Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The air-conditioning dilemma

When I first moved to Brisbane from New Zealand I arrived in late January. I firmly believed that air conditioning was a waste of energy, so when I stepped off the plane to 30degC heat (coming from a summer that had barely hit 20degC) I was determined to acclimatise as quickly as possible, even though I felt like I was melting. When I got to my hotel I tried sitting on the balcony with a cold drink, to begin adjusting to the heat. I don’t think I lasted more than ten minutes before my resolve crumbled and I was back inside trying to work the air conditioner! I have come a long way since then. I can now work outside in 30degC or hotter, in jeans, long sleeve shirt and boots, but I still can’t sleep if its too hot.

eight acres: the cost of air conditioning
you know what an air-conditioner looks like.....

Our house at Eight Acres came with an older style ducted reverse cycle split system air conditioner installed in the lounge. On very hot days, we would turn it on and lie on the couch to try to cool down, but the cold air never quite made it to the bedroom at the other end of the house. On the first day of the heat waves we had in December 2013, the air conditioner stopped working. Although Pete tried his best to fix it, he admitted defeat and set up an old “window rattler” system that we had used in the previous house. It was loud, but effective, so we lived with it for nearly a year.

Late last year, we decided to install a new air conditioner in our bedroom. I was still not totally comfortable with the idea of using air conditioning, but I told myself that this is a house that we intend to sell, so we won’t be using it forever. Since it has been installed (and Pete got the lounge one fixed at the same time), and we still had all three air conditioners set-up, we used our energy meter to get an idea of their energy use. I was very surprised to see that the new air conditioner used far less energy (it worked out to be about 10c/hr, compared to 50c/hr for the lounge one and $1/hr for the window one, the lounge one is about twice the size, but uses 5 times the electricity).  Apparently this is because the new system includes an inverter, which better matches the machine's energy consumption to the activity in the room.  It is good to know that at least the technology is improving.

I recently read an article in Grass Roots that said new houses, even the ones with good energy star ratings, are really just insulated boxes designed to keep hot air in (winter) or cold air in (summer), but not really designed to take advantage of passive solar opportunities. And this makes sense from my own observations.  This made me feel a little better about using air conditioning. Our house is pretty cheaply built, but it is insulated and well-sealed, it was designed to be air conditioned, and not naturally cooled. When we run the air conditioner we do our best to keep the cold air in the room, using an old mattress protector as a second curtain, and keeping the door closed.

eight acres: the cost of air conditioning
.... so here's two hot dogs instead.

At our house at Cheslyn Rise we made a huge effort to set up the house to be naturally cool. Firstly we orientated the house to have verandas facing north and most of the windows facing south. We are lucky to have great air flow, with plenty of windows, breeze ways, high ceilings, fans and a windy hill-top position. Finally we tried to prevent heat entering the house by choosing a light roof colour and insulating the ceiling cavity (curtains will help further when I get around to sewing them). So far we have found this house to be perfectly comfortable on even the hottest days. We are going to try to avoid installing air conditioning if the inside temperature remains cool enough.

Although its nice to think that an older house, built before air conditioning, is better suited to our climate, in its original position it would have been relatively hot, as we spun it around 90 degrees when we moved it to our property.  One of the verandas is built in and mostly windows, previously it would have had full afternoon sun heating up that room, but now that is on the south side and very cool.  If old houses have been renovated without consideration for passive solar, they may not be ideal either.  If you live in a hot house, don’t feel bad for using air conditioning! There are a few things you can do to make your house more comfortable, but at the same time, its difficult to overcome the original design. Some suggestions in order of least to most expensive:
  • Improve curtains and sealing of rooms to be air conditioned
  • Keep doors closed and only cool small areas at a time
  • Install shading (trees or awnings) outside the windows to reduce heat coming into the house
  • Improve insulation in ceiling and walls
  • Install ceiling fans to improve circulation of air
  • Change roof colour to as light as possible (can be painted if roof is in good condition)
  • Add ceiling space ventilation to remove hot air
  • Move windows and doors around to improve airflow or change how rooms are used to make use of cooler rooms for sleeping

Do you use air conditioning?  Do you live in an insulated box?  A badly designed house or make use of passive heating and cooling?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Natural soap using beef tallow

We had two aims when we started making soap:

1) to make soap from local ingredients, especially those that we could grow ourselves

2) to not use any chemical additives for colour, scent or preservative

We achieved the first aim recently when we made 100% tallow soap from our own beef. That means that the ingredients were tallow, rainwater, caustic soda and essential oil. The only thing we had to buy was the 100g or so of caustic soda and 15mL of essential oil, so that was pretty close to being locally sourced ingredients. (I am interested in making soap from wood ash instead of caustic, but that is another project!).

