Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Straw Revolution - natural farming - book review

One Straw Revolution - An Introduction to Natural Farming was published in 1978, a collection of Masanobu Fukuoka's writing translated into English by Larry Korn, who had spent time on Mr Fukuoka's farm.  The most recent edition (2009) also includes an introduction by Frances Moore Lappe, and preface by Wendell Berry.  (Excellent podcast interview with Larry Korn about One Straw Revolution here, in which he explains that natural farming is complimentary to permaculture, but not the same thing)

(photo source)
One Straw Revolution describes Mr Fukuoka's invention and practice of what he calls "Natural Farming", or "do-nothing farming".  The basic concept is to work with nature rather than against it, but not to abandon it completely to the wild.  Natural farming has only four rules:
  1. No cultivation of soil
  2. No chemical fertiliser or prepared compost
  3. No weeding by tillage or herbicide
  4. No dependence on chemicals
If you are starting from either of the alternatives - traditional farming or chemical farming, as Mr Fukuoka calls them - this list can seem daunting, so I'll try to frame it in the positive so explain how Mr Fukuoka farmed his rice fields and his citrus orchard, rather than how he didn't farm them:
  1. Use natural biological and chemical processes to improve soil fertility, aeration and water holding capacity.  Cultivation destroys microbiological, macrobiological (worms) and insect life in the soil as well as exposing the soil to oxidation and causing erosion and compaction, and so gradually destroys fertility.
  2. As above....  feed the microbes using mulch and manure, but compost is too strong.
  3. Cultivation exposes weed seeds, poor fertility also gives the weeds an advantage, so if you do number 1 and 2, you don't have as many weeds.  Use self-seeding cover crops to suppress weeds.
  4. If you return to natural systems and use biological pest control (encourage diversity and predator insects) chemicals are not required.

I do speak from experience here, because at some stage after reading One Straw Revolution the first time, a few years ago (and finding it very confusing), not exactly consciously and possibly because I read about all these things in other books as well, I started using natural farming in my garden.  Do nothing gardening....

I persuaded Pete to park the cultivator, and I very rarely dig more than a small hole to replant a seedling and now my garden soil is full of earthworms.  I never use any chemical fertiliser, but I do use compost, made from the weeds and self-seeding herbs and vegetables in my garden.  I don't use any pest control, not even natural chilli or garlic sprays, I do encourage beneficial insects by planting plenty of flowers.  I also started just letting the vegetables go to seed and come up when and where they naturally will, so then I don't have to worry about when to plant or thinking about succession planting, everything just appears when its ready.  This is a technique that My Fukuoka used in his orchard.

It does get a little bit philosophical for some farmers (photo source)
Natural farming has been more difficult to apply to a larger scale, and we are still thinking about our approach to growing forage for cattle.  Its only been difficult because it requires us to think more creatively, and we will figure it out eventually.  Mr Fukuoka does not discuss management of animals, apart from a small section on cage-egg chickens, however its clear that techniques such as Joel Salatin's Mob Stocking are compatible with natural farming.  I think the other difficulty with One Straw Revolution for farmers is that it strays into philosophy rather than sticking with the practicalities of farming, although it does get into details of growing rice and citrus.  The philosophy is important because not many farmers do just grow rice and citrus, so its the only way to extend the method to other crops and situations, but it can go a little deep if you are just looking for a how-to guide!

Mr Fukuoka writes about thinking "what if I DO NOT do this?".  I think is has been a really useful concept and together with close observation, much can be learnt by not doing conventional farming techniques and testing the consequences.  For example, we left our forage sorghum crop in the ground after summer, to see what would happen, (What if we DO NOT plough our summer crop before winter?) and as our cultivation is above the frost, the sorghum survived and regrew the next year, it was good to know that was possible and maybe we can plan to take advantage of that in future.

my do-nothing garden full of self-seeded parsley, mustard, and asian greens.
If you are interested in natural farming or gardening methods, I recommend that you read One Straw Revolution.  Don't give up if it seems a little strange at first, come back to it later and it might make more sense to you, I have certainly enjoyed it more on the second reading.  It is a big change in thinking and might take a little bit of getting used to.

