Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our first month completed!

Jake, Lachlan and our farm cat Saxon picking peas (sunflowers behind)

We made it! ... well, through the first month anyway!

It's been an interesting 31 days - lots of lessons learnt, moments of pride, and moments of sheer frustration.

We're sitting at the table - the boys and Katelyn scoffing apricots, and Johan and I still have dirty hands after pulling weeds and spreading compost in the garden... it's pouring outside, and we've even had a some hail (so much for summer!) - so I'm going to seize the moment and ask them all what they think has gone well (and not so well) so far....

Lachlan (aged 5): When asked what he liked and didn't like about the challenge.

The Good: I like eating Tasmanian stuff cos it's yummy, and liked getting toys at Xmas.

The Not so Good: When I have to go to my room....

Jake (aged 5): When asked what he liked and didn't like about the challenge.

The Good: Jake likes having hot chocolate (it's on the cheat sheet!), apricots, nuts and liked going to the Taste of Tasmania food festival.
The Not so Good: Not buying new toys

Katelyn (aged 15):

The Good: First reponse 'I dunno', then - 'everything tastes good and you think about what is here in Tasmania'

The Not so Good: You don't get to go out so much as it's hard to find places that have tasmanian food.

Johan (aged 21 + 21 + 4)

The Good: Jen is cooking some really nice food. I've enjoyed finding other people who are like minded and how our network of people to barter with, and exchange ideas with, is increasing.

The Not so Good: No Coca-Cola! (although I've not minded that much at all...)

And me (Jen):

The Good:

  • Meals shared with friends and family that have been built around our goodies in the garden - especially our new potatoes - pink-eyes and dutch creams.
  • BBQ's by the creek at Johan's place - boys off on bush adventures, a warm campfire to sit by, local beer, and chats with friends.

  • Cuddles with Tinkerbell's piglets - she's the first sow we've had who has let us get near her bubs - their hair is so fine and their skin so soft.

  • Picking peas with the kids - so sweet (the peas and the children), and watching them dig for potatoes with Johan's adult daughter, Lena.

  • The satisfaction of knowing I've stuck to our key goals - no new stuff (although we've bought second hand items from the tip shop and second hand stores), and no non-Tasmanian food has been purchased (although we've consumed it at social gatherings with others). I've yet to tally our energy usage but I'm confident we've cut that significantly...

  • A christmas spent with loved ones - where the focus was on enjoying the gift of each others company rather than the gifts that were bought in shops.

The Not so Good:

  • My main challenges have been around planning and preparation of food. This was made more tricky as I wasn't well for nearly two weeks and didn't feel like being 'superwoman'.

Other than that it's been great... I'm learning loads like:

  • It's going to be weeks before we hit the back of the pantry - even though I was careful not to stock up on things (or hoard!) I still have quite a bit of non-Tasmanian food in the cupboard to use up. I imagine a lot of this food would have gone to waste (or to the pigs) if I were not making a conscious effort to use it up now.

  • That when you've made a choice to not buy new things you become more creative with recycling and reusing that which you have.

  • That we've been very reliant on credit cards to pay for things - using cash only is proving challenging to remember to do.

  • Milking goats twice a day is a major commitment in time and energy - it's not just the milking - it's the sterilisation of the bottles, bowls etc and then doing something with the milk. I am unsure how much longer we will continue.

Plans for the next month:

  • Build a road-side stall for our surplus (fingers crossed we'll have one!)

  • More veggie planting

  • Make a 'cage' for our trailer

  • Laugh, enjoy the journey, and maybe have a couple days exploring our beautiful state!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pancakes, hay and travelling goats

A pig and the sheep wandering Dec 08

We're back (in body and spirit) after our Christmas mini-break on Bruny Island.

The largest paddock is looking bare after the hay has been baled, though shortly we'll move the weaned lambs into it to pick at any greenery that will resurface. Moving them up there will be good for us all - a bit of exercise after lounging around eating and drinking....

The Christmas ham was beautiful - prepared by Graham the butcher at Cygnet using traditional hard wood smoking. Served cold with a range of veggies from Mum and Dad's veggie garden - it was a great no-hassle dinner.

We also enjoyed vast amounts of the most delicious fresh berries (strawberries and raspberries) thanks to our friends Collete and Chris Griffin who traded some of their crop for some bacon. The resulting fruit salads, raspberry mousse (see recipe below), and strawberry icecream were a hit with everyone.

I had a go making pancakes with the Tassie Flour - in the end I opted to use a half and half mixture (of Tassie wholemeal and some plain white I had left in the cupboard) and added 4 bantam eggs instead on 2 full size chook eggs as I thought we'd get more yolk to bind the recipe) - the result was great - the kids scoffed them down with lemon and sugar.... next time I'll go 100% Tasmanian flour.

