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Showing posts from October, 2016

How to refine beeswax

Beeswax is a wonderful natural product.  I love the smell of it and I use it to make balms and salves, as well as melting it in a wax melter with essential oils instead of using candles.  In the past I have bought it from beekeepers in big blocks, but now we have our own bees I've had to learn how to refine it myself.  Here's how to convert raw honeycomb directly from the hive into a clean and useful beeswax product.




Whenever we check on our hives we take a small bucket with a lid so that we can collect any comb that we have to remove from the hive.  Bees will tend to build what we call burr comb, which is bits of comb in odd places, including the lid of the hive, which can get in the way, so we scrape it off and put it in our little bucket.  The other source of comb is the "uncappings" when we extract honey we have to cut the top off the comb containing honey.  Finally you might remove very old and dirty frames of comb from a hive.  


I empty the contents of the buck…

Trimming old doors (for our new floors!)

We had our new floors laid a few weeks ago and before that we had to take all the doors off their hinges and trim them to make sure that the would open over the new floor.  If you just want to see what our new ironbark hardwood floor looks like, skip to the end.  I searched the internet for clever ideas for trimming doors and there is a special power tool you can buy called a "door trimmer" (of course), but it doesn't seem to be common in Australia and we didn't want to buy another power tool just to do one job (it looks like you can hire them in other countries).  It does look like it would be very useful if you had a lot of doors to trim, something a builder might invest in.  
Without a door trimmer, our only other option was to take each door off its hinges, trim it and rehang it.  We were not really keen on removing hundred year old doors, but we had no choice.  Luckily it was easier than expected.  First Pete cleaned the paint off each hinge using a wire wheel …

Yoghurt - what I've learnt

For several years I made yoghurt using my Esiyo thermos and the Esiyo packets.  Then I started using powdered milk instead, which was cheaper and just as easy.  And then we got Bella our house cow, so I started using real milk, not as easy, but more nutritious and just as tasty.  Bella won't give us milk all year, so when she is dry I think I will use organic milk or maybe milk powder again.  This is a summary of what I've learnt from all my yoghurt experiments to far.


What is yoghurt?
Yoghurt is the result of fermenting milk using bacteria (Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus bacteria. Lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus casei are also used for some yoghurts).  The bacteria convert the lactose in milk to lactic acid, making it tangy, and also act on the proteins in milk, which causes it to thicken.

Ingredients for making yoghurt
All you need is some form of milk (powdered or liquid) and the starter …

How I use herbs - Mother of Herbs?

I was given this herb at our monthly local produce share.  It had the label "tulsi?".  I didn't know what tulsi was at the time, but when I googled it I found that this herb was definitely not tulsi (AKA holy basil).  I was pretty keen to identify it, as I'd already sampled some of the leaf!  I started flicking through my herb books until I found a picture that looked similar in Isabel Shippard's brilliant and comprehensive "How can I use herbs in my daily life?".  It looks very much like Mother of Herbs (Coleus amboinicus - also Plectranthus amboinicus), however the text says that this herb can be easily confused with Dog Bane (Plectranthus caninus), but I think the leaves on my specimen are too serrated to be either of these.  Another herb book mentions Coleus forskohliii and further googling reveals that there are many similar looking plants in the Coleus/ Plectranthus genus, they are all related to mint and oregano (Lamiaceae family).

How to grow Mot…

Amongst the gum trees

I love the gum trees on our property, but I only recently realised that so many of the trees ARE gum trees.  I was lucky enough to pick up a book called Gum: the story of eucalypts and their champions by Ashley Hay (affiliate link), that our local library was selling off, so I only paid $2 for it, but its a great little book.  I was hoping to learn about gum trees and how to identify the different types, but instead I learnt about the complicated history of the taxonomy of gum trees.  Its a fascinating story, with chapters about Cook's botanist Joseph Banks, to Ferdinand Muller who continued Joseph's work and then May Gibbs, author of the gum tree baby comics and books.  Apparently there are hundreds of types of gum trees in Australia (and millions of gum trees) and they are all hardwood.



They are great for firewood if the wood is split and allowed to dry out.  Some gum trees grow straight and tall, perfect for fence posts and building materials.  Others have many branches an…

Holistic Management - part 5: tools for managing ecosystem processes

The book Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (affiliate link) sets out a guide to developing a holistic goal for your farm or business.  See my introduction to Holistic Management here, and part 2: four key insights for the reasons why holistic management is important and part 3: holistic goal for understand what you are managing and what you want from it.  I reviewed the ecosystem processes in part 4 - the water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics.  The next part of the book takes that understand of ecosystem processes and discusses the tools that we can use to manage ecosystem processes in brittle and non-brittle environments.  These tools include:
Money and labourHuman creativityTechnologyRestFireGrazingAnimal impactLiving organisms

Money and Labour I admit I found this chapter abstract and confusing.  I think the point is to consider the use and source of money used in working towards your goal.  You should invest in efforts that will see a co…

Knowing when to plant seeds if you're between climate zones

When I started trying to plant seeds, I would look at the climate map and wonder exactly what zone we lived in.  In the Lockyer Valley, just west of Brisbane, we were either sub-tropical or temperate.  The only problem was that these have almost exactly opposite planting times!  And now in Nanango, we are still in an ambiguous area of the map, on the each of these two zones. 






We do have a very hot and humid summer in Nanango, but the winters can get very cold due to our proximity to the Bunya Mountains.  We can get frosts, but even this depends on exactly where you are, as properties on the top of hills generally don’t suffer as badly as those in the valleys (and this is a hilly area). 

Fortunately, at the local farmers markets I had a chat to a local lady was selling seeds about when to plant.  It turned out that she lived just up the road from us and could give us some good local advice.  She said to follow the subtropical guide through summer, but as soon the weather gets colder, you…

Pollinators for your vegetable garden

A friend asked me what was the best way to attract pollinators to her garden.  She was thinking about getting a honey bee hive or maybe just attracting native bees.



Firstly I have to say I was surprised how much difference it made to my garden after we moved a couple of beehives right next to it.  Suddenly I had capsicums and pumpkins growing where I never had success before.  Thinking back, I hardly ever saw honey bees in my garden, which means we don't have any wild hives or beekeepers close to us.  I did used to see all sorts of other pollinators, but they must not be as efficient or as suited to vegetable pollination.  
These are your options for improving pollination in your garden:

1) find a beekeeper who needs somewhere to put hives, honestly you should not have to pay for this, someone will appreciate having somewhere to put them (we are always looking for good places to put our bees, particularly if you have lots of trees or other sources of nectar nearby), but you will …

Farm update - October 2016

It has been a beautifully cool and rainy start to spring.  This is a bit different to the last few years and we are not complaining!  the grass is still green and my garden, while full of chickweed, is producing lots of silverbeet instead of drying up and dying.





Food and cooking
Every weekend I cook something in bulk, either a roast or a casserole or curry in the slow cooker, and then I make up 10 lunches in our glass lunch containers, with lots of veges.  That ensures that we have a healthy and frugal lunch to eat every day at work.  For dinner I often cook a larger batch so that we can eat the same thing for two nights and have less washing up and cooking work to do the second night.  Lately Pete has been studying, so I've been doing all the cooking, but usually we take turns.

Land and farming
We haven't had any time to do much on the farm.  We really need to mow the perennial pasture at some stage, the tops are dry and it will grow back green if we slash it down now.

Chickens