Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How I use herbs - Rosemary and Thyme

Two of the herbs that I have had in my garden for a long time are Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  I regularly use both of these herbs, in both fresh and dried form, in cooking, as I'm sure you do too.  I have been wondering how to use them medicinally as well.  I chose to write about them together because they grow in my garden in a similar way and I currently use them in cooking in a similar way.  They are both of the family Lamiaceae, so there is a family connection as well.

eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
my herb garden before it got overgrown

How to grow Rosemary and Thyme
Both of these herbs prefer a sunny position, however in the subtropics, no matter how much you think you like the sun, sometimes the hottest days are really too much.  For this reason I keep both rosemary and thyme in small pots, dug into the ground.  Digging the pots in keeps the soil cool and moist, keeping them in pots gives me the option to move them around if they need more or less sun.  I do find it stunts the plants a little, but I still have more than enough of each to use.  I find that both herbs die back in winter, particularly after we get a frost, and then regrow in summer when we get enough rain.  Regular cutting helps to keep the growth under control and gives me plenty of leaves to dry for use in winter.


eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
a thyme flower up close

Using Rosemary and Thyme
For cooking I use the leaves in both fresh and dry form.  I find freshly cut sprigs of these herbs are find to throw into a casserole or soup as long as I remember to pull them out later.  I prefer the dried leaves to crumble over potato or meat dishes as its far easy to crumble the dried leaves than to chop the fresh leaves.  I air dry the leaves in a basket, they usually dry very quickly due to low water content.  When the leaves are dry I store them in old spice jars.  I try to get them topped up before winter so I have plenty while the plants are dormant.


eight acres: using herbs - Rosemary and Thyme
my overgrown thyme plant

I have been using rosemary and thyme in cooking for a long time, but I hadn't investigated the medicinal properties until now.  Rosemary has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it is used on the skin to ease aching muscles.  It is also often used to help with memory and concentration, for stimulating circulation and for hair growth.  Many natural shampoo recipes contain rosemary essential oil or tea.  (More information here)  Rosemary is also known to stimulate digestion, so its lucky it also tastes nice!

Thyme contains a chemical called thymol, which is known to have strong antimicrobial properties.  Thyme can be used as part of a wound dressing, and in teas and tinctures to treat coughs and colds.  Thyme essential oil can be used to make mild antiseptics to be used around the house.  Thyme is also used for digestion and to expel intestinal worms!

Both herbs have warnings for pregnancy - a small amount in cooking is ok, but excessive use of the essential oils should be avoided.  Thyme essential oil is not suitable for young children either (although the herb should be ok), please do your research before using it.

Apart from using the essential oils, the easiest way to benefit from rosemary and thyme is to include them in herbal teas (infusions).  If you've been following this series, you will notice that nearly every herb can be used as a tea or infusion, but you may not drink teas frequently enough to get a chance to use all the herbs that could be beneficial.  I get around this by including a lot of herbs in my daily cup of tea.  I just dry a bowl of cut herbs, crush up the leaves and store them in a jar.  I scoop about a teaspoon of dried herbs into an infuser, and put this into a cup of boiling water.  I usually leave the infuser in the cup while I drink the tea and may top up with more hot water a few times during the day.  This way I get the benefit of several different herbs in my tea mix.

One other method that I would like to try is to infuse the herbs into honey.  Now that we have plenty of fresh raw honey, if I put some rosemary and thyme in a jar and fill with honey, by next winter it will be infused with all the antimicrobial goodness and may be a good remedy for coughs and colds.

Do you use rosemary and thyme?  Do you grow them as well?


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

How I use herbs - Lucerne (afalfa)

How I use herbs - Lavender


Thank Goodness its Monday
Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop

Monday, January 25, 2016

Crochet knee rug for beginners

I only learnt to crochet a couple of years ago, and last winter I really wanted to improve my crochet skills to the point where it was an unconscious movement rather than a very concious and laboured effort.  The best way to do that (possibly the only way) is repetition, so it made sense to make something large.  I decided to make a rug.

