3 ways to stop smelly drains

fix smelly drainsYou all know that smell? The one which nearly makes you throw up your breakfast when you get in the shower or brush your teeth.
Because of the problem I had last week, we’re talking about smelly drains.

Before we get to the fixes it is best to understand what causes drains to smell in the first place.

The main causes are:

Build up of hair and soap
High school biology taught us that all kinds of yeast and bacteria love growing in warm wet climates… Just like your drainage system! Combine that with some hair and soap scum to grow on and you have the finest environment for a new life form.

Dry P trap
The P trap is a piece of plumbing pipe work that is installed to create a barrier of water between your drain hole and the sewer system. If unused for a period of time the P Trap can dry out and allow the smell to come back through. If you haven’t used your drain for a while, run some water through it and ventilate the room.

Blocked Stink Pipe (stench pipe)
If you look up at your roof line near your toilet and or bathroom you will notice a piece of pipe sticking up in the air. This is known as the Stink Pipe. It is essentially a pressure release for the sewer system which allows it to ventilate to the atmosphere. It is high up above your roof so the smell that is emitted has a chance to be blown away without you or your neighbours smelling it. Birds love to nest in these pipes, this causes back pressure in your system and can force smelly air through your P Trap.

The Fixes:

To remove Hair and Soap scum, my favourite is Caustic Soda (Sodium Hydroxide). It is extremely alkaline (opposite to acid) and if mishandled can leave you with a burn just as bad as acid.
This can be bought from any hardware store or supermarket under various brand names. Simply mix this as per the directions, usually a tablespoon in a litre of water, and pour down each of the offending drains. Leave soak for half an hour and flush thoroughly.

Another popular treatment is using Enzymes such as Actizyme. These are added to your drain in pellet form and slowly break down any blockages, slime, scum, or other nasties in your drainage system. The beauty of these is that they are natural and will not affect septic systems. These are more of a maintenance item as they take a longer period of time to work.

One that I’ve never seen is Bicarbonate of soda sprinkled down the drain, followed by a healthy splash of vinegar. Get ready for a lot of foam to come out of your plug hole!

When you’ve tried all the above and it still smells like something died in there, it wouldn’t hurt to call a plumber. You may have a blockage or a poorly designed system.

Grow these vegetables from Scraps you would normally throw out


How to plant celery indoors

Rather than composting all of your vegetable scraps, another option for some vegetables is to re-grow them! Why not grow some more spring onions from the bottoms or a pineapple plant. Not only is it reducing what you would normally throw out, it will save some money on the way.

Here are some links to demonstrate how to re-grow your vegetable scraps:

Emergency Turkey Stuffing

Christmas Turkey in the Webber

It’s just not Christmas in our house without some kind of emergency. While I worked all weekend my wife picked up a turkey and defrosted it. It came time to put the bird in the Webber this morning, when I realised that there was no stuffing!

Back in the days when my Granny was with us, Christmas cooking was a precision regimented affair that would rival the rank and file of the SAS.

A quick think back to how to make stuffing saw that I was ill prepared! No stale bread, no fresh sage… an unstuffed bird would be as dry as a chip so the following recipe was used:

  • 5 fresh bread rolls
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons of dried mixed herbs
  • 2 eggs
Toss all ingredients into the food processor and whizz until completely mixed. Jam the mix into the turkey’s bum… I mean cavity… and roast as you intended before you realised there
was no stuffing prepared!

Transplanting Seedlings

A Biodynamic gardener once had a row of broccoli plants. Only two plants had aphids, but both were quite infested. The two plants were dug up, and the gardener discovered that the plants had experienced root damage during transplanting. The healthy broccoli, which had experienced uninterrupted growth, were untouched by the insects, while nature eliminated the unhealthy plants.

When transplanting, it is important to handle the seedlings gently and to touch them as little as possible. Plants do not like their bodies to be handled, though they do like to have human companionship and to have dead leaves removed from their stems. You should hold them only by the tips of their leaves (if the plant must be touched) or by the soil around their roots. If you have grown the seedlings in a tray, use a hand fork to gently separate a 4-inch-square section of soil and plants from the rest. Using the fork, gently lift that section from the flat and place it on the ground. Then carefully pull away one plant at a time from the section for transplanting. If it is particularly dry, hot, or windy, place the section on a wet towel. Always keep as much soil around the roots as possible when transplanting. If the seedling has been grown in a pot, turn the pot upside down, letting the plant stem pass between your second and third fingers, and tap firmly on the bottom of the pot with your other hand. Or tap the lip of the pot on something solid.

In all cases, if the plants are root bound (the roots being so tightly grown together from having been kept in a starting tray or pot so long that with the soil they constitute a tight mass), gently spread the roots out in all directions. This process is important because the plant should not spend critical growth energy sending out a new, wide-ranging root system for eating and drinking when a good root system has already been produced. Instead, the plant’s energy will go into the natural flow of continuous growth.

