Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

I first got rue, tansy and wormwood for the chickens.  I read about them in Backyard Poultry Naturally: A Complete Guide to Raising Chickens & Ducks Naturally by Alanna Moore.  The only problem is that we use chicken tractors, so its not really practical to plant herbs near the chickens.  I tried cutting branches and throwing them into the chicken tractors, but the chickens ignored the herbs.  Then I noticed that the chickens were eating the herbs from my garden, but I had to fence them off so they didn't eat everything!  Eventually the herbs have grown through the fence, and the chickens can pick at what they need.  The herbs are natural worming agents for the chickens.  If you have a fixed chicken coop you can grow the herbs around the coop to deter insects.

eight acres: herbs- Rue, tansy and wormwood


 Rue (Ruta graveolens)
I bought rue as a seedling.  Rue is another wormer and insecticidal herb.  It is smaller than the other plants, and has dark green leaves and yellow flowers.  Rue has many reported medicinal properties, including relief of cramp, regulating menstrual cycle and relief of headaches and even to restore eyesight, however it is also reported to be toxic and should not be used when pregnant.

eight acres: herbs- Rue, tansy and wormwood
Rue

Tansy (Tanecetum vulgare)
I was given tansy as a division.  It does grow from seed, but its very easy to divide too.  It has lovely yellow flowers and grows into a small bush.  Allana says that this herb is used for worming, and to repel mice and insects.  Like Rue, Tansy has reported medicinal benefits, particularly for intestinal worms, but is also thought to be toxic and should be avoided in pregnancy.

eight acres: herbs- Rue, tansy and wormwood
Tansy

Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium)
I bought a small wormwood plant, and I have read that it grows well from cuttings.  It has grown very vigorously and taken over this part of the garden, I really planted the tansy and rue too close.  I think wormwood would make a good hedge.  The leaves are silver, and the flowers are also yellow.  It has a very strong scent.  Again, Allana suggests wormwood for worming and to repel insects.  Medicinally, wormwood is considered useful for digestion due to its extreme bitterness.  It is also used externally as a rub for inflammation, wounds, bites and rashes (I haven't tried this yet).

eight acres: herbs- Rue, tansy and wormwood
Wormwood

I use all of these herbs for their insect repellent properties.  I cut them back when they are overgrown, dry the leaves and put them in paper bags in cupboard and wardrobes to deter moths.  They can also be used as an organic pest spray in the garden and for the chickens.

Do you use rue, tansy and wormwood?  How do you grow them and how do you use them?


Monday, April 20, 2015

Three day sickness in cattle

Recently our poor little steer Monty suffered from "three-day sickness", which is like a severe cattle man-flu.  He was depressed and didn't want to get up, but he was better after three days, which was a huge relief for us!  Read more about it on my house cow ebook blog here.


eight acres: three-day sickness in cattle


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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Weird vegetables in my sub-tropical garden

I've had some questions about the weird vegetables in my sub-tropical food garden, so here are some details for you.  I tend to try to find vegetables that grow well in the sub-tropics.  Perennial plants are ideal, but there are also a few unusual annuals that I grow.  I have received most of these as cuttings or seeds from friends and neighbours.  I find the best way to find out what will grow here is to talk to the locals, particularly our permaculture group, and take all opportunities to try unusual varieties because you might find something useful.


eight acres: growing unusual vegetables in the sub-tropics
Rosella
Rosella (Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa))
Rosella (as it is known in Australia) is a hibiscus.  It grows as a bush, about 1-2 m tall and 1 m wide.  The flowers are very pretty, and when they are finished the calyx grows and can be harvested before it starts to dry out.  I peel the calyx and dry it to make rosella tea, or rosella ale.  Some people make jam or jelly as well.  Other parts of the plant are edible, including the leaves, seeds and and roots.  I don't personally use these parts, but I would eat the leaves if I got really hungry!  Rosella bushes grow as annuals in my garden as they don't survive frost.  I plant them as early as possible in spring so that they can grow large enough to get a harvest before the next winter.



eight acres: growing unusual vegetables in the sub-tropics
Warrigal greens
Warrigal greens (New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
Warrigal greens are native to native to Australia, Argentina, Chile, Japan, and New Zealand (I have never seen it in the wild though).  This plant is a low growing, spreading perennial in my garden.  It dies back in winter when we get frost, but it grows back as soon as we get some summer rain.  It grows very quickly.  Fortunately the chickens also like it.  The leaves can be eaten like spinach, and due to the oxalate content, they should not be eaten raw.  I usually either steam or sautee the leaves with other vegetables.

