Monday, July 30, 2012

Planting forage oats

After we brought in the sorghum hay that was growing on the property when we bought it, and had our soil test results, Farmer Pete spent several weekends (and several jerry cans of diesel) ploughing about 25 acres of the cultivation area in preparation for sowing oats.  Then we bought oat seed and organic fertiliser and tried to figure out how the old cultivator drill worked....

It wasn't as difficult as it looks, the seeds go in one compartment and the fertiliser goes in the other, and we had to set up the gears that run off the wheels to put out the right amount of seed and fertiliser.  This is where we got into trouble as I didn't know what fertiliser the rates were based on (more likely urea than our organic fertiliser!), so that involved a bit of trial and error.  We ordered the manual from plough book sales and of course it arrived AFTER we'd finished planting :)  I do recommend trying to get the manual for any old equipment that you buy, it really helps to figure out what is going on and recommends maintenance practices.

the old cultivator drill still works.....

Anyway, once we got that sorted out, we could sit back and watch the oats grow....

the oats sprouted after about 10 days

growing strongly after 6-8 weeks
Our oats are not growing as fast as the oats that we know of that other people have planted at the same time using "proper" fertiliser, however, they have strong roots and are doing ok.  One thing that we have noticed is that the oats planted in areas that were not recently cropped and fertilised are doing better than the oats planted where the sorghum was.  My guess is that the soil microbiology has started to recover in those areas that were not recently cropped, and so our organic fertiliser is being metabolised and is available to the oats. In the other area that was recently cropped, the microbiology is more likely to be reduced, and so the plants can't make use of the organic fertiliser.  I am convinced that we need to add microbes, and we do have a few ideas about how to do this.  I will explain more soon.

If you're wondering why we plant oats in winter.....

This is the grass on our property at the moment.  Most of it is tropical grass species that dry off and go dormant over winter, so they have very little feed value.

tropical grasses in winter

Compare this to the lovely green oats that thrive over winter, even through frost.

the oats in winter
This is why people plant oats, however, over the next couple of years we are hoping to improve our pasture with winter active species such as medics and lucerne, which will provide feed in our pastures over winter in future.  We are undecided whether the cultivate and crop method is better than making hay from permanent pasture, so we will continue to experiment, however a few of our cultivations areas are so far away from the hay shed, we think it might be a good idea to try permanent improved pasture for rotational grazing instead of hay.

We are also interested in zero-till and Yeoman ploughs, also the option of converting the cultivator drill and ploughs that we bought with the property, so plenty of research to be done.....

Do you plant forage crops?  What is your favourite?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Porridge for winter breakfast

We always have a problem with breakfast during the winter months.  For the rest of the year, we eat eggs for breakfast, one or two each, every morning.  But when the hens stop laying, we have to find something else to eat!  One thing that we have found is ok is the homemade baked beans that I posted about.  I also enjoy porridge/oatmeal (Farmer Pete prefers his WeetBix, the funniest thing is that WeetBix have an ad in New Zealand that goes "Kiwi kids .... are WeetBix kids" and the same ad in Australia says "Aussie kids .... are WeetBix kids", so I sing the Kiwi one to Pete when he's eating his WeetBix, hehe).  
soaking the oats in kefir
Anyway, I have been using the recipe in Nourishing Traditions and soaking the oats overnight with kefir or yoghurt.  One cup of oats to one cup of fermented dairy.  Then I put it on the stove and cook the porridge (supposed to add one cup of water at this stage, but sometimes I forget and it still works).  I find that the porridge cooks more quickly and the result is smoother due to the overnight soaking.

cooking the oats

I eat the porridge with milk or cream, a little brown sugar/rapadura and cinnamon.  One cup of oats lasts about 3 days of breakfast, as it is very filling, I just keep it in the fridge and heat it up as needed.

eating the porridge

What do you have for breakfast?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The beef cattle industry and us

When we bought Cheslyn Rise we decided to start with raising beef cattle as we were fairly confident that we knew how to look after cattle, after raising a few steers for our own consumption and keep our milking cow, Bella, and the property was set up with fencing, dams and stock yards, so it was low cost for us to start our farm with beef.  Before this, I hadn't really thought about how the beef cattle industry worked, especially since we've been eating our own beef steers for the past 3 years!  It turns out to be kind of complicated and we are slowly figuring out what kind of beef cattle farmers we want to be.

