Monday, February 29, 2016

Managing a backyard hydroponics system - or - how to grow tomatoes all year!

As I wrote a few months ago, towards the end of last summer we got tired of having no successful tomato plants in our vege garden and set up a hydroponics system.  We've been running it nearly continuously ever since.  The tomatoes did die off in August when we had a heavy frost, but we replanted as soon as it warmed up enough in September.  The joys of a sub-tropical climate!

I am so happy we set up the hydroponics, we have had nearly a continuous supply of tomatoes, and once its set up its very easy and cheap to run.  I wrote all about the system we use in my last post.  This time I just want to share a few extra tips that I've learnt since we've been running the system again.

Monitoring nutrient levels
While you can set up the hydroponics system quite cheaply (any large reservoir, a pond pump, some old pots and gravel, and you're away), you do need to spend a bit of money on a conductivity meter to monitor the nutrient levels.  You can just change the water every time it gets low, refill and add the amount of nutrient recommended on the bottle, but some veges prefer different levels of nutrient.  If you want to save water and tailor your system to suit what you're growing, its best to invest in a meter.  I recently replaced our small cheap meter with a new fancy one as the old one had stopped working.  It had a bad habit of draining batteries if we left it on, but it had lasted 5-6 years (with multiple battery changes).  This new one does conductivity and pH, it also auto-scales, with no conversion required.

I bought our one online from Instrument Choice, and they seem to have a good range.  If you're in the US, here is an Amazon Affiliate link to a very similar meter (we can't buy it from Amazon in Australia)  and this is similar to the model that we used to have.  The main thing to look for is the range of the meter.  For hydroponics you need to be able to measure around 1 to 5 milliSeimens (mS).  Most meters seem to range 0-2 mS (0-2000 microSeimens) or 2-1000 mS, so you need to get one that goes across both ranges, or the higher range if you have to chose just one option.

Tomatoes need nutrients at 2-5 mS.  I top up the tank about once a week, test the water, add approx the amount of nutrients on the bottle for the amount of water added, and test the nutrients again, adding a bit more nutrient or water as required.  As long as they are around 2-3 mS the tomatoes seem to grow really well.  For a while we had some confusion of the scale on the meter and were not putting in enough nutrients and the plants did not do well, so it is worth having a meter and knowing how to use it!  If you are putting in too much or too little its very hard to tell by looking at the plants.

eight acres: things to consider when managing a hydroponics system
our new conductivity meter

Succession planting
You don't have to wait for all the tomato plants to die off and start again with all new plants.  I have just been pulling out any that die (we started with three different types, so some lived longer than others) and replacing them with seedlings.  I was lucky over summer that we had some rain and compost tomato seedlings were coming up in the garden all over the place.  I just grabbed a seedling the right size and put it in the empty pot.  There's no seedlings left in the garden now, but a tomato that fell on the hydroponics tray sprouted more seedlings, so I replanted them last time I needed some.  If you don't have any volunteer seedlings, you just need to remember to start a few seeds every couple of months so you have some replacement plants to chose from (or buy a punnet).

eight acres: things to consider when managing a hydroponics system

Using worm leachate
Last time I wrote about my  concerns about having to buy hydroponics nutrients, both the expense and not really knowing where they came from.  We have had good results with an Australian made nutrient called Bloom  (here is an affiliate link to a similar product on Amazon).  It contains synthetic fertiliser as well as some organic matter, the website says "Chelated macro and micro trace elements, fulvic acid and vitamins".  I also add leachate from our worm farm (worm wee (I know its not really wee, but people call it that and leachate sounds boring)).  I think its important to add some organic chemicals and and microbes that the plants would normally access in the soil.  This seems to help them resist pest and disease.

