Wednesday, June 16, 2010

DIY shower greywater - the Big Bucket




Click on the tabs at the top of the main page to read about various design options you can mix and match to create a shower water reuse design that suits you own particular house and garden.

DIY rainwater

However did the majority of Australian urban dwellers become so dependent on mains water? In the not so distant past, water self-sufficiency was the norm, and it still is in rural areas. It really is not so difficult to harvest enough rainwater to be self-sufficient in terms of household use. Sure, tanks are expensive, but it doesn't cost all that much more to be water self-sufficient than it does to, for example, have a tank plumbed to just the toilet, or to install a tank and pump for garden usage. Even though a full-scale system will cost more initially, it will be more cost-effective, and it will "pay for itself" more quickly (partly due to the various associated savings mentioned later in this post).

Admittedly, house blocks are getting smaller and houses are getting bigger, but there is often some way around a perceived lack of space for water tanks. There might not be much space adjacent to your downpipes, but you can perhaps install small slimline (or even ultra-slim) tanks along your wall as collect-and-feed tanks and have a large storage tank in the back corner of the yard. (Connect the bases of all the tanks together and the water will level out and automatically fill the storage tank.) Slimline tanks might be fairly useless as water storage tanks, but they can collect and transfer enormous quantities of water to a large storage tank.

Since rainwater tanks are expensive, if you are thinking of investing in one (or more), it would be a good idea to "get it right" from the outset and maximize the benefits of making that investment...rather than going through the same learning curve I went through!

Mistake No. 1: My biggest mistake was to install a 5,000L tank to use for watering my garden. Actually, an awful lot of people do that, even those, like me, who live in the sort of climate that has plenty of rain in winter (so we don't need to water the garden then) but has next to no rain in summer. So what happens? The tank fills up quickly at the start of winter and, for the rest of winter, all further rain just runs down the stormwater drain. Then, when summer arrives and the garden needs regular watering, the tank runs dry after watering the garden for a few weeks, then the tank sits empty for the rest of summer.

5,000L tank

Assuming you are paying somewhere between $1 and $2 per 1,000L for mains water, that tank will save you about $10 per year....and the tank cost what? $1,000? Rather a poor investment I'd say, and not a lot of benefit to the environment either. But...rainwater tanks can be a very good idea. You just have to do it right!

Tip 1:
Think about your local weather patterns and about what you will use the rainwater for. My 5,000L tank might have been sensible somewhere like Sydney, which has a reasonable proportion of its rainfall in summer, but in locations with dry summers, buying a tank to water the garden is a waste of money.

If you have lots of rain in winter, why not use the rainwater during winter while there is plenty more coming to replace what you have used? We all use water inside the house all year round. If your tank is plumbed to your house, it will in effect be emptied and refilled something like 5 times over the course of winter. This means that your investment in a 5,000L tank will give you something like 25,000L of water.

Mistake No. 2: My original tank was fed by only one downpipe. So, if we did happen to have a summer thunderstorm with a heavy downpour (this was 8 years ago so I don't remember if we did), 3/4 of the rain landing on my roof went down the stormwater drain instead of into my tank.

Tip 2:
To maximize the amount of water you can collect, regardless of what tank capacity you have, ensure that every drop that lands on your roof goes to your tank(s). To do this you will almost definitely need more than one tank. However, if you connect them together at their bases, they will function as one tank, filling and emptying in tandem. This means that your plumbing between the tank outlet and the house/garden need only be connected to one of the tanks.


Mistake No. 3: When I decided to use my rainwater in the house rather than the garden, I had no idea how much water I would need in the house to last all summer without rain, or how much water would be available for collection (how much rain would land on my roof). I suppose I thought that it didn't matter much if we ran short of rainwater because we could always switch back to mains water until the next rain, so I just went with the idea that we needed a bigger tank, and that we needed to collect the water from all the downpipes. I bought a 9,000L tank and installed it at a different downpipe.

9,000L tank ( I had to move the fence and gate to fit this one in!)

I also bought a 1,000L modular tank to fit in the small space at the other side of the house, and redirected the other two downpipes into that tank.

1,000L collect-and-feed tank

We used that setup for a couple of years, and despite just being guesswork, that gave us roughly the right capacity in terms of having enough rainwater to use for everything inside the house all year round. (That is, 10,000L for two people in a dry-all-summer climate.) One year we did not run out of rainwater at all, and the other year we had to switch back to mains water for only a couple of weeks. In purely financial terms, that was probably the optimum capacity for us. However, during winter, rain fell faster than we used it, so we still had overflowing tanks for the last half of winter. I couldn't bear the thought of all that good water going down the drain so I bought another tank - a 23,000L one this time - and installed it in the back corner of the yard, and just connected the base of it to the other tanks (no water from the roof runs into it directly).

23,000L tank used just for storage

The above setup has been in use for about 5 years now, and it seems to now be the right total tank capacity given our roof area and local annual rainfall. Some years the tanks don't quite fill completely, and some years there is a little overflow going down the stormwater drain. Also, now that we have water restrictions, it is very convenient to have more rainwater than we need for household use and to be able to use quite a lot of it in the garden. Even so, if I'd known at the outset the optimum total capacity for us, I would have designed the tank layout differently and bought different-sized tanks...a larger tank costs more than a smaller one of course, but not all that much more.

Tip 3:
If you know how much rainwater falls on your roof in an average year and how much water you use for different purposes, you can better plan how you will use the water and work out your optimum tank capacity. Do you just want enough rainwater to flush the toilet and wash the clothes, or enough to plumb it to the entire house? (The plumbing modifications are simpler if it is plumbed to the house as a whole.) Will you be able to collect enough for the garden too? If you want to use your rainwater just in the garden, what tank capacity will you need to see you through the longest dry spell you are likely to have in your locality?

To find out how much water you can collect you will need to know your local annual rainfall and the total area of roof from which you collect rainwater (floor area + eaves + garage/patio/etc). For rainfalls within Australia, go to Climate Data Online and select Rainfall - Monthly - your location. Multiply the roof area (square meters) by the average annual rainfall (mm). The result is the number of litres of rainwater you can collect. If you prefer to use other units of rainfall or area, there is a rainwater calculator you can use here.

According to statistics published in NSW Guidelines for Greywater Reuse in Sewered, Single Household Residential Premise (page 6), the average in-house water usage for a household of three is 603L/day (bathroom 198L, laundry 131L, toilet 124L, taps, including kitchen, 140L), and outside usage (garden, pools, etc) is 223L/day. However, you might be able to get a more accurate idea of your usage by looking at your water bill, particularly if you have "wet" quarters where all your water usage is inside, and "dry" quarters where you also need to water the garden regularly.

