Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Passage of time

Five years ago we bought this land.  Its been an amazing privelage to have our own piece of earth to care for, despite the incredible amount of work and responsibility that comes with that.  Most of that five years has been spent sharing our time between probably too many different things.  Most of that time has also been spent feeling overwhelmed with jobs that 'should have been done yesterday'.

Our front paddock and gully (in background) as it was 5 years ago.

Five years younger, and proud of our first efforts at fencing!

Gully as it was 5 years ago

We often feel like we are chasing our tail, dealing with weeds (particularly those that seed and spread on to our neighbours land - such as Ragwort), fencing and animal shelters, keeping the grass down (our current weather hasn't helped that!), improving our infrastructure (such as water collection, storage and troughs), and just caring for the animals that we have.  Lets not even mention building the house!  It makes you tired in a way that just a 'hard day's work' doesn't, that sort of emotional weight that is always there...

With a long list of jobs like this, its often hard to stop and enjoy life for what it is.  But its something we are working on! 

Looking at photos from the first year of owning our land we have realised that we have done SO much already.  Sure the house isn't built and there is always a million things that need doing.  We have a lifetime to enjoy our land, our family and animals, and quite frankly we are only human and can only do SO much.

Lots of regenerating trees in gullies.

The same gully as seen in the first photo, now with LOTs of natural regeneration as well as planted indigenous trees.

A garden that is starting to flourish

A handmade house that is slowly taking shape

So here's to 2011, wishing for a good year filled with
fun,joy and happiness, 
good rain and good sunshine
good company and good friendships
good growth and good harvests
more life and less death (I'll compromise for balance!)
less foxes and less weeds
and shorter to-do lists!

Friday, December 17, 2010

We have bees!

Last weekend we got our first hive of bees.  I've been keen to get bees for a number of years, both for honey and pollination of fruit and vegetables.  For some reason there aren't alot of bees around in our area - certainly not on our place, and I can't really see any reason why that would be the case.

The hive we bought came with bees, and is just the ordinary Langstroth hive, very common in Australia.  My ultimate goal is to have several hives, mostly top-bar hives (so the bees build natural comb attached to bars that you can individually move).  We will build these hives, but with all the work that is needed here on the farm and building the house - building bee hives never became a priority. 

At this stage we don't have plans to sell excess honey, we generally prefer to give away our excess produce, but it will all depend on how productive the bees are.  We plan on leaving them enough honey so that we aren't feeding them white sugar as a (poor) substitute for the food they have worked so hard to produce.  Many commercial beekeepers take most of the honey and feed them on sugar (or worse corn syrup from genetically modified corn), so it will be nice to have our own source of 'real' honey made from flowers!

Plus the bees are facinating to watch, I go and sit and watch them fly in and out, you could just sit there all day (obviously I don't have time to do that!).  The kids like them, and our 4 year old already knows so much about bees and how they live - she loves the queen...

Friday, December 10, 2010


Its been about 2 years since I first started making sourdough bread.  Since that day, I've made pretty much all the bread we eat, I think I may have bought 2 loaves in that time, if that.  For the last 18 months or so, I've also been baking our bread in a wood oven which has added a new degree of challenge and planning!

I'd love to say that I'm a great baker (I suppose I'm not too bad) but I've had many failures and flops in that time.  Between heavy loaves that didn't rise to over proved loaves that crumble up in the middle when cut!  There is something of an art to baking bread, you need to bake it at the RIGHT time, and usually the flops are when I try and bake it to suit me, eg the oven isn't hot enough yet and while its heating the bread over proves, or its late at  night and the bread hasn't risen enough and I give up and bake as is for the sake of getting some sleep!  One day I will be more organised though!

What I love about sourdough is that you don't need to buy yeast.  I have my own little community of yeasts and bacteria that I look after and use to make our bread.  All you need is flour, water and salt, nothing more! 

Lately I have been dabbling in making sourdough pancakes.  I was inspired by this blog post.  We have made them a couple of times, and they were are real hit, even with Brad, who was sceptical about makeing pancakes with sourdough (he makes lovely crepes which are dearly loved by our kids).

