Wednesday, March 23, 2016

See you in April!

My parents are visiting for a couple of weeks over Easter and then I'm starting my new job near the farm.  We are planning to get a few things done around Cheslyn Rise, I'm sure our list is longer than we will ever achieve, but I'm looking forward to making some progress on the house and around the farm.  See you in April and I hope you have a nice break over Easter too.

If you miss me, you can catch up on some old posts.  Here's a few suggestions:

Just the ducks nuts?

Worm farm compost

Making tallow soap

What to do with eight acres

Determining the gender of young chickens

Outfoxing the hungry fox

Neem oil soap and salve

Managing a backyard hydroponics system

Raising a baby house cow

Here's what the side room looks like at the moment!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Where should I start with a new property?

I got a question from a reader about where to start with a new property.  Pete and I have started two new properties and this is what we have learnt so far.

eight acres: where should I start with a new property?

Like I wrote back in this post about designing your property with permaculture, step one is "do nothing" - just observe your property for at least a year, figure out what you want from it and what it can do, then start planning one small project at a time.

When it comes to figuring out what you want and what your property can do, this post about "What to do with eight acres" might give you some ideas (adjust them to fit the size property you have).

If you have more than a few acres, you might find Keyline design useful as well, it helps with placement of roads, fences and water storage on larger properties, by considering the terrain (or keylines) of the landscape.

I find permaculture is the best design tool, you can read my post about David Holmgren's 12 permaculture principles here:

Observe and Interact

In my experience, the first priority in this sub-tropical climate is to sort out your water source.  We don't have reliable rainfall here, so you really need to know how much water you will have from groundwater, catchments and rainfall.  This will dictate what you can grow, so make sure you have that set up first.

If you're not living on the property, you can at least think about tree-planting and establishing pastures and other useful perennials, because these take the longest to grow.  You can also start building fences and infrastructure for when you get animals.

A few books that might help:

One Straw Revolution

You Can Farm

The Keyline Plan

Five Acres and a Dream - the book

The Permaculture Home Garden

The Biological Farmer

Where do you start with a new property?  What changes if you're not living there right away?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Growing pepino

Lately I've been taking our excess chokos to work.  The world seems to be divided into two gorups of people, those who don't know what chokos are (and will take one to try) and those who DO know what they are (and won't take one!).  Very few people seem to actually like them.  The best thing about growing your own food is that you can grow weird things that you would never buy, just to try them.  And the ones that do well in your climate and don't need constant attention and watering, like chokos, you just find a way to use them because they are free food!

eight acres: Growing and eating pepino

Pepino (Solanum muricatum), like the choko, is a perennial food plant.  Pepino is related to tomatoes (I can't decide if they are fruits or vegetables).  I first read about pepinos in Eric Toensmeier books on perennial food gardening.  I wanted to try it, and Chris from Gully Grove kindly offered to post a cutting to me.  I was a bit worried that I would manage to kill it after she had gone to so much effort to post it to me, but pepinos seem to have an amazing will to live and both cuttings grew quickly into healthy bushes.

I planted them in the corner of the garden because Chris said they could get quite large.  Actually it turned out that they spread out more than grew up (in my garden anyway).  I spotted the first fruit and waited for it to ripen.  The first tasting was much anticipated.  I suppose if these were a delicacy you would see them in the supermarket produced by commercial growers, so I shouldn't have expected too much.  There wasn't anything wrong with the pepino, but it wasn't particularly tasty.  Kind of like a crunchy, bland melon.  Certainly edible, if you were hungry enough.

eight acres: Growing and eating pepino
Inside the pepinos

Now I don't want to sound ungrateful, and I will certainly keep growing the pepino, as I keep growing the choko.  I have hardly watered the pepino bushes, yet they are healthy and producing fruit.  In fact I have had to cut back the little bushes several times, which feeds the compost worms.  The chickens like the pepinos (and the chokos) that we don't eat, so nothing gets wasted.  The flowers are quite pretty and no doubt feed the bees.  And if we really had nothing else to eat, these would be great survival foods.  I just wish that raspberries grew here this easily!

Unfortunately in the sub-tropics not everything that is familiar (and available in the supermarket) will grow well, so we just have to make do with a few weird things that do grow well in each season, which can make for some very interesting gardening and eating (here's a few other weird vegetables that I grow).  Thank you for sharing your pepino Chris!  If anyone in QLD would like a cutting, please email me on eight.acres.liz {at} and I'll send you a piece!

