Friday, March 30, 2012

Nourishing Traditions - more chapter reviews

A few weeks ago I started a review of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig (part 1 and part 2).  I've been a bit slow to continue the review because I've got up to the chapters that I haven't found very useful myself!

After finding the Introduction and "Mastering the Basics" chapters extremely valuable, and having implemented many of the ideas in our everyday meals, the next chapters on "Great Beginnings", "The Main Course", "A Catalogue of Vegetables" and "Luncheons and Supper Foods", have been less relevant.  There are a few recipes that I've tried and a few more that I want to try, but on the whole, I haven't needed these chapters as I've just adapted my own recipes to incorporate the recommendations in the first two chapters.  It is worth writing a brief summary of the useful and interesting bits of each chapter, as some people may benefit from an overview more than I did, and then I will get to the more interesting chapters in another post.

Great Beginnings

  • Hors D'oeuvres and Dips
I haven't actually used any of these recipes, but I have adapted my own dip recipes!  See my Macadamia Pesto and Sprouted Hummus here, and Guacamole, Herb and Cream Cheese, and Tatziki here, and I made some Babaganosh the other day, which I haven't posted about, but it was very easy, recipe here.  


  • Vegetable Salads
Again, I haven't used any of these recipes because, as posted previously, my salad recipes is: pick anything ripe in the garden, slice appropriately and arrange half on each plate :) 

  • Soup
I love soup!  I like to use up excess veges in soup, so its usually pumpkin and tomato.  I'm looking forward to having some root veges to use up this winter, so I'll be trying some recipes then.  Also I've found that using the real stock makes some delicious soup.  I based this year's Pea and Ham soup on the Lentil soup recipe in this chapter.

  • Raw Meat Appetizers
Not yet!!  Not sure if I'm comfortable with these at the current time!
  • Gourmet Appetizers
Haven't tried any of these either (but only because I've had no need to).

The Main Course 
  • Fish
We usually eat fish either baked or pan fried, with a butter/cream/lemon/herb sauce, but we don't eat fish very often at the moment because its really hard to get nice fresh fish in the South Burnett.  When we get the aquaponics system working we will be growing our own fish and no doubt I will be looking for some more recipes to try!  I think this chapter is aimed at people who don't know what to do with fish at all.

  • Poultry
We've been eating our own homegrown roosters for a while now, so we have a series of recipes that work for us.  First night is roast chicken with gravy, followed by either chicken for lunch (sandwiches, or small meals with chicken meat, veges and gravy) or chicken fried rice, or chicken pasta bake.  As fried rice and pasta bake aren't really good foods (will explain more when I get up to the chapter on grains), I should be using this chapter to find a better alternative.  We only eat chicken about once a month, and the last one was so tough I made Coq au Vin in the slow cooker, so I haven't tried any of these recipes yet.

  • Organ Meats
I haven't tried these recipes yet, but when we have our next beast butchered, I will be keeping the organ meats for us to try (instead of feeding them to the dogs).  Emma from Craving Fresh wrote a good post about using organ meats.
  • Game
We don't have access to any game meat, but with the new property it will be much easier for us to get a gun licence, so maybe we will be eating some game!  The recipes in this book are really only for venison and wild birds, which we are unlucky to find in our area.  I'm sure that the notes about improved nutrition from game meat apply to all wild animals though.
  • Beef and Lamb
Not just any old beef and lamb, this chapter calls for pasture fed animals only, and I quite agree that animals raised on pasture are healthier and their meat more nutritious than animals raised in an unnatural environment of a feed lot (where they stand in small dirt pens and stuff themselves full of grain + antibiotics to stop them getting acidosis, this is not normal!).   The recipes describe how to use both the tender cuts, which can be cooked quickly and the tougher cuts, which must be cooked for longer, more slowly, to tenderise the meat.  We have had to learn this one ourselves, as when we have a beast cut up, we get every possible cut of meat, and we don't want to waste any of it.  Our slow cooker has been a fantastic investment and many many tough cuts of meat have been turned into delicious winter stews and pot roasts.  I haven't followed any of these recipes directly, most of my slow cooking involves onion, garlic, stock, wine, herbs and the meat, sometimes tomatoes and any veges that need using up.  It always comes out different, but always tasty!  For the tender cuts, we just cook them quickly on the BBQ or on the woodstove.  We very rarely eat lamb because we have so much beef.  If we go out for dinner I always order lamb, it reminds me of my childhood in NZ :)


