Making dish washing tabs

It is time to try to eliminate the detergent bottle from the landfill contribution we make. We use about one bottle every three weeks, which may not sound like a lot, but it still contributes to our local landfill and costs us a fair amount of money. Also, I am never really sure if the claims of ‘eco-friendly’ displayed prominantly on the bottle are true or not. So…….

I found some blogs about making dishwasher tabs (I know… we don’t have a dishwasher and are not really interested in getting one at this stage) and began to think about the differences between hand washing and dishwasher washing. Hand washing uses both chemical and mechanical means (the kind of mechanical force you apply when scrubbing that burnt pot while listening to M&M) to get the dishes clean, while a dishwasher relies on mechanical force (the pressure applied by a stream of water against the surface of the plate, while not listening to M&M) and heat to clean. So dishwasher tabs don’t have any detergent in them, they use chemicals to adjust the pH of the water to make it easier for the water and heat to do it’s job and anti-streak chemicals to make sure the dishes dry shiny and streak free. Therefore dishwasher tabs will need to be slightly different to hand washing tabs.

The dishwasher tab recipe I found is a simple combination of 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup citric acid, 1 tablespoon of detergent and essential oils. I decided to start with half this recipe and adjust it after testing.

I just tipped the lot into a bowl and mixed it up well.

It sort of foamed up and became light and fluffy. Apparently that is what it should do.

Then I poked a few teaspoons full into ice cube trays and pressed them down really well.

They apparently need to dry for four hours, but I found it was a lot longer than that. I left these for a day and a half.

Now for the first test! I ran some water into the sink and added a cube.

The final result; clean dishes! The cube doesn’t foam up at all, but it is easy to wash with it and the plates seem to have an extra shine on them. I will try using them for a week and see if there is any taste residue left. Maybe I won’t have to change the recipe again.

If everyone likes this option, we can go from buying one bottle of detergent every three weeks to only one a year (the recipe only uses a tablespoon per batch). I am very pleased with this project! I might go and dirty a wine glass.

Making unpaper towels

With a new puppy (sometimes two) and a permanent house goose living in the humpy, we have a lot of use for cleaning rags and products. The state of our floors is a constant worry for me as the dirt, hair and feathers seem to collect into drifts in corners and into dust devils under cupboards (dust bunnies is too tame a name for the tumble weeds of waste we collect) if we skip a day of sweeping. Washing the floor is a full body workout achieved by scrubbing the floor with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and a broom, then sweeping up the leavings once it is dry. At the moment, we use a paper towel to soak/wipe up puppy and goose mistakes, then give the area a spray with my special cleaning fluid (a mixture of vinegar, peroxide, essential oils and a squirt of detergent). I want to move away from using paper towels to reduce our carbon footprint and save some money, so I decided to swap to unpaper towels.

Unpaper towels are a much more upmarket version of my counter wiping rags. At the moment I use an old rag (usually from a sheet torn into squares) to clean the kitchen counters in conjunction with my cleaning spray. The rags are changed often and I usually have a pile of them to wash with my vegetable bags every week. Unpaper towels are just a hemmed and pretty version of these. I have historically not been worried about things being ‘pretty’, but I am finding that as I age the impulse to include appearance in my considerations is increasing.

My current cleaning rags are somewhat past it (whatever your definition of ‘it’ may be)

I decided to make two sets of unpaper towels; one for the kitchen and one for the floors. The kitchen towels will be made from a pretty flannel fabric and the floor towels will be from a plain colour to allow for vinegar soaking to sterilise. Both sets will be stored in a roll popped into a glass jar with a lid (to keep them dust free and mouse safe). I will hang two lingerie washing bags (two different colours to avoid confusion) in the kitchen somewhere to hold used towels and I can wash the floor towels with the other pet cloths and towels, and the kitchen towels can go in with the tea towels. Now I have a plan set in my mind, it’s time to find some fabric.

I found some smallish pieces of flannel fabric and some promising YouTube clips (I used this method to make the wipes).

The printed flannel is for the kitchen counters and the plain grey is for the floors.

I cut off about a metre of the fabric and folded it in half and cut up that line. I continued to fold and cut pieces in half until I had a pile of wipes the same size.

The first fold and cut.
The end result; there are 24 of each fabric.

From that point it is a simple matter of overlocking around the edges of each one; a monotonous task, but very satisfying.

Hemming each wipe took a long time.

