Friday, August 29, 2014

Which milk should I drink?

As you know, I only drink raw cow’s milk from our house cows in my daily kefir smoothie, and I drink herbal tea during the day. Recently a friend asked me if it was ok to drink soy milk. My first reaction was “no way”, but I thought I’d better do some research first, so that my friend can make an informed decision.



Of course, if you have access to raw milk from cows or goats, and you don’t have an issue with lactose intolerance, this is the milk you should drink. I’ve written about raw milk before, in summary, raw milk contains nutrients (heat sensitive vitamins), enzymes and beneficial bacteria that are destroyed during pastuerisation. Often people who cannot digest processed milk find that they don’t have a problem with raw milk, and that it even has a healing effect. Read the other post for more details about raw milk.

Unfortunately, raw milk is not available to everyone, so a compromise may be required. Your choice will depend on your circumstances, and how much time and money you have available, don’t feel bad if you can’t get the best milk, but at least be aware of your options and what to look for.

I think that the next best option to raw milk is non-homogenised organic whole milk (unless you are lactose intolerant). Processed milk will not contain the same enzymes and nutrients as raw milk, but you still get the benefits of the protein, calcium and lactose. Even better is to use the processed milk to make fermented foods, such as yoghurt or kefir, as these will effectively replace some of the missing bacteria and enzymes that were removed during pasteurisation. If you’re only drinking a splash of milk in your tea it doesn’t matter so much, but if you’re using milk as part of a meal, try to use fermented milk instead.

One of the main arguments against dairy (and animal products) is that the amount of crops that could be grown using the same amount of land would feed more people than if used to raise cows. This is a ridiculous argument considering that cows graze land that is unsuitable for crops, especially if you can find a dairy that is pasture-fed or mainly pasture-fed (rather than feeding grain), and organic certified dairies should have a land management plan to show how they intend to create a positive environmental impact. They are usually kinder to the calves as well.   If you can, find out more about the dairy and how they manage the cows and the land.

If you can’t tolerate lactose, or you really don’t want to use animal products, there are plant based “milks” available, such as soy, rice, oats and almond. Again, go for high-quality organic products at all times. The cheaper versions will undoubtedly use inferior ingredients. Read the ingredients list. If you have been following the debate about saturated fat vs. unsaturated fats, you will want to avoid sunflower and canola oil (even if its organic). Also added sugar, including “rice syrup” (which is just fructose), is an unwanted ingredient. Even the organic products are not ideal, they all seem to have added oils and sugars. The best option would be to make these milks at home, then you have some control over the ingredients. You could make a big batch and freeze it in small containers, or even ice cubes, to use as you need it.


Another option is coconut milk.  If you can find a brand that doesn't use BPA lined cans and doesn't include additives, coconut milk is apparently a nourishing option.  Again, you can open a can and freeze what you don't use.

I hope that helps to explain the pros and cons of your milk options.  What do you use?

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Started with Ducks - Megan from Purple Dancing Dahlias

You might remember that last year I ran a few series of "getting started", where I interviewed other bloggers about how to get started with homestead/farm things, like a vege garden, chickens and a dairy animal.  I had so much fun with that series, I decided to organise another round, but this time I'm asking about things that I haven't tried personally, that I want to know more about.  After the turkey and the guinea fowl turned out to be so difficult for us to manage they made chickens look smart, I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit more research before we get any other crazy animals.  Even though I do search through blogs for information, sometimes my questions just don't get answered.  So I went straight to the source and asked the questions myself.  I'm starting with ducks, but if this works out ok, I think I'll be doing a series on bee keeping and one on fruit trees.  If you are keen to join in, just send me an email at eight.acres.liz at gmail.com.  I will send you my "interview" and share your answers with the world!



Megan from Purple Dancing Dahlias very kindly responded to my requests for help with ducks.  Here are her thoughts on getting started with ducks:

Megan: Our farm is Little Boy Blue Farm, Gardens, and Apiary and I blog at Purple Dancing Dahlias. We keep Jersey Cattle, Scottish Highland Cattle, Icelandic Sheep, pasture raise chickens/eggs, and bees. We also have two farm dogs, two cats, and a horse purely for pleasure. We have had geese and goats in the past. I grew up farming but we moved back home almost 6 years ago and started again.

