Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How I use herbs - sweet violet

To be honest, I've had Sweet Violet (Viola Oderata) in my garden for about a year now and I'm not really sure how to use it.  It smells lovely when it flowers and I've managed to keep it alive through winter and a hot dry summer.  I thought this was a good opportunity to learn more myself.

eight acres: how to grow and use the herb Sweet Violet in the sub-tropics

How to grow sweet violet
I bought this herb as a small plant in a pot.  It spreads as it grows, so its pretty easy to propagate by division.  I've read that it also grows from seed.  The plant seems to flower here in autumn, and dies back a bit when we get a heavy frost.  I do have to remember to water it in summer, but otherwise its seems pretty hardy.  I've planted it in a shady spot.  Apparently it grows wild in some areas, but I think our climate is too harsh.  It would be a great herb to forage if you have it locally.

eight acres: how to grow and use the herb Sweet Violet in the sub-tropics

How to use sweet violet
I haven't been actively using my sweet violet, but I'd like to start, here are a few things that jump out at me from my herb books.  Firstly the flowers:

  • good nectar for bees (ours forage year-round)
  • edible and can be added to salads
  • the aroma is calming
  • make violet vinegar using apple cider vinegar and lots of flowers
The leaves are also useful:
  • mild expectorant action - treatment for colds and congestion as a tea
  • will also reduce fever and induce sweating
  • the tea can be used externally to relieve swollen joints (e.g. rheumatism) and eczema (here's a recipe for a balm made with violet leaves)
  • it seems to also have some anti-cancer properties, slowing the growth of tumours
I'd really like to try this violet leave soap recipe too.

I also notice that sweet violet is related to the pansy (Viola tricolor), which I didn't know had herbal properties.  That's a good excuse to grow some pansies!  

So I guess that answers my question about sweet violet!  I'll keep it in mind when I next have a cold, and its another great skin herb in my garden.  And next time I see flowers I will think about eating them instead of just smelling them!

Do you grow sweet violet?  How do you use it?

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

How I use herbs - Oregano or Marjoram

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Puppy Gus - training a big dog

Little Gus is only 10 weeks old, and he's growing quickly (by 2.5 kg/week lately).  He's a Great Dane crossed with a Ball Arab (which is not a recognised breed, its a cross between German Shorthaired Pointer, Bull Terrier and Greyhound).  So we really don't know how big he's going to get, but possibly close to Great Dane size, which is giant compared to any other dogs we've owned.  Gus is our future security system, and with is likely large size, its really important that he is obedient and responsive to commands.

eight acres: training a big dog
Gus' future collar

Gus is only the second puppy that I've owned, so I still have much to learn about training dogs.  When we got Taz we also bought a set of DVDs on training cattle dogs ("Untold Secrets of Raising Working Dogs"), which has some good general information about puppies and we have a few books as well.  The most important point on that DVD is that a puppy's relative maturity should be thought of as months equal to human years.  So a 10 month old puppy is equivalent to a 10 year old child in relative maturity to an adult.  At the moment Gus is only at a 2-3 year old level, so we can't expect too much from him.

This is what I wrote about Taz when she was a pup:

What I've learnt about puppies

Dog years and Puppy months - Training Taz
And here's a few things that we've learnt from Gus, who came to us at 7 weeks old, compared to Taz, who was already 12 weeks old when we got her:

The puppy box works, even though there was crying at first
Poor Gus did not like being in his box at first, but now he is used to it, he will hop in there anytime he needs a break.  For the first few days we put Gus in his box anytime we were away and overnight.  After that he made himself at home in Taz' bed overnight, so I left him there.  The first morning that I had to leave for work, I had given them a bone each, but still Gus was crying so much that Taz just stood and barked at him!  I had to leave them to it (sorry neighbours!).  Fortunately things have improved, and although he may still whinge a little, I think he's pretty happy in there now.

eight acres: training a big dog

Having an older dog around helps with puppy entertainment and discipline 
Taz has been a great source of babysitting and they will play endlessly.  If Gus can't get the toy he will leap of Taz and bite her neck.  She then has to drop the toy to bite him back.  So far its all been good fun, but I'm relying on her to teach him some doggy manners if he starts to bite too hard.  Its better coming from her than from us.  A friend also suggested that teaching him to play ball will help to focus his "prey drive" so he might leave the chickens alone (as Taz does).

