A new kitchen for the humpy and the house

The cupboard above fell to pieces.

One of our old kitchen cupboards fell apart; it was a third hand, patched up old thing, but it served us well for many years. Instead of patching it up again, I decided to go with the option we had identified for the house (when it is finally built); a garage storage system. We can use the storage system in the humpy, then move it to the house when it is finished.

Instead of spending thousands on a chipboard, prefabricated kitchen for the round house (which wouldn’t really fit anyway), we decided to go with stainless steel storage modules. So I went online and found some reasonable options. To be fair, the prices were only reasonable if you factored in the decades of service we expect from this kitchen.

The delivery truck came right out to the humpy; a total unknown experience for courier companies up until this week. Usually we have to take a trailer in to the local town to pick up anything delivered ‘to the door’ by courier companies. He unloaded the flat pack boxes and drove away fast, no doubt vowing to never deliver out of town again.

We got to work putting the cupboards and bench together in between bush fire preparation and animal care, and managed to get everything sorted and put away with only two days work.

My partner un packing the first box
The inevitable pause to read the instructions and puzzle over what language they are written in.
Putting the bench together
The panels and little packets of screws were leaned up against every surface.
The bench and two rolling cupboards with timber tops put together and filled with kitchen stuff. Then the old cupboards were taken out and the contents stacked all over the kitchen while we put the new one together.
Part of the old cupboards were cut down to give us even more stacking space in the new cupboard.
All sorted and put away. I managed to get rid of a few things from the old cupboard, but not as much as I had hoped.
This is the big cupboard with the doors shut.
A new stainless steel bench to fill up with washing up.
Notice the coffee and wine bar; I painted an old book case with the purple and gold paint left over from painting the bin system and stacked our coffee and tea on it. Then I thought I may as well keep the wine there too.
I haven’t had kitchen draws for years, it is nice to be able to put things away in draws like a normal person.
Doesn’t the cutlery look neat…so far.
The biogas stove has a new shelf and it is going so well we sometimes have to think up things to cook with it just to use the gas. We are thinking about getting another gas bladder to collect all the extra gas we are currently losing.

I am really looking forward to cooking in this new kitchen space. It feels clean and fresh. The space seems much bigger in there now too.

Eggs everywhere- it sure is Spring

There are three people living in the humpy at the moment; one can’t eat eggs, one won’t eat eggs, then there is me. We have 8 laying hens, about 6 laying ducks and 2 laying geese; we collect about 8 eggs a day, or about 66 eggs a week. If you compare both sides of this scale you can see that a lot of eggs get wasted, and I hate waste.

I do attempt to use all our eggs, but have failed miserably in the task so far. Some of the methods we use are;

Fried eggs on weekends (for me)- this uses up about 4 eggs a week

Trading them to friends for veges- about a 12 a week

Using them in baking – about 6 a week

Making quiche (not every week)- about 8 a week

Giving them to a friend with an incubator- about 6 a week

All that gives me a total of, at most, 36 eggs used. I did freeze 2 dozen for use when they all stop laying, but that was a temporary reprieve. I don’t want to sell eggs (too many regulations) and most of my friends have chooks and are in the same predicament as I am (but if you live close and want eggs let me know, especially duck eggs).

So, to address some of the extra eggs, I went looking for egg recipes that could be made then frozen. That way we use the eggs and I have another meal that can be heated up for dinner. This is what I found;

Scrambled eggs, beans and sauce in a burrito; love the sound of this one.

Blueberry scones with icing; sounds delicious

Baked French toast sticks; okay we’ve drifted away from the idea of dinners, but they do use eggs.

Egg and vegetable noodle slice; freezable and good for lunch or dinner.

Halloumi, cheese and egg hot pot; sounds good, but I’m not sure it will freeze.

Broccolli and feta strata; whatever that is.

I’m not going to try all these recipes in one day (I do hate to cook), but I think I can manage one each weekend. That should fill the freezer with breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first frantic weeks of school.

