Friday, August 30, 2013

Ripening green tomatoes

It is mid winter and I have more tomatoes now than I did in summer!  I have a giant cherry tomato bush growing out of the compost and more growing in odd corners of the garden.  My main problem over winter is the occasional frost.  It only takes one bad frost to kill a tomato plant and ruin all the tomatoes.  I have been picking any large green tomatoes that I can find, and putting them in a bowl to ripen, rather than risk them being ruined on the plant.

This has been very effective, as I am adding to the bowl a handful of green cherry tomatoes each day, and taking the ripe red tomatoes to use in cooking or putting them directly in the freezer to add to cooking later, I always have a few ripe tomatoes to use.

this is the giant tomato bush, the compost is under there somewhere!

These tomatoes are growing so well over winter, I'm wondering why I bother trying to grow them in summer.  Every year I battle humidity, hot weather, blossom end rot, and various bugs and beetles to try to grown a few tomatoes, and then in winter they spring up anywhere in the garden and produce more than ever!

When do you grow your best tomatoes?  And how do you use them?

From The Farm Blog Hop  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Knitting socks on four double-pointed needles

Around this time last year, Linda from the Greenhaven Goodlife kindly sent me some wool and needles to make socks as part of her one year anniversary giveaway following on from Linda's own sock knitting successes.  I made several attempts to start the first sock and I got this far before I put away the knitting in summer.  When I pulled out the sock to start again, I tried it on and realised that it was going to be one very long sock.  I think I added a lot of stitches as I went around and got all mixed up with ribbing the fine yarn.  So I unravelled the whole thing and thought about starting again.
The first sock was going to be very long
But this time I thought I'd better find the right pattern.  I was trying to use the pattern that was on the yarn label, but that was for five needles and Linda only sent me four needles.  In hindsight it probably would have been easier to just buy myself five needles, but I was determined to just use the four, so I went looking for a pattern.  All my pattern books and most of the free patterns on the internet used five needles, but I found a youtube video with four needles, so I knew it was possible.  I finally found a pattern, and it suggested using a thicker yarn for your first sock attemp, and I thought I'd better just stick to the pattern for my first sock and then I might be able to work out how to use the yarn that Linda sent me after that.  It was good advice because thicker yarn does knit up very quickly and its far more satisfying that going around and around with thin yarn.

The pattern was a little bit confusing, but I found some good youtube videos that really explain the sock process in general, and on four needles.

Putting it all together, this is my version of a simple sock pattern for four double pointed needles.
At any one time, the stiches are distributed over three of the needles, with the forth needle used to knit the stitches and then become part of the three in use, while the one that had the stitches becomes the spare needle…. you’ll see what I mean when you start knitting!  Also this tutorial might help.

To start the sock you need to cast on.  The number of stitches you need is going to depend on the yarn weight, the needle size and your foot size, and it must be divisible by 4 so that the rest of the pattern works.  For example, I used 9ply, 2.5mm needles and a size 8 women’s foot, which worked just perfectly with 40 stitches.  Now that I know that the sock needs to be about 4 inches across, I can use different needles and yarn to produce about the same width, as long as the number of stitches divides by 4.  See this generic sock pattern for more info on the number of stitches you need.

After casting on 40 stiches, for example, they are then split between the three needles in use, half on one needles and a quarter on each other needle.  You then work around to form the cuff.  Usually this starts with a ribbing stich – knit one, purl one, or similar, until the desired length of ribbing is completed, followed by knits until the cuff is long enough. 

Next comes the heel flap.  This is created by working only the needle with half the stitches on it, in alternate rows of knit and purl, instead of going around and around.  When the heelflap is the same number of rows as the number of stiches on the needle, we start to “turn the heel”.  This is done by decreasing the stiches towards the outside edges of each row.  There are lots of different ways to turn the heel, I just follow the pattern carefully and am amazed when it works.  For different numbers of stitches, refer to this site.

