Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pea and ham soup success!

After the Christmas ham is finished, the traditional next step is to make pea and ham soup.  Every time I have ever made pea and ham soup it has come out thick and gluggy and yuck.  So this time I really really wanted it to work!  I followed both the recipe here and the recipe for lentil soup in Nourishing Traditions, and I ignored Edmonds cookbook for once.  Following an actual recipe has got to help, right?
  • I soaked 3 cups of split green beans for 8 hours in a pot of cold water and 2 Tsp of whey

  • simmered small ham bone in a big soup pot for 2 hours

  • added drained peas and cooked until peas were totally dissolved (about 2 hrs)

  • sautéed onion, carrot and silver beet stalks (had no celery!) and added to soup

  • cooked it all for a bit longer and then blended soup with stick blender 

  • crossed fingers that this time it would taste nice!  And it did, but I have no idea why it worked this time because I can't remember what I did last time.  I suspect that I used the "quick method" to prepare the peas, lesson learnt, never ever use a quick method, it will not be as good as the proper method.  I will be following this method again in future.  Husband was amazed that it took ALL day to make the soup while he was being so productive at work (just jealous that I had a day off), although much of the time I wasn't actually physically involved in the soup making, just waiting between steps.  Anyway, I now have several litres of delicious soup in the freezer, which should be very nice in winter.  
Do you make pea and ham soup?  What's your secret?

Monday, December 19, 2011

1-year blogaversary!

Tomorrow is the 1-year anniversary of my first ever post on this blog.  HAPPY BLOGAVERSARY to me!  And thank you dear readers for taking an interest in my ramblings.

When I started this blog I didn't really try to enunciate why we have this lifestyle, its something that kind of evolved for us, so I hadn't really thought about, but now reading other people's blogs has given me a clearer idea of what we are doing and why, so allow me to attempt to summarise our influences here, everything we do on our eight acres relates to one of the following principles:
  • Preparedness: We have a feeling that things are going to change in the near future and we should be prepared (Dixibelle uses the term "Survironmentalism"), in particular we are expecting that fuel, food and other resources will be more difficult to get and that makes us want to at least know how to do things ourselves, if not actually converting to full self-sufficiency before we absolutely have to.  We don't mind taking advantage of modern conveniences (electricity, fossil fuels etc) while they are available, but we want to be prepared in case one day they are not.
  • Animal Welfare: We both have a real love for animals, to the point where we don't mind having a few around and we hate to think of any animal suffering in confinement/industrial farming operations.  This doesn't mean we've turned vegetarian, just that we want to know that the meat, eggs and milk we're eating has come from happy healthy animals and the only way to know for sure is to raise them and kill them yourself (apart from the dogs, none of the animals are considered pets, as much as we do care for their welfare).
  • Good food: We also like to eat good food, both for the taste and for the nutrition, and for us that means fresh, unprocessed and organic if possible.  Living in a small town in rural Queensland means its pretty hard to buy anything organic!  There's no local health food shop and constantly ordering online gets expensive (you should see me when I get to a health food shop in the city!), so the best way to get real food is to grow it/ make it ourselves.   
  • No Toxic Chemicals: We don't want to be exposed to unnecessary chemicals in the food we eat or the products that we use, particularly cosmetics and cleaners.  We are also reducing the chemicals that we use for stock management and weed control.  This is part of preparedness too, as many of these chemicals may not be so easy to buy one day.
  • Frugal Living: We want to retire early and enjoy living on our farm, so the cheaper we can live now, the more we can save and less we will need to have saved in order to continue our lifestyle after we retire (ie if we know how to live cheap now, its going to make retirement even easier).  If just happens that being prepared and growing our own food is also the cheapest option in the long run as we have a very low ongoing cost of living after we've invested in the initial infrastructure.

My main reasons for starting this blog were the lack of credible first-hand Australia-relevant modern information available on the net (and even in books) about the kinds of things that my husband and I have been working on.  Often when we got stuck and needed some advice we would spend hours looking for information and trying to figure out what to do, we usually ended up using trial and error to get the result we wanted.  For example, raising our first poddy calf, killing chickens, tanning a steer hide, butchering meat, figuring out what grows in Nanango etc....  I wanted to write about what had worked for us, so that other people who wanted to try similar things (for whatever reasons) would at least have somewhere to start.  I hope that this blog becomes a useful reference, as well as a record for us so we can remember what we did and when.

