Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cleaning that brown mark out of the bottom of your jug!

A friend gave me one of those amazing clear jugs with the pretty blue lights for Christmas after I coveted hers during a coffee and a chat last year. I love that I can see how boiled the water is and how many litres my husband is putting in there for his single cup of coffee and I really, really love the blue lights despite them not adding anything to the boiling of the water!

But being a clear glass jug, I could see the dark build up on the base of the jug that is conveniently hidden from casual sight in a metal or plastic jug. I opened the top a few times and had a bit of a scrub but it didn't seem to work and I was reluctant to use more than detergent in it as I drink out of that jug regularly and wasn't keen on poisoning myself with oven cleaner with my next cup of tea.

Then I recalled reading something about using citric acid to clean out the build up in your jug and thought I would give it a go one afternoon.

Here's what I did...

First I dug out my container of citric acid (available in the baking isle along with baking powder and tartaric acid in the supermarket for around the $3 mark)

I popped a decent tablespoon into a litre of water and went to get my camera.

By the time I got back - a whole 30 seconds - the jug was just starting to simmer and the mark was completely gone!

So in my experience its a quick and easy method and I'm annoyed that it was so quick as I don't have a before photo to show you! I thought it would take a few minutes of boiling and I didn't see anything between big brown mark on the bottom of the jug and bright shiny bottom of the jug!

I would say it was a successful experiment and one that is not only cheap, easy but very, very quick!! I use citric acid when I make whole milk ricotta at home and know that its ok to digest (not that I'll be eating by the spoonful!)
Have you tried this? How did it work for you?

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using a more natural chemical to clean things with!
Frugal-ness: Another use for citric acid that makes the $3 well worth it
Time cost: Much less than I had anticipated!
Skill level: Speed photography - or even just the camera to hand if you want to record this amazingly quick process!
Fun-ness: Its nice to see the shiny bottom of the jug again!

Friday, 13 March 2015

How to start making your life green, simple, frugal and practical...!

When I first started my journey into the green frugal and crafty world I had no idea where to start, how to start and how far to go.

There is so much information out there on what we should be doing, could be doing and might think about doing that its easy to get overwhelmed, grab a packet of Tim-Tams and settle down on the couch and catch up with the latest sit-com or downloaded movie.

With so many options available I think its easiest to meet yourself where you are, and then go from there.

If you have an interest in cooking, then start with greening your cooking practices. A bit of menu planning will bring in the frugal aspect. Cooking from scratch will bring new skills and a sense of empowerment and making your own preserves, sauces, pasta and breads will bring a tasty new dimension to your cooking world and encourage you to try greening and simplifying other parts of your life.

Maybe you think that growing your own vegetables is the way to start. Then maybe you can grow a few micro-greens to start with, move on to herbs in a pot, a few wicking boxes on the balcony and then the full blown no dig, organic compost vege patch that spreads out onto the front verge of your place. Go with where your interests lie and you cant go wrong.

Perhaps you are a crafty person. Then maybe start with planning to make birthday presents for everyone this year, only holding eco-parties and re-sending last years Christmas cards - before tackling chemical free pest control and organic kale pizza (which is really good by the way!)

There is no gold medal for creating a green life overnight and every ones vision of a green life is different. Start with what you are passionate about and move on from there as things come to your attention and you feel confident enough to try new things. Some things the family wont be interested in getting involved with, but the change to home made washing powder may not even be noticed! Small baby steps are likely to be successful long term rather than large dramatic changes that might not be sustainable for your life style. I know in our household that I didn't mention the change in washing powder since the husband was a bit fussy about such things. Since he discovered that I was no longer using a big brand laundry powder, he has become fascinated by the process and is the one to make up a batch of powder these days... Small successful steps or changes have a greater chance of becoming the new norm in your home than larger, grand, expensive efforts might.

There are lots of people on the web blogging about their daily lives and the steps that they make towards changing how they live. These are great inspiration as well as practical instruction on how to go about moving from a blind consumer to an active greener individual. Not everything you try work s the first time. Or even the second time. My vege gardening skills haven't improved despite the size of the land I have available to me, so I end up frequenting farmers markets and supporting Food Connect until they get better.

I found a couple of "greening myself" lists that I have been using as a base to go back to and have a look at from time to time when I feel like moving forward and aren't sure where to go next. These can be useful as a guide rather than gospel - Don't get caught up trying to do it all at once!

Have a look at these posts to get some ideas for simplifying your home and these ones for greening things in the garden. And once you get going, blogging is a great way to make contact with other like minded people and to share with us your successes! Have a look on my side bar to see who I read regularly and get inspiration from!

