Self sufficiency, comes at a price……

14 11 2017

IF you are one of my vegan friends, turn away, don’t read this…..  this morning, our two wethers met their fate and will be in our freezer next week.

I originally bought them 14 months ago with two young ewes, which have now both lambed, thanks to 20171104_184005Matt my neighbor who kindly allowed me to have them serviced by his ram. It’s a cooperative thing, all his Wilties are now on our orchard, gorging on luscious grass now going ballistic. We’ve had copious rain, and yesterday, today, and tomorrow, it’s hotter here than in Brisbane…. and the grass loves it! Normal Tasmanian weather will resume tomorrow afternoon!

As I have mentioned here before, our farm’s land capability, as it is officially known, is class 4 which is perfect for pastures, and therefore grazing animals. We are also lucky that our pastures have actually been improved by previous owners, and it’s great animal fattening land. We are not exactly making the most of it yet, because fully one third of our property is yet to have more animals eating our grass….. most likely, Matt’s cows will be put to the test soon!

20171114_091836We can’t eat grass, but the sheep can, and it’s a simple process to convert grass into protein for human consumption. The hard part is always the killing, which I do not enjoy, until the delicious result is on the table. And believe me, this is by far the best way to get high quality meat. The two wethers have had a great, if admittedly short life, and were never mistreated, right up til the very end……..

When the time came, one bullet is all it took, they never knew what happened…… stress20171114_092600 free meat means no adrenaline in the system, makes for better meat, and you can’t do it more humanely. The mobile butchers were efficient beyond belief, they were only here for forty minutes, and both carcasses were in their mobile cold room ready for cutting up later, all in that short time.  It actually took me longer to dispose of the leftovers, now composting for future use in the market garden. NOTHING is wasted…… this is how sustainable agriculture is done,

With the state of our soils in Tasmania and virtually everywhere else in Australia, incapable as they are of growing high energy food like grain and vegetables without loads of fossil energy inputs, I believe that in a post crash era we will be eating even more meat than we are currently…. and in any case, I’m sure we’ll be eating a lot less of everything, period…..

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AGA Saga MkII well underway…….

7 11 2017

My latest AGA Saga (the first one in Qld and the wood conversion story are actually the top rating blog entries on DTM, getting 3 to 12 hits very single day….) began when I won the jackpot by finding a four oven model in the Adelaide Hills. Every AGA I had laid eyes on before this looked pretty sad from the outside, but was usually in pretty good order internally. This one was the complete opposite……

When I picked it up, it had been pulled apart by a secret society of AGA engineers member, for all its flaws to be displayed. The most obvious was the ginormous crack in the outer barrel almost certainly caused by some imbecile wrapping a copper pipe around it to make hot water; the shock of applying cold water to near red hot cast iron was simply too much for the brittle material, it must have gone with a loud bang……

The internet is a wonderful thing, however, and over the years I’ve made friends with other AGA officionados, swapping ideas and titbits that have at times I’m sure come in handy. So when Geoff contacted me, he put a whole new slant on the internet coming to the rescue…..

Geoff isn’t going to convert his AGA to wood, no, he’s going to run it on solar PV! Now we all know what I think of using electricity to make heat, let alone solar electricity, but Geoff is one of those clever guys who does things differently, like you know who, and he just might pull it off. Watch this space…… On the strength of our online discussions, Geoff even started a facebook group for anyone interested in the old stoves.

Because Geoff’s AGA will not be needing ‘a fire’, he has no use for all the bits that are relevant to said fire…. so he offered me his outer barrel for a price that was more than competitive with that of my usual UK source of parts. And besides, because it only needed to cross Bass Strait rather than come half way ’round the world, I would not have to pay the eye watering shipping fees either.

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Great packing job (bubble wrap removed), it all arrived in perfect condition

I then wondered if if he could also part with the exhaust channel that bolts to the outer barrel, and runs atop the top oven, on its way to the manifold (the bit I replaced in Qld) and the flue. When he sent me a photo of the one he had, I was blown away….. it looked brand new! Yep, I’ll have that too…… and I have to add, I had not realised just how bad mine was until I put the two together side by side. The mating flanges on both parts were very badly corroded/eroded.

