Friday, February 28, 2014

Frugal city living - clothes

Living in the city during the week and attending work in the CBD has forced me to update my wardrobe - frugally.  I wrote about frugal city living - food last week, and if you missed the post about me being in the city during the week, catch up here.

a collection of op-shopped, homemade and a few new clothes for work
At my previous job I was provided a uniform and everyone wore the same thing. I didn’t mind that at all, it was comfortable and I didn’t have to think about what to wear. Also nobody judged me on what I was wearing, as long as I was neat and my shirt was tucked in, I just blended in with everyone else. In the city, apparently, we still need to dress for success, which I just find an inconvenience. Sure I like to dress nicely occasionally, but I don’t like to have to think about it every day and I don’t like to have to spend money on clothes that might be better spent on farm gadgets and fruit trees. But if I turned up to work in jeans and t-shirts I would not be respected, so I do have to make some effort to dress appropriately (although I draw the line at wearing high heels or makeup).

My first frugal solution has been several visits to op shops (charity/thrift store), in which I have managed to stock up on plenty of skirts and tops suitable for work. I wasn’t expecting to find so many suitable items, but apparently people must buy things and change their mind and send them off to the op shop with nothing wrong with them (I very rarely have anything for the op shop myself, its either altered to fit or put in the rag bag when it falls apart, so I have trouble understanding why so may good items are being given away). Some items are clearly barely worn, and from expensive shops. I find it quite shocking that people would not only waste good money on expensive clothes, but to also then just give them away to charity where I can pick them up at a fraction of the original price, seems mad to me. Even my local op shop at Kingaroy had a surprisingly good range and it’s a very low socio-economic area, but the best one I’ve found so far is a Salvos on Logan Rd near Sunnybank, it is HUGE and full of bargains (also low socio-economic area, but I think they circulate the clothes around Salvos stores in the city).

Another great idea, which I have participated in previously, is clothes swaps. This is where you get together with a group of friends (the more the better) and bring all your unwanted clothes. The swaps I’ve been to have been a bit of a free-for-all, with all the clothes in a pile in the middle of the room and everyone just sorting through and grabbing the ones they want, but I have also heard of people being more civilized and using hangers etc (I believe that there are also more organized clothes swaps in some capital cities, but it sounds like they are a bit picky about the clothes that can be swapped). You never know what someone will be happy to repair or cannibalize into another sewing project, so I don’t agree with rejecting clothes that are ripped or stained, but still have some good fabric. I still wear a number of items that I’ve picked up at clothes swaps, so they are an excellent source of clothing if you have the right group of people together.

I hope this isn't your normal, I'm trying hard to make sure its not mine either
Now that I have stocked up and have plenty of work clothes to keep me going until winter, my next frugal strategy is to maintain these clothes.  Frugal Queen wrote an excellent post on the subject last year. I am terrible at spilling food on my clothes, so I get dressed for work after I’ve had breakfast, and I get changed as soon as I get home. I handwash anything delicate and spot clean anything I do spill. The more often you wash clothes, the quicker they wear out, so I only wash when clothes are actually dirty. The other useful skill is to learn how to mend clothes, simple things like sewing on buttons that fall off, or sewing up an unraveling seam can extend the life of a garment, particularly when they seem to be so badly made these days (made cheaply and quickly).

You can take this even further if you have access to a sewing machine, and make some of your own work clothes. I have a couple of skirt patterns that I have made several times, which is a cheap and easy way to update your skirt collection. I have made a blouse once and it turned out “interesting” (not exactly symmetrical), but wearable, I think I need some practice on some of the more challenging techniques and I certainly wouldn’t attempt trousers at this stage! And my recent knitting attempts have added a vest to my wardrobe, so if I keep practicing I could try cardigans in no time!

Finally, I have so far managed to resist the urge to buy anything new. I do have some items that I have bought new over the years and looked after, such as a good pair of black trousers and a few good woolen cardigans, but right now I don’t NEED anything, so I am holding off. It certainly is difficult to walk through the mall and see all the clothes shops with sales and all the people dressed nicely, but I keep thinking of how else I would like to spend that money, and if I don’t actually go into the shops, I don’t get tempted by anything on sale. While I do think its important to dress appropriately for work, it is possible to do so in a frugal manner.

Any tips on frugal clothing for the city?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Branding our cattle - Part 2 - how to brand

As I said in Part 1 (registering a brand), I do not support the compulsory branding of cattle in QLD, but unfortunately under the QLD Brands Act 1915 (Section 24) it is illegal to sell unbranded cattle, with the penalty being 6 months jail!  So we will continue to brand them until the law changes (believe me, I'm trying to figure out how to make that happen).

