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Farm update - December 2015

December already!  I am really feeling like a need a holiday or a rest (not always the same thing here, holidays seem like good times to get some work done around the farm!).  Pete and I both have two weeks off over Christmas and we are really looking forward to spending time together and making some progress on the house painting.

We have been so lucky to get some decent rain from storms in November.  Again, it was patchy and some evenings we missed out, but we got enough to get the grass green and growing.  As a farmer, there's nothing that makes me happier than seeing my cows eating green grass, I hate having to give them hay, it must be like eating dry cereal everyday and then suddenly the salad bar arrives (to reference Joel Salatin!).

In one particular storm we lost power from Saturday night through to Monday morning.  This is the longest we have been without electricity since we bought our generator a few years ago.  Usually the power comes back on right after we connect all the extension cords, but this time we were running all four freezers and fridge off the generator.  I know people say that the freezer is ok for 24-48 hours, but it was HOT, like 37degC and things were starting to defrost.  It was a good kind of power outage in that town had their power restored early on, so we could still buy fuel and ice.  I going to write more about what we learnt and improvements to our storm preps, but here's what I've written about it before.

Food and cooking
I don't feel like I've been cooking anything exciting lately.  We've really just been working through our freezers - beef, lamb, bacon and roosters!  And eating veges from the garden (although the carrots and mushrooms and potatoes in this photos were all form the supermarket, there is usually something from the garden in every meal).

A typical meal

Land and farming

Perennial pasture

The second bee hive before we lost them

The rain has been enough to get our perennial pasture growing really well and we are now wishing we planted more than 10 acres, but that is a job for this summer, to finish the rest of our cultivation area.  The advantages: the pasture grows as soon as the rain comes, does not have to be replanted (no more ploughing!) and is safe for the cattle to eat right away (unlike forage sorghum with its prussic acid), it can be made into hay or fed off.

We have had a "learning experience" with our second bee hive.  The first hive is doing well - two brood boxes and a honey super.  The second hive was doing ok in its single brood box and we got keen and added a honey super.  What we have learnt is that adding too much space too early puts the bees at risk of small hive beetle infestation.  We opened the hive two weeks later to find only a handful of bees left and all the honey gone.  It was so sad to see those bees left, with no queen, no purpose, very sobering for us to see the decline of a hive in two weeks.  This time of year is very tricky, with warm temperatures there is lots of nectar and the bee numbers can increase rapidly (as can the small hive beetle), if we wait too long to add extra space (in the form of a super box) the bees will swarm, but if we add it too early they can get over-run with small hive beetle because there are not enough bees to patrol all the frames and remove the beetles, and then they swarm.... either way we lose the queen and the hive.  We still have another nucleus hive, so we are focussing on moving that to a box at the appropriate time and getting it strong enough to resist the beetles!

so many eggs!

one of our roosters
We have to many eggs at the moment!  I am selling or giving away 6-8 cartons a week, and we all (including Taz) have eggs for breakfast every day.  We did lose a few chickens to a fox one night, but Taz got Pete up and scared the fox away, and we have made some adjustments to make the chicken tractores more secure since then.  We also have several broody hens (here's how we deal with them), including the bantams, and we haven't quite decided who should hatch eggs, in which chicken tractors and whether to also run the incubator....

Cows and cattle
Molly moo cow
the cows mowing (moo-ing) the house yard
Since the grass started growing I set up an electric fence in the house yard so that the cows could help with mowing the grass.  I really hate cutting it if we don't have to, and the cows are happy to help.  The calves had a good game of escaping under the fence and running around until they had all had enough of a shock to leave the fence alone.  (Posts about using electric fences and solar energisers here).

We also decided to use insecticidal ear tags with the cattle this year for the Buffalo Fly that we have here in summer.  We have in the past really tried with an organic essential oil product and it works on some of the cattle, but poor Molly is particularly sensitive and will scratch her eyes on tree trunks until the edges of her eyes are bleeding.  I hate seeing her like that because I am very sensitive to insect bites too.  The downside of course is that some of those chemicals will be in Molly's milk, but as we don't eat 100% organic, I think its worth it to reduce her suffering.  As we are not milking Bella, we gave her a tag too, and as all the calves are drinking milk from the cows with tags, we gave them tags.  We also tagged all the angus cattle at Cheslyn Rise.  One tip for using ear tags - they are super convenient because you only have to handle the cattle once every few months (compared to pour-on insecticides) however, you have to buy 20-100 tags at once, which is expensive and usually way more than a small-farmer needs AND you have to make sure you have the right pin in your tag applicator.  We had the wrong pin and had to borrow from a neighbour, we now have three types of pins for different types of tags, do not assume that all tags (including NLIS) are the same.

