Sunday, June 30, 2013

Garden Update - July 2013

This month I'm joining the Garden Share Collective, which was started last month by Lizzie from Strayed from the Table, to allow vege gardeners to share their successes and failures and generally encourage everyone to grow more of their own food organically.  This first month, I'll give a detailed update on everything that's growing in my garden, for anyone who hasn't been following for long.  I'll do my normal farm update on Tuesday as well.
If you've just joined me, welcome to my vege garden.  I recently wrote about gardening in our sub-tropical climate, so if you're wondering about the huge shade structure, that's for protecting the garden during our hot, humid summers.  At the moment though, the garden is full of brassicas, which grow best here in winter, and are suitably frost-proof.  The garden is about 12 m long by 5 m wide, and surrounded in chicken mesh to keep out the chickens and the bandicoots.  The garden has spilled out around the edges though, and into chicken territory.

a view down the length of the garden
chickens plotting their next attack
I live with my husband on eight acres of fairly infertile, weedy, rocky, steep land in Nanango, QLD.  We also keep chickens and cattle, which contribute to the garden their manure and help to eat the bugs and anything tasty they can find.  I also have a large compost and worm farm.  My husband and I own a larger block of land at Kumbia and we are currently relocating a house, and planning a larger garden and orchard/food forest using permaculture principles, but for now, I produce most of our veges from this garden.

the garden (I need to tidy up!)
Inside the chicken mesh, I have four garden beds, I also grow climbers up the fence and have lots of herbs in pots that I move in and out of the sun as necessary.

Bed 1: is currently planted with carrots, radishes, onions, leeks, swedes, turnips (and some stray lettuce).  Only the radishes are ready for harvest at the moment, they are nearly all gone actually, and I planted far too many because I never expected them to do so well.  I need to add some more carrot seed to make sure I get enough.

Bed 2: is mostly self-seeded brassicas (various asian greens, mustard, kale), also self-seeded parsley, dill, lettuce, some chilli bushes that just won't die, galangal (why did I plant it there?) and an unexpected potato plant.  And a giant nasturtium plant, that is enthusiastically trying to smother everything else, and needs regular trims.  Also garlic that didn't do much last year, so I just left it there and it regrew, we will see if it improves this season!

Bed 3: at one end is more self-seeded parsley.  And some onions that I tried to grow over summer.  And some leftover beetroot.  Also some kale bushes that are still growing from last winter!  And in the middle is a bit of a disaster because I used mulch from the pen in which we raised some baby chicks, and they didn't eat all their grain, so I have a lovely crop of wheat growing, with a few brassicas in amongst it.  I can't decide whether to weed it out or leave it as an accidental green manure crop.

Bed 4: there's a few cherry tomato and basil plants left, which will probably die in the first heavy frost.  On the other side, I've started peas and broad beans.  And there's a mini capsicum in there too, not sure if it will survive until next summer, but its worth a try.

Around the edges: I still have some Poor Man's Beans growing, which the cattle love, and is also great for compost as soon as I get a chance to pull it all down.  On the other side of the gate, there's the remains of climbing beans and tromboncino, which I'm waiting to collect seed from.

Along the back: sweet potato is growing well and I'm not sure when to harvest it, I'm just keeping an eye on it to see how it likes the frost.  I also have blackberries and raspberries, can't wait for their first fruiting season this coming summer!  I also have chicken health herbs - wormwood, tansy and rue.  And lots of arrowroot for shade in summer, which should die back in the frost, I also cut most of it to go into the compost, along with the comfrey.  I have one surviving paw paw tree, which always flowers but never quite gets a chance to grow any fruit before it dies back in the frost!  And some lavender.

In pots: I keep most of my herbs in pots, so they can't escape and take over!  I have mint, peppermint, oregano, thyme, winter tarragon, lemon grass, ginger, turmeric, sage and yarrow.  I use most of these to make my own herbal teas, as well as in cooking.  I also have soapwort (for making detergent).  I am looking forward to collecting more herbs in our next bigger garden.  I also have a dwarf lime and a dwarf lemon in pots.  They are fruiting ok, but I think they will do better when I can plant them out in the dirt.

a sample harvest basket

tromboncino nearly ready to harvest for seed
Over the month I expect to save some tromboncino and bean seeds, keep harvesting the last of the radishes, and lots of green leaves and herbs.  The peas might get started if its not too cold for them, or maybe some of the green tomatoes will ripen!  I need to plant some more carrot and celery seeds.  And I need to pull all the Poor Man's Beans off the fence to let more light into the garden (it grows back each spring).