eight acres: training a big dog

Younger puppies can't hold their bladder as long
One of the books we have said that puppies can only hold their bladders for as many hours as they are weeks old (therefore at 7 weeks, he could hold it for 7 hours).  For the first week, he wet his bed every day, and there were a few accidents on the veranda (he hasn't been coming inside at all).  We didn't get mad, it wasn't his fault.  We have a system now where we feed the dogs as soon as we get up.  Then we have breakfast and take the dogs for a walk, in which time they will both relieve themselves.  Then Gus goes in his box for the day.  When we get home from work Gus has a "snack" of puppy biscuits and then I make sure that they both run around for a while so that he goes on the grass (and not the veranda!).  This seems to be working and I think it will get better as he gets older.

eight acres: training a big dog

You can start training for short periods
So far Gus has learnt his name and "sit".  We just keep using all the commands with him, even though he doesn't know them yet, things like "down" and "don't touch", I think the more we say them the easier they will sink in eventually.  I've also had him on a leash to teach him to stop jumping up when he's excited (mostly at meal times).  He learnt sit in just a few minutes of practice a day (with treats).

eight acres: training a big dog

Having a puppy is hard work.  He's very cute, but I'm just waiting for him to start chewing and destroying things.  Do you have any tips to share?  Does anyone else have a BIG dog?  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When is the best time to calve

Its mid-autumn and our nine angus-cross heifers are currently calving.  This may seem an odd time of the year to have calves, and certainly in the temperate areas you would expect to see baby calves and lambs in spring, but in the sub-tropics we can do things a bit differently as we don't have a cold winter.

Read the rest over at my house cow ebook blog.

eight acres: what time of year is best to have calves?

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, April 18, 2016

Winter vegetable gardening in the sub-tropics

Northern Hemisphere gardeners are currently preparing for spring planting, so you'd think I'd be packing up the garden for winter, but in the sub-tropics there's plenty that we can grow, even with a few frosty days.

eight acres: growing vegetables in a sub-tropical winter
This is my garden in autumn, it is a jungle and I can't even begin to explain
what is going on here, it had a mind of its own!

Summer here can be hit and miss, depending if we get rain.  Some years are too dry and hardly anything will grow, and some years are too wet, and the pests and diseases thrive as well as the plants.  This year we were lucky to have just enough rain and I had some good harvests of eggplant, button squash, tomatoes, capsicums, asian greens and beans.  In autumn, we see plenty of chokos and rosellas, the pumpkins are nearly ready, but as the nights cool and eventually frost, the warm-climate plants start to suffer.

Each year we seem to do really well in one thing or another.  Some years it has been beans or tomatoes.  This year is the year of the pumpkin vine.  I think its because we have the beehives near the garden.  Maybe its just luck.  We have counted 10 pumpkins so far, which will be more than enough for the two of us!

eight acres: growing vegetables in a sub-tropical winter
Poor man's beans (lab lab) and sweet potato spill out of the garden!
They won't survive the frost though.

This is the time when we can finally grow some of the cool climate crops.  Peas, broccoli, cabbage (all brassicas really), more asian greens, celery, carrots, turnips, swedes, radishes beetroot and silverbeet all do well at this time of year and actually get sweeter with the cooler weather.  Broadbeans planted now will be ready in spring.  Now is the time to remove the shadecloth from my garden and let the light back in.  I will be sorting through my seed collection ready to start planting as I remove the summer crops.  I was only watering half the garden (with grey water) through summer, but in the winter with lower evaporation rates, I can swap the sprinkler to a different end of the garden every few days and there is enough to keep everything watered.

eight acres: growing vegetables in a sub-tropical winter
and here is the pumpkin vine escaping towards the beehives

eight acres: growing vegetables in a sub-tropical winter
one of the many pumpkins

The only veges that grow year-round in my garden are kale and perennial leeks.  So far I have not found the right time to plant onions, garlic or potatoes, they never seem to make it through a dry or wet spell.  I will keep trying though, as they are staples in our kitchen.

