The end of an era …

I have decided to close this blog down, which means its the end of an era – I will continue blogging, just not here. As we are now putting all our energies into the farm and living a sustainable life there I thought it made sense to put them all together. So … thank you so much to those of you who have subscribed over the years – it is amazing to think that this blog has been around for five years and some of you have followed my ramblings for all that time! The North Glass has been a wonderful place to share my learning, hear your stories and share some sustainable goodness and that tradition will continue on the new blog.

So head on over to http://www.jaggedcrowfarm.com.au and subscribe over there to continue to follow our adventures! You will find all of my blogs from this site over there – just look under the Blog tab! So its not good-bye – its see you later!


Chook Garden

I have started to establish our food gardens on the farm, mostly in raised beds. But I found myself with a small stretch of soil which was right next to the new chook yard which was just begging to be planted up. I edged it with some left over bricks donated by a friend of mine for just such a purpose, piled it with pea straw and left it alone for several weeks to allow the bugs and worms to inhabit the safe haven under the mulch and begin to turn the soil.

Only recently did I plant the bed after we’d had a good couple of rainfall events – with herbs and chicken-friendly plantings that will benefit them if they peck at them through the wire – which I fully expect that they will – the plants will also attract bees and other beneficial insects to the garden.

I’ve planted two varieties of sage – green and purple, geranium – mainly because I had it, it’s hardy and it will flower and feed the bees, fennel which is great for chooks – it supports their reproductive health and lets face it – it’s all about the eggs for me! I also planted tansy which keeps blow flies at bay (they are attracted to all that chicken poo), thyme which promotes respiratory health,  acts as an antioxidant, has antibacterial properties, and helps control parasites. I also planted perlagonium because it smells really nice and will hopefully help to mask any chicken poo smells which might arise. I also inter-planted a few iris bulbs, simply because I have plenty, gifted to me from my mother-in-law and they will provide spots of colour and delight in spring.


Of course I was duly supervised by the beneficiaries of my gardening efforts – the chickens …

It always an act of hope and faith, planting a new garden, not only for the benefit of the humans that pass by and through it, but for the chickens on the other side of the wire.


Finally we can begin!

The shed I wrote about here is finally nearing completion and we are currently using it as our main accommodation while we prepare to build our house. It is a year since I blogged – I can’t believe its been that long – and a lot has happened in that year. In that time we had our house on and off the market for 15 months and finally someone came along who loved it and bought it – we hope they will be as happy there as we were. It was a great house and we loved bringing her back to life, but it was time for “Clara’s Cottage” to go to someone else who would enjoy the fruits of our labour.

“Clara’s Cottage”

We also needed to get our efforts focused on one thing – the farm and living the life we set out to create when we started on this journey back in 2009 (I think it was around then, but when you have a life changing epiphany you don’t stop to think to mark the date – or at least I didn’t).

We made the decision to move into the shed once it was nearing completion, before we had sold the house – it’s amazing how once you make a decision, things seem to fall into place. Within 3 months of that decision we’d sold our house and were living on the farm again.

It is so nice to wake up to the sound of birds not trucks, to walk to the dam not the shops, to be surrounded by scrub and wildlife instead of houses and footpaths. It is so nice to be living “off the grid” using mostly only the sun for our power needs.

Those six black panels and the sun run our fridge, washing machine, laptops, the tv (not that we make much time for watching tv these days – too much fun to be had outside), charge phones and provide light to us once the sun goes down. It is nice to know that my footprint just got smaller and recently I paid my last ever power bill for the old house. It was an amazing feeling when I rang the power company and told them we were moving out and they asked if we wanted to connect at our new residence. When I responded that we were going off-grid, the girl on the other end of the phone really didn’t have anything in her script for that one!

So I finally feel that we are now beginning to live the life that we have dreamed about, talked about and planned for, for so long. At times when our house wasn’t selling and there was not much progress on the completing the shed, I wondered if we would ever get here. But we did – my husband did an amazing job building this shed and fitting it out – I will blog more on that another day. We got here – and when people hear we are living in a shed they sort of look at us as if to say “and that makes you happy??” – darn right it does – we are on the farm, we are building our food systems, we are living among nature and we are doing it! I am getting my gardening mojo back in full swing!

We still have so much to do, but at least we can now begin!


Home grown insulation

We’ve had sheep on our property now for over 3 years and each year we have them shorn around November to help them keep cool over the long, hot, Australian summer. We have a great mobile shearer who comes to us and does them in the yards, which is fantastic for small producers who don’t have all the facilities of a complete shearing shed.

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Each year he leaves us with a whole lot of sheep fleece which we have stored in our farm shed. Some people have suggested that we use it for mulch – it certainly seems to take a long time to break down  and would be great for covering bare soil. Suffolk sheep’s wool doesn’t have a very long staple and this can make it challenging to spin – but not impossible. Learning to spin is on my list of things to do, but in the meantime the fleece is piling up!

