Autumn Activities

Here we are in the first few weeks of Autumn and all the usual jobs raise their heads for attention.

First, we spent a couple of weeks in Adelaide for the Writers Week where we finally managed to make good our promise to our selves to buy less than one book per day. A difficult ask when you consider that there are 2 tents to choose from with a new set of authors each hour all day and this goes on for 6 days, that’s 72 sessions and at least half of them are very interesting to me.

We sit under the shade sales and let the ideas and philosophies drift over us and through us.

In the evenings we frequent the Fringe festival, for a meal and a small show. We don’t often buy tickets to the main Festival events, as they are very expensive, but this year we went to see Tim Minchin and the was very good.

WOMAD follows right on from Writers Week and we have been doing here for this combination of events for the past 15 years. It’s alway good. We never know what is going to happen or who we are going to see. Whatever turns up is always good, and with 7 stages, 12 hours day over 4 days, there are over 300 combinations of performances to catch our attention.

I will mention just a few.

5 Angry men, The manic bell ringers, they put on a high energy, entertaining show. Fatoumata Daiwara was excellent, as was Mambali, an aboriginal band from the gulf of Carpentaria. They were really good. Each evening there was a troupe from India throwing coloured dust around. I kept well out-of-the-way of that one, well up wind. I’m sure that breathing in that coloured dust can’t be good for your lungs.

As soon as we are home, it’s time to get stuck into the ‘Clean-up Australia’ Weekend. This  has been organised for the past few years by our neighbour Elizabeth. We get stuck in and drag a couple of ruined tyres from the road side gutters, along with a mass of fast food wrappers and cartons, mostly from MacDonalds. We end up filling a few sacks with rubbish, and that is just from one small section of one road.

Welcome home.

Just Another Day

We share our last meal of stuffed Zucchini flowers. This time with a somewhat asian flavour profile, less cheese and more tofu. Ms. Kang feeds the chickens, we say our goodbyes and deliver her to the train station. There is a train service, more or less direct to the airport. We come home and start to shell todays harvest of hazelnuts. Just another day with so many jobs to do.

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I spend a bit of time weeding and watering in the garden, then harvesting the endless procession of ripening tomatoes. Another batch of passata is on the way. I take the time to grab a handful of bouquet-garni from the garden along the way.

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I finally get some free time to sort out my glaze tests from our recent glaze firing in the solar-fired, electric reduction kiln. They are all quite good, actually very good. These are all glazes made from my local stones, collected around the shire where I live. I’m very pleased with the latest version of my Kangaroo Blue glaze (see earlier post, Kangaroo Blue. 12/12/18) and the Bindook Porphyry pale limpid celadon. Not too bad for a 5 hour solar-powered firing.

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Ms Kang has left the building. We’ll miss her.

From Garden to Glass jars, Preserving our Excess

Our international guest and pottery/environmental living intern, Ms Kang from Korea, is about to leave us. We spend our time in the pottery, garden and kitchen. We put in a big day from early morning through till late night, a 14 hour day. There is a lot to get done at this time of year.

We have glazed our pots and packed the kiln previously, so while we wait for the sun to get up in the sky so that we can start the firing. I get up on the roof and wash the solar panels. We live on a dirt road which is quite dusty in dry weather. We recently had a good rain storm and collected 75mm. (3″) of rain, but then we had 150mm. (6″) of wind and dust, This means that I need to wash the PV panels so that we achieve maximum efficiency. At this time of year, the shadow from the trees doesn’t pass off the last of the panels until 10.00am.

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By 10.00am the sun is up in the sky and we are generating good energy, it’s a good time to switch on the electric kiln. I wait until the PV panels are generating enough power before I start the firing. I like to start about 10-ish and finish by 5-ish, thus making the most of the sun. The kiln is very powerful and can easily fire straight through to Stoneware 1300oC in 5 hours if needed. Once the kiln gets to 1000oC, I start reduction with 2 small pilot burners running at 5 kpa. I can’t set the pressure any lower than this and expect it to be reliable. This takes the kiln through to 1300 in reduction using just 300 grams of gas. I’m still experimenting with this kiln.

If we want to fire longer, or on cloudy days when there isn’t enough direct sunlight, we have the Tesla battery to fill the gap. We can, if needed, fire the kiln and charge the car as well on the same day. On a good sunny day, we can charge both car and Kiln, fill the battery and still sell a little to the grid. On the off days when we don’t fire or drive the car, we sell everything to the grid. We sell our excess at 20 cents per kW/hr. occasionally when it is cloudy for a few days we buy back power from the grid. We chose a 100% green power contract and pay the premium price of 35 cents per kW/hr for the privilege. However, we are connected to the grid by a net meter, so we only have to pay for power if our imports exceeds our exports in any given month. It never does.

