Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hugelkultur update - 2016 version

Several years ago now I introduced you to my "hybrid hugelkultur".  The aim of this project was to try to rehabilitate and area of bad erosion on the slope above our shed.  It looked like the slope had been carved out to make room for the shed and the water flow from the driveway drain had been directed across the area, which was causing serious erosion.

We started by moving the drain to a gentler angle and putting rocks in the drain to slow down the water.  Next we used electric fencing to keep out the cattle.  Then we were ready to set up a hugelkultur.  Hugelkultur describes the practice of burying wood in garden beds.  I call our system "hybrid" because we didn't bury the wood.  We didn't have any spare soil, so we piled the logs of wood on the surface across the slope, hoping that they would trap material that was washed down the hill and slow down the water, kind of like a swale, except that we didn't want to dig into the bank either.  We also piled grass clippings and old hay over the logs.  We are hoping to build new soil using the organic matter and the logs. So the area is a hybrid between a hugelkultur and a swale.

a few things growing where I put the manure at the start
At first I tried to plant seedlings in compost and manure at the top of the slope, but it was just too hot and dry for them and most died.  Now I just scatter seeds up there, if I'm sorting seeds to save them, any dodgy looking seeds go on the hugelkultur.  Any old seeds, or if I have huge amounts of seeds, like from lettuce and brasicas, I scatter them on the hugelkultur.  From what I planted originally, the geranium is doing best, and the arrowroot is surviving too.  I don't mind what grows there, even weeds are ok, but I do try to only grow plants that wouldn't poison the cattle if they got in by mistake, or when we eventually remove the fence.  Anything that does grow is adding to the organic matter by losing leaves, and feeding the soil biology through its roots.  The aim is to generate biomass on the slope so I don't have to keep moving grass clipping up there.

Now there are little sprouts of green all around the area and I think we are slowly making progress.  We are certainly making an improvement and the erosion isn't getting any worse.  All I can do now is keep topping up the organic matter and scattering seeds, and if we're lucky, nature will take over and heal this hillside.

We have cut down a few trees at Cheslyn Rise to make room for the house and I'm looking forward to using them to try a proper hugelkultur raised bed.  We certainly notice that the soil improves around some of the wood that has been on the ground around our place for several decades, as it starts to decay it forms wonderful soil.  I'm very glad that the previous owner didn't burn all the piles of branches, instead he pushed them into big piles and they will be decaying and adding the fertility of our soil over time.

Have you tried hugelkultur?  Or swales?  Any thoughts on rehabilitating land?

2016 update: we are continuing to pile organic matter on this area, any time we have fallen branches, or mulch to use up, we put it on the bank.  I think we could probably speed up the process by putting more manure or compost on the bank, but I prefer to put that on my vege garden.  Keeping the area moist would also help with getting plants established, but we don't have spare water at the moment.  This is a slow process of rehabilitating the bank, but at least it seems to have stopped the erosion.

I occasionally get questions about hugelkultur, especially what wood to use.  Unfortunately I'm not much help because I haven't actually done this hugelkultur properly.  I do want to try it when we start new garden beds at our new house.  My thoughts are that wattle is an excellent wood to use as it breaks down quickly and grows all over our property.  I'd love to hear from others who have used Australian trees in hugelkutur as most of the information is from other countries.

Homestead in the Holler posted about their hugelkultur beds recently also.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How I use herbs - Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb that grows well here in autumn and spring when its not too hot and not too cold.  Dill grows very easily from seed, another simple and tasty herb for any garden.
How I grow dill
Dill forms large flowers and seed-heads at the end of the season, and I keep a few seeds and sprinkle the rest around the garden.  Every year more dill pops up around the garden towards the end of winter.  It grows huge and flowers again as the weather warms up.

eight acres: how to grow and use dill

How I use dill
Dill leaves have a tangy flavour.  I never liked dill when I only had dried dill, it wasn't until I tried fresh dill that I really appreciated the taste.  It compliments seafood, eggs and potatoes.  I used it in my pickled cucumbers and its also good in mayonnaise (which I have not perfected).  I like it chopped up with other fresh herbs like chervil, parsley and basil, as a garnish with salad or on meat.  I also pick the dill leaves and dry them in my dehydrator (and they are nearly as good as fresh leaves).