That was a very plain soap, and fine for Pete and I to use, but we wanted to make something a bit nicer to give as gifts and we wanted to smell to last longer.

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow

I came across the Nerdy Farm Wife Jan Berry’s ebook “Natural Soap Making” (Affiliate link) at just the right time (actually it would have been good to find it earlier, as it starts with a great step-by-step guide with photos of each step, perfect for beginners). We had mastered our plain tallow soap and we wanted to know how to add natural colours and scents, and that is exactly what this book is about, although Jan uses different oils instead of tallow.  “Natural Soap Making” explains how to use herbs in your garden and other naturally occurring clays and powders in your soaps, including using herbal teas with the caustic mixture, infused oils and powdered herbs. I didn’t follow an exact recipe, because I wanted to use tallow, but we did try several of the ideas and produced some lovely soaps.

Natural Soap Making 300 x 250

Soap 1: lemon balm infused oil with lemon balm powder (tallow soap)

I recently wrote that I have plenty of lemon balm in the garden. As it was growing vigorously, and has strong healing properties, I decided to use it in soap. I made an infused oil in macadamia oil, and I dried a handful of leaves to be pulverised in a coffee grinder. This produced a grey/green flecked soap. We used an essential oil blend for the scent. (And Pete has further refined his stainless steel moulds).

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow
Lemon balm

Recipe (6% superfat)

100g macadamia infused with herbs

900g beef tallow

132g caustic

330mL water

15 mL essential oil blend

2 tsp of powdered herb

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow
the finished lemon balm tallow soap

Soap 2: Zeolite clay (tallow soap)

After we made the first soap, I read more about which essential oils would hold their scent longer, and patchouli is recommended, so I chose a patchouli blend for this soap. I also wanted to try using clay, and we had a packet of zeolite, which isn’t in the book, but I used a similar amount as recommended for the other clays and mixed with water before blending, as suggested. I also wanted to try using a herbal tea with the caustic. I made a rosella tea as I thought this would add pink colour, but when I started to mix the caustic the lovely dark pink turned putrid green! I think it was too acidic. I neutralised it with vinegar and threw it out. I just used water with the caustic, so I still need to try making a soup with a herbal tea for the caustic mixture (I will use one that is recommended next time!). With just the zeolite, result was still a nice peach colour and so far the scent is lovely.

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow
the ingredients (note that rosella tea did not work)
Recipe (6% superfat)

1 kg beef tallow

132g caustic

330mL water

15 mL essential oil blend

2 tsp of zeolite clay (mixed with 1 Tbsp of water)

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow
the finished zeolite tallow soap
I think we’ve produced some nice soaps that we can use as gifts and for a bit of fun (and now we have far too much soap again, so we need to use some before we make any more). I highly recommend Jan’s ebook “Natural Soap Making” for beginners and experienced soap makers. It contains 25 recipes if you don’t want to invent your own, but you can also just apply the tips and tricks to modify a recipe that you already prefer.

eight acres: natural soap using beef tallow
Pete's stainless steel moulds looking good!

My only complaint was all the units in imperial, make sure you write out the conversions to metric before you start making anything! Try this calculator to convert to g or change your scales to oz before you start.

Do you make soap? Do you use natural colours and scents? Do you use herbs in your soap?

Natural Soap Making 600 x 400

Click here to visit The Nerdy Farm Wife's other ebooks

Click here to buy the Natural Soap Making ebook

Disclaimer: The ebook was sent to me by Jan to review and I have signed up for the affiliate program, so if you buy it through me, I get a small commission. You know that I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t think it was a great book. If you disagree with me, let me know. Also, while I have reproduced for you the soap recipes that I used, I take no responsibility if they don’t work for you or cause any harm, sorry, but you make soap at your own risk! And don’t use rosella tea with the caustic!

My other soap posts:

Natural soap using beef tallow

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hatching chicks!

We hatched some babies!  24 chicks from around 38 eggs.  Not the best hatch rate, but plenty of chicks for us to raise.  See this post on my chicken tractor ebook blog for a summary of all my posts about incubating, hatching and caring for baby chicks.

eight acres: hatching chicks

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Natural toothpaste options

Natural Toothpaste from Biome

We have been using a natural toothpaste for years, its probably one of the first changes that we made from a "conventional" lifestyle to our current weird hippy lifestyle. At first I just wanted to avoid sodium lauryl sulphate in commercial toothpaste. But there are other ingredients that I also found suspicious, artificial sweeteners, flavours and fluoride all made me a little nervous. I don’t want to get into the conspiracy theories around fluoride (here is a relatively balanced article, and one from the other end of the spectrum), except to say that I’ve looked at the data on flouride and tooth decay and I’m not convinced that mass-flouridisation prevents tooth decay, so I’d rather avoid it. I bring my own rainwater to Brisbane so I don’t have to drink town water, so my consumption is fairly low.