I want to experiment more with making sourdough 'stuff'.  I have heard of using the starter to make cakes and muffins.  Something to try, come winter.  Right now the plants are popping out of the ground, and its hard to stay indoors to bake!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

building progress

Slow progress is being made on our house.  We had a big day last week with friends and family to help us to get 4m of concrete into our pier footings by wheelbarrow.  It was hard work, as the night before we got a heavy downpour, which turned the site into mud.  It didn't take too long to get done, and everything went smoothly.

We have since recieved the first load of our timber for the house, and have been working out how to manouvre it around (its very heavy!), and how we will get the posts and beams up into position.  Feeling more confident about this after a bit of a practice go.

we are pretty excited by our timber!

Although I am going to keep posting here about the house building progress, I have started another blog where I will go into more detail about each step of the way, as well as post informative articles and information on sustainable building, strawbale building etc.  I will be posting lots more photos on that blog of the whole process.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grass, grass and more grass!

We have been having excellent growing weather this spring.  Lots of rain, followed by warm weather, then rain again and so on.  This means that the grass is really growing (far too quickly for our small herd of grazers).  At this rate you wont see the animals (let alone the kids) as the grass will be taller!

In time our herd will grow, and diversify, but for now we have to manage the overabundance of grass.  The scythes have been getting a good workout, and my technique is improving so much.  Its amazing how easy it can be to cut grass with a scythe, its almost effortless (although I wouldn't try and mow a few acres at a time!).  Its more like fun than work.

This year we will try and dry and store some of the cut grass as loose leaf hay.  We don't have a huge need for hay in the winter - our weather is mild enough that we don't have to keep animals housed, and the grass still grows a bit during the winter.  This year its all about experimenting with technique and dryness of the grass, I think next year we will be more serious about it.

The vegetable seedlings in the garden have been growing strongly.  We have fenced off another part of the garden to keep out the goats and chooks.  Much better now.

On a sad note, we have been having some trouble with foxes lately.  A few of our 'friends' have now been lost.  Disappointing and frustrating, as the attacks have happened during the day, and while we have been home.  Broad daylight, with a dog and active children running around....  The fox is bold. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And we're off!

We are now officially started on the house!  Two days of earthworks (with another day, at least, to go), has seen the house site levelled, drainage put in, and lots of shaping of the land up from the house. 

Day one was a very busy day, with Brad helping out with getting the levels right.  It was quite a sunny day, and we all got a little sunburnt (well atually, just the adults, the kids somehow managed to avoid it). 

 Holes are marked and will be drilled ready for concreting in the stirrups shown in the last post.  That will be an interesting day, with lots of 'I owe yous' to our helpers who will help us barrow about 3 cubic meters of concrete into 20 holes.  Should be fun! 

Our little boy LOVED all the digging - he could have sat there all day watching!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The waiting game

We seem to be getting lots of practice at waiting at the moment.  We recently got our permits sorted out to start building our house (which was an almost 5 month process), and now we are waiting for our excavator operator, so we can't do much, other than plan how we will get the first few stages done.  Its frustrating, but I suppose the 'up' side, is that when it comes to actually do something we will be very much ready to do it.

We have done one thing, and that is make the stirrups to hold up the posts.  These are pretty heavy duty (to comply with engineering specs).  Brad helped a local guy (another owner builder) who happens to be a boiler-maker for the day to make them.

We are also waiting on the timber - its being milled up for us by a mill that specialises in recycled, salvaged and reclaimed timber.  We are pretty excited about the timber, and we are eagerly awaiting the first delivery, so we can start cutting, drilling and preparing it to put up.

I thought I would give more detail about the house we are building, as its a bit unique, and we have done lots of research, planning and looking at houses, to come up with the design principles we have used.  The house we are building is a round strawbale house.  Some of the features are as follows:
  • Strawbale external walls for insulation, and mudbrick internal walls for thermal mass (ie the evening out of the internal temperature).  The house is on a slab for thermal mass as well.
  • North facing sun room (south facing for those in the northern hemisphere), which will act as a winter warmer and a summer cooler, depending on which windows are opened.
  • Laundry/mud-room/bulk pantry, for washing vegetables from the garden, storing preserves, making wine/beer and some food preparation.  This is the first room you enter from the back door.  This is on the south side of the house.
  • Large circular living space, with kitchen and lounge room. Bedrooms and bathroom come off this circular area.
  • Composting toilet, and reedbed greywater treatment system, to reduce water used by the house.
  • Combustion cooking stove, for cooking, room heating and water heating.
  • Small windows (except on the north side) to reduce heat loss in winter, and heat gain in summer.
The house is built to be the right size for us, there are no spare rooms for visitors (when you live out in these parts, visitors are few and far between anyway), the bigger the house, the more it costs to heat/cool and the more cleaning there is to do!  We wont be connecting mains electricity (we are so happy with our solar power system - one of the best decisions we have made).  The main focus of the house is the central living area, thats where we spend our time together, or we are outside anyway.  We wanted a house that would stay cool in summer as we don't 'do' air conditioning. We wanted a house that would do minimal harm to the environment to build, would last a very long time and would be a pleasure to live in.  Its round because we like to be different, and according to Brad its no harder to build than a square house!!!

