Thursday, March 28, 2013

Toxic Oil - book review

Reading David Gillespie's "Sweet Poison" was a turning point for me.  He explained in plain language how fructose is metabolised by the body and persuaded me to seriously cut back on our sugar consumption.  I was so convinced, I also bought the sequel "Sweet Poison Quit Plan".  So naturally, when I heard that David was about to publish a book called "Toxic Oil" on the dangers of vegetable oils, of which I was already vaguely aware, I was keen to get a copy.  Penguin sent me a copy to review, and once again, I found it very easy to follow and was convinced of David's arguments against vegetable oils.

There's no way I can explain this as well as David does, so I will try to summarise, and if you're interested, you really need to get the book yourself.

The first thing you need to know is that eating fat doesn't make you fat.  This hypothesis was never really proven before it became a public health message.  If you've read "Sweet Poison" (and you should), you will understand that its actually sugar that makes you fat.  Although many people are still not aware that eating fat doesn't make you fat, David is not the first to try to bring it to public attention, see this video for an excellent explanation of why we have been lied to for so long.  In researching this review, I've been surprised to see how controversial this first point is, many people are just repeating the public health messages, without any idea of how fat is metabolised or how bad the science was that led to the original message.  When you read the way David explains both the science and the politics around oil and fat, just as he did for sugar, you will understand that we have been told lies for years.  So while there is no reason to avoid all fat, some fat is better than others.

And then to add to the controversy, David also proves that eating cholesterol and saturated fat does not lead to heart disease. Again, this wasn't a shock to me, but if you're new to this stuff, you may need to read the book and convince yourself.  There's also plenty of good science about the bad science that lead to this myth on this website.

Now you need to know a little bit about fats and oils.  Fats and oils are made up of triglycerides, which is to say they are three long chains of carbon and hydrogen joined to a glyceride molecule. Saturated triglycerides are generally solid at room temperature because the molecules all pack together more closely.  Monounstaturated triglycerides have one double bond, causing the molecules to kink a little and polyunsaturated triglycerides have multiple double bonds and even more kinks.  The kinks mean that the molecules can't pack together as tightly, so the triglycerides are liquid at room temperature.  All fats and oils are composed of some saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated triglycerides.  Generally fats are solid (and therefore more saturated) and oils are liquid (and less saturated) at room temperature, but essentially they are the same thing.

If you're not following the chemistry, all you need to know is that our body metabolises saturated and monounsaturated triglycerides better than polyunsaturated triglycerides, in fact polyunsaturated tricglycerides, with all their unsaturated bonds, are not good for our body chemistry at all, so we should aim to eat mostly saturated and monounsaturated triglycerides.  Most seed and nut oils contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated triglycerides and should therefore be avoided.  This agrees with Nourishing Traditions, which says that traditional societies ate more saturated and monosaturated triglycerides, as nut and seed oils, which are extracted using chemical processes, were not available.

If you're up to date with the latest nutritional advice, this may sound like total heresy, but if you refer back to my first point, you will see why the official advice is bogus.  Forget everything the food companies the government, tells you about food, and try to rely more on common sense and eating the way your grandparents did and you'll be fine.....

So what fats should we be eating?  Tallow, lard, butter,palm oil and coconut oil are mostly saturated triglycerides (although David also discusses the source of these oils and believes that we shouldn't use palm oil due to rainforest destruction).  Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated triglycerides.  Macadamia and avocado oil aren't too bad either.  Everything else including canola, sunflower, safflower, corn and peanut oil are over 30% polyunsaturated and should be avoided.  Unfortunately these are the "good oils" that we now find in most processed foods, including crackers, chips, curry paste margarine, and mayonnaise  as well as nearly all forms of fast food.  This means you're going to have to get really good at reading labels and probably also preparing some of these things for yourself.

Now just to be confusing, our bodies do need a small amount of polyunsaturated triglycerides for some very specific bodily functions.  You might have heard of omega 3 and omega 6.  These are polyunsaturated triglycerides that our body needs and cannot synthesis itself.  Fortunately we get plenty of omega 6 from the seed and nut oils that are in just about everything, but not enough omega 3.  If we don't get the right ratio of the two omegas, our body will use omega 6 instead, and this will disrupt the processes that are supposed to use omega 3.  So you need to make sure you don't have too much nut and seed oil, and you do try to consume a source of omega 3.  For this reason, I take a teaspoon each of flaxseed oil and cod liver oil each day, as they are both good sources of omega 3.  Leafy green veges and anything that's eaten leafy green veges (ie free range grass-fed meat and eggs) are also high in omega 3, and conversely anything grain-fed is high in omega 6.

