Thursday, 20 August 2015

Square foot gardening and Hugelkultur planting mash up in containers

Well spring is really here, I have been busy planting the trailer bed using the square foot method and wishing for just a bit more planting space. Then it occurred to me that I could use square foot planting in almost any container. As luck (or my slatternly habits) would have it, I found the perfect containers in the useful pile; milk crates.
We have been collecting milk crates for years, they are so useful. I use them for book shelves, storage boxes, wood boxes, animal cages (with lids fitted), recycling bins and now as garden beds. Is there anything a milk crate can't do?
My first move was to line some crates with old hail netting to hold the soil in, then I began to think about moisture retention. After much thought I decided that a plastic shopping bag or two spread across the bottom of each crate would hold the moisture long enough to be absorbed by the lumps of old wood I threw into the bottom, I then added compost from the chook pen a layer of straw from the sheep shelter and planted them. A cover over the top to protect the tender little seeds from predators (chooks, ducks, possums and Shaun) and it was done.

These little beds are a combination of Hugelkultur and square foot gardening, I don't know if it will work, but it seemed worth the effort.

The trailer bed, all planted out, but still with some parsley from the last planting.

My new planters

Now the long wait to see what comes up.....

Shaun 'helping' me in the yard.

At presentation day at work (school) last year I got a peach tree as an end of year gift. I promptly planted it and it has grown so well. Now it has it's first fruit on and I will have to start thinking about how to protect the fruit from...well, everything.

My peach tree has little peaches.

It doesn't seem so long ago that I planted this little peach.

After a hard days work Shaun likes to relax with his friends by the fire.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Shaun the sheep - trouble with digestion.

Shaun enjoying the sunlight

Shaun has been going really well; feeding and sleeping, learning to use his legs and such and of course peeing at unexpected moments. Then a few days ago he began to show signs of discomfort after each feed. He is on Divetelact milk replacer, we always have it in the cupboard for emergency feeding of mammalian babies. We keep this brand because it can be used for multiple species and we usually only have to care for a baby for a short time before they are handed on to an animal care group, so it makes sense to have a generic milk available.

He began to show signs of distress after I increased the strength of his formula (as per the label instructions) so I reduced the strength of the milk straight away (back to the original formula A), he also stopped pooping, which was a real worry. He wasn't showing any sign of straining or constipation and my vet tech' daughter (so useful having someone trained in the family) believed that he simply wasn't getting enough milk solids to make poop. After a couple of feeds (and still no poop) I decided to call a vet for advice; the vet I eventually got on the phone after calling three emergency numbers for two different vet surgeries (it was, after all, Saturday) I got an old vet from a sheep breeding area who sounded like he had seen it all and may in fact have been doing some of it as we speak. He suggested that Shaun may have a small blockage in his gut which was causing a bit of bloat and that if I gave him oil of some kind in his bottle (at a rate of half a teaspoon per feed) and reduced the amount per feed while increasing the number of feeds, he may move the blockage out himself. So I dug out the fish oil capsules, squeezed two into Shaun's next bottle and waited...

Shaun had been having 100 ml per feed at six feeds per day, so we cut back to 50 ml per bottle and twelve feeds per day. as you can imagine this took up a lot of time and energy. Shaun stopped having discomfort after every feed though, so it was worth it. After five feeds with fish oil in them he still had not produced any poop, but was happy and bright. After the sixth feed of oil I was thinking that an actual visit to the vet was in order (on a Sunday of course) when there was a surprised little bleat from the basket beside me and an all pervading smell of fish. I looked down to discover that Shaun had produced a LOT of poop in the dog bed he has claimed for himself. We cleaned him up and gathered washing (every old towel I own is in a nappy soaker as I type) only to discover that he had more to give. This continued for several hours and he refused two bottles during that time, but when things calmed down he was back to his old self and feeding well again.

