Dec 28, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 3

The continuing story of our Chicken Dome.

On Day 1, we erected the frame
Day 2 was crossbracing day
Day 3 sees us make the door.

Linda Woodrow gives instructions for making a snake-proof door in her book, The Permaculture Home Garden. Something fairly sophisticated would also be needed if you have raccoons to contend with. Here in New Zealand, however, we have neither snakes nor raccoons and need only to worry about the neighbourhood dogs. Therefore, a simple hinged door will suffice.

Step 1 - Locate the offcuts from the arc-pieces from Day 1. We found ours in various places around the section, having been used as hobby horses and swords for a couple of weeks.

Step 2 - Choose a place for the door and measure the size of the frame. This picture here, taken from the crossbracing day, also serves to show where the doorway is. The door will go in the space bounded by the purple and red lines.

Step 3 - Cut the piping to fit, taking into account how the pieces will attach to each other.

Step 4 - Drill holes in the ends of the pipes, and securely attach with tie-wire.

Step 5 - Ensure your door is not twisted, and is 'square' (as square as a rhombus can be - symmetrical I guess)

Step 6 - Cover the door with chicken wire. We are using a double layer of wire to help deter those neighbourhood dogs. We'll likewise also cover the whole bottom half of the dome with two layers of wire.

Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - chicken dome completion!

Dec 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry christmas everybody. Miss4 is completely spent after the excitement of yesterday and is holed up in our bed for the morning. Leaving Miss1 the attention of TWO parents and all of the opened presents from yesterday. The winner: 'pretty things'.

Here she is modelling a whole set of hairclips covering her entire head:


Dec 20, 2008

toast and the spanish armada

Miss4 likes to make shapes with her toast at breakfast, on the odd occasion when we aren't having porridge.

This morning I was vaguely aware of the running commentary of the shapes of her toast, as she created a different object with each bite...

Look! A big it's a shoe!...a gun. bang bang! I'll shoot you (miss1)...
That's when my ears tuned in more closely, but the toast changed shape again before she got too involved with the gun...
Now it's a little boat! Gunpowder (shake shake goes the toast), and now fire!, then the boat gets launched whooosh towards the big Spanish ships. Here's Elizabeth's little ships, and over here (appropriate gesture) are the other ships. Whooosh goes the wind and blows the fire ships towards them. Oh No! the Spanish ships can't get away. Crash!
And there you go. The bare bones of the Spanish Armada's defeat at the hands of Elizabeth I's navy in 1588. Brilliant.

Dec 17, 2008

oven dried tomatoes - recipe

Store bought tomatoes, washed and ready for anything

I'm experimenting with more ways to put my tomato surplus in the 'pantry bank', so to speak. Having recently purchased the first two Destitute Gourmet cookbooks, I was keen to put them to good use. I've already baked the Oaty Crisp biscuits (cookies if you're in the US) every week, so that justifies the purchase of book 1. This week I'm drying tomatoes in my oven. (Handily justifying the purchase of book 2 - justifying to myself, I mean. I'd be annoyed to fork out money for recipe books I won't use).

Before I get into the pictorial extravaganza, I'll point out that drying stuff in a warm oven for hours is not exactly 'destitute' cookery. It would have been far more frugal to blanch and freeze them, or bottle the tomatoes to use in recipes in place of tinned ones. But it was fun.

If I could rig up a solar dehydrator for use on those long hot mid-summer days then it would cross the threshold into true frugality (especially if I found a cheap supply of olive oil...). But for now, here is how I interpreted the instructions given me by the great Sophie Gray.

First, preheat your oven to 125degC

Wash your tomatoes and take off the green bits. Slice them in half and poke holes in the skin with a wooden skewer (or a fork if you don't have any skewers).

Excuse the state of my oven - I don't clean it often

Lay the tomatoes on an oven tray or two and pop them in the oven.

Wedge the oven door open slightly with the handle of a wooden spoon. This allows the evaporating water to escape the oven, and allows the tomatoes to actually dry.

One spoon, artfully placed

I think I left mine too long. You're aiming for soft fruit-leather type consistency, without them being juicy - no juice should ooze out if you squeeze one. But mine are a bit crispy round the edges - for some reason I was heading more for banana-chip consistency (which is odd as 1. I hate banana chips and 2. We do eat sun-dried tomatoes, so I'm not unfamiliar with their consistency. Weird. I'll just put it down to a bit of a head cold). The book says up to 6 hours, but mine were still a bit juicy then. Use your judgment and make notes for yourself for next time.

When they're done, put them into sterile jars*, pour olive oil over the top until the jar is full and screw the lids down. I'm hoping that soaking in olive oil will soften mine up somewhat.

These dried tomatoes are not bright red. Apparently bought ones are soaked in something first to keep them red coloured, so your homemade ones will have that artisan-craft additive-free look to
them. And you get bonus flavoured olive oil for all sorts of goodies once you've eaten the tomatoes.

From 3 kilograms of tomatoes (about 6 pound, give or take) I made 2 jars of dried tomato goodness. So I guess one way that this beats freezing or bottling fresh tomatoes is the space saving component. That's a lot of concentrated tomato flavour in a couple of little jars.