Once the kiln is on, It fires itself in semi-automatic mode. I only need to check it occasionally. Then its back into the garden to continue the harvest of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums and aubergines. We are at peak tomatoes now, as we dealt with the last of the late-season plums last week. They are all safely vacuumed sealed in their jars, in the pantry, waiting for later in the year.

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While I harvest the tomatoes et al, in the vegetable garden, the ladies, Ms’s King & Kang collect hazel nuts and quinces from the orchard. We are all soon very busy in the kitchen, by the time the heat of the day sets in. All the tomatoes need to be washed and sorted. Even though we have set fruit fly traps all around our garden and orchards, we still get some fruit fly stings in the very ripe tomatoes in this late summer season of hot and damp weather. All the tomatoes are cut open, checked for fly strike and then sorted into two separate pans. A big boiler for the good fruit and a small sauce pan for the fly struck fruit. The spoilt tomatoes are all boiled to kill the grubs and then fed to the chickens, with the remaining skins and detritus composted or fed to the worms.

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While I’m cooking, Ms Kang is shelling the days pick of hazelnuts. This batch of tomato passata will be cooked with pepper corns, bay leaves and a bottle of good red wine. It looks great and tastes delightfully sweet and sharp, sort of tangy, with just a little bite and lingering heat from a few chilli peppers in the mix.

The quinces are washed, peeled sliced and then boiled with a little sugar, 300g in the big boiler + a couple of litres of water to cover them. I add a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves and two star anise. After they have softened. I transfer them to baking trays, pouring the sweet boiling liqueur over them and add a little bit of Canadian maple syrup into the mix I give them 45 mins at 180 and this reduces the liquer to a sticky gel and turns the fruit to a lovely red colour. I choose to cook them with a minimum of sugar. If I added more sugar, they would turn a deeper/richer shade of claret red. I love that colour, but don’t like the saturated sweetness.

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We preserve everything in our antique ‘Fowlers’ Preserving jars. We bought this old boiler and a few boxes of glass jars, 2nd hand at a garage sale over 40 years ago and they are still giving good service. We have only had to replace the rubber rings.

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It still surprises me that a basket full of quince fruit can fill the sink when being washed, then fill 2 baking dishes in the cooking and finally be reduced to just 3 jars of concentrated sunlight, colour and flavour after a days work. Two baskets of tomatoes fills two boilers, then makes only 4 jars of passata once it has been reduced on the stove for an few hour.

Such is the business of summer.

The Simple Pleasures of Our Mundane Life

As we approach the end of the summer season, we are busy both in the pottery making, but also in the garden and orchards harvesting and preserving. The late summer season brings loads of fruit and vegetables to deal with.

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Ms King and Ms Kang in the garden considering the sunflowers. We grow sunflowers in a series of staggered plantings all through the summer to feed to the chickens. They get one sunflower head each day to supplement their-free range foraging.

We have made several batches of tomato passatta this summer. This equates to about 2 to 3 jars per week added to the pantry. A basket full of tomatoes, with a few added capsicums and chillies, fills a medium-sized boiler. I add a big handful of sweet basil, few couple of sage leaves and a sprig of lemon thyme. Whatever is on hand, sometimes I add a couple of bay leaves instead, but not this time. Sometimes a dash of red wine.

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This concentrated tomato concoction is boiled and reduced until it is all softened and a bit mushy. After cooling, I pass it all through the kitchen moulii to remove the skins and seeds, and then bring the resulting liquid to a soft simmer for another hour to reduce the volume and concentrate the flavour.

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I start the day with a full boiler of tomatoes fresh from the garden and end the night with just 2 half-litre jars of concentrated sauce. By filling the glass jars straight from the oven where they have been pre-heated and capping with their lids that have been simmered for a few minutes, the hot sauce is vacuum sealed as it cools. This will keep all year if needed. Precious little for a days part-time work. Very precious!

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While I’m finishing this latest batch of passatta, Janine has been preserving plums. We are at peak late-seasons plums. She makes a leek pie for dinner. She makes her special easy pastry recipe that she learnt from a visiting Spanish artist-in-residence here, using wine and olive oil with the flour. She improvises with the wine cold bottle straight from the fridge as a roller and pours us both a glass while she is at it.

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We have a lot of leeks coming on just now. We have learnt to eat what we grow and eat it as it matures. Our life here is not so much what do you fancy tonight, but more a case of this is what we will have tonight because its ripe.

These are the simple pleasures of our mundane life.

 

Our New Intern from Korea

We have a new intern working with us this January. Our visitor is Ms. Kang from Korea. She has come here to experience our sustainable approach to life and our ceramic work.

We have been working together crushing and grinding porcelain clay body and glazes from local rocks, throwing pots, working in the vegetable garden growing our food, cooking the food that we harvest and doing a little bit of sightseeing as well. The three of us have been doing some tourist activities together, like a trip to Sydney with a ferry ride on the harbour, and a trip to the local National Park and the south coast beaches.

