Monday, December 21, 2015

Five years of blogging here

Sometimes I wonder what this blog if for, or why I spend the time writing it. I think it serves many purposes.

The main reason for starting the blog was to share what Pete and I were learning about self-sufficiency. At the time I also wanted to get better at writing, and the best way to do that is to practice. I've since realised how much I enjoy the interaction with other bloggers, both the friendships and the amount I can learn from them too. I didn't know all these wonderful people were out there until I started this blog!

More recently I've realised that I can use this blog as a platform to sell some of the things I make, including my two ebooks and my soap and salves, which I guess is another form of sharing what we've learnt. I also find that I refer back to old posts, both to remind myself how to do things and how things were at that time. Things have changed so much for me and Pete in the last five years!




When I started this blog we had only one eight acre property, with chickens and a couple of beef steers and our vege garden. Since then we have bought our 258 A property and our second-hand house, we have two dairy cows, a whole herd of cattle, guinea fowl and turkeys have come and gone, much loved dogs have passed on and been replace by a new much loved dog (more to come soon I hope), I've learnt to knit and crochet, we've both made cheese and soap, I've learnt more traditional cooking techniques, Pete's built several beehives and a honey extractor, I was working close to the farm and now I'm working in Brisbane for a while.... I'm sure I could go on.

Some things have stayed the same (here's what I wrote after one year of blogging), our love for animals, our desire to treat animals in our care with respect and dignity, our interest in self-sufficiency and setting up a property from which we can feed ourselves, and our mutual stingyness and inability so spend money on anything until it is definitely broken.

I would by lying if I said I didn't watch the stats on each blog post. I am fascinated to see what people read, what they comment on and how many people visit here each month! I am trying not to focus on that side of the blog because it does feel a little narcissistic, but its hard not to get excited when I post something that results in a lot of interaction.

Here's where you can find me on social media:

Eight Acres - the blog on facebook


Eight Acres - the blog on pinterest

eight_acres_liz on instagram

You can follow on bloglovin, feedly or put your email address into the box on the blog sidebar. I have a page on google + , but I don't use it (it seems to post my posts there automatically though, so that's one option to follow Eight Acres if you do use it).


Pete and I are pretty excited about next year. Its going to be all about bees and making some solid progress on our second-hand house. I'm keen to get myself an overlocker and make a dressmaking sloper. There's going to be more perennial pasture and we're going to finish our solar bore water system to bring water down to our orchard/food forest (there might even be lawn!). And I want to write for Grass Roots again, I haven't submitted anything for ages.

Thank you readers! Thank you everyone who has commented here, facebook and instagram, or sent an email (eight.acres.liz at gmail.com), I love to hear from you and I hope to see you all here again next year. Have an awesome holiday! Share your links below so I know where to find you too :)


I have some links to posts from 2015 that I forgot to put anywhere else:

Bees
Getting started with beekeeping - with Vickie

Getting started with Beekeeping - Sally

Beginner beekeepers - wiring frames and foundation

Beginner beekeepers - building frames

Buying honey bees



Create

Simple winter knits for beginners

Threading an overlocker



Farm

Planting a perennial pasture

The solar bore pump - part 1

Using compression fittings on poly ag pipe

Guns on farms

How we ended up with a farm

GreenPro - implements for small farms

Knots for the homestead





Food

Kefir for beginners

Raw milk in Australia

What do you feed your dogs?

What is real food?

Using the whole beast

How do you like your eggs?

Watermelon granita recipe



House

Removing asbestos from our secondhand house

Renovating a Queenslander

The air-conditioning dilemma





Soap

Shaving soap

Why use natural soaps and salves?

Soap with coffee grounds

Natural soap using beef tallow





Sustainable

Sustainable habits that our visitors find weird

Active transport = frugal exercise

I'm still not using shampoo

Three simple ideas - Use less resources

Natural toothpaste options







Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Garden posts 2015

I miss my garden when I'm away during the week.  I have to make an effort to spend a suitable amount of time greeting Pete and Taz before I peek over the garden gate to see how its going each Friday afternoon when I get home.  I really don't spend much time in the garden now, but the time I spent early on building up the soil and letting plants self-seed, now means that only 10-20 minutes a day when I'm home (three nights a week) is enough to keep everything going.  We always have something from the garden in our meals and sometimes all the veges are homegrown.  I would grow even more if I had time, although often time is not actually the limiting factor - our main problem is water.

eight acres: garden and herb posts on the blog in 2015
I'm only watering this half of the garden this summer

Here's a few garden posts from 2015
Is it winter yet? Cold weather preps

Guest post: Is there a place for power tools in the garden
Hydroponics basics

Perennial vegetables and permaculture

Are you saving seeds?

Three essential principles of organic gardening

What you need to know about soil

Weird vegetables in my sub-tropical garden


I'm still getting used to our sub-tropical climate.  Last Spring/Summer we didn't get rain until right at the end of summer.  I had ambitiously planted out the whole garden and we really didn't have enough water to keep everything alive (we don't have townwater, only rainwater collected in three large tanks, we only water the garden with greywater from shower and washing machine, unless the rainwater tanks are completely full, I don't want to have to buy townwater to fill the tanks if we run out!  If it doesn't rain, we start to use up the water in the tanks and then we don't want to waste it on anything, including the garden,unfortunately that's when the garden really needs the water too).  I gradually had to make sacrifices and the watered area got smaller and smaller.