Options for branding
The traditional method of branding is "fire branding" in which a red hot iron brand is held against the skin of the cattle for 2-3 seconds to leave a permanant mark.  I have read all sorts of rubbish about it not hurting the cattle, but I've seen for myself they can be standing in the crush perfectly calm and as soon as that brand touches them, they will struggle and cry out.  Of course it hurts them.

There are a few alternative methods if you MUST brand.  One is freeze branding, which uses dry ice to mark the skin of the animal.  This requires special equipment and more work, but apparently the skin numbs and so the cattle doesn't feel as much pain.  I doubt that this is a very popular method, I don't even know where to get dry ice in the South Burnett, and I'm sure the more remote you get the more difficult it would be.  Also the equipment works out to be more expensive and making the brand (custom made to match your symbol) is more of a specialist job.

You can also get a device that immobalises the cattle (the one I know of is called stock still), which can reduce the stress of being branded (but surely it still hurts them after they are released).

We decided to use fire branding because its simple, its easy to get the equipment and to set it up at any time.  Ideally we shouldn't have to brand at all, but if I can't get the law changed, maybe we will look at some of the less painful methods I mentioned above.

As I said in the last post, we got our brand made by a local blalcksmith.  While it is possible to just light a fire to heat the branding iron, we decided to buy a gas furnace.  This means we get a nice hot iron (and get a good brand on the first attempt), we don't have to wait for a fire to be hot enough and we don't risk starting a bush fire.  I keep forgetting to take a photo of our one, but here are some similar examples.  They are not cheap, but sometimes its worth buying the right tool for the job!

The branding procedure
We usually brand weaners right before we need to sell them.  We will start early in the morning and work all the cattle through the yards, doing what needs to be done to any cows, and separating the weaners into a pen.  Then we get the furnace hot and prepare the ear tags (yes, we also have to ear tag them, see how the brand is redundant!).  We bring the weaners up through the race and catch them in the head bale, we tag them and then Pete gets the branding iron hot enough and holds it to the rump of the animal for 2-3 seconds to create a nice clear brand.  It usually takes them a few seconds to react, which is just enough time to remove the branding iron before they struggle and smudge it.  Then we let the poor thing go and bring in he next victim weaner.  If we are organised and everything goes smoothly, it can be quite a quick process.  Unnecessary, frustration, but quick.

Do you brand cattle?  What method do you use?  Would you support a move to optional branding in QLD?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Project water tank shuffle - How to move a water tank

We finally decided it was time to replace our old water tanks.  We've known we would need to do this since we moved in about four years ago.  The first week we owned the house, Pete was whipper snipping around the tanks and they sprung several leaks!  Since then we have regularly dealt with leaks by drilling in a tek screw.  They were gradually getting worse, and we recently had a hail storm that resulted in multiple leaks and one of our roosters had realised that he could just peck the tank when he got thirsty and make a giant chicken nipple.  Time to get some new ones!

The reason the tanks were so leaky is that they were old metal tanks and must have been quite cheap at the time.  They were very very rusty.  The tanks store the rainwater that runs off our house and shed roofs.  They are our only source of drinking and household water.  Luckily we had one good tank that must have been installed later, so we knew we could just replace the two rusty ones, and we would always have the one other tank full of water while we were working on the replacement.  Pete ordered new tanks and found out that they were 400 kg each, so then he started thinking about how we were going to move these tanks and get them into position....

The old tanks after we started digging up the plumbing
I'm going to show you some photos of how we moved the tanks, but I'm not going to tell you how to do it. I don't want any responsibility for anyone who tries to move tanks this way and hurts themselves or wrecks their tanks. Everyone told Pete that it wouldn't work, and they were wrong, it did work perfectly because Pete is good at his trade and careful in his work. If you look at these photos and still don't know how to move tanks, then you should pay a professional. But if these photos can help you to try something similar, using your own skills and tools, then that's great.

preparing the pad for the tanks

Pete built a clever trailer

Here's the first tank on the trailer ready to put in place on the pad

The new tanks in place

Cutting up the old tanks - they were too rust to use for anything
Pete did an amazing job of emptying one old tank into a new tank and then moving the old tank.  He hoped to empty the second old tank into the first old tank after it was moved, but it was too leaky as even the bottom was rusty, so he had to put that water in our dam.  He then moved the second tank.  He did all of this while I was away!  Then in the weekend we smoothed out the pad and moved the first new tank.  We pumped the water from the other new tank into the first new tank.  When it was empty, we moved the second new tank into place.  Pete connected up all the plumbing and opened the valves to equalise the water in the new tanks and then connected all three tanks to the house supply and to the downpipes.  Phew!

