Using permaculture ethics & design principles to transform an old energy guzzling bungalow into a showcase of sustainable design. It's about energy cycling, building community, self-reliance,creatively using & reusing materials... all without spending heaps of money.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Crazy paving with urbanite

Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal

I collected a large pile of concrete which had been sitting out the front for a number of years. It had become habitat for snails mainly. Originally the concrete blocks were footpaths from around the original house, so they hadn't traveled far. This material is more commonly known as 'urbanite', and is used in some pretty creative ways.

I've been thinking about creating a space for an outdoor kitchen for some time now, and figured that I really needed a paved area in between the shed and cellar to set it up. The urbanite seemed like the perfect answer, allowing me to clean up around the front and create a great space round the back.

My mate Dylan suggested that I make up a form and mortar mix to set the concrete block pieces onto. Seemed like a good idea to me, so after thinking about it for a few months and with summer just about to start, I decided to get stuck into it.

After clearing the space I set up a form level with the previous paving

Using a sledge hammer I broke up the large block of concrete into more manageable sizes

To change the block shape I found it best to sit the block on sand to distribute the weight, mark the off-cut and using a cold chisel bang out a series of dots.

The break generally follows the line of dots, though not always. Take your time, don't try to rush it. Make sure you wear protective gear - gloves, goggles and ear muffs.

It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I'd lay out a number of block to choose from and fit a bunch of them together before making up a mortar mix.

I mixed up the mortar in fairly small lots, at ratios of six parts sand, one part lime, one part cement. Mixing it dry first and adding water gradually using a watering can to the consistency of thick whipped cream

Starting with blocks at the edges I dragged a long straight edge I got the individual blocks level using a rubber mallet till the straight edge rested on the form work. The mortar mix that runs right to the edge of each block to prevent them tipping.

Were the ground was quite low I topped it up with sand and compressed it with the rubber mallet leaving a good 10mm or so for the mortar mix

The giant jigsaw puzzle complete, quite a mission.

At this stage I still wasn't sure how I was going to fill in the gaps. Originally I was thinking that I would fill it with stone, allowing the water to run through it. If I allowed plants to grow between the gaps then I would need to water them. I thought it best to fill in the gaps and allow the water to run off to garden beds.

Gaps between the blocks were filled with rubble and a wet mortar mix was poured in until it was close to level. The wet mortar mix was 9:1:1 Sand:Lime:Cement.

When the mortar was completed and still moist I wet it down and cleaned off excess with a wire brush and broom.

I added mortar to the edge of the building to ensure water kept away from the timber.

Once reasonably dry I used a pallet knife to create channels to divert water off the paved area and onto the garden, smoothed off with finger

Using a screwdriver I scraped back some of the mortar to help define the edges - best to wear gloves for all work with cement, it's tough on skin.

After cleaning up and defining the edges of the blocks

The finished paving job looking to the west

Looking east at paving for future outdoor kitchen after first rains

UPDATE: From Dec 26th 2013

I'd been looking at the detail work that was needed for a little while and decided to give the blocks a clean up with a wire brush to get rid of the excess mortar. Best done before the outdoor kitchen job begins.

Crazy Urbanite Paving before mortar cleaned from blocks

After mortar cleaned from blocks with a wire brush

Crazy Urbanite Paving detail

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A guide to chicken breeding... from a novice.

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

In March this year we were looking to build up our flock as our egg production was too low. I took the kids to the farm nearby to pick up a couple of point of lay hens and they convinced me to also get a couple of young chicks for them.

Kai and Sen with their chicks, Browny and Icku

It started to become clear after a few weeks that our new black hen (bottom right) was not a hen at all. The chooks get let out into the garden for limited times - great for when it's time to dig over a bed.

One of the point of lay hens turned out to not be a hen at all - but has become a very noisy and overprotective (read aggressive) rooster. Rather than get rid of him I told my closest neighbours of the situation and asked them to let me know if he was becoming a problem for them - and that I'd deal with it. I contacted council to check in regarding the legalities of having a rooster in town, and it appear that this is not an issue. I imagine that if people complained then that would be a different story. I make an effort to get along with my neighbours, which certainly helps in situations like this. My hope was that the rooster would help provide us with the next generation.

