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