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!

https://mozfiberlife.wordpress.com/

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!


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):

Basil

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!

 

 


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


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


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.

caravan

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.

Birthday 2013_2

Birthday 2013_1

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!