Have you tried growing pepino?  Have you eaten one?  What did you think?

eight acres: Growing and eating pepino
Pepino flowers are pretty and feed the bees

eight acres: Growing and eating pepino
The first small pepino fruit

eight acres: Growing and eating pepino
The pepino bushes in my garden

Monday, March 14, 2016

Raising baby chicks

This is an article of mine that was published in Grass Roots magazine this time last year.  I got too busy to sent articles for a while, but I just started again, so look out for my contributions!

Over spring and summer we incubate chicken eggs and raise chicks. We fatten the roosters to eat and keep the hens to replace our older layers. Raising chicks is great fun, a lot of hard work, but worth the effort if you want a sustainable flock. Whether you incubate eggs or buy baby chicks, all chicks need is three things: a safe, warm place to live; water and food.   Read the rest over at my chicken tractor ebook blog.

See this post for a summary of other posts about incubating eggs and raising chicks.

eight acres: raising baby chicks

eight acres: raising baby chicks

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

When to call the vet

I was recently contacted by a friend with a sick steer.  She described his symptoms and I was concerned that is sounded quite serious, but I hesitated to recommend that she called a vet.  Unfortunately the animal later died, which confirmed my suspicions, however we were both comfortable that she did all she could to save him.

I hesitated for a couple of reasons:
  • Calling a vet out after hours can be expensive, often more than the animal is worth (and I checked that this was livestock rather than a pet)
  • There's not always much a vet can do for sick cattle other than give antibiotics and hydration, which may not have saved him
This incident made me think about how we decide when to call the vet and I wanted to share a few thoughts on this topic.  Read the rest of at my house cow ebook blog.

eight acres: when to call the vet

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, March 7, 2016

Designing the bathroom

As you know, we've been working on our second-hand removal house for a LOOOONG time now.  It was moved to our property in July 2013.  It took us a year to get council approval (basic plumbing, electrical, insulation etc complete - see update here).  Then we got the roof replaced, and the real work started when we started painting inside and ripped out the bathroom and kitchen.

Now we are finally ready to start rebuilding that bathroom!  Here's sort of what I'm planning:

eight acres: planning our bathroom

eight acres: planning our bathroom
here's a 3D view of the final design

eight acres: planning our bathroom
view from the door

eight acres: planning our bathroom
View from the bath (you can't see the toilet!)

eight acres: planning our bathroom
here's the tiles again

eight acres: planning our bathroom
this is what the bathroom used to look like!

eight acres: planning our bathroom
and this is what it looks like now.

Maybe its a bit earlier (before its built!) to share design tips, but I thought I would share a few things that we have learnt up to this stage:
  • Its much easier to design your space once you've ripped everything out and sat in the empty room for a while (hours) and thought about it.
  • There are some great (and free) 3D design tools (I used the Reece Plumbing bathroom planner) that can help you visualise different options - i.e. I tried moving the bath and shower into every possible different position until we settled on the final design.
  • There are other free resources that can help.  I used the Brisbane Library and got out many many copies of Australian Home Beautiful magazine, and they also had a couple of books just about bathrooms.  I made Pete look at the photos and tell me what he liked and didn't like until I came to a bit of a picture of what we wanted to include in the bathroom.
  • Get some prices early on so you know if you are being unrealistic (I found my PERFECT bath online, with no priced, then I saw the same one in a magazine - $4000!!!!  I got something similar and not quite perfect!).
  • Chose your tiles before you chose your paint (we did the opposite and I was surprised that we had limited options for tiles that would work with our neutral paint colour).  By the way, Choices Flooring at Bald Hills were lovely and spent an hour with me working out my tiles.
  • If anyone offers you free fittings, take them!  A friend gave us unused/unwanted shower fittings and taps, which fit exactly with our design and that has saved us heaps :)
  • Find a builder that will organise it all for you (I don't think we have any out here, but a friend in Brisbane found one, sigh, I am organising the builder, the plumber, the electrician and all the fittings to be in the right place at the right time!)
There were a few things that we both wanted in our new bathroom:
  • A big freestanding bath.  We love taking baths!
  • A walk in shower with a single showerscreen to clean (I hate cleaning baths)
  • We were undecided about the vanity vs a pedestal (not sure about the durability of the MDF cupboards) but in the end we settled on a quality vanity and hope that it lasts
  • Storage space - the bathroom is large enough, so we'll be including a cupboard.
  • Toilet semi-hidden (we debated a separate toilet room, but this is the best compromise for the space we have to work with)
  • Toilet "back to the wall" style - again, less to clean!
  •  Big mirror
  • Simple lights that don't accumulate bugs
  • No need for a fan as the three windows should provide ample ventilation

Do you have any tips for bathroom design?  What are your "must-have" features in a bathroom?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Farm update - March 2016

I have news everyone.... I got a job back near the farm!  NO MORE COMMUTING TO BRISBANE!  Well, I have to work my notice period, but after that (after Easter), I'm home and I can't wait.  Working in Brisbane hasn't been ALL bad, and I'll reflect more on that in a later post, I just wanted to share the good news with you right away.