Dill seeds can also be used, they have a similar taste, and keep better than the dried leaves. Both are good for digestion (particularly spasms) and can be used to make a tea.  It is also recommended for increasing milk production for breastfeeding mothers, and can be used for cough and flu remedies.  

Dill flowers are great for feeding pollinators including honey bees

eight acres: how to grow and use dill

eight acres: how to grow and use dill
I think this is a parsley flower, but dill is very similar with yellow flowers

 Do you grow and use dill?

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 - Lemon balm

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

How I use herbs - Sweet Violet

How I use herbs - Gotu Kola

How I use herbs - Lemongrass

How I use herbs - coriander (or cilantro)

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead

We generally try to avoid unnecessary chemicals, but one area in which we've been slow to find alternatives is with our animals. Until a few years ago, we were regularly drenching the cattle with ivermectin, dosing the dogs with flea treatments and wormers and occasionally had to dip all the chickens in malthison so get rid of lice. Since we got our milking cow, Bella, we became even more  reluctant to continue with the chemical treatments as we drink the milk everyday.

Luckily we found Bel from Home Grown, who kindly answered my many house cow questions, including recommending Diatomaceous Earth for control of internal and external parasites in cows and cattle in general. I had also read about Diatomaceous Earth for chickens at Fowl Visions.

Diatomaceous Earth, consists of the micro skeletons of fossilised remains of deceased diatoms, which are a type of algae found in both sea water and fresh water. They have sharp edges, which kills both internal and external parasites, while being safe for the animals and the environment. Note that there are several grades of DE, and only FOOD GRADE should be fed to or used externally on animals.

It sounded like a great idea so I started trying to find out where I could buy it. Unfortunately most of our local produce stores hadn't heard of it. On a recent trip to Cairns, we were able to buy 1 kg of locally mined Diatomaceous Earth at the Yungaburra markets (mined in Herberton). I think our closest supply is actually Mt Sylvia Diatomite, near Gatton in the Lockyer Valley, but they will only sell it to our local produce store by the pallet (that's 50X20 kg bags, a bit more than we need!).  We eventually found a source and bought several bags on the Mt Sylvia diatomite fines product.

I use DE in the chickens' layer boxes, this helps to prevent lice and mites living in the nesting boxes. The one problem with our movable chicken tractors is that they don't have a permanent dust bath area, but they do tend to fluff up in the layer boxes, so this is the best area for our chooks to get an external dose of DE.

You can also mix DE into chicken feed at 2% by weight, as an internal wormer.  We have never had a problem with chickens getting worms, however its good to know that DE is edible, as we use it in our grain storage bins to keep out insects.  The chickens no doubt end up eating a small amount of it, but we don't bother with an intentional dose for worming.

DE, lime and sulphur sprinkled in the layer boxes.
A hen inspects my work.

There is not much information about DE used for cattle, I found one paper about control of internal parasites, which seemed to show that DE was as effective as chemical drenches when fed at 2% of dry feed weight as well. Again, we use DE in our grain storage bins, so the cattle get a dose now and then.  I have also read that its best to feed at full moon when the worms are more active, so if I remember I will give them an extra scoop of DE around that time of month.

There's also a bit of info about brushing DE into their coats. This is ok for the house cows, but the steers aren't so tame. We have been experimenting with neem oil and other organic options for external parasites.

eight acres: how to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead

Apparently you can feed it to the dogs at 2% dry feed and also brush it into their coats to control fleas (and dust around the spots they like to lie down in).  We have not been doing this regularly, but we have continued to give the dogs a regular tablet for paralysis ticks, which I think also controls fleas.

eight acres: how to use diatomaceous earth on the homestead

In the Garden
This website reckons you can use DE to control pests in the garden too, and I think it could be quite useful for slugs! It is non-selective though, so best to use it only when you have a particular buggy problem so you don't kill all your good bugs too.  The silica in the DE is also great of plants, helping them to grow strong cells, so its a good soil additive,

We use DE in our beehives to kill the small hive beetles, as I explained in this post.  We have a number of different traps that we load with a small amount of DE.  While the DE would also kill bees if they became coated in it, the traps are only accessible by the small hive beetle, so the DE is contained. I prefer this to using chemicals in the hive.

Do you use DE at your place?  Any other tips to share?  Where do you get it from?