The next generation

Mistake #1. When one of the hens became broody in early Spring I left her to sit on her small clutch of eggs. This, in retrospect was a mistake. I later read a section in Jackie French's Chook book, confirming that if the hen is broody (for a few days running) she should be put in her own special pen, away from the other chooks. Instead I left her with the others in a high nest, about 40cm off the ground.

Mistake #2. The other hens kept laying and I added some more eggs to her clutch, about 10 in all - not a good idea either. It meant that the chicks would hatch at different times. I should have let her sit on just one egg, while I collected more - then taken the one away and added a fresh batch of 6-15 eggs at one time. For an inexperienced hen like mine, Jackie recommends just six eggs. Apparently you can use eggs that have been collected for up to a month after lay.

Mistake #3. When the first chick hatched I realised my earlier mistake and quickly made up a new pen and tried to move the hen. Very bad idea. When I let her into the new pen she escaped in a flash and freaked out, running round the backyard. I opened the main chook yard for her and opened the hut for her and she went straight back on her clutch of eggs again - a lucky escape for me.

The first chick made an appearance in the high nest, it wasn't long before it's exploring lead to a 40cm drop to soft grass below.

Of the 10 eggs that were under the mother hen, 4 chicks hatched out over 2-3 days. The nest was up high and the chicks couldn’t get back up when they came off the nest, so the mother came off leaving 6 eggs. When I checked the eggs I could hear cheeping and so decided to crack open the eggs to see if any chicks could be rescued...

Another mistake?

Here's the story in pictures of my rescue attempt.

15th November 11:44am - 2 of the chicks from the clutch of 6 appeared close to fully developed, showing movement, though not much. The other 4 chicks did not survive.
15th November 1:30pm - I got a cardboard box and hooked up a 75W incandescent light bulb to keep the chicks warm. They were quite cold. I was aiming for a temperature of 37ÂșC and used a thermometer and adjusted the box lid to reach the right temperature. I used an eye dropper to give them some water.
15th November 4:45pm - One of the chicks was quite active, the other wasn’t. I decided to leave them in the box overnight and see how they fared in the morning.
16th November 6:00am - after staying the the warm box overnight both chicks were lively. I thought they could join their family and hoped that their mother would take them under her wing.
16th November 8:00am - I introduced the chicks to their mother and siblings. She was a bit unsure initially, but accepted them thankfully.
17th November - I kept the mother and chick separate from the other chooks and rooster. 6 happy chicks with their mum. I made a drink station for them, auto refilling and shallow so they can’t drown. Being low it does fill with scratched grass so needs to be checked often.
I got the idea for the drink station from the youtube video below:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Energy Futures Forum - a local event

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

While there is still quite a bit of work to do around the house, none of it is that urgent - so my focus has moved to the garden and the local community. My involvement with local environment group BEAM: Mitchell Environment Group has increased somewhat since taking on the presidency role in August. With the VCAT hearing on the Cherry Tree Wind Farm to be decided any day now, I've become the face of the group and appeared on local news channel WIN TV to present some of the benefits of the proposal - for 15 seconds or so.

While the Wind Farm may or may not go ahead, one thing that has come out of the 'debate' about the proposal was the people who are for or against it all seem to agree that renewable energy is good and a way for the future. Perhaps just 'not in my backyard'. With that in mind we, as a group, decided to run an event with Yes2Renewables, which we called the Energy Futures Forum. Where some renewable options are demystified and presented to the local community, along with why we shouldn't look to fossil fuels in the future.

A big part of my role in the event has been surrounding promotion. I created the image below along with a flyer - which I've put around town and beyond - and have been posting articles from various contributors within BEAM on our website, social media and emailing it out to newspapers in the region and even got a spot on the local TV news. The response has been fantastic, with many articles published and great feedback from people that I've spoken to. We have no idea how many people will turn up, but we hope that the hall will be bursting. See links and more information below - come along if you can!

