Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Farm Update - July 2015

What was old is new again.... You might have noticed over the past few months I've been trying to fit in with other formats for sharing monthly updates, so that I could link them to other blogs.  It was just getting too difficult to say what I needed to say within those formats, so I'm starting again with what I used to do.  Just one farm update with everything that happened in the previous month.  This post is mainly for my family and friends (including long-term blog followers that I've never met), who just want to know on what we've been doing over the past month.  Its also a good record for me to remember which animals we had and what the weather was like.  I'm just going to use this an opportunity to share lots of photos and tell you what's going on.  And add a few links that I've enjoyed reading during the month.

I'm going to structure it based on the pages at the top of my blog.  If you read my posts in an email or a blog reader (for example you can find me on bloglovin here), you might not have visited for a while, if you need to catch up, here are the links to the pages:

Food - this is about what we produce on our land and buy locally to create nourishing food.
Land - managing our two properties (eight acres, and our 250 acres - Cheslyn Rise), including weed control, pasture, grazing, erosion, catching water in dams, using permaculture principles, natural sequence farming, mob-stocking and learning more all the time.
Chickens - our flock of Rhode Island Reds and various crosses, for eggs and meat, hatched from our incubator and butchered on our property.
Cows - our house cows Bella and Molly that we milk, and our beef cattle, which we raise at Cheslyn Rise.
Garden - my vege garden, full of herbs and self-seeded veges grown using organic methods.
House - the secondhand Queenslander house that we moved to our big property and all the work that's still left to do before we move there.
Support me - various opportunities to support my blog, either through affiliate links or buying my own products.
And I'm going to add another category - Permaculture - because I think I need to talk about this more regularly.
And I think I need one more - Create - so I can show you what I've been knitting!

Cooking on the woodstove

Pete with the bee nuc

Food and cooking
We have been using the woodstove lately instead of the slow cooker to make stews and soups in a big pot on top.  As well as roast potatoes in the oven.

Also, we got bees, and I'm not sure where to put this, as the bees will be producing honey (food), beeswax, pollination and an interesting hobby for us both.  Maybe I will need another page for the bees!  We just have a small Nuc at this stage, and it should be ok through winter here as there are plenty of flowers around.  We are looking forward to expanding to several hives when the weather warms up.  I'm sure I will be posting more about the bees in the future, here's what I've written so far.

Honeybee Collapse is the Result of Their Enslavement in Industrial Monocultures -

War on saturated fat is over: Ketogenic, Atkins and Paleo diets are vindicated -

Why Skim Milk Will Make You Fat and Give You Heart Disease -

Perennial pasture

Servicing the tractor

Land and farming
The perennial pasture that we planted on about 10 acres of our cultivation land at Cheslyn Rise is growing really well.  It is above the frost, so even though its tropical pasture, its still green and gradually spreading out.  Of course now we wish we planted more, but it was just a trial at the time, to see what would work.  We will be planting the remaining 60 acres when we get the right weather.

And we did the 300 hour service on the tractor (this is the royal "we", I just read out instructions, "check the free-play on the such and such", and passed spanners on request), so it is clean and greased and ready for another 300 hours of work.

I also had a question on the Eight Acres facebook page about weed control and this is my answer:
We avoid spraying and leave most weeds alone, preferring to slash the paddocks (see Peter Andrews' books). Except for weeds that are poisonous to cattle, such as lantana, which we dig out or spray if the bushes are huge. We have managed to keep Eight Acres weed-free without spray, just a mattock. At Cheslyn Rise we had to spray due to lack of time. Depending where you are, you may have other issues to consider (such as proximity to national parks, and possibly different weeds to us). I would recommend that you start by reading Peter Andrews so that you understand the potential value of weeds, and try physical control if you can, as this does less lasting damage to your property.
How to Kill Obnoxious Weeds Without Using Roundup - Brown Thumb Mama

Habits that change when you homestead -

10 Things your Non-farm Friends Just Don't Understand -

The chicks we hatched in February are nearly full-sized.  We separated the pullets and roosters a few weeks ago and only had seven roosters, which left 20-something pullets! (how to tell pullets from roosters at 8 - 10 weeks).  Usually we have pretty close to a 50:50 split, so this is far more new hens than we expected and maybe we can finally sell some pullets (which was the original justification for buying the incubator several years ago!).

This means that we need to make some space in the chicken tractors, so we will be culling the older hens and roosters soon.  This is not a job we enjoy, but we try to make as much use from the older poultry as we possibly can.

Bully with his new herd

Cows (and the rest of the cattle)
Bella had her calf early last Sunday morning.  It was lucky that I was home that day because the calf was born dead.  This is the second calf that has died (and she's had a healthy calf in between), and the last one I came home just after it was born and didn't know what had happened.  We don't really know what happened to this one either, but we do know he was dead from birth, as I was right there when he came out and we were unable to revive him.  Last time I was distraught, but this time, I am kind of numb.  Since then I have seen more dead calves now than I can count, and a few dead cows too, I'm getting more used to it, I think my heart has hardened a little, I hope this makes me a more resilient farmer, and not less of a human.  Anyway, after we realised that the calf was dead we moved quickly to get a foster calf, and ended up getting two little jersey heifers, possibly future house cows.  Meanwhile, Bella has now developed mastitis again and has terrible oedema (swelling) of her udder.  Poor girl, its hard to tell if she's mourning for her calf or just feeling sick, we've had to get antibiotics again and I think we have some hard decisions to make about her future on our farm.  This would not be so difficult for any other animal that wasn't producing well, but a house cow becomes part of the family, like another pet, afterall she gives us her milk as if we were her calf.  We need to figure out the most humane and tolerable outcome for her.  But we need to get her well first, and if we are lucky she will raise these heifers for us.  Molly should be due to calve in a few months, and all we can do is hope for less drama.

