Planting chokos…again

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Up-cycled kitchen bins

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

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

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

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

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

We got a freezer!!!

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

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

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

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

New yarn storage system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chaff bags fray a lot.

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

This bin is made with the grain bags.

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

Home biogas system- (part two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling with water took all afternoon.

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

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

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

More organising the craft room

Usually, I’m against buying new things, especially furniture. I spend my time trying to figure out how to get rid of furniture in my home; make the crowding less and do without a lot of stuff (except craft supplies, of course). This week I decided to organise the craft room (yet again) and get rid of even more furniture, however…it involves replacing old furniture with new furniture.

I came across a YouTube clip about using filing cabinets to store fabric. It looked like a neat and space efficient way to store fabric in a way that makes it easy to find what you are looking for. I am so easily distracted that I will often go looking for fabric to finish one project and emerge from my search with two new project ideas sparked by fabric finds. I hope filing my fabric will make it easier to stick to one project at a time (but probably not).

I saw some filing cabinets listed for sale really cheaply on Gum Tree. They were in Ballina (about a two hour drive away) but we went on a long drive to pick them up, along with some new shelving units for the yarn component of the craft room.

Four new/ second hand filing cabinets on their way home.

I think I will paint them later, after I see if the idea will work. We got them home and unloaded them with no problems.

Once they were in the craft room, I gave them a wipe down and set up the file holder things in the draws (they came with four frames that had to be reconstructed). Then I began to go through my four plastic tubs of fabric; that was a fun experience. I found that a lot of my fabric bits were too small to make anything from and was forced to throw them out. I saved some scraps by making them into strips for rag rugs, and I cut up a lot of smaller scraps into stuffing material for toys and such, but I still ended up throwing out a lot.

I put all the remaining fabric into my filing cabinets. I had bought 60 hanging files to go in the cabinets (thinking this would be more than enough), but ran out half way through the process. I now have to wait until my next trip to town so I can pick up some more hanging files.

Filing my fabric.
No, there is no organising principle yet

There are four draws full of fabric so far, one full of leather (for book covers), one full of interfacing and wadding, one for sewing tools like tape measures and scissors and one full of cotton reels. The overlocker now lives on top of this stash and I feel organised!

Next I will be putting my new cube storage unit together and sewing some fabric boxes to store yarn in. The plan is that this will allow me to move two wardrobes out of the humpy (my current yarn storage option), sort through my yarn stash and organise all that yarn into a usable collection. The added bonus is that I get to use some of my fabric stash to make the fabric boxes to store yarn in. I just love how one craft area flows naturally into another.

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.

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