Friday, November 29, 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?

eight acres: stainless steel soap molds

this is the mess I made

And the final product, one bath soap one wash soap

Pete cuts it with a pizza cutter!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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, their understanding of simple living grew.

eight acres: Changing Gears book review

I had actually invited them to stay with us, but I understand we are a little out of the way, although they came within 80 km of our place when they turned off at Tansey!  What a shame, but now reading Greg's description of some of the people he met, I wonder what he would have written about us!  Nevertheless, the offer still stands, I'd love to sit down with Greg and Sophie and have a chat about simple living.

One of the of the strong themes of the book is the difference between city and country life, connection to nature and the dillema of where and how to live.  I wonder if I identified so strongly with the book because I've been spending more time in the city lately myself.  Pete and I decided it would be a good idea for me to change jobs (for many complicated reasons that I won't bore you with) and unfortunately that means I am away from the farm through the week.  I did find a very accomodating company, that doesn't mind me arriving later on Monday morning, working late through the week and leaving early on Friday.  I didn't want to tell you until I'd tried it for a while, I didn't want you to all feel sorry for us, but honestly its not too bad, we spend all weekend together and its only a few days apart.

I lived in Brisbane for a few years about 7 years ago, so its weird being back here and I have noticed a number of the things that Greg discusses in the book.  I didn't realise how difficult it was to live simply in the city.  Last time I was on a student wage and living with other students.  It wasn't weird to be stingy, to wear op-shop clothes and make-do with what you could find or borrow.  Living here on a decent wage is very different, as Greg says, the temptations to spend money are everywhere, and I have to keep reminding myself that I don't need to buy food or drink, I bring plenty with me from the farm.  Everyone here drinks coffee, but I'm sticking to my herbal tea.  I am surrounded by people wearing expensive clothes, both at work and just walking around the city, and I keep having to tell myself that I don't need to buy any new clothes, I have plenty of "out fits" (I went to the op-shop before I started work and picked up lots of nice work blouses!) and I can sew more when I need them (my last job had a uniform, which was so much easier).  I'm lucky to have found a 1 bedroom furnished unit, so I don't need to buy any new things for that either, I am making do with what is here and its very comfortable (actually its nearly as big as our tiny house!).

The people that live in the house above the unit have told me how difficult they found it to grow a vege garden, even though they did really try hard.  I didn't realise how much more difficult it is to produce your own food in the city.  They have a
decent size yard and tank water, but apparently the possums ate whatever they planted!  We don't have any trouble with possums, because their native predators keep them under control.  Animals and pests in the city are more difficult to deal with because the eco-systems are distorted.

There are some things that are easier in the city though.  The main one is public transport and human powered transport.  The unit where I stay is very close to a bus that takes me straight into the city and I am amazed by how much the public transport has improved over the last few years, it is incredibly quick and easy to get around (from this suburb anyway), which means I could live here without a car..... except that I have to drive back to the farm!  But I can see how you could get by without a car and I didn't have a car when I lived here last time, so it is possible.  Its also possible to walk or cycle to where you need to go because with the population density, things that you need to get to are usually not very far away.  In the country we need a vehicle just to get around our property, not to mention to get to anywhere else!

Everything here feels very very densely packed, and I notice it more than ever.  The people, buildings and cars all feel too close together.  I have to conciously remind myself to lock my car (because we never lock cars at home), and the door of the unit at night, which is not something we bother with in the country.

I notice that people here use more water, the family upstairs has very long showers.  Pete and I had an egg-timer in the shower for a while, but we struggled to stay in the shower for the full 3 mintues, so it wasn't much use to us.  Greg had some great thoughts about habits and getting used to using less.  We are really stingy with our water, and I forget sometimes that "normal" people use so much more.

I am determined to continue to live simply, even though I don't have as much time at home to cook, I've been making huge batches of slow cooker casseroles, curries and soups and stocked up the freezer, so we can both eat homemade meals through the week.  I'm also bringing milk, eggs and bread to Brisbane with me, so I don't miss out.  I also want to make the most of this time in the city.  I'm going to join the library and read even more books.  I'm going to join a yoga class and learn meditation.  And I'm going try cycling the 8km to work.  I'm going to do some more sewing.  And I'm going to enjoy every minute of my weekends at home with my husband.

