TMI WARNING; In this post I will be talking about toilets and what goes into them. If you can’t talk poop…read another post.
When I started using the camping bidet (henceforth known as the bidet) instead of toilet paper, one thing I was not happy about was the wet and dripping behind. While it is a small thing to deal with in the face of a global pandemic it is slightly uncomfortable. As usual, I turned to the internet to research a work around. I had considered family cloths as an answer to the toilet paper problem, and decided they were too much work; with soaking and rinsing and individual washing, not to mention the smells (of which we have enough already). However, using family cloths to dry the bottom area after a good hosing with the bidet, that seemed to be an easily implemented answer.
From what I have read, it seems that all I need is some relatively soft fabric, capable of absorbing fluid and preferably made from a natural fibre. I looked through my fabric stash and found a likely candidate… an old flannelette sheet. I cut out some smallish squares (15cm X 15cm) and overlocked the edges to prevent fraying.
Next I found a container to hold the clean ones in the toilet and a bin and cloth bag to hold the used ones until wash day. The cloths will be washed with the underwear in a warm wash with soap nuts and lime essential oil.
This little project couldn’t have been any easier. Within an hour I felt like I had solved the problem. This is one easy way to solve the wet bottom problem.
The whole toilet paper panic buying thing has largely passed us by; we buy in bulk as a rule. We buy the WhoGivesACrap brand of toilet paper, by the carton. We still have 20 rolls left and we use about 1 roll per week. However in a bid to reduce our usage (and maybe stop using it altogether) I decided it was time to give the bidet a try.
TMI WARNING; If you are easily disgusted or offended, please go read another post.
The idea that we may not be able to buy more toilet paper when we need it (although not very likely) gave me the inspiration to look at alternatives. I researched family cloths, and decided that they are just a bit too much work for me (and it would be me dealing with it). As I browsed through lists of plants that can be grown to provide toilet paper alternatives I realised that I needed to plant them two years ago to be able to use them now. Eventually, I came across references to the bidet and camping bidet in particular.
Since we put in the biogas toilet we have been using recycled toilet paper as it breaks down faster than other kinds. Too much paper in the system can slow down the methane production and even clog up the pipes (to be avoided at all costs). Paper is also very carbon rich, it doesn’t produce as much methane as nitrogen rich material (like poop); so we want to minimise paper input.
I looked around at all the bidet units available, some of them use electricity or need to be connected to pressurised water inlets (neither of which we have available). Eventually, I found the whole range of hand held, portable bidet units (and ordered them online). They are sold as ‘camping’ bidet; we have quite a few ‘camping’ options in daily use in the humpy.
The camping bidet is essentially a water bottle with an angled spout. You fill up the bottle (which has a valve in the bottom so it doesn’t lose pressure as it empties), then use it to wash your bottom clean instead of wiping with paper.
I was nervous that the water wouldn’t clean everything off and that I would be left with an uncomfortably wet bottom even if it worked. The first use was a pleasant surprise; The bottle, even though fairly small, was enough to clean everything very well (and I have a lot of ‘everything’). The water was not uncomfortably cold, and the pressure created by the bottle and spout was like a mini high-pressure cleaner on the offending body parts.
The only problem I am left with is a wet and dripping nether region; to answer this I decided to sew up some family cloths, which will be used to dry the area only. This means that there will be no more poop, pee and other nasties on the cloths than there is on our underwear and towels. That way I can wash the cloths in the same load as underwear.
The obvious problem of increased water use also needed to be thought through. As it has been raining fairly well since the end of the fires, we don’t have to be worried about water use at present; hoever, when the rain stops again (and it will) we will have to re-assess. One up-side of the extra water use is that I don’t have to top up the toilet flush bucket as often because the water in the bidet is enough to flush the toilet with. The water in the bidet is fresh though, while the water in the flush bucket is recycled (collected from the kitchen sink from hand washing, vegetable washing, unfinished water bottles tipped out, etc).
