Archive for the ‘Vege Gardens’ Category

Getting a Few Things Done

January 14, 2017

We have had a few things happening since I wrote last September that I thought I would share.  The most important has been the fact that we finally became fully off grid last Spring.  We had a couple of weeks of ‘heads up’ before the power pole was disconnected and cut down and we were on our own!  We scrambled to mount and wire up more solar panels on the roof ready to be connected.  Our little roof is now crammed with solar panels!  There are 3kW of solar panels at the house and 1kW at the caravan with another 1kW awaiting connection there.

House with 3KW Solar Panels and 24V Batteries
We struck a problem when the new deep cycle batteries we had ordered did not arrive as promised, so we had to rely pretty heavily on the generator for a couple of weeks.  Finally, after being messed around way way too much, we cancelled our battery order and bought a second hand, but very good, 36V forklift battery pack.  We pulled all the individual batteries out and set up a 24 volt set at the main building and joined the remaining 12 volts with our old 12 volt set to create another 24 volt system over at the caravan.  These batteries have actually worked out better for us than the ones we had been going to use as we got more storage capacity. The batteries are very heavy, so we moved the old ones using the tractor. 
We were able to change from our original 12V plans to two 24V system because we managed to pick up a brilliantly priced secondhand 24V 3000W Latronics inverter for the house and a 1800W one for the caravan.  A bunch of GSL MPPT controllers manage the solar panels.  Both Latronics and GSL are Australian brands and seem very good.  It is all working well so far, though Winter will definitely challenge us, but we do have the generator for just such moments.  Kim has plans to buy a Victron 24V 100A charger which we can use to charge the batteries from the generator, which should help too.  It is all a bit of a learning curve having to be careful with the use of the power at times, but Kim bought some Victron battery monitors that are a real help for monitoring how the systems are going.  It is rather nice having the two separate systems as we can draw power from either or both of them, which gives us the option of resting one if it’s battery power is getting low.  There is still more work to do before Kim will be happy with it all, but the house system is almost done and the caravan system is working, though Kim wants to move and modify the inside wiring somewhat.
We want to put in a micro hydro system as well and now have plans for the water pickup spot for that, and even a man with machinery lined up to do the work, but that is still a job that must wait for the future.  Meanwhile it is nice it think we will never have another bill from Aurora Energy!
You may have heard that my lovely Mum gave us all a fright last year when she became very unwell.  We thought she might have had a stroke as she had developed neurological symptoms, but it turned out to be caused by high calcium levels in the blood.  After a few weeks in hospital she returned home much improved, though still weak.  My sister from America, Linda, was able to travel over and stay with Dad and Mum for a few weeks and help them out during this period, which was a real blessing.  The folks are back on their own again now and are managing fine, though my other sister, Alison, is keeping a close eye on them.  
I managed to get a picture of Kim with our current fleet of cars.  We have gone very French with one peugeot, two citroens and the VW caravelle van.  We still have the VW beetle too but it does not get used very much.  Kim does all the maintenance and repairs which consumes a fair bit of his time.  In the last few months he has had to deal with a broken windscreen, a chipped windscreen, re-gassing an air conditioner, fitting an air flow meter, replacing an alternator, replacing a starter motor and replacing a fan control circuit as well as oil, filter and tyre changes.  With all the travelling for Lydia’s work and other things we do an awful lot of kilometres!
Lydia recently had local man do some clearing so she could have a nice level area to ride her pony on.  Rod spent two days in his little excavator pushing down trees, cutting off the tops and roots and putting them onto a burning pile.  He also dug out some large stumps and buried them, then roughly levelled the whole area.  He did a great job and having all the branches, roots and scrub burnt at the same time was a bonus I was not expecting.
We dragged all the logs away and lined them up to make it easy to cut them into rounds and split the rounds into firewood.  Another bonus of the job.  Sadly the tractor blew a tyre in the process, rather terminally – another repair job for Kim to add to his list!
The area cleared is about  25m wide and 42m long.  Lyd finds it good to ride on with plenty of room for circles and jumps etc.  There are a few small roots and things sticking up but they don’t seem to bother the pony at all.
We have set up a small soccer goal at one end for the boys to use (if they ever get a few minutes when they feel up to it!), so they can enjoy it too.
Immediately after the new year we had my sister Linda and most of her family come to visit after spending Christmas in Perth with our folks.  They did a bunch of touring around and we tagged along as best we could.  In this photo we were doing the Dove Lake circuit at Cradle Mountain. It was really lovely to spend some time with them all and the time passed all too soon.
