Monday, September 22, 2014

Essential oils for man and beast

You can barely read a blog these days without coming across information about essential oils.  If anyone has somehow managed to miss the essential oil buzz, it seems to be generated by two companies that produce essential oils and sell via Multi Level Marketing schemes (i.e. pyramid schemes) in which people can earn money by selling essential oils through these companies.  Hence all the hype on blogs about how to use (and buy) essential oils.

Bella's udder

I have been paying attention mainly because my neighbour is very enthusiastic about oils (although she doesn't sell them), and for the past few years has told me how she uses them in her home and with her family.  From what I have seen, they are very effective as a natural therapy and potentially safers and cheaper than conventional medicine, which has caught my interest.  I have been slow to take the step to use them myself because we don't tend to get sick anyway!  But then I started to wonder if we could use essential oils to help Bella with her ongoing mastitis problems, so I did some reading.

What are essential oils?
An essential oil is the concentrated oil or aroma component of a plant.  If you are a chemistry geek (like me), you may be interested to know that essential oils mainly consist of terpenes (mono-, di- and sesque-), ketones and aldehydes.  The unique property of these chemicals is their relatively small size:
Not many substances can pass through the blood-brain barrier, but essential oils can. So, you can take the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and apply them to the brain, and if they can reach the brain, they will effect the rest of the body as well – as they effect various parts of the brain that regulate various functions in the body – from hormone production, adrenal support, memory storage, emotional balance, and on and on. So you experience physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental benefits. - High Country Doterra
Even if you're not interested in the chemistry, my interpretation is that it makes sense that the chemicals in essential oils influence our bodies and our moods.  This influence may not always be beneficial.  This brings me to two important points:

  1. Essential oils are potent, they should be used carefully and judiciously, to ensure that the affects are beneficial.  Just because they are natural, does not mean they necessarily safe to use in all situations and at unlimited dosages.
  2. In some situations a herbal preparation may be more appropriate than an essential oil to make a more gentle change to body chemistry, reserving the power of essential oils for more serious conditions.  
Essential oils are a natural product and so they are not standardised.  An essential oil extracted from one batch of plant will be different to another batch from the same type of plant simply due to the growing conditions of the plant.  More expensive oils are not necessarily better "quality" (higher in the active ingredients), but I think its worth buying organic essential oils where possible, to reduce exposure to other chemicals that could be present in conventionally grown plants.

How to use essential oils
Essential oils can be used therapeutically by inhalation (typically using a diffuse), diluted and rubbed on the skin or ingested (controversial!).  

Essential oils for mastitis
When I was convinced that there was potential for essential oils to assist Bella, I then needed to know which oils to use.  I searched for "cow mastitis essential oils" and I found a couple of useful links.  First a scientific paper that showed that constituents in tea tree oil reduced inflammation in cows with mastitis, which sounded very promising.  And then a blog post which listed essential oils that were known to assist with mastitis in dairy cows, including peppermint, tea tree and oregano.

I still wasn't sure what dilution to use to make an udder balm for Bella, but I found some information here, which recommended a 2% dilution.

In the end I decided to use lavender, oregano, tea tree and eucalyptus oil (because I did more reading about the properties of these oils, in books, so I can't link it all here!), diluted in coconut oil.  We rubbed the oil on Bella's udder daily for about a week.  It was kind of hard to tell if it was helping her, but she is looking VERY healthy now either way.  We will use it again if she gets mastitis with her next calf.

sore old paws


Man and Beast
I had made up nearly two cups of udder balm, and we had so much left, I put a little in a jar in case we needed it inside.  I used some on our dog Cheryl's front paws because they looked stiff and sore (she is twelve years old).  And then when Pete had a sandfly bite I put it on him and the bite stopped itching.  So I have written "for man and beast" across the top of the jar.  I have used it myself as insect repellent and when my arm was sore.  Generally these oils have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, so in some ways it is a multi-purpose balm.