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, August 24, 2016

Raising a big dog vs raising a working pup

Just so you know, this post is mostly an excuse to show off some photos of my big Gussy, but I did want to also share some observations about Gus' puppyhood compared to Taz, because so far they have been very different puppies.  I have been asked if Taz is helping to get all of Gus' wiggles out, but really I think Taz is still more wiggly than Gus, even though she is 2.5 years old now.  She is often the one barking at him to come and play, and she can still get him on the ground if she runs at him side on!

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
A rare view of Gus with his mouth shut

Here is a list of observations and comparisons between Gus the Great Dane/Bull Arab/Big dog and Taz the Kelpie/Collie/Working dog (they are generalisations which may not apply to other dogs, just what I have seen so far).
  • Taz really benefited from her puppy box and we used it until she was 1 year old.  With Gus we only used it for a few months.  At night he started to hop onto Taz' bed, so we stopped putting him in the box, and then when he was big enough to not sneak under the gate, we let him out all day (but with chickens locked up).  He seems far better at calming himself and happily sleeps all day.
  • Gus has hardly chewed anything.  Although he does take Pete's thongs (flipflops/jandles, not undies) if they are left outside.  He doesn't chew them, just hides them.  So far everything else has been safe, which has been a nice change compared to Taz the collector of all lose shoes, gloves and sunglasses.
  • Gus took a long time to learn not to wee or poo on the veranda.  It got to the point where I had to take him down onto the grass every night before I went to bed and encourage toilet stops.  He seems ok with that now (we never had that trouble with Taz).
  • Gus eats SO MUCH FOOD!  We hope it will slow down where he stops growing.  His weight has increased from 7.5 kg when he first came home to over 30kg.  It took us a few days to realise that he was hungry in the afternoon.  Since then he now has breakfast and an afternoon snack.  We just keep putting food in his dish until he is full, I don't want a stunted big dog!  And if he's allowed to get too hungry he helps himself (or Taz helps, we're not sure, but it took two dead chickens to figure out that feeding Gus in the afternoon is number one priority before we let the chickens out).
  • The front clip harness has been the best investment!  Gus can walk next to me without pulling, even though he is stronger than me now, anytime he tries to run ahead the harness pulls him around, so he doesn't bother anymore.  I haven't tried the front clip on Taz yet, she has just figured out how to 'come behind' and walk behind us, so its a joy to walk them both calmy at my pace, instead of being towed down the road. - see video below
  • Working dogs have a heap of nervous energy, and they need to be taught to be calm, but big dogs seem pretty chilled out already and just need consistent discipline and a big bed.
What do you think?  Have you raised a big dog or a working dog puppy?  Any tips to share?

More about Gus
Puppy Gus - training a big dog
More about our big Gus the Great Dane pup

More about Taz
Happy Birthday Puppy Taz!
Training our Taz - puppy months and dog years
What I've learnt about puppies

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
we had to get Gus a new bed, this one is 'dinosaur' size

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
Gus has learnt to fetch sticks like Taz

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
He has to 'give me five' before he gets his 'tucker'

eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
here's baby Gus when he first came home
eight acres: raising a big dog vs a working dog
and my big boy now, don't know how much bigger he will get!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Baby hat pattern and a new crochet stitch

I've been doing a bit of crochet lately.  Mainly because I've been working on a lacey alpaca shawl and the pattern is so complicated that its not really fun to knit.  I love the way it looks, but I don't really enjoy the stress of getting the pattern right.  This leads to procrastination, which leads to a simple crochet project (or two.. ok three).

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder
front post crochet in my ear warmer

A friend asked for a baby hat as a baby shower present, and when I was looking for a suitable pattern I found this textured toddler hat, which uses a front post crochet stitch.  It took me a few false starts and unravelling (and finding it on youtube - this is a good link too), but eventually I mastered the front post and finished the hat (and forgot to take a photo of it, I didn't have a suitable model, so you'll just have to take my word for it and maybe we will get some pics when the baby fits the hat!).

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder
ear warmer

As I was still not feeling like finishing the shawl, I made myself an ear warmer (I prefer these to hats) using alternating bands of front post crochet and double crochet.  Then I made a drink bottle cover.  Mostly because I don't want the lovely bright pink paint to get knocked off my drink bottle, but it would also help with some insulation of the metal bottle.