Farmer Liz: Tell me about your ducks, how many do you keep and what breeds? What do you keep them for? (meat, eggs, other?)

M: Right now we have 8 Khaki Campbell. They are great egg ducks but we have found that they are not great meat birds. They will be going in the freezer this winter only because my husband and I have developed an intolerance to duck eggs.

We have also had Rouen Ducks for meat and they were excellent, both in meat quality and quantity. If we were to get more ducks next year they will be of this breed.

FL: What sort of housing do you provide for your ducks? Do they free-range? Do you have to lock them up at night?

M: The ducks have always free ranged with the chickens and have lived in the same space. When they were near the house we shut their door at night but now that they are at the barn they just go in with everyone else.


FL: What sort of water do you provide for your ducks?

M: They have a crab sandbox that is filled with water at the barn. It's big enough for them to swim and play in but not so big that we can't tip it over every day and give them fresh water. In the winter they have enough water to get their heads wet.

FL: What’s the best thing about keeping ducks?

M: They provide hours of entertainment and are really good in the garden. Last year the ducklings were in the potato patch and took care of all of the potato beetles but didn't harm a single plant.


FL: What do you wish you knew about ducks before you got them?

M: They are messy!!

FL: Any last advice to someone wanting to get started with ducks?

M: We have found that they are very easy to care for but again, are really, really messy!

FL: Now you've got me worried, can you explain messy?

M: They like to rinse their food before they eat it, so especially when they are babies, they splatter everything with food if you keep them in a small brooder area. If they are mama hatched and raise its not as bad.

We have to keep all of our water buckets and tanks out of their reach because otherwise they fill them with dirt and manure trying to separate the grain from the rest of the manure. As long as you take measures to keep them out of water you want to stay clean, then you are good to go.



FL: Thanks Megan!  Its great to read that they really do help in the garden, I was worried that was one of those myths.  Also surprised that you don't need to provide more water for them.  Good to know about the messiness in advance.  

Do you have any comments or questions for Megan?  Head over to her blog to leave her a message.  In the meantime, if you have ducks, bees or fruit trees and would like to answer some of my questions, send me an email eight.acres.liz at gmail.com.

Getting started with homestead dairy
Getting started with homestead dairy - Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture

Getting started with homestead dairy - Kim from the Little Black Cow

Getting started with homestead dairy - Rose Petal

Getting started with homestead dairy - Marie from Go Milk the Cow

Getting started with homestead dairy - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with homestead dairy - Gavin from the Little Green Cheese

Getting started with homestead dairy - interview with myself

Getting started with chickens
Getting started with chickens - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with chickens - Gavin from the Greening of Gavin

Getting started with chickens - Madeleine from NZ Eco Chick

Getting started with chickens - Tanya of Lovely Greens

Getting started with chickens - Adam and Amy from Sustainaburbia

Getting started with chickens - Linda from Greenhaven

Getting started with chickens - interview with myself

Getting started with growing vegetables
Getting started with vegetable gardening - Linda of Witch's Kitchen

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Gavin of the Greening of Gavin

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Ohio Farmgirl

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Emma from Craving Fresh

Getting started with vegetable gardening - Tanya of Lovely Greens

Getting started with vegetable gardening - interview with myself



Monday, August 25, 2014

Podcasts are the new radio

I grew up listening to New Zealand's National Radio.  Not always voluntarily, but because my dad has a radio in every room, including the bathroom, and a portable transistor radio for outside work as well, and of course the car was tuned in at all times.  He begins his day with radio and he falls asleep with radio and anyone in the house gets to listen to what he's listening too.  I really only listen to the radio in the car, and I do like to listen to Australia's Radio National.  I like most of the programs, but it seems that whenever I'm in the car for a decent drive its either boring programs, repeats of programs I already listened to, or no reception.


Taz likes to listen to podcasts when she drives too

And then I discovered podcasts.  Its like you get to choose your own radio program schedule!