Then the towels where rolled into a roll like paper towels and I tested whether I could pull wipes from the middle (I could). I found an empty jar of the right size and popped the roll into it.

Then I just had to try out my new toy! I used one as a wipe for the kitchen counters with my spray and dropped it into the waiting washing bag. A very satisfying experience; I do love using my projects.

I am hoping that this project will be as successful as the bidet and family cloth system. We no longer need to buy toilet paper (except for visitors and my less adventurous daughter) and hopefully we will no longer need to buy paper towels either. I am dropping out of shopping, one item at a time.

Of course the overlocker broke a needle and I did not finish the floor cloths. Oh well… tomorrow is another chance to make stuff.

Update: I managed to fix the overlocker (and gave it a good clean while I was there) and finish the floor cloths. While I was in the mood for sewing, I also made a couple of small bins for the car. I need a rubbish bin in my car desperately to help keep the rubbish in one place. Maybe I need to make some wipes for the car too.

Weaving rag rug bath mats

I don’t buy clothes often, I don’t even have clothes given to me often, so where do the overflowing cupboards and draws come from? Do my clothes meet mates and start a family? Producing new, aged looking tshirts and jeans. Do the Fair Folk steal clothes from other people’s lines and use my cupboard as an off site storage for their stolen goods? Or does my daughter secretly buy clothes and sneak them into my cupboard? Who knows?

Every six months or so, I go through my clothes and give away a box or bag of things I don’t wear, but there are always clothes that are too far gone to be passed on. These stained, torn and stretched items of apparel go to a variety of places; they become cleaning rags, animal bedding or rag rugs. Every now and then I take a load of frayed and stained cleaning rags, worn too thin from multiple washes and soaks, to the massive hole where we throw our paper, old furnitire and other biodegradable items. There the cloth joins the rest of the compost in waiting, slowly turning back into valuable top soil.

Making rag rugs uses up a lot of the extra fabric in our house. I cut the cloth into strips and wind the strips into balls to be woven at a later date (when the draw I store them in begins to overflow). Now that we have an indoor bathroom, I can make a few new mats to use as bathmats, whereas previously they would be used as animal beds and floor rugs beside the bed (my vain attempt to keep our sheets clean).

The process of making some rag rugs is simple;

Cut your old clothes and cloth into strips;

Tshirts- I use this method to get the most from my tshirts. I’m not usually so careful about cutting the seams off though.

jeans/pants- I use this method to turn pants into strips.

leggings or tights- I use this method to cut up leggings. This is roughly the same as for pants, but it is important to keep stretch fabric seperate from woven fabric. Stretch fabric will pull the warp in and make a smaller mat than woven fabric (see the photo of all three mats at the end of this post; the smaller mat is made from stretch fabric)

Warp your loom;

I use a cotton warp thread and double the warp in any size heddle I use (this one is 12.5 dpi). The size of the heddle (the thing with slots and eyes that warp is threaded through) doesn’t really matter with rag rugs, but I do find that the more warp threads I use, the stronger the rug is when it is finished.

Weave the rugs;

I weave an inch or so with an acrylic yarn before I start the rag section. This gives the mats a firm start and finish and also gives me a nice, neat indicater of when one rug finishes and another starts.

The bottom section of the weave in this photo is done with acrylic yarn, the top is rags.

Take them off the loom and finish the ends;

I just cut them off the loom and overlocked the ends. This makes for a neat edge and it seems to stay strong for a long time.

Use the new rugs;

These rugs are nice and big, they are very absorbant and they use up cloth that would otherwise go to landfill. Each mat will last for years. I have five year old rugs that are only just beginning to show wear. The warp threads seem to go first and the rag pieces pull out. I will try to save the rags from these older rugs to be re-woven into new mats in the future, and then I will feel like a super recycler!

Weaving is such an enjoyable hobby. I am thankful that I don’t have to weave cloth for the whole family, I would never get off the loom and the spinning wheel, but I do love that a lot of our cloth items are now handmade. I try to add a new item every year. By the time I am 90, we should be using only handmade cloth.

Changing bathroom plans again…sigh.

So I have been trying to get back to finishing my earthbag bathroom for several seasons now. There is always something to stop me; drought (no water to make moist soil), fires, flood, a damned plague and now a lot of working days. While this is the perfect time for us to get into bagging the walls, my partner has decided he wants to have a quick, fairly easy bathroom option…so we replanned the whole thing to build it indoors (because he always gets his own way… pout).

