Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blogoversary and time for a Christmas break

Well I can't believe I have just past 6 years writing on this blog!  I've been taking some time lately to go back into the archives and update old posts, and I really enjoy reading what I wrote back then, seeing how much I've learnt on some topics, and how much I've forgotten on others!  I'll keep reposting them as I work through them.




This year I've seen some good bloggy friends stop writing, which has been quite sad (I miss them even though I've never met them!).  Ohio Farmgirl who has blogged for years and has a wealth of information on self-sufficiency, particularly butchering pigs and just general common-sense stuff about growing your own food, has stopped blogging, but at least can still be found on facebook if you know where to look ;)

And Our New Life in the Country, which I enjoyed mostly for the sweet doggies, but also more common sense chats about gardening, chooks and downsizing, has announced her last post.

There are more that have not officially stopped, but haven't posted for so long, I miss them too.

Fortunately there are new friends, and old friends who have found new energy - Craving Fresh is back up and running with a new garden looking fabulous!




Pete asked me if I thought I would stop blogging.  Nope.  I have too much to say.  Maybe not as much time to say it at the moment, so the frequency has reduced a little, but still books to read and review, new herbs to write about, soap recipes to explain, knitting and crochet projects to show off and so many photos of the doggies, I've got to put them somewhere.  I also like having the record, because I forget what we did, why and how, so some of the older posts are as useful to me as they are to anyone else!

A lot of people are writing about homestead goals at this time of the year.  We don't really set goals as such.  We have a list of jobs that need doing and we work on whatever is the most urgent at the time, sometimes unexpected things (like fences) take priority and other nice-to-have jobs get put off.  I prefer not to stress about that kind of thing.  The house will get finished eventually and other long-term jobs will get done.  As long as all the animals go to sleep happy and healthy, we've had a good day on the farm.  We've let a few things go this year as we've been busy with the house and also planning to move soon.  We won't be hatching chicks this year and the garden has been a little neglected.

For Christmas we're going to the beach for a few days to stay with Pete's parents and then we have a few days off work to do some work around the farm :)  Depending how hot it is. This time of year is really not conducive to doing much after 10am, and very good for extended naps.  I'll be back in January sometime to finish of the Holistic Management series, update you the house progress and write about several new herbs in my garden.  And I've nearly finished my soapmaking book, its going to my proof-readers very soon.  I usually do round-up posts at this time of year, I'll do them in January instead so you can catch up on anything you missed in 2016.

In the meantime, you can find me on facebook and instagram (I love instagram, its so much fun!).

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, thanks so much for all your comments here and on other social media, I appreciate them all.  See you in 2017!

What are you planning for the holidays?  What do you want to see on Eight Acres in 2017?  Do you miss any blogs that have stopped this year?  Any new favourites?  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Planting seeds or seedlings?

Its taken me a little while to learn this, but I think I've now figured out which veges to sow directly in the soil as seeds and which to raise as seedlings and then plant in my garden, so I thought I'd share with you what has worked for me so far.

radish seedlings peeping through the mulch

At first I tried to plant everything as seeds directly in the garden, but I wasn’t happy with the results, too much work to thin the seedlings and some didn’t sprout at all.  So then I tried raising seedlings, it took me a while to realise that I needed to use a good seed-raising mix, and I prefer to use toilet rolls than the seedling trays that bought seedlings come in.  I wrote more about raising seedlings here.

starting veges in pots and toilet rolls (photo from last spring)
Then I decided that I wanted to grow root crops, and they don’t transplant well, so I had to think about how to do this.  I observed that tiny brassicas were popping up through the mulch, and they must have come from the ones that I’d left to go to seed.  Previously I had thought that seeds couldn't sprout through the mulch, but I was wrong.  This is the method that I use to plant carrots, swedes, turnips and radishes:
  • Push mulch aside and dig a shallow trench
  • Fill trench with seed-raising mix
  • Sprinkle seed thinly as humanly possible so you don’t have too much thinning to do later
  • Pat the seeds in the seed-raising mix and lightly cover with a little mulch
  • The seeds will sprout through the mulch and then you just need to thin them a little
  • I try to write down what I’ve planted where so I know which seeds didn’t sprout (and should be thrown out), and which were good.
For more about growing and using root vegetables, see my post here.