How is your garden going?  What are you harvesting and what are your plans for the month?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Friday, June 28, 2013

Growing food in the sub-tropics - the vege garden

As I’ve written previously, its taken me a while to get accustomed to our climate and figure out what to grow and when. Part of the problem is that we are just on the edge of a climate zone, we are in the humid sub-tropics, but as we are around 500 m above sea level, we experience cool overnight temperatures, particularly in winter. We are also 200 km inland, so our rainfall is not as regular as coastal areas.  I'm slowly realising that, despite the confusion, we are in the best possible climate.  We have cool winters, so we can grow temperate plants, and with out hot humid summers we can also grow tropical plants, as long as we can protect them from frost through winter.  In this climate, many annuals can be grown as perennials (I have been picking from the same kale "bush" for 12 months now).  There are very few things that we can't grow at all, and although our climate is probably not ideal for anything much, we are just on the edge of possible for so many food plants, we have a wealth of opportunities if we can work to create micro-climates.

What is a sub-tropical climate?

According to Wikipedia:
The Köppen definition of this climate [humid sub-tropical] is for the coldest month's mean temperature to be between −3degC and 18degC, and the warmest month to be above 22degC…… It is either accompanied with a dry winter (cwa) — or has no distinguished dry season (cfa).
Significant amounts of precipitation occur in all seasons in most areas, and though in regions bordering on semi-arid climates (usually at the western margins), irregular droughts can be common and catastrophic to agriculture. Winter rainfall (and sometimes snowfall) is associated with large storms that the westerlies steer from west to east. Most summer rainfall occurs during thunderstorms and an occasional tropical storm, hurricane or cyclone.
I like the Koppen climate clasification because its based on vegetation, and that's what I'm interested in.  This definition of the sub-tropical climate describes our climate exactly. Our coldest month (July), historically has a mean temperature of 11degC, we experience warm days (high 20degC) and frosts overnight. The warmest month (January) historically has a mean temperature of 24degC, with hot days and cool nights. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year, with slightly more rain in summer, but technically there is not enough difference to call it a wet season. We don’t really have a distinguishable spring or autumn, for a few weeks the temperatures will swing between hot and cold, and then suddenly the season has changed! We are on the edge of the semi-arid zone and can experience droughts lasting several months, at any time of the year. Most of the warm season rain is either sporadic afternoon storms or cyclones (which results in large amounts of rain over a short time period). 

The BOM has refined the Koppen system further to suit Australian conditions, in the map below you can try to figure out what colour zone your property is in, or you can calculate it from climate data (yes, I calculated it, just to be sure, because all the shades of light-green looked the same to me, we are definitely sub-tropical with no distinct dry season).  You can find the calculations here, if you want some help to understand it, please let me know which climate to translate for you, and maybe also email the BOM and tell them that it would be nice if they made this information available in a format that could be understood by everyone and not just those who have studied mathematical programming! 

Climate map from here
Gardening in the sub-tropics requires a different approach to the temperate climate in which many vegetables evolved, and for which many gardening books are written.  Even within the sub-tropical climate zone, the plants you can grow will also depend on the regularity of your rainfall and severity of frost.  Regardless of which zone you garden in according to official records, observation of your own garden and climate will help you learn what you CAN grow, and how to grow what you WANT to grow.  Most of all, the more you experiment with different plants and swap seeds with people in your local area, the more you will find plants that do well in your conditions, that you like to eat, that you may never have heard of or see before you grew them :)

One of the challenges of growing food in our part of the sub-tropics is the temperature extremes.  You need to plan for both a hot and humid summer and a cold winter.  In the summer months, shade and moisture retention are essential. Shade can be achieved both with permanent structures, such as shade cloth or large trees, or more temporary methods, like growing climbing plants up a northern trellis to shade the garden.  I have shade cloth covering the entire garden, which is probably more than is really necessary and can make my garden too shady in winter.  I also use climbing plants like beans and tromboncino to provide extra summer shade.    Water retention is improved by building soil organic matter using compost and mulch.  Mulch on top of the soil also helps to prevent evaporation.  I water the garden every few days with our grey water, but nothing compares to a good fall of rain from a summer storm.