I went to the dentist last year, after a break of a couple of years, and I was pretty nervous.  Even though I was sure I was doing the right thing, I wondered how I would react if I was told that I had a mouth full of cavities.  I nearly fell off the chair when the dentist told me it all looked good.  What a relief!  On the other hand, Pete had a sore tooth and after an initial visit, has had several follow-up visits this year to repair numerous cavities and now uses a "flouride gel".  He uses the natural toothpaste too, so its hard to tell what's different and whether he already had that decay before we switched toothpastes.  There is always a risk when we don't follow the official advice, that we could be completely wrong, but I guess its worth a try to find a more sustainable and natural alternative to chemical toothpaste.  

eight acres: natural toothpaste options
toothpaste options

Natural toothpastes are usually based on sodium bicarbonate and salt. They taste and feel different to commercial toothpaste, but you get used to it and I find commercial toothpaste quite disgusting now, far too sweet and a weird texture! There are a number of brands available, all around $10/100-150g, which is about twice the price of a standard commercial toothpaste. I have been thinking about making my own toothpaste, or even tooth powder, to save money and because it is annoying to have to remember to stop at the “health food” shop to pick it up. When I was looking for toothpaste recipes, I came across the concept of remineralising teeth, which is yet another reason to make my own.

Remineralisation is the concept that teeth decay can be repaired through normal cell regeneration if you eat a diet rich in minerals and fat-soluble vitamins, and add minerals to your toothpaste (more here and here). In particular, the minerals calcium, phosphorous and magnesium need to be available. There are many different recipes for homemade toothpaste and I wasn’t sure which one to use, so last time I went to buy toothpaste, I bought one of each brand available in the shop so that I could compare. If you don’t want to make your own toothpaste, you could choose one of these natural options as an alternative to commercial toothpaste.

eight acres: natural toothpaste options

Miessence Toothpaste (website)

This is the one that we’ve been using for a long time. It contains salt, so it took a little while to get used to the taste, but I prefer it now.

Ingredients: Aloe vera juice, sodium bicarbonate, bentonite, xanthan gum, sea salt, stevia, essential oils

I don’t think that xanthan gum or stevia are really necessary, but can’t do much harm in small amounts in toothpaste.

Redmond Earthpaste(other flavours available) (website)

This paste is brown due to the Remond Clay content. After you get over the colour, it just tastes like toothpaste.

Ingredients: water, Redmond clay, xylitol, Redmond salt, tea tree oil, menthol, essential oils

Again, the xylitol is not really necessary and I find the added menthol too strong (and question whether it is a natural ingredient, as it can be produced synthetically, I remember making it in first year chemistry lab).

Weleda Calendual Toothpaste (other flavours available) (website)

Ingredients: Water, Calcium Carbonate, Glycerin, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Alcohol, Calendula Officinalis Extract, Commiphora Myrrha Extract, Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel) Oil, Xanthan Gum, Ammonium Glycyrrhizate, Limonene (from essential oils).

This one is marked as peppermint free, which had me worried (am I supposed to avoid peppermint too now?), but it turns out that relates to homeopathy. The fennel oil reminds me of Bongela teething gel (hate to think what’s in that product). While the mineral content of this toothpaste is good (calcium, magnesium and silica), the inclusion of glycerine has been shown to prevent remineralisation. Also Xanthan gum, Ammonium Glycyrrhizate (an extract from liquorice root) and limonene are not really necessary ingredients.

Making my own toothpaste
These products, and the recipes I have read online come down to some basic ingredients:

Base – water, aloe vera, coconut oil

Abrasive agent (and minerals) – baking soda, salt, clay and minerals

Flavour – essential oils, artificial sweeteners

Thickener/texture modifier – xanthan gum, glycerine

Preservative/antioxidant – vitamin E for oil based, or grapefruit seed extract for water based (surprised that none of the toothpastes I bought had a preservative ingredient listed)

Since I became aware of the possibility of remineralising toothpaste, it seemed like if I was going to make toothpaste anyway, I should include some minerals. The minerals suggested in recipes were listed as “calcium powder” or “magnesium powder”, but these minerals don’t appear in nature as discrete powders, these products have been refined. It makes more sense to me to raid the cow mineral buckets! Dolomite contains both calcium and magnesium, diatomaceous earth is mainly silica, as is bentonite clay. In their impure form, both will contain trace amounts of many other minerals, including phosphorus. Sea salt is another source of trace minerals.

