Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Raising a baby house cow

Our first house cow Bella came to us from a dairy farm and had already had two calves. She came with her second calf, Molly, who is also a full Jersey cow. We raised Molly to be our second house cow. With Bella now having an uncertain future after having difficulty with her last calf, we decided to raise some future house cows. 

I think they two most important inputs are human interaction (to ensure the cow is tame enough to be milked) and good nutrition (to raise a healthy robust cow). While Bella is extremely tame, from what I know of her early life I don't think she had good nutrition and she now has health problems that prevent us using her as a house cow. Molly is extremely robust AND tame. Can we produce another good house cow?

Read the rest over at my house cow ebook blog.


eight acres: raising a baby house cow



eight acres: raising a baby house cow


Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.  More information on my house cow ebook blog.





Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)


Monday, February 8, 2016

Guest Post: Bee-Keeping and Happy Neighbours

I'm happy to share with you a guest post from another beekeeper Liz, details of her social media links are at the end of the post.  This is a post about keeping bees in the city.  We don't have to worry about neighbours on our property.

Keeping your neighbors happy is an important part of successful beekeeping, and that’s not always an easy task. Wasps have given honeybees a bad rap — and unfortunately for beekeepers, a good percentage of the population lump the two together into one nasty, stinging group. If you’re a budding apiarist, here are some simple tips to preserve harmony in your neighborhood — and keep the city council on your side.

eight acres: beekeeping and happy neighbours


Be a Legal Eagle
Before you start your hives, it’s important to know your city’s ordinances regarding keeping bees. Is it allowed? Are there rules regarding number of hives, fencing, distance from other residences, etc.? Knowing the answers to these questions is your first line of defense against angry neighbors — and can save you a lot of money in fines.

If the city permits the keeping of bees, the next place to check is your homeowners association. Most associations follow local ordinances, but some can be a bit more discriminating. Check your HOA bylaws to be absolutely sure you won’t end up having to get rid of your hives.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
If you can, consider installing a fence or planting a tall shrub around your apiary. This serves two purposes; one, it makes it difficult for neighbors to spot your hives, and two, it alters the flight pattern of your bees, forcing them to above head level.

Keeping hives out of sight also helps to safeguard against vandalism and theft. You can add another layer of camouflage by painting them colors that match their surroundings. If your bees are out of sight, they’re far less likely to be the object of concern or controversy.

If you live where bears may be a problem, an electric fence is an absolute necessity. Bears will willingly endure stings to get to the precious larvae, pupae, and eggs inside the hive. They’re also all to happy to help themselves to any honey available. A seven wire fence built to a height of 4.5 feet should be sufficient to deter bears.  

Construct a Watering Hole
Bees need water for a myriad of hive activities, such as controlling the temperature and humidity of the hive, as well as diluting honey. If your bees don't have an accessible water source, they will find the next closest supply — which might just be your neighbor's swimming pool.

Since bees prefer shallow, standing water, place a birdbath lined with rocks near your hives. The rocks are a vital component, as the bees will drown if it is just an open container.
Control Swarming
To a beekeeper, a swarm is not only something awesome to behold, it’s a chance to start another hive. However, for neighbors, it can cause a great deal of fear and anxiety. Those who are unfamiliar with bee biology aren’t aware that swarming bees are at their most gentle state and not inclined to sting, so a large group of stinging insects making a considerable amount of noise can be terrifying.

Swarm prevention is a key part to keeping your neighbors in good spirits. Provide adequate room in the brood chambers and space for honey storage to keep swarming at a low level. It’s also a good idea to know how to capture swarms, as it allows the city to call on you in times of need.

Catch Flies With Honey
It’s a lot easier to befriend your neighbors before any potential trouble than trying to calm them down when they’re already angry. Chat with your neighbors about the benefits of beekeeping, the difference between wasps and bees, and answer any questions and concerns they might have. Discuss colony collapse disorder and why beekeeping is important to the environment. Once they know you are a responsible beekeeper, they will be less likely to raise the alarm if they spot your bees out and about. It also doesn’t hurt to sweeten your relationship with a gift of honey every now and then.

When you’re not fighting the city, you HOA, and your neighbors, beekeeping can be a real pleasure. If you prepare ahead of time, educate yourself on the laws, and keep your bees happy and gentle, you’re sure to meet success in any neighborhood.

Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.

Do you have any tips to share about keeping your bees and your neighbours happy?

Thank Goodness its Monday
Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five blogging tips for Blogger

I don't usually write about blogging, but after five years using Blogger I feel I'm qualified to put a few tips out there which might be useful to other bloggers (not claiming to be an expert, just thought I'd share what I know).  Many of my readers have blogs, but for those that don't, sorry this post isn't about farming!  Maybe visit some of my older posts today instead, here's a few popular ones to get you started:

Making tallow soap

What to do with eight acres

How to build a chicken tractor

Determining the gender of young chickens

Neem oil for insect control

Winter Woodfires: Cooking in a woodstove

Worm farm compost


These tips are all for the Blogger platform, as that's what I use, but they  probably also apply to other platforms, you'll just have to figure out where to find the options.


eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger



1. Use the "search description" and photo "image properties" fields
Even if you don't use Pinterest or Facebook to share your posts, chances are someone else will, and everything will work better and look nicer if you've used the "search description" and "image properties" fields in your post.  In Blogger the search description is a text box on the righthand side in the "post" screen between "location" and "options".  If you click on the text you will see it opens up a box where you can type anything.  When your post is shared in facebook this is the text that appears with your post.  If its blank you get the text in the first comment (I figured this out by trial and error).  The first comment is not always what you want to see, so I suggest that you write something short in the search description box instead.  For example, I usually write something like "eight acres: post about blogging tips".

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

When you pin a post in Pinterest, the default text that comes up for the description is the image properties, sometimes this is blank or a filename.  If you want to take control over what people use in Pinterest to describe your post, you can help out by typing something useful into the image properties.  To get to image properties in Blogger, just click on the photo and then select properties from the menu that appears, this will give you a box with two text areas, I usually type the same thing in both, similar to what I type for search description.  Do this for EVERY photo, as you don't know which one people will pick to pin.  You can also do a fancy photo with words for extra Pinterest appeal, but I don't have time for that!

People can change the text in Pinterest, but if they are in a hurry you have saved them some time as they can just save that pin and move on without thinking what to type.  On the topic of Pinterest - do try to include a photo in every post, even something irrelevant is better than nothing - so that people can pin your post if they want to, posts with no pictures cannot be pinned.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger


2. Design a blog logo (if you want to)
A few people asked me about my new logo so I thought I'd better share how I created it.  I don't think a logo is essential, but if its something you are interested in doing there are a few options.  I found two different sites that allowed you to design a logo from stock drawings by changing colours and adding text (here and here).  You can then purchase either the basic package or more expensive options.  For the cheaper package you don't own the logo, they don't take it off the website and other people may use it also, however once you've changed colours and added text it is different to the original.  They are similarly priced, so I recommend you search through both and see which has the logo that suits you best.  I took the cheap option, so my logo is still available for anyone to use.

A still more expensive option is to have a logo designed by a graphic designer, there are various sites where you can ask for designers to pitch ideas and you buy the one you like.  I didn't want to go to that level.
eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger


3. Use a custom banner - but not too BIG!
With or without a logo, you blog looks more professional with a banner heading rather than just text.  You can create this with photos if you don't have a logo to use.  This tutorial explains how to make a banner.  I also use Picasa, its free and seems to be a good way to organise my photos.  The only thing I was add is try not to make your banner too large.  In newspapers they talk about "above and below the fold", meaning that you want your important content to appear high on the page so that people don't have to scroll.  If your banner is so large that people need to scroll to get to your content then its more effort, and people are lazy!  Make it easy to get to your content by keeping your banner small.  Consider also that some people are using smaller screens that you are (see how much of my blog appears above the fold (without scrolling), even with a small banner, its not much.  Also make sure you've set up a mobile template so that people can easily view your blog on their phone (go to "template", click on the cog under "Mobile", in the pop up window select the option to "Yes. Show mobile template on mobile devices.")