For brassicas, I throw a few seeds around the brassica area of the garden.  If I have new seeds that I want to try, I’ll plant them in a shallow tray of seed-raising mix first, to see how they sprout and then transplant them later.  If we are having a bad year for slugs, I start the brassicas outside the garden to give them a chance to get bigger.

The entire bed, planted with carrots, radishes, onions, turnip and swede
Plants like tomatoes, capsicum, beans, peas, basil and other herbs, I plant in the toilet rolls, and if there’s no room in the garden yet, or the weather isn’t quite right, I keep potting them into larger pots until I’m ready to plant them in the garden.

Do you plant seeds directly in your garden? 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three simple ideas: Learn basic skills

Lately I've been sharing with you simple ideas for getting started with simple living.  As many of us have discovered, simple living isn't simple, certainly when you're getting started, there are lots of new skills to learn and its important to find a routine that works.  I've already shared simple ideas for growing your own food, and for saving money on groceries.  Then I wrote about ideas for cooking from scratch.  Now I'm thinking about some basic skills that you can learn that will help reduce what you need to buy.





Simple: learn to knit, crochet and sew
The best way to learn to knit or crochet is to find a willing tutor.  Failing that, youtube has some wonderful tutorials to get you started (here's my knitting and crochet posts).  Start with something simple so you don't feel like giving up when it doesn't work out.  Knitting and crochet are the cheapest options, as you will need a sewing machine to get started on sewing, but look for secondhand, lots of people have them and never use them.  Try not to stockpile lots of supplies of wool and material, or you still spend more that you save, but I know that's not easy!  And try to make things that you would have otherwise bought.




Simpler: make soap and other personal needs
Soap is easier than it sounds, and if you use tallow it can be relatively cheap.  Soap can be used instead of shampoo and body wash, and can also be used for washing dishes.  You can also make deodorant and simple salves.  Reusable menstrual products are a huge saving (here's the whole story for those who want to find out more).

Homemade soap (details here and here)
Homemade deodorant (recipe here)
Homemade skin salve (recipe here)





Simplest: preserve, dry or freeze some excess produce from garden or bought in bulk
I use my dehydrator all the time, its great for keeping the excess herbs (including chilli flakes and garlic granules), but I've also been air drying them recently now that the weather is less humid.  I also freeze lots of beans and cherry tomatoes from the garden, and other produce that I've can buy cheaply in bulk.  If you're lucky enough to have a pressure canner, that is also a great way to preserve any excess vegetables and fruit as well, although you can use a waterbath method for high acid produce.

What do you think? What are some other skill that help to get started with a simple life?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Water the garden while you're away (2016 update)

This is a method that I use in hot weather so that I don't have to water every day.  With the holiday season coming up, the hardest thing about going on holiday is leaving my garden, particularly in hot weather, as I worry that it will dry out and all my hard work will whither and die.  We pay someone to come and check on the animals, but as we use grey water for the garden, if we're not home, there's no water to use on it (and we're not going to waste our good drinking water!).

Some unusual plants popped up in our garden....



The solution came in a post from Emma at Craving Fresh.  She uses beer bottles full of water and pushed into the soil to keep it moist between watering.  I tried it the first time just before I knew I was going to be away for a few days.  Pete was going to be home, but not sure if he would get time to water, so I placed beer bottles full of water next to my favourite plants, just in case.  It was very hard to choose which plants received a beer bottle though, they are all so precious!  I set it up a couple of days before I went away so I could see how much water was used.  Some bottles were almost full the next day and others had drained a few centimeters.  I guess it just depends on the soil drainage.  I would recommend doing a trial run so you can assess your soil and see how the plants cope.

