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Podcasts!!! (yes I needed three)

Podcasts are how I’ve kept my sanity while dreaming about growing my own food and being more self-sufficient. While driving/sitting in traffic or doing a monotonous task at work I would listen to farming and sustainability podcasts, which definitely helped me feel as though, while I can’t actually doing anything right now in this moment, I can learn and soak in as much knowledge and advice as possible. They have helped keep my dream alive and now I’m at the very very early stages of living my dream. I’m just starting off slowly, but it’s a start.

So, here is a list of few of my favourite podcasts (in no particular order) that I recommend to anyone who wants to farm, has just started farming, or even those who have been doing it for years:

Small Home Farm Radio is the very first farming podcast I ever listened to and, as you may have noticed, it inspired the name of my blog. Erin, from Aspendale Farm, is the host and she talks about gardening and livestock, but also tons of homesteading projects, such as making apple cider, maple syrup etc. She also talks a bit about home schooling her children, which (even if I had kids) is not something I would do, but I still found her perspective very interesting. She has stopped recording the podcasts so there are only 51 episodes but they have a ton of great information and are very easy to listen to as you pottering around the house and garden. Erin does still write on the Aspendale Farm Blog.

After enjoying Small Home Farm Radio so much, I branched out and found The Beginning Farmer Show hosted by Ethan Book from Crooked Gap Farm. Ethan has an excellent way of delivering motivating and useful content while not sugar coating the difficulties faced when working and living on a diversified livestock farm. In his regular segment titled ‘Hard Lessons Learned’, Ethan describes things he’s done either wrong or not in the most efficient way, and the many difficulties faced on the farm with humour and explains what he would’ve or plans to do differently in the future. Ethan has added videos to his repertoire and has a YouTube channel with a growing collection of footage from the farm. Can’t get enough? Ethan’s wife, Becca, maintains The Beginning Farmer’s Wife blog where you can read about more happenings on the farm, in the garden, and even at home with the kids.

I am homesteady. Once you start listening to the Homesteady podcast you’ll get it. Aust and his team (a.k.a family and friends) produce this great podcast that is a fantastic mix of how-to homesteading and narrative story-telling. For us Australians, homesteading is essentially small scale home farming. It means providing for yourself and your family off the land you have available to you (but I am Australian, so please, any Americans out there, correct me if I’ve got that wrong). Not only do you get great, quality audio content from Homesteady, but they have an amazing website with articles, and a ‘Pioneers’ subscription program where you can get extra online information on everything from how to fix your gutters to why you should never get ducks. #abduckted

Need a quick fix? Or have something specific you need to learn? the Living Homegrown Podcast with Theresa Loe is perfect for those little how to’s in the kitchen and in the garden. Usually about 20 minutes long, Theresa’s podcasts are succinct and topic driven. She is a wealth of knowledge on everything to do with canning, preserving, fermenting, and making full use of all the wonderful produce from your garden.

Other Notables (plus some that have nothing to do with farming):

Update

So, it has been an extraordinarily long time between posts and before I get back into (hopefully) regular posts I wanted to give you an update on whats been going on in the last year.

In the middle of 2015 I moved back to my home town, Shepparton, in country Victoria. My (now previous) job took up a great deal of my time and energy. I would work 12-14 hour days 5-6 days a week and have absolutely no energy to do anything other than lay on the couch on the days when I wasn’t working, let alone try an write coherent sentences. I got the the point were I was extremely discontent with waking up, going to work, coming home and going straight to bed, and then waking up to repeat the cycle. Don’t get me wrong. I like hard work. Thrive on it actually! But my dreams of small scale farming grew stronger and stronger with my decreasing time able to devote to it. So, I took the leap. I moved back to rural Victoria. I’m still in town, but it takes me 3 minutes to get to and from work (so the entire day isn’t over by the time a get home), I’m not screaming in traffic jams, and I have a yard to plant things in!! If you’ve been following me on Instagram you would have seen the sporadic photos of my makeshift raised garden beds that I had a lot of fun with over the growing season, just dipping my toe in the vegetable growing pool. I had some success (particularly with the easy things i.e. zucchini) and some fails (my potato tower didn’t yield an abundant harvest), but I’m now in the process of uprooting my herbs into pots and disassembling my brick garden beds to make way for my new house!! Yes, that’s right, I’m officially an adult. I don’t think much of it at this stage, but maybe when I have my four walls and a roof forking out so much money that I don’t physically have will seem like a sensible idea. I do like the idea of doing exactly what I like in my garden however….and getting chickens!!