This is a link to a list of 50 Green Living Blogs that might inspire you!

Above all have fun with it. If the project you have chosen to work on is not enhancing your life and making you feel good about what you are doing then its not worth doing. I get quite a kick out of the smallest things - even making an inner sole for my shoes out of a washed meat tray - and that's why I keep trying and then adopting new ways of doing things!

If you have a blog that documents the experiments, tells us about the wonderful new things you have discovered - then link to it in the comment section below and let us all have a look at how you have gone about simplifying, greening and fugal-ising your world!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Moulting chickens... Before and after photos!

Over summer I have had a massive drop in egg production. Here in Brisbane the weather is just too hot and muggy and a lot of my chickens slow down dramatically or even stop for a few months. As the weather has cooled down (about 5 degree, but hey, we'll take it!) I was expecting my egg production to rise - even just a little. But now I have three moulting chickens and one who thinks she's broody.

In case you are new to chicken raising or have always wondered about what is wrong with you chicken - I took some before and after pictures!

First up is Dusk - A Barnevelder of about two years. Note the tight smooth feathers, the tail and glossiness of her plumage... (These were taken about 6 months ago.)

And now for comparison - her moulting photos....

No, this is not another chicken...! Its the same one in the middle of her moult. As you can see they lose a lot of feathers (one of the signs after the eggs stop being laid) and they lose their tails.

This is Dusk with her sister who is still laying for comparison. Dusk is at the back and Autumn is at the front. I find they are quite flighty and uneasy when they are moulting too.

This is Misty. She is a Lavender Leghorn and is a wonderful layer of eggs! (as most Leghorns are). Note her upright, bright red comb, tail and nice yellow legs. These photos are also about six months ago.

Again, note how the feathers are tight and sit in rows. Nice bright yellow legs too!
And during her moult... Pale legs, feather missing all over, comb flopping a bit and paler than usual.

I always think they look like they have been through the lawn mower!

This is Snowflake. She is a Speckled or Painted Sussex. She's only a couple of years old and has just about finished her moult. Can you see the downy bumfluff feathers just starting to grow back? You can see the shafts of the feather sticking up through the skin and just starting to push the actual feather out.

On the other hand... Solstice hasn't gone into a moult yet, but she is broody (darnit all, won't somebody lay me an egg or two?) She is a Brahma (and not a show quality one as she has a comb) and just on a year old now. She has been a little bit broody on and off for the last few months. See how her neck feathers puff up and her tail expands when other chooks approach her? She clucks indignantly incessantly and generally is grumpy and obnoxious.

She is trying to make herself bigger and more frightening as mothers do when they are protecting their babies. She weighs about 3kgs and can be quite a handful when she's not happy! Broody hens spend a lot of time trying to get back to the nest. Moulting hens just do normal things except they look terrible and seem a little nervous all the time.

In both cases some extra tonics and good food will always help them get what they need to replenish themselves. Moulting is about giving their bodies a rest and most chickens will do it once a year.

Here is a more in-depth post about moulting I wrote for those who would like to follow up on the moulting process.

What happens when a chicken moults?

If you have photos of moulting chicken feel free to link us to them!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for owning chickens. 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for looking on the net to see why they are losing their feathers!
Time cost: A moult will take from one to three months to complete.
Skill level: The chicken will do it all - just keep the good feed up to them!
Fun-ness: Amusing for us, not so for the chicken!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Homemade bees wax material to replace plastic cling wrap!

I have managed to eliminate many bits of plastic in our house over the years. I take my own shopping bags to the supermarket. I use glass jars for storing things. I buy wooden toys for kids. I have even fixed my washing baskets rather than buy a new one!

But one of the few things that I find hard to live without is cling wrap - that soft stretchy plastic that covers up food in the fridge and makes traveling with food so much easier. A few weeks ago at the markets, I saw some beeswax material that can be used to replace clingwrap in a lot of applications.

I knew I could make it and so turned to other bloggers to see how they did it. Easy to do. Hard to stuff up. And it works, really works!

Here's what I did...

First cut up some plain cotton material into useful sizes. I was going to hem them but as it turns out - the wax holds the threads in place so I didn't need to.

Preheat the oven to a fairly low heat. Beeswax is flammable so go slow and sure rather than fast and on fire!