  • Ground Meat (MINCE!)
We usually end up with 20-30 kg of beef mince every time we have a beast butchered, so we've got to love it!  We also make old chickens into mince as they are too tough otherwise.  Again, we haven't used any of the specific recipes in this chapter, but many of our favourites have been altered to align with NT's principles, especially using real stock in the sauces.  Our typical mince recipes are: hamburgers, meat loaf, bolagnaise sauce, chow mien, rissoles and burittos.

You will notice that there are no "main course" recipes for pork or vegetables.  In the first chapter, it was mentioned that pork wasn't good for humans and has therefore been disregarded throughout the book.  This is one point that I have chosen to ignore, no way I'll be passing on bacon, ham or pork chops!  See here for some old-time pig wisdom from Agrarian Nation.  As for vegetables, there is an entire chapter just for vegetables, and later in the book there's more about pulses and grains.  

A Catalogue of Vegetables 
This chapter literally lists all possible vegetables with different ideas on how to cook then.  While it is recommended to eat most vegetables raw, apparently cabbage/kale/broccoli contain chemicals that block thyroid hormones and silverbeet contains oxalic acid, so are best eaten cooked (which rules out coleslaw on an all but occasional basis).  A great suggestion in this chapter is to butter cooked veges, I hadn't done this for so long, I forgot how delicious it is, we now often have butter on the table with cooked veges!

This is probably a useful chapter for those who are unsure how to cook some veges.  We don't mind having things the same every night, so we generally boil potatoes and steam the other veges in a steamer pot above the potato pot.  Unless we are having a sauce or stirfry in which the veges are cooked anyway.


Luncheons and Supper Foods 
  • Meat salads
Really I don't know how this chapter differs from the salads chapter - make a salad and have some meat with it, not hard!
  • South of the Border
Recipes for Mexican food which I think will be interesting.  Unfortunately the tortillas are to be bought rather than made.  Lucky Emma from Craving Fresh has posted a tortilla recipe (which I am yet to try out!).
  • Eggs
Seriously, who doesn't know how to cook eggs??

  • Sandwich suggestions
Use your imagination.....


Have you read Nourishing Traditions?  Do you use the recipes?

Here's the rest of the series:

Nourishing Traditions - from start to finish

Nourishing Traditions - Mastering the basics


Nourishing Traditions - more chapter reviews


Nourishing Traditions - Grains and Legumes


Nourishing Traditions - Snacks, desserts and "super foods"


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ongoing climate confusion

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'm trying to figure out what to grow over winter here in Nanango.

I've mentioned before that the climate here is confusing!  Over summer we have daytime temperatures of up to the high 30degC, afternoon storms and high humidity, with night-time temperatures in the high 20degC (if we're lucky!).  Its almost a sub-tropical wet season, rather than summer.

Around this time of year though the climate changes dramatically.  We still have 30degC days, but overnight the temperatures can be as low as 10-15degC.  As winter approaches the daytime temperature will get down to mid-20degC, but overnight we can expect frosts.  The strangest part is that the frost is very much location dependent.  Our neighbours did not suffer from frost last year as their house is at the top of the hill, but we are down lower on the hill and cold air being dense tends to roll down the hill, so we had some severe frosts.

Our winter is then a real temperate, or at least mountain, winter.  This means that we can't really grow tropical plants here through winter, as they don't survive the frost, but temperate plants don't do well through the hot humid summer!  I am still coming to terms with our confusing climate!

I have now realised that around this time of year I need to stop looking at the sub-tropical climate chart, and start looking at the temperate winter chart to work out what to grow.  In spring I can return to sub-tropical to decide what will grow through summer.

