Friday, 28 September 2012

Solar Power

Here in Queensland and all over Australia the costs of running our homes on electricity has risen by 60% in just the last few years and we've been warned that this is not the end, costs will continue to rise steadily.  This is a huge assault on a household budget when a lot of people are already struggling to make ends meet in the global financial crisis. In reality there are only two options for most of us.  Either find some extra income or cut down on how much electricity you are consuming.

We have chosen to buy a solar power unit for our home and were fortunate enough that we had money from a tax refund that we could use as a deposit.  We also managed to get into the solar market before 1st July when the Queensland government reduced the feed-in tariff of 44 cents to only 9 cents and with a company that signed us up for a 75 cent feed in tariff for the first 3 years.

I know there are a lot of solar companies out there selling old stock that are less effective than the new technologies produced today.  We made the decision to buy the best we could afford which also means that we will reap the best benefits because the efficiency of these new type panels has greatly improved.

Obviously with the government announcement that it was drastically reducing the feed-in tariff, there was a rush on signing up for a solar system so we have had to wait for a few months before the installation and now we are still waiting for the energy company to come and change over our meter. The solar system has been switched off in the meantime as Australian houses are fitted with a simple meter that reads electricity whether it is going into or out from your home.  This means that if we had our system turned on, any power it generates would be read by our current meter as being used by us and we would be charged accordingly.  Therefore it remains switched off until the energy company can change us to a new meter that reads both ways.

Using the system we have had installed we fully expect to be able to not only pay out electricity bills completely each month but also be able to sell excess electricity back into the power grid and thereby earn a small profit from our solar.  Once we have completed repayments that profit will be ours to save and also we won't have any electricity costs.

The idea is to change our habits in how we use electricity inside the home to reap the most benefit. During the day our solar system will be producing power and if we are using it at that time we are using it at a rate of 75 cents per kilowatt (the amount we would be paid if that was going into the grid). However if we use most of our power at night we are only using it at a rate of 21 cents (the current cost per kilowatt charged by power companies).  Looks like that washing, vacuuming, ironing etc will have to be done after the sun sets.  That's going to be different!

Human nature is a funny thing. When people get solar installed there seems to be two trains of thought. There are the people who decide to use more power because now they can afford more so why not. Then there are the people like us who decide to see just how little they can use so that they reap more financial benefits into their savings account.
Which would you be?


Thursday, 20 September 2012

In the Vegetable Garden

The weather is taking on a lovely warmth to it daily now and everything is growing just beautifully. There is a lazy days of Spring and Summer sort of feeling all about Monarch Place at the moment. It is perfect for getting some work done in the garden before we get too far into the hot Summer months ahead.  It is also perfect to lazing around outside and reading a book or snoozing in a warm spot so I have to keep motivated to get the necessary things done around here.

I'm still browsing through my Pinterest boards and having a go at some of the things I have found on there.  After all there is not much point in pinning all those fabulous ideas if I'm just going to look at them and not give them a go so I put a couple into practice in the garden this week.  You can follow me on Pinterest by clicking on the link on the right.

These tomato seedlings have come up in another garden bed, from some compost but they were where I didn't really want them so I have transplanted them into the vegetable bed.  I followed the advice on the Organic Gardening  site about trench planting your tomato seedlings for a stronger root system.  Plants with a strong root system require less water and are much stronger.  With a tomato seeding all those little hairs down the stem will grow into roots if they are buried in soil.  A stronger healthier tomato plant means more tomatoes and plants that are more resistant to disease and who doesn't want that?

I don't have a lot of room for growing vegetables with only 2 garden beds at the moment so I was looking for ways to expand my area of growth.  If I grow 1 zucchini plant and 4 tomato bushes I already have one garden bed full so I needed to come up with another plan.

This mixed lettuce hanging basket was the perfect thing and seems to be working really well so far.  This idea came from where you can see how it looks once fully grown.  I have used Baby Cos and Red Coral lettuce seedlings.  I wanted to use lettuce that I can pick the leaves as they grow to have a continuous supply of mixed salad leaves right throughout Summer.