I don't want to go on about the book too much, I think all I need to say is that if you're interested in simple living, whether you practice it now or you want to, you will enjoy this book.  You will probably learn something and you will have a laugh too.  Its less than 400 pages, which is just shows how Greg has somehow managed to distill months of travel and interviews and experiences down to the key messages, arranged by the categories: shelter, community, food, work, clothing, technology, money, health and spirituality, to create a fascinating book.

Thanks Greg for giving me some things to think about and making me take notice of the world around me.  I'm also thankful in general for the opportunity I have to live on the farm and this city interlude brings that into sharper focus.

Read any good books lately?

*Greg asked me to tell you that the book is available from booktopia, or from Dymocks and independent book stores, and its hiding in the autobiography section because I guess they didn't know where to put it*

Monday, November 25, 2013

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.

Molly with baby Monty 6 months ago
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).

We were not prepared for Molly!  We decided that she needed to be dried up, even though Monty is only 6 months old (he could have had a bit longer).  We have Bella in milk, so we didin't really need to milk Molly and she was looking very thin, and Monty very fat.  We didn't have much good grass for Molly, so we decided to dry her off so we could try to feed her up to better condition before she has her next calf (in maybe 4-5 months).  At first we tried the same method we used with Bella, but Molly was making 10 L at each milking (daily), which didn't seem to decrease, no matter what we did for 2 weeks (I made a lot of cheese and ice cream!).  This explained why she was so thin and why Monty was so fat, she is such a good cow!

Finally we realised that we were going to have to stop milking (and that's when I found out that the other method isn't recommended) and let her body stop making milk.  The key here is that we also changed her diet.  The problem with milking her is that we feed her grain when we milk, so it was difficult to reduce her protien intake.  When we stopped milking, we stopped feeding grain too.  We just gave Molly lots of hay to fill up on, and a tiny amount of grain with all her minerals (and extra garlic for antibiotic properties).

I was a little put off by the conventional advice to use an intra-teat antibiotic and an artificial teat sealant to prevent mastitis.  I didn't want to do either of those things, and I had to trust that Molly's own immune system was strong enough to manage what should be a natural process (although we have engineered dairy cows to make an unnatural amount of milk).  So if you're still drinking non-organic milk, those cows are routinely treated with antibiotics when they are dried off.  They will be out of the "with-holding" period by the time you drink their milk, but is it really safe?

Gradually, over the next few weeks, Molly's udder began to shrink, so we knew it was working.  Molly seemed happy with the hay, but lonely (she had to be separated from the others so she didn't steal their grain, being he dominant one with horns).  We won't know until she has her calf if we've been succesful, but I'm hoping my big strong Molly cow is going to be ok.

Here's some useful links if you want to know more:



Any tips for drying off milking cows or goats?

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

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.

eight acres: cooking homestead- raised chickens
I can never get the legs to fold back like supermarket chickens!
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.  Our favourites are:

  • Chicken curry
  • Chicken with red wine and tomato (kind of coq au vine)
  • Chicken with white wine and mushrooms
I know some people can't bring themselves to kill and eat chickens that they have raised, but if works really well for us.  For a start the chicken tastes better.  If I have supermarket chicken now, it just tastes bland and has a weird crumbly texture.  Homegrown chicken is succulant and tasty.  I also like to know that the chicken I'm eating had a nice life.  Sure it was a short one, but it got to go outside and run around with the other chickens.  Supermarket chickens, even if they are free-range organic, have just as short a life, and who knows how they are really treated?

How do you cook your chooks?

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, November 20, 2013

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.

eight acres: Some thoughts on improving cattle yards for safer working
Our new and old yards
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 yards
  • The large yard was too big, the cattle just circle the yard and don't go where you want them to go
  • The 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, which is very disruptive and means that there is effectively no holding yard, all yards are combined and some cattle have to go through the race several times
Modern yards now have the race going around the outside, and the crush before the loading ramp, so you can draft cattle out of the yards or back into the yards if needed.  Unfortunately, this would have been a major modification to our yards, and as the current structur was sounds, we decided to work with what we already had and try to improve the layout to make them safer and easier to use.

The first change we made was to add a gate on the forcing yard so that it could be accessed from the large yard.  This meant that we didn't have to drive cattle through the top of the race.  However, they continued to circle the large yard, so we knew we had to do more to improve the yards.  

