Saturday, 14 October 2017

Changing platforms

Since many people have been commenting on my posts via Facebook, saying that they are getting inappropriate advertising and pop ups when trying to access my blog, I decided to change platforms. It has been a big decision for me because I have been with Blogger from the start.

You can access my new blog address at

Thank you to Blogger for years of service and thank you to anyone who reads this far.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn't resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn't take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven't organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre
Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it's not considered to be viable.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Earthbag building experiment- the new bathroom- starting on the walls

School holidays are here again, so it's time to attack some of those projects that go on hold while I try to master (or better yet...mistress) the delicate art of teaching. I have managed to become very busy this holidays; taking loads of junk to the dump and working on projects at school, so have not had any time to work on my earthbag walls. This morning I managed to finish half a round (with the reluctant help of my daughter) in an hour.

My mostly mythical partner was home for a day last weekend and knocked together some 'velcro plates' or cleats, which hold little pieces of wood in the walls to facilitate attachment of door and window frames (or shelves later on). Velcro plates are made by attaching a piece of wood (3 x 1 1/2 inch is good) to a piece of sturdy ply wood about 30 x 30 cm in size and putting nails through the ply plate in both directions. When these are embedded in the wall between earth bags they provide a solid piece of wood in the wall to which frames and stuff can be screwed at a later date.

A velcro plate. You can't see it but there are nails going down into the bag below too.

A velcro plate for the door frame between two layers of bags.

I have discovered that placing the barbed wire between the layers of bags is a two person job (after flicking myself near the eye with barbed wire) and requires a lot of weights to hold it down while bags are filled for the next layer. The actual bag filling and placing goes very quickly though, and it is not hard work at all. The heat at the moment means that we can only do a few hours of work on the project in the morning and/or afternoon, so it will not be a quick build (damn it).

The barbed wire on the first round of bags, weighed down by whatever was at hand.

A round of bags all tamped down.

While I am trying to build, life goes on around us. Two days ago one of the chooks hatched some babies. She took one look at them and decided they must be daemon spawn because there was nothing chook about them. Luckily my daughter heard them squeaking and rescued them. We are now the proud foster parents of three ducklings. I must say I am a little disappointed in the narrow-minded attitude of the hen to mixed species families.

New babies.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

This whole ban the burka thing is getting on my goat

Recently I was thinking about how loud and vehement people are when they are asked to take a side on the 'Ban the burka' debate; I'm beginning to think that Pauline Hanson's voice is more the result of her choice of topic rather than a natural result of her genetics. I stand on the no side of the debate, a little closer to the centre than extreme though.

I can see the need to be able to identify people in security situations (like the oft quoted banks and schools situations) but I can also empathise with the wearers of burkas and hijabs, etc. Imagine yourself in a situation where you are asked to take off a piece of clothing and expose a part of your body you have been culturally indoctrinated to believe is sacred and private (your bra and top for instance) and to walk down the street without this piece of clothing, to expose your private parts to the world. I don't know about you, but I would not be comfortable going to the bank topless, but that is exactly what we are telling women they must do if we ban the burka.

The belief that our breasts are private is not present in every culture; many tribal societies cultural norms do not include covering the breasts (I can hear people saying "Yes, but they are primitive", which leads me to conclude that cultures who require their women to cover more body parts are less primitive, but that's a slippery slope). In our Australian culture we cover our breasts, in the Muslim culture they cover their hair and sometimes their faces, is there actually a difference?

Many people argue that being forced to cover up is repression of women, an opinion I agree with. However I also believe that being forced to expose yourself is also repression. If we truly want to free Muslim women from repression shouldn't we just give them the choice about whether they wear their traditional clothing or not?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Producing peace silk- from eggs to hankies

Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy  to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap.
Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details...

I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don't damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called 'peace silk' who's practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving.
While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn't involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.

I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.

The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.
They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.

As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.

They are voracious eaters

Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going...disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.

Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.

My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.

New residents getting ready to spin.

One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it's best not to disturb them once they start to spin.

You can see the sheen on the cocoons

The sheen or glow stays with the yarn

I don't know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.
So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Earthbag building experiment- the new bathroom- finishing the foundation

The foundations are VERY close to being finished. My partner called into Tabulam Sand and Gravel on the way home from work and loaded up another tonne of gravel (smaller pieces this time) by torch light and bought it home. I unloaded this lot into the trench, tamped it down and put the tires on top. I filled the tires one at a time with the gravel and leveled them up (they are leveled so that the walls can be built straight up, but I will have to build a few extra layers to level in the other direction).

The larger gravel in the trench.

Waiting for the next load of gravel.

A trailer full of smaller gravel.

