I am home, waiting for the results from a PCR test. So, to help the time pass, I’m mending some leggings my daughter put in the mending box a few weeks ago.
These old leggings are full of small holes that make them almost, but not quite, unwearable. I decided to go to YouTube for a tutorial. This clip showed me the technique I needed.
As it turns out, fixing holes in knit fabric is fairly easy. Just take tiny stitches on either side of the hole until the hole is miraculously mended. These leggings will last a while longer, and next time I will mend them with brighter thread so that they become a work of art.
I don’t buy clothes often, I don’t even have clothes given to me often, so where do the overflowing cupboards and draws come from? Do my clothes meet mates and start a family? Producing new, aged looking tshirts and jeans. Do the Fair Folk steal clothes from other people’s lines and use my cupboard as an off site storage for their stolen goods? Or does my daughter secretly buy clothes and sneak them into my cupboard? Who knows?
Every six months or so, I go through my clothes and give away a box or bag of things I don’t wear, but there are always clothes that are too far gone to be passed on. These stained, torn and stretched items of apparel go to a variety of places; they become cleaning rags, animal bedding or rag rugs. Every now and then I take a load of frayed and stained cleaning rags, worn too thin from multiple washes and soaks, to the massive hole where we throw our paper, old furnitire and other biodegradable items. There the cloth joins the rest of the compost in waiting, slowly turning back into valuable top soil.
Making rag rugs uses up a lot of the extra fabric in our house. I cut the cloth into strips and wind the strips into balls to be woven at a later date (when the draw I store them in begins to overflow). Now that we have an indoor bathroom, I can make a few new mats to use as bathmats, whereas previously they would be used as animal beds and floor rugs beside the bed (my vain attempt to keep our sheets clean).
The process of making some rag rugs is simple;
Cut your old clothes and cloth into strips;
Tshirts- I use this method to get the most from my tshirts. I’m not usually so careful about cutting the seams off though.
jeans/pants- I use this method to turn pants into strips.
leggings or tights- I use this method to cut up leggings. This is roughly the same as for pants, but it is important to keep stretch fabric seperate from woven fabric. Stretch fabric will pull the warp in and make a smaller mat than woven fabric (see the photo of all three mats at the end of this post; the smaller mat is made from stretch fabric)
Warp your loom;
I use a cotton warp thread and double the warp in any size heddle I use (this one is 12.5 dpi). The size of the heddle (the thing with slots and eyes that warp is threaded through) doesn’t really matter with rag rugs, but I do find that the more warp threads I use, the stronger the rug is when it is finished.
Weave the rugs;
I weave an inch or so with an acrylic yarn before I start the rag section. This gives the mats a firm start and finish and also gives me a nice, neat indicater of when one rug finishes and another starts.
Take them off the loom and finish the ends;
I just cut them off the loom and overlocked the ends. This makes for a neat edge and it seems to stay strong for a long time.
Use the new rugs;
These rugs are nice and big, they are very absorbant and they use up cloth that would otherwise go to landfill. Each mat will last for years. I have five year old rugs that are only just beginning to show wear. The warp threads seem to go first and the rag pieces pull out. I will try to save the rags from these older rugs to be re-woven into new mats in the future, and then I will feel like a super recycler!
Weaving is such an enjoyable hobby. I am thankful that I don’t have to weave cloth for the whole family, I would never get off the loom and the spinning wheel, but I do love that a lot of our cloth items are now handmade. I try to add a new item every year. By the time I am 90, we should be using only handmade cloth.
I have always had a habit of wondering how random common household items are made, it drives my partner nuts. I will stop doing something to wonder (sometimes out loud) how something is made and if we can make it too. Sometimes I wonder how the process was discovered in the first place. In the kitchen, it is amazing how many everyday items can be made by neglecting them. It leads me to think that the greatest discoveries in culinary arts were probably made by very bad housekeepers. Vinegar is one of those things.
