Dec 1, 2013

Blog On the Move

In an attempt to stop Take Your Money And Shove It from fizzing out due to neglect we are moving over to a Facebook Page. I know this won't suit everyone, and I have many misgivings about Facebook myself, but it seems to be where everyone's eyes are for now and it is quick and easy to update. I'm sorry for any inconvenience caused and who knows things can change and we might pop back here for some more in depth posts again down the track.  For now though you can keep up with our shenanigans and thoughts on this page:

Hope to see ya there :)

Jun 13, 2013

Inside Our Little House

When you are homesteading what happens inside the house is just as important as what happens outside. After all what's the point of all this produce if you are not going to utilize it. 

A big part of detaching yourself from consumerist society is preserving food. You know the way you can head down to the supermarket and buy stuff whenever you like, even if its out of season where you live? Thats a very unnatural thing, and it can't be managed without moving food vast distances or changing it so it doesn't go off (gassing fruit etc). In all of civilisations history prior to the last sixty years or so people have had to know to preserve food, and it makes sense to me that we reacquaint ourselves with it now. We have only just scratched the surface of it so far, but the highlight this Autumn was making our first ever batch of Tomato sauce.

Of course some produce will last quite a while if you pick it at the right time. There are pumpkins, spaghetti squash and watermelons everywhere! Mountains of em!!!

Another new adventure has been soap making. We have made two batches using oil bought at the shops, which makes lovely soap, but works out to cost about the same as a high quality soap you might buy. Great for avoiding some of the nasty chemicals used in commercial soap, but as a general rule I aim to decrease spending as well. One theory I have is that when it doesn't work out cheaper it is because you haven't managed to implement an entire system yet, part of designing from patterns to detail  ( a Permaculture principle) is that different systems on the farm should interact and support each other. That is where Tallow comes in.

We recently split a home slaughter with a neighbour, we were only getting two lambs taken care of, but our neighbours were getting a steer done. That meant a lot of fat. A whole wheelbarrow full. Bright yellow fat. Everyone I know who is raising their own meat is keen to see as much of it put to use as possible, its an obligation you feel after all that work you put into raising the animal, and yet another example of why it's healthy for people to get close to their food supply. So rather than see any waste our neighbours were more than happy for us to take a few bags of fat home to make tallow from.

It's a messy business, but after melting the fat in a slow cooker and then straining it you are left with a clear clean liquid that will then set into a solid block. This tallow can be used instead of oil in the soap recipe, which suddenly makes the soap a lot cheaper to make.

Things are slowly starting to come together on the self sufficiency front. We are shopping less and less. It feels good to start skipping shopping days, and makes for more time on the farm.

Jun 12, 2013

Foggy Morning Spider Web Photos

May 5, 2013

Chicken Wagon No.2

Ever since I made our first mobile chicken home I've been looking at our original chicken house and the house chooks and thinking, those chickens should be out working the pasture too. But for a long time I've let them stay there, probably because I was attached to using the structure after I took so much pride in building it. We were even thinking of getting a third flock so we could keep some chickens in the coop and still scale up our pasture regeneration. But the wobbly nature of our finances has put pay to that idea for now. Plus a friend gave me a whole heap of windows recently and I'm thinking the original chicken coop might make a good frame around which to build a glasshouse (a story for another day). One of the great things about making stuff for yourself is that it can be repurposed, try doing that with your new TV or Smart Phone :P

I can't think of a better way to celibate international Permaculture day than a bit of reusing old materials with the goal of some soil restoration.

So over the last couple of days I'm made a second mobile chicken home. My criteria after the last one was that it be a bit lighter and easier to move. Also I don't think these mobile homes need to be that big, even when they have a lot of space the chickens tend to all squish up together at night. I also would like this one to be a little easier to clean out. Simple is best I think

As with the first one it started upside down. Two 'found' pallets, some chicken wire and a few scraps of wood holding them together.