My verdict
Essential oils have their place as a natural medicine, but they should not be abused.  Multi-level marketing schemes encourage people to over-sell the benefits and understate the cautions.  Do your research, preferably from sources that are not trying to sell you oils, and use essential oils sparingly as part of a healthy lifestyle.  Invest in good quality oils, organic if possible.

Essential oil overviews
Crunchy Betty
Natural Kids

What do you think?  How do you use essential oils?  How do you research which essential oils to use?  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fine dining?

A few weeks ago ABC's farming program, Landline, featured a segment on "a fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Adelaide [who] has made it her mission to provide top chefs with produce to really make a plate pop".  It was quite hilarious to see chefs rave on about mini heirloom veges, unusual salad greens and fancy herbs, because that's about all I can grow in my own garden!  There's not much that I grow that makes it past miniature, apart from the greens and the herbs that grow like weeds.  When I cooked dinner with some tiny thinned carrots, kale and chopped chervil, I told Pete it was "fine dining" and that my garden is a success after all!

fine food from my garden

Growing and eating much of our own food has given us a different perspective on food and dining out.  We used to go out for pub dinners every couple of weeks, but then we both realised that most of the "food" was either frozen and deep fried, or straight from a packet, and it was making us feel sick.  It does make it difficult to order from a menu when you can mentally cross off all the options that you have in your freezer that are going to be better quality and better tasting than anything the pub is going to serve up.  And in rural Queensland, the options for fine dining are pretty limited beyond pub meals!  Now days we prefer to cook our own food, and we only go out to eat if we know the food is going to be really good.  We would rather pay more for the occasional good meal than frequent awful pub food.

When I heard about Ronnie Scott's new book Salad Days on an ABC interview, I was intrigued and requested a copy from Penguin to review.  The book aims to answer the question "In a culture that both pillories and idolises fine food, can it ever possibly be morally decent to spend $500 on a meal?".  The book is short at only 45 large print pages, but it does make some very interesting points.

In the end, the only justification that Ronnie can come up with is that fine dining, or cuisine, is the food equivalent of art.  He admits that its frivolous, but that we pay for the dining experience rather than the food.  Which then raises the question, what is the difference between art and frivolity?  In a consumer society, where do we draw the line between our "needs" and mindless consumption?  Who hasn't spent a frivolous $500 on something, concert tickets, a holiday, a stereo, an artwork, a kitchen appliance?  What's the difference?

I didn't actually expect this book to convince me that it was ok to spend $500 on a meal, but somehow it has made me consider that I don't think twice about spending $500 (or more) on things that I personally enjoy.  So if Ronnie really does enjoy find dining, and that's how he wants to spend his money, who am I to judge?  Personally, I would rather spend $500 on something that would help me to grow my own fine food, but that's my choice.

A very thought-provoking little book, thanks Ronnie!  What do you think?  Would you ever spend $500 on a single meal?  Do you spend in other frivolous ways?




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting Started with Ducks - Kim from Oasis Biodynamic Farm

The last few weeks I've been asking bloggers to tell me more about their ducks.  Kim from Oasis Biodynamic Farm volunteered and I'm please to share her story with you today.

Kim: “The Oasis” is our 20 acre lifestyle property near Inverell in northern NSW. Since moving here in 2005 we have set about rehabilitating our land, which was once sluiced for tin and in a very degraded condition. We employ permaculture principles and use biodynamic agricultural practices. We rotationally graze Dorper sheep and Highland cattle to maintain and improve ground cover and build soil organic matter which in combination with the above is healing the land on which we live. We believe that a healthy soil leads to healthy food and ultimately to healthier people. In addition to the sheep and cattle we keep chickens for eggs, ducks, and grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as possible. We have been growing a small crop of garlic for the past three years, but this year drought conditions led to us growing only enough garlic for our own needs. (See the website for Oasis Biodynamic Farm here).




Farmer Liz: Tell me about your ducks, how many do you keep and what breeds? What do you keep them for? (meat, eggs, other?)