Generally most farmers either breed cattle or fatten cattle.  If you breed cattle you keep as many cows as your property will support, and a bull.  You expect one calf from each cow each year, you raise them to weaning age (around 6-9 months) and then you sell them at the sale yards.  If you fatten cattle, you buy a mob from the sale yards, either weaner or stocker steers or heifers, and fatten them, usually over spring/summer, until they are big enough for the abbatoir or to go to feedlots to be fattened further on grain.  Not all beef cattle in Australia are grain finished, and I couldn't find any figures to give you on the ratio of pasture or grain fed.  According to Nourishing Traditions (and common sense) grass fed beef, being a more natural diet for cattle, is more nutritious, and the cattle can also be raised with less reliance on chemicals and antibiotics to keep them alive.

here's our first mob of steers at the sale yard

Very few farmers breed AND fatten cattle as it adds too much complexity to the business.  You have to keep the older calves away from their mothers, and you have to make sure the bull doesn't try to fight any of them, you also have to manage your pasture very carefully to have enough feed for all animals under changing conditions (pregnant cows, lactating cows, growing weaners etc).  Unless you have a very large property, most farmers find it easier to either breed or fatten.  We chose to fatten steers at first because its a quick way to get into the industry.  At the same time we'd like to start establishing breeders, as we figure out how many cattle we can keep.  Breeding makes handling the cattle easier, because they're used to you and the property, but you have the extra risks of birthing and the stress of weaning.  Buying a mob of steers to fatten is also risky though, you don't know their temperament or their background, but it does allow for greater flexibility, you can have no animals on your property for a few months and go on holiday!

One day we hope to raise chemical-free beef (not sure if we'll get all the way to organic certification).  This means that we will have to have breeders AND fatten the steers/heifers, as every time we buy and sell steers at the sale yard nearest to us they need to go through the "dip" and swim through pesticides to kill ticks, not to mention chemicals used on them since they were born!  We can buy from tick-free yards, but they are further away (our property is tick-free, so all cattle that we buy from tick areas must be treated), and we would have to try to buy from an organic property.  That's just too complicated, so eventually we'll need to breed our own.

We would also like to follow Joel Salatin's example (and probably many other less famous farmers) and manage to both breed and fatten on a relatively small property, without using grain.  Joel keeps the weaner calves on his property and fattens them to slaughter weight on pasture, selling beef directly to the public.  This system means that you can't produce as many calves per year, however as they are heavier when sold, they are worth more.  This is a very delicate balance to get the right number of animals and keep them until they are ready to eat, with just the right amount of pasture.  Joel also buys steers if he has excess feed, so I suppose that's one reason he doesn't bother with organic certification - it just makes buying steers more difficult!  We would also like to follow Joel's example and sell directly to the public, rather than our beef ending up in the conventional beef feedlot system, this seems like a better system for the farmers, the cattle and the consumers.

Our first mob leaving our yards....
With all this in mind........we have bought our first bull, Donald the Dexter!  We're not ready to breed beef full-time, and little Donald will be an easy way for us to get used to having a bull around without actually having to be scared off the bull.  At first, Donald will work with our little Jersey cows.  We did use AI for Bella this time, and it was about a third of the cost of Donald, so he will earn his keep quite quickly if he's up to it, this should guarantee some small calves (and safe births!).  He is quite tame and has worked out the grain and hay routine very quickly.  Donald is probably a little bit shorter than ideal, he is shorter than  both the cows, but I felt so sorry for him when we went to see him.  He wasn't being mistreated, its just that he was with lots of larger cattle and he seemed so out of place.  He fits in so much better at our place, being tame and small like the rest of our cattle!

little Donald lying down....

and standing up - doesn't make much difference, his legs are very short!
Do you raise beef cattle?  Any thoughts?  How cute is Donald?