This morning he is back to 100 ml feeds and no reaction so far. I don't know if he had a blockage or if the milk was too strong, too fast for him, but that was a frightening reminder of how delicate babies are. I will be treating his digestion much more carefully in future.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Up-cycled wardrobe project - simple pants from quilt covers

With all the excitement about having a new baby in the house (see my last post about Shaun the sheep) I have been fairly busy and unable to get much crafting  (or anything else) done. This week I finally got to making myself some new pants. I have been making pyjama pants out of old flannelette sheets for some time using a pattern I made from an old pair of pants (see my post about it here), however this pattern is a little short in the back and results in me showing some bottom cleavage when I sit down or bend over, so I thought it was time to upgrade my pattern.

After a lot of diverting searching on the internet for free patterns I came across this one from Laura Marsh Sewing Patterns which I downloaded, saved and printed out. The pattern pages were glued together in order, which was a bit like putting a jigsaw together. Then I went looking for some fabric to try the pattern out on.

 In my box of useful bits of fabric I found a Bratz quilt cover, given to me by a friend wrapped around a joey that had been rescued from her mother's pouch after a traffic accident. I washed the cover, liked the colour and pattern (if not the theme) and decided to put it away for future use. I also found an old single flannelette sheet to try the pattern out on before cutting up the pretty fabric.

The pattern sheets all glued together.
The pattern pieces all cut out and ready to go.

Shaun helping out with the process.
 I cut out the flannelette pair and sewed them up as per instructed. The next step is (of course) beta testing, so I wore them around for the afternoon, feeding chooks, chasing sheep, feeding Shaun and sitting in my chair knitting. They are comfortable and warm, best of all they don't expose my bottom to the world at all. I'm really pleased with this new pattern so I think I'll keep it for future pants making activities.

Prudence gets to work.

What a stunning piece of machinery she is.

The first pair is made.

Now on to the day-wear version...

The infamous Bratz quilt cover. The cotton is good quality though and I love the colours and pattern.

I just followed the instructions on the download and before I knew it I had a new pair of pants.

Yes, I know.....I hate modelling, but I am so proud of this project I thought I'd make an exception.

There is enough material left from this quilt to make a summer top or two and a bra. I just love up-cycle sewing. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Our newest family member - meet Shaun the sheep

WARNING: This is a very word and picture heavy post.

We have had a heartbreaking few weeks here, with an early lambing season coinciding with freezing conditions and some ill considered nutritional decisions. I have been letting my girls out to graze freely right into late pregnancy this year to reduce the cost of buying hay for them, so they have been eating a lot of lantana and when the freezing weather came two weeks ago (on the 16th July to be exact) Kracken went into labour three weeks early. I can't find any evidence that the lantana is to blame for the early labour or the low birth weight of the babies, but my instinct tells me this is the key.

 I was away for the day and didn't get home until 10.30 pm, my long suffering partner dutifully called the girls in, fed them and shut the gate in the afternoon, all without realising that Kracken was in the throes of labour. When I got home I went out to check the girls (the usual night time tuck in ritual) and found that she had given birth to twins, one looked to have been born dead and was very small, the other was also tiny and was struggling to even sit up. I took the live baby to the shelter and nestled him into the straw bed with his mum, hoping that he would get stronger and be able to stand to feed.

This is Shaun at 12 hours old in the lambing shelter.

In the morning we let her say goodbye to her dead lamb and buried him, then began the fight to save the living one. He still could not stand, so I mixed up a small bottle of Divetalact (milk replacement for animals) and fed him before work, hoping that would give him the energy to stand and feed alone. Kracken was very worried by this time as her baby wasn't doing normal things. By the time I got home from work she had decided he was a lost cause and walked away from him, so I knew it was time to take over.
He was whisked inside and put in a box beside the fire wrapped in a towel while we tried to milk his mum to get some colostrum. This activity fits firmly into the 'don't try this at home' category of extreme farming; she kicked and butted, she refused to let down her milk all the while calling out in combined anger and fear to her sisters who crowded around and tried to offer advice. Eventually we gave up and decided to do our best with commercial products.

All wrapped up in towels in a box

He took to the Divetalact well and fed hungrily every bottle (every three hours) and won my heart by cuddling up against me with a contented sigh after each bottle. He was peeing and pooping well so we knew the inside bits worked, but he still couldn't stand up. As he weighed in at 1.4 kg (a normal twin weighs about 2 kg) I decided it was because he was so premature and gave him time to learn to stand. Thanks to the kids at school (and my boss) he was named Shaun the sheep.