According to Wikipedia:
A podcast is a digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is a neologism and portmanteau derived from "broadcast" and "pod" from the success of the iPod, as audio podcasts are often listened to on portable media players.
How's this for technology?  I can load podcasts from my favourite blogs onto my phone and play them on my car stereo via bluetooth!  Its like listening to blogs!  This would also be good to listen to while cleaning, cooking, gardening etc.  If you don't have the bluetooth/car stereo thingy, you can get a gadget that lets you tune your ipod or phone into the car radio.  You can also just listen to them on your computer.  To download the MP3 files, right click on the link that says "listen here" or "download" and select "save link".

Here's a list of my current favourite sources of podcasts, I'd love for you to share what you listen to as well!  Mine mostly involve sustainable farming, permaculture, real food and gardening.  I like the ones where bloggers interview interesting people, including other bloggers.  If its a couple of bloggers that you follow, its like listening to your friends having a chat.

Agricultural Innovations

Know your Food with Wardee

The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann

Root Simple - Low Tech Home Tech

Permaculture Voices Podcast

Grow Edible with Erica from Northwest Edible Life

The Greening of Gavin Podcast  and Gavin's Little Green Cheese Podcast

I used to wonder what podcasts were all about and our internet connection was so terrible, there was no way I was going to listen to them.  But now our internet is better, I have discovered that they are a way to enjoy blogs while you do something else, because I don't always have time to sit down and read.  Now I'm hoping that you still have time to read my blog because I hate listening to my voice on a recording so I won't be making any podcasts in the near future!

What do you listen to while you work or drive?  Any podcasts that I need to know about?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Woodstoves for heating and cooking

Lately its has been relatively cold and we have been lighting the woodstove to heat the house and using it to cook meals, so I wanted to share our woodstove story with you.



When Pete and I wanted to replace the old pot-belly stove in our little Queenslander about eight years ago (because it was unsafe and inefficient), we decided we wanted a woodstove that we could use for cooking as well as heating. There are a lot of modern woodstove cookers on the market now. They have a large firebox like a standard heating woodstove, but also include an oven space that is heated by the hot combustion gases. Unlike the older style cookers, that were suited to cooking and designed to not over-heat the kitchen in a time when there was no alternative option for cooking, these new woodstoves really do a good job of heating the house, but are too hot for summer cooking (we use a BBQ or slow cooker for most things in summer instead). In winter when it is cold enough to light the woodstove regularly to heat the house, we do all our cooking on the woodstove and hardly use our electric oven at all. When we moved to Eight Acres, the first priority was to install another woodstove cooker, and in our new-old house at Cheslyn Rise, we are still deciding which one we want to try next, but we are quite sure that a woodstove cooker is an essential part of any house we live in. This time we would like to try the "wet-back" water heater feature as well.

Since we started cooking on the woodstove, we have found that it can be used for nearly everything, including baking bread, cakes, roasts and casseroles in the oven, as well as frying and boiling on the top of the woodstove. We even dry herbs and spices with the door ajar. Cooking on a woodstove takes a little while to get used to. The oven doesn't heat up right away, so you have to plan ahead if you want to bake or roast anything, but the stove top heats up pretty quickly. We use trivets to raise pots up to adjust the heat, when you just want a simmer, the pots can be lifted onto the highest trivet, or directly on the stove top for a fast boil. Often I will leave a pot of soup or stock on the high trivet to cook overnight, I also have a metal teapot that sits at the back of the stove, so we always have a handy source of hot water. The stove has a temperature sensor in the door, but the actual heat in the stove is about 50degC higher than the door temperature. We do find that we have to watch the temperature and open the door if it gets too hot, or add more wood if we need more heat. If the fire has been going for a while, the oven temperature will stablise, and then it can be left for longer. Some models have larger ovens than others, we started with a very small oven, and we bought small baking dishes from markets and even a 6-muffin tin, so we were always surprised by how much food would fit in the oven. The model we have now has a larger oven and can fit our large roasting dish. We find that the larger model, having more cast iron holds a more constant heat than the smaller model, but does take a little longer to heat up in the first place. You just have to get to know your stove and make it work for you.