When the heel is turned, you need to then pick up all the stiches along the edge of the heel flap and start to reduce the stitches to create the gusset.  With the right side of the work facing you, and yarn on the right hand side of the needle, use the spare needle to pick up the end of each heel flap row and knit it onto the needle with all the heel on it.  Then knit around the other two needles (its easier at this stage if you put all these stiches on one needle) and continue to pick up the other side of the heel flap.  Now you need to re-arrange the stiches so that half of your original number of stiches (in this case 20) on the top of the foot are on one needle (already done if you followed my suggestion above) and then half each of the remaining stiches are on each of the other two needles.  In this case, if you reduced your heel flap to 12 and picked up 30 stiches on each side of the flap, you end up with 72 stitches in total, 36 on each needle.  Now you form the gusset by reducing the number of stiches on each of the 36 stitch needles at the end that joins to the 20 stitch needle.  Working around, the first decrease one is a SSK, the second is k2tog. 

For example:
Needle 1: Knit to last three stitches, k2tog, k1
Needle 2: Knit even
Needle 3: K1, SKP, knit to end of needle

Continue until you have the original number of stiches back on the needles.  In this case it will be 20 stitches on the top needle and 10 on the other two needles.  Now you just work around and around, try on the sock occasionally and continue around until you reach about 1 inch from the toe of your foot.

Now its time to form the toe of the sock.  This time you decrease on the top and bottom of the sock.
Needle 1: knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Needle 2: k1, ssk, knit to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Needle 3: k1, ssk, knit to end of needle.
Work an even round.

Alternate decrease rounds and even rounds until about a quarter number of original stitches remain (in this case 10, but as you remove 4 stitches at a time, it works out to be 12 remaining) and distribute these evenly on 2 needles to finish the sock.  Again, there are a number of ways to finish a sock, I found kitchener stitch was ok as long as I had a few minutes to concentrate and say the stitches out loud!

Is it worth the effort?
Yes!  Once you get through the first one or two socks, and understand the pattern, it becomes very quick and easy to generate socks.  They are fiddly, but they are small, so its not a huge project to take on and you get rewarded with a finished sock relatively quickly.  It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you can create a sock, that you will never have to buy socks again, and that something that seemed so complicated is now easy suggests that maybe you could knit just about anything if you just sat down and concentrated for long enough!  Now that I’ve mastered socks, I finally feel ready to try that vest.  Actually all the techniques I need for the vest are found in a sock - ribbing, decreasing, knitting in the round, picking up stitches to do the arm-holes.  I'm feeling quite confident now!  I never thought that I would recommend socks as a beginner knitting project, but they are so quick, and not much to unravel if you make a mistake, its worth a try once you're ready to tackle reading a pattern.

Have you or do you knit socks?  How many needles do you use?  Any tips?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Enjoying winter slaw

Over winter we often find ourselves with a surplus of cabbage.  One thing that I like to make is coleslaw (or just slaw for short).  The coleslaw I remember as a child was just shredded cabbage, grated carrot and grated cheese (sometimes also raisins, apple and/or walnuts), saturated in mayonnaise.  Lately I have been experimenting with other ingredients.....

It has to contain shredded cabbage to be a proper coleslaw, but I also like to included grated root vegetables such as beetroot, carrot, turnip, swede and radish.  I will also include other green leafy veges, like any asian greens, mustard greens and nasturtium leaves.  Mint and parsley finely chopped are also delicious.  I prefer to use an olive oil and vinegar dressing, with a few herbs or mustard seeds, it just tastes fresher and not as heavy as mayonnaise.

What do you put in coleslaw?  What's your favourite salad combination?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre
From The Farm Blog Hop     

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The truth about farming

Recently my blog-friend Ohio Farmgirl reposted an excellent post entitled "the truth about farming", dedicated to her friend who had once said "evenings on your farm must be so relaxing". That post really made me smile because I could relate to everything OFG was saying and its just nice to know that I'm not the only one who has chook poo on my jeans and dirt under my fingernails!
evenings on your farm must be so relaxing
Pete and I both work full time, so our farm doesn't have to make us a living.  But at the same time, we are trying to take care of our animals and prepare our food AND go to work.  I'm not sure which one is harder!  But I do know I'd rather be doing what I do than living in the city and relying on someone else to grow everything for me.  I like to know where my food comes from, and its particularly gratifying when we have a situation like the floods of the past few years, when we were cut off from town, with not a worry in the world.

I thought you might find it useful, if you're thinking about how lovely it would be to have a small-farm yourself and grow your own food, just to let you know how much work is involved on a daily basis.  It all depends on the time of year and the number of animals living here at the time, but this is a typical day's farm work:

Before work (work starts at 7am, we leave at 6:30am)
If we are milking a cow twice daily: get up at 5am, milk cow, put milk in fridge, let chickens out to free-range.