We also take some of the excess eggs out to the edge of the firebreaks for the goannas and possums. In these dry times all our native animals are searching for food and water. The sheep water troughs and the occasional water tray around the outskirts of the humpy provide water for wildlife and the excess eggs provide just a little nutrition for struggling beings.

I know this sends a mixed message; we don’t want goannas in the house yard and the possums can be very destructive too. I do it because I can see a day, not too far in the future, when animals that are common now will be rare and endangered. I do it because I don’t want any being to suffer and if I have the means to ease suffering, it is my duty to do it. I do it because I love to see the variety of animals who show up to take advantage of the free food.

Eggs show up in the strangest places.

Home Biogas system- part three- the toilet

We finally got around to putting the toilet on the biogas system. Mostly because the old pit toilet is VERY full (no pictures), and I developed a tummy bug over the weekend. These two factors in combination drove me to push everyone to throw together at least a temporary fix for the increasingly urgent problem of the full pit toilet.

The inside of our new toilet. Only another humpy dweller is likely to understand just how exciting this moment actually is.

The pit toilet has been great for about five and a half years. It took a month to build, and it was a great relief to have it finished at the time. If you click the links, you can read all about that adventure. Since the worms seem to no longer be living in the pit, and there are very few flies around (a worry of a deeper kind), the pit has filled to the point of being in danger of over flowing. We never did get the toilet building built, instead we continued to replace the tarp stretched over the top on a yearly basis.

The new biogas toilet will have a similar privacy situation, and the plan is to build a solid structure over it (but given our past experience, I don’t know when/if that will happen). The kit came with almost everything we needed, so instead of taking a month of labor (on and off) to build, it took me a frantic two hours (and a bit of help with lifting and drilling) to put the basics together.

First, I found a solid pallet in the useful pile in the sheep pen. This pallet will need to be replaced fairly soon as it is not made from hardwood, but it serves the purpose for the moment. The pedestal is bolted onto it using four roofing screws and another piece of timber under the screw holes to give it a bit of security. The pedestal feels solid and reliable, and the extra height brings it up to the western conventional position.

The temporary bucket set up
The kit even has a filter for the flush water.

Secondly, the flush side of the plumbing was set up. I just pushed the inlet hoses onto the inlet spout on the toilet and put the filter on the pipe, then dropped the free end into an old bucket (with water in it). The bucket holds some precious second use water from the sink where we wash our hands. Usually we use this water on the garden, but we are forced to put some of it through the biogas system now.

You can clearly see the hose connections in this photo
The outlet hose goes into the biogas unit. There is about 2 metres of hose inside the unit to be sure the poop is delivered to the bottom of the bacteria colony.

The last step is to connect the outlet pipe to the toilet and feed about two metres of pipe into the unit to be sure the poop goes where it needs to go; to the bottom of the unit where the most bacteria live.

The toilet is operated by setting a switch to either a 1 or a 2 (I figured out that this is 1 for pee or 2 for poop) and pumping the handle up and down until everything goes away. It is comfortable and easy to use.

The effluent currently flows into the white tub and is used on the garden, but now there will be human effluent rather than just horse poop going into it that will need to change.

My next job is to connect the effluent pipe to a transpiration or mulch pit. Since we have been using only horse and occasionally dog poop in the unit (along with some food scraps) and the effluent is filtered through a chlorine tablet, I have been using it on the garden to feed all my plants. Now the human poop element has been added, I will have to divert the effluent to a mulch pit or another underground absorption situation. The tummy bug that made this job so urgent also means that I am introducing some not so human friendly bacteria into the unit and I don’t want to risk those bugs getting loose among the other humans of the house. Since my fairly useful partner is in town getting fittings for this phase of the job, I will make that the subject of another post.

The biogas situation at the moment is wonderful; I feed the unit about half a bucket of horse manure and any food scraps or dog poop I collect through the day (most food scraps go to the chooks though) and we can burn the methane for about two hours a day. I expect to get better gas once we are feeding the unit fresh manure (ours) rather than days old horse poop.

Recovering an old lounge- part two – new fabric going on

The deck on chair one is done.

