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!

 


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!


Vegetarian Free Zone: Growing our Own Meat

I want to write about growing our own meat, so if you’re a vegetarian, may I suggest you stop reading now as I don’t want to offend you but I also ask that you respect my right to choose the food I consume.

One of our objectives that we set out right from the beginning was being able to control as much of our food chain as possible, and if we don’t grow it ourselves, to at least know where it came from and how it was raised. Whether that be plant or animal.  I wrote earlier about the great debate we had over whether we could live without meat in our diets, so I won’t go into it again here. In the end, we both decided that we liked meat in our diets. Consciously, knowing the impact on the planet and, of course, the aniimal, we choose to eat meat.  We only eat meat a couple of times a week, the rest of the time our meals are mainly vegetarian and sometimes even vegan. But nonetheless it is a regular part of our diet.

So it was with great anticipation that we decided one of our steers had come of size and we booked the butcher.  We consciously decided to have the meat slaughtered on our own property as we believed this would be less stressful on the animals concerned, generate zero food miles and be a more humane way for the animal to die.

And the day came and the butcher arrived and, I must admit I was more than a bit squeamish. But if I choose to eat meat then I believe I should take responsibility for its production. We know with certainty that our animals are raised in a way that is as close to natural as possible. We do not use growth hormones or fertiliser in the paddock. They are allowed to free range and graze naturally.  We feed them no grain. They have a pretty good life while they are on our farm. And when it is time for them to go, it is quick and they don’t even see it coming.  Our first steer died with grass still hanging out the sides of his mouth as he chomped down on some fresh green fodder in the yard and he really had no idea what was coming, or what had happened. It was that quick.

I won’t go into the details between that and finding its way onto our plates, but I can say the flavour of that meat was something out of this world. Actually it had a lot more flavour than anything I can buy in the supermarket and it was full of Omega-3s and vitamins and nutrition that is often lost in long storage, freezing and transporting meat across the country, or worse, around the globe.

I would encourage everyone to at least be conscious of where your meat comes from, how it is raised, the welfare of the animal while it was alive and how it was killed. If you can’t grow your own, then at the very least get to know your local small business butcher or farmers’ market meat vendor and talk to them about how they raise their animals. The more we, as consumers, ask about how animals are treated, what is fed to them, either directly, or what is put on the grasses in the paddock, the more we will raise awareness that we want good, clean, healthy food in our bodies and we want animals to be treated as humanely as possible. Ask questions about whether the animal was grain fed – while some butchers promote this as being ideal, studies have shown that grain feeding changes the nutritional value of the meat. And we know that grain is not the natural diet of cows and sheep – it is simply used to fatten them up for sale to market so that farmer achieves a higher price. Find out what fertilisers are used in the paddock – they go from grass to animal to you … Take responsibility for what ends up on your plate. Consumer and consumer demand can effectively change farming practices around the world if enough of us speak up.

So next time you’re tucking into a nice medium-well done steak, have a thought for the animal who gave up his or her life for your benefit and be conscious of the weight of the decision to consume it.  It doesn’t have to be a morose time, but a time to enjoy and be thankful that we are lucky enough to have choice and to exercise conscious consumerism.

Bon Appetit!

Steak


What a difference a weekend makes

Last weekend, some 22 friends and relatives joined us on the farm to transform areas of paddock to areas of revegetation.  We were lucky enough to have some other good friends grow our Trees for Life order this year so we have been able to watch their progress from the time the seeds were planted. Trees for Life is a community of people working to revegetate South Australia and conserve its remnant vegetation. We collected 585 trees this year from our grower friends and from Saturday morning until Sunday lunchtime, a group of us dug holes, planted trees, placed tree guards and had some great fun along the way.  We planted up two areas of our farm.

Saturday saw us plant 260 trees which we hope will form a windbreak for our dam, protecting it in future years from the hot, harsh north winds of summer and reducing evaporation of our precious water supply.  We also hope that these trees will reduce the flow of water through our paddocks and onto our road area, thereby reducing erosion and loss of top soil. Finally we expect this tree belt will provide shelter for our stock in years to come.