Our aquaponics greenhouse will help to smooth out our climate as some of the tropical plants can hang out in the greenhouse to survive the frost, and we can still grow the cold climate plants outside.  I hope this will lead to a greater range of plants that we can grow throughout the year.

I'm really jealous when I read about US gardeners who seem to have a very comprehensive system of zoning to help identify climate zones, whereas ours here in Australia seems to be a little vague!

trying to work out what to plant!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sugar free fruity ice treat for hot summer days

This post is linked to Freaky Friday on Real Food Freaks.

Queensland summers are HOT and if you're not eating sugar and processed foods, that means no ice cream or ice blocks to cool you down.  But don't worry, I have found a solution by fiddling with a sorbet recipe.  I just don't add the sugar, and I blend the fruit so that it keeps most of the fibre.

I just mix up any fruit that we have around, things like banana, mango, and pineapple are good, especially if I can get cheap orange or mandarins to bulk it out.  Melon and mint is yummy too, I haven't tried berries (as they don't last long around here), but I would imagine they'd be yummy too.  I squeeze and citrus and then I blend the other fruit.  Mix it all up and put it in the freezer in a little pot with a lid.  As long as you give it a stir every few hours, it won't freeze into a totally solid block.  When you want to eat some, you just scrape off some of the fruity ice into a cup and enjoy.  Sometimes I'm tempted to eat it all during the stirring steps when its a lovely cold icy drink.  If you have an ice cream maker you could use that instead.

squeezing the cheap mandarins

mangoes and bananas

mixing it all up





Monday, March 19, 2012

Dealing with broody hens

Occasionally one of our hens goes broody, even though we use breeds that are not supposed to, and for that reason, I don't trust them to follow through.  Also, they distract the other hens from laying as they can be very protective and annoying (sometimes to the point of pecking me when I try to collect the eggs), so its best to get them out of their broodiness as soon as possible.  The best way to do this is to separate the broody hen from the rest of the flock, in another cage with food and water, for a few days.  Eventually she will forget her broodiness and will be back to normal when reintroduced to her mates.  We were told to put the hen in a small cage and hang it up in the shade, as the cool air blowing over her is supposed to reduce the urge to hatch eggs. We did do that for a while, when we had a suitable place to hang the cage, but these days we just put the hen in one of our spare chicken tractors for a few days and that seems to work just as good.  I have also been told to put ice under the hen to cool her down, I haven't tried that one.  How do you deal with broody hens?

eight acres: dealing with a broody hen
I didn't have a photo of a broody!
Here's one checking out the nest box though.


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} gmail.com.




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


Friday, March 16, 2012

More on yoghurt

Ever since we got our dairy cow, Bella, I've wanted to make raw milk yoghurt.  My early attempts were unsuccessful, I had problems with the milk splitting into curds and whey.  In the end I gave up and started to pasteurise the milk, which was very disappointing.  I posted a summary of the different ways I use to make yoghurt here.

Pateurising the milk involves heating it to nearly boiling (around 80 degC) in order to kill both pathogenic bacteria, and other beneficial bacteria in the milk that will compete with the yoghurt bacteria.  It also has the effect of denaturing enzymes that can cause the yoghurt to be runny.  As you're starting with more or less sterile milk, it makes the process of yogurt making easier and more repeatable, in fact, I've never had any problems with pasteurised milk yoghurt not working, however if the temperature gets too high during pasteurisation (ie if you get impatient, turn up the heat and turn around to do something else) you end up with solids in the milk, which kind of ruins the texture of the yoghurt (although you can then strain it - more here).  