Meanwhile the apple blossom is out, the bees are working overtime on it.  Spring time always rekindles my desire to get a hive established here.  For quite a number of reasons, firstly to supply us with our own honey, but also as a 'conservation' hive.  There is plenty of information around about the decline of bees, and how commercial beekeeping is a possible reason for this.  I am keen to get into 'natural beekeeping' using a top-bar hive.  I'm just waiting for the right time to build one and then waiting for a swarm to 'turn up'.

Friday, October 22, 2010


With all the lovely spring grass that is growing madly, we are getting more milk from our milking goat Dorka.  About 1.5L per day.  We don't drink that much milk, so every week or so there is enough milk to make a small batch of cheese.  We started off just making a soft ricotta type cheese, just with vinegar to curdle the milk, which worked fine, and made a soft cheese that was nice on crackers, or in a cheese and spinach pie.  We then decided to buy some rennet to experiment further. 

Its amazing the difference in the curdling between vinegar cheese and rennet cheese.  Vinegar is instant but the curds are small and the cheese soft.  Rennet needs to sit a bit to set, but the curds are so solid you cut them!  Its almost magical. 

The first batch of rennet curdled cheese became this fetta!  Which was great, and had a slight resemblance to halumi cheese. 

We have since made a batch of mozzarella type cheese which was nice too.

Lots of 'playing' to do, experimenting with the technique to get the types of cheese we like.  Really happy that we are able to skip yet another thing at the shops, and reduce the amount of packaging that we use.

Since I haven't posted a photo of the kids for a while, here they are growing fast (and eating enough to show for it!!!!  Next winter I will be planting LOTS of apple trees, as these 2 clean us out of apples!!!!)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Now that winter is over, and most of the dry wood has been burnt in our wood stove, its time to start preparing for NEXT winter.  It takes time to dry out wood, and it dries out quickest when its split up ready for the stove.  We try to collect our wood in the most energy efficient way we can.  Wood is collected and cut up into 'ute' lengths using our petrol chainsaw, and brought home.  This wood is then cut up into firewood lengths using our electric chainsaw (using our own solar power - so not a job for gloomy weather).  Its then split up and stacked to dry.  'Wood' days are a whole family event, and we all get in and do it together, the kids helping with carrying the wood to the stack.

There is something satisfying about cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. You can see your hard work!  Its also a good feeling, knowing that there is already some wood ready for winter!

I have been working on a new vegie garden, where I planted about 100 seed potatoes and have prepared beds for the summer vegetables.  The fence NEEDS to keep out our furry and feathered creatures.  Wire mesh is quite expensive, so we decided to make a fence using Silver Wattle saplings that have had to be cleared off our drive way etc.  Here is my version of a 'wattle' fence!

We have had good winter rain this year, and with some nice weather the grass has really started to grow!  Time to get the scythes out and start cutting!   Its also a time to prepare for summer, tidying up ready for the fire season.

We are also making preparations to start building our house!  Things have moved along (fairly slowly mostly), and we are almost ready to start.  There will be lots of posts of the building process on the blog, once we actually start.  Its quite exciting!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a labour of love

I finally finished my very first homegrown, hand shorn (by Brad, using the old fashioned hand shears), handspun and handknitted jumper. I get a real buzz from being a part of every step of the process, knowing exactly what was done to produce something. So much of what we buy these days undergoes much processing, and we don't know about it. Its just one jumper, but its another step towards self reliance and reducing 'clothing miles'.

Brad with Pedro the alpaca who 'donated' his fleece for this jumper.

Regardless, I am pretty proud of our joint effort!