After getting all excited about the Sunbrella fabric in the last upholstery post, I went home and measured up the lounge and chairs to see how much I needed (lots of complicated measurements there) only to discover that I would need approximately 24 metres of fabric. At $50 a meter, that ended up being $1200; way too much for me. I am not willing to spend thousands on a piece of furniture, especially when I am new to the hobby and don’t know what I am doing.

I ended up going to Spotlight (online of course) and matching the colours as closely as I could (probably not that close, given the nature of digital monitors and human perception) and buying $500 worth of fabric. I also ordered some bits and pieces such as cardboard strips, upholstery nails and thread and a huge load of wadding (oh and a little upholstery tool kit) from an online upholstery store based in South Australia. Then I waited…

During the wait I discovered (by watching even more YouTube videos) that I would need another staple gun as the two hand operated ones we own do not have staples long enough for upholstery. The staple gun and a big box of staples was purchased before the fabric arrived.

Then I received an email informing me that the cotton wadding I had ordered was out of stock and no suitable natural alternative was available. I searched all over the internet without finding what I wanted, until my accidentally genius partner said “Can you use pure wool as wadding?”, some research revealed that you can indeed use pure wool batting to pad out upholstery. This little discovery may have saved me $100 dollars and cleared off half a shelf in my craft room. Wool is commonly used to wrap seating and back cushions as it compresses to a much greater degree than cotton, meaning that if I use it on the deck (the base that the cushions sit on) and back rest areas of the lounge I will need to use much more of it to get the same amount of padding. I will also need to put a fabric cover over the wadding to help prevent felting.

In my craft room at present I have about a wool bale of various fleeces, some are too fine and beautiful to use as sofa stuffing, but others are a bit course and hard to spin. I will use a pile of these fleeces, washed and carded, to stuff my lounge. I also have a lot of cotton fabric from sheets and quilt covers in my fabric stash that can be used to put a layer over the wool batting before I cover it with the final fabric. I knew there would be a way to up-cycle or re-use things in this new hobby (there always is).

In the process of researching this project I discovered a great YouTube channel on natural upholstery. This channel is dedicated to using natural materials to reupholster furniture (right up my alley). I found some really interesting ideas and tips here.

So the fabric began to arrive in bits and pieces; the red came first. It is very red…almost iridescent, luckily it will be used for the deck and for the stripes on the inside backs, so the really bright colour will not be over powering (I hope).

I followed the instructions on the various YouTube clips and used the old fabric as a template to cut the new piece. Then I stitched a seam across it to sew the seam between the deck and the front padded bit. This little strip at the front should be slightly higher than the deck behind it (to help hold the cushion in the seat), so I padded it out with raw (scoured and carded) wool and put two layers of cotton batting over the lot. I decided to re-use the cotton and wool felt (the grey stuff) that was already on the chair and to just add a bit more padding to the thin bits.

Of course, after I had sewn the seam, by hand, with a curved needle, I discovered that the fabric was not quite wide enough (I made it a bit bigger than the template on all sides, not sure why it was too short). So rather than undo the sewing and cut another piece, I hand sewed some strips of scrap fabric to the short edges and continued on. The deck for the next chair will be cut MUCH wider than the template.

Lastly, I stapled the fabric down tight with my trusty new staple gun. It took a lot of pulling, snipping easement cuts and smoothing fabric, but I think it came out alright.

The raw wool padding over the old padding.
The layers of cotton batting over the wool.
Sewing the seam with a curved needle and some crochet cotton.
The seam all sewn up.
Then it was all stretched, pulled and smoothed into place.
Finally the deck was stapled down.
I think it came out alright, not perfect, but it wouldn’t belong with us if it was perfect.

I am enjoying this process and learning a new skill. The red is so much brighter than it appears to be on the screen, luckily this bit will be hidden by a cushion most of the time.

