Biogas system update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Bushfires…again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good old back pack sprayer.

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

The trailer set up.

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

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

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

Bell…one of our local goanna

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

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

Making vegan cheese- the holy grail

For a while now, I have been looking for a way to make cheese for my daughter. I am of course, looking for something that has a cheese texture and melts like (for want of a better word) real cheese. She is looking for a cheese with no animal proteins in it and a taste that is as satisfying as cheese.

So here begins the search (also results, funny stories and adventures).

This recipe looks do-able;

Basic firm cheese – 1 cup non-lite plant milk – soy, cashew… – I’m using 1 cup water & 1/3 cup soaked cashews for cashew milk

– 1 cup cooked sweet potato – 1/2 tsp paprika

– 1/2 tsp cumin

– 1 tsp salt

– 1 tbsp soy sauce

– 2 tsp garlic powder or 2 cloves

– 1/2 lemon juice

– 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

– 1 cup water – 2 1/2 tbsp agar agar

Store in fridge for 4-5 days

Basically; I followed the recipe to the letter for this one. It turned into something that looks vaguely cheese-like and has the texture of compressed paste (which is what it is really). The taste is not cheese like at all, I don’t see myself making this into sandwiches. I think it will taste good added to a potato curry before serving though.

On to the next recipe…

Making soy pulp muffins

After my soy milk making adventure, I have been making my own plant milks every chance I get. I love learning new skills, especially when the result is so much more than the effort expended. One of the waste products of making soy milk is soy pulp.

Soy pulp (left over from making soy milk) is apparently called okara; it can be used in all sorts of recipes. The Japanese even use it as the base for many meals. I have a cup or so of the stuff in the fridge ready to be made into something.

I hate to waste stuff, so any left over I can turn into something else is a bonus. Also okara is really high in iron and fibre, two things I need more of in my diet at the moment.

I found this recipe and decided to give it a go. The recipe below is copied directly from the blog Runaway Rice.

Ingredients

StandardMetric

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F (191 C). Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the okara, beaten eggs, soy milk, canola oil and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, in thirds, and combine until incorporated. Do not over-mix the batter.
  5. Add the fresh blueberries and gently mix together.
  6. Using a large cookie scoop, transfer the batter into the lined muffin cups.
  7. Sprinkle the muffin tops with the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean.
  9. Increase the oven temperature to 400 F (205 C) and bake for 3-5 minutes or until the muffin tops are golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack.
  11. Enjoy the muffins warm or at room temperature with butter or your favorite spread.
  12. Store the muffins in an air-tight container and enjoy within 3-4 days. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Freeze for up to 2 months.

Of course my version was coloured by what I had available and how often I was distracted from the actual recipe by a stray bright idea (as usual).

So far, so good. I followed the recipe until I got to eggs, then I added 3 instead of 2 because we have heaps of them at the moment. After that it was all down hill.
I found some passion fruit gifted to us by a neighbor. In they went. I also found a few cups of rolled oats left in a packet in the pantry. In it went too.
The first batch has the basic muffin mix with okara and passion fruit and oats. The second batch has blueberries, oats and cinnamon.

I froze half the batch for work lunches and breakfasts and the rest went into a container in the fridge for nibbles. I am really happy with the outcome and I am really happy to have used 6 eggs today.

Maybe I can try making okara into ‘chicken’ nuggets next?

Making nut milks- soy milk

I thought it was time to give DIY soy milk a go; it is cheaper to make than to buy and my partner has swapped over to soy now because dairy milks are giving him heart burn. My eldest daughter has been using non-dairy milks for a long time (she has an allergy to animal proteins) and I seem to go between the two extremes. While I don’t enjoy the flavour of meat at all, I do LOVE milks, cheeses and yogurts (and I miss milking my cow) but I also like the plant based alternatives just as much.

I found some interesting options for making the milk; the first is a straight forward method that involves boiling, blending, filtering and heating the soy beans. The second is a brief video showing how to pulp the soy beans without a blender. I thought I might cheat and use the blender for this one, but it is comforting to know that I can make it without the fancy tools.

My first attempt at this milk went like this;

First, I soaked a cup of soy beans in water overnight. The next morning they were swollen up and ready to blend.

The ratio of soy to water is anywhere between 1:4 to 1:9, I chose to use the middle ground of 1:6. This means that I will end up with close to 1.5 litres of milk from 1 cup of raw beans. To begin this process, I added 3 cups of water to my soaked and drained beans and blended them for an epoch (well…2 minutes or so).

Then I strained them through a nut milk bag (basically a jelly bag if you are into making jams and such).

The pulp left in the bag can be used to make all sorts of things (including soy flour).

Next I poured the juice into a thick bottomed saucepan and added 3 more cups of water. This lot was then heated to the boil while stirring periodically (while I cleaned the kitchen of soy juice flecks). I kept it at a low boil for about 15 minutes, skimming off the froth as I went (and making new soy juice flecks in the kitchen). During this time I got distracted and let the pot boil over a little bit. Soy milk is a real pain to clean off the stove top.

As I stirred, I skimmed off the froth.

After it all cooled off a bit I poured the milk into a container and put it in the fridge. I can use this milk for cereals, drinking (with vanilla added), add to coffee (for my partner) and for cooking.

