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).


On the loom


Finished mat on the floor


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.


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


Yes, that is all fleece


So is that


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.


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.


Dropped cob from the construction site.


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?).


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…


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.


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).


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.



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


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.

Twin tub washing machines save water


We use a 10kg twin tub washing machine to wash our clothes (and everything else). I find it saves water and is much more flexible than a front loader. It is terribly dry here (and everywhere else) at  the moment and we are struggling to save every drop of water. Along with our policy of tipping animal water pots onto deserving gardens or trees before refilling, we also recycle our washing water onto the garden, a twin tub allows us to do that easily (relatively).


Top view of the spinner


Top view of the washer

The procedure is as follows;

  1. Sort all washing carefully into piles; first by colour and use, then into cleanest to dirtiest.
  2. Resort after various family members add their assorted contribution to random piles. Sigh, and try not to swear.
  3. Fill the machine to it’s highest level and throw in some home-made washing gel.
  4. Fuel up the generator and get partner to start it for you (or a daughter in a pinch).
  5. Throw in the first load of clean-ish washing and wash for 6 minutes.
  6. After the wash is done put the clothes in the spinner, making sure the drain hose takes water back to the washing tub. Throw in the next dirtiest load and continue.
  7. When all loads are washed, drain the washing water into buckets and carry out to the garden while the tub refills with rinse water (to which I add a cup of vinegar).
  8. Rinse loads of clothes, being sure to return rinse water to the washing tub for each spun load.
  9. When all loads are rinsed, drain rinse water into buckets and carry out into the garden to slake the thirst of garden beds and trees.
  10. Peg out the weekly accumulation of clothes, towels, sheets, dog bedding, cleaning rags, etc.

I know this seems like a lot of work, and it is, but it completes two tasks at once; washing clothes and watering the garden. The machine takes 100 litres to fill for washing and the same for rinsing, so in total I use 200 litres of water per week to do the washing and the garden gets 200 litres of water to help keep it alive and growing.

I don’t enjoy washing; I would prefer us all to wear nothing and air dry after a shower, but it is a fact of life and must be done. Doing it this way means we can live on much less water (which is a valid currency in the bush) and also get my load-bearing exercise for the day to help prevent osteoarthritis (not to mention the water for the garden). Did I mention that I hate to waste anything?


This is what 100 litres of water in buckets looks like


This is the weeks total of washing

How much water do you use doing the weekly washing?


De-cluttering- kitchen

At the end of this term I was very unwell; I managed to pick up the flu that was going around. I ended up with a mild case of pneumonia and having to take antibiotics for the first time in decades. It has left me feeling very tired and low-energy, so I decided to give myself an easy project this school holidays; de-cluttering the house. I have been feeling a bit like a hoarder lately; things are piling up and dust and dirt are creeping in. It is hard to keep things clean in a semi-open humpy with so many animals living inside. Things get dirty fast and it takes a lot of cleaning to get back to an acceptable level.

First up was the kitchen. I had thought that the kitchen just needed a good clean, not much to throw away, but I managed to collect four boxes of general stuff to go to a new home and five feed bags of rubbish (mostly out of date food and animal care stuff).


Before shot of one of the kitchen cupboards


Before shot of my coffee corner


After shot of the cupboard


After shot of the coffee corner. It may not look that different, but it feels different.

I cleaned out the inside of the cupboards, wiped over the outsides of the cupboards, cleaned the window, scrubbed the floor and vacuumed out the wall cavities. It didn’t look very different when I had finished, but it did feel clean and somehow…lighter.

It is hard to describe the feeling I get when I clean out a room; it is a mixture of relief and anticipation. I love to come into a recently cleaned room and know that everything is in it’s place. It took me three days to finish this room because I had to stop often to rest, but it was worth it. I now have a clean, fresh kitchen and I found my yogurt maker (I now have yogurt being made on the bench). Now onto the next room.

Craft room cleaning challenge

I’m not a hoarder, I just need a bigger craft room.

This holidays I am setting myself the challenge of cleaning out and organising my craft room. At the moment there is so much stuff stacked in there that I literally can’t get into it. So while the family is away I am going to take everything out, sort it and re-organise it all. This will take days and I may need to go to the dump once or twice as a result. So here we go;

First  of all I emptied out the wardrobe affectionately known as ‘The wool cupboard’. I had no idea I had amassed this much fleece…remind me of that when I am tempted to say yes to further offers. There is enough raw wool here to keep me washing and spinning for a couple of years (full time). I want to re-purpose the wool cupboard to hold my market stock and gear, reasoning that there is about the same amount of space in it as there is in my car so if it won’t fit in the cupboard, it won’t fit in the car. Also I won’t be tripping over the market stuff blocking my entrance to the craft room any more.


This is the pile of feed bags holding raw fleece from my wool cupboard.


This is the pile of market gear and stock which blocks my entrance to the craft room (yes…the junk in the middle of the room) and results in me putting everything on the pile as I can’t get to the shelves to put it away.