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder

eight acres: front post crochet ear warmer and drink bottle holder

How to make the ear warmer band

Chain about 20 stitches (depending how wide you want the band and what needle and yarn you're using) and crochet a few rows of double crochet.  Then switch to front post crochet on every second stitch for a few rows.  The trick here is that you have to to backwards front post crochet's on the row coming back so that the front of the work looks right.  I made the hat first, so I got lots of practice doing forward front post crochets going round and round, so it was a bit of a shock when I had to turn the work and figure out how to do them backwards, so it might be better to start with a round pattern first.

How to make a bottle holder
I used a magic ring and 10 double crochets to start my bottle holder.  The two doubles in each stitch to make the circle.  You might have to vary this depending on the size of your bottle, but that was enough rows to get me started on the rest of the bottle holder.  From there I did a few rows of double crochet with no further increases, just round and round and then I started on the front post crochets every second stitch until I got to the top of the bottle.  I finished off with double crochet as that seems to pull a bit tighter around the neck of the bottle.  I got the size just right (by fluke) so that the bottle holder stays on perfectly.

And how is that shawl going?  I've used half the alpaca yarn and I thought I may have made some mistakes, nothing like the great unravelling hole that brought the whole project to the halt last time around.

What do you think?  Do you use front post crochets?  Or other crochet stitches for texture?  Do you procrastinate and start another fun project when one gets hard or boring?

Friday, August 19, 2016

What to do with a bull calf - 2016 update

When we were planning to have our second steer butchered (this is another story), we started to look around for a young steer to replace him and keep the remaining steer company.  We have learnt the hard way that one steer will not stay home (also another story) and now always have at least two in the “herd” so they don’t get lonely.  Unfortunately it was not a good time of year to find a cheap poddy calf, with most around $300, it wasn’t really worth us buying one to raise if they were that expensive.  Finally someone answered my ad and told me he had a “Hereford cross steer”, just weaned, for $180.  Perfect!

We turned up early one foggy Saturday morning to pick him up.  After driving 30 min with the cattle crate on the back of the ute, and with no real alternative, there was little chance that we weren’t going to buy the little fella.  When we saw him though, it was clear that he wasn’t a Hereford, or a steer!  So we brought home our little Fresian bull and wondered what to do.

eight acres: how to castrate a bull calf
Little Rocket, the"Hereford cross" bull
We started doing some reading.  First on the methods of making our little bull into a steer, and then whether we should even bother, as I started to wonder about the processes suggested and their relative levels of cruelty.

After considerable research on the topic, I concluded that we shouldn’t keep him as a bull.  Although I found mixed assessment of the meat quality of bulls, it seems that bulls are more likely to suffer from excess adrenaline while waiting at an abattoir, which will taint the meat (i.e. dark cutting), however if the animal is not stressed prior to slaughter (e.g. a home kill) there is no significant difference in the taste.  The main reason for our decision was that aggression in bulls can be a problem, with some examples on the net of dairy bulls that were hand-raised and became aggressive at 1-2 years old.  As our little fella was most certainly of dairy heritage, and has horns, we decided that it would not be safe to keep him as bull.

With one decision made the next issue was which of the many options to use to make our little bull into a steer.  There are three options that are most popular: surgical removal of the testicles, emasculation and rubber bands.  Emasculation, using an ‘emasculatome’ is the process of crushing of the blood and nerve supply to make the testicle atrophy and become non-functional.  The first two options require a certain about of skill and experience, which we didn’t have.  Surgical removal requires no special equipment if the calf is young and can easily be rolled onto his side, for older calves a crush is required.  A workmate offered to come over after work and "fix up" our little bull with his pocket knife, but it seemed a little cruel to me (besides I was worried about infection, its ok when you've got hundreds of them, but we only had one little calf, it would not have been good if he'd died from nutting).  For both emasculation and elastic bands you need a special tool, ranging from $50-100.  With emasculation, the testicles remain intact, so you never know if it actually worked, which is a little off-putting for the unskilled operator!  After much deliberation (and by this stage he was too big to roll over anyway, which reduced our options) we finally bought ourselves a rubber banding tool.

