Archive for ‘February, 2015’

Electrify Your Bike!

For a while now we have been thinking about electric bikes.  Don’t get us wrong, we love the hair raising joy of blasting down a hill and the integrity of connecting directly to our pedal powered freedom machine.  However we have also noted that the keenness can wear thin riding home in the dark drizzle in the middle of winter facing hill after hill.  Plus, we’ve got a little baby now and are anticipating carrying her (and stuff) around.

Enter the electric pushbike.  These have evolved a fair bit over the last five years, firstly motors have become more efficient/powerful and most importantly battery technology has leaped forward thanks largely to mobile phones.

IMG_2433Hannah with her newly converted electric push bike – super stoked!

A few of our E-bike considerations

Buying a new E-bike Vs Converting existing?

There are lots of new E-bikes out there ranging in price from $1000-$5000 dollars.  Unsurprisingly, at the cheaper end they’re pretty poor quality, at the top end, amazing.  We chose to convert Hannah’s existing bike instead of buying a new one as her bike frame is super sturdy and has good components. All up, the quality conversion kit we got cost around $1000 which saved us some cash (yay).

 IMG_2151The bike (minus seat) before conversion. This black beast has been around for a decade, done a few laps of Tassie and some decent kilometres in various parts of Australia.

Hub drive Vs Direct Drive?

Hub drives sit in the wheel and are a very clever bit of tech.  They do however move a considerable chunk of weight to the front or the back.  They also require extra strong forks to handle the force the motor exerts- hence why many e bikes look a bit overweight.

Direct drives have the advantage of powering through the existing gears of the bike, in effect increasing the power, especially at low speeds.  Given the last part of a path to our place is a 30 degree slope, this is essential.

We tracked down a relatively new design that is very elegant.  The motor is installed through the bottom bracket of the bike.  In effect this delivers the weight and energy to the strongest part of the frame.

Legal Vs Illegal?

A 250 Watt motor is the largest you can use without registering the vehicle.  This law is derived from this being the upper amount of energy a pedaling human can supply.  As a useful vehicle, say for towing a load, a larger motor would be great. However given the legalities we opted for a road legal 250W motor

So what is it?

We purchased a Bafang 8 Fun 250W Middle Drive Motor.  The Manufacture is Chinese and focus their work on electric bikes.  They have been around for a while and have good reviews of their product build and specification.  These kits are available from here and there.

First off, I took the opportunity to strip off many of the old components, give the bike a clean and a new paint job thanks to some spray paint I found in the shed.


 The Kit

The kit arrived in two box’s.  One containing the motor and controller, the other the battery and charger .  This photo shows all the components laid out on a table.  Neat, clear and only one way to attach all the cables.


We went to the Hobart Bike Kitchen to do the conversion work.  The bike Kitchen is great!  If you want to know more check out this nice video about the bike kitchen from our friends at Sustainable Living Tasmania.  The bike kitchen is open on Sundays, click here for more details

IMG_2224The Hobart Bike Kitchen in action

Attaching the Motor: Firstly I had to remove the pedals, crank and bottom bracket.  Most folks will need to visit a bike shop or bike kitchen to access the tools to do this. Dan and Matt from the bike kitchen gave me a hand to remove the Bottom Bracket (thanks), which was seriously stuck.


Next the motor and sprocket where assembled.


The motor was then inserted in the bottom bracket, and two collar nuts attached to hold it in place.


Then I re-attached the cranks and pedals.  The one tricky thing is that I now required two left hand pedals and cranks!


Then I reattached the chain.  I actually bought a new chain and rear sprocket so the drive train is all strong and tight.

Setting up Your Handlebars.  Here I have attached all of the components to the handlebars.  It includes two new brake levers (the extra cable from them tell a sensor to turn off the motor when braking), there is also a controller (in the center) and the on-off and booster switch on the left hand side.  I had to remove one gear changer because the front gear has changed from 3 cogs to 1 cog.


Next the battery pack is attached, this unit attaches to the lugs that hold on the water bottle. The speed sensor and magnet are then attached to the back wheel. A the last bit is to connect all the cables neatly.  Viola, an electric bike!

IMG_2516Sexy beast

So whats it like?

Awesome. This bike is great fun to ride.  The weight is down low and it feels very similar to a normal push bike.  It also hoons up and down hills.  A standard 30 minute ride home (up decent hills) is down to 12 minutes – yay.  Just can’t wait for Frida (our little babe) to grow a bit so we can get her out and about!