The end result is that I love the camping bidet, it leaves me feeling like I just had a shower, it reduces my workload (slightly) and reduces the bulk of material going into the biogas system. My partner however, doesn’t want to try it. He is set in his ways and doesn’t like new things… I will keep trying to convince him.
My partner and I are in isolation at home. I am trying my hand at online teaching…in a community where not many families have internet access (wish me luck). We both have flu symptoms and feel a bit low energy, but having rung the local hospital we were told to self isolate, but not offered testing.
We both feel OK (but not great), we are fairly certain we have a common variety cold. Just to be safe though, we are keeping to ourselves for a two week period. This isn’t such a big deal for us, we like being at home and we have an enormous amount of projects that need to be finished. So be prepared for a short series of posts about finishing projects.
I will tag these isolation posts as #coronavirus, so I can look back and see what staying at home can achieve.
My youngest daughter recently sent me a present which included three beeswax wraps, which I put into immediate use. I use them to cover the bowl while I proof bread, while resting pastry, I use them to wrap lunch for the day, to wrap cheese in the fridge and to wrap the bread in the cupboard. I love them, and three is not enough for the various uses I put them to. So I am making more for myself (of course).
First, I need cotton fabric. The wraps need to be made from 100% cotton, so I looked at old shirts, old sheets and in my fabric stash. I found some likely candidates, but nothing that stood out as 100% cotton; it is very hard to find something second hand that is all cotton (at least in my house). Next I went looking at Spotlight online, and I found some very colourful (school themed) fat quarters. I ordered enough to make piles of new wraps.
Next we need beeswax (as a starting point), I have always got organic beeswax on hand as I use it to make soap, hand creme, furniture polish, etc. I did come across some tutorials that recommend using ingredients such as pine resin and jojoba oil to help make the wraps more antibacterial and longer lasting. Eventually I came across a kit that was for sale locally. I ordered a test kit through Ballina Honey The kit came in record time and contains everything I need to make my wraps except the fabric. There are some beeswax chunks, a bag of pine resin and a small pouch of jojoba oil; I am now ready to go…
The instructions in the kit gave three options…
As I was looking for the simplest method, I chose to heat up the required 2:1:small splash ratio of (respectively) beeswax, resin and jojoba oil in a pot on the stove. I floated the pot in a larger pot of water to make a double boiler.
Then I tried to paint the wax mixture on with a paint brush. This was not very sucessful as the wax seemed to take forever to soak through. I speculated that this was because it was a fairly cool day. The surface of the fabric was left lumpy and caked. So on to method two.
I put the fabric between two pieces of baking paper and ironed it with my tiny little 12 Volt sewing iron. This worked to a degree, but because it takes so long to heat up it was a very slow process.
When I was sick of ironing (it doesn’t take long), I put the fabric on a baking sheet and popped it in the oven for a few minutes. This worked really well and I decided this was the way to do it.
So for the next several hours I popped pieces of fabric in the oven with the premade beeswax mixture.
I love using these wraps, and they will reduce our use of cling wrap and aluminium wrap. I wonder if I could make some oiled cotton to sew bags and things out of?
With the nice bit of rain that fell in mid January came flies. Many, many flies… so many that the buzz from the sheep shelter can be heard from the humpy. So a project that has been sitting on the bottom of the list, suddenly came to the top; an enclosed dish drainer for the washing up.
Living with nature (in all her adorable, but messy incarnations) requires us to make a few adjustments to the way things are done; we let go of socially held expectations somewhat; like having clean floors at any point, like being the only being on the bed at night and like using harsh chemicals to clean anything. One problem with having animals (other than humans) in the humpy and not being able to seal all the holes in walls, is that we have many flies in the humpy in Summer. The washing up (which I habitually air dry) is then sitting out in the open for the day and flies crawl all over it (not ideal). There is a clearly identified problem here that has a neat solution.
