Learning new skills can be painful.

I think part of learning to prepare is not to be afraid to try new things.  Many times you may be able to try a task, or attempt a project, and in doing so you will learn a lot about yourself.  This past weekend saw me remodeling my kitchen.  Firstly, this is not the first time I have renovated a kitchen, and it isn’t something directly related to Prepping, yet it is how my story begins.  Renovating the kitchen  is something which Kitty has been very ken for me to do… I have been reluctant to do it as I could foresee a huge amount of work before me, and also, I was not bothered by the kitchen…. It was functional and had lots of storage.  Kitty’s plan would see the storage are halved and much less work area. Despite my concerns, this weekend I bit the bullet and dove head first into the long-awaited project.

This was the only picture I could find of my kitchen… it is from May 2016. You can get a good idea of the way the kitchen used to look.

Let me say, I wasn’t wrong about the amount of time it took.  I started by clearing away all the items stored in the cupboards, and in this I found many things which we didn’t really need.  I also found some items which I thought were lost, so that was a plus.  I disassembled the sink and bench, which took the majority of the first day.  At the end of this day I was left with a gutted kitchen, no working sink, and a bad odour emanating from the cut waste water pipes.

Day two dawned and boy, was I tired.  I actually slept in a bit as my back was painful from bending down and working at unusual angles, so after a slow start I returned to work.  I moved the new bench into the kitchen as well as a new storage cupboard which Kitty bought the previous weekend.  After this, several hours of the day were devoured as I had to go for a bit of a drive to visit the hardware store.  I had to buy some additional items to allow me to cap an unused drain pipe as well as some blades for my jigsaw to allow me to cut a hole for the sink in the new bench.  When I returned home I started to work on cutting the new sink hole, which shouldn’t have taken as long as it ended up taking.  The problem lay in the fact I wasn’t cutting the hole properly, which meant I had to keep re-cutting.  I went to bed earlier than usual as I was pretty tired from all the work.

Day three… Today was the day I should finish the project… I had to search for some additional sink fasteners from my last kitchen renovation, yet once found I was able to start locking the sink into place. This was the time that disaster struck.  While I was attempting to screw the tap into the underside of the sink, the back of my hand rubbed against the (unknown to me) extremely sharp metal sides.  I was wearing construction gloves, which could have save me from a much worse injury.  It all happened so fast… I was turning the tap nut to attach it to the sink and I was making little progress.  Next thing I notice is my hand rubs against the underside edge of the sink and the glove, and my skin parted like nothing I have ever seen.  I quickly grasped my hand to stop the bleeding which was about to start and called Kitty.  While Kitty has had no formal training in first aid, she has a lot of experience in treating minor injuries.  After a check, Kitty decided it might be beyond her abilities, so we drove down to the nearest medical centre to ask them to tend to my injury.  They had a look and decided it was beyond them and I would need to go to Hobart Emergency.  This was not something I wanted to do on a Sunday afternoon.  It would take an hour to drive there, a wait for 3-6 hours, then an hour home.  I persuaded Kitty into trying to fix herself.  She cleaned the wound area and tapped it up so that I could go to the Doctor first thing Monday morning.

Monday arrived, and I couldn’t get into the doctor till after 4pm.  Apart from some pain and being unable to use my hand, I was OK to wait.  When I saw the doctor, she had a look at it and she was satisfied that the injury was not serious enough to warrant a visit to the hospital.  She redressed the injury and told me to rest the hand for a week… which is already starting to be annoying as it is hard to do most tasks on the property with one hand.

 

Despite being left with one usable hand, I needed to complete the project.  So… most of Monday I spent attaching the sink and connecting the taps and plumbing.  Kitty helped with the heavy lifting, such as moving the bench into place.  The funniest part was that the tap I had been screwing into place… the part of the job where I cut my hand open… it didn’t need to be screwed in… I actually connected it from the other side with no risk of injury.  If only I wasn’t so exhausted from the work I might have realised that and saved myself a painful injury.

 

Still a couple of things to do in the bench, and there are lots of washing up to do.

Four days of near constant work, an injured hand, a body wracked by pain and exhaustion… we have the finished product.  I still need to tile the back wall, as well as raising the table/bench on the right side of the sink… yet in all, I am happy with the kitchen.  Kitty was right that it would make it look better (she is always right about these things) and in the process she learned that she is able to tend to bleeding injuries and do such a good job on them that the doctor was impressed.

