Friday, 28 February 2014

Making detergent in a dish scrubber go further!

We host international students that come to Brisbane to learn English at a local English school. We host students from all over the world, learn all sorts of new things and make lots of new friends. Its a lot of fun and I highly recommend it!

Along with the different nationalities and personalities, we get a wide range of domestic abilities as well... It seems that not all people in their 20's have done dishes before...

Often I am at work when the students are having breakfast or lunch and getting them to wash their dishes properly can sometimes be a challenge. We have ants in the house, especially in the summer, and they will come in their millions, no, their hundreds of millions to get the smallest crumb or smear of food left on a plate on the bench or in the sink (and in the bedroom).

Asking the students to wash dishes wasn't enough, some of them didn't come with this skill. For some of them, washing dishes needed to be quicker than running a sink of hot water and filling it with detergent scrubbing the bowl and spoon. Not all of them were going to take that much time to do two items. They were running the tap and scrubbing the item under that - no big deal except that they were either using no detergent at all or using a decent squirt (or six) of detergent. On. Each. Plate. My detergent consumption was going through the roof. (Actually - it was going down the drain!)

A solution to not-quite-clean dishes or massive detergent purchases needed to be found

Here's what I did...

I have never been a big fan of plastic and try to avoid it where possible so when I saw these detergent filled scrubbers, I thought they were a new way to remove money from my pocket and pop into some corporation's pocket with no benefit in the end for me.

But they looked like they might to the job. I played with one that a friend had (to her amusement) one afternoon and I decided to buy a cheap one and see how we went with it. I knew the husband, as chief bottle washer in our house, would reject it, but purchasing it wasn't really aiming to improve his dish washing skills (as they are already sublime, my darling!) but to get hot water and detergent onto the odd bowl and plate going through in the off meal time dish washing without using a bottle of detergent a week.

In the first instance it worked really well. The students loved it and were happy to use it. I popped the detergent under the sink and it stayed in its bottle for days on end while they scrubbed away at the odd bowl and plate that they used during the day. The only one that was unhappy were the ten million ants that were used to their mid morning snack!

After a month or so, I was watching one of them scrub away at a plate and thought there was still a lot of detergent being used. Each time you press the scrubber against the plate, it releases more detergent. I wondered about this for a day or so and then decided to try diluting the detergent in the handle of the scrubber.

It worked a treat! The students still get lots of bubbles but I'm not using as much detergent and its easier to rinse off than the thicker layer of detergent and bubbles we had previously. For plates that have had toast on them and bowls that have had cereal and milk in them - this is all that's needed.

*Tip for beginners! I put the water in first and then add the detergent. Otherwise you get a plug of detergent for the fist few days being used and then it dilutes into just plain water. Putting the water in first allows the water and detergent to mix better than it does when you put the detergent in first.

I read some where about vinegar and detergent being a good combination and have diluting the detergent with vinegar ever since. I could kid my self that it some how is "runnier" than if I had just used water. I'm still playing with this idea - if you have tried it - let me know what you think.

 
I have found that after a while the scrubby bit wears out. There are replacement heads for them but I'm reluctant to replace them until I've got the maximum use out of them (as you can see).

 
So using a standard cheapo scrubber - I simply cut it to size...

 
And upcycled a rubber band...

 
To make a new scrubby bit for the head!
 
It did come with another clip on head but after 3 months, I still haven't used it. The fresh new scrubbers don't work as well as one that has been used for a week or so. The new ones are too stiff and hard to get into corners and the bottom of glasses. So now I swipe the one that's in current use and the new one goes into the sink to be used.
     
                           
 
So far I have got about four months out of the same head but eventually the sponge part is going to give up on me. I wonder if I can cut a sponge to the right shape and rubber band it on as well...!
 
I have been a dishcloth and scrubbing brush sort of a dishwasher when I'm "allowed" to do the dishes (my husband doesn't like the way I do dishes and insist on doing them himself... not a bad arrangement in the long run) But I do like this wee gadget for doing the odd dish or three. I find that if you use it for a whole sink load you get loads and loads of bubbles as it keeps releasing them each time you press it against a plate. So its great for a few dishes, but traditional methods still work better for lots of dishes in our house!
 