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 and I can arrange to email it to you instead.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Crop rotation in the garden - is it possible or necessary?

Crop rotation has always seemed like a good idea.  It made sense not to grow the same plant family in the same garden bed two seasons in a row, and to follow legumes with heavy feeders, and then light feeders, as recommended by my collection of gardening books (see here also).  However, even with a rather large garden, I have found it impossible to stick to a plan.

I've got too much going on, its just too complicated to rotate!
Firstly, do they mean seasons or years?  Is this set up for gardens in climates that don't grow much, if anything, over winter, and so don't have to consider two growing seasons in a year?  My main problem is brassicas.  Currently I have a brassica of one kind or another in each of my four garden beds.  This plant family is just too huge, I am growing asian greens (bok choi, tat soi and mizuna), kale, cabbage, broccoli, radish and turnip, and they don't all fit into one garden bed!  And I want to grow them through winter and summer, so I would need so many more garden beds to rotate them.  Particularly when I want to keep all the root veges together, it just gets too complicated.  

Legumes are my other problem, due to their need to climb, there are only so many suitable places to plant them so that they can climb without shading other areas of the garden.  I find that I keep putting them back in the same places because they work well there.  I also have a problem with self-seeding plant, I don't always get to choose where my plants want to grow and if they decide to come up again where they were last year, I'm hardly going to pull them out if they're doing well :)  this includes everything from lettuce to bok choi to potatoes!  I tend to end up with mixed up garden beds with things squeezed into any available space, rather than straight rows of veges (this also makes companion planting difficult!).  And what about permanent plants?  I have a capsicum "shrub" which continues to fruit each year, I can't really rotate that bed if the capsicum keeps living!

So I have been totally ignoring crop rotation and feeling a little guilty, until I did some research which has made me feel better.  The reasons that are typically given for crop rotation are to stop plant diseases and pests recurring from year to year, and to retain soil fertility.  On the second point, I'm pretty confident that the amount of compost and weed tea that I spread around the garden is sufficient to maintain fertility (as evidenced by my very healthy plants), so I'm not too worried about that one.

The first point is more tricky.  I do worry that I'm encouraging pests and diseases by not managing to rotate the beds properly, but I had a read of a discussion on a forum here, and the consensus is:
  1. many people are growing the same veges in the same garden bed for many years with no problems
  2. rotating crops in a garden is unlikely to make any difference to pests and diseases due to the small scale of most gardens
  3. if you do have a serious pest of disease problem its probably better to just stop growing the crop for a couple of years rather than trying to move it somewhere else
  4. otherwise, if you don't have any problems, just keep growing things where-ever you want....
I think I'll just keep doing what I'm doing then!  Do you rotate your crops and how do you do it??

Friday, July 20, 2012

No whey?

As well as crying over the lack of milk while Bella is dry, I was also worried about not having whey.  Whey is an essential ingredient in so many of my new-found fermented foods (from sauerkraut to ginger beer, and soaking brown rice before cooking) that I didn't know what I would do without it.  As an experiment I started freezing small batches of whey each time I made cream cheese, and it seems to work perfectly.  Each batch of cream cheese makes about half a litre of whey (from one litre of milk), and for each fermentation I only need about half a cup of whey, so I just pour a little whey into small snap-lock bags and freeze them.  When I need the whey I just get out the bag and either defrost, or just run the bag under water to so I can get the whey-block out and put it straight into rice or whatever I'm fermenting.

frozen whey ready to use for fermenting things
I also often substitute kefir for soaked flour recipes where whey or yoghurt is in the recipe.  I find the kefired milk works just the same and as there's always some ready in the fridge its the easiest one to use.  You can use yoghurt, but if its been made from milk powder or pasturised milk with pure yoghurt culture, it may not create a good ferment at room temperature, as yoghurt bacteria prefers slightly higher temperatures.  Cream cheese or kefir that has been fermented at room temperature is more likely to contain bacteria that do well at room temperature, so I think they are better for fermenting beverages and vegetables.