Along with the new steel manifold my

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New steel manifold made in one piece instead of the three cast original parts.

mate Pete welded together for me in Geeveston, the entire exhaust system will be as good as new. The old one was all warped, and corroded/eroded just like the rest of the flueways… I opted to not put a vent pipe in this one, I think it keeps the flue too cold causing some of the gumming up problems I encountered in Qld….. the vent pipe was missing from the parts I picked up anyway, maybe it was removed at the time this stove was wood converted.

I paid Geoff to pack it all up on a cut down pallet so that Tasfreight could easily handle the parts with a forklift (it was actually one of their requirements), and he even threw in a couple of tie down straps, which I’m sure I will make use of in the future. Thank you Geoff, you’re a champ!

Spot the difference……..!

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In retrospect, I now realize how lucky I was getting this barrel and flueway. For starters, I had put the barrel in for repairs at the local engineering store. Welding it back into shape would have been a hell of a job, because the entire casting would have had to be heated to several hundred degrees first, and there would have been little chance of getting the machined surfaces top and bottom parrallel. Secondly, whilst the exhaust port’s machined surface was not as bad as that of the flueway, I would never in a million years have achieved a satisfactory seal between the two, and it may have cost me as much as what this current exercise cost me….. and there was no guarantee the weld would even hold….

In typical Tasmanian fashion, the engineers put it in the too hard basket, and saved my bacon it now turns out….. some things are just meant to happen.

The next big step with this project will be designing and manufacturing a wetback for the big stove. AGA never made one for reasons I can’t fathom, I’m sure it’s doable, and anyone wanting to do this too will soon enough have access to the open source information I gladly supply.

Now all I need is a house and kitchen to move all the bits into so I can put the big and heavy jigsaw puzzle back together…..





More planning at the Fanny Farm

27 10 2017

At my neighbour’s recommendation, I have been attending a Small Farm Planning course run by the NRM, a government funded natural resource management organisation and one of three in Tasmania whose role is to protect, sustainably manage and improve our natural resources for the shared environmental, social and economic benefit of the community. I highly recommend anyone going down a similar path to ours to attend such a course……

Even though on the first Saturday I wondered what had I done; it felt like I already knew everything I was going to be told! To be fair, it seems to be largely planned for total novices, and having a Permaculture Design Certificate under my belt and ten plus years experience in Queensland means I am not really a novice, even if I am not a real farmer!

We were given an aerial map of our properties, with overlays showing what sorts of soils we had and a bunch of other stuff that I already knew very well. Other attendees were told to put clear overlays over their maps and start marking wind directions, wet areas, shading problems, fences, etc etc etc……  which is permaculture 101. I already had this done, and the look on the mapping lecturer’s face when I produced my masterplan was priceless……..  “who did this for you” she asked…..  why I did I replied! I’ve been ‘here’ for two years for chrissake, and walked over every square inch of the Fanny Farm thinking about little else than what I was going to do with it…. not only that, most of it is started.

The second week was a lot more interesting, as it was held on a farm, rather than a lecture room, which happened to belong to one of my neighbours’ friends. We talked about soils and pastures, and while I know a fair bit about soil already – having made many tonnes of the stuff over the years – I am new to pastures.

The soils bit was particularly interesting, because in Tasmania they are classified 1 to 7, with one being good enough to eat, and seven being largely of no use. We have class 4 soils, which is as good as it gets in the Huon Valley. What was utterly fascinating though was that in the whole of Tasmania, there are only, wait for it, just 3055hA (or 0.1% of private land) of class 1 soil, 20537hA of class 2 (0.8%), 84139hA of class 3 (3.4%), and 599647hA or 24% of the same stuff we have on the Fanny Farm…… If that doesn’t indicate to you just how bad Aussie soils are, then I guess nothing will…. 72% of Tassie’s soils are ordinary to crap. Even more amazing is that out of the 20 or so people attending this course, we are the only ones with class 4…. Little wonder we are zoned “significant agricultural land”.

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Simon discussing organic soil building on the family farm they have held for some 150 years….. Just look at those Geeveston Fanny trees…!

