Thursday, December 6, 2018

Climate Change

Last week was so hot....most people would've heard about the dreadful bush fires in Queensland. Queensland doesn't have wild fires like that normally - totally unprecedented! We have wet summers so don't tend to get the wild fires like the South does. They have wet winters, so when summer comes everything is very dry, and then fires start. This recent episodes were sparked (pardon the pun) by the drought and the incredible heat. Fires in those conditions are so dangerous - you just hop out of the road!

Don't get me wrong, we do have fires, but they are usually manageable. I used to be totally against any sort of burning but recently Kim read "The Greatest Estate" by Bill Gamage (I think that's the name of the book). I knew that the Aborigines did burn, but I wasn't aware to the actual extent that they managed the landscape with fire. We need to start doing that again and that will go a long way to prevent future bush fires. The burning regime undertaken by the Aborigines was to prevent these crazy wildfires and to protect the land - it was part of their farming style, and there lives depended on it.

The reason I decided to write this blog was because in this awful heat, I realised how important trees are - well they are very important for many reasons, but this is just one that I was reminded of. They keep everything cool - the land, the grass and the animals. I had to go to another paddock to get my milkers in, as I'd "bushed" them last weekend so they don't overgraze their house paddock.  It was hot and then I drove into the anabranch paddock and it was cool - I thought it was just because I was driving along the actual annabranch with running water, but then I rode up on to the flat above and it was still cool. This area has trees, not a lot, but enough to keep the temperature down. The grass was green still too, especially right under the trees.

Where as, one of the paddocks near the house that has very few trees has really browned off. Our grass in the paddocks close to the house is quite short and because we've had good rain recently has been starting to grow and was quite green until a week of 40+ degrees heat.

So the moral in this story is, we need more trees! Trees have so many functions in our environment and this is only one. In saying that, too many trees can be a problem and that's another thing the Aboriginal burning did, it kept the tree thickening down, but that's probably another story for another time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October Doings

This has been the mildest October we've ever had I think. We've recently had a few really hot days, but for most of the month, it's been quite pleasant with lots of storms around - albeit not lots of rain in those storms. Some rain has meant that our grass is greening up a usual though, we need more. I shouldn't complain, we've had almost 60mm for October and still looking like more storms coming.

Bush Lime season again, so we picked heaps and made a huge batch of cordial. I did make a small batch in the thermomix first up and then Edmund decided that it was so good that he would pick more for a big batch. I made about 5 litres of cordial and have also frozen some limes to make more when that lot runs out. It does have a lot of sugar so I don't tend to drink it, but Edmund is young and works very hard, so I don't think it hurts him too much!

The bush lime tree. The limes themselves are very small - about the size of a pea.

After the first burst of rain, we did get a few mushrooms. I ended up picking about 3 basket fulls. Some we ate some fresh, but most of them were dried. I can add these to soups or stews or the ground powder can be added to just about anything for some extra flavour.

I've been buying lots of tomatoes lately from the markets so have made a huge batch of tomato sauce. I got this recipe of a friend and it has been my go to sauce recipe for many years. I do change it up occasionally and will give some options for that too. I've included the apples in the recipe, but I never do any more. I have used green mangoes when I have them - I think they are just a filler/thickener.

Tomato Sauce
6kg tomatoes
1kg green apples (optional)
1/2kg onions
1 litre vinegar
125g salt
1kg sugar
15g each cloves, ginger, allspice, white pepper
125g garlic
Pinch Chilli

Cut the vegetables up. Place all the ingredients int a large saucepan, stir well, especially the last hour. Boil for about 2.5 hours. Bottle and seal while hot.

N.B. As mentioned, I don't use the apples, so it may be a bit thin - either keep boiling until it thickens or thicken with a little flour mixed in vinegar. The original recipe said to strain. I don't, but if I had a stick blender, I would give it a good whiz to make the sauce smoother. I use the thermomix to cut the tomatoes and onions and because I don't have a stick blender, I do process them fairly fine. You could peel the tomatoes if you don't like the tomato skin. I couldn't be bothered with that. Reduce the amounts to make a smaller batch. Eg by doing a 1kg batch of tomatoes in the thermomix, just divide everything by 6.

