Watts Clever


I just received a set of these "Watts Clever" plugs that were ordered of eBay seller benjeroo610.

At $33 for the set I think they are a great idea. You can add one of the sockets to each of your energy hungry devices or power boards and then turn them all on or off with a remote control.

The really great thing about the remote is that it operates with a radio frequency rather than using infrared so it will work around your entire house. After I ordered this I saw Mitre 10 selling something similar but I haven't tried their one.

I stumbled onto this unit when I was looking for a way to turn on water pumps for the Aquaponics system using a microcontroller (Netduino) as a smart timer. I didn't want to play around with 240 volt switching but all of the mains power switches that could be controlled using low voltages were built for American 120 volt appliances.

The WC device works on a common frequency that is simple to make use of to allow a program to remotely control mains power outlets.

Greg Rutter

Mt Verpoovius


This is what 10 cubic meters of cow poo looks like. This load was split between a few people but I later put the same amount again onto the lawn to try and build some life into the sterile suburban ground that I started with. The pile became lovingly known to my neighbours as Mt Verpoovius.

Make sure that when you are having your mountain of poo delivered that you place it downwind of your neighbours. I though it was quite a pleasant earthy smell but not everyone has such cultured tastes.

I also added about 100 hay bales which were cheaply available from a farmer near where I live and several trailer loads of free, shovel it yourself, horse manure from the Yeppoon racecourse.

The ground in the orchid area has gone from being rock hard to having a really organic spongy feel to it.

I have been letting the grass grow high and then slashing it down and the volume of material in the soil has increased substantially.

 Greg Rutter

Kitchen Barn Door

My sisters husband Andrew has been visiting most weekends with the kids and helping me get a lot of work done in the house and yard. It is so much easier to do a lot of heavy or fiddly jobs with another person around to help.

One of the things that we are trying to do is make modifications to channel the dogs into certain areas and leave the rest of the house as a people and cat zone only. Sheppy tracks a lot of dirt into the house and he is so much bigger than the children that he keeps accidentally injuring them when he tries to play.

We are using toddler gates in some places to block access but on the weekend Andrew made the suggestion that we cut the dividing door in two and make a swinging stable gate.

This seemed like a great idea as it separates the sections but also lets the dogs still see people and feel part of what is happening. I spend most of my time when I am at home with them or in the yard working on the garden so they don't feel too left out.

The bottom half of the door kept the original hinges and door handle and Andrew added magnetic latches, new hinges and handles to the top half. It all came  together really well.


It needs a coat of paint now and we were going to do the same cream as the rest of the house but I have been thinking that it could look really good with a warm feature colour.

Greg R

Mad Max wind power!

I was at a lawn to lunch meeting recently and Alison showed me some photos of a wind turbine that Frank had built from some old truck parts and a washing machine motor.

It’s an early version that is putting out about 150 watts and is being used to charge the water pumps batteries.

Not all washing machine motors can be used for power generation but you can commonly find usable motors in smart drive systems such as the Fisher and Paykel models and many LG washers. There are lots of instructions on the web about how to wire these motor correctly to allow you to generate 12 or 24 volt outputs.

I think Alison's one is an awesome reuse of recyclable parts although the weight of the axle and differential used may be bleeding a lot of power from the unit.

In this case the turbine generates enough power for it’s intended purpose and cost little to build so the end result is an excellent solution.

I was at the dump recently and there was a F and P washer sitting in the recycle section. I had a chat to the guy working there and he let me take it away for the princely sum of $5 dollars so building a wind turbine has now found it’s way onto my extensive to-do list!

Greg Rutter

TT - The Gap


I was in Brisbane a few months back and had the pleasure of meeting Chris and Joan W who are involved in the organization committee behind The Gap transitional towns movement.

Chris and Joan have been involved in sustainable practices for a number of years and I was very excited to see a number of very interesting adaptions that they had incorporated into their own lives and into their house.

Chris has connected up the house with alternative 12 volt wiring and outlets. LED lighting fixtures were strategically placed throughout the house and outlets were positioned in places that made them accessible for use with major appliances.

