Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kitchen update

I'm a few days late from Saturday, for my kitchen blitz update. But the world has been a busy one. School starts next week. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Like a busy bee, collecting pollen. Only it looks more like uniforms, books and other assorted fluff, attached to my legs! No wonder it's been hard getting around lately.


But I have made progress on my kitchen blitz nonetheless. I'll start with the last job completed, which brought the greatest amount of satisfaction. We have a short fridge, because it doesn't have a freezer on top. So as clear spaces tend to go, they often collect stuff.

Stuff like, well meant, Christmas presents. They were lovely gestures and I kept them for a while, but then they became a magnet for a raft of other things I'm not quite sure to do with either. I bit the bullet and decided to remove these items to find another home.

New arrangement

This space became a far more practical use, for holding large containers, which are often difficult to store. My home-made vinegar jars are on the fridge, fermenting away, and more importantly - out of the way. The tall spaghetti jar in the middle, hardly gets used; except for winter, when I make a lot of chicken noodle soup.

By far, the best improvement of this tiny space however, is bringing my large cake tin down from the top cupboard. It's used a lot, so getting it off the high shelf meant getting the step out to reach it. Now it's just within reach, and I can also store my baked goodies here. Instead of taking up counter space, when I put food in it.

I also found a safe haven for the cookie jar. As we have a little cookie monster who helps himself if they are in reach, presently.

 Baking paraphernalia ~ before

The next cupboard to tackle, was my baking cupboard. It's used quite a lot, so it needed to be organised. It had a cull, a few years prior too, but it was time for another purge - just to be sure.

Not surprisingly, I didn't remove a lot from this cupboard. But hey, you've got to check, right?

Two pins

Just because you're only getting rid of a few things, doesn't mean it's easy to cull either. I have two rolling pins. The small one, was one my mother gave me. The larger one came with my husband. He's a chef and that was part of his professional kit.

So naturally, which one do I use the most? The one designed for professionals of course! It's larger, heavier and requires less "oomph" when it comes to rolling pastry or cookie dough. The smaller one, had some sentimental value because it was my mums'. But she was the one who taught me, not to hold onto things which only collect dust.

I chose to hold onto the sentimental value of the lessons my mother taught me, and practice them, rather than hold onto the object.


In the end, the only things to be culled from my baking cupboard, was the rolling pin and two small, cake tins. I have other cake tins I prefer to use, and I decided for the blue moon occasions, I might use these, it wasn't worth keeping them permanently.

But sorting this cupboard, did have it's other benefits too!

The ugly

Namely, getting off all that crud which ends up on the floor of the cabinet. I'm sure it's not unhygienic - I've worked in bakeries with much more crud around, but it's still not a bad practice, to wipe it out, once in a while either.

First I swept it out with a dustpan and brush, then used miracle spray for clean-up. If you haven't heard of miracle spray, you make at home, you should try it. Easily removes those hard marks, like baking crud, or squished food on the floor. Peter has a thing for sultanas, and we always find one mooshed, somewhere.

The pretty

Afterwards though, my cupboard came out looking, brand new! Plus it smelled clean and fresh too. If nothing else, it was worth emptying the cupboard, just to do this job.

So maybe, not all room blitz, have to have a lot of things removed permanently. Sometimes, you just have to make the effort to clean the space, and reacquaint yourself with what's in your cupboards.

Baking paraphernalia ~ after

There's not a huge amount of difference between the before and after shots, of this baking cupboard. I made a few small changes. Like moving the grater up the top shelf. But it can easily be moved back down again, as the changing seasons, often dictate, what baking tins and trays I use the most.

If you have the luxury to be flexible (ie: space) then don't be afraid to change things as you need them. I'm sure my baking cupboard will continue to evolve, as my baking needs change too.

Ironically, the rolling pin, my mother gave me, was when she gave up making pastry and biscuits, once all her kids moved out of home.

