Sunday, October 31, 2010

The waiting game

We seem to be getting lots of practice at waiting at the moment.  We recently got our permits sorted out to start building our house (which was an almost 5 month process), and now we are waiting for our excavator operator, so we can't do much, other than plan how we will get the first few stages done.  Its frustrating, but I suppose the 'up' side, is that when it comes to actually do something we will be very much ready to do it.

We have done one thing, and that is make the stirrups to hold up the posts.  These are pretty heavy duty (to comply with engineering specs).  Brad helped a local guy (another owner builder) who happens to be a boiler-maker for the day to make them.

We are also waiting on the timber - its being milled up for us by a mill that specialises in recycled, salvaged and reclaimed timber.  We are pretty excited about the timber, and we are eagerly awaiting the first delivery, so we can start cutting, drilling and preparing it to put up.

I thought I would give more detail about the house we are building, as its a bit unique, and we have done lots of research, planning and looking at houses, to come up with the design principles we have used.  The house we are building is a round strawbale house.  Some of the features are as follows:
  • Strawbale external walls for insulation, and mudbrick internal walls for thermal mass (ie the evening out of the internal temperature).  The house is on a slab for thermal mass as well.
  • North facing sun room (south facing for those in the northern hemisphere), which will act as a winter warmer and a summer cooler, depending on which windows are opened.
  • Laundry/mud-room/bulk pantry, for washing vegetables from the garden, storing preserves, making wine/beer and some food preparation.  This is the first room you enter from the back door.  This is on the south side of the house.
  • Large circular living space, with kitchen and lounge room. Bedrooms and bathroom come off this circular area.
  • Composting toilet, and reedbed greywater treatment system, to reduce water used by the house.
  • Combustion cooking stove, for cooking, room heating and water heating.
  • Small windows (except on the north side) to reduce heat loss in winter, and heat gain in summer.
The house is built to be the right size for us, there are no spare rooms for visitors (when you live out in these parts, visitors are few and far between anyway), the bigger the house, the more it costs to heat/cool and the more cleaning there is to do!  We wont be connecting mains electricity (we are so happy with our solar power system - one of the best decisions we have made).  The main focus of the house is the central living area, thats where we spend our time together, or we are outside anyway.  We wanted a house that would stay cool in summer as we don't 'do' air conditioning. We wanted a house that would do minimal harm to the environment to build, would last a very long time and would be a pleasure to live in.  Its round because we like to be different, and according to Brad its no harder to build than a square house!!!

Meanwhile the apple blossom is out, the bees are working overtime on it.  Spring time always rekindles my desire to get a hive established here.  For quite a number of reasons, firstly to supply us with our own honey, but also as a 'conservation' hive.  There is plenty of information around about the decline of bees, and how commercial beekeeping is a possible reason for this.  I am keen to get into 'natural beekeeping' using a top-bar hive.  I'm just waiting for the right time to build one and then waiting for a swarm to 'turn up'.

Friday, October 22, 2010


With all the lovely spring grass that is growing madly, we are getting more milk from our milking goat Dorka.  About 1.5L per day.  We don't drink that much milk, so every week or so there is enough milk to make a small batch of cheese.  We started off just making a soft ricotta type cheese, just with vinegar to curdle the milk, which worked fine, and made a soft cheese that was nice on crackers, or in a cheese and spinach pie.  We then decided to buy some rennet to experiment further. 

Its amazing the difference in the curdling between vinegar cheese and rennet cheese.  Vinegar is instant but the curds are small and the cheese soft.  Rennet needs to sit a bit to set, but the curds are so solid you cut them!  Its almost magical. 

The first batch of rennet curdled cheese became this fetta!  Which was great, and had a slight resemblance to halumi cheese. 

We have since made a batch of mozzarella type cheese which was nice too.

Lots of 'playing' to do, experimenting with the technique to get the types of cheese we like.  Really happy that we are able to skip yet another thing at the shops, and reduce the amount of packaging that we use.

Since I haven't posted a photo of the kids for a while, here they are growing fast (and eating enough to show for it!!!!  Next winter I will be planting LOTS of apple trees, as these 2 clean us out of apples!!!!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Now that winter is over, and most of the dry wood has been burnt in our wood stove, its time to start preparing for NEXT winter.  It takes time to dry out wood, and it dries out quickest when its split up ready for the stove.  We try to collect our wood in the most energy efficient way we can.  Wood is collected and cut up into 'ute' lengths using our petrol chainsaw, and brought home.  This wood is then cut up into firewood lengths using our electric chainsaw (using our own solar power - so not a job for gloomy weather).  Its then split up and stacked to dry.  'Wood' days are a whole family event, and we all get in and do it together, the kids helping with carrying the wood to the stack.

There is something satisfying about cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. You can see your hard work!  Its also a good feeling, knowing that there is already some wood ready for winter!

I have been working on a new vegie garden, where I planted about 100 seed potatoes and have prepared beds for the summer vegetables.  The fence NEEDS to keep out our furry and feathered creatures.  Wire mesh is quite expensive, so we decided to make a fence using Silver Wattle saplings that have had to be cleared off our drive way etc.  Here is my version of a 'wattle' fence!

We have had good winter rain this year, and with some nice weather the grass has really started to grow!  Time to get the scythes out and start cutting!   Its also a time to prepare for summer, tidying up ready for the fire season.

We are also making preparations to start building our house!  Things have moved along (fairly slowly mostly), and we are almost ready to start.  There will be lots of posts of the building process on the blog, once we actually start.  Its quite exciting!