garden harvest
Of course the garden is also benefiting from all this rain!  In the sub-tropics, the best strategy is to plant early, ideally in August (before it gets too hot), try to keep the small plants going through the dry spring until it rains, and then as soon as it rains everything will take off and your garden will look like a jungle.  We also have tomatoes in the hydroponic system and it is a JOY to have tomatoes so early in the season.  I planted seedlings of eggplant, capsicum, beans and squash early on, and they are really doing well now, as are all the greens.  Although I usually advocate growing from seed as the cheapest and most flexible system, I also now realise that I have no time for seeds, and buying seedlings is better than having nothing growing!  I certainly still save seeds and I scatter around a few easy ones like lettuce and brassicas, but the ones that need special attention, like eggplant, are better bought if you don't have time.

The house, otherwise known as the never-ending project!  I feel its time to reflect on what we have achieved in the last 12 months because sometimes it feels like we are not getting anywhere.

  • Old red roof replaced (including rafters) with new colourbond paperbark roof
  • Two bedrooms and hallway sanded, washed, gap-filled, primed and painted in Tapestry Beige (including ceilings)
  • All lino removed from bedrooms, hall, side room, kitchen and bathroom
  • Asbestos removed from side room and replaced with Easy VJ
  • Bathroom completed gutted and ready for tiling and new fittings - new bathroom layout planned
  • Kitchen completely gutted including asbestos in pantry, walls and ceiling sanded, ready to wash and paint
  • Multiple trips to the dump with everything we've removed (including disposing of the asbestos correctly)
  • 12 x 15 m shed ordered, to be built in February, shed location cleared and pegged out
I feel better seeing that list!  Over December/January we will be aiming to get the kitchen painted and start working on the side room.  

Permaculture - Produce no waste
Here's what I wrote last time I reflected on this principle.  This is my favourite principle.  I shouldn't have favourites, they are all equal principles, but for some reason this one really stands out to me.  I think its just the easiest one to understand and to practice daily.  It goes right through from making a decision to purchase something (do I really need it?  Can I get it second-hand?  Can I borrow one?  If I buy one, can I avoid packaging waste?  Can I get one that will last for a long time?), to using and finally disposing of a product and packaging.  I know my worm farm is the MOST useful way to avoid waste, the worms will eat anything organic (i.e. anything that was once living, including paper, all kitchen scraps and things like chicken feathers and grass clippings) and they will produce useful "worm wee" and compost.  And they breed prolificly, so there is always spare worms to give to the chickens or to someone else setting up a worm farm (if you're in the South Burnett and want worms, I always have spare).

compost worms
Support me
I have been making extra soaps for Christmas and its available on Etsy and a few shops around the place (Chiropratix in Milton and Maintain and Align Massage in Nanango).  I want to thank everyone who has ordered soap and salves from me, I love sending out the little parcels.  If you're thinking of ordering for Christmas, get in as soon as possible as the post office is crazy at the moment!

Here's a new blog to check out this month: Crooked blue cottage .  I know I have a heap of new followers on my sidebar but I can't open any profiles, I don't know if I broke something or if its a problems with "Google Friend Connect".  If you are new, please please leave a comment and tell me where I can find you if you have a blog, I'd love to connect.  I put out a call on the eight acres Facebook page to ask where people are from, and it was lovely to read all the response and check out new blogs and pages.

soap for sale!

I personally don't really do much for Christmas, we don't decorate the house or give presents.  I have been pinning simple and frugal Christmas ideas on my Pinterest board.  I think it can be a really stressful time for people if you feel the pressure to spend a lot of money or prepare a massive feast and it really doesn't have to be like that if you make the decision to keep it simple.

How was November at your place?  What are you planning for December?  Are you going to get time for a break? 


  1. Wow Liz, there are lots of things happening at your place. I am still reading through the eBook and will do a post soon so I haven't forgotten :-) I don't think we got as much rain as you did but I was thankful we didn't get any hailstorms as so many crops were wiped out during the recent storms. After the drizzle clears away tomorrow I will be out weeding the garden and trying to find where my veggies are growing underneath the weeds. LOL!

    1. I'm looking forward to your review! Yes that's the problem with rain - the weeds grow well too!

  2. Wow, long post! Love the pics and your weather sounds much better than ours in Michigan. Are we connected? Your new post came up on my blogger home page.
    I have not seen your Facebook, I'll have to look for it.