The entire 12 volt system was built very economically with standard multimeter's fixed into position to measure the voltage and current draw and a small bank of salvaged batteries from UPS  (uninterruptible power supplies) devices that received a charge from PV panels on the roof.

The outlets are different to 240 volt types which avoids any confusion for someone who is unfamiliar with the use of 12 volt power systems in a house.

Chris told me that there have been several times when there have been power outages in their street or suburb and they didn't find out about it until later as all the electrical appliances that are important to them just keep ticking along.

 I had a ride on this electric bike that Chris built using a conversion kit from Oatley Electronics.

The bike uses a hub mounted style motor and runs off a small battery mounted on the back.

At first when I started peddling I couldn't really feel the effect of the motor but as it built up momentum you could really notice the improvement that it offers when you want to travel up a hill.

Australian laws on electric bike motor wattage's are really restrictive and I believe that if the government ever decided to limit e-bikes by using speed governors as many other countries have done rather then by enforcing crippling wattage limitation then this will become a fabulously popular form of transportation.
 
Home made solar oven
Solar oven side view


 Around two sides of the house including over the entire verandah, Chris and Joan have made use of this magnificent passion-fruit arbor that has made a substantial impact on the ambient temperature on the inside and around the edges of the house.

The difference in temperature on the verandah was very noticeable and removed the need for any artificial cooling to be provided on the day that I was there.

I also took a trip out to the permaculture gardens in The Gap which is part of the work being done by members of the transition group. This garden is only a short walk up the road from where I use to live when I was in Brisbane and it was interesting to see how much the community there was starting to move behind these grass roots actions.

Greg Rutter

New Tanks

I have had a few tanks hanging around for a while waiting for me to have time to plumb them in for special projects. The tank on the left has been sitting on my front lawn for months while I worked out where to put it. On the weekend Charlie and his daughter helped me move it into the backyard so that I could give it a good clean out with the pressure washer and get it ready to go into its final position.

I picked this tank up for free from a local plumber who had been commissioned by a client to get rid of it. The tank has a lot of problems not least of which is the huge crack along the floor that you can stick your arm through, also with the lid removed there is very little rigidity and it is going to need reinforcing before it is strong enough to take the water that will be added to it.

I feel a lot more confident repairing fiberglass tanks after having finished the redclaw tank on the left. This had it's own set of problems when I got it but scrubbed up really well with a new layer of fiberglass on the base, a smooth white gel coat over the interior surfaces and a couple of coats of UV resistant paint on the outside.

 I will also be repairing the base on this new tank and will give it an internal gel coat as well. In order to increase the rigidity I am going to rivet some steel bands around the circumference and then put a layer of fiberglass over the bands.

De-chlorination tank
I decided to put the new tank at the back of the sheds open area. My brother in law and I moved out the existing 3000 liter de-chlorination tank and repacked everything with the large tank at the back. I was surprised how well everything fitted and still allowed easy access, I also saved money by not having to put down another slab.


 I have had the big cray tank covered up for the last week and the algae has largely cleared up. The water is starting to go the colour of weak tea which I have always found to be a good sign that conditions in the tank are starting to normalize.  I really have to come up with a better solution for a tank cover but as the tarps and old blankets that cover it now are a bit of an eyesore. I will try and make something up during the next holidays, the wooden deck on the main perch tank looks good so I will probably just copy that.

Geoff and Llyn dropped off some grow beds that they no longer have space for and they fitted perfectly next to the redclaw tank. I still need to plumb them in and decide what to add. Llyn and I will have to chat about what we are growing so we can put in different plants and share them around.
Greg Rutter

Hydroponic Vegetables

Raised Hydroponic beds made out of Trampoline frames, wood and fiberglass




I am back at work and the rain is showing no signs of abating for at least another week so I am not getting much of a chance to get out into the yard. Nicci and Andrew are coming down on the weekend to help move some rubbish and put some welded gates up but its will probably be too wet to do much else. 

Seedlings
The job that I am really itching to do is get stuck into fiber glassing the raised hydroponic grow beds. When I built the first test bed I only put down one layer of fiberglass and didn't add a gel coat. 