Do you save whey?  What else can you freeze for later?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicken-proof mulch

The best and the worst thing about chickens is their habit of scratching!  This is very useful when you want to create new soil or to break up some of the grass runners and reinvigorate our pasture, however I do not appreciate scratching skills being used around my garden.  The first sign that a chicken has been in my garden is that the mulch has been scratch off, they don't tend to eat much, just make a total mess of all my beautiful mulch!  I have been trying to establish an area outside the garden fence, which is just asking for trouble, so that I have somewhere for crazy rambling plants like sweet potato, artichoke and warrigal greens to grow, however the poor plants can't get started when chickens are constantly scratching away at the mulch.

I can't remember if I saw this somewhere of thought of it myself, but I have come up with a solution.  I gathered a thick layer of leftover round bale and manure and spread it over the area.  I then rolled out some left over chicken wire, which I secured with logs.  So far, after several weeks, the mulch is still there, the chickens can't scratch through the chicken wire.  Haha!  Farmer Liz wins!

The mulched area

chicken wire and logs, so far so good

Warrigal greens under the wire
(will have to remove wire when these start to grow in spring/summer,
so they don't just grow all through the wire)

some other mesh to protect a rue and a wormwood plant
How do you keep your chickens out of your garden?

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

GPS mapping our property

When Pete and I talk about the property and what we want to do where, we often sketch little maps.  Its amazing how different our two perceptions of the property are.  It is an odd shape because it was originally a square, with a sliver of our neighbour's property added a few years ago to make it more of a lower case 'b' shape.  We can never quite agree on the exact shape, although we do have the survey map from when we bought it.  It would be very useful to know accurate distances and areas when it comes to organising grazing areas, running irrigation and fencing, and ordering the right amount of seed for cultivation.  This is all very difficult without a more detailed map, but I was worried that a good map would be difficult and/or expensive to obtain.  Fortunately I was wrong......

The other day I dug out Farmer Pete's fishing GPS unit, its just a little Garmin GPS60.  We both tend to hoard things, so I was also able to find the original software and eventually located the data cable.  Farmer Pete had never really used the software, but after a bit of fiddling, I was able to download all the data from the GPS and had a picture of every fishing trip he's taken the GPS on :)  After reading the manual, I was pretty sure it would help us to map the property.  (Farmer Pete is of the opinion that as he does all the hard manual labour around here that I'd better sort out all the technical/IT stuff, otherwise all I'd be good for is the cooking :), so I suck it up and do my best, but this is not a natural aptitude for me!  Usually if I fiddle around enough, something works!).

So on the next visit to the property, we took the GPS and pushed the 'mark' button at strategic points.  We also walked some of our boundary fences and drove on a few of the internal tracks.  I didn't want to do the entire property until I was sure that the map would be useful.  When we got home I downloaded the data and had a play with the mapping software.  I was very excited to find that I can save each mark as a different point on the map - like "yards", "gates", "fence posts".  I can map out all the tracks and boundary fences, and read off the distances between different points.  I can also put a boundary around several points and read off the area, so if I walk around the cultivation areas I'll be able to measure the area required for seeds.

I found it very useful as the property being on a hill makes it really hard for me to get perspective.  One of the tracks that we drove down I was sure was curved, but on the map it is clearly a direct line between the hay shed and the stock yards.  This is very useful information.  Also, the GPS records elevation, so we can work out the highest point and amount of fall in various areas, it has been very interesting.