Well, I’ll leave it there. I don’t want to bore you too much with lots of words. Tune in next time for all my favourite podcast recommendations!

 

The Reality of Eating Meat

So, I want to preface this post by saying that I have purposely refrained from adding pictures in order to avoid offending anyone. I have been apprehensive about writing about this experience because I’m not sure that I’m ready for the potential hate mail I’ve been warned may come.

I recently went to a ‘Meat Reality’ workshop held by one of my favourite self sufficiency bloggers, Rohan Anderson, of Whole Larder Love. Which is the delicate way of saying that I learnt how to dispatch live poultry for consumption. As I wish to one day wish to keep chickens, initially for eggs, but one day meat too, I thought it prudent to be able to quickly and humanely dispatch them when needed.

There were 23 of us learning this new skill and it was very interesting to go around and learn the different reasons that had brought people to the workshop. There were quite a few like me who were on their own journeys to becoming less reliant on supermarkets and wanting to take more responsibility for their own food. There were a couple of people in the food service industry, a butcher and a chef, who wanted to gain a better understanding of what happens to the animals before they reach their businesses. There was one guy who had to put down a couple of his own chickens after a fox had gotten into his hen house and he just wanted to learn how to do it properly in case he was ever put into that situation again. There was even a long term vegetarian, who would be willing to eat meat only if he had raised and prepared it himself, taking full responsibility for the life cycle of the animal.

There were geese, ducks and roosters that had been raised for this purpose and were ready to be dispatched. The process started with a demonstration on correct technique from Rohan and then one by one the participants dispatched a bird themselves.

Now I just want to touch on my feelings that I had about this experience. Initially, when I booked a spot to participate and all the time leading up to the day I was enthusiastic about learning this self sufficiency skill. It was not until I started seeing the animals and watched Rohan demonstrate that I became slightly apprehensive. I wasn’t sure I could physically do it. None of my thoughts about the ethical treatment of animals for human consumption had changed. Nor had my self sufficiency dreams. But I just wasn’t sure. I was psyching myself out. Because of this I ended up being the very last person to dispatch an animal. It was a rooster and despite Rohan saying that if we wanted to raise poultry we should have a go at catching it, I couldn’t go into the chicken yard and get one. Never having grown up on a farm I am still slightly afraid of chickens, and especially roosters. I quickly put my hand up when Rohan asked if there was anyone left who hadn’t had a go and wanted to. I took the leap and shot my had into the air and proclaimed that I just did’t want to catch one. There was no judgement. I followed Rohan as he went into the yard and caught one with apparent ease and then showed me how to carry him safely. I dispatched him quickly and humanely. I then plucked and gutted him and put him in Rohan’s freezer. It was a fantastically humbling experience. Those birds lived a wonderfully cosy life and weren’t subjected to the traumatising process of being packed up and carted to an abattoir. They were raised for human consumption, but done so in a manner that insured the health and happiness of both the bird and the people that will eventually consume them.

For me, the biggest shock and take away from this whole experience was when another lady asked Rohan how much meat he expected to get off the birds on average. He responded “about 700-800g” per bird. I was shocked and a little horrified to compare this to how much meat you buy in a single package at the supermarket. You can buy that much and more in a  single packet of just breast, or thigh. That’s an entire chickens worth of weight in one package. When you go to the supermarket next, have a look at all the packets of chicken stacked on top of one another. Chicken after chicken after chicken. I will not stop eating meat. I believe, that as omnivores, meat should be an essential part of a humans diet, but this has shown me the reality of eating meat and I will definitely be taking this into consideration when contemplating how much meat goes onto my plate and how often.

Sunlight

So, it’s been a little while since my last post. That’s what happens when you work 12-14 days, 6 days a week. Other than a lack of communication with the outside world, a result of this work schedule is my balcony garden doesn’t get a lot of attention. My poor poor tomato plants. I don’t think I’ll be getting any fruit from them. They have been getting water regularly from my Moisture Matic system (see my Watering post) which I thought would be fine, but the leaves have started to yellow and dry. My theory (very basic, with no expert knowledge behind it) is that my balcony gets all its sun in the afternoon. I vaguely remember reading that when plants need ‘full sun’ it is best in the morning. I think the strong afternoon sun and the hot days we’ve had lately have shrivelled my potted tomato plants.