Can you grow through winter where you are?  What are you planting at the moment?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Managing small hive beetle in the sub-tropics

Even though beekeepers in Australia are lucky enough not to have varroa mites, we do have other pests to deal with. One that causes us particular trouble in the sub-tropics is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) Aethina tumida.  When I started reading about natural beekeeping I was quite shocked to find out that beekeepers use pesticides in their hives.  It seems counterintuitive to use a chemical in a beehive that is designed to kill insects.  However I soon learnt that this is common practice for many commercial beekeepers.  Pesticides are used to control varroa mites in other countries and we have pesticides approved here to use on SHB.  Hence the need for "natural" beekeeping methods, which is beekeeping without chemicals.

eight acres: How we control small hive beetle without chemicals

Would you put pesticide in a beehive?
Pete and I believe that there is no point keeping bees if we are going to use chemicals on them (we believe that about all the animals on our farm and the crops we grow).  The only problem is finding information about how to farm or keep bees without chemicals, as all the commercial farmers and beekeepers are using chemicals and all the research funding is directed that way.  We have had two commercial beekeepers tell us to just use the chemical baits, so it seems to be widespread in the industry here.  No doubt traces of these chemicals end up in the honey and the beeswax, and most people would have no idea, just assuming that honey is a natural product.  There is no testing of honey to ensure that it is safe for consumption.

It seems that within the beekeeping community (both hobby and commercial) there is greater resistance to the use of chemical (compared to farming) and there are a few chemical-free products developed.  Maybe beekeepers are too cheap to pay for the chemical baits, or maybe they see the contradiction of using chemicals to kill insects in a beehive.  Either way, we have a few chemical-free options available and the best part is that they are cheap, reusable, safe for us and bees and we can use all of them at the same time in our hives.

What do small hive beetle do to a hive?
The SHB is a problem in our beehives because it lives in the hives, lays its eggs in the hives and the larvae borrow into the honeycomb, feeding on bee larvae (baby bees) and ruining any honey stores.  The bees work hard chasing the beetles, which distracts from other hive activities, and if they find too many beetles in the hive, the bees will leave.

This has happened to us once already.  We added a super (a second box) to a hive before it had really filled the brood box (bottom box).  The bees had too much space to patrol and could not control the beetles.  One day we opened the hive and nearly all the bees had left, the hive was instead full of beetles.  In summer, when the beetles and the bees can both breed quickly, we have to check our hives regularly (weekly!).  If the bees run out of space they will swarm, but if they have too much space the beetles will take over and the bees will leave.  Its a tight balance, but if we support the bees, they can win, we now have eight strong chemical-free hives to prove it.  (Note that checking the hives this often goes against natural beekeping principles of leaving the bees alone, but this is the only way we can know if they need more or less space to keep the SHB under control).

Chemical-free small hive beetle traps
The bees have a natural instinct to chase the beetles, and they respond by hiding in dark corners.  The chemical-free traps help the bees by providing a deadly hiding spot for the beetles.  They come in two forms, the first is the fluffy-backed lino, which the beetle will stick to.  We buy traps that slide into the side of the hive (called TK traps in Queensland, sorry no website, but your local beekeeping supplier will have them).   You can also get versions that sit on top of the frames.  As you can see from the photos, the SHB sticks to the fluff (as well as a few bees).  The other type of trap is placed either at the bottom or top of the hive and provides a reservoir of either vegetable oil or diatomeceous earth (DE) with small slots into which the beetle will fall and drown or desiccate respectively.  We use the DE as its easier to work with and doesn't spill.

the TK trap is made from fluff-backed lino that slides into the side of the hive box

Both traps are filled with DE - the black one slides into the bottom of the hive,
the silver one slips into the top between two frames

The SHB also has a stage in its lifecycle where it leaves the hive to pupate, and there are a few traps around that aim to catch the larvae as its crawls out of the hive.  We have been thinking about using DE in the soil around the front of the hive but haven't figured out the best way to do this yet.  We want to try one of the mesh hive bottom boards too.

As well as putting one of each of these traps in every hive box, we try to keep our hives strong by not taking too much honey at a time and by making sure that they never have too much empty space.  One difficulty is buying bees, as most from commercial beekeepers will have been raised in hives with chemicals, and so are not bred to naturally resist the SHB.  Actually we bought a hive with a chemical trap in the bottom, which I promptly removed.  There seemed to be just as much beetle activity in the hive as any of our other hives.  It does make me think that the chemicals are not completely effective (just breeding stronger beetles) and that careful management is still required, even if chemicals are used.

I hope that we are eventually breeding stronger bees this way and as long as we don't have varroa mites in Australia, we should continue to use natural chemical-free beekeeping methods.  Now next time you buy honey from a local beekeeper, ask if they put chemical baits in their hives.  Its one of those things you didn't want to know you needed to know, because you might have a hard time finding chemical-free honey in sub-tropical areas with SHB problems.  If you find a chemical-free beekeeper, tell them they are doing a great job and buy lots of honey from them!