The great thing about David's book is that, after he explains all the science, he analyses the ingredients in lots of common foods and suggests the safest option, as well as including recipes for homemade alternatives where there is no good option.  For us, this is not a big deal, because we already avoid so much processed foods, however it did give me some more knowledge of what to look for on ingredients lists.  And even though we live in the peanut capital of Australia, I think we will be cutting down on peanuts and peanut oil!

There were a few things that I thought David missed, and considering how much he did cover, that can be excused.  I suppose he is aiming this book at people who aren't as dedicated to avoiding processed foods as I am, but I really don't support eating refined olive oil that has been chemically processed, I'd rather stick to the cold-pressed olive oil.  Also the controversy around canola oil was not discussed, and I think it could have easily filled another book, so that's probably a good thing, although he does conclude that its too high in polyunsaturated triglycerides and best avoided anyway.

One other thing that I really appreciated, was near the start of the book where David says he's not a nutritionist or health professional, he's actually a lawyer, and his skill is to analysis evidence and present an argument.  I agree with him, that you don't need to be a nutritionist, or even have a science background, to understand and explain how the body metabolises elements of our food, and how we've come to be eating completely the wrong things.  I actually think that David has more credibility because he hasn't been indoctrinated with all the wrong information that nutritionists and doctors learn at university, he is able to keep an open mind and explain what he finds out in simple language.  I notice that this is another point of criticism on the book, that David is "not qualified" just because he's analysed the data for himself and is not just repeating the same lines that we are used to hearing.  As a non-health-professional myself, I do think its actually possible for someone who is fairly intelligent, as David clearly is, to read scientific papers unrelated to one's primary profession and draw conclusions, its just a shame that no government-funded nutritionist has bothered to do so (or not that we have heard about publicly anyway - conspiracy theory: food companies are very happy for you to have the wrong idea about fats and oils, so we remain misinformed).

Now I have to apologise for making your life so much more complicated.  Now you need to try to avoid sugar AND vegetable oil.  Fortunately there are David's books to help you with reading labels and recipes for making your own, as well as a world of blogs about eating real food.  So do some research for yourself and start eliminating and substituting all those toxic oils, good luck!

What do you think?  Will you start eating more lard and butter and cut out the toxic vegetable oils?  Get into some cod liver oil with breakfast??  Chuck out the margarine?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Incubating chicken eggs

In the past we have had varying success with incubating chicken eggs. This time last year I really wanted to improve our hatch rate and I did some research, which I summarised here. What I found out was that there are lots of things that can affect the hatch rate. Here's how we changed the way we did things and increased our hatch from 5 out of 48 to 34 out of 48, based on the points I raised in the last post.

I should also say, that it would be more in keeping with permaculture principle "obtain a yield" for us to let a broody hen do the work of hatching and raising chicks, but incubating gives us more control over the process, even if it is more work.

Temperature control is the most important aspect of incubation, it must be 38degC to half a degree.

Humidity should be 55-65% for the first 18 days, then 80% for the last 3 days (stop turning at day 18 as well, so the chick can get ready to hatch).

The eggs should be turned 2-3 times per day, more often if possible, either tapered end facing down, or egg on its side.

We suspected that our incubator temperature control might have been a little dodgy, so we put a digital thermometer in the incubator as well. It always pays to measure things in a couple of ways. It still might be a little hot, as all the chicks popped out two days early, so that is something to adjust for next time. Our incubator controls the humidity based on the day counter, and one of our bad hatches was when I accidentally reset the counter half way through, so the humidity was never increased at the end of the incubation. If your incubator doesn't have a humidity control, it helps to buy a digital humidity meter so you can get this part right. Our incubator rocks the eggs in a cradle, every 2 hours, so that is plenty of turning.

Label the eggs with date and rooster to make fault-finding easier.

Candle the eggs to check for embryo development - remove clear eggs after around 10 days - also candle eggs that didn't hatch to check if they had any development.

