Up-cycled kitchen bins

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

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

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

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

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

Home biogas system- (part two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling with water took all afternoon.

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

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

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

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…

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.

b7f13-dscf7177

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.

6F2764BA-29CC-421F-A637-5F253979021D

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.

Seedling starting with a self watering system

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;

20171204_151427[1]

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.

20171204_151446[1]

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.

20171204_151422[1]

20171206_111334[1]

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.

 

What do you think?

Using old washing machines as garden beds

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;

Old tires

Tanks cut in half

A trailer someone left here too long

Tell me about how you upcycle your rubbish.

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?

Making papercrete – Yet another way to use rubbish

Over this winter I have noticed a breeze blowing through the gap in our lounge room floor; the difference in height between the tyre floor and the pavers. This sneaky little breeze makes my feet cold while I spin (and I’m obviously metamorphosing into a cranky old lady) so I decided to try to block off this gap.
Enter the idea of papercrete; I have newspaper in abundance so it seemed a natural progression to mix up some papercrete and plug the gap with it. Papercrete is made by mixing newspaper soaked in water with concrete. The similarity between the recommended procedure and what I did ends there.
This is the gap I hope to fill. In addition to a sneaky breeze this gap also lets in antechinus, snakes and allows dropped cutlery to escape into the wild.
The recommended procedure says to soak the paper in a tow mixer designed to shred the softened paper and mix in the cement.

I shredded my paper…well ripped it up small, and soaked it in water in a bucket

 I was only doing a small test patch to see if it will work so I began by tearing up a bucket full of newspaper. The paper soaked for a week so it was good and soft.

I used a half bag of cement mix I had in the shed.

I added the whole half bag of cement…forgetting to pour off the extra water.

I mixed the lot into a sloppy slurry and began to pack it into the gap. The bucket full of goop went further than I thought it would, but it is still very rough and I think it will crack when it dries.

The filled up gap

As you can see it’s rough.

While this was a very quick and dirty experiment I can see a lot of potential for this building material. If the papercrete holds in this gap I am thinking of using it to fill the gaps and cracks around doors and windows. I might even go as far as building a tow mixer to make HUGE batches as I am lucky enough to have access to almost unlimited newspaper.

 In other news…I went on a little field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Brisbane last weekend and found this amazing piece there. It reminds me of the tumors that grow on really old gum trees.

Upcycling old tiles into wall art

Coffee, craft and off colour jokes.

A while ago my dad bought down a pile of old mismatched tiles he had found while cleaning out his shed. These little beauties sat on the useful pile for a few months waiting to become something. Yesterday inspiration hit… the girls are home for a visit and we were having a craft day…fueled by ill-advised internet searches (damned Pinterest). We made Popsicle stick bracelets,tile wall art and did some applique.

The wall tiles were so easy and so much fun. I don’t usually make decorative things; I prefer making useful items, but my daughters convinced me. I must say the process was easy and very satisfying.

Three of my finished tiles

First we found a tutorial that we understood; The Crunchy Betty blog is written in easy to understand language (just follow the link). Then we dug around and found all the essential ingredients we needed;

tiles
photos and/or diagrams
Mod Podge
foam applicators
Spray on varnish
felt sheets
hot glue gun and glue
Super glue
picture hanging hooks

 I didn’t take any photos of the ingredients gathering, but the list isn’t long.

 Then we spread out some newspaper and painted Mod Podge onto our tiles. This step required making a new pot of coffee and telling off colour jokes (just to keep things interesting). We glued our pictures onto the tiles; one of my daughters had to re-glue hers as it wasn’t exactly straight and she couldn’t live with it. The next step was to wait for the first layer of Mod Podge to dry clear…so we started decorating some Paddlepop stick bracelets we had made previously (ADHD is rampant in my family).

Spreading out our first layer

Decorating our bracelets

This fox design is burned into the wood with an old soldering iron.

As an aside….we soaked our Paddlepop sticks in vinegar for about 15 minutes then bent them into coffee cups (as in this photo) and left them to dry by the fire. When they were dry we took them out and decorated them.

Our tiles with the pictures glued down and the second coat of Mod Podge on

 We coated our tiles with Mod Podge a total of three times, waited for them to dry between each coat, then sprayed some varnish over the top. We put the tiles in the sun to dry for an hour or so and did a spot of sewing.

An applique blanket as an ode to my eldest daughter’s favourite TV show.

As a finishing touch we super glued some picture hooks to our tiles and covered the backs with felt squares (hot glued on).

Super glue will hold the little hook things on the tiles…we hope

Felt squares glued to the back finished off our tiles.

Our craft day was a lot of fun and we learned a couple of new things;

Don’t allow free roaming birds on the craft table when using Mod Podge (Barry was very interested) and;
Get your pictures straight the first time (or you have to reprint them).

Now I have to make a wall to hang my new tiles on.

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).