Score card:
Green-ness: 2/5 for buying a new plastic gizmo. 5/5 for using it daily. 5/5 for reducing detergent use!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for making detergent stretch!
Time cost: 30 seconds to refill!
Skill level: Basic home maker!
Fun-ness: Great fun - the students love it!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Changing things around in a Chicken pen

Our chickens are creatures of habit! They like you to come and take the lids off their food hoppers before 7am (or they let you and the neighbours know you have forgotten), they like to be let out at 3pm when I get home from work and they like to have a treat every time they see you! After all, why else would I be in the yard except to bring treats to my favourite girls? Hanging out the washing? Nah! Not in a chickens world!

I have found that when it comes to changing things, chooks aren't fans of the latest and greatest - no matter how much the husband thinks they will "just love it!"

Some of the chooks were having trouble flying up to the perches we had in the coop and the ones who decided it was too much trouble and roosted on the floor, got pooped on each night. So we lowered the perches. It didn't make a scrap of difference to the ground roosting chookies. So we changed things around...

Here's what we did...

 
First - we cut a new entrance hole level with the roosting perches inside. They were interested but not going to use it.

 
So (under the supervision of the dog) the husband made a ladder for them.

 
And we blocked up the usual ground level entrance...
Which certainly got their attention at bed time!

 
At roosting time, instead of having a quick feed and a big drink and wandering off to bed, they got quite agitated because where they wanted to go wasn't there anymore.

 
After many false starts and much squabbling, they finally worked it out.
 
With chickens, if they have the option of doing what they have always done, they will do it. If we leave the bottom door open, they still go in and roost on the floor for the night. They are creatures of habit, I have found!
 

 
Then they started laying their eggs on the floor of the coop which was annoying on two levels. One, I had to take the ladder off, move the box and take the front off to get the eggs (and then put it all back together) and two, the eggs were getting pooped on.
 
So I pulled the coop to pieces and cleaned the nest out first thing in the morning before anyone had laid their egg. Then I put a ceramic dish right on top of the place they were nesting and made it all light and bright and airy - an Ikea chicken may have liked to lay there but mine didn't.
 
Then I made the mower catcher box more attractive with a deep bed of hay, a new lid (the corrugated iron) and a new stepping stone so they didn't have to jump in. Again, it took and hour or two before they would concede to use the new box and kept trying the ceramic bowl out  - just in case it would materialise into a nest when it was sat on!
 
So the lesson for me in all of this - if you want your chickens to try something new - don't give them any other options!!!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for owning chickens and caring about their welfare!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for making do with what you have lying around
Time cost: minimal to change things - ample to watch and laugh (make a big pot of tea for this part!)
Skill level: basic but with an open mind!
Fun-ness: Who needs a TV when you have chickens!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Rubber band over paint can stops drips and makes less mess!

I'm a messy painter at the best of times! It doesn't matter what I'm painting; houses, murals, signs, canvases, I always get covered in paint. I get paint all over me, all over the ground and all over the table... I'm a messy painter!

I have heard about putting a rubber band over the paint pot to stop the can from getting covered in paint but have never tried it. Then, a couple of days ago, I found myself painting a sign for a friend and I wanted to do it under our pergola instead of the back yard, as we have had on and off spots of rain a fair bit lately. I knew that if I got paint on the seating or the brick in the pergola area - I wasn't going to be popular with the husband who build it all!

So I decided that trying the rubber band over the can might be a good idea for me to have a go at under these circumstances!


Here's what I did...
 
Find a rubber band large enough to go over the top and under the bottom of the can.
The rubber band goes over the paint pot so that it is stretched over the open part of the pot.

 
Like this...
 
 
So when you dip the brush in and want to wipe off the excess, you use the band and not the side of the pot. 
 
 
 As long as you are gentle, it works a treat!

 
This stops the paint getting into the grooves making it hard to get the lid on properly when you have finished painting (and sometimes impossible to get off again!)

 
 The paint just drips off the rubber band and goes back into the pot!
 
 
I found slightly off center worked better than straight across the middle for such a small pot. It gave me more room to manoeuvre. Just make sure there is still enough tension on the rubber band so you don't end up loading it up with paint and pinging it off the can...