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger


4. Use images to help people find popular topics
I read somewhere that lists of labels are out of fashion on blogs.  You might have noticed that many blogs are using images instead now, and they are really easy to set up.  Just pick your popular labels, I currently have knitting, bees, soap, books and herbs.  I chose an image for each and made a new image with the words over it and exported them in a standard pixel size to fit on my sidebar.  Then you just go to "layout" and add a gadget - select photo from the list of gadgets.  Upload your photo and the appropriate link to the label (just click on the label from a post to find the link).  Its all explained properly in this post.  You can change these regularly to direct people to your areas of interest.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger



5. Add the email gadget to your blog
There are a few people who only want to read one or two blogs, they just want them to appear in their email, rather than using a reader.  Personally I use Bloglovin to read many blogs, however Pete prefers to receive emails for the blogs he reads, and some of my family have also subscribed this way.  You might be missing out on these readers if you haven't added the email gadget to your blog.  Again, go into "layout", add a gadget and select "follow by email" to add this option.


eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger


Bonus tip! Publish your entire post in RSS, please!
If you read blogs in a reader, posts that are not selected to publish in full may only give you a few sentences.  Unless those sentences or the blog title are REALLY interesting, I will not click further and read the whole post, I just can't be bothered waiting for it to load.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, and I make this comment only because I know that not everyone uses a reader app and may not be aware that this happens.  

If you go into "Settings" and the "other" menu, you will find options for "Site Feed".  Check that "allow blog feed" is set to "full", which will mean that your entire post can be accessed from a reader such as Bloglovin.  You may chose to use another option so that people have to go to your website to see the full post and then they will see your advertising or whatever else you want people to see on your site.  You can also add a "Post feed footer" which will appear after each post that is accessed through a reader.  Note that these setting also apply to posts that are received by email in tip 5..

If you want to know even more, Weed em and Reap recently published an excellent tutorial on setting up a blog.  I thought some of it was a bit over the top, and I would suggest starting small if you're not sure how much you're going to end up writing.  I don't want you to be put off by all the detail in that tutorial, there are some great ideas and some that you don't need if you just want to start a small blog.

I hope that helps and if you have any blog questions, please feel free to ask.  I think I've learnt as much about blogging in the last five years as I've learnt about farming, gardening, chicken, cows and bees!  If you have any tips to add, please do so, I'm sure I have more to learn :)

Thank Goodness its Monday
Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Monday, February 1, 2016

Farm Update - February 2016

January felt like a very short month!  And I managed to have the Australia Day LONG weekend (including the Monday) at home.  Once again we had a bit of rain.  90 mm this past weekend at Kumbia and 30 mm at Nanango.  The new dam is nearly full so we just wait to see if it holds water now.  The forecast was for below average rainfall this year, so we are thankful for every drop we get.



Food and cooking

I got some jars for our honey and started selling 500g and 1kg at work.  Its very popular!  Now the bees just need to keep up production!



Land and farming
Speaking of bees... they seem to have taken up much of our weekends recently!  There has been so much going on I don't even know if I can remember it all, but I do write in our Bee Book every time we open a hive so we don't forget what we saw.  When we open a hive we are looking to see how much brood and honey is in the hive, hoping to see the queen, but if we at least see eggs we know she is in there somewhere, and then we decide if we need to add another super box to give them more space.  Over Christmas we took some brood out of our bigger hive to start a new hive and we ordered a new queen, but we were a bit late putting her in the hive and they had already started making their own queen, so the new queen swarmed.  Pete saw the swarm and managed to catch them in another hive but when we looked in a few days later we found that the queen was damaged (she may have come like that or got hurt during the swarming, but her back leg wasn't working).  We ordered another queen, she came in a little queen cage with 4-5 escort worker bees to feed her until we put her into the new hive.  The end of the cage is plugged with sugar candy that the bees eat to release her.  That hive now appears to have accepted her and the original nucleus hive has a new queen that they made.  We are learning FAST!




Chickens
We put the little chicks out in a chicken tractor already.  They were only two weeks old, which is way earlier than normal for us, but as the weather was in the 30s (degC)  and they were stinking up the brooder box something terrible.  They are fine in the chicken tractor with a heat lamp and we cover the tractor with blankets at night.  They have more feathers now and they LOVE the grass.  Happy little chickies.  Meanwhile last count we had five broody hens and nowhere to put them as all the chicken tractors are full, so they are just taking up nesting box space and upsetting everyone.  I think I will try putting ice under them next weekend....