eight acres: growing unusual vegetables in the sub-tropics
the sweet potato corner

Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
I planted a sprouting sweet potato that was given to me and its now spread throughout the garden.  Luckily the leave die back in winter, otherwise it might take over.  In my garden its a perennial, as it regrows from tubers following summer rain, as long as I leave some tubers when I harvest.  I usually dig them up towards the end of autumn after the leaves have started to die off, while I can still see where the plant was growing.  The young leaves are also edible (but we don't usually eat them).  Sweet potato should not be eaten raw either, I use it like potato, baked, boiled, mashed etc, but it does burn more easily due to the sugar content.  Sweet potato is known as kumara in New Zealand, but I haven't seen the yellow variety here in Australia that I would usually think of as a typical kumara.  I am growing an orange one, and one with a pink skin with white flesh.

eight acres: growing unusual vegetables in the sub-tropics
the chickens helping themselves to sweet potato and warrigal greens

See also Tromboncino and Choko.


Do you grow weird veges in a weird climate?  Any tips to share?  How do you find out what to grow and where to get plants or seeds from?

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Knots for the homestead

As a former girl guide, from a scouting family, I know a few knots, and I’m always surprised by people who can’t tie knots. Knots are so important around the farm and homestead, we use them all the time and its worth knowing which knot to use and how to tie it properly. I wanted to share with you the knots that I use regularly, and in looking up references I was amazed by the number of knots listed and the fact that there’s not even an official word for the study of knots. I guess they have just been around for a long time and used by practical people, there’s been no need to name it, just get on with tying them and doing what needs to be done. Here are the top four knots that I use a regular basis, and one more that I need to relearn.

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
Taz on the back of the ute

Reef knot (link)
Let’s start with an easy one. Everyone knows a reef knot right? Right over left, left over right and you have a knot that is tidy and tight. Are you using it correctly though? A reef knot should be used to tie the two ends of a single line together to secure something (such as a package), not to join two ropes (guilty! Turns out I should use a sheet bend to join ropes).

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
reef knot
eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
sheet bend
Trucker’s hitch (link)
This is the most useful knot on the homestead and well worth the effort in learning how to tie it. We use this whenever we tie things on the back of the ute (and by the way, there is currently a myth going around that its illegal in QLD to use ropes to secure a load, the fact is that its legal, but because most people don’t know what they are doing, ratchet straps are recommended. (link), I don’t know about other states though). I have seen people have trouble using ratchet straps too, so learn how to use a truckers hitch and/or a strap and make sure your loads are secure.

The truckers hitch that we use (Pete taught me when I got frustrated with not being able to tie on a load myself) is different to the one in Wikipedia, but uses the same principle. I like our one because you don’t have to feed the lose end of the rope through a loop, you kind of build the loop around the rope, so you can tie the hitch in the middle of a long rope without the hassle of feeding it through. If anyone know what this is actually called, or whether its a good knot or not, let me know in the comments.

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
Trucker's hitch and clove hitch

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
trucker's hitch step 1

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
trucker's hitch step 2

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
trucker's hitch step 3

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
trucker's hitch step 4 - tie off

Clove hitch (link)
I use clove hitches in the garden, they are pretty handing to secure a rope (or a piece of baling twine) to a post or stake. We also use them to secure the beginning and end of a truckers hitch.

Donkey hitch
Also known as a half-bow or slip knot, this one seems to be popular in nursing for restraining patients!  I find its useful for tying a temporary knot that is secure, but can easily be undone, for things like tying the dog’s lead to a post and holding a gate open in the yards.

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
slip knot

Bowline (link)
This is one knot that I always found difficult, but I want to learn it because I think its a useful one. Apparently its known as the king of knots, so that tells you that its important! A bowline is used to form a fixed loop at the end of a rope. You can imagine how useful this would be. The common pneumonic is “Up through the rabbit hole, round the big tree; down through the rabbit hole and off goes he”. I know the pneumonic, but I usually can’t get the knot to work.  (Pete's version has the rabbit doing a wee around the tree if that helps!).

eight acres: knots that are useful on the farm
bowline knot

Learning knots require practice. Sit in front of the TV with some rope and tie until you learn them. Then use them practically at every opportunity. While I was learning the truckers hitch, I made Pete wait while I “helped” to slowly tie on every load, but now I’m almost as quick as he is, and can really help instead of just standing around (as well as go pick up hay or fertiliser by myself).