Re-covering an old lounge- part one: taking off the old fabric

Yes…I know I said I wouldn’t take on another hobby, especially one that takes up a lot of space and time…but…

I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace (as you do) and I saw a striking lounge (to me anyway) and it was free (my favorite kind). I messaged the owner, without much hope that it would still be available, only to find out that it was. Now I had to tell my reluctant partner that I wanted a new lounge.

The original picture that caught my eye.

After a medium amount of wheedling, convincing and outright bullying, he agreed to drive over and pick up our new hobby…err…lounge.

The lounge is old, faded and while the armchairs have good springs, the lounge itself badly needs re-springing or something. The fabric is thin and starting to rip in places, but I just fell in love (of the furniture persuasion).

We got the set home and unloaded it into the only open area in the humpy; beside the heater. I will work on the re-covering here, right in everyone’s way. I hope to complete it all during this school holidays, but I am probably fooling myself.

All piled up in the way

Several hundred YouTube clips later, I decided to start the project. If I start of the lounge chairs first I can learn as I go (in theory). The lounge chairs don’t need any structural work (probably) so I can develop my skills on them then move on to the big job of the lounge itself.

The clips all stress that re-covering has a sequence; the last piece on is the first piece off. So I looked over the chair and found the last piece on, which happened to be the bottom dust cover. To get that off, I had to remove the back wheels and their little timber bits.

The wheels themselves are made of wood; how amazing is that.
The bottom dust cover is removed and set aside to use as a pattern.

Once the bottom was off, I could see that the chair is webbed and has coil springs in the back and seat, which apparently means my find is from the posh end of the furniture gene pool.

A close up of the coil springs in their hessian envelope.

The next piece is the outside side pieces. The little cover plate things at the front were easy to pry off, but then things got difficult as there are cardboard strips with about a million staples under some of those folds. The piping (or welting as it is properly called…apparently) is sewn onto the red fabric and stapled onto the yellowish side pieces, meaning that there are a lot of staples to remove.

The little cardboard strips with a million staples that give the fold a nice, neat edge.
Next step; taking off the outside side pieces.

Up until now I have been using a screw driver and a pair of side cutters to remove staples, but then I ran into a problem; the pleats at the front of the chair (under the decorative plate thing) are held on with actual nails. These nails have proven themselves immune to screwdrivers and I can’t get the claw of the hammer under them as yet.

In the end, I used a hammer to gently tap the screw driver under the edge of each nail. This made a bit of a mess of the wood, but the nails (or upholstery tacks) are out.

These are the upholstery tacks from the pleated bit of the front arm panel.
It left a few holes in the timber, but I did get them out.

Now that the front arm panels and both outside side pieces are off, I can work on removing the deck covering (the deck is the flat bottom of the chair that the cushion sits on). Once the deck covering is removed I can start putting new fabric on it. Of course, that means I have to choose and buy the new fabric.

Apparently, the recovering process happens bit by bit; first the deck (for this piece anyway) is recovered, then the arms are stripped and recovered, then the back. Doing it this way means I can avoid losing bits of loose stuffing and wadding as the piece sits there waiting for me to get some free time and energy to cover the next bit. It also breaks the process down into manageable pieces for me to focus on.

The wadding on the deck will need to be replaced too.

I am off to town today to see if I can find some upholstery fabric and assorted bits of hardware…wish me luck.

I found an upholstery shop, and it carries a fabric called Sunbrella. Sunbrella is an acrylic fabric made for indoor and outdoor use. I would not normally use an acrylic fabric on anything, but this time I decided to go with the hard wearing and easy care option. This lounge will have to suffer a lot of indignities in it’s life with us (not just dogs on the lounge here) so I think it is important that it be properly dressed for the job.

We looked through the samples of colours and found a few combinations we like, then we took down the details and went away to think about it. The fabric costs about $50 a metre and there will be other needs on top of that (wadding, piping, staples, etc), I don’t want to make a hasty decision. Besides it is fun to think about the possibilities before I commit to only one.

It will take a week to get the fabric after it is ordered, so I have changed my plan. I will strip the other chair (and maybe the lounge) to the same stage as the first chair in my remaining week of holidays, then when I have the fabric, I will cover them one at a time. That means work on the project really slows down because I will be working on other things.