Tri-Band Bander
example rubber banding tool

Fortunately the little fella was hand raised and VERY tame at this stage.  He really liked his calf pellets, so one afternoon while he was tucking into a large pile of pellets we sneaked around behind him and applied a rubber band.  Thus followed the most pampered and fussed over bull calf castration activity of all time.  We checked him every day while he was eating, for the entire 7 weeks it took for the damn things to fall off!  After 4 weeks we started to worry that he’d got an infection, and bought an antiseptic spray.  The spray had a purple dye so you could see where you’d sprayed it and the poor thing had purple legs for the rest of the time.  When they finally fell off we were overjoyed with relief (I'm sure Rocket was sick of all the attention too!).

That is the story of our successful nutting of a bull calf.  If anyone has any other experiences and comments, please share!

Footnote: several weeks later we found Rocket's balls on our front fence post.  We assumed that a bird had picked them up and left them there.  However, when I mentioned it to my neighbour we found out that her dog had brought the balls home one day and proudly presented them.  My neighbour, not knowing that the object was, had picked them up and examined them, then taken a photo and put it on facebook.  Eventually someone was able to identify them for her, and that's how they ended up on our fence post - plonked there in disgust!!  When I stopped laughing, I was able to tell her that the moral of the story was that she shouldn't have let your dog stray onto our property as you never know what he'll find there!

2016 update: we have used the rubber bands on over 20 young bull calves over the last 5 years and have not had any trouble with this method.  It is our preferred option as it easiest for us and seems to be relatively low stress for the calves too, as long as you get them young enough.  We use our cattle yards and head bale to apply the bands at Cheslyn Rise, but on our small property we often have to use the crash-tackle method to get the calf on the ground and then tie his legs with rope to incapacitate him temporarily while we do the band - this is best done while the calf is too young to escape from a chase, or it can be quite difficult to get them on the ground!

Getting started with homestead dairy

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Choosing a rooster

This might sound weird, but we let our hens chose their rooster.  I better start at the beginning (although its hard to tell where that is, chicken and egg and all that).  Here's a summary of how we hatch and dispatch our roosters, and let the hens chose a few to keep.

eight acres: how to chose a rooster

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

Chris from Gully Grove

Going Grey and Slightly Green

Monday, August 15, 2016

Soapmaking resources and books

I reckon there are three types of people who want to make soap:

1) people who just want to follow the recipe and don't want to understand the chemistry behind soapmaking

2) people who want to know enough to design their own recipes, but not the full detail

3) chemistry geeks who want to know everything about soapmaking

The third type are probably the rarest, but that is the category that I fall into, having studied chemical engineering, I do find the chemistry and process detail very interesting (and I know a few chemistry geeks who will join me here).  I recently found a book that satisfies that interest, Scientific Soapmaking: The Chemistry of the Cold Process, by Kevin M Dunn (Affiliate link).

eight acres: soap making resources and books

This book explains in great detail how oils and fats react with caustic soda to make soap, how to test and standardise your soap and how different processing conditions affect the final product.  You can following through different experiments in the book to see for yourself how different oils produce different soaps and how varying the caustic amounts changes the soap.  I particularly appreciated the tips for making larger batches of soap and producing consistent results.  The chemistry in the book is around highschool level, I breezed through some of the basic chapters as it was all revision for me.  I'm not sure how easy it would be to follow if you hadn't studied university chemistry, I expect that you would need to dedicate more time to carefully reading the chapters to fully understand the concepts, however I think the author has made an effort to explain most of it from scratch, assuming little prior knowledge of some fairly complex concepts (acid/base chemistry and organic chemistry).

The detailed experimental methods would be very useful for homeschooling chemistry classes, as you could learn the practical applications of standardisation, titration, and various organic chemistry reactions.  For the chemistry geek who wants to know everything about soapmaking, this is an excellent book.

For those who fall into category 1 or 2, there are plenty of less detailed books that will provide everything you need to know to make nice soap without worrying too much about how the chemistry actually works.

For basic soap making instructions you can't go past Jan Berry's book Natural Soapmaking, which I reviewed here.  This is your cheapest option for getting started, it includes step-by-step instructions for basic cold-process soap with lots of photos, and some lovely recipes which you can follow exactly to create your own soap.