In case you have lost track, we destocked Cheslyn Rise in April last year.  We sold the remaining 20 braford cows (apart from three that would not come into the yards, they are still running wild).  After a reasonable summer and autumn, we now have enough grass on the property to support cattle again, so we bought some Angus cattle, nine 2-year-old heifers and 18 weaner steers.  They are very tame and come running over when we go into the paddock.  This is much easier to work with that the previous cattle.    If food gets short, we might be able to lure the braford cows into our yards, otherwise we need to get someone in to muster them on horseback!  We now have a far better understanding of the amount of feed on our property and how to manage our cattle numbers, so we plan to sell these cattle again at the right time.

We then moved our little bull over to Cheslyn Rise to service the heifers before the neighbour's Santa Gertrudis bull finds them.  Bully (we haven't really named him yet after we lost Donald) seems very happy with the arrangement as he only had the two dairy cows back at Eight Acres, and bulls can be a bit of a pain on a small property.  We still have the three mini-moos (calves from Bella and Molly) at Eight Acres as well.  We haven't decided yet how many and which ones will be butchered this year, but its coming up to that time again too.

Hmmm, these other animals make cows seem sensible....

Goat Chaos -

My pig attacked me, I won't save his bacon now -

This is the best time of year in the garden as evaporation rates have reduced to the point were everything grows easily with just the grey water sprinkler.  And this year we also have tomatoes in the hydroponics, which is a real treat as I didn't manage to grow any in the garden this summer.  We have had a little bit of rain in June (15 mL) and some frost, so I pulled out the remaining choko vine, tomatoes, rosella and basil in the garden.  Now its just filled with asian greens, peas, broad beans, celery, so much parsley, lettuce, the occasional strawberry (yep its strawberry season in the sub-tropics!) and perennial leaks.  I pulled out chickweed by the armload and made a huge compost heaps, so I've put down some old hay as mulch to try to control it in the paths.  Read more about the sub-tropics and frost preparation here.

We have been a bit side-tracked from house renovation lately as we had to prepare the yards to receive the cattle.  Apart from pulling out the asbestos in the side room, we have been slowly working on pulling out the staples from the floor (apparently masonite under lino has to be filled with staples!  this is not something you want to spend hours work on as it really gets painful).  We have a builder lined up to replace the two extremely low windows in the kitchen with new windows at a reasonable height.  And he's also going to install a sliding door where our dodgy back door is currently.

13 Painting Secrets of Professional Painters -

Permaculture - Observe and Interact
You may remember a couple of years ago I reviewed each of the permaculture principles from David Holmgren's book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, here are the links to my posts:
Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
Use and Value Renewable Resources
Produce no Waste
Design from Patterns to Details
Integrate, Rather than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions
Use and Value Diversity
Use edges and value the marginal
Creatively Use and Respond to Change

I want to now briefly review one principle a month to keep it fresh in my mind.  Staring again with Observe and Interact.  This is a principle that we now use constantly.  Especially now that we have bees.  I never ever expected to hear my husband say "oh look that tree over there is in flower"!  Every couple of weekends we go for a walk around Cheslyn Rise.  There are always new areas to explore.  We observe the slope, the soil and rocks, the type of vegetation growing, the quality of the cow manure, animal tracks, trees in flower (!) and anything else that catches our eye.  We discuss how we can use the different areas for different things (we are thinking that we could try free-range pigs in some of our forest areas, and we are always finding firewood and interesting logs for garden features).  I think we have both stopped thinking of walking around our property as a "waste of time" and we value the opportunity to observe different areas and different times of the year.

I finished knitting a set of winter woolies, including a head-band/ear-warmer, arm-warmers and a button-up cowl/ short scarf for those with short attention spans.  I think this is a good set for beginners as it really just involves knitting and purling, with the arm-warmers on double-pointed needles.  I like simple and quick knitting for beginners, its nice to produce something small but useful, after all that effort.

I was supposed to finish the alpaca yarn scarf I started, with the complicated lacey knit, but it takes so much concentration!  I picked up my crochet instead, and I'm making a blanket from some of the cheap yarn I've picked up at markets and op-shops, mainly to just practice my technique, nothing better than just working around and around for that, and it can be done while watching TV without losing my place and wrecking it.  I'll write about my pattern soon, but its based on this granny square.

house of simple: The Well Dressed Frugal Gentleman -

DIY Moisturizing Bug Block Bar | Scratch Mommy - Life, From Scratch

This one features often on Instagram!
Support me
I reluctantly jumped into the world of Instagram, come and find me @Eight_Acres_Liz.  I was worried about maintaining yet another social media platform.  I already have Eight Acres on pinterest and facebook and that mysterious GooglePlus (I have no idea if I'm using it correctly, does anyone follow me on that one? I have no idea how its supposed to work).  So far I've just been posting the occasional pretty photo from around the farm and its kind of fun.    