The great thing about the woodstove is that we would burn the wood anyway to heat the house, so we get double the value for the heat by cooking with it as well. Our property is covered in trees, and the previous owner has pushed many of them into piles years ago, so we have plenty of aged firewood to use, and more growing for the future. For us, wood is a sustainable fuel that we can provide from our own property and we are happy to use it instead of gas or electricity. We would love to build a woodstove cooker outside so that we could use sustainable wood heat to cook all year round.

If you are thinking about installing a woodstove, have a look at the woodstoves you can use for cooking, they do cost a little more, but you will be surprised by how much you can use it and save on using our kitchen over during winter. When comparing the models, consider the size of your house and how cold it will be in winter. We found that the small model didn't quite heat our drafty Queenslander, but when we bought the larger model and put it in our relatively new and well-sealed house, it was a little oversized - sometimes we have to open doors and windows in the middle of winter because the woodstove is too hot and I'm trying to bake bread in the oven! Also consider where you want to install the woodstove, it helps to put it close to the kitchen, but also somewhere that will heat the house well, and you need to make sure the flue is long enough to establish an effective draught. Finally, make sure you have a source of wood so you can light the fire all winter and use it to cook everything.

Do you cook on a woodstove?  What brand do you recommend?

More about our woodstove - cooking in the woodstove and installing a woodstove.



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Frost - what is it and how to manage it

People are often surprised that we get frost here in Queensland.  Sure, the majority of Queensland is typically frost free, but here in the South East corner we can experience frost, with some inland areas around Charleville having 40-50 frost days on average of the last 30 years.  And certainly if you live in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, and southern parts of SA and WA, you can expect a few frost days too.  See the Australia frost map here.

I know our winters aren't really cold by any means, we don't snow, in fact, we are more likely to have a beautiful sunny day after a frost, and can have a temperature increase of over 20 degC in one day!  But this actually makes things trickier because we can ALMOST grow tropical plants, but it only takes one hard frost to knock them back until the weather warms up in spring.  Fortunately there are a few tricks we can use to manage frost when we understand what it is and how it behaves.

frost on broccoli leaves
a pawpaw tree after frost
What is frost?
Frost is not just ambient air temperature below freezing.  Frost occurs when the air temperature close to the ground cools below freezing AND below the dew point so that moisture in the air either condenses and then freezes, or freezes directly out of the air.  The type of frost that we experience in a temperate or sub-tropical climate is typically caused by the land cooling overnight and cooling the air close to the ground.  As cold air is denser than warm air it tends to sink and to flow downhill.  This means that frost occurs lower down in the valley and can be trapped uphill of obstacles such as hedges or walls.  Frost is unlikely on windy nights as the layer of cold air is disturbed.  Dew point depends on temperature and humidity.  More frost info here.

The important point is that we can expect cold temperatures to develop on clear still nights, but that if we understand how cold air moves and how frost forms from moisture in the air, we can take steps to prevent frost damage.

What happens to our gardens in a frost?
Some plants are well-adapted to frost, and some even benefit from frost conditions.  Silverbeet, brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale etc), root crops, some lettuce, aliums (onions, garlic, leeks etc), herbs such as parsley, chervil, yarrow, mint, oregano and thyme, all survive frosts.  Summer crops such as tomatoes, curcubits (squash, cucumber), capsicum, chilli, eggplant, beans, and herbs such as basil, ginger and sage, do not survive frost.  Some of these will grow back when the weather warms up again, but many will be too badly damaged.  Tropical plants that I try to grow, like sweet potato, rosella and paw paw also do not survive frost.

silverbeet with frosted leaves
How can we protect the sensitive plants?
First, find out if your area is prone to frosts, when you can expect the first and last frosts of the year and how cold its going to get.  Apart from checking the meteorology data you should look for some local knowledge.  We get frost around our house, but our neighbour who has a house further up the hill from us hardly ever has frost and even then, always has a little frost-free pocket around the house and and water tanks just because their property is higher than ours.  So you need to know if you are below the frost line (and then if you are too high, you can suffer from frosts due to altitude as well!).  Properties in our area are advertised as "frost-free", but I didn't understand the significance when we were looking to buy.