Perhaps you can collect 80,000L, for example, over the course of an average year, but remember that you are also using that rainwater throughout that time. To collect and use 80,000L in a year, you might only need a total tank capacity of, say, 20,000L. In general, in order to effectively use any given amount of rainwater, locations that have reasonably regular rain during summer will need much less storage capacity than localities with long dry summers. (You can find your local mean rainfall figures for each month of the year from the Climate Data Online site.)

Unfortunately, even with all the above figures at your fingertips, there is still a degree of guesswork involved in deciding your optimum total tank capacity! It might also help to talk to other householders who have tanks in your area and see what works for them.

Mistake No. 4: When I connected the bases of all my tanks together so that the water level in each tank levels out, I used 19mm hose between the tanks with the intention of allowing a reasonably quick water flow between tanks. However, the 1,000L modular tank came with an ordinary tap (about a 13mm internal bore I suppose). I should have replaced that tap with a larger one, but I didn't. I also used ordinary small-bore taps at the tank that all the others connect to. Water travels more slowly than you might think when gravity is leveling it out!

 All the tanks connect to this one at its base.

Since the 1,000L tank receives rainwater from over half my roof area, it fills much quicker than the other tanks. This is not usually a problem, but during a particularly heavy downpour it fills and starts overflowing even when there's still plenty of space in the other tanks simply because the water does not travel to the other tanks quickly enough.

Tip 4:
When connecting multiple tanks together, ensure your taps and hoses all have an internal diameter of at least 19mm to allow water levels to level out reasonably quickly. This won't be an issue if all your tanks are similar sizes and are fed by similar amounts of your roof area, but that is not likely to be the case.

Mistake No. 5: The overflow spouts on my four tanks are not all level with each other. (This was not a "mistake" exactly - it was simply not possible to have them all level.) This means that one of my tanks reaches overflow point a little before the other tanks, so at that point I need to turn off its tap so that water from the other tanks does not flow back and out the overflow spout of this lowest tank (so the other tanks can also fill completely).

Also, the overflow spout of my 23,000L storage tank is about 60cm higher than any other tank - it is a taller tank and also on higher ground. This is the tank that has no direct input of water from the roof so, even though the leveling out process can fill it up to a point, it obviously can't fill up the top 60cm of the tank. Once all the other tanks are full, I need to turn off the tap at its base and pump water to it from the other tanks to fill it completely (which also makes space for more rain in the other tanks). Fortunately, this is not particularly difficult. Since rainwater is automatically pumped to all my taps (by a pressure pump that kicks in automatically whenever I turn on a tap), including those on the outside of the house, I just connect a rainwater hose to an outside house tap and poke the other end in the overflow spout of the 23,000L tank, and then turn on the outside house tap. The tap on the base of that tank remains closed until sometime next summer. When the other tanks are getting close to being empty, I open the tap to allow the water to level out between all the tanks again.

Tip 5:
If possible, make the overflow spouts on all tanks level with each other to simplify management. If this is not possible, make sure you have taps at each tank (don't connect the tanks together with hoses alone) - otherwise no tank will be able to be filled further than the height of your lowest overflow spout.

Conversely, it makes no differences whether the bottoms of your tanks are level with each other or not. However, make sure that the pump that delivers your rainwater to the house and/or garden is connected to the tank that has the lowest base. That way all the water from your other tanks will end up in the tank you pump from (this will become relevant if you are about to run out of water).

Other tips...

  • If you want to use first-flush diverters and/or leaf catchers, install them when you first install your tanks. This will be much, MUCH easier, and cheaper, than retrofitting them later. Even if you don't want to install these, allow enough vertical space between your gutter outlets and tank inlets to install them later just in case you change your mind!
  • If you are concerned about adverse health effects from bacteria and traffic-generated pollution that might be present in your rainwater, consider installing rainwater filters on your kitchen taps. (I personally would want a filter if we lived in a high-traffic area, but since we don't, we don't use a filter.)
  • You can install the tanks yourself, following the manufacturer's guidelines, but you will need to hire a licensed plumber to plumb the water to your house and to ensure that the mechanism for switching between mains water and rainwater conforms to health regulations.
  • Sustainable Gardening Australia has published a shoppers' guide to rainwater tanks here. This discusses the pros and cons of tanks made of various materials.
  • You will need a pressure pump connected between one of your tanks and the house to give adequate water pressure for showers, etc. This pump will automatically switch on every time you turn on a tap. The pump will not be very noisy, but you will hear it. I found this a little annoying for the first few days, but I soon got used to it. If you think this noise will bother you, take this into account when you decide where to locate your pump. The up side is that you will know if anyone has accidentally left a tap dripping - you'll hear the pump cutting in and out at times when nobody is using water.
  • When deciding what size tank to buy, check that you have suitable access to get the tank from the street to wherever you want to put it. If access is a problem, you might decide to change the location of the tank, buy a different shape/size tank, or hire a crane to lift the tank over whatever is blocking access. Crane hire is expensive, but a large tank plus crane hire can be less than the cost of achieving similar storage capacity using smaller tanks. (I had to hire a crane to move my 23,000L tank into my back yard.)
  • It's a good idea to have a stop cock as the very first fitting attached to each tank. That way, if you need to change a tap (taps do break) or hose, you can turn off the stop cock and not lose any water.
  • These days there is an enormous range of tank shapes and sizes available, so you'll probably be able to find tanks that suit whatever space you have. If you are aiming at collecting and storing large quantities of rainwater, the cheapest option is still the traditional round tall-ish type of tank if you have space for one of these somewhere in your yard. For reference, with the type of poly tanks I used, a 5,000L tank has a diameter of 1.85m (inlet height 2.05m), a 10,000L tank has a diameter of 2.59m (inlet height 2.16m), a 25,000L tank has a diameter of 3.73m (inlet height 2.40m), and a 46,400L one has a diameter of 4.60m (inlet height 2.95m).
Pros and cons of running a house on rainwater... 

Buying tanks, pump, fittings, etc., involves quite high initial costs, and mains water is still incredibly cheap. If expected savings on your water bills are your main motivator and you calculate how many years it will take for your rainwater system to "pay for itself", you'll probably decide to stick with mains water. (Even if you use no mains water at all, you'll still need to pay the sewerage and water supply charge.) It is only when you take into account the other savings associated with rainwater use that it becomes reasonably financially attractive.

The big potential saving - or so I'm told - is that your hot water system will last three times as long if you use rainwater rather than mains water, and your washing machine will also last much longer. (I've not been using rainwater long enough to have proved that for myself.) Not needing to replace those devices will go a long way towards paying off your rainwater system. 

