Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A couple of important anniversaries

Last week was Pete and my 5th wedding anniversary.  I wrote a series of posts about our wedding on our first anniversary.  You won't be surprised that it was very simple and frugal and I didn't wear white!

A simple wedding in several parts - location, guest list and invitations, accommodation

A simple wedding part 2 - the dress and flowers

A simple wedding part 3 - the ceremony

A simple wedding part 4 - the reception

family portrait

Also, our little Taz turns two in October.  We got her from the market in the first weekend of January 2014, and at the time she was 12 weeks old, which puts her birthday some time in October.  Its hard to believe this little furball has been with us such a short time.  When she first came home she had a habit of hiding under the bed, that lasted until she got too big to fit under there.  Lately she has developed a habit of lying ON the bed, but its just too cute to see her napping there.  

Training Taz and watching her grow up and mature has been a wonderful experience.  And I attribute the puppy box to saving my sanity when she was tiny.  Read about training little Taz here:

Taz when she fitted under the bed
Taz the bed warmer

What are you celebrating at your place?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Shaving soap

For years now Pete has been using a saving stick and brush rather than shaving foam.  I remember when he used to buy the cans of foam, it was like the can only lasted two or three shaves before he needed another one.

The shaving stick lasts for MONTHS and the brush will last for years.  I recently bought Pete some handmade shaving soap from a market.  I knew I could make shaving soap, but I really like how this one came in a little tin and I thought Pete would like it too.  Now I've sourced some tins and I'm going to sell my version of tallow shaving soap on in my Etsy shop, but while the tin is handy to keep the soap tidy, and if you're making if for yourself, or gifts, you can skip the tin and just make some bars of soap.  This is how I make bars of shaving soap.

eight acres: shaving soap

eight acres: shaving soap

eight acres: shaving soap

For a decent lather, you really have to add coconut oil to the tallow.  A 100% tallow soap does not lather enough for a nice shave.  I used my recipe with 25% coconut oil, 25% olive oil and 50% tallow, as described back here, with a 6% superfat.  I made this soap while my parents were visiting, and as my dad also uses a shaving stick and brush I asked his opinion on the essential oil for this recipe.  He suggested peppermint because it feels nice a cool, and Pete agreed that it would be a good scent to use.

eight acres: shaving soap

For the first time I tried a PVC pipe as the mould because I thought that a round soap would be more ergonomic.  *Spoiler alert* the soap got stuck and Pete had to cut the mould open with an angle grinder.  I did suggest that he could have kept it in in the PVC pipe and use it as a giant shaving stick.  I have certainly not perfected using PVC pipe as a mould, but you could just make bars or use any mould you have already.

When Pete had managed to extract the soap, we sliced it into suitable chunks and Pete has been using it.  He reports that it works and he likes the smell (Dad gave a similar review).  Its going to take him a while to use the rest, so we are giving away samples to any clean shaven men we know!  AND I just bought Pete a safety razor, so if he likes that too, its becoming a rather sustainable shave.

I made the same recipe again and poured it into these tins.  I'll be selling them through my Etsy shop with my other tallow soaps, as soon as they are cured.

eight acres: shaving soap
I just poured these, so they will be available in my Etsy shop in a few weeks

What do you think?  Do you use or make shaving soap?  What the secret to PVC pipe as soap moulds!?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Beginner beekeepers - wiring frames and foundation

In case you missed it, Pete and I recently got started with beekeeping!  We bought a whole lot of gear from an old beekeeper, I call that our "starter kit".  It included all sorts of things, and Pete has been far better than me at figuring out what some of it is for.  We also bought some new equipment, such as hives and frames.  Last week I showed you how we (Pete) uses the frame box to make the frames.  The next step is wiring and installing foundation.

There is some debate amongst beekeepers about whether foundation is necessary, or whether is would be better to allow the bees to build their own comb naturally.  Certainly top bar and warre hives do not use foundation.  It is used by commercial beekeepers for a few reasons:
  • The wire keeps the comb more stable during transport (you don't lose as much honey)
  • The foundation encourages the bees to build straight comb in the right direction so that frames can easily be removed by the beekeeper either to inspect the hive or take the honey
  • The beekeeper can control (or try to control) the size of the holes in the comb to encourage larger worker bees but fewer drones (for more honey)
  • The bees don't have to waste energy building as much comb themselves (and can make more honey)
eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation
foundation beeswax
I know that there are plenty of beekeepers using no foundation or only some foundation and I would like to try that eventually.  As well as being more natural for the bees, it gives us better control over the chemicals in our hive (I would prefer this to be zero).  The foundation that we buy is produced from other beekeepers' harvested beeswax, which may or may not contain chemicals (pesticides and antibiotics used in bee hives), so while we are using foundation we can't be sure what is in it.  However, for now, we are doing things the traditional way so that we can learn more about the bees first and figure out the more novel management methods later.  