If you want to know more about the process, without getting into too much detail, I found Soap Naturally, by Patrizia Garzena and Marina Tadiello (Affiliate link), to be a fantastic starting point.  It explains all the different oils and fats, colour, texture and fragrance options.  Cold and hot-process soap methods are described in details.  It gives standard recipes and then explains how to devise your own recipes safely.

What soapmaking resources have you found useful?  Are you a chemistry geek or just like to follow the recipes?


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Holistic management - part 3: holistic goal

The book Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (affiliate link) sets out a guide to developing a holistic goal for your farm or business.  (See my introduction to Holistic Management here, and part 2: four key insights for the reasons why holistic management is important.)

What is a holistic goal?
Often we find ourselves working towards something that is ultimately going to cause the destruction of other things that we cherish.  For example if we focus on making money, we may stop spending time with family and community or on hobbies that we enjoy because we are always working.  Setting a holistic goal allows us to consider everything that we find important and work towards optimising the outcomes so that we don't inadvertently compromise something that we value.

eight acres: holistic management - Part 3: holistic goal setting

Having defined the holistic goal, every subsequent decision can be tested against the goal.  This ensures that all courses of action will advance towards the goal and take into account the whole of the farm or business.

A holistic goal, as defined by Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making, has four parts - a statement of purpose, quality of life definition, an understanding of the means of production and a list of future resources that are needed to achieve this purpose. I'm going to share with you what Pete and I have initially drafted as our holistic goal, however the final wording may be refined as I read the rest of the book.

I found that the book was a little short on examples (and long on description) of holistic goal.  I did find some good resources online which helped with the goal (here and here).

Statement of purpose
To produce enough food for ourselves and a surplus to share locally, to develop knowledge and skills that we can use and share as widely as possible, to provide enough income that we can minimise the need for off-farm work, to nurture our creativity and enjoyment of nature and working hard together.

Quality of life (Things that are important to us)

  • debt-free
  • minimal off-farm work
  • positive relationships with neighbours and wider community
  • technically and mentally challenging, yet enjoyable work

Means of production (Things that we can make)

  • Beef cattle (live animals and meat)
  • Bees and bee products (hives, honey and beeswax)
  • Soap and salves (products and workshops)
  • Chickens (live animals and eggs)?
  • Some kind of produce?

Future resource base (Things that we can use)

  • Perennial pasture
  • Dams and bore water
  • Biodiversity (trees and animals)
  • Perspective of neighbours/community (hardworking and productive)
  • Perspective of customers (quality products, good service)

That's what we have so far!  I think its a good idea to at least try to draft a few ideas at this stage of the book, so that you can put the rest of the chapters in context.  And then come back to the goal later.  Allan even writes that you will need to keep refining the goal over time as you get a better understanding of what you're trying to achieve.

Compared to a permaculture goal statement
When starting a permaculture design, the first step is defining a goal statement (see info from Milkwood here).  The goal statement describes what you're hoping to get from your design, its a vision of the final outcome.  I think that the holistic goal is broader, its a goal for the whole property, rather than a specific design.  The holistic goal is similar to the statement of purpose in the holistic goal.  The extra parts of the holistic goal help you to get into more detail.

Have you written am holistic goal?  Or a permaculture goal statement?  What resources did you find useful?

Below are some Amazon affiliate links to books related to Holistic Management.  If you would like to read my reviews of these books, see the following links:
Joel Salatin's books

Peter Andrew's books on Natural Sequence Farming

Permaculture Principles


Monday, August 8, 2016

Winter lip balm (with chamomile)

I've been making my lip balms with macadamia oil and beeswax (peppermint, lavender and honey flavours), but in winter, they just aren't strong enough!  I get really dry and sore lips in winter, so I need a heavier soothing lip balm for cold and windy weather.

eight acres: winter lip balm

I decided to try this recipe from The Nerdy Farmwife for a soothing chamomile lip balm.  It uses chamomile infused oil (I used olive oil) and castor oil (which is heavier than macadamia oil) and peppermint essential oil.  The chamomile is soothing, while the peppermint gives you a nice tingle like blistex.  I have been trying to grow chamomile, but no luck so far, so I used dried chamomile (actually it was pure chamomile tea from Tea2).

Making an infused oil is very easy.  Just put your herbs in a jar of oil and leave them for a few weeks, then strain out the herbs.  For my herbal salve I use comfrey, chickweed and calendula petals.  Other herbs that are good for skin include borage, yarrow, gotu kola, violet and lemon balm.  (See posts below).