This was my first FG project and it was a bit messy but it has been functional and the bed designs are getting better.

As soon as the weather clears I want to add another reinforcing layer of fiberglass around all of the corners of the boxes and then give them a white gel coating. I trialled using plastic sheeting but it wasn't very practical so I will be redoing all the boxes with a FG water seal.

First experiments in Hydro Greens
The idea of using large raised hydro-beds came to me a couple of years ago when I was trying to find a way of increasing the planting density of leafy green vegetables in one of my existing hydro systems. I was originally planting seeds into the beds and then waiting 4 to 8 weeks for the plants to grow. The problem that I saw was that the bed space was being taken up for that entire period even through it was only the last 20% of the growout time that needed lots of growing space. The other 80% of the time the greens would stay confined to a very small area.

Experiments in whole pot transfer
I tried an experiment where instead of direct sowing the grow-bed gravel, I planted the seeds into pots and then planted the pots into the gravel beds. This worked really well and I trialled different sized pots in an attempt to work out how close I could cluster them together. 

Really small planters did work but the leaves failed to form a thick ball. When I tried a slightly larger pot the results were much better. Drilling some holes in the plastic also helps to let the roots out but this also means you have to be careful when transplanting the pots when a larger growing space is required as you might damage the root structure.
Spare Pots

Specialized Hydro growing pots are naturally well designed for this purpose but were relatively expensive when I looked into them. I was able to get large numbers of standard pots for almost nothing through the dump recycling center in Yeppoon so I chlorinated these and continue to use them as such a lot of of them are needed.

There are 4 large 6 square meter grow-beds in the yard and each bed can hold between 200 and 400 plants. Depending on the type of vegetables that you plant, the grow out time is about 4 to 8 weeks which means that 4 beds can produce enough vegetables to meet the needs of an average to large sized family.

Cabbage Seedlings
The only really serious problem that I have had using this growing method is infestation from cabbage moths. The first experimental planting that I did consisted of 300 Bok Choi plants which fully grew out to large, beautiful vegetables. I came outside the morning after deciding that they were ready to pick and found that the entire lot had been decimated in one night by tiny green caterpillars.

To me the pest problem is a nuisance that can really give you a headache but when I look at this, all I can see is the incredible success that can be made on the path to food self sufficiency if the problems can be ironed out. 

Some people use Dipel on their greens which is very effective and is considered to be an organic pesticide as it is based on the naturally occurring BT bacteria. This is something that I might start using if I haven't been successful at eradicating the caterpillar scourge by next year.

At the moment I am trying exclusion pest netting that I bought from Green Harvest and I am putting in some light traps to control the moths.



Greg R

Bathtub Alley

Aquaponics Bathtubs
I have had a couple of weeks holiday and it has given me the chance to get through a lot of jobs that have been piling up.

The yard has been broken up into 7 zones with different purposes and I am trying to work my way through one zone at a time as working on the whole lot was beginning to overwhelm me. I want each zone to act like a room and have some degree of screening or separation from the others.

There are 12 bathtubs going into this zone which are plumbed up to allow the water to recirculate from a 7000 liter fish tank around and back to a collection sump made from 2 large cast iron tubs.

The growing tubs are supported on rock block pillars that are filled with cement and reinforced internally with scrap steel bars. Under each pillar I cast a large cement block to create a stable platform.

I was really worried that the tubs wouldn't be able to hold the weight of the gravel when supported just on the their ends so I tested one of them for a couple of weeks and it held up well. The tubs have been in for 8 months now and there has not been any obvious signs of stress.

Aquaponic Bathtubs Supporting the tubs from the sides would be a preferable means of support but doing it this way allows them to be placed along the fence line with very little space wasted. I wouldn't do this with fiberglass tubs and haven't tried it with cast iron tubs so I don't know how they would go.

I am now adding a timber facade to the tubs to make them look more attractive and give me some extra storage places for pots and PVC pipes. They will eventually be painted the same cream colour as the house and shed.

