Re-education

I’ve not achieved much the last few days. It’s frustrating. I have however been learning. Learning about the olden days. I’ve been watching a wonderful series called Edwardian Farm. It’s where 2 archaeologists and a historian live the life of Edwardian age farmers in Devon England for 12 months. It’s been fascinating! I can’t call it anything but highly educational for someone like me and my old brain box is ticking at high speed. I want to make a barrel smoker, I want to raise pigs, I want to try some of the recipes they made I want to try try try and then try some more. ๐Ÿ˜€ I found so much of the series quite sad too. The Edwardian Era was the beginning of the end of horses on farms, the beginning of more and more mechanised work being done and also the beginning of more reliance on oil. The Industrial revolution had brought in the use of steam power through the Victorian Era but more and more the Edwardian Era saw this mechanisation filtering through to the small farmers and landholders, not just those with money.

However, the poorer farmers were still Jack of all trades but also masters of their own. They were farmers and raised their crops, livestock or both but during times when the money was thin on the ground and farmwork not pressing (working around planting, harvesting, lambing, shearing etc) then they turned to other means. Fishing, mining, cottage industry and so on. One comment has really stuck with me though. In the country the old ways persisted. The ability to forge iron was the example they used. In the cities, if folk needed iron they bought it. They had no other option but in the country people remembered their fathers and grandfathers, or mothers and grandmothers, doing things the old way and that skill base took a lot longer to disappear. The same is true today to some extent. Thankfully we have the internet and libraries which allow us to research the old skills though as so many have died out. If you needed to sharpen a knife for example, would you know how to do it? Without a knife sharpening doovahickey I mean. With a whetstone. I I know the theory but I wouldn’t get it right I know.

So today I have been researching. I’ve also been learning some other lessons. Like what happens when you burn too much wood that isn’t ideally suited to the fire. WHOMP! Yup, a big puff of smoke and a belch from Ignisa. Yes, belch is the right word. I ahve to say it scared me out of at least 5 years of my life. I instantly panicked and thought I’d set the chimney on fire. Thankfully I didn’t. I was home with 3 kids by myself! Martin has been out hunting and gathering wood to season for next year as well as finding some wood from last seasons cut which we can burn this year. ๐Ÿ˜€ YAY! Anyway, I totally dampened down the fire and called Martin who was on his way home. We’re thinking that a bit too much poplar has gone through her tummy giving her some creosote indigestion. I’m just grateful all she did was belch. Not very ladylike Ignisa. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Thankfully she has behaved for the rest of the afternoon and evening as she was on dinner cooking duties. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d thrown some lamb chops into the schlemmertopf along with some veggies and my last bottle of tomatoes I’d bottled last year (all 50 or so of them). Into the oven around 2 or 3pm and slow cooking away in there at temperatures between 100C and 150C give or take. Delicious! The meat literally fell off the bones which are currently simmering away to reduce down to a nourishing bone broth or stock. I can use that to flavour risotto or pasta or anything I fancy. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just 1 more way to get as much as I can from what we have.

I’ve also spent today sewing up a cardigan I knitted on the machine the other week. I added a few more rows in where I thought I might need the extra length but it’s come out a bit huge and baggy so I need to see how it fits after a wash. Currently it’s better suited to someone a size or 2 bigger than me and approximately 6 foot 6 inches tall or taller! Whoops. Hopefully it will tighten up in the wash but being acrylic I am holding little hope. We will see. Sitting and knitting or sewing etc helps me justify sitting down and watching something like this. It stops me from having idle hands which in turn gives me the fidgets or makes me feel guilty for wasting time. I COULD be doing something if you know what I mean.