Cows and cattle
We have plenty of grass again, so the cattle are happy too.  We were worried that the angus steers really weren't losing their fluffy winter coats and were looking quite shaggy.  Traditional farmer wisdom said we needed to worm them.  Well I wanted to sell them and not spend $500 on worming chemical, so instead we started feeding a mixture of minerals, copra, diatomaceous earth and a small amount of copper sulphate.  Diatomeceous earth is supposed to help with worming, and according to Pat Coleby's books, animals with worms are copper deficient.  One way or another this seems to have worked and the steers are starting to look sleek and shiny.

The dairy cows are also enjoying the fresh grass.  Little Rosey (house cow in training) had three day sickness (we think), although it seemed to be a very mild case and cleared up quickly, either that or some other kind of bovine flu.  We were just happy to see her well again.



Garden
Well with all this rain and humidity the jungle continues to grow!  The pumpkin vine is starting to take over, but I don't see any fruit.  The self-seeded tomatoes are starting to produce, you never know what you're going to find and they have sprouted from the compost.  The bugs are also doing well and I got a bit worried by the audible buzz in my garden, so I sprayed neem oil on all the leaves that were being chewed as I didn't want to lose my eggplants.  The bush beans were chewed and mildewed to death, so I've pulled them out and made room for whatever pops up next, as there are plenty of climbing beans to pick.  I'm still waiting for chokos and rosellas.  The pepino bushes are growing like mad, I had to cut them back a bit to keep a path through the garden, they make good compost and I throw the fruit to the chickens.  I got a couple of new herbs - feverfew (pretty flowers below) and bee balm/monarda. And the chillies have started to ripen, so many chillies!





House
We decided a while ago that the window in the old pantry had to go.  We want to put the stove in there and I don't want to have to clean grease off a window.  The glass was cracked so we would have had to replace it.  Also it faces west, so the window was letting in a lot of heat.  We did some demo work and removed the window and replaced it with weatherboard.  Its looking very neat.  Now we are ready to sheet in the pantry.  We are SO close to painting the kitchen and side room, we really underestimated the amount of bogging and spackling that would be needed to prepare these rooms.  The most exciting news is that shed construction has started AND we are not doing the work!!  It looks like the contractors are doing a great job, so I'm looking forward to seeing the finished shed.





Permaculture - Integrate rather than segregate
Here's what I wrote last time I reviewed this principle.  The key points are:
  • Each element of a system performs many functions
  • Each function is supported by many elements
I will use water on our farm as an example.  Specifically our new house yard dam is an element that has the following functions:

  • Firefighting water for the house and yard, as well as a firebreak
  • Habitat for aquatic plants and animals
  • Somewhere for me and Taz to swim to cool off
  • Generating a cool breeze over the house in summer
  • Water for the garden and orchard
If we take the last function, this is also provided by other elements in our systems, including our solar bore, multiple rainwater tanks connected to house and shed and greywater collection.

I could repeat this analysis for every element and function to create an interconnected system.  When adding a new element we always think "what else could this thing do for us?" and design accordingly.




Support me
My latest soap tool is a "soap stamp" which we use on the soap just after cutting the bars when its still a little soft.  I love the spiral pattern.  I got a new cutting guide as well, Pete thought some of my bars were getting a little stingy, so we are cutting standard sizes now!  Stamps and cutting guides are available from Aussie Soap Supplies.



A few new blog this month:

A Hopeful Nature

A Simple Living Journey

My Empire of Dirt Garden

How was your January?  What are your plans for February?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How I use herbs - Rosemary and Thyme

Two of the herbs that I have had in my garden for a long time are Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  I regularly use both of these herbs, in both fresh and dried form, in cooking, as I'm sure you do too.  I have been wondering how to use them medicinally as well.  I chose to write about them together because they grow in my garden in a similar way and I currently use them in cooking in a similar way.  They are both of the family Lamiaceae, so there is a family connection as well.

eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
my herb garden before it got overgrown

How to grow Rosemary and Thyme
Both of these herbs prefer a sunny position, however in the subtropics, no matter how much you think you like the sun, sometimes the hottest days are really too much.  For this reason I keep both rosemary and thyme in small pots, dug into the ground.  Digging the pots in keeps the soil cool and moist, keeping them in pots gives me the option to move them around if they need more or less sun.  I do find it stunts the plants a little, but I still have more than enough of each to use.  I find that both herbs die back in winter, particularly after we get a frost, and then regrow in summer when we get enough rain.  Regular cutting helps to keep the growth under control and gives me plenty of leaves to dry for use in winter.


eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
a thyme flower up close

Using Rosemary and Thyme
For cooking I use the leaves in both fresh and dry form.  I find freshly cut sprigs of these herbs are find to throw into a casserole or soup as long as I remember to pull them out later.  I prefer the dried leaves to crumble over potato or meat dishes as its far easy to crumble the dried leaves than to chop the fresh leaves.  I air dry the leaves in a basket, they usually dry very quickly due to low water content.  When the leaves are dry I store them in old spice jars.  I try to get them topped up before winter so I have plenty while the plants are dormant.


eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
my overgrown thyme plant

I have been using rosemary and thyme in cooking for a long time, but I hadn't investigated the medicinal properties until now.  Rosemary has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it is used on the skin to ease aching muscles.  It is also often used to help with memory and concentration, for stimulating circulation and for hair growth.  Many natural shampoo recipes contain rosemary essential oil or tea.  (More information here)  Rosemary is also known to stimulate digestion, so its lucky it also tastes nice!

Thyme contains a chemical called thymol, which is known to have strong antimicrobial properties.  Thyme can be used as part of a wound dressing, and in teas and tinctures to treat coughs and colds.  Thyme essential oil can be used to make mild antiseptics to be used around the house.  Thyme is also used for digestion and to expel intestinal worms!

Both herbs have warnings for pregnancy - a small amount in cooking is ok, but excessive use of the essential oils should be avoided.  Thyme essential oil is not suitable for young children either (although the herb should be ok), please do your research before using it.

Apart from using the essential oils, the easiest way to benefit from rosemary and thyme is to include them in herbal teas (infusions).  If you've been following this series, you will notice that nearly every herb can be used as a tea or infusion, but you may not drink teas frequently enough to get a chance to use all the herbs that could be beneficial.  I get around this by including a lot of herbs in my daily cup of tea.  I just dry a bowl of cut herbs, crush up the leaves and store them in a jar.  I scoop about a teaspoon of dried herbs into an infuser, and put this into a cup of boiling water.  I usually leave the infuser in the cup while I drink the tea and may top up with more hot water a few times during the day.  This way I get the benefit of several different herbs in my tea mix.

One other method that I would like to try is to infuse the herbs into honey.  Now that we have plenty of fresh raw honey, if I put some rosemary and thyme in a jar and fill with honey, by next winter it will be infused with all the antimicrobial goodness and may be a good remedy for coughs and colds.

Do you use rosemary and thyme?  Do you grow them as well?


How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

How I use herbs - Aloe Vera

How I use herbs - Basil

How I use herbs - Ginger, galangal and turmeric

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Soapwort

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

How I use herbs - Parsley

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

How I use herbs - Brahmi

How I use herbs - Yarrow

How I use herbs - Arrowroot

How I use herbs - Lucerne (afalfa)

How I use herbs - Lavender


Thank Goodness its Monday
Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Monday, January 25, 2016

Crochet knee rug for beginners

I only learnt to crochet a couple of years ago, and last winter I really wanted to improve my crochet skills to the point where it was an unconscious movement rather than a very concious and laboured effort.  The best way to do that (possibly the only way) is repetition, so it made sense to make something large.  I decided to make a rug.

As I was intending this for practice, I didn't know how it would turn out and I didn't want to buy new yarn in case I wasted it, so I decided to use some of the yarn I had been hoarding wisely buying from the markets.  As I didn't really known how much yarn I had and how much rug I wanted to make, it was difficult to find a pattern to use.


eight acres: easy crochet knee rug


I didn't want to make multiple granny squares that would have to be joined together later (I can picture a stash of squares waiting to be joined).  I also didn't want to make one of the pretty patterns that require you to decide the length of one end of the rug and work backwards and forwards.  My solution was to start with one granny square and just keep working outwards.