Next I cut a piece of baking paper to the size of my oven tray and then placed my first piece of material on it. Melted beeswax is hard to get off any surface so make sure you only use equipment you are prepared to sacrifice to this project for ever more!
I also put a piece over the cooking grater as I couldn't find my "craft project grater" when I wanted it (that will teach me to clean up my crafty area wont it!?)
Grate the beeswax evenly over the cloth. I think its better to do less than more at this point. Over all I think I used very little wax. I didn't measure it but I saw on another blog that she used less than 1oz per cloth.
Pop it into the oven and leave the beeswax  to melt. It wont take long - a minute or two max.
Once its out of the oven, you can use a paint brush to move the wax around and get it all over the material piece. It cools very quickly though. Might be easier to do that if you can poke at the material whilst its still in the oven. The wax wont come out of the paintbrush so make sure its not your favourite painting one!
Then grate a little more wax onto the uncoated areas and put it back in the oven. Repeat until you have covered all the material with the beeswax.
Lots of instructions said to hang the finished cloth on a string line. I found that if I left it to cool a little in the tray and then picked it up and held it for maybe 15 seconds. It was cool and dry enough to simply hang on the back of a chair until it cooled all the way down.

 My second piece was bigger than the tray so I folded the end over and did exactly the same as for the first piece.

You can see the bit that didn't get any wax when I unfolded it. It was just a case of applying more wax again in areas that needed more. I also used a paintbrush to move some wax to the dryer spots and to squeeze some of the wetter spots over into the dryer spots - trying to get an even coverage.

And there are my four new cling wrap cloths!

I love this for wrapping bits of cheese rather than storing it in plastic for any longer than I have to!

The beauty of this stuff is that it moulds to the shape of whatever you want it to and retains that shape. Great for wrapping fruit and veges in the fridge, cheese, covering bowls of leftovers etc. Its not so good at retaining liquids by itself so pop liquids in a bowl and cover with the beeswax wrap.

Its kinda funky how it retains the shape you put it into!
When I made my pieces, I cut hem to a 12x12 inch size but have discovered that that is too big for most applications. I cut one of the sheets into four quarters and they fit nicely over the top of bowls and cat food cans beautifully. I just cut them with a pair of scissors and so far they haven't frayed or needed hemming.
To wash these, I dip them into some water and give them a bit of a rub. I wash them more like a plate than a cloth. If the water is too hot then the wax will start to remelt and will be hard to get off your sink.
I found that some of the wax stayed on the baking paper when I finished the first cloth - just start making the second one and the new cloth will soak it up. I rolled up the baking paper when I had finished making this batch and will use it again on the next ones.
I found cotton the best cloth to use (sheeting weight) and went through my material scrap pile to find these pieces. I'm guessing once I've exhausted that stash, the Op shops will be a great source of material for these beeswax food covers.
I'm not sure how long these will last, but I'm planning on re-waxing them if they lose their stickablity or the wax wears off.
Have a look at these blogs for more inspiration!

Let me know how you go -  post links to your beeswax cloth making below!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using natural products to replace plastic
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using bits and bobs lying around the house.
Time cost: About 3 minutes a sheet.
Skill level: Cutting, grating and melting skills!
Fun-ness: This was a lovely way to spend a wet afternoon in the kitchen!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Temporary oil container out of an egg shell...!

This morning I was doing a whole heap of cooking including four loaves of bread. I had washed up and was waiting for a vege tart for tomorrow nights dinner to come out of the oven so I could pop the breads in, then I realised that I had washed up the oil bowl I had been using and couldn't get the brush into the bottle of olive oil - and then I spotted the eggshell...

Here's what I did...

 Since I only needed a small amount to brush on top of the bread when they were rising in their tins, a used eggshell was just perfect as a temporary container!

Hold just the right amount for the tops of four loaves...

 And then afterwards it can go back into the pile of vege scraps for the chickens, worms and/or compost! Free, natural, temporary, biodegradable, non-toxic, organic and just sitting there waiting to be used! (Wonder how long it is before someone invents a commercial version and sells it for $1.99 at K-mart?!)

Now that I've done this with an egg shell, I'm wondering what other uses they could have...

I have dried them out and fed them back to my chooks as a calcium supplement, crushed them and popped into the compost heap and also used them crushed to add calcium to my growing tomato's...

A quick Google search gives me these links-

Prairie Homestead - 30 things to do with eggshells

Good Housekeeping - 12 egg-cellent things to do with egg shells

One Good Thing - 15 Surprising uses for eggshells

Next time you are cooking eggs, see what you can come up with for using the shells in a new way!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using a biodegradable totally natural temporary container!
Frugal-ness:  5/5 for repurposing something to hand rather than buying a new gadget
Time cost: No time at all to prepare, use or throw into the compost bucket!
Skill level: Cracking and egg!
Fun-ness: Great fun to find a new use for an egg shell!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Honey collection from Native Australian Bee Hive...