Now I know there are some generous and wonderful people out there in the world but one of my wonderful readers takes the cake. I won’t name drop as I’m sure she would kick my backside but you know who you are. We have been gifted some wonderful books for our children in years to come (I reckon I will enjoy them before then too), a bicycle helmet, 2 bicycles and a rooster. Generous, no? Both Martin and I are more than a little overwhelmed by the generosity of this lovely lady and extremely grateful. The rooster comes to us courtesy of this wonderful lady’s workmate. Sadly, he does not come with breed information and although he came to us on the understanding that he would most likely end up in the dinner pot, his exquisite beauty has put us in a tough place. We don’t want to cull this beautiful bird. He is seriously the George Clooney of roosters, fitting considering his name was George. I say “was” as I’d renamed him Golden Boy (Black Boy is our black Dorking rooster) but Jasper decided he was Mr Skinny Legs and the moniker does suit. He has lovely long and non-stocky pins on which he dances around like a ballerina. Very light footed, rather noisy (hence why we can’t keep him), rather feisty and not impressed with Black Boy at all.

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Can you help identify the breed?

Anyway, it’s time for me to hit the sack. I have a brain box that needs some quiet processing time, plans to make and mst importantly, sleep needs to be had. Here’s hoping I get to sleep later than 4:30, although it is quite pleasant having those 2 full hours totally devoid of other people, watching the light creep into the room and having the house to myself in some ways too. ย Who knows Fran, you might end up with company for your insane o’ clock starts after all. Now just to get you on Skype so we can chat easier. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ok, Fran I am up early again. I’m learning that the quality of sleep I get after having woken up early isn’t there. Lightly dozing just makes me a cranky Mumma so here I am, up at 4:45. Am I truly this insane?

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An update and things coming together

It’s all pretty amazing when things start coming together. I mean, you plot, you plan and you dream and you try and cram the plotting, planning and dreaming into reality, dodging around obstacles like time, money, weather, differing ideas, legal requirements and everything else and you hope to come up with a workable situation that hasn’t strayed too far from your first inspired musings.

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Heidi, grandfather and Aunt Dete hurrying away

My initial dreams involved up to 5 acres, an eco friendly house built by my own two hands, robust and healthy children who look liked they had escaped from Heidi, friendly animals, beautifully landscaped (but not rigid) gardens and fresh produce pouring from their richly composted soil. The reality is a little different.

We have a 1/2 acre, the house was not built by my own two hands although I have had a lot of input into the design and materials used and we have been as eco friendly as the budget allowed for (low VOC paints, woolen carpets over recycled fibre underlay and LED lights). My children don’t have the plump legs and ruddy complexions of Heidi fame but they are healthy and happy and sporting somewhat of a tan, testament to their enjoyment of outdoor life. Our animals aren’t quite as keen on us as we are on them but Milly and Molly are getting more comfortable although Mandy still keeps her distance. The baby chicks are well acclimatised to children as they are picked up and carted around by the kids for a couple of hours each day and the silkies are fast becoming favourites (Mrs Silverpants was replaced last night along with her companion Dandelion the white silkie and Goldie or Gold Star the golden silkie). The baby chicks are used to being handled by us too although they still peg it during the day (we go out each night to make sure they’re either sleeping in a nesting box or on the perch which they’ve finally figured out last night too). The gardens are not the verdant oases I dreamed of and their soil, although rich, is not as rotted down as I had dreamed. It’s getting there now though. We do have crops coming along nicely too. I have 2 zucchinis that will be ready in the next day or 2 (they’re taking longer I think due to the still un-rotted garden beds) and my corn are flowering and I can see the beginning of corn cobs. ๐Ÿ˜€ My watermelons won’t make harvest this year but I will try transferring them even though they hate it. I have nothing to lose at this stage. My tomatoes are still coming along in the garden too. I live in fear of possums discovering them but we appear to have few of those thieving little blighters around thankfully. My broccoli are doing much better since I got up close and personal with them, rubbing the underside of their leaves and squishing all the caterpillar eggs (or are they butterfly eggs – defined by what they hatch into or what lays them?) and caterpillars of the (presumably) coddling moths that had turned their leaves into fine green lace. They still look a little lacy but much happier. My onions haven’t even made it to pickled onion stage sadly but then again I never really expected them to. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