 

Oh, and I want to say, I typed this whole article one handed.

Knowing the limit of your skills can open your eyes to other opportunities.

One of my home projects has been to create an alternative entrance to my house.  I have the normal entrances… front and back, yet on the side we have a door which leads to the verandah.  I have enclosed it with a gate and fence so that our dogs can roam there, yet I really felt that they needed a way to come and go from the back yard.

 

I wanted to build some stairs form the ground up to the verandah, yet stairs can be tricky.  They need to be very strong to support the weight of the user, durable so that they can withstand the seasons, functional so they do the job intended, and it helps if they look good.  I kept putting off the project till I developed the skills I required for such a complex job.  There was no sense in going ahead with it when I would probably make a mess.

This plan was turned on it’s head a week or so ago when we noticed that my children’s school had several sets of wooden stairs sitting unused and discarded.  Kitty asked the Principle and after donating $30 to the school (much less than the cost of lumber and time) we had a great set of wooden stairs.

When the weather cleared up (no rain) I set about digging the post holes for the base of the stairs which I would need to cement into place.  I made a mistake with the order that I completed the jobs yet it wasn’t a tragic error.  For the majority though, despite my total lack of knowledge on the process, I feel I did a good job.

I think one of the most satisfying parts of the project was cutting away the rails on the verandah.  It signified the end of a project that I had been considering for several years.  With the job done, I and the dogs can come and go from the back yard without trouble.  This will also be great in winter as we won’t have to leave open the back door for the dogs, meaning we should save some heat.

 

Making a raised garden bed from an old metal water tank.

While I was working in the garden on the last weekend I realised I have not shared with you all how I came across six of my garden beds.  When we moved into this house we found that, down the back of the garden, the previous owners had left a large metal water tank.  They had been using it to store fallen leaves from the trees, possibly with the intention of turning it into compost.  I realised that I could do something better with it, so I decided to turn it into garden beds.

After measuring the water tank I decided that I could create six equal sized garden beds, around 40cm in height.  I had a device called an attachable metal nibbler, which can easily (and very noisily) slice through thin metal.

 

Metal Nibbler

To use the device, I needed to use a drill to cut a hole into which I could insert the nibbler.  From the drilled hole I could cut along the metal tank.

It took a while to cut through the tanks to create the six garden beds.  If you do this I would strongly suggest that you wear safety items.  I needed to wear ear and eye protection (as I mentioned it was very noisy and the nibbler cuts little slivers of metal that can fly everywhere).

The remained of one of the holes I cut.

The only issue I have had with the garden beds is the metal edges are a little too sharp.  I have lost count of the times that I have injured myself on those edges.  I do intend to place an old garden hose, which I have slit along one side, and slip it over the metal edge.

So far I have had a lot of great results with these beds.  It can cost around $120 to buy metal garden beds so by using this old, discarded,  metal water tank I have saved myself around around $720.  I have seen old metal water tanks on sale at many country garage sales for $20… I have even seen them for free at the garbage tip.

I needed to tidy this one up more due to the rusted metal on the bottom.

If you are interested in adding raised garden beds to your garden, yet don’t want to spend the hundreds it can cost to to buy new beds, I would recommend making your own as I have.

The constant battle to protect my seedlings

I have long complained about my greenhouse, although I am often quite grateful for owning it.

One of the occassions some Possums ransacked my greenhouse.
One of the occassions some Possums ransacked my greenhouse.

I bought it from a hardware store several years ago and it while it has proven useful,  I have had many problems with it.  Firstly, it is not the strongest or most resilient of structures… several times I have lost seedlings to high winds.  The shelves in the greenhouse have actually moved in the wind and thrown the seed trays to the ground.  I have also had problems with Possums ripping open a hole in the roof, making a mess in the greenhouse by knocking seedlings and buckets to the ground.  Finally, I have had a problem with birds and mice.  They have destroyed seedlings, eaten large amounts of fodder, and crapped all over the work surfaces.

 

In summary, I am continually improving the greenhouse and I often have to come up with solutions to meet my challenges.