When you’re confident with knots you should give whipping a try! We bought a couple of 100 m of sisal rope because it was the cheapest option, and Pete has been cutting off lengths and whipping the ends. Like knot tying, it takes practice, and can be rather frustrating, but when you get the hang of it, its SO useful. I call it mancrafts.

What's your favourite knot?  

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Three simple ideas - Use less resources

A simple life, not to be confused with an easy life, is defined on Wikipedia as follows:
Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one's lifestyle. These may include reducing one's possessions, generally referred to as Minimalism, or increasing self-sufficiency, for example. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they have rather than want.
Last year I shared a series of posts about simple ideas for living a simple life, and I have one left to finish it off.  Here's what I posted already:

Three simple ideas - Saving money on groceries
Three simple ideas - Learning basic skills
Three simple ideas - Eating local and seasonal
Three simple ideas - Cooking from scratch
Three simple ideas - Growing your own food


Simple: consciously reduce plastic consumption
The first step is to be aware of just how much plastic you consume.  Plastic Free July is an excellent way to do this, buy collecting all your plastic waste for a month, you will be amazed at the amount you have acculuated, but you also see where you can make a difference.  The easiest way is to avoid buying products wrapped in plastic where-ever possible and creatively reuse plastic that does come into your life.



Simpler: easy energy saving in the home
Turn off lights when not in use.  Close doors, windows and curtains at night to conserve heat in winter and cold air in summer. Air dry clothes rather than using an electric clothes drier.  Turn off "stand-by" power on items like printers, DVD players, microwaves etc.  Gavin ran "The Great kW Challenge" a few years ago now and his tips for monitoring and reducing your electricity consumption are still relevant, and you can run the challenge yourself just to see how low you can go.



Simplest: take green bags or homemade bags to the supermarket (or farmers market)
The easiest change you can make is to switch to reusable bags.  Take them EVERYWHERE with you, and make a point of refusing plastic bags, once you get into the habit it is easy.  Read this hilarious post from Fiona for inspiration, and the video below from Linda, who is also passionate about reusable bags.


(go and put them in your car or bag now so you don't forget!!!)

What do you think?  Any other suggestions for reducing resource consumption?  How do you live a simple life?




Monday, April 6, 2015

Garden Share - April 2015

March was our last chance to get some decent rain and we did get around 100 mm altogether at Kumbia, but only about 30 mm at Nanango (where the garden is!).  So we have full dams at Cheslyn Rise, but Eight Acres is looking a little dry as we move into winter.  We had some very hot days in March as well, but it seems to be cooling down now.



The chokos have really got started properly now, and I have had to bring bags of them into work just to get rid of them.  Cheryl the dog likes them, and the chickens and cattle will eat them if you cut them in half.  I also seem to have done something right with the rosellas this year, as I'm harvesting plenty to dry for tea.  I'm still harvesting the celery I planted over a year ago (I don't worry about blanching it, I just pick the larger stems), a few tromboncinos, lettuce and warrigal greens.  I pulled out all the bean plants but one.  And there are plenty of herbs growing too.  We are waiting impatiently for the hydroponic tomatoes to ripen.

In March I pulled out plants that were finished and tidied up with plenty of old hay as mulch.  I also emptied castings from one of my worm farms onto the garden.  I scattered out some seeds - mainly brassicas, lettuce and a few herbs, which are now starting to sprout.  This month I will start peas and broad beans - inside away from the mice) and I hope we will harvest some tomatoes.




this is the temperature on our veranda on the last weekend in March

garden  - perennial leeks, lettuce etc

garden - some basil still going and galangal in the background

the first brassica shoots

the sweet potato and warrigal greens tangle

my "perennial" celery (its been growing for over a year)

My herb garden after a prune

tromboncino and rosella

some of the choko vine (it is taking over the garden), and strawberries in pots

waiting for hydroponic tomatoes

How was March in your garden?  What are your plans for April?






Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Slow living farm update - April 2015

March is over and its time for another slow living update already.  Once again I'm joining in the Slow Living Monthly Nine, started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials and currently hosted by Linda at Greenhaven. How was your March?




