House update – We have a house site cleared

The loggers have been and gone, leaving a lot of tree heads lying around and a pervading sense of guilt (for me anyway). They were very careful to preserve the areas we identified and even identified some habitat areas we didn’t know about and I am really very grateful to them for that, but I still feel guilty about the amount of disturbance we have created on our block. So many animals have lost homes and many species of plant have been affected. We only plan to log the block once and all income will go to building our house.

The good news is that we have a house site cleared and some money to go on to the next step of building; getting our design approved by council and beginning the building. We also have a good fire break cleared around the humpy and house site and I do feel a good deal safer because of this.

The house site looks like chaos; there are some stumps in the cleared area and a lot of disturbed soil. The loggers used their earth moving machinery to dig out the stumps and roots inside the actual house site so that digging the foundation trenches will be easier, they cleared all the vegetation in a 30 metre radius around the house site and pushed the tree heads back to 40 metres. Looking at the space now, I can see the house and garden there in my imagination.

We plan to plant fire retarding plants and trees around the fire break and many fruit and nut trees inside.

I went out at dawn one morning this week (in my all too thin nighty; it has been cold) and stood where my kitchen sink will one day be. I stood there imagining what it will be like to wash up while the sun rises in my own house. How will I feel to know I am living my everyday life in a place I have personally built? Will I remember the long years of struggle, planning and set backs? Will I be thankful for the beauty and comfort around me? or will I just be cursing people who choose to get another coffee mug each time rather than rinsing and re-using the first one?

This will be the view from my kitchen window (which is , of course, over the sink). I plan to have gardens rather than bare soil though.

Next, we will be sending in our application to council. Things are moving…slowly, but surely.

Advertisements

A new washing system organised

While we were putting in the new door recently my enterprising partner whipped up some hanging racks for me to streamline our washing system.

My mother has occasionally stated that my washing line gets more like a wardrobe every day because I am prone to using the line as a secondary storage place for clothes and also because of my habit of hanging my newly washed clothes on coat hangers and hanging them on the line to dry. I do this because I do not have to spend much time folding and putting away clothes; I can simply pick up the clothes, hangers and all, and hang them in the appropriate wardrobe. It also saves space on the line.

The clothes are seperated by spaced pegs to allow air flow and even drying.
Underwear and socks are pegged on coat hangers then hung with the other clothes. Such a saving of time and effort when bringing them in. Also a big saving on space on the line.
My sorting system; clothes are sorted into baskets as they are taken off.

In order to do this at weekly washing time I need to have a store of coat hangers nearby. I now have a rack for storing these coat hangers and another (removable) rack to hang washing on until it is taken to the line.

Hangers are stored on the rack above the new door; out of the way and convenient to the washing machine.
The clothes are hung on hangers straight out of the washing machine and hung on the holding rack. When the whole load is hung I take them to the line in one go.

Using this system I can wash, hang and peg out the washing in no time at all. It’s amazing how these little savings in time and energy can make me feel all efficient and productive.

The front door is in…finally

This weekend my partner suddenly burst into action and installed the long awaited front door (we are talking years here). This door marks the last piece of the puzzle for our humpy; we are now officially able to lock the entire building up.

The geese were very surprised to see us coming and going through this new door and honked around it every time it moved.

Having a door there at the front of the humpy (well…the side that faces the front of the block, about 1km to the North of the humpy) is a very useful addition in terms of efficiency of movement. Originally I planned to have the door there so I could reach the conveniently placed washing line and chook pen quickly. Then, as the building activity slowed, the hole that would become a door became blocked off by tin and a thick curtain (to block Winter breezes) and we resorted to carrying washing and chook food around the humpy from the Western door.

The washing machine sat in front of where the door would be for the last year or so as the temporarily tacked on tin was a good place to run the water drain through. Now I am trying to reconcile having the washing machine right beside the front door because the drain is attached to the outside of the humpy and it is a fairly large job to move it.

This was a fairly quick and simple job; we simply removed everything in front of the space and raked the area clear. Then we found some of the ever-useful pavers lying around and made a fairly level base for the door frame.

