Planting chokos…again

I plant chokos every few years here; not because they are biennial but because the geese and chooks eat them regularly and they never seem to get ahead of the predators.

Choko (or chayote) is a vine crop that is known to be very hardy and bears in HUGE quantities. I love the flavour, although not everyone does. In the past I have used them to make pickles, steamed with other vegetables and to bulk up sauces and pies (apple pie can be made with just one apple and lots of chokos. They take on the flavour of any fruit or vegetable they are cooked with so the possibilities are endless. They are so useful in the kitchen that we are trying to grow them again. They can also be used as animal food, and so can the leaves.

We planted them in a big pot this time, straight into a mix of compost from the chook pen (made up of cardboard, food scraps and chook poop) and sand. The chokos we planted are three chokos in a bag that were left to fend for themselves at the back of the cupboard. They developed long runners to push out of the bag and try to find water or soil, these runners may sprout leaves and grow, or we may have to wait until a bigger sprout pushes up from the base. The whole choko is buried in a shallow trench in the pot with minimal cover over the sprouting end.

Adding a smallish plastic container to the bottom of the pot gives the plant a water reservoir for dry times.
A mix of compost and sand will feed and support the new plant.
These chokos really want to live.
Planted and ready to grow.

It is easy to get discouraged by the amount of plants our animals eat, but we keep trying.

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Making some fabric organizers for the humpy

I enjoyed making my fabric boxes so much that I decided to make some smaller ones from the scraps left over. These little hold-alls have the advantage of being able to squash into a smaller space because they are flexible. The process of making them is also really easy;

Cut two pieces of fabric and one piece of interfacing to your desired size. The size could be a square or a rectangle, as long as you can match one side to the other. I went with 30cm squares to make these small trays because that is the size of the scraps I had left over.

Fold your lining in half and sew up the sides with the right sides together. Do the same for the outer fabric, the interfacing can be sewn to the back of the outer lining at this point.

Fold the corners down so that the side seam lays on top of the bottom fold. Decide how wide you want your base to be and mark the measurement. Sew across the corner and trim the excess. Do this for the outer and inner fabric pieces.

Turn the outer fabric right-way-out and put the lining inside. Fold down the lip of your new fabric tray or bin and sew around the lip to make a nice neat seam.

Now fill your new hold-all with all the little pieces of junk laying around.

They are so much fun to make, I think I will make a heap of them for my clothes draws. They are a great stash buster too, my fabric stash is down to a manageable size in such a short time and I have very little fabric waste from making them.

The swallows are back. Happy Imbolc

Sorry for the picture quality, I had to zoom right up on my phone to get this shot.

Last year we had swallows decide to build a nest in our bedroom; it was a very exciting time for us as we watched the new babies hatch and grow. This year they are back early (an effect of climate change?).

The pair flew in through an open door yesterday as if they had never been away. They bought in cob mix and feathers and arranged the nest over the day. This morning the female was waiting at the front door when we got up (there is a new wall since last year and they seem to be locked out unless we leave a door open), she flew straight to the nest and we think an egg was laid.

A blurry photo of mum on her nest.

We hope to have new babies within 21 days. The swallows have arrived at Imbolc; the time of blessing seeds, when the Earth begins to warm up and seeds sprout. The hardenbergia flowers at Imbolc and so do the snow drops, I look forward to this time of year as there is so much joy and life in the bush it is impossible to be sad.

Having swallows nest in the house is messy, but we love to have a ringside seat to the raising of babies and we learn so much about the life of so many animals by living close to them. I can see the nest from my bed; when I wake up in the morning the first thing I see is the swallows nest. What a reminder of just how lucky I am.

Meal prepping for the freezer- or I hate to cook

I hate cooking; I hate that you can spend hours making a meal that is eaten in half that time. I hate that I can prepare a dish and pop it in the oven then forget it’s there and burn it (or is that just me?). I hate that it creates all that washing up and you know there will be even more in just a few hours.

I do love to eat though, and so does the rest of my family. So to address these diametrically apposed attitudes I decided to try meal prepping. My hope is that it will reduce the time spent preparing individual meals before and after work, keep me from forgetting I am cooking by keeping me in the kitchen while the oven is on and reduce the washing up by having one large batch rather than a lot of small ones. I also get to play with the new freezer.

I have been working on replacing our freezer bags with those silicon, re-usable zip lock bags that keep popping up on trendy environment sites. I found a brand that is sold in Australia, can be used in the freezer and (very importantly for the washing up situation) can go from the freezer to the oven or stove top. My thinking is that I can cook a meal, divide it into family meal sized bags then reheat it in the bag. That way I only have to wash the silicon bag thing rather than a baking tray or saucepans. They are not cheap though; so I have been saving up a little chunk of money from the grocery budget each fortnight and buying two or three at a time.