The prettiest

To my delight, one of my kitchen drawers, came up sparkling clean, with a reshuffle and wipe out. I'm not normally one to get excited over shiny things, but this drawer full of sparkling utensils, surprised me. I would open the drawer, just to look at them!

It might seem silly, but I earned that little pleasure.

Kitchen today

So this is what my kitchen looks like now. A little more organised. Which makes me happy to look at, and to use.

But in the interests of full disclosure, I don't want people to think this all about making a kitchen look prettier. I mean, it's certainly nice when they are, but the whole point to a kitchen, is this...

Business end

Your kitchen is for making mess! Food mess! On this particular day, the dishwasher was holding my second load of washing, and I'd just finished, hand-washing the dishes from making jam too. If there's not dirty dishes to attend, then there's clean ones to put away! Always making more to put through the cycle. Again and again.

It took me two hours this morning, just to unload the dishes from the day before (both the dishwasher and the hand dishes on the sink) clean up from breakfast and feeding the chickens. Because I make mess, gathering the chicken scraps too! I will soon be messing it up again, by making fruit salad and quiche.

I hope this doesn't sound like a complaint. It's not. It's just explaining the reality of what a kitchen is supposed to look like. So when you see a nice photo in my kitchen, just know I made a tremendous amount of mess first. And another mess will come after that. There will always be cookie crumbs somewhere, a sticky patch on the floor, smudges on my cooking jars, and cobwebs in the corner. Hey, a spiders got to eat too!

Always in use

This recent blitz in my kitchen, wasn't about making a picture perfect kitchen. It was about making it as efficient as I could to work in. Just blink, and the mess returns. This recurring theme, often makes me wonder what kitchens of our grandparents and great-grandparents must have looked like, most of the time?

I remember visiting my grandparents in a cooler climate when young. They always had a pot of porridge, either soaking on the wood stove for the next morning, or holding one in the process of being consumed. There were always piles of dishes on the sink. There was never any clear spaces on the benches, for slabs of butter, bread bins and condiments sitting, waiting to be used.

There was meat in Eski's, sitting on the floor, waiting to be dealt with, to put in the freezer - after slaughter day. Fat sitting in pans or saucepans, waiting to be used for cooking or something else. While we should never feel ashamed for admiring a nice, clean kitchen - miraculously, if it's our own! But equally, we shouldn't feel ashamed if our kitchens looked used either. Because, certainly, that's what they're meant for.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Room Blitz - kitchen

I've decided I'm going to tackle one room per week, in an attempt to organise them better. The only reason I'm doing this is to make working in these individual rooms, more efficient. Nowhere is this more important, than in the kitchen! It's the one room families use THE MOST, because it contains the most storage areas, and the most electrical equipment, per square metre.

It also happens to be the hearth of our family's nutritional requirements. Making equipment readily available, therefore, is important. Especially when cooking a lot of things from scratch, or you're simply busy, and need to work fast.

Saturday 7 January - Day 1

This is our kitchen in all its unflattering glory. The island bench, doubles as a breakfast bar, and the area my son regularly likes to get creative with his stickers and colouring books. This may always be the case, but there are many things in this kitchen which can be organised better.

I started with one cupboard, and thought I would progressively work through each one. But as part of the sorting process, I inevitably ended up in other cupboards too. I suspect this is how it's going to work throughout this room.


This is my plastics and extra jars (for preserving) cupboard. This has already seen a cull a few years ago. It looks neat enough, but still not fun, pulling out items, just to reach the ones at the back. I'm always wondering if I'm missing something back there too.

It was easy enough to make decisions about what would go, in the beginning. First, get rid of all the lids from the containers which broke, or have simply gone missing. Second, get rid of all the things I don't really use. I've lived here ten years, and never used some of the items in the back. So they were easy enough choices to make.

Where it started to get harder though, was deciding what items I do use on a regular basis. Should any of those be culled? I had to go there, to answer that particular question.

