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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making pots out of newspaper

I have been doing this on and off for a while now. Up until recently I found the pots would encourage fungus and sprout all sorts of mushroom-y things. Then I found the ‘Under the Choko Tree’ You Tube channel and watched as Nevin made pots from newspaper. It turns out I was using too much paper; the walls were too thick so they were not able to dry out enough to keep fungus at bay.

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This is how I used to make my pots. See how thick the walls are.

So I bought one of those cute little pot making things and off I went. These pots are working very well…no fungus and they hold together  (which was why I made my pots thick to begin with). In fact the whole seed raising system has been working brilliantly, except that my seedling raising area was in the open and the trays kept filling up with water and drowning the seedlings. I fixed that by adding a little roof to the area which I will remove (it can just be lifted off) on less damp days.

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Thinner walls and no fungus…they still get waterlogged though.

On another, but sort of related note; I have been learning how to use an iPad (for work) and have discovered that the camera on an iPad has a time-lapse setting (also a slo-mo setting, but I haven’t played with that yet), so I decided to make a time lapse clip of me making and using my little pots.

And here it is;

What do you think. Does it need to be a bit slower. I haven’t found that setting yet but I will.

Washing machine garden beds update

The beds are actually growing vegetables.

I don’t want to crow too loud but the washing machine beds seem to have escaped the notice of ducks, possums and chooks alike. I very carefully don’t check on the progress of the little seedlings growing in them while I can see anyone in the yard as all the various life forms seem to take notice of what we humans think is interesting and investigate themselves.
The process for watering or checking is ridiculously clandestine; first I go out the door on the opposite side of the humpy and mess around in the yard for a few seconds, once everybody gets the news that I’m out there and the paparazzi starts to gather I casually drop a handful of grain on the ground and retreat from the ensuing feeding frenzy back inside.

The paparazzi gathering

Then I very quietly go out the back door and water, check, feed or whatever I need to do with the beds, all the while keeping my eyes open for visitors. If I see a duck or chook come back around the side of the house I just pretend to be admiring the scenery until they leave.
Why not just lock up the ducks and chooks I hear you ask? Well… the ducks are muscovies and are quite territorial so they chase the possums out of the yard, they patrol all night and all day. They contribute to the safety of the garden without even knowing it. The two chooks left running wild in the yard are delicate in nature (Big; our old rooster is too aged to be in the general population any more and Curly is a special case who just doesn’t fit in anywhere else). Also, I sort of enjoy the challenge and the sneaking around.

This is Curly; our special needs chook.

The snow peas, carrots, silverbeet and beetroot in these beds are all doing really well so far, I’m hoping for a full harvest this year.

Carrots and peas

Silverbeet

Peas, beetroot and lettuce

Peas and beetroot

Lettuce

Peas and beetroot

Lettuce

I will write a post about our special needs chook; Curly soon. This chook is an interesting case…even for us.

New crayons from old

I have been in a real crafting frenzy this week, it’s school holidays and for the first time in almost five years I don’t have uni assignments pending. So I am taking this opportunity to make a heap of stuff for my Etsy store and markets, clean out some of the junk from my craft room and just plain enjoy not having to limit my time on craft stuff to get work stuff done.
When I go back to work (as a teacher this time!!!) I will be back to the daily struggle of trying to find time to do any craft, but for now…let the good times roll.
Today’s offering is making new crayons by melting old ones. I cleaned out the crayon boxes at school and ended up bringing home a bucket full of broken old crayons and pastels. They have been sitting in my craft room for a term or two and today is the day I do something about it.

Lots of old crayons.
First the research;  
I found instructions for melting them directly into ice cube trays.
How to make crayons from scratch.
How to make play dough using old crayons.
How to make candles from old crayons.
How to make lip gloss from old crayons.
There is so much you can do with broken crayons that I started to wish I had more of them. 
First I tried to melt them in a silicone mold to make cute little duck shaped crayons. That’s when I discovered that different brands and colours have a different melting point. Some melted and some didn’t. So I melted them in a double boiler to avoid the lumpy duck outcome.

Some melt faster than others.

I spooned the melted wax into my duck mold and waited…
The resulting crayons were cute but a bit brittle, so I decided to add a little bit of beeswax to each melt to give the crayons a softer, smoother texture.

My duck mold has seen a lot of wax today
I added grated beeswax to the pot

That did the trick and the crayons were lovely little coloured ducks. My next refinement was so obvious I completely missed it while perusing all those tutorials; I decided to crush the crayons before plonking them in the double boiler to melt. I put them into a plastic bag and whacked them with a hammer until they were mush. So satisfying, and they melted faster and a lot more evenly.