Once you establish that frosts are likely, there are a few things you can do to keep your garden going through winter.  
  • Plant appropriate varieties and understand which vegetables are going to survive and which will need extra protection or if they are just bad choices for your location.
  • Protect sensitive vegetables by planting under under cover of trees, close to water tanks or the house (which holds a little heat overnight and can prevent the temperature falling below freezing) or plant in pots that can be moved to safer ground. 
  • Even though this sounds bizarre, if you water at night before a frost is likely, wet soil will hold more heat and may maintain temperature above freezing (although this can backfire if it does get cold enough to freeze the water on the ground and on leaves).
  • If you can circulate the air above your garden using a fan (or a helicopter or a million butterflies) you can mix the cold air near the ground with warmer air higher up - this is used in commercial orchards.
  • Cover your veges with fabric or straw/old leaves to try to maintain the air temperature around them.  I keep reading to not use plastic, but personally I have had success with using clear plastic all around the plant, and including a bucket of water so the air under the tent is more humid, as this maintains a warmer temperature around the plants.
  • Consider where cold air will flow and make sure if can't get trapped uphill of solid fences or hedges in your garden, and also use this concept to direct air AROUND plants but stacking hay bales etc uphill of a sensitive plant.
frozen sprinkler...
One of the principles of permaculture is "observe and interact", and understanding and adapting to your climate is a key part of this principle.  If you want to know more about sub-tropical climates, I've written a few posts here and more about frost here.

Frost isn't all bad! It does kill off a number of annoying weeds and bugs, and at least I can grow veges that do like some chill time, like carrots, turnips, swedes and broadbeans, and one day soon fruit trees like apples and stonefruit (or at least I hope I can grow them!).

Do you have frost?  How do you manage it?



Monday, August 18, 2014

Dog box update

We only have a single cab ute, so any time it was too hot or too cold for Cheryl to ride on the tray, and we thought she should really be in the cab, she would end up laying on my lap.  And at 25kg, she is not a lap dog!  A few years ago when we agreed to look after a second dog (Chime), Pete decided to build a dog box so they could both sit safely and comfortable on the back of the ute in all weather.

The dog box when it was just finished

I first wrote about this back here, and I didn't go into much detail, so a few people have emailed me to ask more about it.  There are no plans as such, its just shaped to fit the angles of the ute and enough room for two dogs.  To be honest, we kind of made it up as we went along, but here's a few tips to help if you are thinking of making a dog box:
  • We made it nearly the full width of the tray, with just a small gap either side
  • Its the same height as the backboard of the ute, and mimics the angles (a little bit lower so we can still tie on a load and not have it rub on the top of the box)
  • Its about a metre deep
  • We didn't include a divider because the dogs are good friends
  • We wanted a door in the front rather than the side so you don't have to put the tray side down to let the dogs out
  • We used small mesh so it would also double as a cage to secure our luggage, a wider mesh could be used if its just for dogs 
  • It has a roof of sheet metal to offer some shade and protection from rain
  • It ended up quite heavy and we could have reduced some weight be leaving off the roof and using a larger mesh
  • Pete spray-painted it with silver kill-rust when he finished
  • We also had a cover made by a local upholsterer, it has little ties on the inside, so its not ideal, if you really want a good cover, talk to the upholsterer about your design before you start - you will at least need some shade cloth of the cage so it doesn't get too hot for the dogs.
  • Its secured the the tray using two bolts that go through tabs on the bottom of the box and through the tray.  If you don't want to make holes in your tray, you could tie it down instead
  • We put dog beds in the box to make it extra comfy for the dogs
  • We've been using it as Taz' puppy box as well

The box on the back of the ute, modelled by Chime and Cheryl
Taz using the box as a puppy box

she seems quite happy in there fooling around

she even hops in there by herself when she doesn't have to


Is there anything I missed?  Ask your questions here so I can keep it all in one place.  I hope that helps!