Cookie cutters

I have a small collection of cookie cutters which I store in a dedicated plastic container. I don't use them regularly, but enough that I'd hate not having the option to use them. Especially at Christmas when I make my Gluten Free Gingerbread men.

But I had THREE gingerbread men cutters. The one in the picture is the medium size. I don't remember ever using this cutter though. It could find a new home, where they don't possess a gingerbread cutter at all. The other two plastic cutters I don't remember using either. Because I have a metal range which have a similar shape, but more appealing florets. So I always end up using those.

It was time to cull these three, from my collection, in order to migrate other cooking supplies into the same container. Sounds simple in summary, but involved quite a lot of evaluation through the process.

Glass jars

The other problem I had was deciding which preserving jars could go. They all had new lids, and the ones above, I intended to keep for when I grew an excess of asparagus or other long, root vegetables. Only my garden has never produced any of those, let alone an excess. Plus, I'd need a pressure cooker to preserve low acid foods, such as vegetables. I couldn't see me buying one of those soon.

By evaluating what I needed now, and used MOST (500ml and smaller) I could cull the others. It was a hard decision to make though. I didn't have a lot of tall jars (more than in the picture) but it was still saying goodbye to something which could one day, be useful. By getting rid of these jars however, I've made the jar cupboard a lot more accessible for the jars I DO use a lot of.

Fermenting Kombucha

These 2 litre jars, recycled from my husband's work, get used for making Kombucha and fermenting fruit peelings for vinegar. They can now be housed in my jar cupboard, rather than taking over the pantry to be stored. Even still, I had to cull these very useful (used regularly) jars too.

Organising for more efficiency, has become an exercise in deciding what level of excess is productive, and what level is collecting dust and taking up energy in the kitchen. It becomes a chore to get past those "excesses", when you'll never really use it all. While someone is going without, and could use it. So evaluate what you can realistically use, and pass on the rest to new homes.

On that note, if there are any locals who want some extra jars, just leave a comment.

 Practical, or is it?

Another item stored in my plastics cupboard, was ONCE a much used item. I purchased this cake holder, to store muffins, cookies and cake, many years ago. It would see the top of my kitchen counter, quite often - or cart goodies to the local playgroup, or some outing where they were required. Then something unexpected happened...

...I was given a more durable metal cake holder, from my In Laws, one Christmas. I didn't realise it, until I sorted through the plastics cupboard, that my once prized, cake holder, was no longer being used.

So that particular item will find a new home too. I have two cake holders in my house. Someone else, deserves the chance to own one. It's been kept in good condition and will be snapped up quickly at our local 2nd-hand shop.


I have a lot more space in my cupboard now it's been efficiently culled. What items I do have to remove now, to reach the back, are now less cumbersome. The fact I will use those items in the back regularly too, means I'll always know what's there. I didn't put anything back, which I don't use regularly. Efficiency requires, I use what I have and don't waste energy on what I don't use.

Like I said at the beginning though, tackling this cupboard, inevitably meant I ventured into other parts of the kitchen too.

Pantry - note the red apron

My pantry looks neat enough, but they're deep shelves and getting to the things in the back, requires a lot of double handling - because I have to remove the items at the front. This will always be the case, especially when I like to stockpile a few items we use the most.

I knew there were a few small improvements I could make however. Which all came about, through organising my first cupboard.

Using what I already had

I had previously stored my sachet packets (spices and samples) in those large green baskets. They were always falling over, every time I removed something larger from the basket. Plus extra packs of oats, crackers and wraps would always end up on top of those baskets - making accessing the tiny sachets underneath, a pain.

I found the clear plastic container, tucked in the back of my plastics cupboard. I think it was from an old fridge, which is now long gone. It's the perfect dedicated space, for the smallest items in my pantry. Which makes writing the shopping list more efficient too. I can now see what I have enough of and what needs replacing. I love my spices, for cooking delicious food!

Avoiding empty spaces

I also emptied all the excess packets from the pantry, into some of the empty jars I keep cooking ingredients in. Removing packets from the pantry, means there's less stuff to sift through, when finding items at the back.