We didn't have a chance to label the eggs this time, as my father-in-law collected them while we were on holiday.

Make sure your chickens are getting all the minerals and nutrients they need for fertility.

After we figured out that the hens were eating their eggs due to lack of minerals, I have been making a real effort to give them shell grit and minerals.  The egg shells are noticeably thicker, which means the shell can protect the developing chick.  The extra minerals may have also helped with fertility and viability of the chick if there was a deficiency previously.

Some other aspects that I have since thought about and didn't cover previously:

Have enough roosters for the number of hens - just to make sure that no hens are "missing out"

We currently have three Rhode Island Red roosters and 16 hens (8 Rhode Island Red, 7 White Leghorns and 1 cross).  Previously we only had one rooster for this many hens, so I'm sure that has made a difference.
Choose only clean dry eggs to incubate.

Previous bad hatches have been after we returned from weekends away to find nests full of eggs and just chucked them all in the incubator, sometimes they had been damp from rainy weather.  The eggs have a better chance if they are clean and dry.  I have been trying really hard to keep the nest boxes clean, so that the eggs stay clean, and we only put the best clean eggs in the incubator this time.  As my father-in-law collected the eggs regularly through the day, they didn't have a chance to get wet or dirty in the nest.

Do you have any tips to improve hatch-rate?

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, March 25, 2013

Our holiday in New Zealand's South Island

I bet you've been waiting to see some holiday snaps from our holiday to New Zealand.... which now seems like a very long time ago!

We started off in Christchurch, arriving around 2am, and spent two days with my brother having a look around.  I haven't been to Christchurch since I was 14, but I did remember that is was a beautiful city, with a tram in the CBD and a gondola in the hills.  Well I under-estimated the impact of the earthquakes.  The main one was over two years ago, so I thought it would be just about back to normal.  Its not, and the tram and gondola are not running, but seeing the city for myself helped me to realise what my brother is going through as his city recovers.  And there are still plenty of things to do and see there.

Here we are up in the Port Hills overlooking the harbour
that's as far as you can go along the Port Hills now

and then we found a craft brewery

and enjoyed some very nice beer 
Then we picked up a campervan and spent eight days travelling around the south of the South Island.  First stop was Mt Cook.

On the way to the Hooker Glacier from Mt Cook

and there's Mt Aspiring in the background
(I think, oh I hope I haven't got the mountains all mixed up!)

On the way back along Lake Pukaki we found Peters lookout

and it was cold!
Then we headed to Dunedin to see my cousin, and stopped to pick up some cheese and some more cheese, and some stone fruit and some smoked salmon....

Evansdale Cheese
Dunedin was a BIG city and not great in the BIG campervan, so we were happy to move on and check out Milford Sound.  We stayed there, right at Milford Sound in the carpark of the lodge.  We like staying in weird places when we have a campervan.  We did the boat trip out on the Sound and then we drove back around to Queenstown.  I reckon the road was even more amazing than the boat trip!

Milford Sound "artistic shot"
The "Homer Tunnel" on the way to Milford Sound, its one way, so you have to wait at each end
and there was SNOW visible from where we had to wait

This innocent little Kea bird tried to destroy our campervan at Milford Sound

Peter trying to see Australia from the end of Milford Sound :)
I didn't really take any photos in Queenstown.  We weren't that impressed with it.  Too many tourists!  I just thought we should go there so that Pete would see what it was like seeing as everyone kept telling him how great it was.  Not our kind of place at all.  We took the highest highway in New Zealand from Queenstown to Wanaka via the Crown Range, which was an amazing view and little bit scary in the big campervan!  And then we just kept going, one lake started to look like the last lake and we ended up crossing the Haast Pass.  The West Coast was a real contrast, after going through all those tourist areas, suddenly there were hardly any towns or people between Haast and Fox Glacier.

