Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In other words - 2012 update

Apart from the kitchen, garden, chickens, cattle and farm that I already wrote about, there were a few other interesting things that didn't fit into any category.

Chicken update
Garden update
Kitchen update
Cattle update
Farm update

I reviewed a book about plastic, and even though I’m a chemical engineer, I learnt a fair bit about plastic from this book, so I recommend that you read this or something similar.  It really made me realise that these are new chemicals and they don’t belong in our bodies or our ecosystems.  I can’t say that I live completely plastic-free, but it did make me try so much harder to look for plastic-free options.

Over winter I had another go at knitting and, thanks to youtube, I got a little better, mastered purling and ribbing and made a few cowls and things.  Knitting just feels wrong in summer, so I have a half-finished sock ready to start again in winter 2013!  Something that I really want to try is making a rag rug, I got a bag of rags from the op-shop, so I will try to give that a go in 2013.

We’ve been looking after little Chime the kelpie for nearly 2 years now, and looks like she might be staying a bit longer, which is great because Cheryl the kelpie seems to like having a companion.  I made them both new dog coats and mats, which they don’t get to use much, but nice when its cold or they get wet.  I also wrote a bit about kelpies as some of my international readers probably don’t know much about this unique Aussie working dog breed.

Its been nearly a year since I used any shampoo or soap to wash my hair and I think its working out great.  My hair doesn’t look greasy or unhealthy.  I haven’t had to buy any hair products and deal with trying to figure out what all the ingredients are.  I know it won’t work for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a try… I haven't washed my hair since January

Over winter we had the woodfire cranking again.  It is a very convenient way to heat the house when we have so much wood on our property and we can also use it to cook.  We don’t use our electric stove much at all, as the woodfire is always lit in winter and we use the BBQ in summer as its quick to heat up (and doesn’t heat up the house as well).  If anyone is considering wood-fired heating, I would encourage you to look at something you can use for cooking as well.

What do you think?  What "other" things did you get up to this year?  

Monday, December 17, 2012

On the Farm - 2012 update

In March this year we bought Cheslyn Rise, a 258 A property in Kumbia, South of Kingaroy and about half an hour drive from where we live at Nanango.  The property has no house, just a hay shed, stock yards, good fences and lots of trees!  We plan to develop the property and some of our influences will be Peter Andrews (hence the trees) and Joel Salatin, as well as some of the things we have already found useful at Eight Acres.  See the links below for more details.

Natural Sequence Farming - using Peter Andrews' methods

Our first big decision was the tractor, and once we had that sorted, we could get on with baling the sorghum hay that was already planted, and then plough and plant our own oats (after doing a soil test).  We learnt a whole lot about how to manage our pasture and how to integrate forage and hay into our system.  We’re still thinking about the best way to feed our animals and improve our pasture and carrying capacity.  Ideas include no-till “pasture cropping” and using biological agriculture.  I went to a course on sustainable agriculture – which covered biological agriculture and I’m currently reading more about it.  Its all about improving the soil – minerals, microbes and structure – to grow better forage and pasture.  I will write more about it when we decide what to do, but I promise there will be some compost tea brewing in the near future!

About soil testing and sustainable agriculture

We also learnt a bit more about fencing and made lots of use of the electric fence so that Bella could graze the house yard and I didn’t have to mow (she’s my lawn moo-er).

We started to map out our property using GPS, this is a cheap and easy way to figure out size of paddocks and relative location of things.  If you have basic computer skills and a GPS (or GPS app on a smart thingy), it would even be useful on a smaller property.

I also wrote some thoughts about organics.  I read the organic standard and tried to tell you what it meant.  But on the other hand, organic eggs don’t even taste like the ones I make at home, so organic isn’t everything…

I also discovered a very exciting philosophy called permaculture, and I have been reading lots more about it, so you probably won’t be able to shut me up in 2013, actually I was thinking of having a permaculture principle as a theme each month (well there are 12, so its hard to resist).

If you still don’t know what permaculture is, or where it came from, well I’ll just a beginner, but I linked to lots of things in this first post that may help you.  And then I read Linda Woodrow’s wonderful book on home garden permaculture and made my own hugelkultur.  I keep forgetting to take a photo of the hugelkultur, but it is working quite well at preventing further erosion of the bank, just taking a while to get anything growing as it’s a hot and dry spot.