There was one more thing I did however, to make organising, and accessing my pantry easier.

Out of the way

Remember how I stored the red apron, in the middle of the pantry shelves? It was annoying having to flick that thing out of the way, to see my ingredients. It was a simple matter of finding another adhesive hook though, like I used in this former kitchen storage post.

Oven mitts on hooks

The aprons (yes, they've multiplied) are now positioned opposite the oven mitts, inside the pantry doors. Aprons, oven mitts and a pantry of ingredients. Much more organised. Of course, there's always more I can do, but this was enough for one day.

There was another development which eventuated from the pantry improvements, however. A small, but handy solution.

Keep it together

As I sorted through the ingredients in the pantry, I found an old Muffin Cases container. I was using it to store smaller patty pans in. Those patty pans had been sitting there for years. I prefer Muffin cases (larger) now. So I discarded the few patty pan cases, and had a better use for the container.

In my drawer, where I store a few things like greaseproof paper, and markers for writing dates on preserves and fridge leftovers - I also had an assortment in the back, that were always moving up and down the drawer, whenever I opened it.

There were things like bottle caps (for re-corking glass bottles) coffee scoops and clips that came with the kid's drink bottles, but they don't like. I keep them in case they will ever come in handy. Small containers, within cupboards or drawers, make storing smaller item, easier. They don't end up migrating into the larger space. You also pull the whole container out to find your items. Pour them onto the bench to sort through.

I hope I'll have more progress to share, by next Saturday - when my week's up!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Crack one open

Since the rainwater tank project, Christmas and New Years came in such close succession to each other, I've been taking a well earned break. I was feeling a little burned out and didn't want to have to contemplate big things for a while. And the beginning of a new year, is pretty big.

I've been reading in other blogs, how goals were being set for the year. Which is brilliant, but I just hadn't reached that mental place, for myself yet. Maybe in a week or two?

Large egg (top left) from parent hen, the rest are pullet eggs

A good place to pick up for this year, is the arrival of new eggs! Compliments of our new pullets, we hatched back in late August. It's been many years since we hatched eggs, and I forgot what the ideal number to incubate was. I started with 20 eggs, and ended up with 15 chicks. Too many for our meagre accommodations for them. I'll have to revise that number down to a dozen in future.

"Mumble", facing camera (RIP)

Sadly, one suddenly passed due to complications from their head injury (birth defect). But even 14 turned out to be too many. The small chicken tractor I resurrected, was quickly outgrown by the little scratchers.

It was increasingly becoming a problem, the older they were, to keep the tractor in the same place for just ONE day. They quickly fowled it and weren't able to graze for more than an hour. So it became imperative to decide another plan.

Poor man's patch job

Resurrect Middle Ridge chicken coop! Only it was partially demolished, with intentions to turn it into something else. Well the bones would have to do for now, so we purchased extra shade cloth to go over the top again. It was about 20cms too short, on either side, and the hens eventually figured out how to fly out the gap.

It wasn't really safe to keep them in overnight, so we let them in the run during the day, and they gladly toddled to their old tractor, for lock up, at night.

Don't mind the jungle!

We placed the chicken tractor, close to the coop door, so at dusk we could open it, and they put themselves to bed in the tractor.

This too worked for a time, until they out grew the tractor. With Christmas approaching, and hens still able to escape the coop during the day, we needed to secure the coop properly. Just so we could leave, and not worry a neighbour's dog, fox or wedge-tail eagle, might make a meal of them.

Hiding the hole, where the "permanent" iron, use to be

What a glorious and ugly patchwork job, that turned out to be. We didn't have time, let alone money to buy anything to do the job. So we scrounged bits of everything which didn't have a permanent purpose yet. From old guinea-pig cage parts, to ancient chicken feed bags, and even heavy pieces of steel we somehow managed to acquire. That's an old chicken perch too, which rotted at the base.