The door and frame were screwed to the existing wall frame and the the open side was framed.

The door and frame was picked up from a garage sale for about $10 at some point in the last two years, it has been leaning against the wall in the humpy since then. I had ceased to notice it sitting there. My ingenious partner found some aluminum framing in the useful pile out the back and made a frame for the door frame (if that makes sense?). Some scraps of corrugated iron screwed to the frames means that we now have a wall with a door in it.

My daughter is aiming to paint the door and it’s frame to protect it from the weather as we think it is an internal door (not complaining for $10).

It is amazing how much difference it makes to the feel and look of that end of the humpy; it sort of feels finished. I love being able to step out into the front yard and walk straight to the washing line or chook pen and I am even thinking about how to arrange a little table with two chairs so I can sit out there for breakfast in Summer.

From the outside

How did we come to be off grid?

I had a question asked yesterday by a lovely lady who reads my blog; how did we come to start our off-grid adventure? This is the long, convoluted and wordy answer to that question (with some gratuitous photos, of course).

A busy front yard shot. Totally without context.

I was raised off-grid; when I was born my parents lived in an old bus and a tiny cabin in the Sydney area. They had electricity for a short time when I was a baby, but always collected their own rain water. We moved to the Bellingen area when I was three, to a house with no electricity. Although we did eventually get grid electricity connected there, we moved again when I was 12…you guessed it…to a house with only self generated electricity. We had a generator for many years before eventually adding a solar system.

One of my more exciting memories is of my father allowing me to rewire part of the generator from a wiring diagram and then making sure that all personnel had exited the building before trying it out for the first time (I really thought the monster machine would explode if I had wired it wrong).

When I first moved in with my partner (Wow…35 years ago!!) we had a flat with electricity, which seemed the very height of luxury to me at the time. We had light switches which could be flicked on without first checking the battery charge percentage. We had hot water from a tap that didn’t involve the lighting of a fire or the gathering of dry wood. We even had a wood burning heater which was allowed to burn with no pots cooking on top of it (such wasteful decadence). The thrill wore off though; after years of living with electricity bills and the constant, low-grade environmental guilt all that decadence caused, all I really wanted was to return to responsible living and the different, but valid luxuries of living in the bush.

Prim at the markets. One of our family members.

My partner, myself and two small (but annoying) girls moved back to the bush about 20 years ago. We lived in an old farm house with no electricity, outside water supply or garbage pick up. We were share farming Biodynamic avocados and the house was part of the contract. For me, it was a return to my comfort zone, but my poor partner struggled with being away from electricity and the responsibility of providing our own water for the first time in his life. He loved the sheer gadgetry (for want of a better descriptive term) of the solar set up and the generator, but he struggled with the restrictions they bought with them. He did eventually get the hang of it though, after a lot of flat batteries, bans on electronics and fixing broken generators (which died from over use). By the time we moved to our current block and built the humpy he was an accomplished bush dweller, who knows the value of a litre of water or a kilowatt of electricity.

Carpet snake in a tree anyone?

My partner will still opt for comfort over economy every time, while I will go for economy over comfort. This balancing act makes sure we get some of each (and sometimes both) in our projects. Our overall goal is to build our home world with as little reliance on the increasingly unstable outside world as possible. For us to understand the mechanics of our support systems (so we can fix them if they break) and to make as small an impact on our surroundings as we can (at least of a negative nature).

We also view the animal world as no different to the human world (We are, after all hairless apes) and try to treat our family members of various species accordingly. I like to think this isn’t an ‘air headed, hippie’ notion as we realise that every animal (humans included) have differing needs and need to be treated accordingly. It means that when we consider the needs and wants of our family, we weigh them equally; for example, our sheep; Freida has a need for company, as sheep are social animals, it was inconvenient to have her with us every hour of the day, but we considered it a worthwhile sacrifice for us to always leave someone home or take her with us in order to nurture her sense of security.

This means that we have a house full of animals most of the time. Animals come and go as they need help, some stay for their lifetimes, some grow up and move on. I love this lifestyle, it allows me to get to know a lot of species very well. It also means we live in an environment that is often messy and really encourages our immune system to be as strong as possible. Life in our humpy is never boring.

