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Showing posts from November, 2013

Pete's stainless steel soap moulds

Since I wanted to start making soap I thought I'd better get some moulds.  You can buy plenty of fancy moulds online, but I just wanted something simple and the right shape for our soap shaker.  I went to th op-shop and checked out various containers, I did find a little silicon mould which is good for the overflow, but the plastic lunchbox I bought didn't let the soap out and we had to cut it off.  Pete decided to make something, and this is what he came up with....

Its a piece of stainless steel plate folded up in a "U" shape, with steel plates help in place with booker rod and nuts.  I made gaskets from a truck inner tube to seal the ends.  When the soap is set, you just undo the bolts and the soap slides out of the mould.

Do you have any creative alternative soap moulds?








Changing Gears - book review and some changes of my own

Some you may have seen Greg Foyster's blog "Simple Lives", which documented the experiences of himself and his girlfriend, Sophie, as they travelled from Melbourne to Cairns, via Tasmania, by bicyle, arriving around this time last year, and using the journey to learn about various aspects of simple living.  I kept an eye on the blog, so I was keen to read Greg's book when it was released recently, and his publisher very kindly posted it to me a few weeks ago.  It did not disappoint, what an amazing story!  Its just the right mixture of funny and insightful.  I was amazed to learn that Greg and Sophie had never cycled long distance before and had very little experience with camping (or simple living) prior to their trip.  Along the way they met with many well known characters of the simple living world, Gavin Webber, Rhonda Hetzel, Clive Hamilton, Costa Georgiadas, and many many others.  I really really enjoyed reading about their journey, as they travelled north, the…

Drying off a house cow without antibiotics

Its important to "dry off" a cow before she has her next calf, this allows her body to recover and prepare for her new baby.  It is recommended that you give the cow at least 6 weeks, but it all depends on the cow's condition, the available feed and the calf (if it will also be weaned at the same time).  Drying up is nearly as risky for mastitis as the start of lactation, so its a time that needs to be carefully managed.  The two options are to either stop milking completely, or to gradually stop milking as much until the cow is making very little milk.

In the past, when we dryed off Bella, it was simply a matter of taking the calf away to be weaned in another paddock, and milking Bella a few times (not taking all the milk) until she stopped producing.  She was usually only making 4L by that stage, so there was no problem.  This method is not recommended as it doesn't allow a natural plug to form in the teat (maybe that's why Bella got mastitis last lactation).

W…

Cooking the chooks

I am often asked about how we cook our homegrown chickens.  Many people assume that they are all tough and need to be stewed.  Its true that the older chickens can be tough, but the extra roosters that we hatch and kill after 9-12 months are tender enough to roast and very tasty.  We cook the roast chicken in our webber BBQ, in a roasting dish with some chicken stock (I usually forget to defrost it, but it melts as the dish heats up), and the cavity stuffed with herbs and garlic.  Just cook the chicken for a couple of hours on medium heat and use the stock to make delicious gravy.  The bones can then be used to make more stock in the slow cooker.

For the older hens and roosters, I usually portion the chicken as I'm butchering.  I keep the legs and thighs for casserole, and the breast meat for mince.  We usually use the mince for meat balls, with either a tomato or creamy sauce.  The casserole options are endless. and the chicken gets tender if its cooked all day in the slow cooker…

Improving our cattle yards

When we bought Cheslyn Rise, we thought we had purchased a property with a really good, solid set of wooden cattle yards.  It wasn't until we worked the cattle in the yards a few times that we realised there were a few problems with the layout.  It is very important to have yards that are easy to work in, this leads to less stress for the cattle and the people, and makes the whole exercise safer.

The previous owner told us that he built the smaller wing of the yards first, and then he decided to add the larger wing.  He has built some nice solid yards, but the layout isn't ideal.  The result was the following issues:
The race is up the middle of the yards, so there is no safe place for people to stand while working in the yardsThe large yard was too big, the cattle just circle the yard and don't go where you want them to goThe only way to get the cattle into the race was to drive them across the race from the large yard to the small yard and then into the forcing yard, whic…

I'm not a prepper but....

A “prepper” is someone who is preparing for some unknown, but catastrophic eventuality, variously known as “a zombie apocalypse” or TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). Some preppers are more specifically preparing for such things as the collapse of world financial systems, peak oil and/or a coronial mass ejection. Whatever the reason, the idea is the same, to be prepared to live self-sufficiently, to be able to provide for the needs of oneself and family without assistance from the outside world.

This means setting up systems to provide food, water, shelter, and often defence, in case of any of the above catastrophes. Pete and I are not preppers as such. We are not preparing for anything in particular, with no real urgency, but we do get a sense of comfort from knowing that we are in control of our food and water supply. Even in minor disasters such as the flooding we have experienced over the past couple of summers, it has been very reassuring to know that we can sur…

Waxing cheese

Up until recently we vacuumed sealed all our cheeses.  This seemed like a terrible waste of the plastic bags, as you can't really use them again, and as our vacuum sealer lives at the back of a kitchen cupboard, it was also a real pain.  I had a chunk of cheese wax, but I was too scared to use it.  Then when Molly had her first calf, I was making so much cheese, I decided to just give waxing a go.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is very quick and easy to do.