Although the blog was really supposed to be about WHAT we were doing, I do keep getting sidetracked and writing about the WHY as well.  I hope this helps people to understand our reasons and maybe think about the future viability of their own lifestyles, even if my opinions might get a bit much for some people!

I called the blog eight acres because I found myself using that phrase frequently to describe our lifestyle, as in "well we live on eight acres, so we have chickens, steers and a big vege garden" (although as I wrote above, its so much more complicated than that!).  I'm glad I didn't over-describe it, because our lives keep changing, and this is certainly not a one-issue blog, I could have called it "My eco-green-frugal-simple-self sufficient-sustainable-whole food-real food-lots of animals-natural-organic-life", but that would have been a bit too long!  I hope that it doesn't make people think that they need to have eight acres to do what we're doing.  You probably do need at least five acres to have cattle, goats need even less (a backyard in the city even), but you can keep a few chickens on a small suburban block and you can grow veges in pots on an apartment balcony or courtyard if that's the only space you have, and there are always community gardens as well.  If you have more than eight acres, you can do even more, but please don't feel limited by the space you have, there's so much you can still do with whatever you have to work with.

The surprising part about blogging has been all the great people I've "met" through their blogs on similar topics. I've been able to get ideas and inspiration from other people all around the world.  This has helped us to develop our ideas and abilities even further.  Some of the things that we've tried because I saw it on another blog include knitting, sprouting and reading Nourishing Traditions, and there's plenty more I'd like to try when I get time, including investigating installing solar panels, making sourdough, and planting into wicking beds.  The general discussion of all things sustainable and unwasteful has been the best part though, it keeps me interested and committed to trying harder to achieve our aims above.  I nominated some of my favourite blogs in my Leibster award post, but there are plenty of others on the right-hand side of my blog page and I encourage you to check them out, if you like my blog, you'll probably like them too.

Since I started this blog this time last year, we have had some major milestones
  • The floods in January left us isolated from Nanango, Kingaroy, Brisbane and Gympie for several days, which really tested our preparedness, but we never lost electricity, so with our freezer full of meat and garden full of veges, we weren't too worried and got stuck into building a dog box for the back of the ute.
  • We needed the dog box because we had agreed to look after my friend's wee kelpie Chime, who arrived in March and is now great friends with Cheryl.
  • Our next new arrival was Bella the cow and her calf Molly (finally a house cow and learning to make cheese), as well as two new limousine-cross steers (Bratwurst and Frankfurter) to join Bruce and Rocket
  • We didn't have Bruce for much longer as he was plenty big enough to be butchered, we had to buy another freezer just to fit him in!  And then we finally got around to tanning his hide later in the year.
  • The hens that we hatched in February are now laying and their brothers are either in freezer or have found new homes and we've incubated the first eggs of this season to continue our breeding program.
  • The garden suffered extensive frost damage over winter and I've learnt more about our confusing climate here in Nanango (not quite temperate, not quite sub-tropical) and what to plant for next winter and saved lots of seeds, but I'm feeling much better now I've seen all the new spring growth.
  • We joined the South Burnett Permaculture Group and have enjoyed sharing permie ideas and meeting similar people, as well as a few interesting farm tours so far.
  • My husband and I also celebrated our first wedding anniversary in October, ohhhhh.
  • I finally got some diatomeceous earth and we are thinking about hanging up our AC back rub - using the organic cattle oil already though - to completing our chemical-free cattle management plans, fingers-crossed they stay healthy and happy this summer!
  • The dogs are chemical free too now :)
Plans for next year and beyond
You can never be too prepared and produce enough variety of food, so there's plenty more to do!  In the next year and beyond we plan to:
  • set up aquaponics and a worm farm (seemingly unrelated?  I want to feed the worms to the fish)
  • try making sourdough
  • try growing mushrooms (have to wait for winter, its too hot here in summer)
  • dry my excess herbs (either buy a food dehydrator or use a simple method using existing equipment)
  • get pigs (mmmm bacon) - I think this is in the "beyond" category, just dreaming!
  • render tallow from the next steer we butcher
  • get better at hatching chicks
  • install solar panels?
  • finish numerous tidying-up projects, such as our front entrance, our driveway, the chicken-mesh around the bottom of our house that keeps the animals out (ugly!) and the house-yard fence.
  • and I'm sure more things will add to this list as I get ideas from other blogs :)
I hope you've enjoyed reading my blog and will continue to follow our adventures.  I hope that some of the information has been helpful too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making do vs buying new