My office space has been used as a dump site for all those things that don’t really have a place inside, but need to be inside (empty bottles for wine making, bulk pasture grass, tents and camping gear, the list goes on). So I decided to donate my unusable space to the bathroom cause…I emptied out everything and got rid of a lot of stuff (I am now a digital immigrant) and moved out all that extra stuff. It mis amazing to me that we manage to attract so much junk; I don’t buy a lot of things and I try to reduce at every opportunity, but still we are drowning in possessions. Clearing out the office space was actually really freeing for me as I realised that I hadn’t used a lot of that stuff for years and therrefore didn’t need it.

We were luck enough to buy a second hand shower bay from a local renovator. It is a huge fibreglass shape with holes for the shower head and taps. We bought it home in the trailer and it sat in the newly empty office space for months, I used it to store washing in. The washing machine was moved over to the bathroom area with no fuss and we began to enjoy gazing out the window while washing. My partner eventually built a frame for the shower bay to sit in and fitted a drain to it to take the waste water out to the planned new self watering garden beds (that aren’t built yet, of course).

The water is heated by the camping gas water heater we had in the shed. The water is stored in a small tank and pumped to the gas instantanious water heater by a 12 Volt water pump. The water temperature can be set on the heating unit before you get into the shower. This system is a bit complicated, but it stops us using too much water by luxuriating in the warm water. We can only use as much water as we put in the tank.

We now use more than 10 litres each per shower, it is up to about 50 litres each, but the warm, indoor shower is worth the cost.

Even the dogs appreciate having a place to have a warm bath.

The only downfall (pun intended) is the height we had to put the shower bay at; to allow for drainage. This high shower means that we have to essentially climb up and down when having a shower. There are plans to build a step eventually, but for now, it just means we are careful about getting in and out (it keeps us flexible).

It is hard to describe the feeling of luxury we have when showering indoors, with warm water. Every night I have a warm shower and climb into bed, enjoying not having had to carry a bucket of water out into the cold wind and rain (sometimes), then shiver my way back indoors to stand in front of the fire warming up. I enjoy the luxury of feeling warm water running over my head in a steady stream while I wash my hair. I feel rich and decadent, I am so very grateful for the opportunity to feel pampered and I am sure the wildlife appreciates not being disturbed by our noise and lights while we shower outdoors too.

The earthbag chook house- rubble stem wall

I know… I haven’t finished the bathroom walls yet. It has been years since I had any time or energy to attack the building of the bathroom. We have showered outdoors through another two Winter’s of cold wind and frosty toes. However… the chook house needs to be built, and I really want to build some fire resistant animal shelters. Once it is rendered, earthbag walls are fire proof and roof structures can be made fire safe (if not totally fire proof), so I decided to build with earthbags again.

The basic chook house design criteria is as small a building as I can make and still be functional (I only want to keep a few chooks now we are using fewer eggs). I decided on a curved shape (like half an egg) with a high ‘window’ for the chooks to get in and out of, and a small, tight fitting door on the Southern side (facing the humpy) made from thick, solid wood. I will probably make a space in the wall that can be accessed from the outside as nesting boxes (with a solid wood, tight fitting hatch) and include some pipes near the ceiling with wire mesh covers to act as ventilation. This will be a fairly dark, dim space for the chooks to sleep in and lay their eggs, which is what they prefer anyway, there should be enough light to see when dawn comes though.

I decided to use a rubble/rock stem wall, just because I wanted to see how it will perform with earthbags stacked on top. I spent a few days collecting rocks from our property, then my daughter and I dug a shallow trench in the shape we wanted the chook house to be.

The start of the trench
Loads of rocks on the farm ute
Waiting to become a wall
My daughter has a talent for building rock walls it seems
The trench for the rest of the walls was dug slowly
Ready for walls
Nearly there
Stage one complete

Hopefully the earthbags will lay on the top of the wall, this should be high enough to keep the rain water off the earth rendered walls. The gaps between the rocks will allow mice and snakes to get into the chook house (to be avoided if possible), so I am planning on rendering over the rocks with something that will seal the gaps, maybe a cement based render?

The floor of the house will probably be an earth floor, similar to what we will have in the house. It will give me a chance to play with the concept and learn how to make a good, hardwearing floor.

I am planning on a living roof on the chook house, this will hopefully insulate the chooks inside from heat and cold, be more fire proof and will allow me space to plant pumpkins. I will have to find a way to seal the eaves of the roof so they are less likely to burn, but that problem is in the future. For now, I have finished the stem wall, the bags for the wall come next, then I have to think about how to frame a door, an access window and nest boxes.