 
 
And keeps it all nice and clean!
 
I had heard about doing this before but never tried it. It did make a huge amount of difference to the clean up and I will definitely be doing this again. I often get the paint pot stuck to the paper and to the floor with the amount of paint that pools at the top of the pot and then overflows and drips down the side when I paint.
 
This was the first time I had done it and I think I was probably going slower and paying more attention to what I was doing as it was different (and I really didn't want to get paint of the seats or the bricks which would have slowed me down anyway). Once I get the hang of it, it would be easy to speed up a bit. Its hard to not drag the brush against the side of the can after 40+ years of doing just that!
 
Though if you sped up too much, I could see that if you "pinged" a rubber band loaded with paint that things could get quite messy, quite quickly!
 
Unloading the band from the can was also a bit of a delicate operation - another potential moment to ping the band full of paint onto a precious family heirloom (well it wont land on the newspaper will it??) Do it with two hands and have somewhere to lay it or throw it straight out if you aren't going to use it again. I found the even though the paint had dried on the band (and it had stuck slightly to the newspaper) that I could stretch it out again and pop it back on the can. I did four coats and used the same band on two cans.
 
Give it a go and tell me how you went!

Score card:
Green-ness: 3/5 for not wasting paint and for reusing a rubber band!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not wasting paint and reusing a rubber band already in your possession!
Time cost: 10 seconds to find and install the rubber band onto the paint pot
Skill level: awesomely basic!
Fun-ness: Fun not to have any mess to clean up!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Growing edible ginger plants in Brisbane for beginners!

I looked in my vege box the other day and found that my wonderful fresh locally grown, organic ginger had sprouted a few eyes (are they called eyes? They had sprouted a bit like a potato does, at any rate) and since it seemed to want to grow - I decided to give it a go and see if I could get it to grow.

After a quick google search, I decided it was possible and set out try growing ginger as an edible plant rather than a ornamental plant as is usual here in the subtropics.

Here's what I did...



 
The first step seem to be a bit like potato chitting - you cut the tuber up into bits with a decent eye (the grow-y bit) on it. I used my garden secateurs and it worked just fine.

 
I chose a tub in my vege garden that is one of the most shaded ones and gave it a good water and added a fair bit of compost

 
I popped the ginger pieces in the soil with the "eye" sticking up.
 
 
Then gave them a decent water and popped the wire cage back over the top to protect them from marauding chickens and hungry possums. I also popped a bit of shade cloth over the top.
The ginger is in the centre tub.

 
I was very surprised to see green shoots less than a week later! 

 
Its been hot and humid in the last week, which I think has helped along with the shade.
 
Only three of the seven pieces I put in have sprouted so far. I'm not sure if its the bigger pieces of tuber that have grown or it was one ginger tuber and not the other. Maybe it was the bits with the bigger "eyes" that have grown.  I didn't take enough note when I planted them.
 
Planted Mid Summer, January 11, 2014 - Brisbane, Australia.
Watered daily. Shaded as our temperatures are up around 30 - 35 degrees daily with blazing sun and no rain at the moment. 
 
Jan 16th - 2 green shoots showing.
Jan  18th - 1 more shoot showing!
 
I'll update it this post as they grow and let you know what happens
 
* update Jan 25th - got another very small shoot 1 week later making 4/7 strikes
Also lots and lots of overcast days and a bit of rain every second day is probably helping 
 
* update Feb 3rd - another small shoot 5/7 strikes!!!!
 
 
See the tiny new one at the front right?
 
 
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for growing your own food.
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for growing your own food without spending a cent!
Time cost: Less than ten minutes from pantry to garden. A week to see a shoot. I'll let you know how long it took to get a bit of ginger out of it!
Skill level: Basic gardening!
Fun-ness: Great fun - even more, if I do get some real ginger out of it!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Slow Living Essentials Montly 9 Link up - January 2014

I have been following Christine at Slow Living Essentials for a couple of years now! And in 2012 she started a monthly round up to record on our blog, how we have "slowed down" under nine categories - I have been doing this since she started it at the beginning and really get a lot out of it. 

Here is what I have been up to!

Click on the link to go to the link up and visit other linked up blogs!


Slow Living Essentials Monthly 9 link up - Grab my button!

