December 17, 2010

Time for some news from the garden front, and where better to go than the compost piles!

We have many and nearly everything that could possibly go on them, does. I have a phobia about taking stuff to the dump when it could be used within our little territory at home. Our recycling bin is often full, but our rubbish bin only ever has two small bags of rubbish each week, the rest is re-used.

We currently have 6 compost piles, with all working at some stage or another. The general process involves having 1 or 2 being for adding material to, some “cooking” with nothing more being added to these, some ready to use, (these don’t last long) and some for raw material to be added to the current piles. (stuff like straw from the chook house, leaves in autumn, etc…)

compost piles

All 6 compost piles

We try to keep the chooks out of most piles, but let them have a scratch about in some. The overloaded pile is the “sticky” pile. The material in here is too big to use straight away. Sometimes it becomes firewood, or just gets burned down to “bio char”, or parts will eventually breakdown and get put on the other piles.

compost piles

Compost piles 1 to 3

These piles are at the back of the garden and form one edge to the chook enclosure. It is out of the way, but we enjoy this part of the garden as much as any other and often have afternoon tea nearby!

compost piles

Compost piles 4 - 6

Behind them is the “useful box” where all potentially re-useable material, and firewood is stored for later use.

The un-mentionable compost is also kept behind these piles – the dog poo compost.

dog poo composting

Dog poo composting

Two inverted bins are used to compost the dogs poo. (two dogs make alot!) One is breaking down while the other is added to. When both are full the old one will be down to less than half volume and is used to make a special dog poo only compost pile, which we use on non edible plants and gardens, mostly in the front garden. The poo breaks down completely and appears and smells just like earth, but could contain some pathogens still, hence the non edible garden use.

We also have mini compost tubes, like little worm farms.

worm tubes for composting

Worm tubes for composting

These are dug into the ground in the vegi patches and near trees. Started with some worms and compost from the main piles, they are topped up every now and then with kitchen scraps. Large holes below ground level allow the worms to come and go in the ground around the tube. We like the little hats and faces too!

Compost, gotta love it, in all forms. We’re happy not to throw out anything which could be used again.


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Wood burner stove from 44 Gallon Drum – Test Day!

November 12, 2010

The First lighting of a test fire in the 44 Gallon drum stove was eagerly awaited. What would happen? How would it burn? Would the oven be smoke proof?

Some success, but several issues too, were to follow…

Ethan lights the first fire

This was the easy part.

Smokey start!

Air flow through the flue didn’t seem to be sufficient. The doors sealed better than I’d imagined. Issue 1 – more airflow needed. Holes in doors?

Green flame on copper flue

With the door open, the fire burned well, and hot. The green flames around the copper flue looked interesting.

Fire burning strongly with door open

Bigger logs got the fire burning hot.

Ooops! Solder gives way at top of flue, too hot!

Too hot it seemed for the soft solder holding the chinamans hat top for the flue together. Issue 2 – higher temp solder or mechanical joints?

It's getting hot in there!

So we enjoyed the fire into the evening…

Ethan likes to stoke the flames

Sitting around the open door of the fire was a nice warm way to spend the evening.

Next day issue 3 became clear. The high temp putty used to seal the flue failed, too hot! This means the oven isn’t smoke tight yet.

So there’s a chinamans hat to fix, holes to drill in doors and a sealing method for the oven to be devised. All good fun to fill the summer before we get to next winter. Should allow for some wood collection in the meantime.