For years, I have wanted to install a Finnish Dish Draining cabinet, and this fly invasion (which is more extreme than other years) is the push we needed to do it. As usual, we had to do things the hard way; instead of buying the chipboard and wire modular units available, we decided to go with a steel cabinet (to match the new kitchen and to make sure it lasts) and replace the shelves with the drying racks.
We bought a cheap steel cabinet in powder coated steel (black, of course) and some dish draining racks, roughly the same length. My fairly handy partner put it all together one morning while I was doing the washing.
He screwed some structural ply over the wall frame behind the sink and screwed the cupboard onto that.
Next, he scratched his head for a while about how to fit the dish drainers in. Until finally he came up with the idea of fixing a thick piece of wood on the inside of the cabinet to provide an anchor for the drainer. The dish drainer units were about 5cm shorter than the width mof the cabinet.
Then he put the doors on for me and we were set to go.
As an added bonus… my in-the-good-books partner also screwed the peg board onto the wall.
I think this really adds to the usability of the kitchen.
The drying cupboard is used to store the equipment we use on a daily basis; coffee cups, plates, bowls, baking trays, etc. Only a few of each and only what we use daily. That way, the majority of the washing up goes straight into the cupboard and is protected from flies. It also frees up the other cupboard shelves for more storage. Our cupboard doesn’t have an open bottom (flies and lizards) instead it has a tray in the bottom to catch drips. This tray is emptied daily. There is enough air flow to dry the washing up and not enough space for critters to enter.
Since the toilet is up and running, we need to get the mulch pit finished. At the moment it is hard to concentrate on any project. The constant threat of fire and the despair that comes with knowing that so much of our ecosystem is destroyed keeps us in a constant state of depression. It is hard to concentrate on anything except watching the media releases about the fires all over Australia. However, it is important to keep working towards the future we want; how else will we reach it? In between the fire threats and increadibly hot days we made a plan that involved digging a pit to drain the effluent into then covering the lot with gravel, wood chip, soil and mulch.
The biogas system continues to impress me, the only down side I have discovered is the flammable nature of methane (which is kind of the point) and the fact that we can’t move the unit away from the house in the event of a bushfire threat (we are at a count of three direct threat situations so far in the last twelve months). We have countered this by releasing the methane into the atmosphere when there is any risk of fire. There is a handy tap that allows the gas to be vented easily. The refill time is getting less every day; currently the tank will fill in about ten hours and the effluent has proven fairly easy to bucket into the old toilet pit on a weekly basis.
Since the effluent is from human poop, it needs to be handled carefully. The effluent is passed through a chlorine chamber before it emerges from the unit. Treatment with chlorine is the accepted way to treat human effluent, it kills off a lot of nasties and oxygenation and exposure to sun takes care of the rest. After it emerges from the unit our effluent goes into a bucket, which is then emptied into the old toilet pit (which helps the waste in this pit continue to decompose). It is time to put in a hands free option for handling the effluent. In our situation we have several options; we could feed it into our septic system (except we don’t have one), we could build a dedicated transpiration pit or we could build a mulch basin. We went with a combination of the transpiration pit and the mulch pit ideas.
First we (and by ‘we’ I mean my hard working partner) dug a pit that was about 40cm deep.
Then we put in a layer of gravel in the bottom. This layer is about 5cm deep. The plumbing part of the project was then completed before the pit could be filled up all the way.
Next step was adding a straw layer to slow down the migration of soil into the gravel.
After that there is a layer of wood chips (to soak up any nitrogen rich moisture that makes it that far) and a layer of soil to seal the pit off from the surface.
After that I planted the passionfruit vine I bought to (hopefully) take advantage of all that moisture and nutrient. I mulched around the vine, then realised that it is now a fire risk and would be raked away when the next fire threatens. To counter this a little, I buried the mulch under a deep layer of soil again. I hope this will protect the mulch from ember attack in the event of a fire.
