Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sustainable habits that our visitors find weird

Its not until we have visitors, or we stay away from home, that we realise how weird some of our habits might seem to other people.  If you are trying to live a simple, frugal, self-reliant or sustainable life, you probably have some weird habits too.  I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours....

1. We eat what we grow
Sometimes people bring us food.  Honestly we don't need any food, if anything we have too much food.  We have all the meat, vegetables, eggs and milk we can eat at the moment.  I actually got a little stressed out recently by exactly how much food we HAVE at the moment.  Please don't buy food for us, but we would love to share what you grow yourself.  When I want to take something to share with someone else, I usually want to grab something out of the garden, is it weird to turn up with a kg of tomatoes, or a carton of eggs?  We occasionally stop at the bakery and pick up a sugary bun just in case our home produce is not welcome, and then I don't want to eat the bun because of the sugar....

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
veges from our garden

2. We don't make much "rubbish"
Firstly, we line our rubbish bin with newspaper, rather than using a bin bag.  Second all our vege scraps go into the worm farm(s) - we have two worm farms!  We try not to buy things with packaging and always take green bags, so we probably only need to put out the wheelie bin once a month if it didn't get too stinky.  I also hoard things that might be useful, like envelopes, scraps of plain paper, rubber bands, paper bags, glass jars and bottles, and buttons.... we don't have recycling here in the South Burnett anymore, so reusing is our only option.

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
my button collection

3. We conserve water
We collect rainwater in three tanks, and that's all we have for drinking, cooking, washing up, showering, laundry and for the chickens.  We don't waste water.  And I mean we really don't, not like when you have town water and you kind of try not to use it much.  This is our only water supply.  If we run out of water, we have to buy town water, and the town water around here is pretty awful, we really don't want to have to buy it, so we don't have to wait to be put on water restrictions!  We take a bath (one between two) or a very quick shower.  I only wash clothes when they are dirty (sometimes I wear them again several times).  For the toilet we follow the mantra "if its yellow, let it mellow", if we have visitors I have to remember to flush.  We put all the grey water (shower and laundry) on the vege garden.  

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
a large green frog (and our toilet)

4.  Our bathroom shelves are empty
We don't have any hair products (not even shampoo), make up or other clutter in our bathroom.  I only realise how weird this looks when I seem other people's bathrooms full of products!  We only have soap, a few jars of salve and some essential oils.  One visitor asked if I had any cream for toe fungus.  No, I just use neem oil for that.  If you forget to bring your cosmetics, good luck, because I probably won't have what you want, but I can offer a crunchy alternative!

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
homemade herbal skin salve

5. We don't give presents
We do give gifts sometimes, if we see something that someone might like, but we don't do Christmas or Birthday presents at all.  Our family and friends know this and know not to expect anything.  It really does reduce the stress of buying STUFF at Christmas.  If anything, I prefer to give homemade or homegrown gifts when they are available, but not to a schedule.

6. We buy local even if it costs a little more
We make a big effort to support the shops in our local town, and our monthly farmers market.  We always use the local supermarket and hardware store, even though there are larger options in the next town over.  I don't mind paying a little more for the convenience of having a shop closer to us, and supporting our community.  We recently changed our bank to a local building society branch too.

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
shopping at our local farmers market

7. We don't have a dishwasher or a clothes drier
But we do have a mincer and dehydrator.... I am not sure about a dishwasher, we haven't had one for such a long time, we don't really miss it.  And the clothes drier has sat in the back of the shed for 5 years now, never used.  We seem to manage without them.

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
we use a solar clothes drier (and there's our rainwater tanks too)

8. We use our electric oven to store oven trays (not for cooking)
In winter we cook everything on our woodstove, and in summer, its so hot, we prefer to use the gas BBQ or the slow cooker, so our electric oven has not been turned on for several years now.

eight acres: weird sustainable habits for a self-sufficient life
our woodstove

I'm sure there are more, but that's all I can think of right now!  So its your turn now, what weird habits do you have that you only notice when other people are around?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book review - The Third Plate