My first recipe comes from a blog called ‘2 share my joy’, which sounds like particularly boring porn, but isn’t. I chose the Vegan meatballs recipe. My reasoning is that these meatball things (made from beans) can be used in a huge variety of recipes and they freeze really well. My plan is to make the balls and freeze them in a sauce (or different sauces in different bags) then reheat the entire bag in a hot water bath.

The mix. I just followed the recipe in the link to make something that looks like mush.
They roll into balls really easily and if you have wet hands the mush doesn’t stick. I baked them in a hot oven for 15 minutes.
They don’t brown well, but they smell really good.
I cheated with the sauce; I used a vegan friendly Dolmio sauce and some extra tomato paste.
The amounts in the recipe, plus 1 jar of sauce and tomato paste, made three meals for two and an extra meal for three. Probably we will need to add steamed veges or pasta to the meal to bulk it out, but the hard work is done.
My daughter has hers with just pasta, I add cheese to mine (because I can).

The dish tastes pretty good. The balls have a nice spicy flavour and they are very filling. I think these little bean balls are going to be a versatile addition to the freezer meals. It remains to be seen whether meal prepping saves a lot of washing up, I hope it does because I don’t like washing up either.

Up-cycled kitchen bins

This week I got all artistic and decided to paint my kitchen bins. These three bins (for Return and Earn recycling, just recycling and rubbish) have been up-cycled from old solar battery boxes; the heavy plastic is easy to clean, resistant to just about anything and VERY yellow. I haven’t been too worried about the colour in the past (we are not a family that worries about looks much), but I do like to let my creativity out to play now and then.

Kitchen bins waiting for a new paint job.
After my eldest daughter gave them a wash for me, I sprayed on a base coat of purple paint (I do love purple). I gave them a total of two coats each, but there are still areas where the yellow shows through a little.

Just cheap spray paint in a can.
Two coats of purple paint…but not on the bottom.
Then I sprayed some gold paint into the lid of the spray can and flicked globs of it onto the outside of the bin. I love the effect and I think they look amazing.

I also found some blackboard paint (in my daughter’s craft stash…shhh, don’t tell her) and painted little squares on the handles so I can label them.

Our old labeling system
Waiting for the paint smell to dissipate.

We got a freezer!!!

The only thing I have missed living with solar power has been a freezer. Well… we bit the bullet and bought a freezer that will run off our solar.

It is a Haier 143 litre chest freezer that came up as a special at our local Harvey Norman shop. This was an unexpected purchase because we didn’t realise that solar friendly freezers existed. We bought it home and plonked it next to the newish fridge, plugged it in and away it went.

It uses 220 Watts per year which makes it a very economical freezer.

I plan to fill it up with prepared meals for those work nights we just don’t want to cook (all of them). I also hope to be able to freeze garden produce (when we have it) and buy frozen food when it is on special. I am actually quite excited about having this option for preserving food and I am off to watch meal prep videos now.

New yarn storage system

wow…I have such a lot of yarn. Hand made, recycled and gifted, you name it, I have it. In my push to make more room in my seriously overcrowded craft room, I bought one of those fancy cube storage units (yes, it was a wrench to part with that much cash and yes, I did find a second hand one on GumTree the day after I bought it). We put it together one day after work, when we were both tired and cranky (which accounts for the fairly large ding in the wood of the bottom piece). We are still married, so I think we passed the IKEA test, the one where you have to put together some modular furniture as a team before you decide you are compatible.

This photo was taken after I started making bins for the spaces.

Once the unit was up and in place I went looking for a pattern for those attractive and useful fabric storage bins. I found heaps and was really looking forward to making a dent in my fabric stash when I ran across a problem; interfacing. I don’t usually use it at all, and all the patterns say I need something to stiffen the sides of my bins (makes sense). So off I went looking for an alternative. Soon I found a clip of a woman making storage bins from old clothes, she used rice bags as interfacing…and that’s when I had my lightning-strike-to-the-brain idea. Why couldn’t I use old feed bags as interfacing? They would be noisy and crinkly, but that doesn’t matter for something that will spend most of it’s life sitting on a shelf. The bags are prone to breaking down in the sun, but they would be covered by fabric, and indoors. The poly bags may be slippery and hard to sew, I found some posts about people using them to make bags, so it is possible. I decided to give it a try.

I found this YouTube tutorial to use as my basic pattern idea, I just made them bigger.

First step was to make my pattern; I wanted cubes that were about 30cm square, so I made a simple net pattern out of newspaper.

I used my newly organised fabric draws to find some fabric for these boxes.

I ended up with some interesting options. I’m not the sort of person who worries about things matching.

Next I cut out pieces for the outside and lining of my boxes.

I cut some pieces of feed bag to use as interfacing.

Then it was a simple matter to sew up the bins as instructed by the tutorial.

So far I have five done. My plan is to make a bin for every space in the cabinet and store all my yarns in them. There are still three huge plastic boxes full of yarn to go.

Some tips I have discovered along the way; use grain bags not chaff bags, the weave is too loose on chaff bags and they fray really easily.