By killing off the other bacteria and the enzymes in the milk, you get a more reliable yoghurt, but you miss out on those beneficial bacteria and enzymes that would have been good to eat too.  Hence my repeated attempts at making yoghurt from raw milk, especially because I read about it Marja Fitzgerald's "The Healthy House Cow" and she made it sound to easy!).  For some reason at the time I was doing this I couldn't find any advice on the internet, but then recently a couple of useful posts have come to my attention (and they're not new, so I don't know how I missed them before!).
  • Kitchen Stewardship - a method for making raw milk yoghurt using a "cooler" (or esky or chilli bin, see how I speak so many languages!) and a good discussion in the comments section.
  • Nourished Kitchen - a similar method, with more options for starters and ways to keep the yoghurt warm, and another great discussion in the comments section.
Finding these posts gave me another boost of inspiration, especially as many people described exactly the problem that I had and found solutions, found lovely tasty yoghurt even!  This clearly takes more effort to find the method that will work in your kitchen, with the equipment and milk you have access to.  I'll start trying to make raw milk yoghurt again when we have lots of milk to spare, so I can get it right this time!

Do you make yoghurt?  What method do you use?

Getting started with homestead dairy
Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only $4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia.  There's more details about the eBook on my house cow eBook blog.  If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

8 acres becomes 258 acres

Over the past 6 weeks my husband and I have been working hard to secure finance for another property, and today we found out that it had settled and its now ours!

The property is 258 acres in Kumbia, which is near Kingaroy and about 30 min from where we live now in Nanango.  The property has no house, just good fencing, a hay shed, nice solid stock yards, five dams and four divined bore sites.  The property comprises of about 60 acres of cultivation, with about half of the remainder selectively cleared and contoured, and the rest with natural vegetation cover.

Many of you will wonder why we need 258 A when we already had 8 A.  There are two reasons.  Firstly we have been buying a lot of supplement feed recently and we felt that we would never be entirely self-sufficient with the number of animals that we want to keep on only 8 A.  We really need about 20-50 A, but a block that size is hard to find, and most are not good quality country, just the bad bits chopped of a larger farm to make a little money.  Also, with 20-50 A, the work to maintain the property is close to the work required for 200+ A, but the land isn't enough to generate an income, and it is our dream to one day in the distant future be able to"retire" from office work to farm together full-time.  So we thought we may as well buy a decent size property and see what we could achieve.  This way we never have to worry about running out of food or water for our animals, and we should be able to make a little extra money as well.

We plan at first to fatten beef cattle steers, buying a mob of 20-30 from the stock yards and selling them 9-12 months later when they are nice and big.  Eventually we will build a house up there and sell our little 8 acre property.  Then we can get into more intensive farming activities such as pasture fed chickens in tractors and mob-stocking the cattle (a la Joel Salatin).  We feel quite confident that we can make this work given our experience with animals on our 8 acres, but it is a little scary knowing that we will be raising larger numbers of animals for profit, so it will be important that our experiments with organic production methods do work as that will allow us to keep costs low (rather than buying chemicals).  Until we have built up the business, we will both continue to work full-time off the farm.

Our choice of property may seem strange to some people, in fact this property was on the market for 2 years before we made an offer.  We think that people were put off my the amount of vegetation on the property and the current restrictions in Queensland on clearing vegetation.  Indeed, we will need a permit to clear anything, except to make a house yard or for fencing, but that suits us.  We see the vegetation as free fence posts, firewood, shade for the cattle and fertility for the rest of the property.  I think the ratios are about what Peter Andrews recommends (one third trees, one third grazing and one third cropping), so its the perfect block from our point of view!

In preparation for taking on this challenge we have both read Joel Salatin's book "You can farm", which has some great advice for wannabe farmers such as ourselves.  He says that farmers complain that they can't earn a living, and the same is true in our area.  Joel agrees that conventional farming methods are not successful and that to make money you have to think differently.  I think we are ready to do that and I really hope that we will be able to both work on the farm together one day.

I've also been trying to get into some permaculture books, because I think we can really benefit from applying permaculture principles on this property.

So now I have a blog identity crisis!  Is it 8 acres, 258 acres or 266 acres?   I don't want to change the blog name at the moment, so I guess I'll be posting about both properties for now, if I have time.  But I can assure you that there will be many interesting posts to come as we are on a steep learning curve!