In winter we get frost.  In total we only actually have about 20 frost days per year, but you only need one heavy frost to kill anything and everything that is frost tender.  The shade cloth helps to some extent, and I have a small greenhouse to protect tree sapplings that I've started, but my best solution to frost is to just grow frost-hardy plants over winter.  Fortunately this includes plants that I can't grow in summer at all, due to bugs, this includes carrots, broccoli and cabbage.  They all do much better in winter in the sub-tropics.

Crop rotation is a another challenge in a sub-tropical garden where you can grow something all year round.  There is little opportunity for cover crops or a winter fallow, unless one garden bed is to be sacrificed  for an entire season, and I don't have the space for that!  This just adds a little extra complexity to garden planning, and I at least try to move the tomatoes and broad beans around each year.

The change of season can also be tricky.  I still have cherry tomatoes in the garden in June, which is officially winter, but it hasn't got cold enough yet to kill them.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to make room for winter crops, which will have a short season as it is, because I can start summer again in September (or earlier in my greenhouse)!  The solution is a bigger garden I think!

Veges that grow well in a sub-tropical winter season (with frost)
Veges that grow well in a sub-tropical summer season
  • tomatoes
  • curcubits, but watch out for powdering mildew from the humidity - tromboncino, squash, pumpkin, melons
  • beans
  • corn
  • capsicum and chillies
  • eggplant
  • ginger and tumeric
  • arrowroot and comfrey
  • basil
  • potatoes
Veges that grow well in a sub-tropical in-between season
  • peas seems to be best in the in-between season
  • tomatoes sometimes do better after the summer bugs die off
Veges that grow well in all year in a sub-tropical climate
  • kale
  • parsley
  • lettuce
  • strawberries
What do you think?  Do you have a tricky climate?  How do you handle it?  What other veges should I try?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Getting started with chickens - NZ Eco Chick

Farmer Liz: Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing bloggers who keep chickens in various situations, in order to help wannabe chicken farmers to get started with their own little feathered egg-producing garden-scratchers.  This week I have a new blogger to the series, Madeleine from NZ Eco Chick lives in Wellington, New Zealand, on a suburban block with her husband and is mama to two beautiful boys.  NZ Ecochick is about her family and their journey to living a (semi) self sufficient life on their backyard homestead. They live on a quarter acerish section, with four chooks and grow their own food, green and frugal living, diy, crafting and organizing, and their life in general. 

Madeleine with one of her girls
FL: How many chickens (and other fowl) do you keep, what breed and what do you use them for (meat, eggs, slug control etc)?

M: We currently have four orpington chickens. In the foreseeable future I’m going to Japanese quails as well. I chose orpingtons as they are really big birds and should be able to take on any cats that come on our property (so far they have kept the cats at bay) also they should live for 5-10 years. In the long term the chickens are for eggs and weed control. I’m very excited to announce that this week two of my girls have just started laying which is so exciting. They are also they are suppose to be digging over my garden but they are eating all the good bits of the garden and not doing much digging. grr

FL: Where did you get your first chickens and how do you now replenish your flock?

M: A girlfriend of mine had heaps of them so they were really easy for me to get hold of. Also being a friend she was really glad they went to a good home. These are my first chickens so I haven’t had to get anymore yet.

FL: Fixed chicken run or movable pen? Why?

We have a fixed chicken coop that the girls are in if we aren’t home. If we’re home they free range around the garden. However I do want to make a tractor so they can work over areas for me rather than just eating what they want when they want. We have a fixed coop due to being in the city we have strict bylaws and so the coop can only be in one place in the garden. 

the fixed chicken pen
FL: How do you integrate your chickens into the rest of your garden?

M: The chickens are always let out when we’re home and so they just help themselves around the garden. They love to sit on my backdoor step and peck at the window so we know they are there. John loves to hassle the girls and chase them around the garden. The chickens in turn love to hassle my rabbits guess that’s the pecking order at our home.