The chaff bags fray a lot.

The grain bags are easy to sew and give a good amount of stiffness to the bins, but they are just a bit too small for the 30 cm square bins. I sticky taped two together to get a sheet big enough, it seems to have worked.

This bin is made with the grain bags.

So far I have really enjoyed this project. Hopefully my yarns will be visible and usable once it is finished.

Local insects and animals – Textured emerald moth

While at work recently one of the kids came racing up to show me a moth that had landed on her bag (a common occurrence). I admired the colours, took a few photos and had an ‘I wonder…’ conversation about what and if moths eat. The moth was moved to a nearby bush for safety and I was left wondering what sort of moth it was. We (myself and a small group of kids) were amazed by the beauty and depth of the colours and patterns in the wings.

This morning I began my search to answer that question;

An extensive stroll through the database of the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House yielded a few likely suspects and an image search on Google images confirmed it; the beautiful insect was a Textured Emerald moth.

Apparently adult moths drink nectar and other liquids through a proboscis and are quite fond of sweat because of the salt content, while the larvae eat leaves from various plants.

This is another example of the diversity of life around us that we are so often unaware of. If this moth had not been drawn to my attention by a child I would have been oblivious to this tiny scrap of beauty.

Note to self; always take the time to look when a child shows me something and appreciate beauty when I find it.

I wonder if I could weave fabric like those wings?

Home biogas system- (part two)

It’s finally warm enough to start setting up our biogas system. A few weeks ago we got one of our neighbors down to help us level a pad for the unit and we gathered together all the bits and pieces we needed to set up the first part of the unit (the digester and gas collector part), we will set up the cooker that came with the unit once it is producing gas. The toilet attachment will be installed as part three of this project as we have to wait until the unit is active before we add human manure to the mix.

The unit will be to the North of the humpy, close to the kitchen and right beside the toilet. That way the gas does not have to travel far and neither does the poop.

Thanks for the help Louise.
A nice level pad for our biogas unit.

Next we laid down a ute mat made of rubber to protect the digester from any sharp stones that might be in the soil. The unit came with it’s own rubber mat, but we wanted to be sure it was protected. The extra rubber also insulates the unit from the cold soil a little.

Then it was time to put the pieces together and set up the unit itself. There is a really handy app that talks you through the whole process.

It looks like putting up a tent.
Can you believe the kit also includes a tiny tub of Vasoline to use as a lubricant for putting the puzzle pieces together?
There is even a little bucket to use as a measure when filling the sand bags (provided).

Filling the unit with water felt like a real achievement after all the brain work of putting the jig saw together. While it was filling up we got busy filling up the sand bags that become weights for the gas collector (the unit uses these weights to put the gas under low pressure so it is pushed through the gas line to the stove).

Filling with water took all afternoon.

The following sequence of photos show fairly clearly how to fill and seal the bags so there is not much air in them. This is important as the pockets the bags go into are quite narrow and the bags have to be squeezed into them.

The gas collecting bag is strapped onto the top of the digester then the gas and inlet lines are attached.
As the sun sinks rapidly into the West, we begin to fill the unit with cow manure.
A total of 3 feed bags of cow manure went into the unit tonight, we will add more over the next week.

The unit will begin to bubble and produce methane over the next few weeks and we will add the gas line and the toilet as part of the next stage. Look out for the next installment in a fortnight…

Eli gets a raincoat

Our newest sheepish family member; Eli, is the most easy going sheep I know. He is quiet and loves a cuddle or an ear scratch. He is also not too concerned about getting wet. Even though we are officially in drought, we have had a recent fortnight of drizzle and damp (but not significant rain), during that time we noticed that Eli does not run for the shelter when water starts to fall from the sky like the other sheep. We can use the sheep herd as an indicator of rain by the way they come close to the shelter about half an hour before rain starts to fall, but not Eli. He will stand in the rain, unconcerned; because of this we began to worry about him having damp wool, damp wool can lead to skin problems and sometimes fly strike (in Spring and Summer), it also takes days of warm weather to dry out a full fleece. Fungus thrives in damp wool and can actually kill a sheep fairly quickly.

We tried building him his own shelter…he refused to stay under it. We tried locking him in a sheltered place…he broke out. Our next option is to buy him a raincoat. He is not enjoying the experience of wearing a raincoat at all, so we have decided to only make him wear it when it is threatening rain (it should last a long time). We think he looks very handsome and it is a relief not to have to worry about him standing in freezing drizzle all night.

We are still trying to get a shearer out here who can shear his belly and head. In Spring we will get all the sheep shorn, but for now we would like to reduce Eli’s chances of getting fly strike.

It really makes me think about all those sheep in really cold, wet weather who live in paddocks with no shelter and who are shorn at the beginning of winter. I wouldn’t like to sleep outside on the cold ground in the rain, even with a really good jacket. Sheep and cattle are mammals, just like us, so it makes sense that they have much the same physical needs as us when it comes to cold and heat.