You can buy quite expensive mapping software or pay someone to come and do this for you, but with a bit of computer knowledge and a relatively cheap GPS unit, you can do it yourself quite easily.  I am looking forward to taking the GPS with us every time we go out and gradually building up the map to include every point of interest on the property.

Have you tried using a GPS to map your property?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beet Kvass - more fermented beverages!

I've been wanting to try making beet kvass for ages, not that I knew what it tastes like, but I like beetroot and I like fermented beverages, so I thought it would be nice.  I finally managed to get some organic beetroot to make it with, unfortunately mine don't seem to be growing very quickly, but the local organic store at the market had lots this week. 

I followed the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, peeled and chopped the beets, put them in a jug with about a quarter cup of whey, some sea salt and topped it up to 2 L with rainwater.  This sat on the bench for 3 days, then I strained the juice into a bottle and topped up the water again for another batch.  The kvass turns a beautiful dark red after a few days, it tastes like beetroot juice with a slight sourness and fizzyness from the fermentation.  Very refreshing!  Now I just need to grow some beetroot.....

I also made some more ginger ale at the same time because we've been drinking so much of it (it goes pleasantly fizzy in the Grolsh bottles if you add a little extra sugar before bottling, I can hardly keep up with demand!).

Have you tried making beet kvass?  Or any other fermented drinks?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The perfect house cow

Bella has turned out to be the perfect house cow for us, although she might not have suited other people, we find that she is just the right size and the right temperament to be exactly what we needed.  When looking for a house cow, it is important to consider what you really need from a cow, as a good cow for one family may not be a good cow for another.  I've listed below a few points to consider, unfortunately you may not have a huge number of cows to chose from, but at least this will help you to think about which cow will work for you.

Our two dairy cows
Breed and size of cow
Bella is a pure-bred Jersey cow, all Jerseys are relatively small compared to other breeds, and Bella is particularly small even for a Jersey cow.  This means that she is very easy to manage.  If she is being naughty, we can just push her around, unlike a big cow.  It also means that her milk production is lower than a big cow.  We don't need heaps of milk, so it suits us just fine.  She produces about 12 L per day at her peak production, but towards the end of her lactation we were taking about 4 L once a week, which was plenty for our daily milk consumption.  If we wanted to keep making cheese, we could have milked her daily instead.

Horned or polled
When we first saw Bella she had one horn growing around towards her head, so we asked the farmer to cut her horns.  This is not a pleasant process for the cow, and I would never have asked if I didn't think the horn  could potentially damage her.  It is best practice to remove horns from calves as young as possible.  We have left Molly's horns to grow and as long as they keep growing strong and straight, she can keep them.  The main reason that dairy farmers remove horns is to stop cows from hurting each other in the close quarters of the milking shed, and because horned cows can also hurt people if they decide to swing their heads around.  We hope that Molly will stay tame enough that we won't have a problem with her, otherwise future cows will be dehorned at a young age.  The advantage of horns is that it gives the cow a little extra protection against wild dogs so that she can look after herself or her calf.

Although of course the one of the right is still a heifer until she has a calf
Bella is an unusual cow as she was born at a dairy, but hand-raised by a neighbour, and then returned to the dairy after her first calf, because the neighbour moved.  She is very tame, in some ways she is too tame as she has no flight-zone, so she is not scared of us at all and will happily eat things that she's not supposed to while we are yelling and pushing her away.  She is perfect for us as we wanted to use a milking machine, and having spent a few months at a dairy with all the other cows, she was used to going through the milking shed and having milking machine teat cups attached to her.  If you want to hand milk, this isn't so important, and if you are using a machine on a cow who's not used to it, you just have to introduce her to the noise and make sure she's not too scared of it.  I think it would be very difficult to keep a house cow that had not been hand raised or at least had an awful lot of interaction with humans (like Molly, who is not as tame as Bella, but will come to me for a pat).  The important thing is to spend lots of time with the cow and pat her and talk to her while she's eating, eventually she will come to you for a pat and a chat, most dairy cows will follow the cow in front into the milking shed and stand still as she's squashed between other cows, but if you tried to lead her individually to a stall, she wouldn't go with you, dairy cows will still try to walk away from humans, even though they see the farmer twice a day, they are a little tamer than beef cattle, but not completely tame.  As Bella was hand-raised she has always been tame enough to go where we need her to go, especially if we have a bucket of grain or a wooffle of hay in hand!  We have worked hard to spend time will Molly and she is nearly as tame now (although she did recently kick me in the knee when I was trying to remove a burr that was stuck to her udder, thanks Molly!).