Keeping out the birds
Speaking of pests... the main problem we've had is the local king parrot population.  They discovered our tasty tomatoes early on and Pete rigged up bird mesh around the hydroponics system.  We already had the chicken mesh around the bottom to keep out the chickens.  Hydroponics systems need access to sunlight, but shelter from rain (which would dilute the chemicals).  We have our system in the carport that we extended for the aquaponics system - the roof is lined with plastic roof sheeting, they would also work in a greenhouse.

eight acres: things to consider when managing a hydroponics system

Using up the tomatoes
With all those lovely tomatoes coming in I have to find ways to use them!  There's no point canning or preserving if we're just going to pick more all year.  I have been throwing them into all sorts of dishes, from the obvious tomato sauce with mince, to any sort of curry, casserole or roast gravy.  I sometimes take them to work to give away, but usually we can manage to eat them all.  I did dry a few at the start and occasionally dried tomatoes are something a bit different in a casserole.

Now that the shed is up at Cheslyn Rise we can start to think about setting up our aquaponics system!  It has been sitting in our shed for about four years, so this is pretty exciting!  If you want to know more about aquaponics, this book is really good (Amazon Affiliate link).

Have you tried hydroponics?  Any tips to add?  How do you use up tomatoes?

(A few Amazon Affiliate links below, I get a small credit from anything you buy through my links, thanks for supporting my blog)


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Neem oil soap and salve

After my success using neem oil to control insects around the farm and to cure my toenail fungus (how I use neem oil), I did a lot of reading about neem oil and I was keen to try to harness its properties as an anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory to help heal skin.  Neem oil itself is a bit of a pain to use, as it goes solid in cold temperatures, liquid when it warms up and it never seems to stay in the bottle.  I have tried to take neem oil insect repellent on holiday and ended up with it spilled through my bag.  Luckily it does seem to wash out, but I thought it would be easier to use in a more solid form.

eight acres: neem oil soap and neem cream

I came up with a couple of solutions.  First I made a soap with 25% neem oil.  It smells like neem oil, but I am getting used to the smell.  Its kind of nutty and pungent.  I gave some of this soap to a friend of North African origins and she thought it smelt nice, so maybe it depends which spices you've grown up with!  This soap is great as a pet wash (Taz "loves" taking a bath with neem soap) as it repels insects including fleas.  I also gave it to a friend who had dry broken skin on her hands that just would not heal.  She has noticed an improvement since using the neem soap and neem salve (below).  I know this is not a comprehensive test, but if you are having trouble with dry skin, neem oil may be worth a try.  The soap could also be good for kids with nits (I haven't tried that though!).

eight acres: neem oil soap and neem cream
Taz enjoying some neem oil soap

I wanted my dad to try neem oil on his toe nail fungus seeing as the "expensive cream from the doctor" wasn't working.  I thought it would be easier to use if I thickened it with beeswax.  I made a salve with 50:50 olive oil and neem oil, and 10% by weight beeswax.  This stays in the jar and is more manageable to apply to toenails.  It can also be used on dry skin, insect bites, etc to relieve inflammation and kill microbes.

Neem oil is also a great insect repellent and I had been using a commercial neem oil mixture because I didn't want to use DEET, but as it tended to spill I decided to make my own version with beeswax.  I use a mixture of citronella, lemon grass, lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus, and 10% neem oil, in olive oil thickened with beeswax.  This mixture is effective (when I remember to use it!)  and does not spill.

eight acres: neem oil soap and salve

You can get my neem oil soap, neem salve and insect repellent from my Etsy shop here.

**Note that neem oil is not suitable for pregnancy as it has contraceptive properties**

Do you use neem oil?  Have you found it heals your skin?

My other soap posts:

Natural soap using beef tallow

Monday, February 22, 2016

How I use herbs - Oregano (or Marjoram?)