we stopped in the pub at Haast for a feed of whitebait patties 

Gillespies beach at Fox Glacier is beautiful, although the sign said
"steep, narrow and windy for next 15km" and probably wasn't
the smartest place to go in a giant campervan
we got up early, as usual, and were one of the first people up at Fox Glacier
- don't pay $100 each or a guided tour, there is a perfectly good path to walk on! 
From Fox Glacier we headed north to Hokitika, stopping at Franz Josef Glacier, and Ross.  In Ross I bought a greenstone pendant from a local guy who works and sells out of his house opposite the museum.  We talked to him for about an hour,about greenstones and triathalons and his pet goat, he was friendly and generous with his knowledge (and his homegrown tomatoes) and I'm so pleased to know I got a genuine piece of greenstone (he showed me the rock it came from and everything), here's his website if you're interested.  At Hokitika we saw all the mass-produced greenstone shops, which is not as nice, and visited the kiwi-house.  I LOVE seeing Kiwis, even though I generally don't agree with keeping any animals captivity (unless you're going to eat them of course).  The South Island Kiwis are huge, like a big rooster size, so that was worth going for a look (unfortunately no photos though).

Steve's studio in Ross
The beach at Hokitika
And that was the end of another fabulous campervan tour as the next day we returned to the east coast via Arthur's pass and stayed near Amberley at Leithfield Beach (and stopped at the Brew Moon Cafe there too, nice beer!).  

I was getting homesick and there's duck were helping me clean out the last of our food as we packed up.
They reminded me of my chickens!
We returned the campervan the next morning and got on a plane to Wellington to spend some time with my family and friends.  Three highlights were a visit to Otaki Beach, meeting Emma from Craving Fresh and here lovely family, and dinner with friends at "Big Bad Wolf" in Wellington, which specialises in different sausages.

Otaki Beach
with Emma from Craving Fresh

Dinner at Big Bad Wolf
Even though there were lots of beach scenes, we didn't go swimming once, it was freezing!  But we had a lovely relaxing time, with lots of good food and good company.  And then we were back in the heat and humidity and green of a late Queensland summer.  And back to work and now it feels like we never had a holiday at all, so its good to keep looking at the photos!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Food Inc - movie review

I finally watched Food Inc. when it was screened on SBS1 a few weeks ago.  I know I’m really behind, the film was first released in 2008!  I haven’t read Michael Pollen’s, The Omnivore’s Dilemma yet either, but I have read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which was also featured in the film.  I was already aware of most of the information covered by the film, which aims to expose our industrialised food system.  It covers a broad range of food topics and is a good, and suitably shocking, introduction for anyone who previously had no idea how bad the food system really is.  For those who are already knowledgeable in this area, it may leave you with more questions than answers and a feeling that there is so much more to this discussion that could not be covered in a single film, but that's not such a bad thing either.

The film starts with chicken farmers in one of the southern states of the USA.  The first farmer isn’t allowed to film inside his chicken house, but the next farmer shows the gruesome reality of mass produced cheap chicken.  Not only are the chickens treated badly (no room to move, even if their over-sized bodies could move further than a few steps, lying in their own faeces, piles of dead chickens removed every day), but the poor farmer is in a debt spiral and has no control over her own business.  Next time someone asks me why we “bother” to raise and kill our own chickens when we can buy a hot chicken from the supermarket for $5, I will refer them to this part of the film, it is certainly worth the effort and we get to eat real chicken. 

Next the film turns to corn and the fact that it is an ingredient in just about everything we eat due to the government subsidies in the USA.  We are lucky in Australia that we don’t have such subsidies and so corn and soy have not become such a huge part of our food (yet).  I was disgusted by the “food engineer” who was so pleased with the clever invention of high-fructose corn syrup – this stuff is literally killing people, it is not food!  (see Sweet Poison for more information).

From hidden corn in human food, the film then moved to corn in animal feed and the connection to the mutation of a human pathogenic form of E.Coli bacteria (E. Coli O157:H7, more references here), which can cause severe food poisoning resulting in death.  This is where I think the film spent too long with a mother who was lobbying for increased food safety testing following the food poisoning death of her son.  First, it irritated me that the grandmother was drinking a can of Pepsi, clearly these people had not entirely rejected industrial food production.  Actually they just seemed to want to regulate the industrial food system, rather than avoid it.  Towards the end of this segment, the film shows a meat processing plant that “cleaned” the meat with ammonia, yuck!  I don’t understand why people are buying premade hamburger patties anyway, these are very easy to make yourself, from mince bought from a local butcher, or even minced yourself – we used to buy whole rumps from the supermarket when they were $5/kg and mince them at home.  Anyway, I don’t think any amount of regulation of any food processing companies is going to help reduce food poisoning when the system itself is so completely flawed.  The best option is to grow your own, or at least buy local from small producers, the less we support the big food processors the better, because all they do is cut costs and hope that there are no deaths linked to them.