Bella also hates dogs.  If the dogs come near her she will try to bunt them, and then chase them away.  Even if they are just standing in the same paddock, she will try to chase them.  Although I feel sorry for the dogs, who only mean well, it is reassuring to know that if any wild dogs or neighbour's dogs come into our paddocks, Bella will defend herself and her calf against them.

Even though she's nearly as tall as her mum!
Teat size
Unfortunately modern cows are bred to have smaller teats to suit milking machines, so if you're planning to hand milk, make sure your cow has nice long teats, otherwise it will take forever to milk her.  Little Bella only has very short teats, and if we hand milk, we can only use a couple of fingers rather than our entire hand.  The bigger cows tend to have longer teats, but Bella's are short even for a Jersey!

Age and calving history
We were so lucky to be offered Bella with her 3rd calf.  This means that we know that she calves well, and that she gets back into calf well.  If you start with a heifer, you don't really know what you're getting, and it can be difficult to AI a heifer (our dairy farmer friend puts all the heifers with a bull as he reckons he can never get them in calf with the AI).  This makes Bella about 4-5 years old though, so we won't have so many useful years from her compared to getting her as a heifer, and you will pay more for a cow than a heifer as you're not taking the risk.

Where to get a house cow??
You can often find house cows advertised on the internet and in the newspaper.  If possible, I would recommend making friends with your nearest dairy farmer.  If you buy from them, at least you know where to go for help!  Not all dairy farmers keep a range of breeds like our friends do, many will only keep (giant) Fresians, so you might have to take some time to find one that has the breed you want if you're looking for a smaller cow.  Offer to help out in the milking shed, we used to go and help milk most nights after work, just for something to do (I know, we're weird) and were rewarded with the occasional bag of feed or bale of hay, and discounted cattle.  This will help you to learn how to work with the cows, how to use the milking machine (and hand milk, as you take out a few squirts before you put on the teat cups) and allow you to ask a million questions while the farmer is stuck in the milking shed with you!  You can then ask the farmer if he has any cows or heifers that you could buy, he might have a small cow that doesn't give enough milk for the dairy, or a heifer calf that he wants to sell.  If you're lucky he might also be able to sell you milk to raise the calf.

And the view from the back
If you are already confident with cows (and dairy cows are a little different than beef cattle, generally more tame as they are used to being handled, and therefore easier to work with) you can probably just buy one from an ad, but if you don't have any experience I would try to get some dairy experience first, even if its just for a few days, so you know what you're getting yourself into!

Do you have a perfect house cow for your family?  Any tips?

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Learning to knit and "mancrafts"

Since my first knitting attempts last winter, I've been determined to learn more.  I do have a history of giving up on things that I am not able to master immediately, so it takes a concerted effort for me to keep picking up the needles and having a go.  I keep having to remind myself that the ladies who are knitting the lovely items that I admire in blog-land ( here and here and here and here) probably didn't just pick up needles and learn how to do clever lace stitches overnight (if you did, please don't burst my bubble, its the only thing keeping me going)!  I seem to be improving just enough to keep motivated, and my ultimate goal is to learn how to knit a vest.  
the completed cowl
So far I have made the headband/ear warmer last winter and this year I have made a cowl "in the round", although it ended up twisted, apparently this can be done intentionally to make a "mobius cowl", and I'm glad I learnt that it could happen on something that didn't matter too much either way!  I don't think a beanie will work if I twist it.  I love knitting in the round because you just keep going around and around and don't have to remember where you're up to :)