*I sterilised the jars by taking the tomatoes out of the oven, and putting the jars in, at 125degC for 10 to 15mintues. I sterilized the lids by pouring boiling water over them and leaving them to sit for the same time period. If you have your own preferred sterilization method, then use it. Tomatoes are quite acidic so are a bit more resistant than other foods to 'close enough is good enough' sterilisation standards.

Dec 15, 2008

Quotable quote - what the world needs

"Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is those who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

I can't work out how to stop it saying "read more" when there isn't anything more to read. Sorry

Dec 14, 2008

lacto-fermented tomato relish

Tomatoes are in season in New Zealand and are consequently very economical. Apparently there have also been issues with exporting them this year, so there is quite a glut of them. All the better to buy up large and preserve them for the rest of the year.

This year I've decided to try one of the Nourishing Traditions lacto-fermented relishes, as well as the usual Edmond's Cookbook relishes and chutneys that all kiwi families know and love.

Step 1 - gather your ingredients. In the photo above, you see
1 Capsicum, or Bell Pepper. Recipe said green, but I used an orange one, then photographed a red one. This needs to be seeded and chopped. i.e. cut it open, throw away the bit with the seeds, and chop up the skin and flesh.
5 Tomatoes. Recipe said 4, but mine weren't very big. Skin them, remove the seeds, and chop.
1 Tablespoons Salt. Recipe calls for natural sea salt. What I have is iodized table salt with anti-caking agent. The purists will throw their hands up in horror. Go ahead.
2 Chillies. Recipe says fresh jalapenos. I have dried chillies of indeterminate species, harvested and dried from a chili potplant I was given. Remove the seeds and chop, being scrupulous about washing your hands afterward. Chili juice burns like fire.
4 Tablespoons Whey. Mine is some liquid strained from homemade yoghurt. Recipe says you can omit this and add more salt, but doesn't say how much more salt.

Then I went for a walk in the garden and gathered 3 green/spring onions and a few leaves of vietnamese coriander/cilantro.

These were also finely chopped, and everything was mashed together in a glass bowl, along with 1/2cup of water. (Tap water. I can hear the screams of purist agony from here).

The mix was then poured into a large preserving jar, tightly sealed, and placed on the bench for a few days (2 to 4 depending on how warm your house is) for those friendly lacto-fermenting bugs to do their thing. Then place it somewhere cool for storage.

Traditional Sauerkraut is probably the most widely known lacto-fermented food. I've not eaten ordinary sauerkraut, but have enjoyed Kimchi, the spicy Korean version. When cabbages are plentiful in my garden, next year sometime, I'll give that a go too.

Dec 13, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 2

The making of our chicken dome continues. Day 1 is here. We managed to erect the general frame of our PVC pipe chicken dome but hadn't crossbraced it (made it stable), or put chicken wire and a door on. Day 2 is crossbracing day.

You will need:
twine (we used sisal 'garden twine')
a crochet hook (or equivalent piece of wire)

The bracing is really important for giving the dome strength and stability. At the end of Day 1 the structure was very wobbly. Now it can be picked up easily from the side without it losing its shape.

First you make a 'skirt' of diagonal crossbracing, circling the dome, between the base of the dome up to about 30cm from the ground.

This is followed by horizontal crossbracing between each vertical strut, at that 30cm level, creating a support ring made of twine, 30cm from the ground.

The third lot of bracing is bowbracing and runs vertically from the top support ring (made of plastic piping) to the middle support ring (which you just made from twine) at the point of each vertical strut. I combined this bracing with a bowbracing around the inside of the top support ring as I threaded the twine from one strut to the next, but I don't know how much extra stability this gave the chook dome.

Here's the step by step version, with helpful and informative photos! Since it's almost impossible to see the green twine that we used for the bracing, we've added exciting coloured lines to show where the lines are for one wedge of the frame.

bow bracing - connecting two points on one of the vertical struts, like stringing a bow (coloured purple in the picture)
horizontal cross bracing - connecting from one vertical strut to a neighbour at the same height (coloured red)
diagonal cross bracing - connecting from one vertical strut to a neighbour at a different height (coloured yellow)

Step 1: Make the extra hole

Mark off about 300mm above the ground on each vertical strut. Drill a hole big enough to comfortably fit the twine through twice.

Step 2: Crossbracing

Tie all of the diagonal cross bracing at the bottom.

Tie all of the horizontal cross bracing and the bow bracing.

And you're done.

Day 3 is making the door.
Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - chicken dome completion!

Dec 11, 2008

Brainchild Casserole for the Slowcooker

Using a Slowcooker is absolutely the best way to cook casseroles and lamb/pork roasts. A friend requested (and named) "Brainchild Casserole", so here it is.

You will need:
500g braising/stewing steak, cubed
2 large onions, chopped and microwaved in butter
5 large carrots, chopped
2 capsicums, cored and chopped
6 mushrooms
1C cashew nuts
2T sunflower seeds

1/2t Cinnamon
1t Tumeric
1T crushed garlic
1T Oregano
3T Bisto (instant gravy)
1/4C Worcester Sauce

2C water

Combine the first seven ingredients in your slowcooker.