There are also various smaller savings which take effect immediately. You'll need to halve the amount of shampoo and laundry powder you use to avoid being swamped in bubbles. You won't need to use fancy cleaners to remove mineral deposits from your shower (because there won't be any). You will use hand lotions and moisturizers much less than usual because rainwater does not dry your skin the way mains water additives do. One delightful surprise for me was that the dry cracking heels that I suffered from for years stopped being a problem. I didn't actually notice the problem going away (human nature being what it is!), but the year we had to revert to using mains water for a couple of weeks I suddenly started having this problem again (until it rained and we could shower in rainwater again).

On the down side, you'll probably need to clean your toilet a bit more often because rainwater does not contain chlorine. Also, if you are washing greasy dishes you might need a bit more detergent than usual to cut through that grease.

Possibly the main inconvenience of using rainwater is that you need electricity for your pump to operate. If there is a power failure, you won't get any water out of your taps. Of course you can always switch over to mains water until the power comes back on, or collect a jug of water directly from a tank.


Quite apart from the many environmental benefits of using rainwater in the house, and regardless of whether it saves you money or not, I just really like using rainwater. It tastes nice, it does not smell of chlorine, it leaves hair soft and silky, and hot rainwater showers feel pretty good too. Besides, it strikes me as absurd to rely on public utilities to treat and deliver water to me when plenty of perfectly good water lands on my roof. It is even more absurd that our urban areas have concurrent water supply problems and stormwater disposal problems - wouldn't rainwater tanks neatly solve both problems?

DIY greywater - laundry and kitchen

Laundry greywater...

Some people rely on their washing machine's internal pump to pump laundry greywater out to the garden, but this is not recommended. Washing machine pumps are designed to pump water no further than the laundry trough.

My DIY solution is incredibly simple. To collect the used water I simply put the plug in the laundry trough, and place the outlet hose from the washing machine into the trough rather than down the drain hole at the back of the trough. I bought a basic sump pump (about $120), and this sits in the laundry trough. Details of this pump are given under Fig 8 on the Big Bucket Details page. I already had a round mesh filter (about 25cm diameter) from the top of an old water tank. This sits partly on the edge of the trough and partly on the top of the pump, and the machine outlet hose is positioned such that the used water passes through this mesh (to filter out lint) as it runs into the trough. I used this filter because I happened to have it, but an old sock or stocking tied to the end of the outlet hose would probably do the job just as well (or better).


Once a load of washing is finished, I connect the hose from the pump outlet to a greywater hose just outside the laundry door. I then switch the sump pump on. The water flows through the greywater hose to the front garden and into whichever one of my mulch-filled trenches the hose is poked into that day. (The mulch-filled trench method of distributing greywater is described on this page.)

The only things I need to do are connect and disconnect the hose at the laundry door after each load of washing, and clean the lint out of the filter about once per week. If your house layout permits, you could have your pump outlet connected to a thru-wall fitting, and have the hose to the garden permanently connected to the other end of the thru-wall fitting outside the house.

Stop press...
It is not that long since I wrote this post, but already I have changed the way I deal with my laundry greywater! This was mainly because of changes I made in my garden, but also partly because I was getting a little sick of having the hose from the pump outlet coiled up on the laundry floor. Rather than writing a new post or changing what I've said above, I'll simply give the information about the setup I am now using in this "stop press" - after all, both setups are perfectly viable alternatives.

Firstly, I'm no longer using the mulch-filled trenches described above because I now have raised planter boxes in that area of the garden. In order to get the laundry greywater high enough to flow into those beds I constructed the splitter box described here. Previously the greywater hose from the laundry just ran along at ground level between the laundry and front garden, but I now needed that hose to be raised sufficiently for the water to run into the splitter box.

Previously, I had not bothered to use a thru-wall fitting in my laundry because there is a door right next to the laundry trough, but the simplest way of getting the height I now needed was to take the outlet hose from the sump pump through the wall above the laundry trough. (See Fig. 2a to 2d on the Big Bucket details page for close-up images of options for thru-wall fittings). This is what the corner of my laundry looks like now:


To avoid the sagging that happens with elevated hoses, I decided to use rigid PVC pipes rather than greywater hose to take the water from the thru-wall fitting, along the house under the eaves, and to the splitter box in the front garden:


Here is a close-up of the thru-wall fitting plus screw-on barbed connector on the outside wall of the laundry:


I used a masonry bit, the hammer drill setting of my electric drill, and its highest speed to drill a 20mm diameter hole through the brick to insert the 30cm long threaded pipe for this thru-wall fitting. This was NOT easy - especially since I only had a 10mm masonry bit to drill a 20mm hole! Even so, now that it is done I think it was well worth the effort. Now, each time I wash the clothes, all I need to do to automatically water those raised planter boxes is switch on the pump, and then switch it off again once the laundry trough is empty.

Laundry powders and liquids...
There is an enormous amount of information about the effect of laundry products when using greywater on gardens at the Lanfax Labs laundry information website. It explains what factors need to be considered, and gives test results for a large number of commercial powders and liquids. The good news is that a reasonable number of readily available laundry powders, and almost all laundry liquids, are suitable when reusing laundry water in the garden. Select either powders or liquids from the left column of the Lanfax web page to find details of the contents of specific products.

Kitchen greywater...

Health regulations state that used dishwashing water should not be used as greywater in the garden due to the food particles and grease it is likely to contain. However, I seem to use a lot of water for other purposes in the kitchen, such as washing vegetables, rinsing my tea cup, and washing my hands countless times per day. All those things I do over an ordinary plastic bucket that I keep sitting in the kitchen sink.

I don't have any fancy system for delivering that greywater to the garden. Like most people, I simply carry the bucket outside and use it to water the pot plants and the section of garden closest to the back door.

Link:
Lanfax Labs: Detailed information about laundry liquids and powders to help you select one that will not harm you garden.

DIY food

This post is not really about how to grow your own food. There are plenty of excellent websites giving that sort of information.

Rather, it is about the reasons for DIY food. Of course there are many reasons - the freshness and the intense bursting-with-life flavour of home-grown produce, the avoidance of chemicals (if one chooses), and some sort of basic satisfaction or sense of achievement. Some might say DIY food saves you money, but I doubt if that is really the case, especially in the short term. It certainly is not true if you put a dollar value on your time...but there are other values.

In "Growing food in our cities" (p2, Best Garden Ideas - Growing edibles, published by The Diggers Club), Clive Blazey presents some compelling reasons for DIY food.
Nearly 30% of the CO2 in our atmosphere is caused by us not growing our own food.
Non-renewable energy is used to plough the fields, harvest and process the crop and take it to market. The fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers used to grow the crop are derived from oil. ... The kitchen fridge uses more energy than the farm tractor. ... Up to 25% of the energy is consumed in wasteful packaging. 
If this [growing our own food using compost rather than fertilisers] sounds like Utopia it is, and we have been there, before the supermarkets manipulated our lazy nature.