Occasionally I imagine what would happen if Pete and I ended up on one of those reality TV cooking shows where you have to prepare a meal in your own home as a couple.  The first part of the show usually involves the couple rushing around the supermarket buying ingredients.  I wonder what they would think when most of our ingredients came from the garden or the freezer (no rushing required), would we be disqualified because we don't need to buy much to create a wonderful meal?

eight acres: review of Dan Barber's book The Third Plate
"shopping" for ingredients

Dan Barber's book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is about creating a sustainable meal.  His first plate was the conventional meat and three vege, his second plate was organic meat and three vege, but the third plate (the sustainable one) was a steak made from carrot, with a beef sauce, he goes on to develop this concept into an entire meal of plates.  You would think that a chef with a nose-to-tail farm-based restaurant wouldn't have to search for a sustainable plate, but throughout the book, Dan comes to realise that sustainability isn't so much about growing food for the table, more like using the food that's available, or eating what you can grow.

While I often read about farming and nutrition, I haven't read the chef's view before.  It was interesting to learn how different foods fit into cuisines and how chef's have influenced food culture and how we eat.  The book is split into four sections: Soil, Land, Sea and Seed.  The first section follows an organic grain grower and discovers the link between soil, flavour and good health.  It explains the organic approach compared to a conventional chemical farm.  The advantages of perennial plants over annual plants are discussed, however there remains an underlying assumption that we need to grow grains and that we need to plough.


eight acres: review of Dan Barber's book The Third Plate
Roast Rooster

In the section on Land, Dan visits a "natural" foi gras farmer in Spain, who fattens geese on acorns and lupins in the fields.  Foi gras is the fatty liver of a goose or duck, apparently it is a delicacy, but it usually involves cruelly force-feeding grain to the bird.  The irony is that we recently butchered some fat old hens.  When I gutted them I discarded their swollen fatty livers, not wanting to eat them, but this would have been similar to foi gras!  Yuck!  Anyway, the point of this section is that Dehesa region of Spain is a complex farm ecosystem of managed oak trees, pigs, sheep and geese, and part of the reason that it survives is that there is a cuisine associated with the area which supports all of these elements.  It did make me wonder whether even if we find a humane way to raise birds with inflammation of the liver, if we really SHOULD eat those livers, no matter how amazing they taste.  Mas Masumoto and his peaches also feature in this section (I heard about him already on this radio show).

The section on Sea involved a visit to a natural fish farm.  I had heard about this already through Dan's TedX talk and it really does sound like a great system.  The farmers there are producing fish what I think all farmers should be producing anything - working with natural systems to produce healthy animals with no chemicals and very little supplement feeding.  The comparison to a chef who was utilising unpopular "by-catch" fish was thought-provoking.  Which system is more sustainable?  I think the chef risks creating a market and demand for more wild fish, which cannot be sustained.  This is a problem with making use of a "waste" from a dirty industry, at first you think you're making the industry better by using the waste, but really you're just becoming more dependent on it (for example using fly ash from coal power stations as a cheap filler in cement).


eight acres: review of Dan Barber's book The Third Plate
My third plate

Finally Dan visits seed breeders.  One breeder is only using heritage seeds and "landrace" to breed new varieties of grains.  He just keeps looking for unusual plants (taller or more seeds) and breeding from them to improve the crop for his climate and conditions.  This is much like how I breed seeds, except I breed for hardiness by just letting them self-seed....  The other breeder uses modern techniques to create hybrids, not genetic engineering, but just more selective and deliberate crosses than the landrace method.  More like choosing which rooster to keep with your hens so you get the cross you want.  Dan wonders whether die-hard support of heritage breed leaves us missing out on newly developed crosses, however he also observes that most new seed is created for attributes other than flavour.  I think this is why most people would prefer to save heritage breeds.  This section also describes the development of the modern wheat plant, and the green revolution.  It also touches on the importance of the farming community, that one farmer can't do it all, and farmers in a region need to work together to produce a sustainable system between them.


eight acres: review of Dan Barber's book The Third Plate
mmmm my forth plate....