A badly exposed photo of the trench...I just thought it looked pretty.

Starting to fill the tires with small gravel.

The tires are leveled in one direction, so the walls won't tilt.

Of course we are three wheelbarrows short of finishing the foundation. That's just the way it works.

The doggy building inspectors appear to approve.
We went to Bunnings and got a door and frame, some materials for making 'velcro plates' to attach doors and windows to (more on these next post) and some plastic to cover the walls until we can render them. Now all I need to do is find the last three wheelbarrows required for the foundation.

Next time....on to the walls.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Earthbag building experiment- the new bathroom- foundations

School holidays are here. Sixteen days of restful bliss...excepting the planning of teaching for next term (probably three days), a working bee or two to finish projects at school (two days should do it), visits to various schools to water and maintain my garden (four half days, so two days altogether) and visiting friends and family (two days). In the seven days of restful bliss left after that lot I have decided to build myself a bathroom. I'm not planning on killing myself though...there is a plan  in place. I have recently taken to wearing a fitbit (one of those wrist band things that tells you how many steps you've taken today, how many sets of stairs you climbed and how many times you got your heart rate up, for whatever reason), and the recommended number of steps per day is 10,000. So I plan to build each day (that I have to myself) until my fitbit announces that I have done 10,000 steps (which it does by buzzing in a satisfied way while showing star bursts on the screen), then I will relax and do some everyday house work stuff until the next day. That way I can be sure I'm doing the recommended number of steps per day and get a good amount of work done on the bathroom as well.

Since the brown snake incident (about 18 months ago), we have been showering outside with a bucket of warm water and a jug. Two winters of outside showering is enough for me, I want a bathroom.

Our outdoor showering area.
 After much discussion and research I decided to have a go at earthbag building. This method involves filling polypropylene feed bags with soil and stacking them into walls with barbed wire between each layer. These walls are then rendered with a mix of clay soil, sand and cow manure to protect them from the sun. In the videos and books this method looks quick and fairly easy, I guess we will see.

The first step was to find a site. My barely present partner put his foot down and refused to walk up the yard in the dark to shower each night (even though we have been doing just that for 18 months now). Building the bathroom and laundry up hill from the humpy would allow me to gravity feed the water from showering and clothes washing back down to the garden beds, meaning that I don't have to cart buckets of water around the yard every wash day. Building right outside the back door means that we don't have to go outside to shower and we don't have to carry our washing baskets up the yard to the laundry for the once a week washing day. So it was decided to put the bathroom directly outside the back door, conveniently placed for access, but inconvenient for gravity fed watering of the garden.

The 'right outside the back door' area.

The foundations will be a shallow rubble trench filled with gravel and a layer of tires on top of that (also filled with gravel). I am considering a row of bags filled with gravel on top of the tires just to provide the drainage and protection from wicking moisture that earthbag buildings require (apparently).

My first, second and third days of holidays were spent digging out the trench, a not-too-arduous job considering the usual digging requirements of foundations.

As you can see, I had the doggy building inspectors around once or twice.

Now to source some gravel for the trench and tires...

On the next available day we (my partner and I) drove down to the conveniently placed Tabulam Sand and Gravel (our local cement depot) and picked up a load of river rocks for the bottom of the foundation trench.

I couldn't believe this was a tonne of rocks.

I believed it was a tonne of rocks once my partner, daughter and I wheelbarrow-ed and shoveled it into the trench.

 You may notice that my foundation trench is very shallow. At its deepest it is only 25cm deep. Most earthbag sites say that the foundation rubble trench doesn't have to be deep, so I went with that. Also I hate digging so the shallower I could get away with the better. I plan to get another load of smaller gravel to put on top of this load and to fill the tires. That should give a fairly stable base for the wall to be built on.

This is the foundation option we have chosen Its from the book 'Earthbag building' that I conveniently have in my library.

 Hopefully I can arrange another trip with the trailer to pick up some more gravel within the next day or two. I am looking forward to the next stage; filling the bags with soil and tamping them down.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

I got my red Ps

I eventually passed the driving test...
After six appointments and five actual driving tests, I finally passed. It was a frightening testament to perseverance (or bare faced stubbornness).

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am not a good driver; I'm easily distracted by interesting conversations, shiny things beside the road and even the odd profound thought, I am terrible at judging distance and am totally unaware of the width of the vehicle I am driving and I intensely dislike the whole process of driving a car. Despite all these things I finally managed to pass.

The first test I missed due to writing the time down wrong in my diary (subconsciously avoiding). The second and third tests were with a male tester who was very efficient and professional, I was VERY nervous and talked myself through the entire test (yes..out loud, complete with muttered curses and small EEKs), during this phase I found out that intersections are not my thing.