Next some wheels. Big ones at the back and two smaller ones at the front with a go cart style steering thingamajig.

Flip it over.

Next a beam across the centre and two old doors from the tip. 

The dark grey door is attached with hinges along the top so it can be opened up.

I covered the ends with wire and attached a pole (old tomato stake) with some rope to prop the open door up.

A coat of paint to help the doors cope with the weather and make it cooler on a hot day.

Inside I put a nesting box and a board as a perch for them to sleep on. The nesting box is made from an old bed side set of draws, actually the one I had in my room as a kid and have been dragging around the country with me ever since I left home some twenty five-ish years ago. Thanks Mum and Dad :)

 And she is ready for action. The whole thing cost less than twenty dollars!

I put it in the chickens yard and put some food and water in there so they would start checking it out. I'll leave it in there for a few days and keep feeding them in and around it. Then one night I'll close up the big coop before they go to bed so they will have no choice to sleep in the wagon. After a few nights it will be off to the pasture with them where they can help to build my topsoil.

Apr 26, 2013

Milk, Honey and Money

Phew! Time flies between blog posts and there is plenty of change taking place at Bunya Breeze.

The first notable hiccup I'll get out of the way as quickly as I can is that yet again there is uncertainty with regard to employment and income for our little household.  As this job Vicki has is yet another creative industries type thing it has not really come as a surprise. The modern world just doesn't consistently demand enough art to keep any job in this area stable. Vicki and I were musing this morning that it must be almost ten years since we had jobs in which we felt truly secure. I'm also concious of singling artists out for special attention, this may be the way the whole world is going, I wouldn't know :P. Everyone involved in this latest episode has at least been honest and open about things, there will be no grudges held or bitterness from employer or employee (or employees husband). This is a good way, or even essential way to handle things in a small town, you can't afford to be bitter because everyone knows everyone, and its not good for you anyway so we'll do our best to stay positive and amiable.

Even if the job does some how continue the uncertainty means my holiday on the farm is likely to come to an end sooner than anticipated. I've already started snooping around for some job opportunities in the area. If I can be fussy I'd rather something part time and local so I can still spend as much time here as possible. I'm not really looking for anything art related which on the one hand opens up a lot of possibilities, but on the other renders my previous experience irrelevant and leaves me open to the old 'over qualified' response when applying for jobs that don't necessarily require intellectual qualifications. But we will see how we go. I'm definitely not afraid of a bit of hard yacka.

Meanwhile, and much more interestingly, the poly-face nature of our farming system continues to take shape, we have pretty much reached our full compliment of animal breeds now which is very exciting. The biggest new addition is Ellie the cow. She is a Dexter, is 3 years old and is 4 months pregnant with her first calf. Eventually, after looking as far afield as Nambour and The Sunshine Coast we found a registered breeder right in our street, which is great because he was able to deliver her for free and is just up the road if we need any further help or advice.

She is a delight, a real curious little thing. Every time we move her she devotes some time to looking things over and sniffing everything, when I am out or in the paddock she follows me around (from a safe distance for now) watching everything I do. There was an inevitable few days of mooing and moaning after the move, she has lived as part of a herd until now and it can't be easy adjusting to just having us and some sheep for company. In some ways we feel like the timing of her arrival is the perfect remedy for our potential financial woes, she makes us smile every time we look at her.

In spite of my earlier post we still have the sheep, after finding out what we could sell them for we decided they need to stay and earn their keep for a while yet before we part with them. We are keeping Ellie in the same paddock as the sheep, keeping cows and sheep together is called a Flerd (Flock+Herd). Ellie is used to sheep as she was raised with them around, the sheep on the other hand are pretty scared of Ellie for now. It is odd because in our earlier experiments with keeping the sheep and Archie the horse together we found they were very outgoing and in spite of Archie's aggression would get very close to him. They give Ellie a very wide birth though, often breaking into a run to dash across to another corner of the paddock when they think she has gotten too close. I'm pretty sure they will get used to her in time.