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I said from the get go that I would share all the successes and losses in my farming pursuits, so as much as my pride doesn’t want me to say this, I need help. I’d love your opinion or knowledge on what I’ve done wrong. Feel free to comment on this post if you’ve got any information that might help me.

Book Recommendation #1

In the tradition of one of my favourite podcasters, Erin Lahey of Small Home Farm Radio, I am introducing a Book of the Week segment. Well, I’m actually naming it Book Recommendation (I don’t want to disappoint myself, or you, if I don’t get around to it every week). This one comes from Erin’s list and has quickly become one of my favourite books (definitely my favourite autobiography).

We Took To The Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich is her account of living in near seclusion with her husband and son in the woods of Maine, USA. It was first published in 1942 and instantly upon reading it conjures nostalgia for country life for those who have even the smallest memories of family camping trips to down right envy for those of us dreaming of the self-sufficient life. Cleverly formatted into chapters headed by questions she frequently got from people on ‘the Outside’, such as “But how do you make a living?” and “Don’t you ever get bored?”, reading this book feels like Rich is sitting at your kitchen table over a cup of coffee (and Barbados rum) this some 70+ years later telling you all about her adventures (and there are plenty!). It is filled with wit and humour, and a few out of date terms that I’ve had to google, but that’s what I like about it. Rich’s world is so rich (do you like what I did there) that I can picture the changing colour of the landscape from green to red to white, and smell the freshly dug earth, and feel the bracing chill of the winter air.

With the sound of cars rumbling past my window, it fills me with a longing (not a sad longing, but instead one that makes you smile to yourself) for the rushing sound of a river and the peace of knowing you are one of a handful of people for miles.

We Took To The Woods

Once again, I have no stake in these companies, but instead just want to share a way for you to find this amazing book. You can do so on the prolific Amazon or the reason I’m not further along in the money saving efforts, Book Depository.

Watering

I’m finding myself struggling a bit with writing this blog. Typing words into a little box and posting them online makes me feel a little foolish and that I’m somehow deceiving people. Making them think that I know what I’m doing and that my opinion should be valued in some way. Let me just say that I am in no way an expert on anything. Anything! I love to read. And I do, on many different topics. My book collection contains classic literature, crime fiction, and fantasy fiction, but also books on behavioural analysis, Japanese mythology, tea making, fairytales, costume, architecture, and many other subjects. In no way does this make me an expert on any of these topics; only interested.

So, hopefully I have given you realistic expectations on my current level of expertise in the field of gardening. Recently my collection of books in relation to gardening and farming has increased, but I’m definitely still a beginner. Especially when it comes to knowing exactly what my plants want. With the arrival of my first niece I’ve come to the conclusion that plants are a lot like babies. Babies cry and cry but can’t actually tell you what’s wrong. My plants will go sad and limp, or their leaves will yellow, but they can’t actually say “you’re not watering me enough” or “this spot is too hot and sunny”.

The answer to my ‘not knowing how much the water’ problems have been solved by Moisture Matic. It is an automatic drip feed watering system that sits on the side of your pot and the plants can just drink as much or as little water as they need. I first got my Moisture Matic’s to solve the problem of watering my plants while I’m away. I’m a particularly private person and the thought of giving a key to a neighbour to come in to my apartment makes me very uncomfortable. So, when I went away for a few weeks I thought I’d be really clever and rig up a watering system for my plants out of a tub and multiple strands of string feeding into each pot. I’d seen it recommended and outlined on a few message boards and blogs, but needless to say it was unsuccessful. I managed to salvage my heartier plants like rosemary, and mint, but I lost three to mother earth.

The next time I went away was for work. This is not uncommon and is the reason I can’t have a pet. It would be three weeks and there was no way I was risking my babies, especially as I had just added four new tomato plants to my crop. So I took them to my very accommodating brother and sister-in-law who took very good care of them (probably thinking I was a little crazy to care about my plants this much). While I was away I did some more research and found Moisture Matic. It seemed to be exactly what I was trying to do with my makeshift string waterer, but much more scientific. Well it seemed to work anyway, and I’m a sucker for a good demonstration video. I bought one for each pot and spent the next few days constantly checking and filling them until my plants got all the water they needed and adapted to their new watering system. They have been a great success! I went away over the festive season and came back to my herbs just as healthy as when I had left them. The pots with the smaller Moisture Matic’s on them had used up all the water and there was no way of know exactly when they had dried up. The plants looked a little limp but I just topped up the tubs and over night they sprang back to life.