I was going to make a new granny square, but I couldn't get the centre started properly, so I gave up and grabbed one that I started earlier when I was first practising crochet.  From there is was simply a case of working around and around in alternating colours.  However it took me a while to figure out the best pattern to use and I ended up with a weird puckered effect.  When I showed it to a friend, she pointed out that I had added too many stitches early on.  When she showed me I could see the mistake.  I wasn't happy about it and unravelled back to that point.

eight acres: easy crochet knee rug


I was still confused about the corners and had to draw out the stitches and count how many I would need to make work so that there would be enough on the next row without causing it to pucker.  Trust an engineer to complicate things!

Finally I could see what needed to happen.  In each gap I do three treble crochets and then a chain and into the next gap.  The chains form the gaps for the next row.  At a corner you need two sets of three trebles, I separated these by two chains so there was space on the next round to put the two sets of trebles.

Once I got the hang of it I got quite quick and went around until I ran out of yarn.  The rug is the perfect size to go over my knees in winter (which I can hardly imagine at the moment in a heat wave, but I have a vague memory of being cold when I started the rug!).

This is the perfect pattern to try if you just want to practice very basic crochet technique, produce something useful and use up some old yarn without committing to a certain size of rug.  Since I made the rug I've also made a little scarf using a different arrangement of the same stitches and I'm pleased to say that my speed and confidence is greatly improved.

Do you crochet?  Any easy pattern ideas for beginners?  

Knitting and crochet posts

Eight Acres: Simple winter knits for beginners

Eight Acres: Learning to knit from a pattern

Eight Acres: Learning to knit and "mancrafts"

Eight Acres: Knitting - some people make it look so easy!

Eight Acres: Knitting is a survival skill

Eight Acres: Easy knitted arm warmers (double pointed needles)

Eight Acres: Knitting socks on four double-pointed needles

Eight Acres: Knitting - how to handle a hank of yarn


Eight Acres: I'm hooked! Learning to crochet granny squares

Eight Acres: Finger-crocheted rag rug from old t-shirts


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why do some cattle have horns?

A couple of times now I've heard people say that only bulls have horns.  The second time it was a radio announcer.  I thought I better write a post to explain that some cows have horns.... and some bulls don't!  Read more about why some cattle have horns over on my house cow ebook blog.


eight acres: why do some cattle have horns?
Polled Angus steers - no horns


eight acres: why do some cattle have horns?
Miss Molly cow - definitely has horns,
but her calf Chubby had a polled sire, so she doesn't have horns


Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.  More information on my house cow ebook blog.





Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)


Monday, January 18, 2016

Soil testing for dams, roads and erosion control

I started a series on soil testing back here, in which I explained a few simple tests to work out the clay/silt/sand content of soil and the pH.  I was always going to come back and explain dispersion, but the truth was, I didn't really know WHY dispersion was important at that time.  I have since done a course on erosion management and it all became clear.  However, dispersion is not really important for garden soil or for farming, so I never came back to finish the series.  Dispersion is very important when it comes to using soil to construct things like dams and roads, and when you start to get erosion problems.  We just had a dam built, so I came back to dispersion and soil testing, so its time to finish that series!

eight acres: simple soil tests for building dams, roads and preventing erosion.


We asked our neighbour to come over with his buldozer and build us a farm dam near the house.  He thought that the soil wouldn't be any good where I wanted the dam.  So throughout the digging process we grabbed multiple samples and looked up websites and tried to figure out if the dam was going to work.  

This link from the Victorian state government listed the following qualities of good soil for dam building:
  • more than 10% clay
  • more than 20% silt plus clay
  • presence of sands and gravels in reasonable quantity to supply structural strength.
  • Clay with moderate dispersion. Some dispersion is necessary to have sufficient mobility to help seal pores without causing tunnelling.
Soil texture
As I wrote previously, you can roughly assess the clay and silt content of soil through what I call "the sausage test" (which is actually called the manipulative test), and the test where you shake up a sample in a jar of water and let it settle.  Both tests indicated that we had enough clay in the soil.  Using the results of our tests and the standard soil texture triangle, we estimated the soil to be a sandy loam, and therefore it met the first three requirements on the list.