K: We currently have five khaki Campbell x welsh harlequin ducks and one Indian runner duck. These are our core flock which expands to over 20 in breeding season. We originally got into ducks for snail control around eight years ago and knew very little about keeping them. The book For the Love of Ducks by Nyiri Murtagh was a great help, highly recommended if you want to learn more about keeping ducks. We don't butcher our ducks and usually have no problem finding homes for progeny as they are beautiful. We do enjoy a good supply of duck eggs in spring and summer.

Kim's duck pen
 

FL: What sort of housing do you provide for your ducks? Do they free-range? Do you have to lock them up at night?

K: Our ducks free range through the gardens in the day and are fed at night in their pen and locked up for the night.

FL: What sort of water do you provide for your ducks?

K: Ducks must have water available at all times. We have a small water container in their pen which is emptied and refilled every day with clean water. We leave water bowls under taps around the garden for them and also have a small pond in the garden which we periodically pump out onto pastures and the garden for fertiliser.

one of the water bowls we leave in the garden to encourage them to forage for
snails and spread their manure around. These are emptied and refilled regularly

FL: What’s the best thing about keeping ducks?

K: Their beautiful energy as they wander through our gardens, watching them preening and pottering around. And the added bonus of snail control.

FL: What do you wish you knew about ducks before you got them?

K: They love to eat strawberries and some veges, we put small duck proof fences around vege gardens we don't want them foraging in. They will also try to break into our decorative water garden ponds which we have needed to put barriers around to stop duck invasions.

FL: Any last advice to someone wanting to get started with ducks?

K: Established routines make things much easier. We always feed our ducks in their pen late afternoon so they are trained to come in for feed and be locked up overnight. We don't leave food out ad lib or the ducks won't come in at night and will be susceptible to predators.

Many people think ducks are messy but we don’t find mess a problem. They have a large area to free range around and the manure is good fertiliser for our soil. We make sure there is no feed or water source around areas where we don’t want them making a mess like the house and have no issues.

FL: Thanks Kim!  It was great to get your perspective on ducks.  And good to know that we may have to keep them out of gardens and non-duck ponds.  If you want to comment on this post, please head over to Kim's blog to leave a message.



Getting started with ducks


Getting started with homestead dairy







Getting started with chickens







Getting started with growing vegetables





Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm hooked! Learning to crochet...

Since I've got more confident with knitting, I've been thinking I should learn to crochet too.  I did make a couple of finger crocheted rag rugged after a lady at our local permaculture group gave me a quick lesson, but I had not yet mastered the crochet hook.  I had the basic idea though, from all the finger crochet, so I really just had to sit down with some wool and a hook and one of my many crochet books and figure it out.

My first grannie squares

If you want to learn to crochet, I recommend finding someone patient to show you, even a quick 15 minute lesson is better than nothing.  At least you will have the feel for it.  I spent ages looking at diagrams in books, but I really needed someone to show me how to hold the yarn and the hook before I could follow the diagrams.  If you can't find anyone to show you in person, here is a really good youtube tutorial.  This is also a good refresher to help you remember what you learnt.  I like the way the presenter explains the technique and talks through every step.





When you master the basic stitches, you're going to want to make some grannie squares!  I think the most fascinating thing about crochet, particularly if you're coming from a knitting mindset, is that you can crochet straight lines, or you can go around.  It took me a while to see the difference, but its important.  While knitting is really only two dimensional, crochet can create 3-D shapes.  Also its very quick (but a little holey!).  

Here are the two grannie square tutorials that I used to make the squares in the photo.  Be careful though, grannie squares are a little addictive.  I kept thinking, just one more round and I'll stop.  I think that's how rugs happen.....

basic granny square pattern

honey and roses granny squares

I kind of want to crochet a nice scarf using some alpaca wool and this pattern, but I really need to finish the knitted scarf I started, and now its spring, eek!  I better get knitting fast!

So what about you?  Do you crochet?  Or knit?  Or both?  How do you think they compare?  And what tips do you have for beginners?

Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Simple Saturdays Blog Hop
From the Farm Blog Hop
Homestead Barn Hop
The Homeacre Hop

Friday, September 12, 2014

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

I was surprised to find out that there is actually a genus Nasturtium which includes cress, but not the plant I know as nasturtium!  Apparently the common name nasturtium for the plant Tropaeolum Majus is due to the herb tasting like plants in the Nasturtium genus.  Another example of why its so important to check botanical names.

