This is the last big dirty job to get out of the way. Once this is done we can really start to clean the place up and get ready to make some pots. There is of course loads of other jobs to complete before we can fire anything, but they can wait. They will get done in good time while our first pots are drying.Some of these other jobs will include getting the kilns ready for firing. However, in the meantime we have cut the huge pine slabs that we milled 20 months ago. I have sawn them into rectangular planks 3 metres long and 750 mm wide and 80mm thick. Not too many people can afford to use timber like this in their gallery. We can’t! It would be completely out of our reach if we had to buy it.
We can only do this because we grew the trees our selves. We got the dead pine trees that were killed by the fire, felled professionally, as they were right up against the house. We then hired a portable saw mill to cut them up into big slabs for bench tops and planks for lining boards. They have been seasoning for the past 18 months. I had to build an extension bar for my small hand pumped hydraulic crane on the truck. An extension of 3 metres is a bit far, but it worked quite well. I took the first lift very slowly to test that it wouldn’t bend under the load. A few weeks ago, I had a friend come and help me lift and shift these massive slabs onto the ute. But we are now in total COVID 19 lock down statewide, so another solution had to be devised. This way, I can do it all myself.
The huge slabs needed to be cut to have parallel sides and squared off ends, then planed, and sanded a few times with ever decreasing grit sizes of 40#, 60#, 80# and 100#, finally washed to raise the grain. After drying, the rough raised grain texture was again sanded with 80# and then 100# to get a fine finish. There are so many hours of work in getting a massive surface like these slabs from a very rugged chain saw finish, to glassy smooth. I’m not a wood worker, so I don’t have access to any large wood working machinery. All this had to be done with hand held tools. I have to thank my very good friend Len Smith for giving me all his Makita power tools. I need 4 big slabs for the bench tops and 24 planks of 2.4 metres to be dressed like this to make the shelving. It’s taken me over a week. Once the slabs were finished, I needed to shorten the crane arm to lift them onto the truck to drive them up to the pottery.
I needed to weld up a suitable steel frame to support all this wood.
We’ve ended up with something that resembles a massive kitchen dresser. One on each side of the room, with another huge slab table in the centre. This gives us plenty of storage space in the cupboards and a lot of flat display space. We spent today sweeping, vacuuming and generally cleaning up all the saw dust that ended up coating everything in the place. That is all now done. This was the last really messy job. We can now relax a bit and look forward to making some creative work.
Tomorrow I will start by making some throwing and turning tools. My first job on the wheel will be to make some clay ‘chucks’ to get them stiffened up so that I can turn my pots once I start to make them.
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