The greenhouse garden

The greenhouse garden, marked out with sticks and some used chicken straw for nutrients. I will mulch it when the seedlings are up more. Thanks for the idea Narf. ๐Ÿ™‚

But it’s the greenhouse I am most amazed with and proud of in our garden. It’s a Sproutwell greenhouse built from a kit I bought off eBay (they also have a website and the price is the same) and the garden beds I built myself using corrugated iron and hardwood corner posts. The hardwood we already had and the iron, bought from my uncle, makes each bed cost $1.50! WIN! Anyway, I’ve built 3 beds in there and filled and planted 1 of them. I transplanted the tomatoes from the second martie bed as they were very small and not going to make harvest before the frost arrived so I had nothing to lose. I planted my mandarin, banana and lemon trees in there first, then the transplanted tomatoes and transplanted marigolds in there, some beans planted down the side, transplanted capsicums, rocket seeds between them, then planted carrot and radish seeds, some spinach seeds, leek seeds, coriander seeds, transplanted chives and also chive seeds. So far the chive seeds are the only ones I haven’t seen a sprout from yet. I also transplanted in a pumpkin that popped up from seeds I’d scooped out of a pumpkin around Christmas time and planted out mid January. So, although it’s not yet that verdant oasis, it is well on its way to being a nifty little food garden.

Radishes

Capsicums and radishes

A bean

A bean

Carrot wisps :)

Carrot wisps ๐Ÿ™‚

Spinach

Spinach

Capsicums and rocket

Capsicums and rocket with a tomato and the beans in the background. The carrots are near the icy-pole stick.

Nice mangel wurzels ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve also bought some more interesting seeds – mangel wurzels which are like turnips but they get HEAPS bigger and if harvested small they’re good for human consumption or if left to grow out, great for cattle and chickens. I wanted to try them just because I can! I’ve also finally sourced some black carrot seeds (purple/black inside and out and amazing for antioxidants), kale, rainbow chard and some other bits and bobs. I’m planning some BIG gardens over winter. ๐Ÿ˜€ And speaking of winter gardens, I’ve started building the garden beds to go in. The existing beds will be raked up to fill the new ones and they’re a little shorter but I can double the amount of beds, greatly increasing planting area overall. I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now, something I NEVER thought I would say. ๐Ÿ™‚

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some veryย unseasonablyย cold weather this last week and Ignisa, our lovely Gourmet Cooker has been alight for about 44 hours although she’s been resting for the last hour or 2 but I’m getting cold again so reckon it’s time to fire her up again.. We need to organise some hardwood to burn (if anyone local has any they’re getting rid of or selling…?) but in the meantime we have been able to make do with our existing poplar stocks which isย marvelousย that we can use them up. ๐Ÿ™‚ We also had a little bit of plum from a tree that we chopped down after it died at Spotswood. I started off by bringing in our old DVD shelves and then arranged them in such as way as to make a surround or frame for the stove. I’ve now got some space for trinkets, wood, kindling and fire lighting paper. The lamps came out and look lovely too, bringing some pleasant ambiance to the room. The fire guard, half of our playpen is doing duty as a fire guard and at night it makes a great clothesrack too once stoo up on it’s ends. ๐Ÿ˜€ Multitasking and repurposing at its best. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. ๐Ÿ˜€ I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in aย fry panย on top and breakfast this morning was homemade sourdough English muffins cooked on Ignisa and a hot chocolate made with her heat too – another complete meal. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also baked bread in her belly the other night but the oven was a wee bit hot (like 350C rather than 200C required). Should be fine once I carve off the top inch. lol

3 bookshelves arranged just so

3 bookshelves arranged just so

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English muffins and hot chocolate – this mornings breakfast

Briquette?

Briquette?

