Monday, February 27, 2017

Pack your own lunch recipes - February 2017

As I wrote back in January, I decided this year to share photos and recipes from our lunches so that you might be inspired to pack your own lunch too.  I also share them on Instagram each Sunday night (you will also see them on the Facebook page).  And I'll post the recipes at the end of the month.  

I'm not great at following recipes, and I'm also not good at writing them, because I tend to just use up what we have in the fridge/pantry/garden, things that are on special or we've been given at our local produce share.  I'll tell you what I made, but I'm not saying you should follow exactly, just use it as a rough guide and use up whatever you have handy too.

Week 1: Beef Curry
This is loosely an Indian curry, a while ago I bought jars of garam masala and some "raja mix" mild curry powder, which do not have ingredients listed.  Its pretty dodgy, I just want to use them up, I hate not knowing the ingredients, but I hate wasting them.  I put a couple of tablespoons of each into the curry and as much coconut milk as I need to cover the meat.  For this curry I used Y-bone, which you can put in whole and pick out the bones later, saves time and adds flavour - this is one for the slow cooker as you need time to cook this tough, but cheap, cut of meat.  Instead of rice, I cooked up a big batch of vegetables to go with the curry.  I used up the last of the eggplant from January, and added carrot, zucchini, beans and cauliflower.

4 Y-bone steaks 
Finely chopped onion and carrot
Can of coconut milk
Chicken or beef stock
Curry mix of some kind
Bay leaves
Chopped veges to serve
  • Brown Y-bone steaks and put in preheated slow cooker
  • Cook onion and carrot and put in slow cooker
  • Cook curry mix in oil and then add coconut milk and stock, bring to boil and add to slow cooker, add bay leaves
  • Cook for 12 hours on high
  • Fish out y-bones and break up the meat with tongs
  • Cook chopped veges and divide into dishes with curry

Week 2: beef rolled roast
This is my FAVOURITE type of roast.  Mostly because its made with my own stuffing mix of garlic, herbs and breadcrumbs, so its very tasty.  This one was also done in the slow cooker and served with lots of veges!


Rolled rib roast
Carrot and onion 
Beef stock
Herbs - rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaves
Chopped veges

  • Brown rolled roast in a frying pan and put into preheated slow cooker
  • Cook onion and carrot, then add wine, simmer for a few minutes and add stock
  • Pour all of above into slow cooker, throw in herbs and garlic
  • Cook for 12 hours on high
  • You can either pull out the roast and put it in the fridge before carving to get neat slices, or cut it when hot, it will fall apart into "pulled beef"
  • Either use the sauce as is, or thicken with flour to make a gravy
  • Served with chopped veges

Week 3: Spag bol (without the spag)
You may have noticed that I'm not eating grains.... so I don't have pasta, but I still like spag bol!  You can make fancy spiralised zucchini spaghetti, but I am happy with chucks of zucchini, cauli and carrot to replace my pasta.  Pasta always made me feel bloated, I don't miss it at all, and this way I get extra veges.

1kg beef mince
Tomatoes - fresh or canned (buy Australian made!)
chopped onion, carrot and celery
chicken or beef stock + wine
mushrooms, capsicum, olives
herbs - oregano, rosemary
chopped veges or pasta

  • Brown mince in a large frying pan
  • Cook onion, carrot and celery in a large pot
  • Tip cooked mince into pot - use frying pan to cook the mushrooms and capsicum
  • Add tomatoes, wine and stock to pot, add herbs and garlic
  • Cook for an hour or so until liquid reduces
  • Cook the chopped veges/pasta in the frying pan
  • Serve bolognaise over the chopped veges, with a little parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil

Week 4: Lamb shanks casserole
I found two lamb shanks in the freezer, I don't know where the other from this lamb have got to (maybe we ate them already, maybe I'll find them later), but I didn't think that was enough meat, so I added a packet of shoulder chops as well.  This recipe is similar to the osso bucco from last month, basically just cook the meat on the bone in a nice sauce and then pick out the bones.  This was in the slow cooker for 24 hours.  Unfortunately lamb shanks are not exactly cheap anymore (unless you buy the whole lamb as we do), you can just use lamb shoulder chops instead.  I also took the opportunity to use up some tomatoes that were going soft.  As always, the meat was paired with a large helping of chopped veges and a few chunks of roast potato.