How to grow nasturtium
Nasturtium can be grown from seed, cuttings or root division, although I've only ever used seeds.  It does tend to spread under the right conditions, so make sure you plant it in the right spot.  I find it doesn't like our hot dry summers, so it never takes over my garden.  However, if I can get it to survive through summer, it is a perennial in my sub-tropical climate.  It is usually considered an annual in colder climates as it doesn't tolerate frost well.


How I use Nasturtium
  • All flowers are good for attracting bees and other beneficial insects, so this is a good reason to have nasturtium in your garden, as it tends to flower prolifically in the right conditions.
  • Nasturtium is also used as a companion plant as the leaves attract insects, particularly the cabbage white moth. The flowers also repel aphids and the cucumber beetle.
  • It makes a good edible ground cover plant in the orchard for weed control.
  • The flowers, seeds and leaves can be eaten.  I usually pick a few leaves and add to dinner with other chopped herbs.  The leaves have a peppery flavour which I like.  I know that you can also pickle the green seeds, but I can never produce enough of them!
  • Medicinally, nasturtium is said to have antibiotic properties.  It can be made into an infusion or tincture for respiratory conditions, digestion and as a poultice for skin conditions.  
  • Chooks and cattle also enjoy any nasturtium that grows outside the garden fence.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The story of our house cows

We brought Bella and Molly home in May 2011.  I wasn't convinced about getting a house cow, it was actually Pete's idea!  But now I wouldn't want to live without the company, the milk and the manure that a house cow provides.  Although I could do without the drama...

Read about our house cow story over on my house cow eBook blog.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Seed saving and seed swap

If you want to grow your own veges on the cheap, one of the easiest ways to save money is to save seeds.  I've written a few posts about seed saving and growing from seeds, see them here.

my seed collection

Seeds that I have to swap
  • Dill
  • Poor man's beans
  • Green beans (climbing) - "Blue Lake"
  • Yellow beans (bush) - "Cherokee Wax"
  • Cabbage
  • Spring Onions (see explanation here)
  • Leek
  • Bok Choi
  • Green peas - "Lacey Lady"
  • Parsley - flat leaf
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Calendula
  • Marigold
  • Winter Tarragon
  • Chilli
  • Arrowroot
  • Mizuna
  • Snake bean
  • Red mustard
  • Rosella
  • Mini capsicum
  • Tat soi
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce (not sure what its called, like a cos type)
  • Silver beet (chard) - "heritage"
  • Coriander
  • Kale
  • Thai basil
  • Mystery pumpkin
  • Borage
  • Nasturtium 
pea seeds ready to harvest

Seeds that I 'need'
  • Rocket
  • Carrots
  • Turnips, swedes, radishes (advanced seed saving!)
  • Any herbs
  • Flowers
  • Broad beans
  • All other beans and peas
  • Surprise me!
If you'd like to swap, send me an email with the seeds you want (eight.acres.liz at gmail.com).  I might run out of some of them, but I'll try to send you what I can.

If you don't have any seeds to swap, start saving and send me something later, I don't mind sending some seeds to help you get started with your garden.  Or let me know what else you have to swap instead, last year someone offered me old copies of Grass Roots and Earth Garden!

I can only swap within Australia (and I can't send to Tas or WA), but if you are in another country and have something to swap, leave a comment to see who else is out there.  If you have a seed swap post to share, leave a comment too.

Let's start swapping!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Slow Living Farm update - September 2014

This month I'm trying something new and joining many other bloggers with the Slow Living Monthly Nine, started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials and currently hosted by Linda at Greenhaven.  Its been interesting to try to write under each of the nine categories, I think it will get easier each month!