As I was intending this for practice, I didn't know how it would turn out and I didn't want to buy new yarn in case I wasted it, so I decided to use some of the yarn I had been hoarding wisely buying from the markets.  As I didn't really known how much yarn I had and how much rug I wanted to make, it was difficult to find a pattern to use.


eight acres: easy crochet knee rug


I didn't want to make multiple granny squares that would have to be joined together later (I can picture a stash of squares waiting to be joined).  I also didn't want to make one of the pretty patterns that require you to decide the length of one end of the rug and work backwards and forwards.  My solution was to start with one granny square and just keep working outwards.

I was going to make a new granny square, but I couldn't get the centre started properly, so I gave up and grabbed one that I started earlier when I was first practising crochet.  From there is was simply a case of working around and around in alternating colours.  However it took me a while to figure out the best pattern to use and I ended up with a weird puckered effect.  When I showed it to a friend, she pointed out that I had added too many stitches early on.  When she showed me I could see the mistake.  I wasn't happy about it and unravelled back to that point.

eight acres: easy crochet knee rug


I was still confused about the corners and had to draw out the stitches and count how many I would need to make work so that there would be enough on the next row without causing it to pucker.  Trust an engineer to complicate things!

Finally I could see what needed to happen.  In each gap I do three treble crochets and then a chain and into the next gap.  The chains form the gaps for the next row.  At a corner you need two sets of three trebles, I separated these by two chains so there was space on the next round to put the two sets of trebles.

Once I got the hang of it I got quite quick and went around until I ran out of yarn.  The rug is the perfect size to go over my knees in winter (which I can hardly imagine at the moment in a heat wave, but I have a vague memory of being cold when I started the rug!).

This is the perfect pattern to try if you just want to practice very basic crochet technique, produce something useful and use up some old yarn without committing to a certain size of rug.  Since I made the rug I've also made a little scarf using a different arrangement of the same stitches and I'm pleased to say that my speed and confidence is greatly improved.

Do you crochet?  Any easy pattern ideas for beginners?  

Knitting and crochet posts

Eight Acres: Simple winter knits for beginners

Eight Acres: Learning to knit from a pattern

Eight Acres: Learning to knit and "mancrafts"

Eight Acres: Knitting - some people make it look so easy!

Eight Acres: Knitting is a survival skill

Eight Acres: Easy knitted arm warmers (double pointed needles)

Eight Acres: Knitting socks on four double-pointed needles

Eight Acres: Knitting - how to handle a hank of yarn


Eight Acres: I'm hooked! Learning to crochet granny squares

Eight Acres: Finger-crocheted rag rug from old t-shirts


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why do some cattle have horns?

A couple of times now I've heard people say that only bulls have horns.  The second time it was a radio announcer.  I thought I better write a post to explain that some cows have horns.... and some bulls don't!  Read more about why some cattle have horns over on my house cow ebook blog.


eight acres: why do some cattle have horns?
Polled Angus steers - no horns


eight acres: why do some cattle have horns?
Miss Molly cow - definitely has horns,
but her calf Chubby had a polled sire, so she doesn't have horns


Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.  More information on my house cow ebook blog.





Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





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


Monday, January 18, 2016

Soil testing for dams, roads and erosion control

I started a series on soil testing back here, in which I explained a few simple tests to work out the clay/silt/sand content of soil and the pH.  I was always going to come back and explain dispersion, but the truth was, I didn't really know WHY dispersion was important at that time.  I have since done a course on erosion management and it all became clear.  However, dispersion is not really important for garden soil or for farming, so I never came back to finish the series.  Dispersion is very important when it comes to using soil to construct things like dams and roads, and when you start to get erosion problems.  We just had a dam built, so I came back to dispersion and soil testing, so its time to finish that series!

eight acres: simple soil tests for building dams, roads and preventing erosion.


We asked our neighbour to come over with his buldozer and build us a farm dam near the house.  He thought that the soil wouldn't be any good where I wanted the dam.  So throughout the digging process we grabbed multiple samples and looked up websites and tried to figure out if the dam was going to work.  

This link from the Victorian state government listed the following qualities of good soil for dam building:
  • more than 10% clay
  • more than 20% silt plus clay
  • presence of sands and gravels in reasonable quantity to supply structural strength.
  • Clay with moderate dispersion. Some dispersion is necessary to have sufficient mobility to help seal pores without causing tunnelling.
Soil texture
As I wrote previously, you can roughly assess the clay and silt content of soil through what I call "the sausage test" (which is actually called the manipulative test), and the test where you shake up a sample in a jar of water and let it settle.  Both tests indicated that we had enough clay in the soil.  Using the results of our tests and the standard soil texture triangle, we estimated the soil to be a sandy loam, and therefore it met the first three requirements on the list.