I was surprised to find that oregano was not listed in my herb books, but then I remembered that it might be under Marjoram and I found the right sections.  I have never quite understood the oregano/majoram connection, fortunately it is explained in this blog post, and now I know that I do have oregano (Origanum vulgare) in my herb garden, which is a variety of majoram.  My middle name is Marjorie, so I should know this stuff!  I understand now that marjoram varieties are all a bit different, so this post is only about growing and using oregano.

eight acres: how I grow and use Oregano

How to grow Oregano
I can't even remember where my oregano plant first came from.  It seems to be very robust and may have survived a few garden moves and periods of neglect.  I keep it in a pot as it does tend to spread.  I trim it back regularly as the stalks can get woody if the stems get too long.  Its easily propagated by root division.  It dies back after a heavy frost, but it always grows back.  It does grow better in damp but well-drained soil (don't let it dry out or get too wet), however it will grow back when conditions are favourable.  This is the first time I've ever seen it flower, and I didn't actually notice until I had trimmed it back, flowers and all!  As its a perennial, it doesn't matter that it flowers occasionally, in fact its good for the bees.  Basically this oregano plant I have is the ideal low-maintenance robust herb for my style of gardening!

eight acres: how I grow and use Oregano

How to use Oregano
I find that oregano is best dried as its much easier to crumble dried leaves than to chop fresh leaves.  I like it on mushrooms (with butter), roast potatoes, in meatballs, added to casseroles and gravies.  I put it in my herbal teas as well.

Medicinally, oregano (and marjoram) is known to aid digestion, antiseptic properties (particularly for inflammations of the mouth and respiratory conditions), relief from headaches.  It can be used as an infusion, mouthwash or tincture.

The essential oil is warming and I include it in my muscle salve (which is based on this recipe, in which I substituted oregano for vetiver, as I couldn't get vetiver).  Oregano essential oil is also useful as an antiseptic due to its high phenol content (thymol).  (Note that marjoram essential oil has a different chemical composition).

Do you grow oregano (or any marjoram varieties)?  How do you use oregano?

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

How I use herbs - Rosemary and Thyme

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Outfoxing the hungry fox

Lately we have been dealing with a fox who is either very clever or very hungry and determined.  We lost five chickens over several nights and have implemented a few changes, including using foxlights, modifying the chicken tractors and making poor little Taz sleep outside!  Read more over on my chicken tractor ebook blog.

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that was attacking our chickens
This is a foxlight

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, February 15, 2016

Book review: Organic Farming with Worms

Worm farm kits from Biome

I've had a compost worm farm for several years now.  Actually I currently have three worm farms.  They are a little addictive!  I didn't know anything about compost worms before I got them, but I fell in love with the concept of having somewhere to dispose all our organic (vegetative) waste that would also reliably produce compost and liquid fertiliser.  The worms and I have been very happy with our relationship and I thought I knew everything I needed to know, but then a neighbour (who we respect as a very good hay farmer) recommended this book - Organic Farming with Worms, by David Murphy (and that's not even an affiliate link because its not on Amazon).  Not just recommended it, he actually raved about it and showed us his new compost worm farm, and he said he'd bought copies of the book for all his friends!  This really got my interest, so I ordered a copy for myself.

eight acres: book review - Organic Farming with Worms

This book is for anyone who is serious about getting more out of their compost worms than just waste processing and a bit of compost.  This is about maximising yield in garden and paddock by knowing how to manage both compost worms and earthworms to improve your soil (You might need to catch up on some soil info back here).