You know when you are a little obsessive about making stuff, when your daughter asks first 'who made it?' rather than 'where did they buy it?', and she is always disappointed to hear when something was made 'in a factory in china'.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Real Eggs

Our hens are laying well at the moment - spring is definately in the air! We have been enjoying an abundance of fresh eggs, real eggs, laid by hens who actually spend their day roaming around our land, doing what they like (and laying eggs wherever they please too!).

Recently in America eggs have been recalled due to Salmonella contamination - likely due the crowded and unatural way most hens spend their short (18months) life to provide 'cheap' eggs to keep the consumer happy. I recently took notice of the price of cheap eggs at our local supermarket, and they were less than $2 per dozen. A shock to me, as when we have bought eggs in the past we have always bought from a farm we know is truly free range and have usually paid around $8 per dozen. What do these factory farmed hens get fed - to be able to make money off selling eggs so cheaply? I don't think my hens who are outside all day and get a hand full of grain each a day would produce eggs for us so cheaply!!!!! And I don't pay for farm hands, electricity, transport and sorting for our eggs..... I have always belived factory farmed eggs to be rubbish, and now its clear that the hens must be fed 'rubbish'!!!! Which reminds me of the old saying 'you are what you eat'....

Our eggs come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Its my 'thing' to try and breed a flock of hens that will lay eggs of all different colours, I particularly proud of one of my 'babies' who lays a very nice and shiny chocolate coloured egg. But all the eggs have one thing in common, the yolks are truly orange, a deep orange. The colour comes from the green feed in the diet - grass. True free range (its now getting the label 'pastured') egg yolks are nothing like some of the eggs sold as 'free range' in supermarkets, which is basically just hens in sheds but not in small cages. There is nothing 'free' about this. Its worth paying a little extra for the 'real deal' than to buy cheap eggs that encourage farmers to treat these lovely animals in such a disgraceful way.

I love my eggs!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Signs of spring

After some very cold and wintery weather over the last few weeks, spring seems to be upon us.

The wattles and daffodils are in bloom, the birds are active and starting to make nests, and we are getting lots of eggs.

The days are noticeably longer now, and we have been making more solar power again.

Its almost time to start propagating all the summer vegetables like tomatoes, and this week I should be finished digging a new bed to plant the 100 or so seed potatoes I bought.

These guys are growing too!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


We have 2 goats at present, both strong personalities, and equally strong willed. I have read much about goats over the years on goat keeping, but I don't think anything prepares you for how unique they are. Goats are the supreme optimist, they don't let anything defeat them (eg. fences) and never ever give up! Good qualities in a person, but maybe not so helpful in our livestock! None the less they have many good points.

Its hard to not love the happy go lucky attitude to life, even when they do get into the garden and eat your broccoli plants.... The also love blackberries. A useful thing around here, as there is no shortage of blackberries (oddly - and maybe a little scary- the blackberries have not lost their leaves this year...). They relish the leaves and small stalks, and devour loads of them. Unfortunately they also love loganberries, raspberries and pretty much any cane fruit....

Dorka enjoying her blackberries.

Goats also seem to love people. Well ours do. And since there is not keeping them in their own paddock, this is not an uncommon sight around here!

How much is that goat-ee at the window???

I think they are the sort of animal you either love or hate. We enjoy having them around for a few reasons;

1. they give us milk!
2. they don't eat much - and enjoy a variety of food including weeds. And their feed to milk conversion rate is much better than cows.
3. they are small enough that they are easy to handle - for doing things like hoof trimming.
4. moving paddocks is easy as they are always following us - keeping them in their new paddock is harder though!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Living in a cloud

Its certainly winter here at the moment, mind you we have had some extremely beautiful days too. Plenty of rain, the sort of rain we USED to get (the local rain figures are up around the 150mm mark for most months of autumn and winter, compared to less than 100mm for the same months in the last few years).

Up here in the hills, we often end up being in a cloud, a thick mist that sticks around for days on end. Its quite surreal and very hard to capture with the camera (although I do try).

I love the mists, although I must say days of it really mess with your mind and give me a headache, as my eyes try to focus.