Also don't forget to register for Plastic Free July!

Only 16 more sleeps until Plastic Free July so let's get started!

Tips for making this plastic free July the most successful ever - Treading my Own Path

That's everything!  So how was your June?  What are you planning for July?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Popular chicken posts on Eight Acres

Over the years I've been writing this blog, chickens have been a regular topic and there are a few themes that have been particularly popular.  See the post on my chicken tractor ebook blog for a summary of popular posts about:

Chicken tractors

Gender of chicks

Guinea fowl

Feeding chickens

Butchering and cooking chickens

eight acres: popular posts about chickens

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How I use herbs - Brahmi

Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) is important in ayurvedic medicine and generally regarded as a nerve and brain tonic.

How to grow Brahmi
I purchased my brahmi plant as a small plant and it currently lives in a pot.  I have read that it prefers to live in damp conditions, so I keep it in a pot that I can move to suitable locations in the garden depending on the season.  When I have a pond, I think it would be a good one to plant around the edges.  Although it comes from a tropical climate, it seems to survive (but not thrive) in mildly frosty conditions.

eight acres: how to grow and use Brahmi

How I use Brahmi
Brahmi has been used for a huge range of conditions (coughs, arthritis, backache, hair loss, insomnia etc), its main application is for brain and nervous system function.  Research has identified two active compounds, bacoside A and B which have been shown to improve circulation and nourish nerve cells respectively. One theory is that these compounds enhance of the effects of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and, possibly, serotonin or GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid).  

Brahmi is extremely bitter, so its not something that you want to eat in large quantities.  It can be added to a herbal tea, but another common preparation is in a tincture alcohol or glycerine.  I made a tincture from fresh leaves in vodka and take the recommended 5 mL per day.

eight acres: how to grow and use Brahmi

There is some information on the internet about the interaction between estrogen in birth control and increased gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) causing temporary hearing loss.  This is explained in more detail here, and I think the first link misunderstands the issue.  My interpretation is that GABA and estrogen can interact to cause temporary hearing loss, but both are naturally present in our bodies, regardless of birth control, estrogen replacement therapy or brahmi consumption.  I would suggest that you start with a small doses of tincture and increase gradually to allow the natural balance in your hormonal system to adjust, and obviously if any hearing problems occur, stop using the tincture.  Brahmi is an ancient herb, so I can only assume that if it really did cause hearing problems, it wouldn't be used so frequently in ayurvedic medicine.  **But remember that I'm not a doctor or a herbalist** 

Do you grow and use brahmi?  Any thoughts about brahmi?

See my other posts about herbs:

How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

How I use herbs - Aloe Vera

How I use herbs - Basil

How I use herbs - Ginger, galangal and turmeric

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter taragon

How I use herbs - Soapwort

How I use herbs - Comfrey

How I use herbs - Nasturtium

How I use herbs - Parsley

How I use herbs - Borage

How I use herbs - Herb Robert

How I use herbs - Purslane

How I use herbs - Chickweed

How I use herbs - Neem oil

How I use herbs - Rue, tansy and wormwood

Monday, June 22, 2015

What do you feed your dogs?

As I've lately been thinking about what I eat and about real food for humans, naturally the next question was how to feed real food to Taz, and what is real food for dogs?

eight acres: real food for dogs
Taz pondering the question of real food for dogs

I have gradually been paying more attention to the ingredients in dog food over the last few years.  We used to buy the big cans of dog food when they were on special at the supermarket and that's all Cheryl ate until I read Pat Coleby's "Natural Pet Care", which recommended a plain kibble, with minimum additives.  I couldn't find the particular one that she mentioned, but I did switch Cheryl and Chime to a plain kibble.  I got the "old fat dog" version because they were both a little overweight.  Strangely they never lost any weight on this high carb, low fat diet (I can't believe I didn't work that one out earlier).

When we got puppy Taz, she ate puppy nuts (as Pete calls dog kibble) for her first 12 months and then when it was time for adult dog nuts, the penny finally dropped, and I got "working dog" for both Taz and Cheryl.  This mix is high fat, low carb, and this did seem to help with Cheryl's weight.

Then as I started reading more about paleo and the reasons why it might be more healthy for humans to eat closer to their ancestral diet, I started thinking about what we were feeding the dogs.  Even the working dog nuts were full of various grains.  For example a typical composition of a high-end dog kibble, note that its only 23% meat:
Dried Chicken And Turkey (23%, A Natural Source Of Taurine), Maize, Wheat, Sorghum, Barley, Animal Fat, Dried Beet Pulp (2.8%), Hydrolysed Animal Proteins, Dried Whole Egg, Potassium Chloride, Fish Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Fructooligosaccharides (0.28%), Linseed, Glucosamine (432mg/Kg), Chondroitin Sulphate (43mg/Kg)

We know that a high carbohydrate diet in humans causes diabetes in the longer term, and yet we feed this to dogs and wonder why they get sick.  Cheryl almost certainly had diabetes and kidney problems as she got older, resulting finally in cataracts.  It makes sense to me that a diet high in grains is not natural or healthy for humans or dogs, in both cases they are just cheap fillers.