Over the years we have expanded from one Australian Native bee hive bought for a Birthday present to seven hives of various shapes and sizes! For the first few years we concentrated on building strong hives and getting the splitting right. Last year we started putting honey supers on the  hives in order to start collecting some tangy bush honey, sometimes known as sugar bag honey!

We had a hive that was made sub standardly and decided to split the good half and transfer the other half into a new hive entirely. This gave us the old honey box that the hive had come with to deal with and see what honey we could get out of it...

Here's what we did...

This is the empty hive after we had done the split and the transfer. The left is where the Tetragonula Hockingsii brood was; the right is the stored honey. 

First we simply tipped it on its side and let the honey drip out at its own pace. Its sitting on a board over a large plastic container with the back slightly raised with a small wedge at the back.
The big issue which we hadn't foreseen was that the bees wouldn't leave the storage area. We had assumed that opening the hive and moving it across the yard would have them all flying back off "home" to where the old hive was, but this didn't seem to be the case.
The honey area was chock full of bees and no amount of prodding and poking the hive would entice them to leave.
If you look carefully, You can see al the black dots and blobs in amongst the honey comb - they are the recalcitrant bees...
Our honey extracting technique ended up being that we poked the comb with skewers, forks and various other implements constantly over a few days to release the honey and let it drain into the container. We rescued as many bees as possible by lifting them out of the comb with the skewer but the were incredibly reluctant to leave. It was very frustrating.
As the hive we had moved the brood into was brand new, we thought they may be after the supply of honey and/or resin so ended up taking the top off it and placing a big blob of comb, honey and all in the top where they would normally be storing their honey and pollen in the hope that more of them would journey back there and stay there working on the new hive

This is the part of the storage area that we took out...

and the opened top - pristine and empty...

The first bit of comb goes in...

 Our theory was that they would sort it out. Apparently they can reuse all the components so we popped it in and sealed it all up very tightly and left them to do that.
This hive had the brood put in by the door and within hours they had built defences over the door and started protecting themselves. We helped out when ever we were around by using a paintbrush to brush away ants who are attracted to the scent of honey and anything else that looked like a threat to the hive. This hive was put just above the chooks nesting boxes and so we were visiting it at least twice a day to help them defend their hive.
A few months later, they seem to be happy and healthy and there is lots of zooming in and out. We have never reopened the hive to see what they did as we think that will just make them vulnerable again. We will see next spring how they are going and see if we think we can split them or even raid the honey. In the meantime, we will let them get on with uninterrupted by our curiosity. 
Back to the honey extraction. As I said earlier, we ended up poking the comb with a variety of implements and letting it drain over a few days. The biggest problem with the method is that it attracts every honey loving creature in the back yard - and there is quite a few of them! At the end of the weekend we had the hive on a few bricks in a moat of water and the honey container was in in a similar situation to protect it from the ants.
However every flying bug known (and unknown) to mankind was hovering around for their share. By then of the weekend we sat and made a conscious effort to remove as many bees as we could before pounding the comb into a pulp and squishing as much honey out as possible. We ended up with roughly a kilo (700mls) and strained it into a jar to get all the bugs and bees out of it using a tea strainer. It poured easily through the strainer as it is MUCH runnier than normal commercial Italian honey bees honey.
This is the only extraction we have done so far. We have looked at a few websites since and even found a few videos that show other trick and tips to collect native bee honey.
A video by Dr Tim Heard,  famous bee-oligist
Honey extraction from native bees seems to involve more loss of bee life than we had expected. We are looking to refine out technique for next year...
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for harvesting honey from a sustainable source. 
Frugal-ness: Native bee keeping is not very frugal as hives are expensive to make or but at $65 a kg for the honey - maybe it will work out in the end!
Time cost: Depending on your temperament anywhere from an hour to two days...
Skill level: poking and prodding - great job for a young (or old) person fascinated with creating rivers and waterfalls of honey!
Fun -ness: great fun - if you can keep the kill rate as low as possible...

Friday, 21 November 2014

Tetragonula Hockingsii hive transfer - moving native bees from one hive to another!

Recently we spit our Native Hockingsii bee hive. The two halves didn't match and my husband was keen to try an experimental hive that he envisioned while reading all the bee books he bought me for Christmas! So the first half was a straight split were we joined the good half to another standard sized Felhaber hive half.

The other half was too small and made from substandard wood. So instead of continuing to make do, we decided that we would try the fairly traumatic task of transferring the bees out of the hive entirely and put them in a brand new hive type.

Here's what we did...

*Please note: Another long involved post for those hungry for backyard bee information but pretty pictures for those who are keen but not yet converted to the fun of native bee keeping! Only my Mother is obliged to read it all!