My crayon crushing system

More colours.

I wiped the pot out between colours, but a lot of staining remained, this made the colour outcome somewhat…exciting and unpredictable. Just the way I like it.

My end result is some cute, but not really crisp and neat, duck crayons.

Some of my finished ducks. They are fairly neat on one side but very rough on the other.

But they work.

I am thinking of making up little packs of recycled crayons for the markets and my Etsy shop. What do you think? I have no idea what to charge for them, given that they are a waste resource, but someone may as well be using them rather than just throwing them in the bin.
I am also thinking that this activity might be fun to do with the kids at school, we could make little hearts for Mother’s Day.

I wonder what else I can make from these old crayons?

Up-cycled wardrobe – Last 2015 update (probably)

Back in June I challenged myself to make a weeks worth of clothes using mostly up-cycled materials.
So far I have succeeded making some items from my challenge list…

Seven pairs of underpants, in fact I made ten pairs.

Three skirts

Three pairs of long pants, I just can’t stop making these.

At the moment I am working on making some tops from remnant materials I have found in my stash and at the second hand store. After that I will tackle shorts and socks (not together obviously). The hard things like bras and shoes will be left until last… I have a few ideas.

The prototype top, simple but comfortable.

More and more of my clothes are hand made now. I am really pleased with my progress on this challenge. I am wearing everything I make regularly and even making some things not on the list originally (like house dresses).

Making a refillable traveler’s journal

As most of you already know; I am a witch. I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, I follow the basic commandment of ‘An it harm ye none, do what thou wilt’, I believe in the three-fold law and I collect information. Being a witch is (for me) about learning new things and exploring new ways of looking at life. Being a crafty witch, I make my own tools.

One of the most important tools a witch has is her (or his) books, they hold the tiny crumbs of wisdom and knowledge we manage to gain in our life and can be passed on to another witch to use once we die. I make my own books; one for every new ‘subject’ (although they all interlock in some way); I made a massive, red leather, hard covered, parchment filled tome for my Book of Shadows (tools, correspondences and rituals); I made a cute little upholstery fabric covered book to record my life changing journey through the Sacred Cord (sort of like a rosary that takes two and a half years to complete); I made a black suede, hard covered slim lined book to record my divinations and dreams (Tarot, runes, iChing, scrying, etc); I made a decorated hardwood, post bound tome for my Tarot learnings (meanings, correspondences, Kabbalah and, layouts, etc) and now I have made a versatile, refillable, black leather traveller’s journal for my Kabbalah learnings.

My first Book of Shadows

My Sacred Cord book

My divination book
The cover of my Tarot book
Inside my Tarot book

Because I used what I could find about the house, my journal is a rough item, but I am fairly pleased with it. The first thing I did was; make a cup of coffee (essential to the creative juices), then I got down to business. I wanted the pages to look old and worn so I found a ream of photocopy paper, carefully folded each page in half (not the whole ream, only about 32 pages), dipped each one individually in strong instant coffee and laid them out on a towel to dry. This makes the pages unpredictably brownish yellow with blotches (perfect for that aged look).
My instant coffee bath

Some of the pages laid out to dry
You can see the difference in colour between the new paper on the left and the coffee stained stuff on the right.

While the pages dried, I dug out an old leather skirt (it was the eighties OK) and cut a piece that was  2 cm or so higher than the folded A4 paper (A5 size page) and 6 cm or so wider than an open sheet of A4 paper (A4 size page). The leather was fairly thin and would have been too floppy for a book cover on its own so I also cut a piece of heavy duty interfacing and some pretty orange material the same size as my leather.

Old leather skirt

Heavy duty interfacing on top of the material square

These three sheets were glued together with the interfacing in the middle, clamped and hung to dry for a while.

My cover drying in the breeze.

While the cover dried I began making the note book to go inside this cover. I followed the clip below to the letter, but my finished print block was much messier than hers. Undeterred, I decided it added to the antique-y charm of the project and used it anyway. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of this step (I got lost in the process and forgot what I was doing).

I then trimmed the outside edges and punched some holes in my cover and threaded hat elastic through them in the sequence described in the clip below.

Here is the inside of my cover with the elastic in place.

Next I simply threaded my text block into the elastic holders and it was finished.

Spot the dog loved it; a leather paw rest, how innovative.

Then I started filling it up with collected bits of understandings and knowledge.

The three elastic bits mean I can add another two text blocks as I fill the original one up.

I loved making this project, I think I will make some more soon.