Now we just need some rain to test it all!  We have about 2 full tanks of water, which is heaps really.  I'm so proud of Pete for figuring out how to move the tanks.  Have you moved anything ridiculously large and heavy lately?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Frugal city living - food

As you know, since November I’ve been working and living in Brisbane during the week and returning to the farm (and Pete) on Friday afternoons. Even though there are many temptations to spend money in the city, our savings account has continued to increase, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on frugal city living, starting with food.

stir fry lunches ready to go
Every day I watch my work mates leave the office to buy lunch. When I started the job here I decided I would not be buying food and so far I have stuck to this even though I only have a limited kitchen in my unit. I’ve written before about our habit of freezing leftovers, and that is how we avoid buying lunches, there is always something in the freezer to take for lunch. I have also taken frozen leftovers to eat for dinner through the week and Pete has that option too if he doesn’t feel like cooking. Each weekend we cook up a big batch of something in the slow cooker and top up the freezer supplies again. We cook things like casseroles, curries, soups, bolognaise, chow mien, stir fries (the last two not in the slow cooker). A roast or a packet of 12 sausages will also last us through the week, with a few extra veges cooked at dinner to take for lunch. Buying lunch is not only expensive ($5-6/day at best, up to $15/day if you get something fancy), but there is also the temptation to buy high fat, high sugar junk, anything you make at home is going to be better food. Homecooked meals only cost a few dollars a day, so its possible to waste huge amount by buying lunch each day compared to bringing something from home.

The other way to save money is to make and grow your own. Now I realize that its harder to grow your own veges in the city, but at least give it a try, even if you manage to grow a few things, they will save you money, and many people do have successful gardens, so it must be possible (sorry I can’t provide much advice in this area). But apart from veges, the thing that always surprises me is when I see people buying yoghurt, this is something that you can make at home very cheaply and easily. Even if you just use Easiyo packets you will still save money, but if you progress to my milk powder method, it will cost you only a few dollars per litre.  Here's my yoghurt instructions if you want to give it a try. If you have time, making your own bread also saves money, even if you buy organic flour like I do, its cheaper than the supermarket bread (the good bread, not the nasty cheap stuff) and doesn’t contain all the additives, see my bread making instructions here. I could also go on about fermented fizzy drinks and pickles and sourdough cake starter, but they are not so much necessities as bread and yoghurt!

homemade yoghurt
In the city there are actually more opportunities to buy cheap fruit and veges compared to the country because the farmers from all different regions bring their produce in the city. We go to our local farmer’s market at Nanango once a month and support local farmers as far as possible, but there is often not much variety grown locally. The Brisbane markets have far more variety and its much cheaper to buy directly from growers than from a supermarket. If you buy locally and in season, you will save money too. I have been enjoying the Wednesday markets in the Brisbane CDB in Library Square. The key is to use what you have at hand rather than trying to buy everything required by a recipe, no matter whether it is in season or not.

What are your tips for frugal food in the city?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A natural deodorant solution

Natural Deodorant from Biome

Deodorant has been on my list of things I’d like to make for myself for a while now. I have been using a natural deodorant from Miessence for ages, it only contains aloe vera, baking soda and essential oils. And it works ok. To be honest I don’t really care that much, I don’t even use it if we are going to be doing farm work all day and not going anywhere special. I use it on work days, but I sit in air con, so I don’t sweat much. If I’m going out in summer, no amount of deodorant is going to control sweat in the climate we live in (hot and humid), but I will apply deodorant anyway, may as well try to smell nice. So if you’re picky about these things, I’m probably not a good reference point if you actually care what you smell like!

homemade deodorant

Anyway, I’d better start from the beginning before I get into making deodorant. I changed from conventional deodorant to the natural brand a while ago because I wasn’t happy with all the extra ingredients. See this link, which lists ingredients of concern:
Propylene Glycol
FD&C colors
And I will add artificial fragrance to that list.

There is a lot of stuff on the internet about the links between cancer and deodorant being “debunked”. Sorry, but just because you did a study of people with and without cancer who did and did not use deodorant and couldn’t find a conclusive link does not mean that there is no link. I prefer to apply the precautionary principle. If I don’t NEED to put a toxic chemical on my skin, I won’t, and that goes for deodorant too.

Typically, deodorants contain antibacterial ingredients that help reduce the numbers of odour-causing bacteria, and may also contain perfumes that mask the smell. On the other hand, antiperspirants use aluminium salts to reduce sweating by temporarily plugging pores and also by constricting or shrinking the pores due to their astringency. Antiperspirant products don’t completely prevent sweating, and often contain deodorising ingredients as well as antiperspirants to reduce smell. Plugging pores just doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, and aluminium salts have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Again, aluminium salts may not actually cause Alzheimer's disease, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to take the risk.