Otherwise, get up at 5:30am and let chickens out.

Cook eggs on toast for breakfast, prepare leftover dinner to take for lunch.  Give dogs bones so they don't bark as we drive away.

After work (work finishes at 3:30pm, we get home just before 4pm)
Check on all chickens, top up food and water as required, this can be up to 6 tractors to check.  Collect eggs.

Feed cattle one scoop of grain each, check cattle water (depending which paddock they're in).

If we are milking daily, milk cow.  If we are milking once a week, separate cow from calf (and milk the next morning, usually weekend only).

Check garden for anything that needs harvesting, weeding or mulching.  Water garden.  Somehow find time to plant more seeds, check on seedlings, put worm tea on garden etc.

Throw ball for dogs.

In winter, light the woodstove.

Come inside when it gets dark.  Cook dinner from garden veges and meat out of the freezer + a few bulk pantry staples.

We had a free medical check-up at work and I was told that I don't get enough "organised exercise" (I put 2 hours/day of "farm work" on the form).  I told the doctor that I don't have time to exercise because I'm so busy walking around the farm (which by the way is rather steep) with buckets of water, grain and hay, digging in my garden and unloading firewood from the ute!  Funny that I passed the fitness test!

There are also a few things that make our life easier compared to other part-time farmers.  We both work at the same place, only 10 minutes drive from home, so we have virtually no commuting time (with previous jobs we have had up to 90 minutes of driving each way, so we appreciate the difference this makes).  We also don't have kids, and I'm sure I don't have to explain how this makes a difference to our time management!  We also don't spend much time socialising or volunteering, we have to make an effort to do that more often I think.

I'm not complaining about how much we do, for the most part it is enjoyable, kind of a hobby that keeps us occupied, and fed, at the same time.  I don't know what we would do with our time otherwise!  If you're thinking that you'd like to do something similar, I hope this will help you get an idea of the work involved.

As for relaxing..... the other day I tried to have an afternoon lie-down and between the guinea fowl squawking and Donald the bull roaring, I didn't get a minute's rest!

What's your farming truth?

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meal worms for chickens

One of our goals is to set up our farm to be self-sufficient, mainly because that the cheapest way to do things, and also because it means that we don't have to rely on external sources to provide what we need.  A weak point is the chickens.  Even though they provide us with plenty of tasty eggs and meat, we still have to buy grain to feed them, so that's not exactly a self-sufficient system.  I've been on the lookout for ideas for food that we can grow for the chickens to at least replace part of the grain we but for them.

a couple of hens tasting the mealworms
One thing that does make a difference is allowing the chickens to free-range, they eat far less grain.  I wrote a while ago about feeding the chickens only corn and sunflower seeds.  Since then I've read more about chicken nutrition, as it seems that they do need meat, or at least the amino acid methionine, as it is not found in significant proportions in grains or legumes.  The theory is that chickens are descended from naturally free-ranging jungle-dwelling birds (gallus gallus), which tend to get their protein from bugs.  It is argued (and I read this in a magazine on small farming, so I can't link to the article) that a chicken free-ranging on pasture does not pick up as many bugs as a jungle bird might, and therefore does not get enough protein from bugs, and so needs to be fed a "complete ration" containing either meat meal or a synthetic form of methionine.

Chicken pellets are usually labelled as complete rations, and if they contain meat meal, they will have a warning not to feed to ruminants (trying telling our house cow not to eat the chicken feed!).  I would still prefer to feed grain, as you at least know exactly what's in the feed.  I'm not sure if our free-ranging chickens are getting enough protein from the bugs they find.  They certainly lay more eggs when we feed them high-protein layer pellets, so maybe they do need more.

With this in mind, when a friend offered me her excess mealworms, so that I could start breeding them, it seemed like the perfect way to make sure that the chickens had enough bugs in their diet to meet their methionine needs, and we could continue to feed them on corn and sunflower seeds, and look for other feed that we could grow to even replace the grain eventually, and still get lots of delicious eggs and chicken meat for ourselves.

