Friday, August 27, 2010

Oh … Bugger !

I’m thinking of renaming this blog. Something like “Cock-ups are Us” or even “Yet Another Balls Up” or perhaps just
“Oh … Bugger !” I’ve never claimed we were permaculture experts and I’ve even championed the idea that reading about our stumbling progress is a reassuring antidote to the modern fascination with garrulous, self-assured, TV-celeb experts. I have a double whammy to report today, a his and hers of underachievement.

I’ll start with Gabrielle’s: it’s that time of year when the Kilner jars are taken off the shelves ready to store Summer produce for the following year. Tomatoes, for example, are cooked and then passed through a moulin à légumes, then put into clean jars, new sealing rings added and the lids clipped down. Gabrielle then boils these for twenty minutes to sterilise (pasteurise?) jar and contents. The high temperature forces steam past the seals, so that, once cool again, a vacuum is created and the jars sealed as tight as a very tight thing.

So tomato, so good. We also have a glut of courgettes, which is not so surprising: I think anybody who grows vegetables will have loads of this easy-to-grow vegetable. Gabrielle fried off some onions, then added chopped courgettes and sweated them down before whizzing them to create a courgette pulp to be stored for winter consumption as soup, etc.

Within a day or so, hissing was heard from the Kilner jars containing the courgettes and they were leaking. Now you’d think that jars clamped hard tight with a new sealing ring would need a fair old pressure to hiss, wouldn’t you? It didn’t occur to me though, and I flipped the clip (if the lid stays on by suction, all is well) and the, by now, fermented courgette pulp exploded all over the wine rack and some shelves. Note to self: this sort of foolhardy investigation is best done in an outside environment, like Salisbury Plain, for example.

So we now partially understand, less acidic foods (like courgettes in relation to tomatoes, for example) apparently need higher temperatures in pressure-cooking equipment or longer boiling to safely preserve them. And now to my own faux pas.

We were in the workshop/storage room downstairs a couple of days ago—where the vaults for the compost toilet are—when Gabrielle pointed out a dark brown wet leak at one of the corners … oh, bugger! Unusually, i.e., completely out of character, I was amazingly calm about the whole smelly affair, philosophising that all pioneers encounter teething problems, that this experience would lead me to a deeper understanding, etc. We have two problems here, one is that there shouldn’t be that much urine there anyway, so the urine-separation plate needs some fine tuning and the other, the leak!

It was surprising as I’d used solid concrete blocks, parpaing plein, mortar with a waterproofing additive and special render made for waterproofing underground cellars and foundations. I had to empty the compost chamber (poo-ey!) and borrow a power hose to clean it all off, which was also the ideal tool to find the tiny leak. All is now sorted, with enough special waterproofing render applied to induce the Titanic to bob to the surface. Urine separation has been tweaked and we’ll see how we go. I will post details of the construction soon but why anyone would want to build one after reading this, goodness only knows.