Lamb shanks or shoulder chops (approx 1 per person per meal)
Chopped onion, carrot and celery 
1/2-1 cup Apple cider vinegar (supposed to use balsamic, but too much sugar)
1/2-1 cup Wine
2 cups Chicken or beef stock (in fact I had Christmas ham bone stock this time!)
Chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned or combination)
Herbs - rosemary, thyme, bay leaves
Chopped mixed veges and roast potato, chopped basil
  • Brown meat and put in the preheated slow cooker
  • Brown onion/carrot/celery
  • Pour over vinegar and wine and allow to simmer
  • Add stock and bring to the boil, then pour into slow cooker
  • Add tomatoes, herbs and garlic to slow cooker
  • Cook for at least 12 hours, I left it 24 hours to thicken the sauce
  • Serve with the veges (lightly stir fried) and potatoes, nice with chopped basil or parsley

Have you been packing your lunch for work?  What do you take?  Do you cook in bulk?  Any tips or suggestions?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Take Control with Homemade Health and Beauty Products

Blog reader Jeriann Ireland offered to send me a post about homemade health and beauty products.  This is of course an interest of mine, as I make a lot of different products myself.  Some are just personal experiments and some I share on my Etsy shop.  My reasons are much the same as Jerriann discusses in this post - save money, know the ingredients and take control of your health. 

Jeriann is a writer and crafter who makes homemade body care products and fun craft items, mostly as gifts for her friends and family. She loves learning about beneficial and harmful ingredients in everyday products and finding alternatives that fit her health goals. See more of her writing at


I used to think that “health and beauty” as a category was a bit odd. Health and beauty aren’t necessarily related. You can be healthy and ugly, and you can be beautiful and sick. But when you look at what society considers beautiful, it’s often tied to perceptions of health. It used to be attractive to be fat because that meant you were getting enough to eat (which indicated wealth as well as health). Then obesity became linked with diabetes, GERD, and other health issues, and it became unattractive. Most traits that are idealized in romantic partners are linked to strong genes and the likelihood of producing healthy offspring.

Of course, obsession with beauty can be superficial, even when the underlying motivations may be tied to health. Not every obese person is unhealthy, and not every medical condition is caused by poor lifestyle choices. That being said, many of the products we use to keep our bodies beautiful and “healthy” can actually cause a lot of damage. Deodorant for women often has aluminum deposits. Deodorant is often applied under the armpits, right by the lymph nodes. Aluminum build up in the lymph nodes is linked to breast cancer.

Lotions, shaving creams, serums and facial treatments often contain preservatives and synthetic ingredients that hold no other purpose than to keep the product shelf-stable longer. Some of these ingredients can be neutral or even beneficial. Vitamin E is a great example of a natural preservative. But there are many others that are cheaper and not beneficial. Companies moved by the bottom line are more likely to use less expensive products.
When you make your own health and beauty products, you’re taking your health into your own hands. Below are some things to consider when choosing products and how to choose the right ingredients if you decide to make your own.

What does this product do?

Photo Source: Flickr

If you have a long list of cosmetic products that you use, it can be useful to sit down and consider what each product does. For example, shampoo washes your hair, but it also strips it of oils. Conditioner is meant to add those oils back in. But their are hair soaps and rinses that are able to do both at the same time. I was surprised to learn that apple cider vinegar makes a great conditioner. I thought it would strip my hair, but it makes it softer than ever!

Deodorant is meant to keep you from smelling, but consider whether you even omit body odor on the regular. Some people only need to apply deodorant when they work out or are under stress. 2% of people (which is actually a lot) have armpits that never smell. There are also natural ways you can reduce your overall body odor rather than just covering it up. I make a magnesium spray-on deodorant that I can scent however I like.