So now we have a new garden bed that doubles as a transpiration pit. Hopefully the roots of the passionfruit won’t bung up the draining system and hopefully the buried mulch will be safe from ember attack (I am thinking that this method might be good for the new vegetable beds when we get to that). We, like most of Australia, are still in shock from the magnitude of the fires this year. We fear that next year will be more of the same, so everything we do from now on needs to be focused on fire safety and how to keep our family safe.
We are finally home from being evacuated. There was a blessed rain event on December 23rd-25th which allowed us to assume that the fire is now under control (along with a few other factors). We came home with everyone, only to find that we had to go straight back out again for a medical emergency. I am trying to capture the events here as I know how our memories play tricks and re-arrange things. Here is the sequence of events as I remember them now;
We had settled in to the regular work of being in the evacuation centre; walking dogs, feeding sheep, cleaning cages, feeding animals. We were making multiple calls every day to my partner, who was still at home defending the humpy. One morning, my partner (who never misses an opportunity to shop) called to say he had been looking for a farm 4WD to convert into a ‘Black Ops brigade‘ fire vehicle (unofficial fire fighting crews). The house building account was already under seige due to having to use some of it to buy food for my eldest daughter and I while we were in exile, buying fire fighting equipment and now we were looking at having to dip into it to buy a 4WD.
To cut a long story short, we ended up buying a Mitsubishi Triton that is close to being a registration failure. We had to borrow about half the money to buy it, leaving us with more debt (sigh). My partner arranged for an obliging nephew to pick him up and take him to pick up his new partner in fire fighting (he also did the initial check over of the vehicle, thanks Matt). Now it was time to outfit the old girl as a fire fighter.
We have already bought two fire fighting pumps, two 1000 litre pods and many metres of fire hose to help set up our fire defense system. We have also bought sprinklers for the roof and walls and my partner set them up in a watering system that covers the entire humpy area (now all we need is enough rain to fill the tanks). One of the pods and a pump with hoses will go on the back of the ute (she needs a name now), along with a box for the chainsaw and various other tools, such as a few water backpacks, a McCloud tool or two, shovels and rakes.
Before the pod and pump went on the ute, my partner was using it to patrol the fire front closest to us. He did regular night time patrols while a neighbour (whose property the fire happened to be on) did daytime patrols. Not to be political at all, but the RFS have been in short supply ever since this whole thing began. Let me be very clear here; the RFS is doing it’s best to fight the fires. There are just not enough resources to go around. When our little area was under direct threat they showed up with a bulldozer and pushed multiple fire breaks both around dwellings and through the bush at seemingly random intervals. They were around to do occasional patrols of the fire front and the planes and choppers flew over almost daily. The fire jumped over the first fire breaks that were put in because there were not enough patrols to observe and black out the slow moving fire that reached them. As soon as he had a vehicle capable of driving around the fire lines, my partner and other local people made sure there were regular and constant patrols on our section of the fire front. I think this has allowed the fire to be bought under control.
On the morning of the 23rd December, we decided that it was time to go home. The fire was reported as under control on our Northern side, and my partner considered it under control on our Western side, and we were feeling VERY homesick. So we packed everyone up (except the sheep) into their travelling cages and crammed them into my car, my partner’s car and one of the trailers. We set off for home like a travelling circus (or maybe like Ma and Pa Clampett), and reached home by mid morning. I quickly unpacked everyone from my car and set off back to the evacuation site to finish cleaning up the shed.
After hours and hours of scrubbing cages and cleaning out the caravan, I was ready to drop, but I kept going until my partner got there to pick up the sheep. We took the trailer up to the yards and spent some time chasing Kracken around and around as she had apparently decided she liked the lodging and wanted to stay a bit longer. Eventually we managed to drag her into the trailer and I decided to leave the cleaning until the next day. We went home for one blissful night in our own beds with our animals all around us.
The site of the humpy still standing bought me to tears. It may just be a little, rough shed in the bush, but it is our home. I was overjoyed to see the animals that live wild around the humpy still in residence. The big open area around the humpy had been widened considerably, and the chook pen and Hugelkultur garden beds had been pushed away by the bulldozer to make the humpy more fire ready (thank you RFS). The yard fences had been partially destroyed by the dozer too, and all the shadecloth awnings around the humpy had been taken down. It looked bare and strangely neat, but it is still home.