If I had to make toothpaste from scratch, without buying anything, I would use aloe vera harvested from my garden as the base, but as that is not the most convenient option (I would have to process to aloe vera), for now coconut oil is my preference.

eight acres: natural toothpaste options
homemade toothpaste - a bit muddy looking

My recipe
2 parts zeolite clay
5 parts dolomite
1 part diatomaceous earth
1 part sea salt
3-5 parts coconut oil
Essential oil
Vitamin E capsules (antioxidant)

Measure out the dry ingredients and then add the coconut oil until the texture is suitable.  Store in an airtight container (I bought small travel cosmetic containers) and only make a small amount at a time.

Its a bit sloppy in the summer heat and I'm not sure what it will be like in winter, I might have to use olive oil instead.  It tastes salty, a bit minty, and gritty.  If you go straight from a commercial smooth white chemical toothpaste, you might find this a bit odd, but its not much different to the other natural toothpastes.  It makes my teeth feel very clean, so I like it.  Pete even uses it, although he also asked me if there was any "proper" toothpaste, but more because he was wondering than refusing to use the homemade one.  We will see if it improves my dental health....

Here’s some other recipes from blogland

Wellness mama

Weedem and Reap

The Paleo

Have you tried making your own toothpaste?  Remineralising or otherwise?

Natural Toothpaste from Biome

Monday, January 19, 2015

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

Last year I start my review of herbs in my garden, both to give some ideas for readers about how herbs can be grown and used, and to force me to read some of the herb books on my bookshelf!  So far I have reviewed some fairly common herbs:

How I use herbs
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 - Soapwort
How I use herbs - Comfrey
How I use herbs - Nasturtium
How I use herbs - Parsley
How I use herbs - Borage

This year, I'm keen to start writing about some of the more unusual herbs in my garden.  For a start, have you heard of Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)?  Of my four herb books, one does not mention it at all, and two only have a brief paragraph, which doesn't tell you much.  Fortunately, Isabell Shippard included a lengthy section in her book "How I Can Use Herbs in My Daily Life", which details example after example of Herb Robert helping people and animals with cancer.  I know that they are only anecdotes collected by one herbalist, but this herb grows so easily and doesn't taste bad, so why not add it to your garden and your diet?  Maybe it will strengthen your immune system, maybe it will just be another bit of vegetable on the plate, it doesn't really matter though.

eight acres: how to grow and use Herb Robert
The tiny Herb Robert flower
Sadly Isabell Shippard died recently, and we are so lucky that she took the time to record her knowledge in several books and DVDs (still available from her website).

How to grow Herb Robert
Herb Robert is one of those wonderful plants that self-seeds easily, and once you have it in your garden, you will always have some popping up somewhere.  I was first given a plant, as the seeds are a little tricky to collect (but it can be done if you spot them at the right time).  And now I have to weed it out when it gets into places I don't want it to grow!  It certainly does well in the sub-tropics and I've noticed it growing wild in the bush around Wellington (New Zealand).  Does it grow where you live?

How to use Herb Robert
Apparently Herb Robert is also known as "stinking bob" because of its smell, but I can't say I've particularly noticed a smell or a taste.  Herb Robert is just one of the main herbs in my garden that I pick to add to casseroles, soups, gravy, salads, nearly everything!  Depending what's in season, I also add parsley, chervil, nasturtium, gotu kola and herb robert.  I will also add mint if I'm making a yoghurt sauce.

Herb Robert can also be used fresh or dried to make tea.  I add it to the dried herbs I use as a tea mix, also including mint, lemon balm, calendula and various other herbs in the garden.

eight acres: how to grow and use Herb Robert
Chopped herbs to add to everything
As I said above, Herb Robert has been credited with curing cancer and supporting the immune system, but the information is limited.  If you want to read more about this aspect, part of Isabell's article is reproduced (with her permission) on this blog.  There is also more detail in this youtube video about the ellagic acid and germanium content of the herb, and its properties as an adaptogen.

Have you heard of Herb Robert?  Do you grow and/or use it?  Do you have any unusual herbs in your garden?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kefir for beginners

Most people have heard of yoghurt, but kefir, also made by fermenting milk, is less well known and just as tasty and benefitial for our health. The origins of kefir are shrouded in mystery, we may never know where it came from, but if you can get hold of some kefir grains for yourself and look after them, you will always have kefir, which has endless uses.