And so every new frame needs wire and foundation (when we extract the honey, we can put the spent frame back in the hive, these are called "stickies").  Pete is in charge of wiring, using the wiring board that came in our starter kit and a new roll of stainless steel wire.  The wire passes through four pre-drilled holes in the sides of the frames, some people put eyelets in these holes to stop the wire from splitting the wood.  We were told this wasn't necessary, but I'm sure we will find out in time if that was good advice!  The wiring board uses a series of wheels to pull the wire tight on the frame and its finished off by wrapping around a nail in the side of the frame.

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

I get the "arts and crafts" job of melting the wax foundation onto the wire.  We use an electric embedding tool, it is powered off a 12V car battery, with four lengths of copper tube to conduct the electric charge into the wire.  The stainless steel wire has resistance to electric charge, so it gets hot and melts the beeswax foundation.  Its surprising how quickly the wire heats up, it doesn't take much and the risk is cutting the foundation if I hold it too long.  We have a board cut to the size of the foundation sheets that sits in the frame to support the foundation at the right height to do the embedding.  You can also get a little tool like a pizza cutter that you run along the wires to embed, and there's a few other options.  This one came as part of our starter kit and its pretty easy and quick to use.  

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

eight acres: wiring frames and attaching beeswax foundation

What do you think?  Have you wired frames?  Embedded foundation?  Do you go foundation-free?

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Raw Milk Answer Book - review

Raw milk is confusing.  I only realised that after we got our house cow Bella.  And found that we couldn't even share her milk.  I didn't know raw milk was such a big deal.  Here's my review of the Raw Milk Answer Book - over on my house cow ebook blog.

eight acres: review of the raw milk answer book

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.  More information about the book on my house cow eBook blog here.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Trimming chicken wing feathers

eight acres: trimming chicken wing feathers

I caught my favourite hen in my vege garden.  She flies in over the gate.  I had to trim her wing feathers to keep her out.  Read more about it over on my chicken tractor blog.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Homekill butcher day - tips and tricks

I usually split homekill beef into two distinct days.  Slaughter day is stressful and emotional.  There is the worry of getting the animal into the appropriate yard, the butcher turning up on time, seeing the animal killed and quartered, its a hard day.  Then a few days later (depending how long the carcass is hung for, this could be up to a week or more) you get butcher day.  Butcher day is hard work, but its not stressful if you are well prepared and you have a good butcher.  Here's a few tips and tricks for getting all that meat safely into the freezer.

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Turn on your freezers and fridges the night before
Just make sure everything is working in case you are going to need to urgently borrow or purchase additional facilities!

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Get a good vacuum packer
It really pays not to be stingy when buying a vacuum packer.  Sure you will only use it a few days a year, but when you do use it, you need it to work ALL day until that meat is packed.  We used to pack some meat in freezer bags because they are cheaper, but the meat retains better quality in the vaccum bags, so its worth the extra expense for us (it depends how long its going to take you to eat all that beef).  Our original vacuum sealer didn't work well last year, and looks like the sealing part is bowed, so I got a new Sunbeam VS780, so far I am very happy with it, but I did get the extended warranty just in case.

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Spread the packets out flat so that everything packs neatly
After you seal a packet of mince (ground beef) you can then smooth it out flat so that it will stack neatly in the freezer.  This also works with casserole meat.  I try to keep the steaks flat too.

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Prepare all your weird seasonings before the butcher arrives
Our butcher is used to us now, and knows that I prefer to make my own stuffing for the rolled roasts, and that we buy organic sausage mix and natural hog casings.  We also need to respect his time, it does take him longer to make things they way we want, so we have to have everything prepared before he arrives.

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks
Rolled roast stuffing "recipe"
Breadcrumbs (made from stale bread dried in the woodstove or BBQ)
Garlic granules (made by drying garlic cloves in the woodstove)
Mixed dried herbs (from the garden)
Other things from the pantry if I don't think I've made enough, including: sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, other nuts and seeds
I pulse everything in a blender to a suitable consistency, its really just a medium for conveying the garlic!