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Canberra Environment and Sustainability Resource Centre Sustainability Challenge

November 11, 2010


Recently, the Canberra Chronicle featured the Millers for their part in the Environment Centre’s Sustainability Challenge. The text of the article follows;

THE Millers are just one of the many
Canberra families choosing to reduce
their impact on the environment by
taking part in a month long challenge.
More than 100 Canberra households
have signed up to take part in the
Canberra Sustainability Challenge in
an effort to reduce their carbon
emissions by changing their habits.
The Canberra Environment and
Sustainability Resource Centre
(CESRC), in association with the ACT
Government, has provided these families
with an easy kit to help them
throughout this challenge.
The challenge encourages families
to calculate their carbon footprint, pick
from a list of ideas to reduce it, and
record how easy or difficult it is to
keep up the challenge over 30 days.
Brian Miller said his family had
always been interested in environmental
issues, but was encouraged to
take up the challenge by CESRC
‘‘We went to a fete at Evatt Primary
School and I saw the little stand they
had there and went and spoke to
them,’’ Mr Miller said.
‘‘I guess we’re sort of involved in
that sort of stuff a lot anyway.
‘‘Basically there’s a list of things
they thought we might do to reduce our
impact on the environment.’’
The list is divided into categories,
including food, mileage, energy, waste
and transport, and the families are
encouraged to choose five things and
chart their progress.
‘‘You could look through and see
we doing these things already, or
maybe we can’t do them for some
reason, and are they the sort of things
we might do for this 30 day challenge,’’
Mr Miller said.
‘‘So we picked a number of things,
then put them on a chart.
‘‘The idea was to do something
more. Not to say ‘oh we’re doing that
already’, but to do something more.
‘‘We decided to try to do one meat
meal a day, to put a minimum amount
of water in the kettle … to not use the
second TV, to try and not bring plastic
bags home, and to walk to school.’’
Mr Miller said because his family
was already quite environmentally
conscious, some of the challenges
weren’t too hard to incorporate into
their lives.
‘‘We’re quite interested in all this
stuff,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve got chickens and veggie
gardens and compost piles.
‘‘Unfortunately my wife tripped
down the stairs and hurt her ankle.’’
This made it hard for her to walk the
children Grace, 11, and Ethan, 7, to
‘‘Some of them we couldn’t do
every day,’’ Mr Miller said.
‘‘Things like the meat meal weren’t
as easy as we thought.
However, he said he would happily
continue to use minimal water in the
‘‘It’s just another one of those
awareness things,’’ he said.
CESRC are encouraging more Canberra
families to get on board with the
30 day challenge. CESRC will also be
holding a number of events over the
coming weeks, including sustainability
workshops and tours of award winning
sustainable Canberra homes.
If you would like to participate in
the Canberra Sustainability Challenge,

The Millers

Our list of possible activities for the challenge follows;

Food Miles
Grow our own vegetables
Buy organic food products
Be vegetarian (Sheryl fully, others part-time by default)
Reduce meat intake by going to one meat meal per day
Plan menus to reduce food waste
Keep chooks
Buy less processed food and more local

Use dish and clothes washers only for full loads
Use energy saving cycles on these machines
Cook with the lid on
Cook in single pot where possible
Fill Kettle only with as much water as you need
Dry clothes on clothes line
Use sun for heating and lighting during day
Turn the heater off at night
Don’t use the second TV
Replace incandescent lights with compact fluros
Wash clothes in cold water
Use hot water bottle instead of electric blanket

Do not use insinkerator – use worm farm and compost
Recycle egg shells on to garden as snail deterant
Freeze unused fruit for later use
Collect scraps from supermarkets and playgroup for chickens
Empty half full water bottles onto garden
Resue washing up water on plants with scale or aphids
cut grass longer – compost clippings
Use re-usable shopping bags – try 30 days plastic bag free
Recycle and reuse as much as possible (very little rubbish to landfill)
Re-use plastic packaging rather than garbage bags
Buy second hand goods

Walk to work or school twice a week
Take fewer car trips
Use ethanol fuel

And below, some of the systems which we are working on to build a sustainable lifestyle;

Run business from home office to reduce travel and premises energy use
Grid connect solar power
Solar hot water service
Composting bays for garden and kitchen waste, and paper
Composting of dog waste (use on non edible plants and safe areas of garden)
Worm tubes in gardens for soil conditioning
Chooks and chook run for eggs, compost, weeding, fertilizer and fun!
Wicked garden bed (water saving)
Grey water recycling (from laundry onto grass and non edible gardens)
Re-use collections for later use in garden and household projects
Garden plan for edible plantings (vegetable beds and fruit trees)
In house energy monitor to raise awareness and provide benchmark