I also did some more unpacking – DVD’s away (not that they will see much use given the lack of tv), my crystal radio set up and working (I need to find a better station with some music although ABC news radio is ok too), and I’ve been knitting away getting clothes ready for winter. The kids each have a new hat and I’ve made a scarf for Orik too. I need to source some more yarn to make Allegra a scarf so it’s time to dig into the stash. I also knitted my first dishcloth using this pattern and I’m happy with how it’s come out. Now to test it and see how it works.

Our food is improving on a weekly, if not daily basis. I’ve committed to making sourdough pasta using this recipe so we are slowly using up our normal pasta which I can’t eat and once it’s gone, that’s it. We’re now drinking real milk, our veggie box arrives each week from Highland Heritage (I highly recommend contacting them if you’re local and interested as their produce is first rate) and I’ve started culturing milk too – milk kefir is like super dooper yakult and it tasted a HEAP better as well as being heaps better for you. Google kefir if you’re interested. I just don’t know enough about it at this stage other than to say it’s very good for you and not unpleasant to taste.

Bertha was also split and fattened up and her daughter, Agnetha has gone to her new home. Bertha will be fed and split again and posted this week to The Eco Mum and Narf so you should see some mail coming your way soon ladies. I had planned to post it today but I haven’t fed her or her babies enough for the rigors of travel. ๐Ÿ™‚

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My Bertha, Agnetha her daughter and the tub with my bread in it at the bottom of the picture.

A Dexter. Photo is not such a good one of the cow but gives a brilliant idea of their size.

They come in black (most common) dun and red, polled or horned, short legged or normal. I think these are polled and the black one closest appears to be short legged. Aren’t they pretty. ๐Ÿ™‚

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! ๐Ÿ™‚ Don’t have a cow, she wouldn’t be a full sized one and nor will she be a genetically twisted (albeit via breeding only) miniature cow but a genuine naturally occurring small breed cow, the Dexter. The average Dexter cow, when fully grown will stand no higher at the hip than Jasper. They stand around and just over the 1m mark although the bulls are up to 1.17m I think (44in) so they really are quite small. They’re easy calvers, easy milkers, friendly animals and make excellent lawnmowers! ๐Ÿ˜€ They also require a lot less pasture space and although we don’t quite have enough land for exclusive grass feeding we may have access to some good local and I believe organically grown hay. It’s also another reason I want to try growing mangel wurzels as they used to be used for winter and early spring food in the UK for cattle. We are big dairy people here with hot chocolates, homemade yoghurt, custard and cheese (not yet homemade) on our menu with frequency. I want to know that our dairy is organic and hence free of hormones, anti-biotics and all the rest of the garbage pumped into many commercial cows (I’m not sure how much of that is dairy cows rather than beef cows which I believe are treated with regularity in factory farming conditions but any of that gunk is too much gunk) and I also want to know that it’s cruelty free. These cows are prolific milk producers for their size and can easily feed 2 or even 3 calves so I figure that there is no need to remove the calf from mother and we can simply milk the excess. No poddy calves! ๐Ÿ˜€ I also want to know that our milk is local. Full respect to dairies around Australia but I would prefer to support any in the district and preferably my own back yard… Literally. ๐Ÿ˜€ I also want to be able to give my children raw milk, full of all the wonderful goodness that milk contains, not pasteurised to within an inch of its life. I understand that pasteurisation aims to kill nasty bugs but it also kills many beneficial ones and a single cow raised at home will be much easier to maintain in a sanitary milking condition than hundreds of them all traipsing in manure and mud. And that brings me to another great reason for keeping a cow… I want her manure for my gardens. ๐Ÿ™‚ Bonus fertiliser cakes. ๐Ÿ˜› Dexter cows are also great for their meat which is reported to be superior – a wonderful duel purpose cow. They can also be trained to pull like oxen, something that will come in handy in a post peak oil world. Any bull calves would be fattened up for organic, pasture-fed, free-range, cruelty free (need to find an on-site butcher) and utterly local beef. It’s a HUGE undertaking though, with initial costs, commitment (10 months of the year they lactate and they live for up to 20 years, even more) and we obviously need to check council rules and permits (definitely required) and whether we have or can access sufficient fodder (I do not want to grain feed except maybe as a treat) and there is also up to 10 litres of milk a day to work through. I would need to make cheese on a daily basis which would be far too much for us to eat) and I’d still have enough left over for custard, yoghurt, bechamel sauce, Orik’s bottles and all the rest. It’s very exciting to dream though and following up on information and researching is keeping the old brain box ticking.. ๐Ÿ™‚

