Archive for May, 2014

Damn & blast!!

May 29, 2014

Steve Marsh Loses His Case to be GM Free

I really thought he had a chance.

All the more reason for growing your own GM free food.

It makes me angry to think that his nasty, selfish neighbour has gotten away with it!

 

 

Australia’s energy security

May 27, 2014

Although the sub-title of this blog is ‘energy decline and self-sufficiency’, I don’t tend to dwell on energy decline (aka peak oil) very much.

Of late I’ve been checking out Matt Mushalik’s blog Crude Oil Peak.

One of his recent posts Why the closure of BP’s Brisbane Bulwer refinery reduces Australia’s energy security  is long and detailed. You may not want to bother going through it all.

“Contrary to BP’s media statement the closure of the Bulwer refinery in Brisbane will reduce Australia’s energy security because Australia’s crude oil imports as refinery feedstock come from a dozen or so countries while fuel imports are mainly sourced from just 3 (non-oil producing) countries: Singapore, South Korea and Japan, all of them heavily relying on crude imports from the Middle East.”

Remembering a basic fact of ecology—that diversity promotes stability—it is stupid to cut multiple options down to a few.

Oil companies know oil is running out. They’ve been progressively selling off infrastructure for some time.  This is just another nail in the coffin.

His conclusion is worth noting:

“Australia’s fuel imports neither come from diverse sources nor are they secure because Asian refineries depend heavily on the Middle East for crude oil imports. Needless to say the Middle East is a powder keg. Once US shale oil peaks before 2020, Australia will feel the pain of being a price taker. The BP statement did not alert Australian motorists to the facts that BP’s oil production and product sales are in long term decline and that South East Asian crude oil production is also in terminal decline. These are unacceptable omissions which will result in mis-investments in oil dependent infrastructure. The closure of refineries is part of peak oil and comes without developing natural gas as alternative transport fuel. A smooth transition away from oil isn’t happening.”

Well-known American peak oil blogger, James Howard Kunstler, calls the advancing peak oil crisis a veritable “shit-storm”.

If you’ve done your homework on peak oil, you’ll know that’s putting it mildly.

Keep going with your preparations.

Thermomix bread

May 26, 2014

Although this is not a cooking blog and in no way would I call myself a cook, it always surprises me that the post that receives the most search hits is the one on Thermomix ice cream.

I guess that’s a tribute to the popularity and interest in what has been for me, a huge asset to my kitchen exploits:

So here’s another to add to the collection. I made bread today—in the Thermomix—and it never fails.

Right. This is my basic recipe:

100 gm bread wheat (I buy this in a 5 kg bag from a local health food shop)
400 gm bread wheat flour (Wallaby Brand Baker’s Flour from the supermarket—it has to be bread flour)
450 ml water (gm if you want to weigh it…same diff)
3 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp salt
2 tsp bread improver (from the supermarket)

That’s the basics. What you add next is up to you. I add one tablespoon of each of the following:

Full cream milk powder
Linseed
Sesame seed
Sunflower seed
Wheat germ
LSA mix (linseed/sunflower/almond. I grind my own—in the Thermomix)
Oat bran
Dried pumpkin (I make my own)

I’ll often add anything else I have, or fancy, for example, some dried nettle, caraway seed, amaranth seed or whatever, generally only teaspoonfuls of these.

Note that the correct amount of total flour for this recipe is 500 gm; 400 gm baker’s flour + 100 gm ground wheat = 500 gm. Sometimes I’ll substitute the 100 gm of ground wheat with ground spelt grain, or spelt flour, or amaranth flour. Haven’t tried rye flour yet, but will, one day.

So. Into the TM bowl goes the wheat:

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One minute on speed 9 and there’s wholemeal wheat flour:

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Add the water and the yeast and stir on speed 1 for 5 mins at 37 C.

Add the rest of the ingredients (see extra notes at the end) and mix to combine, 2 seconds on speed 7:

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Set the dial to the closed lid position and knead 6 minutes on interval speed (sorry, non-TM owners…this is just TM-speak):

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Upend the bowl onto a floured bench and tip out the dough. You’ll need to remove the base and push the blades out, then extricate them from the dough:

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It’s not hard…the dough is quite stretchy:

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I like the tactile experience of kneading bread, so I always give it a few turns by hand at this point, so I can gauge the strength of the dough:

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Into the tin, light spray with water and sprinkle some polenta on top for a nice yellow finish:

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Cover with a dampish teatowel and into the Excalibur dehydrator at 40 C to rise:

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Allow to rise just to the top of the tin, and into the oven at 180 C for 30 minutes:

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Ta-Da!

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Another Thermomix success story!

I slice it thickly, with an electric knife (does a nice neat job) and freeze in packs of 4-5 slices. One slice with breakfast. It’s so nice, I’m having just butter on it at the moment.