It is not pretty, but it should do the job
It is not pretty, but it should do the job

The latest challenge I am attempting to overcome is the problem with rodents and birds attacking my seedlings.  They have, in the past, destroyed many tomato plants by chewing on the stalk and undoing months of hard work.  In order to stop this from happening I have attempted to wire the greenhouse base to stop their entry (no luck there), placed mouse traps to catch the rodents (I have caught many, but I have better luck with them falling into a bucket of soaking fodder and drowning), and moving them to high shelves (they just climb up and eat).  I have decided that I will make a tiny fortress for my growing plants, so to that end I have built the fortress of isolation.  It have used an old piece of wire flooring from the Rabbit hutch I used to have, bending it into a shape to protect three of the 6 sides.  I then placed some excess wire on two of the sides to prevent access before placing it on to a plastic tray (which was part of my old finch bird house).

So far it seems to be a good shield from little animals, while still allowing light, air and water to reach the plants.  It will limit my growing, yet it is only part one of my plan as I may consider building more or modifying a structure to protect more than one tray.

“I’ve eaten weird things through the course of my life. I’ve eaten wild game, I’ve eaten possum – possum’s no good.” – Chris Pratt

I am pleased to say that I have finally done it!  I have managed to find and capture those who were tormenting my family over the last year.  When I had them in my power they tried everything they could to escape, yet I would not allow it… and I am glad that they have been dealt with.

 

For at least the last year (maybe longer) I have been plagued by at least one creature that has found it’s way into my home.  I have determined that it has used a now redundant chimney at the back of my house to make a home in my laundry walls.  Almost nightly it would make horrible scratching noises and screech it’s inhuman scream.  I caught sight of it one night as it departed it’s home via the chimney… it was a Possum.  A Brushtail Possum to be exact (Trichosurus vulpecula).

I have spent many nights dreaming of the ways I would deal with this possum… perhaps roasted with some homegrown vegitables?  Stewed in a nice cassarole, or maybe just fried.  It is illegal to intentionally kill a possum in Tasmania unless it is causing you financial hardship (such as a farmer who is loosing products).  Yet I still dreamt of catching the little creature and taking my revenge.  I would, of course, cure it’s hide and make myself some nice warm clothes.  Once caught I would finally be able to seal the chimney and prevent future intruders.

 

While at a friends house recently for a BBQ I explained my problem with the Possum.  He offered me the use of one of his Possum traps.  This was exactly what I needed.  That night I placed the trap on my roof, near the chimney and baited it with a apple plucked from my orchid.  I only had to wait for one night, then in the morning my children told me that we had finally caught the possum.  I ran upstairs and examined the creature.  It was much smaller than I expected (due to the noise it made in the walls I thought it was the size of a small dog), yet I was happy regardless.  I brought it downstairs to show my family and take some photos while I laughed with joy.  My possum problems were finally over.  While I looked at the small marsupial I recalled my original plans to roast it.  Looking into it’s large, intelligent, eyes I wondered how I could have entertained such thoughts.  I used to love possums, seeing them as one of Australia’s great animals.  They are cute, smart, and can be very tame when they have been treated well.  I couldn’t hurt this small creature.  I decided that I would drive him a couple of kilometres up the road to the national forest.  There are many large trees there that could be home to this little guy.  So after this was completed I returned home and started basking in the glow of a job completed.  It was then that Kitty informed me that while I was out she heard more possum noises from the laundry wall.  I set up the trap again for another night.

The next morning my children told me that we were successful once more, we had caught another Possum.  I examined this one and noticed it was larger than the previous one, yet still not as large as I thought it could be from the noises I have heard.  I once more bundled this one into the car and took it for a drive, releasing it at the same location as the last one.

When I arrived home I set the trap up once more, and in the morning I was greeted with the largest possum yet… obviously this one was the parent.  This fellow had been working hard to free himself from the cage, hurting his nose a little in the process.  After examining him I decided it didn’t appear to be serious, so I broght the whole family with me to release him to the wilderness.

I don’t know how I feel about Possums… they are definately cute little animals that should be protected and admired.  On the other hand they are noisy, can make large messes, are annoying, and (after several incidents I had with them when I was younger) can be a little scary.  I am happy that they are now in a wilder, more appropriate location… just as long as they don’t come back to my house.