The first half of the split was standard - here is the link to that page.
So that leaves us with the second half in the front of the above picture with the board against the split in an attempt to keep as many bees as possible in there and off our faces! This old half of the hive was constructed in 2008 by a friend of a mate's neighbour and is not a standard size. Its made of wood that's too thin as well. This gave my husband the opportunity to try an idea he has had ever since he gave me a full set of bee books for Christmas and then proceeded to read every single one before me!

Before I go into the new hive design, lets deal with the hive transfer itself.

We needed access to the whole brood and so we needed to take off the roof and expose at least two sides of the brood. So we used a hammer and chisel to prise off a roof that wasn't designed to come off. Hence putting it against the house and giving it a decent bash. The roof closest to the split holds the brood, the other 2/3 is the honey box.

The lid came off quite cleanly. The small part in the middle is where the brood is in a Felhaber hive. The long part is where they store the honey and pollen. If you open the long bit you will find honey not brood! Hockingsii in a hive like this have the brood in the middle and keep their honey and pollen supplies near the entrances.

This is a great shot of the brood! Take photos as quickly as you can from many angles as the bees are going to swarm around you, getting into every nook and cranny you have and you won't be spending much time looking at the amazing structures when you are splitting or transferring them. Pop a tea towel over your head - it really helps! You can appreciate the bees work much later with a cuppa and a big screen computer monitor!

Back up on the table and my husband has already used the knife and sliced around the edges of the brood. sides, back and bottom. Just like getting a cake out of a tin but much more traumatic... for both humans and bees alike!

Using a fish slice (egg flipper thingummy) he simply lifted the whole thing out of the original hive. There are a few pictures that are almost the same so you can follow the procedure.

Very gently and slowly he lifted the whole brood out using his fingers to steady the brood. Remember these guys don't sting so its not a biggie when they get stroppy. I got two stuck in my eye lashes and they gave me a decent nip but other than the initial pain, and it's not much really, there is no swelling, itching, redness or any indication that they bit me at all.

From the back. My husband reckoned he could feel part of the brood falling in half probably where the join between new and old cells is... He managed to hold it all together and get it into the new hive.

Here it is going into the new hive. it goes in the same way that it did in the old hive. There is a school of thought that says they will sort it out no matter how you jam it in there but we are keen to give them every opportunity to survive our experimental hives...

So here is the other half of  Hockingsii brood from the original hive sitting in its new experimental hive. This is my husbands design which we have nick named the FROTH and I will explain more about it in a moment.

With the front of the hive put in and the supporting mesh in place. It is squashing the brood slightly... (Sorry guys.) The mesh is to support the brood during a split. In the picture below you can see that the hive is made to split top to bottom. So there is a front half and a back half. The idea is that hives wont be split into old and new as they grow sideways into the new half as the Felhaber hive currently works, but will be split with some old and some new brood for each hive.

The dividers for the hive and honey boxes going on... The dividers are to stop the bees from creating brood all the way to the top of the hive. They also have a split in them so you can run the knife straight down the middle.

 The standard OATH tropical lid and half size honey super goes on and now it looks more like a Carbonarii hive.  Its the same dimensions as a Carbonarii hive which are usually easier to place in a garden as they are more stable and take up less room.

Again, the joints are all sealed with masking tape to deter any predators until the bees sort it out. This type of hive is usually heavy and stable and doesn't need the aluminium bracing that the longer Felhaber hives do...

And then these guys are placed back where they were originally in the shelter of the chook coop where I will see them every time I collect eggs or remove broody chickens... So far so good. They seem to be zooming in and out and any bees that weren't locked inside the other hive that went to Anni's will make their way back here by the end of the day. Native bees have built in GPS's that enable them to find their way home from about 5km away. So the other half has to go much further than that otherwise they will all just head for home if you just take them next door!

Hive names:
Felhaber: Standard Hockingsii hive created by Mr Felhaber of Rockhampton
OATH: Original Aussie Trigona Hive for Carbonarii bees
KITH: Klummpy's Insulated Trigona Hive for either Carbonari or Hockingsii as far as I can tell...
FROTH: Froggy's 'Riginal Other Type Hive designed for Hockingsii

Some bee sites that are worth checking out!

As for the honey half of this hive - there's another post on honey harvesting to come! Stay posted!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for helping with the proliferation of native bees!
Frugal-ness: 3/5 Bee hives aren't cheap even if you make your own...
Time cost: About 15 minutes for this split!
Skill level: You'll want the confidence from doing a few splits before attempting a transfer like this I think!
Fun-ness: More traumatic than fun at the time!
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