A long post this time. more shorter ones soon…


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Stove from 44 Gallon Drum #6

October 3, 2010

Small finishing tasks now left to do on the stove project.

grate in place and ashpan supports visible

The cross pieces are in place for the grate and ashpan, and the door latches have been installed with the doors.

door latches and handles

I turned up some wooden handles from an old pick handle and tapped them to receive a brass screw through the door latch.

door latch detail

Jobs left to do are to cut and paint side pieces for the grate, notch the flue to sit securely on the grate and seal the flue into place at the firebox roof/oven floor.

looking mostly finished from the outside now

I’ll then run a test fire to see how things work and to burn off any paint in heat sensitive areas before a final coat of pot belly black to make it all look nice!

More soon…


Stove from 44 Gallon Drum #5

September 27, 2010

A long weekend and some more to report.

Doors are going on now. I had some trouble getting them to sit flush, so I may not need the vents I anticipated. Some tests will see.

doors on!

The latches worked well however!

I used bolts scored from a builder neighbor several years ago. I have hundreds of them, just had to buy a box of nuts to suit.

grate and ash pan supported in place

The grate sits on the reo bars which are supported through the drum wall with bolts. Similarly for the ash pan, although the supports here are flat sided square sections which will allow sliding of the tray.

reo cross supports for grate, ash pan supports run the other way

Happy to have made this much progress. Just some smaller finishing touches to go now.

doors still with some paint to be burnt off


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Stove from 44 Gallon Drum #4

September 21, 2010

Progress is good lately! More to report and another pic.

The fire worked to burn off or loosen the paint and I gave it a good wire brushing using a brush on the angle grinder. I even cleaned out the inside where the oven space will be.

This meant I could paint in  here as well as the outside with Pot Belly black spray paint. Heat resistant they claim.

painted and grate cut to size

I also found a cheap BBQ grill at Bunnings and only had to cut off a little at each corner to make it a perfect fit and a very pro looking fire grate! I’ll put a couple of reo bars through the drum for the grate to sit on and some sheet metal pieces to fill in the small spaces around it.

Doors will probably be next.


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Drum Stove from 44 gallon drum #3

September 20, 2010

Time to burn off the paint with a fire.

All seemed to go well, apart from the rather obvious problem. I’d already installed the floor for the oven space. So the fire only took off the lower 2 thirds of the paint!

opps! Obvious problem here.

Another fire in the top section, with the doors placed in there once the sides had burnt off solved the issue.

We burned some old garden rubbish which still hadn’t broken down after two years in the compost. The resultant ash will be used on the tomatoes and other compost piles. Our compensation for the paint fumes into the atmosphere!

Next, a tidy up and some paint. Then doors and other furniture.


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Wood Burning Stove from 44 Gallon Drum #2

September 12, 2010

Some more progress to report on this project.

The chimney flue has been largely completed. I found these copper canisters at the local scrap metal merchant, where I pay by the kilo for copper, brass etc… so the price was pretty good. They have close fitting caps which I made into a sleeve to join them and also the base for the chinamans hat top. Being copper, it means I can add to them with brass and solder the lot together. Heat shouldn’t be too intense at the chimney top so a soft solder was also possible there.

Chinamans hat top to flue

The base was then slid up inside the drum to form the oven floor. Bolts through the side hold it in position. As this was formally the base of the drum, it is an interference fit into the drum, hopefully meaning the oven will be smoke proof. We’ll see how it works in practice!

Oven base rests on bolts with flue thru

The chimney is fitted through the oven base and drum top. Some filler will be needed to seal these through joins. Not sure yet what that will be. Clearly it will need to be heat resistant at the lower point.

Beginning to look like a burner!