The following are some photos of our new property taken by real estate agents over the past 2 years or so, as we haven't had time to take our own yet..... there's none of the trees as they weren't a major selling point for anyone except us apparently!

cattle (not our's) by one of the dams

some of the cleared grazing areas

more grazing

and more grazing

the hay shed

the stock yards (nice and solid)

the view
cultivation area ploughed

cultivation area planted

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My winter garden plan

As summer draws to a close here in Queensland, Australia, its time to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and start to plan for winter planting.

This summer the successes were:



  • Cherry tomatoes - the random compost sprouting tomatoes provided enough for salads, but it would have been nice to have more of them to freeze


  • Beans - this year I managed to protect my green beans from cattle (although Bella took an early interest) and even though the chickens launched a late attack on anything that came over their side of the fence, I managed to harvest a decent amount for eating and freezing - 3 climbing plants and 3 bush plants were sufficient. 

  • Potatoes - I planted most of them in a drum and the leftovers in the garden.  Ironically it was the leftovers that did really well, I think the drum ones got too hot.   

  • Basil - last year it grew to one meter before I noticed, this year I pinched off all the growth tips every few days and produced a lovely little bush of basil :)
  • Mini capsicums - one plant survived the frost and is thriving, although I can't take any credit, I just cut it back and left it alone!
  • Spring onions - always a winner!  
  • Herbs - all except the mints did well, think it got too hot and dry, they look miserable, but still alive.
  • Radishes - first time I've grown these and they did well until we had some very hot days.
  • Lettuce - did well until I tried to plant some seedlings on a hot HOT day and they all died.
  • Button squash - I did have some blossom end rot issues and could have done with some more squashes for the freezer.
  
  • Pickling cucumbers - 3 vines was plenty!  8 jars of pickles in the fridge and more that I gave away already. 

  • Shade - beans, arrowroot and pawpaw plants provided shade on all sides and the shade cloth provided shade up above, I think this saved some of the more delicate veges on the hottest summer days.
beans shading one end of the garden

arrowroot shading another side
and pawpaws shading the other end
The failures were:
  • Corn - started too late as I didn't have viable seed and then got swamped by my companion planted squash!   

  • Zuchinnis - after yielding only 2-3 zuchinnis the 4 plants wilted and died!  I want to try trombochino next - supposed to be more hardy and as a climber won't take up so much space
  • Peas - need to try not planting them next to the onions!  They seem to produce most in spring and summer, don't like too hot or too cold, should I try another variety?
  • Pumpkins - I started them early, expecting Dec rain like last year and then it was just hot and dry, so most withered, some are still going, but no pumpkins so far!
  • Eggplant - I started early, but found that my seed was too old, bought more seeds and finally raised 4 plants, waited for months, and had 4 tine eggplants before the plants died.  Questioning whether its worth the effort.
The lessons were:
  • Plant more tomatoes
  • Start potatoes, eggplant and corn earlier
  • Plant corn before squash
  • Plant lettuce early so its established before the weather gets too hot
  • Water the pumpkins - use golden nuggets as they are nice small plants and might fit into the garden
  • Don't plant peas with onions
Plans for winter
Thinking back over my gardening experience, this is really the first winter that I've planned for as such.  When we were in the Lockyer Valley we didn't have bad frost, so I just kept growing the same things I was growing over summer and I was still getting to know the garden.  And the past two winters that we've been in Nanango, the first year I only just had the garden started, so I didn't grow much besides silverbeet and the second year I was distracted by us buying our milking cow and trying to sell the other house.  So this is my first winter in Nanango in which I am trying to prepare by planting suitable veges that will survive the frost and provide us with fresh veges over winter.

I'm also secretly hoping that we will have our aquaponics greenhouse set up by then, and maybe I'll be a growing some warmer climate plants in there, but not counting on it!