BEAM will be presenting an ‘Energy Futures’ forum in Seymour which will look at the what, why and how of energy.

In transitioning from our dependence on limited fossil fuel reserves to harnessing clean renewable energy – we can lower our impact on the environment and the severity of climate change. Reducing our own energy use will play a major role in our ability to make this transition. We all have a part to play in our Energy Future.
Guest speakers from around Victoria will talk about future energy options including solar and wind power, how to reduce energy use, your household bills and the risks associated if we don’t move to a renewable energy future. Not to be missed!
y2r-logoThe day will be facilitated by BEAM’s Phil Bourne with support from Leigh Ewbank of Yes2Renewables.

Speakers include:

Gwenda Allgood – Ararat Councillor, community benefits of wind farm development – see article
David RobinsonL.I.V.E. community solar on the South Melbourne market – see article
Chloe AldenhovenLock the Gate, coal seam gas & challenges for rural communities - see article
Trent Hawkins – Reducing bills and energy use in the household
Doug Hobson – Waubra wind farmer, benefits of living with wind power

Stay tuned, more speakers to be announced. Download the Energy Futures Flyer, print it out and spread the word!
* VRI Hall – Victorian Railways Institute Hall is next to Seymour Station, on the bus terminal side.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

10 weeks without a van, and counting

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change.

The story of Tang
Tang - a 1975, 2lt Kombi camper

I've become quite attached to my Kombi. I bought it in back in 1995 when I decided to head off for an adventure around Australia. I spent about 5 years living on wheels and 'Tang' and I became close friends. We've had our good and bad times, but mostly good. We also know each other intimately.

About 10 weeks ago I suspected that something was seriously wrong with Tang. The gears were playing up. My VW specialist mechanic in Pylong, about 35km away, is usually busy. So it was a 3 week wait before he would even look at the van. I've learn't not to push Trevor too hard over the years, just give him the time he needs to get things done. A friend told me a story about her putting the pressure on him and getting her Kombi (unrepaired) on the back of a tow truck.

Trevor took the gearbox out, and from what I can tell it was sitting around in the workshop for a while before he opened it up. Things didn't look good, so the hunt was on for another 2lt gearbox. Trevor told me that these are pretty rare as the racing 'super-bugs' use them up. After a bit of a search Trevor told me that I'd be better off settling for a 2nd hand 1800cc gearbox - you'll hardly notice the difference, he said. He found one and ordered it in. He headed off on holidays, his first in 14 years he tells me. The gearbox had not arrived in time for him to fit it. So another 2 weeks wait.

So that's the most recent story of Tang, and she's still away. It's been interesting in that we haven't really missed having a car very much - except for a few occasions, like picking Kai up from school in Tallarook.

How have we managed?

My biggest concern about sending Kai to Tallarook PS part-time was the distance. The station is about a 1km walk and we can catch the train in the morning. There's a 7 minute wait until the return trip, which is tight. Pick-up is another story, normally a 1.5-2 hour wait, which is when I like to use the van. Kai only goes to school one day a week and he's had after school dance classes last term that has worked out well with the train - a 40 minute turn around. Plenty of time to walk to the school and back to the station.

Living about 1km from the stupermakets has been a big plus - far enough away not to be too convenient. We walked (or rode) there if we needed anything, even when we had the van. Using either a pram, a two wheeled shopping trolley or backpack - depending on the mission. As we grow the vast majority of our fresh produce we don't need much from the shops. We get our goat milk delivered once a week and freeze it, returning the bottles for refilling. We make our own beer, bread, soda water, preserved fruit, cordial, yogurt and condiments - so there isn't many heavy items to purchase. I'd say we'd spend less than $50 a week at the stupermarket, and getting lower each year.

'King Eat-well' beanie, knitted by Kunie!
I work from home, I've been developing the Permaculture Principles website and online store where I sell permaculture products that I've helped develop - including my own publishing venture, the Permaculture Calendar. Kunie or I need to post items 2-3 times per week which is mostly done via the nearby postbox or post office which is about 1km away.