Then I started to look at grain-free options for dried dog kibble, and this was the best I could do, still lots of ingredients that I would rather avoid, including canola, peas (legumes are as bad as grains) and beets (high sugar):
Salmon, Anchovy & Sardine Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Dried Ground Potatoes, Canola Oil (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Menhaden Fish Meal, Tomato Pomace, Flaxseed, Pea Fibre, Pumpkin, Natural Fish Flavor, Cranberries, Apples, Minerals [Zinc Polysaccharide Complex, Iron Polysaccharide Complex, Copper Polysaccharide Complex, Manganese Polysaccharide Complex, Sodium Selenite, Cobalt Carbonate, Potassium Iodide], Vitamins [Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid], Choline Chloride, Papaya, Inulin, Salt, Blueberries, Pomegranate, Potassium Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols (added to preserve freshness), DL-Methionine, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Fennel, Ground Peppermint, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus subtilis Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus licheniformis Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Product, Dried Aspergillus niger Fermentation Product, Lecithin, Rosemary Extract.  This is a naturally preserved product.

While this kibble did avoid grains, it seemed to maintain the same carbohydrate content and therefore present the same issues.  When I posted some of this on the Eight Acres facebook page, a few people recommended BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) and I also found K9 Natural, which is a freeze-dried raw product.  I stopped in at the local big-box pet food store and got a bag of the grain-free kibble, a box of BARF and a bag of K9.  These were not cheap and I was also hoping to find a homemade option, with these as back-up for when we didn't have time to make something.  I was also interested to see if the dogs would even eat them.  Here's a good post about feeding dogs dried food vs raw food.

BARF (Chicken for Dogs)
Chicken, finely ground chicken bone, beef liver, whole egg, cultured kefir, seasonal vegetables selected from broccoli, celery, spinach, carrot, ground flax seed, bok choy, dried alfalfa leaf powder, beef kidney, beef heart, unbleached beef tripe, seasonal fruit selected from apple, pear, grapefruit, orange, dried kelp powder, garlic, capsicum.
eight acres: real food for dogs

K9 Natural (Beef Feast) 
Beef meat, beef blood, beef bone, beef green tripe, beef liver, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, spinach (chard), cabbage, apple, pear, beef hearts, beef kidneys, eggs, green lipped mussel and garlic
eight acres: real food for dogs

I got these before Cheryl died, and I can report that Cheryl taste-tested all the options and 100% approved (but then she would almost eat anything, except for green beans).  It turned out that Taz does not like raw meat.  While Cheryl was happy to help Taz finish her BARF patties, it did make it difficult to make sure Taz was getting some food.  In particular Taz does not like raw offal and will pick that out of minced up food.  She will eat the kibble and K9 Natural though.  The problem was that BARF is about the easiest of the options for me to make at home!

eight acres: real food for dogs
Taz with the grain-free kibble (and gravy), she likes those, doggy junk food

In fact we had found that our local supermarket makes a product called "fiedo's friend", and when I asked the butcher, he said it contains only trimmings and offal (trimmings are the fatty bits of meat, some go into sausages, but this must be the excess), which is perfect mixed with some eggs, yoghurt, kelp, and at $2.99/kg, its more reasonable than anything from the pet food store.  Only problem was that Taz picked out the offal.  Eventually I gave up on Taz ever eating this raw and cooked it for her.  Delicious!  She has no problem eating the offal if it is cooked (like people food? sometimes I think that Taz thinks she's a people too).  I like this product because it is trimmings from meat that was intended for humans.  We have had the misfortune of sending a bull with eye cancer to the meatworks for dog meat (to the "doggers"), and I don't like to buy "dog mince" knowing that its probably minced up sick animals, if its not for human consumption, it shouldn't be for dogs either.

eight acres: real food for dogs

The past couple of weeks I have used about 1 kg of "fiedo's friend" minced trimmings and offal, with 2 eggs, a grated carrot and grated choko, and a sprinkle of kelp powder, cooked this in our largest frying pan (I tried to do meat balls, but the offal makes it too messy, so now just one large chunk works better).  I then make gravy from what's left in the pan.  Taz has a scoop of cooked mince and a splash of gravy and that seems to suit her.

It doesn't take long to cook this for her, but it is an extra chore, so when we don't have time, she can have the grain-free kibble.  I'm afraid I will have to cook the remaining BARF patties!  What a waste!  I think the raw diet is surely more natural and Taz still has a raw bone daily, but if she doesn't want to eat the raw offal, its probably better she has this cooked mixture than any of the dried food options.  I would love to feed her the K9 Natural, but being made in NZ, its very expensive and has excessive food miles.

What do you think?  What do you feed your dogs and why?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I'm still not using shampoo

I stopped using shampoo in January 2012, I wrote about not washing my hair a few months later.  I hadn't done any research at the time, it was kind of my version of "do nothing farming" but for hair care.  I really did wonder what would happen if I did nothing.  For over a year, I washed my hair in water only.  It was quite a simple transition because at the time I was only using a very mild organic shampoo once a week anyway.  I didn't notice much difference between how my hair was without washing, and how it used to be by the end of the week (just before I washed it again).  It looked permanently like it kind of might need a wash soon, but it also just seemed to reach a certain level of oil and just stay like that, it doesn't get worse and worse, it seemed to me that it was a natural equilibrium and I was happy to leave it alone. I then started occasionally using our homemade soap, especially if we did any farm work that involved me getting actual dirt or poop in my hair.

eight acres: no using shampoo
This is me fresh from the hairdresser,
I had to take a photo because it won't look like that again!