Have you read One Straw Revolution?  Any thoughts?  Do you practice do-nothing farming? or gardening?

(If you buy One Straw Revolution from my blog site I get a small percentage referral fee as Amazon credit and you don't pay any extra, this helps me buy more books!)

See Youtube video about One Straw Revolution here

Monday, July 28, 2014

House cow milking schedule

I am often asked if we have to milk our cows twice a day, everyday.  I don't think we could handle that kind of schedule, so thankfully the answer is "no"!  Sure, if you want a lot of milk, and you have the time, you can milk your cow that regularly, but we only need a few litres of milk a week.  We use the calf as a share milker as soon as its big enough, and I've written all about it over at my house cow ebook blog...  Click here to read the rest...

Molly with baby Ruby

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Plastic Free - cleaning products

When I occasionally walk up the "cleaning" aisle of the supermarket I am baffled by all the different products, gadgets and essential items required to keep our house clean!  I have never made a secret of the fact that I don't particularly like spending time cleaning the house.  I have much more interesting things to do in the garden, but I do try to keep in to a minimum standard (and to be fair, Pete is the chief toilet cleaner).  We don't buy any cleaners from the supermarket these days, but we do occasionally clean the house.... more on this in a minute....

This July Pete and I have taken up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July. Throughout July have to shared with you our progress, and lots of tips and ideas, and its been great to see you all join in. I have one more giveaway, so join in, share your ideas and have a chance to win some plastic-free products this July!

In Week 1 I wrote about food shopping and food storage, and for Week 2 the topic was rubbish and recycling, last week I wrote about plastic in the bathroom and offered to giveaway 2 bars of my homemade soap for you to try.  This week I have a sample of soap nuts to send to one lucky reader, see below.

Well, I didn't get many comments last week, clearly you didn't want my soap!  The only two comments were from winners of the Fregie sacks for the week before.  If you two do want soap, just let me know, but I know at least one of you makes your own :)

Throughout July you can also get some great plastic free discounts.

Biome are offering a 15% discount on their lunchbox range.  To claim the discount, just enter FLLBC15 "Voucher Code Box" all through July 2014.  

The Fregie Sack have a 15% discount for their clever light-weight bags through July 2014.  All you have to do is enter the code MYDEAL when you order.  

Instead of buying multiple cleaners, we have come to realise that all we really need is vinegar, baking soda and plenty of reusable cloths.  A while ago I made citrus vinegar by packing a jar full of lemon peels and topping up with vinegar, we are still using this to clean just about everything, including bench tops, wiping out the fridge, cleaning the bathroom and cleaning the windows.  I filled several spray bottles and they are in strategic locations around the house.  

The soap shaker arrives from NZ (opened by customs)

For the dishes, we use homemade soap in a soap shaker, but we do keep some detergent for really greasy dishes and for cleaning the milking machine.

In the laundry, I have been using soap nuts, and recently I also made some soapwort liquid.

a bag of soap nuts

There's really not much more to say, except that I think all the different cleaners are a scam, most of them have very similar ingredients and different packaging.  If you try using vinegar on most things, and a baking soda paste on anything really stuck on (then spray with vinegar and watch it bubble), you will find that it works to clean most things.

Giveaway *now closed*
This week I'm going to giveaway:

1 sample bag of soap nuts

To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post and tell everyone how you reduce plastic when cleaning, or any other plastic-free ideas. I will draw the two winners at random.  Australian postal addresses only please (but share you ideas in the comments anyway, just let me know where you're commenting from).

I will announce the winner next Friday, and start the next giveaway - I will not contact you, so you have to remember to come back and contact me if you won, so it might be a good idea to follow Eight Acres - the blog on blogger, bloglovinFeedlyfacebook, or pinterest, so you don't miss out.  I've set up a pinterest board for plastic-free information, so follow along if you need some inspiration.

Good luck everyone and keep thinking about plastic!  I'll be back with more next Friday.

Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Simple Saturdays Blog Hop
From the Farm Blog Hop
Homestead Barn Hop
The Homeacre Hop

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growing and eating chokos (chayotes)

Cooking chokos (not be confused with another post about cooking chooks) has been the subject of a few questions on my blog lately, so here's some more information for you.

 A choko on the vine
Chokos - also known as Chayote, christophene or christophine, cho-cho, mirliton or merleton, chuchu, Cidra, Guatila, Centinarja, Pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, güisquil, Labu Siam, Ishkus or Chowchow, Pataste, Tayota, Sayote - is a vine belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, squash and melons, with the botanical name Sechium edule.

The choko vine growing over the garden fence
Leaving chokos out to sprout
Here's one that started sprouting in the kitchen,
the others have been outside, but starting to sprout slowly
This is how I plant them, I don't know if its right, but it works.

The choko contains a large seed, like a mango, but if you pick them small enough it is soft enough to eat.  If you leave the choko for long enough it will sprout from one end and start to grow a vine.  To grow the choko, just plant the sprouted choko and give the vine a structure to climb over.  In summer, the vine will produce tiny flowers that will eventually swell into choko fruit.  The vine doesn't like hot dry weather.  And it doesn't like frost either.  Its a little fussy, but when the conditions are right, it will produce copious amounts, so you probably only need one vine unless you really like chokos.

Choko flowers
Double choko!
Actually we don't particularly like chokos.  They don't really have much of a taste and just a mushy texture.  They are ok mixed into casserole or curry, or steamed with other vegetables, or cooked in butter and garlic (I don't peel chokos before I cook them, I just slice them thinly.).  We eat them when they appear in the garden, but we don't love them.  Cheryl the dog does love them and the cattle and chickens eat them too.  We grow them because we value diversity in the garden, and plants that produce a large amount of food for us and animals in a small space.  Chokos have their place in our garden, but I'm glad we don't have to survive on them!

chopped choko - I don't peel them and the seed is soft, so doesn't
have to be removed either - now just steam or sautee
Do you eat and/or grow chokos?  Do you love them?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Making a dressmaker's dummy

For a while now I have believed that the main barrier to me doing a better job of sewing my own clothes was my lack of a or dressmaker's dummy (aka dressmakers form or mannequin).  When I last investigated the cost of  a dummy, they seemed too extravagant, so I looked for a way to make my own.  There are a few methods around, using plaster bandages, using paper packaging tape, and finally, the one I chose, duct tape!

Not only is making your own dummy very cheap, if you are careful, you end up with a form that exactly matches your own body.  Well its a lot closer than an expensive adjustable dummy anyway.  All you need is a few rolls of duct tape (at least four to be safe), and old tight-fitting t-shirt to wear (and cut up) under the duct tape, a spare 2-3 hours and at least one person to help (pick someone that you don't mind smoothing duct tape over your upper body, I used my husband).  The first element is the easiest, the others can be more difficult, when I got the bag of duct tape out of my sewing cupboard I found the receipt - I bought it in 2012, so it took 2 years for us to get organised to actually make the dummy!  (And in the meantime, my sewing has suffered, imagine what I could have made in that time!).

Here's me with my dummy Betsy

The actual process is very simple.  Put on an old t-shirt and have your helper wrap you in at least 2 layers of duct tape, the smaller the strips the better so that you get a nice smooth finish.  Use plastic wrap around you neck, and any skin not covered by the t-shirt that you want to be part of the dummy.  The time it takes will depend on the patience of your helper, Pete is a perfectionist, so I was feeling a little claustrophobic by the end of the process, while he was getting it to look "just right".

When you are happy with the fit and have enough layers, simply cut the duct tape form along the spine and extract yourself from the form.  Next you need to carefully line up the back seam an stick it together (the challenge being keeping it all straight).  Then stuff the dummy with newspaper, foam, any leftover fabric, but don't stuff it too full or you could distort the shape.  As you work, keep in mind that the dummy is supposed to be the same size and shape as you are, so aim for firm, but not over-stuffed.  As you finish stuffing, you can tape over the arms and neck to finish them.  After you have stuffed the dummy, its easier to make adjustments to the back seam, I sat in the sun and peeled back some of the tape to line it up better and smooth it out, I think this is the main advantage of using duct-tape, its easily adjustable, but I don't know how well it will last.