As we were away for two nights we took the goats with us to Bruny... they were great companions and enjoyed ridding the neighbour's block of weeds. There was a fair bit of interest on the ferry as we rolled up with Muriel and Fatso in the trailer... I guess most people usually bring things like cray-pots, kayaks, and tents when they visit the island....
Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas!

Raspberry Mousse Recipe

2 cups fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
4 cups whipped cream
1/2 cup sugar

How to do it:

In a small saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups raspberries and sugar. Heat and stir over medium heat until it turns into liquid (it may have some lumpy bits but don't worry!). Stir in gelatin. Remove from heat and scrape into a large bowl. Let cool for 5 minutes. Remove chilled whipped cream from refrigerator. Mix 1 cup of whipped cream into raspberry mixture until well combined. Fold in remaining whipped cream. Pour into wine glasses and chill.

(adapted from

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Merry Christmas

The season is upon us, and we're looking forwarding to packing up the goats (and kids and tents) and heading to Bruny for fun and frivolity with family.

Here's the planned menu my Mum and I are working towards:

Christmas Dinner:

Ham on the bone (homegrown free range)
Vegetables: roly poly carrots, pinkeyes and dutch cream potatoes, fresh peas, local pumpkin


Hazelnut meringue with raspberries - or raspberry mousse?
Stewed rhubarb and cream


Local beer/wine/apple juice

Boxing Day Breakfast:

Fruit Salad and Yoghurt (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples and pears)
Bacon (homegrown) and Eggs (from our chooks)
Wholemeal Flat bread buttered toast


Fresh Bruny Island Oysters
Homemade sausages on the BBQ
Salads – Goats cheese, snow peas, butternut lettuce, radishes, strawberries, parsley, chives, olives, baby spinach, and anything else we can find in the garden!
Homemade garlic flatbread

Morning/afternoon tea:

Blueberry teacakes
Savoury Oat Biscuits with local Cheese (probably Bruny Island Cheese Company as it’s just a short walk away!)
Homemade Raspberry Icecream (for the big and little kids!)

Add a dash of beach cricket, a night under the stars, great conversation and company - tis a recipe for a splendid Christmas methinks!

Monday, December 22, 2008


... a time to confess....

On the lead up to beginning our challenge I went seriously overboard on all those yummy foods and drinks that I was concerned about being 'deprived' of during the four months (ie 20 gazillion cups of black tea, chocolate, wines, bread, pasta, and so on). I'm not feeling proud of myself - especially now as I sit here in my too-tight jeans on a warm day carrying at least an extra 6 - 8 kilos for my efforts.

I'm not sure what triggered this famine mentality in me, but the result was what seemed a justifiable denial of self-restraint, backed up with a belief that any extra weight would just drop-off once we got started. I'm sad to report that I received a huge reality check this morning after standing on the scales - after 3 weeks on the challenge I have put on another 2! eek! and we haven't even got through Christmas yet....

Johan has lost weight - not sure how much but he's looking very svelte and happy with himself. He puts it down to no more coke, and healthier lunches.

I'm pretty sure the lesson in this for me is about balance. It's been a hectic couple of months - it's time to settle down, savour what we have, make time to work in the garden and run around with the kids, and be grateful.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The colour of things

I've been thinking about the colour of what we eat a fair bit lately.

It started when I bought some Salmon from my local fishmonger. It was reduced in price by about $11 a kilo - I asked why I was getting such a bargain. Apparently the fish farmer who had produced the salmon hadn't fed the fish the dye that coloured its flesh the bright orange colour that the supermarkets and/or consumers like.

I was horrified - I had no idea that salmon were given some kind of substance designed to alter their colour - I have no idea what the makeup of the dye would be but it doesn't sound right to me. The piece of 'natural' salmon I bought looked great to me (and was very tasty) but according to the fishmonger just didn't look how most people liked it to look....

Another colour issue I've been pondering is why commercial mayonnaise is white - I've been making homemade mayonnaise a fair bit lately (to go into potato salad amongst other things) and I can't quite figure out how a substance that has eggs as one of its key ingredients can end up snow white in colour - as opposed to the mellow yellow that I produce with our own eggs & olive oil. Hmmnnnn....

In the latest Earth Garden magazine a letter writer made some very interesting points (I thought) - that 'In today's world people have been conditioned to evaluate their foods by sight rather than smell or taste', and 'Who hasn't anticipated the pleasure of biting into a good-looking fruit only to spit out the first mouthful and throw the offending fruit away? No amount of publicity will convince kids that lousy tasting fruits are good for you' (Frank Schenk, Osborne Park, WA).