I went home and practiced intersections in my head. I drove to work most days which kept me in practice on the road at least. I am actually not bad at driving on country roads and there is very minimal traffic anyway most of the year. On my fourth test I had a female tester, she was very calming and friendly and I was able to pretend that I was just giving a friend a lift somewhere, which calmed my mind somewhat. I still failed (at a damned intersection of course), but I felt I did much better this time.

The fifth and final test day dawned and I had not driven at all for a week or so, I was at the point of looking for reasons to give up on the whole show. I decided that morning not to care whether I passed or not. I  drove into town, drove around the streets a bit (with total disregard for anyone) and went for my test. I walked in and greeted my tester (the same woman as last time) with a friendly smile and off we went. During the test we chatted about dogs, living out of town and our favorite gardens, I was at ease and it felt as if I was just giving a friend a lift again. To my complete surprise I managed to complete the course without hitting anyone or making any huge mistakes.

The relief at passing was profound and I am left wondering if I can just stay on my red P plates and not have to sit any more tests (I have no need to go faster than 90km/hr and it's best not to add alcohol to any driving attempt anyway). I am now driving myself to work and have managed to fit in one trip to the dump on my way to work. I still don't enjoy the driving at all, it terrifies me and the level of concentration I have to maintain for an extended time is very draining. However I do enjoy getting home before dark (some days I can make this happen) and being able to do small jobs on the way home. The biggest drawback of driving myself and not having to wait for a lift is in my knitting time.

For years I have managed to get a decent amount of knitting done in the passenger seat of a car, on a bus and at cafes or bus stops. Now my knitting is mostly happening while on playground duty (yes, I can knit without looking) and in the evenings, which is, in turn cutting into my spinning, pottery, weaving and other crafting time.

I did manage to make a cute little yarn bowl as a gift though.

I also made a little gold one to sell.

I took this photo of Mt Lindsay on the way up to Brisbane to pick up my daughter (yes the car was stopped).
There is still doubt in my mind about whether having a license and driving is worth all the effort and stress it takes to get here, and the inevitable cycle of having a car to get to work and working to support the car. I guess time will tell.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Meet Emu- a new guinea fowl baby

Some of our guinea fowl looking for bugs.
 It's late in the season for baby anythings, but one of our two (out of ten) female guinea fowls decided a month ago that Autumn is a great time to sit on eggs. Silver (the mum) has been diligently sitting on her nest in the useful scrap pile for some time and my daughter has constructed a fence around her and a roof of sorts over her to protect her from being trampled by sheep or eaten by ducks (not a joke; the ducks ate some of her eggs before we built the fence around her). She has only hatched the one baby and remains sitting on the other eggs. We will have to take them away at the end of the week as we suspect that they are infertile and she won't get off the nest until all the eggs are gone.

Silver on her nest
We keep guinea fowls for tick control around the humpy (see my previous post) and they do a great job; we have not had to take ticks off the sheep or dogs for years. As guinea fowl live for many years we don't tend to hatch many babies (we don't need to replace them often), but sometimes life just finds a way. Our flock at the moment consists of ten birds; eight males of various ages and two females. Silver (the hen that went clucky) is only four years old and her mate is at least ten years old, proving that love doesn't take account of age. We think the age difference may be why only one egg has hatched. She had many different ages of male to choose from; the males range from two years old right up to ten plus years old. Some sources say that guinea fowl have harems (like chooks) but at our place they tend to prefer having a permanent partner who will hang around the nest site being generally unhelpful while the female sits on the eggs and get very excited when she hatches babies.

Patch, Silver's mate
Our new baby; Emu was taken away from his mum as soon as he hatched because guinea fowl are terrible mothers. His dad and the other males came to the humpy door as soon as they heard him squeaking, they hung around for a day or so trying to mount a rescue, but eventually decided to give up and go to the pub. Emu lives in a heated box inside at the moment. He eats insectivore mix, ground grains and live termites (collected daily). He is one happy, contented little keet (guinea fowl chick). Unfortunately, guinea fowls are impossible to truly tame; guinea fowl may have been domesticated before the humble chook (or jungle fowl) but they haven't evolved into the quiet, biddable fowl that chooks have become (for the most part). Little Emu startles at any movement and shadows on the wall frighten him into a darting, cheeping mass of nerves, he's just a very highly strung bird. My daughter has high hopes of turning him into a sweet, cuddly pet though.

Emu eating termites

Emu under his heat lamp
In other news...
Primrose the Rainbow lorrikeet has been up to her usual tricks and I managed to get a few shots to share.
Prim playing with a pencil

A blurry Prim in a tree on a walk to the front gate.