We decided to mount "Betsy" on a metal stand (guess who wanted to use metal! although he was very clever to find an old candelabra stand at the tip shop), so she needed a wooden base.  The difficult part is making sure you get the right balance of belly and butt when you make up the base.  I got Pete to measure me from hip to hip (standing with one hip against the wall, Pete held a long spirit level up to my other hip and measured from the wall to the level, did I mention he's a perfectionist?).  Then I could use that hip width to make sure I had squished the dummy's hips out enough, as it naturally wanted to get rounder rather than an oval.  I used cardboard to make a template, and when I was happy with that shape I cut the shape from a scrap of plywood (yes, I cut it myself using a handsaw, Pete was busy welding something).  Then Pete helped me to square up the bottom of the dummy (as she was on a terrible lean) and we inserted the board and taped over it.  Finally Pete attached the stand to the board using wood screws that we can remove to transport Betsy.

Some people finish their dummies with fancy duct tape, or by sewing a neat cover.  I decided to leave her silver (rather, I couldn't be bothered doing anything else with her!).  Its quite a strange feeling to have a dummy in exactly your shape and height standing in the corner of the room.  I'm still getting used to Betsy.  We haven't made anything yet, but I'm sure its going to be great to have her to help me fit clothes.  Soon as I finish some more knitting....

What do you think?  Does a lack of dummy prevent you reaching your sewing potential?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Plastic Free - Personal care, toiletries and other euphamisms

I often forget how much plastic is in a "normal" bathroom.  Bottles, tubes and tubs of shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, deodorant, hairspray, hair gel, hair dye,  moisturiser, cleanser, toner, eye wrinkle cream, make up remover, make up containers x a million, toothpaste, tooth brush, toilet paper packaging, razors, shaving cream etc.... more on that in a minute....

This July Pete and I are taking up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July.

What's plastic-free in my bathroom?
Homemade soap (details here and here)
Homemade deodorant (recipe here)
Homemade skin salve (recipe here)
Damadi moisturiser (made in Australia, packaged in glass jars that I reuse for the above)
Shaving stick and brush

homemade salve
What's still plastic?
Toothpaste (Miessence organic, in a plastic tube, something I should make, any suggestions?)
Toothbrushes (just the normal supermarket version, I tried the bamboo ones and I just wasn't happy with it)
Disposable razors for me and Pete, but he does use a brush and shaving stick instead of a can of foam (again, any suggestions)

What's missing?
I don't wash my hair, so I don't use any products in it either, and I don't colour my hair.
I don't wear makeup

Too much information? *Women Only Zone*
One last source of plastic waste in the bathroom is the copious amount generated by by menstrual products, both the packaging and the products themselves.  I used to hate throwing away all that plastic, until I got a reusable cup and reusable fabric pads.  Here's the whole story for those who want to find out more.  And if you want to buy some, please use the affiliate link to Rad Pads on my webpage so I get a small contribution.

How do you reduce plastic in your bathroom?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Plastic rainwater tanks - neutralising drinking water

I realised that the rainwater in our new plastic water tanks was acidic when I wanted to test our garden soil pH and I couldn't get the pH meter to work properly.  I thought it was broken.  I recalibrated it several times, and still it was reading below pH 5 on water from the tap.  After some research, I realised that the pH meter wasn't broken, our rainwater really is that acidic.

the water before treatment
You've probably heard of acid rain.  Rain absorbs gases such as suphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which creates sulphuric, nitric and carbonic acids respectively.  In concrete water tanks, the acid dissolves the lime in the cement and returns the water pH to neutral (7), but that's why concrete tanks usually end up leaking.  Evidently a similar reaction occurs in rusty metal tanks, probably with the iron, as our water used to be pH 7 in the old tanks.  In plastic tanks, there is nothing to react, so the water remains acidic.  We live near a power station, which is a major source of these gases, so our water may be worse than others, although apparently it can be as low as pH 3 in heavily polluted areas.

