A day at a small town market

Recently I have been going to our local markets again, after years of being away from them. The Tabulam Farmer’s Market is much more to me than a way to make a bit of extra cash from my hobbies (I actually don’t sell a lot of stuff); it is a place I enjoy going. I like to be at home, I enjoy my own company and I definitely don’t like crowds, but for some reason I feel at home here.

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It is hard to describe the relationship I have with markets; on one hand there is the early starts (even earlier than my usual start), the weeks of making stuff to sell and having to fit a shelter and tables and other decorative stuff into my car with the little box of actual stock to sell. On the other hand there is the feeling of belonging; the lovely ‘in’ feeling of being there, where I know so many people and they know me (I don’t get that often). The joy of watching the very special ‘pop up’ community that develops.

Early in the morning, when everyone is setting up tents and tables, I watch stall holders rush to help each other set up tents or supply  pens, tags, cloths or any number of small items forgotten by other stall holders. I watch as people share a morning coffee from the coffee stall, or from a thermos packed for the occasion. When friends and strangers greet each other with smiles and encouraging words. The musicians start up and everyone can have a go at the open mic’; men, women, kids (and every now and then a dog joins in). Later in the day I watch as kids run wild between the stalls while parents and other adults look on happily allowing them to indulge in childhood adventures. Customers browse slowly among the wares and are greeted with smiles and conversation (whether they are buying or just looking). Conversations bloom and drift like mist among the gathered people, never really finishing but spiraling out to encompass others. Deals are struck and arrangements made in fleeting meetings carried out in passing. At the end of the day, some unseen signal is given and stalls begin to pack up, everyone lends a hand getting stock and tents packed and stashed in cars. Until the market area is still and silent once again.

 

Community markets are a great way to meet people and make friends. I am not a very social person in the normal scheme of things, but I do enjoy the magic of markets. Maybe I should go to more of them.

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Lining the ceiling with corrugated iron

We had a surprise visitor a while ago; a male possum. He was sleeping peacefully in the roof space above the office area, rolled over in his sleep and fell almost two metres onto a padded chair (luckily). I heard the crash and raced out to see what it was, only to find a surprised, half asleep possum sitting on a chair in the office blinking at me. I called out to my daughter to get her phone and take a photo but he had climbed up onto a cupboard by the time she got there.

Our ceiling is lined with sisalation, which is sort of like a heavy duty tin foil. The purpose of sisalation is to reflect heat either back into the living space or back up into the roof space. In the humpy it also serves as a barrier to dust and dirt (somewhat) and as a lovely hammock for possums, feathertail gliders, micro bats, antechinus, carpet snakes and various lizards (oh and spiders). With the weight of all this life going on above us on this very thin membrane it is a miracle we haven’t had someone fall through the ceiling before.

After we tied up the dogs and escorted the possum out of the house and back up a pole into the roof (still mumbling about civil action and giving us a bad review on Facebook) it was decided that we have to do something about it.

There was a lot of discussion about possible answers ranging from;

  • replace the sisalation with new sisalation
  • replace it with something more rigid
  • burn down the humpy and start again

It was decided to go the middle road and replace the ceiling with something rigid, but what with?

Ply sheets are expensive and would be eaten by white ants as fast as we could put them up, plaster board is much the same. Hessian or fabric are cheap but would not last any longer than the sisalation and is not very rigid. Then corrugated iron was suggested; it is rigid, white ants don’t eat it and it is relatively cheap if bought second hand. It is also easy to work with. I know it would make the inside look like the outside, but that is a small price to pay for not having a possum land in your coffee at breakfast.

I don’t think it will look too bad either, as these photos from google images show;

 

Now we just need to find some cheap iron for the job.

Local insects and animals- Brush-tailed possum

At this moment I can hear a possum slithering about in the ceiling. There is a gap of about 15 cm between the iron roof and the sissilation tacked to the underside of the roof purlins to act as insulation, the possums, antechinus, snakes and other little critters use this space as living area. Our possums are part of the family; a sometimes annoying and destructive part of the family, but still family.

Many years ago we raised orphan possums and released them. That was at our previous abode though, we have raised none of our current possum neighbours. In the process of raising them we learned to love their individual personalities, their zest for life and their cheeky nature. I have come to believe that possums may replace cats as a stand-offish, independent yet demanding house pet.