Thankfully we still have chicken mesh up to that orange conduit pipe. Which you can't exactly see. Much like the additional chicken mesh, I had to add above the pipe, to cover that gap the hens were flying through. But now they all live in Middle Ridge permanently.

During all this however (in such close quarters) we realised some of the roosters had to go. I was surprised how quickly these roosters matured. Some began crowing before 10 weeks.

 Blurry picture of the last rooster

Maybe I'll write another post about roosters, but for now, all but one, has been dispatched. Even his days are numbers now too. Limited space with maturing roosters meant, we had to cull many before they even reached a table worthy size. But they made excellent tree fertiliser, so have returned to the land they grew up on. I know that sounds harsh, but so is overstocking a flock with too many roosters, in limited space. The hens only have so far they can run.

Out of the 14 chicks we raised, only 5 turned out to be roosters though. Leaving us with 9 hens! That was quite a surprise. So were some of the features, which came out in the mixed genes.

Motley crew

We got 3 pure white hens, some which looked like regular ISA Browns, and do you notice the missing tail on the hen above? She has a pekin tail, which is a breed I've kept before. The presence of pekin genes, would also explain the feathered legs which appeared on some of the roosters too. So there are definitely some interesting genes in this mix.

Bantam pekin hens, I kept a long time ago

We even got some that looked like a ginger Australorp (the one feeding on the grapes, 2nd image above). We did have an old black, Australorp hen, who wasn't laying much at the time I was collecting eggs to incubate. But I'm sure, with some of the black hackles which have developed in some hens, a few of her eggs must have snuck in.

Unfortunately, she has now passed, as did her sister - Matriarch.

 Guarding her new friend

Matriarch was the one we had to let free range, outside the coop, because her sister had outed her from the new flock, we introduced. She was relentlessly pecked for doing anything, So free ranging daily, it was! Matriarch even became very protective of a visiting Brush Turkey chick, which naturally doesn't have parents from birth. They have to fend for themselves. It was sad when she passed. There are some hens which stand out from the rest. Matriarch was one of those.

But I'm not as sentimental as I used to be. When you are exposed to so many animals passing, or intentionally culled, you realise they carry on, in the landscape regardless. Whether they get buried under a new seedling tree, or they feed you in some other way, they go on to serve another purpose. Those turkey chicks are now fully grown, and I'm reminded of Matriarch, whenever they pass through the yard.

 One egg, two yolks

One eventuality I wasn't expecting though, is how one of the new hens is a regular, double-yolk, egg layer. It will become an issue when incubating eggs, next time. Double-yolkers don't tend to survive incubation, as there isn't enough room for two chicks to grow in the same egg. I was considering, only hatching a dozen eggs next time, but I may have to increase the numbers to compensate for the double-yolk, egg layer.

If you're wondering why we didn't properly prepare accommodations BEFORE incubating eggs - we "intended" to build accommodation straight away. Which I did with the chicken tractor (phase one, for growing chicks out) but when it came to building something bigger, our new rainwater tank project went over schedule by two months! That's eight weeks we could have been preparing chicken accommodation.

We just weren't anticipating how big the tank project, or time consuming it would be. But alls well that ends well, I guess. We're happy to see our recent additions, starting to lay now. We do have plans to upgrade Hilltop chicken coop again. But more about that, another time.

I hope the new year brings my readers, something to look forward to. Even if it's just a little time to recuperate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Useful things

I've been pondering the great ponder, when one gets a repetitious item through consumerism. Somewhat out of necessity too. I'm talking about onion bags. Those plastic nylon nets when buying in bulk. I've kept several over the years, always with that question, what on earth can I do with them? 

Well today, that question has been answered...

I've turned them into weights, to help pull down new growth of my avocado tree. Those shoots are heading for the sky, and I don't want that. I want to be able to reach the avocados, rather than needing a ladder. So the shoots which grew after pruning my tree last winter, are now being weighed down with my recycled onion bags. They have to be used on green flexible growth, in order to train them before they harden off.