I saw Lucy AitkenRead's book Happy Hair - The definitive guide to giving up shampoo: Save money, ditch the toxins and release your hair's natural beauty with No Poo when the media picked up on it late last year (the commentary went something like "oh wow this lady doesn't use shampoo, that's amazing!!!!").  It wasn't until a rather disastrous visit to the hairdresser a couple of weeks ago that I finally decided to purchase the book for myself.  I haven't had a proper haircut for over a year because I'm very particular about my hairdresser and I haven't had a chance to see the one person I trust to cut my hair how I like it without washing it for me.  I had, however, persuaded Pete to give my hair a trim back in December last year and I thought he did a pretty good job.  He cut it like you'd expect from a tradesman, straight across at the back, square and level, and fortunately still long enough to tie up!

He refused to cut it again, so I just had to pick a hairdresser in Brisbane and risk it.  I wasn't in the mood for explaining the whole not using shampoo thing, so I let her wash my hair (I also told her that Pete had cut it last, and I think she found that strange enough without horrifying her with the lack of shampoo).  She proceeded to wash it very thoroughly, I winced every time she squirted out more shampoo, she rinsed and repeated FOUR times and commented that I had dandruff.  Thanks, I'm sure all those chemicals will help.  Then she just kept putting more stinky gunk in my hair and spent longer blow-drying it than cutting it.  It looked ridiculous, but at least shorter.  When I got home I took a photo to send to Pete (for next time he cuts it, haha!) and then I washed out all the chemicals with soap.

Now as I was back to square "squeaky-clean" one , I decided to get the book and find out more about these baking soda and apple cider vinegar no-poo methods I keep reading about.  And I can report that it is an excellent book.  If you are curious about trying no-poo, this book tells you how to transition from a "normal" shampoo routine to the ultimate goal of washing with water only and occasionally baking soda and apple cider vinegar.  It suggests a number of natural and chemical-free alternatives to keep your hair clean and healthy.

eight acres: not using shampoo
Same haircut, a few weeks later, washed only with "no-poo" methods

The book helped to clarify two things for me.  Firstly, the "do nothing" hair care is probably not a good reason to stop using shampoo and I think I'm done with that experiment, as interesting as it was!  I need to be clear that my reason for not using shampoo is to avoid chemicals, and if my hair has dandruff or doesn't look nice, I should use some of the natural cleaning agents suggested in the book, while being mindful that healthy hair has a natural sebum balance.  And I will still be saving money compared to buying supermarket shampoo and conditioner.  (I'm going to try a rosemary infusion for the dandruff).

 Secondly the reason that baking soda is able to clean hair, and the reason people report varying results is that is actually reacts with the oil in your hair.  That is, as an alkali, the baking soda reacts with the oil in your hair to make a mild soap (I had previously assumed it was just an exfoliant, but when you use it, you notice a soapy feeling).  This means that you have to be careful not to use too much, as you will strip oil out of your hair and cause as much damage as the chemicals you were trying to avoid.  If you launch into no-poo without doing your research, you may find that you're not happy with the results and just go back to shampoo, and you can even damage your hair.  This book is the quickest way to find out what to do and why.

One last comment, if you currently dye your hair and use lots of hair products, you may have to wean yourself off all that stuff before trying no-poo.  For a start, there's really no point trying to avoid chemicals in shampoo if you're putting other chemicals in your hair anyway (check out the Environmental Working Group database ratings of hair dyes).  Maybe cold-turkey will work, but you can also try what I did and just start to go without products, change to a mild organic shampoo and then move to no-poo when you're only washing your hair once a week or so anyway.

So tell me what you think..... do you wash your hair with shampoo?  Would you consider trying no-poo?  Do you already go without shampoo? 

Note: if you purchase through these links I get a small percentage of the sale as commission, it doesn't cost you any extra.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Managing house cow body condition

Dairy cows are naturally skinnier than beef cows. They are bred to produce milk, not meat! But it can be tricky to know whether your cow is too skinny, or too fat, as both can cause serious problems.

If you are new to cows, you might not know if your cow is too skinny or too fat, or what her coat should look like if she's healthy.  Read more on my house cow ebook blog.

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What you need to know about soil

The more you spend time gardening or farming, the more you start to think about soil, and improving your soil and growing more plants. Here’s a few things that I think you should know about your soil to get you started.

eight acres: what you need to know about soil - texture, structure and microbes

What is soil?
Soil is the mixture of ground-up rock and decaying plants and insects that support a myriad of life from earthworms and plants that you can see down to the teeny tiny microbes that you can’t see, but are just as important.