One of the saddest moments for me was the family that could not afford healthy food.  I think the situation in Australia is slightly different, because I’m pretty sure that I can cook healthy meals cheaper than buying takeaway, as we don’t have $1 burgers here (as far as I know, I don’t tend to go to those places).  Last time I bought fast food out of absolute necessity, I was shocked by how expensive it was.  I really just wanted to visit that family and teach them how to grow their own, how to shop for cheap healthy ingredients and how to cook them so that they didn’t have to rely on cheap fast food.  The worst part was that they recognised that the cheap food was costing them in the end in the form of medical bills.

Joel Salatin also features in this film, and he has so much good stuff to say on this topic, he could have taken up the entire film if someone had let him.  Really his appearance was all too brief, but it did give an example of what can be done outside of the industrial food system, for anyone who was thinking “yes, but how else can we produce food so cheaply?”.

Throughout the film, the treatment of animals is shown to be absolutely shameful; they are treated as part of an industrial mass-produced system, rather than sentient beings with thoughts and feelings.  Even as serious is the treatment of workers, which is briefly discussed in a few segments.  Most of the meat-packing and vegetable-picking workers are illegal immigrants with few labour rights.  The food factories are dangerous, operating at ridiculous speeds, and there is little time for human safety precautions, let alone humane treatment of animals.  Its clear that a society that doesn’t even treat its workforce with respect has no chance of respecting animals either.

The other really sad moment was when they showed an elderly gentleman with a seed cleaning rig who was being sued by Monsanto for “helping farmers to break patent” on their GM seeds.  This made me so angry.  Monsanto has no right to prevent farmers from saving seeds and from continuing farming practices that have provided us with food for hundreds of years.  Sure they should be able to profit from their patent, but if their horrible GM genes spread to other people’s seed, they are the ones who should be sued for letting those genes lose in the first place.  I heard Joel Salatin with an excellent quote along the lines of “if my dog got out and impregnated your dog, I wouldn’t be able to charge you for the puppies”, which is exactly what Monsanto is trying to do and it seems very difficult to afford to win the case, even though the accusation is ludicrous.

A nasty reminder was the segment on organic produce owned by large multi-nationals.  I don’t believe that organic food can retain its integrity when its produced alongside “conventional” chemical food, even if its not in the same factory, the decisions are made in the same board room.  How can organic food retain its purity, both the product and the intent, when its being produced by people who will also happily fill food with chemicals in order to make a quick buck?  Food companies try to conceal the real ownership of organic brands, so it can be a struggle to figure out who is really producing organic products.  The simple solution is to not buy processed foods at all, organic or otherwise, they are not good for you anyway.  If you buy simple local ingredients from as close to the source as possible, at least you can be more certain of the origin the product.

The film didn’t get a chance to cover other relevant issues such as laying hens, the reality of some "free-range" production not being free at all, mass produced pork, sow stalls, soil degradation, water pollution, pesticides and food additives.  There are so many factors that make our food system mentally and physically unsafe, for the workers, the farmers, the consumers and the animals themselves, the film has highlighted a selection of the most accessible that, I hope, will inspire viewers to find out more.  The solution to all these problems is simple; we need to care where our food comes from, who produces it and how.  We need to buy local whenever possible.  And we need to pay attention to law changes that my erode our right to know what’s in our food, and ask for changes that can help farmers to produce good food.  Remember that real food is produced by farmers, not by factories.

Did you watch it?  Will you watch it?  What do you think?

Unprocessed Fridays on Girl Meets Nourishment

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Getting started with growing your own - summing up

In February I started a series on interviews with various bloggers who grow their own food.  I wanted to help readers who weren't sure where to start with growing their own.  Over the course of several weeks we heard from:

Linda of Witch's Kitchen
Gavin of the Greening of Gavin
Ohio Farmgirl from Adventures in the Goodland
Emma from Craving Fresh
Tanya of Lovely Greens
and myself

It was really interesting to see the common themes in the interviews and also the differences due to size of the gardens and different climates and locations.  Nearly everyone stressed the importance of planning the garden carefully, planting easy yielding crops and not giving up!  I hope you enjoyed reading each of the interviews as much as I did, and I hope you all got some ideas about your own gardens, whether you're just starting or an experienced gardener.