Of course there's more to it than onion bags...but not much more.

This was a large onion bag, about 5-8kgs worth, but you could use the 2 or 1kg onion bags too. Because it was a long, large onion bag though, I cut it in half. The top had a draw string, already built in, so I just tied a knot to seal the base. Then I added however many rocks I needed - sealing it with some leftover twine from a bale of Lucerne. (Note: cut length of twine in half, to go the distance between both bags).

Finally, another knot was tied, to make a large loop in the twine (see above).

This loop has to be big enough, so you can pass the bag of rocks through it. You select the place on the branch you want to weigh down, then simply pass the bag through the loop, and slip it into place. Gravity does the rest!

This requires some experimentation for where you'll place the bag, and also how much weight is inevitably placed in them too.

Because the aim is to bend the shoot, without actually splitting it. Which is why you gently let the onion bag down, once attached to the shoot. If you hear any cracking sounds, you might have to move the bag, lower down the shoot, or reduce how many rocks are in the bag.

Weighing down, upper shoots, or even lateral branches, helps keep fruit within reach. A bit of applied stress to the branch, also increases the strength of it to cope with a glut of fruit. Especially useful with trees which are prone to glut.

This is a lower branch of the same tree, which already has a natural bend in it. No artificial weights were applied by me. This is the lower branch's attempt to reach sunlight, from competition with the upper canopy. So avocado trees, are good specimens for training into more manageable sizes.

Some training is required for this tree, because it isn't in a desirable location. It's sitting on top of a retaining wall, so it's roots can only spread so far for nourishment and stability. By reducing the height and deliberately training the upper branches to grow downwards (through applied weights) I'm helping the tree survive it's limited growing space.

This can be done with any kind of tree, with flexible new growth, and tends to put forth gluts of fruit. Apple trees come to mind, so does any kind of stone fruit tree. I'm sure there are other uses for onion bags. Have you discovered any?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Buns and Candy-stripes

This morning, I pulled some more fruit buns from the oven. The weather cooled sufficiently enough, to be able to bake in the morning again. The kids will have a few today, now school holidays have started, and my husband will get the rest. I like to freeze them individually, and he can grab them for his lunch.

Afterwards, I continued knitting my candy-stripe, dishcloth. T'is the season for candy-stripes, right? But it came about more because I wanted to use up a ball of cotton, which I purchased from a second-hand store, many moons ago.

It was a case of seizing the opportunity, and not realising until I got it home, that I don't really like pink. Don't ask me how "white" cotton for my candy-stripe, ended up in my collection either. I must have thought it a good buy at the time.

In an effort to use up my supplies, instead of letting them collect cobwebs, year after year, I decided I could have a least one, candy-stripe dishcloth, as I am busy replenishing my supply. It means a lot of weaving-in ends, changing colours all the time, but at least I get to use up two colours, I may not have appreciated on their own.

Pink is not my thing, but making dishcloths are. I can't remember when exactly, I started making them (I estimate 8 years) but I know I only have to replenish my supply of dishcloths, every two years or so. I've always made the waffle knit dishcloth, from Homespun Living.

Only I modify mine, using 4 ply cotton now, and number 9 needles. I still use the same number of stitches though. It means I get a smaller cloth, but it fits perfectly over the sink faucet, and it doesn't hurt my hands to squeeze out. I found I struggled with the larger cloth, knitted with 8 ply cotton.

The other brilliant thing about using 4 ply cotton though, is the cloth dries really quickly in summer. Meaning no time for it to grow smelly or mouldy. If I haven't been writing much, it's because my knitting needles, are busy clicking in the background instead.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tanks for the ride

So the plumber came to plumb in our new tank, on the first day predicted for a heatwave. Friday. Fortunately, we registered 2 degrees less, than the maximum temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. But STILL, a very hot day to be working all day in the sun.

I was sure to check on him a few times, in the six hours he took to finish the job. Just to make sure he hadn't passed out. I also offered cool drinks if required. But he came prepared. I still had to ask though.