Dan says that "for most of human history meals came from foraged in-season food".  He suggests that a sustainable plate, must be part of a sustainable food culture or cuisine that values local, seasonal food.  Including "by-catch" (companion crops as well as fish) and foraged wild food.  I'm not convinced that we actually need chefs and cuisine to help create this third plate.  I challenged Pete to help me make a meal completely grown on our eight acre property.  We had roast rooster, with asian greens, peas, celery, broccoli and leaks cooked in chicken fat, sweet potato, dried herbs from the garden and gravy made from the dripping.  Followed with custard made from our cream and milk, eggs and honey.  The only external ingredients were a spoonful of cornflour for the gravy, homemade vanilla extract for the custard, strawberries from a road-side stall (I am going to work on growing these, mine are tiny!) and the honey was from the local market (we will have honey one day soon!).  (However the chickens and cows were fed grain purchased from a neighbour, this is a work in progress).

We have got to the stage were the vast majority of what we eat is either produced on our property or from a local farmer, its pretty close to foraged in-season food!  I want everyone to know that its possible to eat like this and I don't need a chef to show me how to do it (although the book was very interesting and at 486 pages covered a wide range of topics relating to food and farming).  I encourage you to start a garden, get some chickens and think about what would be on your sustainable plate.  Even if its only a small proportion of your food, its still contributes by reducing waste, and empowering you to grow what you eat.

eight acres: review of Dan Barber's book The Third Plate

What's on your third plate?  Have you read it?  Are you interested?  See my Amazon link below (I get small percentage of any sales from that link, with no extra cost to you).



      

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Buying honey bees

Since we went to the Valley Bees Open Day last year, we've been really keen to get some bees ourselves (they are running the open day again this year (.pdf flier), be warned, attendance may lead to compulsive beekeeping).  Pete and I read lots of books and listened to podcasts and went our local beekeeping group until we were confident that we were ready to get some bees.

A lot of the beekeeping information out there says to wait until Spring to get bees, but that's not really necessary in our climate.  Actually we have several gum trees flowering at the moment which are providing plenty of nectar and pollen for the bees.  Although we do get frost, its not too cold during the day for bees to forage, so there's no reason not to get bees.  If you're anywhere north of Brisbane, you are probably in the same situation, I don't know about further south, but have a look at your local climate and what's in flower.  Chances are, you could get bees now too if you want to.

eight acres: buying honey bees
checking on our nuc

It seems that in US its common to buy a package of bees, but that's not a widely available option here (although maybe some produces are staring to sell them).  In Australia, you usually have to buy either an entire hive or a nuc (or nucleus hive).  A nuc is just a small hive, with only 4 or 5 frames instead of 10.  Another beekeeper will have split one of their hives and put a small amount of bees into the nuc to start a new colony.  Eventually the bees will fill up the frames in the nuc and we will move all the frames into a full-sized 10-frame hive box.  And when they will that, we can starting putting more boxes on top (these are called "supers").  When the colony is strong enough we can then harvest some honey.  I'm sure the bees prefer this method to being shaken into a paper bag and shipped around the country anyway!

The other way to get mores bees is to catch a swarm.  Bees typically swarm in spring when there is more nectar and pollen available so the colony has been able to breed quickly and filled up its hive.  We have made up extra bee hives just in case we get an opportunity to try to catch a swarm.  Otherwise, we will be hoping to split this colony and buy more bees.  We are ready either way!

our little bee nuc
We've checked on the nuc a few times since we bought it.  So far it hasn't quite filled up all the frames, so the bees aren't ready to move yet, but they are making lots of honey.  Lucky for us the bees are very calm and let us check on them without getting aggressive.  This is a perfect colony for learners!

I've been taking photos of Pete making the frames, so I'll post more photos of our hives and frames soon.  There is so much to learn about bee keeping, including which trees are flowering, which nails to use and which bees is the queen!  Are you interested in bees?  Will you be coming to the open day?

one of the gums that's flowering on our property


Monday, August 17, 2015

Feeding chickens

There are many options for feeding your chickens. For a while we thought the solution was chicken layer pellets, they are uniform, so the chickens don't pick through them, but you never really know what's in them, and they are usually a relatively expensive option.  Read about a few other ideas of feeding chickens (some for free!) over on my Chicken Tractor eBook blog.

eight acres: what to feed chickens



Clever Chicks Blog Hop
Simple Saturdays Blog Hop
Thank Goodness Its Monday

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How I use herbs - Arrowroot

Arrowroot (Canna edulis) is a plant that you may not immediately think of as a herb, but I use the definition from Isabel Shippard's wonderful book "How can I use herbs in my daily life?", she says a herb is "any plant that is used by man for food, flavouring, medicine, aroma, dye or any other use".  And of course arrowroot features in the book too, so its one of Isabel's herbs.