One of the most difficult decisions that we small-farm para-permaculturalists have to make when we need something is whether to make it out of materials that we already own, or should we buy/make something new that is designed to do the job at hand?  From a permaculture point of view, we should be minimising our inputs and using materials that are recycled or reused.  But so many times we have decided to make do and ended up creating huge amounts of rework for ourselves.

For example, our constant renovations of the chicken run before we decided to just build some decent movable pens.  At one stage we were even using the top of an old horse float as part of the chicken nest box/roosting area, with old bits of corrugated iron screwed into it, it looked AWFUL and was the first thing you saw from the kitchen window, we were both so pleased to take it to the dump (added to the scrap metal heap of course).  Another example is my husband's welder, he put up with using his 15 year old welder for home jobs (it was bought during his apprenticeship!) for many years until we decided to buy a new one.  The new welder works so much better, it is more reliable, uses less consumables and causes much less frustration.

Having put up with constantly fixing bodgy make-dos for several years, we made a new rule - buy/make/use the right tool for the job.  If we can manage ok with something that we made from recycled or found material, then that's our preference, but if it just causes us to struggle and waste time and effort, when there is a perfectly suitable and reasonably priced alternative option, then we will buy it!  Especially if we can support a local business or tradesman.

However, we have on several occasions fixed things and found that we still use them.  I have numerous garden tools with broken wooden handles that have been replaced with a stainless steel tube handles, and they are better than ever (although heavy!) especially good around campfires.  We have built our own cattle crush and yards and saved several thousand dollars as well as being able to customise the design to our needs.  For our cheese making, my husband made a cheese press from box section, rather than buying one, and I think its as good, if not better, than any design I've seen advertised.  So its not all about buying new things, just identifying when to spend time and effort making do and when to spend the money on the "proper" tools.

More recently we have been debating the same issue in regards to our BBQ.  We have dreams of owning a nice BBQ and having people over to enjoy our numerous home killed beef sausages, but unfortunately we inherited my husband's parents' old BBQ, old as in from the 70s, and this has prevented us from buying a new one without feeling terribly wasteful.  The thing is, it does work, it just looks hideous and the paint is peeling off into the food.  We'd like to cook roasts outside, but it has no hood.  My husband could make a hood, but without a sheet metal folder at home to make it, it won't look very nice and it would take a lot of effort that might be better used to achieve something else on the rest of our to-do list.  We only use it a few times a year because its unpleasant to use and difficult to clean, not a nice BBQ experience.

The nasty OLD BBQ
Finally finally finally we both accepted that the old BBQ could go to the dump (on the scrap metal heap again) and we could buy a new one.  However, the new one wasn't going to be a cheaply made BBQ that would only last a few years, if we were going to buy a new one, it had to be made to last and it had to be fit for purpose.  After much research we settled on a Weber Q 320.  Some might find that a little extravagant, but we were impressed by the workmanship, its all made from cast iron rather than sheet metal, the trolley is plastic, but that can always be replaced with a metal one, and we hope that it is the only BBQ we ever have to buy.

And, as advertised, and now proven by us in our own test kitchen, it is capable of roasting a turkey (we happened to have one in the freezer that we grew/killed/prepared earlier).

raw turkey

cooked turkey :)
How do you decide when to make do and when to buy new?  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sauerkraut and trusting your nose

After reading Nourishing Traditions I was keen to try some of the recipes, but its a little scary when you haven't eaten these foods before.  Most of the recipes involve lactic fermentation.  This means that you leave something out on the kitchen bench, with some added whey from cream cheese or kefir, and wait for it to ferment. In our modern society, that's not something most people are really comfortable with.  We are told to put things in the fridge immediately, not leave them out on the bench for a few days!  I don't have a problem with the process, its just hard to get used to it and hard to know if you're doing it right or if you're going to get food poisoning.