Nourish
I wanted to try to make some "Paleo" crackers, something tasty using nuts and seeds in the dehydrator.  I used this recipe and I was surprised how well they held together. I added macadamia nuts, garlic, seaweed powder, chia seeds and hemp seeds and they were delicious.  Relatively easy to make too, just blend everything and spread it out in the dehydrator.



Prepare
As you know, I grow lots of herbs, I cut them regularly and dry the excess.  I keep some to use as dried herbs, but I also make herbal teas.  Rosella and ginger is a favourite.  I actually started growing rosella just because I wanted to make tea from it!  Previous years I haven't had a decent harvest, but this year I've done something right and I have plenty of rosellas.  I also use the dehydrator to dry the rosellas (and other herbs).



Reduce

The ultimate in recycling is our secondhand house!  We have been spending a few hours every weekend slowing working on sanding, cleaning, gap-filling and, finally, painting.  As we sand through the paint layers we are reminded of the people who have worked on these walls in the past.  Its hard work, but I'd rather have VJs than plasterboard any day.


Green
I regularly check the chickens for mites using a sophisticated spot check system - if I can ever catch a chicken, I check it for mites.  The last chicken I picked up had mites all over her.  All I can say is at least we noticed before chickens started dropping dead, this has happened in the past.  That time, we bought a nice strong chemical (Maldison I think) and dunked all the chickens in the foul smelling liquid (even with gloves and safety glasses, I think we got plenty all over ourselves too).  I was not comfortable eating the eggs for several days, and even then probably ate them too soon.  This time I was determined to use a more natural solution, and I think we have found another use for neem oil.  I hope it has worked.  We made up a 5% solution with some detergent and dunked all the chickens from the tractor with mites.  The poor bedraggled chickens did not appreciate my efforts to use a natural pesticide, but so far it seems to have killed the mites.  We also used diatomaceous earth in their nest boxes.




Grow
I'll post my garden share next Monday.  I can share that we have a ridiculous amount of chokos, rosellas and celery.  And the hydroponic tomatoes are growing well, but yet to ripen.


Create
I have been sewing.  I made a skirt, its a pattern I've used before, but I just couldn't get it right.  It took three evenings to cut out and sew up, and half that time was spent unpicking and adjusting.  I have been doing some research about fitting and I am going to make a "sloper" to help me fit patterns.  I hope that will cut down on the time I spend stuffing around trying to get the fit right, because at the moment I'm reluctant to cut into any more good fabric until I have a better understanding of fitting.



Discover
I got some primal books from the library so I can catch up on the science behind the paleo lifestyle since I reviewed the Eat Drink Paleo cookbook.  Its all very interesting, and much of it I already knew from reading other books (such as CookedWhole Larder LoveNutritionismToxic OilOne Magic SquareFrugavore and Nourishing Traditions), but I'm learning more about grains and sugar digestion.  No massive changes yet, but plenty to think about.



Enhance
We have joined our local beekeeping group and went to our first meeting.  We both got bee jackets and gloves (Pete declined a photo in his) and we got to see a hive opened and split up.  We are looking forward to learning more from this group as we set up our own bee hives.



Enjoy
Poor old Cheryl is 13 years old and has just recently lost her sight through cataracts.  I'm guessing its from diabetes, although we haven't had her formerly diagnosed, it just doesn't seem worth the stress at her age.  All this reading about paleo and grains is making me question the contents of commercial dog biscuits, which are full of grain, hardly natural for dogs and an obvious cause of diabetes.   Pete and I have been discussing other options for feeding them.  We know we might not have much longer with the old girl, so we are trying to give her lots of cuddles.  Even with no sight, she seems happy enough and can still get up and down the stairs, and still woofs at Pete if he's too slow to bring out her breakfast (he soaks the dog biscuits for her as she can't crunch them up anymore).  She even still tries to play tug-of-war with Taz.




Here's a few posts I enjoyed reading this month:

Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom Part 2 | Treading My Own Path


Australian-grown hard to find, but do consumers really want it?


If Industrial Agriculture Empties Farms of Farmers, Who Will Care For the Land?


Vermicomposting Q&A with Homestead Chronicles | Homestead Lady


Inside the food industry: the surprising truth about what you eat


Why a Top Bar Hive?