Wonderful worms
  • Earthworms make top soil at a rate of 2 mm every year, considering how small they are, this is an impressive rate
  • Earthworms increase the organic matter in soil, which in turn increases the cation exchange capacity - this means that minerals are not leached from the soil
  • And organic matter improves water holding capacity
  • Vermicast (worm poo) contains enzymes which solubilise minerals, making them available for plant growth, this will also neutralise soil pH (move towards pH 7) 
  • Vermicast contains sticky compounds that create stable aggregates (lumps) of soil, which improves soil texture
Worms in the garden
This book explains how to use compost worms in your garden and how to attract earthworms to take up residence.  A couple of key points that I found interesting:
  • You can use vermicompost (worm farm compost) as a compost activator because it contains beneficial microbes
  • Seeds sprout better in vermicompost (I know, that's where all the tomato plants in my garden came from!), so you can use it in seed starting mixes
  • Don't think of the compost as "fertiliser" with an NPK ratio, its actually inoculating your soil with good microbes
  • You can attract earthworms to your garden by making a temporary worm farm in the soil.
Since I read this I've been trying to use more vermicompost in my garden.  Previously I have tried to pick all the compost worms out of the vermicompost before I put it on the garden.  Now when a bin is full, I just dig a trench, dump in the vermicompost including worms and cover over with some mulch.  The compost worms will continue their work until all the compost is converted and then the earthworms will take over.  This is easier than picking out the compost worms and should be better for the soil.

eight acres: book review - Organic Farming with Worms

Worms in the paddock
This book has some really good data and ideas about how and why to encourage earthworms in farmed paddocks.  The two main suggestions are:
  • leave stubble in the ground after heading grain or cutting hay
  • don't plough - use a no till seeder (but also don't spray herbicide)
The reasons for these suggestions are that stubble in the soil continues to provide food for earthworms and keep the soil cooler and retain moisture.  Ploughing obviously is very detrimental to worms as it chops them up and turns over their burrows.  I have seen our neighbour implement both of these methods and I'm looking forward to checking in with him after a few months to see if he's noticed an improvement.  The data from studies showed that both these methods worked to increase earthworm populations with the resulting benefits as listed above.

The book notes that it can be difficult to maintain earthworm populations on dry land farms, as it can just get too dry for worms to survive.  A couple of solutions are offered:
  • Use a worm farm to generate vermicast and solution (worm wee) that can be used to spray onto the paddock, therefore conveying the advantages of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes present in the vermicast - only a very low dilution is needed, so a small worm farm can be used to cover several hundred acres
  • Inoculate a small area with earthworms, maintain the moisture in this area and as the earthworm population increased, eventually the water-holding capacity will improve, you can then gradually expand the area
This chapter also included an interesting explanation of biodynamic farming methods.  If you are familiar with burying cow horns filled with manure (preparation 500) you might like to know its probably just really conducive to worm activity.

I have been wanting to brew up some vermicast solution for a while now, and we have the spray rig, so we will be trying that.  I think I will also try developing small earthworm friendly areas when we have the water supply set up (around water trough overflows would be a good spot).

Growing your own worms
If you're interested in commercial scale worm farming, there is an entire chapter on this topic, as well as domestic worm farming.  The author was very critical of the stacking basket farms, however I have two of these that are doing well.  I do want to build a larger worm farm and I'll consider the advice in this book when designing that system.  A "flow-through" system is recommended, including plans and instructions.

Overall this was an incredibly informative book and everything that my enthusiastic neighbour promised.  If you are interested in getting more from your worms, I highly recommend this book for gardeners and farmers alike.

Do you have a worm farm?  How do you use the vermicast and solution?

Read more about my worm farms here:

Eight Acres: I'm a worm farmer!

Eight Acres: Worm farm compost

Eight Acres: Worm farm maintenance

Eight Acres: Setting up another worm farm

Worm farm kits are available from Biome, click on the banner below:

Worm farm kits from Biome

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Raising a baby house cow

Our first house cow Bella came to us from a dairy farm and had already had two calves. She came with her second calf, Molly, who is also a full Jersey cow. We raised Molly to be our second house cow. With Bella now having an uncertain future after having difficulty with her last calf, we decided to raise some future house cows. 

I think they two most important inputs are human interaction (to ensure the cow is tame enough to be milked) and good nutrition (to raise a healthy robust cow). While Bella is extremely tame, from what I know of her early life I don't think she had good nutrition and she now has health problems that prevent us using her as a house cow. Molly is extremely robust AND tame. Can we produce another good house cow?