Kunie, the very keenest of knitters, is looking to sell some of her creations online in the future too to generate some funds. Shes been making quite a name for herself, winning the 13th Annual Artisan Books Beanie exhibition for most creative sculptural beanie "King Eat-well."She has recently sold items at the Alice Springs Beanie Festival and Geelong Scarf festival.

Adventures beyond Seymour have mostly been by train to Melbourne, but we've organised lifts when required. We haven't missed out on anything that we've wanted to do yet.

Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels

While I don't plan on getting rid of Tang upon her return, what I've observed is how we don't need the van. It's really a luxury for us, which I plan to use more for getting away - go camping with the kids etc.

We've recently swapped our gas stove for an induction cooker, which allows us to use the solar energy that we generate to cook our food - this along with our wood stove that we use during winter.
We still use some gas, but now only use the smaller 9kg bottles for the BBQ. We will probably use a gas ring in the kitchen too, which would be much better than the induction cooker at certain things like using the wok, or simmering.

We use a hand mower to mow the nature strip and laneway, along with a wipper-snipper for the edges.

As I reduce my dependence on fossil-fuels I become more aware of their use. When I woke up yesterday I heard the birds below the buzz of a ride on lawn mower and cars driving past.

I think that it's important to demonstrate that it's possible to live a rewarding and fun filled life while living lightly on the earth.

UPDATE: Tang is back in action, 14 weeks off the road in all. I haven't been using her much though...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2014 Permaculture Calendar with moon planting guide

Principle 3: Obtain a Yield

UPDATE: The 2014 Permaculture Calendar has sold out, but the 2015 Calendar is now available

Practical, educational and beautiful. Photo: Michael Conlin

It's been a very busy time over the last few months. I've been collecting images and stories from around the world to illustrate the 12 Principles of Permaculture for the 2014 Permaculture Calendar. It's now available and the busy time continues as I spread the word.

The cover image, which is very cute, is of young Verti from Whanganui in New Zealand. Her father, Nelson, writes a great blog called Eco Thrifty Renovation about living more simply - highly recommended. I see similarities between our blogging efforts, though he post more frequently than I. I'd also like to point you towards another blog about a simple life in the suburbs by Michael Conlin called Suburban Digs, he's based in Canberra. Michael has allowed me to use some of his amazing photos, which I've used in this post. I love his work.

A Moon Planting Guide

I've been interested in moon planting for a long time, but have found the process quite confusing. From the literature that I'd seen I got the impression that there was very short windows for doing certain tasks. I gave up on the whole idea before even starting it - I just wanted to get plants in the ground. There are varying levels of complexity to moon planting - depending on what you read.

I had been asked a number of times about including a moon planting guide in the permaculture calendar, so I decided to revisit moon planting. The basics of moon planting are very simple, the four phases of the moon are most suited to certain activities. During the Waxing moon (new moon to full moon), moisture is drawn up and planting is most suited to leafy annuals during the first quarter and fruiting annuals during the next quarter. During Waning moon (full moon to new moon) moisture is drawn down and planting is most suited to root crops and fruiting perennials during the 3rd quarter and building soil in the last quarter (no planting). The only added point that needs to be made is that it's best not to undertake planting 12 hours before or after the phase change, but there's plenty of other things in the garded to do.

While this process is quite straight forward (once you get your head around it), how can it be made easy to remember when is the right time to do what?


Making Moon Planting simple


Tune your fork - to the rhythms of nature. Photo: Michael Conlin

I've designed some symbols to illustrate garden activities for moon plantings, one for each of the four moon phases. These symbols are used on each day of the calendar to guide readers as to when is the most suitable time to undertake certain activities. A short explanation for each is list below:

New Moon Phase - Leafy Annuals

New Moon phase

Sow or transplant leafy annuals – where we value or eat the leaves or stem. Eg: lettuce, spinach, cabbage and celery.