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Yarrow

How I use herbs - Gotu Kola

How I use herbs - Sweet Violet

eight acres: winter lip balm

eight acres: winter lip balm

I have a limited number of winter lip balms available in my Etsy shop, as I made more than I needed, so I'll see if they end up being popular.

What do you think?  Do you need a stronger lip balm in winter?

eight acres: winter lip balm

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Secondhand house update: what's taking so long?

It feels like we are making slow progress with the secondhand house again.  You might be wondering what's taking so long.  Here's what's happened since I wrote about painting the outside of the house back here.

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time

The shed
I don't know if I've really explained the shed before.  The intention of the shed is a workshop and storage space so that we can keep the house free of clutter.  We chose a big shed because we didn't want to have to build another shed if we ran out of space.  Its 15m (three 5m bays) by 12m by 4m high.  The two bays closest to the house have roller doors.  The final bay has a mezzanine floor, which we will use for storage.  We will also build a space under the mezzanine for the freezers and a soap-making/honey processing kitchen.

So far we have council approval for the shed, we had rainwater tanks hooked up, we have rodent-proofed the gap between the wall and the slab and filled the shed with a surprising amount of stuff already.  We haven't organised the room under the mezzanine, shelving for the mezzanine, electrical wiring (connected to solar PV I hope), however I have bought a secondhand kitchen!

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
Taz helping me with the plan of the shed

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
shed kitchen waiting to be installed under the mezzanine

The bathroom
Everything is installed in the bathroom, the only job left is painting the walls and the ceiling (without splashing any of the new fittings!).  We haven't had the hotwater turned on lately, so I haven't actually tried the bath or shower, but it is very nice to have a toilet in the house again.  (here's more about designing the bathroom)

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
 few before photos from the bathroom

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
can't wait to try that bath!

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
The toilet is hiding behind the tiled wall

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
Mirror and light to go above the vanity

Painting the inside
We have officially finished sanding all the inside walls of the house!  So far we have finished painting two bedrooms, the hallway and the sideroom (builtin veranda).  The kitchen has primer on the walls, and we are now ready to put primer on the lounge and master bedroom.  We have also left all the doors and window frames until last.  (here's more about painting the house)

eight acres: update on our secondhand house - renovating a queenslander takes time
ready to paint in the lounge and master bedroom

New floors are next
We have been through several different options for the floor in the house.  First we thought we would put tiles throughout, put then we learnt that tiles are not really suitable in a Queenslander house that can move and twist on its stumps (better for concrete slab houses).  Then we thought we would sand and polish the original floorboards, but I read a very good book about Queenslander houses, which said that the hoop pine boards were never really designed to be walked on, always intended to be covered.  We can also see the ground through some of the gaps in the floorboards, so it could be a bit chilly in winter.  We've decided to lay a new hardwood floor over the hoop pine floorboards.  This will be 25mm ironbark floorboards, not a laminate.  It will be sanded and polished with a Danish wax product, and its thick enough that we can repolish and resand it if needed.  We need to finish the painting before we can get the floor laid though!  And we needed to have the shed finished so that we could move everything out of the house and into the shed while the floor contractors are here.

So that is what has been taking so long!  But I feel like we are making slow and steady progress.  What do you think?  Are you renovating?  Or a survivor of a renovation?  Who's living in a Queenslander?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Farm update - August 2016

July has been cold, and apart from one warm week, we had the fire going every night.  The dogs sleep outside, but they wear at least one dog coat each (here's how I sew them).  We even had a bit of rain, only 10-20 mm here and there, but better than nothing and the grass is looking very green for this time of year.  Gus is getting bigger, now around 30 kg and I really need him to learn how to jump on the back of the ute.  Taz can still get him on the ground in a doggy wrestle though.   He's booked in for neutering on Wednesday morning.

Gus has to "give me five" before he gets his breakfast

Taz monitoring the neighbour's cattle

Food and cooking
We butchered six of the roosters one morning.  The place is so much more peaceful without all the crowing and chasing hens.  Plus they taste great, nothing like shop chickens!  (here's how we cook them)  We had a roast chook and then made a huge batch of chicken stock.