NOURISH: Make and bake as much as possible from scratch. Ditch over packaged, over processed convenience foods and opt for 'real' food instead.  

 
We have made Sunday night, "Pizza Night" this year (How's that for an awesome New Years resolution?!) We cook them in the BBQ and sit around with a glass of wine waiting for them to appear and then gobble them up. Each week I choose a topping and then make the same pizza over until I have perfected it and we are too full to move! Highly recommended activity for a Sunday evening - especially with a glass of wine!
 
We put four bricks into our standard 4 burner BBQ with two pizza stones on the top and start her up with the lid down. Once its nice and hot, we go into pizza production - remembering to turn it off once the bases start to burn a little and letting the heat in the bricks and stones cook the last few pizza's - its been great fun!   
 
PREPARE: Stockpile and preserve. 


I haven't done a lot of preserving over summer - too busy, too hot, too much like hard work in the heat... But I did start making these cute and tasty home pickles from Jamie Olivers new cook book "Save with Jamie".


For stock piling, I have twelve items on my shopping list that I am buying up big on each month in an effort to make a deliberate stockpile in the cupboards. January was dish washing liquid. Every time I shopped, I grabbed another bottle of dish wash - even if I only popped in for milk. I now have 12 shiny bottles of detergent sitting under the kitchen sink to be used for the rest of the year. I think we use about 1 a month and if so - then I have a years supply. The idea is that I can knock it off my shopping list and not run out. I have toothpaste, rice, vinegar, pasta and other staple but non perishable items on my list

February's stockpile item is toilet paper.... I don't think I can buy (and store) a years supply in a month - but I'll see how I go!

REDUCECut down on household waste by re-using, re-purposing and repairing. 
 

I fixed my favourite metal bucket!!! The neighbour fixed my watering can when it sprung a leak as he is an ex metal worker of some description and has welding gear (and goodness knows what else in that shed of his) When he gave it back to me he mentioned that silicone on the bottom of it would have been quicker and easier... So obvious when you know how! So when my bucket finally sprang a leak, I purloined the husbands tube of silicon and Voila! One fixed and still useful bucket! You could probably do this with a plastic bucket as well I reckon...


GREEN: up our lives. Start (or continue!) using homemade products. 
 
 
I have been no 'poo for a while and each week I grab my containers from the bathroom and top them all up - the shampoo, the conditioner and the scrub. Its fun, extremely cheap and gives me the opportunity to scent them differently each week with essential oils, depending on what mood I'm in at the time!
 
For Christmas, I made some wee scrubs to give to two special people made from sugars, salt and coconut (That one smelt so good, I nearly ate it rather than gifting it!)!
  
I have also made some really good window cleaner that works as well as any commercial product that has got to cost less than 50c a bottle - I have the "how to" post in production.

GROW: plant/harvest. What's growing this month?

 
I grew and harvested asparagus! It was sooooooo cool! Ok it was about 20 spears over 15 days and I didn't actually get a real meal out of them but I got something edible out of my garden!
 
 
Chillies I don't have a problem growing - this is the first harvest for 2014 on its way to the English school we host students for. We eat about 3 chillies a year and I grow about four tubs like this a year. Why can I only grow things I don't eat???
 

I hope I'm not jinxing my zucchinis... But look - Flowers!? These things are meant to be super easy to grow and I am meant to be inundated with zucchini and begging neighbours to take armloads of them every time they stick their noses out their back door. I'd just settle for a meal or two if they can survive my level of vegetable gardening skill!
CREATE: to fill a need or feed the soul. Create for ourselves or for others. 
 

This is my Christmas Table. I love doing this sort of thing so when Christmas planning time came round and we volunteered to host a big celebration - I got to pull out all the stops. Many hours of work but very little cost went into it. I had an absolute ball putting all this together!



I made all the crackers, hats and popped a bit of matching lace around a whole bunch of jars filled with flowers. I made napkin rings, collected bottles to hold candles and made extra pennants to hang over the table - The food was very simple, I dint have time to worry about such trivialities!
 
DISCOVER: Feed the mind by reading texts relevant to current interests.