IMG_2521Frida and I loving on the new bike

What an Energy Nerd Says (that’s me)

This bike has a 12 Ah, 36V Battery.  This can supply a maximum of 432 Wh of energy.  At an average speed of 25Km/h using 250W we can travel for 1.7 hours or around 43Km.  This equals about 10Wh per km.   This 43km is powered by around 30 minutes of our home solar power system, or the equivalent of a 100W light globe for 4 hours.  I think this is pretty good value for energy, and on our solar and hydro powered Tasmanian home, 100% renewable.

When compared to a car that gets about 10km per litre of fuel, and petrol contains about 9.1 kWh per litre.  This means a car is using 900 Wh per km.  That is heaps more than 10Wh per km from the e-bike

Are you interested in Electric Bikes?  Well Bike Tas is organising an E-bike rally in Hobart this weekend.  A bike ride over the bridge and an expo of electric bikes at Bellerive Oval.  AWESOME!

* Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life, gardener, maker, father and all round good guy.


Interview with Rosemary Morrow

A permaculturist since the 80’s, Rosemary Morrow is based in the Blue Mountains (NSW) and is internationally renowned for her top notch design skills, her ground breaking teaching techniques and her commitment to working with, and for, people who need it most. She tirelessly works across the world including East Timor, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Europe, Solomon Islands, Africa, Vietnam and more. She ooozes integrity, is one of the most down to earth people you’ll come across and is surprisingly short. But don’t’ let this little pocket rocket deceive you, she achieves more in a morning than most and baffles and inspires me with her stamina, enthusiasm and strong character.
Rosemary is the lead teacher on our upcoming Permaculture Design Course this April 3rd-18th, so we thought we’d introduce you to her so you can get a good sense of this dynamic, talented woman.

How long have you been a permaculturalist?

Well I started looking in 1978 and then I did my PDC with Robin Francis in 1986 and so from those times.   Perhaps I was a ‘natural’ in a sense because consumption and materialism has always been a bit dubious for me.  It is never, ever boring.  The world simply goes on fascinating and intriguing me, with its possibilities from a design view point.

What does permaculture mean to you and you life?

I think this was succinctly put by Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture) when he said:  Permaculture enables what is morally required and scientifically necessary. So for me, a scientist with moral learnings and wanting to be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem, permaculture through its principles and strategies meant that I didn’t have to do my own research, nor put together my own framework. It fell into place and gave my life foundations and meaning. I love living permaculture because the techniques are not always evident and so there is always room for creative personal response.


RosemaryMorrow-teaching-e1377107951274How can permaculture help shape a more healthy, sustainable and just world?

Permaculture is about designing strategies for the world that are based on caring for the earth, caring for people and caring for future generations. Within a framework of ethics and principles inspired by nature and by the best that previous cultures had to offer, permaculture offers much toward shaping a more healthy, sustainable and just world.

The way permaculture is taught, and has spread from the grassroots up, has meant that permaculture ideas have spread rapidly around the world, particularly in those places that need it most.
We are presently going through an explosion of permaculture into minds and disciplines more diverse that I think David or Bill ever expected.  For example, my colleague, Lis Bastian, lectures in environmental management for a Bachelors Degree in the international hospitality industry, and permaculture is included in the text for that course. Her students come from over 40 nationalities and will spread these ideas through an industry that is the largest employer in the world.  So you can imagine what will happen to the health of the world when these young students graduate.

Is permaculture relevant to people who live in the rural AND urban environments?

I wasn’t sure about urban conglomerations until I saw Hong Kong and met with local permaculturists with their myriads to ideas, techniques, and determination.  The whole of the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens and offices are permaculturally designed.  And for rural environments, permaculture will rehabilitate all lands.  I can’t think of anything else that will.  However permaculture does need to improve its content for coastal areas under threat from climate change and rising seas, something I’m working on now.

What type of people would find permaculture useful to integrate into their lives?

It is harder to think whether there are any people who would not find permaculture useful. From premiers and kings, men and women in prisons and in every situation people are always better off adopting permaculture into their lives. Whether its cutting bills for energy, and growing food to running community gardens and local banking – it touches all areas of human lives.


What projects are you working on at the moment?

The two most exciting ones are:

1) fortnightly Skype sessions with young Afghanis who are peace volunteers and want permaculture for when peace comes.  They are funny and committed and hugely keen to learn.  And yet, we tremble when we read of the escalating numbers of civilians dying in Afghanistan and we worry about when and how a just peace can be brought about.
2) more challenging  terms of the environment for a small lagoon community in the Solomon Islands which offers a model of how permaculture can respond to vulnerable villages who may not get access to higher land.   It is testing and fascinating. And we cannot go quickly!   The answers may not lie in land solutions, rather in finding ethical incomes for the villagers. You can follow these two projects (and more) through Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute.
Rosemary-MorrowAnd it is time for me to put nearly 40 years of full-time permaculture projects – failures and successes up on the web for everyone to read. When I think back about outcomes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Albania, East Timor and so on, it is apparent that permaculture has so much to contribute and I’d like people not to have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ by learning from my experiences.