FL: What is your biggest chicken challenge at the moment?

M: My biggest problem is getting my chickens to get off my deck and stop eating all my herbs and even sitting on my herbs! They love to eat my saffron leaves which I’m very unimpressed about. I do hate all the poop on the deck and we really need to build a fence. 

when you plant chickens, try to choose a large enough pot so
that they still have plenty of space as they grow....
FL: What is the best thing about keeping chickens?

M: I’m enjoying watching the girls run around the garden pecking and fighting between themselves. The thing I love most is knowing exactly where my eggs come from. I love that I feel like we live on an urban homestead now that we have chickens. By some people’s ideas we now are even urban farmers so cool.

This week I went out and we got two eggs from our girls, wow, the feeling of excitement when you get and eat our own eggs is amazing. I had no idea I’d feel so excited by these eggs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of going out to the nesting box and collecting fresh free range eggs. Even better knowing the names of the chickens who laid the eggs!

FL: What is your advice to new chicken owners? What do know now that you wish you knew before you got chickens?

M: Chickens really aren’t that scary to own it took me 2 years to decide to get them. I really wish I had known just how easy chickens are to care for I would have got them much sooner.

FL: What if your advice to people who would like to keep chickens in the suburbs?

M: I’d recommend only get three or four chickens as I think more than that would be a struggle to keep in the city. I truly think getting an automatic feeder makes a huge difference in the city as it stops all the extra hassle of feeding the whole neighbourhood and helps keep your backyard cleaner.

FL: Great advice Madeleine, thanks so much for sharing this!  I can relate to the poop on the deck too, the only 3 of our hens that are laying at the moment insist on hanging around on the deck, with the dogs, when we aren't home.  And that chicken scratching needs to be harnessed for good, or they can do a lot of damage, I have seen what a few stray chickens can do to my garden in a matter of hours, and it is not good.  So it definitely pays to have a plan to keep the chickens where you want them.

If you have anything to add, or want to ask Madeleine some questions about this post, please head over to NZ Eco Chick and leave a comment.  

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, June 24, 2013

Insulation for our house

As I discussed in an earlier post, we have tried to use passive solar principles to position our new (secondhand) house at Cheslyn Rise to take advantage of the sun’s heat in winter and to shade the house in summer.  The other technique we can use to regulate the temperature in the house is insulation.  Under Queensland building law we actually have to put a certain amount of insulation in the house anyway, so the only decision to be made was what kind and if we would add any extra insulation.

My first thought was to use a natural fibre, so I started to investigate options.  As the use of insulation is mandated and must be a certain ‘R value’, we couldn’t just use any old scrap wool available, it has to be a proper tested insulation product.  Our options seemed to be:
  •   Sheep’s wool
  •   Cellulose
  •  Rock wool
  • Glass wool (fibreglass)
  • Polyester (not natural, but still an option)
When I started to research sheep’s wool I found that all the products available in Australia are only 70-80% wool, stabilised with polyester.  Even though this polyester is mostly recycled material, I just don’t feel comfortable mixing natural and synthetic fibres.  As I discussed in my post of Permaculture- produce no waste, you end up with a product that can neither be recycled or composted, it will be literally rubbish when its no longer useful as insulation.

Cellulose is made from recycled newspapers and has to be sprayed into the roof cavity.  This is useful for awkward spaces, but very difficult to adjust once its been sprayed.  Also, I assume that its treated with fire retardant chemicals (otherwise it’s a massive fire hazard up in the roof!).  It defeats the purpose of using a natural product if its full of chemicals!

Glass wool and rock wool (or mineral wool) are extruded glass and rock respectively, known collectively as mineral fibre.  Rock wool can withstand higher temperatures, and its better for acoustic insulation, but is more expensive.  Both are natural products, made from mined silica and basalt respectively (with various additives) and can be recycled by melting them and reprocessing into more fibres (although there is no recycling plant in Australia currently, it is recycled in Europe).  The main disadvantage of using mineral fibre insulation is that the small fibres can irritate the skin and lungs, so its best to install in cooler weather, with full overalls and dust masks.  Lucky for us, this is also the cheapest option, that doesn't often happen!  And we can just buy them from the local hardware store (and although some product is imported, as far as I can tell, there is also some insulation manufactured in Australia, which would be my preference).