So far the meal worms have been very easy to grow.  They live on grain, which I realise is ironic because the whole point of this exercise was to reduce the grain consumption, but the point is that the meal worms convert that grain to higher protein feed just by feeding and growing, so its a way to increase the nutritional value of the grain and they don't seem to use much grain at all.  They also need the occasional carrot or apple to provide moisture, just replace it when its all eaten or gone mouldy.  I keep the meal worms in a plastic tub next to my worm farm.  They have a piece of cardboard on top of the grain and then the tub is covered in a hessian sack for good air flow.  This all seems to suit them fine as they are breeding like mad!  The most effort is required in remembering to harvest a few worms each day and take them to the chickens, I'm sure that the chickens will learn that I bring them worms after a while and come running.  I am trying to think of how to let the chickens self-harvest, but without eating all the bugs.  

There's more information about keeping the meal worms here and here.

the meal worms all tucked up under a hessian sack

Have you tried farming meal worms?  Any tips?  What else do you grow to feed your chickens to increase your self-sufficiency?

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, August 16, 2013

Nutritionism - a book review

Does it seem to you that nutritional advice is constantly changing?  One moment eggs are bad, and then they're good again?  Low carbs or high carbs diet?  Do you wonder what you should actually be eating to maintain good health?  You're perfectly right, the advice really does keep changing, just like every other aspect of science, when new discoveries or information displace the old theories. One of the common misconceptions about the scientific method is that scientific theories are absolute truths. Unfortunately this is only encouraged by the popular media, and even government organisations, in their attempts to educate the public about the latest scientific findings. This is a particular problem for nutrition science, as unlike some more abstract areas of science, most people do take an interest in the latest nutrition advice and can find the regular changes quite confusing. 

In Gyorgy Scinis’ book Nutrisionism - the science and politics of dietary advice, nutrisionism is defined as the "reductive" study of nutrients in isolation, or in small groups, rather than as part of a whole diet or in context as part of food.
"This myth of nutritional precision involves an exaggerated representation of scientists' understanding of the relationships among nutrients, foods and the body.  At the same time, the disagreements and uncertainties that exist within the scientific community tend to be concealed from, or misrepresented to, the lay public."        Gyorgy Scrinis in Nutritionism - the science and politics of dietary advice
The book is not an "easy read", it is scholarly in nature and incredibly thorough, with plenty of references and footnotes, but not beyond the lay-nutritionist, just don’t expect to finish it quickly. Gyorgy explains the evolution of the scientific theories behind the nutrition advice, and it becomes quite clear how we have got into this state of conflicting advice. Nutrition science is a relatively new field, even in the early 20th century scientists had not yet identified vitamins and recommended a diet based entirely on protein. Vegetables seemed to be completely unnecessary back then. As nutrition scientists have gradually come to understand more and more about how our bodies metabolise food and what is required firstly for normal growth, and then for not ending up with chronic illnesses, they have regularly changed their theories.

The other problem with nutrition science is the involvement of the food industry, which has strived to manipulate the science, and the official interpretation of the science. Throughout the book Gyorgy refers to the example of margarine, once a poor cousin of butter, then glorified by its vegetable fat content, then vilified for its trans-fat content, but coming out on top again as a "functional food" full of plant sterols to reduce cholesterol. It seems that the food industry is always ready to adjust their formulations to take advantage of the latest science, but adjusting the ingredients in processed foods does not necessarily improve our nutrition.  
Gyorgy’s conclusion is that we should consider the quality of the food, defined by the amount of processing and the primary production methods, rather than the individual nutrient content. For example, pure butter from grass-fed organic cows has very little processing as compared to margarine made using a chemical process, from vegetable oil which has also been chemically extracted from seeds, than may also have been grown using synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and GM seeds. I really can’t fault that advice as a strategy for good nutrition.

This is a challenging and rewarding read for anyone interested in the development of nutrition science. It also proposes a sensible alternative to reductionist nutritionism, choosing food based on the quality, with regard to processing and primary production, which I found quite satisfying and much easier to remember than all the conflicting advice.

Here is a taste-tester of Gyorgy’s writing.  I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publishers, Allen and Unwin.

Do you find nutrition advice confusing?  What do you think of the advice to eat mostly unprocessed whole foods?

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Homekill beef - is it worth it?

We got another steer killed a few weeks ago now, and I weighed all the cuts of meat so that I could work out the approximate value of the meat and compare the cost of raising a steer to the cost of buying all the meat from the butcher.   My article has been published on the Farm Style website, which is a FREE online community for small and hobby farmers to learn everything about farming and country living.