Last night Ellie escaped from the paddock, and broke my new expensive portable electric fence in two places along the way. We don't know why, its possible she was spooked by something. So we will probably take to keeping her in the safe (and studier) house paddock at night. This would have to have happened when she became a mother and we start milking her anyway so its no big deal.

Ellie is slowly getting used to me being near her, I can usually walk up and give her a pat on the back or neck now without her moving away. Whenever I lead her somewhere I make sure there is some food waiting for her at the destination so she is stating to realise I have good intentions. In the weeks ahead I'll be building some milking bales (probably out of old pallets rather than bought timber now that money could be tight) and I'll start feeding her in them regularly so she gets used to going in there every morning without any stress.

At the other end of the animal size scale I acquired a bee hive the other week at a Permaculture group meeting. David the bee keeper I bought them from was very generous, lending me a whole bunch of equipment without any need of an urgent return.

Moving them was interesting, Myself and Permie neighbour Elizabeth drove home from the meeting late in the afternoon with the hive in the back of the little hatch back with us. But in spite of our trepidation the journey went very smoothly without a single escapee in transit that we noticed.

They wasted no time getting to work and I see many of them now in my garden, working the flowing couch grass and in the trees. My friend Jack (a bee keeper himself) was happy to see we have quite a few Narrow Leafed Iron Bark trees around because they are just coming into flower and will be the bees main source of food through the winter.

Another Permie friend Judi also gave me a handy book on bee keeping that has been good to have. I have read a lot on-line but I found most of it assumed you have a basic knowledge and then tries to steer you in one direction or the other from there, while the book starts out by outlining the basics which I need.

The bees won't need a lot of attention in the immediate future, they have just had their honey harvested before I got them and need some time now to make sure they are stocked up for the cold winter, during this time the honey is more for them than us as they feed on it to keep warm.

About the only animal change I can potentially see for now on the farm is that we might swap sheep for goats at some point, but i need to learn more about the potential of keeping goats and cattle together first because I'm not too keen dividing up our animals into many more separate groups (which makes more work). We have some neighbours who have shared some goats milk with us a few times and I'll tell you fresh unprocessed goats milk is bloody delicious. The total number of actual animals will of course have to fluctuate in response to the way the climate treats us over time, but for now we have plenty of water and the pasture is looking good.

The garden is proving quite productive in the last little stint of warm weather, I have over 15 Watermelons near ready for picking, about the same amount of Spaghetti Squash, 10 or more Pumpkins and an absolutely ripper crop of Tomatoes just starting to ripen. On the way among many other things are loads of Beetroot and Chinese Broccoli. Plus now I'll have cow manure to add to my compost, making it even more fertile.

So life goes on at Bunya Breeze. The farm, its animals and plants offer a reassuring consistency, even when things change they respond as they should and guide us as much as we guide them. While the semi fictional world of commerce, employment and even the love of the first half of my life art, shifts under our feet and attempts to tip us off balance with almost comical frequency. Is it any wonder the world is in the grip of a depression epidemic when for many engagement with the real rhythms and connections of life, the great adventure they offer and long road of discovery they reveal are considered optional. Vicki and I have so quickly evolved to a point where we cling to the farm for comfort and reassurance, it simply makes sense, always gives as much as it takes. We are safe here, our quality of life is magnified here and the title of this blog rings truer than ever. 

Mar 19, 2013

Navigating and Becoming Country Folk

I thought it might be interesting to think a bit about some of the differences I've noticed between living in the city and a small country town.

First up it is truly amazing just how many people here we have gotten to know in just fifteen months or so. Vicki and I were doing a rough count the other day and figured we know about thirty people in our street (its a long street). Then there would be almost as many again across the town and even the same again across the region via the South Burnett Permaculture Group. Just as a reference point, I think that thirty people might be more than I have known in all the others streets I've lived in before combined.