Extra notes:

I prepare 2 or 3 batches of the basic mix (minus wheat and yeast), beforehand and store them in the fridge. That way I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice:

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I grease the tin with olive oil. I used to use a pastry brush to brush it on. I hate spray cans, but I bought one of olive oil just for the bread. It’s much easier and quicker to apply.

 

Rake Ballan Clean

May 24, 2014

Just had to share this. Rabidlittlehippy is one of my own kind.

Rabid Little Hippy

Ballan is a lovely town. It has streets lined with many deciduous trees. From my internet searching they appear to be Ash and Pin Oak and, given that it is autumn, they are dropping their glorious red, yellow and brown leaves all over the place. 

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And now there are two

May 21, 2014

I lost my little Lady Chicken today.

She was three years old. She’d been ‘poorly’ for quite some time, by which I mean listless, with drooping tail, although she was eating and drinking, loved her treats, greens and shell grit, but just wasn’t energetic like the other two who are always so full of beans. She sat and dozed in the sun a lot. I’ve never been able to handle any of them; they won’t even tolerate me close to them and I thought if I forced her to be picked up it might do more harm than good and as for the recommended sticking of a finger up her backside to see if she had an impacted egg mass, well, that just wasn’t on, for either of us.

She’d stopped laying in October last year. The other two went on till that hot week we had in January and they stopped, too. They moulted, but Lady didn’t.

I didn’t think it was contagious as the others were so healthy. I wormed them, just in case. I just hoped she’d pick up, but she didn’t.

I finally plucked up the courage and caught her. She was so weak it wasn’t hard. I took her to a local vet who confessed his lack of expertise with birds and referred me to an avian vet. A fair way away, but I took her straight out there.

He weighed her and said she was just a feathered skeleton. Somehow she wasn’t converting her food into muscle. She didn’t have an impacted egg mass, but he found a lump the size of a golf ball in her abdomen. He could have done x-rays and blood tests and if they showed anything treatable, she could be treated but with no certainty of a good outcome. He said she would need force feeding to get her condition and weight back up to normal before any treatment. That wasn’t on, for me or her.

So he gave her an injection and she went to that great chookyard in the sky. She wasn’t a happy chookle, so now she’s at peace.

It will seem strange to see just Molly and Cheeky running around now. The three of them made such a good trio. Dumb, but plenty of laughs.

Vale Lady. Thank you for the delicious eggs and the poop for the veggies. I will miss you.

Firewood self-sufficiency

May 19, 2014

Here’s a useful post about firewood from Mike at Damn the Matrix.

When we built our house 15 years ago, we put in a wood heater. During all that time no firewood has been bought in. 80% of the property is remnant natural eucalypt forest. No living trees have ever been cut for firewood (and never will be, at least not in the remnant section). There are dead trees that could be cut and something is always falling down, be it whole trees, large branches or kindling-sized material.

I have huge supplies of useful kindling wood from twigs up to 2-3 inches in diameter. This lot’s 40 cm long and ready to go:

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These bits are a metre long and need only to be cut into three. There are 5 piles like this:

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This lot’s not even cut yet. The pile is taller than I am!:

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I cut this by hand with a bow saw and use my relatively new toy, a battery-operated chainsaw, for the bigger stuff. It’s easy to use and weighs in at only 4 kg, about the same as a couple of 2-litre bottles of milk (and of course, the solar panels recharge the batteries):

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The really big stuff is dealt with by a neighbour in a rear property and because I can’t handle it in my size heater, he gets to keep what he cuts up.

I’m planting out a woodlot at the rear of the property, consisting mainly (at the moment) of Black Sheokes (Allocasuarina littoralis). It’s a local species, so belongs to the ecosystem, and grows quickly. The intention is to cut these for firewood in the future. It burns really well. A similar, related species, Drooping Sheoke (Allocasuarina verticillata), used to grow all along the eastern side of Port Philip Bay, south-east of Melbourne. It was cut out very early during the settlement of Melbourne, to fuel the baker’s ovens in the growing city.

Sheokes planted in a group of three, with dandelions for company:

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This is permaculture zone 4—a harvestable woodlot, so the dandelions are an acceptable food species here. I’ve also planted asparagus in this area and hope that the two species will naturalise under the sheokes. I may have some problems with the rabbits—they love dandelions, but so far haven’t bothered about asparagus.

I love it that I don’t need electricity for heating. As long as trees aren’t cut at a greater rate than they grow, wood is a sustainable resource.

Why you should grow your own food

May 10, 2014

Years ago I read this essay by Jared Diamond, and so began my hatred of the industrial agriculture model and my determination to escape from the toxic effects of it.

Here’s another really good post which goes into further detail, in particular with the use of poisons and GMO’s which Diamond didn’t mention, as it wasn’t such a big deal when he wrote his essay.