Did you know that beekeepers put chemicals in their hives?  Do you buy chemical-free honey?  How do you manage SHB and other pests?

NB beekeepers may also dose hives with antibiotics to prevent European Foul Brood disease, but that is another story....

Monday, April 11, 2016

Choosing exterior paint colours (+ house update!)

We probably didn't quite do this in the right order, but I guess its one of those things that you can deliberate over for so long you'd never get anything done!  This is the story of how we eventually decided what colour to paint our second-hand house.

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house

We chose our roof colour over a year ago now.  I was determined that it would be something light, and as we were limited to the colourbond colours, we eventually chose Paperbark  (with Evening Haze a close second).  Its pretty unusual to see a light roof, but it makes a huge difference to the amount of heat absorbed by the house in summer, so it was very important to me.  Pete and I were up in the roof cavity in winter doing the insulation before the roof was replaced and it was pretty hot even then, so I hate to think how hot it got in summer (previous roof colour was dark red).  Now we have a light roof and insulation, and the house is surprisingly cool even in summer.

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
the Colourbond colour range

We chose our rainwater tanks before the roof, so that the plumber could get started, and as we were sure we wanted to use green somewhere on the house, we chose Pale Eucaplypt. So with two colours used so far - Pale Eucalypt and Paperbark - we needed to finalise the rest of the house colours.  As I said, it probably would have been smart to have the colour scheme thought out before we started ordering materials, but I'm sure it will all come together.  Pete was originally quite adamant that the rainwater tank colour must also be used on the house, but I think we've come to an agreement now that we don't need to use Pale Eucalypt on the house, as we really couldn't find a nice combination.

Typically it is recommended to use only three colours in an exterior colour scheme (with natural wood or stone being a potential forth colour).  These should be one for the roof (Paperbark), one for the trim and one for the house cladding, with natural wood decking and steps as our optional forth colour.

this is what it used to look like

Most modern houses have a dark roof and a light colour cladding, so its been really tricky to find an example of a contrasting colour to go with our light roof.  A darker colour would have probably looked effective, but being an engineer, I approached things a little differently.  I had a chat to a couple of female engineers at work and they brought up the same issues!  A darker colour will tend to fade, so would need to repainted earlier and the darker colours actually tend to crack and peel earlier as they heat up more.

I did not want white paint.  The house was a very pale blue, and all you could see was the red dirt.  Our area is known for particularly sticky red dirt and I didn't want to have to wash the house to keep it looking nice.  It needed to be a colour that would not show up the red dirt.

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
Tapestry Beige and Jaspar - haven't finished the handrails though!

We had a few test pots and tried some different colours.  I spread out the paint colour samples and tried every possible combination, but I kept coming back to the same idea.  Using our interior paint colour on the outside as well (its called Tapestry Beige).  We tried some on the outside when we were done painting a room inside and it looked good.  Even though its not much darker than the roof, I'm happy that we found a nice light colour that will not show up the dirt.

While we originally intended to use Pale Eucalypt for the trim, we changed that to Jaspar - another Colourbond colour.

For the two weeks over Easter my parents stayed with us and we all worked hard to get the house painted.  Pete sanded everything and didn't get to paint until right at the end.  I did the high walls and Dad did the lower walls - everything had to be washed, primed and painted.  Mum very patiently sanded and primed tricky windows and then finished off with the trim colour on the window sills and doors.

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
me painting up high

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
Pete got to paint up high too, right at the end

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
Dad washing the veranda walls

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
Mum painting a door

eight acres: choosing exterior paint colours for our secondhand house
and we all went out for lunch to celebrate 

We didn't quite get everything finished.  There are some fiddly bits left, the handrails and posts on the veranda and a few doors and windows.  We also need to replace the decorative freeze on the front of the house and the awning over the window.  But everything that was sanded at least has a coat of primer and will wait until we have time to tackle it again.  We also made some progress in the kitchen - the walls are primed, the gaps are filled and one coat of ceiling paint done.  And we collected all the fittings for the bathroom (apart from the vanity, but including the tiles).  Our builder started working on the mezzanine floor in the shed and in the bathroom, and our plumber hooked up the two rainwater tanks to the shed (no more temporary downpipes!) and did some preliminary work in the bathroom too.  The bathroom should be finished in the next few weeks and we are not considering what to do about flooring in the rest of the house.