This wooden framing is blatant plagiarism of the excellent work that Bill M did on his Aquaponics System. Bill was kind enough to give me some pointers when I started. There are access hatches with removable panels to allow maintenance of the internal plumbing.

Aquaponic BathtubsThe paneling is just made of garden edging timber from Mitre 10 and works out at about $1 a meter. It works well for this purpose but shouldn't be bought until you are ready to use it as it has a tendency to warp very quickly if it isn't stacked properly and kept dry.

Once it has been screwed into place there isn't a problem and any shrinkage is uniform and looks quite good.

There is one pump in the sump tank that turns on for 15 minutes every hour. It is a large 100 watt pond pump so it is only drawing 25 watts an hour which puts little strain on the houses solar panels.

The tank currently has 100 Jade and Silver perch in it including a few very large ones (about 5 years old) that were given to me by Graham F. These fish were originally part of Central Queensland Universities Aquaculture program and were given to Graham when they finished with them. Graham has had them for the last couple of years and gave them to me when he moved. I wont be eating these big fish and will keep them as pets. I also have a theory that the reason people have difficulty breeding perch in tanks is that their stock are so young.

I have been told that perch do breed in dams and have read somewhere that they may react to a change in temperature, rise in water level and the scent that comes from dried grass washing into the water ways that trigger their breeding activity. I have no idea if any of that is true so if you have some hard facts please make at a comment to this post and let us all know!

There are also 50 fingerlings that Geoff and Llyn S gave me yesterday when they moved into town. They don't live to far from me so it was a good way for Llyn to put the fish somewhere where she can watch them grow up.

Aquaponic BathtubsI originally covered the surface of the tank in duckweed when there wasn't any fish in there but have covered it up with tarps to stop the algae from growing. Eventually I will find a more attractive cover for the tank.








When the weather starts to warm up I will be adding redclaw to the tank. They shouldn't have any problems cohabitation with the perch and I will make sure that they have lots of structure for them to hide in. Jade and Silver perch generally won't bother crayfish and are more interested in the vegetation and pellets that are added to the tanks.

I am trying to make the yard as easily maintainable as possible and have been putting in cement edging that I can wippersnip up to. I am also building some boxes that will go around the fruit trees in the orchard/permaculture zone  and have been getting my sisters children to paint them.

The boxes will be back filled with soil and manure and beneficial insect attracting flowers will be planted into them. A future project is to build a top bar beehive so getting the flowers established now will help the hive out later on.









Greg Rutter

June Meeting

IMG_2598Denis sent me a copy of these photos from the June L2L meeting at Bill and Colleen’s place.

Situated on a very well maintained 3 acres in Barmaryee, Bill and Colleen have been working on their own little patch of paradise for the last few years.
IMG_2608


Bill has been experimenting with wicking beds over the past year and has a number of very large and highly productive systems in place.

In addition to the wicking beds there is an aquaponic system installed with several Jade perch and a grove of different fruit trees.

Bill makes use of free mulch from the council and says that it has gone a long way to improving the quality of the garden.


IMG_2603
IMG_2599IMG_2610

Another main attraction is the beautiful wood fired oven that Bill built and which gave us a wonderful pizza lunch on the day.


I also liked the flock of different chicken varieties with their iridescent plumage, there was a mix of game birds and more common domestic birds.




Greg Rutter

LawnToLunch.com

When we first started Lawn to Lunch a couple of years ago Gwen and I tried to get the domain name LawnToLunch.com but unfortunately were not able to as it had already been taken by someone else who wasn’t making use of it at the time.

A month ago I started receiving emails from a number of different people saying that the domain name was becoming available and enquiring as to whether I wanted to buy it. I ignored all the emails as they were asking too much for it.

I stopped receiving these emails a few days ago so I checked the availability status of the domain and found that the previous owners had let it laps so I registered it for the group. I still need to redirect it to the new Blogger account but once done visitors will be able to find the link through the .ORG and .COM domains.

I am really glad that we got this name as I always have to stress to people that it is .org when they ask the address and then hope they remember as most people find it unusual.