Read the rest over at my house cow ebook blog.

eight acres: raising a baby house cow

eight acres: raising a baby house cow

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on EtsyLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at 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, February 8, 2016

Guest Post: Bee-Keeping and Happy Neighbours

I'm happy to share with you a guest post from another beekeeper Liz, details of her social media links are at the end of the post.  This is a post about keeping bees in the city.  We don't have to worry about neighbours on our property.

Keeping your neighbors happy is an important part of successful beekeeping, and that’s not always an easy task. Wasps have given honeybees a bad rap — and unfortunately for beekeepers, a good percentage of the population lump the two together into one nasty, stinging group. If you’re a budding apiarist, here are some simple tips to preserve harmony in your neighborhood — and keep the city council on your side.

eight acres: beekeeping and happy neighbours

Be a Legal Eagle
Before you start your hives, it’s important to know your city’s ordinances regarding keeping bees. Is it allowed? Are there rules regarding number of hives, fencing, distance from other residences, etc.? Knowing the answers to these questions is your first line of defense against angry neighbors — and can save you a lot of money in fines.

If the city permits the keeping of bees, the next place to check is your homeowners association. Most associations follow local ordinances, but some can be a bit more discriminating. Check your HOA bylaws to be absolutely sure you won’t end up having to get rid of your hives.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
If you can, consider installing a fence or planting a tall shrub around your apiary. This serves two purposes; one, it makes it difficult for neighbors to spot your hives, and two, it alters the flight pattern of your bees, forcing them to above head level.

Keeping hives out of sight also helps to safeguard against vandalism and theft. You can add another layer of camouflage by painting them colors that match their surroundings. If your bees are out of sight, they’re far less likely to be the object of concern or controversy.

If you live where bears may be a problem, an electric fence is an absolute necessity. Bears will willingly endure stings to get to the precious larvae, pupae, and eggs inside the hive. They’re also all to happy to help themselves to any honey available. A seven wire fence built to a height of 4.5 feet should be sufficient to deter bears.  

Construct a Watering Hole
Bees need water for a myriad of hive activities, such as controlling the temperature and humidity of the hive, as well as diluting honey. If your bees don't have an accessible water source, they will find the next closest supply — which might just be your neighbor's swimming pool.

Since bees prefer shallow, standing water, place a birdbath lined with rocks near your hives. The rocks are a vital component, as the bees will drown if it is just an open container.
Control Swarming
To a beekeeper, a swarm is not only something awesome to behold, it’s a chance to start another hive. However, for neighbors, it can cause a great deal of fear and anxiety. Those who are unfamiliar with bee biology aren’t aware that swarming bees are at their most gentle state and not inclined to sting, so a large group of stinging insects making a considerable amount of noise can be terrifying.

Swarm prevention is a key part to keeping your neighbors in good spirits. Provide adequate room in the brood chambers and space for honey storage to keep swarming at a low level. It’s also a good idea to know how to capture swarms, as it allows the city to call on you in times of need.

Catch Flies With Honey
It’s a lot easier to befriend your neighbors before any potential trouble than trying to calm them down when they’re already angry. Chat with your neighbors about the benefits of beekeeping, the difference between wasps and bees, and answer any questions and concerns they might have. Discuss colony collapse disorder and why beekeeping is important to the environment. Once they know you are a responsible beekeeper, they will be less likely to raise the alarm if they spot your bees out and about. It also doesn’t hurt to sweeten your relationship with a gift of honey every now and then.

When you’re not fighting the city, you HOA, and your neighbors, beekeeping can be a real pleasure. If you prepare ahead of time, educate yourself on the laws, and keep your bees happy and gentle, you’re sure to meet success in any neighborhood.

Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.