Vinegar is a double fermented product that uses yeasts to make alcohol then bacteria to turn the alcohol into vinegar. Apparently the process can be completed in the same container by adding dried fruit and water to a bucket or jar, stirring it every day and keeping it covered with an air permeable cover (like a cloth). The acetobacter in the air will turn any alcohol into vinegar. It can most usefully be used to turn bad wine into good vinegar.
Vinegar has been made and used for about 5000 years in most parts of the world (maybe longer). It has been used to disinfect and preserve food (the original use of marinade was not to improve taste, it was to make old meat safer to eat), it has been used to clean wounds and treat digestive complaints (and as a base for delivering medicine). It has been used as a cleaning and disinfecting agent in household cleaning and to preserve specimens in the lab. Here at the humpy, we use it for all the above uses (well… not too many specimens preserved). I buy a 15 litre tub of white vinegar twice a year and many bottles of apple cider, balsamic and specialty vinegars as well. If I can make my own, there is one less thing I need to buy, as well as the satisfaction gained by knowing how to make something myself.
For my vinegar experiments I used some of my home made wines that didn’t taste very good. I had a batch of mead (honey wine) that tasted harsh and had a faintly musty flavour, so I knew I wasn’t going to drink it. Instead of wasting the hours of work that went into making it, I decided to have a play at making vinegar.
The mead was poured into a smallish kombucha brewing jar that I had spare. Then I added a bottle of apple cider vinegar I picked up at the local Co Op to the jar and put a cloth cover on it. The apple cider vinegar was raw, meaning it had living bacteria colonies in it. That is it really, I put the jar up on a shelf and left it for two months.
When I had a minute, I just poured the vinegar through a filter and bottled up the results. It tastes mild and smooth; I think this would make a great vinegar for shrubs. It is good as a salad dressing and in marinades too.
The Mother was left in the sieve, so I poured a new batch of old wine into the brewer and added the Mother to it. This should get the vinegar making off to a good start again.
Now I know how to make basic vinegar, I think I will branch out to making fruit vinegars too. For me, the vinegar making answers a question I had about how the product is made, and it allowed me to use a product that had no other use. I will continue to make vinegars at home and eventually I would like to make enough to use for cleaning too.
Everyday life holds so many small but important mysteries; how is vinegar made? How was it discovered? What can be added to vinegars? What can I make from my vinegar? These are just the questions I had about vinegar, I have many more questions to be answered and each day brings new wonderings. There is no room or time for boredom or stagnation of the mind… life is just too interesting.
As predicted, the lounge recovering is going slowly. This weekend I managed to cover the arms of one armchair. I don’t mind taking my time with the job though, I am learning so much along the way. The fact that the whole pile of work-in-progress is sitting in everyone’s way is annoying, but we are coping with a minimum of snarky comments and stubbed toes.
The inside arm covering was not without it’s challenges. There was a broken piece of frame to be fixed and a lot of tucking and stapling to do…
I do love the wheat colour of the fabric, but I am learning that I have to go very slowly on this project or I make silly mistakes like putting the wadding too far forward over the front of the arm. Oh well… on to the inside back next.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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…
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.
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.
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.
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 kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…
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.
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.
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.
At one point I was growing all my vegetables from seed in a little greenhouse thing I bought. Time constraints got the better of me though and I started buying seedlings. It is time to be inspired to grow my own seedlings again.
Recently I found the most amazing You Tube channel; it’s called ‘Under the Choko Tree’ the name drove me nuts at first because as we all know…choko is a climbing vine not a tree. Aside from the name, the channel offers some great tutorials for making seed raising mix, planting seedlings, making paper pots and making a self watering system for seedlings. The star of the show is Nevin Sweeney, I have been reading his articles in Grass Roots magazine for years and have read his blog for a while too (http://www.underthechokotree.com/).
Nevin’s video tutorial makes it all sound so simple, how could I not give it a go?