Next we had to test dispersion.  This document from the NSW DPI explains dispersion and slaking.  Dispersion is a measure of how the soil behaves when exposed to water.  You test it by gently placing a chunk of soil in a dish of water (in this case the dog's water bowl, sorry Taz!) and watching the soil.  A dispersive soil will begin to spontaneously dissolve in the water, whereas a non-dispersive soil will show no signs of dissolving.  Moderate dispersion will form a dirty ring around the soil.  A slaking soil will fall apart.  A soil can be slacking and non-dispersive.  Anyway, after several tests it looked like our soil was slaking and slightly dispersive.  If it was too dispersive it would have just dissolved into the water in the dam and not sealed, no dispersive enough and the dam won't seal either.

eight acres: simple soil tests for building dams, roads and preventing erosion.


Will the dam hold water?
We told our neighbour to keep digging!  And we kept taking samples as the hole got bigger.  The thing with dams is you never really know what you're going to find as you keep expanding the hole, and there were a few different colours which our neighbour tried to mix to create a consistent layer on the dam wall. If you're planning to dig a dam, I recommend finding an experienced operator.  We won't know if we made the right decision until we see that dam full of water and holding its level.

We have previously had the same neighbour work on our driveway and went through the same soil testing.  For a road, you want less clay and silt, more gravel and sand, and non-dispersive soil to prevent erosion.  The key to erosion control is a good layer of top-soil or non-dispersive soil anywhere that will be exposed to water, as dispersive soil will literally dissolve.

None of this is very scientific, but it does give you a rough idea of what type of soil you're working with and what you might be able to us it for.  And its kind of a fun opportunity to get your hands dirty!  If you want to know more about your garden soil, see what I wrote here.

What do you think?  Have you used soil testing to estimate soil texture?  Have you built any dams or roads lately?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hands on Home - Book review

I wasn't sure if I would like The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping, by Erica Strauss, so I requested it from the library rather than buy it.  I really shouldn't have been surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it, as I have been following Erica's blog Northwest Edible Life and she always explains interesting and complex concepts with a dose of humour and common sense.  Her blog has covered canning, fermenting, eating in season, growing vegetables, backyard chickens and ducks among other things.  Also lots of cooking because Erica is a trained chef.

I (incorrectly) expected this book to be mostly recipes.  As in food recipes.  So I was very pleased to see recipes for cleaning products and body products.  Not only does it begin with a comprehensive explanation of kitchen basics, fermentation, canning and making chicken broth, she also goes into detail of how various cleaning products work (and therefore how to make your own) and how personal care products work.  Also recommendations on essential oil blends to use.  And there are soap recipes based on tallow or lard!  I was getting excited at this stage!

eight acres: The Hands on Home - book review


I'm sure that the food recipes are lovely too, but I just don't do recipes.  We never have in the garden/freezer/pantry/paddock everything required for a particular recipe, so I kind of just mix up what we have and add herbs and spices.  It usually goes ok.  Erica mentions that good cooks don't use recipes.  I'm not sure if I can claim to be a good cook or just a lazy frugal person, either way, I can't report back on the recipes, I only read the chicken broth one and it looked about right.

I have noted down several cleaning recipes that I want to try, including the glass cleaner and the citrus vinegar for the bathroom.  I have made that before, but I had no idea (until I read this book) that its actually the limonene from the citrus peels that acts as a solvent to remove grease.  I've put a jar of white vinegar next to the compost bin in the kitchen, and I'm tossing in any citrus peels.  This is a good idea too if you don't want to put your citrus in the worm bin (I usually do, but I know some people don't), at least use them to make vinegar before you throw them out.

From the personal care recipes I want to try the deodorant and the hair wash that uses honey (as we have so much honey now! although I expect the ants will find it tasty too).