This year I decided early on that I would only be watering one end of the garden (two beds and bits around the outside) and the rest would fend for itself.  I put a cover crop of mustard and mung beans into one bed and left the other one as it was full of self-seeding broccoli.  This year is has rained pretty consistently.  I probably could have planted more, but at least the cover crop is doing well!  The plants that I got established in August and September (button squash and bush beans) are producing already, and a few I put in later (eggplant, capsicum, rosella, climbing beans) are now growing well along with tomatoes and random curcubits that have sprouted from the worm farm compost.

eight acres: garden and herb posts on the blog in 2015
my 'sunken' herb garden

When I first started my series on herbs two years ago (how I grow then and how I use them) I counted 30 different herbs in my garden.  While some have come and gone since then, I think I have even more now.  I have added violet, feverfew, pepino since that last count.  I have really enjoyed researching a herb each month and learning more about it before I post its profile on my blog. 

I still have many of my herbs in pots that are dug into the ground - this keeps the cooler and stops them from drying out, but also prevents them from spreading out and I can move them around if I need to (although that seems to be a good spot year round, sometimes I swap them around to make sure they all get enough sun).  I have also planted out comfrey, violet, gotu kola, lemongrass, yarrow, feverfew and pepino in the garden, in one area where I can water them all together.  In another corner I have aloe vera and soapwort (in a pot) and more "back up" comfrey in a pot.  And I have geranium in another corner.  And lavender, wormwood, tansy and rue outside the garden where they don't get much water, with the arrowroot.

eight acres: garden and herb posts on the blog in 2015
more herbs over here

eight acres: garden and herb posts on the blog in 2015
and more here

Here's all the herbs that I profiled last year, and if you click here you'll find all the them since I started.

How I use herbs - lavender

How I use herbs - Lucerne (Alfalfa)

How I use herbs - Chervil

How I use herbs - Arrowroot

How I use herbs - yarrow

How I use herbs - Brahmi

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

How I use herbs - chickweed

How I use herbs - purslane

How I use herbs - Herb Robert


Do you find my garden posts useful?  Any questions about how I grow vegetables and our sub-tropical climate?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Books in 2015

I love to read and I love the process of critically reviewing a book and noting down my thoughts.  I hope you find it useful for finding books that you need.  Some of the books are sent to me to review, some I buy new or secondhand and some are from the library.  No matter where the book comes from I try to give my honest assessment.  Sometimes I read a book that I don't like for one reason or another, and I tend to not review that book at all, I don't see the value in writing about something I didn't enjoy.  I aim for about one review a month.  Sometimes I'm reading more than one at a time, but I at least try to FINISH one a month!


eight acres: books reviewed in 2015
One of my bookshelves!

I include affiliate links where possible, and I make a few cents in Amazon vouchers every time someone clicks on my link.  This year so far I've accumulated $10.95 in Amazon credit.  If you were going to buy something from Amazon anyway, getting there through my links doesn't cost you anything extra and I get some credit.  A big thank you to everyone who has done that, it helps me to buy  more books!

I'm always looking for more books to read, so please share with me books that you have found useful.  What are your favourite books around the homestead?  For animal care, real food, farming, gardening, sustainability, permaculture??


Here's what I reviewed in 2015:
Beekeeping books and resources

The Third Plate

Omnivore's Dilemma

Eat Drink Paleo

A Postage Stamp Garden

The Building of the Queensland House

Five Acres and a Dream - the book

The Raw Milk Answer Book

Happy Hair - The definitive guide to giving up shampoo



eight acres: books reviewed in 2015
A few new books to read

I recently bought a few books that were recommended to us and I have stack of beekeeping books to read as well.  Next year you can expect reviews of the following, and several more I expect:

Organic Farming with Worms (David Murphy)

One Straw Revolutionary (Larry Korn)
One-Straw Revolutionary: The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka


Advancing Biological Farming (Garry Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand)
Advancing Biological Farming


Beekeeping books and dvds:
The Australian Beekeeping Manual (Robert Owen)
The Australian Beekeeping Manual

Queen Rearing Essentials (Lawrence John Connor)
Queen Rearing Essentials

The Bee Book - Beekeeping in Australia (P. Warhurst and R. Goebel)

Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture (Ross Conrad)
Natural Beekeeping with Ross Conrad (DVD)


Affiliate links included for the books that are listed on Amazon in case you want to get ahead of me!  You can see the images if you click through to the blog page here and you can find my full list of books in my Amazon book shop here.


          


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cattle and cow posts in 2015

At this time of year I like to summarise my posts on various topics.  See my posts about cattle and cows over on my house cow ebook blog.  I'll leave you with a series of cute calf photos...

eight acres: update on cow and cattle posts for 2015

eight acres: update on cow and cattle posts for 2015

eight acres: update on cow and cattle posts for 2015

eight acres: update on cow and cattle posts for 2015

eight acres: update on cow and cattle posts for 2015


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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Chicken posts in 2015

Every year I like to do a round up of all the posts I've done of various topics, so that everyone can catch up on what they've missed.  You can catch up on my chicken posts over at my chicken tractor ebook blog.

eight acres: chicken tractor ebook




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} gmail.com.




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, December 2, 2015

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!


Chickens
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
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.

House
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? 

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