Friday, August 15, 2014

Keeping a family cow - book review

I was very excited to find Keeping a Family Cow: The Complete Guide for Home-Scale, Holistic Dairy Producers, by Joann S. Grohman in the Brisbane City Library.  Its a great reference and covers everything including raw milk, diary products, milking, feeding and caring for your cow and calf.  Of course, its written for the US market, so if you have an Australian house cow, I still recommend you read MY ebook too!




You can read my full review here.  And there's more details about my eBook on my house cow eBook blog.









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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Easy knitted arm warmers (double pointed needles)

I'm really enjoying knitting this winter!  I made a pair of arm warmers last year and I wear them a lot.  I don't know what I was thinking making them from white wool, they are getting a bit grubby, so I thought I would make some more and keep the nice ones for "best".  The first pair were quite complicated because they had a thumb, so I wanted to try making a simpler version with just a hole for the thumb instead.  And this time I used black and grey yarn that I got from the market.


I knitted these on four double pointed needles.  I cast on 40 stitches and worked around until I had the length of stripe I wanted.  If you're not sure how many to cast on, my wrist circumference is 16cm, and the widest point is around 20cm, so if you measure your hand, that will give you an idea of how many you need.  Do not be deceived, I always think that the circle of yarn is going to be too small, but are you knit up, you find that it is wider than you realise and you hand (or foot in sock making) does indeed fit through the gap. 


If you don't want stripes, you can keep knitting around, otherwise, add stripes at appropriate length.  These stripes are 2.5 cm wide.  Keep going around until you get to the length that you want.  I knitted from the wrist up to the thumb.  I started working on the thumb hole after the sixth stripe.


I knitted two rows of the seventh stripe, then I cast off five stitches.  I used the knitting that I had already done to estimate the number of stitches, if your thumb is bigger than mine, you may need to cast off more stitches.  Keep knitting around, and when you get back to where you cast off you need to cast one five stitches to finish off the hole (same as a button hole).  This part was kind of awkward on the double pointed needles, in the end I just used the "thumb method" to cast on the five stitches.  The stitches do get a bit mixed up on the wrong needle and have to be rearranged.  I hope you will figure it out when you get there!


In the last stripe I decreased to make the end narrower around my fingers.  I knitted two together every four stitches in the third row of the final stripe.  If you think it going to be too lose at the finger end, you might want to consider some decreases too.  The final step is to weave in all the ends!  I leave the ends long until I'm finished, particularly the first tail, as that is my marker so I know I've finished each row.  All I do is thread the wool on a large blunt needle and hide the end in a few stitches, then trim the end.


And here's the final result!  These are very quick because you can just knit around and around without really following pattern, and you can just keep trying them on until they fit you well.


What do you think?  Do you make up your own knitting patterns?  I'd love to know if you try making these!


Friday, August 8, 2014

How I use herbs - comfrey

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a hugely useful herb and very easy to grow - in fact it can be too easy and has a reputation of taking over gardens!  Its a herb that I think has a place in every garden.

How to grow Comfrey
Comfrey is propagated by root-division, so all you need is to find someone else who grows comfrey and take a small amount of root and leaves, plant them and you will never be without some comfrey in your garden.  Comfrey dies back in frost, and prefers moist cool conditions, so does not do well here in a hot dry summer.  If you have ideal conditions for comfrey (not frost and not hot) you may have trouble with it spreading like mad, and it can grow rather large, with huge leaves.  You can either plan for this by planting it somewhere appropriate, or you can confine it to a pot.  Comfrey is so useful you might not find its possible to have too much comfrey!