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” – Dalai Lama

I have taken a couple of weeks off work to do some work around the house.  My plan was to sleep in, spend some time in the garden, and lounge around.  Kitty has other ideas…

First week I have been clearing up the mess I made from my last few months of work on the house and property, then I had to get to work on the kitchen.  I had completed building some shelves in the kitchen earlier in the year, now I had to remove one of the kitchen benches in order to install a set of kitchen shelves from the 1950s that Kitty bought.  When I removed the bench I realised I needed to take care of the floor  Under the bench was the remains of three layers of linoleum dating back over the last 50 years, a type of chipboard type layer, and the an amazing wooden floor which was crying out for rejuvenation.  I decided that I needed to fix the floor as well.

Here is part of the kitchen after I began removing some of the draws.

I have never done anything like this before… I once assisted an old friend with sanding his floor, yet that was almost 20 years ago.  Despite this, I thought I would have a try.  I hope that I can complete this in the next couple of days.

After removing the tiles and cupboards.

In between all this work, I also found some time to put a dozen eggs into my incubator.  Reggy, our new Rooster, has been busy with his girls, so I decided to save some of the eggs for hatching.  Hopefully this batch turns out as great as my last one.

More sadness with my animals this week.  One of our little girl bunnies, the one born from Ginger and Rodger, died on Wednesday night.  I have checked her over and I can find no reason for her dying… she was healthy, well fed and watered.  My daughter and I buried her under one of our plum trees.  I did suggest that I might skin her and use her skin for something, yet after the ugly stares I received I decided that was a bad suggestion.

“The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has.” – Michelangelo

As part of my improvements to our kitchen I have been focusing on our storage.  Having adequate storage space for food and other kitchen supplies is important, possibly more so to a Prepping family than to a non-prepping family.  In the past we have made do with the spaces we already had available, such as the area under our stairs.  With my building of the shelves in our kitchen I am focused on improving our storage space and making it suit our needs.  An example of this is that I have set out to ensure that the spaces between shelves match the items we would store (such as long life milk).  The shelves are also laid out in a manner which allows us easy view of the items we have, and any that we need to replenish.

Earlier this year I created a series of shelves which turned out much better than I had hoped.  I ended up using old wooden cupboard doors (which I had removed from the kitchen previously) as the basis for the shelves, which made the first ones very inexpensive to create.  Over the weekend I decided it was time to complete this project.  I had already bought the materials required, such as a laminated wooden boards and 2×4 planks so all that was required was my willingness to get finished.

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The whole job wasn’t as difficult as the last set of shelves I installed.  The first shelves I installed took much longer to complete, I was inventing the process with no real knowledge or experience in shelf construction.  This time I had already developed the process so I was able to install a shelf in less than 30 minutes.  I was restricted in my work time by the rain outside (I was using a circular saw on an extension cord… I couldn’t do that in the rain) and I was also slowed down by the need for me to drill holes and screw into a plastered brick wall.  The project s pretty much completed.  I do need to plaster a whole I made in the back wall, and I am also thinking about adding one more shelf to the top, yet that is all for another day.

“The years have passed like swift draughts of sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West” – Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

I have been posting a few images to my Instagram account, showing the great progress I have been making, and made, on my mead production.

I have followed a recipe that was given to me at the Huon small farm expo, by a homebrew group, and I am very impressed with the ease and taste of the first batch.  I am thinking I might need to ask a couple of friends to try it… Kitty and I have tasted it and enjoy it, yet I don’t know if we are biased as we (I) made it.

I started a couple more containers of mead after the last batch, in order to keep the momentum moving.  One of these was following the same recipe as my first batch, the second almost the same yet instead of an Orange I used a Mandarin.

So far (I think it is 2 weeks since creation) I am really looking forward to tasting the Mandarin mixture.  It already smells sweeter and looks like the best one of the two.

I scanned a copy of the recipe in order to share it with you all.  After I am satisfied with my take (I modified the recipe a little) I will share my version with you all.

“One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.” – Jeff Bezos

I have had a very busy couple of days.  The first was a little project that has held my interest for some time, the creation of a solar oven.  I have read of them in various publications and the idea has intrigued me… the idea of cooking food from the power of the sun is fascinating and seems to be a great use of an existing resource.  Despite my interest, I have never bothered to do much about it… sure, I created a solar dehydrator a couple of years ago, and it worked out pretty well.

Yet, this would be a much different structure, as it needs to focus more of the heat to cook in a reasonable amount of time.