If you want to know more, head over the Farm Style to read the the article and then come back here for comments and questions.  Do you raise steers?  Is it worth it?  Do you have any questions?

More about our home butchering here.

  The Self Sufficient HomeAcre  monday's homestead barn hop

From The Farm Blog Hop

Monday, August 12, 2013

Permaculture - Integrate rather than segregate

Its time to consider the next principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability.  This month we're up to "Integrate, rather than segregate".  As I said last month in  "Design from patterns to details", these last few principles are about how to achieve a successful design and an optimised system.
an established food forest that we visited,
complete with several beautiful Australorp roosters
The other principles that I've reviewed have been:
Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
Use and value renewable resources
Produce no Waste

This principle is so important to the permaculture concept, it reinforces the idea that we are designing a system and a system consists of parts that interact.  The two key ideas in this principle, which were first articulated by David Holmgren and Bill Molison in "Permaculture One", are:
  • Each element of a system performs many functions
  • Each function is supported by many elements
The typical method to analyse and design a resilient system is "functional analysis of elements" (great example here).  This is done by listing all the elements in a system (or proposed system) and considering their functions.  For example, the functions of chickens might be:
  • producing eggs
  • production meat
  • scratching the garden (this could be used for good or evil, but listing it lets consider how to harness this for turning the soil and how to prevent unwanted scratching)
  • eating bugs
  • producing manure (again, this could be an annoying waste, or a useful fertiliser)
Another example is the worm farm, its functions are:
  • accepting food waste
  • producing manure
  • worms to feed the chickens and aquaponics fish
  • worm wee fertiliser
This is then followed by considering desirable functions and ensuring that they are covered in a number of elements, for example production of meat could be achieved by chickens, other poultry, wild game, beef, goats, sheep etc.  Production of compost can be achieved by the worm farm, or by the compost heap.  The chickens can eat the worm farm worms or meal worms that I grow too.  And then considering how undesirable functions, such as chicken manure, may be used as an input to a system, for example by using a chicken tractor the manure can be spread over the garden or pasture.  Here is a wonderful example of a complex interaction of elements and functions on a food producing farm.

David also points out the integration is not always appropriate, for example, its a good idea to separate chickens from your vegetable garden when you're trying to grow vegetables (but they might be used in the garden at times when the crop is finished). Appropriate separations must also be considered as part of the overall design, and may change over time.

This principle of integration is also represented by the permaculture concept of plant guilds and food forests.  Guilds are groups of plants that grow well together, and food forests are a mix of trees, herbs and vegetables grown together.  The idea of an orchard full of herbs, vegetables and even small animals (chickens, rabbits, sheep) is a perfect example of integration.

This chapter also discussed integration in community, which I found very interesting.  David encourages self-sufficient communities, rather than individual self-sufficiency.  That means that we don't all have to be doing everything ourselves, but by working together we achieve what we need.  Of course this is more difficult to design!  I feel that by blogging we are contributing to a global community too.  On that subject, I think its important not to rely too strongly on the internet to supply all our information, I also buy books, new and secondhand, that cover topics we might need to know about, in case we can't use the internet one day, this is an example of having several elements provide the same function.

How do you integrate elements and functions at your place?  And what do you separate?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Canning controversy!

A few weeks ago I wrote about my first attempts at canning/bottling tomato sauce.  That post attracted so many helpful comments, thank you everyone who took the time to tell me about their canning experiences and leave me lots of links to read.  The two controversial issues that came out of that post was the use of secondhand jars and lids vs. new jars and lids, and the use of open-kettle or overflow method.  My first thought was that my grandmother and mother have bottled food using old jars and the overflow method for nearly 100 years, so how could it be the wrong way?  But I thought I'd better do the research before I jumped to conclusions, so here's what I found out.

First the open-kettle or overflow method, in which hot food is poured into hot jars and sealed with sterilised lids, is now not a recommended method, even though it appears to still be used quite regularly.  The issue with this method is that the air in the headspace has not been sterilised and may contain food-spoilage or food-poisoning micro-organisms, which could either spoil or poison the food in the jar.  Obviously this does not necessarily happen every time, otherwise this method would not exist.  If the food and the jar are hot enough, the headspace probably heats to sterilisation temperature, so the food remains sterile.  The safer option is to boil the sealed jars in a pot of water (water bath method), for a specified amount of time, to ensure that both the contents and the headspace are sterile.  This adds processing time, but guarantees are sterile product.