Variations: swap the spices with coriander and cumin and increase the chilli for a spicy version. Or swap them for ginger for a different flavour. 
I've been doing quite a bit of preserving of foods lately, including a batch of tomato pasatta, which I was inspired to do after reading the Milkwood Book. I'll have to do another post about some of my other preserves that I've done in the last little while. This is a very old Fowlers Vacola Preserving pot, which I was given by my Aunt. I've misplaced some of the bits that go with it, including the thermometer that goes down the outside of the pot in the slot you can see. I've bought new lids and seals in recent years, but the jars are original. I've got a lot of jars, that I don't use, but I really would love to do more of this type of preserving. Time.......

Thursday, March 29, 2018


I’ve always loved going out west and spending time on Fortuna. This property, near Aramac in Central Western Queensland, belongs to Kim's brother and his family and has for over 30 years now. I have seen it change over this time and especially in the last ten years or so that they have been grazing the cattle and managing the land in a more regenerative way. It is quite brittle country and responds a lot slower than country in our area. 

Alot of damage was done by early settlers and sheep. Land managers back then and many still to this day have a very European style management system. Europe is quite fertile and the land very stable and robust. Australia is a very old, weathered land and before white settlement was obviously a lot more fertile than it is now.  When I say fertile, I mean that it had been managed for thousands of years in a sustainable way. Our ancestors came along and saw all this grass and thought wow this is amazing we can run vast herds of sheep and cattle.....and they could for a short period of time. Lack of transport options made it difficult to move stock when they needed to, so over the following 100 odd years (from settlement) land slowly degraded to a point that people thought it was normal. What some land managers are now proving, though, is that it can come back - over time.

When trees or branches fall, it provides protection from the kangaroos for the grass and it gets an opportunity to grow.

There's still a lot of bare dirt, so plenty of room for improvement still.

Getting better.

Around our place, people hate indian couch as they see it as an invasive species, a weed. My view is that it shows that you are not doing something right. Out west, indian couch is a good sign - any grass cover is good. It's an early succession species and once the soil improves, other better quality grasses will come. Natives as well as non-natives.

Life is different out West - I feel the change come over me as I cross The Great Dividing Range and smell the western air. It's like a weight has lifted.In the early years I think it was my pioneering nature that made me want to live out there (which we very nearly did) and now I don’t think that I want to live there but I still love coming out. 

It’s one place I can relax. There is no work that I need to do. I can just chill. I can take the time to sit and be mindful. It’s easy just to be in the moment. There’s no rush to get one job done so that I can move onto the next job. There is none of the small jobs that scream at me when I take a small moment of time out at home. There’s time to be mindful. There’s always time for another cup of tea. There’s time to chat. There’s time to go for a walk just for the Pleasure of going for a walk. There’s time to just sit and cuddle the dog. There’s time to just Be. We are human beings and not human doings so I need to learn to “be” a bit more. Be in the moment. Be at peace. Be calm. Be happy. Be relaxed. Be mindful. Be loving. Be me.

 I took many walks and these are just some of the pictures I took

Sometimes it rains cats and dogs, and sometimes it just rains fish!

It’s been a lovely couple of days. Mostly doing nothing. I love the laid back attitude of everyone out this way. Monday morning we went to visit the neighbours for morning tea - only half an hour drive through Fortuna to get there. Typical country hospitality where you just stop work and share a cuppa. Then a quick walk through the garden for me, Kim went with the men to check out the new shed. But Lindy is a keen gardener so I wanted to look around and I scored some bean seeds. Some of “Ned’s beans” which I think I’ll rename to Lindy’s beans as she’s been growing them for nearly 20 years These are also called foot long bean and they look a little like a snake bean. And a new one to me, New Guinea bean seeds which I’ve never heard of and are much larger. This photo shows a dried, fully grown one but apparently they are best eaten about at less than an inch in diameter. Both are climbers so I’ll have to find a spot to put them.