I’m not sure yet the ideal time to start planting for winter.  Its easy for summer, as soon as its warm enough I will try to make a start on tomatoes and eggplant, zucchinis and beans, but for winter the timing is more difficult as I’m not sure when my summer plants will be finished and ready to pull out of the garden.  It really depends on the timing of the first frost, and I don’t have enough local knowledge to know when that will be, so I'm going to start growing from seed over the next few weeks and planting seedlings out among the remaining summer plants and I hope we don't have a crazy heat wave that kills everything!  That way I get to keep harvesting the last of the tomatoes and squash until I have to pull them out.

Winter veges that I want to plant this year include:
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (hello more sauerkraut!)
  • Mustard greens
  • Silver beet and chard
  • Root veges – carrots, turnip, swede, beetroot, radish
  • Garlic
  • Broad beans
  • Peas
  • Mushrooms
The only things on the list that I've grown successfully before are broccoli, silverbeet, mustard greens and peas, so all the rest will be new.



I'm planning on planting my four beds like this:
  • bed 1 - broad beans and peas
  • bed 2 - onions and herbs
  • bed 3 - brassicaceae (that's where they were last season, but they are self-seeding, so I can't be bothered digging them all up and moving them!) and silver beet
  • bed 4 - root vegetables 
When I was planning for winter, I used a book that my sister in law gave me, called Organic Vegetable Gardening, which is written for Australian conditions.  I used this book to see which veges would grow over winter in my area, how difficult they are to grow and how to start from seed.  Amazingly I found that each vegetable also had a section on how to save the seeds, I can't believe I didn't notice it before, especially as I was complaining that I didn't have a decent book on the subject in my previous post on saving seeds, its great to know that I had a my book shelf the entire time and that it contains so much useful detail, I just need to find time to read what I already own!]

What are you planting this Winter?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aquaponics progress - building the greenhouse

I mentioned ages ago that we were thinking about setting up an aquaponics system.  We ordered it back in September and the kit was delivered to Kingaroy in December last year.  We unloaded it from the ute and left it stored safely in the shed while we thought about where/how to build our greenhouse.

Aquaponics is a system that combines hydroponics and aquaculture.  The water cycles between the fish tank and hydroponic vegetable grow beds.  The fish produce nutrients that are consumed by the vegetables, and in turn, the vegetables removing those nutrients cleans the water for the fish.  We just need to feed the fish.  The system needs to be in a water proof greenhouse so that rainwater doesn't dilute the process water, and needs access to electricity to run the pumps, so we needed to build a greenhouse.

After much deliberation and assessment of possible locations, taking into account access to electricity, the limited number of flat spots on our property, sun and shade available, and the boggyness that we experienced just about everywhere during the floods last year, we finally decided to build an extension on our existing shed.  I forgot to take "before" photos, so this is a progress update after one weekend working on the greenhouse, in case you all thought we'd given up on the aquaponics idea!

Our next step is to order poly sheeting for the roof and greenhouse fabric (solarweave) for the sides.  As well as additional guttering, ridge capping and down spouting to finish off the shed.  Our goal is to finish the greenhouse before the first frost so my chillies have somewhere warm to live through winter.

building the greenhouse shed extension 


all the joins are welded rather than bolted

more joins

view from the other side with the concrete that we mixed by hand

more concreting

more welded joints
(And that's as far as we got because then we bought another property and we're going to move there once we build a house!  So the extension is my seed-raising area, and we'll set up the aquaponics when we move.... eventually!)

Have you used an aquaponics system?  Any tips?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reducing electricity bills using a remote monitor

Last year Gavin of the Greening of Gavin blog ran a challenge over several weeks to reduce home power consumption (see the first part here), and I realised that, in comparison to other people who joined in, our consumption is relatively high (at the time it was 16 kWh/day).  I had also been seeing heaps of ads for the Queensland Government Climate Smart home service, which has been running for a couple of years now.  As part of the service you get a visit from an electrician, who fits a remote digital power monitor to your meter box, and you get remote controlled "standby eliminators", power saving lightbulbs and some good advice, all for $50.  I thought that might be a good way to reduce our power consumption, so I requested an appointment late last year, and we had our service a couple of weeks ago.