my comfrey plant in its pot and tray to keep the soil moist

How to use Comfrey 
(Isabell Shippard devotes over seven pages to comfrey in her excellent book "How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life?", so I will just try to summarise the main points here).
  • Comfrey has deep roots and accumulates minerals from the sub-soil, as well as being high in nitrogen.  This makes it useful for compost, mulch and to make a liquid fertiliser brew for the garden.  In a permaculture food forest or swale, comfrey can be used as a self-mulching plant to provide nutrients to other plants.
  • My comfrey plants don't often flower, but the when they do, they provide food for bees and other beneficial insects.
  • Comfrey is high in protein, in fact higher than most grains and legumes, and combined with the nutrient content, makes an excellent animal fodder.  I have had to fence mine, because Bella and the chickens were helping themselves.  If I could get it to grow over a larger area, it would be great for the chickens as an alternative to grain. Bella didn't like it at first, so I had to shred it and hide it in her grain ration, but now she will eat it by the armload if I have any spare.
  • Comfrey is also known as Knitbone, Woundwort, Healherb and All Heal.  It has a reputation for soothing skin, and healing bones, tissue and skin.  It can be applied as a salve, in a tea or a poultice.   
  • Some people also eat comfrey, and really, if its ok for animals, then it should be ok for us too, but do see my cautions below (and note that it has a kind of prickly leaf, so best chopped small!)
Comfrey in the garden a couple of years ago after it rained
Controversial Comfrey
There is a lot of confusion about the safety and legality of comfrey in Australia, so here's the facts.  Comfrey is listed on the "Poisons Standard", which is Australian federal govt legislation that classifies poisons and restricts how they are sold, packaged and labelled. It does seem kind of odd to put a plant on there with all the drugs... but anyway, the point is that sale of Comfrey for therapeutic or cosmetic use must be labelled with "caution", because of some drama back in the 1980s when someone decided that it was poisonous due to alkoloid content.  Many plants contain alkoloids and it really depends how much Comfrey you're planning on eating (google it and decide for yourself, this is also well explained in Isabell's book).  

While the sale of products containing Comfrey for therapeutic use is restricted, you should still be able to buy it to plant in your garden and use it how you want. As you can grow it by dividing, and it spreads quite quickly, if you know someone with comfrey, you can just grab a small section of root from their plant and replant it in your garden. That's how I first got some, I've never had to buy it. 

Do you use Comfrey?  Any tips?  Did I miss anything?



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Farm update - August 2014

The last month of winter and we have had some frosty mornings, not much rain and everything has turned brown.  We are feeding hay to the cows and we've booked the butcher for Romeo (the steer that we've had for about two years, not little Ruby in the photo below!).

I put my house cow ebook on lulu.com in ebook format, and on amazon for kindle, see my house cow ebook blog for more details about how to purchase the ebook in different formats.  It was also featured in this month's Grass Roots magazine and Small Farms magazine.  Now I'm thinking of writing another one (surely it won't take so long this time!) and I'd like to write about chicken tractors.  More details coming soon...

The ten pullets that we hatched in February and March have all start to lay, as well as the four extra laying hens that we bought, so we have plenty of extra eggs to sell.  The roosters are also big enough to butcher, but we need to empty the freezer to make room for Romeo, so they will have to wait a bit longer!  And I managed to sell the guinea fowl, they were lovely, but they didn't fit into our homestead, as they would not go back to their cage after free-ranging.  I'm glad we tried them, but I was also glad to see them go to another home.

I wrote about my garden here.  I'm going to sort out my seed collection and organise a seed swap soon, so check back at the next garden share to join in.

I was making slow progress with my alpaca shawl, so I had a break to knit some quick arm-warmers instead.  I knitted them on 4 double pointed needles, and it was nice to just go round and round in knits and not have to think about passing slipped stitches over!  I will post the instructions soon.

Here's a few interesting blogs for August:
Doing it for ourselves
Five little homesteaders

How was your July?  What are you planning for August?











Monday, August 4, 2014

Garden share - August 2014

We had some heavy frosts in July and a little bit of rain (a very little bit).  I checked the Bureau of Meteorology website and Kingaroy had 13 days with minimums below 0 in July, with the lowest temperature for the month being -5.7 degC.  Total rainfall was 6 mm.  My garden is a mix of green and brown, some plants are thriving in the colder temperatures and lower evaporation rates, while some of my poor tropical plants have died back (hopefully to regrow when the temperatures increase again).  Technically much of QLD is still in drought (and NSW is in bad shape too), with many localities "drought declared" - this means that the rainfall in these areas over a three month period is in the lowest 10% of monthly rainfall records over the past 15 years (if you don't like statistics, its just means that rainfall is extremely low compared to the last 15 years of records).  Its not easy to garden in these conditions, and its certainly not easy to farm, particularly since some of these farmers have been in drought for over 12 months now.  Just wanted to remind everyone that the farmers are still struggling....