Since I finished the cowl, I watched lots of youtube videos and worked out ribbing (turns out I was purling wrong, never realised that it mattered which way you wound the wool around, important details!) and I've finished another cowl/short neck warmer thingy with buttons this time.  Slowly I'm gaining all the skills I need for a vest - I've also bought a couple of vest pattern books from op shops, so I am trying to learn each of the techniques that will be required.  And the local market has a haberdashery stall with lots of wool and needles, so I've stocked up on practice wool and various necessary tools.  However, I only just realised the wool comes in different plys or weights, so much to learn before I'm ready for that vest!!!

changing colour!

And I figured out ribbing!!
I've been trying to find a mentor at work, but none of the ladies will admit to being a knitting genius.  One lady asked why I was bothering because it would be cheaper to just buy a scarf.  I don't even know how to answer these questions, they totally put me off because I can't believe that someone can't see the value in learning a new skill, that can be used to produce unique and local clothing, to occupy me while I'm just watching TV anyway, and may even be a survival tool in the event that we can no longer buy cheap clothing made in China (also its not cheaper when I buy the wool from the market and op shops!).

And this is another finished cowl with buttons :)

This what I'm aiming for....

And then to challenge myself even further, Linda from the Greenhaven Goodlife kindly sent me some wool and needles to make socks as part of her one year anniversary giveaway following on from Linda's own sock knitting successes.  For some reason she said it wasn't that difficult!!!!  It took me three goes just to get started on the double-pointed needles, but I think I've got it now, it might end up being a very long sock as I keep going around and around before I get up the courage to start the heel.  Fortunately I've found some more brilliant tutorials on youtube which have really helped as I find the patterns really hard to decipher!  I'm starting to feel quite confident with my knitting, so its been worth persevering, actually its starting to become a little addictive....

When I brought out the knitting needles, Pete decided it was time for some "mancraft" of his own :)  We had bought some new rope for tying things onto the back of the ute (when owning a ute, a collection of ropes and straps is essential and ours were wearing out).  Instead of buying synthetic rope, we bought a 100m roll of sisal rope (this stuff is fascinating, read more here, it wasn't much cheaper to buy 20m, so we just bought a big roll).  As sisal is a natural fibre rather than synthetic, you can't just burn the ends to stop it from fraying, you have to whip the ends old-style.  Pete found instructions on this site useful, and has made several ropes of different lengths and with nice loops at one end. These rope ends should last better than the synthetic ropes, that always seem to start to fray eventually.  Also when the rope is worn out we can just put it in the compost, as it is a natural fibre.  So while I've been knitting, Pete has been sitting by the fire whipping ropes, next he'll start whittling clothes pegs or something, got to love those mancrafts!

Farmer Pete's rope

Finished end

What craft are you working on at the moment?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Corn relish - lactofermented and "normal"

We bought 8 corn cobs for $2 at the farmers market and knew we couldn't eat all of it and I really really wanted to try making relish (was hoping to grow corn, but that didn't work out), so it was a perfect opportunity to try a fermented relish and a vinegar relish based on these recipes:
They both started the same way, cut the corn from the cob, chop some capsicum, cucumber, tomato and blend.

For the vinegar relish I then cooked about half the corn/vege mixture with salt, sugar, vinegar, tumeric, cumin, mustard and pepper.

The other half of the mixture was mixed cold with whey, salt and coriander (by the way, I freeze the whey, so it hasn't been sitting the fridge since January!)

These are the finished products, lactofermented relish on the left, vinegar relish on the right.