Here is how we started – a few people in the morning and more in the afternoon, a line in the paddock made of flour, outlining the area to be planted up – seemed a bit daunting when it was a blank paddock.

2014 Day 1 Begins

We were closely supervised by the cows who took great interest in what we were doing, that is until they realised we weren’t there to feed them: 2014 Day 2 Progress

And by the end of the day, many hands had made light work of 260 trees – although our bodies still ached a little!

2014 Day 1 End

We did have some help along the way.  Our youngest tree planter was not quite three years old, but knew how to select a good plant and place it where it will grow:

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Even Superman came out to help …

2014 Superman

Amid the camaraderie and conversation, we dug, planted, refilled holes and applied tree guards under a beautiful blue late autumn sky. New friends were made, old friends caught up and long lost cousins re-united – a group of like minded individuals, concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, doing a little something to make a difference.

On the Sunday morning we decided to do a bit more planting – because we just weren’t aching quite enough in all of our joints and muscles!

And so we set out to plant a small wind break in what is earmarked to become our horticulture paddock.

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And when we were finished we counted just over 100 trees … not a bad morning’s work.

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We couldn’t have done it without the energy and running legs of the junior tree planters who enthusiastically chose plants, passed out tree guards, dug holes, played behind the farm shed, carried materials and kept us entertained while we worked.

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All in all, it was an amazing weekend, where good friends came together to make a difference. Without them we would have a lot more trees still in plastic waiting for a place on our farm and we wouldn’t have enjoyed such great company and determination to impact our world positively. If you’ve never been involved in a tree planting or re-vegetation project, I highly recommend it!


A visit to an organic orchard

A couple of weeks ago we visited an organic apple orchard.  The event was arranged by our local organic, bio-dynamic group, OBDA. It was wonderful to see an orchard of such a scale embracing organic principles.  They have been certified organic for around 20 years and so have their processes and practices well honed!  The tour started with the orchardist crushing apples for juice – fresh pink ladies and gala apples squeezed right before our eyes and so delicious! The apple press was a small hand operated piece of equipment which I’d like to re-create one day for our own use.  It had a hand crank on the top, a feeder box for the apples which crushed them then fed them into the press below. The press was then moved underneath the hand operated press and the juice was squeezed out of them into a bucket. We couldn’t get enough of it – delicious is an understatement!  Here it is in action.

Apple Press

This was followed by a demonstration of how the apples are sorted for size and packed into large crates.  Once they are washed, they go onto a conveyor belt where they are sorted by size and dropped onto the appropriate belt for packing.

Washing Organic Apples

 Sorting Apples

Sorted Apples

It was great to see this in action.  This was followed by a demonstration on grafting fruit trees – apples actually!  And the orchardist was so generous with his knowledge – I might even have a go at this myself sometime – spring is the best time I hear, so I will have to wait a while.

We then headed up to a lovely courtyard area built by his son and had a tour of the orchard, followed by delicious fresh wood oven pizza (not topped with apples) and apple crumble – of course!

The whole day was inspiring, fun and educational and I would recommend to everyone, that if you have an opportunity to go and visit a working farm then go and do it – go and see how your food is really produced and get to know the farmer.  They are generous and helpful and filled with knowledge – and you might even get some to take home too!

Organic Apple

 


Our first produce for sale!

For some months now I have been attempting to grow some produce that can be sold. We have a wonderful shop in our local town which supports and promotes local growers and fresh organic produce. I have been an irregular customer of theirs for some years in their other shop on the other side of our peninsula. And about 3 months ago they opened a store in the town closest to us. Not only was I excited about this as a consumer, but it has been a dream of mine to grow and sell organic produce for some time … A way of generating some income from our farm which might help us to sustain our other activities.