Blazey then tells how Cubans, who formerly relied on imported oil, tractors and fertilisers, have been growing their own food on disused building sites since the 1990's. These days "the city of Havana produces 60% of its own food" and "80% of the nation's food is organically grown". 

Whenever I read yet another article about the current and potentially increasing food security problems being caused by climate change, I can't help remembering something I read many years ago about the breakdown of the old Soviet Union. The author (Solzhenitsyn, I think it was) said that the hardships caused by disruption of mass food provision and distribution systems would have been much more dire were it not for the fact that many Russians were still in the habit of growing at least some of their own food in their own gardens. He wondered how well the average American (and presumably anyone else who relies entirely on supermarkets for their food) would survive under similar circumstances. For me, this is yet another compelling reason for pursuing DIY food.

I currently fall far short of food self-sufficiency. However, I am accumulating experience and knowledge about how to grow food - there's so much to learn! - and about what works well and gives good yields in my local area. Maybe this knowledge, and the seeds I am saving, will some day assist others who want/need to grow their own food as well.

I wonder how many people assume (without realizing that it is an assumption) that our supermarkets are obliged to keep us fed (they're not!), and to do so at "affordable" prices?

So...how achievable is DIY food?

To quote from Clive Blazey again (p14, Best Garden Ideas - Growing edibles), "In just 40 square metres you can grow 472kg of vegetables [per annum] which is enough for four people". (His planting plan is available online at http://www.diggers.com.au/pdf/MiniPlotHarvestPlan.pdf .) To do that he says you will need plenty of sun and well-rotted manure, and also compost and blood and bone. You'll need to practice crop rotation, sow high-yielding heirloom varieties, and provide 22,800L of supplementary water per year. (I think you'd also need to do some preserving of the summer bounty to supplement the few types of vegetables harvestable during winter.)

I understand Blazey conducted the trials on which his yield figures are based at Seymour, 98km north of Melbourne, which has a mean annual rainfall of 593.9 mm. Comparing this with average rainfalls in your particular area will give you an idea how much supplementary water you would need. (For rainfalls within Australia, go to Climate Data Online and select Rainfall - Monthly - your location.) For example, Sydney's mean annual rainfall of 1129.6mm is almost double that of Seymour, Perth is also higher at 738.6mm, but the Adelaide figure is only 542.6 mm. So, by rough guesstimate, the supplementary water requirement in Sydney would be around 12,000L, in Perth it would be around 16,000L, and in Adelaide up to 25,000L of additional water would be required to grow those 472kg of vegetables. Even this worst case is quite achievable - one of my rainwater tanks holds almost that much.

A family of four having 3 minute showers with a water-saving shower head would generate 4 x 30 x 7 = 840L of greywater per week. Assuming slightly longer showers when washing hair, etc., we can probably assume at least 1,000L per week. (Click on the tabs at the top of the page, or start with this page, for collection and distribution methods). Given the wet winters and dry summers expereinced in much of southern Australia, we might need to water our gardens during only 26 weeks of the year, and so we'd only collect the used shower water during those weeks. That would mean a ballpark figure of 26,000L of greywater from the shower per year. That is enough, even in Adelaide!

One complication with the above greywater figures is the health guidelines for safe use of greywater, which indicate that greywater should not come in direct contact with food that will be eaten raw. Even so, lettuce, carrots, spring onions, and other salad vegetables that touch the ground could be in a separate bed that is watered with rainwater or mains water, and the shower water could be used for the other vegetable beds and for some fruit trees.

Despite being very approximate, the above figures indicate that a lot is possible, even for those who might not have quite the expertise, space, or soil fertility to match the above yields. Even a few pots on the patio containing, for example, a tomato bush, a climbing cucumber plant, a few loose leaf lettuces and some strawberries will avoid some of the food miles, packaging, etc. involved in supermarket food.

Links...

Food swaps
http://communitygarden.org.au/food-swaps-in-south-australia (SA)
http://www.sustainablemelbourne.com/events/sga-food-swaps/ (Vic)
http://www.pigswillfly.com.au/?p=7542 (Vic)
http://yarraneighbourhoodorchard.webs.com/aboutyuh.htm (Vic)
http://www.ceres.org.au/node/114 (scroll down for national list)


Blazey's 40 square metre planting plan
http://www.diggers.com.au/pdf/MiniPlotHarvestPlan.pdf . (I've not personally tried this planting plan, so I'd be interested in comments from anyone who has.)

Mean annual rainfalls
Climate Data Online. Select Rainfall, then Monthly, then enter your location. Look under the "Annual" column in the "Mean rainfall" row of the table.

Preserving the harvest
http://urbanfarmingoz.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64:preserving-the-harvest&catid=6:ufarm

Growing food
Sustainable Gardening Australia

Buying local - next best thing to growing your own
http://www.localfoodmap.net/

Community gardens
http://communitygarden.org.au/

Farmers markets directory
http://www.farmersmarkets.org.au/markets

DIY deep-watering system

About the time I was first setting up my current garden, 9 years ago, I read about an ancient Chinese clay urn method of watering. They would bury an urn up to its neck in soil, fill it with water, and then plant seeds around it. The water moved through the wall of the urn to the surrounding soil by capillary action and spread out through the soil in the area around the urn.

This struck me as being a very efficient method of watering, with next to no water lost by evaporation, and with the water going directly to the root zones. In addition, the plant roots would head towards the water source and thus make the method even more efficient as time passed.

After a bit of trial and error, I came up with a design that uses ordinary terracotta pots with a top diameter of about 15cm. The cost of these might normally make this method prohibitively expensive, but fortunately I was able to buy around 200 of these at a fraction of their normal cost at a clearance sale.

The picture below shows how I put two pots together to make roughly an urn shape.


I used silicon (either bathroom or guttering silicon is fine) to stick the two pots together and to seal up the hole in the bottom of the bottom pot. The hole in the top upside-down pot is used to fill the pots with water.

Most of the perennial sections of my garden are watered this way. In each section I laid out ordinary 13mm poly irrigation hose, in a loop where possible, with the poly hose running past about 20 of the buried pots. An off-take tube runs from the poly hose to each pot and is poked into the hole in the top of the buried pot. You can see what I've done in the next picture because this raised bed is newly planted (raspberries under the rope trellis, and strawberry crowns around the edges). Once the plants grow the watering pots will be largely hidden by foliage.


This watering method has been (and still is!) very effective for my perennial plants, shrubs, and fruit trees, but with my clay soil, it is not very effective for germinating seeds or supporting young plants that still have under-developed root systems.  So, even though I like this system and use it in much of my garden, the only veges I use it for are perennial ones (such as asparagus). In the past, when I did use it in vege patches, I found I needed to supplement this watering system with surface watering during the first half of the growing season. I suspect you would need almost perfect soil to rely entirely on a terracotta pot watering system in a vege patch.