The main problem with acidic water, is that it can start to dissolve the copper pipework in our hot water system.  To correct the pH, we needed to add some calcium to neutralise the acid.  This is typically in the form of limestone or shells, that can dissolve gradually to correct the pH.  When I posted this on facebook, I was warned about too much calcium causing deposition in our hot water system!  When did rainwater get so complicated?!  Fortunately, we have the pH meter and a conductivity meter (measures dissolved solids), so we can monitor the water and remove the calcium source before it could cause problems.

If you are really worried about calcium deposition, you can use the Langelier Index.  This says that deposition occurs at a pH equal to the equation A+B-C-D, the constants are in the link above.  A is a constant for temperature (around 2), B depends on total dissolved solids (TDS is 0 in rainwater, so B=9.7), C and D are also the minimum of 1 for rainwater.  That gives me an answer of pH 10.  So as long as we keep the water below pH 10 we won't have calcium deposition.  This did make me realise that we need to be able to remove the limestone when the pH is just above 7, so it doesn't keep creeping up.

It took me a little while to find limestone.  Eventually I went to the local landscape supplies centre and asked for a few scoops of "white rock" which I was pretty sure was limstone.  To check if I bought the right rock, first I sprayed a rock with vinegar, and it bubbled, probably limestone.  Then I put a bag of the stones in a bucket of our water and tested the pH before and after 24 hours.  The pH changed from 4.9 to 9.7.  So I was pretty convinced that I had limestone.  You can use these tests to check if you can't be sure what you're buying.

"white rock" from landscape supplies
the rock fizzed when I sprayed it with vinegar

The water pH increased quickly after I added some limestone
I then put some stones in onion bags, tied them up with bailing twine.  Pete helped me to hang one in each tank.  Pete then tested the pH of the water each day and watched it gradually increase.  We agreed that we would remove the bags when the pH reached 7, as there was no reason to let it increase any further.  Three weeks later, the pH is gradually increasing, but still not quite 7 yet.  When we get there, we plant to put the bags in the strainer so that the rainwater washes over the limestone as it runs into the tanks.  We will continue to test pH after big rain events and put the bags back in the tanks if it gets low again.

Do you collect rainwater?  Ever thought to test the pH? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cooking old chooks

We usually keep around ten to twenty hens for eggs.  Unfortunately, as hens get older, they lay less frequently, and that's an awful lot of hens to feed if they are not producing eggs.  Every year we cull the older hens, but they don't go to waste.  If any are really skinny or unwell, we bury them in the garden, but the rest of them we butcher and cook.  Sure old hens can't be cooked the same as a young rooster, but you can still prepare some delicious meals from them. We don't buy chicken meat, so any opportunity to eat chicken is a rare treat for us and we don't waste anything!

Roast hen - you can roast the hens, but they need to cook for a long time, several hours, in a closed roasting dish with liquid in the bottom so they don't dry out.  I season with herbs and garlic.

Minced hen - we also like to mince the breast and leg meat and make meatballs, this avoids the stringy texture.

Chicken stock - I fill the slow cooker with as much wings and feets as it will fit, top up with water and a splash of apple cider vinegar, squeeze in some onion, garlic, carrot, celery and herbs and cook for at last 24 hours (more slow cooker ideas here).

Don't waste anything - old hens usually have ample fat, and I keep this separate and render it to use for cooking.  I also keep the livers for making pate and I scrub and peel the feet to add to stock.

Do you butcher your old chooks?  Or let them die of old age?  

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Friday, July 11, 2014

Plastic Free - Recycling and reducing rubbish

Ironically, this July is the beginning of the end of recycling in the South Burnett Regional Council area.  Yes, you read correctly, from July 2014 we will no longer have curb-side collection of recycling, its all going to landfill.  Not to recycling at the landfill either, we don't even have the option to take our own recycling to the tip, there is simply no facility for it. Essentially our council tricked us into this change.  They sent out a survey and asked if we wanted to pay extra for another bin for recycling.  We were happy with our one split bin - half for rubbish and half for recycling.  Unfortunately the options weren't well explained, and our region didn't vote for the second bin, our council is now only providing one bin for rubbish, no more split bin.  Apparently they are now "looking into" providing recycling facilities at our landfills, but at the moment there is no local recycling options.  More on that in a minute....
image source

This July Pete and I are taking up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July.

