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!

 


Autumn Harvest

I love this time of year. There seems to be a promise in the air.  The nights start cooling off and the days are warm and clear. We even had some rain last night which has cooled the whole garden down and given us some hope that dry earth is not all we will have this year. It has been dry in our part of the world for the best part of six months, with occasional showers between long spells of warm, dry weather. Which is nice if you like being outdoors, but it’s been getting dustier and dustier and the rain last night will only just hold the dust down for a few hours.

And yet nature surprises us with fruit for harvesting, despite the harsh summer. We are in the middle of our tomato glut which is late for our part of the world – in part due to the cool nights we have been experiencing this summer which doesn’t allow the fruit to set as readily. Our fig tree has been full of ripening fruit for a few weeks now. We netted it a while ago and we have been eagerly watching it to discover when the fruit is ripe. Like most plants, the ripening happens slowly to begin with and then there seems to be a rush of fruit and suddenly we have a glut on our hands.

Fig Tree

This morning we went out and picked two big armfuls of fruit – we just stood under the tree and took what we could reach. And now they have been cut and are sitting in the dehydrator. By tomorrow I will have luscious dried figs – if you have never tried figs this way you will be amazed at the intensity of the flavour!

Drying Figs

The promise of autumn is always delicious – figs, tomatoes, rhubarb, the lasts of the zucchini and cucumbers, strawberries still trying to ripen – the promise of rain and the new life that it brings. No wonder it’s my favourite time of year!


5 Minute Basil and Almond Pesto

I love those crunchy basil pesto dips that are sold in the supermarkets, but I don’t love the additives and preservatives that go with them – “the numbers” as I call them. I’ve become a bit more stringent about reading food labels as I’ve learnt more about food, how it is produced and how many food-like products there are in the supermarkets. Food-like products – something which looks like food, smells like food, but is made from highly processed inputs, chemicals and numbers.

My general rule of thumb these days is if there is something in the ingredients list that I don’t recognise or sounds like a chemistry lesson that I missed, then I don’t eat it. So it is always delightful to go to the garden in the middle of summer and pick fresh basil from my garden and turn it into pesto. This pesto is so quick and easy and forgiving, I can make it in about 5 minutes, not including time picking the basil, as I inevitably get sidetracked onto picking tomatoes, thinning seedlings or watering pots when I am out there. Once I return to the kitchen it is about 5 minutes from basil to pesto.  Here’s my recipe:

A big bunch of basil, freshly picked – about this much (this is my pasta strainer filled almost to the brim):

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Place it all into the bowl of your food processor along with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of almonds – depending on how nutty you like it, a couple of handfuls of finely grated Parmesan cheese. Process it for around 30 seconds until the leaves disappear, keep the processor running and drizzle in some good quality, local olive oil – the Parmesan will absorb a lot of oil, so check the texture as you go until it is what you like. It will take around 60 seconds to process this all up. Don’t over process it or you will lose all the delicious texture.

Then spoon it into small pots – my mixture made two of these pots, so I froze one for use later. It is really nice added to a delicious winter vegetable soup, or scattered over a tossed salad if you can’t wait that long. And I put one in the fridge for dipping … soon.

Pesto

 

Really only 5 minutes including cleaning up … enjoy!

 

 


Rhubarb and Walnut Cake

One of the things I love the most about growing some of my own food is the sense of satisfaction and joy that I get in using those things in my cooking.  This morning I decided the rhubarb was ready and, knowing how much my husband LOVES rhubarb, I decided to bake one of my favourites, Rhubarb and Walnut Cake. I don’t remember where I got the original recipe from, but I have adjusted it over the years that I have made it, so here it is in it current form. Filled with homegrown rhubarb and backyard eggs, I make mine with locally produced bio-dynamic butter and yoghurt, so this cake has very few food miles too! And it’s lovely on a cool day with a cup of coffee.

Warm the oven to 180°C

Topping

1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon

Cake

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 cup (250g) plain/natural yoghurt
2 cups plain flour
1 cup (125g) chopped and stewed rhubarb (1.5 cm pieces), cooled

Method

To make the topping, mix the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Cake Topping

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Dissolve the bicarb soda into the yoghurt.  Add to the butter mixture and then beat in the flour.

Cake Mix

Fold in the rhubarb.  Pour into cake tin and sprinkle with topping.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes.

I used stewed rhubarb (done in 4 minutes in the microwave), rather than raw and that creates a nice swirly look to the cake. Depending on your oven, you may need a longer baking time than suggested by the recipe, so it’s worth testing it with a skewer before removing it from the oven – This may be due to the added moisture that stewing the rhubarb provides.

Rhubarb and Walnut Cake

The topping can be quite crumbly, but it is sweet and delicious and worth a bit of mess on the bench-top!