Using this watering system has had one unforeseen effect - the interiors of the pots make a perfect hiding spot for slugs. This could be seen as a disadvantage, or it could be seen as an effective way of trapping slugs! If you let the pots fill to overflowing with water, the slugs all crawl out of the top hole and accumulate on top of the pot. You can then dispatch the slugs in whatever way you see fit.

DIY fake double-glazing

Perhaps you have heard of a heat-shrinkable plastic film, called "Clear Comfort", that can be used instead of a second layer of glass to trap a layer of air between it and the glass in your windows. I'm not connected with that company in any way, I'm merely a customer, but I'm sufficiently impressed with the difference it has made to the temperature of our house that I want to write about it here. This is the first winter since installing this film so I don't have any figures to quote yet, but at the end of winter I'll report whatever difference there ends up being in the cost of us keeping warm.

 Windows "double-glazed" with Clear Comfort on supplementary frames

Details of how to install the plastic film with various window types are available at the Clear Comfort website. Very briefly, one uses the double-sided tape that comes with a Clear Comfort kit to stick the plastic film directly on the window frames if you have sash windows, or to stick the film on removable supplementary frames if you have windows that open by sliding to the side. Either way, the film traps a 2-3cm layer of air between the glass and the film, which stops heat transfer between the outside glass and the inside of your house, keeping your house cooler in summer and warmer in winter than it would otherwise be.

What I've done...

Our house has windows that open by sliding sideways, so I needed to make up supplementary frames that fit snugly inside the existing window frames. This almost doubled the cost of the project compared with the sash window scenario, and involved about five times as much work. While I was making the supplementary frames, I often wished that I had sash windows - I had to make 26 frames to do the entire house! However, I eventually discovered that it is much, much easier to stick the film evenly on to a removable frame than it is to stick it directly to something fixed. We do have one small window (in a door) that did not need a supplementary frame.

 Clear Comfort stuck directly to door (no frame needed)

Before committing myself to doing the entire house, I bought the $20 sample kit to try on one window. I bought $1 per meter pine (42 x 18cm) to make the frame, and screwed on small metal brackets at the backs of the corners to hold the frame together.

Back of a supplementary frame (not the test one)

I then painted it, waited for the paint to cure, prepped the surface and stuck on the double-sided tape. When it came time to stick on the plastic film, I simply leaned the frame against a wall and bit-by-bit peeled off the backing tape and stuck on the film, starting from the top and working down both sides.

Perhaps one improves with practice, but I did not manage to stick the film on as evenly as I'd hoped. The tension was rather uneven, and there were a number of wrinkles at the edges. Even so, the heat-shrinking process was quite amazing - it smoothed out the wrinkles and made the film look almost exactly like glass. I was quite pleased, and relieved, until I noticed that my supplementary wooden frame had become slightly twisted during the shrinking process - possibly because I should have used better quality wood for the frame, or possibly because I did not manage sufficiently even tension when I stuck on the film.

In any case, having learned of the potential pitfalls, I thought the result looked promising enough for me decide to go ahead with "double-glazing" the entire house. This time I bought 42 x 18cm  pre-primed cypress fir (about $2 per meter). I don't know much about timber, but the cypress fir felt sturdier and more "solid" than the pine. I made and prepared the frames in the same way as before except that, for the taller windows (180cm high) and glass sliding doors, I added in a cross piece partway up because the long side pieces started to bow in slightly before I did that. For most of my windows I made a pair of supplementary frames so that, when I want to open the window, one of the pair can be removed and can sit in front of the other frame on the window ledge. This gives you a convenient and safe place to store it when not in use.

One frame moved over the other to open the window

When I was ready to stick the plastic film to the frames, I followed a very helpful tip from the Clear Comfort salesperson. I laid out the length of plastic film on the floor (after thoroughly cleaning the floor) and stuck the edges to the floor with masking tape, ensuring that the film was perfectly flat and evenly tensioned. I then removed all the backing tape from the double-sided tape on one frame and carefully put it down onto the film (a friend held one end of the frame and I the other). Sticking the frame to the film worked much, much better than trying to stick the film to a vertical frame. The film was a little loose (which is fine), but it had very little wrinkling at the edges and the tension was quite even.

This time I inserted each pair of finished frames into their particular window before heat shrinking the plastic film so that they couldn't be pulled out of square by the heat shrinking process if there was any unevenness in the tension. This time the frames did not twist at all - but I still don't know if that was due to using better wood or due to sticking the film on with much more even tension!

Fitting the supplementary frames...

I've not written much about how to handle the plastic film because those details are on the Clear Comfort website, but there are a few challenges to solve concerning the frames.

Firstly, the supplementary frames need to fit very snugly inside your existing window frames in order to trap a layer of air between the plastic film and the glass in your windows. I'm not sure how other people would achieve that. Perhaps accomplished carpenters could do it just by making perfectly-sized frames, but I opted to make the frames about 4mm shorter and narrower than the insides of the window frames to leave a 2mm gap all round. I then stuck self-adhesive weather seal foam strips around all edges of each frame except for the centre edge of one of each pair of frames.

Update: So far the foam-style weather seal strips I used are working fine, but since writing this post I've been advised that the brush-style weather seal strips are much more durable and worth the extra expense.

I tested the fit of the supplementary frames before sticking on the plastic film. The foam strips compress a little and make for a very snug firm fit. In fact the fit is sufficiently snug that I did not need to use anything to stop the supplementary frames falling forward out of the existing window frames. The frames were easy enough to position correctly at this stage because I could put my hands around the wood of the frames, but bear in mind that, once the film is attached, you will only be able to push on the frames to insert them and you will need something to pull on to remove them (when you want to open a window).

Before I stuck the weather seal strips onto the supplementary frames, I used drawing pins to attach loops of ribbon to pull on to remove the frames. I used wood glue to stick small rectangles of balsa wood (from a craft kit) inside the sides and tops of the existing window frames. These stop the supplementary frames going in too close to the glass when I push on them to insert them and maintain a 20mm gap between the glass and the film.


After I'd stuck the film on the frames, I discovered that I needed to push quite firmly on the central edges of each frame pair to get them to sit flush with each other, and that I therefore needed something quite solid to push against. At that point I raided the collection of kids wooden blocks and found some that were just the right size to place between the bottoms of the supplementary frames and the bottom of the window frames. These just sit at the halfway point on the window ledge without being stuck on in any way.