House update- an exciting visit

With everything that has been going on for the last few months we haven’t done much on the house building for a while. Things have started to move again though…slowly. This week several things came together to get things moving again.

Firstly the loggers are at our place. I have very mixed feelings about this; we need the money this will bring in to build our house, we can’t do it without this big input of cash…but, I hate ripping our ecosystem apart and creating so much destruction (especially in the face of news about our current mass extinction). I drive through the chaos every morning on the way to work and apologise to the land in my head. The loggers are very good and are sticking to the rules, they are good people who do care about the animals and plants sharing our space; my mixed feelings come from my own guilt about making that decision.

Secondly, and on a more positive note, Hayden from Curvatecture (the company we are working with to get the building off and racing) happened to be in our area when I emailed to let him know we would soon be making moves towards building again. He decided to pop in and see our site and get a feel for our lifestyle on his way through.

We introduced him to all the animals and he was very good about patting Freida when she demanded it. He shared a cup of tea with us (coffee for me) and we got to know each other a little. Hayden is a very interesting person who has some great ideas for our house, and I think we were able to sort out some general understandings. He has been a source of great information and advice so far.

As soon as the loggers have finished we will be finalising our house plans and hopefully starting to build. The first stage will be the house foundation, we are hoping that the funds from logging will get us through the council approval stage and (with luck) build the foundation. After that we will have to get creative to fund the next stage of building; the walls.

Home Biogas system – a BIG step forward (part one)

We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.

Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.

Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.

The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.

We eventually decided to go with a Home Biogas unit from Quality Solar and Plumbing

They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).

As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.

A gratuitous ocean shot from our long journey to Mullumbimby to pick up our biogas system.

The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.

This is the working unit. It was really exciting to see one working.
You put the food scraps or animal manure into the black pipe at this end…
and gas and fertiliser come out this end. How amazing is that?
This is the stove unit that comes with the kit. There is no smell at all to the gas and this burner obviously gets a lot of use.

We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.

The two boxes in the car constitute the entire kit. I was amazed at the small size of the whole thing and how light it was to haul around. It will be much heavier once the bottom of the digester is full of water.

The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…

A new fridge

The time has come to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. At the moment we have an aged gas fridge gifted to us by my partner’s uncle. It is at least 30 years old and doesn’t really keep anything cool any more. It is capricious about keeping things frozen and seems to find amusement in allowing greens to turn to slime overnight.

The decision

We need to do something about the fridge; which leaves us with two options. We can buy a new gas fridge at the cost of around $2000 plus ongoing gas costs…or we can spend around $15000 on an upgraded solar system and get an electric fridge. Our current solar system can not produce enough power to run a fridge.

The gas stove seems to be the cheaper option, but the solar system upgrade also has other advantages. We have needed new storage batteries for a very long time as the old batteries are over 15 years of age and like to give the fridge a run for it’s money in the capriciousness grand finals. The extra electricity can be used to run our various pumps and filters on the ever increasing fish tank collection and means we can literally turn on the fan whenever we want to…without checking the battery charge levels first (an almost mythical luxury here).

We decided, eventually, after much argument and discussion (in which fan use figured heavily), to go for the solar upgrade option. This involves getting a personal loan (something we have been trying to avoid) and many hours of work putting the new system in place.

The project

After securing a personal loan (groan) and shopping around for the best deal, we picked up our new solar system.

The solar panels, batteries and other associated bits have been stored in the shed waiting for time to put them together. Several jobs need to be completed before the new fridge can be installed.

First; the generator needs to be moved closer to the shed so the batteries can be attached to it for charging when there is no sun (they will need to be charged on the generator until the solar panels are connected too).

Not pretty, but the tires and gravel keep the generator up above water level

Second; the batteries need to be arranged in their box in the shed and wired to the regulator and other bits of technology that keep them balanced and operational.

The magical battery box in the shed.
Inside the battery box. I don’t know what it means but it works.
The regulator and other unknowable bits that get the electricity from the panels to the batteries.

Third; the solar panels need to be connected to each other and then to the batteries (via the regulator).