One of the alternatives to chemical deodorants that I considered was the “crystal deodorant”, which is also an aluminium salt (although a different chemical formula to the antipersperents).  I cannot find conclusive evidence that this form of aluminium is sustaintially different to he form I am trying to avoid in conventional antiperspirants and no information about how this product works, so I suspect that it also clogs pores.  I'm just not confident that its a better option without more independant information (apart from people trying to sell crystal deodorants).

After several years of only using a natural deodorant, I keep seeing blog posts about making your own deodorant and I’m thinking that would be a handy thing to be able to make. At the moment I have to order the one that I use because there is nowhere in Kingaroy that sells anything like that. So in the end, it doesn’t really matter if the chemicals in commercial deodorants are causing cancer or not. The point is that they are not natural and I can’t make them at home, so they are not the best option for me.

There are lots of recipes out there and one thing that I’ve learnt is that there seems to be a difference in the types of deodorant in different parts of the world! The US deodorants seem to be a solid stick, rather than the UK or Australian runny liquid deodorants. This explains why there are so many different recipes.

Here's some examples that I found on the net:

Homestead Revival

Crunchy Betty

Wakeup World

Without knowing why the various ingredients are used, its difficult to work out which recipe to use, fortunately I found an explanation, so I was then able to work out a suitable recipe.

baking soda - odour
arrowroot/corn starch – wetness
essential oils – antimicrobial
coconut oil – antimicrobial
beeswax – solidity

Basic recipe
1 part coconut oil
1 part baking soda
(1 part beeswax for solidity if required)
a few drops of essential oil

Mix it up (you might need to melt the coconut oil if its cold at your place) and keep it in a little jar.  Apply with your fingers.

I left out the arrowroot/corn starch because it was impossible for me to find pure organic sources of either of these.

The first time I made this I was in a hurry and didn't follow the recipe properly and I skimped on the baking soda.  In my experience, it doesn't work well without enough baking soda!  So if it doesn't work for you at first, try adding more baking soda until you're happy with it, although it does start to get a little abrasive.

Also, there is some discussion around the blogs about diet being important.  The theory is that if you are eating a clean and natural diet, you most likely smell less and will find this deodorant effective, if you're still eating junk, you're body will be eliminating toxins in your sweat and you will probably stink.  I don't know if this is true, but if you experiment with this deodorant and don't like it, maybe have a look at your diet as well.

Sure neither ingredient is something I can grow myself, so its not really a self-sufficient deodorant.  But if we get into a situation where I can't get baking soda or coconut oil, I think deodorant will be the least of my problems!

I have been using this recipe over summer so far and I find it just as effective as the natural deodorant that I was using previously.  Its cheap and easy to make from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen anyway, so why not give it a try? Have you tried something similar already?  Any tips?

Commercial options are available from Biome, see link in banner below:

Natural Deodorant from Biome

Monday, February 17, 2014

Teaming with Microbes - book review

I am coming to realize that the science I learnt at university is no longer current, even though I graduated less than 10 years ago. The study, and more importantly, the application, of microbiology in soil is one area that seems to have advanced significantly and it is difficult to keep up with each new discovery. Fortunately, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web is a good summary of both the current scientific research and the practical applications in our gardens and farms.

The first half of the book is a summary of different types of microbes and larger soil life, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa, worms and invertebrates, as well as a chapter each on soil chemistry and the physical nature of soil. Each chapter gives an explanation of the role that each type of microbe pays in the overall “soil web”. I summarized some of this information previously after I attended a course on sustainable agriculture, however there was far more detail in the book, which helped me to understand the importance of balance in the soil food web. The final quote “nobody fertilized the old-growth forest” sums up the potential and the importance of the soil food web. If we recognize and encourage a balanced soil food web, then we will no longer rely on chemicals to grow our food (pesticides and herbicides become obsolete, as well as fertilizers).

The most important concept that I took from this section is that plants actually produce “exudates” that feed and encourage microbes. I was vaguely aware of this, and when I mentioned to my neighbor that I would rather have weeds in my paddock than nothing at all because they are at least feeding the microbes in the soil, he thought I was mad. The common thinking about plants and soil fertility is that the weeds are “sucking all the fertility out of the soil” (I can’t tell you how many farmers have said this to me). The fact that all plants are making exudates that are helping the microbes to create fertility is a huge change in thinking for most gardeners and farmers (obviously if you then harvest the plants you are taking something from the soil, but if you mulch them as per Peter Andrews, you are increasing fertility by recycling the nutrients).