Happy baking!


A caravan life

When we decided that we needed to be on the farm full-time, we did not even have a shed erected on the site.  Council approvals and bad weather had delayed us for over 6 months.  Originally we thought we would have two sheds up by the time we wanted to move here, but obviously this didn’t happen. We moved to the farm anyway …  to live in our caravan for the short term until we got further accommodation sorted out.

Those who know me may remember me as a city girl who likes her creature comforts. Having been a regular day spa visitor and not being a big fan of dust, windy days or hot weather this was a big change for me. In fact in the last few weeks before we moved I started quietly looking at the Real Estate online rentals section to see if we couldn’t get ourselves a few creature comforts for a small price. And then I would do the maths and realise that it would cost us at least $1000 per month to do that – that seemed like an awful lot for a few creature comforts and it also represented a lot of things we couldn’t do on the farm that we really wanted to do if we spent that money in another way.

So we moved into the caravan – I kept telling everyone I met that it is part of a ‘rite of passage’ for anyone who builds their own home on acres. And I did think it would only be short term.  I still think it will be relatively short term.

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Moving into the caravan, though, meant we needed a few more things than we did if we just stayed down on weekends.  Simple things like electricity.  We invested in a 2600W generator which will become the backup to our off-grid solar system for the future house.  We also bought a 750W, 12V solar system which runs the deep cycle batteries for the caravan and from this we can run lights, hot water and pump water into the shower and sink.  So we have hot running water.  For at least 15 minutes a day we have hot running water.  In that time 2 people can have showers and wash their hair – personally I never would have thought this possible even 3 months ago. But then I had tresses halfway down my back.  Now I have short hair – I had over 12 inches or 30 cms cut off the length soon after we moved here – I didn’t even consider it a sacrifice and now I love my short, easy to manage do and I can get through a shower in under 8 minutes which I never thought was possible!

The generator means that we can charge laptops, phones, modems for about 1 – 2 hours per day and we can survive on this amount of connectivity every 24 hours.  If the modem goes flat from over use (or forgetting to turn it off when not in use), or I run out of battery on my laptop, then we have to make a decision as to whether to re-start the generator or to go without. Depending on the day we choose one or the other although I like to challenge myself not to restart the generator more than once a day – it keeps my carbon footprint small. But on days when I am on my own on the farm all day it does seem that more often than not I need the connection to the outside world, so I am prepared to use a little extra fuel for that.

First Tank

Water has proven to be challenging too. Our only rainwater tank is about 500 metres from the caravan and was connected up after the first shed was erected, which was after we moved here.  We had about 450mm rain in the winter months leading up to the time the tank was connected, so that water went down the creek – literally!  Since we had the tank installed we’ve had a total of about 120mm in the last 2½ months and we’re coming into summer which is usually dry. So we have had to buy some water in – but it still cost us less than a month’s rent!  The challenge is that it is 500 metres from the caravan and we don’t have a hose that long … And so we have carted water, 200 litres at a time from the tank, down the hill, across the creek and up to the caravan where it is siphoned in 100 litres at a time.  100 litres is about three showers and two or three sinks full of dishes. So this can last us 2 – 3 days, depending on who is showering where (sometimes my husband showers at work before he starts his shift).

We have also installed a small rainwater tank for the garden – no food without water!

Garden Rainwater Tank

For heating we have a small gas powered radiant camping heater which heats the caravan in about 20 minutes on a very cold night. Living in small spaces has its advantages!

So while these are some of our daily living challenges, in the past few months, I have learnt to start the generator, fill the generator with petrol and stop the generator when I need to. I even fixed the generator this morning when the on/off knob vibrated lose and fell off in the trailer while it was being used by the shearer.  I now know where the screwdrivers and pocket knives are and often have need to use them. I have been practicing how to drive with the trailer and lately I have been practicing reversing the trailer which is a whole new world of challenge – if you’ve never tried it, don’t try it without supervision!  Today I filled up the water barrel for the first time and managed to get it strapped into the trailer and towed back to the caravan without spilling it or tipping it over.  I’ve learnt a lot about securing things in the trailer too.

But the really important things that I have learnt in these first couple of months is how little I can actually survive with. I don’t need an extensive wardrobe of designer clothes, I don’t need to apply conditioner to my hair every day – twice a week is all it needs. I don’t need TV. Although I do watch some programs over the internet at times, selectively. I don’t miss seeing all the ads on TV and I don’t need to watch the news every night to find out what’s going on in the world.  I don’t need to buy the latest fad – I don’t even know what it is. I don’t need to buy books and CDs when I can borrow them from the local library.