Arrowroot is also known as Queensland arrowroot, not because its native to Australia but because there was once a thriving industry here producing arrowroot flour from the plant.  Not to be confused with the South American Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea), which can also be cultivated for flour, but I haven't seen or heard of it growing here.

How to grow arrowroot
Arrowroot is propagated by division of the rhizome.  I was given a small piece of root and leaf and I thought it had died, but it managed to grow and multiply very quickly, now it takes up a corner of my garden.  Its easy to split up and establish in new areas.  It doesn't need watering, even in our dry hot summers.  It has a red flower, looking like a typical canna, and producing small round black seeds, which also grow.  I sometimes have to remove it when it appears in the wrong place.  In winter it dies back when we have frost, but it regrows as soon as the weather warms up again.


eight acres: how to grow and use the herb arrowroot - Canna edulis

How to use arrowroot
All parts of the arrowroot plant are edible and high in protein.  I originally wanted the plant to feed to the chickens as an alternative to grain.  Of course they weren't interested and I thought the experiment was a failure.  But at certain times of the year, the arrowroot becomes desirable to the chickens and the cows and I actually have to fence it off or they will eat it to the ground.  I occasionally cut a leaf to give to the animals and they will usually ignore it, I think its best planted where they can help themselves when they want it, although you may need to give it a rest to grow back.

I have tried eating the arrowroot and making flour, but it is not really worth the effort (unless there was nothing else to eat).  The yield of flour is very low, and there is a lot of work involved with preparing and washing it, I couldn't get it to separate properly and ended up with brown mush.  I think the flour could be useful if it was easier to obtain!  The root is recommended for digestive upsets, and it doesn't really taste like anything.  The leaves could be useful as disposable plates.

The plant grows so quickly in our climate, its also very good as a mulch plant, as you can regularly cut it back and count on it growing back again.  It is considered a weed in some parts of the world, so be careful if you don't have a decent frost to slow it down, you might be overwhelmed with arrowroot!  Arrowroot is often used in permaculture because it is so versatile.

I also think the flowers are quite pretty and and it makes a nice hedge plant or windbreak.

eight acres: how to grow and use the herb arrowroot - Canna edulis
arrowroot flowers

Do you grow arrowroot?  How do you use it?



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Simple Saturdays Blog Hop
Thank Goodness Its Monday


Monday, August 10, 2015

Cleaning a milking machine

People often assume that using a milking machine would be more work that milking by hand because of the time needed to clean the machine.  Actually its surprisingly quick to clean after milking.  And it only occasionally needs a more thorough clean.  Read more about how to clean a portable milking machine at my house cow eBook blog here.


eight acres: how to clean a portable milking machine
The queue at milking time - waiting for their grain ration!


Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.  More information about the book on my house cow eBook blog here.





Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The solar bore pump - part 1

Windmills were once ubiquitous in the rural landscape, but you might have noticed something new appearing in their place. Increasingly farmers are choosing to replace old windmills and equip new bores and dams with solar panels instead. Like windmills, solar panels use renewable energy and have very low running costs. Solar panels and pumps, however, are now cheaper to set up and to maintain, giving them the advantage over windmills for remote applications. Even where access to grid electricity is available, with increasing electricity prices, the use of a free energy source is desirable. And they are far more practical than diesel or petrol pumps which must be attended regularly for starting, stopping, maintaining and refuelling. 


eight acres: our solar bore pump project
 

The disadvantage of a solar pump, like a windmill, is that the power source is not always available on demand. A windmill will only pump water while the wind is blowing, and similarly, solar panels will only power a pump while the sun is shining. This intermittent supply can be managed using tanks and troughs to store water while the energy source is available. Tanks are often placed at high-points on the property, so that gravity can be used to distribute water as required. Alternatively, the panels could be set up with battery storage so that the pump can operate continuously.  