Detail showing ribbon loop, kids block, and small balsa block

These blocks solved the problem, but even so, inserting and removing the pairs of frames is still a bit tricky. I have one window that is sufficiently narrow to only have one supplementary frame, and that is much easier to insert and remove. Assuming you use weather seal strips or something else that compresses to achieve a snug fit, I suggest you should consider using only a single supplementary frame where possible, but you will need somewhere safe to keep the frame when you remove it.. In my case I have another window of the same height nearby where I store the single supplementary frame when I want to open that window.

I used Clear Comfort with supplementary frames for all our windows, and also for the sliding doors shown below. However, for the sake of convenience, I opted not to use it for the glass sliding door that I go in and out of numerous times a day.

 Glass sliding doors with supplementary frames

What might have been better...

I used 42 x 18cm cypress fir for my frames, but think I should have used wider timber to prevent any bowing of the longer sides of frames. The side pieces of the 120cm high frames bowed almost not at all and the weather seal strips took care of the slight bowing, but the 150cm high frames did bow enough for there to be a slight air gap between the central edges. I originally had weather seal strip only on one of the central edges, but for the window shown below I ended up having to add another strip on the other frame to close that gap. The 180cm high frames all have cross pieces partway up the frames and so did not bow at all.

 You can see the wider gap halfway up the bowed sides of the frame

I considered attaching some sort of cupboard door handles to the frames to grasp when removing the frames, but I thought the loops of ribbon would be less conspicuous. The ribbon might ultimately not be durable enough for the frames I remove often though, so maybe some frames will end up having handles eventually!

Other alternatives...

 A cheaper alternative for temporary window insulation during mid-winter is bubble-wrap. I don't think you'd want this on all your windows, even temporarily, but used strategically it sounds quite effective. This is what Denise had to say:


"I put it on bubble side towards the window, and used the minimum amount of sticky tape on the window frame to hold it on - I'd get a better seal if I used tape around all the edges, no doubt, but I want to minimise the tape residue clean up when I take it all off!

The view from the window needs blocking in any case - a bare fence, weeds, and noisy neighbours. It just nicely blurs things :

While it doesn't stop all the cold air, I must say it's pretty bloody good. First thing in the mornings (even after -4ºC (24ºF) overnight) my office sits at around 17ºC (63ºF) without any extra heating."

Update: Yesterday I decided to follow Denise's example and stuck bubble-wrap to the frequently-used sliding door that does not have the Clear Comfort treatment. This sliding door was the weak link in my house insulation, but since I use that door extremely frequently, I felt it was not practical to remove and insert supplementary frames each time I needed to use the door. I thought that having just one expanse of glass without insulation would not make a huge difference, but I've been surprised! Bubble-wrapping that door has indeed made the house noticeably warmer.

The bubble-wrap lets in plenty of light, but it does blur the view through that door, so I plan to leave it in place only during really cold weather, and then remove it and store it for use again next winter.

Measured results...finally (added December 2010)

I compared this winter's energy consumption for heating with last winter's consumption. This year, it was 92.7% of what it was last year (before the Clear Comfort was installed). At first glance that does not seem like a lot of improvement, but then I compared the average daily maximum temperatures for the 3 winter months for both years. This year the average maximum for those months was 15.43 C, compared with 16.83 C last year.

Now, they say that raising or lowering the thermostat by 1 degree affects energy consumption by up to 10%. So, I guess I can say that, if it weren't for the Clear Comfort, my energy consumption for heating should have been "up to" 14% higher this year, but in fact it was 7.3% lower. (The "up to 10%" figure is much more vague than I'd like, but I'm not sure how else to factor in the colder than usual winter.)

Also, the bubble-wrap I mentioned above fairly quickly started coming unstuck so, in practice, those wide glass doors were bare almost all winter. Now I'm curious to know how much difference it would make if those doors also were effectively insulated. Next winter I hope to find tape that will stick the bubble-wrap on securely, and keep it in place all winter. I'll then compare next winter's energy consumption to see how much the energy consumption for heating was affected by having one uninsulated expanse of glass, and post the results here.

DIY alkaline soil work-around

The experts say that one simply adds as much organic matter as possible - lots and lots of compost and manure and mulch and pine needles - to fix an overly alkaline soil. I've been doing that for 9 years now. Perhaps I've simply not added enough of all that. My Bay of Biscay clay soil still gives pH readings of about 8. :-(

When I first started my garden I had a blank slate to work with. I spread enormous amounts of autumn leaves, mushroom compost, manure, gypsum, and coarse sand, then spread around a bag full of field peas to grow as green manure. Once that had grown I hired someone to rotary hoe everything into the ground. That summer I did have quite a successful vege patch, but after the end of the next winter things didn't go so well.
The local gardening experts tell me that the winter rains make the subsoil alkalinity leach up to the surface, so that however much one improves the surface layer, it will revert to being quite alkaline inconveniently quickly.

Next I tried making raised beds for my veges. A friend gave me a whole bunch of old sleepers, and I used them to make three raised beds. Two of them were about 30cm high, and the other about 60cm. I bought garden loam for them and added lots of organic matter and manure. These worked very well at first, but after a couple of seasons my veges were again very disappointing, despite regular additions of manure and compost. Loose leaf lettuces, silverbeet, broad beans, peas and many herbs grew well enough, but things that are a bit fussy about soil pH, like tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, eggplant, and numerous other things were dismal failures.

About a year ago I invested in a soil pH tester, and was shocked to see that the soil in my raised beds had become very nearly as alkaline as the base soil in my garden. One possible "solution" was to graciously go with the flow and simply grow veges that tolerate alkalinity, but I didn't like that idea much. I decided drastic action was required.

In my case, "drastic action" meant a major garden revamp involving an enormous amount of hard work and a lot of money. The areas of the garden where fruit trees, herbs, roses, and a few other ornamental things grow well have been left as is, but I've replaced the old raised beds and other ground-level patches with a number of new improved alkalinity-proof raised beds.

What I did...
My new raised beds are designed to stop the soil in the beds being affected by the alkalinity in the subsoil. I've constructed them in various ways, but essentially they all function like garden pots...garden pots that have enough area and depth to support small acid-loving fruit trees, kiwifruit vines, and berries, as well as having plenty of space for all sorts of veges.

I used 200uM builders plastic under the raised beds as a barrier to stop alkalinity leaching upwards, with the soil under the plastic contoured so that water drains out at the base on the sides (towards other fruit trees and plants). On top of the plastic I spread a layer of coarse gravel, then covered that with some old shadecloth. I then piled in a loose layer of coarse prunings, and then filled the beds with garden loam and mushroom compost. I also lined the walls of the raised beds with builders plastic to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly. Here is a very large L-shaped one - my main vege patch - with its winter crop in progress.