New Guinea Bean - some info on this link.

This is called Ned's bean. I was given some bean seeds a couple of years ago (from Jane) and never had any luck, but I think they were a small black bean - related maybe.

The challenge for me is to take some of this peace and calmness and integrate it into my life at home. I’m sure I could get all my jobs done more efficiently if I can do this.

The West can also be a lonely and harsh life for the humans! George was a caretaker on Fortuna in the 50's. He also happened to be an alcoholic. One wet season, he ran out of food and grog, so headed out to visit the neighbours - about 20 minutes drive away today. It's unknown if he was on foot or in a car, but he got stuck on the way somehow and perished. Very sad to die alone and like that.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Spinach Varieties

I'm currently away for a couple of days (well I have been, but go home tomorrow) and seeing as that seems to be the only time I get to blog post, I thought I'd write about the spinach varieties I grow.

This time of year is a very difficult time to grow anything in the garden in Central Queensland. It's just so hot and it's all about getting something in the ground as soon after winter as possible so that plants are well established before the heat really kicks in. I haven't done too bad this year, as we had had a pretty pleasant spring, although just before Christmas it got very hot and dry. We've just had some lovely rain, so that will really help things along, that were starting to struggle.

Lettuce is very difficult to grow as it just bolts to seed, my kale went for a fair while, but eventually succumbed to the heat, so to ensure that I do have some green stuff for salads and stir fries, I grow a variety of tropically adapted spinach plants. I decided that it's not much point fighting nature. We live in the tropics so I need to find more plants that like it here, instead of trying to grow things that just want to die.

This is Ceylon Spinach - it's a climber, so make sure you have something for it to climb on. It readily self seeds, so once you have it, you will always have it. The leaves can be used in cooking, but I prefer the smaller leaves for salads. The small leaves are very similar to baby spinach.

Brazilian Spinach is a perennial and while it does spread a bit, it doesn't seem to take up much room. Well it doesn't in my garden anyway. I need to keep it covered, because the chooks love it and the bugs seem to prefer it too.  It's a little crispier than Ceylon so I prefer it in salads.

I planted this one for the first time last year, Egyptian Spinach. It grows into quite a tall shrub and readily self seeds. I use it in salads or cooking, once again using the smaller leaves for salads and the bigger for cooking.

This does grow wild in some of our paddocks, along the creek. It goes by the name of New Zealand Spinach, but I like to call it Warrigal Greens. I've had it in the garden for years as it self seeds easily as well. I do use it in salads but sparingly, as I'm not a huge fan of it raw. I should be cooked because of the oxalic acid. 

This is a pretty poor example of perennial spinach. I don't have a lot of success growing it, but keep buying seedlings when I can. It should grow a bit more like silverbeet I think. Maybe it's just too hot in our climate.

This one is not really a spinach, but it is a perennial. Kang Kong is an Asian green, which loves to be kept very wet. I grow it in a styrofoam box with holes in, which sits inside another styrofoam box without holes (I forgot to take a picture and I'm not currently at home!) The stalks are hollow and you just cut the plant off and cook the whole lot. Great stir-fried.

A salad using a mix of spinach and herbs.

I do try and grow some silverbeet each year, but have never had much success with spinach or baby spinach. Do you know of any other strange spinachy type plants? Or any suggestions as to other tropical and preferably perennial plants that I could grow? 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Romano and Frie d'Or

A few months ago I bought two young Guernsey heifers. I don't know a lot about guernsey's but I think that one might have more guernsey in her than the other. If you'd seen my dairy herd, you would wonder why I would want more milkers, especially as I don't actually have a dairy. I do however like to milk cows and my existing milkers don't have a lot of volume. For example these two new heifers are milking more than my previous three cows. Time is money they say!

I've bred most of my own milkers for the last few years and breaking the heifers in hasn't been too hard. I milked their mothers so they have been familiar with me and the yards and so when it came time to milk them, for the most part they were fairly easy to break in. I would feed them in the yard, in the milking bale for them to get used to how things work. I would occasionally have to rope them and drag them in, but not with a great deal of difficulty.

