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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The whole toilet paper panic buying thing has largely passed us by; we buy in bulk as a rule. We buy the WhoGivesACrap brand of toilet paper, by the carton. We still have 20 rolls left and we use about 1 roll per week. However in a bid to reduce our usage (and maybe stop using it altogether) I decided it was time to give the bidet a try.
TMI WARNING; If you are easily disgusted or offended, please go read another post.
The idea that we may not be able to buy more toilet paper when we need it (although not very likely) gave me the inspiration to look at alternatives. I researched family cloths, and decided that they are just a bit too much work for me (and it would be me dealing with it). As I browsed through lists of plants that can be grown to provide toilet paper alternatives I realised that I needed to plant them two years ago to be able to use them now. Eventually, I came across references to the bidet and camping bidet in particular.
Since we put in the biogas toilet we have been using recycled toilet paper as it breaks down faster than other kinds. Too much paper in the system can slow down the methane production and even clog up the pipes (to be avoided at all costs). Paper is also very carbon rich, it doesn’t produce as much methane as nitrogen rich material (like poop); so we want to minimise paper input.
I looked around at all the bidet units available, some of them use electricity or need to be connected to pressurised water inlets (neither of which we have available). Eventually, I found the whole range of hand held, portable bidet units (and ordered them online). They are sold as ‘camping’ bidet; we have quite a few ‘camping’ options in daily use in the humpy.
The camping bidet is essentially a water bottle with an angled spout. You fill up the bottle (which has a valve in the bottom so it doesn’t lose pressure as it empties), then use it to wash your bottom clean instead of wiping with paper.
I was nervous that the water wouldn’t clean everything off and that I would be left with an uncomfortably wet bottom even if it worked. The first use was a pleasant surprise; The bottle, even though fairly small, was enough to clean everything very well (and I have a lot of ‘everything’). The water was not uncomfortably cold, and the pressure created by the bottle and spout was like a mini high-pressure cleaner on the offending body parts.
The only problem I am left with is a wet and dripping nether region; to answer this I decided to sew up some family cloths, which will be used to dry the area only. This means that there will be no more poop, pee and other nasties on the cloths than there is on our underwear and towels. That way I can wash the cloths in the same load as underwear.
The obvious problem of increased water use also needed to be thought through. As it has been raining fairly well since the end of the fires, we don’t have to be worried about water use at present; hoever, when the rain stops again (and it will) we will have to re-assess. One up-side of the extra water use is that I don’t have to top up the toilet flush bucket as often because the water in the bidet is enough to flush the toilet with. The water in the bidet is fresh though, while the water in the flush bucket is recycled (collected from the kitchen sink from hand washing, vegetable washing, unfinished water bottles tipped out, etc).
The end result is that I love the camping bidet, it leaves me feeling like I just had a shower, it reduces my workload (slightly) and reduces the bulk of material going into the biogas system. My partner however, doesn’t want to try it. He is set in his ways and doesn’t like new things… I will keep trying to convince him.
With the nice bit of rain that fell in mid January came flies. Many, many flies… so many that the buzz from the sheep shelter can be heard from the humpy. So a project that has been sitting on the bottom of the list, suddenly came to the top; an enclosed dish drainer for the washing up.
Living with nature (in all her adorable, but messy incarnations) requires us to make a few adjustments to the way things are done; we let go of socially held expectations somewhat; like having clean floors at any point, like being the only being on the bed at night and like using harsh chemicals to clean anything. One problem with having animals (other than humans) in the humpy and not being able to seal all the holes in walls, is that we have many flies in the humpy in Summer. The washing up (which I habitually air dry) is then sitting out in the open for the day and flies crawl all over it (not ideal). There is a clearly identified problem here that has a neat solution.
For years, I have wanted to install a Finnish Dish Draining cabinet, and this fly invasion (which is more extreme than other years) is the push we needed to do it. As usual, we had to do things the hard way; instead of buying the chipboard and wire modular units available, we decided to go with a steel cabinet (to match the new kitchen and to make sure it lasts) and replace the shelves with the drying racks.
We bought a cheap steel cabinet in powder coated steel (black, of course) and some dish draining racks, roughly the same length. My fairly handy partner put it all together one morning while I was doing the washing.