I used a large wire hanging basket and coco fiber liner and filled it with a really good potting mix and two punets of lettuce seedlings.  I found that using a sharp knife was the easiest way to make a hole in the basket liner and then carefully removed most of the soil from the roots of the lettuce so I could gently coax them into the hole with minimum damage.

Start at the bottom of the basket and backfill with your soil as you go.  Once the basket is completely finished top up with a little more soil and plant a few seedlings in the top. Give it a really good water until you can see water dripping from each of the holes where the lettuce seedlings have been planted so you know they have all had a good drink.

Wouldn't these make a great practical Christmas gift once they were full of leaves and ready to be picked and eaten?  You could make them from anything your gift recipient likes.  How about a mixed herb basket or one with 2 or 3 different types of chillies. The only thing to remember when mixed planting, whether it is in your garden or a basket, is to ensure that all plants like and need the same things.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, 17 September 2012

100 Days 'til Christmas

100 Days until Christmas........yes really!  Take a deep breath, exhale.  There now lets have a closer look at this fact.
If you are like me and usually make a lot of your gifts then it's time to make a plan on how to get them done in time.  I've just been away on a conference weekend and one of the things we focussed on was goal setting and this is a perfect situation to put that into place.

"Those who fail to plan
plan to fail"

So what have you planned to make for loved ones this Christmas?  Now obviously I can't put my actual list here on my blog as my family and friends read this too and that would spoil all the fun so I'm going to use a 'pretend' list here rather than the real thing.

100 Days or 14 Weeks until Christmas.

1. Make a list of people to send hand-made cards to = 20 cards / 10 weekends until 1st December which is when I post my Christmas cards out so that equals 2 cards to be made per weekend or maybe 5 cards over 4 weekends.  Write dates in a diary or on a calendar.

2.  Make a list of what gifts I need to make for family and friends.
3. Organise the list into things that will take the longest time to make through to gifts that will need to be made just a few days before giving.  

4. Estimate the time it will take to make each one and plan the start and finish dates.  Be generous with time to avoid stress and those pre-Christmas midnight catch up nights. Write those dates in a diary or on a calendar.

5. Plan the first few projects and buy the supplies you will need so you have them on hand when you need them, without having the excuse that you will need to go shopping again before you can make a start on the next project.

6. Start your first project and enjoy the fact that you have plenty of time, a plan to accomplish all that you would like to make and the joy of giving lovingly made gifts to the people in your life that mean the most.

My list might look something like this:

3 x hand knitted socks
1 x hand knitted scarf
1 x hand knitted glove and hat set
Selection of potted herbs taken from cuttings in my garden
3 x gift basket of hand made soaps
3 x crochet scrubbies for in the gift baskets
4 x Noodle boxed 'Christmas themed' cookies or sweets

I would start with taking cuttings for the potted herbs now so that they have good established growth by Christmas.  
Then the next thing would be to get started on a pair of knitted socks as these take me between 2 to 3 weeks to make each pair.
I like to make the soap about a month before Christmas to allow time for it to harden and cure, so I will write that in my diary for a weekend in late November.
The last things I will make are the cookies so they are nice and fresh.

Part of my planning process for the above would be to pick out all the knitting projects, print or download the patterns, buy the yarn and make sure I have the correct size needles and then put each project into a separate bag ready to go when needed.

Enjoy your Christmas planning


Monday, 10 September 2012

Rainbow Beach

This weekend we celebrated the 50th birthday of a dear friend.  Her husband had organised a weekend of surprises for her and one of those was lunch with us at beautiful Rainbow Beach about 2 hours drive north of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

We arrived just on lunch time and 'accidentally' bumped into them meandering along the main street, and after all the other surprises and 'accidental' meetings with other friends and family throughout the weekend, she soon knew why we were there.

We lunched at the Rainbow Beach hotel which is an older hotel but just a lovely ambience and good meals.  Another surprise that awaited her for that afternoon was that they were going paragliding but unfortunately the wind just wouldn't cooperate and turn in the right direction, and in the end it had to be cancelled.