Have you researched or used a natural insulation product?

  Small Footprint Fridays - A sustainable living link-up

Friday, June 21, 2013

Finger-crocheted rag rug from old t-shirts

Recently I've noticed lots of posts on rag rugs, or maybe they just caught my attention because we need new bath mats, I had read a few quickly, it looked easy enough, so when I saw fill a bag for $1 at the op-shop I decided to choose some t-shirts to make myself a rug.  When I went back to look at the rug instructions, I was amazed to find all the different techniques, I found at least five different ways to make a rug:
I decided that I would probably need a few new bath mats, so would have opportunities to try each method at some time in the future.  For now, I want to learn crochet, and this seems like a good way to start, with nice big thick "yarn"!

nearly finished rag rug
I have also noticed that you can buy pre-cut fabric for making rag rugs.  To me this defeats the purpose, and it seems a real shame to use new fabric to make something that's going to go on the floor!  I think rag rugs are great for:
  • using up genuine rags (and I cheated a bit, but at least they were used op-shop t-shirts)
  • making something useful and needed around the home
  • learning/practising a craft using thicker than normal yarn
This is one way to reuse material - as in the permaculture principle "produce no waste".  If all the material is cotton, it can go in the compost when its completely worn out (unfortunately, I'm sure most of mine is synthetic).

Anyway, one of the ladies at our permaculture group very patiently taught me to crochet wool a few weeks ago and I practiced a bit, but I couldn't get the hang of it, so I started cutting up the worst of the t-shirts into strips (some of them were in embarrassingly good condition and I thought I'd better wear them a bit first!). I cut the strips pretty roughly, about 1 cm wide, with chunky bits as I changed direction.  Then I just started crocheting with my fingers.  It was really much easier than using a hook and I got quite quick.  I really like crochet compared to knitting, its quicker and mistakes are easier to fix.

here's how to cut one long strip from an odd shape of fabric

I had a few false starts at the rug because I didn't know I had to do a chain at the start of each row, so my first attempt at a square turned into a triangle as each row got shorter and shorter!  Its very easy to unpick crocheted fabric though, so I just pulled it apart and started again until I figured out what I wanted to do.

Here's how I figure crochet (trebles), starting with a normal chain.... (note that I'm right handed)

at the end of each row make a chain of three

put right index finger through last loop in chain and wind yard over finger

push finger into the front of the second stitch of the previous row

pull yard through the stitch to make another loop and wind over again

pull left-most loop through nearest two loops and then wind over again

pull left-most loop through remaining 2 loops and repeat from step 2 until the end, turn and start again at step 1

I hope that helps, its very hard to photograph with one hand while crocheting with the other hand!  Do you crochet?  Have you tried finger-crochet?  Have you made a rag-rug?  I think I'm ready to try wool crochet now, but I have some more fabric "yarn", so I might try a round one next!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Getting started with chickens - Gavin Webber

Farmer Liz: A couple of weeks ago I started a series of interviews with bloggers who keep chickens, as a continuation of my series of interviews about getting started with growing your own. Most of the bloggers from the first series keep chickens too and were keen to join in again. This week I have an interview with Gavin Webber from the The Greening of Gavin

Gavin grows fruit and veges in Melton, Victoria, just south of the Great Dividing Ranges, on his suburban house block. Gavin also keeps chickens, has two worm farms, and many compost bins. His blog was recently awarded ReNew Magazine 2012 Blog of the Year, where he writes about his sustainable journey and lifestyle that was brought on by a green epiphany.  You can read more in Gavin's first interview about growing food.
Gavin with one of his chooks
 Attracting well over 1.4 million page views, and containing over 1350 posts, The Greening of Gavin has been published nearly every day for the past 5 years, and is a treasure trove of sustainable living advice and gardening tips. Gavin has also written five sustainable living eBooks including The Way of the Chicken – A Guide to Keeping Backyard Chickens. All are available from all good eBook retailers. 
chicken ebook
So tell us Gavin, how many chickens (and other fowl) do you keep, what breed and what do you use them for (meat, eggs, slug control etc)?