 
We went away for a week over new year and I sat on my backside and read 5 books cover to cover - it was fabulous! I re-read some classics ( In Defence of Food, No Impact Man) and then devoured a couple of novels. Currently I am reading cook books and a non-fiction one called "How the dog became the dog" that documents the transition from Wolves to Dogs and how that impacted on Humans and their way of life. Very interesting! 
 
ENHANCE: Community: The rewards for your time are often returned tenfold.
 

I love the Lifeline BookFest!!!
 
Another couple of pleasant days talking, selling, reading and playing with books. If you are going to volunteer - make it a charity that gets you to help out with something you love doing. The time flies by and you have lots of fun!

 
ENJOYLife! Embrace moments with family and friends!

 
A week in a cosy rainforest retreat with the husband, a pile of book, lots of good food and no TV, phone or internet reception! (The phone in the picture is the only clock I had!)


 January is THE month for Birthdays in our house - we have eleven of them in a three week period - right after Christmas...

IMPROVEChange or create a habit, work on an aspect of mind, body or soul that needs a wee tweak.

 This one is my addition to the 9. I have been setting myself wee challenges that improve my life over the month. I have gone carless one day a week, stopped buying anything but petrol from a petrol station, been a guest at Christmas, and tried to exercise more. This month I want to do a no spend month and pay off my credit card entirely. I know that I will have to put my next Uni subject on there and before that goes on at the end of February I want the card paid out!
 
I find these bitsy blog challenges to be really motivating. Because I know I have to report back here, I tend to stay honest and it stays in my consciousness - or is it because I write it down... Either way its a good way to make some changes for me!

As always I enjoy popping over to see what other slow livers are up to. Sometimes I can't get past the security things (You know, put in the letters or numbers thingos)  but even if you cant see my comment, know I have been and enjoyed!

Thanks for the opportunity to share again Christine!!! Have a great month everyone! - Kxx xx

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Growing asparagus in Brisbane for beginners!

Years ago I bought a couple of asparagus crowns from a guy at the markets. I'm sure he gave me detailed instructions at the time, but all I could remember was to plant them where you intend to keep them and then not to cut them for a few years to give them time to establish.

Its been a few years and I have found the asparagus to be pretty happy in its spot in the vege garden. It gets watered regularly and gets a dollop of compost each time the pile matures and seems to be growing its famous ferny leaves very well....

But I was hoping to grow the eat-y bit!

A bit of a google search later and the secateurs and I went into the vege garden...

Here's what I did...

January 2014

 
The asparagus is the big ferny thing in the black barrel in the centre of the picture.
Its gotta be a metre and a half high.
Last winter I got up the guts to cut it back when it died off and it did grow back in the Spring. I thought for a few months that I might have killed it.

 
As you can see, the stalks coming out of the ground are about the same thickness as the ones I would buy in the shop - except that they are 2 foot long!

 
I have two crowns in this pot. Apparently there are male and female plants. The thicker stalks are usually associated with male plants. The males grow the thicker stalks as they don't have to put energy into producing flowers and seeds! Have a look at your plants in Autumn. If it has red berries (which are poisionus by the way) then its a female plant. If a big harvest is what you are after, then male plants are they way to go, they spend all their time producing leaves rather than putting any energy into seeds.
   
                           

 
I believe that you are meant to primarily meant to cut your asparagus in the spring when the shoots first appear. In my case I was so grateful to see the new spears and that I hadn't killed the plant that I let them go. 
 
However, I decided to try an experiment and cut all the foliage down and then harvest the stalks for a few weeks before letting the plant grow its leaves and replenish its crown. Its January 2014, here at the moment, so I will harvest for maybe a fortnight and then let it go again for the year.
 
Next year, I will start harvesting in Spring (September/October) when the shoots first appear for a fortnight and then let it go and do its things.

 
Asparagus can live for 20 to 30 years! So make sure you plant it somewhere where you wont need to move it for a long time! I only have 2 crowns - apparently you will need 25 plants to feed a family of four for a season....
 
I guess I will just be feeding me then!

 
Within 4 days I had new stalks growing. Its a real challenge to pick them at their prime and just eat them straight out of the garden rather than waiting a few more days for some others to appear to make a meal from them. I'm finding that once they stick their heads out of the ground, they are ready in 2-3 days. I'm getting five or six spear every two to three days out of two plants. I wont be setting up a business anytime soon!