This site has some good step by step instructions.  The method I use is to pain the wax on the cheese with a cheap paintbrush.  I would like to dip the cheese, but I didn't want to dedicate one of our big pots to wax, so its just in a little pot.  The part that I always found confusing was the step between taking the cheese out of the cheese mold and waxing and storing the cheese, so, after a lot of trial and error, here's what I do:
Press the cheese overnight, in the morning take the cheese out of the mould,…

Getting started with Homestead Dairy - summing up

Over the past few weeks I've run a series of interviews with bloggers about getting started with homestead dairy, including everything from cows, to goats, sheep and cheese making.  This is a continuation of my series on getting started with growing your own (veges) and getting started with chickens, you can find all the interviews about getting started here.

I have strung this one out a bit because I was hoping to have my house cow book all ready to launch at the end of the series, but I have found out two things lately, first writing an ebook is taking more time that I expected and, second, just when you think you know everything there is to know about house cows, something else will happen (just about weekly lately) that makes you realise that there is so much more to learn!  I need to add some more sections about drying up your cow, safety around your cow (how to not get kicked), mastitis, calling the vet in to help, how to prepare for your new cow, vaccinations, and what to e…

Permaculture - Use edges and value the marginal

The permaculture principle that I'm reviewing this month is Use Edges and Value the Marginal.  This is an ironic principle, because permaculture itself is marginal, on the edge, not mainstream, so if you're using permaculture, you're probably already in the right frame of mind to apply this principle!

When I think of this principle, I immediately picture the edges between a dam and pasture, or between forest and pasture, but that is a simplistic interpretation of this principle.  By marginal, David means both "things on the edge" and "things that are not valued".  An example in the book is wild foods, which we often forget can be useful.  The idea is that things on the edge are more dynamic because of the cross-over of two systems.

Some examples of edge and marginal aspects from our farm life:

Our farm itself was marginal (not valued) because of all the trees, but we see value as firewood, fence posts, fertility and shadeWe tend to buy secondhand (includ…

Cooked - Michael Pollan - Book review

I didn't know what to expect from Michael Pollan's latest book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (sent to me by Penguin).  I am among what I suspect is a very small minority of people who have not read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I had seen a youtube video in which Michael Pollan interviewed Joel Salatin, so I had an idea that I might like what he had to say.  I guess a friend of Joel Salatin's is bound to be a friend of mine!

The book is arranged in four chapters based on the four elements of ancient Greek phylosiphy, Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and in each chapter Michael examines a different type of cooking with the aim of pinpointing "the precise historical moment that cooking took its fatefully wrong turn: when civilization began processing food in such a way as to make it less nutritious rather than more".  This is a subject with which I am currently a little obsessed, especially since I've been cooking more and more of our food from scratch in order…

Farm update - November 13

October was a BIG month for us, we both had two weeks off work and spent most of that time either working on improving the farm or the house, we didn't even have one sleep-in!

We haven't had much rain, just a couple of storms and about 10mm in total, which is typical spring weather.  I'm starting to wonder why the Bureau of Meteorology bothers forecasting because they always seem to get it wrong lately, and the long range forecast changes each month it is released.  Add to that the fact that its all in percentages of probability of whether rainfall or temperature will be more or less than average, and you can't really figure out what they are saying anyway!  They were saying it would be wet in January, but now they are saying it will be average to below average rainfall all summer (I think that's what they said).  We are hoping to plant some forage, but will see when it rains.  The forage sorghum that we planted last summer is still in the ground and growing as we …

Garden update - November 2013

October has been a big month in the garden, I started plenty of seedlings and I've planted them out in the garden, with plenty still to harvest from the winter crops as well.

The peas have finished (apart from a few I'm leaving for seed) and the broad beans are now producing.  I just pick and eat them, we don't grow enough to freeze them and I don't think we would use them anyway, they are just nice to fill the gap between peas and beans.  I picked the first borlotti bean and then other bush beans are starting to produce too.  There is still plenty of kale, celery, mustard greens, nasturium, leeks, all sorts of herbs, and now silver beet too.  Also lots and lots of eggs!


I wanted to show you some more flowers from around the garden this month....



And some long shots of the garden (sorry they are so dark, I waited until it cooled down to venture out and it was late afternoon by then!).





I had some questions from last month that I never got back to.... What do you think of…

How to Freeze Avocado

Avocado season is just drawing to a close and we were given a box of avos by a friend who grows them commercially.  I like avocado as guacamole, but get sick of it after a few avos and I couldn't see us getting through the entire box of them before they went off, so I investigated our options.  Turns out that you can freeze whole avocados (I also used the DYI vacuum seal from that post, love it!), just cut them in half, remove the stone (and plant it, but maybe not all of them!) and sprinkle with lemon or lime juice to prevent browning.  Then place the halves in a bag and freeze (I don't know why some sites say to freeze on a pan first, just an extra step, don't bother).  To use the avocados, remove them from the bag, defrost (not in the microwave!) and mash.  The best part is you can just use a half, and not have to find something to do with the entire avo.  The texture is a bit different, but ok mashed, rather than sliced and better than wasting the avocados.

What do you …