Next we had to test dispersion.  This document from the NSW DPI explains dispersion and slaking.  Dispersion is a measure of how the soil behaves when exposed to water.  You test it by gently placing a chunk of soil in a dish of water (in this case the dog's water bowl, sorry Taz!) and watching the soil.  A dispersive soil will begin to spontaneously dissolve in the water, whereas a non-dispersive soil will show no signs of dissolving.  Moderate dispersion will form a dirty ring around the soil.  A slaking soil will fall apart.  A soil can be slacking and non-dispersive.  Anyway, after several tests it looked like our soil was slaking and slightly dispersive.  If it was too dispersive it would have just dissolved into the water in the dam and not sealed, no dispersive enough and the dam won't seal either.

eight acres: simple soil tests for building dams, roads and preventing erosion.


Will the dam hold water?
We told our neighbour to keep digging!  And we kept taking samples as the hole got bigger.  The thing with dams is you never really know what you're going to find as you keep expanding the hole, and there were a few different colours which our neighbour tried to mix to create a consistent layer on the dam wall. If you're planning to dig a dam, I recommend finding an experienced operator.  We won't know if we made the right decision until we see that dam full of water and holding its level.

We have previously had the same neighbour work on our driveway and went through the same soil testing.  For a road, you want less clay and silt, more gravel and sand, and non-dispersive soil to prevent erosion.  The key to erosion control is a good layer of top-soil or non-dispersive soil anywhere that will be exposed to water, as dispersive soil will literally dissolve.

None of this is very scientific, but it does give you a rough idea of what type of soil you're working with and what you might be able to us it for.  And its kind of a fun opportunity to get your hands dirty!  If you want to know more about your garden soil, see what I wrote here.

What do you think?  Have you used soil testing to estimate soil texture?  Have you built any dams or roads lately?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hands on Home - Book review

I wasn't sure if I would like The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping, by Erica Strauss, so I requested it from the library rather than buy it.  I really shouldn't have been surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it, as I have been following Erica's blog Northwest Edible Life and she always explains interesting and complex concepts with a dose of humour and common sense.  Her blog has covered canning, fermenting, eating in season, growing vegetables, backyard chickens and ducks among other things.  Also lots of cooking because Erica is a trained chef.

I (incorrectly) expected this book to be mostly recipes.  As in food recipes.  So I was very pleased to see recipes for cleaning products and body products.  Not only does it begin with a comprehensive explanation of kitchen basics, fermentation, canning and making chicken broth, she also goes into detail of how various cleaning products work (and therefore how to make your own) and how personal care products work.  Also recommendations on essential oil blends to use.  And there are soap recipes based on tallow or lard!  I was getting excited at this stage!

eight acres: The Hands on Home - book review


I'm sure that the food recipes are lovely too, but I just don't do recipes.  We never have in the garden/freezer/pantry/paddock everything required for a particular recipe, so I kind of just mix up what we have and add herbs and spices.  It usually goes ok.  Erica mentions that good cooks don't use recipes.  I'm not sure if I can claim to be a good cook or just a lazy frugal person, either way, I can't report back on the recipes, I only read the chicken broth one and it looked about right.

I have noted down several cleaning recipes that I want to try, including the glass cleaner and the citrus vinegar for the bathroom.  I have made that before, but I had no idea (until I read this book) that its actually the limonene from the citrus peels that acts as a solvent to remove grease.  I've put a jar of white vinegar next to the compost bin in the kitchen, and I'm tossing in any citrus peels.  This is a good idea too if you don't want to put your citrus in the worm bin (I usually do, but I know some people don't), at least use them to make vinegar before you throw them out.

From the personal care recipes I want to try the deodorant and the hair wash that uses honey (as we have so much honey now! although I expect the ants will find it tasty too).

Personally I don't need to own this book, so I'm glad I was able to borrow it instead.  It did have lots of useful information, but much of it I already knew or didn't need to know (I'm just not keen on canning, but that's another post!  If you want to can, this book has it covered).  However, I do think its a lovely gift for friends who are not already into making their own and would like to start.  I find people often ask me how to make chicken broth or ferment things and how to make soap or moisturiser.  Its all here in this book, beautifully presented and explained with a touch of humour and plenty of common sense.  

Do you use recipes?  Could you do with some more information about natural cleaners?  and chemical-free "personal care"?

** below is an Amazon affiliate link, if you use this to purchase this book (or any other book) I get a small percentage and you don't pay any extra.  Thanks for funding my book habit :)

 The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...