Our bore is in a low area of our property, but the bore is relatively shallow. We chose a pump that could pump the water out of the bore and up to the highest point on our property.  We've installed a tank there and will gravity feed water to where its needed.

Setting up a solar pump may sound complex, but actually it is very simple and with a few instructions, anyone can make use of renewable energy to pump water on the farm. Most suppliers of solar panels and pumps will provide assistance to size the pump and basic instructions for installation.

Whether you need to pump water to provide water for stock, or to irrigate paddocks, you need to choose the right pump for the amount of water and the distance and height you need to move the water. No matter what type of pump, whether its powered by solar, fuel or electricity, you will need to know three things in order to select the correct pump. The first is the volume of water you need to move, second the total “pressure head”, which is a combination of the height and any resistance of the pipework, and finally, the “suction head”, which is the distance from the pump to the water level. A pump supplier can assist with selecting a suitable pump when provided with these three factors.

The first step is to work out the volume you need to pump. For cattle you can assume they will drink 100 L per day. For example, to provide water for two cows, the pump would need to be capable of moving 200 L per day. Note that the pump will only be available while the sun is shining on the solar panels, which in winter may be only 6 hours per day, in which case the pump would need to achieve a flowrate of 200 L in 6 hours, or 33 L per hour.

The total head that the pump needs to move the water will depend on both the height and the pipework to be used. The height can be determined roughly using GPS devices or from contour maps, to the nearest 10 m if possible. Unless it’s very complicated, the pipework typically has only a minor contribution to the total head. Again, a pump supplier can assist with these calculations.

Installation of the pump and solar panels will require a suitable location with maximum possible sun exposure and a northerly aspect (in the Southern Hemisphere). The ideal angle for the panels depends on the season, but on average, the latitude of the location is a good angle to use (unless the angle is to be adjusted with the seasons and in that case, the ideal angle can be worked out from the sun angle at each season). A sturdy frame should be constructed to support the panels if this is not provided as part of the package. Also consider fencing the panels and pumps to prevent damage from curious cattle, they tend to use anything as a scratching post.

A solar pump is a good alternative to windmills, electric and fuel pumps because it is cheaper to operate and requires minimal maintenance once installed. A pump supplier can assist with calculations to determine the size of pump and panels required for a any application. While they may seem complicated, it is worth investigating if a solar pump is suitable as they are now relatively simple to install and operate.

Have you considered using a solar pump?  Or other solar devices on your property?  I'm thinking about writing a more detailed eBook about the steps required to set up the bore pump and the solar panels as it was difficult for us to find that information - would you find this useful?


Monday, August 3, 2015

Farm update - August 2015

Its about time for another update!  This is the post where I try to give you a bit of a taste of everything that's been happening at our place over the past month.  I'd love to know what you've been up to as well, please share your update in the comments :)

Food and cooking
With some cold weather during July it was definitely time for some pumpkin soup (recipe from The Eat Drink Paleo cookbook).  We also culled two roosters and three old hens, so we minced the meat and made some wonderful thick stock with all the carcasses, look at all that gelatin!  (Here's what we do with the older birds).  You really can't go wrong with soup when you start with a stock base like that.  If you're not making your own stock yet, I think its the one traditional cooking technique that is really worth the effort for both improved taste and the health benefits of eating all that gelatin and minerals from the bones.


pumpkin soup from The Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook

Mincing the chicken meat

Chicken stock


Greenhaven: Cooking with stinging nettles
greenhavengoodlife.blogspot.com

Snow falls in Queensland town
couriermail.com.au

Land and farming
We have been spending a lot of time walking around out property looking at the trees.  I have spent years trying to engage Pete in conversation about trees, and now that he is interested I am nearly sick of trying to figure out if that ironbark looks like a slightly different species to the tree next to it because the leaves are a little bit different!  We certainly have a diversity of trees on our property, and while other farmers see trees as a liability - just taking up space where they could be growing grass, we think of it as an opportunity to add fertility to our property, provide habitat, firewood, building material, and now bee-food!  Many of our native eucalypts flower in winter, so we actually have year-round nectar and pollen for our little 5-frame bee hive (nucleus or "nuc" for short).  We checked the nuc for the first time on a warmer day, and were a bit nervous with our bee-suits on and the smoker ready, but they were very calm bees and let us have a good look at what they've been up to.  Two frames of brood, one of honey and two more on the outside that they were still drawing out, so we need to get moving on building a bigger box for them before they fill up their nuc.