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We decided that we could use it to insulate our shed (the one that we are lining) to make it a bit cosier. I also decided that because it had been out in the paddock on the back of our sheep for around 12 months it needed cleaning. Below is the ‘before’ photo…

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At this stage we don’t have hot running water on the farm. We have our spring-fed dam and three rainwater tanks to supply all the water we need. All cold water. Anyone who has ever owned a lovely woollen jumper or scarf knows that wool needs to be washed in warm water to stop it shrinking, or worse, felting. Or so I thought …

After a bit of research and asking anyone if they knew anything about how I could clean the wool, a sister of a friend told me about a cold fermenting method to clean the wool. You can find it here and it looks like this – all woolly and nice!

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So I bought myself a couple of big laundry bags (the type made of net, with a draw string top), a couple of BIG black tubs from the cheap shop, as recommended by Wool Ewe, and prepared the first batch. I left it for a couple of weeks to ferment. This process doesn’t remove the leaf litter or the dags, I do that when the fleece is dry. Some of the leaves are still in there – mainly because this wool is going in the walls of the shed and they are just a bit more organic matter to add to the insulation! If I was planning on spinning the wool, I would be a lot fussier about it’s final condition.

Here is the fermented water and the bag full of wool going in – I’ve had this brew going for around 12 months now, so it is really, really pongy! But it does a great job of cleaning the fleece.

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Once it has brewed for around a week, we lay it out onto the racks which we picked up from a builder’s rubbish pile next door to my mother-in-law’s place and they are just perfect for laying out the fleece to dry in the sun.

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From here it goes into the walls of the shed – to keep us warm and cosy as a lamb on a cold winter’s night (I hope!).

It’s nice to know that all this wool that they have produced isn’t going to waste – the more I live this permie life the more excited I get about finding uses for what others consider to be waste.  What waste product can you turn into something useful? I’d love to hear what you’ve found!

 


A second generation

When we first bought our Suffolk ewes back in 2012, we purchased them from a local Suffolk stud. We purchased experienced ewes as we were inexperienced farmers and we wanted to give everyone the best chance at a healthy life. This meant our first ewes were a little older. Last year when our lambs were born, we ended up with 4 girls and 1 boy, so we decided to keep our farm bred girls and breed from them this year. Last year we moved 3 of the older girls onto another hobby farmer for them to have at least a couple of years more breeding from these lovely ewes.  Our old ram was ready for retirement so we invested in a lovely stud ram from another local stud.  We started this year with 5 new sheep and 2 of our original girls so we weren’t too sure what might happen!

But it turns out they knew what they were doing … so far we have had two sets of twins from our first-time mums and they are just perfect!  Here they are being closely guarded by Bill and Ben the watchful alpacas:

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It is another step towards being self-sufficient when we know we can breed good lambs which can, in turn, produce good lambs … We still have two of our maiden ewes that are pregnant, so it looks like it will be a good year for lambs!

 


Beekeeping – How not to …

Beekeeping Safety

If you’re a bee keeper, either for fun or profit, you will know the joy of seeing a healthy hive and harvesting some of the liquid gold we call honey.  But beekeeping is not without its risks and there are some basic things you can do to ensure your safety.

If you’ve ever been stung by a bee you will know it is not pleasant and while they will generally only sting you if they feel threatened, that sting can be nasty.  For some people it can be life threatening and generally the more stings you get the worse your reaction will be.

Recently while opening one of our hives I was stung by at least 28 bees and ended up in hospital! So I am writing this blog partly so I can work out what went wrong and partly so that I can warn you before you perhaps make the same mistake. While in hospital I had enjoyed a cocktail of drugs to keep my airways open and the full-torso rash at bay, and since then I have had some time to reflect on how we could have done things better.

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So what happened? We didn’t smoke the hive before opening it – the smoke calms the bees down. We assessed the need for smoking and decided that as we were just putting a super box on top of the brood box, we could be in and out in a couple of minutes, not disturb the bees too much and we would be okay. Once we got the box open, I just couldn’t resist the urge to pull a couple of frames and check the health of the brood. By the time we were pulling the second frame up, I was bitten on the neck, through my suit!

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Me on a good beekeeping day

I stepped away from the hive, telling my husband that I had been stung and then realised the bee was inside my suit! As I walked away from the hive, I undid the zip of my hood to release the bee – not thinking about the multitude of bees which had swarmed onto the outside of my hood when we opened the hive – essentially I panicked.  And then it really began in earnest – more bees flocked inside the hood and got caught in my hair.  Finding themselves struggling to get out of my hair, they reacted as bees do – by stinging! My quick thinking husband handed me the hive brush to knock them out of my hair but it took a few minutes to get rid of them all and by then the damage was done.  As I had never been stung by so many bees before (prior to this I had only been stung by 8 bees in one hit), I did not know how I would react physically. We called 000.