Mix the next six ingredients with some water and pour over the casserole. Add the rest of the water.

Turn slowcooker to 'low' all day (8 hours).

Do not

Dec 6, 2008

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 1

Exciting news. We will inherit a pair of chickens in January. Now they need a house. The handymum found in her most excellent book The Permaculture Home Garden instructions in how to build a chicken dome, which is a lightweight chicken 'tractor' that can be moved around the section. It's a compromise between free-range (which isn't practical because of our vege garden and the neighbourhood dogs) and a permanent coop.

Armed with this knowledge our brave heroes ventured forth (pictures and details below the cut).

Linda Woodrow gives instructions in her book for a dome 12 metres in circumference - this is large enough for about a dozen chooks and far too large for our section. So we had to adapt things a little.

Our chicken coop is a hemisphere with a ground circumference of 6m. This will give enough room for 2 to 3 chickens (the recommendation is 1sq meter per chicken) This is what you will need:
5x 6m class 12 PVC pipe, 20mm wide
pvc glue
(you also need a drill, pencil, tape measure, hacksaw and maybe even cellotape)
plus some other stuff you might need but we haven't used yet:
baling twine
bamboo or pine slats
small dark box as a laying box
woven plastic tarp
4 tent pegs
water container

Step 1: Making the base

Take one of the 6M pipes.
Put some pvc glue in the female end of the pipe (the instructions are on the glue) and make the pipe into a circle.

Step 2: Attach three more pipes as the frame of the coop

Take three of the 6m lengths and cut them until they are 4.2m each. If you use the full 6m length for the frame your coop could look more like a bullet - like the picture on the right....

Make a mark with your pencil on the base circle every 1m, so there are 6 marks in total. Drill a small hole through each mark going from the outside of the circle to the inside. This is what you will attach the frame to.

With the 4.2m lengths drill a small hole about 15mm from each end, making sure that both drilled holes are in the same orientation (so the pipe doesn't have to twist).
Then bend a 4.2m length over the base circle so that the ends touch two holes on opposite sides of the circle, with the middle of the length arching into the air. Use tie-wire to connect the arch to the circle, with the end of each arch inside the circle. Repeat for the other two arches.

Tie-wire / Cellotape the three arches together at the apex to form a primitive frame:

Step 3: Add a support circle
I wasn't sure whether the PVC pipe would be flexible enough to bend into this smaller circle so I opted for the much softer and more flexible Polybutylene pipe.

We used the sophisticated method of marking 1.25m high on the frames with a pencil, and holding it up on the inside of the frame to determine what length we want it. After marking that we chopped off the excess, made it into a circle with the connecter, and marked out six equal portions on it (which turned out to be 730mm).

Then out with the drill again to put six marked holes in the support circle and six in the marks on the frame. I again drilled through the support circle from outside to inside, which this time around was a little inconvenient since the Tie-wire didn't line up neatly when going from one pipe to the next.

Handymum showed off her needle threading prowess by doing four connections in the time it took me to do two.


Day 2 was a week later
:) Crossbracing the dome.
Day 3 is here. Making the door.
Day 4 is covering the frame with chicken wire.
Day 5 - Chicken Dome Completion!

Dec 5, 2008


This school term we've been able to join with some other home educators for a fortnightly pottery class. Here's Miss4 showing me which bowl is hers.

We spend a couple of hours every other Friday morning at the pottery club rooms. Miss4 spends the first hour inside with the clay, while I follow Miss1 around giving her scraps of clay to play with as she sits up at an unused wheel and pretends to throw pots, or rolls balls of clay, or generally starts touching things she shouldn't, climbs step ladders to the sinks, opens cupboards, touches other people's works... and occasionally runs around outside in the sun. The second hour is more or less the same except that the smaller kids from the class are kinda done with the work and they all hang out together outside, climbing the bush-covered bank behind the clubrooms, building 'campfires' and generally having a blast.

I've gotten to know one of the other Mums quite well and we generally find time to sit and have a natter and some morning tea (she brings coffee in a thermos and I bring bikkies - a mutually beneficial arrangement).

The tutor is really good with the kids, and copes very well with the large age range. There are two 4 year olds, a 6 year old (whom you can see with Miss4 in the photo), a couple of kids about 9 or 10, and about four or five in their early teens. There's one of those "what a small world" stories about me and the tutor - her husband is a cousin of my father-in-law, which we discovered more or less by accident when she called in to collect Merl's Grandma to take her to the airport. I would go into more 'she said, she said' detail but it would get long and rambly and pointless (trust me, I've already written it out and deleted it!). Anyhow, she's very good at getting the kids to make stuff with the clay, enjoy the process, and doesn't insist that they all sit down and be quiet while she explains stuff the kids don't think they need to know. (She gets them started and is great at jumping in with needed information once the kids realise they need it - and doesn't mind explaining it again individually later)

We've got one final class remaining for the year, so that's when we get to see how it has all turned out. I'm really excited to see the results. I think Miss4's coffee mugs are going to be way cooler than my 'ugly mug' that I made when I was a student. Read more...
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