Shaving creams are meant to moisturize your skin so you’re less likely to cut yourself shaving. You can accomplish that with any creamy substance, which is why I use a homemade shaving cream made of coconut oil and shea butter. I have a friend who simply takes baths with my coconut oil bath fizzies and then shaves her legs after. I’ve gotten tired of the fact that almost all women’s razors come with synthetic moisturizing strips, and I’ve never enjoyed shaving, so I’m considering the sugaring method of hair removal. This is a cheap, homemade paste that is not only less painful than waxing, but the only waste is the paste and water that gets washed down the drain. And over time, the lemon juice in the sugaring paste lightens your hair, so ideally you won’t need to remove hair as often.

Women are constantly told to fear wrinkles. I am of the belief that wrinkles show life experience, but if you have certain wrinkles you’d like to keep from growing, lemon essential oil is great for smoothing out skin. Of course, citrus oils should not be applied before going outside, as they make your skin sensitive to sunlight. The great thing about making essential oil applications is that you can use a carrier oil that suits your skin. I tend to choose lighter oils that soak in quickly, to avoid a greasy face and clogged pores.

When you’re considering replacing your health and beauty products, it’s important to ask what your products do, and what the best method to accomplish their task would be. You don’t necessarily need shaving cream, you just need an effective hair removal method (or not! All-natural is perfectly acceptable too!). You don’t necessarily need deodorant, you need to manage your body odor. When you think about the products you use this way, you can start to find easy, natural solutions to meet your needs.

What does my body need?
Speaking of needs, you can only meet your body’s needs if you know what they are. This can be accomplished by analyzing your body and what causes certain conditions.

For example, I struggle with dry lips. Worse yet, I tend to pick my chapped lips when I’m bored or caught up in a book or movie. Lip balm only adds a coating that makes the skin easier to pick (kind of gross, I know, but it’s real). So I looked into what causes dry lips. Not surprisingly, it’s mainly just dehydration. So I approach my body’s (specifically my lips’) need for hydration in two ways. I switched to a liquid roll-on with coconut and essential oils. This soaks straight into my lips and doesn’t leave a coating on my skin. I also make a conscious effort to drink water every time I go to apply lip balm. This is addressing the underlying need that my body is expressing with dry lips.
Shampoos and Conditioners are notorious for creating new formulas for different hair needs. It’s true that dry hair has different needs than oily hair, and thick and thin hair will absorb products differently. But instead of buying a pre-packaged solution, you can create your own hair products with only ingredients that address your hair’s needs. This requires research, but will have a huge payoff. When I was concerned about my thinning hair, I found that vitamin E, jojoba oil, and certain essential oils like rosemary can provide the nutrients my hair needed to grow more. I also found out that olive oil has great benefits on hair growth. So I used that knowledge as a starting point for creating my own personalized hair care routine.

Are my ingredients the best they can be?
Of course, health and beauty is a lucrative field, and many companies want to utilize the move to more natural ingredients while keeping costs down. So they’ll sell high-end products full of coconut oil and other great ingredients, but still supplement with lesser ingredients. Certain products have lax (or no) labeling restrictions, so you have to be careful when buying pre-made natural products. When I don’t feel like making my own, I tend to buy from local vendors who I know make the products themselves.

Even when you make your own health and beauty products, you need to be careful of labels. Coconut oil, for example, has different levels of refinement that affect the nutrients. So for the most part, for full benefits, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying virgin, unrefined coconut oil. Vitamin E oil is vitamin E that has been extracted, usually into corn oil, which can be a problem for people with corn allergies. The essential oil market has been saturated with brands that sell fragrance oils with all sorts of fillers and additives, then market them as pure essential oil. Essential oils should always only have one ingredient-the plant that it stems from.

I love to add plants and herbs to my skin care products. I made a lip balm for the holidays made of candelilla wax and rose petal extract, using roses I was given after my honeymoon. Adding dried herbs to soaps is also a fun way to add texture, scent, and natural oils. Consider planting an indoor herb garden with herbs you like to use often. This will save you money and give you control over the nutrients in your herbs! It also means you can avoid pesticides and other additives.

Making your own health and beauty products gives you the ability to take control of your health. When you address your body’s needs directly, instead of using a prepackaged item that doesn’t take your unique body into consideration, you give your body the resources it needs to thrive. Figure out what your body needs to be healthy and beautiful, and take control today!


