Green and Thrifty

Confession time. I wrote this 'Green and Thrifty' post last week sometime, and it has been sitting here ever since waiting for photos. I am now reluctantly conceding that a post without photos is all that there is. You will just have to make the pictures in your head..

It is school holidays here at Chez Blueday which means... craft! All I have to do to drive my children to creativity is turn off the TV. Then wait for the whole house mess to begin. It doesn't take long. This holidays the girls have taken up woodworking. I have had to warn other children's parents that if their offspring are at my house they will inevitably end up in the shed, sawing pieces of wood into marvellous creations. Unsurprisingly there are parents who object to their ten year olds using saws, hammers and nails unsupervised, so on those days Posy has been going mad with papier mache. You have to be impressed at the frugality of a craft that requires only newspaper, glue and paint, but, oh, the glorious sticky mess..

I have spent the holidays in the garden, planning a chicken hotel, and reluctantly cleaning the laundry. Oh, and waging war on ants. All the ants in the world have decided to come and live at my house this winter. I was trying to strategically ignore them, because, you know, they are just ants, right? The Man, no lover of bugs and critters, was always launching offensives with ant poison, but I decided that now he is gone we will live in harmony with the ants and all the rest of creation, and possibly start singing 'Kumbaya' as well.. that lasted until the day I opened the pantry door and the wall of one whole shelf was black with ants. Still, I didn't resort to ant poison. I informed Posy that I was going to implement my secret anti-ant weapon. Eyes wide she watched me reach for... the dishcloth. I wiped those pesky ants out of existence, only to discover that they were the world's most incompetent ants and hadn't actually got inside any of the food containers in the pantry. Heaven knows what they were up to. Now I needed to know where they were getting in, and the answer was, through the millimetre-wide gap in the rubber window seal at the corners of the kitchen windows. So I solved that problem with another high-tech solution - blu-tack.

The next day however, more ants. Now I realised they were coming up from under the house through the internal walls, and out through the millimetre-wide gap between the tile splashback and the window sill. This time I had to get out the big guns - the caulking gun, that is. Believe me, if you have never played with gap sealer and a caulking gun, you haven't lived. It is just like piping icing on a cup-cake, and you can fill up all those annoying cracks and gaps around the house that are letting cold air and ants in. Because if an ant can get through a gap, so can frigid air, straight up from the Antarctic. At last, success! No more ants. For two days I had the unholy joy of watching small groups of straggler ants emerge from the pantry and cluster in pathetic huddles around the newly caulked window sills, trying to come up with Plan B, until I decimated them with a damp dishcloth.

This exercise gave me an idea, and last night I went around all the doors holding my hand to the edges and yes, there was (literally) freezing air getting in. The back door was splendidly air-tight from last year's weather-stripping, but cold air was coming in through the rather large key-hole. The front door is weather-stripped, but all along one side the gap is bigger than the weather strip. I will have to double it up there. The downstairs door has all the cold air blowing in around it, and I can also see daylight through it this morning, so clearly, just weather-stripping around some doors is not enough. I will have to put a couple more layers on there, and we will all be much toastier.

So the ants were a blessing in disguise, and clearly worth a rousing chorus of 'Kumbaya' at least. Their sacrifice was not in vain (for us), because now we will have a warmer house, with less expensive hot air leaking out. Speaking of which, I got our winter electricity bill yesterday - it was just over half the amount of last year's winter bill!! Oh, happy days:)

When not committing ant genocide or running around turning off lights and heaters I have been in the garden. My front garden is very small, and a positive jungle. I am actually quite enamoured of The Secret Garden look, but when four-foot high rose bushes are disappearing under neighbouring trees and swathes of lavender, it is time for a little judicious garden editing. For instance, when I finish taking out the five-foot high and wide lavender tree I will be able to do some more edible landscaping which will be fun. I have also removed a number of blueberry bushes which are suffering in our alkaline soil. I have popped three of them into wine barrels where I can keep their soil suitably acidic, and have given the rest away. Now I can replant a whole fence line where the struggling blueberries were languishing. I am leaning towards stone fruit, because they seem to be thriving in the front yard, and you can never have too many peaches and nectarines.. I also have plans to plant raspberries, so come back in a couple of years for the most spectacular fruit salad..


Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Well done with the caulking and sealing. Practice makes perfect with that stuff.

Hey you could get the kids woodworking skills into the realm of practicalities by getting them to improve your door jambs (that is the technical name for the timber bits that the door returns onto)?

Once they've mastered timber, then you can let them loose on the aluminium projects and they could even crack out the welder to work with some steel stuff. OK, perhaps I'm getting carried away and they have to start somewhere, but they could improve the door jamb seals?

I lived in a 1890's Victorian terrace in Melbourne and you could see the light and feel the air rushing in from underneath the very solid timber front door. Once that was sealed, the temperature in the house improved markedly.

Very top work with the electricity bill. Respect.