My chooks can free-range around all sides of this raised bed and intercept at least some garden pests before they reach my veges. This bed is 80cm high - hopefully deep enough for the mango and persimmon trees and the kiwifruit vines, planted in the central harder-to reach parts. I had hoped this would be too high for the chooks to get in but, despite their wings being clipped, I had to add the blue plastic trellis stuff to keep them out. This bed is constructed from 20 x10cm sleepers of various lengths, supported by 80mm permapine posts. I had to buy these materials and the gravel, soil, and mushroom compost, so this was a very expensive project (about $1,000 all up). However, already my veges are growing much better and quicker than ever before, I'm excited at the prospect of finally being able to pick some of my favourite types of fruit that don't like alkaline soil, and it is a sheer delight to be able to weed the vege patch without bending over! Already I think the hard work and expense were well worth it.

In the front garden, I replaced the old raised bed with a scattering of five 1.2m square planter boxes. I bought these in kit form, but the kit is for a 31cm high planter box, so I bought 3 kits for every 2 boxes, cut one in half vertically and added those halves on top of the other 2 boxes to make them deeper. These have the same layered treatment - builders plastic to protect from alkalinity, then gravel, shadecloth, prunings, and soil and compost. As seen in the photo below, a winter crop of potatoes is growing in these at the moment, but I plan to plant pumpkins and melons in these beds in Spring.


I've used the same type of planter boxes, with the addition of rope trellises for cane fruits, in my "indulgence section" of the back garden. In these I've recently planted raspberries, a marionberry, and a thornless blackberry under the trellises, and lots of strawberries at the sides. There are also leeks around the watering pots, but these are still too tiny to show up in the photo below. The leeks too are part of the indulgence. I really like cooking with them, but until that time they make very attractive foliage plants.


For the last of my alkalinity-proof raised beds, I reused the sleepers from the former ineffective raised beds. This bed is about 60cm high and currently has a green manure crop (broad beans and chickpeas) just starting to grow. This too is in the chooks free-range area, hence the blue plastic trellis seen on top of the walls in the photo below. I've planted a fig tree in the middle - partly because figs start fruiting sooner if there roots can't go down too far before hitting something (in this case the builders plastic), and partly because one can never have too many fig trees and I had nowhere else to put this one! In summer this one will also have pumpkins and melons.

DIY pest traps

There are a quite a few websites giving information concerning natural methods of pest control in the garden, so I'm not attempting anything comprehensive in this post. However, I want to mention two methods that you might not be aware of - I wasn't until recently!

Millipedes...
Unless you are really very new to natural pest control methods you would have heard of using beer traps to lure and kill slugs and snails. Actually, I don't find these all that effective for snails, but in my garden they do trap a reasonable number of slugs. The huge surprise to me, though, was that beer traps are an excellent way of trapping and drowning millipedes (they made an awful mess of my potato patch last year).


I bury some sort of container (here it is a plastic dessert dish) so that the lip is roughly level with the surrounding soil, pour in a little beer, then place something over the top to keep out rain (an ice-cream container in this case) with a window cut out for easy access by pests. I usually put a small stone on top to keep it in place.

Earwigs...
Earwigs can be just as destructive as slugs and snails, but until recently I had not seen a good method of trapping them. You need an arrangement similar to the beer trap above, but for earwigs you pour a little raw linseed oil (available from hardware shops) into the trap. The linseed oil is about $10 for a 1L bottle, but it will last you a long time.


Most of the dead things in there are earwigs, but I also see some millipedes, some sort of beetle, and a cricket as well. That's the first time I've seen a cricket in these traps - I didn't mean to catch that!

DIY free-ranging chook feeder

Chooks are quite capable of free-ranging all by themselves without any DIY input from us of course, but mine seem to do it too well. They eat all the grass and weeds in their free-range area inconveniently quickly, and gobble up newly germinated greenery the moment it pokes through the soil. They can still scratch around and find bugs to eat, but it does not seem like proper free-ranging to me if there is no living greenery for them to eat.

At first I tried partitioning off a section of their area and waiting for that area to revegetate. Once it had, I would allow the chooks back into that area and partition off a different area. I guess that is worth doing (and I do still do this), but its not really very effective. The revegetated areas are stripped bare again in a matter of days, whereas the revegetation process takes weeks. Thus, most of the time the only greenery the chooks get is the grass and weeds I toss over to them when I weed my vege patch, and the outer leaves, tops, etc. of the veges I pick for us to eat.

What I've done now...

My Big Bucket greywater project involved cutting the top 2/3rds off  of a round 500L poly tank, and of course I kept the offcut part just in case I ever needed circular walls for anything. This offcut, cut in halves vertically, now forms the walls of two 90cm diameter free-ranging chook feeders. These are bottomless, and sit on on the ground in the free-range area. I secured chicken wire over the tops of them so the chooks can't get inside them, and I planted alfalfa, broad beans, mizuna, and various other seeds I happened to have in the soil inside the walls.

The chooks can now graze on the greenery once it grows enough to poke through the wire netting without destroying the plants to the extent that they stop growing. In the photo below the alfalfa, etc., is just starting to poke through the soil, but the broad beans have been growing quickly and the chooks are already snacking on the one in the foreground.



The other day I was telling Gloria about my chook feeder and she said, "Oh I've done that too, but I made mine out of wire mesh"! Apparently her chooks managed to get in under the wire the other day, so her feeder is looking a bit bare at the moment.


Gloria's free-range chook feeder

DIY yoghurt

We really like yoghurt. Until I started making it myself, plastic yoghurt containers would account for at least half of the contents of our recycle bin, and I'd often wonder how 1L of yoghurt could cost about $5, when I could buy 1L of milk for about $1.20.

A while back I bought an EasiYo yoghurt maker. It really does live up to its name - just put cold water and the contents of an EasiYo packet (containing powdered milk and yoghurt culture) into the 1L plastic jar and shake. Fill the incubator flask with boiling water up to the indicator line, place the jar onto the baffle in the incubator, put on the lid and wait 8 hours. That's it. The varieties I tried tasted pretty good too. However, the packets of powder are not much cheaper than ordinary supermarket yoghurt, there still is packaging, and I imagine it takes a lot of energy to turn fresh milk into powdered milk.

Time for some DIY experimenting with making yoghurt from scratch using ordinary milk and yoghurt culture, I thought!

First I tried extrapolating from the EasiYo incubation method. I heated the milk first and put it in the EasiYo jar, then cooled it to roughly the temperature of cold water. I then added in starter culture (a few spoons of commercial natural yoghurt). Then I copied the EasiYo incubation method - boiling water up to the indicator line in the incubator, with the jar sitting on the baffle so that only the bottom 2-3cm of the jar was sitting in the water. Don't do that! The result tasted alright, but the consistency failed badly (it was drinking consistency). I still don't understand why the EasiYo incubation method works perfectly with their powder, but fails with ordinary milk and culture. Both essentially have the same ingredients and cultures, so I would have thought the same incubation environment/temperature would work for both.