Making incense cones with common ingredients

I don’t know about you, but I love incense (it hides a multitude of house wifely sins). We have many, many animals living in our humpy, both by invitation and without; we have the chooks and ducks in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) who are inside while being healed from various bodily woes, or are long term guests because of an injury or birth defect, we also have an indoor aviary that houses many small birds (rescued and found) who can’t be released for one reason or another and we have three dogs who are no longer young, we have skinks, geckos, mice and the odd snake, finally we have three humans (who may be the smelliest of all). Although the animal enclosures are cleaned regularly (daily for the messier ones) and we do our best to keep our own mess under control, the humpy still smells like a zoo (naturally). So, every now and then I like to burn a heap of incense to lighten the mood.

Incense is expensive and I am never sure what it is made from, so I guess it is time to find out how to make my own. I have been making loose incense for many years, but that requires a charcoal block to burn it on. Charcoal blocks can be hard to find in our area and tend to absorb moisture from the air and be hard to light. Incense cones seem like the obvious solution, and they can just be set on a plate and lit, so are convenient too.

I found this easy to adjust recipe at Permacrafters.com and decided to give it a go as it uses easy to find in my kitchen/garden ingredients.

Traditionally, incense is made by mixing herbs, resins and oils with a powder called makko (which is made from the bark of several trees). I haven’t got any makko as it isn’t used in making loose incense, but I feel that the ingredients need a bulking and binding agent to help make my cones. This is (of course) different from the recipe. The principle attribute of makko powder is that it is made from an easily combustible bark that does not smell strongly when burned. I reasoned that gum tree bark is also very combustible (as the annual bushfires prove) and the smoke has a pleasant smell. I trotted off outside and picked up some shed gum tree bark.

This bark was popped into my trusty coffee grinder (which needed a good scrub after the ordeal) and ground into powder. Ta Da!!!, true Australian makko.

Next I ground up my incense in the coffee grinder;

5 tspn makko

1 tspn frankincense gum

1/2 tspn acacia gum

1 tspn cinnamon powder

1 tspn cloves

2 tspn dried rosemary leaves

Then I added;

2 tspn raw honey

3 tspn water (I added the water a tspn at a time and mix until I could see the consistency)

The mixture was kneaded in the little bowl until it could be formed into cone shapes that stick together well. This lot made 12 cones of fairly large size.

I left the little cones on a tray to dry out in the kitchen. They apparently take a week to dry enough to use and need to dry very slowly to avoid crumbling.

They smell like honey and cinnamon sitting on their tray, a not unpleasant smell to have hanging around the kitchen. I hope they smell as nice when they are burned.

I know the recipe is different from the one I found, I really just used that as a guide to make my own recipe.

I will post a note here to let you know what the results are…

I couldn’t wait, after just one night I decided to try out the incense. It took a long time to light up (probably because it’s not fully dry yet) and had to be relit twice. The smell is really pleasant, weirdly it smells sort of vanilla like, I really like it. The gum tree bark doesn’t add a bushfire smell to the incense, so I think that is a success. I guess I will have to wait a few more days to see if the extra drying time will make it easier to light.

Home Biogas system- changing the filters

Recently the biogas started to smell a bit, it had the particular odour of sewage when the burner was lit. This is not what you want to smell when you put the kettle on for your morning coffee. The smell means it is time to change the gas filter, luckily I had ordered a kit months ago. The gas filter is a plastic pot filled with activated charcoal, the pot has holes in the top and the sides so gas can travel through it. A rubber seal around the pot makes sure the gas has no option but to travel through the charcoal filter. They are fairly easy to change, having been designed that way, but there are some important things to note when doing this routine maintenance.

All you really need to do when changing the gas filter is;

  1. remove the stickers from the new filter canister.
  2. lever the lid of the gas collection pipe up until you can open it.
  3. pull out the old gas filter using the handy rope handle.
  4. place the new filter in the gas collection pipe.
  5. replace the lid of the gas collection pipe.
  6. open the old filter and add the charcoal to the compost pile or the worm farm.

However… I made several mistakes that led to us having no gas for several days and smelled fairly bad too.