First possibility
Second possibility
Third possibility
The long road home, dreaming about lounges.

Which combination do you like best?

Checking our environmental footprint in 2018 and 2019

A gratuitous Primrose photo to get your attention

Over the years we have saved and worked towards becoming more environmentally friendly, with varying success. I thought this would be a good time to review our progress over the last two years, given the recent Global Strike for Climate action. The world seems to be asking what the leaders of our nations are willing to do to reduce the effects we are having on our planet, and while I want our governments to take this risk seriously too, I am more focused on small local and accumulative actions. I believe that the general population does not change in response to governmental decree; instead I believe that the governmental decree is a response to changing attitudes and practices in the general public. In other words; change is bottom up not top down. So… in keeping with this philosophy, these are the things we have achieved in the last two years towards being more sustainable (and the things that make us less sustainable).

Larger solar system;

We put in a new and larger solar system in the last two years so we could run an electric fridge and turn the fan on whenever we liked. This has been a game changer for us as we now buy almost no LPG gas (the previous fridge was gas fueled), we only run the generator about once a month as we do the washing using solar power and we have been able to put in a solar friendly freezer. Our life has become a LOT easier and more efficient because we have these things. We have reduced our use of fossil fuels significantly and increased our food storage potential (and reduced our food wastage too). This is a definite win in my books.

New solar panels on the roof.

Two car family;

This is definitely a fail. When I began teaching we were forced to buy another car, and I was forced to get a driver’s license. I don’t enjoy driving at all, but I do need to get to work before the school bus (which is how I got to work before becoming a teacher), so the car was a necessary evil.

The average car emits 153.0g/km of carbon (according to Lightfoot) and we have doubled our emissions in this area.

We are now a two car family.

Swap to low waste alternatives;

shampoo; recently I started to use a hair product called Beauty Kubes. These little grey cubes are great for washing your hair without having shampoo and conditioner bottles to clutter up the shower and eventually find their way to the bin. Beauty Kubes come in a little cardboard box and you simply take a cube to the shower with you when you want to wash your hair. They smell great and lather up well, my hair feels soft and clean for ages after a wash and the little box takes up no space at all in the cupboard. This is definitely a win for me. I am still trying to figure out how they are made so I can make a DIY version, but so far no luck.

deodorant; I have only made one batch of natural deodorant so far and I am still using the original batch. The containers I chose were not the greatest decision ever; the liquid mixture flowed out the bottom and bunged up the winders. Instead of struggling with the containers I just dig out a small glob of mixture and rub it into my arm pits every day. It works well. I think next batch I will add more bees wax and make a cake of deodorant that I can scrape a bit off every morning.

toothpaste; I have been making my own toothpaste for quite a while and find it economical, low waste and easy to make and use. Recently I have been thinking about trying to make a tooth powder (just because I like to try new things) and that will probably be an upcoming post. There is almost no waste involved with making your own toothpaste; no packaging except what the ingredients come in (they last a long time) and I reuse the same jar over and over to store the paste. This is definitely a win for us and the environment. I am trying to find an alternative to tooth brushes now, although I have swapped over to bamboo, natural bristle brushes until I can find an alternative.

soap; I have been making soap for our family for more than a decade. This year I swapped to making our soap from cooking oil that had been cleaned from the deep fryer. This is a win for us as the oil we buy is used twice (which cuts the total dollar cost in half) and it keeps the used oil from the compost bin.

silicon reusable ziplock bags system; we didn’t use a lot of single use plastic bags prior to buying the Kappi silicon bags, but we did use some. By swapping to Kappi bags we have been able to mostly stop using single use plastic in the freezer and have also cut down on buying plastic lunch boxes and containers. The real saving these bags have given me is in space; the Kappi bags all fit neatly in an old ice-cream container in the cupboard among the plates, while the lunch boxes and other plastic containers used to take up an entire cupboard by themselves. I love reducing the stuff I have (except wool and yarn of course) so this has been a big win for me.