Check out his how to make seed raising mix tutorial Here
I used a hummus container (empty obviously) as my measure as the tutorial uses ‘parts’ as its measurement, one hummus container full equals one part. I collected sand from a causeway crossing beside the road, the compost was sieved from the chook pen floor and the coir bulking agent I bought from my local Rural Agent store.
Now I had all the ingredients it was time to get mixing;
The recipe is as simple as 1 part sand, 2 parts compost and 3 parts coir. That’s it, just mix the lot together into a gorgeous looking seed raising mixture and start potting your seeds.
The Choko Tree has a tutorial with advice about planting seeds in punnets too; view it here.
I decided to give Nevin’s advice about planting only a few of each type of plant in each punnet a go. As you can see in the photo, my test punnet has chilli, rockmelon and capsicum in it (two of each). I like this idea as it allows me to plant only a few of the seedlings I don’t need many of (like chilli) and a lot of the ones I need more of (like tomato). It will also let me succession plant seedlings for a more sustained harvest (things like cabbage and lettuce) if I can plant new seeds every two weeks or so I can keep the harvest going for the whole season, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself.
Next I built myself a self watering system for the punnets; the tutorial for that one is here.
The basic concept is that water will seep upwards into the punnets from wet sand beneath (as anyone who has ever sat down on a damp beach wearing jeans can attest…capillary action works). I filled my tubs, made from old oil drums sawn in half length-ways, with sand and plunked in a little pot at the end to be used as a holder for the water reservoir (an old juice bottle in my case). My newly planted punnets were just plunked onto the surface of the sand and water was added to the tub and reservoir.
The water reservoir is filled with water from the duck pond, I figured I would add some nutrient to the mix (and the duck pond is closer than the tap).
Now to wait until they come up.
While I am waiting I made some colourful stone markers for the seeds I planted directly into the garden. I love these markers and have made them at every school I go to over the last few weeks. For mine at home I went for slightly larger rocks so they won’t get lost in the bushy garden. They don’t need a tutorial; I just used acrylic paint and wrote the names on with a permanent marker once the paint had dried. I did coat them all with clear paint when they were dry though, hoping it will extend the life of the colours.
Here at the humpy we use everything again. My philosophy is to use, reuse, upcycle and hopefully compost anything that can’t be of further use. One of the things that pass through our home fairly regularly is washing machines. I don’t know why but I am hard on them. We use twin tubs to do our washing as we can save a HUGE amount of water by re-using wash water (and carefully sorting loads from cleanish to filthy) and twin tubs make it easier to bucket the used water out to water the garden. On average a washing machine will last for three years here before having some kind of catastrophic melt down, after which we fix it as best we can or buy another one (usually second hand, explaining the short life span). I have been stock piling the old machines in the yard waiting for inspiration to hit. My daughter was inspired to set them up as garden beds for vegetables recently.
Three washing machines and three chest freezers equals a lot of growing space
She took some timber rounds from the wood pile to use as legs for the new beds, this improves visibility under and around the beds (so we can see when Brian the black snake is around) and also gets the growing area above duck notice height. The washing machines and some stray chest freezers we had laying around were set up on their new legs along one wall of the humpy ready for filling with soil.
Since I have become obsessed with Hugelkultur I have been experimenting with places to put wood in the garden, this seemed like the perfect time to experiment. We collected heaps of old, half rotted branches from the ground around the humpy (within wheelbarrow distance) and filled the bottoms of the new beds. Then we used compost from the bottom of the chook pen (made from food scraps, straw, cardboard and newspaper all mixed with chook poo) to fill the rest of the beds. We planted peas, silverbeet, carrots and beetroot in the new areas.
It looks a mess, but chooks make great compost.
The peas and beetroot are up and thriving so far.
Peas at the back so they can climb the wire trellis against the wall and carrots in the front
We use pretty much anything that will hold soil to make garden beds here;