I can relate to what he is saying - I rarely buy fruits, or buy very small amounts, as they look great on a shelf but too often are hard, sour and very unpalatable when we try to eat them... and kids aren't silly - they don't care how much that apricot cost - they just know it tastes awful.

Well I'm happy to report that what we've been harvesting from our little plot lately has been kind on the eye and the tongue - the photo above shows one of the massixe strawberries the boys and I picked. They looked beautiful and were quite tasty - but nothing compared to the smaller ones though that were petite packages of berry bliss!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Melbourne Moments

Katelyn and I have just returned from a very enjoyable overnight stay in Melbourne. I felt quite conflicted about going - being week 2 of our challenge - but it was deemed necessary for work so we made the most of the opportunity.

A highlight was finding the 'Greenhouse' installation in Federation Square - a fully functioning eco-friendly cafe and event centre that has been designed to remain for 3 months on the site. It was inspiring (and delicious) - lots of ideas about building sustainably using steel and straw, as well as great creative recycled objects - chairs made from processed shipping crates, lighting features built from ring-lock wire (and I just took my last lot to the tip - damn!), walls of strawberries (must have been 5 metres high), and jam jars for tea and coffee.

We enjoyed muffins and hot tea for breakfast there and felt mighty proud of ourselves for finding a clean green way to eat in Melbourne. We followed that with a Veggie Curry at the Hare Krishna canteen in Swanston Street for lunch. We thought this was another good food choice in the big city, and I was feeling fairly smug about our success.

I was happily humbled however after window shopping in the arcades (but no buying! we stuck to our pledge to not buy anything new!), when we snuck into a chocolatiers for a decadent chocolatey afternoon tea...very naughty, but divine....

The lessons I learnt from this experience:
  • that eating locally is really challenging without local knowledge, and having done your research.
  • that being in Melbourne with a 'no-shopping' rule is very liberating - I noticed that as we went through the arcades I was focussing more on the fascinating architecture and design, rather than seeing what was in the shops, and that we sought out new experiences rather than things to remind us of our visit (such as the zoo and the night markets).
  • that walking through a DFO is a very depressing experience.
  • and that when the airline captain says prepare for landing into Hobart when we're still over Launceston there is no need to panic :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Out thriving 'Kennebec' potato plants

Potato Salad - I love it! We collected and boiled some of the season's new potatoes, to which I added chives, parsley, onions, some homemade mayonnaise (which included some left-over seeded mustard I found in the fridge), and fried bacon. It was delicious, and disappeared too quickly!

I'm looking forward to a summer of yummy potato-ey delights as we've three different culitvars planted - pink eyes, dutch creams and kennebecs. We suffered some mild frost damage, and it appears some of the leaves are being eaten by unknown critters, but I'm optimistic that we'll get a decent crop.

Here's some history of the spud in Tasmania - apparently Lieutenant Bowen first planted them in 1803 when he created the settlement at Risdon Cove, and from the mid-1820's they've been grown as a commercial crop. The Department of Primary Industries and Water have a certified seed program which includes 26 cultivars, of which I only recognise about 1/2 dozen types. Some I'd like to try - just because their names sound cool - are nooksack, granola (sounds like muesli to me...), nadine and nicola (did romantic farmers name their spuds after their wives?).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Garlic Girls

We're part of 'Garlic Girls', a collective of small growers of organic garlic. 'Collective' sounds a tad more impressive than the reality - it was originally made up of myself and Collette, then my father expressed an interest in getting involved (after we'd come up with the name!). I've a suspicion I'm the weak link in this particular chain having seen their gorgeously abundent patches.

All the rain we've been having has meant there's a danger of them rotting in the ground so many have had to be taken out over the weekend. I'm already looking forward to sampling the elephant garlic (roasted whole as they are not a strong tasting variety - similar to leeks in flavour apparently), and figuring out how to make a garlic bread with our Tassie ingredients.

I've been doing a bit of www research about garlic as I was keen to see what other varieties we may be able to plant next season - didn't find out much about that, but discovered the following facts:

  • Stinky garlic breath is caused when garlic's strong smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized forming allyl methyl sulfide.

  • Garlic can thin the blood similar to the effect of aspirin.

  • Garlic is good for pest control in the garden, particularly aphids. Soak it with some hot chillies in water for two weeks, then strain it, and apply it as a spray. Can be planted as a companion plant with roses, cabbages, eggplants, tomatoes and fruit trees.
    (sources: wikipedia, and

    We'll be selling our surplus at the Rare Food stall at Salamanca (near the Fresh Fruit Market and Knopwoods).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Challenge has begun - Week 1

I'd love to report that our first few days of our 'Challenge' have been a massive success, that the months of planning and preparation resulted into a seamless transition into a self-sustainable locavore lifestyle.... if only....