  • I like the taste of both relishes, the lactofermented relish is "fresher" tasting, especially with the coriander.
  • The lactofermented relish is quicker to make, has less ingredients, and doesn't have to be cooked.  It will also last longer as I don't have a pressure canner to preserve the vinegar pickle for longer (and that's a bit pointless for one jar anyway!).
  • Lactofermenting results can be variable (in my experience so far) and don't always get eaten before they go off, but then neither does the vinegar pickle.
Just in case you think I'm a fermenting genius, below are two fermenting fails.  There are still some pickles that are ok, but this jar went mouldy and we never finished the sauerkraut, I think we just don't like it that much.  It has been fun to experiment though and to try new foods and preserving methods.

Do you ferment anything?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Soil testing at the new property - part 2

I have to apologise for being totally slack in updating you on our soil test results.  It was a crazy time of ploughing, buying seed, buying organic fertiliser, spreading the seed and waiting for rain.  I will also warn you in advance that I'm still not sure what to do with these test results, so this is more of an update post on what I know now, but I still have an awful lot to learn.

the oats have started to grow!
When we did soil testing at eight acres, it was to see what minerals were likely to be missing from the animals' diets so that we could supplement what they weren't getting naturally.  In that case it was quite easy to analyse the results, and we didn't take any action to improve the soil as such.  This time we wanted to know if our crops would grow and that made things more complicated.

After we did the initial tests on the Cheslyn Rise soil samples (see part 1), we fully intended to also test for dispersion and slaking but we didn't get around to it, if you're interested, I've explained more below.  We sent the samples that we chose from part 1 to the APAL lab and we received the mineral analysis results in a couple of weeks.
(Dispersion and slaking describes the "structural stability of soil aggregates upon wetting".  Slaking is when a soil aggregate falls apart as it is wet, whereas dispersion is the clay dissolving in the water itself.  Both properties are undesirable as they lead to formation of a hard crust on the soil surface and poor transport of water and oxygen in the soil due to blocked pores.  As far as I can tell, both properties can be improved by sufficient organic matter, and are not helped by excessive soil cultivation.)
APAL provides the results in a table and graphical format, with a very good information sheet to explain what everything means.  If you pay extra they will work out quantities of minerals to spread on your land per hectare, but we didn't want to do that, so I only paid for the basic analysis.

When I looked at the results I thought they were pretty terrible, with the calcium and magnesium totally out of balance, and low potassium and phosphorous, however when I sent it away to a few organic fertiliser producers, they said it looked ok.  I suppose that is compared to some of the really bad results that they've seen!  One point to remember is be careful who you go to for advice.  Someone at work told me that the local produce will analyse the samples for free.  Great deal!  But they don't give you the results, they just tell you how much fertiliser to buy.  And even some organic fertiliser people may tell you the wrong thing, just to get you to buy more.

I wasn't overly very happy with the advice that we got in the end.  The company just told us to use 1 tonne per 10 acres, which seemed to be their standard advice and not based on the soil tests or the needs of out proposed crop of oats.  We were in a hurry to get the seeds in the ground, and the fertiliser was reasonably priced, so we thought it was better than nothing and would at least get us started.  Now I want to know more about soil improvement, crop rotation, hay making, and methods for broadacre cropping.  I know what works on a 10m2 garden, now how do I apply that to 25 acres of cultivation??  I'd love to just pile on the compost and mulch, but that's not practical.  As soon as we know what we're doing, I'll write a more detailed post!  We have a sample of a bio-active fertiliser spray, which should be very interesting.

I suppose the lesson is to know what you want to get out of a test before you start.  If you're testing for minerals so you can supplement your animals' feed, the test is easy to interpret.  Even if you wanted to find out what's missing from your garden soil, it wouldn't be too difficult to then buy and spread around the minerals that you needed.  On a larger scale, the answer is not so simple, and I'm not convinced that all the organic fertiliser companies know what they're doing either!  Now its time to find out for myself....

soil sample 1

soil sample 2 - that magnesium worries me, also OM  (organic matter) is low
Have you had your soil tested?  What did you do with the results?

Never miss a post! Sign up here for our weekly email...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Suggested Reading