The Brush-tailed possum is not rare or endangered, they are one of the few species of native animal that has been able to adapt and thrive in human company. They are found over almost all of Australia (and unfortunately in New Zealand) and are known to raid fruit trees in domestic gardens, they will also raid inside houses if they can get in.

Most internet sites will tell you they sleep all day, I guess this is true if they aren’t disturbed, in our humpy they sleep most of the day with a break for the toilet in there somewhere and often an argument about who sleeps where if there are more than one in the roof space. When they fight, they make sounds like pigs squealing, grunts and loud screeching.  At night we sometimes have a little visitor come into the humpy in search of food and I have learned not to leave dishes soaking in the sink.

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This possum stood up and waved the spoon in her hand at me in a jovial manner when I switched on the light.

 

Most people in our area regard the humble possum as nothing but a pest and will moan and complain about having them in the roof space. They are problematic at times; they break into the garden and chook pen to eat seedlings and food scraps, they sleep in the roof and sometimes do not make it to the eaves to pee (not my favourite trait), they hunt baby birds in nests around the humpy and they are not above stealing eggs from under a setting chook during the night. I know they are annoying, but they are also very sweet and affectionate to their friends, are very beautiful to look at and they belong here as native animals and as such help maintain the balance of nature. Besides, they are only trying to survive in a world we have changed for them.

Without possums we would not have as many funny stories to tell visitors; there was the time a baby was left in the yard by his mum (who was probably raiding the chook pen) and the dogs found him. We picked him up (our dogs are trained to stand back and bark) and took him inside while we searched for his mum around the house. We couldn’t find her, so we put the baby in a warm box with water and an apple for the night. In the morning the baby was gone and there was a hole in the box. We found him eventually in a desk draw that had been left half open, curled up asleep. We were fairly sure his mum was in the roof as we had heard her calling in the early hours of the morning from there, so we took a gamble on there only being her in there as anyone other than the mother will kill a baby alone. My partner got the ladder and I climbed up to the roof clutching a baby possum wrapped in a towel and popped him into the roof space. Then we waited to hear the result. There was some snuffling and grunting, but no screaming, so all was good.

We have had possums fall through the sissilation (it can only take so much weight after all), we have had to rescue them from angry geese and ducks in the middle of the night, we have returned lost babies and feed old or sick individuals when they needed it. Yes…they are family, because even though they are destructive, they are also loved. I just wish I could train them to go to the toilet outside.

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This is Missy, one of our orphans from years ago.

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This was our latest visitor; he fell through a weak point in the sissilation onto a chair in my office. He looked very surprised to see me (I suppose we both were).

The wood heater died!!!

When we first built the humpy, we were given an old (ancient really) wood heater which had fallen off a truck (literally not figuratively). We put it in the lounge area and it has kept us warm for nearly a decade. It had a crack in the back corner from it’s fall but we managed to fill the base with sand past the crack and it didn’t give us any trouble. This heater is lit in April some time (most years) after it starts to become chilly in the evenings and it doesn’t go out again until spring. We chop a wheel barrow full of wood for it every evening and fill it morning and afternoon (and of course evening when it is cold). Most of the time it is shut down so that not much air gets in, meaning that it smoulders away for hours. The only time it uses a lot of wood is when it is cold and we open it up to allow air flow and a hotter fire.

We use it to heat the humpy, to heat water for bathing and coffee and to cook on in the winter. The fire has always been the centre of our home; it is where I sit to spin and knit, it is where visitors stand to talk in winter (and for some reason in summer too, even though the fire is not going). It provides heat for a multitude of injured, sick or orphaned animals and a convenient place to dump car keys in the summer (although we are all waiting for the day somebody dumps keys onto the hot surface in winter).

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Last winter the old heater finally gave out; the little crack became a large crack and all the sand on that side leaked out. It has become unsafe to use. Sadly we have to buy another one now the weather is getting cooler.

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The crack…and our attempted repair

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The new heater was picked up this week and my partner spent a long day installing it (with my help of course). First we removed the old one; a job requiring copious amounts of sighing, grunting and swearing apparently.