Somewhere down the track, I have plans of making my two daughters a book each and fill them with little snippets of information I think they may need, the sort of thing you ring your mum for…like;
‘How do I unplug the bathroom drain..without putting my fingers in there?’
‘How do I make pancakes?’
‘Is it better to close the windows in a wind storm or leave them open?’
‘Where do I go to register to vote?’
‘How do I make soap?’
‘What herbs are good for a cold?’

and many others.

Maybe one of these journals would be appropriate for that, new books can be added as more questions arise.

What do you think of this project?
Do you like the old and battered look for books and journals?

Building a laundry/bath house with old tyres, eco bricks and mud/cement – part one; planning

We need a real kitchen…at the moment our kitchen is cobbled together from bits of unused furniture (my bench space is an old massage table) and a sink unit I was given. My partner’s brother was given an old modular kitchen (from the 70’s, so it will have some interesting colour combinations) which he is storing for us, but we can’t put it in the humpy until we have a floor to put it on, which involves moving the current bathroom out.
The current bathroom has a floor made from an metal old window shade (one of those industrial metal grid things) with sheets of aluminium screwed onto it and lino over the top. This all has to come out (as well as the bath) and a new tire and ply floor go in. This means that we need a new bathroom away from the humpy while we build.

This is the current floor, you can see the metal frame around the lino. Not pretty, but it works.

The bathroom floor (please ignore the dirty shower curtain) 

The plan is to build a laundry/bath house up the slope from the vegetable growing area so that all that lovely (nutrient rich) water can use gravity to find it’s way back to the Hugelkultur vegetable beds, instead of being carried out in buckets which is how I do it at the moment. Eventually there will be a shower in the house also (for those cold winter nights), but until then we will have the bath house. I want to have a go at building with old tyres and my eco bricks, because we have plenty of them around and because they create a negative carbon footprint when reused for building.

My plan so far is very simple;

 As usual my madness is being fueled by Youtube and internet research;
The plan is to use a small excavator (hired for the occasion) to dig the foundation out (amongst other things), put the strip footing (tires and mud) and the four corner poles in. Then we will put up the pole frame and the roof. After that comes the corrugated iron outer walls, the floor and the bath put in (complete with outlet to drain to the vegetable garden). The first layer of eco bricks will go in around then too, but we will have to keep chipping away at the inner walls as eco bricks become available (we only make one or two per week). Getting water into the laundry for washing is easy; we will tap into the pipe running from the header tank up the hill to the humpy, and let gravity do it’s thing. Getting water for the shower is another story as the fall is not great enough to gravity feed water to an overhead shower. That is a problem for part two.

Next comes getting the shower operational and putting up a new clothes line. Look out for part two.

                       

An old sewing machine reborn – testing Daisy’s sewing ability.

Daisy, ready to sew

My last post was about my efforts to fix up an old Singer 201K treadle sewing machine; Daisy.
To test her ability to sew (and make all those little adjustments) I made up a new peg bag for the line.

Daisy sews well…even though the 201 is a straight stitch only machine, the stitch they sew is strong and even (when the tension is right), and they can sew through a single layer of cotton and straight on to leather without any adjustment.

Daisy doing what she was made to do. Making a happy little hum.

A closeup of the top stitch, set on 8 stitches per inch

A closeup of the bottom stitch, set on 8 stitches per inch

This is how I iron when sewing; the old iron is made from really heavy aluminium, it heats up and stays hot.

I iron on a folded blanket on the table. 

The finished peg bag, it turned out well, except for some pinches in the corner of the opening (my mistake, not Daisy’s)

Daisy all set up to sew

Daisy, packed away nice and neat

So Daisy the Singer 201K is fixed, adjusted, oiled and polished. Ready to go to her new home, once I print out a manual and whip up a pin cushion.
The advantages of using a treadle machine are many;
uses no electricity (you can sew in a blackout)
the machines are virtually indestructible (I’m sure they would survive a bomb blast)
The stitch is even and strong and the sewing is quiet and easy
The machines are beautiful to have around 
You get some exercise while sitting down sewing
Do you know anyone who wants her?

An old Singer sewing machine reborn

A few weeks ago a friend gave me the huge gift of a Singer 201 treadle sewing machine. I am not a sew-er (yet) but I have fallen in love with these old sewing machines. They are such well made machines (how many cars are still going after almost eighty years?) and they have a certain grace and beauty about them. I restored one for myself several years ago, then one for my youngest daughter last year (she likes to sew). Now I have a new project to play with.