Bees and Beekeeping
Not much to report on the farm, but I we have been keeping an eye on the bees.  One hive was looking a bit weak, so we transferred the frames to a nuc box (half size) and added a frame of brood from another hive, they are looking good now.  I went through my beeswax collection (I buy it from markets when I see it cheap) and melted the big blocks so that I could pour it into icecube trays for more manageable chunks (its impossible to cut or grate from the big blocks).  The darker brown beeswax is from old combs, it contains more honey and pollen.  The bright yellow is from "uncappings" when you cut the tops off the honey frames to extract the honey.  Both are great for making salves (here's my salve recipe).

The new hens are laying eggs now, and we have a build up of several cartons.  We kept two roosters, so there is one with each chicken tractor of hens.  We still have four roosters to butcher, so we'll probably cull a few old hens when we butcher again.  (here's more about why we keep so many chickens)

Cows and cattle
We took the dairy cows out to Cheslyn Rise, and despite our best attempts to keep the bull separate (we spent a weekend fixing up the fence and building a new electric fence - here's how we use solar energisers) - he some how managed to get the gate open, so all the cattle got mixed up.  Looks like we will have to make sure we are ready to milk out there in 9-10 months.  We still have the baby house cows and Chubby at Eight Acres and feeding them grain to keep them tame and growing strong through winter.

The garden is GREEN from the rain and some warm days.  All the asian greens have come up and I have to pick them to 'weed' the garden and make some space for the radishes and turnips. This is a very productive time of year.  Also corianderParsleyHerb RobertChickweed, and Sweet Violet are growing well at the moment.

We haven't made much progress on the house as we've been focusing on the shed.  We needed the shed finished so that we could stack all the furniture in there when we get the floors done.... and the shed was very nearly finished expect for the handrail on the mezzanine floor.  We also wanted to to rodent-proofing as the mice had really moved in there after it was finished.  We got council approval for the shed, so now we can start filling it up with furniture until the house is finished.  Now back to painting the lounge and last bedroom! AND I have an article about our house move in the latest issue of Owner Building magazine, which is out now.  I had a lot of fun working with the team and they've done a wonderful job of presenting the article and my photos.

Now that I've worked through the twelve permaculture principles from Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, and last month I discussed permaculture ethics.  Now I'm going to work through the principles from Mollison's Permaculture Design Manual:
  • Work with nature rather than against. 
  • The problem is the solution. 
  • Make the least change for the greatest possible effect. 
  • The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited (or only limited by the imagination and information of the designer). 
  • Everything gardens (or modifies its environment).

Work with nature rather than against - anytime you're working against nature you're just making hard work for yourself.  Whether you're trying to remove weeds and kill pests, grow something that is not suited to your climate or soil type, you will find it much easier to work WITH nature.  Accept that you have weeds and use them for something.  Accept that you will have pests and work with them.  Accept that you can only grow certain things, but try to find the best option for where you live.  Always consider work you could work with nature to reduce effort and input costs where possible.

For example, some people can go to a lot of trouble to kill termites on their property.  I don't like to see them near the house, but out in the trees they are fine and they break down the fallen wood into soil food.  We would rather leave these termites to do their thing than have to clear all the wood and add fertiliser to our soil.  This reduces our effort and cost (we don't have to poison the termites, we don't have to cut the wood, we don't have to fertilise).

I tried the salt soap again and it worked.  We cut it 2 hours after pouring, it was still hot, but it was solid enough to cut and stamp.  Its made a very hard white soap.  I didn't put any essential oil in as I just wanted to get the salt part right.  I got a book called Scientific Soapmaking: The Chemistry of the Cold Process (Affiliate link), which I'm halfway through and has been really good so far.  I'll do a full review soon.  Also see my guest post on Say Little Hen about simplifying soap making.

Support me
I had an order for 50 small jars of natural insect repellent for a wedding!  I had to write out all the lables, I really hope they are appreciated by the guests, as the neem is a bit stinky, but better than getting bitten by mossies.  Its really fun to see how people are using my little homemade products and I enjoy getting custom orders.

I don't have any new blogs to share this week, just haven't had much time to look around the net, so if you have any suggestions please share in the comments, I love finding new blogs to follow.

How was your July?  What are your plans for August?

Here's a link to the book again:

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