February has been another month with around average rainfall, and some really hot weeks as well.  The grass is still green and the nights are getting cooler.  I'm looking forward to lighting the woodstove, come on winter!

Taz is excited to have me home

Food and cooking
I had several homegrown eggplants sitting around and didn't know what to do with them.... flicking through a recipe book (see they can be useful!  I don't usually read them) I found an eggplant dip recipe.  This is roasted eggplant, yoghurt, garlic and lemon juice.  Yum!  That is one way to use them up quickly.  Apart from that, we are still eating lots and lots of beef meals!

eggplant dip 

Land and farming
Apart from checking on the bees (and we bought 3 more hives from a friend, so now we have the original one, another that we built up from a nuc, 3 nucs that are building up and that makes 8 hives in total), it seems like we haven't done much farming this month!

We moved the little chicks into a larger chicken tractor and I counted the males and females as we sorted them out.  13 roosters and 15 pullets this time.  When they start laying we will cull some of the older hens.  We are only getting 8-10 eggs/day from 20 hens at the moment, we had several broody hens and now some are just feeling the heat I think.  (If you are struggling to figure out hens from roosters at this age, here is a rough guide)

baby hen checking me out

Cows and cattle
The house yard is fertilised by the chicken tractors, which means that when it rains, we have a lot of very tasty green grass.  We put the electric fence back up and Molly was mooing the whole time (we were taking too long).  In a couple of overnight sessions they managed to clean up most of the grass.

my lawn moo-ers

The chokos have started!  We are still picking climbing beans, capsicums, chillies, tomatoes (mostly from the hydroponics), chokos, kale and the occasional button squash.  For the first time ever I have a giant pumpkin vine and it has actually set fruit, we are watching a number of large pumpkins develop.  And before someone asks "what are chokos?" - see this post I prepared earlier!

so many chokos....

Lately we have been focusing on just getting some painting finished.  The side room is now primed, two coats of ceiling paint done (my poor neck!) and we've started on the colour on one wall.  We also have the shed completed and ready for rainwater tanks to be installed.  Its great to see some progress, that keeps us motivated.  And I was really waiting for the shed to be done to make other decisions about fencing the yard etc, I just needed to see it there to see how everything else would tie in.

painting progress!

the shed is complete!

Permaculture - Use small and slow solutions
The other day I noticed that Making Haven has been reviewing permaculture principles too.  Its great to see someone else's interpretation, so if you are enjoying my series, pop over and see what Sherri has to say as well.

Last time I reviewed "Use small and slow solutions" I said:
Big and fast solutions are expensive in money and energy and can have adverse effects. Think about using human-power and nature to slowly change things, and you are less likely to disrupt a system entirely.
I reckon the best example of this is something I already mentioned in this post.  Our house yard!  Fertilised by chicken manure from moving the chicken tractors and moo-ed over several nights by our house cows.  This is all slow and small, and the grass keeps growing better and better!  Contrast this with the time and expense of a convention approach of chemical fertiliser and a ride-on mower once a week.  My favourite part about permaculture is finding solutions that use less of my effort by working with nature instead of against it.

everything is connected... I just wanted to show you this incredible spider
that was living in our shed car port, he is gone and neither Pete or I moved him!

Support me (and other blogs)
I have so many soap recipes that I want to try, and after Easter, I should have some time to do that, in the meantime, I don't have anything new to tell you.  My current favourite soap blog, and the reason for all these new ideas, is Soap Queen. They have some amazing recipes for soaps, salves and bath fizzies, I want to try them all!

I also wanted to tell you about Leigh Tate's new eBook.  Leigh's blog is 5 Acres and a Dream, she also wrote a hard cover book of the same name (highly recommended for anyone considering a small farm) and recently she published Critter Tales about some of the animals they have had over the years.  She also has a series of "Little Homestead How-tos" eBooks, which are really good value at $3 each.  I have the one on soil testing and the latest one on baking without baking powder.  I'll do a proper review later, but I just wanted to let you know that the baking powder eBook is available from today (Leigh is currently running a giveaway) and its very interesting, including tips on how to bake with wood ash!  (Another reason I want to get the wood stove going!).

I just discovered Mr Money Mustache, a couple who retired in their 30s!  I want to know how that is done...

How was your February?  What do you have planned for March?

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