Wireless power monitor
The minute the electrician left we started playing with the meter.  We turned things off, turned them on, turned them down, trying to get our usage below our target of 10c/hour and work out which appliances were using the most power.  We were stuck on 18c/hr even with all fridges and freezers and almost every appliance in the house turned off.  Finally my husband remembered that the shed lights were on.  Turns out that 10 flouro lights can use 8c/hr, because as soon as they were off, we went back to an acceptable level.  Now that we know that, I think we will be more careful with our lights, as we also have a few flouros inside the house as well, which we tend to just leave on (the house is quite dark otherwise), so its good to know that they are using so much power.  I was a bit scared to turn on my food dehydrator, but when I did it only added a cent or two, phew!  The slow cooker is the next target though!

I think having this meter will really make a difference to our electricity use.  First we can use it to identify which appliances are using the most electricity and think about what we are using, possibly changing our fridge and freezer arrangements.  Also, when we are not using anything in particular, we can have a look at the meter and we should see it around 6-10c/hour depending on the ambient temperature, if the power use is too high, then we can have a look for what's been left on.

If you're in QLD, you should apply for the service as soon as possible, as it will be finishing off in December this year, and you never know what will happen with the (potential) change of government in a few weeks time.  If you're outside of QLD, you can buy your own monitor and get an electrician to install it.  It only took 10 minutes to install, so shouldn't be a big job!    They are available on the internet (for example here), with prices ranging $50-150, and from hardware/electrical stores. You can also get ones that plug into individual appliances (no electrician needed), which I think are less useful, but better than nothing if you can't afford the meter box one (or renting).

What are your tips for reducing your electricity consumption?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ginger ale vs. ginger beer

My mother in law gave us a big bag of ginger, some of it had sprouted, ready for planting, but there was plenty of pieces, so I decided to make ginger ale, no, ginger beer, I couldn't decide, so I made one batch of each to compare.  I can't wait to grow my own ginger so I can make these regularly (have planted the left over ginger in a large pot).

Ginger beer
Following the instructions in Nourishing Traditions, I grated lots of ginger.  In a jar I put 1.5 cups of rainwater, 2 teaspoons of ginger and 2 teaspoons of white sugar, put the lid on and left it on the bench.  I added 2 teaspoons each of ginger and sugar every morning for a week.  After a few days I could see bubbles forming (that was an exciting start to the day!).



Day 1
Day 3 - see the bubbles?

After a week, the bug was ready, and I was supposed to make it up to 8 L, adding sugar and lemon juice, however, I wasn't sure what vessel to use, as ginger has a reputation for explosiveness!  My husband had the bright idea of using one of our beer fermenters, but they are 20 L, so we decided to make it up to 20 L with extra sugar.  After a couple of days the fermenter hadn't started bubbling (so much for the explosion risk!) and we both worried that it wasn't working, so we added a packet of ale yeast that we had in the fridge.  Still no bubbling.  After a week my husband poured it into a keg and "gassed it up" using the CO2 bottle that we have for beer making.  With the keg in the beer fridge, its pretty convenient to pour a jug of ginger beer, however I don't think we really made it properly!  It tastes sweet and gingery, with only a hint of  alcohol or yeasty taste.  I want to try this one again without fiddling with the recipe.....

making the ginger beer in the fermenter

A jug of ginger beer (after I drank some!)

Ginger Ale
Ginger ale was much quicker to make and brew.  I just put 1.5 L of rainwater in a jug with 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 grated ginger and 1/4 cup whey and left the jug on the bench for 3 days, before putting it in the fridge.  The result is a very sweet, gingery drink, without any fizz.  I drink it diluted about half with water, and it is a lovely refreshing drink.  I think I prefer the ale, as it was quicker, less mess, didn't have to remember to feed a bug, and I felt that the benefits of the lactic acid bacteria were greater than with the ginger beer.  If you don't have whey from cheese making, you could use kefir whey (and if you don't have kefir whey, you should get some kefir!).

Day 1

Day 3 (after straining)

Do you make ginger beer?  Or ale?

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