Personally I don't need to own this book, so I'm glad I was able to borrow it instead.  It did have lots of useful information, but much of it I already knew or didn't need to know (I'm just not keen on canning, but that's another post!  If you want to can, this book has it covered).  However, I do think its a lovely gift for friends who are not already into making their own and would like to start.  I find people often ask me how to make chicken broth or ferment things and how to make soap or moisturiser.  Its all here in this book, beautifully presented and explained with a touch of humour and plenty of common sense.  

Do you use recipes?  Could you do with some more information about natural cleaners?  and chemical-free "personal care"?

** below is an Amazon affiliate link, if you use this to purchase this book (or any other book) I get a small percentage and you don't pay any extra.  Thanks for funding my book habit :)

 The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping

Monday, January 11, 2016

Six reasons to consider chicken tractors

Are you still wondering if chicken tractors would work at your place?

I've written an article for FarmStyle with six reasons why you should consider chicken tractors.

Find out more on this link.  FarmStyle has a range of useful farm articles and a forum for small farm discussions.

eight acres: six reasons to consider using chicken tractors




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, January 6, 2016

A sustainable shave?

Of all the blogs I follow, most are written by women.  Some are a joint effort by a couple, but only a few are written by men.  I'm not sure what the stats are for blogs in general, but if you take a sample of blogs that interest me, about farming and homesteading, they are mostly written by women.

eight acres: using a safety razor, shaving soap and a brush

As the topic of sustainable shaving relates to men, I feel I should dedicate this post to four male bloggers that I follow regularly:

Most of you will have heard for Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.  He gardens, keeps chooks, and makes cheese and soap (and so many other things) on a small suburban block.  Gavin also has a small business selling sustainable living supplies and workshops.  I signed up for his affiliate program last year to help out with advertising and I haven't got around to mentioning it yet!  I'll link to some relevant soap supplies at the end of this post.

A more recent addition is Phil from House of Simple, who regularly comments here and has some really interesting posts about simple and frugal living.

Further a field, An English Homestead, written by part-time stay-at-home dad and builder Kev, is a nice mix of DIY, farming and kids.

My other favourite is The Deliberate Agrarian by Herrick, which provides a more philosophical perspective on farming, gardening and self-sufficiency.


eight acres: using a safety razor, shaving soap and a brush


It was Phil's post about safety razors that got me interested.  Since Pete started using my shaving soap and a brush, the main expense has been the single-use razors.  Sometimes we will stand in front of the razor section of the supermarket for 10 minutes trying to pick the best value razor, but the reality is these single-use razors are expensive and wasteful.  I didn't know there was an alternative until I saw Phil's post.  I showed it to Pete and he was keen to give it a try so I ordered a razor and a pack of blades.  He's been using it for a few months now and is very happy with it.

You can buy safety razors from a number of online sites, I really don't know why the price varies so widely from $30 to over $100 for a fancy handle!  I got Pete a mid-priced safety razor and some blades.  The blades work out to be able $1 each and last for a week or so (5-7 shaves).  I think this is actually more expensive than the cheapest of the "disposable" razors, but around the same price as the nicer ones that we used to buy, and I feel better knowing there is less waste, just a metal blade which could probably be recycled if we were organised.  Next step towards sustainability is the cut throat razor which just needs to be sharpened....


eight acres: using a safety razor, shaving soap and a brush



Soap making with Little Green Workshops (affiliate links)
If you are just getting started, a soap making kit will have everything you need.  I like the Plain and Simple soap making kit because I personally don't use any artificial colours or fragrance oils in my soap.  You can also buy the oils separately here.  Of course I want you to buy my soap, but if you prefer soap with bright colours and a strong fragrance, Gavin has a lovely range to chose from here.  Soap making workshops are coming up in March, so you should probably book now to avoid disappointment as I know they fill up fast!

There is also a great range of yoghurt making and cheese making supplies.


Have you tried safety razors?  and shaving soap?  what do you think?



eight acres: using a safety razor, shaving soap and a brush
This is my peppermint shaving soap (blog post here)


My other soap posts:

Natural soap using beef tallow


Monday, January 4, 2016

Farm update - January 2016

Hello 2016!  Pete and I had two weeks holiday.  We spent most of it sanding the side room, but we also managed to extract some honey and our neighbour started working on a dam in our house yard.  It was fun spending so much time working together on the house.  We had a bit of rain after Christmas, and so far its been around average rainfall this summer.