Soil texture
The texture of your soil is really just the size of the ground-up rock. The largest size is sand (0.2-0.02 mm), followed by silt (0.02-0.002 mm) and finally the smallest is clay (less than 0.002 mm). I often hear people say that they have “clay soil” when its hard to dig, but that really comes down to the next topic, soil structure. The best way to test your soil texture is what I call the sausage test (officially the “ball and ribbon test”). Try to roll some moist soil into a little ball between your hands and then into a sausage. If you can’t even get it to roll into a ball, you have sand. If you can get a nice smooth, long sausage, then you have clay. Anything in between, is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. If you rub the soil between your fingers and you can fell the grains, there is sand in your soil. We have a range of soils over our property, but most are clay loams (a loam is a mixture of all three textures), we always come back from walks around the paddocks with dirty hands from our sausage tests.  I wrote more about soil testing for our new property back here.

Soil structure
Even if you don’t have clay, you can have tight soils that you cannot dig. This is caused by poor soil structure. Soil structure is the size of the “aggregate” or the clumps of the particles of sand, silt and clay (and organic matter). Ideally you want durable aggregates around the size of peas. If you have soil that is either dust or “massive” (i.e. undiggable), then you have some work to do. I have seen some soil tests where you start by digging out a clump of soil a spade width square and observe the soil. This is simply not possible in the soil in our property at the moment due to poor structure. You are lucky to get a spade in 1 inch if you jump on it!  However, in my garden I have some nice aggregates.

Soil chemistry
Soil structure depends on soil chemistry, soil biology (see next topic) and moisture content. Soil chemistry is a huge topic , which I have covered briefly before, and I think its worth revisiting the key points here. To understand your soil chemistry, you really need to send a sample to be tested, this is not a huge expense, and you might be able to get it done even cheaper through your agronomist, local council or extension service. The test results will tell you three important things about your soil and you can probably ignore the rest (unless you have animals, and then you want to check that they are getting enough trace minerals like copper and selenium).

1. Soil pH, ideally this should be 7, if its too high or too low, you probably have other issues, keep reading...

2. Cation exchange capacity (CEC), this is the capacity of the soil to hold onto nutrients, if you have high clay soil or high organic matter, you will have high CEC and therefore, “fertile” soil. Your report should give you the ratio between the most common cations, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and hydrogen.  This is also related to pH (low pH occurs when hydrogen ion concentration is high).  Ideally you want around about 65% Calcium, 15% Magnesium, 4% Potassium, and 1% to 5% Sodium. Too much magnesium results in a tighter clay (because they are smaller atoms). Too much sodium results in a loose “sodic” soil that is prone to erosion because the sodium doesn't hold the clay together. You can correct the CEC by adding lime for calcium (and pH increase) or dolomite for calcium/magnesium, or gypsum for calcium without a pH change.  This will displace the hydrogen and sodium, which are only held weakly.

3. Organic matter, most problems with your soil can be corrected with sufficient organic matter. Organic matter increases the amount of nutrients that the soil can hold, corrects pH, improves the water holding capacity, and most importantly, feeds the soil life in the next topic. Increase organic matter using compost, mulch, and most importantly, cover crops because plants increase organic matter through their roots. If you have no plants growing you are losing organic matter through oxidation (reaction with oxygen) and degrading your soil (notwithstanding if your soil is covered in snow, then it is all dormant and its ok to have nothing growing).

Soil life
Your soil is full of life, one teaspoon of soil contains more microbes than there are people on earth.

That’s one teaspoon of healthy soil, soil that hasn’t been poisoned by chemicals like herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilisers. Microbes are responsible for improving soil structure by producing sticky chemicals, they also dissolves minerals and make nutrients available to plants (for example, potassium solubilisation) and they increase the organic matter in your soil by changing liable humus to fixed or permanent humus.  You need to adopt gardening (and farming) practices that encourage soil life because it will ultimately reduce the work that you need to do.  Everything that builds organic matter, also feeds microbes, just try to avoid chemicals and encourage a healthy ecosystem through companion planting and beneficial insects.  I've written about soil microbes here, and also reviewed "Teaming with Microbes" here.  "The Biological Farmer" is another excellent resource for understanding soil on a farm-scale.

There is obviously more to soil than I can cover in this post, but I hope that this gets you started and helps you understand how its all connected.  No matter what texture or chemistry you start with, the key is increasing organic matter and soil life.

Did I miss anything?  What else do we need to know about soil?  Any soil questions?

How did I know that?  Here are affiliate links to books that have helped me to understand soil.  See more in my Amazon book store.



DIY linky

Monday, June 8, 2015

Guest post: Is there a place for power tools in the garden?

One of my regular readers and commenters offered to write a guest post about a horticulture course, its quite a funny read, with some serious insights into our technology obsession.  If you'd like to submit a guest post, email me at eight.acres.liz {at}  While I am always happy to share links back to your blog or website, this contributor preferred to remain anonymous.  I hope you enjoy their story....

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Just a few days ago our daily horticulture classes were interrupted by an invitation to review some new gardening gadgets. The idea was to open half a dozen of electric hand trimmers , test them and fill in some review about their goods and bads. As nothing is more dear to a student – even a “hort “ one - to escape routine and mess around till lunchtime, we opened the boxes and got down to business.

What did we have there? Eight toys ranging qualities from the very cheap to the smart looking. We unpacked them, read their instructions, fixed in their blades, batteries and extensions, and set out to give an unexpected fright to all surrounding bushes that didn’t manage to make themselves discreet in time. An hour later, with the novelty exhausted, we sat in a circle under the sun and gave a thought to the need and usefulness of the tools at hand.

eight acres: power tools in the garden?
I prefer my hand tools!