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What I do need is the support of my family and friends in this adventure, the love of my husband and time to make our plans reality.  I need a bit of chocolate now and again. I need to write and think and ponder this life. I need fresh food, shelter, rain, fresh air and a few things to wear. It’s a simpler way of living, but I have surprised myself by how little I need.  Some days I reflect back on where we have come from and I am amazed that we are doing okay – actually doing better than okay – in our little caravan on the hill.  Sometimes smaller, simpler, down to earth, yet challenging, invigorating and demanding at times.  It’s a caravan life!


The humble bee

I have written before about how much I love having chooks in my garden, but I haven’t written much about our bees. Keeping bees was something I had been wanting to do for some time, so I was really pleased when I was finally able to get into a course and get stuck into learning so much about these fascinating creatures. Late last year I went to the local adult education college and did a one-day beekeeping course.  As a result of that course, we invested in 3 hives,

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We now have 2 hives in a our suburban back yard which are doing very well and one hive on our bush block on the Fleurieu Peninsula.  We invested in Ligurian bees from Kangaroo Island as they are the most docile and easiest to handle for beginners – better to be safe than sorry.

Not only have we enjoyed magnificent pollination rates – especially with our pumpkins, I have enjoyed immensely watching them go about their daily foraging business, flying in and out of the hive, as they create their own unique flight path, returning to the hive laden with pollen and nectar visible to the naked eye, weighing them down as they come into land.

The bonus of all this entertainment is that I managed to spin off about 12 kgs of honey this year.

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While that’s not considered to be a huge amount, we only took honey from one hive as the other two were not quite as strong and we wanted to leave them plenty of honey for the winter months.  And the honey tastes nothing like anything I have ever purchased – not even honey I have bought in the past from farmers’markets!  It’s our own special blend, I guess, made from all the lovely flowers that we have in our garden and those within a couple of kilometres of our house.

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If you know anyone who keeps bees, then start talking to them about what you can exchange for a jar of their liquid gold, or consider keeping a hive or two yourself.  It is well worth the initial outlay and the effort to manage the hive or hives – where else can you get free pollination services, backyard entertainment, and food that never spoils?

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P.S. You might have noticed I’ve changed my header image in honour of the humble bee to remind me that these little creatures are so important in our cycle of life.  If you feel so inspired, plant a flowering plant – lavender, rosemary, daisies are all favourites of the bees and easy to grow!


Soup

There is something very comforting about a warm, steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. Filled with goodness freshly picked from the garden or recently purchased from one of my favourite farmers’ markets, it is not only in the eating that I find comfort.

It is really in the making of soup that I find a happy place. The cutting and dicing of vegetables into a pot, considering likely combinations which work well together goes delightfully with the creativity of adding spices, seasoning and stock. The simple pleasure of smelling it all simmer and bubble as the mix takes on a new life form, warms my kitchen and soothes my soul.

I often make soup from recipes that I have in my head – the old reliable ones like my special pumpkin soup, minestrone or cream of zucchini soup which I can make almost with my eyes shut are soups I make often – partly because I love them and partly because this is often what I have a glut of from the garden. Then every now and then I challenge myself to make something different. Potato and leek is a sure winner in our house. Recently I added spinach to the soup and whizzed it all up with the stick blender. Potato, Leek and Spinach soup was born, partly inspired by an internet search and partly inspired by necessity.

Why did I add spinach? Because I had some in the fridge which had come in our weekly fruit and veg box and it needed using up – so in it went. And it was delicious! Served hot and steamy, with a dollop of cream and some hot crusty bread and butter on the side it made a lovely easy meal one weekend.

It is very comforting to create a warm, steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day out of whatever is available and turn it into something delicious. Its even more comforting knowing that soup is very forgiving – I don’t tend to closely monitor quantities – rather I estimate ratios of one thing to another and then adjust to taste. If I don’t have one of the ingredients I will often substitute for another (for example, if you don’t have leeks, uses onions).

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Here’s the basic recipe for Potato, Leek and Spinach Soup – adjust according to what you have:

Potatoes – what ever type you have – about 1 – 1.5 kg, peeled and chopped

Leek – one or two to taste

Garlic – a couple of cloves, crushed

Vegetable Stock (or stock cube)

A dob of butter

Water – enough to completely cover the veggies (and stock) in the pot

A bunch of spinach or silver beet

Melt the butter in a deep pot then place the leeks and garlic into the butter on a medium heat and soften for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, stock and water. Turn up the heat to a rolling boil and cook until potatoes are soft. At this point check the water/stock level. Remove some if you think it is too much and set it aside. Blend the mixture using a stick blender (or food blender if you don’t have a stick blender). Add the shredded spinach and blend again. Add back some of the stock if you think the consistency is too thick. If you feel it is too thin, then return it to a rolling boil until you are happy with the consistency.

Serve with a dollop of cream and your favourite hot bread. Enjoy!