Things are starting to look a bit more like I intended now, which gives me some motivation to get the rest finished. Stay tuned.


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Wood burning stove from 44 gallon drum

September 6, 2010

Where did this project come from?
I’ve had an idea for a wood burner stove from a drum for some time now but never seemed to come across a suitable drum. Until, that is, the other week when I was visiting the local tip recycling shop.
I think I was looking for some other stuff, but saw this 44 drum and just had to get it.
Plans are now extending over three pages of sketches.

Sketch plans

More sketches

On taking it home i realised it used to contain Methanol. Which meant that cutting into it with the angle grinder was going to be a little more involved than I had anticipated.
It had a fixed lid and base, with only small caps. There was sure to be significant fumes in there, ready to go “pop” on contact with some grinding sparks! The internet proved to be a mine of information, and the advice of several tradesman type friends backed up the general approach. The official workplace safety guidelines say, simply, don’t! The common advice was, just be sensible and careful. Here’s my procedure for cutting off the base, while keeping it in tact to fit into the drum as a shelf to act as the top of the fire box, bottom of the oven space.

Base off, showing sand used to restrict water exit when cutting

Open the caps and vent the drum for a week. Wash out with detergent and water. Place several inches of sand in the bottom. Fill completely with water, shaking and wobbling to eliminate any stubborn fumes. Grind off the rolled bead at the base, by cutting through the side lip, but not into the drum internals. Siphon the water out. Tap out the base using a pole, through the filler cap hole. Presto, base cut out, but to be later pushed back into the drum, with an interference fit, and up to act as the top of the fire box, bottom of the oven.

Drum with base off

From here the drum was marked up and the doors cut out.

Marked up drum

First door cut out – this will be the ashpan. Upside down here!

More steps to come over the next few weeks. I might be finished by summer!
Meanwhile, the wood collection has begun. Gathering fallen timber from local urban forests and parks is now our weekend and afternoon activity. I long for a chainsaw!

Wood pile beginnings


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Training for the Fun Run

August 9, 2010


I’m training for this years Canberra Times Fun Run, on September 12.

You can help out the Heart Foundation by sponsoring me. Follow the link here.

Brian Miller’s Fundraising Page

You can also follow my training at the DailyRun site via the icon in the side bar, or Facebook or Twitter. I’ve only just started entering details, but it should grow over time.

All this of course raises the question – Is it possible to call a run, a “fun” run?

It’s certainly possible to be satisfied by the achievement. Or by the process taken to get to the achievement. I’m most interested in continuing to be active, fit and healthy. So actually running in the fun run isn’t necessary, but the process to get there is a good one.

I regularly ride my bicycle in the mornings, trying for 3 rides each week. (I’ll enter these on the training site too) I also try to get in 1 or 2 weights sessions each week. I find that it is the continued act of doing something which is most important and motivating.

However, sometimes I find that some additional motivation is good to help things along, or to step up the level of performance.

Several years ago I set myself the task of completing the Pedal Power “Fitz’s Challenge” A long distance ride, over the hills around Tidbinbilla and Namagi National Park. The training needed to complete this helped to keep me going over the cold winter and lifted my performance to a new level.

A few years on and I found myself looking for something to focus on again. It’s been a long time since I ran with any serious intent. In fact, a running injury is what got me into cycling in the first place. So I started out tentatively. This was over a year ago now! It has taken me this long to be able to get past calf and achilles troubles which stppped me from going more than a few kms or more than one run a week.

Last year I also managed to pull my hamstring while playing family backyard cricket, which didn’t help things! So I’m now quite happy to be able to run for more than an hour, and look forward to putting in a strong effort in the “fun run”.


One of my goals is to finish the run strongly and in a decent time. What is a decent time? When I was 18, and the fun run was only 9.6km instead of 10, I finished it in 36 minutes. I don’t intend to be anywhere near that time now! But under 45 mins would be pleasing, under 50 mins ok. We’ll have to wait and see.

More to come as my training proceeds.


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