Simon told the story of how twenty years ago, his father started complaining about rocks beginning to appear out of the ground. It turns out that the problem was actually soil ‘shrinking’, and exposing the rocks that used to be below ground…. they changed their practices to the methods Joel Salatin and Alan Savory use, and all the rocks disappeared, going back to where they belonged, under good quality soil….

It is now obvious to me that the reason so much time is spent on pastures over the duration of the course, is entirely due to the fact anything worse than class 4 is only good enough to grow sheep and cattle. I have put so much work into my class 4 soil to make it viable as a market garden – over a tiny portion of the whole farm I remind you – that it also dawned on me that WTSHTF in not too long from now, anyone walking out of Hobart looking for food that’s no longer on supermarket shelves, and thinking they can just walk to farms full of goodies to eat, will be bitterly disappointed……  high energy foods like vegetables need class 3 or better soils, and they are all located in the North West of Tasmania, a very long walk away….  They’d better be good runners, and bring sharp knives along. Or guns. I can vouch that sheep can run very fast!

Those farms are there of course, they do exist…. but they are few and far between, and you’d have to know where they are.

Interestingly, we were also asked to bring a soil sample. I dug a spade square piece of dirt at random, complete with the green stuff on top. My sample was ignored by the presenters – talking about poor soils seems more interesting – until my sample was paraded as a perfect example of “improved pasture”. I of course had no idea….  all that green stuff is just grass, except it isn’t. I can now identify half a dozen different kinds of grass, and more importantly recognise the stuff that’s no good! We were even told that great pastures need 70% clover coverage. When asked if the Fanny Farm was that good, I had to say we must come pretty close….. now that spring has sprung, the clover is making a comeback, and it is everywhere……. and yet, even after maybe 15 years of this clover having been sown after the apple trees were all pulled up, it is still only class 4.

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Veronique, French Canadian wwoofer, unloading crusher dust for market garden

Any vegan who thinks soils can be quickly fertilized with green manure has no idea what they are talking about. On just 240 square metres, I have grown green manure, added four tonnes of compost and 750kg of sheep manure…..  and still the soil looks to me like it needs organic matter. I recently added half a ton of crusher dust to add texture to the clay, and that’s on top of a couple of hundred kg of lime and dolomite.  Making soil is hard work and expensive……

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This is what well prepared soil can produce. I never managed to grow artichokes like this in Queensland….

In between classes, our ewes have lambed, and I have eight chicks in my new Sheraton Chicken Coop waiting to reach a size safe enough to release with the mature chickens. My new Indian Game Birds are also producing eggs, 20 of which are in Matt’s incubator, and another dozen under a broody hen in the top chicken coop.

I’m also currently selling about seven dozen eggs to a local cafe.  This farm will eventually feed us, but one has to be patient. Soil is no miracle.





A late Winter’s tale…….

28 09 2017

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Winter was late this year. Which was a good thing to start with, it allowed us to pour all the foundation concrete for the new house before it got too cold and wet. But when it did arrive, it came with a vengeance….. three weeks ago, in spring, it snowed down to 150m. Twice…..! It was all around us, but didn’t quite make it as low as where I live. And when it wasn’t snowing, it rained…! and rained, and rained…. The result of all this, as much as I like snow, is that literally nothing got done around the Fanny Farm, there’s mud everywhere…. with apologies to all my friends in Queensland who have all run out of water, including, I suspect the people who bought our house. I’ve even put on weight, my bad…….

Last weekend, my better half was down for a few days, and having attended several permablitz events locally over the past couple of months – half of which were canceled thanks to above mentioned rain – I booked my turn as Glenda could help with the catering. I don’t know whether it was unfortunate or not, but only a handful of people turned up, with the important ones being my neighbour Matt who supplied and operated his excavator, and my new mate Phil who kindly allowed us to get his 4WD ute filthy dirty for the day……!

20170924_105436Twenty or so years ago when all (well, most) of the apple trees here were ripped up, they were pushed into large mounds and burned. There are at least eight such mounds on this small property, and some investigative digging with a spade revealed that the earth lying there was full of carbon and generally pretty good. There was about ten or twelve cubic metres of this stuff just 20 to 30 metres from the western half of my yet to be finished market garden, and I needed to have it moved into the garden area to rid myself of the furrows that are part of the old apple orchard windrows; there just had not been enough topsoil left over from the house cutting, and the furrows were directing all that rain water into my building site. The

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House drainage tested by deluge

 

drainage around the house is working very well – and it sure was tested with all this rain – but I’m not into making my life any more difficult than necessary.