Do you have any tips to share about keeping your bees and your neighbours happy?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five blogging tips for Blogger

I don't usually write about blogging, but after five years using Blogger I feel I'm qualified to put a few tips out there which might be useful to other bloggers (not claiming to be an expert, just thought I'd share what I know).  Many of my readers have blogs, but for those that don't, sorry this post isn't about farming!  Maybe visit some of my older posts today instead, here's a few popular ones to get you started:

Making tallow soap

What to do with eight acres

How to build a chicken tractor

Determining the gender of young chickens

Neem oil for insect control

Winter Woodfires: Cooking in a woodstove

Worm farm compost

These tips are all for the Blogger platform, as that's what I use, but they  probably also apply to other platforms, you'll just have to figure out where to find the options.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

1. Use the "search description" and photo "image properties" fields
Even if you don't use Pinterest or Facebook to share your posts, chances are someone else will, and everything will work better and look nicer if you've used the "search description" and "image properties" fields in your post.  In Blogger the search description is a text box on the righthand side in the "post" screen between "location" and "options".  If you click on the text you will see it opens up a box where you can type anything.  When your post is shared in facebook this is the text that appears with your post.  If its blank you get the text in the first comment (I figured this out by trial and error).  The first comment is not always what you want to see, so I suggest that you write something short in the search description box instead.  For example, I usually write something like "eight acres: post about blogging tips".

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

When you pin a post in Pinterest, the default text that comes up for the description is the image properties, sometimes this is blank or a filename.  If you want to take control over what people use in Pinterest to describe your post, you can help out by typing something useful into the image properties.  To get to image properties in Blogger, just click on the photo and then select properties from the menu that appears, this will give you a box with two text areas, I usually type the same thing in both, similar to what I type for search description.  Do this for EVERY photo, as you don't know which one people will pick to pin.  You can also do a fancy photo with words for extra Pinterest appeal, but I don't have time for that!

People can change the text in Pinterest, but if they are in a hurry you have saved them some time as they can just save that pin and move on without thinking what to type.  On the topic of Pinterest - do try to include a photo in every post, even something irrelevant is better than nothing - so that people can pin your post if they want to, posts with no pictures cannot be pinned.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

2. Design a blog logo (if you want to)
A few people asked me about my new logo so I thought I'd better share how I created it.  I don't think a logo is essential, but if its something you are interested in doing there are a few options.  I found two different sites that allowed you to design a logo from stock drawings by changing colours and adding text (here and here).  You can then purchase either the basic package or more expensive options.  For the cheaper package you don't own the logo, they don't take it off the website and other people may use it also, however once you've changed colours and added text it is different to the original.  They are similarly priced, so I recommend you search through both and see which has the logo that suits you best.  I took the cheap option, so my logo is still available for anyone to use.

A still more expensive option is to have a logo designed by a graphic designer, there are various sites where you can ask for designers to pitch ideas and you buy the one you like.  I didn't want to go to that level.
eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

3. Use a custom banner - but not too BIG!
With or without a logo, you blog looks more professional with a banner heading rather than just text.  You can create this with photos if you don't have a logo to use.  This tutorial explains how to make a banner.  I also use Picasa, its free and seems to be a good way to organise my photos.  The only thing I was add is try not to make your banner too large.  In newspapers they talk about "above and below the fold", meaning that you want your important content to appear high on the page so that people don't have to scroll.  If your banner is so large that people need to scroll to get to your content then its more effort, and people are lazy!  Make it easy to get to your content by keeping your banner small.  Consider also that some people are using smaller screens that you are (see how much of my blog appears above the fold (without scrolling), even with a small banner, its not much.  Also make sure you've set up a mobile template so that people can easily view your blog on their phone (go to "template", click on the cog under "Mobile", in the pop up window select the option to "Yes. Show mobile template on mobile devices.")

