Sunday, 26 January 2014

Pit toilet update

At last we have restarted work on the long planned five star pit toilet. It has become increasingly urgent for us to have a new toilet hole (the old one is getting uncomfortably near the end of it's usefulness).
Over the previous month or so we have all had a go at digging the pit deeper and wider, and it is almost deep enough at last. Today my (fairly reluctant) partner and eldest daughter were chased outside to begin building the framing for cement frame that will support the floor over the pit. Once the cementing is completed we will lay the floor over the pit (two sheets of really thick ply wood with a hole drilled in one), organize a pedestal (of some sort), put up a temporary shelter and it will be usable. The building part will be put together over the next six months or so.

The start of the frame for cement 'stem walls' to hold the floor up above the moisture and stuff.

The finished frame work, ready for cement.

The two sheets of ply for the floor, 

Nothing to do with toilets, but our baby guinea fowls have grown up enough to be out in the yard with their mum.

Everyone watches the cement mixer go around and around and around and...

Six or seven mixes later.

It's almost full.

Smoothing out the top.

All done.

Roady (the butcher bird) fancies himself a building inspector.

Last minute touch ups after the dogs and sheep have inspected the work.

We admire our work as the sun goes down.
The next stage is to dig some more out of the pit (the deeper the better) and to  begin the building of the toilet. I look forward to it.

Just updating this post with a photo or two of the recent digging.

The hole is now 1.4 x 0.8 x 0.9 m; a tiny bit over one cubic metre of hole (I think)

My eldest daughter busily scooping out gravelly soil.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

A new craft....embroidery.

Recently I have been messing about with embroidery. I don't know the names of the stitches or techniques as yet, but I am enjoying making pictures with my needle and silks. I made these little pieces for a CWA (Country Women's Association) craft competition and I am fairly proud of them.

A Wedge-tailed Eagle.

A sheep (the wool on my sheep is spun from Border Leicester wool on my drop spindle)

A scythe and wheat sheaf.
I don't think they will win any prizes, but I have really enjoyed making them and think I may have to learn more about embroidery.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

An e-book worth buying.

I wrote an e-book!

Linda Woodrow has just released an e-book with recipes for healthy muesli bars. If you ever have to fill a lunchbox, for anyone, this is the book for you.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Making pasta sauce

The tomatoes in the Hugelkultur bed have been supplying us with yummy Roma tomatoes for some time now and we have added them to most lunches and dinners (and the occasional breakfast), we are all at the 'I don't like tomatoes any more' stage, reached at some point in every harvest season when there is a glut. Therefore, I decided (this morning) to make some pasta sauce and bottle it using my trusty but under utilized Fowlers Vacola (FV) unit. That way we can have our tomatoes to eat in the winter when we are all craving them. I decided to use glass jars with metal lids (the ones you buy pasta sauce in in the supermarket) instead of the traditional FV jars because the FV jars I own are all huge (1 litre is the smallest) and we use our pasta sauce in small lots so the smaller jars are more practical for us.

A bucket of Roma tomatoes from the garden

Stage one of the Hugelkultur beds cleared and waiting for a compost top up and mulch before replanting.

I found a fairly easy recipe for tomato pasta sauce that can be preserved using the water bath method. The recipe below has been copied from the Brisbane Local Food site and changed only slightly. The link in the title will take you to the original post.

Home made pasta sauce
Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan or a wok and a stick blender

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of basil, oregano or mint
sea salt, ground black pepper. About 2/3 tsp of salt per 1 1/2 cups of sauce is recommended.

Heat oil to medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened but hardly coloured. Add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes have collapsed. Add seasonings and blend until the sauce is a pleasing consistency and you are ready to bottle.

Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal. If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. Place jars in a water bath up to their necks and bring the temperature up to 93.3 degrees Celsius (or 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hold at this temperature for two hours. Remove from the preserving pan and press down the lids to encourage vacuum sealing.

N.B. The Fowlers Vacola manual states that unless you use all their gear they won't be held responsible for these instructions being no good.

The chopping begins

But not before they get a good wash

Pasta bottles; found, de-labeled and washed by my eldest daughter (thanks hon)

The sauce; boiled, seasoned and blended, ready to bottle.

My good old FV stove top unit. Isn't she a beauty?

The bottles in their bath, all carefully positioned so they don't touch each other or the sides. Fowlers Vacola frowns on touching in the bath.

The final result; six yummy bottles of pasta sauce. I had better label them before I forget what they are though.

I want to do more preserving, it's so much fun.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Making calendula ointment

When I cleared the trailer bed for square foot garden planting, I harvested my calendula flowers. Calendula in the vegetable beds helps to reduce insect attacks (and looks very pretty). The buttery yellow petals were stripped from the flower heads, packed into a glass jar and covered with sunflower oil. This very pretty jar was placed on and eastern facing window sill (well, on a shelf below the window) and shaken occasionally. At this stage it looked like a natural themed lava lamp. After four weeks the infusion was ready to use.

I made three 100ml pots of calendula ointment for my friends and family. Calendula ointment can be used to treat cuts and grazes, hives, eczema and skin rashes. The recipe I use is simple (in the extreme) and easy to make;

Calendula Ointment
35g natural beeswax
1 1/2 cups calendula infusion (sunflower oil based)
1 ml Benzoin tincture.

Melt beeswax and calendula infusion in a small double saucepan, do not exceed 50 degrees C. Remove from heat and add benzoin tincture. Pour into dark glass jars while hot and leave to cool.

Clean jars ready to be filled.

The ointment on the stove. I know I said double saucepan, but I couldn't find mine so I used a small copper bottomed pot on a really low setting.

Beeswax being weighed.

Pouring the warm ointment into a jug makes it much easier to pour into little jars.


Now I screw the cap on and wait for them to cool and solidify.
The ointment needs to be stored in a dark, cool place and will last for six months or so. Other herbal ointments can be made this way too; I have made comfrey, chickweed, chilli (herbal deep heat), golden seal and echinacea. The only ointment I would not make this way is aloe vera; it rots very easily and is best used fresh off the plant (although, I have used it in soap making).

Have a go at making your own herbal ointments; they are effective and safe as well as a lot of fun to make.