Trench for the underground pipe

The last job we had to get done, before he arrived, was to dig the trench for the return line, up to our existing tank, and pump. He explained, both tanks would be drawn from, at the same time. Which was meant to be better for the tanks, than emptying one at a time. The plastic walls should have less chance of sagging inwards, as the water levels in both tanks, drop together.

Temporary solutions

As we were waiting days for the plumber, with trenches in the ground, we had to prepare for the possibility of rain. Which we DID receive. More about that soon. So we had to install a temporary hose in the overflow pipe of the old tank. Which is the black plastic you see.

Next to it, is a couple of old 2x4's used as a temporary bridge. It was much safer crossing a sturdy surface, than stepping over a large gap in sometimes soft, terrain. But what about that rain we received?

Outlet brass fitting

It was quite a big storm, and the trenches filled. The above picture was taken before the storm. It was on the day the tank was lowered into it's final resting place. Can you see where this is going? Trenches, water flowing and an open hole into the tank, at trench level.

I bet you can guess we had some soil deposited near the brass outlet? It didn't enter the tank, thankfully. It spilled onto the blue crusher dust though. I bet you couldn't guess that somehow, a thin veneer of water in the hole, was able to shift an empty, 450kg tank? Well, I certainly didn't believe it when I first saw it. The brass outlet fitting, that was facing centre of the trench (above) shifted, to face the edge of the trench instead.

Temporary protection

I was too busy trying to fix it the next day, to get photographs, but this is what it looked like afterwards. I had to reposition the trench (as seen by the darker soil) so the brass fitting, was centre of the trench again. And as we had several more days to wait for the plumber, with more rain predicted, I rigged up a piece of board and log, to seal the brass fitting. It would also stop any water and silt, caught in the trench, draining into the hole the tank was sitting in.

We did get another rain event, but it wasn't as much as the first. So not a lot of silt travelled, and thankfully, the empty tank didn't move again.

Trench to pump

Back to the trenches though. Once our long trench passed the two tanks, and went up the hill, we curved it around to the pump. Our reliable Onga pump, has been going since 2007. It had a small repair early in the piece, but was covered under warranty. It has been running faithfully ever since.

You can see the bricks we had to install, under the pump, after our first big rain event. There's a reason for that. A lot of water escaped the tank through the inspection hole, just above the pump. It subsequently washed the soil out, and left the pump hanging only by it's copper pipe. Having a plinth of bricks go under ground, would help prevent this, should the soil wash away again.

Here is a picture of how it happened.

 December 2007

The roof of the tank is not meant to be that round! This was a result of dodgy plumbers, hired by our building company. There are two very specific reasons this happened, and could have been prevented. Firstly, there were two pipes going into the tank (from the roof of our house) and only one pipe to allow excess water, to escape a full tank.

In other words, too much going in and not enough pipe to let the excess water out. The pressure mounted and the water naturally burst through, where it could.

Outlet pipes connecting tanks

Our new plumber helped to solve this problem, by installing two pipes into the new tank, subsequently matching the amount of water entering from the roof. The plumber also installed an expansion joint in the overflow pipes. So as the new tank settles, it has a little leeway to move without affecting the pipes.

The second reason our old rainwater tank, risked bursting at the seams in big rain events, was the kind of overflow fitting, the plumbers used on the outlet pipe. This outlet pipe is designed to allow excess water to escape a full tank. Dodgy plumbers & Co, installed a fixed outlet pipe. Meaning, we couldn't remove the wire mesh, to prevent mosquitoes accessing the tank.

 Picture taken, June 2016
we previously rigged a temporary pipe to take water away 
from the base of the old tank

Why would we want to remove the mesh preventing mosquitoes access? So all those plastic shavings inside the tank, as a result of the plumbers drilling holes into it, could escape.

All those filings were blocking the outlet pipe from draining at full speed. Cheap and nasty plumbing solutions. There should have been a removable mesh cap on the overflow pipe.