One key to getting to know people has been Vicki's regular habit of walking our horse Archie up and down the road. He is a 'barefoot' horse, and walking on the bitumen is good for his feet. Often curious people stop for a chat and to find out more about what Vicki is doing, and if we meet people in some other context it is usually only a matter of time before there is a, “Aaaaaah your the lady who walks her horse!” moment. We have even been talking to people in the neighbouring town of Yaraman and had that happen :)

Another way we have met lots of people is when looking into places to buy animals. Neighbours always seem to know someone near by that sells or breeds this kind of animal or that. Just the other day we met some nice folk down the road who bread Dexter cows, a week before that we met up with another nice guy from a few streets over who has a Jersey cow for sale. In the city, not many of your transactions involve people who live near by so there is no point in getting to know them.

Above any hiccups and the inevitable social fumblings (inevitable for me anyway) this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. We did not expect it at all, we are in (or near) Joh Bjelke-Petersen country, we thought people might be extremely conservative (relative to us). We have discovered some wonderfully alternative people, progressive people, open and generous people. That's not to say we agree with everyone on everything, but as a general rule people are respectful and focus on the positives. We have met a few people a bit over zealous with the horse care advice, but even then its mostly because they are trying to help.

People tend to be older or younger in the country. I suppose middle aged career orientated folk tend to head off to 'greener' (pffft irony) pastures. Out of these two groups we tend to favour the older folk as the young kids out this way can tend towards the bogan side. Fellow Gen X friends are few and far between and I suspect important. Suddenly at the age of 40 I'm being referred to as that young bloke, a stark contrast to the teaching environment I was in before where I was considered prehistoricly old. 

One thing that can be tricky to navigate stems from something very different about country people, the fact that so many of them have some serious history here. I guess people move around a lot more in the city, but many of the people out here have been here for a long time, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or even generations. Its only natural then that when they meet someone new to the area they like to share what they know based on the extra perspective they have. Sounds great, and is great on the whole, I have a lot to learn and the more information I can get my hands on the better. One down side though is that these people don't cross check their information (obviously :P ) and contradict each other all over the place. A recent example might be the extra wet weather experienced in this part of the world in recent summers, I've been told its horrible and there has never been anything like it before and then that it is wonderful and a return to how the weather used to be in the good old days. I couldn't possibly follow all the advice I'm given without being all tangled up in nots. I often wonder how often they return home and think to themselves something like, "these young people, they just don't listen". When it would actually be impossible for me to act on it all and maintain any kind of continuity to my actions. 

Nanango is one of Queensland's oldest towns.

So a few guidelines I've noticed are starting to develop when comes to old timer or local advice...

  • First up and most importantly I need to always remind myself that it is by far a much better thing than bad, there is something to be learned in every exchange. If it is not immediately obvious I just need to find a different way to look at it. We ignore our elders at our peril, I may have new or different ideas about things, but its never so black and white that you can assume someone is irrelevant. As a teacher I've also experience things from the other side, it can be frustrating to see a young naive person fumbling towards strife in spite of your advice.

  • Favour advice from those who do over those who say. I suppose that's a more polite way of saying talk is cheap. If I can find someone who is or has done stuff successfully and roughly in line with my priorities then they are the ones I'm going to listen to the most, nothing beats being able to observe something in action over talking about it in the abstract.

  • A 'CAN DO' wins out over a hundred 'CAN'T DO's. Even back before we moved people would tell us it was no good up on the range, that the soil this and the climate that. Then there were many locals telling me similar things in our early months here. I know its early days, but I feel I can say that in every thing I have tried there has been some if not great progress. There is an abundance of food right outside my front door, the micro climate in my food forest is changing for the better, and while its very early days my pasture is finally being treated as it should be. Its exciting, its fun and I'm learning SO much. Why you wouldn't even try is beyond me :)

  • There is a flip side to all that history. Who's to say that my background might not throw up some new possibilities, there is no harm in trying just to find out. Also I think being in one place for a long time might sometimes leave one with the impression things are better everywhere else. One example that springs to mind is the winter weather here, I've been told plenty about what you can't grow here because of the cold frosty winters, but there is always a flip side. Last winter I grew an amazing amount of broccoli and cauliflower here, I could never have managed that down on the coast, my experience there was that the summer pests don't give you a big enough gap to get a decent crop. One door closes and another opens. Mmmmmm broccoli.