Our first trial was to build a small holding yard using portable panels that Pete made for our tame cattle.  They are a bit small and flimsy for the Brafords, but it allowed us to try the design without spending much extra.  We used the yard to hold the weaners, and also to break up the larger yard.  This was an improvement, but still not as good as it could be.

eight acres: Some thoughts on improving cattle yards for safer working
The cattle yards before we modified them (click to enlarge)

eight acres: Some thoughts on improving cattle yards for safer working
The cattle yards with the portable panels (click to enlarge)

We visited a friend's yards and thought about the layout of the sale yards, both have lots of gates and are very easy to use, the cattle have no option but to go where you want.  We decided to buy more heavy-duty panels and add extra gates to our yards.  We measured the yard and sketched it out so that we could work out how many panels and gates we would need.  I'll give Pete full credit for coming up with this design, I did have some ideas, but they're not worth sharing!  Pete's concept was to create multiple smaller yards so that we could push the cattle around towards the forcing yard, but also with gates that could be closed that we could both work safely near the race.

We ended up buying the panels instead of making them, because, sadly, you can buy them cheaper from China than you can buy the metal to make them, and it saved Pete about a week of work.  We picked them up from near Toowoomba, 20 of them stacked up on the ute, I don't think we could have squeezed another panel on there!  They are good heavy-duty panels and we were able to arrange them as per Pete's design.

We also modified the wing that comes into our yards to make it easier to move the cattle into the yards.  They previously had a tendancy to turn when they got to the gate, but now we have a long narrow paddock leading up to the yards, so if we bring in a round bale of hay to lure them, and then close the gate to that paddock, they have no choice but to move into the yards for us when we push them down the paddock.

We found the new deisgn worked really well and we were able to trap all the cattle using our new paddock.  We felt a lot safer and the cattle moved more easily.  We did get sick of going in and out of gates, but it was worth it, better than having all the cattle in the yard where you're working (some of them still have horns and we don't trust them).

We are pretty happy with the yards now, the only remaining modification is to build a smaller race for calves.  We have a calf cradle that we bought secondhand, and we are still decided exactly where to install it.  This will make branding and castrating safer for us and the calves.

Any thoughts of cattle yard design?

Monday, November 18, 2013

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.

eight acres: a few things that I do that are like prepping but I'm not taking it that seriously....
this is my "overflow pantry" in the spare room, its mostly dried good bought in bulk
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 survive isolation from local towns, from shops and even the grid electricity supply. Although we’ve only been tested for a few days at the most, I am certain we would be fine for weeks. And I suppose this is how some people react to all the doom and gloom in the media these days, if you can’t control what’s going to happen, you can at least feel prepared….. for something.

eight acres: a few things that I do that are like prepping but I'm not taking it that seriously....
making soap - prepared for not being able to buy soap
Being self-sufficient is also a very frugal way to live. Growing your own food and using what you grow is far cheaper than going to the supermarket, and with the time I’d waste driving around shopping all the time, I can spend some peaceful time in my garden instead. We still go to the supermarket for a few things, mainly bananas and potatoes, but we will grow them too eventually. While prepping can take the form of stockpiling dried food, I prefer to keep our food “on the hoof” as OFG says (and I like to keep some of my seeds in the soil, if I don't save them carefully and ruin the whole jar, at least some will come up next year in the garden). This is far more sustainable as we can keep producing more, as long as the animals keep breeding, rather than having a finite amount of dried food that will eventually run out.

Preppping usually also involves some form of escape plan and “bug out” bag. This is not a bad idea considering that we are at risk of evacuation due to either bushfires or floods through most of summer (depending whether it rains or not). This should include a plan for animals that can’t travel with you (oh the thought of leaving our cows behind is too much for me!). Your bug out bag should contain various survival needs for a few days and essential documents. Some preppers even have “retreats” set up in the wild where they could go to hide in the event that SHTF (sh*t hit the fan), but I think we already live in such a retreat.

eight acres: a few things that I do that are like prepping but I'm not taking it that seriously....
first attempts at growing potatoes, the purple ones happen to grow well here!
While we are somewhat prepared for being stuck at home, until now we hadn’t done much about being prepared to evacuate. This seems like a good idea, whether or not you consider yourself a prepper. There is a wealth of information out there, so even if you are not a serious prepper, its an opportunity to learn how to be more self-sufficient and live well for less money. And you don’t want to be one of those people that needs a food drop after only a few days in an emergency situation.

Are you a prepper?  Any good resources or ideas you'd like to suggest?