But I was determined to be brave and try some of the recipes.  The only thing you can do in these situations is TRUST YOUR NOSE.  If it smells bad, don't eat it.  I find myself sniffing everything, deep sniffs, because things you make yourself don't come with best-before dates.  I've been sniffing the cream I skimmed off the milk a couple of weeks ago, the cream cheese I made, the olives we bought from the market......and the sauerkraut that I attempted recently.

I had all the ingredients at hand, so there was no excuses!  A cabbage, sour whey from making cream cheese, and salt.  All I need to do is combine them in a jar and let it ferment.  The actual steps I used are as follows:
  • slice the cabbage thinly
  • bruise the cabbage using a meat mallet (very messy, recommend mortar and pestle if you own one)
  • stuff the cabbage into a jar, add whey, water and salt to cover the cabbage
  • leave on the bench for three days
  • put in the fridge
  • spend several weeks building up the courage to finally open the jar and try some  

The fermented veges are supposed to be eaten as a garnish , like a chutney or sauce, to make a meat or vege dish more tasty.  Here's some with a nice tasty pork cutlet.

The finished product.  It smells...sour....all good so far.

The sauerkraut with pork chop.
Note the quarantine area around it, happy to report that I'm still alive after eating it!
Do you make sauerkraut?  Or other fermented products?  Is it scary at first?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Healthy, chemical-free dogs

When we first got our house cow Bella, we decided to make a real effort to eliminate the chemicals that we had been using on the cattle.  Bel from Homegrown recommended a book called "Natural Cattle Care" by Pat Coleby, which I bought and have read several times.  We have stopped using any chemicals on the cattle, and hope that Pat's advice, to feed sufficient minerals in the form of a mineral mix, sulphur, copper sulphate, dolomite and kelp powder (read more here and here), will keep the internal and external parasites at bay.

However, the poor old doggies were still getting their monthly flea and worm treatments.  Not only are these expensive, I started to wonder about the effects on their health.  Surely its not necessary to medicate the dogs if every other animal on the property (including ourselves) was just being fed good quality food and minerals.  If only there was a similar book about dog health......

I finally got around to doing a google search, and there it was!  "Natural Pet Care", by Pat Coleby, I couldn't put it in my online shopping cart quick enough!  Once again, its not a complicated book.  Feed the dogs appropriate food and minerals and they should stay healthy.  Also note that this book includes cats, rabbits and guinea pigs, but as I don't keep those pets, I've not reviewed those sections here.  If you have a cat, most of the dog stuff applies, just reduce the dosage.

While Pat does not approve of canned dog food or fancy biscuits due to the unnatural additives (think colours, flavours, preservatives, bits of dead pets), I was surprised (and relieved) to find that she does recommend good quality "kibble".  She recommends a brand called Farrells that is used in the greyhound industry.  I haven't heard of it and don't know where to get it from yet, however, I'm quite happy that our current brand is ok for now as I did make sure that it was natural.

Pat warns against excessive protein in the diet, don't feed too much muscle meat or eggs, the dogs need plenty of carbohydrate and can get some protein from grains too.  She says to give them a little of whatever you're eating (but not the meat), so a little rice, pasta or potato with some veges.  This might help wee Cheryl to lose some weight (a 28 kg kelpie is getting a little tubby, don't know how Chime stays so slim, as she eats the same amount).  Organ meats are also good in moderation as they contain valuable minerals and vitamins.  We are still feeding them the offal from Bruce and only occasionally because I keep forgetting to get it out of the freezer!  So that's just another excuse for me NOT to eat it as the dogs need it :) (see the advantages to humans of eating organ meats on Craving Fresh - maybe on the next steer...).

We also give the dogs bones everyday, we just buy a few big bags from the butcher or supermarket when they're cheap and put them in the freezer.  One bag lasts a week if we give out one bone each a day.  The bones are supposed to be good for the extra minerals and keeping doggy teeth healthy.  The only downside is we have to pick them up off the lawn before we mow the grass!