I hope you enjoyed this guest post.  You can read more from Jeriann at her blog Dairy Airhead.  I've included links to my Etsy shop below if you're interested in any of my homemade products.  Guest posts on relevant topics are always welcome on Eight Acres!

So what do you think?  Do you use homemade products?  What and why?

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to make a wooden chopping board polish

Since we got our own bee hives I've been able to enjoy the many benefits of bees.  Honey, improved pollination and lots of beeswax (and the occasional bee sting).  I was excited to receive a review copy of The Beeswax Workshop: How to Make Your Own Natural Candles, Cosmetics, Cleaners, Soaps, Healing Balms and More, by of Chris Dalziel (Affiliate link).

 This book came at a good time, we have harvested honey several times and have rather a lot of beeswax to use up (see my post about how to refine beeswax).  As you know, I already use beeswax in salves, lip balm and honey and oatmeal soap.  The Beeswax Workshop takes that even further, instructions for making everything from candles, to foodwraps, lotions and wooden cutting board polish...  I've made a list of all the projects that I want to try, but it was the cutting board polish that stood out.

We have a collection of wood cutting boards, having retired a set of nasty plastic boards.  Wooden chopping boards are lovely to use, and if you get a gum or pine, they are naturally antimicrobial.  The only problem is that they start to dry out and need to be oiled regularly.  I had been occasionally smearing sunflower oil over them when I remembered, but that is a messy and annoying process.  As food is exposed to your chopping board, its nice to know that you're cleaning it with something that is food-safe, and this recipe only have three simple ingredients.

"uncapping" beeswax to be refined

As with the neem oil salve, adding beeswax to the oil just makes it more manageable.  I can't believe I didn't think of it myself!  When I read the recipe in The Beeswax Workshop I knew this was the solution to keeping our wooden chopping boards in good condition.

Of course I didn't follow the recipe exactly.... I changed the oil and the essential oil, but the beeswax is the key ingredient!

our wooden chopping board collection

Wooden Chopping Board Polish
100mL sunflower oil (or any other light oil)
10g beeswax
20 drops essential oil (I used eucalyptus essential oil)
2 drops Vitamin E

Measure out the ingredients, heat in a double boil until the beeswax is melted and pour into a jar or tin.  As soon as the polish is set you can go ahead and rub it into your wooden chopping boards with a clean rag.  This should be done whenever they look dry, and now its much easier.

To clean wooden chopping boards, its best to wipe the board with a warm cloth, not too much soap or detergent as that will remove the oil again.  Don't put them in a dishwasher!  Leave them in a breezy place to air-dry.

If you don't have your own beehives, you can buy beeswax from local beekeepers or from my Etsy store.

Do you use wooden chopping boards?  How do you look after them?  And how do you use beeswax?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Giant Gus turns one

Gus arrived here last April, only 6 weeks old and taken from his mother and litter and everything he knew in the world.  Poor wee fella.  He was much younger than Taz when she first arrived, and we noticed the difference, he cried at night and when we left for work.  The first week he was here, Pete had to go to a course in Brisbane, so I was home alone with the dogs and had my first week at my new job.  As I left for work on the first day, Gus was crying and Taz was barking at Gus.  Not a great start (if you get a young puppy, plan to be home with them for a few days until they get settled! we got Taz at 12 weeks old and she had been separated from her mother for a few weeks).

Gus grew and grew and grew.  He's a Great Dane cross Bull Arab (a "pig dog" bitza, I like to call him my boer hound, he is also known as Horse Dog and Gustopher).  We realised after a few days that he needed to be fed more than once a day.  He was walking around with his mouth open and eating anything that he ran in to.  We started feeding him morning and afternoon, and at night if he woke up crying.  He was eating twice as much as Taz and he needed it!  (We have been feeding them both minced offal, grated veges and eggs)

I think at first Taz was a bit irritated with the little puppy, especially when he decided to start sleeping on her bed (I started to find her in the puppy box instead).  Then he got big enough to play with and she didn't mind that.  But it wasn't long until he was bigger than her, which has ruined some of her games (hard to win tug of war and rough-and-tumble now that he's twice her size).  Taz maintains her dominance by being more nimble and at last resort, she does bite him on the face if he gets too cheeky.