Since I wrote my interview, I have read a couple of books by Lolo Houbein, One Magic Square and Outside the Magic Square, which were sent to me by Wakefield Press.  Lolo lives in Australia, but grew up in Holland during WWII and experienced the famine of 1944.  On observing current events, she has become very worried that we are headed for a similar situation in Australia if we don't take food security more seriously.  To me this is a fascinating perspective, Lolo wants us all to take responsibility for at least some of our food needs, and she believes that we can all grow something, starting with "one magic square".


This is an excellent solution to the daunting task of starting a garden.  Lolo tells you to just go out and dig up a square one metre by one metre, and when you feel confident growing in that square, you can start on the next.  Brilliant!

In her first book, Lolo suggests combinations of plants to be grown in a magic square.  You can decide if you would prefer to grow staples such as potatoes and carrots, or high value crops such as eggplant and capsicum, or crops that don't store well such as silverbeet and salad greens.  She shares all her gardening experience to tell you exactly what to plant, when to plant and how to fertilise (organically and cheaply, of course).  If you want a step-by-step idiot's guide to starting a garden, this is it.  If you follow Lolo's instructions, I'm quite sure that you will be on the way to producing your own food.

The second book goes into more detail about why we should grow our own, more about food security, GM food and global warming, as well as offering yet more magic square combinations.  I enjoyed reading this book too, particularly the discussion on omega 3, which was totally new to me.  I did find that it was a little light on references (even referring to "Today Tonight" at one stage!), but I had to remind myself to take the book for what it is intended, its not an academic paper, its a discussion from a lady with decades of experience who would like to share thoughts on many issues.  She probably doesn't have the opportunity to research these issues in depth, but she does spend time watching documentaries and listening to the radio in order to inform herself as much as possible.  I found this book was like discussing these issues with a friend, and there are a few things I'd like to look up for myself to find out more.

Most of all, I have absolute respect for Lolo's motivation, having experienced famine herself, she wants to save us all from a similar fate, and has done her best to provide us with everything we need to know in order to succeed.  All that remains is to start digging those squares!

I would love to give away these books, but the postage is getting expensive, so I've decided to lend them to people and then give them to the local library.  Check your library too :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trimming a rooster's spurs

Poor Wilbur doesn't particularly appreciate being picked up, but we noticed that he had injured a couple of the hens with his spurs, so we decided it was time for a pedicure.  This is required every year or so, depending on how fast the rooster's spurs grow, this was the first time we had done Wilbur, but we've done plenty of other roosters.

Wilbur looking unhappy - you can see it too, can't you?
There are various methods involving pliers and even a hot potato, but our preferred method is to use the angle grinder.  Although the noise is a bit scary, the process is very quick and the heat seals the spur so there is very little blood loss.  Its easier with two people, one to hold the rooster (me) and the other to operate the power tool (Peter).  I usually hold the rooster so that his head is under my arm, and his wings are secure, then Peter grabs the rooster's leg and holds that tight before quickly taking off the sharp point of the spur.

spur before

after angle grinding
 Peter then quickly files the spur so there are no sharp edges and after a quick cuddle (completely unappreciated by the rooster), he is released back to his hens.

after filing

me and Wilbur

Do you trim your rooster's spurs?  What method do you use?

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chicken and beef liver pate

Nourishing Traditions talks about eating liver because it is a source of vitamins.  I also like the idea of using all the animal, so I've been saving and freezing liver from the chickens as we kill them, and I also froze the liver from the steer we had killed.  Only problem was that I don't like the taste.... at all.  I've tried putting the minced liver into spaghetti bolognaise and putting chunks of liver into beef casserole.  Pete doesn't mind it, but I hate it!

As a last resort I decided to try making pate after reading about it in Frugavore.  I used the recipes in this link.  I love eating bought pate, but I stopped buying because it often contains colours, msg and vegetable oils.  My pate contains liver, garlic, shallots, fresh herbs and wine or sherry, oh and lots of butter.  And I suppose you can make anything taste nice if you mix it with butter, wine and herbs!  The pate that I made tastes just like the bought stuff, YUM!!!