First Quarter phase - Fruiting Annuals

First Quarter phase

Sow or transplant fruiting annuals – where we value or eat the fruit or seed bearing part of the plant. Eg: tomato, pumpkins, broccoli and beans.

Full Moon phase - Root Crops

Full Moon phase

Sow or plant out root crops, decorative and fruiting perennials – take cuttings and divide plants. Eg: apple, potatoes, asparagus and rhubarb.

Last Quarter phase - Improve the Soil

Last Quarter phase

Time to improve your soil – weeding, mulching, making compost and manure teas, digging or ploughing.

I've written a post about about moon planting and how it works for the entitled 'Tune your fork' which expands on this. Check it out if you want to find out more.

There's also a competition on the Permaculture Principles website to win one of 5 calendars. Just comment on the post, in 25 words or less, why you'd like one. Entries close September 30th 2013

Of course, if you want to be sure that your going to get one you can always buy a calendar.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Part-time schooling pt2

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

After one term of two days a week at Tallarook Primary School, Kai decided that he wanted to spend more time at home. He kept telling us that he found school 'boring'. We explained to him that if he continues one day a week at school he would still be able to spend time with his friends that he has made, the thing that he enjoys most. He thought that one day a week sounded much better, and so for the second term Kai told his teachers that that's what he wanted to do.

Before I continue further, I just wanted to say that we are most impressed with Tallarook P.S., to have such open and understanding teachers is fantastic, they have been very supportive of the choices that we have made. I think that the schooling system has improved tremendously since I was there, and being part of a small school like Tallarook, with only 50 or so kids, gives us the feeling of being part of a caring community. We get involved as much as we would if we were enrolled full-time and are well received by the other parents there.

We chose Monday for our school day, as this is the day when teachers and kids have the most energy, and the most fun stuff happens at school. We manage to drop Kai off by train in the morning, but need to pick him up by car in the afternoon as the train times don't work for us. He seems to enjoy his time there, but never has much to say about what he has done - which seems pretty normal.

At home we try our best to follow through with Kai's interests, as well as our own. Often, there is an opportunity for him to get involved in what we are doing too. He wants to feel useful and contribute (most of the time). I like to think that we are practicing 'home based learning' rather than 'home schooling'. We do have times where we focus on reading, counting and writing - but mostly it's just a part of the things that we do. He might not be as advanced as the other kids, but I get the feeling that he will be able to read, count and write - in both English and Japanese - before he gets too old. We try to encourage him, but not pressure him.

For instance, right now in the background I can hear Kai and Sen playing UNO - a numbers based card game. Kunie is speaking to them in Japanese, and Kai is responding in English. He's learning by osmosis, and enjoying what he is doing.

Leaf printing on material - 'Happazome' in Japanese
Making dumplings - 'Gyoza' in Japanese
Coring and slicing apples for preserving

When we talk about what we are doing with people around us we often get told that kids need school for socialisation. We believe that Kai is getting the best of both worlds by part-time schooling.

Kai got his first semester report back yesterday and I read it out to the family. He's at the standard that expected and received 'very good' for effort and 'excellent' for class behaviour. The fears that we had about whether we were doing the right thing or not have dissolved somewhat as we ease into this as a way of life and continue to get positive feedback from his teachers and peers.

Kai's teacher and principle feedback for his first semester at school.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Spicing things up for winter

Principle 12: Creatively use and respond to change

With 5 days in a row of heavy frosts over the solstice period winter has well and truly set in. We've not needed to run the fire during the days though, as it's been sunny most days which has been heating up our solar passive living space beautifully. On occasions the house has remained so warm that we haven't even needed to light the fire at night - though hot water bottles are a must for the kids. With so much sun around we've often been using our electric kettle over the gas alternative, figuring that our solar PV system would be generating an excess. When the fires going that's our first choice.