In order to accomodate an extra 5 people I had decided we needed to get busy working on the old bus, so we towed it up close to the house with the tractor, which was fun in a hair raising kind of way.  It was actually quite uneventful to get it roughly to the spot we had planned, but trying to get it sitting exactly where I wanted was rather a challenge with no brakes to speak of in a 6 tonne bus.  There was only so much control that the tractor had with just a bar between them and when the bus started to roll down the slope past the tractor I confess I was a bit concerned, and Sam and Josiah, who had been watching from the trampoline in front of us, sensibly took off.  It might have been my shriek that made them do that!  LOL.  The bus did stop okay though and we managed to back it up again and decided that it really didn’t have to be exactly where I had planned – close enough was good enough after all.  🙂
Then we did some scrubbing and re-flooring and general prettying up.  We did not have the time or funds to line the walls properly but managed to pick up some wallpaper at a charity and temporarily covered up the walls with that and made some curtains to keep out the 5am morning light.  Then we jury rigged some fly screens to the large gaping side and front windows and made some drop down blinds from greenhouse plastic.
Inside the Bus - ready for visitors
Finally we moved some beds into the main room, made a custom fitted narrow bed for the back room (the old smoking compartment), ran a power cable across and it was ready.  The reports were that it worked well, and since the visitors left our family have been using it quite a bit just to hang out in.  The large open windows make it quite airy and pleasant in the late afternoon/evening of a warm day.  It still does leak in a heavy rain though, so we need to do more riveting on one of the sides.  Ultimately we hope to install proper windows on the side and front and some floor coverings would be nice too.  One day…..
Inside the Bus - ready for visitors
We have also just had some hay baled.  We do not have enough grass to do it on our own property, but a friend of a friend has some pasture land with no animals to feed on it.  He had been just slashing it down but last year he offered it to us to make hay, since hay was so very scarce, and we were keen to have it.  We only got 3 rolls of hay last year with the bad conditions after the drought so we had no idea what to expect this year.  It was a pleasant surprise to get 16 rolls.
Then we had the challenge of getting them all home.  Last year we used a hand winch to pull a bale up some car ramps and onto our small trailer. Then we tied the bale down and drove it home.  That was okay for just a few bales, but 16 was going to be an awful drain on our time and the hand winch is not easy to use.  A more polished plan was needed.  In the end we borrowed a friend’s large trailer which has high sides and proper loading ramps and we set up an electric winch on it which could be run from a spare battery in the back of the van.  We can now winch the bales in with a minimum of effort, and it was great to find that the trailer fitted 2 rolls per trip.  It is much easier to find time to do 8 trips rather than 16, especially since we still have all the running back and forth to Lydia’s work to fit in.  So far we have moved half of the rolls home before being interrupted by 23mm of rain.  Now we are waiting for the paddocks to dry a bit before getting the rest as the caravelle’s traction on hills of wet grass would be a bit challenged, especially towing such a heavy load!
Meanwhile I have tomatoes, cucumber and corn coming up well in this year’s vegetable cages, and more corn planted at Paul’s place.
We may have mentioned before that we need cages to protect the plants from cute fiends like this possum!
Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus Vulpecula)
Pademelons are happy to eat their share too of course.
Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus)
The cold frame worked well for raising my tomato, cucumber and corn seeds to a good size in time for planting.  Hopefully the warm weather will last long enough this year to get plenty of produce ripened – but over here you just never know.
Kim has done some wheeling and dealing on the second hand market to upgrade his camera again.  He now has to learn how to to get the best out of his new camera.  Also the programme that he uses to store and edit his photos is no longer supported and he has had to change to a different one, which is being even more of a steep learning curve to learn how to use.  However he still manages to get some great shots in my opinion.  Just the other day the insects were busy at Nawawntapu National Park near Lydia’s work and he got some lovely shots of a butterfly
Yellow Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa itea) on white flowers feeding
 and dragonfly.
This coming week the pastor’s wife and I are organising a Kids Craft Day at the church.  The main crafts will be jewellery making for various ages, cactus planting in cups and an adaption of marshmallow shooters that I am calling Sheep Shooters, as well as general paper craft and play doh.  It is the first time we have done anything like this and we have no idea at all how many children will turn up.  It will be interesting to see.  🙂
Well, I think that is most of our news for now.  Best wishes to you.