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The old heater on the way out

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The new heater on the way in

The instructions for the new stove said it was mostly assembled. This did not account for the fact that it had to be entirely deconstructed to get it into the humpy; those things are heavy. I don’t remember the old heater being so heavy, but of course we were younger then and there were no door to worry about either.

After much swearing and scraping of knuckles against door frames, we finally got the heater inside. Then my partner began to put it back together piece by piece.

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First the legs were bolted on.

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Then it was moved under the chimney hole, with the help of a plumb bob.

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Then the fire bricks were put back into the fire box.

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The door was put on after having the cotton rope seal put into it. Then a small fire was lit to test the draw and cure the paint.

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Helped along a little, why must men fiddle with fire?

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We have a new heater, yay!!

 

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Just a cheeky photo of Prim to end the post with.

Storing dried beans

Well, my little patch of beans has fed us faithfully through the season, we have included green beans in most meals for months. During the last flush of fruit I have left the beans on the plants to mature. This year I planted Pioneer and Barlotti bush beans, I have left the Barlotti pretty much to themselves because they are grown primarily for their seed, which is used in dishes like Baked beans, or included in soups and stews. I also find the pods tough and stringy. Now the plants have died down (mostly) and have dried pods hanging from them everywhere.

I went out and collected the first of many piles of dead pods with their secret stash of bean seeds inside. These were bought in and de-seeded while I listened to a podcast (pun intended). The resulting small pile of seeds where sorted into stained seeds (keep for next years planting) and good seed (keep for eating). I hope to gather a small jar full of seed this year and enough seed to plant a larger crop next year.

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Barlotti beans drying on a plate, waiting to become stew

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The white seeds on this plate are pioneer seeds, they are being kept for planting next year

By collecting my own seed and growing it in my garden I help the plants to adapt to my conditions. Plants evolve much faster than animals (except insects), and those little traits that make a plant successful in your garden are passed on to the next generation. Every year the plants are more and more adapted to my particular soil, climate and gardening style. Every year those bean seeds become more entangled with me, until they are a little piece of me. That is why the passing on of a traditional seed type is so precious; the gardener is not just giving you seed, they are giving you a piece of themselves.

Local insects and animals- Small green banded blue butterfly

I found a lovely little butterfly in the garden a few days ago. I was walking by with the feed bucket (accompanied by ducks, guinea fowl and chooks all screaming at the top of their lungs) when I saw a flash of bright blue in a buddleia bush (also called butterfly bush). It was so bright for a second, then it disappeared. I went searching for what had made that flash (of course) and found a tiny little butterfly sitting with his wings up, looking all innocent and ‘who me? -ish’  F70994FC-89C5-40D1-A141-99B6944F5540

I went back to the humpy for my phone so I could take a photo (much to the dismay and general disbelief of the assembled avian hordes) and snapped a few shots of this pretty little boy in the buddleia. After the feeding was done I did a quick internet search and found the Butterfly House website.

I was eventually able to identify the little fellow by using my patented method of ‘click all links until something looks familiar’ (or I am completely distracted by several new and interesting things).

My little visitor is a Small green banded blue butterfly (because lepidopterists are such imaginative people, obviously prone to flights of fancy). Apparently my little friend is a male because only the males have the bright, metallic blue on the top of the wings, the females have the same pattern as the underside on the top of the wings. The blue flash that attracted my attention no doubt attracts females of the butterfly persuasion too (and probably predators). I couldn’t get a photo of the little fellow with his wings open as he suddenly went shy and refused to fly away, even when I poked him with a finger. As soon as I had turned off the camera app on the phone, of course, he flitted away among the trees.B6828915-3E52-477A-BCE2-13828637EA23

The Small green banded blue butterfly is not endangered, or even rare, but it is the first time I have seen these little beauties in the garden. Maybe it is just the first time I have noticed them. Apparently their favorite host plant is Red ash, a tree which I have not seen growing nearby, but maybe I haven’t looked hard enough.02A637C1-B1BB-40EB-B3CA-4D466609E8D3

I love finding new things to make my mind work, and this little fellow certainly did that. There is something about butterflies flitting about in the garden that makes the day more beautiful don’t you think?