To be honest - it's all been a bit of a schamozzle.

Work commitments, family commitments, and general bog-standard life commitments intervened and suddenly it got a bit too hard to proceed in the spirit we had planned. We have sullen teenager upset about the departure of some pigs to deal with (ironically that was a catalyst for me, at her age, to become vegetarian for 16 years...) who appears to be opting out, an overstretched father juggling a few too many things, and two 5 year olds who had a birthday party to throw.

We have, however, managed to re-group and begin again....
  • Our energy usage continues to decline, though we haven't reached grid neutral yet.
  • Due to lots of spring rain our veggie garden is growing at a rapid rate, and we can pick silverbeet, lettuces, radishes, spinach, peas, and a range of herbs to cook with.
  • Eggs are a bit of an issue -as many of our hens are either going clucky or are being fabulous mothers to chicks.
  • I have designed the 'Challenge Biscuit' - elgaar farm organic rolled oats and butter, tassie honey, our own eggs, midlands flour, and a bit of Australian organic raw sugar (it's on our cheat list!). It got the seal of approval from my two sticky fingered little ones.
  • We sold 4 and a 1/2 pigs to Matthew Evans (who has the Rare Food stall at Salamanca market). We'll get a ham and bacon back for Christmas.
  • We have created a cash jar - with the idea that we'll only spend cash we have on hand from the sale of our surplus. Also started a log book to record income and expenditure.
  • I found some new Tasmanian products that we're trying - Meander Valley Double Cream (the boys had bowls of it to dip strawberries in at their party - yum), and Taverner's Tasmanian Honey Nectar Concentrate. The Honey Nectar is a bit like cordial that you water down - very nice as an iced treat methinks. The labels indicate they are 100% Tasmanian - will investigate further to ensure they are.

There's more rain forecast which should make the swampier parts around here even swampier. The gaps between the rain are divine, and the rainbows magic.

Tinkerbell is due to have her piglets any moment - she can barely get up she's so huge. I had hoped she'd have them by tomorrow as we have a photographer coming to take photos but it's not something we can hurry (although I have had conversations with her in which I have encouraged her to do so if that's what she'd like to do).

I've been asked to travel to Melbourne next week for a business meeting (typical - I plan a local food challenge and then get summoned to go interstate). I've paid my extra $$$'s to offset the carbon emissions but it doesn't seem enough somehow... I'll have to put some thought into what else I can do. It's an overnight stay and we're still considering the best way to continue the challenge interstate... any ideas appreciated!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

International Buy Nothing Day - November 29th

Buy Nothing Day Imagery from their site

I've been reconnecting with friends, past & present, via Facebook this week. One of them forwarded me this link, which is all about 'Buy Nothing Day' - the title explains the gist of what it's all about!

Here's some of the events they advocate for the day:

  • pass out flyers and or do a performance in shopping areas, trains stations in town or shopping malls (note: If the space is privately owned, the security guards will probably show up soon. In public space you may have to register with the police, beforehand, but business owners cannot chase you off.)

  • street performances: funny costumes are de rigeur. Santa Claus doing weird things (meditating, ), the shopping-dropping act (walking laden with insane amounts of shopping bags, pretending to collapse under them.

  • Demonstrations: on foot or bicycle

  • a stand selling nothing (with a hawker), or a shop space with empty shelves and a register with only zeros on the receipts

  • postering blitzes: put stickers and posters up in town (FOR THE RECORD: we are not encouraging illegal postings, and recommend that you do not damage whatever is below it)
    no shopping inside a supermarket or mall; a large group of people push around empty shopping carts and baskets

  • credit-card cut up service station

  • creating a shopping free zone: put a sofa and other furniture in a shopping area, create a cosy atmosphere, give out free tea and BND pamphlets

  • teach-ins, discussion group meetings, video screenings, BND poster exhibitions, free concerts

Sounds like fun!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simpler times?

Ted Kennelly, the former owner of our house, kindly gave me this photo of our home as it was many years ago. Ted raised his family here and was generous enough to share some of his memories of the place he had invested so much of himself in.

He talked of community fund-raising dances, and his daughter's wedding in the 1960's in our apple picking shed. He recalled when my sons' bedroom was the local general store for the apple pickers during the season, and gave us some of the labels he used on the packing boxes of the export-grade apples he produced, which are now proudly framed on our wall.

Our home looks very different to it's original version now - it was remodelled in the 1960's - the high roof replaced with the flatter version which was fashionable at the time.

I wonder sometimes what life was like in this house for these girls in the photo - I wonder what they would make of this challenge to simplify? I like to think they lived the life we're striving for - abundance resulting from their endeavours, delight in the company of loved ones, reassurance in the knowledge of their place and their value in the world, and hope for the future. Perhaps that's over-romanticising a bygone era?