Wet Winter coming to an end

August 21, 2016

It has been a lovely wet winter this year in Tassie.  Yes, I am not even complaining about all the flooding!  After having hardly any rain last winter, we are appreciating seeing the ground wet and our western lake filled again.  The lake would be about 4m deep in the middle at the moment whereas last year all we had was a puddle a couple of metres wide.  This is a seasonal lake, possibly actually a large sinkhole, as it starts to fill a day or two after rain.  This year it is as full as we have ever seen it.  Too much more and it would start to overtake the driveway – which would not be so good!

The Western Lake


Some ducks have moved in and are appreciating it too.  🙂

A duck swimming away on the Western Lake


On the eastern side of the driveway we have the paddock that we ploughed and seeded last spring.  It used to get flooded with rain runoff, but the drain that we put in a few years back has been effective in keeping the water level low.  Some water still stays after rain though, and the ducks like to play in it.  The grass seems to have established pretty well. We are hoping it will grow more vigorously once the weather warms up and the paddock dries out a bit more.

Australian shelduck (Tadorna Tadornoides)

Australian shelduck (Tadorna Tadornoides)

In preparation for spring I have been doing an trial to see how much better seedlings grow in a warmer environment than my greenhouse.  We had a refrigerated cabinet that does not work, and set it up as a warm environment for seed raising instead.  (Using an old waterbed mattress and heater – gotta use what you have!)  It has been keeping the temperature at about 18°C overnight and getting up to 22-24°C on the cooler days and if I am not careful it gets up to 30°C on the sunny days.  Obviously the temperature would need better regulation to work properly, but I thought it would give a bit of an idea.




I planted two trays, one for the cabinet and one for the greenhouse, with some cabbage, broccoli and lettuce 8 days ago and you can see the difference below.  One tray is from the warming cabinet and the other is from the greenhouse.  The back of each tray is in Yates seed raising mix and the front half is in a home made seed raising mix and the results are quite clear – they like to be warm!  The only thing up from the greenhouse is the lettuce and they only just came up in the last couple of days.  The cabinet tray has had pretty much everything come up now.  My biggest problem has been keeping the cabinet from getting too hot, and making sure I remember to water them properly.  Next I am going to set up a solar operated fan to see if that helps them to grow nice and strong.  I do love growing vegetables!




And while I am on the subject of growing things, I found an old non functioning display fridge that I plan to use to grow fodder for the cow and pony once the weather warms.  I should be able to grow 3 trays per day once I get it set up, I hope.  The animals do enjoy eating the fodder, which is just wheat or barley grown to about 10cm height and fed with the matted roots and all.  I need a fridge like this so that I can keep the possums and wallabies out.




My old fridge that I set up as a trial for fodder growing has now been turned into a painting dryer.  🙂  I have recently taken up painting for fun, my dad got me into it.  I’m not terribly good but do enjoy doing it.  There is lots to learn.  I have been using water based oil paint, as Kim was allergic to the acrylics that I tried first, and they take a few days to dry, and since our little shack has no spare space to speak of I needed somewhere safe to stick them to dry.  As I said before, you have to use what you have!



And once they are dry I have been sticking them on the one free wall of my pantry, because I don’t really have anywhere to store them either!



We have been given notice that our condemned power pole will have to be taken down soon.  We are actually surprised we have had it so long.  Kim has been researching, sourcing and pricing batteries, solar panels, controllers and inverters and we want to triple our solar system as soon as possible.  We still want to get some micro hydro working in the future, but that will take quite a bit of time to organise so we are going to do the solar upgrade first.  We still have our generator as a backup and Kim has a plan to use a car alternator to charge the batteries when needed for sunless periods.  It is a bit scary to be going totally off grid at last, but it has been the intention for a while now so it is probably just as well to be forced into finally doing it.  Hopefully the cars will behave and not require any work for a while so Kim can concentrate on this job with no interruptions. With all the miles that we do taking Lydia to and from work, the cars are probably justified in demanding work, but it can take up a lot of time to maintain them and fix their problems.