The woes of industrial agriculture.

Send this to your friends who are still dependent on supermarkets for their food. Commit this information to memory and try to wake people up. I’m sure the average Joe knows none of this. The need to walk away from industrial agriculture has never been more urgent.

Systemic collapse is just over the next horizon.

April solar update

May 10, 2014

I’ve been holding this update over because I was expecting an electricity bill but it’s now a couple of weeks overdue and I can’t wait any longer.

Just to recap, the first bill I received after the solar install was wrong. I’ve been reading the inverter and the electricity meter on a daily basis, so I know just where the electrons have been going—in other words, I know just how much electricity I’ve sent to the grid and how much I’ve taken from the grid.

So I rang and informed my electricity retailer and my account was put on hold while they sorted it out.  When the amended bill came, it was still wrong, so back to the drawing board and another few weeks wait. At the third attempt, they finally got it right, by which I mean their figures agreed with my meter readings! So I was $233 in credit! And the next best thing to discover was that I’m being paid 33 cents feed-in tariff, instead of the 8 cents I was expecting. Plus a letter of apology to say that my meter hadn’t been properly set up in their system and it was now fixed. I hope the overdue bill doesn’t mean they’ve stuffed up again!

OK, so solar generation has been well down as expected. The PV panels are being shaded by trees until late morning and then again in the early afternoon. And when the sun does hit them, because they’re east-west facing and not north-facing, it’s hitting at a more oblique angle. I’ve been drawing more from the grid. That was expected, too. Lights are going on earlier; the oven and microwave are being used to cook dinner after sunset; there’s a fan running on the wood fire. But I’m using so little electricity during the day that I’m still managing to export to the grid and that’s covering the increased drawdown somewhat.

April averages:

6.2 kWh per day produced by the solar panels
2.4 kWh per day taken from the grid
5.1 kWh per day excess sent to the grid
3.7 kWh per day total consumption (grid + solar)

There wasn’t a single day in April when the panels produced more than 10 kWh.

Compare this with the March figures:

March averages:

11.3 kWh per day produced by the solar panels
2.1 kWh per day taken from the grid
9.7 kWh per day excess sent to the grid
3.9 kWh per day total consumption (grid + solar)

And compare with the best summer month:

December averages (although grid usage then included hot water heating which I eliminated in February by changing to instant gas hot water):

20.4 kWh per day produced by the solar panels
4.4 kWh per day taken from the grid
18.1 kWh per day excess sent to the grid
6.8 kWh per day total consumption (grid + solar)

Now we’re heading into May, solar generation has fallen again and barely manages to get above 5 kWh per day.

It’s been an interesting exercise and I certainly don’t regret parting with some of my capital to install solar. At the end of 12 months, I hope to be able to work out roughly how much it has earned me in credits and savings on power consumption. I’m tipping it will be greater than if I had left the capital invested at current term deposit interest rates.

March update is here.

February update is here. (which contains updates for January, December and November).

 

Plant profiles: Tamarillo

May 7, 2014

This is #3 in the plant profiles series and a good time to write it as my tamarillos are starting to ripen at last:

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They’re really ripe when the colour changes from purplish to bright pillar-box red and that’s when I pick them.

You don’t see tamarillos much in the shops in this country (at least not where I live), so I assume no-one is growing them as a crop. The only time I did see them in the supermarket, they were selling at about $1.75 each, so it’s no wonder they’re not well known.

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While I was researching this post I came across the Wikipedia entry which is about as comprehensive as it gets, so to save myself a lot of typing I’m going to be lazy and link to it here. (Some of my regular readers (hi Fran), who do ferments might be interested in the bit under the ‘culinary use’ heading about using tamarillo to flavour kombucha tea).

Anyway, I can confirm that the plants are shallow-rooted and blow over easily. I can also confirm that they will grow easily from seed or cuttings. I cut the tops out of my plants when they’re about a meter high, to encourage them to branch, otherwise they form a tall trunk and when they do branch, the fruits are too high to reach.

The leaves are dinner-plate sized and have a distinctive, unusual (unpleasant to this nose) smell when you touch them (Wikipedia doesn’t mention that) and they don’t like hot sun. Last summer’s temperatures did this to mine:

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Growing them in a hugelkulture situation might be a good way to overcome the shallow root problem, although I haven’t tried it.  I would plant a group of 3-5 in a slight depression (must be well-drained soil though), and heap logs and cut branches around the roots for stability then top up with some rich, composty mulch.

I can’t confirm that they’re short-lived, having had no deaths yet from natural causes (some have blown over and died), but to be on the safe side, I usually sow some seeds every year and can always find somewhere to add a few extra plants.

If you would like some fresh seed, let me know via the comments box (only if you’re in Australia though) and I’ll organise a post-out.