Gus has absolutely no fear, loud noises and new situations do not worry him, he will move towards something new to check it out (the complete opposite of our scaredy cat Taz, her nickname is "little mouse" because she is scared of everything and squeaks a lot).  He is pretty keen on "swimming" (mostly just wading and sitting) in the dam to cool off.  And he greets all visitors with excited leaping at the gate.  Fortunately his size deters most people from opening the gate (he is supposed to be my security system!).  He loves humans and at any opportunity will jump up on a chair or the back of the ute to get access for a sneaky face lick,

Last time we weighed Gus he was 45 kg, I think he had filled out a bit since then.  Luckily he has finally mastered jumping on the back of the ute instead of waiting to be lifted up.

I am so glad that we taught Gus manners right from the start.  Before he eats, he must sit and "give me five" before the command "tucker", then he can eat.  He is pretty good at sitting and he only jumps when he's very excited.  I taught him to walk with a front clip harness, so he learnt not to pull on the lead and he is lovely to walk with (I did not want a big dog towing me down the road!).

He has chewed odd things.  While Taz had a collection of socks and gloves and sunglasses, Gus likes to destroy cardboard boxes and egg cartons (none are safe outside) and he takes the shoelaces out of boots and undoes the ties on our outdoor furniture cushions.  He loves ropes.  He is learning fetch, but is very uncoordinated and Taz always gets there first.

Its hard to believe now that he was once only a few kilos, just a tiny little furball who couldn't get up the stairs by himself, and now he is a giant shiny black laid-back horse dog.  I keep reminding myself that he's still a pup really.  Even though he's now 1 year old and full size, he still has a lot to learn and will become mature, coordinated and calmer as he ages (we noticed that with Taz, when she was two, she suddenly could "walk behind").

And here's lots of photos of our boy.  Have you raised a pup?  Or a few?  Did you notice that they take a few years to fully mature?  Any differences between breeds?

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

December 2016

January 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Our current garden and thinking about a new garden

As we get closer to moving to our new/old house, I am starting to dread starting again with the garden.  I feel like the current garden is just starting to do well, after a lot of work building the soil with loads of manure, compost and mulch.  When I dig I find deep rich soil full of worms.  It certainly wasn't like that we we started, so I know I will have some work to do to get the new garden to the same standard.  I hope that we have learnt a few things though and will find it easier to get this garden started quickly.  Here's some thoughts about our current garden and what we want to do for the next one.

1) Integrate hydroponics and/or aquaponics
At the moment I use a small hydroponics system to grow tomatoes as they just don't thrive in my garden.  We have an aquaponics system that we bought around the same time as the farm and have not had time to set up.  This will be an opportunity to try aquaponics/hydroponics on a larger scale and grow more than just tomatoes.  I think we will grow capsicum, eggplant, beans, peas, lettuce, silverbeet, kale, zucchini, squash, cucumber, celery and other fruiting and leafy veges in the aquaponics system, as well as fish.  The compost worm farm and mealworms will also be key to feeding the fish (which feed the plants), and may need to be scaled up as well.

hydroponic tomatoes
2) I'd like a separate herb garden
I love to grow a variety of herbs and its difficult to have the perennials mixed up with annual veges (I like to pull out all the plants and add a layer of mulch, which is difficult with some perennials in the bed).  I would like to have a separate herb garden, which will also be a bee-forage garden, made up of lots of culinary and medicinal herbs.  Taking the idea of a herb spiral, where herbs with different water needs are grown at different levels, I think a few different raised beds, with herbs grouped by water needs would also be effective.

My herb garden currently consists of pots dug into the ground in my main garden.

3) The larger spreading plants need their own area too
It is difficult to allow enough space for the spreading veges like pumpkin and sweet potato.  They would be better in the food forest under fruit trees, where they can't smother anything!

This pumpkin vine is trying to take over the garden
and so far only one pumpkin
4) We need to keep the chickens out
And the rabbits, the wallabies and the bandicoots and probably possums and king parrots!  The garden is surrounded by chicken mesh and shade cloth.  The shade cloth is also needed to stop the chickens from pecking at anything they can reach through the mesh.  I think we are going to need a fence to keep chickens out or we will use electric fencing to keep chickens in their own area.

this chicken has been eating all the pumpkin leaves that she can reach!