Kefir grains are a mixture of yeasts and bacteria that form a solid mass, they are not actually "grains" in terms of seeds, they are just a squishy translucent blob that grows in the milk. The composition of kefir grains varies naturally from one batch to another, but all contain a mixture of lactic-acid bacteria and various yeasts. To make kefir (or kefirred milk), the grains are placed in a container of fresh milk and allowed to stand at room temperature for at least a day, if not several days, the grains are then strained out and used to make more kefir.

eight acres: kefir for beginners
kefir fermenting in the middle

Kefir tastes sour, slightly cheesy and is a little effervescent. I don’t like the taste by itself, but it adds a delicious sourness to my daily banana smoothie. The taste and texture of the kefir you make will depend on the ratio of grains to milk and the temperature of the room. In hot weather, a very strong brew will quickly form as the microbes consume the sugars in the milk.

Kefir has similar health benefits to yoghurt as it populates your gut with beneficial microbes. For me the real advantages of brewing kefir is having a constant source of microbes for starting fermentations, whereas yoghurt is only one or two bacteria, kefir contains a wide variety. I use kefir when I make bread, sauerkraut and fermented pickles, and fizzy drinks, and any other fermentation that needs whey. I also use a little kefir in water to soak rice or quinoa for several hours before cooking. The microbes in the kefir help to pre-digest some of the proteins and carbohydrates in the food so that the nutrients are more available when I eat the food, as well as providing another dose of beneficial microbes for your gut. 

eight acres: kefir for beginners
kefir "grains" in the jar, and kefirred milk in the jug

Kefir is very easy to care for, I was worried that I would somehow kill my grains, but so far I have kept them alive for nearly three years. The key is to find a routine that will suit you and your kefir. At the moment we change the milk in our kefir every week, but some people will change it every day. I separate the kefir grains from the kefir by pouring the contents of the jar through a sieve and into a jug (even though metal sieves are not recommended, I have used one without any problems). If the milk it has formed into curds and whey (this happens when you produce a particularly sour kefir, and can be avoided by having more milk for the amount of grains or keeping it at a lower temperature or for less time), I press the thicker curds through the sieve and the result is a thicker kefir (or you could drain it through cheese-cloth and make kefir cheese, like cream cheese). If the mixture hasn’t split, its very quick to just pour the kefir through the sieve. I rinse out the jar and put the grains back in the jar and top up with fresh milk (I don’t see any need to sterilize anything in this process as the beneficial microbes inhibit the growth of pathogens). I then pour the kefir into bottles and keep them in the fridge.

Sometimes I leave the jar with milk and kefir grains on the kitchen bench for a few days and then place it in the fridge, to make stronger kefir. If the weather is very hot, it stays in the fridge, if its cold, the jars can stay on the bench all week, this also depends if we want thick or thin kefir. If we are going to be away and won’t be able to refresh the kefir, it can last in the fridge for several weeks, particularly if there is extra milk for the amount of grains. We currently make two 750 mL jars of kefir each week, and this is enough to last the two of us.

We always make our kefir with fresh raw cow’s milk, but it can also be made with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. I know people who use pasteurised milk (shop milk) and other people who make up milk from milk powder. Coconut milk can also be used. Another variation of kefir is “water kefir”, the same grains can be used to ferment juices based on water instead of milk. I haven’t investigated this process, but I’ve heard that it produces a pleasant sour fizzy drink.

In warmer weather, the grains multiple quickly and you can give away the excess. I find this is a good form of insurance in case anything ever happens to your kefir, you should know someone who can give you back some kefir grains. This also means that if you need kefir to get started, all you need to do is find someone else who has kefir and wait for them to have excess grains to share with you. You can also buy them online from various sources.

It can seem strange at first to have milk going sour on your kitchen bench, but once you get used to it, kefir can be a lot of fun and very useful.

(This article was first published in Grass Roots magazine)

Do you ferment kefir?  Any tips for beginners?

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Watermelon granita recipe

In summer we can usually buy cheap watermelons (I am yet to master growing them myself, I think I am missing the key ingredient - water), but usually we can't eat the whole thing.  I like to make granita.  Granita is like a chunky form of sorbet.  I use less sugar than most recipes and I just blend the whole watermelon (rather than juicing it), so you get all the fibre.  I also put in some ginger, lemon and herbs (mint, lemon balm and winter tarragon).  Pete thought that it tasted too "herby", but I think it complements the watermelon and I love to use my herbs.  On a hot summer's day, I'm glad to have some real-food granita to cool me down, rather than a sugary, artificial ice block.

eight acres: real food watermelon granita recipe

I use our handchurn ice cream maker, it takes about 20 minutes to make 1 litre from pre-chilled mixture, but if you don't have an ice cream machine you can just put it straight in the freezer and scrape the sides down every half hour.