But of course I have had to build the garden beds from scratch. I wrote about it here. So it has taken me some time to get things going and really establish some kind of food production which is over and above our own needs.  And I sourced some more rain water tanks to cut down – they make great raised beds and give an old tank new purpose.   I grew most things from seed because I haven’t been very good at that in the past and I thought it was a skill worth practicing. Here’s my lettuces just after they were planted out from the seedling tray …

First Lettuces in Tank

We only have one tank near the vegetable garden at this stage and it holds 1000 litres – which sounds like a lot, but each day I am using around 100 litres just to keep things alive.  We haven’t had any rain for over a month so my beloved has been carting water from our main tank and re-filling the garden tank, one bucket at a time to make sure we have enough for the vegetable garden. All the watering is being done by hand as we have not yet established our irrigation system.  While this sounds tedious, I find it very relaxing and as I wait for the watering can to refill, I potter around weeding the beds, tend to the seedlings or doing a couple of quick transplants of seedlings to beds or adding mulch to the beds as they need it.   There is always something to do while waiting and sometimes I just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of an early morning or late evening.  Occasionally one of our resident kangaroos hops past on his or her way to greener pastures and does not seem to be too perturbed by my presence.

So it has been quite an achievement to get some produce to the point of being sale-able and in enough quantity to make it worth while, but it has been a pleasant endeavour along the way.

First Produce for Sale

I am sure this will be the first of many deliveries we make to our local grocery store!

 


A new garden

One of the challenges I have faced since moving to the farm is that I have had to start from scratch with my veggie garden. Instead of benefiting from the previous year’s soil conditioning, chook manure and green growth dug through the soil making friable black dirt, I have started with a heavy clay soil. I decided to create raised garden beds, partly to counter the heavy clay with some soil that might be slightly easier on my plants, but also to make gardening easier on my back. Inspired by the German “Hugelkultur”, some no dig gardening techniques and “lasagna beds”, I created layered beds in what was a paddock from bottom to top like this:

  • I let the chooks dig over the ground and fertilise for around a week (or sometimes two weeks if I forgot to move them)
  • a layer of thick cardboard – a good way to reuse the packing boxes
  • a layer of acacia branches which had been pruned off the bushes – they are prickly and not very nice to walk around, so they had to go. I am hoping they will add nitrogen to the soil from their green branches
  • a layer of clay soil we dug up from our shed pad
  • a layer of compost
  • a layer of straw
  • a layer of mixed soil and compost which I bought in (and is proving to have lots of weeds in it – not something I had really wanted)

Here’s the process in photos:

Chooks have finished, cardboard is put in place

Chooks have finished working over the area, cardboard is put in place

The prickly Acacia is added

The prickly Acacia is added

Clay soil is layered on top - hopefully this will help with water retention in the bed

Clay soil is layered on top of the prickly Acacia – hopefully this will help with water retention in the bed

Bed with all layers ready for planting

Bed with all layers except the final layer of soil/compost mix, almost ready for planting

Several of my friends joked that, before they were planted, they looked like freshly dug graves.  But from these funny looking garden beds, we will raise life and food! This year I have grown all my seedlings from seeds. Most years I buy seedlings and take advantage of someone else’s early work to push my garden along, but this year I decided I would grow everything I could from seed – a cheaper option which also provided me with a much wider range of heritage varieties to choose from, rather than just growing those varieties which are sold in the mainstream garden centres.

Into these long piles of promising dirt and compost, I have planted three varieties of heritage potatoes, climbing snow peas, 3 varieties of zucchinis, 2 varieties of pumpkins, tomatoes including a few which have self propogated from the compost which was their growing medium, celery given to me by a friend, beans and lettuces (some of my lettuces came from seedlings which I obtained at the local food swap,the others have been grown from seed).

Veggie Progress, December 2013

Veggie Progress, December 2013

It has taken a little longer for our food garden to become productive this year, in part because I had to start with building the beds and in part because I have chosen to grow from seed. We are now just beginning to harvest our crop, with plenty of lettuce and tomatoes for our salads, and peas, punpkins and zucchinis are beginning to flower, meaning less we need to buy from the markets, a step towards self-sufficiency and the undeniable pleasure and taste of home grown produce.

First Tomatoes of the Season

First Tomatoes of the Season