What have you been up to on your "farm"?  

Chicken update
Garden update
Kitchen update
Cattle update

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cattle for beef and dairy - 2012 Update

We’ve now had Bella for about 18 months and have learnt so much about owning a house cow!  As I mentioned in my kitchen update, having access to raw milk has allowed me to experiment with lots of the recipes in Nourishing Traditions.  Bella has a very gentle nature, but she is her own cow, and will tell us very clearly (usually by kicking) if she is not happy with something we are doing.

Bella with her foster calf Romeo
I wrote a post about choosing a house cow, often you don’t have much choice, we were offered Bella and had to decide if we would take her, but this might help you to know what to look for and how to find yourself a house cow.  We also learnt early on how to milk Bella, how to manage mastitis, how to arrange for the vet to AI her so she could get back in calf and finally weaning Molly to prepare for the next calf.  We then went through the birth of Bella's calf, which died, and had to get a foster calf, which she eventually accepted.  Finally we are now going to have to make some decisions about castrating the little foster calf, which I will write up in more detail, but here is a post about castrating little Rocket.  We also bought Donald the Dexter bull and he has successfully got Molly pregnant.  That was much less interesting than having the vet do AI!

Miss Molly
Links about House Cows
The perfect house cow (not that Bella is perfect!)

Big D-onald the dexter bull
In the middle of the year we had another steer killed (Bratwurst) and spent a morning packing the meat into the freezer.  I’ve now written three posts of home butchering, which may be of interest if you haven’t done it before.  Following the butchering, we then started to process the hide.  It is currently still under salt in the shed, because we’ve been too busy to start it, but we hope it will come out as good as the last one we did.

Links about Butchering
Home butcher vs meatworks
Homekill meat - some tips for beginners
Homekill butchering
Tanning a hide
Tanning a steer hide - update and answers

Early in the, year we also bought an additional, much larger property, so that we could start to have more cattle and develop a truly sustainable and self-sufficient property, with some excess to sell as well (more to come in the farm update).  This led to some interesting experiences, firstly with the steers that we bought and then had to chase around our property after then got through some fences.  This got us thinking about the beef cattle industry and we decided that we would rather keep cows than buy other people’s (crazy) weaner steers.  We then found a lovely herd of Braford cows and calves, which we brought to the new property.  Then a couple of the calves got sick and we found that we had paralysis ticks on the property and had to work out how to deal with them.

We had lots of decisions about managing the cattle and suddenly they are governed not just by our own preferences, but by the preferences of “the market”.  We now need to consider whether to vaccinate, how to castrate, and when to dehorn our calves.  We have had one attempt at working the entire herd through our cattle yards to put insecticidal ear tags in the calves, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could move them all through with just the two of us in about two hours.  We will soon be getting our first Braford bull too.  There is still much to learn, but the more I am finding out about Brafords, the more I love them, there will be much more to write soon.

Benny the orphan
Links about Beef Cattle

A herd of Braford cows
How about your cattle?  Do you have a house cow or a herd?  How did they do this year?  What did you learn?  Please comment or link to your own post below.

Chicken update
Garden update
Kitchen update

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chickens for meat and eggs - 2012 update

a free-ranging hen
My all time most popular post is the first one I wrote about chicken tractors, I had no idea that it would be so useful or interesting, so I wrote a few follow-up posts this year with as much detail as I could think of.  We also made a new tractor, so I was able to follow the process from start to finish and write a nice detailed post.  Our chickens spend the day in their tractors and the afternoon free-ranging (if they're well-behaved).

the new chicken tractor

some chickens demonstrating one of the old tractors
 We haven’t used the incubator again since March this year, we want to get through the Christmas break without having chicks to look after, so will start in January.  Last year we managed to improve our hatch rate (from a very low base), and in the end we had a good number of replacement pullets and roosters for the freezer.  By next winter we should be able to cull some older hens and roosters again too.  We also bought some more White Leghorns to expand our breeding stock, and I wrote a bit about why we stick with the heritage breeds and how to tell the gender of the chicks.