I made heaps, and strangely, Pete doesn't like liver in this form, so its lucky that I can freeze it in small portions and eat it gradually.

chicken liver pate on the left and beef liver pate on the right
How do you like your liver?

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting started with growing your own - Lovely Greens

Today, as part of my series of interviews with bloggers who grow their own, I have an interview with Tanya of Lovely Greens. Tanya grows veggies, herbs, and flowers in her garden and allotment in the Isle of Man – that’s a lovely little island located in the middle of the Irish Sea. In addition to gardening, she keeps hens and honeybees for home-grown eggs, honey, and beeswax and has plans to one day add goats to the menagerie. Tanya uses her produce both on the table and as ingredients for her handmade bath and beauty products which she sells online, at local shops, and at her Farmers Market stall. For her growing is a passion and one that she’s keen to get more people involved in – especially beginners.

Farmer Liz: Tell me about your garden and climate 

Tanya: The Isle of Man has a rather odd climate, being that it doesn’t ever get really hot or really cold. Summer temperatures are generally at or under 20C and winter between 5-10C which means that it can be challenging to grow all the hot climate produce we’ve come to love – aubergines, tomatoes, and peppers to name a few. It’s not all doom and gloom and it’s really just a matter of finding out what grows well and then use those crops as a foundation on which to experiment and add others.

It can also rain here – a lot. Though it’s mainly the winter months that are the wettest, last summer was a complete washout for all of Britain. Heavy flooding and continuous rain kept many people indoors and our allotment was pretty much abandoned from June onwards. There are places in the world where rain is seen as a blessing and a chance to fill reservoirs and tanks but here you just hope it drains from the land and makes its way to the sea quickly. The positive side to all this precipitation is that our predominantly clay soil latches on to the moisture and if your plants are mulched well you never have to water them, even after long days of summer sunshine. Being this far north means that in the summer the sun can rise before 5am and set close to 10pm. 

Tanya's allotment garden beds ready for planting
For people with both the land and the money, a polytunnel is your best bet for getting a decent harvest but for us it isn’t an option at the moment. That saying, we produce most of our own summer produce and have plenty of potatoes, greens, onions, and preserved veggies to last throughout the winter. The trick is working with the climate and growing produce that you know will see you through. If you randomly select seeds based on the pictures on the front or what you normally would purchase at the shops you can set yourself up for disappointment. 

FL: When and why did you start growing your own?

T: Having a garden was always something we had at home growing up. Though my mother’s efforts weren’t the most successful, both my Grandmothers and my Great Grandfather had fabulous gardens overflowing with peas, beetroot, potatoes, Swiss Chard, and the rest of the usual suspects. Children might not seem like they’re learning much from digging up new potatoes or helping weed (i.e. destroy) the onions but these experiences really do sink in. After nearly two decades of avoiding getting dirt under my manicured fingernails I was drawn back and have been passionately growing for the past five years. For me, growing is both an interest as well as a way to ensure that our produce is organic, clean, and has low food miles. 

Tanya's chickens
FL: From your experience, what’s the best way to start growing your own?

T: As the secretary of our allotment association I’ve seen more than a few enthusiastic people start up work only to give up and toss in the spade after only a few months. I think it’s because a lot of beginners don’t anticipate how much hard work it is combined with setting up unrealistic expectations for their first year. The glut of gardening programmes showing perfectly weeded and productive gardens with Alan Titchmarsh or Monty Don effortlessly plucking raspberries in freshly pressed Chinos doesn’t help the matter. My recommendation is to get stuck in to a small area and grow veggies that are easy, that produce quickly, are resistant to disease, and that you enjoy eating. If you have the opportunity to grow on a larger piece of land it will also give you the opportunity to observe it for a year to see what opportunities and challenges you might have to contend with when you eventually start growing there.

FL: What are your top 5 favourite easy and productive plants for beginners to grow?

T: Lettuce – it’s dead easy to grow from seed and will give you produce you can take home to the table in no time. In winter you can even grow ‘Cut and Come Again’ lettuce in seed trays in the house.