He screwed some structural ply over the wall frame behind the sink and screwed the cupboard onto that.
Next, he scratched his head for a while about how to fit the dish drainers in. Until finally he came up with the idea of fixing a thick piece of wood on the inside of the cabinet to provide an anchor for the drainer. The dish drainer units were about 5cm shorter than the width mof the cabinet.
Then he put the doors on for me and we were set to go.
As an added bonus… my in-the-good-books partner also screwed the peg board onto the wall.
I think this really adds to the usability of the kitchen.
The drying cupboard is used to store the equipment we use on a daily basis; coffee cups, plates, bowls, baking trays, etc. Only a few of each and only what we use daily. That way, the majority of the washing up goes straight into the cupboard and is protected from flies. It also frees up the other cupboard shelves for more storage. Our cupboard doesn’t have an open bottom (flies and lizards) instead it has a tray in the bottom to catch drips. This tray is emptied daily. There is enough air flow to dry the washing up and not enough space for critters to enter.
Since the toilet is up and running, we need to get the mulch pit finished. At the moment it is hard to concentrate on any project. The constant threat of fire and the despair that comes with knowing that so much of our ecosystem is destroyed keeps us in a constant state of depression. It is hard to concentrate on anything except watching the media releases about the fires all over Australia. However, it is important to keep working towards the future we want; how else will we reach it? In between the fire threats and increadibly hot days we made a plan that involved digging a pit to drain the effluent into then covering the lot with gravel, wood chip, soil and mulch.
The biogas system continues to impress me, the only down side I have discovered is the flammable nature of methane (which is kind of the point) and the fact that we can’t move the unit away from the house in the event of a bushfire threat (we are at a count of three direct threat situations so far in the last twelve months). We have countered this by releasing the methane into the atmosphere when there is any risk of fire. There is a handy tap that allows the gas to be vented easily. The refill time is getting less every day; currently the tank will fill in about ten hours and the effluent has proven fairly easy to bucket into the old toilet pit on a weekly basis.
Since the effluent is from human poop, it needs to be handled carefully. The effluent is passed through a chlorine chamber before it emerges from the unit. Treatment with chlorine is the accepted way to treat human effluent, it kills off a lot of nasties and oxygenation and exposure to sun takes care of the rest. After it emerges from the unit our effluent goes into a bucket, which is then emptied into the old toilet pit (which helps the waste in this pit continue to decompose). It is time to put in a hands free option for handling the effluent. In our situation we have several options; we could feed it into our septic system (except we don’t have one), we could build a dedicated transpiration pit or we could build a mulch basin. We went with a combination of the transpiration pit and the mulch pit ideas.
First we (and by ‘we’ I mean my hard working partner) dug a pit that was about 40cm deep.
Then we put in a layer of gravel in the bottom. This layer is about 5cm deep. The plumbing part of the project was then completed before the pit could be filled up all the way.
Next step was adding a straw layer to slow down the migration of soil into the gravel.
After that there is a layer of wood chips (to soak up any nitrogen rich moisture that makes it that far) and a layer of soil to seal the pit off from the surface.
After that I planted the passionfruit vine I bought to (hopefully) take advantage of all that moisture and nutrient. I mulched around the vine, then realised that it is now a fire risk and would be raked away when the next fire threatens. To counter this a little, I buried the mulch under a deep layer of soil again. I hope this will protect the mulch from ember attack in the event of a fire.
So now we have a new garden bed that doubles as a transpiration pit. Hopefully the roots of the passionfruit won’t bung up the draining system and hopefully the buried mulch will be safe from ember attack (I am thinking that this method might be good for the new vegetable beds when we get to that). We, like most of Australia, are still in shock from the magnitude of the fires this year. We fear that next year will be more of the same, so everything we do from now on needs to be focused on fire safety and how to keep our family safe.
We are finally home from being evacuated. There was a blessed rain event on December 23rd-25th which allowed us to assume that the fire is now under control (along with a few other factors). We came home with everyone, only to find that we had to go straight back out again for a medical emergency. I am trying to capture the events here as I know how our memories play tricks and re-arrange things. Here is the sequence of events as I remember them now;
We had settled in to the regular work of being in the evacuation centre; walking dogs, feeding sheep, cleaning cages, feeding animals. We were making multiple calls every day to my partner, who was still at home defending the humpy. One morning, my partner (who never misses an opportunity to shop) called to say he had been looking for a farm 4WD to convert into a ‘Black Ops brigade‘ fire vehicle (unofficial fire fighting crews). The house building account was already under seige due to having to use some of it to buy food for my eldest daughter and I while we were in exile, buying fire fighting equipment and now we were looking at having to dip into it to buy a 4WD.