Reduce, reuse, recycle
As much as I did like the convinience of recycling, in some ways, having that option taken away does encourage some greater creativity.   Even though it might feel virtuous to put plastic in a recycling bin, in truth we are only ever downcycling (reducing the value of the material), so thinking of solutions to reduce or reuse plastic is better than recycling.  The Plastic Free July challenge will help us to assess our plastic consumption including recycling.  Ultimately we would like to "produce no waste".

Of course, we are going to find that some plastic is unavoidable, and I was quite surprised to see a bin at Coles in Brisbane CBD for recycling thin plastic wrapping (as explained recently by Fiona from Life at Arbordale Farm), and the rest I can put in recycling bins at my rental unit.  I'm going to have to remember to cart it around, so ideally we will keep recycling to a minimum.

this is the recycling bin at Coles

Lining our rubbish bin
One thing that we changed last Plastic Free July that I am very very proud of, is we started lining our rubbish bin with newspaper instead of using rubbish bags!  Most of our rubbish is plastic wrappers anyway.  All food scraps go to the dogs, the chickens or the worm farm, and most everything else can be recycled or burnt.  Our rubbish really isn't very messy, so the newspaper has been great.  On rubbish day, we just take the whole bin out and empty it into the wheelie bin (we only fill one bin a week).  Even since I've been living in Brisbane and Pete has been in charge of Thursday rubbish day, he has kept up this new habit, and I'm so proud of him.  I brought this up at work and one guy said "but we don't buy newspapers"!  That left me stumped for creative ideas, we always have newspapers!  I didn't ask how he lights a woodstove without newspaper (joking!).

Picking up rubbish
I've also developed a habit of picking up bits of plastic rubbish.  We had a steer butchered at the farm and the butcher cut the stomach open in the paddock so we didn't have to bury the whole thing.  The contents of the stomach was mostly grass, but also included several plastic bags and bits of rope!  I have seen photos of sea birds and fish that have swallowed plastic, but I didn't know our farm animals would do the same.  After that I started picking up bits of rubbish around the farm so that the cattle didn't eat them.  Then I started just picking up plastic rubbish in public.  I don't care if people see me, probably 9 out of 10 people think I'm weird, but maybe one person will see me and realise that we can't just leave our rubbish on the ground.  I just tuck the pieces into my pocket, or my bag or hold onto them until I see a bin.

a trip to the farmers market with my reusable bag collection
- including Fregie Sacks (the new ones look slightly different)

How do you reduce your plastic rubbish and recycling?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How I use herbs - Soapwort

I bought a tiny little soapwort plant a couple of years ago and I have been waiting patiently for it to grow because I really wanted to try using it for laundry detergent.  I found out about soapwort after I started using soap nuts for laundry.  I like soap nuts, but they are imported from overseas and can't be grown here as they are considered a weed plant.

my soapwort plant before I harvested some leaves
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) is commonly grown as a flowering plant (unfortunately I don't have a photo of mine in flower).  Its leaves and roots contain saponins, which is a chemical that lathers when mixed with water.  This makes soapwart an effective cleaner.  Soapwart can also be made into a decoction to treat external skin conditions (I haven't tried this), and although it can be taken internally for various ailments, it comes with many warnings, so I haven't tried that either.  As soapwort can be poisonous, you need to grow it where grazing animals cannot access it, so I have kept mine in a pot for now.  Soapwort is not frost sensitive, but does wilt in hot dry weather.  I find it revives if I put the pot in a tub of water for a couple of days.  It may do better in the ground though.

The main reason I grow soapwort is for the saponins, and I have been waiting for for it to be large enough to harvest.  You can harvest the roots and the leaves, but when I felt around in the pot I didn't think there was much root to harvest, so I just gave it a haircut instead.