5 Simple Ways to Get A Weird Look In Public - The Greening of Gavin


Bunya nut bounty: How to process and cook Australian native bunya nuts
dusty country road: How To Live A Simple Country Life


Reclaiming the Future - Dr Vandana Shiva in Sydney (Video) - milkwood.net

Microbes Will Feed the World, or Why Real Farmers Grow Soil, Not Crops - Modern Farmer


How was your March?  What are your plans for April?  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Using the whole beast

Every year around winter-time we have one of our home-raised steers butchered at our property by a mobile a butcher.  We fill the freezer with meat, bones and tallow, and we sometimes even keep the hide for tanning.  It is very important to us that, as far as possible, we use the whole beast.  If this is something that you would to do too, here are a list of posts that you may find useful.


eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast
Butcher day is Cheryl's favourite


Butchering tips and tricks

Home butcher vs meatworks
The pros and cons of using a home butcher compared to sending a steer to an abattoir.  We did send our first steer to be processed, but all the rest have been done at home.  The main problem for us was finding a good butcher, but loading the animal on the truck and preparing all the paperwork was a real pain.  Its much easier for us to have them butchered at home (and I think its better for the animal too) if you can find someone who will do it.

When you've decided to go for a home butcher, here's a post about what to expect, what to have organised and what to ask before your butcher turns up.  Our first time was a bit of a disaster because we didn't know what to do, its certainly got easier since then!


eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast

Still not convinced?  In this post on Farmstyle I added up the value of all the cuts of meat we got from our homekill and worked out what they would have cost from the butcher.  Compared to the price of raising the steer and paying the home butcher, the meat was about half price.  Is it worth it?  It definitely works out better for us!

Getting the best from homekill meat
Even better than just being prepared for the basics, you can actually plan to make sure you get the best possible meat, both by the way you raise the animal, how its killed and how you handle and store the meat.  Learn more in this post.


eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast


Cooking and eating all that meat
When the butcher is finished you'll be left with 200-300 kg of beef, but much of it will be cuts that you're not familiar with.  As well as the tasty steaks and sausages that are easy to fry, and roasts to be roasted, you will also have a huge amount of delicious casserole meat and stock bones.  I recommend that you buy a slow cooker (even a very cheap one will do the job) as it makes it easy to use up all this meat, I tell you all about my slow cooker in Real food in a slow cooker.

I also wrote more about eating meat in Should you eat animal products?.  Its a bit late now if you just had a steer butchered, but you might be interested to see that current research shows that meat is not bad for your health and when raised for home butchering, its not terrible for the environment either.

More recipes for cooking all your beef can be found in Arabella Forge's Frugavore: How to Grow Organic, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well (affiliate link) - my review here, and Jennifer McGruther's The Nourished Kitchen (affiliate link), also see her blog Nourished Kitchen) and my review here

The other tricky new cut of meat you will find is organ meats.  Personally I'm not a huge fan, but Emma explains why you should eat organ meats and I did make a nice beef liver pate.  Unfortunately the rest usually goes to the dogs.  They also get the larger bones.


eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast
a beef rolled roast in my slow cooker

Beef tallow is useful too
If you remember on the first butcher day, ask your butcher for the kidney fat, and you should get a nice big slab of pure white fat.  I also ask him to set aside any particularly large chunks from the rest of the carcass.  We cut these up and put them in the freezer to be rendered, as described in this post - Rendering tallow in a slow cooker.  Tallow then keeps at room temperature in jars in our pantry, and we use it to make soap, with recipes in this post - Making tallow soap (with other soap recipes here).

eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast



Don't waste the hide
Sometimes the butcher will take the hide, but our first butcher wouldn't take it, so we decided to try tanning it.  We found it very difficult to find out much about tanning, so I recorded our method in these posts - Tanning a hide (with updates here and here).  We ended up with a usable rug from the first attempt, and an even better rug the second time.  We haven't tried it again because our current butcher will buy the hide from us, so as least it isn't wasted, but its good to know that we can tan a hide if we ever need to again.

eight acres: tips for home butchering and using all the beast
OK this looks gross, but the finished rug was worth it

What's left?
We usually have to dig a hole to dispose of the feet, head and a bit of fatty meat that's not good for tallow or for sausages.  This has become a very fertile corner of our yard!  I prefer burying the waste to burning it as the nutrients stay in the soil (and it doesn't stink).

Have you tried homekill butchering?  Any tips?  And questions?


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