So, did they really work?

As expected, expensive outperformed cheap, but not always. Some models were definitely more useful than others (that is more powerful, more precise, more umf! ). Some could hardly brush through the outside leaves while others awakened a new sense of topiary skills. Some uses and adaptations stood out as plainly ridiculous, as an extension bar on a 10 cm wide trimmer to cut the lawn. Good luck with that one! Most were easily defeated when an unexpected obstacle –one of those you expect to find in the average garden, like a twig or a bump - were confronted. And some were as addictive as bursting bubble wrap

But laying there in the sun, my first thoughts went to Joel Salatin when he quotes “we have become a culture of technicians, we are all into the how of it but nobody steps back and says... but why!?”. Although the tools we had tested were clearly able to do their job, did we ever need them in the first place? Are we right to ask that question?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating here for a full return to the ox and roman plough under the scorching sun. A degree of mechanisation of the rigours of farming has no doubt transformed the lives of those dedicated to growing our food, and although the image of Mr Fukuoka may look appealing to the romantic view of nature, it’s also fair to leave room for other lifestyles and approaches.

But farming isn’t gardening, and the size of these tools is directed for the later, or the amateur gardener, as the publicity on the boxes will put it. Of course there is as many definitions of gardening as gardeners, but most of us would agree potting around in the garden is about retreating from the daily rush and noise to our own little realm of peace. Gardening is an intimate slow hobby were the pleasure is about the time spent working more than the amount of work achieved. A place to hum and mess around while caring and observing, more than a benchmark of productivity.  A moment of quiet meditation, perhaps even daydreaming a little, occupied in our inner thoughts. Or time to chat about the day with your partner while you work the flower bed together. Yes we will glee at our handsome dahlias and pride at our huge tomatoes, but as bonus not as a goal.

But if productivity is not the main reason to introduce this buzzing range of freaks to our garden, What about easing our chores? Again, let’s define chores. Yes, to the outsider there are some monotonous jobs like mowing the lawn or weeding that may seem a pain that could need addressing.  But in the gardeners eye a chore is the very reason of his or her pleasure. I’m not arguing that we don’t all have a particularly dreaded job or a day were we stop five times at the garden gate only to retreat with another excuse. But in a world were pleasure is something you are meant to buy in an endless succession of experiences, finding pleasure in working – especially working manually - seems a certain contradiction, a faulty philosophy. We are lost to understand that for some there is joy in an afternoon's pruning giving our hands a chance to caress the bark and put our skills at test, even if it’s cold or our hands ache a little. There is no need to hurry, no rush, so that kneeling, wandering, reaching, gathering ... are all parts of a familiar and welcome exercise. If at any point the garden gets reduced to a set of chores we should finish as easy and fast as possible, then maybe gardening isn’t for you. And a dozen electric buzzing machines will never make it more amicable.

Ok then! So what about those people in need of a hand like the disabled or the elderly? Now this is emotionally appealing, our feel good factor. Surely they shouldn’t be left out just because of my all hands approach to the garden? Well... its a good marketing strategy, but I’m afraid not so much of a fact!

Portable electric gardening tools aren’t necessarily designed for the handicapped, that’s much more of a sales afterthought. When we say disability, what disability? Certainly not something like autism and its common fixation for engine buzzes! Did we mean physical disabilities? But then, which one in particular? There are as many disabilities as people, each one with their one specific needs, and I have yet to see any of these tools designed for a particular disability in mind. Besides, factors like weight and vibration may easily defeat the grip and strength of the handicapped user.

If there is something I have learnt working with those of diverse functionality is their ability of working out their own solutions. Creative seems to be the second name to disabled, following the old saying “when there is a need there is a way”. Can´t bend down? I’ll raise the bed or hang the pots up! A second lesson you learn is the ability to adapt. Any good gardener knows the key to success is to find the right conditions for the right plant and let it thrive by itself, not fight a losing battle just to make things work were they shouldn’t. But this very notion is alien to the industrial mind that believes any obstacle can and must be overcome by yet a new ingenious gadget to be sold. (remember Salatin?) . So gardening is not about sacrosanct freedom to impose our will on nature, but more about learning to nurture and cooperate with it. If the hedge is too high to trim, how about planting something different? Or starting a sharing scheme with your garden where as the older may exchange experience and tricks of the trade for manpower of the young neighbour that can’t afford a garden of his own? Again, there are so many ways around it!

So what’s left? Why would we ever need to get one of these electric hand held tools? My belief is that the gardener doesn’t need them to garden, but the tools need the gardener to be sold to. Or as someone put it, they make a great present as soon as your birthday comes up, only to end up more often than not on the back shelf. Hand held portable electric tools are the logical step of industry to solve a problem they weren’t really invited to. Drilling a hole for the shelves? Ok, maybe I can see that. Trimming the hedge with an overgrown shaver? Was there ever the need?

Now let’s talk disadvantages. Price comes to mind too often, especially when talking over a hundred English pounds for a hand held trimmer. That’s not cheap, but commercial prices rarely reflect the true cost of the object sold. They don’t account for the thousands of new batteries that will be built and wasted, the raw materials dug out for them, the water and waste in their manufacturing, the plastic casing or the boxing they are presented in. And once sold they certainly aren´t bothered about where they will end up!