Sausages need to rest for a few days before freezing
That means you need some large dishes to store the sausages and plenty of fridge space.  We have white butcher tubs that we use throughout butcher day, and they end up full of sausages right at the end.  And we have a spare fridge which usually fits all the sausages (one year it didn't work and we had to emergency clear out the main fridge to make room - that is when butcher day is stressful!).

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Keep your dog inside (away from the butcher), but if all else fails give her a bone
The butcher arrived at 7am, and we kept Taz inside for most of the day, but by 1pm I thought she might need to come outside for a wee.  Of course she then had to check out what the butcher was doing, but she left him alone when we gave her a bone to chew on.

eight acres: homekill butcher day tips and tricks

Let the chickens clean up
When the butcher was done, we let the chickens out and they picked up all the little scraps of meat in the car port, you never would have know the butcher was there!

Once again, we have plenty of beef in the freezer and we are starting to compare the two animals.  So far the fat heifer is winning, but we've only tried rib fillets.  Any tips and tricks for packing large volumes of meat?  Whether you buy in bulk or homekill....

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How I use herbs - Lucerne (Alfalfa)

Lucerne AKA Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a legume that is commonly grown as pasture or for hay making.  I call the pasture and the hay lucerne, but I call the sprouts alfalfa.  Lucerne, is also a place in Switzerland, which I'm sure is related to the plant, but I can't find any information.  Confused yet?

I'm about to make it worse, you probably thought I was going to talk about alfalfa sprouts, but I actually don't eat them since I read that:
Raw alfalfa seeds and sprouts are a source of the amino acid canavanine. Much of the canavanine is converted into other amino acids during germination so sprouts contain much less canavanine than unsprouted seeds. Canavanine competes with arginine, resulting in the synthesis of dysfunctional proteins. Raw unsprouted alfalfa has toxic effects in primates, including humans, which can result in lupus-like symptoms and other immunological diseases in susceptible individuals.
This is explained in Isabel Shippard's book, and also on Wikipedia with independent references.

Actually I use the full-grown lucerne plant.  It has a very deep root, so it is rich in various minerals, and the mature plant does not have the same toxicity issues.

eight acres: how I use herbs - lucerne (alfalfa)

How to grow Lucerne?
Lucerne grows easily from seed, if you had some for sprouting, forget that and just scatter them around your garden instead.  Once established, the deep root helps lucerne to survive through dry weather.  Its flowering in my garden at them moment, and I allow it to self-seed, so it pops up all over the place.

How to use Lucerne?
In the garden, lucerne is a legume, so it adds nitrogen to the soil.  It also produces lovely flowers with nectar and pollen to feed bees and other pollinators.  The chickens and the cows enjoy the high protein leaves.

Medicinally, lucerne is used for its high vitamin and mineral content.  This is probably why the cows and chickens like it so much too.  Lucerne leaves can be made into herbal tea, or used fresh in salads.  I add it to my herbal tea mixtures when its growing well.  I also read that the roots can be used as a toothbrush!

eight acres: how I use herbs - lucerne (alfalfa)

Do you grow lucerne?  How do you use it?

Other posts about herbs in my garden:

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

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

How I use herbs - Brahmi

How I use herbs - Yarrow

How I use herbs - Arrowroot

Monday, October 5, 2015

Farm update - October 2015

This month has brought the start of the storm season.  Its still pleasantly cool at night, but warming up during the day.  Storms are a real lottery here, sometimes a neighbour will get 50 mm of rain while we get nothing.  Often we have wildly different rainfall totals at our two properties.  Its better than no rain at all, but it can be devastating to watch the storm clouds approach and then appear to split, leaving only a few drops of rain!

This month I finally finished my chicken tractor eBook "Design and Use a Chicken Tractor"!  You can buy the pdf file from Etsy for US$5 and I'm still working on the epub version for Amazon (it is PAINFUL!).  More details at the end of this post.

Food and cooking
This month out homekill butcher came out and killed two cattle for us and now our freezer is full of beef!  We also had to eat a lot of beef before butcher day to use up what was left of the last animal.  A favourite is casserole in the slowcooker using Y-bones, we just throw in the steaks without cutting the meat, and pick out the bones later.  Add beef stock, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes (fresh or canned), carrot and anything else that needs to be used up..... delicious!  We take this to work for lunch all week with a bit of mashed potato.

Land and farming
Our bee hive is doing very well.  When we checked, they had started to build comb up into the lid, so we added another box (called a super) to give them more space.  We didn't use a queen excluder, as we want them to keep making more brood so we can keep splitting the hive to make more.  We might not harvest honey this first year, just let the bees put their energy into expanding the colony.  They do seem to be finding plenty of nectar around our place, with more gums in flower at the moment.