soap nuts for laundry; I began using soap nuts for clothes washing this year, they reduce the amount of chemicals I am using in the house as well as cutting our water use in half. I count this as a huge win for our budget and for the environment around our humpy. I also now use soap nuts to wash wool for spinning and have been considering swapping to soap nuts for washing dishes too. My only problem is that I have to buy the soap nuts and I am looking for an Australian native alternative that I can grow in the garden.

biogas toilet unit;

Buying the biogas unit was a MAJOR purchase (and you know how I hate to spend money), but it has turned out to be a big win for our environmental footprint. The unit is still operating on the bucket of horse manure I collect from beside the road every day on the way home from work, but will eventually be attached to a toilet. It produces gas for cooking from the manure and has minimal inputs beyond our waste products (also very little maintenance required). The down side we have found so far is that the gas bladder takes a few days to refill after we use the gas, possibly because we are only feeding it horse manure at a rate of about 2 kg per day; higher value food will equal more gas.

Aquaponics system;

The trial aquaponics system has been a success and A*****e the fish is happy living in his five star solitary confinement. I have plans to build a much bigger system soon, which will be attached to a grey water filter system. This new system will hopefully grow a much larger amount of food for us and the animals. The greens we grow in the trial system have been useful and tasted great, I want more now that the theory has been proven.

Our aquaponics system.

We continue to try to be more sustainable, more autonomous and more environmentally friendly; sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. This blog is a diary of sorts for me, and reviewing our progress over the last few years to write this post has made me realise the huge difference we have made to our lives, the lives of the animals in our area and , hopefully, to the world at large, I feel proud of our efforts.

Biogas system update

I realise I should have posted about how the biogas system is working a while ago, but…better late than never.

The system took a while to produce gas, it sat for weeks looking sad and deflated, even though I fed it a bucket of horse manure every day for the first week.

Eventually the weather got warm enough and the microbes in the tank woke up and started to feed. The gas holder slowly filled up until it was just over half full. I really wanted to try out the burner to see if we have methane in the tank or just carbon dioxide (which is apparently common in the first few months).

We connected the gas line to the stove that came with the kit as soon as the gas holding…balloon? (I’m not sure what to call the thing that holds the gas) got to almost full.

The gas balloon about half full.
The gas line connected and running through PVC pipe to the house.
The gas line into the house.
This is the cute little burner that came with the kit.

The first lighting of the flame ; this was a momentous occasion. We lit the flame and it just hissed at us for a few seconds, then an almost invisible blue flame was born. We boiled the kettle for the washing up in about 5 minutes and celebrated with a coffee…then I made soy milk…and my daughter made a stew…and so on.

Our first water boil using biogas. The flame is almost invisible.

The gas balloon went down a lot in that first afternoon as we used the burner constantly (that’s what you do with new toys isn’t it?). After that I went back to feeding the system a bucket of manure every day. The colder weather certainly slows down the gas production and we don’t have enough gas to use as our only supply just yet. Once the toilet is connected to the system the feeding of the digester will hopefully take care of itself.

I am sold on biogas; even though the initial set up of the bacterial colonies takes so long (especially in Winter) and the refill time is fairly long at first, the system works and is improving daily.

Bushfires…again

I stopped on the way home from work on Friday (6th September) to take this photo of the smoke plume from the Long Gully fire. We had just been evacuated for the second time this year.

We are in the midst of another major bushfire event; the second this year. There can be no denying that climate change is having an effect on our daily lives. The school where I work was evacuated on Friday (6th September) due to bushfire threat for the second time this year and we found ourselves starting sentences about policy and procedure about natural disaster with “Last time we…”.

I went home to wait out the fire (we were a long way from the fire front then) and to worry about the families we know who live closer. People have lost their homes and livelihoods in both major fires this year and it is shaping up to be a very dangerous fire season (this is just the start).

I am worried about the lack of water in the area, I am worried about the prediction of no significant rain to come for many months and I am worried about losing everything when things are just starting to happen for us. In short…I’m worried.