Friday, November 15, 2013

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.

eight acres: some thoughts on waxing homemade cheeses

eight acres: some thoughts on waxing homemade cheeses

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, rub both sides with sea salt and leave the cheese on top of the upturned cheese mould, covered by the cheese cloth I used to press it in, to allow it to dry out.  You need to form a rind before waxing, so the cheese needs to dry.  
  • Depending on the temperature in the kitchen, I might turn it and leave it another day, otherwise I put it in the fridge in a tupperware container that has a raised rack so that the cheese can continue to dry.  I have to check this daily, drain the container and add more salt.  It doesn't work as well as air drying, but if its really hot and humid the cheese goes mouldy out in the kitchen!
eight acres: some thoughts on waxing homemade cheeses
messy wax pot
  • As soon as the cheese has dried out and formed a rind, I wax it and put it away, otherwise I tend to forget about it and the cheese gets moist again.  If this happens, rather than waste the cheese, I often just cut off the mouldy bits and wax it anyway (probably not recommended, but hate to waste anything).
  • To wax the cheese, I put the wax pot on the stove on a low heat until melted and spread out newspaper on the benchtop (this gets messy!), then I take the cheese from the fridge and hold it in one hand while painting every part of it that I can with wax.  It doesn't take long for the wax to set, literally seconds, then I can flip it over and pain the rest.  Then I check for any bits that I missed.  
  • I write a quick label with the date and type of cheese (most of them are Romano though) and stick that to the cheese with wax.  Then I put it in the cheese fridge.  The hardest part after that is remembering to turn the cheeses in the fridge every few weeks.
We usually take a cheese out of the fridge and grate the entire block, and then store that in bags in the freezer.  Its then very easy to grab some cheese to use in cooking.

Have you tried waxing cheese?  Or storing it another way?  Any tips?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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.

Bella the giraffe cow
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 expect after your cow has her calf, phew!  It is going to be finished soon, I promise.  If you have any pressing cow questions, please ask now, so I can include them in the first edition (I suspect there will be many updates!).

This series of interviews has been particularly entertaining for me because it featured goats (and a sheep), which I have no personal experience with, so I loved to read about them.  I wonder if goats are a better option for those who do not have bovine experience, I'm not sure if they are easier to handle or not, I would be interested in your thoughts on the matter.  I know there's lots of good reasons to get a cow, especially if you use a lot of milk, but they can be very difficult to control if you're not set up for cattle and don't know how to handle them they can be dangerous and just more expensive to look after.

If you would like to revisit and catch up on any of the interviews, here they all are, make sure you leave a comment for the writers.

What do you think?  Did we inspire you to get started with dairy?  Is there more you need to know?  Did you enjoy the series?

Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl
Interview with Gavin from the Little Green Cheese

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, November 11, 2013

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!

one of our dams... notice the perfect edge!
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 shade
  • We tend to buy secondhand (including our house!) because it creates less waste, but it also makes use of things that are not valued by others
  • On our farm we do things differently to our neighbours, we used different fertilisers and dont spray herbicides, which makes us marginal :)
  • I value weeds in the garden because they help create awesome compost
  • I like to grow unusual vegetables to find out what grows well, even if they aren't something we would normally be able to buy from the supermarket
  • Pete and I are an edge, I'm from NZ originally, and he's very Australian, we cross-over our two cultures and accents in daily life, I'm not sure if that makes us more productive, but its does make us keep an open mind and maybe we find new ideas more accessible as a result
In terms of actual edges, we are not making as much use of the edges on our farm as we could be.  All our dams are perfectly round, there's no scalloping to increase edge!  And actually I'm not sure if we want to encourage yabbis, as their holes can damage the dam wall.  I am interested in planting edible water plants in the dams though, particularly lotus (I'm not sure if that's related to edge or not).  We have plenty of edges between pasture and trees, and lots of small clearings (I think a previous owner was a bit sneaky in clearing where he shouldn't), so that creates extra edge.  I think we could use the contour banks in our cultivation areas to grow more tree legumes, which would be a use of edge.