A few different mineral supplements are recommended by Pat.  As with the cattle, she usually prefers minerals in their natural form, rather than a manufactured supplement.  For external parasites, its sulphur again, at a dose of half a teaspoon daily.  Cooper is used to control internal parasites, just by placing a piece of copper in the dogs' water bucket they can get all they need.  Calcium and magnesium can be provided by feeding a little dolomite (half a teaspoon twice a week).  For all other trace minerals/elements, such as cobolt, selenium, boron, iodine and zinc we can feed a little kelp powder, a quarter of a teaspoon once a week.  I have also been putting a splash of apple cider vinegar in their water, which helps with potassium and a few other trace elements (we all drink that now!).  So are you confused?

Here's the plan.  I made up a jar of kelp and dolomite (in a ratio of 1:4) to be feed as one teaspoon each once a week.  I've also made a jar of sulphur to be feed as half a teaspoon each daily, especially in tick/flea season.  I've also put a piece of copper in the water bucket and some ACV.  That should be enough to keep my girls healthy.

jars of sulphur (once a day) and dolomite and kelp (once a week)
(gets eaten if mixed with yoghurt or gravy)

Copper pipe in the water - maybe ask a plumbing shop for an offcut?
we happened to have some lying around, but you've seen our metal collection!

Doggy First Aid Kit
Pat has included a section of remedies for specific problems, most involve doses of vitamins.  She went into more detail about vitamins in the cattle care book actually, so I wasn't surprised to see it in this one too.  Basically, she says that you normally don't need to feed vitamins if minerals are sufficient, however if the animal is sick or in shock it will not be able to produce vitamins normally and may need a supplement.  Most long-term chronic conditions, such as arthritis, are controlled by feeding minerals, however for acute conditions, such as infections or snake/spider/tick poisoning, vitamins apparently give amazing results.  Pat recommends a supply of liquid vitamin C and vitamin B12 in particular are kept ready to be administered in case a vet is not available immediately (or even prior to taking the animal to the vet).  Vitamin C in powder or tablet can also be given on an ongoing basis until the patient recovers and to keep the immune system strong in case of viral infection (we are also feeding dried rose hips as a good source of Vit C).  The doses depend on the ailment and are given in more detail in the book (also on the vitamin box if you buy some).  It made me wonder if a shot of vit C would also be sensible for a human suffering from a snake bite? Any thoughts?  I still need to learn how to give the shot to the dogs though (there is an explanation and drawing in the book, I just prefer demos)!


The dog first aid kit contains: rescue remedy for shock, vit B and C liquid
for immediate injection in case of poisoning (including syringes etc)
and vit C tablets for ongoing recovery
- total cost about $50 and can all be used on humans too if required
(note that the liquid vitamins have a meat withholding period
list for horse (nill) but nothing mentioned for dogs!
I thought it was funny that they even had to put one for horses)

I'm so happy to have found this book and confident that the dogs will be far better off with this natural diet and healthcare compared to the chemicals they were receiving in the past.

Do you use natural remedies for your dogs?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bella and Kaptain Nightcrawler - Artificial Insemination of our House Cow

Over the past few months we've been watching Bella for signs of heat.  No, not summer heat, we have been tracking her ovulation cycles so we can get the vet in to artificially inseminate her.  This is where the conversation can get complicated for some people (dare I generalise and say "city people"?).  In fact its been funny how many people didn't realise that dairy cows only produce milk after they have had a calf.  Yep, just like human females, the milk is really there to feed a baby, so the baby has to come first.  Most real dairy farmers aim to have each cow have a calf once a year, they aim to get the cow pregnant again about 3 months after the calf is born, and dry her off 1-2 months before the next calf is born, so her body isn't under too much strain.  For the farmer, this is a case of optimising profit from milk production against cow life expectancy.

One of the luxuries of not being real farmers is we can run things to our schedule as we're not trying to make money!  We plan to wean Molly and dry up Bella after Christmas.  Then we are free to take a few weeks holiday without worrying about milking.  We could have tried to get Bella in calf earlier, but we didn't want another winter calf, preferring a spring calf when the weather's warmer and more feed in the paddock, so we've left it until December to start trying.

We have two options for getting Bella pregnant - put her with a bull or artificial insemination.  We don't know anyone with a suitable bull, and as Bella is very small, we want me make sure she only have a small calf, so she's less likely to get into trouble with calving.  We decided to get the vet in to do the AI for us, we could learn ourselves, but there doesn't seem much point if we're only doing it occasionally and not getting much practice.