In other news: Lydia has taken some time off work and is currently in WA.  She went back to Albany to be at her friend’s wedding, and is coming back home on Wednesday after catching up with some family and a few friends.  Caleb and Sam continue to have health problems that seriously limit the things they can do, while Josiah is still home schooling.  Kim’s brother Paul seems to enjoy living in Mole Creek and we appreciate having him near.  Our little church is going well, and our part time pastor is very encouraging and helpful.

And that is all for now. Take care all!

Kitchen Improvements

April 7, 2016

Hi Again

Today we celebrated, not just because it was Kim’s birthday, but also because we finished installing our Rayburn wood stove.  Some jobs seem to take a long time, and this was one of those jobs!

Firstly we had to clear a path for the tractor to get to the side of the shack, pull down the old flue and remove all the lining from the area behind the old stove.  Then Kim carefully edged the tractor backwards to the kitchen wall – with about 5cm to spare on one side to the outside of the walk in pantry and on the other side to the solar hot water system.  We then winched the old stove out onto the carry all and took it away.

The Everhot Stove leaves to make way for the new Rayburn.

Everhot Stove on the tractor carryall

Then he had to repeat the process to bring the new stove into the kitchen.

The new Rayburn stove in the kitchen on it's platform awaiting installation

We decided that rather than re-lining the wall, we would install a window into the gap instead.  We also replaced our small caravan gas stove with a full size Chef gas oven.  The gas bottle will be moved outside through the wall.

New window in kitchen

We made a nice level hearth for the Rayburn and then Kim hooked the boiler up to the solar hot water system tank.  Then it was up onto the roof to put the flue down through the newly cut hole, making sure it was all sealed up securely.


Finally today he replaced the worn fire bricks and installed a new grate.


And then we could fire it up and check it all worked – and it worked a treat!  It did a good job of cooking tea and heating the water.  The boiler is a big one and it should produce a lot more hot water than the Everhot did.  In fact after 4 of us have had showers tonight the water temperature still reads at 72°C.  We should even be able to run a couple of radiators from it in the long run if we want to.


With two good stoves and the walk in pantry, my kitchen is much nicer and better to work in these days.  I plan to paint the new window frame and the hearth and the job will be done.  Actually I may paint the flue black too.


Lydia’s work has not been busy lately and she has been getting some extra days off.  She has used her free time to get more work done on her pony.  She got a riding lesson and some advice …

Lydia riding lesson

… and then got back into riding Silk again.


After getting her going nicely in the paddock, she then started riding through the tracks up the back of our property.  Usually the puppy and I have been going with them.  I think I am a sort of two legged, mobile security blanket.  🙂


Funnily enough, after being concerned the pony would startle and bolt or buck when on her own, Lydia’s most recent problem was that she stopped on the track and refused to move on until Okami and I caught up!


Speaking of the puppy, she has been growing at a rate!  Okami is now 6 months old and loves life.  She adores old Lupo and has even managed to get her playing with her, in a bitey, non energetic sort of way.


They are pretty good mates now.  It is quite different when Okami’s friend, a 6 month old staffy called Coco, comes to visit.  They tear around like mad things and totally exhaust themselves.


We had a great year in the vegetable garden this year, with the best ever crops of tomatoes, corn and cucumbers.


I bottled SO many tomatoes, it was fantastic.  Sam overdosed on cucumbers and we all enjoyed the fresh sweet corn with tea.


One downside of our dry winter and long warm summer is that the rabbits have been breeding up.  We don’t usually have them on our property, but they are here this year.  Hopefully a wet winter will send them elsewhere.

Rabbit at rabbit hole

Lately I have been trying my hand at growing some fodder.  Germinated grain apparently has higher digestibility and better nutrition.  I feed it just germinated to the chooks, who happily eat it.  I also grew some longer for the cow and pony to see if they liked it too.


The answer was a definite “Yes” from the cow, and the pony seemed to like it too.