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Showing posts from June, 2014

Lavender wheat heat packs

Soon after the invention of the microwave someone must have realised that you could microwave a small sack of wheat and use it to keep people warm. I remember seeing them in physio clinics in the early 90s. I wonder who first had the idea! I first made one when I was at university, living in a small cold house and too cheap to pay for heating. Sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night, freezing and unable to sleep, and reheat my wheat pack before going back to bed! I had to leave that one in NZ (due to biosecurity you can't take plant or animal material into Australia), so I made another one when I got to Australia, and now I thought it would be useful to have more than one, so I’ve made some more. This time I included dried lavender from my garden as well as the wheat, so they smell nice too.

I prefer wheat packs to hot water bottles because when they cool down, they stay around body temperature.  Hot water bottles tend to turn into "cold water bottles", …

Should you eat animal products?

If you follow the popular media you might be feeling guilty about eating meat, even dairy products, for a number of reasons.  There's a few things you should know about eating meat...



(By the way, I haven't written this post to attack vegetarians, I just thought you all might find this information useful, what you eat is your choice, but I hope that it is an informed choice).

Meat and climate change

Meat and your heart health

Michael Pollan follows a steer from farm to feedlot

Meat and animal welfare
The animals that we eat are domesticated, that means that they can no longer survive in the wild, just like your pet dog or cat, they rely on humans to help them find food, water and shelter.  Farmers spend their days tending to these animals.  If they weren't expecting to sell them, they wouldn't want to spend that time caring for them, and those animals would not exist.  However, that is not to say that we don't owe these animals a quality of life.  I find confined animal…

Setting up another worm farm

Even if you are not confident with compost you will find worm farming to be amazingly easy. I was scared at first that I would kill my worms, as there seemed to be so many rules about how to look after them, but after two years I’ve realised that as long as you keep your worms in the shade and feed them occasionally, they will be just fine. They will continue to produce compost and worm wee for your garden (and worms for your chickens), even if you forget them for a few weeks. I started with a tiny handful of worms, and they have gradually multiplied to the point where I think I have enough to start another worm farm.


All you need to start a worm farm is a container to keep them in (either a commercial worm farm or one of the many DYI options on the web), some worms and some scraps to get them started. If you buy a commercial worm farm it usually comes with some coconut coir that you soak in water, this is somewhere cool and moist for your worms to hide until they’ve built up som…

How to tell if your house cow is on heat

If you want your cow to continue producing milk, at some stage she’s going to need to have another calf.  Essentially you have two options, either artificial insemination (AI) or a bull. We have tried both. If you’re going to use artificial insemination, talk to your vet a few weeks in advance and arrange with them to have the appropriate semen ready. You will need to call them again on the day your cow is in “standing heat” (explained below) and arrange for a house call. In total this only cost us $100, but we are only 10 km from town, a vet may charge considerably more if they have to travel further. There is no guarantee that artificial insemination will work the first time and you may need several visits to get the timing perfect. When the vet came, he just asked us to lead Bella to her bales, he didn’t need to restrain her any more than we do for milking. I was surprised how good Bella was, considering how much she kicks us when we are trying to milk her, she didn't se…

Bore water for small farms

"As I’ve written previously, secure water on your small farm is one of the most important inputs no matter if you just want a small vegetable garden or to keep livestock as well. One option is dam water, but on some properties the soil doesn’t hold water, and if you don’t get regular rain, dams can dry up.

If you can find good bore water on your property, you are guaranteed a supply of water, even through a drought, however it is not always easy to find water underground."


Read the rest of my article on Farmstyle



What's your experience with bores and bore water?

Knitting is a survival skill

I was lucky to go to school while the importance of teaching kids such life-skills as cooking, sewing and constructing things from wood and metal was still recognised. We spent several weeks in each class, several hours per week. I believe that many schools no longer teach these skills, which is a real shame, and the subject of another post entirely. My point here is that I learnt to sew when I was 11 and I got a bit of practice making different things. The school had the same sewing machines as my mother’s Bernina, so I was able to practice at home as well. My parents gave me a new Brother for my 21st birthday. I am not a brilliant sewer, but I am comfortable with cutting out and sewing fabric, especially simple projects like curtains, which can be pretty handy for making what we need and saving money.


While I learnt to knit around the same age, I never practiced much had never learnt to follow a pattern or any fancy stitches. I did not (and still do not) feel as comfortable with kni…

Winter Woodfires: Using wood ash

As you know, through winter we heat our home and cook using a woodstove, so we produce lots of wood ash as a result.  Our current woodstove has a very clever design where the ash tray can be pulled out and emptied easily, this makes cleaning much more pleasant than when you have to scoop out all the ash.  We have to clean out the ash tray every couple of days if we have the woodstove burning every day.