I read somewhere that despite our increase in wealth and the 'stuff' we're able to accumulate, measures of satisfaction and happiness have declined since the 1950's. Apparently despite being better off we're collectively convinced we're doing it tougher than previous generations. I guess it can be easy to misplace one's sense of gratitude for what we have, and tend to take for granted all the blessings we have in our lives.

Monday, November 17, 2008


It's been a busy few weeks on our little home farm.

Vitually everything here seems to be in the midst of a growth spurt - we're already picking leafy greens from the new veggie garden, the lambs that were so tiny a few weeks ago are stocky and strong now, and the chicks have developed feathers that are protecting them from the occassional chilly evening.

We've had a community garage sale in our apple picking shed - successful in that I sold a few items cluttering our space - not so successful as I ended up bringing a few boxes of other people's 'stuff' they had decided to part with into our house. Ah well.... it was a fun day - lots of cups of tea, and catching up.

The house has been smelling great - mainly due to the scent of baking muffins, breads, biscuits, BBQ's and roasts. It's resulted in an increase in our power usage which we had been averaging at about 6kwH per day. I'll have to rethink how we use the oven during the challenge - and utilise the time and space better.

Some of our animals have gone to new homes - chooks and rabbits... all the people who collected them have seemed really great - committed to providing a good quality of life for the animals. We've also gained a lot more baby chicks - Barnevelders, Buff Columbian Brahmas, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and some cross breeds from some chooks I was given which I've been told are called 'Tasmanian Giants'.

Tasmanian Giant?

I really like the look of these birds - especially their large brown eyes, and their dramatic colouring - the photos don't really do them justice at all - they're beautiful. They have feathered legs - and I originally thought they may be from Gold Partridge brahmas - but apparently they've been bred by someone locally and people (much more knowledgable than me!) have suggested they may be a cross of cochin, barnevelder, and something else.

Look at those beautiful brown eyes

Sunday, November 9, 2008


We're a few weeks off commencing our challenge - seems a bit daunting (that's an understatement!) - so I'll try to bear in mind the words of Helen Keller -

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Muriel's Island Mini-break

Milking Muriel on a tressle table on Bruny Island

This weekend we celebrated Johanna' s birthday (no. 60) with a family get-together on Bruny Island. It was a time to relax and enjoy each other's company, eat great food (too much!) and enjoy watching the grand-kids hanging out together.

The lead-up was a lot less relaxing - passing on info and advice to our wonderful friends who dished out meals to the pigs, chooks and rabbits in our absence, getting packed (we never did find the tent!), cooking up a storm for the feast to share, as well as juggling the usual day to day stuff.

We had hoped to find a goat-sitter for Muriel - someone to come and chat, and milk her twice daily, but we failed to find anyone up to the challenge. Instead it was decided that Muriel should enjoy the mini-break with us - and luckily my folk's neighbour was delighted to have goat visit for the weekend to deal with his slightly overgrown block. So we loaded her into a vary posh double horse float, packed hay, feed, and milking buckets, and headed off to catch the ferry.

Muriel was a delight - she fitted in immediately, tolerated grotty handed toddlers attempts to 'squeeze' milk out of her, and got stuck into the neighbours weeds with gusto. She spoke only when spoken to - a big sigh of relief from all of us who slept near her and anticipated a sleepless night filled with the calls of a complaining goat.

All in all, I can recommmend travelling with one's goat - great company, and an easy source of milk for your cuppa in the morning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Despite the erratic weather last week - a mixture of Tassie spring bright days combined with cloud and snow offerings, we managed to create 26.3 KwH of energy with our Solar PV system.

I'm very enthusiaistic about collecting data on our energy usage at the moment - especially as we're already exceeding my expectations as we work towards becoming grid neutral over summer.

I've worked out that last year at the same time we used 315 Kwh per week (approx 45 Kwh per day).

Last week we used around 46 Kwh for the whole week (this includes exporting our power to the grid).

I'm over the moon with that result as we didn't really scrimp for power (I'll confess to having used the dryer once, and the electric heater was used when I was too lazy to light the fire).

It makes what we are setting out to achieve actually seem possible!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Katelyn and I have just spent the better part of four days of babysitting our pigs (Tinkerbell, Wendy and Peterpan) at the 'Life on the Farm' display pavilion at the Royal Hobart Show.

It was an interesting experience with highs - like watching little kids 'ooh' and 'ahh' over the pigs, and talking to various older people about their childhood recollections of the Saddlebacks, and lows - like losing my 4 year old son for 15 minutes in the crowd (it felt like 15 hours!).