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I thought I would just use this new system when I went away, as I expected the tubs hanging off my pot plants to be an eyesore, but I’ve left them on. I top them up every few days (the smaller ones more frequently, especially when it’s hot) and I get this weirdly comforting feeling when I look out and see my herbs getting looked after by this system. Kind of like a super reliable baby sitter. I know my plants are getting just as much water as they need and I don’t have to worry about my own incompetence killing them.

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Worm Farming

I love the idea of integrated farming. Having each element of your farm service another. For example, many people on small home farms keep chickens. These chickens eat food scraps from your kitchen and with a chicken coop that has a floor in which the chickens waste can fall through and be collected, that waste/manure can be added to your compost to service your vegetable garden. The shells from the eggs your chickens have given you can be crushed down and also added to your compost. Chickens can also be put into garden beds after harvest to rework the soil and eat up bugs ready for the next planting, and when they are old and stop laying into the pot they go. Full circle!!

Now, I live in an apartment in Melbourne’s inner suburbs so chickens are not really a reality for me. Technically my balcony would be big enough for maybe one or two if I got rid of my table and chairs, but it would not really be any sort of life for them. I may as well go and buy cage eggs, the thought of which horrifies me! And I don’t believe my neighbours or landlord would appreciate my new feathered friends either.

But I want to compost!!!! I hate throwing out vegetable scraps, which contribute to landfill and the methane they produce, when they could be serving to create luscious tea and food for my little collection of potted herbs and tomatoes. So I finally broke down and got my very own WORM FARM!! Or as the Tumbleweed corporation like to call it, a Worm Cafe. That sounds a little bit fancy pants for me, but it fits snugly in the back corner of my balcony and doesn’t look too bad there either. Now, there are lots of places online where you can find ways to make your own, less expensive, worm farms instead of buying one, but I have a bit of an impatient personality. I was sitting at my computer on a stinking hot day researching worm farming and getting more and more excited by the idea of everything it could do that I jumped in my car and drove down to my local Masters to get one. I couldn’t wait another second and having only a few more days left of my vacation it was the perfect time. I knew exactly what I needed. A Tumbleweed Worm Cafe, a Tumbleweed Worm Blanket, some Tumbleweed Worm Farm and Compost Conditioner, a bucket, some potting mix (technically not needed, but I watched a youtube clip that used it), and most importantly the worms. Let me just say, I do not work for Tumbleweed, nor am I getting paid to mention them. I bought their products and I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I also believe in honesty, so if it doesn’t work out or I have any troubles you’ll hear about them too.

my worm farm

TIP #1 (and basically my only tip that isn’t in the instruction manual): Check your box of worms in store before you buy them. A box of 1200 live worms is just over $50, so not a throw away expense (if there is such a thing). I got home and was excited enough by my purchase to sit on my balcony in the sweltering afternoon heat to put it together (a big deal for me as I break into a sweat on a 24 degree day). I followed all the instructions: assembled the farm (super easy!), soaked the farm bedding block and mixed it with some potting mix, lined the working tray with the packaging it came in (I liked that little no-waste element), put my soil/bedding mix in the tray and enthusiastically opened my box of worms. To my disappointment there was not a single living thing, worm or not, in that box. I was in far too much of a hurry to check the box in the store and now had nothing but a plastic bag of dry dirt and the shrivelled remains of a few worms. So my box of dirt and I drove back to Masters and they were perfectly lovely. The refund was no problem (there was no more boxes for an exchange) and having a cute, Hamish Blake look-a-like working the customer service counter ensured I was pleasantly entertained while I waited a little longer than I usually would have liked. Back in the car and over to Bunnings for my worms, back home and now I have 1000+ worms making a cosy home on my balcony. I say 1000+ on blind faith, but there were definitely alive ones in there.

I’ve started holding on to my vegetable scraps and it will be a couple of days before my worms have become acclimated to their new home and will be ready for feeding. I can’t wait for my first lot of worm tea and worm castings to feed my herbs and tomatoes! Will keep you updated.