Furthermore, were are these things built and assembled? Did those people earn a fair wage for their work, did they do so in safe conditions? Was their homeland polluted as a result? Where did the earnings go to? Although mainstream consumerism may find these secondary and laughable questions, they are a big part of the current state of our world. There is little point of talking about sustainability and grow-your-own while filling up the world with much unneeded gadgets.

Ideas like programmed obsolescence – designing the tool with a specific lifetime after which they will cease to work and be dumped in some Indian beach – is a major crime in an unsustainable model. Not convinced? Ok, how many of these tools would you find ok to buy if the world dumped them by the hundreds of thousands in the outskirts of your home town?

My bottom line? Yes, in some few specific cases maybe a hand powered tool will make a difference, but to the common gardener with his small plot and leisure afternoon... this is one of those cases when the salesman needs you much more than you need the tool. In a small scale private gardening, it’s hard to find an excuse to justify their waste.

So before you run out to buy one think twice, then thing again. Borrow one and try it out for a week. Rent one for the day. Buy one between neighbours and share it out. And if you find it really useful, consider buying second hand.

And don’t forget to put the kettle on. Now that’s one useful electric gizmo!

What do you think?  Is there a place for power tools in the garden?

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Slow living farm update - June 2015

Its June, nearly winter here and time for another slow living update. Once again I'm joining in the Slow Living Monthly Nine, started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials and currently hosted by Linda at Greenhaven. How was your May?

You won’t believe this, but I have read Michael Pollan’s books “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defence of Food”. I actually read and reviewed "Cooked" back in 2013, so when I saw these two at the library, I thought I should really catch up! I’m enjoying the discussion about farming and how it relates to our collective food supply. I will write more when I finish reading. I also reviewed David Gillespie’s “Eat Real Food” last week and I really hope that you eat real food, because it does make a huge difference to your well-being..

Lately we have had the woodstove burning most nights, and if we aren’t cooking something in the oven, we use it to dry things. Lately I have dried chilli flakes, semi-dried tomatoes, used coffee grounds for soap making and turmeric from the garden. If you don’t have a woodstove with an oven, you can also dry things of trays above a woodstove, just make sure they don’t burn.

I took this photo of the coffee grounds that I dried to show you how I reuse glass jars. My pantry and fridge is full of jars, and any jar that comes into this house is likely to be reused at some point to store something. I find they are useful for storing both solids and liquids.

Last week I wrote about neem oil, and I just wanted to mention it here again because it really is a wonderful herb that can be used to repel insects (just use with caution if you’re pregnant).

The garden is GREEN this time of year, things are growing now that grow in temperate gardens in summer. And there are lots of tomatoes from the hydroponics.  See more about the garden here.

I have been knitting madly again. I made another pair of armwarmers, a matching head band (I get cold ears) and I’m working on a button-up snood. Then I think I’ll be ready to finish that alpaca shawl and then on to some crochet, winter is too short!  Read more about my knitting here.

I bought a secondhand overlocker and when I posted about my trouble with threading it there were so many kind and helpful comments, thank you all so much. I took it home to Peter and he pulled it apart and fiddled with it and we are closer, but its still not right. I have been reading about overlockers and thinking about buying a new one, with some proper instructions and lessons, I am still glad that I bought this one and learnt more about it before making the decision to buy an expensive new machine.  This link was helpful for overlocker instructions.

When our old dog Cheryl died a few weeks ago, even though I said I didn’t want comments on the post, I was touched that people found other ways to reach out to us, via the Eight Acres facebook page and email (eight.acres.liz {at}, so thank you all for your kind thoughts, they really did help us. And Cheryl, being a party animal who loved all people, would have been thrilled by all the attention, so thank you for your support.

We are actually doing ok. I think because we had a lot of warning, we knew that Cheryl was slowly fading away from us and it was only a matter of time, so in some ways it was easier to let her go, much easier than losing a younger dog in the prime of its life. Also we have Taz and who can be sad with a crazy happy young dog running around the place and wanting to play and snuggle up on the couch? I really wanted to reassure other dog owners that losing your dog is really tough, but if you focus on the good memories, you can get through it.  We are now actively "trying not to buy another puppy" because we have a few things we want to do before the end of the year that would be difficult with a puppy.  Taz will be an only dog for a while and she doesn't seem to mind having the front seat of the ute to herself.

Bella is getting bigger as her calf grows inside her and we are both looking forward to having fresh raw milk again soon (although the thought of milking “Mrs Kicky” and wondering whether this lactation will bring more mastitis does cause some trepidation). Having tame cows is a joy. Most beef cattle, even if they are used to humans, will draw the line at letting you touch them. Bella and Molly, having been handled by humans from a young age, will let me scratch them all over, hug them and they will even lick my boots (don’t know why they like boots, but I take it as affection). Sometimes I just like to spend some time in their paddock with them, it makes all the hard work worth it when you see two pregnant jersey cows running towards you at pace when you call their names (I know they are coming for hay, but its still sweet).  Read more about our cows here and my house cow ebook here.

How was your May?  What are your plans for June?


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