We have observed Bella in a heat a few times, and Molly for the first time a few weeks ago.  Our dairy farmer friend says that cows are moody like women, and I have to agree, you do see Bella in different moods and when she's on heat she gets particularly short-tempered.  She bellows at us when she sees us and tries to ride the other cattle (including poor little Molly).  When she's on "standing heat" she will stand while the other cattle try to mount her, and this is the ideal time for the vet to come.

While we were waiting for the ideal time, I talked to the vet and arranged for some lowline semen to be delivered to the vet.  When we saw that Bella was on heat the other day, I called the vet first thing in the morning and organised for him to come out after we were home from work.  When he got to our place we put Bella in the crush (where she usually eats her afternoon feed) and she was happily munching when the vet approached with his gloved hand.....

I was surprised how good Bella was, considering how much she kicks us when we are trying to milk her, she didn't seem to mind having the vet's hand up her rear end at all!  She did look around at him a few times and then continued eating.  After the vet was finished he gave me the end of the straw of semen that he'd used.  It had the bull's name recorded as "Kaptain Nightcrawler"!  At first I thought that was some kind of hip-hop name, but it seems that there are many lowline bulls called kaptain, so maybe they are just of East European origin!  Does anyone know about naming bulls?  I was hoping to find a photo of him on the net, but I haven't been able to find out anything.

This is Bella's face while the vet was busy at the other end.
(I was going to take a photo of what the vet was doing, but it wasn't very nice,
so I thought I'd spare you the gory details!)

This is the straw after the vet was finished, see the Kaptain Nightcralwer?

After Christmas if we don't see Bella come on heat again, we will know that she is in calf, and we can expect a little lowline-jersey cross calf next spring.  If not, we will be ready to try again.  We are yet to see the vet bill....

Have you tried AI for your cow?  Or do you use a bull?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Friday, December 9, 2011

How to stop hens from eating eggs

Recently we had a serious case of egg eating with all our hens.  We caught them in the act a few times, and they also left tell-tale signs of egg yolk around the nesting box.  For a few days we had no eggs from nine hens in two separate cages, so it was time to sort it out.

eight acres: how to stop hens from eating their eggs

Considering how long humans have been keeping chickens, the collective knowledge about egg eating is surprisingly inconclusive.  Most of the information that I've read on the net or in books has suggested either culling the chickens or filling an egg with mustard to put them off.  The second option was looking better than the first, but still not ideal, then I came across this forum thread, which had some very insightful suggestions.  

The theory proposed on this thread is that hens only eat their eggs if the egg shells are weak.  Apparently the hens peck the egg after its laid to check the shell.  If the shell is too weak for the egg to be viable (ie to hatch a chick) then the shell will break when its pecked and the hen will eat the egg to clean up the mess.  I've never seen this happen myself, but some of the posters on that thread claim to have seen it happen.  Even if hens aren't clucky, it may just be one of those natural reflexes.

eight acres: how to stop hens from eating their eggs

The main solution then was to strengthen the egg shells.  We had noticed that the egg shells were a little thin, but hadn't really thought about it.  We usually feed cuttlefish bone to the hens (picked up a the beach for free), and this seems to be a good source of calcium.  I hadn't given any out for a while because they weren't being eaten, I didn't want to waste them!  After reading that forum I put cuttlefish bone in both cages.  By the next day all the cuttlefish was gone and I had three eggs.  I put more cuttlefish bone out and had five eggs the next day.  Now I'm not saying that the theory is proven conclusively, but that's good enough for me to say you should try feeding extra calcium (shell grit or dolomite if you don't have cuttlefish) before you cull any hens or muck around with mustard eggs!

Isn't it interesting that this behaviour (probably) comes down to a mineral deficiency.

Have you had a problem with hens eating eggs?  Does this help?

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Local pure peanut butter

I've always loved eating peanut butter sandwiches.  I remember that when I was a child, the first time you opened a jar of peanut butter you always had to stir the oil back in, but you don't have to do that any more.  Ever wondered why?  Have a look at the ingredients, there's not just peanuts in that jar (unless you are a fanatical label reader like me and know what to avoid), usually vegetable oil and stabilisers are added to keep the oil in the peanut butter.  Well I'd rather not eat random vegetable oil and stabilisers, so I try to find real peanut butter.  Lucky for me I live in the peanut capital of Australia!