First some background…….
Singer sewing machines in general.
The 201-1 specifically
The cabinet (model 46)

Finding her age and place of birth…..
Her serial number is; EC664342. The SingerCo site says she was made on 6th March, 1940 in Clydebank, Scotland, making her 74 years old this year.

How to refurbish the old girl…….
A very useful blog
Another useful blog with detailed pictures
A great source of parts for all sorts of sewing machines

My first move was to oil all the inner workings with 5 in 1 oil (Singer oil is better, but I didn’t have any), this let me feel where the sticky bits are as I turn the wheel and treadle the peddle (so to speak). I also wiped the old girl down with a rag and 5 in 1 oil to start the cleaning process.
She was in fairly good shape; just needing a spray of kerosene in the inner workings to ungum all the moving parts. Basically I squirt kerosene into all the oil holes, remove the face plate and inspection plate then squirt some kerosene in there too and drip some around any moving parts. After sitting like this overnight I wipe her all down with clean rags, take off any bits that still look grotty and scrub them with an old toothbrush (and kerosene of course).

The next step is replacing any worn parts; she only needed a new bobbin winder ring, drive belt and some new needles and bobbins.

Last of all is the fiddly bits; cleaning and calibrating the tension assemblies. The upper tension needed new thread take up and beehive springs (don’t you love the names of these parts). I took it apart very carefully and laid each part out in order so I wouldn’t get confused. I cleaned all the bits and replaced the worn parts with new ones in the line up. Then I put it all back together again, as indicated by the handy tutorial.
Of course it didn’t work… after a few dozen more tries and an hour poring over the tutorial, I finally realised that I had the tension indicator on back to front (the thing with the plus and minus signs on it). After that it was plain sailing.

The lower tension/bobbin case area was easy to take apart and clean. I just followed the tutorial (a different one this time) and cleaned her up, there was a lot of dirt and lint in there.

The upper tension unit removed, look at all that dirt.

The bits that make up the upper tension assembly, hope I can put it back together.

The lower tension assembly with the bobbin case removed

The bobbin case and feed dogs, all in need of a clean

The next step is to try her out, I thought I would make a new peg bag. Then I will set her all up with;
A users manual
a pincushion and pins
spare bobbins
spare needles
a cleaning brush
a bottle of 5 in 1 oil
spare reels of black and white cotton
a tailors measuring tape

And most importantly…a name. I am thinking Daisy (what do you think?)
I plan to sell the old girl on to someone who will love her and use her to make beautiful things.
How much is she worth?

Making rag rugs, a use for worn out fabric

For a while now I have been saving (hoarding really) old sheets that are just too far gone to use as sheets anymore. Some are used to make pajama pants; the material in the middle wears out first, so I cut pants leg pieces from the edges of a double sheet and sew them up (usually flannelette sheets). Lately though, I have been reading about making twined rag rugs and decided I need a few new bathroom mats, and maybe one for the front of the sink, then one for the floor beside my bed… the list is endless.

So of course I found a great tutorial online.

The first step was to make a frame loom. I just happened to have some electrical conduit lying around (and some corners too) so I made a frame in no time.

I just happened to have the materials lying around.

The basic frame loom.

Then I cut up two old t shirts and parts of two old flannelette sheets (left over from making pants).I made the strips about an inch wide, but I wasn’t very precise about it. The t shirts were cut sideways to make big loops (like huge rubber bands).

Cutting up t shirts

In weaving there are two types of threads; the warp and the weft. The warp is the ‘bones’ of a piece, they are the strands that go up and down and the weft threads are woven backwards and forwards through them.
For my mat, I used the t shirt loops slipped over the frame as the warp and the sheet strips became the weft.

A pile of warp strips

Making the weft strips from an old sheet

Then it was time to put the warp on the loom. I just slipped the strips over the outside like big rubber bands. It made a nice tight warp.

The warp on the frame, ready to go.

Then it was time to start twining; I just followed the tutorial until I got the hang of it. It was surprisingly simple, the turns at the end of the row were the hardest to learn.

The first few rows

Getting there
The finished rug still on the loom.

When the rug was long enough, I cut the bottom of the longest warp loops and tied them in a granny knot. The top of the loops were slipped off the bar (I had to take the loom apart to do that) and they pulled back into the mat as I tightened the bottom loops.
The whole mat is thick and soft. I think they will make excellent bath mats. It took about a week of evenings sitting and twining to finish though, so this is not an instant project.

The finished mat,not a good photo I know.

I can still see the pattern of the old sheet in the weave, you can see the ends of my knots on the edge of the mat..

What else can I do with old sheets? I seem to have inherited the old sheets from several houses as friends and family realise I have a use for them. Any suggestions?