My first mistake was not looking to see which way up the rubber seal on the gas collection pipe lid went. In fact I mistakenly threw the seal out as I thought it was from the old canister at first. This seal stops the filtered gas from escaping into the atmosphere, so it’s pretty important. The seal is contoured, so it needs to face the right way.

My second mistake was to try changing the filter when the balloon was full of gas. Nobody wanted to use the burner because of the smell, so the balloon was very full of lovely methane (and sulphur compounds). I levered off the gas collection pipe lid and got a face full of smelly gas as the balloon deflated entirely.

Other than those two mistakes, the whole process is fairly easy and no fuss. Next time I will change the filter as soon as I get a tiny whiff of smell and make sure to use all the gas before I change it. I wish I had taken photos of which way the seal goes in the lid, but I didn’t. Instead I took a screen shot from the assembly app to remind myself which way the rubber seal goes.

This system is so easy to assemble and maintain that I wonder why everyone doesn’t have one. It needs a little bit of maintaining now and then, but what system doesn’t? The benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.

The toilet is going to need a new water pump seal soon and the chlorine filter for the effluent needs replacing too, I am hoping those go as easily (but with less mistakes) as the gas filter change.

Spring flowers at the humpy

Lately, I have been forced to slow down and look at the ground more (to avoid falling over a lot), that has led to noticing a lot more of the small and unnoticed flowers that grow here. I don’t have any idea whether most of these are native plants or not, I don’t know what they are called at all, but they are beautiful. I thought I would share the beauty with you. If you know the names of any of these little beauties, leave a comment.

And a few from my garden (I know what these ones are).

In some ways, I am grateful for my dizzy spells; they have let me slow down and really see all the beauty that surrounds us again. On the other hand, it will be wonderful to be able to move around fast without falling over again too.

A new sink for the humpy

We have needed a new sink unit for a long time. The one we have is a second hand unit with no doors that we got from a local school when they were upgrading their kitchen. It is made from chip board and has only one door. Recently we found a really good deal on a new but unwanted stainless steel commercial sink… so we bit the bullet and bought it. Now we have to put the new sink in. One afternoon, after the day’s work, we decided to attack this easy project…

I emptied the old sink cupboard and removed all the shelves. Then we disconnected the water in and the water out pipes (more complicated than I had imagined) and moved the old unit out. The cupboard part was a lot heavier than I anticipated, it was damp and smelly and there was a space under the base that specialised in collecting dust bunnies. Once it was out and the elephant sized dust bunnies were collected up, we started putting the new unit together (of course it was flat pack).

Putting the unit in place was, in fact, the easy part. Connecting the water inlets and outlets proved to be a bit of a mission. We were all tired and wanted to sit down by the time we got to water connection, but the job had to be finished because washing up waits for no man.

The holes for the taps had to be drilled into my pristine stainless steel sink unit; I was very nervous and there was much discussion about hole sizes and which drill to use. The holes were drilled and the taps put in without any problem and we were on to the water connection bit. The water inlet had to be screwed onto the tap pipe, which (as it turned out) was nicely hidden by the sink unit itself. My partner couldn’t get his (admittedly large and clumsy) hands into the tiny space, luckily my daughter has much smaller hands which did fit into the space, but it took a very long time to tighten up the connection as she couldn’t see what she was doing and had to rely on touch alone.

Next was the drinking water filter unit. We took the opportunity to change the filters on the unit while the unit was free. This unit just bolts to the wall under the sink and the filters need to be changed every six months. That job went smoothly, but seemed to take forever and the filters were housing a well advanced culture of bacteria and general slime.

With all the essentials connected up, we stacked all the essential stuff that usually goes under the sink (cleaning stuff, tea towels, soap, etc) into plastic containers and shoved them under the sink on the handy shelf. At long last we were ready to relax for the evening.

Now we have a new, easy to clean sink and our kitchen is complete. This kitchen will move with us to the house when it is built, so we consider it an investment to buy long lasting units.

The actual house building is going to take a while as we are still struggling to find the funds to build. If you have advice or ideas, feel free to let us know.

#coronavirus- sewing family cloths

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.

I have a few old sheets in my stash. They are so useful.
Using a quilting board to cut out my squares.
My pile of 40 or so family cloths.
Darby goose looks on curiously.
A big pile of overlocked squares, ready to be used.

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.

The cloths are on the left in that little container, it holds 30 squares. The toilet paper is for my partner to use (and visitors…eventually).
The basket for collecting the used cloths. the toilet is in one of those camping shower tent things, so the hanging pockets come in handy here.

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.