Since I first tried this method, I have found that its also useful for reducing the frequency of watering.  I can set this up as I'm watering one day, and then I don't have to come back and water for a few days as they plants are recieving a drip-feed of water from the bottles.  I have a stockpile of bottles as you can reuse them for a long time.  I place them around any new seedlings to make sure that they have moist soil as they are getting started.  I find that glass beer bottles work better than plastic as they are rigid, so the sides don't suck in at the water drains, this make them slower to drain (comparing pouring from a plastic bottle vs a glass bottle if they are both turned upside down, the bottle needs to gulp air to release the vacuum as the water leaves the bottle, the plastic bottle will empty more quickly).

How do you manage your garden while you're away?



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How to save seeds - a 2016 update

I love being able to keep seeds from the vegetables I grow.  Some people get upset when their plants bolt and go to seed, but I'm happy because it means I'll be able to save the seeds and sow some more.

Poor Man's Beans seeds that I've saved
I have saved seeds from beans, capsicums, lettuce, mustard greens, tomatoes, parsley, basil, broccoli and spring onions, as well as flower seeds.  I keep the seeds in little jars from my Damadi moisturiser and have a cupboard full of tiny jars.  I also keep the little sachets of desiccant that come with shoes and other products and drop one in each jar to keep the moisture out.

My seed cupboard is full of little jars of seeds
Drop in a sachet of desiccant to keep the moisture out
Saving seeds from most plants is easy, just let them flower and wait for the seed pods to form and dry out.  A few tips for some of the seeds that I regularly save:
  • Beans and peas - I just leave some large beans on the plant and wait until they're yellow and dried out.  
  • Tomatoes - best to ferment the seeds (that's why they do so well in the compost!). 
  • Capsicums - I just scrape out the seeds, let them dry on paper towel, and tip them into the jar.
  • Curcubits like pumpkin and melon -  also just scrape out the seeds and let them dry (only issue being that they can cross-pollinate over long distances, but that doesn't bother me).
  • Brassicas like broccoli and asian greens - wait until the seed pods have dried, then harvest the entire plant and pop the seeds out of each pod into a container, then pick out all the bits of pod, you will get hundreds of seeds!
  • Lettuce and herbs like parsley and dill - wait for the seed head to dry and then shake them into a container and store in a jar.
  • Silverbeet - this one takes FOREVER to grow the seeds and dry out, so just be patient, eventually you will be able to harvest the dry seeds, which are a very odd shape.
I have far too many seeds to ever use in time, so I give them away to neighbours and friends and at our local produce share.  I also scatter them around my garden and they tend to sprout at the right time, this is a concept from One Straw Revolution - letting nature do the gardening.  I also found a lot of good information about seed saving in Australia in the book Organic Vegetable Gardening (not an affiliate link).


Do you save seeds?  Any tips?


See below for affiliate links to some of my favourite gardening books:



      

Monday, December 5, 2016

Farm update - December 2016

Even though its still spring, November is more like Sprummer here, we usually start to get hot days, if not absolute heat waves.  We had no rain at all until the last few days of November, so the grass went from a pale green, to a crunchy dusty brown in no time.  Its really difficult to maintain any motivation in the garden when you can see it withering before you, and all the animals look hot and uncomfortable.  Except for the dogs who have been going for swims to cool off.




Food and cooking
Pete and I took a long weekend and drove down to Sydney to visit friends.  We drove because they had some things that they wanted to give us, including portable solar panels and an overlocker.  When we travel we have a habit of stopping to buy food, and on this trip we managed to find a cherry farm (I'm still eating through the 3 kg of cherries that I bought!) and a goat cheese dairy farm.







Land and farming
Apparently there was a butterfly invasion in November, they had a great year "out west" and have all migrated to the coast, I had fun trying to photograph them, they were really enjoying our wild heliotrope flowers.