The problem with reusing the jars seems to be more about the potential for breakage, especially in a pressure canner.  I did have one jar break when I used the overflow method, so I guess that's a risk you choose to take if you don't want to be buying new jars all the time.  And its probably worse for the overflow method if you don't match the food and jar temperatures, as it will cause thermal stress in the jars and any imperfection will cause them to break.  Apparently the proper canning jars are better to reuse than other jars, and maybe one set of good quality jars is an investment that will last for years.

The problem with reusing the lids is that they may not seal properly.  If air can get into the jar, then micro-organisms can get in too, and the food may spoil or be poisoned.  Its not the vacuum that preserves the food, but it is an indication that the lid is air-tight.  New lids can be used with reclaimed jars.  Its very easy to check that lids with "pop tops" are sealed, and any jars with tops that didn't suck down can be used immediately or reprocessed.  New lids are more likely to seal properly, and these can be bought online.  I ordered a mixed bag, as I have a few jars without lids and I thought it was worth a try.

As a side-note, I keep reading that the vacuum creates an "oxygen-free" or anaerobic environment in the jar.  I don't think this is quite right, as its not an absolute vacuum (that would cause the jar to implode!), its just a relative vacuum due to the hot food and vapour cooling and condensing after the jar is sealed.  This reduces the volume of the contents of the jar, which results in a slight vacuum, which sucks down the lid and creates a seal.  The oxygen in the air in the headspace then most likely reacts with (oxidises) the contents of the jar until the oxygen is all consumed, and that is what would create the oxygen-free environment.

This is relevant because the worst case food poisoning potential is botulism (also wonderful infograhpic here), which is a life-threatening condition caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.  This bacteria has spores (like seeds) that are notoriously difficult to kill, and the bacteria can grow from the spores and thrive in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen).  The two ways to control growth of Clostridium botulinum is either high acid food or high temperature processing (in a pressure canner).  When I read through the botulism symptoms, it made me think that it really is worth the extra effort of water bath canning rather than relying on the overflow method.  Especially as mould growth can alter the pH of the food, and facilitate the growth of Clostridium botulinum, so even if you think you have high-acid food, it may not be high-acid if mould starts growing.  Fortunately the botulism toxin is destroyed by heating, so if the canned food is boiled for 10-20 minutes before eating, that can remove most of the toxin, which is an extra safety precaution.

You can find some excellent canning information from the USDA on the Greenliving Australia website.  And on the National Centre for Home Food Preservation website.

I hope that covers some of the issues that came out of my last post!  It just makes me want to freeze, dehydrate and ferment everything instead!  Did I miss anything this time??

From The Farm Blog Hop    

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Plastic free July - summing up

As I wrote back in June, I decided to participate in Plastic Free July properly this year and keep a "dilemma bag" with all the plastic that we still used, even though we were trying not to use any at all.  It is now time to look through the bag and analyse its contents.....

Things that we managed to do without:
  • muesli bar wrappers - by making homemade muesli bars
  • rubbish bags (lined bins with paper)
  • plastic cups (we don't buy anything in a cup and I always use a real cup when I make myself a drink)
  • straws (again we never buy anything with a straw)
  • shopping bags (used fabric bags, I put a stash in each car, so no excuses!)
  • plastic bottles (we are in a very lucky position of producing our own milk, and I make fermented fizzy drinks and Pete makes beer, so we didn't have to buy any plastic bottles)
  • plastic wrap (I used some of the tricks in this link)

Things that ended up in the dilemma bag and what I might do to reduce this waste:
  • Various wrapping from things ordered online, I'm not really sure how to avoid it, and some of it was also posted in a plastic bag in plastic bubble wrap!  I am going to email each company and politely suggest that they use alternative packaging, its worth a try.
  • Food packaging - pasta bag and lots of little bits of plastic, for example the seal that goes around the lid of the bottle of sauce, and some punnets from buying strawberries (which I returned to the market stall the next month).  Maybe I need to learn to make pasta, unless anyone knows where to buy it not in a plastic bag.
  • Rubber gloves for washing up - I get a rash on my hands, which seems to be caused by hot soapy water, even since we use a soap shaker, so I need to wear rubber gloves.  I buy the natural rubber gloves anyway (which technically isn't plastic, although the packet is), and apparently the latex can be composted, so I'm going to try that.
  • I also had several bags from freezer meat, that I didn't keep in the dilemma bag for obvious reasons.  This is a real problem for us as we get 300 kg of meat at a time, and fill 2 freezers, so it really has to go in bags to make it last through the year and its difficult to wash and dry those bags to a standard to reuse them.  Any other suggestions for freezing meat in bulk amounts?