Growing cotton from seed to spinning

In spring two years ago, I planted some cotton seeds from my raw cotton stash. Miraculously some germinated, even more miraculously, one survived to adulthood. I covered the little thing with wire, composted and mulched around it and pretty much left it alone. This summer it produced flowers (which I neglectfully forgot to photograph), then bolls, then more bolls until finally, it died (possibly from sheer exhaustion).

Cotton is , by nature, a short lived perennial plant; it grows and produces for two or three years before completing its life cycle. When it is grown commercially it is treated as an annual and sprayed to kill it off after the first season. In the home garden you can leave it to produce beautiful flowers and cotton bolls for as long as you like.

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This is the little cotton plant in it’s early days

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The buds are such an interesting shape

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The plant on it’s last flush of bolls

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A close up shot of an open boll, ready for harvest

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An even closer shot of the boll

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Harvest time

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Starting to process the harvest

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Spinning cotton

It has been a while since I have spun cotton, but I couldn’t wait to try my own, home grown cotton on the wheel. It is so satisfying to be able to go from seed to socks all by myself. I don’t know how far my harvest will go, but I do know I will be planting more cotton next  year.

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Local insects and animals- Grey Fantail

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A few days ago I met this delightful little bird through unfortunate circumstances; I was driving to work fairly early in the morning (about 7.30am-ish) and listening to a talking book on the car stereo (Terry Pratchett of course). Seemingly out of nowhere there was a soft thump on the driver’s side window, right at eye level. I said a word Sir Terry would not have approved of (if only because it was unimaginative) and looked in the rear view mirror to see a little dark spot flapping about on the road.

I pulled over and walked back, expecting the worst (the spot really was tiny) only to find a stunned little bird looking at me as if he might be going to keel over at any moment. I picked him up, holding him safe and dark in one hand while I walked back to the car, searched for something to put him in and said another unimaginative word at not finding anything. Eventually I emptied all the knitting from my zip up knitting bag and popped him into it.

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This is the knitting bag…without the bird of course

I took him to work and found a box for him to stay in with a shallow dish of water.  During the day he could be heard trying to get out of the box so I knew he was alright.

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After work I drove back to where we had first met and gave him a quick check in the car to be sure he didn’t have any terrible injuries. No broken bones, no air sack damage, just a knock to the head. So I snapped a few photos and let him fly away  to tell stories about the time he was kidnapped by humans but managed to escape because he is the most amazing bird in existence.

It was then that I realised I needed to look up what, exactly, my little friend was. I have never seen these little fellows before. This is strange because they are not rare and live in environments very similar to that around the humpy. I flicked through my bird field guide using my prior knowledge to narrow down the options;

  • His feet have both forward and backwards facing toes; he is a passerine species (feet adapted to perching).
  • He has a thin, short beak; he is primarily an insectivore (eats mostly insects).
  • He has wide, soft flight feathers, and his wings are short compared to his body. He also has a long fanning tail with strong feathers; he can take off fast and steer very effectively on the wing, he most likely hunts his food in the air.

All these points (plus the fact that he is small and was found in grass land with a few trees) told me to look in the wren, fantail, weebill section of my field guide.

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There I found the Grey Fantail. They are such sweet little birds, apparently fairly curious and unafraid (when not suffering from concussion). I am glad I got to meet this little fellow, I just wish it had been in my garden rather than in my car.

Making soap with used cooking oil

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New soaps sitting in a dark, dust-free container just waiting for the 6 week waiting period to be over.

Usually, I make my soap with brand new vegetable oil of some description; it is reliable and it doesn’t smell too bad. This time I decided to up my up-cycling game and use the oil from our deep fryer. The deep fryer was bought by my partner who decided he likes to deep fry stuff so much he had to have a specialised tool for the job. I protested the purchase, but was over-ruled.

It uses a lot of oil to fill (about 3 litres) which has to be changed regularly and that used oil has to go somewhere, so I decided to try making soap from it. The oil my partner uses in his automated heart attack machine is rice bran oil, which is apparently quite good for your skin, even after having cooked half a tonne of chips and a few fish pieces.

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Old rice bran oil, just waiting to become soap

I did some reading about people doing the same thing and researched some recipes. I found that a lot of people make soap from used cooking oil and many people make rice bran oil soap, although usually not as the largest proportion of oils. In the end I resorted to using an online soap calculator to make my recipe for me, these things are great, they do the complicated maths for you and spit out a printable recipe at the end.