Greg R

Bulk fish food

 Fish food can be one of the more expensive components of operating a large aquaponics setup and ways of cutting the cost of food and producing your own food generates a lot of discussion on the Aquaponics forums.  When I first put in a tank I ordered a 20kg sack of food from a Brisbane retailer which cost about $60. The problem with doing this was that it became clear that the cost of freight added to this was going to make food purchasing an expensive option.

The third time that I rang up to make an order curiosity got the better of me and I asked what the bulks sizes of food delivery cost. The sales man told me that they could provide pellets in half ton or full ton pallet deliveries. I got all of the details and said said I would call back later after I thought about it.

I went looking for information on the net about how long feed pellets last and rang a friend who runs a commercial Barra farm to pick her brains. She she told me that she had once bought a ton of feed and put it in a feed bin in her shed but that it only lasted about 8 months.

The comments on the net were similar which was a problem as I needed the food to last about 3 years to make it worth while.

Some more research led me on to the idea of vacuum sealing food in Mylar.

This is a method of long term storage that can be done at home without any special equipment, you just add the food you want to store, throw in a couple of oxygen absorbers and then use a house hold vacuum cleaner to suck all of the air out of the bag before sealing it with a clothes iron.

Finding the bags wasn't as easy as I thought it would be but, although being a very common method of storage in the United States the bags didn't seem to be as readily available in Australia.

I ended up ordering some through Ebay and had them shipped here at a cost of around $3 per 20kg sack.

Packing was a simple process, I made sure that I put a pump filter sock over the end of the vacuum cleaner so that it didn't suck any of the pellets out and then started transferring the feed from the original bags to the mylar.

There were a couple of tricks that I quickly discovered. The first is that the seal on the bottom of the bags is only about a cm away from the bottom edge which means that if you move these large bags too roughly then the seal can break and the bag will depressurise. This was easily fixed by running the clothes iron along the bottom before adding feed to give the bag a good 10 cm of seal which seemed to hold well. Care was still needed when relocating the sacks but it seemed to work well.

Another thing I found was that the top of the sacks have an envelope type fold and after being ironed shut didn't hold a perfect seal. This is can be avoided however by pressing the edges of the bag true against each other rather then using the folded seals, this method has held a good vacuum seal for the last 18 months.

After the feed is added to the bag open a pack of O2 absorbers that come with the mylar bags and throw a couple onto the top of the feed. Seal most of the top of the bag with a clothes iron but leave space to put the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner into the bag. Once all the air has been removed, quickly remove the nozzle and seal the last part of the bag. It should now be rock hard and can be date stamped with a marker pen and moved to a storage location.

If any of the bags lose their hardness within a few days you can reseal them but I just use those ones up first and leave the best sealed ones to last. Storing the bags inside PVC buckets is a good idea if you have a rodent problem in your storage area. I often pick up second hand buckets from the Farmers coop for a few dollars each, they normally have had a food stuff like yogurt in them previously and are easy to clean. Bucket storage makes them easy to move around as well.

I have had the bags stored for 18 months now and the quality of feed has been excellent in each bag that I have opened and I have so far only opened the worst sealed ones with the best seals being left to last.

The total cost of feed, delivery and mylar storage adds up to about $50 per sack which is more then $30 dollars a sack cheaper then it would have cost me to buy the feed one sack at a time.

Greg Rutter



Vote!

When we first setup the old L2L site, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to add a poll to find out what was driving people to take a greater interest in self sufficiency and food gardening.

When I talk to people everyone seems to have a different reason for catching the grow it yourself bug whether it be to cut down on the grocery bills or bring their street closer together with a community garden on their verge etc.

The problem was that there are so many good reasons to get involve and they all make sense! Well I made one big mistake with the old poll which was to add a final option at the end for "All of the above" and surprise, surprise everyone ticked that leaving us all non the wiser as to what really is driving this new urban food movement.

So now we have given the L2L digital stomping ground a face lift and moved it to Blogger to make it easier to adopt a readable magazine format I thought we might have another go.

At the bottom of the page I have added the poll again with no "all of the above" item. You can select multiple items but if you just pick the ones that are closest to your heart we might start to get a true picture of the issues that people are most interested in!

Greg Rutter

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