New potatoes – don’t mess around with maincrops in your first year if your area is known to suffer from blight. New potatoes crop before blight becomes an issue so are both delicious and something to count on. 

Globe Artichokes – I grew these from seed in 2010 and they’ve been both low-maintenance and producing pretty much year-round ever since. When you spot what prices they’re going for in the shops you’ll be patting yourself on the back for growing your own. 

globe artichokes
Rhubarb – They seem to thrive on neglect and one or two plants will give you more than your fair share of stems. I use mine to make chutney, desserts, and rhubarb wine. Another interesting fact about my rhubarb is that I didn’t grow it from crowns or a plant from the garden centre but from seeds! The variety is called ‘Victoria’ and I’ve even passed on the extra seeds to an experienced gardener friend. Though she was dubious at first, she was pleasantly surprised to find that they grew true. She was even harvesting a few stems in the first summer, though you should really wait a year to harvest normal quantities. 

Raspberries – It’s taken me years to finally order my own but I’ll be planting my own canes shortly. The reason I’m giving them a go is that they’ll provide a good wind break and a very easy crop of delicious berries. It’s one of the crops I’ve seen flourish on neglected plots so should be easy for beginner growers – just make sure that your growing conditions are right for them. 

Jerusalem artichoke shoots - beware!
PS – There are some really easy crops to grow out there but make sure that you and your family will enjoy eating them before you make an investment in gardening space for them. Jerusalem Artichokes are one that I’d specifically advise caution against – though I think they taste great, my husband doesn’t like them at all. They can cause painful gas to a good proportion of people and I don’t think I’ll ever live down the misery I inflicted on an allotment neighbour who took some of mine home. They’re also extremely invasive and will take over an area in no time. So beware of Sunchokes folks! 

FL: thanks so much Tanya, some wonderful information for everyone to think about!  Now if you'd like to comment, please head over to Tanya's blog, Lovely Greens, and tell us what you think :)  Also check out all the info about soap, bees and chickens!

Tanya's bees
The other interviews:
Linda of Witch's Kitchen
Gavin of the Greening of Gavin
Ohio Farmgirl from Adventures in the Goodland
Emma from Craving Fresh
and myself

Monday, March 11, 2013

Permaculture principles - Obtain a yield

In January I wrote about "Observe and Interact", in February it was "Catch and Store Energy" and March is dedicated to "Obtain a Yield".

The distinction between "Catch and Store Energy" and "Obtain a Yield" can be a little confusing at first, and they do overlap, but the first is more about long-term planning, such as water storage and growing trees, whereas the latter is about planning for immediate returns from the property.  Both principles need to be considered in planning our garden, pasture and animal husbandry. 

This principle is also about maximising the returns from our effort.  David Holmgren writes about the "maximum power law", which states that there is a point where you obtain optimise return from effort and/or money, if you put in more effort your returns on an energy basis decline, with less effort you do not obtain the maximum efficiency.  For example, if you plant potatoes there is an optimal amount of effort to be spent when digging the potatoes.  You could spend too long trying to find every last tiny potato and waste your time on a kg/hr basis, or if you're lazy and don't dig enough, you may miss some large potatoes resulting in lower kg/hr of potatoes.  This is also true when comparing vegetables, some take so much effort for a small crop (in my case tomatoes need daily attention), while others seem to grow in spite of complete neglect (silverbeet).  Unless you really like tomatoes, its probably best to focus on those plants (and activities) that produce the most with the least effort or input from you as the gardener.  This is also true when designing buildings or landscaping, we should aim for low maintenance and fit-for-purpose.

In particular, David suggests that we use hardy varieties or breeds that are well- adapted to our local environment.  For example the Brafords are more tick-resistant than English breeds, which means we don't have to spend as much time looking after them or spend money on chemicals.

Another interesting aspect is the efficiency that can be achieved in the home garden compared to industrial agriculture.  We can use all our produce in some way, even if it ends up in the compost or the chook pen, it eventually contributes to our yield, whereas industrial agriculture produces vast amounts of wasted food that is not up to supermarket standard.  Sometimes we need to think creatively to see how we can obtain a yield, and part of that is preserving food during gluts so that we can use it later.

An excellent resource on the subject of eating local is Arabella Forge's Frugavore.

How do you obtain a yield?

Each month in 2013 I reviewed a principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability:

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