We don't see the ash as a waste product though.  Wood ash is all the mineral matter remaining from the wood that was burnt, so its great for adding minerals to garden soil.  It usually also contains some unburnt carbon (biochar).  I spread the ash through the garden and tip it into the compost as well.  Wood ash is good for chickens to dust bath with, so I put it in their nesting boxes with a layer of wood shavings.
I thought it would be simple to find out the mineral composition of ash, but it took me a while to figure out why the elemental composition didn't add to 100%.  Then…

Training our Taz - puppy months and dog years

When we got Taz, our little collie kelpie cross puppy, on the first weekend in January this year, she was only 11 weeks old and tiny, everyone we talked to joked about how much she would chew our things and how much trouble she would be. Truly I dreaded having a puppy. I hadn’t had one before, but I had heard that they can be difficult. I would have been happy to adopt an older dog from a shelter and skip puppy-hood altogether, but we wanted to have the opportunity to train our dog to behave around chickens, and maybe to help us herd cattle, so we needed to start young.  Here's what I wrote about her back in February.


Now that we have had Taz for 6 months and she’s about 9 months old, the puppy times don’t seem so bad at all, and I am glad that I didn’t miss them, its been really lovely to watch Taz grow up so quickly. I credit our relatively satisfaction to several factors. First, we started with a smart puppy, she does want to learn and want to please, she only wee’d inside…

Choosing chooks - which chickens are best for you?

I had a question on the eight acres facebook page about what type of chickens I recommend (table and layers) and whether we keep them together. I thought it was a great question and I didn’t think I could answer that in one facebook comment, but it makes a great topic for a blog post....



Of course the actual ideal chicken for your situation is going to be different to my ideal chicken, but here’s some general points to consider:
If you are going to breed chickens, its much easier to have one breed or type of chicken to do everything you want chickens to do, then you don’t have to worry about keeping multiple roosters and keeping flocks separate. However, if you have the space to also consider multiple types of poultry, for example, keep a laying hen breed, and turkeys for meat. Or ducks for eggs and chickens for meat, that is another solution. Different poultry eat different bugs, weeds and cause varying damage to mulched gardens. One of the main ideas of permaculture is to have e…

Planning a property using permaculture

Every property is different and every person has different hopes and dreams for their property and different abilities to achieve them, too, but I think there are some general ideas from permaculture that could help you get started with a new property.


First, do nothing (or do very little anyway).
That’s right, do nothing for months. Well don’t do nothing, but don’t jump in and start any major projects until you’ve spent some time observing your property. In permaculture, this is the “Observe and Interact” principle. You need to understand as much as possible about your property before you make any major decision. This is also a good time to use the principle “Use small and slow solutions” because they are much easier to change if you realise you missed something later on, compared to big and expensive projects which you will be effectively stuck with.

Things you should be observing during this time include:

Water flow, rainfall (when and how much), frost/snow times and severity, hi…

How I use herbs - Marigold, calendula and winter tarragon

In some countries Calendula officinalis is referred to as “pot marigold”, but the plant I call marigold is Tagetes patula, or French marigold (Tagetes erectus is African marigold, although both originate in North America), and I call the other one calendula (originating from the Mediterranean). Fortunately, both of the flowers are edible, so it doesn’t really matter if you get them mixed up! They both have blooms ranging from yellow to dark orange, and they both self-seed and come up all over my garden, mainly in spring and autumn. And while we’re on the subject of Tagetes, I also grow Tagetes lucida, known as Winter Tarragon or Mexican Marigold, as a perennial in a pot.
I mainly use calendula flowers for tea. I just pick the flowers and allow them to air dry, and then remove the dried petals. Calendula is said to have many health benefits due to its beta-carotene content. Calendula also has skin healing properties and the petals can be used to infuse oil to make an ointment, o…

Farm update - June 2014

May weekends have been dominated by lantana spraying and installing insulation.  Neither of which are much fun, but had to be done.  Since our little bull Donald died from lantana poisoning, we realised we had to take it more seriously.  There's not much lantana at Eight Acres, we dug all that out when we first arrived, but at Cheslyn Rise, we knew we had a few bushes, and then when we went looking for it, we found it EVERYWHERE, and huge bushes 2m high and 2m wide.  We decided we needed to get it under control quickly, so spraying was the best option (and after that we can start chipping out the smaller plants as we find them).  In total we spent four days and sprayed 800 L of mixed up spray using our tractor sprayer.  The only good part was that while we were walking through the bush looking for lantana, we saw some areas of our property that we had never been to before!  I am hoping we can return for more peaceful walks without all the chemical handling gear.
We have finished …