After lunch we went for a walk up the beach to investigate the height of the dunes that they might be paragliding from and also to look at the famous colored sands.  You can see just a few shades in this dune, white, cream and dark greys near the top of the rocks but further along the beach there are pinks, oranges golds and browns.  You can see that better in the top photo.

These sands are often collected and layered into small bottles and people wonder at how there can be so many different colors in just one small area.
Photo by Sand Magic
I didn't buy a bottle while there but found this site online where the sands are collected and made into tiny art forms for sale to visitors.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

2 Minute Bread - really?

Wow sounds amazing doesn't it?  A homemade loaf of bread in just 2 minutes?  Well of course that is an impossibility but obviously it means that the preparation time to make the dough will only take 2 minutes and even that is amazing.

What is she on about I can hear you thinking!  Well I found a pin on Pinterest declaring that this 2 minute bread works and thought I would try it for myself and test my skepticism.

With all my flurries of action on Pinterest, there has to come a time when I actually try out some of the wonderful ideas I've pinned.  If this bread didn't work out I could always post it on Pintrosity, so here goes.

 2 Minute Bread

3 cups white unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 cups water
A good size casserole dish with a lid.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined.

Add the water and mix until the dough is a sticky wet mess.  (I used about 2 cups of water as I found 1 1/2 was not enough).

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to sit on the kitchen bench for 12 or more hours. (Mine was there for about 16).  During this time the dough will rise.  Don't put it in the fridge or the yeast won't activate properly.
Note:  As you will see by the photo further down the page, using a tea towel to cover the dough for such a long period results in the surface drying out so I wouldn't recommend it.

When you are ready to bake your bread place your greased casserole dish and lid in the oven and preheat your oven to 230C (450F) leaving the dish to heat for about 20 minutes.

Carefully scoop the dough from the bowl and place on a floured benchtop or board.  Shape into a ball with floured hands and sprinkle a little more flour on the top.  Don't knead the dough.

Put your ready to be baked bread dough into your hot casserole dish.  Careful it's very hot! Place the lid on the casserole dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  No peaking!

Ta da!  Artisan Bread ready to be enjoyed.

My conclusion to this recipe is that Yes, it does work but mine turned out a little doughy and could probably have done with another 5 minutes in the oven.  I will certainly use this recipe again, probably as a bread accompaniment for soups, and next time look forward to adding some grains and seeds to my dough.

Happy Baking

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Spring is Here!

Ahhh....I love Spring.  It's my favourite time of the year, and what's not to love?  The birds are singing, bees are buzzing, gentle breezes blowing, sun is shining and the gardens are coming to life with colour.

Of course with Spring also comes hard work in the garden, but it is so lovely been out of doors in the sunshine (without the heat) that I don't mind the hard work.

Last weekend we ordered a load of wood chips to replenish the mulch on all our garden beds.  This will help keep the watering down and the roots of the plants cool in the long hot Summer months to come, which means I won't have to water everyday when I come home from work and our water bill will be low.  A little bit of work now and it's a win win situation later.

We also ordered a load of organic garden soil to which chicken manure has been added, the vegetable gardens need the levels topping up as they have mulched down.  My little compost ball system just doesn't produce enough to keep them at a good level.  I also have a new garden bed which needs soil as we are on a fairly new block of land and the earth here is hard and mainly clay.  

I also started some seeds in trays undercover.  Lavender, rocket and basil.  The basil is a globe shaped ornamental bush which I am trying for the first time.  It looks really attractive in the garden and is also edible. 
In the garden beds I planted some corn seeds and will also be putting lettuce seedlings in this weekend and more tomato seedlings that I found growing in the compost.  As you can see from the photos above the egg tomatoes are nearing their end and the snow peas are ready to be pulled out so I will replace them with cucumbers.  I'll also be planting a capsicum bush and 'just one' zucchini plant.  I learnt that lesson last year.

What's happening in your garden?

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