The front row of panels is on the shed roof. That part gets more sun in the winter.

Fourth; the fridge can be put in the kitchen and turned on. This step involves putting down a cement pad to make sure the fridge is level (our kitchen floor is NOT level).

You can just see the cement pad under the fridge.

My partner has done the majority of the work on this project, between working and fixing things I break. He has done a great job getting it all going and is now able to enjoy turning on the fan any time he likes…just in time for winter. Having a fridge that seems to enjoy keeping things cool and having a LOT more freezer space has allowed us to cut our shopping down considerably and we no longer have much food waste. The chooks don’t like this turn of events, but there is a downside to everything.

Craft room cleaning challenge part 2

The craft room has filled up again. I know I said I wouldn’t let it, but I did. I didn’t even acquire any more fleeces! The jam up is all things that need to be stored elsewhere or just go to the various places rubbish goes in our house (compost, chook pen, recycling, dump or second hand store). So today is the day for making a start…again.

I have been spinning a little bit in the last few months, but obviously not enough, because I still have bins full of fleece. The fleece is the biggest space-taker in the craft room, I really need a better way to store it. Second place in the space-taker competition is the many bags of rags, old sheets, t-shirts, etc that are jamming up the shelves waiting to become something. Half way through the cleaning out process I decided to make piles of rag rugs with the multiple shopping bags full of fabric scraps left over from sewing projects. I warped up the loom and wove a quick rug for Freida to sleep on (look out for a later post on weaving rag rugs on a loom).

20181109_1721338914195160366963767.jpg

On the loom

20181110_123909(0)8864149943645949292.jpg

Finished mat on the floor

20181110_1239526655759978876293803.jpg

Of course, she chooses to sleep on the pavers instead

 

In an attempt to make some more space I sold my second spinning wheel and moved all the looms, except the one I am using to the shed (where they will be eaten by white ants no doubt). I also packed about 7 boxes of second hand store bound boxes into the car and made a special trip to town to make sure they didn’t end up back in the craft room.

20181110_1129361087759937405075376.jpg

There is a little bit more space in there now, but I think I had better get making and crafting, especially spinning and weaving.

20181111_0822115343555879909265411.jpg

Yes, that is all fleece

20181111_0822401586320493063499169.jpg

So is that

20181111_0822054522089902715646370.jpg

This is rags waiting to become rugs

 

Swallow’s nest build

We named our property Swallow’s Nest, mainly because I wanted to build my house like swallows do; round and made from earth. I shouldn’t be surprised that a pair of swallows has decided to try building a nest inside the humpy…we did ask for it after all.

20180929_0936408492347564537641950.jpg

Yes, that is a swallow’s bum

There are many legends about swallows bringing luck to a household; they are a symbol of spring and the rain coming (although here I prefer to rely on the Channel Bill Cuckoos to bring the rain), it is believed that a building where they nest will not burn down and it’s occupants will be protected from disease and harm (I found an interesting book about bird myths of the world, if you want to read about swallows go to page 40 of this book).

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the way they build nests; they carry a cob mix of mud, hair, straw and anything else they can pick up in their beaks and build a tiny cob cottage to raise their young in. They work all day every day on their project and have it finished within a few days. We had them nesting on the verandah of our previous house and I loved to watch them repair the nest every spring and reline it with soft stuff like feathers and dog hair. The babies seemed to hatch so quickly and then to grow even faster. The first flight of each clutch was always an exciting time for the whole household. When we moved from that house, the next occupant knocked down the nest and put up rubber snakes to deter them (he didn’t like the mess they make, and yes, they do make a mess), he eventually killed them because they wouldn’t leave their ancestral home. When I heard this , I cried for days. Over the decade we were at that house the swallows had become family, we knew each one and we loved them all. I imagined that they must have felt betrayed by us for not protecting their home. So when the young couple arrived here this year and wanted to build their house inside the humpy I was ecstatic (although we will be taking steps to reduce the mess).

First we need to put up a shelf to stop bits of cob dropping through to the floor. At the moment we have a bucket under the area where most of the mud is dropping. Then we will have to make sure the nearby furniture and book shelves have cloth covers over them as protection from poop and dropped mud.