Nourish
We have been using up the beef in our freezer to prepare for our next butcher day coming up in mid-September.  This month Pete suggested that we try making jerky.  We used a kit and made it in our dehydrator from the last of our rump steak.  It came out really nice and I ate most of it.  Now I'm looking forward to having more rump and trying some new recipes!


homemade jerky

Prepare
Preparing for butcher day involves digging a hole for the waste, making sure we have enough plastic freezer bags (to bag 300 kg of meat), cleaning out the freezer, and often buying some new equipment.  This year Pete spotted a heavy duty mincer on special, and here it is, ready for mincing.

heavy duty mincer

Reduce
I wasn't sure what to write in this section, I think we reduce so much I don't really notice it anymore!  But I did want to tell you about our chickens.  We killed three roosters a few weeks ago, and used one of them to make roast chicken and stock, and froze the other two for later.  We get about 8-9 eggs from our 20 hens at the moment.  I suppose you could say that the "reduce" here is that we never buy chicken meat, eggs, or stock, because we produce all of that for ourselves.  

Chickens - reducing chicken meat and eggs

Green
I was given a big bag of lemons and limes so I juiced them and froze most of it in ice cubes (and made some ginger beer).  I used the skins to make some citrus infused vinegar, we use this for cleaning everything and don't buy any other cleaners.  (I guess this overlaps with nourish and reduce!)

lemon infused vinegar for cleaning

Grow
The rain did my garden good, I wrote about my garden on Monday here.  

Also on the subject of grow, we have finally accepted that Bella the house cow is not pregnant.  She should have had a calf by now!  She is currently looking quite fat.  Not in a pregnant way though.  Cows always have big fat bellies, and when they are pregnant, they have a bulge to the right-hand side as well.  A fat cow has fat on her ribs, a skinny cow has ribs showing.  Bella is looking in lovely condition, but very symmetrical and not at all pregnant.  Molly is looking pregnant though, so one out of two at least.  We are having a lot of trouble figuring out when Bella is on heat, so we are thinking about getting an expert in.... we have found a little bull who might be able to help us out.  

the garden harvest in August

Create
Back on to chickens, I've started a chicken tractor ebook.  I've designed the cover and written a chapter outline.  I'm hoping it doesn't take as long to write as "Our Experience with House Cows"!  If you use chicken tractors I'd love to hear from you and feature you in the ebook.  Also, if you have any chicken tractor questions, let me know so I can make sure I cover everything.

And I made my first ever crochet squares!



learning to crochet

Enhance
I sorted out all my seeds and worked out what I have in excess to swap, I'll post my seed swaps next Monday.  I love saving and swapping seeds, its a massive saving and I encourage everyone to try to save seeds too.

Seeds to swap

Discover
You can never read all the house cow books.... here's another one, it has wonderful photos, I think its going to be a great resource for new house cow owners and I've learnt a few things too.

Another house cow book to read!

Enjoy
We went up to the beach for the weekend.  It was too cold for swimming, but great for playing ball, and a nice break catching up with family.

Taz and Cheryl playing ball at the beach


A few new blogs for September

The Simple Farm
The Oasis Biodynamic Farm

How was your August?  What's coming up in September?  Join in with Slow Living Monthly Nine, its fun!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Getting started with ducks - Tracy from Sunny Corner Farm

I wanted to know more about ducks, so I've interviewed a few other bloggers who keep ducks.  A couple of weeks ago we heard from Megan, and today I have an interview with Tracy from Sunny Corner Farm.



I asked Tracy to tell me a bit about her farm to start with:

Tracy: My garden and farm is situated in a very pleasant valley outside of Tamworth, NSW. We have lived here for over 15 years but my heart has been in the area much longer as it is where many of my forebears are from. The climate ranges from hot, dry summers with temperatures reaching into the mid-40s to very cool winters with snow occasionally and frosts often. The garden is quite substantial but I always have ways of extended it in mind. I have an orchard of over 60 fruit trees too. My blog is what I call a no-niche blog, a little bit of everything about our life on a small-holding. The good and the bad.

The first ‘livestock’ we kept were a couple of bantam chickens back when we lived in the suburbs of Sydney.