Watermelon Granita

  • Cut up your watermelon and put as many chunks into your blender as you can
  • Blend the watermelon with the juice of a lemon or lime, a chunk of ginger and herbs to taste, also I use one tablespoon of sugar per litre, as this seem so help it crystalise better, but you could experiment with how much sugar you need.
  • If you're going to use an icecream machine, either chill the watermelon before cutting, or chill the mixture before churning.  If you are just going to use the freezer, put the mixture in a bowl or dish that will fit in your freezer.  Churn or scrape the side of your dish until you reach the right texture.  
eight acres: real food watermelon granita recipe

eight acres: real food watermelon granita recipe
the finished granita

This is delicious even before its properly frozen, I don't mind drinking it by the cup full.  Do you make granita?  How do you keep cool in summer?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Slow living farm update - January 2015

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a lovely break and time with family over the past few weeks.  I'm joining in the Slow Living Monthly Nine again, started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials and currently hosted by Linda at Greenhaven.  We were very busy being slow in December....

I wish I could say that I grew this beauty, but I am yet to master watermelons in own garden. Fortunately there are plenty of growers around us (but none are organic) and we can usually get a few cheap watermelons in summer. We can’t eat a whole melon though, so I like to make granita, which I can pull out of the freezer to enjoy on hot summer days. I’ll post my recipe soon, but I can tell you it includes ginger and mint, I’ll take any opportunity to use my herbs!

We have been waiting for the pickling cucumbers to grow and I thought I’d better start fermenting the three we had so far, or they might be too far gone by the time I had a jar-full. I ferment them rather than pickle, so I can easily add new cucumbers to the jar as they get big enough. See my recipe back here.  Also in the photo is milk kefir and a fermented drink with orange, tumeric, ginger and brahmi.

Since I’ve been staying in Brisbane I’ve made a real effort to use the city and state libraries here, which is a great way to get access to new books and magazines without buying them. We have two bookshelves full of books and I really need to be selective about adding yet more books! Over Christmas I had a look at which books I might give away to charity shops and realised that there were a number that I had bought and not read yet, so I’ve promised myself I will read all of them before buying anything new (some I have read and wanted to read again).

I harvested from my herb garden as many were growing out of control since our recent rain. I set most of them aside to air dry for tea and dried herbs, but I also tried something new with the brahmi and put it in a jar of vodka to start a tincture. This is my first herbal tincture and I am not sure what to expect from it. I’ll write more about brahmi soon.  (Here's my other posts on herbs)

I shared my garden on Monday. The other thing that we are growing is chicks! We have the incubator set up in our bedroom. Last time we incubated eggs, we had trouble with over-temperature because inside our house can be over 38degC and the incubator can’t control to the correct temperature. We just installed a new efficient air conditioner in our bedroom, so the incubator is in there, with the air conditioner set at 30degC during the day! At least when the chicks hatch we don’t have to worry about them getting too cold in the brooder box.  (I will have more to say on this air conditioner soon, but in summary: 1) it is surprisingly efficient and not using much power compared to the improvement in comfort in our badly designed house, 2) the new house probably won't need air conditioning as it is orientated more sensibly and has insulation and high ceilings, so far its been very comfortable)

We have paint colour swatches all over our dining table and still have not decided on an outside colour for the house at Cheslyn Rise. We did go paint shopping (it took hours) and got primer, ceiling paint, trim in Pale Eucalypt and we chose the interior wall colour (tapestry beige) and the door colour (light leather). I would love to paint it all white, but that is not practical when we live in red dirt and never seem to have clean hands! Our roof is nearly done (in Paperbark – I think I said Evening Haze before, but I had forgotten what we told the roofer to buy as it was six months ago, now at least we know what is up there, we can make a decision on the exterior colour).   So far we have sanded and “gap-filled” the smallest bedroom, and we should get it painted over the next few weekends. Its hard work, but I can’t wait to see the final result.

Late last year I decided that this year I would spend more time sewing. I made my dress-maker’s form and I haven’t even used it yet, so I brought her to Brisbane along with my suitcase of fabric stash. I also bought myself for Christmas a book on basic dress-making (I know I said no more books, starting from January no more books). And I’m going to make a real effort to learn the proper techniques instead of just hacking.