Then I followed the instructions that I found here.  I put the leaves in a large pot and covered them in water.  I boiled the water for a couple of hours, leaving it to steep overnight.

before boiling
ready to strain
Then I strained the mixture through a cheese-cloth and into a large bottle.  I ended up with around 5L of soap water liquid.  I added about half a litre of vinegar to make it keep longer.

Now the only problem is working out how much soapwort liquid to use in the washing machine!  Its very simple for handwashing, you just add more when the bubbles disappear, but with the washing machine I have just been sloshing some liquid in the detergent drawer and hoping its enough.  Clothes are coming out clean, so it can't be too bad.  I think I will need to grow a lot more soapwort if we were to use this for all our washing, but I very satisfied to know that there is something I can grow and easily process as a soap substitute.

What do you think?  Do you grow soapwort?

Want to read my other herb posts?  

How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

How I use herbs - Aloe Vera

How I use herbs - Basil

How I use herbs - Ginger, galangal and turmeric

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Lemon balm

How I use herbs - Soapwort

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

How I use herbs - Parsley

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

How I use herbs - Brahmi

How I use herbs - Yarrow

How I use herbs - Arrowroot

How I use herbs - Lucerne (afalfa)

How I use herbs - Lavender

How I use herbs - Rosemary and Thyme

How I use herbs - Oregano or Marjoram

How I use herbs - Sweet Violet

How I use herbs - Gotu Kola

How I use herbs - Lemongrass

How I use herbs - Coriander (or cilantro)

How I use herbs - Dill

Monday, July 7, 2014

Garden update - July 2014

June was really warm (relatively), it didn't feel like winter at all, and then after winter solstice its suddenly got properly cold (for Queensland, that is!).  We still have day time temperatures in the mid 20degC, but it has been frosty overnight.  I have been heating up wheat packs to stay warm in Brisbane during the week, while Pete's had the woodstove cranking back home (and telling me about all the roast potatoes I'm missing out on!).  The harvest in late June was the last of slightly frost damaged chokos (more about them later in July) and tromboncinos and lots of brassicas.  A few peas that have climbed so high, they may survive (they tend to only get frost damage on the tendrils).  Radishes, although I never find these easy to grow (why does everyone say they are easy??) and some stalks of celery (I pick it as it grows rather than waiting to pick an entire bunch).  And two eggs from our newest laying hens, its a good time to buy new hens, as the old girls are taking a break over winter.  Also, earlier in June prior to the frost, I dug up a few potatoes and found that they were more purple potatoes.  And I replanted a few that I found lurking in the back of the pantry (also planted a few garlic cloves, I try every year, and never had anything to show for it, maybe this year I will grow garlic).

June harvest basket
purple potatoes!  they are purple on the inside too
I took some photos in the garden before the frost, everything is still green in the photos, but after the frost a few sensitive plants have died back.  It has not affected the chickweed though!  I planted celery seedlings at the beginning of June (I can never get them to start from seed) and I have been picking a few stalks occasionally.  They are planted in worm farm compost, so that seems to have given them a good start.  I've asked the worms to make some more.  And I bought a sage seedling because my last sage plant died in the drought.  I don't use sage that much, but I kind of missed having it growing, so I got some more from the farmers market.

celery planted in worm farm compost
(and surrounded by tomato seedlings from the compost!)

A few flowers in June: the nasturtium has recovered from the drought (I thought it was going to die) and is covered in flowers.  I use the leaves chopped with other herbs in salad or with steamed veges.  My borage plant with pink and blue flowers - great for bees, I eat the flowers, and the leaves I dry for tea, and I put some leave in my infused oil for skin salve.  And the pea flowers reaching for the sky, they have grown taller than me, and I'm hoping that means they miss most of the frost.

Plans for July - I always say that I'm just going to harvest and weed, but then I end up planting things, so I'm not really sure what I'll do in July!  I'll probably pull out the tromboncino plant, but I'm hoping that the choko will regrow next year.

What about you?  How's your garden?  Do you grow radishes and celery from seed?  Any tips!?

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