These two were a little different and needed a little more encouragement. They haven't spent much time around the yards or me and I didn't really have the time to encourage them either. Kim and Edmund and I have all worked with these and tomorrow when I milk I am pretty sure they will come into the bale without to much trouble, but it might still take three people to get them there. Me on my own will just encourage them to run around the yard and not go into the bale. Luckily they are pretty quiet, even though they aren't people friendly.

I've started a habit of naming my cows after cheeses. Frie d'Or is a cheese that comes from the Guernsey Dairy and is translated as "Meadow of Gold" or "Golden Meadow". I think that's an appropriate  name for my yellow cow. But I will shorten it to Freda. The red cow is Romano - she is my new favourite milker - absolutely soft as to milk and lots of it.

The other good news is that one of the calves is a heifer - another milker for me!

Romano's milk.

And they seemed to give a lot more cream than my other cows......yum....guernsey cream!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What's a healthy diet

What constitutes a healthy diet? Paleo, high fat/low carb, low GI.......

I follow a basic, probably traditional Aussie style diet, with a multicultural influence! Probably the closest "diet" to what I eat is the Weston A Price dietary guidelines. They focus on high quality (grassfed etc) meat, raw milk, bone broth, fermented foods and traditional foods. Grains are okay as long as they are properly prepared. Basically a balanced diet, low in sugary foods, high in good quality fats, especially meat and dairy fats. It suits me!

The recent conference we went to with Dr Arden Anderson challenged my idea of a good, healthy diet. I fully agreed and endorsed everything he said about farming and grazing in a biological way, but when it came to his recommendation for a healthy diet I'm not so sure. I'll list what these recommendations were and my thoughts on them below.

1.  80% plant based diet. This includes 1-2 dozen different varieties of fruit or vegetable - staying away from any GMO foods. It means eating meat about once per week. He didn't think that grain fed meat was any worse than grassfed (with regards to beef or lamb), we just need to eat less.

My thoughts - I agree that most Australians eat too much meat, I don't agree with the idea that grain fed is okay. Grain feeding animals, especially in a feedlot is just not good on any level - ethically or to create a healthy food product. I also find it hard to consider the idea of one meat meal a week. I thought I'd try to do one a day, but so far that isn't working either. For me and my family personally, we work a physical job and we need meat for energy. We also produce our own high quality meat. I think if I had to buy meat, I would drastically reduce the amount we eat, but probably not to the advised level. I probably should try it, but I think I'd get too hungry. With regards to 12-24 different plants per day, some days that would be easy, but other days quite tricky! We often have salads for lunch and stir fry veg for dinner, so there's a good variety in those things. I think that is the take home message - just try and get as much variety as possible. Different coloured fruits and vegetables have different nutrients, so that makes a lot of sense. We will continue to increase our vegetable intake, while reducing our meat - mostly by portion control.

2.  Supplementation essential. On the whole we have poor quality food, due to depleted soils and top of that we have too many stressors in life.

My thoughts - Soil health does determine the health of the food grown in or on that soil. Choosing good quality organic or biologically farmed produce will help to ensure the food is not of poor quality. Growing your own or buying from local farmers or farmers that you can trust, is the main thing, along with staying away from any processed food. I know that our soils are deficient in some things - especially iodine and selenium, so that would be a good thing to remember. Iodine is easy - use good quality sea salts and eat seafood and seaweed. I have been told in the past that selenium is one thing we should be supplementing with as it's hard to find a food source of it.  At the end of the conference he suggested us taking a super duper multi nutrient daily tablet, which we could order on line from a particular website. This website has close links to him and his wife, so I'm not completely sure how impartial that recommendation is.

3.  Water is essential - 1/2 your weight in ounces. Which for me works out about 2-3 litres/day. I fully agree with this one.

4.  Exercise is essential - not necessary to be high intensive - walking for 20-30 minutes is good. I agree with this one too. Exercise is so good for general health and well being, but especially for mental health.