So anyway, that’s the updates for now. There is lots happening, lots in the pipleline and many many more things on the discussion table. It’s a busy time and I’m loving it. ๐Ÿ˜€ What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

Heaters and cooker and oven. Oh my!

Our house needs a heater. It currently has a hole in the roof for the flue and a chimney on the roof, nothing else. Given that Ballan has some rather cold nights (and days) over winter and well into Spring, we will need some decent heat. I don’t want to be relying on fossil fuels for our heating either which means we are quite restricted ย with how we can heat the house. In fact, from all I’ve read, there really are few sustainable choices; passive solar housing design, houses with high thermal mass (such as Earthships, straw bale homes, earth-bermed/sheltered homes and rammed earth homes)ย or geothermal heating (like in Reykjavic). These are the only ones I can think of that are truly environmentally friendly heating options.

The normal options would be electric heating which as we all know, can be expensive. It’s also usually reliant upon fossil fuels unless you buy “green” electricity. Gas is still not a renewable fuel no matter how clean it is, well not unless they start using methane. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Wood fires can cause issues in some areas where the smoke pools and it can cause problems with some people with respiratory problems and not all heaters are efficient. There really don’t seem to be any truly viable in all areas heating options out there and unless you have a house that requires no or very little heating, you will need to make a compromise somewhere.

Passive solar heating is capturing the heat from the sun that’s coming through the northern windows (for us here in the southern hemisphere) and trapping it in flooring such as tiles or cement slab floor. However, our house in Ballan is on stumps and technically faces south. We are considering changing the back door to a larger glass sliding door to add greater glass space for passive solar heating but the house, even if it was insulated to the extremes, will just not generate and store enough solar heat to be solely heated by passively solar. We need to look at another option.

We have chosen to try and kill as many birds with a single stone as possible and have opted for a wood burning heater which has an oven and stove-top (so we can cook once post peak oil prices have driven gas to unreasonable amounts), hot water heating capabilities that can also use hydronic heating to further utilise the heat. It’s a LOT of work being done by each piece of wood and we should truly get full use of the heat.

I love the idea of being able to heat the house comfortably, then further make use of the heat to also bake my bread (I bake bread at least 4-5 times a week) rather than turning on the oven. I can use the stove top to reheat soups, boil the kettle and other such things and I already use cast iron cookware all except for a kettle. They are hard to come by.

We are installing solar hot water too, hopefully at the same time which, although it will have a gas booster for back up, I hope we won’t ave much need for it. ย The house is only 120 square metres, give or take so we’ve opted against a hydronic heating panel for now but we can retrofit that easily enough if we need it.

The best bit is that I believe they are made right here in Australia. ๐Ÿ˜€

Anyway, today was all about a trip to actually SEE one of these heaters. It’s bigger than I thought even despite all the pictures I’ve seen and after being warned at the small sized oven I was pleasantly surprised at its size. I hadn’t expected a full sized oven but it’s more than big enough for a casserole dish, roasting tray or 2 loaves of bread which is all I ask for. I am also stoked that I will be able to generate my own wood ash which can be of benefit in the garden.

So, one more task is knocked off the list and we will let our plumber (the installer) now we are ready to go. YIPPEE!