We also finally got a tank for the high point on our property, which is the beginning of the second phase of our solar bore pump project.  Phase one was to install the pump and see if it could pump to the top of the hill.  In phase two we are going to run irrigation pipe from the tank down to the house.  Checking the 1km pipeline from the bore to the tank provided yet another opportunity to look at trees!  Now we just need to set up the rest of the pipeline.  I'll write more about the solar pump soon, now that I know that its all working properly.

Our bee "nuc"


We don't know the name of this tree, I call it the "peely bark Christmas gum"
because it flowers in December and the back peels (Jackie French says to just name things so you
remember what they do that is important to you)

the tank at the top of the hill

Chickens
We culled the older chickens and now we are left with nine hens from last year, and 16 that hatched in February.  The new ones are starting to lay already, so we are getting 10 eggs a day at the moment, and its only mid-winter.  I am going to have to find some more customers in Brisbane!  We still have seven roosters from our hatch, and one lovely Rhode Island Red that was given to us.  I've picked one of the seven (a pretty orange one called "Lucky") to move into one of the hen tractors, but the rest will be ready for the freezer very soon.


Cows and cattle
Molly had her little calf one evening.  Pete called me and said he was pretty sure that Molly was in labour, and about an hour later he called to tell me that the calf was born and safe with Molly.  That was very happy news.  Over the next few days Pete thought the calf might be a girl, then a boy, and then a girl again.  When I got home I was able to confirm that she was a girl!  Now we have seen two births, we are more confident that we can recognise a cow in labour.

Molly did not suffer the same swelling that Bella had, and Pete didn't milk her right away, she came over to the milking bales to be milked the next afternoon, and then the afternoon after that, when she was ready.  It was nice to let her decide when she needed to be milked.

I named all the calves because I was sick of Pete calling them "it". The Aussie Red cross is called Rosie and the super friendly Jersey calf is called Charlotte (its very difficult to get a photo of Lucy when Charlotte keeps sneaking up behind you and licking your arm). We are still milking both cows, the poddies recovered from the paralysis tick poisoning and are taking 3-4 litres each morning and afternoon, I have seen Charlotte licking Bella's udder, but if she goes for a teat she gets a kick. Lucy is suckling from Molly and we are taking a litre here and there for ourselves.

The Angus cattle at Cheslyn Rise are wonderful, it seems a shame to have to sell them!  They are so tame, they followed us all along the pipeline when we were checking it and waited by a fence when they couldn't go any further.  We have taught them that the ute brings lucerne hay, so when they here the horn they come running.  Have tame cattle is a pleasure.


Molly with her calf Lucy

The angus herd follows us around the property

Bella looking more like her normal shape

The two baby house cows - Charlotte and Rosie


Three Years In The Making - The Browning Homestead

Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures In The Good Land: Not every body gets to stay. Goats. Gone.
adventuresinthegoodland.blogspot.com

Garden
We've had no rain in July and plenty of frosty weather, so everything is dry and dusty, apart from in the garden where we sprinkle the grey water.  Its weird to be in the middle of winter with a bumper crop of tomatoes (thanks to hydroponics) and the start of the strawberry season, such is the joys of growing food in the highland sub-tropics!  This month I am still harvesting plenty of greens, although many have started to flower (bee food!), the peas are taller than me, but not much to pick.  The broad beans are flowering and smelling wonderful.  And I seem to be able to grow broccoli one small floret at a time, but if you pick enough you get a meal.


greens, tomatoes, chillies, broccoli florets and eggs in winter...

its strawberry season - these don't last long

the garden is still overgrown with chickweed, giant pea plant to the left 

pak choi flowers = bee food

House
We made a start on some demolition work at the house, removing the kitchen cabinets and stripping the bathroom and toilet back to bare walls.  Its much easier to sit in an empty space and decide where things should go than to envisage it while all the ugly bits are still there.  We have some good ideas, we just have to figure out how to make them happen!  It was fascinating to see what was behind the cement sheeting (fortunately turned out it was not asbestos in the bathroom) and we could see where doorways had been moved and work out where rooms were in the past based on the paint colours.