Be sure to place the seedling into a large enough hole so that the plant can be buried up to its first set of true leaves. Water the seedlings after transplanting to help settle the soil around the roots, to eliminate excess air spaces, and to provide an adequate amount of water for growth. As the soil is packed down under the pressure of watering, the final soil level will remain high enough to cover the upper roots. The plant’s roots need firm contact with the soil to properly absorb water and nutrients. Press the soil firmly around the seedling, if necessary, but not too tightly. Tight packing will damage the roots and will not allow the proper penetration of water, nutrients, and air. Soil that is too loose will allow air and moisture to concentrate around the roots. This will cause root burn and decay.

Transplanting seedlings up to their first true leaves prevents them from becoming top-heavy and bending over during their early growth period. (This is especially true for members of the cabbage family.) If a plant bends over, it will upright itself, but will develop a very “tough neck” that will reduce the quality and size of the plant and crop. Onions and garlic, however, do better if the bulb does not have much soil weight to push up against.

Optimally, transplanting should be done in the early evening so the seedlings get settled into their new home during more moderate weather conditions. If transplanting is performed during the day some temporary shading may be needed. In our hot, summer weather, we shade newly transplanted seedlings with 30% shade netting or Reemay, a “row cover” cloth, for several days to minimize transplanting shock and wilt.

Transplanting is preferable to directly sowing seeds. More importantly, transplanting improves plant health. Beds become compacted as they are watered and the soil will not be as loose for a seed that is planted directly in the bed. Some compaction will have occurred by the time it is a “child” a month later and, in some cases, so much so after 2 months, when it is likely to be an “adolescent,” that its “adulthood” may be seriously affected. If, instead, you transplant the 1-month-old “child” into the growing bed, a strong adult root system can develop during the next 2 months, and a good adult life is likely. In fact, a study at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1950s indicated that a 2% to 4% increase in root health can increase yields 2 to 4 times.

Whats in your freezer?

It wasn’t anything to do with global warming and it is winter here, but today we had the big thaw. The frost build up on our chest freezer was getting too much, so out came all of our frozen goods and in came the ice scrapers.

In the aftermath I found that we had quite a lot of food that was not accounted for and had fallen out of memory of being bought. After a quick stock take there appears to be at least 15-20 meals that could be had, all that needs to be added is a few veggies or some salad. The menu could go on all night, 8 pieces of rump steak, 3kg of mince beef, chicken mince, meatballs, sausages, lamb chops, bacon, hash browns, pork chops… How much of this food could go to waste if left sit for too long to get frost bite.

All of that meat would come to around $150 if we were to buy it from the butcher now, so as not to be wasteful we now have a push to eat our way through the freezer before buying any more meat. Sitting beside the freezer is a list showing each of the items that were ‘discovered’, as we go through we’ll cross them off.

How much good food is lurking in your deep freezer?

Why I don’t use weed mat

After moving into our new house, we spent a couple of hours over the weekend looking around my new garden. What we found was a lot of poor soil and what seems like an acre of weed mat in the garden beds!

My past experiences with weed mat have not been good, and this one is not much better. What I find funny in this situation is that there was quite a collection of weeds growing on top!

– Poor water infiltration / increased runoff
With all of that synthetic material on top of the soil, all it can be doing is blocking water and any added nutrients from reaching the roots of your prized plants.
– Lower oxygen levels in the soil
Funnily enough, healthy soil & plants need oxygen to grow to their potential. A layer of plastic, even woven plastic, prevents the natural passage of oxygen from the air to the soil.
– Discourages worms
The gardeners best friend will be driven from or discouraged from tending your garden for you.
– Strangles trees
When removing the weed mat from the front garden bed it was apparent that the trees had grown significantly since the installation. What was troubling was the difficulty and potential damage being caused by the removal of the weed mat.

Although there are a number of different weed mat products on the market, including organic weed mat, I am a firm believer in a good thick layer of mulch and a little weeding will be better in the ling run.

New House – time for a new garden

What a big fortnight it has been!
Moving house has really taken it out of R and I, but the enthusiasm to garden is coming back. Below are some photos of our new back yard, there is some framework for a huge tropical oasis garden. I think I counted 11 palm trees in the yard!

What was a kids sandpit area will now be extended and made into a dirt vegetable garden to supplement my aquaponics system. I look to grow the bulky or large quantity vegetables such as pumpkin, onions, tomatoes etc and leave the AP for herbs, lettuce and other nutrient hungry plants.

Zero garden down the side of the entertaining area. Will be filled with horse manure and planted with large shrubby palms and hibiscus.

Shot of the entertaining area.

An existing garden bed with a huge Cycad and cardboard palm.

Back door garden. Needs some tidy up and a prune back.

This is going to be a great adventure for us both, now to get back to work!