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

4. Use images to help people find popular topics
I read somewhere that lists of labels are out of fashion on blogs.  You might have noticed that many blogs are using images instead now, and they are really easy to set up.  Just pick your popular labels, I currently have knitting, bees, soap, books and herbs.  I chose an image for each and made a new image with the words over it and exported them in a standard pixel size to fit on my sidebar.  Then you just go to "layout" and add a gadget - select photo from the list of gadgets.  Upload your photo and the appropriate link to the label (just click on the label from a post to find the link).  Its all explained properly in this post.  You can change these regularly to direct people to your areas of interest.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

5. Add the email gadget to your blog
There are a few people who only want to read one or two blogs, they just want them to appear in their email, rather than using a reader.  Personally I use Bloglovin to read many blogs, however Pete prefers to receive emails for the blogs he reads, and some of my family have also subscribed this way.  You might be missing out on these readers if you haven't added the email gadget to your blog.  Again, go into "layout", add a gadget and select "follow by email" to add this option.

eight acres: five tips for bloggers in Blogger

Bonus tip! Publish your entire post in RSS, please!
If you read blogs in a reader, posts that are not selected to publish in full may only give you a few sentences.  Unless those sentences or the blog title are REALLY interesting, I will not click further and read the whole post, I just can't be bothered waiting for it to load.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, and I make this comment only because I know that not everyone uses a reader app and may not be aware that this happens.  

If you go into "Settings" and the "other" menu, you will find options for "Site Feed".  Check that "allow blog feed" is set to "full", which will mean that your entire post can be accessed from a reader such as Bloglovin.  You may chose to use another option so that people have to go to your website to see the full post and then they will see your advertising or whatever else you want people to see on your site.  You can also add a "Post feed footer" which will appear after each post that is accessed through a reader.  Note that these setting also apply to posts that are received by email in tip 5..

If you want to know even more, Weed em and Reap recently published an excellent tutorial on setting up a blog.  I thought some of it was a bit over the top, and I would suggest starting small if you're not sure how much you're going to end up writing.  I don't want you to be put off by all the detail in that tutorial, there are some great ideas and some that you don't need if you just want to start a small blog.

I hope that helps and if you have any blog questions, please feel free to ask.  I think I've learnt as much about blogging in the last five years as I've learnt about farming, gardening, chicken, cows and bees!  If you have any tips to add, please do so, I'm sure I have more to learn :)

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Farm Update - February 2016

January felt like a very short month!  And I managed to have the Australia Day LONG weekend (including the Monday) at home.  Once again we had a bit of rain.  90 mm this past weekend at Kumbia and 30 mm at Nanango.  The new dam is nearly full so we just wait to see if it holds water now.  The forecast was for below average rainfall this year, so we are thankful for every drop we get.

Food and cooking

I got some jars for our honey and started selling 500g and 1kg at work.  Its very popular!  Now the bees just need to keep up production!

Land and farming
Speaking of bees... they seem to have taken up much of our weekends recently!  There has been so much going on I don't even know if I can remember it all, but I do write in our Bee Book every time we open a hive so we don't forget what we saw.  When we open a hive we are looking to see how much brood and honey is in the hive, hoping to see the queen, but if we at least see eggs we know she is in there somewhere, and then we decide if we need to add another super box to give them more space.  Over Christmas we took some brood out of our bigger hive to start a new hive and we ordered a new queen, but we were a bit late putting her in the hive and they had already started making their own queen, so the new queen swarmed.  Pete saw the swarm and managed to catch them in another hive but when we looked in a few days later we found that the queen was damaged (she may have come like that or got hurt during the swarming, but her back leg wasn't working).  We ordered another queen, she came in a little queen cage with 4-5 escort worker bees to feed her until we put her into the new hive.  The end of the cage is plugged with sugar candy that the bees eat to release her.  That hive now appears to have accepted her and the original nucleus hive has a new queen that they made.  We are learning FAST!