The rest of the book describes the application of the science to gardens and lawns. In particular, there is a chapter each on making compost, using mulch and making aerated compost tea. While you will find information on compost and mulch in many other references, aerated compost tea is a relatively new concept and this is a very good explanation of how to make and use it. Aerated compost tea is not to be confused with weed tea or manure tea, the key is that a small pump is used to bubble air through the brew, so that plenty of oxygen is provided to all the beneficial microbes. Previously I have made teas by just leaving weeds and manure to soak in a bucket of water. While this adds some nutrients, it does not stimulate the soil food web in the same way as aerated compost tea, and may even damage it by encouraging pathogens that prefer to grow in the absence of oxygen. I am pretty excited about trying aerated compost tea.

There are also chapters specifically describing how to best use these three tools to improved lawns, vegetable gardens and trees. The only thing missing is farms, but much of what is written about lawns is applicable to pastures. It is mentioned several times that we should not “rototill” our gardens because of the damage to the soil food web, and logically, we should then also not plough our fields, but what is the alternative when we want to grow grains to feed ourselves and animals? I don’t disagree with the advice, I’m just not sure how best to use it yet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the only concept that I want to discuss further is the suggestion that we shouldn’t use manure on the garden due to the risk of E. coli. I do understand the reasons, and possibly if you don’t have a source of manure on your property and don’t know exactly where it was coming from, this may be good advice, but if you have manure, you should use it! I make the best compost ever from piles of manure. I also spread it around the garden as mulch as it absorbs water wonderfully. Obviously I wash my hands after handling the manure (and I usually wear work gloves). There is a theory that the pathogenic strains of E. coli are produced from cattle that are fed mostly grain due to the unnatural changes in the stomachs of a grain-fed beast. Our cattle are fed a little grain and mostly pasture and hay, so if this theory is correct, they are unlikely to produce pathogenic E. coli (i.e. E. coli that can survive in the acid conditions of the human stomach), this is another reason why I believe it is safe to drink raw milk from our cows, but not necessary from all cows. The recommendation also ignores the possibilities of other manures that may be available on a property, surely sheep, pig and chicken manures carry their own risks, but can be used with some common sense. However, it does make me wonder about the safety of feed-lot manure, which is commonly available to farmers and home gardeners, these cattle are fed exclusively on grain and very likely to produce pathogenic E. coli. It is a good warning to think about where the manure is coming from and take appropriate precautions.

Overall, this is a great reference for gardeners and farmers to learn how to harness the potential of the soil food web to replace the chemicals in our food system. Even if you don’t have a science background, this book has plenty of basic detail to get you started. I think once you know a little about the microbes in your soil and everything they can do to help you, you’re going to want to know more!

How do you encourage the soil food web at your place?  Did you realise how important it is?

More books at my book store here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

As promised, this year I am going to post more regularly about herbs that I grow and use.  I'm going to start off with mint, because its something that grows so easily, but for a long time I wasn't sure what to do with it all!  

Mint is a member of the Lamiaceae family and originated from Europe. There are many different varieties of mint, and in my garden I grow peppermint (Mentha x. piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and another one that I just knew as "mint", but I think its actually Egyptian mint (Mentha niliaca). All the varieties have similar care requirements and similar properties, so I will just write about mint in general.

I think this one is egyptian mint

And this is spearmint
How does Mint grow?

Mints have a habit of invading garden beds, so I keep mine in pots, even then they sometimes manage to throw out a root or a stem and try to get out into the garden. Mint prefers moist conditions and prefers to stay cool, so keeping it in a pot also helps me to move it around into suitable positions as the weather changes. Over winter, I put the pots in the sun, but in summer I hide them under the shade of other plants. This can make the plants grow quite spindly due to lack of sunlight, but they recover when the temperature cools and I can put them back out in the sun. 

Peppermint hiding under the chilli bush
  Mint requires regular cutting to keep it growing well, which is no problem as the excess leaves can be dried, I find that I get the best harvest in spring and autumn when the conditions seem to be just right for mint in my garden. Occasionally when the soil in the pot sinks down, I will tip out the plant, add more potting mix or compost and repot the plant. Regular doses of worm wee also help to keep the plants healthy. I keep the pots in my garden, and they are usually full of worms, so they are virtually part of the garden soil. As long as mint is kept moist and cool, it will grow vigorously with very little care required.

Mint is propagated easily from a cutting, just dig up a stem with some roots attached and replant in another pot, it will soon grow and multiply.

What’s Mint good for?
All mints contain volatile oils made up of menthol and menthone. If you use peppermint essential oil, that is the main constituent, along with some terpenes. If you use the entire leaf, dried or fresh, you also mucilage, tannins and flavenoids. Mints are powerful carminative agents, which means they relax the stomach and add digestion. That is why mint flavours are often used after a meal.