Gavin: I currently have 10 hens and no roosters. I have six ISA Browns, two Leghorns, and two Pekin Bantams. The large hens are for egg production and the bantams are for pest control. They all grow old gracefully, and I do not cull them as they get old as a reward for all of the service they provide me.

FL: Where did you get your first chickens and how do you now replenish your flock?
G: I bought my first hens from a lady named Sue who lives in New Gisborne, which is about 40 minutes north of Melton. She lives on a bush block and breeds hens for sale. They are well looked after, and she sells the pullets at point of lay. As the older hens pass away, I replace them with pullets. We still have one hen from our original flock that is 5 years old. Bunty is at the top of the pecking order, and probably will be until the day she dies.

some of Gavin's ISA browns
FL: Fixed chicken run or movable pen? Why?

G: I actually have both, but the mobile pen is only used once a season. The chooks are normally housed in a fixed pen which we dubbed Cluckingham Palace. My son Ben and I built it from scratch by hand. I do believe that the girls love their home.

We also have a pen that fits over a single garden bed, which I use to prepare a bed for the next season. The bantams mainly use this so as to remove all the pests and weeds, and liberally fertilise it for me.

FL: How do you integrate your chickens into the rest of your garden/farm?

G: The bantams free range on weekends around the secondary veggie patch, mainly digging up coddling moth larvae and bugs from around some of my fruit trees. They also weed the stoned areas around my landscaped garden, and get paid in greens and worms. Cheap and willing workers!

chickens in the garden
FL: What is your biggest chicken challenge at the moment?
G: Scaly leg mites! The larger hens need constant attention, so I keep these little nasties away with a liberal dunking of the hens legs in olive oil once a fortnight. If I don’t keep on top of their treatment they keep getting infected.

I don’t mind that the chooks go off the lay once a year for two reasons. 1) It gives the girls a well deserved rest to grow their feathers back and refresh their bodies for the next round of laying, and 2) It gives us an egg famine and gratitude when the eggs come back online!

FL: What is the best thing about keeping chickens?

G: They make me laugh. Chickens are funny, somewhat intelligent, curious, stupid, and social. I enjoy sitting near their run with a glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon and just watch them do chicken stuff. Better than watching TV, that’s for sure!

They make amazing pets which earn their own keep, if you choose to sell the excess eggs.
the bantams :)

FL: What is your advice to new chicken owners? What do know now that you wish you knew before you got chickens?

G: Chickens are essential to the suburbanite for eggs, fertilizer and pest control. Without them, your garden will never thrive without costing you a small fortune buying external inputs to replace their services. I wish I had have brought chooks into our life years earlier than we did.

FL: What is your advice to people who would like to keep chickens in the suburbs?

G: If you intend on letting chooks free range, make sure you protect your food garden. Given half the chance, they will destroy everything in sight. Either cage the chooks or your vegetables.

FL: Thanks Gavin!  Great philosophy on the egg famine, this is true for so much of the food we produce, the seasonality makes us appreciate it even more :)  Your chickens are very lucky to be treated with such respect, and to be such an important part of your garden.  Head over to Gavin's blog to leave comments and ask questions about keeping chickens in the suburbs.  His ebook is also a great resource for those interested in backyard chickens.

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, June 17, 2013

Reusable menstrual cups and pads

I'm only going to warn you once, if you don't want to read about menstruation, stop reading now!

All women will be aware of the amount of waste generated by most commercial products used at that "time of the month".  Whether you use tampons or pads, there is the product itself and all that packaging, all going in the bin or down the toilet. Think how much that builds up over the years.....

It turns out that there weren't any such disposable products until an excess of bandages following WWI led clever marketers to come up with disposable "feminine hygiene" "sanitary" products for women to use.  As explained in the first youtube video below, companies have accentuated the feelings of fear and taboo around menstruation in order to make their disposable products seem like the solution to an invented problem (if you're reading this in an email you'll have to follow the link to the blog post).

cheap enough to throw away!  (ad from ad access)
I don't like using anything disposable and I used to feel guilty about all that waste, until I found another option.  I have been using a reusable menstrual cup for about 8 years now.  I just replaced my original brown rubber moon cup with a transparent silicon Lunette cup.  My husband saw the new one and commented "wow, they must really change colour when you use them!" (they don't change colour!).  I have found both cups to be similar and I can't recommend one over the other, apart from the colour of course.