I also do Skype sessions with Miami, Chile, Argentina and so on.  Plus I have a commitment of some degree to the youth of southern Europe with their huge unemployment and so I’ve worked there for the past two years or so and now I am lucky to be invited to work in Greece in a very economically depressed community. The organiser is a brilliant young Greek-Australian permaculturists who has returned to Greece to be part of their future.

Rosemary is the lead teacher on our upcoming Permaculture Design Course taking place in southern Tasmania from the 3rd – 18th April. You can understand why we’re excited to have her, it’s going to be a pretty special course with Rosemary at the helm – why not join us! Click here for more information and to register.

**You can follow Rosemary’s work through the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute, NSW.


Rocket Stoves: Simple & Efficient Systems for Heating Water & Other Stuff

Just to clear the air, rocket stove systems do not involve rockets, nor is it rocket science.

What are they then?

The original rocket stove was designed to be an efficient cooking stove powered by a small fire fueled with twigs and tiny sticks rather than wood logs. It’s burned in a simple high-temperature combustion chamber containing a vertical chimney and a secondary air supply, which ensures almost complete combustion prior to the flames reaching the cooking surface. In summary it’s super efficient, simple and low-tech, meaning almost anyone can build one anywhere in the world. 220px-Rocket_stove The basic design for both a small or large rocket stove can be seen above.  Due to their low-tech nature, they have been particularly valuable and appropriate for environments where people don’t have easy access to electricity or abundant resources. Of special note, are some developing countries which have benefited from building small rocket stoves for cooking purposes, improving quality of life and use of resources. As they’re so easy to build, there are very few barriers (if any) for people making their own – no engineers required (yay).  At a cook stove level they have also been mass-produced at very low prices.

The principles were described by Dr. Larry Winiarski from the Aprovecho Research Center in 1982 and since then stoves based on this design have won many awards, and others have gone on to develop other ‘rocket powered’ items including mass heaters and showers.

A rocket powered shower?  This works by directing the heat from a rocket stove to heat water.  This can simply be a tank situated above the fire, or a water jacket system as used in conventional wood fired water heaters.  For the direct heat systems featured below you require bricks to fashion the fire, a hot water tank (preferably recycled), flue materials, a tank stand and plumbing fixtures. On top of this you need a dose of enthusiasm and a large bucket of mud!

Rocket power shower sketch

Warning: We know this is exciting but there are a number of things to take care of.  Firstly be careful not to burn anything you don’t want to burn.  Secondly and most importantly a hot water boiler contains considerable energy and if poorly designed can reach high pressures and even explode -that is why your home system has a pressure release valve.  Low-tech alternatives can prevent a high pressure situation, familiarise yourself with how to do this safely if you wish to proceed.

Here are a couple of examples of rocket powered showers built by Tim Barker, an international rocket power expert who’s based in S.E Queensland and just happens to be teaching our rocket powered shower workshop this April 25-26 in southern Tasmania!

In it’s most basic and super function form – a rocket shower can look like the one you can see below. You don’t need to spend time, energy and dollars on beautification to get easy, hot water. Tim built this system at the Permaculture Research Institute, you can watch this short youtube flick (narrated by Geoff Lawton) to be talked through the full process of how to build it yourself.


Using the same design, Tim also built the rocket powered shower below with Very Edible Gardens in Vic recently. The corrugated sheeting means you don’t have to build a rain cover over the top. Brilliant.


Image by Very Edible Gardens

 The fire is lit in the cob structure below the corrugated iron cylinder. The heat from the fire is directed into this cylinder where it heats up the water.  The water in the tank is not used directly to shower with.  Cold water is piped through a copper coil in the water tank.  The water heaps up in the coil and is then plumbed to the shower stall.

13947568659_b75f1de5a8Tim Barker on the left with a rocket powered shower system part-way built. This photo hilghlights the insulation layer which keeps the water hotter for longer. Image by Very Edible Gardens

Example number two is from Milkwood Permaculture, their design is slightly different to Tim’s in that their hot water tank is vertical instead of horizontal. It is much more similar to a conventional “wet back” hot water system seen on many rural properties.  In this system the rocket stove is contained in the cob structure at ground level.  The hot flue gas then heats a “wet back” (the steel box)  The wet back circulates water to the storage tank on the right and from there can be used later.  The photo below shows it in the “nude”


3420481892_e1a4b4c736_bMilkwood’s diagram showing how it all works

rocket-stove-water-heater19Sealing it all up with cob adds an extra layer of insulation plus it looks beautiful.