It feels like we've made a huge amount of progress in a short time and that the end might be near.  What do you think?  Have you chosen exterior paint colours?  How did you decide?

the kitchen so far

all the fittings for the bathroom are ready to go!

two new rainwater tanks plumbed into the shed guttering

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Living in the city isn't ALL bad

Wow its good to be home on the farm!  After two and a half years of part time city-living, I was nearly getting used to it, but I was missing the country.  Each weekend I would head home early Friday afternoon and it was a massive relief to turn off the motorway and get out into farmland.

eight acres: some things that I enjoyed about my time in the city
Smell ya later Brisbane!

Access to alternative health services
When I first came to Brisbane I made a commitment that I would find a yoga class.  I have done pilates classes in the past, but never yoga, and I really wanted to try it.  Unfortunately in a rural area there are not usually many options, and even though a lovely yoga studio has recently opened in Kingaroy, I'd rather not drive 30 minutes to get there!  I wanted to take this opportunity to learn more about yoga.  I attended classes in West End for a while, and then over winter I didn't like getting home from there in the dark, so I tried a few different classes in the suburbs and on youtube.  Finally I was moved to a work building in the city that had yoga once a week on a vacant floor.  It did seem weird to interrupt the work day with a yoga class, but I always came back to my desk refreshed and energised.

Then I moved building again and stopped going to yoga for a few months.  I went to a Chiropractor to get some advice on my neck and back pain.  Luckily the first one I went to is really really good (Wholesome Health Chiro).  She ordered x-rays, identified the problem, gave me exercises to do and told me not to sit down so much at work.  I started doing my own yoga practice each morning, I figured if I was going to spend time and money on Chiro, I should put in some effort with a 10-15 minute yoga session each morning as soon as I get up.  If I miss it in the morning, I do it at night.  Just stretching through my hips makes a huge difference to my wellbeing.  I'm going to have to find another Chiropractor locally that takes a similar approach, otherwise I'll be popping back to Brisbane!  And I'll be able to continue the yoga myself.

Just recently I also went to a Naturopath.  I had been to a Naturopath before for help with skin and digestion issues.  I had a series of minor symptoms (mostly feeling tired) that I felt would be better addressed by a Naturopath than a doctor.  She has recommended a three-week detox, which I am going to start next week.  Although I do mainly eat real food, I have strayed a little towards convenience food and eating out in Brisbane, and I think this is a good time to reset my digestion.  I really like how Naturopaths ask so many questions and take the time to link all your symptoms (including those that you hadn't noticed).  I also had a extensive blood tests to double-check what was going on.

I am going to miss having access to the range of alternative health services, but there are a few options in the South Burnett that I will try.

Public transport and active transport
I also decided that I would use public transport and active transport as much as possible to reduce costs.  At first I was living in Windsor, which was just a bit too far from my work for walking and too much traffic for safe cycling, so I took the bus.  The bus services in Brisbane have improved 100% since I lived there 8 years ago.  There are buses every 15 min at peak time around the inner city, I'm sure its more difficult in the outer zones, but I have had virtually no need to drive anywhere during the week.

I moved to Spring Hill just over a year ago, and then I was close enough to walk to work in the city, as it was only 20 minutes and quite an enjoyable way to start the day (and freak out the locals by saying "good morning" as I passed!).  When my office building moved to Milton it was just a little too far at 45 minutes, and my Chiropractor suggested that I should only walk one way as it the heavy back pack (with my work clothes!) was hurting my back.  I started taking the train some of the way.  The trains have also improved in frequency.  I think it I lived in the city full time I would hardly use a car.

Experimenting with small-scale self-sufficiency
Its been really interesting to live in the city again, having been used to living in the country now, I was not aware of the limitations of city life until I tried it again myself.  I still tried to live to my principles.  In the first unit I had access to a worm farm, and in the second unit I set up my own mini-worm farm so I had somewhere to put scraps.  It was nice to have access to recycling (seeing as the South Burnett no longer provides recycling bins).

I missed having rainwater, and I brought bottles of water with me each week!  It would be difficult to make soap, fermented foods and grow aquaponics if you just had town water, I think a rainwater tank would be essential if I lived in the city.  I also avoided washing my hair in the hardwater as last time it dried out my hair terribly.