 

So Matt dug the mounds up for us, and loaded the soil onto our utes which we then drove the short distance to the garden area. Because not enough people had turned up to manually unload the soil, Matt ended up trundling his machine back and forth between the loading and unloading areas to scrape the material off the vehicles. As I keep saying, with fossil fuels, you can do anything. And as Geoff Lawton also keeps saying, the best use of oil is to move earth…!

I knew this could be done because Caleb and I moved tons of clay this way when we dug the house trenches, and this was easier…..  though the entire area turned into a giant bog hole, and we had our fair share of fun playing in the mud with our toys..! It was so slippery, I even got out once with all four wheels slowly spinning in the mud in low range four wheel drive with the engine just idling…!

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The mess after the mudstorm

It’s all done now, and we feasted on pizzas and beer at lunch time to celebrate. Many thanks to all involved, all I have to do now is wait for it all to dry so I can add compost and sheep manure and plant some green manure for the 2018 growing season…… not to mention finishing the fence around the market garden, building another hot house down hill from the existing one, and and……………………

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More pouring…..

15 06 2017

The owner builder gods have been smiling upon me…… since expressing concern about maybe having missed the boat with further concreting and Tasmania’s fickle weather, the frosty and rainy weather went on holidays long enough that I decided to persevere, and it’s all paid off….

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shower grates

Mind you, it wasn’t without the odd thing going wrong. As Glenda and I reinvented the bathroom layouts, I had to wait for several days for the new grates we are going to use in the shower area before I was able to finish the second spider (see above link). I ended up buying two of these online for $200, while Bunnings were selling them for $300 each…… always shop around!

While waiting, I made three of the four pipes that run into the riser. The riser was in its position, in the middle of the bathroom mockup in the shed, ready to go; once the fourth pipe was carefully glued together, I assembled the spider, only to discover later that the riser had been sitting for days on the floor upside down……… Sacré bleu! I thought I’d worked a way to get away with it, even dragging it up to the house site for installation, until I realised that the riser is moulded in such a way that all those pipes fall to the fitting (it’s only a two degree fall, but it’s important!) and that now all those pipes were going uphill…… and as we all know, water does not run uphill!

I really hate stuffing things up, but I had to go and buy another fitting (50km return trip and $35 later..), destroy the original one, and refit the entire thing properly. I’m getting really good at problem solving.

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waterproof membrane in place

I re-hired Caleb to do my heavy lifting and unload another couple of tons of crusher dust off the ute to cover up all those bare dirt patches between the trenches while I went to work putting them together.

There’s a lot to think about. I almost forgot to glue the outlet pipe from the second bathroom, and had to dig it up, by hand. No major drama this time, but there you go. These outlets also have to be lagged with 40mm of foam where they penetrate the footing in case the highly reactive soil I seem to continually build on make the concrete move and break the pipes. It pays to know how

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lagged outlet pipe

to read an engineer’s drawings!

Once all the crusher dust was in place, we covered it with the thick plastic moisture proof membrane my supplier sold me, and before you know it, I was ordering another ten cubic metres of concrete.

On the day, I was training Caleb on how I wanted him to rake the concrete towards himself while he stood on the first footing and I inserted the concrete vibrator into the pile of the wet stuff that would land in the middle of the trench. To my amazement, and Caleb’s visible delight, as soon as the vibrator started doing its thing, the concrete came to the end of the trench all by itself, like water in a flash flood……  I tell you, that device is worth its weight in gold! It easily does the work of at least one other man, and maybe more. Mind you, I also had to deal with the end of the machine vibrating itself off, and having to work out the thread was mysteriously left hand – very odd, as left hand threads are usually used to stop things vibrating off! No pressure….  I only had a concrete truck waiting for me to get going again…….

We had two truck loads of concrete in place within just forty-five minutes……. and I had expected it to take twice this long with only two of us on the job!