  • Lastly I need to remember to have fun and enjoy conversations for their own sake. A quick background story. Way back when I lived in Sydney and was working at Disney a bunch of co-workers suggested we go ice skating. I had never been before so was keen to give it a go. We arrived and started stumbling around in our skates. I was very interested in how the whole thing worked and spent a lot of time looking down and moving my feet around in different ways to see how it effected my movement. Some time passed and then I went back to sit next to my friend Debbie, "Where have you been?" she asked. I looked at the clock and realised our two hours were almost up, I'd spent the whole time trying to figure out more about skating instead of having fun with my new friends. This post is in itself evidence of my tendency to analyse things. Its something I enjoy, it clicks in my mind and feels good, I doubt I can stop :), but sometimes a chat is just a chat. A nice chance to share and listen with a fellow traveller. I'm lucky to have gotten to know so many in such a short time, I love the country.  

Feb 25, 2013

Garden Goodies in the Rain

Well after a short break its raining a lot again! If you want to see the high drama you need only turn on the news. I'm trying to keep focussed on the positives. The veg garden is going BONKERS! so I have been out trying to capture some of the action. My little cheap phone camera never does nature shots the justice they deserve so you have to imagine more vivid colours and textures. I see this garden every day, but still it's beauty is taking my breath away at the moment.
Asparagus. Such a great plant to look at, to eat and to touch. I think it should be planted on every corner in the garden so that as you walk around you can reach out and touch its soft foliage.
Aleo Vera, not so nice to touch, but a striking plant when healthy.
Believe it or not I still have a little strip of Potatoes planted back when the frost stopped that are hanging in there. I planted about 6 times this much, but most of it died off having produced no tubers during the heatwave. Anything from these will be considered a bonus after they have had such a rocky ride. 
I have Heaps of Spaghetti Squash on the way, but that's fine, I have read they are great keepers lasting up to six months. If you have never eaten or tried Spaghetti Squash I highly recommend you chase some up, they are such fun, taste great and easy to grow. I can't understand why they are not more common in supermarkets, ITS SPAGHETTI IN A PLANT!

The Spaghetti Squash plants can get huge.
The biggest one has stretched out across three garden beds in front of the house. 
Four or five months ago I planted some Turmeric. I had given up and forgotten it so almost killed it thinking it was a weed when it popped up. Despite me having  pulled it out of the ground it is hanging in there. its the one hiding behind the butter bean leaf with the one slightly brown leaf off to the left. Hope it survives.
Some Cosmos, to attract good insects to the patch. Pretty too.
Sun Flowers for the same reason.
Some more Asparagus next to Lavender and Chard around behind the old cement tank. 
Next to the old cement tank I have enormous Round Zucchini plants, I had no idea they could get that big, they are almost at my chest hight. The Zucchini keep getting away from me and getting huge, as big as pumpkins. Sadly they are only good for seed saving once they get to that size, but the chooks are not complaining. Also in this picture is a Purple King Bean up the back, some Egyptian Walking Onions on the left and Watermelon down the front. 
Out on the verge I have more Watermelon and Pumpkins stretching out, I'm not sure if the fruit will be ready before the frost, but time will tell. A little frustratingly I've noticed the plants tend to produce all one kind of flower at a time, so I have Watermelon covered in female flowers but no males and Pumpkins with all male flowers and no female, it makes pollination a bit hard :P
Lastly the rain gives me a chance to see that even the short piece of swale I have dug out so far is working, holding on to that water so it sinks into the ground just up from the food forest instead of running off down the hill.