Something else we’ll be featuring and making  on our upcoming workshop is the portable rocket stove, used for cooking in the home, on the farm, at a street party, when you’re camping or at your local tool library – as you can see Megan doing below. These systems are wonderfully basic and effective and can be made from items found in a junk pile.


Portable rocket stove for easy cooking anywhere, any time – as demonstrated by Megan at the Brunswick Tool Library. Image by Very Edible Gardens.

Rocket power is for people looking to decrease their energy consumption and increase their connection to simple and sustainable methods of generating energy for their own needs. Whether you’re in the urban environment or on the land – live by yourself or with a whole mob of folk there’s a rocket system appropriate for you and your context.

** Join us at our Rocket Powered Showered workshop with Tim Barker this April 25-26 in southern Tasmania to build your own. You’ll also get to make your own portable rocket stove for cooking! **

Great resources…


Experiments In Cheese Making

So we have a little baby, right – and at the moment I have so much breast milk I have to occasionally express it to avoid my boob’s exploding.  Once I got over the social norms which imply it’s weird to consume your own breast milk (heaven forbid) I’ve been drinking some, adding some to yoghurt (which is based on cows milk) and this morning thought I’d experiment with making 100% breast milk cheese – as you do early on a Monday morning.

I used the same old ‘farm cheese’ recipe I always follow (in my head) when making cheese with cows milk as it’s super quick, easy and tasty. Here’s how I do it…

The first step is to bring the milk up to just before boiling point – around 80 degrees.


Then, take it off the heat and add either lemon or apple cider vinegar. How much, you ask? I start with small amounts (i.e. half a lemon) and then add more until I see the milk curdle – which means the curd and whey separate which looks like milky snot globs forming amongst watering substance. Nice description, I know.

IMG_2294Alas, the 100% breast milk just did not want to curdle, I added more lemon, and then a touch of apple cider vinegar to see if that would make any difference. But it was beginning to taste super sour, so I surrendered to the fact that perhaps cheese made from 100% breast milk doesn’t work.

Some research suggests that breast milk has only 2.5% protein when compared to cows around 8% and goats 8.7%.  Apparently breast milk also has a bit more fat than the others but not my much.  When making cheese it is the proteins that react to form the characteristic curds.  The more protein the thicker the curd and higher the cheese yield.

In the name of a good science experiment, I also made a small batch of 70% cows milk and 30% breast milk cheese to compare the two. Below you can see cow/brest milk on the left which has been heated to 80 degrees and had 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar added to it (I ran out of lemons). Straight away it has curdled, which is what you want. Compare this to the 100% breast milk mix on the right where I had put the juice from a whole lemon and a few teaspoons of vinegar into it with a whole lot of nothing happening.

A bit more research reveals a chef called Daniel Angerer caused a bit of a stir making cheese and blogging about it  in 2010.  His recipe involves a 50% cow and 50% breast milk mix.  He also uses true rennet (derived from animals) rather than an acidulant – like lemon juice. You can also use vegetarian rennet made with microbes or from thistle plants, microbial rennet is usually fermented from bacteria but can also be genetically modified. You can can vegetable rennet online from websites like this one – I’m sure there are others as well.

IMG_2298Cows milk on the left and breast milk on the right


The next step in cheese making is to strain the curdled mix through some cheese cloth – I put mine into a colander with a pot beneath it to catch the whey.


You can simply leave it here while is slowly drains, or you can hang the cheesecloth up (as below) to begin shaping it.


Before you walk away and let it drain, you can choose to add flavours at this point. I’ve added salt, pepper and thyme – which is herb of the moment in our house right now.


Just pop in your flavours of choice and mix them through


If you don’t hang it up, I encourage you to ‘press’ it with a bit of weight to speed up the draining process and to form a firm shape. I do something different every time, this morning I used a collection of bowls and plates to form my highly sophisticated press. IMG_2313

5 minutes later (I’m impatient) you have a soft mold of cheese ready to rock and roll. Of course you can leave it longer to get a firmer cheese, but technically you can eat it straight away.


But what happened to the pot of failed breast milk cheese? I used it to cook a batch of brown rice – in the past I’ve also used it as a base for making a curry or stew instead of stock or water. It’s a pretty amazing resource which has major health giving properties and there’s no way I’m tipping it down the sink.

You can read more about the benefits of breast milk on the Australian Breastfeeding Association.