The fire is creeping slowly closer to us. It is still a long way away and the highway is proving to be a line of defense, but we are preparing for the worst anyway.

My partner has managed to install a sprinkler system on the roof of the humpy that extends out about 2-3 metres from the walls. This means we can pen the animals against the wall of the humpy and keep them and our home safe if the fire reaches us. We are very short on water though and will have to save this for dire emergencies.

This is the pump that runs the sprinkler system. I wasn’t going to climb on the roof to get a photo.

We have the area around the humpy and the new house site cleared back to about 30-40 metres and it is bare dirt at the moment. There are tree heads and leaves beyond the fire break though and they will create a lot of sparks.

The clearing around the humpy. Yes, that is smoke in the air.

We have cleared everything back from the walls of the humpy so we can minimise sparks starting a fire where we can’t see it. There has been a lot of raking up of leaves over the last few days.

We cleared the walls all around the humpy and raked out the leaves.
There are gaps like this under the shed wall. We need to block them off, on the other side of this wall is fuel and other flammable stuff.
Leaf raking from one wall.

We have bins at all four sides of the humpy with old towels in them, ready to be filled with water when we hear that a fire is close. A wet towel is a great fire fighting tool for spot fires and slow grass fires. These bins mean we can dunk our towels and put out spot fires without too much running around.

These bins are ready to be filled with water at every side of the humpy.

We have our back pack filled with water and ready to put out spot fires in the humpy (they are most likely to start in the ‘ceiling space’ as the possums have built leaf nests between the sissilation and the roof and the gaps between the walls and roof could allow sparks in). This is actually my greatest worry and I want to seal the wall/roof gaps as soon as possible. We plan to buy another backpack to be available outside as well.

The good old back pack sprayer.

The lack of water is a big problem, but since our water comes from rain there isn’t a lot we can do about it. We have a small dam at the front of the property that we can harvest water from and we plan to do that to fill a small tank in the house yard we can use to feed the roof sprinklers for a half hour or so. To do this we have a 1000 litre tank on the trailer with a small fire fighter pump to fill and empty it. We plan to fill this trailer and tank arrangement to be used as a mobile fire fighting unit too. The problem at the moment is that my partner broke a pipe fitting for the pump yesterday and we need a replacement before we can get water from the dam. The roads are currently closed and I’m not sure I can get through to town to get replacement parts. Since this is a big part of our fire plan I will probably give it a go.

The trailer set up.

When all this is in place, we just wait and watch the ‘FiresNearMe’ app and ‘Sentinel Hotspots’ site for information about where the fire is and what it is doing. Facebook community pages are monitored too, even though they often give misleading information, to try to get a clue about the fire without physically driving down to the fire front and getting in everyone’s way.

Currently (11th September) the wind has died down and the Rural Fire Service stands a good chance of getting it under control before it gets anywhere near our humpy. We will still be ready if that changes (I hope).

So many people in our community have lost their homes or other property, so many have lost the last standing feed on their place for stock to eat. So many animals have lost their lives to this fire, not only stock and pets owned by people, but wild animals too. Many bird species are nesting now and some will only nest once in a season, the loss of a nest (and sometimes a mother) at this point means they will not breed again this year. Many reptiles are still in a state of torpor and can not get out of the way of the flames (and reptiles take many days, even weeks to die from burns, it’s heart breaking). Many marsupials and mammal species rely on the feed and disappearing water sources which have been impacted by the fire, they will be hungry and thirsty until it rains again.

Bell…one of our local goanna

We will do our best to provide water and feed for our wild neighbors here at the humpy; the dam at the front of the property is primarily for animals to drink from, and we put out water bowls around the humpy for the wild ones. We provide old eggs at the edge of the fire break for goanna, dogs and others (far enough away from the humpy to keep them away we hope) and fallen chaff and grain from our animals feeds small birds and marsupials. We will do our best to look after each other, it’s all we can do.

The little bit of green we maintain by emptying teapots and water bottles. looking at green after all the grey and brown is soothing to the soul.

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.

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.