In early December I also moved units in Brisbane because my lovely landlady sold the house I was living in, I was sad to leave, but I have found a wonderful unit that is only 30 minutes walk to work in the CBD, and I walked to work all through December. This is saving my money and I’m getting some exercise (it is up and down hills). I say “hello” to people that I pass and most give me funny looks, but some reply, maybe I can get some country friendliness to catch on.

On the subject of exercise.... Pete and I rolled out the above polypipe from the bore up to the highest point on our property and when we connected it, we had water at the top!  Next step is to install a tank at the top and start distributing water and growing trees!

We spent Christmas and Boxing Day at Woodgate Beach and it was lovely beach weather. We managed to get Taz in for a swim and took them both down at low tide to play ball. At New Years we had friends with a dog stay at Cheslyn Rise and managed to get Taz to swim in the dam with the other dog. I hopped in too the next day, a bit muddy, but nice to cool off after a day of sanding the walls!  We've had Taz for one year now, she is a funny little dog!

How was your December and Christmas?  What are your plans for January?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype

Have you been following the current controversy over raw milk in Victoria? Long story short, one child has tragically died and others in Victoria, Australia, have become sick with various food-poisoning, all of them consumed raw milk, but there is no proven link between the milk and the illnesses. Details in the media are few and a bit muddled.  Nevertheless, the Victorian government has already made plans to force producers of raw milk to add a bittering agent to their milk prior to sale, so that it cannot be consumed. Now the NSW Premier has joined the discussion, and its looking like this issue could become a problem for all states of Australia. All of this before a coroner’s inquiry has had a chance to officially determine the cause of death, which may not even be due to raw milk.

eight acres: Raw milk in Australia - the facts without the media hype
Molly has raw milk to spare
Even if you are not personally interested in buying and consuming raw milk, this story has implications for everyone's right to chose what we eat and drink. Most of the media show very little understanding of the complexity of raw milk and tend to portray it as “toxic” and those who would drink raw milk as “idiots”. Personally I have seen a huge amount of misinformation about raw milk in comments on news articles, and while I may be singing to the choir here, I’d like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.

 I’m going to start with basics, so skip ahead if you already know what I’m talking about. At the end of this post I’ve put a link to a petition to legalise raw milk in Australia, please take the time to sign this petition and stand up for your right to choose.

What is raw milk?
Raw milk is the unprocessed milk received directly from the cow, just like human breast milk. It is illegal to sell raw cow’s milk in all states of Australia, although raw goat’s milk can be sold in some states. All cow’s milk is pasteurised prior to sale for human consumption. This means that the milk is heated to kill bacteria in the milk. The history of this process is complicated and I have a few conspiracy theories myself, but as far as I can find out, the original reason for pasteurisation was the ability for milk producers to keep cows in unsanitary conditions and remove pathogens such as tuberculosis and cholera prior to sale.

These days, such diseases are not a concern, however we are told that pasteurisation is necessary to prevent food poisoning from bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella. I think that part of the issue is that the big milk processes want to keep their business, if we didn’t all believe that milk had to be pasteurised, we could buy it directly from farmers and cut out the middleman. (supported by this article from 1938

Also, health departments in Australia generally don’t keep any statistics relating to the number of people affected by food poisoning from drinking raw milk. If the problem was so serious, why isn’t it monitored?  A US government study of reported food-poisoning cases from dairy products concluded that of the 4,413 illnesses attributed to dairy between 1993 and 2006, only 36% were due to unpasteurised (raw milk) dairy products.  That means, statistically, you're more likely to get sick from pasteurised dairy!  And yet they recommended tougher restrictions on raw milk.

Who drinks raw milk?
Raw milk is consumed by most dairy farmers and most people who keep a cow. It is true that some people pasteurise their own cow’s milk (I’m not sure why they bother keeping a cow in that case, but each to their own). It is legal to sell and buy raw cow’s milk in New Zealand, 29 states in the US and most of the European Union (except for Scotland).

In Australia, because it is illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, there are a few farmers selling “cosmetic bath milk”. This is clearly a popular product and there is demand in Australia for raw milk, and I don’t think anyone is bathing in it!

Why drink raw milk?
Raw milk is alive with beneficial bacteria, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, most of which is destroyed when the milk is heated for pasteurisation. Raw milk is considered to be a nutritious food and many people have found that it has helped them to overcome health challenges. More info on raw milk benefits here - with lots of references, I also wrote more about raw milk here.

The typical argument against drinking milk is that is strange to drink the milk of another animal. Maybe, but archaeologists have shown that milk-drinking allowed the first agricultural humans to survive crop failures, as they always had milk and milk products to sustain them. In fact, humans from Europe have evolved to be able to digest milk, so unless you have an intolerance to raw milk, its not really strange to drink it if you want to.