Yeah, ants can be a bit of a nightmare. They don't invade the house, but the bull ants can sometimes very occasionally give you a nasty bite and chemical burn. House ants don't like humic acid in the garden soil and will happily go elsewhere. You may have very sandy soils though from what you were describing.


narf7 said…
Ants eh? I will swap you your ants for my rats :(. I don't have them in the house or around the house as we have something better than a caulking gun, we have king Earl who doesn't like to share his space in, or around the house with ANYTHING so he keeps the populations that would invade down but the veggie garden has become home to some spectacularly cheeky rat/s who have been digging up all manner of things and scoffing a range of things that you really wouldn't think that they would be at all interested in. If you want to make those blueberries happy, once you repot them get hold of some coffee grounds from one of the cafes around town. They love coffee grounds apparently. Ours are in suitably acidic soil (our area doesn't do alkaline) so no worries. Adding lots of aged manure will help out as well.

Kudos on reducing the ants and the breeze and the power bill. This year has been the coldest one we can remember so you get extra points for that :). Posy is a noble creature. Woodwork AND papier mache? I have been toying with doing a bit of papier mache myself. You can get some stunning results (if you have time and talent, both significantly lacking here at the moment ;) ).

Good to see you are holding up stoically over the holidays. We are back at TAFE this week and aside from the dogs sulking, I am sulking almost as much. Being able to stay at home for 2 weeks is sublime! Keep up the good work. Must do a driveby one day and see how the front garden is looking on the way home from TAFE. I like to live vicariously through other people's hard work ;) (hopefully that didn't sound too stalky! I have NO time to stalk anyone at the moment! ;) )
Bek said…
Excellent work. And you said you didn't DIY. Please don't try to hide your light under a bushel. :)
Also well done on the electricity savings. That is an impressive result.
The fruit salad sounds lovely. Just bear in mind that raspberries spread voraciously, so in a few years time you may not be able to get to the fruit salad due to the raspberry thorny forest that has emerged. You will still be waging a war with the front garden, it just will be overgrown raspberries instead of lavender. Choose your evil.
Anonymous said…
Oh ants... the Black Nemesis. We ended up having to get the serious bidness stuff from the man at Bunnings (including the nudge and wink followed by the secret handshake because it's not for sale any more) because being nice about it wasn't shifting them, and I wasn't coping with mass murder 3-4 times a week. When I had the last Black Plague of the wee bastards, it was in the middle of summer. I don't know where they were getting in, but it was through a microscopic hole somewhere. When the kitchen was renovated, the sills came off the windows, so I suspect that when they went back on, the gaps were filled (and all the ants have moved to Tasmania to annoy you!) Also, we've just had the recent (incredibly not thrifty) plumbing disaster where cracks and holes in 56 year old pipes got dealt with, again removing ant-y opportunities under the house.

Unknown said…
Nothing intelligent or witty to add, just letting you know im here!!!

Plus i need to regularly check that im not a robot.
Mimi said…
I wish fervently that I could decimate our never ending possum boarder with a caulking gun or a damp dishcloth. Alas our possum is a 12th generation critter who steals my herbs, the dogs Pedigree Small Breed dry food, and my cherry tomatoes. This in addition to the noise he/she makes entering and exiting the roof cavity and the barney every Summer when they kick the inevitable offspring from the familial home, (which usually ends in one deceased possum decaying aromatically in the ceiling for the rest of Summer)makes them an unwelcome hazard, but one we've not managed a solution for. Well done on the successful abolishing of ants and breezes and the reduction of your energy bill. Applause! Mimi xxx
So glad you dealt with the ants humanely! Well, at least greenly. At least without poisoning the water supply. Oh, poor ants. They're such interesting creatures until they get in your house! Every once in awhile a line of ants comes marching in, but I've found if you kill the leaders, it scares off the rest of them.

We're in the middle of summer here and my garden has gone wild. Thinking about tearing everything out except the tomatoes and blueberries. And the corn. Everything else is wearing me out.

Jo said…
Bloody ants are back! I have been plugging up the gaps in my incomplete gap sealing with blu-tack. It is not pretty, but I think I have foiled them again for a while. From the comments it looks like I should be grateful not to have rats or possums.. good luck with all the wild creatures everyone!

But Frances, if they are marching back and forth, how can you tell which ones are the leaders???
ants in winter time? isn't that bizarre! I get them in the summer time, they come in for water apparently - though mine are like yours, they don't go anywhere near the food. sometimes they just use my kitchen as a thoroughfare to go from one side of the house to another.
I have mixed feelings about air-gaps. yes they let cold air in - but they let fresh air in. I live with my gaps (mainly under doors, because I worry that without fresh air, I will suffocate. slightly melodramatic yes, but still.
Jo said…
Ha ha, e, do you know how hard engineers have to work to make a gap-free house? Apparently they do it in Europe, I think it is called the passivhaus concept. There is no way that you or I could weather-proof an old house enough to cause the air-flow to drop below critical levels.. so no excuses for draught-proofing. Honestly, it is degrees warmer once you do it..
Jennywren said…
I solved the towel dilemma by giving all 5 family members their own colour. They had their toothbrush,face washer and towel in "their" colour and then I washed the towel and washer once a week. This saved me heaps of unnecessary washing.

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