My first move was to hang an old bed base from the ceiling by chains. This creates a rigid hanging shelf to store a lot of stuff (just think about how much stuff you can pile on your bed). The bed base is a single, but it fit really nicely in the space and it’s hung just high enough for me not to bump my head.



The majority of the raw wool is now in containers on my suspended shelf.


With the market stuff in the former wool cupboard there is now some floor space to work in.


Now to start going through the boxes of stray crafting stuff and making use of everything

Cleaning out the craft room is going to be an ongoing project (just like the shed). Given the huge amount of fleece I have unsuspectingly amassed, I think my focus for the near future will be on spinning as much as possible. I can see a huge yarn sale in my future.

Earthbag building experiment- The new bathroom- We have a door frame

After a gentle day of work on our bathroom (about three hours work in total) we have put up the door frame and completed another layer of bags, thanks to the help of one of of our neighbors. We began the day with my partner and daughter putting up the door frame and securing it in place while our neighbor and I filled earthbags with the conveniently damp soil (it was a showery day).


Finished for now. We have to keep the bags covered so they don’t get wet or UV effected


Filling pots with damp soil, each bag has four and a half pots of soil in it, except the half bags which have two and a bit pots.


Figuring out how to hold the door frame level with rope and tent pegs…you have to sit down to think at this depth.

This may seem like a very small gain, but it has left me feeling ridiculously satisfied with life. I feel as if things are progressing even though there is very little time to work on any projects which aren’t work related and even basic maintenance is taking a hit. I love the feeling of working on my own home, of building something I will use and appreciate (or curse) for years to come.


I did do some of the work…I swear. Tamping down the bags to get that firm and stable feeling.


Taking the form work off the step so the door frame can be bolted down.

This is just a quick update. Next time I hope to have bagged right up to window height. Wish me luck.

Some pretty night lights…or small suns


A while ago, when we were cleaning out the shed, I found some old kerosene lamps I had squirreled away for a later date. I gave them a cleaning, oiling and polish then hung them up in the humpy as a bit of decoration (also to store them safely). Last week I bought myself some 12 volt (DC current for stand alone solar power) lights with the idea of making my lamps into a night light (or mood lighting). I tucked a little bar of  LED bulbs into each lamp, bullied my reluctant partner into wiring them to a switch (electricity is not something I am confident in at all) and switched them on…

The result was a light so powerful it rivals daylight. Everyone who was looking directly at them when I switched them on had retinal burn. Those little LED bulbs sure do give out a lot of light. We used it as a night light for one night (in summer it is handy to be able to see where you are treading at night because of frogs, snakes and spiders going about their business) but the blinding light disturbed everyone in the house, including the birds. The birds, fluttered, muttered and squarked all night. I think we will have to keep them for when we need a lot of light (operating theater perhaps? Landing helicopters at night?).


I also bought one of those little strings of fairy lights that are so popular at this time of year, it is powered by two tiny button batteries. Having one lamp left over, I decided to stuff the tangle of lights into the glass flame cover of the lamp and tuck the switch into the cap. I switched this one on wearing sun glasses just in case. It twinkled with multicoloured points of light, just like a lamp filled with captive fairies. I now have a movable lamp which is very pretty and can be left anywhere I need a bit of light.



I love the look of the old lamps hanging from the ceiling and now they are useful. The lamps are still fully usable as kerosene lamps; their wicks and burner assembly is all still intact if ever I need to use them as they were intended to be used. I love them. What  do you think?

Earthbag building experiment- the new bathroom- a door step is born

We have a door step! It will one day be our back door. My partner decided one Saturday morning that this is the day we cement the step, so off I sped to get six bags of cement while he built some formwork, because when your partner gets enthusiastic about building it doesn’t pay to let him get distracted by something else before the job is done.

When I got home he had the formwork all done and a daughter lined up to help mix cement in the wheelbarrow. The local Rural Agent (hardware and feed shop) only had rapid set concrete, so that is what I got. In hindsight it may have been  a mistake because rapid set concrete is a bit crumbly. The step seems to be holding together though, I guess it’s just another experiment.

My daughter and husband got to work mixing cement and had the job done by the time I had half the weekly wash done.

The step is a trapezoidal sort of shape that conforms to the gap in the wall. It sits on top of the gravel filled tires and has two little legs that extend to the ground on either side of where the tires meet. You can see the form work at the bottom of the step in the photo. These little legs are there to (hopefully) prevent the step from moving off the foundation tires.


The level of the step is at the height of the future floor, to allow for plumbing and some gravity assistance in removing waste water from the shower and washing machine.


Since the day this step was built no work has been done due to a combination of much needed rain, work and overwhelming urges to knit. The next step is to put the door frame up on our step and brace it ready to build the walls higher around it. We also need to build a step down to ground level on the outside of the new door step.

Getting anything done around the humpy is agonizingly slow, but it is gradually getting there.