We also caught two carpet pythons enjoying spring.  We knew there was one in the hayshed, and now maybe there are two (or maybe the second one didn't move in permanently).  There carrying on like this for an hour, blocking our access to hay and we were unable to leave until they finished!  They were oblivious to us watching and taking photos, so we got a good look at them.  These snakes are pythons and not poisonous, but kill be constricting small animals.  They live off the mice in our hay shed.  It did make us worry that they might also be big enough to eat Taz and our future chickens!  I just hope they have plenty of mice to eat.

The chickens are laying so many eggs, I can hardly keep up selling them at work (if anyone in Brisbane wants some at $5/doz, send me an email).  I also caught one naughty hen in my garden and had to trim her wing feathers.  I'll write a post about that soon.

Cows and cattle
The angus cattle on our property are still very tame and they seem to have plenty of grass left to eat.  We can't decide when to sell them, as cattle prices are very high at the moment, but there is a predicted shortages, so prices could increase further.  Even if it rains, many farmers have had to sell their breeding cows, and it will take a long time to build up the numbers again.  I wonder when we still start to see beef prices rise at the butcher too, although they never passed on the DECREASE when there was a glut of cattle with everyone desperate to destock starving animals.

The dairy calves are all growing up fast.  We have stopped milking Bella after she had mastitis again and tried to kick Pete.  Charlotte seems to be allowed to drink from Bella sometimes, so we just left them to it, and Bella is happy with that arrangement.  Pete is milking Molly once a day and giving most of the milk to Rosey.  Molly's calf Chubby gets the rest!  And there's always some in the fridge.  Its nice to not have the pressure to make cheese.  I did enjoy making cheese, but sometimes its just stressful to see the fridge bursting with milk and thinking that you must make yet ANOTHER cheese so as not to waste it.  Its nice knowing that we are using the excess to raise another house cow.

My vege garden is in a transition stage, with so many of the brassicas going to seed at them moment, its full of tall seed heads waiting to mature.  As soon as they are done I will pull out the plants and try to consolidate the garden for summer.  We often have hot dry days and not enough rain or water for the entire garden, so I like to move everything to the centre and have a smaller area to water.  I need to start thinking about summer crops.  I keep forgetting to take a photo of the hydroponics, we set it up again with tomato seedlings, so at least we will be ahead with tomatoes!  I want to get some basil, tromboncino and beans going in the next few weeks.  We have just started harvesting broad beans, they are a great in between crop for this time of year, when we just get the last of the peas, some kale and silverbeet.

We decided to tackle the last of the asbestos in the house and ripped out the old pantry.  This alcove would have originally contained the woodstove, and it was lined with asbestos sheets, walls, ceiling and floor.  Under the floor sheet we found newspapers from 1951, so now we know that's when the kitchen and bathroom were added to the house.  I love finding little bits of history about the house.  We have a tentative floor layout, we think we know which appliance we want and have started sanding the walls.  Its starting to come together...

Permaculture - apply self-regulation and accept feedback
A system without regulation will be out of control.  David Holmgren discusses this concept both in terms of our own homes and personal food production systems, but also our society as a whole.  He says that we need to self-regulate instead of waiting for those in power to impose regulation, as they are often too slow and ineffective.  In particular he referred to consumerism and our economy based on using up natural resources.

On a personal level, we can each self-regulate by considering what we consume, and whether we really need it, and what waste we produce.  As we become more self-sufficient, we naturally evaluate things like water, wastewater, meat, vegetables, wood, anything that we've had to work hard to obtain, that we don't have an endless supply of, we think about how we use it, even sunlight for our solar devices.  We think about regulation far more than when we lived in the city (I walked past a dripped tap outside a house in Brisbane today, wow, there are NO dripping taps when you're on rainwater!).

Here's what I wrote last time about this principle, with more details.

We have been making more tallow soap.  This time we tried to make a shaving soap in a PVC pipe.  It doesn't look very nice, but it foams up nicely!  I'll post the recipe soon, and when I get it to look nicer, we will sell this on Etsy too.  If you want to try my soap its available on Etsy now.

Support me
I finally finished my eBook about chicken tractors.  You can get the pdf file from Etsy, I'm working on the epub file (honestly it looks so much better in pdf, I recommend that format if you don't want the text all jumbled up).

There's more information about the book over at my chicken tractor ebook blog page.  Here's a little bit about it:
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.

How was your September?  What are you planning for October?

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