The next morning, my daughter came to me with Prim in her hands. Prim was struggling to breathe and could not talk to us at all. We took off for the vet (2 and a half hours away) and reached there with her still struggling to breathe. The vet put her in an oxygen tent and recomended that she be transfered to the Gatton animal hospital. I didn’t feel able to make the drive, so we rang my partner and got him to drive up to Killarney, pick up my daughter and Prim then drive to Gatton with them. Meanwhile, I drove back home to watch over the animals still there.
Prim died that night in the animal hospital. There are no words to tell you how grief striken we are. I will write a seperate post to honour her death. The next morning, my daughter and partner drove home to bury her. The work of settling into the humpy again begins…
NOTE: My mother lost her home and farm buildings in this fire. A fact that still seems unreal to me. However, I am not posting about my reaction to this event or any other information as it is not my information to share.
My daughter and I are currently evacuated from the humpy. My partner is still at home, defending the humpy from a huge, fast moving fire. We are all shell shocked, numb and exhausted. I thought I would try to get the memories down on (digital) paper before they get any more jumbled together than they already are.
On Thursday 5th December a fire was spotted by my mum and several other locals in the bush far to the West of our place. Of course it was in rough, inaccessible country and no helicopters were available to dump a bucket of water on it. The fire grew fairly fast and by home time (for me) it was large enough that I told my principal I needed to take a day off to further fire prep the humpy. It only got bigger as I drove towards home.
On Friday we all decided to stay home and fire prep everything. We have been keeping things set up for fires since February, but there is always more raking to do. By lunch time we could see the smoke cloud billowing over us and it was really hot and windy. My sister rang and said they were evacuating and we should too. I rang a friend of ours with a trailer and asked if he could come in and get a load of animals from our place and he said he could. We began to load precious animals into their evac’ cages. We have had cages set up for an evacuation since February too. The cages are small and only intended to transport animals not house them, so a lot went into the back of my tiny car.
We loaded the sheep into our trailer and the dogs into my partner’s car along with a left over cage or two. By the time my friend arrived we only had the ducks, geese and chooks to go. With his help (and the help of a friend he bought with him) we got them all loaded and set off for our original evacuation site; another friend’s home in a nearby town.
Before our little circus convoy had got too far we all received an evacuation order for the town my friend lives in. We were shocked and scared; how had the fire, which had not hit our place when we left, travelled so far so fast? We worried about whether our family and friends had managed to get out and where everyone was.
We stopped at the Tabulm CWA rooms and checked in at the evacuation point there to see what our options were. The lovely lady there sat me down and gave me a cold drink and a calming hug. After a while, she told me we would have to go on to the Evacuation Centre at the RSM in Casino. So we set off again.
We reached the RSM and found that the Evacuation centre was not set up yet. The lovely people at the RSM tried to scramble around and find somewhere we could keep our multitude of animals and we are very grateful for the effort they went to to try to accommodate them. Eventually we remembered a good friend who live just out of Casino (put it down to stress) and we ended up taking everyone there. Our friends were so good about letting us set up our animals under the covered carports at their house, even helping us build a pallet yard to keep the sheep in for the night. We zipped into town after it was all set up to get something to eat for us all and our friend gave the evacuation centre a phone call. This time we were given the number of the animal evacuation site in Casino at the showgrounds. We rang him and dropped in to see him on the way back to the house. After some chatter, we set a date to move everyone to the showgrounds in the morning. With that all settled, we managed to spare a minute to contact friends and family and find out that everyone was OK.