We spent most of our holidays dressed like this!

Food and cooking
We opened the Christmas ham early and had so many eggs I made a bacon and egg pie for lunches.  I use the cracker recipe from Nourishing Traditions for the pastry.  We both enjoyed having more time at home for cooking, sometimes we fight over who's turn it is to cook...



Land and farming
We had our neighbour come up to our place with his bulldozer and on the list of jobs was a small dam in the house yard, as I have had this on my permaculture plan for a couple of years (see below).  Our neighbour was very skeptical about the soil where I wanted the dam, so there was much rolling of sausages and dropping lumps of dirt in water to test for clay content (more about soil testing here, I'll write more specifically about dams soon).  Our conclusion was that it seems to meet all the requirements for dams, so we gave it a shot.

the sausage test

Bees
We took 9 frames of honey from our 3-box hive and managed to figure out how to get the bees off the frames, the frames safely home and into the kitchen, the honey uncapped and spun out of the frames in our 2-frame manual extractor, and ended up with 16 kg of honey (we thought it was more, but can't read our scales properly).  We're just getting some jars organised now so we can sell it!  All the advice from Sally in her interview with me was very handy!

Pure raw honey!
Chickens
As we had so many spare eggs with me not selling them at work for two weeks, we decided to put some in the incubator.  As our house can get so hot in summer, we now have a habit of putting the incubator in our bedroom in case we need to leave the air conditioning running at 30degC during the day (the eggs need to be at 37-38degC and it can overheat in the house).  This is particularly interesting when the chicks start hatching and we can hear them peeping all night!  One week to go....

incubator in our bedroom....

our big Rhode Island Red rooster and one of his girls

Cows and cattle
Our Angus-cross cows are staying pretty tame and come right over to see if we have hay.  The steers are a bit flighty and some are still looking shaggy still holding onto their winter coat, we have put out extra minerals, they must be missing something.
Angus cows visit
Garden
With a bit of rain the garden is a JUNGLE!  I am weeding out self-seeded broccoli and tomato.  There is pumpkin and cucumber appearing from the compost.  I'm harvesting button squash, butter beans, purple king beans, all kinds of asian greens, herbs and just waiting on the chillies to ripen and some eggplant to get bigger.  No chokos so far, but I have picked a pepino (I'll write more about that soon).  





House

We really had to put some time into the side room as the paint was peeling off.  Some days it was hot and we only sanded for a few hours, on cooler days we did more.  We chipped away at other little jobs like raising the ceiling in the kitchen alcove and I distracted Pete with building a solar oven for an afternoon too.  All I have to do is pick the drill and ask how it works....

We have spread out the paint colour samples again and painted more of the house with test pots and still thinking about it.  There's no rush so we are just taking our time to see which colours we like best.

Taz supervising the building work

Still trying to choose the exterior colour....

Permaculture - Design from Patterns to Details




Here's what I wrote when I originally reviewed this principle.  I shared my permaculture design for our property, through analysing the zones and sectors.  I'm so glad I did this exercise before we moved the house onto our property.  It made us thinking about where to put the house and how to orientate it.  The side room with all the windows faces south and gets very little sun, whereas the north-facing verandas protect the bedrooms in summer.  We get sun in the master bedroom in the morning and in the kitchen in the afternoon, but that's also sheltered by a veranda.  The missing elements were the dam I wanted to help protect from bush fire (just started) and the shed (coming soon!), which we are facing with doors opening south, as a hot shed is not a pleasant place to work!  We have also placed a tank on the highest point on our property to gravity feed water to stock troughs.  Our next challenge is designing the landscaping and garden to be functional and enjoyable.

Support me
I decided that the blog needed a bit of a renovation too, seeing as I've had the same header for a few years now, and with me branching out into selling soap and salves, and soon honey, we needed a logo to tie it all together.  If you pop over the blog you will see the new logo and layout.  Of course when I played with the template it moved everything around and its not looking right yet....


A couple of new blogs I discovered this month:

Making Haven

Simply Joolz

And did you know that Leigh has released her new book "Critter Tales"?


How was your December and early January?  I hope you got to have a break.  What are your plans for 2016?

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