L , Peter Pan and Wendy at the Show

It was a great opportunity to meet new people and try new things - I broke my rule of 'No Meat off the Farm' and tried a Porteus Beef Burger, created and cooked by Stuart Smith. He was able to tell me where the cow had been raised (his father-in law's property), it's weight, breed etc, plus where he sourced the honey and tomatoes locally for inclusion in the burger itself, as well as his homemade sauces (the zucchini relish was delish!).

How could I not support a local making a 100% Tasmanian product! - it was mighty tasty - I ended up coming home with a box of the burgers to share with family during the course of the challenge - if they last that long!

Our Plymouth Rock Rooster - Best of Breed

We also took 4 Plymouth Rocks to compete in the Poultry section - our birds came 1st and 2nd in their classes - though I must admit they were the only Plymouth Rocks there!

I've found the experienced Poultry Persons to be most helpful and willing to share ideas and advice on how to improve our birds - I've come home with contact details of other PR breeders we may be able to get stock from to improve our lines. Katelyn also purchased a new Rhode Island Red rooster - he's beautiful, but I'm not sure how many roosters we can sustain, and at $50 he will be a very expensive roast chicken if he's surplus to requirements!

It's been a busy few days - I'd never have guessed minding the pigs and floating about the show would be so knackering! Looking forward to some home time so I can sit and reflect on what I've learned and want to gather more information on - about dairy and meat goats, beef cows, bee-keeping, the RSPCA certification program, value-adding to your product, and the possibility of starting a competitive pig class at next years event.
J & L - Can we go home now, Can we get a showbag? Can we go on another ride? This is BORING!!!! I love the show - can we come back tomorrow????

Saturday, October 18, 2008


A busy Saturday saw my wonderful parents, Johan, Katelyn and I working to finish off the new enclosed Vegetable Garden. It will double the amount of growing room we have for veggies plus create a safe haven from hawks for the new chicks I'm raising.

At the moment it is also home for our new 'posh pigs' (who have been named Peter Pan and Wendy by the kids) - they are 10 week old Wessex Saddleback pigs from Fernleigh Frams in Victoria. When older, they will act as our breeding boar and sow, alongside Tinkerbell who is alread 14 months old and expecting her first litter (we hope!).

The new patch seems huge - 7 metres by approx 15m - with recycled tin around the base, 1 inch aviary wire mesh above - to almost the roof line - then thick commercial orchard mesh creating a ceiling.

By the end of the day the garden was bird-proof (and hopefully possum proof!) - there remains a bit of work to do on creating gates and finishing off the finer details but that'll come in time. Soil was brought in to fill the beds - thanks Mum! - so we're ready to go for more planting.

There has been a request for a cubby house, to be built in the next month before birthdays arrive. I'm thinking grand castle complete with moat and drawbridge - Johan thinks a frame built with the branches of last years pruned apples would be better, and would encourage greater participation from the 5 year olds involved ... I think he has a point...

We took time off during the day to enjoy a picnic in the orchard - the smell of the apple blossoms, the cool of the long lush grass, and Mum's delicious lunch (pumpkin soup, homemade hummus and bread, and salad) made it a special occasion. We also shared some of the Tasmanian Walnuts we bought in bulk- very nice mellow flavour, not a trace of bitterness.

I let the pigs out into the orchard in the afternoon - the grass is so long in places that they pigs seemed to disappear at times - only their happy piggy noises gave them away!

Monday, October 13, 2008

No time for work

“Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"” - Robin Williams

Sitting in my office in town (Hobart) and I'm just itching to be at home working on my spring-time 'to-do' list.
  • There's seedlings to be planted in the hot-house - cherry tomatoes, cucumber (burpless - whatever that means?), and capsicum.
  • The chooks need to have their legs painted with vegetable oil for scaly leg - a preventative measure for most of them, but the new one's have come with an existing problems which must be addressed.
  • The piglets (who the boys have named 'Wendy' and 'Peter Pan') also need smearing with oil to help deal with lice - I'm going to use vegetable oil but apparently sump oil is ideal.
  • We need to create a banner for the Royal Hobart Show which we are attending next week.. we're going to participate in a pavilion called 'Life on the farm', and it's an opportunity to showcase the Wessex Saddleback pigs.
  • Bambi (the rabbit) and her three gorgeous babies need to have their outside rabbit run built, near the raspberry patch.
  • Water, water, water - constantly on my mind - how to deliver it, catch it, save it - we need a long term plan which addresses the needs of the garden, us, and the animals.
  • and.. as spring has truly sprung... the lawn needs mowing....

It's going to be a busy few months - I just don't have time for work!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Donkey (our pig) had a litter of 15 piglets, of which 12 survived, a little over 11 weeks ago. Today we said goodbye to the last two we have sold, and they appear to have found a nice home and a paddock to churn up for the rest of their lives (before ending up in the freezer...) We have kept six who will stay with us until February, and I'm looking forward to seeing them let loose in the orchard to deal with the spring growth and the apples to follow shortly.