The wheel is turning again, signs of early spring are all around.... More hens are laying, wattle flowers are starting to appear (although the landscape is yet to turn it glorious yellow), and the daffodils are popping out of the soil... Oh, an the spring/summer seeds have arrived in the mail. I am going to ignore the signs, and hang onto winter for quite some time, I have yet to spend a cold and miserable day indoors spinning by the fire, enjoying hot soup like I had dreamed of doing - I suppose I am too much of a workaholic to do that!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

the joys of cooking on the woodstove

Over the last year we have had the pleasure of learning to cook on the woodstove. Our stove is an old Stanley traditional. We got it second hand, and it had had a rough life. It also came to us in pieces!

Woodstove cooking is not as quick as using gas or electric stoves, and you do need to get the wood, chop it up and put it in, rather than simply turn a knob and paying bills. Sometimes it can take an hour to get it going nicely (usually when I am rushing because I didn't light the stove early enough and its almost tea time).


On the small amount of wood it uses, it cooks (the equivalent of about 4-5 hot plates plus the oven at the same time), heats the room and our hot water, dries the clothes, keeps the bread warm while it rises and boils the kettle. I don't think there are many appliances that can do all that with the one input of 'fuel'. And the fuel can be grown on our land!!!!

It also lends itself to slow cooking, you can cook chutneys for hours, cook dried beans the day before you need them while the fire dies off for the night, stews can cook all day on the 'cold' side of the stove (Woostoves usually have a 'hot' section directly above the fire box, and then cooler areas moving away from it - so rather than turning the stove down to simmer, you just move your pot).

It bakes bread nicely, and we have cooked all sorts of cakes and biscuits in it. I keep my sourdough starter on top of the stove on the plate warmer rack (which gets used for lots of things but never for warming plates - there is always something on it!!!)

We love our slow combustion wood stove, and have used it through the summer (we found running it every 2-3 days to bake the bread was enough to keep the hot water hot). Summer use is just a matter of keeping the flue open to let out the heat rather than retaining it in the stove.
To me the woodstove is a 'symbol' of the slow, simple, back to basics lifestyle, that we are passionate about.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Happy (late) winter solstice

The winter solstice (shortest day) just passed a few days ago. We had planned to celebrate it with a 'grand' feast, but time got away from us. We have been blessed with some lovely weather, although also the usual winter rain, fog and cold winds. Who knows, we may even get snow this winter!

For those living off the mains grid, this time of year is the most challenging. More so for us, due to the not so good location of our solar panels (its only a temporary spot though - and we were aware of the limitations of the site at the time - but we traded the time to build an approprite frame elsewhere, and the loads of extra cabling for the lack of winter light). The sun sits very low in the sky here and sadly doesn't barely hit the panels at the moment. Combined with the foggy days, it means not much power is made.... That said, in the location that they will go to when the house is built we will have no trouble at all as we have full solar access.

So we have had to put in measures for power saving for the last 2 or so months, turning almost everything off, and not turning on power hungry appliances like the TV or even the radio. Also turning off the inverter that gives us our 240V power unless we are using saves us power. We only run 12V lighting, and that comes directly from our batteries.

We will survive, and next winter will be easier, as we are in the process of moving the panels to a new spot where we get a little more 'sun' time. We will also expand the system as money permits. For now we will have to cope with running the generator a couple of times to charge up the batteries again, and soon the sun will peek out from above the trees again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Enjoying the last of autumn

I think autumn is my favourite of all the seasons.

Although I enjoy the bounty of summer, I don't enjoy the extreme heat and the threat of drought and fire. Winter although cold and wet is a nice time to relax a little. Work still needs to be done, but the pace is not so hectic. I am enjoying these last days of sunshine before we decend into the 'dark' - the winter solistice is now only a bit over 3 weeks away.

We have managed so well on our stand alone solar power system (which is a pretty modest 1kWh set up). We are in a really bad site for solar power generation as we are surrounded by tall trees and as the days shorten so does our little 'window' of sunshine - currently we get about 2 hours of sun on the panels!!! However we haven't had to resort to the generator or hand washing (yet!).

I think one of the best thing about this time of year is that its a great time for planning and dreaming. And there is LOTS of that happening here, with new projects and big projects in the early stages. But I will write about those as things progress a little!

I'll leave you with a funny photo - our new goat Rosie - ontop of the pizza oven shelter! Goats...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Our boy is 2!

Last week our little boy turned 2.

On Sunday we had a small party for him to celebrate. With pizzas cooked in our woodfired pizza oven of course! And of course we made him a cake. Daddy is the cake maker in the family, and this year we made a train.