To cut a long story short, we ended up buying a Mitsubishi Triton that is close to being a registration failure. We had to borrow about half the money to buy it, leaving us with more debt (sigh). My partner arranged for an obliging nephew to pick him up and take him to pick up his new partner in fire fighting (he also did the initial check over of the vehicle, thanks Matt). Now it was time to outfit the old girl as a fire fighter.
We have already bought two fire fighting pumps, two 1000 litre pods and many metres of fire hose to help set up our fire defense system. We have also bought sprinklers for the roof and walls and my partner set them up in a watering system that covers the entire humpy area (now all we need is enough rain to fill the tanks). One of the pods and a pump with hoses will go on the back of the ute (she needs a name now), along with a box for the chainsaw and various other tools, such as a few water backpacks, a McCloud tool or two, shovels and rakes.
Before the pod and pump went on the ute, my partner was using it to patrol the fire front closest to us. He did regular night time patrols while a neighbour (whose property the fire happened to be on) did daytime patrols. Not to be political at all, but the RFS have been in short supply ever since this whole thing began. Let me be very clear here; the RFS is doing it’s best to fight the fires. There are just not enough resources to go around. When our little area was under direct threat they showed up with a bulldozer and pushed multiple fire breaks both around dwellings and through the bush at seemingly random intervals. They were around to do occasional patrols of the fire front and the planes and choppers flew over almost daily. The fire jumped over the first fire breaks that were put in because there were not enough patrols to observe and black out the slow moving fire that reached them. As soon as he had a vehicle capable of driving around the fire lines, my partner and other local people made sure there were regular and constant patrols on our section of the fire front. I think this has allowed the fire to be bought under control.
On the morning of the 23rd December, we decided that it was time to go home. The fire was reported as under control on our Northern side, and my partner considered it under control on our Western side, and we were feeling VERY homesick. So we packed everyone up (except the sheep) into their travelling cages and crammed them into my car, my partner’s car and one of the trailers. We set off for home like a travelling circus (or maybe like Ma and Pa Clampett), and reached home by mid morning. I quickly unpacked everyone from my car and set off back to the evacuation site to finish cleaning up the shed.
After hours and hours of scrubbing cages and cleaning out the caravan, I was ready to drop, but I kept going until my partner got there to pick up the sheep. We took the trailer up to the yards and spent some time chasing Kracken around and around as she had apparently decided she liked the lodging and wanted to stay a bit longer. Eventually we managed to drag her into the trailer and I decided to leave the cleaning until the next day. We went home for one blissful night in our own beds with our animals all around us.
The site of the humpy still standing bought me to tears. It may just be a little, rough shed in the bush, but it is our home. I was overjoyed to see the animals that live wild around the humpy still in residence. The big open area around the humpy had been widened considerably, and the chook pen and Hugelkultur garden beds had been pushed away by the bulldozer to make the humpy more fire ready (thank you RFS). The yard fences had been partially destroyed by the dozer too, and all the shadecloth awnings around the humpy had been taken down. It looked bare and strangely neat, but it is still home.
The next morning, my daughter came to me with Prim in her hands. Prim was struggling to breathe and could not talk to us at all. We took off for the vet (2 and a half hours away) and reached there with her still struggling to breathe. The vet put her in an oxygen tent and recomended that she be transfered to the Gatton animal hospital. I didn’t feel able to make the drive, so we rang my partner and got him to drive up to Killarney, pick up my daughter and Prim then drive to Gatton with them. Meanwhile, I drove back home to watch over the animals still there.
Prim died that night in the animal hospital. There are no words to tell you how grief striken we are. I will write a seperate post to honour her death. The next morning, my daughter and partner drove home to bury her. The work of settling into the humpy again begins…
NOTE: My mother lost her home and farm buildings in this fire. A fact that still seems unreal to me. However, I am not posting about my reaction to this event or any other information as it is not my information to share.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.