Now all I have to do is pour a perfectly level and perfectly flat slab on top of the whole thing (after I return from another trip to Queensland to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary!), and we can start BUILDING! I really can’t wait to be past this stage; I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but I am saving so much money, it will all be worth it. And to be honest, it’s all turned out even better than I expected, and I am justifiably proud of my handy work……  watch this space.

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Making spiders……

30 05 2017

It’s wet and cold, the building site’s a quagmire, and I feel like writing a story……

I seem to make a habit of one thing leading to another when it comes to building. Just prior to moving to the Huon in ute I,  I decided to see if I could buy a bidet or two on eBay. I really like the idea of going toilet paper free, as much as possible… Sure enough, I found quite a few, in Melbourne. Not just any old bidets it turned out, but high end Italian designer models! And they were $19 each – no, not a typo – which must have been less than 10% of their normal cost….. I told the seller I was moving to Tasmania, and I’d pick them up on my way through, and he was cool about holding onto them until I arrived.

bidetLittle did I know the seller was a large business that bought out other firms going under. They would buy their entire stock for an agreed sum, and anything a bit slow to move, was sold off dirt cheap. Like bidets. When I arrived, I was gobsmacked to find a huge warehouse, easily 20 times the size of my large shed, full of building goodies; not least same brand double handbasins that matched my bidets, and they too were a bargain at $35…. They are quite unusual,Image result for hatria you and me bidet double handbasin being circular in design. I even bought all the taps I need for a song. I recently saw handbasins for $500 that weren’t half as nice as these….

Then one day, while watching Grand Designs on TV, I saw a circular bathtub. I’d never ever seen one like that before, and it got me thinking that maybe we could get one to match the rest of the bathroom fittings I had already bought. Sure enough, I found some, not cheap though…… from around $1500 to ‘the sky is the limit’ kind of designer prices.

Then when I drove down from Queensland in ute III (the 4WD one), I had another look, and found something in Sydney I could pick up on the way down. Luckily, as it turns out, they were out of stock, and so arrived in Geeveston empty-handed. Six months later, Matt next door was going to Melbourne to pick up a new ute, and he suggested that if I needed anything picked up there, he’d bring it back for me. And you guessed it….. I found someone who manufactured fibreglass Japanese Plunge Baths, for half the price of the one I missed out on in Sydney…….. some things are just meant to happen! Even better, the factory was two streets from where Matt was picking up his ute! You couldn’t make this stuff up……

Of course, our original drawings don’t show any of these things, and as I’m now contemplating pouring the house slab, I have to bury all the waste plumbing underneath, and so the bathrooms have to be planned properly. Once the slab is poured, the bathroom layout is literally cast in concrete. Obviously, Glenda wants to have a say in how this all pans out, and spent several days drawing 1:50 plans on graph paper and sending them electronically. She could not be convinced it would all fit in the allocated space, until that is, I came up with the brilliant idea of making a full-scale mockup of the bathroom with the bath in the shed.

20170518_122523Using the form ply that came out of the footing pour, I laid out the bathroom outline on the shed floor. I then brought all the fittings from the container down to the shed on the back of a ute, and methodically laid it out on the floor.

Because our ensuite bathrooms are ‘walk through’, like a corridor between the living space and bedrooms, the layout has to allow free flow of movement….. and after moving things around to both suit Glenda’s sense of aesthetics and my needs to make the plumbing practical, we agreed on something. One good thing about technology, is that pictures are easily and conveniently sent now, facilitating decision-making no end… There’s no way we could do this 2,500km apart without smart phones!

Now that I had the bathroom all laid out in front of me, it became obvious that I had a golden opportunity to set out and put together the underslab plumbing right there and then…. No plumber would ever go to this much trouble to get it ‘perfect’; last time we did this, our plumber just ‘roughed it in’, and the pipes were not where I wanted them, requiring a lot of ‘fudging’ to solve issues………20170528_154853

Modern plastic plumbing fittings make this sort of work a cinch. It’s not rocket science either, all you need to remember is that water flows downhill! If you ever do anything like this, make sure you do it properly and use primer before gluing, because once it’s all buried in concrete, there’s no going back to fixing leaks!