Introducing the Family

Since the birth of this blog there have been some mentions of my family, so here they all are (except my wife, she’s shy… that’s what she says anyway…)

Maggie, or Margret when she’s in trouble, is a three year old cat. Not sure what kind of genetic line she comes from, but she is wonderfully affectionate to me, does not like many other people. Maggie is most famous for her funny face when she yawns and terrorising the neighborhood dogs.

abbyAbby, the long member of the family. We picked Abby up from the pound when she was about 12 weeks old. She was so small that she would fit between my hand and my elbow, today she measures a mere one meter long (3.2 foot). Sausage as she is more affectionately known loves hunting lizards and chasing pigeons. She has a very big bark, and possibly a big bite for the person who dares to break into our house.

taylahTaylah is my big girl. Having always had a German Shepherd Dog in the house when I was growing up, I heard about the puppies that Taylah’s breeders had and fell in love (who can’t love a GSD puppy?). Tay has had some runs in the show ring, coming out with Best of Breed in a number of shows. She loves to eat bones, chase balls, wrestle with Sausage and lick and nuzzle at Angus.

hyphenHyphen is a foster cat, she was on death row as her owner was going overseas. Being 16 and diabetic is not much of a selling point. After two months at our house she recovered from her diabetes (cats can do that), and became much more affectionate. Her owners have now stopped traveling and are getting ready for her arrival in New Zealand. Hyphen will be remembered for running through the paint roller tray and running and sliding across the polished floor boards.

angusWho has never dreamed of having a Tiger or a Leopard for a pet? As owning exotic animals such as this is not legal in Australia, we have opted for the next best thing, a Bengal Cat. Angus has only been with us for two days at time of writing, but already he has Taylah under his spell (she loves cats and thinks he is her puppy).

There is the run down on the family. Everyone likes to garden in their own way, Tay & Sausage dig holes while the cats like to hunt and lounge in the sun.


What do you get when you cross a tank full of fish and a vegetable garden?

You get a very productive food producing system called Aquaponics!

Over the weekend I ducked down to my local nursery and ordered a Balcony Kit aquaponics setup. I wish I had the balcony to put it on, but the kit is small enough to fit comfortably in a small space. Measuring only 2.7m by 1.5m and 97cm  high there are three grow beds that have the capacity to feed three people consistently (both fish and veggies).

Aquaponics works on the theory of growing plants in an inert media such as expanded clay pebbles with an ebb and flow water system, as is done in an hydroponic setup. The similarities of the two systems end there. Where hydroponics requires the regular addition of nutrients to the water, aquaponics uses fish to create nutrients.

The system works by adding fish food to the water, the fish eat the food, their by products are pumped into grow beds where natural bacteria turn ammonia into nitrogen which plant roots suck up and grow prolifically. Nutrient free water is then drained back into the tank for the process to start again.

Not only do you get a supply of vegetables, but as the fish grow to plate size you can take them to the kitchen as well!

So why am I giving away growing most of my vegetables in dirt you ask? Living in a tropical environment there are many problems I have found when growing in dirt, I’ve had more than my fair share of fungus, mealy bugs, weeds, birds, ants, weeds etc to deter the most enthusiastic gardener from even trying to get their plot growing to any kind of respectable standard. Not to forget over watering, under watering, over fertilising, under fertilising, digging the soil, conditioning the soil… the list goes on!

Call me lazy, but given my hectic work schedule these days the time to spend in the vegetable garden is getting limited (especially in the cooler months with less daylight hours!). I’ve see aquaponics as a way of getting the best food home grown food for my family as I can with less time input, or working smarter instead of harder!

So you can only grow leafy greens in aquaponics?
Not at all, many forums such as AquaponicsHQ and BackyardAquaponics have members that have had great success with root vegetables such as Beetroot & Carrot. Other popular vegetables include Corn, Peas, Beans, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Chili, Capsicum, Lettuce, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Egg Plant, Celery, Strawberries… Murray from Aquaponics.net.au has even grown a PawPaw tree!

Added Nutrients:
As the system is almost closed, the fish food is the only main additive, there can be times where plants become stressed due to nutrient deficiencies. Iron, Magnesium and boron deficiencies can be common, especially when your plants are getting large. Cheelated Iron, Epsom salts and borax can all be added safely (in small quantities) to the water without detriment to the fish. To reduce the need for additional nutrients a high quality fish food with a full range of minerals should be used.

Pest control:
Unlike dirt gardening, where you can get away with a squirt of insecticide now and then, any form of pest control in an aquaponics system must be organic. Should you go through with a dose of insecticide there will be a tank of floating fish. White oil, chili and garlic sprays and diluted milk will be you new best friends.

The planting density in an Aquaponics setup can be fairly thick given the even spread of nutrients from the water. Reports from forums state that you can plant most things at around half to 1/3 of the spacings that are recommended for dirt gardening. This won’t apply to plants such as cabbage or possibly tomatoes which spread to a large size.

Right now, I’ve got the area measured up, some seedlings getting ready to transplant, and another week or so to wait till my kit turns up!