Incubator intricacies...

Caring for baby chicks

Buying new chickens

Determining the gender of young chickens

Why choose heritage breeds of chickens and vegetables

more chickens in a tractor
If you want chicks, you need a rooster (or three) and I wrote a bit about our crazy roosters.

deck chickens thinks she's a dog
And then how to butcher them….

butchering the chickens
I solved a few common chicken problems…

question for next year - why doesn't Boris have a tail?
Experimented with different chicken feeds….

And recommended an excellent chicken book

more hens....
By the end of the year we are getting 10 eggs a day from 19 hens of various ages.  We have four roosters, three living in one tractor all together. I am hoping we will soon get some guinea fowl, so I'll be able to tell you all about them next year  How are your chickens doing this year?  Please comment below and feel free to post a link to your own blog if you’ve written a similar summary.

Wilbur posing for the camera

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

Chris from Gully Grove

Going Grey and Slightly Green

Monday, December 10, 2012

How my garden grew - 2012 Update

Last summer - successes
  • 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 and dried out.   
  • Basil - last year it grew to one metre 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.

the garden in summer
Last summer - Failures
  • 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 autumn, don't like too hot or too cold.
  • Pumpkins - I started them early, expecting Dec rain like last year and then it was just hot and dry, so most withered, no pumpkins harvested :(
  • 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.

Winter 2012 - Successes
  • Kale - wow I wish I had known about kale before!  It grows really well in my garden, it is still going, even though the other brasicas have gone to seed already.  I used it in every meal, it is good cooked or raw, stirred into casseroles, salads, quiche or just steamed with other veges.  
  • Cabbage - they didn't grow huge, but enough to make a few coleslaws and chow mein.
  • Mustard greens - these grew really well and have only just gone to seed
  • Silver beet and chard - also did well, but weren't needed as much because there was so much kale to eat :)  starting to go to seed again now though, plenty to share with the chickens
  • Root veges – carrots, turnip, swede, beetroot, radish - this was my first year trying to grow carrots, turnips and swedes, and they did really well, I will be planting more next season.  Beets and radish did not do well over winter, planted more for summer.
  • Broad beans - my first attempt at growing broad beans, they only have a small window here between being too cold and too hot, but its good to have something growing well in early spring at that time while other plants are finishing.
  • Peas - tried 'Lacy Lady' peas that were given to me, they produced well at the same time as the broad beans, much better than last year, so I think the ideal system is to start them in the green house around the end of August to let them get to a decent size before planting out, as they are frost sensitive at the growth tips.
  • Frost preparations - the little greenhouse that I bought to get all my favourites through the winter worked very well.  Only the eggplant didn't make it through.  This gives the chillis a headstart.
The garden in winter
Winter 2012 - Failures
  • Mushrooms - I tried to grow mushrooms using spent mushroom compost and it kept drying out too much.  I put the compost on the garden instead, and now mushrooms are popping up everywhere, but I'm too scared to harvest them just in case they're not the right ones.
  • Garlic - I think the soil was too wet through winter (too enthusiastic with the sprinkler) and the garlic cloves didn't form more cloves.  Think I will grow garlic in a separate container next year, so I can get the soil/water right.
  • Broccoli - still didn't get many big heads and a few of the plants never produced a head at all (fed the plants to Bella instead)
This Summer so far....

  • bed 1 - tomatoes (taxi, tropic, swift, roma, amish paste and some randoms from the compost), herbs (basil, coriander, marigold).  Still waiting on a swede, turnip and carrot to go to seed.
  • bed 2 - carrots (mixed), radish (mixed), beets (mixed), silverbeet, kale, chives, lettuce, broccoli (which went to seed and is now regrowing, leaving it as an experiment) 
  • bed 3 - dill, chillis, eggplant, mustard (going to seed), beets and silverbeet, the garlic failure (just going to mulch over it and see if they try again next season), ginger, potato (popped up again from last year)
  • bed 4 -corn, bush beans (soy, burgandy, borlotti, butter)
  • around the sides - climbing beans (princess, and saved), cucumber, pickling cucumber, trombocino, poor mans beans, pineapples (I just keep trying!), caldendula, cosmos
  • in pots - oregano, yarrow, thyme, peppermint, mint, strawberries, soapwort, chillis, comfrey, lemon grass, tarragon, rosemary, rosellas
  • the curcubit extension - pumpkin (golden nugget, delicata), squash (button), water melon (sugar baby)
  • around the outside - rue, tansy, wormwood, comfrey, arrowroot, artichoke, geranium, nasturtium, lavender, one surviving paw paw
The corn is doing better than usual, but I've had some setbacks with getting the curcubits started, as the chickens keep getting in and digging them up.  I'm looking forward to lots of tomatoes this year...