Primarily I use mint for making tea. I regularly trim the plants (all varieties) and dry them. If I only have a small amount of leaves to dry I just rinse the leaves and dry in a colander, but for larger amounts I use a dehydrator. I don’t remove the stalks, I just dry them until the leaves are crumbly and crumble the stalks and leaves into a jar. Mint tea is refreshing and good for digestion. It is quite sweet and other bitter herbs can be added to the tea without affecting the taste. I use mint as a base and add many other herbs, I drink several cups of this tea every day because I like the taste.

I also use fresh mint to make a few different sauces, mint goes particularly well with lamb, but these can also be used as salad dressings:

Mint sauce – apple cider vinegar, honey, chopped mint and a little salt

Yoghurt sauce – yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, mint and coriander (if I have it, diced cucumber is nice in this too)

And I add mint leaves to fermented fizzy drinks, particularly orange or lemon based drinks, during the fermentation.

A few chopped mint leaves can be nice in a salad too.

Do you grow mint? What do you use it for?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who is a farmer?

Following on from my post “the truth about farming”, I wanted to discuss the meaning of the word farmer, because I few people in the comments thought that they weren’t farming. As you can see from my alias, I consider myself a farmer, and I consider anyone who is growing any food to also be a farmer, whether they live on 100s of acres or in an apartment.

eight acres: who is a farmer?

The word farmer can mean someone who profits from raising livestock and/or cultivating land, but it has a broader meaning, as someone who farms. And a farm can just mean a place where livestock are raised and/or land cultivated. That means that if you grow something to eat by cultivating land, even if its just a few pots of herbs, you are a farmer.

I don’t want to take anything away from farmers who do earn a living from their work, I think farmers are amazing, hard-working people, and we are all lucky that they want to dedicate their lives to feeding the rest of us! However, I think its also helpful to empower everyone to realise that they can be farmers too, even if its just in small way, we can all grow something to feed ourselves. Being a farmer will help you save money, be an interesting hobby, and help you prepare for a situation where the food distribution system fails.

Something else that find interesting is the different words used to describe small-farmers in different countries.  In the US, the term is "homesteader", which has a history in the Homestead Acts that allowed people to settle small areas of land for subsistence farming.  In the UK, the term "small holding" is used.  In New Zealand or Australia, its common to call small farms "hobby farms" or "lifestyle blocks", which I find a little demeaning.  I was wondering what the equivalent historical term was for Australia, and I realised it is "squatter".  The squatters were ex-convicts who gained rights to use crown land by being the first to occupy it, first illegitimately, and later it was a word for legal occupants.  The meaning has now changed slightly to mean all longterm owners of large rural properties, so it doesn't really apply to small farmers, and I don't think it would catch on anyway!  Unfortunately we don't really have our own suitable word, so I just call ourselves small farmers.

So are you with me, are you a farmer too?

Not sure where to start? Try my interview series with other bloggers about getting started with growing your own, with chickens and with homestead dairy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What I've learnt about puppies

We’ve had Taz for just over a month. She’s my first ever puppy, and Pete’s first in 10 years. Neither of us were entirely sure what to expect from Taz when we bought her home from the local markets one weekend, but so far she’s been pretty clever and only wee-d inside once since we got her! Here’s a list of things that I’ve learnt from Taz so far (and an excuse for lots of Taz photos):

eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies sleep a lot. Taz is very active first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon, but the rest of the time she likes to sleep (especially in the dirt under the house!)
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies and old dogs can be surprisingly compatible. Due to point one, so far Taz and Cheryl have been just fine together because Cheryl, at age 11, also likes to sleep a lot. Cheryl is also active morning and evening, so fits in well with crazy Taz time. Cheryl has also been quite helpful in entertaining Taz during her active time, and for this we are very grateful to Grandma Cheryl.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies don’t mind being confined during the day. We decided right from the start that Taz would stay in the “dog box” any time we weren’t home. This is the cage we made (Pete made) for the dogs to travel on the back of the ute. We put the cage under the verandah, which is south facing, so its always in the shade (perfect location for summer, in winter I would put the cover of it to give her shelter from wind and rain). She has a bed and a bucket of water in the cage. We put her in there when we are out mainly because she is small enough to get out under our gates and could end up anywhere. It also gives Cheryl a break. And finally, I think it makes Taz feel safe to have her own space, as she doesn’t seem to mind being in there at all, and will lie in there during the day even when we are home.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies like toys, but they don’t have to be expensive. Taz loves toys, she’s already figured out how to chase balls (to Cheryl’s disgust) and to rip other toys apart. As puppies tend to destroy things, buying dog toys can get expensive. My favourite source of dog toys is the op shop, I sort through the toy box and buy any that don’t have plastic eyes (choking hazard). Taz has one large Winnie the Pooh toy that she likes to snuggle up to, and one small Winnie the Pooh that she likes to chase and chew. Her other interest is collecting socks, so we have to remember to keep all socks out of puppy range.  I just pick up the stuffing when she pulls it out.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies like to chew things, so give them something to chew. I know people complain about puppies chewing things, but we find that if we give Taz something that’s ok to chew she isn’t too hard on the things we don’t want her to chew. She gets a small bone in the morning (in her cage, so then Cheryl can’t take it off her) and she has a “kong” toy which we fill with peanut butter and puppy biscuits. This gives her something to do during the day.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies
  • Puppies will stay out of mischief if you keep them appropriately confined, restrained or entertained instead. During the day, when Taz mostly sleeps anyway, she is in her dog box. When we let her out of the box, we try to make sure that she is entertained with games, either playing with us or with Cheryl (thank goodness for Grandma Cheryl!). If we take her out for a walk or into the paddock with the chickens, we put her on a leash so we have some control over her instinct to chase things. Puppies appreciate discipline, it makes them feel safe and secure.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies
  • Puppies are scared of new things, but you need to help them get used to things that are going to happen regularly. For us this particularly applies to the cars. We need Taz to be OK with car travel, so she comes for regular car rides each weekend. At the moment she isn’t too keen on the car, but we need her to get used to it so she can travel with us. She also needs to get used to loud noises, which is fairly regular at our place if Pete is building something. I think it helps that Cheryl isn’t scared, so if they are playing and Pete starts grinding or whipper snipping, Taz seems to be less worried when she sees that Cheryl doesn’t care.
eight acres: what I've learnt about puppies

  • Puppies from smart breeds are easy to train. Taz seems to have learnt very quickly, and compared to some of the dog training books I’ve read, does not seem to have had much trouble at all in picking up the basics. She has already mastered toilet training, and she can sit and come on command, we will gradually teach her the other basic commands. Taz is a kelpie-collie cross, which are two smart cattle herding breeds, we are hoping she is going to show some natural ability with the cattle, but if she doesn’t, she will be a lovely pet. I have bought a number of books and dvds on the subject, so we are prepared!  I'll tell you more about them next time.

As you can see, I’ve learnt heaps from Taz, she is a great little pup. Do you have any puppy wisdom to share?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Using a sourdough cake starter for everything

Since I first recieved my sourdough cake starter "Herman", I have been enjoying experimenting with using it to make cakes, pancakes and biscuits (cookies).  I can adapt just about any recipe to Herman, and he adds a slight sour tang and creates a light fluffy batter.  Here's what I do to adapt a recipe, just use all the same quantities, but combine them in a different order:
  1. Melt the butter in a pot over a low heat.  Stir in the flour, rapadura (sugar), and flavours (cocoa, ginger, spices), and add a slurp of Herman and any other liquids, put on the lid and leave the mixture at room temperature for a few hours (you can start this in the morning and bake in the afternoon, or even put it all in the fridge after a few hours and bake it later the next day, just depends on the outside temperature, in winter you could probably leave it out overnight).
  2. When you're ready to bake, add the egg and a good heaped tablespoon of baking soda (leave out the baking powder).  The baking soda is enough to rise the batter because the fermentation has made the batter acidic and the baking soda is alkaline, when the two mix, they produce carbon dioxide (and water and a salt) which rises the batter (baking powder contains both baking soda and citric acid, and works in the same way, if you add baking powder to water you will see it bubble as the carbon dioxide is released).
Herman is very easy to care for.  I keep Herman in a jar in the fridge, where he lasts for weeks between baking.  Every few weeks I either use some Herman to bake something or I just tip about half of it down the sink (boosting the microbes in our septic tank), and top up the jar with a few spoonfulls of flour, rapadura and some milk.  I give it a good stir, leave it out at room temperature for a day and then put it back in the fridge.

Apple and berry cake
Actually the other week I left him a bit too long and he had a nice layer of blue mould growing on top.  I thought maybe I'd finally killed him, but I decided to try to revive him, so I scraped off the mould, added flour, rapadura and milk and left the jar on the bench, and a few hours later Herman was bubbling away like his old self.  I was intending to throw out the first batch and top him up again, but it smelt fine, so I went ahead and baked a cake instead.  You just have to trust your nose with fermentations!

The advantage of fermenting with Herman before baking is that some of the protein and carbohydrate in the flour and sugar is pre-digested, like with sourdough bread, so its easier to digest.  Also I swear it produces a fluffier cake, without any "creaming" (I don't have a cake mixer, but I suppose its good arm exercise if you have to do it).  And its kind of fun to ferment.