The first real livestock we kept were sheep which we started keeping in 1999. We are registered Suffolk sheep breeders. We also have Scottish Highland cattle, chickens and bees. Up until this April we also had turkeys but lost our whole flock in a brutal attack by a quoll. I’m just now considering keeping them again along with some geese.

I first had ducks as a child. Just some run of the mill ducklings from the markets. I knew I wanted ducks in general and black Indian Runner ducks in particular after reading an article and seeing a picture of the Indian Runner ducks owned by Prince Charles. They are just stunning. We have had ducks on the farm now since 2005.

Farmer Liz: Tell me about your ducks, how many do you keep and what breeds? What do you keep them for? (meat, eggs, other?)

T: The ducks I keep are Indian Runner ducks. The number I keep varies depending on the time of year. Currently I have seven. The number will increase once their laying season starts and we hatch out some new ducklings.

Indian Runner ducks are renowned egg-layers and can lay up to 200 eggs per year. Not everyone likes to eat duck eggs but they are very good for baking. I find the shells are stronger than chicken eggs and the yolks are larger.

We do eat the meat from the birds too but their long, slender build really doesn’t lend itself to meat production. I’m thinking of taking the next step of keeping a meat breed too.

FL: What sort of housing do you provide for your ducks? Do they free-range? Do you have to lock them up at night?

T: My ducks free-range all day but are locked away in a pen at night for their own safety. They have a large night pen with a small shed which they can go in and out of. Generally they choose to sleep outside of the shed but if the weather is particularly inclement, they will take cover.


FL: What sort of water do you provide for your ducks?

T: Ducks love water. It goes without saying. My ducks have a couple of water drums in their pen which are changed twice a day because they really do make it muddy. They also have access to a dam during the day which they sometimes paddle in. If its particularly hot, I also give them a kids paddling pool full of water.

It is not essential for them to swim but they do like to sometimes. As long as they can submerge their heads somewhat, they will be happy. Having said that, it is very entertaining to watch them take a dip in a newly discovered puddle.

FL: What’s the best thing about keeping ducks?

T: The fresh duck eggs are wonderful but in all honesty the best thing for me about keeping my ducks is the element of fun and beauty that they bring to my farm and garden. They are excellent controllers of pests such as slugs but contrary to what some say, they will eat your garden vegetables too. Particularly leafy greens.


FL: What do you wish you knew about ducks before you got them?

T: I wish that I knew that they were such fun. I would have had them earlier.

We hatch our ducklings naturally using a broody duck. Sometimes I think it would be easier to use an incubator.

FL: Any last advice to someone wanting to get started with ducks?

T: Keeping ducks is very much like keeping chickens. They really don’t make too much more mess of a yard than chickens (I do have a large yard though).

Drakes don’t quack. They do have a curl in their tail most of the time. Females can quack VERY loudly. And it’s cute.

FL: Thanks Tracy!  So interesting to read a different perspective, it seems there are many duck breeds to choose from, but you make it sound very easy to care for them.  Do you keep ducks?  If you have any comments or questions for Tracy, head over to her blog to leave her a message.

Getting started with ducks
Getting started with ducks - Megan from Purple Dancing Dahlias

Getting started with homestead dairy
Getting started with homestead dairy - Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture

Getting started with homestead dairy - Kim from the Little Black Cow

Getting started with homestead dairy - Rose Petal

Getting started with homestead dairy - Marie from Go Milk the Cow

Getting started with homestead dairy - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with homestead dairy - Gavin from the Little Green Cheese

Getting started with homestead dairy - interview with myself

Getting started with chickens
Getting started with chickens - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with chickens - Gavin from the Greening of Gavin

Getting started with chickens - Madeleine from NZ Eco Chick

Getting started with chickens - Tanya of Lovely Greens

Getting started with chickens - Adam and Amy from Sustainaburbia

Getting started with chickens - Linda from Greenhaven

Getting started with chickens - interview with myself

Getting started with growing vegetables
Getting started with vegetable gardening - Linda of Witch's Kitchen

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Gavin of the Greening of Gavin

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Emma from Craving Fresh

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Tanya of Lovely Greens

Getting started with vegetable gardening - interview with myself

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