Other new projects from 2012

  • Worm farm - I bought a worm farm mid-year and started with a handful of worms from a friend's wormfarm, they have now bred, and wormfarm is full of worms and tiny brown frogs.  I harvest the worm tea every few weeks, but I haven't harvested any compost yet, that should be a post of next year!
  • Compost - I'm still running my compost bin too, so if the worms are full the kitchen scraps go in the compost, otherwise its mainly cow manure and wasted hay.  I also still have my compost tea drum, which I also pour around the garden every few weeks.
  • Aquaponics - this is a very unfinished project!  We have had a kit for nearly year, but the instructions followed the kit several months later, so that was our first excuse, and then we went and bought Cheslyn Rise, having only completed the roof of the shed for the aquaponics.  There is much more to do and we're trying not to stress about it.  We are going to set it up at Nanango so we can learn about it, and do a better set-up at Chesleyn Rise when we move, if we get on with it, we might be able to time it with the fish being the ideal size to harvest the whole lot just when we want to move it....
  • Saving seed - this year I have continued to save seeds from anything that decides to seed.  Not only does this save money, it also ensures that we have seeds available into the future.  I have saved seeds from beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, pumpkin and brasicas.  I need to learn more about saving seed from biennials such as swede and carrot though. 
How did your garden grow this year?  What are you plans for next year?  Feel free to post a link in the comments if you've done a similar review on your blog...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Real Food in my Kitchen - 2012 update

As I said the in previous post, I'm going to use December as an opportunity to reflect and summarise what we've done at Eight Acres (and more recently, Cheslyn Rise) over the previous couple of years.  I particularly want to review the things that are working well and have become habits in our daily lives.

The big exciting achievement this year was baking my own bread since April.  We have bought no bread (apart from the occasional bread stick), and I have come to method that works, doesn’t take up too much time, tastes great and can be cooked in the woodstove or the BBQ.

Posts about bread:

Homemade bread since April

Earlier in the year I wrote a series of reviews on Nourishing Traditions.  If you haven’t heard of this book, its about preparing and eating traditional foods, like stocks, fermented foods, organ meats, sprouts and soaked grains.  I am gradually trying different recipes or at least being inspired by some of the concepts.  It is a tough book for some people, and it does really help to have a dairy cow, but I think that everyone can get something useful out of it, even if you can't use every single recipe yourself.  I also wrote about a another useful book on the "peasant diet", called Frugavore.

The chapter reviews:

Nourishing Traditions - Snacks, desserts and "super foods"

Beet Kvass and Ginger Ale
Some of the recipes that I’ve tried from Nourishing Traditions:

Speaking of the dairy cow, we’ve had Bella for over a year now, and I’ll write more about milking and calves in another post, but we have certainly learnt a whole lot about cheese and dairy products since she came to Eight Acres, starting with raw milk….

Easy Peasy Raw Milk Cheeses – making cream cheese
Cheese making basics – making hard cheeses

making cheese
Late last year I bought a dehydrator and I have found plenty of uses for it this year to help preserve herbs and other veges and to dry herbs for tea.

dehydrating chillies
We went on a couple of holidays, and as always we sampled lots of the local foods, here are some of the highlights:

Strawberry picking on the Sunshine Coast
And finally, if you’re still with me, here’s a few of my rambling thoughts about food, growing your own and meeting your needs:

lots of green veges over winter!
What about you?  What are your real food achievements this year?  Please share in the comments and feel free to link to your own post if you do a similar summary (I'm too lazy to set up a linky, just put a link in the comments).  

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