I located various sets of instructions on the web, which helped to inspire me to work on my own design.  It seemed that I had nearly everything I needed, especially as we recently took delivery of some items that were packed in a thin layer of Styrofoam, and I recently cleaned out some old items that I didn’t need.

  • I found two cardboard boxes that were no longer needed, one was slightly larger than the other.
  • A roll of aluminum foil
  • Some Aerosol adhesive I had from another project I did (around 12 years ago… it still worked though).
  • Some old coat hangers
  • A piece of glass to cover the box (I got this from an old scanner/printer which we owned.  We lost the cable a few years ago and I never found a replacement.  Before taking it to the tip I took all the salvageable items from it, the glass being one of the items).

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I won’t go into too many details of the design, unless someone asks me to do so.  I have recorded temperatures over 70 degrees Celsius.  I think that anything I place in it would take a while to be thoroughly cooked, yet some experimentation will show me whether this is correct.

I have also built another Rabbit hutch.  This one took me just over a day to build as I had to buy the wire I needed.

This one cost me around $20 to build.  I am starting to run low on my supply of recycled wood, yet I think I have enough to build one more.  I need another as I want to separate my two baby rabbits, who are currently living in a hutch together… one of them is a boy, and I want to move them apart before they breed.

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“I keep my own personality in a cupboard under the stairs at home so that no one else can see it or nick it.” – Dawn French

Part of our food preparedness is ensuring that we have sufficient food on hand.  In our old house we had large storage areas for our food, which allowed us to build up a considerable stockpile.  In our new home, this has not been the case.  While our kitchen does have large amounts of cupboards, they have been built so that their top shelf is around three meters off the ground.  This means that we need a ladder to reach the items placed there.  It is not really convenient to keep a ladder handy, so Kitty has persuaded me to do some renovations and build a new pantry.

 

We were using a lovely glass display cabinet for the bulk of our (non-high cupboard) food storage in the kitchen, yet this was limited in space and appeared out of place.  The plan was to move the cupboard out, and build a shelf system in the newly emptied space.  I considered how I would approach this for several weeks… we couldn’t afford expensive materials, I wanted to make it strong and solid enough to hold dozens of cans of foods, and I wanted it to not look bad.  After a while, it struck me, I could use the very high doors from the kitchen cupboards as the shelves!  They were made of very strong wood, they were exactly the right size (give or take 5mm), and we owned enough to make a set of six shelves (as we had 6 cupboard doors).  I could use some of the material I salvaged from my work on building the studio apartment as the structural part of the shelves, and I owned most of the tools I needed.

We spent a couple of hours emptying the old cupboard and moving it out of the way, then I set about pulling off the kitchen cupboard doors.  After a little plane to remove a couple of millimeters from the first door, and some quick saw work on the wooden beams, I set about attempting to attach the shelf to the wall.  I had a very large amount of trouble with this, as the wall appears to have bricks within.  I had to run down to the hardware store and buy a masonry drill bit in order to secure the wood to the wall.  After a lot of hard work, and 30 minutes of trying, I finally completed my first shelf.  In all, with the cutting and other work (including the trip to the store), it took around 2 hours to get the first one up.

 

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I took a rest for the remainder of the day and the next morning I began again.  I had no trouble with the second shelf, but the third one was a problem.  I had worn the masonry drill bit into a useless nub.  I had to once more hit the hardware store, but this time I bought some spare items.  Once home, I continued on my work, managing to take 15 minutes to get the last shelf up.  I checked each shelf, and they are all straight, solid enough to hold my weight, and they don’t look to bad.  They also turned out to be inexpensive to make, I spent around $30 on materials (tools that I can use for future work).

 

 

With the shelves complete, Kitty is happy and I feel pretty good about it.  We can now see all the food we have, and easily work out what we need to buy.  This is an opportune moment to have this done, as since moving to the new house, we have been witling away at our previously adequate food stockpiles.  We have been making a huge effort to try to get free of our debts, and in order to cut our grocery bills, we have been digging a little too deeply into our storage.  A recent stock take showed that we have enough food for a fortnight, which is much less then we would prefer.   Now we can plan better and make smart purchases to ensure that we have a higher degree of food security.

I am not a professional builder… Apart from some wood work classes in high school, I was never taught these skills.  If I can do this, I am sure that any of you can do much better then I.