Shortly thereafter, I was given a chauffeur driven ride to the nearest rural hospital courtesy of our Ambulance service. On route, the Ambo’s gave me antihistamine to slow the reaction and loaded me up with a cannula so that they had direct access to my veins for the administration of emergency drugs if they were needed. Upon arrival they administered pain killers and adrenaline to stop any potential throat swelling which can block breathing. Within an hour I had a full-torso, angry, red rash and cortisone was administered to deal with that (I wasn’t taking photos at that stage, so I can’t show you the damage).  Although I have never had a generalised reaction to bee stings before, the number of stings I had endured was obviously more than my system was happy with, hence the rash and generalised reaction.

Eventually I was released from hospital without the need for an overnight stay and I went home to sleep and heal.

So what went wrong?

Firstly, we didn’t check each other’s suits were correctly fastened before approaching the hive.  A quick check would have shown that the Velcro at the neck of my suit was not correctly done up and would have prevented that first bee getting in.

Secondly, we approached the hive with one plan and then we ignored our plan and did something else! Plan the hive visit, and then follow your plan – don’t decide to do something else without re-planning your approach.

Thirdly, we didn’t smoke the bees before we opened the hive – no wonder they were angry with us. No matter how placid you think your bees are, administer some smoke before removing the hive lid and checking the frames – it makes the bees a little more docile and less likely to sting!

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Lastly, when I realised there was a bee in my suit, I should have realised there were hundreds more outside – if you’re not allergic to bees, one sting won’t kill you – even if it is on your face – sit out the one sting to avoid multiple stings. Don’t remove or undo your suit until someone else has confirmed that there are no bees on your suit. I panicked at the thought of that one bee stinging me on the face and then lost my ability to think calmly and rationally about the situation and how to respond to it.

We’ve now implemented a safety check before we approach the hive. This includes checking that every fastener is done up correctly and there are no potential entry holes for the bees. Secondly we will “Plan the hive visit and visit the hive as per the plan”- we won’t be changing the plan mid-visit without re-assessing the dangers and risks. When the bees started getting overly aggressive, I should have aborted the hive visit, but we pushed on – if you don’t feel comfortable and safe – don’t proceed with going into the hive. Even bees have bad days.

So now, under doctor’s orders, I now have to carry a pair of epi-pens in case I get stung at any time. Not a bad outcome considering it could have been a lot worse, or even deadly. I will continue to keep bees, but with a new found respect for them and for my safety.

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So remember, if you are visiting a hive, you are entering the bees’ territory and it needs to be done in a manner which is safe for everybody – bees and humans included. And when that happens, you can enjoy the fruits of their labour with toast and tea instead of with adrenaline and cortisone!


For better or worse

We have a couple of significant blackberry patches on our farm. By significant I mean at least 20m2. Significant enough for us to pick blackberries over a period of around 6 weeks, which is just now drawing to a close. Significant enough to be considered a weedy pest and to warrant some sort of weed control action. Such a dilemma – the promise of small, sweet flavour bombs, filled with vitamin C and the sun’s warmth, juxtaposed against the invasive, thorny sticks which climb through our fences and sucker under the ground to get to the water in our dam.

I wrote here of hoping to pick some blackberries – it didn’t happen that year as I just got waylaid and distracted by life. This year I did manage to pick blackberries – enough to make jam, eat with ice-cream and eat while picking more! They were amazingly sweet and juicy.

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I made simple apple and blackberry jam, with blackberries from our bushes and apples foraged from roadside trees a few kilometres from the farm. I spent $1.95 on sugar. That was the total cost of the jam. We made enough jam for ourselves, probably not enough to give away, but enough to satisfy our craving for blackberry and apple jam.  I put 750gm of fruit (about 80% blackberries and 20% apples) and 750gm of sugar into a pot and cooked it just above boiling point (around 105ºC) for long enough for it to start to thicken.

Making Blackberry Jam

Once it had thickened I poured into jars and put the lids on – wasn’t that difficult, just a little time consuming and totally worth the time spent.

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Now that the fruit is almost finished, we have set up our goats’ shelter and water near the blackberries – they love them too and will happily munch their way through the thorns, prickles and brambly sticks to get to the remaining fruit and the green leaves – there’s not much that is green at this time of the year, so they are happy to munch into blackberry leaves despite the thorny challenge presented. We are hoping that they will munch a significant portion of this particular patch down to a few sticks which can be cut back and burnt when the fire ban season ends. This will reduce the weed load on the farm and we will still have enough to provide us with some tasty fruit next year. It’s not so much that we need to eradicate the bushes completely; but that we need to make sure they are kept under control and don’t creep into the native vegetation and take over the local indigenous plantings. Here’s Maggie having a munch at those prickles…

Maggie in Blackberries

So each summer I think we will pick a few and give some more to the goats to keep them busy … For better or worse, they are good to have at the farm and make a great summer dessert, jam for winter and fodder for animals – I’m keeping them!