We put the little chicks out in a chicken tractor already.  They were only two weeks old, which is way earlier than normal for us, but as the weather was in the 30s (degC)  and they were stinking up the brooder box something terrible.  They are fine in the chicken tractor with a heat lamp and we cover the tractor with blankets at night.  They have more feathers now and they LOVE the grass.  Happy little chickies.  Meanwhile last count we had five broody hens and nowhere to put them as all the chicken tractors are full, so they are just taking up nesting box space and upsetting everyone.  I think I will try putting ice under them next weekend....

Cows and cattle
We have plenty of grass again, so the cattle are happy too.  We were worried that the angus steers really weren't losing their fluffy winter coats and were looking quite shaggy.  Traditional farmer wisdom said we needed to worm them.  Well I wanted to sell them and not spend $500 on worming chemical, so instead we started feeding a mixture of minerals, copra, diatomaceous earth and a small amount of copper sulphate.  Diatomeceous earth is supposed to help with worming, and according to Pat Coleby's books, animals with worms are copper deficient.  One way or another this seems to have worked and the steers are starting to look sleek and shiny.

The dairy cows are also enjoying the fresh grass.  Little Rosey (house cow in training) had three day sickness (we think), although it seemed to be a very mild case and cleared up quickly, either that or some other kind of bovine flu.  We were just happy to see her well again.

Well with all this rain and humidity the jungle continues to grow!  The pumpkin vine is starting to take over, but I don't see any fruit.  The self-seeded tomatoes are starting to produce, you never know what you're going to find and they have sprouted from the compost.  The bugs are also doing well and I got a bit worried by the audible buzz in my garden, so I sprayed neem oil on all the leaves that were being chewed as I didn't want to lose my eggplants.  The bush beans were chewed and mildewed to death, so I've pulled them out and made room for whatever pops up next, as there are plenty of climbing beans to pick.  I'm still waiting for chokos and rosellas.  The pepino bushes are growing like mad, I had to cut them back a bit to keep a path through the garden, they make good compost and I throw the fruit to the chickens.  I got a couple of new herbs - feverfew (pretty flowers below) and bee balm/monarda. And the chillies have started to ripen, so many chillies!

We decided a while ago that the window in the old pantry had to go.  We want to put the stove in there and I don't want to have to clean grease off a window.  The glass was cracked so we would have had to replace it.  Also it faces west, so the window was letting in a lot of heat.  We did some demo work and removed the window and replaced it with weatherboard.  Its looking very neat.  Now we are ready to sheet in the pantry.  We are SO close to painting the kitchen and side room, we really underestimated the amount of bogging and spackling that would be needed to prepare these rooms.  The most exciting news is that shed construction has started AND we are not doing the work!!  It looks like the contractors are doing a great job, so I'm looking forward to seeing the finished shed.

Permaculture - Integrate rather than segregate
Here's what I wrote last time I reviewed this principle.  The key points are:
  • Each element of a system performs many functions
  • Each function is supported by many elements
I will use water on our farm as an example.  Specifically our new house yard dam is an element that has the following functions:

  • Firefighting water for the house and yard, as well as a firebreak
  • Habitat for aquatic plants and animals
  • Somewhere for me and Taz to swim to cool off
  • Generating a cool breeze over the house in summer
  • Water for the garden and orchard
If we take the last function, this is also provided by other elements in our systems, including our solar bore, multiple rainwater tanks connected to house and shed and greywater collection.

I could repeat this analysis for every element and function to create an interconnected system.  When adding a new element we always think "what else could this thing do for us?" and design accordingly.

Support me
My latest soap tool is a "soap stamp" which we use on the soap just after cutting the bars when its still a little soft.  I love the spiral pattern.  I got a new cutting guide as well, Pete thought some of my bars were getting a little stingy, so we are cutting standard sizes now!  Stamps and cutting guides are available from Aussie Soap Supplies.

A few new blog this month:

A Hopeful Nature

A Simple Living Journey

My Empire of Dirt Garden

How was your January?  What are your plans for February?

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