 New inspection joint

Needless to say, when our new plumber provided a different solution, when he came to quote, he got the job straight away. He was going to install a little device in the overflow pipe, which would allow us to clean the outlet pipe, of all the plastic filings he'd put into the tank. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

In the outlet pipe, there are removable mesh caps, above and below. They are easy to remove and more importantly, ensure that any overflow water, once both tanks are full, won't be blocked by plastic shavings. It's our job to remove the wire mesh, and clear it - especially the first time it overflows.

We still need to backfill at rear

Look what a professional job he did though. Not only is the overflow pipe going underground, and won't be released some 3 meters away from the base of the tank, but he also provided a plastic black box, for the tap and valve to be housed safely.

 Access box to main valve

The pipe coming out of the tank, has a return valve, so the tank should never run dry and put air bubbles into the pump. When that happens, you have to re-prime the pump again. Which our friendly plumber showed me how to do, even though it was 38 degrees Celsius and he installed a return valve, so I shouldn't have that problem anyway.

He installed the return valve as a precaution, as he wasn't going to assume the plumbers who installed the first tank, installed a return valve. The first tank was partly buried, and from what pipes he had to access underground, he couldn't see a return valve. They could have put it lower down, but from where he had to access, he couldn't see it.

Technically, they should have installed a return valve, but he was rightly protecting his own workmanship, by ensuring any additions he plumbed in, wouldn't run into that problem, if the former plumbers didn't do their job properly. Which is really a sign of a professional, who takes their own workmanship seriously.

Water outlet, released down hill

Another feature, which won him the job with us, was taking the overflow water away from the base of the tank. Three metres away (all underground), and he even installed a grate so nothing could get in. The soil you can see on the grate box, was from the last storm. It came the very next day, and even though the plumber had installed everything the day before - he didn't have a spare grate in his truck.

He promised to pop around, the next day (a Saturday) on his way to a family gathering, to glue it on for us. He literally beat the storm, only by a few minutes.

I was really impressed with his workmanship, and ability to explain every step of the process. The fact we were doing the earthworks, ensured he had to explain various features, so we could implement the correct work. However, he made sure we understood all the pieces we weren't involved with either. If you're a local, then I can't recommend Ken Ball Plumbing, highly enough.

Backfilling crusher dust

One last job for us to do now, is finish backfilling the tank with crusher dust. And of course, because we love to garden, some new plants around the tanks. There will be rhyme and reasons for our selections of plants, which I look forward to sharing another time.

While the recent storm we received, wasn't able to fill both tanks, it did give us extra water to shift to the emptier tank. We were advised the tank should be at least a third full, before commencing backfilling. This ensures it won't be moved by any pressure we exert against it, dumping more crusher dust.

So, yay! Most of the incredibly hard yards and uncertainty about the second tank, have been settled. If you're interested in the numbers, here's the breakdown:

  • Tank on sale, including delivery  - $2,450
  • Plumber (labour, parts, travel)    - $1,560
  • Crusher dust (supply, delivery)    - $   300
  • Compactor hire (half a day)        - $     65
                                                   Total - $4,375

Which works out at 81 cents per gallon, or 21 cents per litre.

Before there were trenches, there was a hole to dig

Doing the earthworks ourselves, using only manual tools, saved us from $1,000 and possibly more. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the plumbers comments, after he installed the overflow pipes, between both tanks. He used his spirit level and said they were spot on, level. Coming from a professional, that meant a lot to us. We did our best to get them even, and spent extra time making it so, but to hear that confirmation, unprompted, was reassuring.

Perhaps we're not just a couple of crazy people, who like to suffer unusual punishment, digging relentlessly for months! Maybe it gives us a sense of satisfaction, after all the money gets exchanged, that we weren't just consumers shafted to the sidelines of our purchase. We've been honing skills, ever so gradually, over the years, and we hope to put them to good use in other projects in future too.

But for and gratitude.