The South Burnett produces about 12000 t of peanuts annually, that is the majority of peanuts in Queensland, and Queensland produces 90% of the peanuts in Australia.  That means I can buy freshly made pure peanut butter for my sandwiches :)  You can usually get fresh peanut paste from health food stores as well.

see the ingredients - 100% Australian Roasted Peanuts

Do you eat pure peanut butter?  What's your favourite real-food spread?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Companion planting - myth or reality?

I've heard of companion planting and read about people using it on a few blogs (here and here and here), but due to a general lack of planning in my garden anyway, I hadn't got around to implementing it myself yet.  It has also been pointed out to me that I one of the reasons my peas didn't succeed this season is because I planted them next to spring onions, so I have been thinking about paying more attention to companion planting.
The peas don't like growing with the onions, but why??
Part of the reason I haven't taken a huge interest in companion planting so far is an uneasiness about the science behind it.  I don't like to just blindly follow instructions about which plants like to grow together, I like to know why something works, so I can modify the system to work for me in my garden.  For example, with the peas, I assumed that the reason for not planting peas and onions was that the nitrogen from the peas will make the onions too leafy with not enough growth underground, however if I'm growing spring onions then it would be ok.  I don't see how the onions can impact the peas, but maybe there's some plant/soil chemistry interaction that I don't know about, see how I need to know the WHY so I can make decisions!

Time for a bit of google research and I found a few interesting articles.....
Is Companion Planting Scientific?
The Myth of Companion Planting

The Art of Companion Planting

I can see that the reasons that companion planting may work, are varied and include:
  1. alleopathic interactions (both good and bad)
  2. confusing pests 
  3. preventing the spread of diseases
  4. enhancing environmental conditions for growth (mostly about shading young seedlings with wide-leaved plants)
The last three points can be achieved just by mixing up the garden in the way that I do now.  If there's a gap for a seedling I'll pop it in there and it will be shaded by other plants, which will be pulled out eventually, leaving more room for the seedling to develop.  The mixed up vegetables should also confuse pests and prevent the spread of diseases.  Some of the recommendations that come from the northern hemisphere for specific companions to deter pests up there may not help us down here in Australia, with different pests attacking our plants, so I'm happy to just use a general mix up, rather than stick to a plan.

Zucchinis and corn are supposed to like growing together, but can you see the corn?
I'm still a bit confused about how to also apply a rotation program, as this kind of depends on having similar plants in the same garden bed and moving them each year, how then do I mix them up?  (By the way, I love this post about garden planning strategies ).  

Anyway, the first point above is the interesting one, and requires more information to put it to use.
Allelopathy is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. These biochemicals are known as allelochemicals and can have beneficial (positive allelopathy) or detrimental (negative allelopathy) effects on the target organisms- Wikipedia
You really need to know the alleopathic interactions of each plant to know which can be planted together, and maybe that's why I had a problem with the peas next to the onions, but it seems that most of the research in this area has been targeted, as usual, at commercial applications for allelopathy - using the chemicals to develop herbicides.  Its so frustrating that this research effort is wasted when they could be working out how to grow vegetables in organic gardens/larger scale farms more efficiently!  Although I guess its pretty difficult to design an objective study of plant alllelopathy, so I should just use the associations that have been developed over the years based on experience and see what does work for me.

My next problem is finding a system that I want to follow.  As this post found out after comparing several different companion planting guides, they don't all agree!  They recommended that you at least consider the plants that are consistently reported to not grow well together and try to avoid those combinations, which includes peas and onions (damn!).  They have compiled a summary of several commonly used guides to assist.  There is also a summary table (which even includes some reasons for bad neighbours, I like it!!!) on this post from Sustainable Gardening Australia, which I think will be useful.  I have copied it into a word doc, deleted the veges that I don't usually grow and printed it out for easy reference in future (I almost need to laminate it and put it on the garden gate so I remember to use it!).

If you are interested in reading about other potential gardening myths, Linda Chalker-Scott has reviewed a number of them, with some interesting and well-researched articles on her website.