Winter preserving - Black Olives, Kasundi and Chilli Paste
We bottled the black olives that we harvested at Murrnong after only 18 days of rinsing with water. This was less that what was recommended to us, which was a minimum of 21 days, max of 40. The olives were more ripe, some being quite soft and I did slice each of them which would help leach out the bitterness more quickly. We'll have to wait and see how they go.

Yesterday I pulled up a bunch of green tomatoes that were getting hammered from the frosts. They looked okay though and I got about a third of a bucket. I'd been thinking of making a Kasundi for some time, which I love - and use the green tomatoes in it. We also have the last of the fresh chillies that I picked recently and garlic that was starting to sprout. I figured that I could make the most of this produce by preserving it as a spicy relish. After a quick search I discovered this recipe by Karen Martini. While I didn't have all of the ingredients, I used it as a base and improvised the rest. It sat on the fire for a few hours last night to reduce down, soaked clean jars and lids in a nearby pot boiling water and bottled them. They vacuum sealed nicely.

We had a good harvest of chillies this year and Kunie was keen to preserve them. I dried a heap in our solar dryer and we used these along with fresh ones and garlic. Removing the seeds and chopping them up was a time consuming process, about 4 hours work - and dangerous too. It takes many washes of the hands to remove the heat, and you know about that when you touch sensitive parts of your body. Kunie even used gloves - though they did get a hole in them.

The chillies and garlic were left for a month in a brine solution, and retained their colour beautifully. The brine was a bit whiffy,  so it was poured off, they were rinsed a few times and some more salt and vinegar was added before the mix was whizzed. I washed a number of small jars with hot soapy water and rinsed with boiling water. I then carefully poured the mix to the jars and a layer of olive oil and screwed on the lid. Storing 3 of the four potent jars in the fridge and one in the pantry to see how it goes.

Fermenting Chillies with Garlic in a brine solution for one month
We decided not to sterilise the jars after reading a section in Sandor Katz's book 'The Art of Fermentation' -  and thinking about it I support with his motto "cleanliness, not sterility". My thinking was that bottling fermented food is different from preserving other foods. Most of the sugars are fermented out during the process, and the salt and vinegar produce an unfriendly environment for the fermentation process to continue. Any surface scum or mould that does form can be removed and the contents should still be fine. It is important however to use clean utensils to remove the food - pouring into a smaller vessel being the best option. Sandor suggests that reducing the surface area helps the ferments last longer, as it's the contact with air that causes the reaction. He suggests moving the contents to smaller jars as the need arises.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Olive picking and processing

Permaculure Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

Picking olives can be a great way to hang out with friends, lend a helping hand and get a harvest to last you till next season.

Our preserved green olives, in a red and white wine vinegar brine solution.
While we wait for our olive tree to grow, we have been invited to harvest olives from friends trees. We were invited up to Wuk Wuk, a property in Tallarook, with another family to pick green eating olives and have a BBQ. After an hour or so picking and a great night out we ended up with about 10kg of green olives to preserve.

I've tried a couple of techniques in the past, but wasn't super impressed by the result - although they were pleasant enough to eat. One of the main issues I had was with the amount of salt used. I wanted to try a technique that allowed me to reuse the water that is used for rinsing the olives.

Caro and Mark, who came with us on the Wuk Wuk trip have been preserving olives for many years and experimented with different techniques. They have adapted the kalamata method of preserving olives which they now use for both black and green olives. I've included this method at the end of this post. I'll run through the processs...

With a relatively large quantity like this (10kg) Caro recommended that I use a brewing barrel with a tap at the base to soak and rinse the olives. I wasn't keen on this, as I thought that it might tarnish the flavour of my next brews. I had a 20lt plastic olive oil drum that I'd kept, a purchase from Murrnong a couple of years ago, and was trying to find a use for - perfect! I was thinking about cutting the top off, but decided to try using it without modifying it first. Filling the small opening by hand was a bit messy so I made up a scoop using a plastic bottle which was better.
I washed the olives first, but did not slice them - which would help to speed up the process somewhat. A bit of a gamble, but I wanted to see how they would turn out with minimal intervention.