The next morning we moved all the animals and ourselves to the showground and set them all up in cages before heading in to the RSM to see if we could get a tent to sleep in. The Disaster recovery people wanted to put us (the human us) into a hotel, but we insisted that we needed a tent so we could stay with our animals (many of whom need constant medical attention). Eventually an extremely kind lady (you know who you are) took me on a quick shopping trip and bought us a tent, air mattresses, chairs and other things to set up a camp. We will be forever in her debt, and we really appreciate the donation that allowed us to stay with our non-human family members. We were also given a voucher to buy food, which we used straight away to buy about a weeks supply of food. We set up the tent and collapsed into an exhausted sleep for the night.
Then we began the endless round of cleaning cages and feeding animals. After about three days (the days seem to blur together when you aren’t sleeping well) another friend called and said she was evacuating her caravan and wondered if we would like to have it to sleep in. The caravan was duly delivered and we took down the tent. We moved everything into the annex of the van and went in to get some sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night a hail storm hit, we scrambled out to check the animals and discovered that all our things were floating in ankle deep icy water.
We trudged back and forward through the light hail moving our stuff into the poultry shed. In the process we discovered one of the neighbor’s cats cats had escaped confinement and was loose in the shed. We managed to catch the cat (with Chloe crawling around under the cages), and put her in more secure housing before collapsing back into bed with the attitude of ‘sort-it-out-in-the morning’. In the morning we went back to the cleaning and feeding schedule, dried all the wet belongings and tried to catch up with communications.
During all this, we had been checking fire updates obsessively and ringing for regular updates to home. My partner had gone back to protect our property on the second day out and we were making calls to him constantly. The fire had traveled fast on the Friday and rushed up the slope to my mother’s house and burned it. A lot of people lost their homes that day. The loss of my mother’s home has left me shocked and numb, I can only imagine how it has effected my mother.
We are totally thankful that our home survived, we came so close to losing everything to fire. It has made us determined to build everything in fireproof materials from now on.
We are also grateful to the love and support we have received from friends and institutions along the way. From the very start with the first warning we got from my mum (via a sister) to the donation of a tent and camp gear and the lend of an air conditioned caravan, we have been helped to deal with the crisis. The animal evacuation people have supplied us with food and bedding for the animals and checked up on us daily to make sure we were OK. The whole crisis has been awful and horrifying, but also heartening and restoring in a way.
It is now 20th December and we are still evacuated as the fire has become a slowly creeping monster that has yet to reach our fire breaks at home, but threatens to leap up and burn us periodically. We will be returning home very soon…I hope.
It rained last night…we got about 20ml in a storm just after dark. The joy around the humpy was unbelievable, every animal is celebrating this miracle. Except Big the rooster, he has had a very painful leg condition for months now and our attempts to treat him have all failed. Yesterday afternoon we decided that he is in too much pain to keep trying to save him and we called the vet for an appointment to put him to sleep. At least he got to see the rain and hear all the happy chooks one last time.
We don’t have many photos of Big; he was always in the crowd but not often on his own. He was about nine years old and had the most amazing nature (just like his dad; Ryan); he would look after babies, not just chicks but ducklings and rabbits too. Hearing Big call over babies and hens to eat was the high point of many days.
He slept inside almost every night of his life, just because he felt the cold and he often had babies to care for. The silence at 4:30am, where Big’s joyous good morning crow used to be, will sound deafening and I would rather hear him crow and know that all is right with the world than have the silence with no happy greeting.
He fathered a lot of babies in his long life, and we are happy to have his grandson as our current flock rooster; Pickett. Big became our retirement cage rooster for the previous few years where he kept the older or disabled hens company. Until this morning he had Delilah (a sussex with a broken hip) and School chook (another sussex with a broken hip) as his girls. Over the rainbow bridge, on the other side of death, there are a multitude of wives waiting patiently for him. I hope he enjoys the reunion.
We will miss him a lot, but at least he is no longer in pain. Goodbye Big, good luck on your new journeys.
We planted him in a big pot with a red paw paw planted in it. He will have a new life as a plant now. He joins Lizard the chook as a lemongrass plant and Sid the sheep as a mandarin tree.
Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.
Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.
Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.
Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.
Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.