    1. Hi Cindy! Yes I have your blog in my feed :) have a look for "Eight Acres - the blog" on facebook :)

  3. Sorry to hear about your bees, but it all counts towards developing more practical experience in the long term. I was wondering if you guys got any of that rain. I saw the weather radar bring a severe thunderstorm to Nanango, and hoped it brought much welcome rain, without the destruction.

    We had the severe weather storm warning here on one day too, but it mysteriously spilt in two and went around us. The hail they were predicting, we got a few, but not a proper hail storm. So we felt incredibly grateful. We got the lovely rain however. Its great when that happens and the garden can grow.

    I also tend to think we can forget what we have achieved, when we're doing so much! ;)

    1. Hi Chris, the storms are fickle aren't they! While of course we feel aggrieved if we miss out on rain, I could do without the strong winds and hail. So far we seem to have had a bit of rain and no lasting damage from wind and hail, so far so good....

  4. Good update, Liz. You have a lot going on! We have gone back to chemical flea medicines for our cats. Cedar oil is supposed to repel them but it has to be applied almost daily and the cats hated it! I was sorry to hear about your bees. i worry over mine with winter coming. I have enjoyed reading your guest bee posts. So interesting to read what others are doing.

    1. Sometimes the chemical-free options have their own issues unfortunately :( I'm glad you've enjoyed the bee series, I have learnt heaps from the other bloggers, it seems we all have very different challenges, I don't have a cold winter, but summer bring the small hive beetles instead... I hope yours do ok through winter!

  5. Great update thanks Liz. I'm hearing you regards the renovating. It took us over five years to bring our old derelict home back to some kind of glory, and some parts are still not complete, but they're out the back and we'll get to it one day between jobs. You really have accomplished so much which you can appreciate once you write it all down in a list. Beautiful Taz, her face is so expressive and looks extremely intelligent. Sorry to hear you lost a hive. When any of ours look weak and a Queen can't be found, Brian takes a frame of brood from a strong hive and puts it in the Queenless hive. They will make their own replacement Queen. And yes, timing is everything when adding another super. The meal looks wonderful, lots of veges and a sizable portion of meat is just what we hard workers need at the end of the day. None of this fancy pancy Masterchef stuff. :)

    1. Well I feel better knowing how long you've worked on your place, especially since I've just been admiring photos of your kitchen! Unfortunately we found this hive too late, they didn't have enough bees left to re-establish, but now we know better what to look for...

  6. Hi Liz, we received some November rain too. Not enough to top up the dam, but it greened up the lawn and paddock, so everything looks nice. During November my husband and I built a keyhole garden with compost basket in the middle. I am now about 4/5's through my permaculture course, so more course work ahead for me during December.

    1. oh wow, I love the keyhole garden concept, I hope you blog about it with lots of photos :) And about your permaculture course. I haven't done a course, but I've read every book I can find....

  7. Hi there! It's nice to read a blog from Nanango! I grew up in Nanango (lived there for 14 years) on a 10 acre block. My parents knew a lot about permaculture and so we established quite an extensive garden and tried to live self-sufficiently at least to some degree. Unfortunately, not too far into this project, the South Burnett (in fact most of QLD) was struck by a drought which lasted a number of years. It was hard enough to have water for ourselves, let alone enough to keep the plants alive! We were lucky, however, to have one dam which I never saw completely dry. Despite the drought, I have the best memories growing up on a bush block and trying to make the most of what we had (especially swimming in the dam when the rain did come!). I now live in Sydney and my husband and I are looking forward to moving to the country, wherever and whenever that may be. I wish you all the best in Nanango!

    1. Hi Miriam! Yes I know what you mean about drought, when this area gets rain it is lovely, but it doesn't take many hot hot days to dry out again and then its dusty brown hard work. We are focusing on water security as you can't grow much food without water! Good luck with your country move eventually :)

  8. Hi Liz, such a busy time you've had. It's always good to reflect i think as sometimes you can get so caught up in what has to be done you lose sight of all the great things that have been achieved. All is looking great.

    1. Thanks! I find December is a good time for reflection on the year gone past, something to do when its too hot for anything else!

  9. Thanks for the shout out Liz, I really appreciate it! Well you have made me feel extremely lazy with all your activity, particularly your house renovations - I know too well that never ending feeling. I think you should relax in your holidays and ignore the painting! I love reading your blog as I do learn a lot, I may not be able to keep chooks and bees in my tiny little suburban block but I like reading about them. Hope you get a bit of a Christmas break!

    1. No worries! The thing with Pete and I is we don't do relaxing well, I think we'd both rather be painting and getting something done :) I enjoying sharing our chooks and bees, so I'm glad you like reading about them!


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