In the city its much easier to build community and work together.  I didn't have a chance to attend the Northey Street City Farm in Windsor, but this is the type of organisation I would join if I was living in the city full time.

Overall, I think I have a better understanding of the challenges of living sustainably in the city and I hope I can reflect that in my blog posts, which previously may have been a little focused on options for rural areas.

(I also wrote a few posts about frugal city living - buying work clothes and eating well.

Library and public events
I joined Brisbane City Library in the first week I started working in Brisbane.  The best thing about the library is being able to look for books in the catalogue and request them at your local branch.  You get a message when they are available and then four weeks to read them.  Any time I see a new book that I want to read, I check the catalogue and very rarely is it missing.  Unfortunately the South Burnett has a smaller population and more limited library, so I often buy books rather than borrowing them, hence we now have two large overflowing bookcases!

eight acres: some things that I enjoyed about my time in the city

I have also had the opportunity to attend a few interesting public lectures and films.  Most recently I went to Michael Mosely speaking at the town hall about his latest book on blood sugar and diabetes.

Catching up with friends
I was surprised to find that each week I had one or two people to see for dinner or lunch.  I didn't realise I knew so many people in Brisbane.  It was really nice to see these friends and family more regularly and I hope that Pete and I will now make the effort to visit Brisbane and see these people more regularly.

Overall, its obviously great to be back home, but I am going to miss a few of the perks of city life!  What do you think?  Would you rather live in the country or the city?  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Farm update - April 2016

Well, the last few weeks have been a bit strange!  I finished up at my job in Brisbane just before Easter.  The final week coincided with Pete also needing to be in Brisbane for a course, so we stayed in a motel together as I had to pack up and clean my unit anyway. It was like a holiday, but we both had to go out during the day and then catch up with friends each night.  My parents arrived from NZ at the end of that week and we brought them back to the farm for two weeks.  Now Pete is back in Brisbane for the week, at the second part of his course, and its just me and Taz at the farm and I've started my new job!  The new job is at the same place I used to work, so its the least scary first-day-at-a-new-job I've ever had.

We might have got a new puppy also....

We also have a new family member.  Little Gus is a 7 week old Great Dane X Bull Arab (which is also apparently not actually a breed, but a cross between a German Setter, Greyhound and Bull Terrier).  Basically he's a bitza, and probably a big one!  These types of dogs are used around our way for pig hunting, but Gus will be in charge of security on our property.  Taz is a good barker, but just a little bit small and cute to deter anyone and she also doesn't hear the cars coming down the driveway before I do!  I want people to think twice about opening the gate is one of us isn't in the yard with the dog.  We had great success with training Taz to stay safe in her puppy box, and we are doing the same with Gus.  This is leading to confusion, as Taz still responds to the command "in your box" and "on your bed" by getting in the box! Training is going to be very important with this big dog, so that will keep us occupied for a few months.

We've continued to be lucky with the weather, with hots days interrupted by just enough storms and showers to keep the grass green until we get the first frost.

Food and cooking
Staying in a motel for a week was a real challenge.  The breakfast provided was cheap bread and spreads or cereals and dead milk :(  I don't want to sound ungrateful, I know there are hungry people in the world, but I also know that food like that makes me feel really unwell.  My usual breakfast of eggs and a raw milk smoothie is kind of difficult to do away from home.  I compromised with egg and ham quiches from the bakery and banana and yoghurt.  If I was more organised I would have taken hardboiled eggs with me, but you never know if you'll have somewhere to keep them cold.

a home-grown roast chicken, with the carcass ready for the stock pot

Now that I'm back home, I am so excited about getting back to my old habits of baking soaked dough bread, sprouting, fermenting and enjoying all the veges in our garden.  I am also planning to do a three-week detox (supervised by my naturopath, more on that later), but I'm waiting for Pete to be home as he's keen to join in!

Land and farming
When we checked out bees early in the month we were worried that they didn't have enough honey, but lately they seem to have found enough nectar and are starting to fill out frames.  We currently have seven full hives and one nuc (nucleus - only 5 frames), with two hives and the nuc at Eight Acres and rest at Cheslyn Rise.