In any case, after a bit of experimenting, I've now discovered what does work well. I'm still using the EasiYo 1L jar and the incubator flask, but I don't use their baffle in the incubator and I use cooler deeper water for the incubation. (Of course you don't need the EasiYo incubator flask and jar. Any sort of small esky or similar can be used for incubation, and the yoghurt itself can be in any sort of container that has a well-fitting lid.) The entire process takes around 30 minutes, but most of that is waiting time (while the milk heats and then cools). Hands-on time is maybe 5 minutes. I usually do the dishes at the same time so I am "there" in the kitchen to keep an eye on the milk temperatures. Obviously this method is not quite as quick or easy as making EasiYo yoghurt, but now that I've streamlined the process I find this almost as easy...and I prefer the more natural taste of my DIY yoghurt!

How it is done...

Preparation: Remove the starter culture from the fridge and set aside to warm a little by the time you will need it. Place the incubator in an out-of-the-way corner so that it won't be moved at all for 10 hours or so. Put on the kettle - you'll need about 1.5L of boiling water. If you are using an EasiYo flask as your incubator, remove the baffle (the red plastic part closest to the window in the picture below) and instead place something about 6cm high (I use the small heatproof dish seen in the picture below) in the bottom of the incubator so that the top of your jar will end up roughly near the incubator top.


Killing bacteria: Place the jar and lid on the sink, put your thermometer (to be used later) in the jar, and fill the jar and lid to overflowing with boiling water.

  
Heating the milk: Pour some boiling water into one saucepan and place another saucepan on top to mimic a double-boiler. Pour about 930ml of milk (assuming you will be using a 1L jar) into the top pan. Use a medium heat to keep the water boiling slowly.

After about 8 minutes, the milk will develop a subtle cooked milk smell and small bubbles will form around the wall of the saucepan. At that point, stir it with and ordinary clean spoon (the hot milk will kill any bacteria). If you can feel that milk solids are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, and if stirring the milk makes it look frothy all over (as in the picture below), then the milk is hot enough.



Cooling the milk: Pour the hot water out of the jar that the yoghurt will be made in and just shake out the drops (don't dry it). The water will still be rather hot, so its easiest to use two hands, but you don't want to contaminate the thermometer by putting it down anywhere. I sit the thermometer in the saucepan of hot milk simply as a place to put it temporarily. Pour about half the water into the incubator ready for later, and discard the rest (I use it to top up my washing up water).

Pour the hot milk into the jar and put the thermometer in the milk. Then, put the jar in a container of cold water - you can apply permaculture-like principles and use the saucepan you used to heat the milk as the cold water container (to soak it to facilitate washing it). Add a large handful of ice (if you have it) to the cold water, and periodically swirl the jar around in the water and stir the cooling milk with the thermometer. Once the ice has melted I start checking the thermometer every minute or so - I'm always amazed at how quickly the milk goes from too hot to too cold at this stage! I aim for 46C (115F), but usually overshoot the mark and end up with the milk being cooler. I've had successful batches of yoghurt with the milk temperature at this stage being anywhere between 46C (115F) and 43C (110F). (I've not tested outside that range.) The milk temperature at this stage is only one factor that affects the consistency of the final product, but I think I've had my best consistencies when this temperature was about 44C. Last time I timed it, the cooling process took 16 minutes.



Making the yoghurt: Remove the thermometer from the milk, wash it, and place it in the hot water in the incubator. Remove the jar of milk from the cold water and tip in roughly 2 dessert-spoons of starter. (You don't need to measure it, but sterilize and cool your measuring spoon first if you do.) Tip the boiling water (that was) out of the jar lid, and screw it on tightly. Shake the jar well.


Check the water temperature in the incubator and add cold water to adjust it to about 46C (115F). This does not have to be too precise - I've had successful yoghurt with temperatures a degree or two higher and lower than this.


Place the jar in the incubator, adjusting the water level so that it is just below the lid of the jar.



Put the lid on the incubator and leave it undisturbed for somewhere between 8 and 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more tart the yoghurt will become. (I like it best at around the 10 hour mark.) After the yoghurt has incubated, remove the jar from the incubator and place it in the fridge.

Yoghurt and dishes all done!!


Saving starter for next time: Always save some starter as soon as you first open a new jar of yoghurt. Place a small clean jar and its lid on the sink, put a spoon in the jar, and fill the jar and lid to overflowing with boiling water. Let sit for a few minutes, then pour out the hot water and shake out the drops (drying these items would risk contamination). Allow to cool to roughly room temperature. Then spoon several table-spoons of the new yoghurt into the jar, attach the lid, and keep in the fridge ready for next time you make yoghurt. I believe the culture can be stored for up to a week in a fridge, but since I make yoghurt every 2-3 days, I've never tested keeping it that long.



Other starter options: If you've not made yoghurt before, or if you've not made it for a while, you'll obviously need to use something other than yoghurt from your previous batch as starter culture. You can buy a small container of commercial natural yoghurt (unsweetened and unflavoured) and use some of that as starter. Again, make sure you remove the portion you will use as starter as soon as you open the container. Or, if you happen to have the EasiYo kit, you can make up one of their unsweetened and unflavoured varieties in their usual way, and use a little of that as your starter. (I've made successful batches of yoghurt using Farmer's Union European style natural yoghurt, and also using the EasiYo Greek style yoghurt.)

DIY planet rehabilitation

While those in power are quibbling over the economic impacts of reducing our carbon footprint and haggling over how to apportion/regulate our limited supply of fresh water, and while the UN posts warnings of increasing food security problems, there are many, many "little" :) people who are quietly (and not so quietly!) getting on with "doing it themselves". Call it DIY planet rehabilitation if you like.

Household by household, we are reducing our own carbon footprint, collecting and reusing our own water, and growing our own food. We are getting on with the business of sustainable living without waiting for decisions and action from people in power.  In that sense, this is a DIY blog.

It is also a DIY blog in the traditional sense of DIY - projects we can do ourselves instead of hiring experts to do them for us. DIY projects, especially original ones, tend to involve a good deal of trial and error. Please email me about your own sustainability-oriented DIY projects so that I can publish your ideas here. Allow others to learn from your mistakes and copy your tried-and-tested successes! Also feel free to use the comment function to suggest improvements and alternatives to the methods described in this blog or to add additional useful information. Enjoy!

Links...

1 million women
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/index.cfm?ruuid=4FFDB6A5-9689-1AD3-F54D2CEC032CF853

Greenleap
http://www.green-innovations.asn.au/

Climate Code Red
http://www.climatecodered.net/

Geelong Sustainability Group
http://www.geelongsustainability.org.au/