On the third day he managed to struggle to his feet for a short while and after that there was no stopping him. He is now two weeks old and weighs just over 2 kg. He lives in the humpy with us (of course) and is still having three hourly feeds. I am suffering badly from lack of sleep and washing overload (he uses 'nappies' made from ripped up old towels), but am completely in love with him. He is resting on my bed under the covers (wrapped in a towel) as I type this. He has suffered some shortening of the tendons in his front legs, but regular exercise and massage will cure this I'm told.

Shaun's attitude to my writing. He loves cuddles though

On his nappy towel beside the fire

In his coat being examined by Dr Bandit

Meeting Rabbito, who weighs more than he does.

Spending some time with his biological mum

In his new permanent house (well, until he grows out of it)

Tucked in for the night

Lounging in the dog beds

This is how we weigh Shaun

This lambing season has been terrible; Nut lost her lambs earlier in an early miscarriage, Kracken had twins and lost one and Snow White had twins but both died (despite our best efforts), now only Gaia remains and I'm beginning to think her belly is just pudge (what can we expect naming her after an Earth goddess) as she has no udder development to speak of and would be due in another two weeks if she is pregnant. Peridot is too young for babies as yet so has been spared the sadness. Next year I will be bringing them into the lambing paddock a month before due and damn the expense of feeding them all. However, Shaun has been a blessing and has inspired love, joy and kindness all around him. A good friend of my eldest daughter's who is in her last year of a veterinary degree, sent me a lecture on tendon shortening in lambs and offered to have a look at him for us, my youngest daughter spent her precious time off from university feeding and cleaning up after him while I worked and my partner (who refuses to touch animals and only grudgingly pats the dogs) has donated several days to caring for Shaun while I work (and yes he does have to touch him as he won't sleep without a cuddle). A friend of mine (Graham) has offered Shaun a home when he grows up and insists that he needs a mate for him so he won't be lonely, is building him a shelter and fencing in his property in anticipation.
Shaun has reminded me once again that the simple love of a child is the real treasure in life (he is my child, even though he isn't my species), the in-the-moment joy of being warm, safe and full is so evident in his whole being that it can't help but make everyone around him happy too.

Monday, 6 July 2015

A new bed for my old dog

We have a sixteen year old dog, he has been with us since he was a puppy of five weeks and now he is an old man. These days he has arthritis and his sight is going, most days we think he's deaf but sometimes it seems that he has just decided that listening is optional as he can't hear us call him in from the yard, but if I get the cheese out of the fridge he is there like a shot. He seems to have periods of time where he doesn't know where he is and wanders around the house looking distressed until he spots one of us, maybe he has dementia. Recently I noticed that he seems to find comfort in sleeping on our clothes (probably because they smell like us) so I decided to make him a comfort bed out of a sacrificed jumper. I wore the jumper for a day before I started sewing so it would smell strongly of home and comfort.

An old fleece jumper I have laying around

My first step was to sew a line across the body of the jumper from underarm to underarm, I added a bit of an upward curve so the back of my bed would be roundish.
Next came the fun part...stuffing the base. I have some of that crumbled foam stuffing used in sofas and old cushions that seriously needs to be used so in it went. As it turns out fleece fabric and crumbled foam have a fatal attraction and trying to stuff handfuls through a little hole made a huge mess and seriously threatened the balance of my mind. Luckily a piece of PVC came to my rescue, I shoved one end down into the jumper and poked handfuls of foam into the other. This kept the foam and fabric apart and prevented even more mess and possibly an embarrassing tantrum.

My sanity saving stuffing device.

The base all stuffed and sewn shut, still with some bits of foam stuck to the outside.
 For the 'arms' of the bed I decided to use dacron stuffing from an old lounge cushion I had been keeping for just such an occasion.

Old longe cushions are so handy

I stuffed the arms and upper chest area of the jumper with dacron and sewed the sleeves together and the neck shut.

Spot looks on with worry, he has been in trouble for ripping the stuffing out of lounge cushions in his youth so he probably thought I would be in trouble too.

Almost done.