 5) Shade is vital in our hot summers
When it gets over 35degC with a hot wind the moisture is sucked from the soil so quickly and the poor plants are wilting and dying.  The only thing you can do it provide as much shade as possible at strategic angles.  This garden has shade cloth on three sides and above, which I roll up in winter.  It does make a huge difference, I noticed when we added the sides that the plants grew better.  I will be taking most of that shade cloth to the new garden.  I also try to grow beans up the side of the garden to provide shade, but if they don't get going in time, the garden still suffers.

See all the shade cloth?
5) Water is also critical
We cannot rely on rainfall in summer, and even with all our grey water on the garden, it is not enough.  We have been looking at raised beds and wicking beds as concepts to more easily and effectively irrigate gardens.  We have plenty of rainwater storage and bore water, so providing water shouldn't be a problem, but it would be nice to be able to automate it and provide the water efficiently.  Currently I have to hand water every couple of days if it doesn't rain and that takes about an hour.

Grey water for the garden

Our new garden plan has four components:

  1. Aquaponics system for most fruiting and leafy veges
  2. Raised/wicking beds for root veges - carrots, beets, radish, turnips, onions, potatoes - we can provide irrigation, fencing/chicken protection and shade to individual beds without having to build a large structure again.
  3. Food forest for spreading veges like pumpkin and sweet potato
  4. Herb garden and bee forage for culinary and medicinal herbs

As Pete and I cannot agree on how to set up the raised beds, we have decided to set up two each and fill our own beds as we please, then we will test the different set ups to see who was right!  I am keen to do one of mine as a hybrid wicking bed with wood logs/hugelkultur.  Pete wants to use lots of lucerne mulch.  This will be an interesting experiment!

The raised beds themselves - I can't decide what to make them out of!  Wood doesn't last unless its treated (yuck!) and even the corrugated iron options will eventually rust.  Plastic definitely doesn't last in the sun.  I have seen some lovely stone/concrete gardens, but these seem too permanent and difficult to change if we want to move them or the position is wrong.  I think we will start with corrugated iron beds and change them to stone when we are happy with the position and want something permanent.  I am also pretty keen on keyhole gardens with the compost bin in the middle, so that is another shape to consider for my second bed.

This will be our third vege garden and I hope we have learnt enough from the first and second gardens and observing other people's gardens, to do a good job this time.  So if you were to start a garden again from scratch what would you do?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holistic management - part 7: Completing the feedback loop

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 and part 3: holistic goal for understanding what you are managing and what you want from it.  I reviewed the ecosystem processes in part 4 - the water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics.

In part 5 the book takes that understanding of ecosystem processes and discusses the tools that we can use to manage ecosystem processes in brittle and non-brittle environments, including: money and labour, human creativity, technology, rest, fire, grazing, animal impact and living organisms.  In part 6 we learnt about questions to ask to test our management decisions against the holistic goal defined in part 3.  This ensures that every action takes us closer to achieving our goal.

Part 7 is short - only one chapter, but an important concept.  Anyone familiar with the the basic Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle will recognise the need for "completing the feedback loop".  The basis of this chapter is monitoring the effect of your decision after implementation to make sure you got it right.  Even though you will have tested the decision as per part 6, you will have had to make assumptions, and if any of these were wrong, or you missed something, maybe it will turn out to be the wrong decision, despite best efforts.  Savory says to always consider that you could have been wrong.  The earlier you can realise this and change direction, the better.  Maybe you will have to vary plans slightly to make it work, or maybe you will have to cancel the whole project, but the earlier this happens the best chance you have of saving your money and effort for a more successful endeavour.

Part of the planning process should be considering how to monitor progress.  In some cases this might mean using a small test batch or area instead of investing fully.  For example, when we wanted to try perennial pasture, we only planned a few acres to start with.  We checked it weekly, at first it looked like the pasture was not growing and whole thing had been a disaster, but then it started to grow and is now doing well.  We learnt which grass varieties thrived, we didn't need fertiliser, and it takes a couple months for the pasture to look good.  We are waiting for a good time to plant the rest of the paddock now.  If it hadn't gone well, we would have had an opportunity to revise the plan before spending time and money on the entire area that needed to be planted.