Did you join in on Plastic Free July?  What was in your dilemma bag and do you have any ideas to further reduce your plastic consumption?  Any ideas that I have missed?

From The Farm Blog Hop    

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Farm update - August 2013

Everything on the farm has been great, we've had odd patches of rain, we had Frank butchered and the freezers are full, the chickens are laying 6-7 eggs/day, so I have extra to sell, the garden is full of greens and root veges, I've been baking bread and making yoghurt.... our removal house has even moved onto our property and we can start work on it.

the chickens enjoying mealworms that I'm growing for them

a sample harvest basket
the crazy guineas have been free-ranging

the cattle enjoying their grain ration (and chickens ready to clean up spills)

Molly destroying a hay bale and look how dark Monty is getting

Here's Frank ready to go in the mobile cool-room
Last week I concluded my series of interviews on "getting started with chickens" with a giveaway of my favourite chicken book.  I drew a winner from the comments on that post, and the winner is: Deb K :)

Please contact me on eight.acres.liz at gmail dot com to arrange delivery.

One last thing, Shannon from Nourishing Days runs a Weekly Cultured Gathering.  I've been submitting posts and have been featured a few times.  If you ferment or culture anything and want to share a post, please come and join in by adding your link.  It would be great to have some other bloggers joining in.

How was your July?  What will August hold for you?

Monday, August 5, 2013

What's growing in my garden? August 2013

Last month I joined "The garden share collective" and gave you quite a detailed tour of the garden.  This month I hope to just update you on the highlights and changes since last month.

In the first garden bed, we have harvested all the radishes (used up in salads and cooked - steamed or fried in butter - with other veges) and started harvesting the thinning carrots, swedes and turnips.  I've also planted shallots (also known as spring onions).
leeks, carrots and turnips
In garden bed 2, I still just have a mass of self-seeded brassicas and lettuce, nasturtium, and the chilli plants are still going (and I discovered that the chickens will eat the chillies, because we have run out of ideas for using them!).  I'm harvesting multiple small broccoli heads, rather than waiting for big ones.

In garden bed 3 I pulled out all the wheat that had grown out of the chicken litter, and planted celery, then the chickens got into the garden and dug up the celery (they like to dig where I have been digging), but they don't like celery, so I was able to rescue and replant most of it.  The (perennial) kale is doing so much better now we've had some cold weather and bugs have died off. The pak choi has gone to flower, which is nice because there's not much else in flower at the moment.

I tidied up the forth bed too and pulled out all the basil and cherry tomatoes, leaving some space to spread out some of my herb pots and lemon and lime trees, so they can get some sun through winter.  There's also broad beans and peas (just the odd one that I eat in the garden, none have made it to the kitchen yet), and the surviving capsicum bush.

Around the edges, the tromboncino and beans have died off, so I replanted self-seeded calendula seedlings to take their place (last year I harvested lots of calendula petals).  I also cut open some of the big tromboncinos and harvested some seeds for next season.  I also planted some potatoes that had sprouted in the cupboard, its way too early for them, maybe they will make it, maybe they won't....  I harvested some sweet potato because the chickens had started to dig them up.  I hope I left some in the ground to sprout when it warms up.

Bizarrely, it strawberry season (again!).  I only have two large pots of strawberries, so I just get the occasional tiny tasty treat.  As soon as I have space, I will have a massive strawberry patch!

a sample harvest basket
This month I'm going to start planning for spring!  I know its early, but last year I didn't get organised until November and by then it was too hot and dry to get things started, so this year I will be making use of my mini hot house to get tomatoes, corn and curcubits started early. We gave the cattle a roundbale of hay, which they proceeded to destroy and sleep in (even in a roundbale holder), so that will be some nice mulch to spread around the garden too.

How is your garden growing?  What are you harvesting?

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