5. Sleep - 7-9 hours per night. Couldn't agree more!! I definitely suffer if I have less than this on a regular basis.

These were the main things he mentioned. So now I have this dilemma - when you hear a respected doctor tell you that you should follow a certain diet that you don't really agree with, what do you do? I think that's what's so confusing about health. We get bombarded with differing viewpoints and it's really hard to know what's best. I was listening to Cyndi Omeara on a podcast the other day. She's another person who I think has a lot of good stuff to say about diet and health. She made the comment that it's not old foods that are making us sick, it's new foods. If we go back a couple of generations and look at the diets, they were pretty basic, but all included real food, grown in/on healthy soils. No processed junk! No glysophate! Just quality meats (and meat fats) and vegetables and a little bit of fruit and whole grains! So I think I'll just stick to that kind of a diet, which is what I'm doing anyway.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Biological Farming

There is a disconnect between people that eat food and people that grow food. And even those that grow food have a disconnect between the food that is grown and the soil that it is grown in. Food just happens to be one of the most important things for life, along with air and water. Agriculture supplies food, so therefore Agriculture should be important. Unfortunately we as a society put very little importance on food, so how can we expect society to put any importance on Agriculture.

True health must begin with Agriculture. Even if you eat package food, it did originally start as a living thing, well parts of it did. So much has happened on the way from living plant or animal to being consumed that it is easy not to realise how it began.

I've recently attended a conference where the speaker was Dr Arden Anderson. He is an American GP, currently owns a medical practice, but he also consults and lectures about sustainable agriculture. There is some interesting youtube clips here. Basically he got sick of treating sick and dying people in his practice, that were sick and dying due to our current food system. Our modern agricultural practices are killing us via the over use of pesticides, herbicides and salt based fertilisers, along with the introduction of genetic modification (GM). These things all destroy the soil food web (soil biome) that convert the trace elements and minerals in the soil into a form that the plant can take up through their roots.

Just like we need a healthy biome in our gut, and on our skin, so does soil and plants. It's the same for the plants that we eat and those that animals eat. According to Dr Anderson there are two factors in our modern agricultural system that are the worst - glysophate (roundup) and genetic modification of plants. It is almost impossible to remove all traces of glysophate out of our food systems. If it has been used on or near any food plants, it will be in that food. In the US, they have even found traces of it in rain water. We don't grow many GM crops in Australia, only canola and cotton seed, so if you eat deep fried food, you will certainly be ingesting GM material as these are the two oils used. Packaged food if it contains American grown corn or soy (and many other gm products) will also contain GM materials.  All farming in Australia that is not organic will use glysophate as a regular weed control application.

I could go on forever about glysophate, but if you want to read more, Don Huber is a good place to start.

We don't necessarily have to eat organic to be healthy, we just need to make sure that it hasn't been grown any where near where glysophate was used.

When I was a kid we ate a lot of baked goods - home baked, and yes we used white sugar and white flour.  We didn't eat a lot of veggies and certainly not many different ones. We ate deserts every night and we were healthy and skinny. Now a days, to be considered a healthy diet,  we use unrefined sugars, wholemeal flours and whole grains (if any grains at all), nuts and seeds, many different vegetables (with as many different colours as possible) and certainly stay away from all those carbs in cakes and bickies. The difference was that those foods were grown without herbicides and pesticides, or certainly without the constant applications that modern crops get today. The soil would have been a lot healthier because of this, so therefore the plants would be healthier. And we were certainly a lot healthier.

He actually doesn't lecture on organic farming. His main thing is that we need to get the minerals back into the soil, in a balanced form, stop using glysophate and start feeding the soil so that the biology return and can thrive. Unfortunately organic farming can be too restrictive and doesn't allow some things that are perfectly safe, just haven't been organic certified. The only thing that organic certification assures you of, is that it won't have had glysophate in the system. It's called Biological Farming. Farmers should be getting paid more for growing food that is high in nutrition. Another reason to ask your farmers about their farming methods - but you need to know your farmer to ask those questions.

My next post will be the way Dr Anderson suggest we should eat, which has a few challenges for me!