It might also mean looking for "leading indicators" that your plan is working or not working.  If you decide to use natural methods for buffalo fly control, you might then say, if we inspect the cattle and they are just covered in flies, then we will agree that this particular method doesn't work and will go back to chemical methods (or another natural method) before the welfare of the cattle is affected, but if we see no flies then we will conclude that its a success.  You need to decide in advance how you will know if your plan is working or not working as early as possible.

Savory also suggests looking for evidence such as plant spacing, soil litter cover, soil density, aeration or organic content, quality of water run-off and insect activity to monitor long-term changes.

Do you have examples where you have monitored a plan and made changes?

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, February 6, 2017

Honey, oatmeal and beeswax soap

Soapmaking seems to be quite an addictive hobby.  Luckily I can sell it, otherwise we would have soap to last a lifetime already.  My latest recipe uses honey and beeswax from our hives, and oatmeal.

Oatmeal has a soothing effect on skin, and also helps to retain essential oil scent in the soap.  The honey provides both colour and healing properties.  Beeswax is added to this soap to make it harder and provide a subtle honey scent.  This soap will get very hot due to the honey.  When adding beeswax, its best to cut it into small pieces or grate it, so that it will dissolve quickly, otherwise you will be stuck stirring your fats and oils after everything else is ready!

Like all my soaps, I like to use tallow in the recipe.  You can read more about why I use tallow and find all my other soap recipes in the posts linked further down.  I am currently working on an ebook with all my tallow soap recipes and a step-by-step guide to cold process soap with tallow, look out for it on this blog, coming soon!

1 kg tallow
15 g honey
15 g beeswax
132 g caustic
300-330 mL water
10 g powdered oatmeal (in a splash of water)
(whole oats for topping optional)
(20-40 mL essential oil optional)

Here's a few links to my previous soapmaking posts.

Why use natural soaps and salves?
I prefer to use natural products, rather than commercial soaps and lotions with unknown and unnecessary ingredients.

Making tallow soap
This is my first post about soapmaking, and I used tallow right from the start because we have so much leftover from butchering our own beef. Its very cheap to buy from the butcher, and its a sustainable ingredient (especially if you eat beef anyway). It makes great soap too!

Rendering tallow in a slow cooker
Its very easy to render tallow from beef fat. The kidney fat makes the best soap as its hard and white.

Beef tallow soap recipes
Here's a couple of basic recipes for tallow soap - a bath soap and a cleaning soap.

Sustainable soap - 100% tallow!
I was very happy to finally master a 100% tallow recipe (the other recipes had 50% tallow, with coconut and olive oil making up the rest of the oils).

Natural soap using beef tallow
I started to have more fun with my soap here, and learnt how to add other natural ingredients for colour and texture.

Shaving soap and A sustainable shave?
I made Pete shaving soap in little tins. You can use that with a shaving brush instead of shaving cream.

Soap with coffee grounds
Coffee grounds help to remove dirt and odours, great for hard workers!

Neem oil soap and salve
Neem oil is a healing oil for the skin, as well as an insect repellent. It can be used as a pet soap, for kids with knits or adults with damaged skin.

Activated charcoal soap and salve
My latest recipe for a lovely black soap with detoxifying properties.

How to rebatch a soap disaster
It hasn't all gone to plan - this batch never set due to not using enough lye, but I rebatched using the hot process method.

Salt soap fail
And salt soap needs to be cut while its still hot, I had to rebatch this one too. The photo above is a more successful attempt at salt soap.

What do you think?  Do you make soap?  Have you tried honey, beeswax and oatmeal?  Any other natural ingredients that you love to use in soap?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Farm update: February 2017

January has brought more heat waves, but some relief also with storms and rain at both properties, enough to keep the grass green at least (100mm at Kumbia has also filled dams, a massive relief).  The dogs have been helping with the house renovations and Gus has learnt to take himself for a swim and then nap in uncomfortable positions.