Do you use companion planting in your garden?  Does it work for you?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Farm Update - December 2011

We have had NO rain until the last week of November, and even then its only been 10 mL, so everything was getting very dry and we've started talking again about getting a bore put down.  The garden was still watered with grey water, so it is green and with the warmer weather its amazing to see how much its grown.

zucchinis, squash and corn - as recommended in companion planting advice,
but need to start the corn first as it is now getting swamped by the zuchs.
my useful lettuce and silverbeet (with marigolds)
- has been trimmed by the naughty sneeky chickens though

Tomatoes!  Lots of cherry toms are ready, no big ones yet

herbs - note new tansy and soapwort and chilli on the top centre - right

eggplants - frustratingly slow growing

I have a late night visitor (possum or rat??) that only likes to eat HALF a tomato,
doesn't matter if its green or red though

Have been waiting for months for these broccoli seeds and now find ladybirds
are eating them, not for long though, squashed them all, hahahaha (evil laugh)

First time silverbeet has even gone to seed, this is a new variety,
suppose I should save the seeds, but not impressed that it doesn't last long

Unlike the Fordhook Giant that has never bolted for me

I planted all the pumpkin seeds in the seed cupboard because
I was sick of having so many seed packets lying around,
oops, now I need a home for 16 pumpkin plants....
I thought I was so "permacultural" having the chickens just next to the garden so I could
through scraps over the fence for them, its ok until Bella finds them and scoffs them.
She is doing a good job of mowing, but an electric fence now prevents
her from getting to the garden as she has started trimming my beans,
even though I told her not to.

The last of the broccoli, a few beans, mini capsicums, tomatoes and silverbeet :)

If anyone wants some spring onion seeds, I have far too many and they don't last,
so please email me your postal address to
eight.acres.liz at gmail dot com
and I will happily post a handful anywhere in Australia.
We hatched one more chick from 24 eggs.  Yep, need to work on the incubation skills!  Starting to wonder about just encouraging a clucky hen... in the meantime we have the incubator going again, with more careful temperature control and it looks like 8 eggs have chicks growing in them.  We also culled some of the older hens and poor old Randy rooster (rooster in the freezer, just took the breast meat of the hens for mince, they were pretty skinny old girls, buried all the carcasses with Bruce's guts, will be the new pumpkin patch).  Now we just have 3 white leghorn hens with Ivan and 6 Rhode Is Red hens with Wilbur.  Hoping to breed some more if we can sort out this incubator, but this is a good number for regular eggs over summer.

The first two chicks of the season now live outside

Wilbur with some of his hens

poor lonely Nugget (named by Cheryl, who licked her lips
 and thought the chick looked like a tasty chicken nugget)

Ivan and his girls
We finally ate some of the cheese that we made when Bella first joined us.  One of the cheddars was quite nice on crackers, but another was just too sharp, so I grated that and put it in the freezer to sprinkle in cooking.  The brie hasn't ripened, don't know why, it tastes like brie, but just not gooey inside at all.  It will get eaten though, don't worry!  We have a couple of other hard cheese left in the cheese fridge and when we've finished them we'll turn off the cheese fridge until the next calf arrives.  We have ordered some semen, and the vet is booked for artificial insemination next week, so fingers crossed we can get Bella in calf, this is a new experience for us, but not for Bella!

This is the baricade around the tangelo tree to keep Bella out,
she is just pushing it over to annoy me, but I think I win.
I finally finally got some diatomeceous earth, and only because Megan from our Permaculture group saw it at a market and bought it for me.  Thank goodness, as I was starting to get quite desperate.  But now I'm thinking that this is just one of those lessons that if you can't source something locally its probably not going to fit into your organic/permaculture plans.  Anyway, that's 20 kg to get us started, I'm only using it in the chicken nesting boxes for lice and fed half a cup to each moo moo on the full moon for internal parasites (at the advice of Bel from Homegrown, who happens to conveniently live near a DE mine in north QLD).  We haven't had any flies on the moo moos so far this summer, but with that rain I'm sure they will be coming soon....

Hot dogs

Chime sleeping

Chez waiting for me to throw her ball

Chime sneaking up for a pat

Cheryl in her cave under the house

taking some time to stare up at the summer sky (wish those were rain clouds though!)

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