If you want your own Herman, you can try to find someone who will give you some of their's, or you can try to make your own (its not ideal, because is based on commercial yeast rather than wild yeast, but I'm sure you get a bit of everything in there after a while!).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Farm update - February 2014

We got a little bit of rain at the end of January.  30mm at Nanango and 50mm at Kumbia.  It started to green up, but now its drying out again, we really need some decent rain to get our grass growing again.

And of course it rained just when Pete had started a major project of removing our two old rusty water tanks and replacing them with two new plastic tanks.  We had one other good tank, so we had water, but the rain came when Pete had disconnected all the downpipes that normally feed the tanks!  We have plenty of water though, it was just so typically that it will be dry for so long and then rain when you are trying to do something!  I will post more about moving the tanks around, I think Pete did a really amazing job to get it all organised and completed in one week (mostly when I wasn't home too).

dismantelling the old tanks so we could load it onto the trailer,
it was so rusty there wasn't much woth keeping!
the lovely new tanks, and plumbing nearly finished
I posted about the garden on Monday... its not going great, but there's a few things to harvest each week.

And in chicken news, we hatched several (sorry I forgot the numbers already!) chicks and some guinea keets, and they are outside already, younger than normal, but they were in the spare bedroom (due to the unpredictable temperatures lately) and it as getting a bit stinky and dusty from the wood shavings.  They seem very happy out on the grass.  We are hoping for some roosters to eat and some replacement hens.

can't resist a rooster when he poses for a photo
here's the chicks in their outside catch, fully puppy-proof

and look who came to help me with the chick photos, lovely old Cheryl

Taz has taken an interest in them too, and has also started a sock collection
And here's the cows.  Bella climbed through the barbed wire fence and some stage and stratched up her teats to the point that she wouldn't let Nancy nurse, so we had to milk her ourselves for a few days (and slather on the aloe vera gel to help her heal) and she eventually let Nancy have a drink after a few days.  Nancy is 6 months old, so she was find without milk, but was keen to resume as soon as Bella let her.  Molly is due to calve soon, so we will probably wean Nancy soon after and let Bella have a rest, but until them, we wanted to keep Bella in milk!

Here's a few blogs that you might find interesting:

How was your January?  What are your plans for February?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Garden update - February 2014

The harvest basket is looking a bit empty, and its mid-summer!  We have lots of lettuce, basil, kale and tat soi. A few small carrots, mini capsicums, chillies and gem squash.  The beans are many, but tiny, so I picked them all to make the plant start again and grow some bigger ones.  Also garlic chives in the basket.  January was hot and dry until right in the last week we got 30mm at Nanango and 50mm at Kumbia.  The grass went from burnt brown to flouro green in a matter of days.  We were watering all our grey water, and doing extra loads of washing to make more grey water, as well as the upturned beer bottles throughout the garden.  That's enough to keep things alive, but there's nothing like some decent rain to really get plants to grow and produce.  So next month there might be a bit more in the basket!

Here's what's growing.  Lettuce, bush beans, I planted some more tomatoes and rosella, and there's a mini capsicum in there too.  You can't even see most of that in the photo!  And lots of pots of herbs in the background.

Greens - kales, tat soi, silver beet, more lettuce, borage...

Giant chilli bush is still going and I've picked a few red ones.

More tomatoes in pots (in case I wanted to move them further in the shade), the galangal plant is in there too, getting huge.  And I put that lace curtain over the other tomatoes to encourage them not to die, which does seem to have helped (and added a touch of elegance to the garden!).

And here's the pumpkin and spaghetti squash finally getting some decent growth and spilling out of the garden.  There's two decent squash that I can find, so hoping we will get a few more.

And some flower in my garden this month: garlic chives, pickling cucumbers (last minute plant because Pete was so devastated when I told him that we were on the last jar of last year's pickles), carrot flowers (yay free carrot seed!), and the galangal, which I haven't seen flower before, so it must be the only other plant (apart from the chillies) that appreciates the hot weather (by the way, they have a very slight sweet scent).

And we have a new garden helper!  Since Chime died, it felt very lonely with just one dog, so here's Taz, it does seem that we have a lot to learn about puppies....

And the choko plant has produced one choko.  It looked close to death during the heat, but must have gathered enough strength to produce this one choko.  I hope it has now revived and will make some more.  The idea was that they are very high producers and the chickens and cows like the fruit, but so far it has been a little disappointing!  

Once again, my plans for February are to keep everything alive and harvest when possible.  

How's your garden going?  How was the weather where you are?

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