The other principles from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability that I've reviewed have been:

Friday, November 8, 2013

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 to avoid all the unnecessary ingredients in processed foods.

eight acres: review of Michael Pollan's book, Cooked

The first chapter, fire, is about whole pig BBQ, which is a technique used in the southern states of the US.  Personally, I had never heard of this style of BBQ before, so I found it interesting to learn about it, but then I found the chapter a bit long, maybe its more of a man-thing.  However, I bravely persevered and fortunately, the next chapter, water, was about braising meat and the woman's role in the kitchen, which I could relate to, as we end up with plenty of meat for stewing when we have a steer butchered.  I learnt a bit about mirepoix (which sounds like a disease, but its the chopped up veges that you use to flavour a stew) and umami (the Japanese concept of savoury taste).  I enjoy Pollan's style of digressing to trivia related to the topic, and then back to the story of learning to cook a braise.  Pollan writes that "the shift towards industrial cookery began not in response to a demand from women entering the workforce, or even from feminists eager to escape the drudgery of the kitchen, but was mainly a supply-driven phenomenon" - there was an excess of processed food after the war, which draws strange parallels to the invention of tampons to use up the extra bandages.... women beware, they are trying to trick us!

It was the third chapter that I found most riveting.  Air is about making sourdough.  Light sourdough, not brick sourdough like I made.  There is so much more to know about sourdough than I ever realised and Pollan covers the subject in great detail, down to the flour, wild yeast and cooking techniques.  It made me think that maybe I could attempt it again, although doing it right appears to take considerable time. This lead nicely to the final chapter, earth, which is about fermenting (my other favourite subject), including saurkraut, raw milk cheese and beer, and an excellent discussion of the importance of microbes (bacteria!) to our overall wellbeing.  I learnt some new words, I think I am a "fermento" and a "post-Pasteurian" because I don't believe all bacteria are bad.  In this chapter Pollan writes:
"Under the pressures of broad-spectrum antibiotics, a Pasteurian regime of "good sanitation", and a modern diet notably hostile to bacteria, the human microbiota has probably changed more in the last hundred yearers than in the previous ten thousand, when the shift to agriculture altered out diet and lifestyle."
Overall, it would have been difficult for me to not like a book about cooking from scratch and how the processed food industry has ruined our collective health, but I wasn't expecting to learn so much from the book either.  For a journalist with no formal scientific education, he does a great job of interpreting the many scientific papers referenced throughout the book and making the underlying biological and chemical processes accessible to the general reader.  I think he comes to the same conclusion that I have, food is complicated, and the more we learn about it through sophisticated scientific methods, the more we realise that our ancestors probably had some pretty good ideas, including eating raw milk, fermenting foods, preparing stocks and stews from real ingredients, and eating lots of butter.  We can keep researching to understand why these things are good and try to replicate them in processed foods, or we can just cook from scratch like our grandparents did and probably feel better for it.  I think this is one that I will read again.

Read any good books lately?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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 had to bring the house through that paddock, so didn't seem any point ploughing it up.  We are going to see if it grows back enough to feed the cattle, rather than planting more.

I wrote about the vege garden on Monday.

The chickens are laying heaps.  We've had 3 broody hens and I've just been taking the eggs off them, I haven't tried to break their broodiness because we don't really need any more eggs anyway, but I don't want to hatch any at the moment either.

Deck chicken, I disturbed her, she was resting under the chair on the veranda, next to the dog beds....
We separated Molly and Monty because we wanted to wean Monty, and let Molly recover some condition before her next calf, she has got very skinny lately.  We didn't realise how much milk she was still making because she always had a very small udder, Monty was doing a great job of milking her out, at least 10 L per day, no wonder he is so fat.  This made drying her up more difficult than we expected, Bella was easy because she never had so much milk.  Drying up is nearly as risky for mastitis as just after calving, so we have been watching anxiously.  We won't know if we've been successful until we starting milking her again.  We have used a strategy of reducing the energy in her food (she is getting a tiny amount of grain to hide her minerals, and lots of hay to fill her up) and stopped milking altogether, but we milked her once a day for a couple of weeks before we figured out that that wasn't going to work, so I got to make some more cheese and icecream, she is such a good cow, but we don't want to wear her out making so much milk for us.

The chickens helping Molly with her hay
Bella and Nancy
Paralysis ticks are back now the weather has warmed up.  We know people who have lost sheep and goats, so as soon as we could tackle Nancy we put an eartag on her (not at all organic, but would hate to lose her at this stage).  We also realised that might be why we lost so many baby chickens lately (turns out that they are affected by the ticks too), now that I thought about it, they did seem paralysed, I didn't even think to look for ticks on them.  No deaths recently, so hoping the remainder have developed resistance.  We also brought home a little Braford calf and I found eight ticks on him, I was hoping to bottle feed him and get him strong as he could still stand, but unfortunately he got pneumonia (common complication when they are weak from ticks) and died after he got wet in a big storm (even with a dog coat on him).