I sewed the sleeves together by hand rather than take the unwieldy pile to Prudence (my sewing machine).

Spot in his new bed.
Still in his new bed.
He seems to love it, he has slept in it at every opportunity and even pushed one of the other dogs out of it. I hope it gives him comfort and lets him know that  he is safe  here at home.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Up-cycled wardrobe project - a maxi skirt from an old sheet

As I was searching desperately for something to distract me from what I should be doing (study...specifically a literacy competency test) I found an old sheet in the back of the linen cupboard. This one sheet is all that remains of a set given to us as a wedding present 25 years ago. Obviously they were a good quality sheet as they survived dogs, kids and bush living for this long (well one of them did). Originally the sheet was jet black but over the years it has faded to a lovely charcoal grey. It is made from cotton and has developed a lovely soft feel and shows very little sign of wear. I decided it would make a lovely skirt.

So I had found my distraction; make a skirt from this old sheet.

First the all important research;

Then it's straight into the fun stuff...

The sheet in the process of being laid out on the lounge room floor.

I measured 48 inches for the width of the skirt piece as instructed. Then I measured from my waist to my ankle to get the length measurement and cut the piece off there.

At this point I decided it would be easier to sew the casing for the elastic before the side seam was sewn. So I swapped the instructions around. This turned out to be easy and quick, with less chance of sewing stray bits of fabric into your seams too (other messy sewers will know what I mean).

I made sure the elastic would have enough room in the casing at the top of the skirt then pinned the casing right across.

I then got treadling and sewed the elastic casing seam twice (to be sure, to be sure). I'm not sure why my phone decided to make this photo sepia, but it gets artistic ideas sometimes.
I have missed using Prudence the treadle machine while making underwear. I really must save up for a zigzag attachment for her.

The side seam was sewn up quickly, also with a double seam (to help slow down any fraying) and the elastic was threaded through the casing. I used a side seam of the sheet as the bottom of my skirt so I didn't have any hem to do, so this was a really quick and satisfying project.

I'm wearing my new skirt (and a pair of my home made undies) as I type this and I'm feeling very proud of myself as sewing is not really one of my skills. That's one skirt down from my project, maybe next time I will make a circle skirt, or a double layered skirt.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Up-cycled wardrobe project - 7 pairs of underwear

To begin my self imposed challenge I am making 7 pairs of underpants (enough for a week of wear without having to do a wash). I have been making these from old t-shirts for a few months now (see my first attempts here), but decided to make 7 new pairs for the project. My pattern has been tweaked and changed until it produces a REALLY comfortable pair of undies and is now a treasured resource (it even has an envelope to live in when not in use).

My latest pattern makes really comfortable undies.

I found some stretch material remnants in my stash that I thought might do the trick. All these remnants come from second hand stores and gifted items from other people's stashes so they fulfil the up-cycled requirement.  The materials ranged from cotton/lycra to full on stretch polyester but the gussets are all cut from t-shirt remnants  which are 100% cotton.

Seven pairs cut out and ready to sew.

When I began sewing the sides up I discovered a real drawback to sewing stretch fabric: the machine doesn't like it. I made a huge knot in my first pair as the fabric got pushed/sucked down through the dogs (the grid thing under the needle) and I had to dismantle the machine to get it out. After spending a half hour with a screw driver and a don't-talk-to-me expression I got the lot untangled and had a think. This led to an hour of googling which turned up a great tip: use tissues under the seam to provide some stability.

Tissues under the seam, what a great idea

Some of the tissue stays in the seam after you tear it off, but it will wash out in the sewing machine, I promise.
 Eventually I decided to try a more up-cycled option and tried newspaper strips, this worked really well too, but still with some small pieces left behind after it is ripped away. I guess the washing machine will have to take care of it.

Using newspaper to stabilise seams in stretch fabric.
 The final hurdle in my sewing came when I realised how short of elastic I was...I used up every scrap I had on three pairs and had to go and order more (part of my 10% new materials). I mail ordered it from an Australian shop which has an Etsy store. Now the wait begins, I will finish my 7 pairs as soon as the elastic arrives, then it is on to making 4 bras. I wonder what my mistakes will teach me in that project?
My first three finished undies, more to come.