Why should you care?Whether or not you personally want to drink raw milk is not the issue here. I have a cow, I don’t need to buy milk, but I would like to be able to sell it (or even give it away, which is also illegal) to friends and family, especially when Molly first calves and we have 12 L per day!

Regardless of that, the things that really got me angry about this current debate are:

1. The misinformation in the media and coming from government organisations, mostly from people who have probably never in their life touched, let alone, milked a cow, and yet they profess to know more about the safety of raw milk than dairy farmers who are working hard to provide safe raw milk, or those who regularly drink raw milk.

2. The knee-jerk reaction of politicians who refuse to wait for an official inquiry to be completed. So far there in no proven link between raw milk and the child who died. It remains very difficult to prove whether raw milk was the cause, as many foods can harbour food-poisoning bacteria, including washed carrots and lettuce.

This issue is broader than raw milk, it is scary to see how the government can make decision about what you can and cannot eat or drink. If you value your freedom to make your own choices about your health and safety, you should take an interest in this discussion.

What can you do?
Raw milk supplier Rebecca Freer has started a petition on “Make Raw Milk Legal for Human Consumption”. All you have to do is click on the link and sign the petition (fill in the boxes on the right-hand side of the page). At the time of writing, there are already 2671 supporters, add your name to that list.

Email your local member and tell them that you support the right for those who want to consume raw milk to make that choice for themselves

Contact Jane Garret, Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and tell her to wait for the outcome of an inquiry before jumping to change regulations.

Tell all your friends (and any random strangers who will listen) the TRUTH about raw milk to counteract the misinformation coming from the media.

Share this post and the others that explain the facts (and I can’t find many, so please add more links in the comments).

Homemade Healthy Happy - Raw milk: an open letter Jane Garrett

Tammi Jonas - raw milk in Victoria - a letter to Minister Jane Garrett

Sustainable Table - Why are some people drinking bath milk

Greening of - Raw milk madness (from 2011, but still relevant)

What do you think?  Do you drink raw milk?  Do you want better regulation of a safe raw milk market and no more hiding behind "bath milk"?  (I don't mind discussion, but I will delete comments that are offensive)

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Garden Share - January 2015

Happy New Year everyone!  How are your gardens?  Did you get a chance to do some gardening over the Christmas holidays?  I had two weeks at home pottering, and we finally got some rain!

About 100mm altogether, which is very close to our long term average.  The garden did what its supposed to do, and GREW with all the rain.  If the weather did this every year, I think I'd have my sub-tropical spring seed-raising system nearly sorted.  I need to start the seeds as early as possible in a green-house, around late August, so that they are big enough to survive the hot dry months of September and November, and then take off when it rains properly in December and January.  Unfortunately we can't always rely on the rain, so you never know what will make it through to actually producing a harvest.  Last year we were still waiting on decent rain by March!

the garden looking green again

This year I have plenty of purple bush beans.  Does anyone else find bush beans difficult?  I prefer climbers, but they are slower to get started, the bush beans seem to just sprawl and collapse over the ground and its hard to find the beans without breaking off the leaves!  I've also got plenty of button squash, I love these because you can pick them small, before they get blossom-end rot, which is a real problem when its dry (the plants can't get access to enough calcium).  With the wet has come the dreaded powdery mildew.  I know that there's mixtures I could spray on the leaves, but I prefer to just cut off the badly effected leaves and let the plants continue, this seems to work.  I've also picked three pickling cucumbers and started them fermenting already, I hope we get some more because three is a bit lonely in the jar!  Pete loves the pickles, so he's been feeding the cucumber plant with worm wee.

purple bush beans
button squash
pickling cucumbers
The choko vine is massive (regrown from last year, in case you're thinking what's a choko?), but no flowers so far, same goes for the rosellas (what's rosella?).  Lots of "micro greens" have popped up in the garden, mostly broccoli I think, and I've been picking them to weed out to just a few plants.  Also, the chilli bushes are looking very healthy again and I fear that there will be too many chillies again!  There are only so many chilli flakes I can make!

crazy choko vine and some strawberries below

rosella - no flowers yet

self-seeded micro-green goodness

uh-oh more chillies!

And finally, I have an enormous plant that I thought was an eggplant, but now its flowered, I have no idea what it is, any suggestions?

the chickens come running when I go into the garden

How was your December?  Did you get plenty done in the garden?  I am just hoping for more rain and more growing and harvesting in January.

Join in the Garden Share Collective, link up here and link back to Lizzie at Strayed from the Table.

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