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.


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!


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…


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!


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.


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!


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:

  2014 Youngest

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.

photo 2

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

photo 3

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.

    photo 1

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


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

Three Surprises in the Paddock

About a month ago we had been off farm for a few days and when we returned we discovered that one of our steer calves had set himself free by getting through the electric fence – or perhaps around the electric fence – into the hay paddock!  He was quite happily munching and consuming his summer feed well ahead of time.  I walked up the paddock to see if I could convince him to go back with his herd and as I was walking up the hill I did a quick head count – we have 10 cattle in total so I wanted to make sure no-one else had gone walkabout too.  I counted – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10. 11 – hang on … 11? 11 – where did you come from number 11?  You are too little to be one of ours … 11?

As I got closer, number 11 moved closer towards its mother – to our delight, Arrabella had given birth to a young heifer while we had been away.  She was still wobbly on her legs, so we think she may have been born within the last 24 hours or so … We didn’t even realise Arrabella was pregnant!  She is quite a tall and large framed cow and had been feeding her older calf, Knuckles, so we did not think anything of it when we saw her swollen udder or were knocked off our feet in her rush to get to the feed!  Then we did the sums.  We had Benson, the bull in only 5 months previously … so this calf was not his.  We purchased Arrabella and two others in January.  She must have been pregnant when we bought her!  But no-one, except Arrabella, knew that.

What a lovely surprise our bonus calf was, so we called her Bonnie.

Arrabella and Bonnie

And then I started to wonder … could the other cow and heifer that we purchased at the same time also be pregnant?  It was difficult to tell with Astrid, as she too, had been feeding a calf that we bought with her.  Four days later, another calf appeared in our paddock!  Another heifer calf … Astrid had indeed been pregnant!  Here’s Bella:


I studied Apple very closely from that point on, her udder was getting larger than it should have been if she was only 5 months pregnant. While she wasn’t looking overlay rotund, that udder was getting bigger everyday.

Three days later, Kokoda, a bull calf was born.

Apple and Kokoda

While we were a little surprised by these three early additions to our farm, we were also excited – there is something amazing about new life, no matter what form it comes in and these three curious calves have won our hearts!  Welcome little ones.

Ewe were!

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying to work out if our sheep were in fact pregnant, or not. My father in law used to be a stud master, so we asked his advice. He said the best way to know for sure if they were pregnant was when they produced a lamb! Funny comment, but not very helpful to a sheep farmer who is clearly still learning! I guess what he was saying was two-fold: be patient – not my strong point, and even an experienced (now retired) stud manager could get it wrong if he tried to second guess nature.
And so we waited. And every time we arrived at the farm I would peer down the paddock, take a quick head count and report to my beloved “7”. Six ewes and a ram equals 7.
And we waited. And when we stay over night in the caravan that we have on site I would go for a walk in the morning and do another head count. 7. Clearly this has been going on for many weeks. Perhaps even 7 weeks.
Today my wait was rewarded! Two of our ewes gave birth today and each produced twins!

It was absolutely delightful to arrive at the farm about two hours after the second pair were born, still wobbly on their legs, following mum around, looking for food, still being cleaned up by the mother following the birth.
The other sheep from the flock eventually went near the new lambs and had a sniff, and then left them alone again to get used to this new way of being. The ewe who had just birthed them, had her head in the paddock eating as if nothing was going on, that is until her lambs found her udder and started helping themselves!
Hopefully there will be more lambs to come over the next few weeks, but the delight of two sets of twins to kick off the season couldn’t go without a post.

Are ewe or aren’t ewe?


Some time ago we acquired six beautiful black faced Suffolk ewes with the intention of breeding them for meat – mainly for our own consumption, but perhaps with a little to share amongst friends and family. The breeder from whom we purchased them gave us plenty of tips and information about growing lambs. He told us that most ewes only come into their fertile season in warm weather, hence they tend to birth their lambs in winter, some five months after conception.

A short time after the ewes came to the farm we purchased a ram from a fellow hobby farmer. The ram has a proven history of producing offspring … a good start we thought. So the seven lovely Suffolks have been happily eating our grass and competing with the Dexters for hay for about 8 months now.  And it’s about 4 months since the end of summer.   Seems like the time must be getting close for lambs to appear if they are there! Each week when we visit the farm, we study the ewes … Are they getting fatter? Is that an udder I see forming? Really when did the weather get warm?  And is it really almost 5 months yet? We did have a late summer with March being by far the warmest month of the season.

It seems stories abound of lambs being born on cold, wet, windy winter nights.  Well we’ve had some of those, and still no lambs… And so we wait and wonder if nature did, in fact, take its course.

And every time we visit the farm I peer over the gate, hoping to spot a little bundle of Suffolk lamb, and every week so far I have been disappointed. The anticipation of a lamb hits me about 3 days before we go each week, so I spend 3 days thinking about what it will be like to see our first lamb, then several days recovering from the disappointment of “not yet”.

Time will tell … and I’m hoping my patience is soon rewarded!