Here's some photos from around the garden.  We are eating lots of greens at the moment!

harvest basket August 2014
frost on a broccoli plant
the galangal and frangipani are brown,
but many other plants thrive in the cold (including the chickweed!)
self-seeded broccoli and my kale "trees" that have survived several
years through frost and drought!
marigolds popping up everywhere among the greens
asian broccoli flowers
and "not asian" broccoli flowers
lemons at last!  these poor container trees, I can't wait to plant them out!
broccoli - I usually only get many small heads...
self-seeded greens are thriving, plenty to pick here
and the occasional strawberry, tiny but SO sweet
not many peas, but I left a few for seeds too
Jobs for August - just keep harvesting and weeding, and sort out my seed collection so I can plan some spring planting.  I'm going to do a seed-swap as soon as I work out which ones I have spare, so come back next garden share and I will have some seeds to share!

How is your garden going?  What are you plans for August?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Plastic free - wrap up

This July Pete and I took up the challenge once again to reduce and analyse our single use plastic consumption with Plastic Free July. Throughout July I have shared with you our progress, and lots of tips and ideas, and its been great to see you all join in. Now its time to look at our dilemma bag of plastic that we ended up with in spite of all our good intentions, and think about ways to improve.  If you are going to post about your dilemma bag too, please link in the comments, it would be great to see what everyone learnt from joining in with Plastic Free July.



In Week 1 I wrote about food shopping and food storage, and for Week 2 the topic was rubbish and recycling, the next week I wrote about plastic in the bathroom and finally, last week was plastic free cleaning.  I offered a giveaway sample bag of soap nuts, which is a plastic free option you might want to try.  The winner chosen at random is:


Email me on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery....

I hope you all took advantage of the great discounts offered by Biome and The Fregie Sack in July!

What's in out dilemma bag?
I feel like we did worse than last year.... the photos don't show every piece of plastic, but it is a representative sample of plastic that we ended up with in July....




Things that are rubbish or recycling:
  • Lots of packaging!  Ironically I bought a bag of plastic pegs made from recycled plastic - in a plastic bag.  Most of the thin packaging I can at least take to my local Coles for recycling.  
  • A few things that I should avoid in future - Cadbury chocolate is now all in plastic wrappers, there are plastic free options that I should choose instead (given that chocolate is an essential food group)
  • Ear plugs!  We usually wear muffs, but sometimes plugs are more practical and you can only reuse them so many times, if you work in heavy industry, this may be a tricky one, especially if you need double ear protection... I hate to think how many are discarded every day around the country
  • We bought a new lap top and it came with some packaging, although at least it was LDPE (low density polyethylene) rather than polystryrene, and can be recycled (and doesn't make such a terrible mess).

Things that I can reuse:
Not everything is a dilemma if you can think of another use for it.....
  • Small plastic bottles are useful for freezing water to use in cool bags over summer and to put in animal water buckets on very hot days
  • Berry season was a massive challenge for me!  obviously I'm going to have to grow my own in future, but for now, I can reuse the containers for seeds and produce
  • Bailing twine - I didn't put all our twine in the dilemma bag because we end up with an awful lot of twine at the moment... we try to reuse it where we can, but ultimately we would like to organise our pasture so that we don't have to buy hay.  We are also very lucky to buy our cattle and chicken food from a local farmer who reuses the bags.
  • Those stretchy string bags use for fruit and vege packaging are good for taking back to the supermarket, and I keep other things in them too.
Even though Plastic Free July is over for another year, the challenge now is to integrate some of our new habits into every day life and keep planning to make plastic free possible every day.

How did you go? What's in your dilemma bag and what do you need help with? What did you learn and what tips do you have to share?

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