As it cools the milk forms a skin. I poured it through a makeshift sieve funnel.
The makeshift sieve funnel
My first 1.5 litres of soy milk.
We had a nice chai latte to celebrate. It was good.

Now for the cleaning up…again.

Maybe I can try making tofu at home too in the future.

Making vege burgers from Madagascar beans

Madagascar bean, growing like a weed.

The Madagascar bean plants have continued to grow and now it is Spring again, they have decided to bear a huge crop of beans (even though it is so very dry). I thought I would share a recipe for using the dried beans in vege burgers as a way of using my stash of last years crop in preparation for harvesting a new batch.

The new harvest begins.

I didn’t use a particular recipe to make my burgers, just added things I had on hand, but I did manage to find a similar recipe here.

There is a mix of Madagascar beans and bush beans in this batch.

First; soak a cup of dried beans in hot water for a few hours (or overnight).

Then boil the beans for about two hours (or until they can be squashed to mush with a fork).

Blend the beans together with; 1 cup of grated carrot/raw beetroot, 1 onion, 1 cup red lentils (these can be boiled with the beans if they are dried), 1/2 cup boiled sweet potato, 1 chia egg (1 tspn chia seed in 1 tblespn hot water), garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper.

Carrots, onion, garlic, capsicum (and a sneaky chilli)
Sweet potato and a chia egg or two.

Put the whole mess in a bowl and mix in bread crumbs or oat bran until you can form patties that stick together.

Shallow fry the patties and serve with vegetables or as a burger. Yum.

Yum

They can also be frozen before cooking to have a quick, easy meal ready to cook.

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.

Making some fabric organizers for the humpy

I enjoyed making my fabric boxes so much that I decided to make some smaller ones from the scraps left over. These little hold-alls have the advantage of being able to squash into a smaller space because they are flexible. The process of making them is also really easy;

Cut two pieces of fabric and one piece of interfacing to your desired size. The size could be a square or a rectangle, as long as you can match one side to the other. I went with 30cm squares to make these small trays because that is the size of the scraps I had left over.

Fold your lining in half and sew up the sides with the right sides together. Do the same for the outer fabric, the interfacing can be sewn to the back of the outer lining at this point.

Fold the corners down so that the side seam lays on top of the bottom fold. Decide how wide you want your base to be and mark the measurement. Sew across the corner and trim the excess. Do this for the outer and inner fabric pieces.

Turn the outer fabric right-way-out and put the lining inside. Fold down the lip of your new fabric tray or bin and sew around the lip to make a nice neat seam.

Now fill your new hold-all with all the little pieces of junk laying around.

They are so much fun to make, I think I will make a heap of them for my clothes draws. They are a great stash buster too, my fabric stash is down to a manageable size in such a short time and I have very little fabric waste from making them.

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.

Meal prepping for the freezer- or I hate to cook

I hate cooking; I hate that you can spend hours making a meal that is eaten in half that time. I hate that I can prepare a dish and pop it in the oven then forget it’s there and burn it (or is that just me?). I hate that it creates all that washing up and you know there will be even more in just a few hours.

I do love to eat though, and so does the rest of my family. So to address these diametrically apposed attitudes I decided to try meal prepping. My hope is that it will reduce the time spent preparing individual meals before and after work, keep me from forgetting I am cooking by keeping me in the kitchen while the oven is on and reduce the washing up by having one large batch rather than a lot of small ones. I also get to play with the new freezer.

I have been working on replacing our freezer bags with those silicon, re-usable zip lock bags that keep popping up on trendy environment sites. I found a brand that is sold in Australia, can be used in the freezer and (very importantly for the washing up situation) can go from the freezer to the oven or stove top. My thinking is that I can cook a meal, divide it into family meal sized bags then reheat it in the bag. That way I only have to wash the silicon bag thing rather than a baking tray or saucepans. They are not cheap though; so I have been saving up a little chunk of money from the grocery budget each fortnight and buying two or three at a time.

My first recipe comes from a blog called ‘2 share my joy’, which sounds like particularly boring porn, but isn’t. I chose the Vegan meatballs recipe. My reasoning is that these meatball things (made from beans) can be used in a huge variety of recipes and they freeze really well. My plan is to make the balls and freeze them in a sauce (or different sauces in different bags) then reheat the entire bag in a hot water bath.

The mix. I just followed the recipe in the link to make something that looks like mush.
They roll into balls really easily and if you have wet hands the mush doesn’t stick. I baked them in a hot oven for 15 minutes.
They don’t brown well, but they smell really good.
I cheated with the sauce; I used a vegan friendly Dolmio sauce and some extra tomato paste.
The amounts in the recipe, plus 1 jar of sauce and tomato paste, made three meals for two and an extra meal for three. Probably we will need to add steamed veges or pasta to the meal to bulk it out, but the hard work is done.
My daughter has hers with just pasta, I add cheese to mine (because I can).

The dish tastes pretty good. The balls have a nice spicy flavour and they are very filling. I think these little bean balls are going to be a versatile addition to the freezer meals. It remains to be seen whether meal prepping saves a lot of washing up, I hope it does because I don’t like washing up either.