Ms. Kang has been learning to use our foot-powered ‘Leach-style’ kick wheels.  We have just finished making sufficient clay work today to fill the solar powered electric kiln for a bisque firing. Last week we calcined some local white granite rocks, to make our local blue celadon/guan glaze.

Pretty-much life as usual, but with a hard-working and dedicated student-guest.

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Update on our solar powered car – driving on sunshine.

We have had our new PHEV electric car for three weeks now and have just passed the 1000 km mark. I have chosen to drive it in hybrid mode to get the petrol engine run in a bit before the first service.

The first 1000 kms in a new petrol engine tend to involve a bit of wearing in of some metal parts that rub together. So it is good practice to change the oil and flush out all the iron filings that would cause some unnecessary wear  if left in the oil for a longer period.

Consequently, I have been testing the car out in ‘hybrid’ mode as well as in ‘sports’ mode, which involves running the petrol engine at higher revs for short periods of time. This is thought to get a better result during the ‘running-in period, than just driving the car gently for the whole time.

So we have reached the first 1050 kms and we haven’t used half the fuel tank yet!

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This engine is very efficient and the makers claim it can achieve just over 1000 kms on a tank of fuel.

The cars computer is telling me that we still have 524 kms of fuel left in the tank and we have already done 1050. At this rate we will be getting over 2,000 kms to a tank full of petrol.  I can see us only buying petrol once ever 6 weeks at this rate. It’s quite an eye opener to experience this level of fuel economy.

Not the elephant in the room, but the EV panel on the roof in this case, is the sunshine that has powered about half of our driving. After the car has been serviced for the first time, I will be choosing to drive more in fully electric mode and less in hybrid, and definitely a lot less, if ever in ‘sports’ mode. I can see us getting 2500 kms occasionally to a full tank of fuel at some stage in the future. If we log up 10,000 kms in a year, that will mean going to the petrol station just once every 3 months.

I have worked hard to get us into this position. I’m really enjoying being here now!

 

Solar fired electric kiln, reduction glaze firing

We have fired the solar-powered electric kiln to stoneware in reduction for the first time.

This all happened a few weeks ago, but I got distracted by the arrival of the new electric car, so I’m a bit behind in writing all this up.

The kiln worked perfectly, just as I had hoped. No problems at all. I had it packed with domestic sized items, cups and bowls, plus a few clay and glaze tests to see how things worked. Plus a spread of cones to see the temperature variations throughout the setting. This is only the first attempt at a reduced stoneware firing in this kiln, so it is new territory for me. I will need to test out the many options available to me to get the most efficient firing time with the best results, using the least amount of gas for the reduction, while achieving the best reduced colour.

I decided to try a fast firing, just to check out how fast the kiln can fire. It took 3 1/2 hours to get the 1,000oC and then I set up the pilot burners to start the reduction atmosphere. The burners clipped into their mountings easily. I was careful because the kiln was quite hot already at this stage in the firing. I made the mounting so that  one simple bolt can be slid into a hole like a pin, and the mounting is secure.

The burners lit easily off the kilns heat, I didn’t have time to click on the lighter to get them started. I had built a few different sized flue holes in 3 separate damper tiles. I had made a few tests at room temperature with the different sized flue holes.

A 12mm hole with a 5 kpa pressure. A 25mm hole with a 10 to 20 kpa gas pressure and a 32mm hole with a 20 to 35  kpa gas pressure. These settings were made at room temperature in a cold kiln, so I expected to have to make a decision based on the new volume of expanded gasses at the higher temperatures.

I chose the damper tile with the flue hole outlet in the top of the kiln of 25mm sq , as a starting point. Then adjusted the gas pressure to 10 kpa. This established a slight back pressure at the burner hole and a small flame at the flue exit. I also tried 12 and 15 kpa. This achieved what seemed to be a good back pressure and reduction atmosphere with a small flame at the spy hole as well, but the temperature was still climbing slowly. I decided after an hour of this to increase the gas flow and use the larger flue hole of 32mm Sq. This kept the same reduction atmosphere and back pressure, but increased the rate of temperature rise.

The kiln reached temperature in just over 2 hours and consumed 700 grams of gas at a cost of about $2.00. The electricity cost was nil, as we are totally solar here and I fired in the middle of the day, at the greatest solar productivity. But the cost foregone of lost sales of kilowatts to the grid was about $4.75, so a total theoretical firing cost of $6.75

Total firing time of 5.25 hours. A very fast firing. Not the best for good quality glaze quality, but I proved to my self that it could be done. I can now choose to fire any length of time slower than this.

The glaze result was OK. The reduced glaze colour of the rock glaze celadon could be richer and deeper, but it is excellent for 2 hours of reduction. The translucency of the porcelain was very good – considering the very short maturation time at high temperature of approximately just one hour. It was a very light pack, just to try out the kiln and all three sets of cones went over evenly at the top, middle and bottom shelves. Cone 10 right over = more or less 1300oC

The next firing will be a slower one.

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