We also said good-bye to the last of the Light Sussex chooks who have gone to someone much keener on the breed than me. That leaves us with the Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, the Pekin Bantams, and what I think are some Gold Partridge Brahmas.

Decisions re Donkey (the pig's) future are still being made - she's been a fabulous mother but we're now without a boar of a suitable age - the one we have is 9 weeks old and not up to the job quite yet! I'd like to be able to afford to be sentimental and let her retire in style - but keeping a pig is an expensive exercise, especially now as grain prices have risen with the drought. It's all a bit of a conundrum - especially as there are some strong differences of opinion amongst us.

As we are nearly out of bacon I'm thinking that those opinions might begin to change soon....

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Buying bulk aka hoarding

Walnuts from Websters, Forth (TAS)

I've been mad into research lately - trying to find out what kind of goodies we can get within our home state to supplement that which we produce on our farm.

I'm quickly discovering that:
  1. You have to be willing to pay a premium price for local food
  2. You have to be willing to really push for answers about what's in that food (I'm getting a lot of blank stares from sales assistants who seem confronted if I ask where ingredients in products are sourced from), and
  3. Buying in bulk is the most affordable way for us to purchase Tasmanian food for our challenge.
All this means that my bank balance is reducing rapidly this month - which I'm well aware is quite contrary to our stated aims of reducing costs and living more simply during the challenge.

So far I've purchased, or am in the process of purchasing:
  • 15 litres of Olive Oil (Olive Grove Tasmania)
  • 1 kilo Black Olives (Olive Grove Tasmania)
  • 10 kilos Walnuts (Webster Walnuts)
  • 10 kilos Hazelnuts (from Kettering)
  • 2.5 kilo wheels of King Island Cheddar Cheese
The Olive Oil, Walnuts and hazelnuts should (I hope) last the duration of the Challenge - and beyond... the cheese I hope will last a month - and while it's included in our grocery budget now, when the Challenge starts on Dec 1st, our buying it will be dependent on us having sufficient funds from our surplus to purchase it.

I'm also getting slightly obsessed about how much toilet paper we're using - my plan is to buy that in bulk also (100% recycled) - it's one of my strategies for making sure we don't have any reason to step inside a supermarket for the four months. But just how many rolls will be enough?

All this focus on buying 'stuff' makes me wonder just how ready I'll be to do this - to be honest I'm really enjoying all this shopping I'm doing - I like weighing up the options, trying to find the best deal, trying to find the best product for us.... methinks I'm going to have to read John Naish's book 'Enough - Breaking free from the world of more' again (for the third time - I'm a slow learner!).

I think there's some part of me that feels like I have to hoard away 'stuff' to ensure we don't get caught without 'enough' - learning to relax a bit and trust we can provide for ourselves is proving really difficult for me!

One of my favourite quotes from Naish's book is this:

The moment we are content, we have enough.
The problem is that we habitually think the other way round:
we assume we will be content only when we have enough.

Shen Sh'ian, editor of The Daily Enlightenment newsletter

The journey continues....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Power Issues

Our last electricity bill was $800 - what a shock! Admittedly, it was for 3 months of power over the winter months, during which we used an electric fan heater almost continuously to warm us. It was a timely reminder of how we are going to have change our ways over the coming months.

Today Laurie Port (from Residential Solar Supplies) came for our final check-up of our new Grid-Connect Solar System, and to explain the intricacies of reading the LCD screens which have information on what power we have created and imported. He believes we will have the capacity to create about 5-6 kWh of power per day during summer.

The new meter boxes which will provide data on our energy usage

I've worked out (based on last years spring/summer bill) that in order to be grid neutral we need to reduce our electricity consumption by 95%. I often joke with people about how glad I am that we have set a realistic goal!

To make this even remotely possible we have installed solar hot water (should reduce consumption by at least 25% I think), installed a wood heater (we will plant trees to replace the wood we burn), and are slowly but surely learning to switch things off at the plug.

My hope is that we will be able to run the fridge, freezer, water pump and the phone from our solar system. Other things will have to be rationed - lights (why, oh, why, did we get all those downlights installed?), TV (we have whopper of a television - it will be saved for Friday Night Movie Parties), computer time and so on.

The clothes dryer will head out to the shed to reduce the temptation to use it, and the kettle may have to be retired.

Our new space age roof set-up

The cost of purchasing the solar technology has not been cheap - about $7500, after government rebates, for solar hot water and the solar electricity grid connect, but I am confident it will be worth it in the long term - it's already changing the way I think about power usage - it has somehow become more precious now that it is sourced from up there on our own roof.