Anyway, I thought seeing as I got a new one, and as this month I'm discussing the permaculture principle "produce no waste", it was a good time to remind you all that reusable products are out there.  Braver bloggers than myself have written detailed posts about the "ins and outs" of reusable cups (for example Emma from Craving Fresh and Leanne from Hazeltree Farm), I kept it short in my last post on the subject.  The other day I had a question from a reader about using menstrual cups, so if you do have any complicated questions that you don't want to ask on the blog, feel free to email me, I'm happy to help.  That saves me having to explain it all in a post :)

I also bought a few more cloth pads, as the old ones are getting a little ratty.  This is probably something I should just make from scraps of material, but I am too lazy to figure out how to insert domes (I know, I should learn!), so I just buy them every few years instead!  I like to use a panty liner weight pad with the cups, I haven't tried the heavier weight pads though.

Apart from reducing waste, there are lots of other reasons to use a reusable cup and/or cloth pads instead of disposable products:
  • Its cheaper - a cup costs $50-60 once every 5-7 years, how much do you spend on disposables each month?  The pads are only $10-20 each and also last for years.  Just think how much you can save.
  • Its more convenient - you can never "run out" of a reusable product
  • They are safer - no harmful chemicals, bleaches, fragrances, GMO cotton etc
  • No need to empty/change as frequently
  • More comfortable once you get used to it
I usually like to give a balance of pros and cons, but I can't think of any cons right now.  I don't know why you wouldn't use a menstrual cup.  If you can think of a reason, please tell me!  See also the second youtube video, a rap battle of menstrual cups vs tampons.

When I bought my new cup and pads I also signed up for the affiliate program with Rad Pads.  If you want to order a cup or some pads, follow this link and I get a small percentage for referring you.

If you have any experiences to share, or questions about reusable menstrual, please leave a comment. I think its time we talked openly about menstrual products and stopped letting the marketers win by scaring us into using wasteful disposables.

Giggle for the day: 15 euphamisms for menstruation

From The Farm Blog HopThe Self Sufficient HomeAcre  monday's homestead barn hop  Party Wave Wednesday   

Friday, June 14, 2013

Making a meal of it - book review

Do sometimes find yourself with a glut of something that you need to use up?  Or with a little bit of left-over something?  I was sent a book to review by Wakefield Press called "Making a Meal of it", by Jane Willcox and Rosemary Cadden, and they really have thought of a lot of ways to make meals that prevent food waste.  Its not just about veges either, they also include meat, cheese and eggs.

This is relevant to the permaculture principle I reviewed earlier in the month, produce no waste.  Food waste is a massive problem.  Not only is the food wasted, but also all the energy used to produce and transport the food.  One of the main ways we can reduce this waste is to eat locally and seasonally (more here).

This book is full of useful information, here is just a selection of the things I learnt or used from the book so far:
  • some varieties of apples keep better than others (buy/grow the good keepers such as Granny Smith)
  • avocado, eggs and lemon slices can each be frozen for longer term storage!
  • tips for making breadcrumbs from bread scraps (great for using up failed bread experiments)
  • lots of information about storing and using all types of cheese
  • how to use up both egg whites and egg yolks, lemon peel and bread crusts
  • which onions are in season when, what each variety of orange is good for and all those potato varieties
  • how to ripen tomatoes more quickly
I do think they are going to have to write a second volume, because there was no section on eggplant, which I needed to use up over summer or chillis (which we have lots of at the moment) but they do cover most common foods in this book, with as much information on choosing the right variety and storing it correctly, as there are great recipes for using up what's left over in the fridge.  I also noticed that they didn't include two of my favourite methods of storage, dehydration and fermentation, but that would fill another book again!  The tips for freezing things are very useful as I always wonder what I need to blanch first.

By coincidence, it was also World Environment Day on June 5th, with the theme being Think.Eat.Save. to prevent food waste.  See some more ideas here.

Now its your turn.... do you have a great tip for avoiding food waste? using up a glut? or the last leftover of something?
The Self Sufficient HomeAcreFrom The Farm Blog Hop monday's homestead barn hop

This post was shared on Unprocessed Fridays on Girl Meets Nourishment

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