We also had one rainy day and managed to spread grass seed by hand around our two new dams, which we hope will prevent erosion of the banks.  We haven't had a chance to plant our perennial pasture seed yet though.

capped honey

mainly capped brood, with honey above

The hens have finished moulting and now that its cooler, they seem to be laying quite well.  We certainly have enough eggs for ourselves and the dogs.  The chicks from February are now fully feathered and about half the size of adult chickens.  They eat a lot of grass and we have to move the chicken tractor every day, so I am looking forward to starting them on free-ranging.  We will have to think about culling old hens and roosters soon to make way for the new hens.

Cows and cattle
Pete counted the days since we took out little bull to Cheslyn Rise, and we were expecting calves this week.  The first two had already arrived when we checked on Saturday.  Surprisingly, one is red!  From a black angus heifer (although she does have some suspicious white patches on her belly, she probably has some hereford genes).  The bull is of unknown origin, but probably mini hereford X lowline.  He is small and the calves are small, which makes for relatively easy births for these first calf heifers.  Seven more to come!

one red calf

and one black calf

Once again, this time of year brings chokos by the bucket-full. The pumpkins are also looking promising, and I suspect this is due to the beehives placed near the garden this year.  The bees seem to have gathered plenty of bright yellow pollen.  I thought the bees weren't going into the garden, but clearly they are finding the pumpkin flowers ok.

We also have lettuce and asian greents.  I picked two of the best capsicums I've ever grown.  Beans are still appearing.  And the hydroponics is now producing lovely red cherry tomatoes.  I really need to sprinkle out some more seeds and tidy up ready for a winter crop, but I will wait until the hot days are over, as I haven't been watering half the garden.

I'm going to have to do a full post about the house because we pretty much worked on it for two weeks with my parents, so there has been a heap of progress.  We also had our plumber and builder doing some work.  This is what's been done since my last update:
  • Kitchen walls primed and one coat of ceiling white
  • Shed guttering plumbed to two more rainwater tanks, mezzanine floor started
  • Exterior paint on all walls, trim of doors and windows started, just a few fiddly bits left to finish off
  • All fittings and tiles for the bathroom collected (except for the vanity) and builder/tiler ready to start work
  • We are looking at organising a hardwood overlay for the floors, which are currently soft hoop pine with gaps (then we can get the kitchen built)

do you notice anything missing off the front?
we have a window awning to rebuild as it was rotten

Permaculture - Use and Value Diversity
Last time I reviewed Use and Value Diversity, I said:
"We try to create diversity in many areas of our life, this means planning to have many different ways to satisfy our needs as well as each different thing we do serving many purposes."
This works together with the principle Integrate, Rather than Segregate.  Valuing diversity means that we see our property differently to other farmers.  Where they see trees as a waste of space, we see shade, firewood, nutrient cycling, and most importantly - honeybee food!  Weeds are the same, as long as they don't poison the cattle, they are all part of the diversity that feeds the soil and the animals.  When we planted our small patch of perennial pasture, we seeded three varieties of grass and one legume, but we will continue to encourage further diversity by adding more seed in future.  In the garden I just mix up all the veges (no straight rows in my garden) and I hope that confuses pests and encourages a diversity of predator insects so that I get a better harvest.  I also end up with volunteer self-seeded plants everywhere!

chickens are crazy enough without adding other animals!
With the animals, I think there is a limit to the amount of diversity we can care for.  We have tried turkeys and guinea fowl, but in the end we decided it was easier to just keep lots of chickens.  I think having chickens with the cattle is good, they spread out the cow manure and clean up any spilled grain from the dairy cows.  We would like to get sheep, goats and pigs eventually, but we will try one at a time and see if they fit in.  I know some people keep a flerd (flock + herd), which is apparently good for keeping predators away from the small animals and they different animals will eat different species in the pasture.  More animals does create more work, with different management required (as in stock yards and loading ramps etc).

Support me (and other blogs)
Now that I'm home, I finally have time to make all the soap recipes that I've been hoarding.  Previously the only soap-making time was weekends, which was also time for house renovating and looking after the animals.  First I need to restock the soaps and salves for my etsy store, then I'm going to try:
When I've tested them, I'll publish my recipes (they will be based on beef tallow) and sell them on Etsy if they are nice enough.

here's the charcoal soap

Here's a few blogs that turned up in my newsfeed this month:

Eat Real, Stay Sane - real food lifestyle without losing your mind or social life, lots of recipes and tips for eating real food.

Tamsininamania - which also has a lovely instagram account and had great success tanning a sheepskin following some of the info in my posts about tanning a steer hide!

How was your March?  Did you get some time off over Easter?  What are your plans for April?

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