Once finished, the whole thing looked like a spider…… and I carried it in one piece to the house site where I dug the shallow trenches in the gloop to drop the whole assembly to its correct level where it will be buried with crusher dust to within 100mm of the top of the slab that will go over the whole thing. Eventually.

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I say eventually, because I now fear I have missed the boat when it comes to the weather… as you can see in the above photo, there’s water in my trenches, but worse, it’s getting cold with winter looming, and pouring concrete and cold don’t mix…..

Cold weather concrete can be classified as a period of more than three days where some specific conditions occur under certain temperatures. The American Concrete Institute under ACI 306 defines that concrete will be exposed to cold weather when the following conditions exist:

  • The average daily air temperature is less than 5°C and,

  • The air temperature is not greater than 10°C for more than one-half of any 24 hour period.

  • Fresh concrete frozen during the first 24 hours can lose 50% of its potential 28-day strength!

This is not something you have to concern yourself with in Queensland, but here…….? coordinating the weather, a concretor, and the concrete trucks all together on the same day where the above conditions don’t occur could be very tricky. I may have to resign myself to having to wait until at least october……. which doesn’t exactly fill me with glee, but there you go, the owner builder’s lot is not known to be simple. I’ve watched enough Grand Designs to know this!





Playing with gloop

14 05 2017

I’m often asked – and I often ask myself – why do I own three utes?  Well dear reader, I just worked it out! At very short notice, I got a text message from Matt next door that Steve could start cutting the trenches that have to be the foundations for our house’s slab on Friday afternoon, and Saturday norning if necessary to finish the job. Typically for Tasmania, the weather forecast went from fine weather to calamitous……. thunderstorms and minor flooding for the North of the island was predicted, and this fortunately did not eventuate, but as luck would have it, we in the South ended up copping some.

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Ready for action

Because the trenches are too far from the embankment where I want the earth moved to, it would all need to be moved with a vehicle, so I hunted around for a small tip truck, and found one, but as usual, the locals let me down again. I sometimes wonder how they stay in business…..

 

So I set up all three utes like a train, and lined Caleb up to come back, hopefully with a mate, to do all the hard yakka. The mate could not make it on the day, so the pair of us worked our arses off, shoveling and 20170512_135641shoving and shuttling utes around trying to keep up with the digger. Which we largely managed to achieve…… but as luck would have it, as soon as the first ute (the 4WD one) was loaded and ready for moving, it refused to start. Luckily it has a very strong battery, and I actually managed to reverse it, with a ton of mud on the back, with the starter motor, to get it out of the way and reverse another ute in its place…. not a great start.

20170513_083021Amazingly – and very fortunately it eventually turned out – the 4WD started first kick a couple of hours later, just as the rain started….. I say fortunately, because 2WD utes don’t do gloop…!

A few months later, I discovered that this ute had the wrong spark plugs fitted.  It’s all good now…

Eventually, having finished the main trench down the front wall, we called it a day. Overnight, we got just over 6mm of rain, and in the morning, the site was really starting to look like quagmire, and the clay was getting heavier and stickier, making it largely impossible to shovel by hand. With only one ute able to get up the hill with a load (yes, it started again!), slip sliding all the way to the unloading site, it was decided that it would be more efficient, and certainly easier on us with the shovels, for Steve to move the excavator up the hill and scrape all the clay with the mud bucket off the tray….  Aah, the power of fossil fuels!20170513_091727

It was eventually all done, though where the lateral trenches came out through the edge of the main one, so sticky was the clay that a lot of earth came off the corners. The odd rock didn’t help either, and everywhere excess dirt is removed, more concrete will have to replace it, costing both me and the environment. Some things just can’t be helped, one has to deal with the situation at hand….20170513_100748

Caleb and I even had to stand in the trench to lift, mostly by hand, large clumps of sticky clay into Steve’s bucket so it could be lifted on the back of the ute and moved uphill. Let me tell you, I really look forward to the day this stage is over!

To put into perspective how bloody sticky the gloop was, I’ll leave you with a shot of the 4WD’s foot well that I will have fun cleaning up one day…. I even found the rubber pad off the brake pedal in the grass later, where it had obviously been so stuck to my boot, I pulled it off the metal pedal to get out the car! Pure luck it came off my boot right where I stepped off……20170513_110907

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