20180929_0936572861107293731636968.jpg

Dropped cob from the construction site.

20180929_1104083569944733477350908.jpg

The short term fix; a bucket to catch cob mix

When the eggs hatch (after 21 days) one of the parents will fly out with the egg shell and drop it away from the nest. Finding an egg shell is often the first clue that you have babies. For the first week, mum (and dad, to a lesser degree) will bundle up the poop in neat white packages and fly them away from the nest too. After the new babies learn to stick their bum over the edge of the nest is when the most mess is made though; the babies will poop continually and make streaky messy, smelly marks on everything. We are hoping that a shelf under the nest will catch most of this poop and can be occasionally scraped clean (between clutches probably).

If this is going to become a yearly event, and it will if they manage to raise a clutch or two in the nest, we will have to look at arranging the furniture so the whole thing is easier to clean. We are a little worried about the position they have chosen being close to a known antechinus highway, but they will just have to take their chances, unless we can figure out a way to block access (perhaps a privacy screen?).

20180929_110255196193668276589206.jpg

I will try to set up my trail camera to take photos of the build and clutch raising as it progresses. It may be difficult once the shelf is in place though. At this early stage of building it is easy for them to decide to go somewhere else, so we are hoping that the shelf building doesn’t frighten them away.

The shelf is up. Now to see if they come back…

20181001_0709386483985101055478508.jpg

They came back and continue to build their nest. I am busily trying to think of a way to block off access to the nest by the antechinus. No ideas that are workable so far though. I have decided to try setting up the trail camera this afternoon.

Well the trail cam idea did not work out at all; the photos are just too blurry to be useful. My daughter did climb up and take some photos of our new babies though.

received_2321523641195278390225045864712965.jpeg

The babies are fine and the antechinus don’t seem to be able to get them. The babies are loud and very sweet at the moment. Let the mess making begin.

What to do with dog poop- Bokashi

Because our old boy; Spot gets lost easily these days we have restricted the dog yard to a small area in the front of the humpy (what were we thinking?). This means that great piles of dog poop, never guessed at levels of dog poop, have gathered in the yard and have to be picked up daily. We have four dogs, who until recently, pooped either outside the yard or where chickens could tidy it up. I have not had to deal with it for years.

Suddenly I have a problem; poop. I decided to try a sort of modified, cobbled together, bokashi composting system, to see if I can turn all that problem into a resource. The compost which results can be buried in ornamental bed (which I will have to install).

Bokashi compost is a form of anaerobic composting that uses a bacteria culture grown on bran of some sort to activate it. It is great for city living; where you don’t have access to wide open spaces it is OK to be smelly in. I don’t bother with it here as the compost goes through so many animal systems that it doesn’t make sense to separate it into a bucket really. However, I think it is ideal for Composting dog poop.

The trouble is, Idon’t want to spend $100 on a few plastic props and a pair of tongs. So I decided to make my own;

An old yellow bin I found laying around will do as a container. It has no bottom (rusted away years ago) and has a lid (somewhere around).

0B1C8D9E-6702-4C2B-8E19-F2E24F291650

Yes, that old bin near the peach tree

I added an old Pooper Scooper that had ended up in our animal medicine cabinet (don’t ask me, I just work here), to make it clear what the purpose of the bin was. I collected all the poop from the yard and layered it in to bin with sprinkles of the Bokashi starter in between layers.

4112716F-1F9B-444E-8661-892B8EA9BBA2

8DEF81A5-FD54-401F-A331-024DBA9BB0C3

I think the label should say Bokashi Maize, but it still works, even with bad spelling

63D368D3-1AAA-49D7-8E82-6005A467FF97

I will continue to layer the poop and starter until the bin is full. Then I will let it sit for six months or so (and find another bin to continue the process). After that, I should, in theory, have a great compost to add to the peach tree as a Spring treat.

I have once again taken over a job that nature usually deals with, all because I have to confine my old dog for his own safety. I do get to learn more about the secret world of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and how it relates to nutrient cycling though.