I filled an old 20lt olive oil drum with green olives through the existing opening using an improvised scoop. Tap fitted at bottom to drain water each 24 hours.

Water from soaked olives drained onto nearby trees / vines each day - for 40 days.
As a reminder I set an alarm on my phone and computer every morning, and didn't miss a day. After about 40 days, the upper end of what what recommended, I decided it was time for bottling. The water and fruit tasted bitter, but nowhere near as much as it did.

I cleaned a heap of jars that we'd collected, then sterilised them with the lids using a powdered sterilising compound with the frinedly name 'Stericlean' that contains trisodium phoshate and sodium dichloro isocyanurate - rinsed with boiled rainwater after. Then Kai and I packed the olives into the jars. We got about 36 jars in all - that should keep us going for a while.

Not knowing how much preserving liquid we needed I made up a small batch first. To one litre of rainwater I added about 170 grams of rock salt - enough to get a fresh egg to float. I then added 500ml of red wine vinegar and brought the solution to the boil. I then filled the jars to about 10mm from the top with the hot solution and put the lid on. Most of the jars formed a vacuum seal, but it's not vital.

With 10kg of olives I used about 2.5lt of vinegar (1.5lt of red wine vinegar and 1lt of white wine vinegar - run out of red), 5lt of rainwater and 850g of salt. I was probably a bit generous with the salt, but I'd rather be safe than sorry at this stage, and the olives can be soaked in water to remove some of the salt before marinating / eating later if necessary. Now we have to wait for two months before our first taste, probably longer would be better as I didn't slit them.

Kai begins packing the sterilised jars with olives

Jars packed and ready for the brine / vinegar solution.
Two thirds brine solution made with enough salt in rainwater to float an egg. Then red wine vinegar added and boiled before filling jars.

A trip to Murrnong in Violet Town

A month after our Wuk Wuk trip we were invited once again to Murrnong to help out with the olive harvest. 2012 was a poor season, but this year was a good crop. David Arnold has an orchard that he harvest primarily for oil and gets help from friends, family and WWOOFers as the need arises. We helped out in 2011, and bought a 20lt barrel of oil that lasted us a bit over a year, giving some away to friends and family. My Dad said that it was the best oil he ever tasted - we really like it to, but things always taste better when you help make them don't they?

Getting involved in the whole process gives a much better understanding of the whole process and a greater appreciation for the final product. Picking with the kids around is an education for them and a bit fun in a different environment. We've ordered another 20lt this year.

David let us pick some black olives, which are more ripe, to take home with us. I've slit these this time and they are in the barrel getting rinsed every day. I'll give them the same treatment in the processing and see how they compare with the green olives. Stay tuned for the verdict.

The kids in the olive bins at 'Murrnong'. Olives harvested for oil by hand using plastic rakes and a mobile system to collect falling olives.

Mark and Caro's method... 

Olives should be soaked in plain water, changed daily or at least every 2 days, for at least 21 days- up to 40. You're basically trying to leach out as much of the bitter juices as possible- the water should start to get clearer and not so pungent. For large quantities we use the large homebrewing containers as you can use the tap to easily drain the water out, then refill from the top.

Once they've soaked adequately, they can be bottled. We use large jars, including glass instant coffee jars with the push in lids which are easy to pick up from op shops. Because of the level of salt and vinegar in the mix a tight seal isn't as necessary as with other things, but we find these seal well if you use a hot mix anyway.

Sterilise your jars and heat up a mix of 1/3 red wine vinegar and 2/3 brine. I THINK last time we used a 10% brine as we found it too salty in previous years. You can check out brine mixes on the internet. Bring to the boil, then fill sterilised jars with olives and pour over the hot mixture. Seal immediately and allow to cool. Leave for at least 2 months for the bitterness to subside and the flavours to develop. They should keep indefinitely in the pantry/cellar. If you want to marinate them- eg garlic, herbs, oil etc- you can do this 24hrs or longer before you want to eat them. But they must be refrigerated once you do this- garlic in particular will spoil the preserving mix.

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