Nancy with her eartag - she wasn't easy to catch either
At Cheslyn Rise we did some fencing to make a new holding yard to help force our difficult Braford cattle into the stock yards.  We also bought some new portable panels and added gates to make our yards safer and easier to use.  We really needed to separate the weaners about 2 months ago, but they were refusing to go into the yards.  Our new system worked and we managed to get eartags into all the new babies and the cows, and separate eight weaners for the sales.  We only had trouble with two stubborn old cows who were too tame to be scared of us and go up the race, its sad when you need a cattle prod for the tame ones!

Didn't Pete do a great job of the post and strainer?
weaners branded and ready to go
portable yards inside the wooden yards
 At the house we helped our electrician finish off all the electrical work and the power is on!  That was a very exciting moment to see all my fans running and turn the lights on and off a few times.  We had to install fan in every room (for environmental compliance), including one of the verandas!  So I just used fan lights for all rooms and an extra light in the kitchen.  This did keep things simple, but because the walls are tongue and groove, there's no cavity to hide the wiring, and Pete did spent hours using a router to making lovely conduits from lengths of pine.  We also finished all three sets of stairs and decided to leave the treads as natural timber.  We just need to do some work on handrails.

I am going to write in more detail about a few things.... cattle yards, stairs, drying up a cow.... but in the meantime, that gives you an idea of what's been happening here.

And if you thought that 250 A was big, its just a hobby farm compared to the 300000 odd acres that belong a fellow blogger and garden enthusiast who commented last week.  Emma lives on a station in WA and has just started her blog, but she's already got some great info and photos.  I'll just say one thing: home cured bacon.

How was your October?  What does November hold for you?

Monday, November 4, 2013

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....

blackberry, seems obvious that they would have flowers,
but I never really thought about it until I saw them

lucerne/alfalfa, a deep rooted legume, great for mulch and compost

marigold, so easy to grow and supposed to repel some pests

arrowroot - I haven't tried making flour yet
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 view of the broad beans, citrus and herbs in pots and calendula

Looking the other way through the kale bushes towards the chilli bushes

The area I have cleared for tomatoes this year (and the sprinkler)

silver beet (under the galangal)
the raspberry (did I tell you I'm excited about the raspberries!?!)

the celery (excuse the self-seeded cabbage pushing in there), I just wanted to
show you that I'm picking and using it before it gets big, its been very useful
I had some questions from last month that I never got back to....
  1. What do you think of the purple potato beyond novelty? - They seem to grow well here, so that is the main thing for me, and the purple colour is probably a sign of phytonutrients (as the comment also mentions) so I will see if they continue to grow, I wouldn't try hard to grow them just for the novelty, but I welcome any plant that grows well :)
  2. Does that chinese broccoli do better in a hot climate? - I think it was supposed to, and it didn't go to seed as early as the other broccoli, but I didn't notice much difference in terms of productivity, it could have been my fault though for not looking after it enough though...
  3. How do you cook nasturtium leaves? - I just chop them up finely (usually with other herbs) and add them right at the end to what ever I am cooking, whether its a stew, sauce, sautéed veges, or even salad. They have a peppery flavour, I think they go particularly well with sweet corn, but I put them in virtually everything. It is one herb that grows really well here and has benefits for both the garden and our health.
Jobs for November - I think I have plenty planted, and as soon as it rains the beans, tomatoes and curcubits will no doubt take off and we will have more than we can eat.  In the meantime, the priority is keeping the soil moist enough that the plants stay alive through the hot weather, this means compost, manure and mulch, by the barrow load, and recycled water for the garden (from our bath and laundry).  Most of the plants that went to seed have finished, and I didn't bother to collect much this year, I just sprinkled the seed back onto the garden so that it will come up again next year, much less time-consuming, as I still have plenty of seed that I saved last year.  I just can't wait to taste my raspberries later in summer.....

Friday, November 1, 2013

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 do with excess avos?  Anything unusual that you like to freeze?

eight acres: how to freeze avocado

eight acres: how to freeze avocado
stack of avos ready to freeze, I also freeze strawberries and whole passionfruit.

the avocado after a few months in the freezer

eight acres: how to freeze avocado
guacamole (sort of, just avo with lemon juice, salt and coriander) 

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