This is the recipe I ended up with for this soap;

Rice bran and oatmeal soap

1500g used rice bran oil (filtered)

500g coconut oil

700g water

283g caustic soda

 

Method

Weigh out ingredients carefully

Add caustic soda to water in a heat proof container (I use a glass coffee pot). Use only glass, plastic or stainless steel (anything else will melt). Stir well in a highly ventilated area.

Place oils in a stainless steel pot large enough to hold the entire soap mixture. Heat until oils are at 30-35 degrees C.

Place caustic solution in a cold water bath if required until it is at the same temperature as the oils.

 

Slowly pour caustic solution into oils, mixing with a long plastic spoon. Stir until combined. Continue to stir until solution reaches trace, or do what I do; get bored with the whole thing and blend it with a stick blender until trace. Add any other bits and bobs you have at this point.

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oil and caustic solution combined

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After a little bit of stirring

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At trace. You can see the faint line left by the soap mix as it is dribbled back into the pot.

Trace is reached when dribbles on the surface of the mix leave a ‘trace’ of a mark. A bit like when whipped cream can be formed into peaks (but not as extreme). If you can see a faint line left on the surface of the mix when you dribble some back into the pot, you have a trace.

Pour soap into molds of some kind and cover to keep dust, animals and small children out.

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Wash up the huge amounts of pots and pans you have somehow made dirty with this project.

After a day or two your soap can be unmolded and set in a dust free, ventilated area to cure for six weeks. Then it is usable.

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The soap in its mold

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A close up of the new soap. The white on the surface is soda ash, which doesn’t effect the soap at all, but is considered undesirable as far as looks go.

 

I will be making more soap from my used cooking oil in the future (if only to avoid wasting it). It feels like another step in the right direction to be using litres of purchased oils twice rather than using and throwing away. I have about 10 litres of used oil in various bottles in my already overcrowded craft room, Maybe a soap making spree would free up some shelf space for me?

 

Local insects and animals- red-necked pademelon

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At this time of year (Autumn), we have a few pademelon foraging around the humpy at night. This excites the dogs and ducks no end; they yap (and quack) half the night telling me that the little hoppers are eating our grass. Pademelon are a small to medium sized wallaby that likes to live in bush land with a fair amount of tree cover. They eat grasses and other plants (and are not above nibbling on the tomatoes either). Being mostly nocturnal or crepuscular (being active at dusk and dawn), you generally won’t see them unless you are creeping around at night with a torch.

There are four species of pademelon, three of them live in Australia and they all have red somewhere in their name. The fourth species lives only in New Guinea and is called (coincidentally) the New Guinea pademelon. Red legged, Red necked and red bellied pademelon are all fairly common in forested areas in Australia. We have the red necked pademelon here. They sleep in clumps of fallen timber and long grass through the day and come out at night to eat. We sometimes see them when walking across to the toilet in the middle of the night, especially early evening, more often we hear them hopping around just beyond the torch light.

I have raised pademelon joeys in the past, they are very rewarding, being one of the more affectionate wallabies. They grow fast and can be released into the bush at a couple of months in age and are so cute they melt the heart. They do have one drawback; if they get a fright they give off a horrible stink, it smells like a combination of musk and rotten meat. I don’t know how they make this smell, they may have scent glands somewhere on their bodies, but it is enough to clear the house. There has been a few occasions when a loud noise, like a dropped pan in the kitchen has caused the need for a house wide evacuation and the careful burning of incense to clear the smell (while all animals wait outside of course, incense can be harmful to native animals in concentration).

The main threat to these little hoppers is dogs and cats who love to chase them and often succeed in catching them. They are often hit by cars too, especially in areas of rainforest or heavy bush; they have an annoying habit of bolting out in front of cars just as they drive by. In the long term I think habitat loss is a huge problem for them as they need medium to heavy tree cover, fallen logs and branches and long grass to sleep in. These things make an area high fire danger and so are likely to be cleared away in inhabited areas. Maybe it is best to leave some wild areas on every property to give these little cuties a home.

I tried to get some photos of our resident pademelons with the trail camera but didn’t get anything really good, just blurred blobs of grey on a black background. I did find some photos of one of the babies we raised years ago though.

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This is one of the babies we raised and released many years ago