Food and cooking
Have you been following my weekly lunch updates on Instagram (summarised earlier in the week with recipes in a post)?  I'll keep posting these and I encourage you to join in if you work or are away from home at lunch, you can save so much money by taking your own, and eat better too.

Land and farming
We were very lucky to get 100mm of rain at Kumbia (and not as much at Nanango, storms are fickle like that).  All of our small dams are full and our big one is about half full.  While we were checking the big dam we sneaked up on a family of wild pigs - three mama pigs with piglets, they ran away when they saw us, however it is encouraging that pigs do well on our property as we are keen to keep our own pigs in the bush areas eventually.

This time of year we usually have some chicks hatching, so its a bit sad not to have another brood of cuties to raise, but at the same time its nice not to have the responsibility this year.  It is hard work when they get to that stage where they are too big for the brooder but not old enough to live outside, just messy and smelly and noisy teenagers, yuck.

Cows and cattle
We had a long weekend with Australia Day on a Thursday and took the opportunity to separate the cows from the calves.  This worked out well, as when I checked them again on the Friday one of the cows had managed to get through the fence to search for her baby.  By Sunday they all seemed pretty happy grazing and had forgotten they had lost each other.  We put Bella and Molly (the dairy cows) in with the calves to help them stay calmer.  The bull is with the cows as the heifer calves are getting to the age where they can start to come on heat.  I will be pleased to sell them in July (start of the next financial year).

Bees and Beekeeping
We caught another swarm at a friend's place and just missed catching another one (it was gone when we arrived).  Swarming bees are relatively calm and its not too scary or difficult to catch the now that we've had some practice.  As long as you get the queen in the box, the other bees will follow and usually the frames of beeswax make it smell like home and they decide to hand around.

I didn't get around to my garden update post, I'll get to it this month.  My herb garden needed a good trim, so I've been taking advantage of the heatwaves and drying lots of herbs.  I like to have oregano and rosemary for cooking, and other herbs I dry for herbal teas.

We have made some huge progress, with the floors now sanded and polished, the laundry floor tiled and everything ready for the cabinet maker to install the kitchen, spare bedroom wardrobe and laundry.  We chose fabric for two couches and a "feature arm chair".  The teal below is the for the couches and paisley for the chair.  I hope this will bring some colour to the house as the walls are beige.  We have to wait a few months to find out as they are being custom made.

Chapter two of Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition (affiliate link) expands on the concept of the ecological garden.  Three principles are introduced:

  • Finding a niche - certain plants and animals will only grow in certain ecological niches, you need to create many of these in your garden
  • Gardening in succession - recognising that your garden will continually evolve as new niches are created and new species can take over, eventually you will have a semi-stable mature garden, especially if you use plenty of perennials vs annuals. 
  • Backyard diversity - a diversity of niches will result in a diversity of plants and animals, which is a good thing as you start to attract natural predators to plant pests and natural companions to the plants that you want to grow

(See Chapter one last month)

I am often asked how I control pests in my garden.  Honestly, I don't do much at all, I think we have enough local birds and predatory insects that I very rarely have one pest get out of control, and if I do it will only kill the weakest plants that were not producing well anyway.  I think that encouraging niches and biodiversity are the key to a productive and easy-care garden.

Eggplants from a friend - these grew in a pile of horse manure while she was on holiday!

When I started selling my soap, my aim was to use up all the tallow from the beast that we had killed.  I long-ago finished that tallow and I've been using tallow gifted by a friend who sells sides and quarters of beef to the public (look up Grass to Gill on Facebook if you're in Brisbane and surrounds and looking for quality beef, pork and lamb).  But I ran out of that tallow too, and Pete had to take a trip to the local abattoir to keep me supplied.  It was only 60c/kg, so I told him to get at least 20kg to make it worth the trip.  And now we are rendering the fat and I'm making more soap!

Support me
I got a late Christmas present from my blog readers, thanks everyone who has been clicking on my amazon links!  I earned enough to purchase these two books and I'm reading the tree one at the moment, its fascinating, review coming soon!  Also if you get my blog via email, you will notice that I have a new and improved format, I hope you like it and you can reply to the emails to let me know what you've been up to.

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

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