Chickens
Egg laying is down due to the hot weather.  I am reading a book about keeping chickens in the tropics and apparently temperatures about 32degC significantly affect egg production.  We have had temperatures in the 30s for most of the month, so we are just trying to keep the hens cool and are thankful for any eggs that they can give us.

Cows and cattle
We finally got a chance to bring all the cattle through the yards for insecticidal ear-tags (the flies are getting really bad already).  As much as we would like to try an organic approach, we have not had complete success with any of the options yet and its not pleasant for the cattle to be constantly bothered with flies (these ones bite too), so at the moment we use ear tags as the least invasive option.  We also castrated the four little boy calves using bands.  Taz did an amazing job helping to move the cattle from one paddock into the yards, and the cattle were very well-behaved themselves, basically walking straight into the yards and moving through the race quietly, so its definitely worth investing in quiet cattle and spending time with them so that they stay tame.


Miss Bella

Miss Molly

Taz the cattle dog!


Bees and Beekeeping
Pete has been wanting to try grafting queen cells and got his opportunity this month.  He had seven successful cells from 20 (which is excellent for a first try) and was able to put these into nucs.  I will write more about this process soon.  We also extracted more honey from our angry hive, they seem to be the best producers, with another 10 kg already!




Garden
Its been dry, but at least we have full water tanks, so I've been keeping a few seedlings going in the hope of the forecast wet summer (which has now been changed to a dry summer, which will probably mean that it will be wet).  I bought zucchini, cucumber and bean seedlings, which are slowing getting bigger.  I still have capsicums from last year, lots of silverbeet, the herbs are going well.  I picked a handful of blackberries while they were still juicy, but the rest have dried up (although the plant is growing vigorously, which makes me nervous that its planning about garden takeover).  We are also harvesting tomatoes from the hydroponics.





House
The kitchen decisions continue!  I think we are going to get timber benchtops, two-pack doors in Dulux Limed White Half.  At the same time we are also getting cupboards for the bathroom, laundry and spare bedroom in the Laminex Pumice.  I chose a Laminex wood finish for the laundry bench.  I still need to choose the fridge, dishwasher and door handles!  But I think we are nearly there.  Work will start in January, so I have a bit of time to think about it all.





Permaculture
The last of the principles from Mollison's Permaculture Design Manual is "Everything gardens (or modifies its environment)".  I see two parts to this principle.  One is that no element exists in isolation, everything you introduce into your design will have an effect on other aspects of the design.  A tree may throw shade, drop leave, produce fruit, all of these things can be beneficial or detrimental, depending how they are incorporated into the design.  And the other part is that everything can be used for something in your design, you just have to be creative and foresee as much as possible what effect it is going to have so that you can make it fit as much as possible.  For example, we have a power pole on our property that is going to need to be accessed by a meter-reader.  I don't think we can grow anything up the pole, but we should try to use it for something, and factor in the need to access the meter.  I haven't totally figured this one out, but I think this principle is a reminder to think about how to use every element, natural or manmade, to positively influence the end result of a permaculture design.


Create
In preparation for our trip away, Pete installed a secondary battery system in the car and Gus was more than happy to help both under the bonnet and under the car.  He also demonstrated that he can jump on the back of the ute if he wants to.  Pete did a great job and we can now charge our secondary battery to run our travel fridge and buy lots of food when we go away! (I wrote about this back here)

I also started another rag rug, this time using a crochet hook, so its tighter than the ones I made with finger crochet.  I'm not sure how big it will get, Pete keeps taking back his t-shirts!

And I made a big batch of muscle salve for a bulk order.  We don't do much for Christmas, anyone that needs a present will be getting soap!  I have been pinning frugal Christmas ideas on my pinterest board, which is also previewed at the end of this post if you are looking for inspiration.








How was your November?  What are you plans for Christmas and New Years?  


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