It will be interesting over summer to see if we can break the old habit of worrying about lack of rain - instead seeing sun-shiny days as perfect for charging up the power system!

Muriel the Goat

We have a menagerie of animals on our little farm - pigs, sheep, rabbits, various chooks, and a cat. One of the more recent arrivals is Muriel, our dairy goat.

Muriel is a British Alpine goat, around 4 - 5 years old. I got an older goat as I thought a more mature girl could teach me the ropes...

Muriel is a pro - she jumps up on her milking table with gusto (she's very motivated when she sees food!), she lets me know in a gentle yet assertive way when she's had enough, and she's not afraid to reorganise her environment to suit her needs (in two weeks she has managed to remove two stable walls, albeit wire ones). She's great with the kids (human rather than goaty) and tolerates cuddles and kisses with a cool grace.

Unfortunately Muriel's own kid was stillborn - but she'll soon have company when 'Fatso' arrives, another British Alpine who is currently in the maternity wing at her owner's farm.

In her efforts to create a bit of space for herself in the stable Muriel has damaged her udder - she has a graze about the size of a 10c piece near her teat - which is making milking challenging. I'm feeling very guilty that I hadn't idenitified the potential risk and done something about it. We've sprazed her udder with an iodine spray to disinfect, and today I'll be administering my first immunisation - a 3 in 1 vaccination to be injected under the skin in her neck. Hopefully the goat and I will still be friends after I've done it!

I feel like I'm just starting off on a very steep learning curve... hopefully Muriel will have patience.


There has been much debate in this house about when we should start 'transitioning' into our challenge. This has basically been due to my suggestion that we stop replacing those things we won't be using come December.... such items include Vegemite (an almost daily treat on toast), Milo (served with milk for the kids), and lately, Salt.

Salt is a contentious issue in this household - Johan is a huge fan of the white stuff. He is convinced that Salt should be allowed to be purchased during the challenge - and the failure of his efforts to convince the rest of us has seen him threaten to try and create his own using a bucket and some sea water - we're all looking forward to seeing how that little experiment goes!

Each of us have our little addictions to give up and I have suggested that rather than going cold turkey on December 1st (and risk a household full of very cranky detoxing folks) that we start giving these things up gradually over the next 6 weeks.

For me it will be giving up the copious amounts of black tea and milk I drink before lunch (gets me started for the day...), chocolate binges, and sweet chilli sauce on nachos. For Johan it will be Coca Cola, pies at work, and all those sneaky fast food things he eats that he thinks we don't know about. For the kids - it will mean a reduction in sweets, chocolates and all other things sugary - as well as the healthier treats that they enjoy that are sourced from the northern parts of our country - bananas, mangoes, and the like.

While we could be focussed on deprivation and giving up small delights I'm trying hard to foster interest in the things we can have in abundance - so if you were a fly on the wall you'd probably hear the kids, mantra-like, repeating a list of goodies they've been promised they can tuck into to their hearts content, 'apples, raspberries, strawberries, honey, blueberries, cheese, hazlenuts....'

... and we haven't even started yet.....

Sunday, October 5, 2008

'The Challenge' explained

It suddenly occurred to me last week that we only have two months (8 weeks!) until we start what we are calling 'The Challenge' - aaargghhh!

The Challenge was an idea cooked up over 7 months ago - I confess to being the main instigator and agitator for creating an adventure in our own backyard. Happily though, my loved ones have come on board and shared my enthusiasm for the idea - and so we remain committed to making a go of it and learning as much as we can from the experience on how to live a more sustainable life.

The Challenge 'Rules' we have come up with so far (it is a work in progress!) are:

  • Aim to be self sufficient for meat, fruit, and vegetables
  • Anything we can't grow ourselves we can barter or purchase (using any funds gained from selling our surplus produce) from only Tasmanian Growers/Producers (preferably organic and/or sustainably grown)
  • Exceptions - fair trade cocoa (Johan can't survive without this apparently :) and sugar for Johan's Hot Chocolate & 100% recycled toilet paper (because we're soft!).
  • No supermarket shopping
  • No purchases of new items such as clothing, household stuff etc.
  • Reduce our energy consumption to 'grid neutral' - we have recently installed solar hot water, and will have grid-connected solar electricity installed before the challenge commences
We are lucky enough to have 4 1/2 acres of fertile land to play in, and to grow lush food (both animal and vegetable).

We also live in a state where we have many producers of fine local food - though tracking down these producers has proven somewhat challenging at times - but I'll get into that later.

My intention is to use this blog as a record of our family's experiences during the challenge, and also to share ideas and tips on what has worked (and not worked!) for us. We'd also appreciate any ideas or input others have to share with us!!!

Cheers, Jen