 
By traditional asparagus standards, I have left my harvest a bit long. My first three spears are probably a bit long. I did the classic beginners mistake of waiting for other spears to appear.

 
You have to do something special with so few asparagus spears and so the few that made it to the kitchen got placed on the top of a homemade pizza!


Asparagus like lots of compost and water but not to be in standing water so make sure the spot drains well. The idea seems to be to build up the size of the crown for a few years by letting the plant do its thing in the spring and summer and when it naturally dies off in the Autumn/Winter to cut it back then. Mine grow easily to 5-6 foot, so again, make sure its some where you can cope with it. Its a big plant for a long time.

Once the plant is established, you can cut the spring growth for a few weeks (up to four weeks) when it appears. Each year as the crown gets bigger and has more food stored, you can extend your cutting season up to a maximum of eight weeks. If you cut them for extended periods of time (like all spring and all summer and into autumn) you will deplete the crown of all its food and the plant will die. It needs its leaves to get to the sun and to photosynthesise with enough time to store enough food to not only get it through winter but to feed you in the Spring!

They are a hungry plant and need lots of compost and compost teas - so feed 'em up and make sure they have plenty to eat and drink. They grow fastest when its hottest - so make sure they have lots of water so they stay tender.

I haven't cut mine far enough down. It seems I should be cutting them at ground level not the few inches above that I have done as you can see in the pictures. But be careful not to cut the new spears coming up that you might not be able to see...

 

 
Can you see the thin stalks branching off the cut stalks? I think that's a bad thing... I think they will be putting energy into getting those wee shoots to the sky and not producing fat little spears for me!

 
Bad photo, but easier to see what I mean.
I am still trying to decide weather I should just let them grow or cut it off to ground level...
I was only going to harvest for 2 weeks and then let the plant go but I'm not sure if I should cut these shoots off or just let it do its thing. I only have 2 days left of my harvest.
 
 
For the record, here is my harvest amounts for these two crowns.
 
2014
Jan 11: Cut back asparagus
Jan 16: cut 3 spears
Jan 17 cut 2 spears
Jan 18: 2 spears
Jan 19: 1 spear
Jan 20: 2 spears
Jan 21: 0 spears
Jan 22: 2 spears
Jan 23: 2 spears
 
It looks like I'm getting one spear a day out of each plant. I can see why you would need 25 to feed a family of four now!


There are some good websites about growing Asparagus to check out for us beginner asparagus farmers:

Organic Gardening - asparagus

ABC - growing asparagus

Back Yard Vegetable Growing - Asparagus

The Australian Asparagus Council - this one is very interesting!

Good luck with your asparagus growing!

July 2014 Update:
Once I stopped cutting the spears for the table in January, the asparagus plant stayed green and happy all summer. It didn't seem to have any problems growing leaves from those funny side shoots. It became as large as it was the previous year. I wanted to cut it back once I knew it was ready to hibernate in the Autumn but never seemed to be ready to die back...! I imagined the leaves would go yellow/brown and the plant would naturally start the hibernation process. I assume that since we had an incredibly mild Autumn and now incredibly mild Winter, the asparagus didn't need/want to hibernate.

We had a bit of a cold snap - it went right down to 10 degrees overnight! - and finally the asparagus decided to give in!

 
The tips of the plant started dying off first, and then the plant generally started to look yellow.
 

I cut them off at a height that was easy for me to manage and then when I had given all the foliage to the chooks to check through, I cut it right back to nothing - under the soil. There were many dead stems from my earlier harvest and they just pulled out.


 I cleaned all the weeds and grass out of the bed as I understand that asparagras doesn't like any competition at all. I also gave it a good water and a bucketful of compost afterwards to give it enough energy to continue its die back. Currently the bed is flat and there was no growth after I cut it back.






Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for growing your own food!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying a plant that will feed you for 20+ years!
Time cost: Next to nothing - a very low maintenance plant.
Skill level: Just a once yearly pruning and a two week cutting vigilance using the phrase; "oh my goodness- look how much it grew since yesterday!"
Fun-ness: Awesome fun to munch on the freshest asparagus while still standing in the garden!
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