Poor Taz, renovating is so boring!

The bath turned out to be cast iron, in pale green!

How homes kept cool before the age of AC
blog.solarcity.com

Permaculture - Catch and Store Energy
Energy is defined very broadly in this case, encompassing both the obvious heat and electricity, and less obvious forms of energy, such as water, trees, seeds, food and fertile soil. This principle is important because we live in a time of energy abundance due to the availability of cheap fossil fuels and it can be very easy to forget to plan for energy catchment and storage. We have become accustomed to buying what we need when we need it because fossil fuels have made this such an easy option.

Some of the ways that we catch and store energy:

house of simple: Vintage Safety Razor Shaving
house-of-simple.blogspot.com

How to get shiny hair and natural hair growth - Lulastic and the Hippyshake
lulastic.co.uk

What is Homesteading?
susansink.wordpress.com
Return to a Frugal Life - Imperfectly Happy
imperfectlyhappy.com

Create (and Support Me)
Lately I've been making some extra soap because I'm keen to start selling it.  I am waiting until September as I have to pay for a licence *grumble grumble* which is September to August.  I already have a few things in my Etsy shop, including a few balms and salves, and dried herbs.  My lovely neighbour and friend has started a massage clinic in Nanango (Maintain and Align Massage) and she has found the "Relax Massage Balm" to be very popular.  Its made with essential oils that relieve inflammation and encourage blood flow and healing, so its great for sore muscles and joints.

I am also very nearly finished with my eBook "Design and Use a Chicken Tractor".  I have a couple of friends proof-reading it at the moment, and then I just need to do a final edit before I put it on sale.  It will be good to have that finished, it seems like it takes a LONG time to write a short eBook!


This is just the offcuts!



I love this shot of Taz ready to play ball
How was your July?  What are your plans for August?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Simple winter knits for beginners

Over the past few winters I've been practicing my knitting.  I was taught to knit originally by my granny when I was younger, so I knew the basics, but I had never really practiced until I became interested again a few years ago.  I have been buying wool and needles from markets and op shops and teaching myself using youtube.  I never like to spend time practicing something just for the sake of it, I like to make something that I can use, so I have been trying to find things to make that help me to refine my technique, but are also simple and ultimately useful.  Obviously I can't launch into huge projects while I'm still struggling to knit consistently and neatly, but I managed to find a few small things to knit that have really helped me to gain the confidence to make something larger.


eight acres: learning to knit - some suggestions for beginners
This is what I made this winter to practice before I make something bigger.

Here's what I have come up with as suggestions for beginner knitters to practice:

  1. Headband or ear-warmer - this can be as simple as a strip of 10-15 stitches knitted in either garter stitch or stockinette stitch, keep going until it reaches around your head and then stitch the ends together to form a band.  For something different you can add stripes of colours, or try a fancy knitting stitch.
  2. Button-up snood - this is just a short scarf (you could make a scarf, but that takes longer!), again, you can add stripes or fancy stitches.  I took the opportunity to practice ribbing at each end and added button holes.  I started with 30 stitches and knitted until it was long enough to go around my neck.
  3. Snood in the round - a great way to experiment with needles "in the round" is to knit up a simple snood.  If you get it twisted, its called a helical snood (great for covering mistakes!).
  4. Arm-warmers - this is a great way to practice knitting on double-pointed needles.  Just make a hole for the thumbs using the same technique as for a button-hole.  I like to add stripes to this one too, but could also be done with a fancy stitch.  Ribbing at the top stops the top from folding over.
  5. Tablet or phone cover - we bought a new tablet and I decided to knit a cover for it instead of buying a cover.  I just knitted a long strip in the right size and sewed up the seams.  Again, you can add whatever techniques you need to practice.
  6. Socks - this might seem like an odd one for beginners, but after you've figured out double-pointed needles, you have most of the skills to finish socks as well, you just have to really concentrate on the pattern!

Lately I have been side-tracked with crochet, so I haven't knitted anything bigger yet.  I am wearing my arm-warmers and ear warmer as I type though!

What do you think is a good project for learning to knit?

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