June 27: sourdough muffins

2016/06/27 deej 0

On Friday I made sourdough English muffins for breakfast. It’s such a brilliant recipe (and such a good use for excess sourdough starter) that I thought I’d share it here.


Step 1: Combine 1/2 – 1 cup starter, 2 cups plain flour, and 1 cup milk (or whey, or buttermilk) in a bowl. Leave in a warm place overnight.


Step 2: Add 1 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), and 3/4 tsp salt to the sourdough mixture. Knead until well combined and no longer super sticky – try to avoid adding more flour, but you can if you need to. Press the dough out to about 1 cm thick, and cut or shape into rounds. Sprinkle with flour and leave for 45 min – 1 hr to prove.


Step 3: Cook the rounds in a hot, oiled pan or on a hot, oiled griddle. They should puff up and rise as you cook them.


Step 4: Split open, and spread with butter, honey, jam, vegemite, or whatever your choice of topping might be. Enjoy. 🙂




(repair, re-use) recycle

2016/02/12 deej 0

Not all of my interests are plant or animal related, although you might be hard pressed to know that from the things I post on here. It occurred to me this morning that other permaculture-ish and farm-minded people might well share some of my other interests.

One of those is recycling. Not ‘put it in the recycling bin’ recycling, but actually repurposing or reusing objects and materials. For example, I’m currently collecting soft drink cans, because this winter we plan to build an aluminium smelter so I can make aluminium sculptures (this sort of thing) and timber-and-aluminium furniture (similar to this). I have crates and crates of glass bottles with which to build some bottle walls – that project is on hold until the last water tank is in, because the place I want to put a bottle wall is where the trucks will have to drive through to place the tank.

Today, I’m sewing.

I used to do quite a lot of sewing as a teenager, but as I got more time poor, it’s trailed off somewhat. But sewing is a brilliant way to re-use resources. For example, today I’m testing out a pattern for a little princess-line tunic dress, in 3rd-hand denim. I tend to buy jeans form the thrift store anyway, because (a) I have trouble finding new jeans which fit properly, and (b) new jeans are hideously expensive for a pair of casual/work pants, and (c) I quite like shopping in thrift stores. The downside is that pre-worn jeans do develop holes sooner than new ones, leaving me with a fair amount of heavy duty fabric which is no longer a functional pair of pants. I guess it is cotton, and it will biodegrade, but I feel bad throwing these things away. So – re-use the usable bits as something new. Also, denim dresses are cool.

The other innovation I’m testing out today is a thing called glue basting. For those who sew, you’ll already know about the tedium of pinning and basting (temporarily stitching) pattern pieces together before doing the final seams. This is the part of sewing that I always despaired of. It’s tedious, fiddly, inevitably ends up with being poked multiple times by pins, and my hand-sewing is pretty awful. So – if I can use washable glue instead, that would be pretty neat.

I’ll post a pic of the finished dress if it turns out ok 🙂


new additions to the menagerie

2016/01/27 deej 0

We didn’t do any of the traditional things on the Australia Day public holiday yesterday. No fireworks, no picnic, no BBQ, no beach trip. Instead we bought some new baby chickens, and almost burned the house down.

Turns out, when the dough in the bread machine overflows, it ends up directly on the element. Which is fine, unless the element is on, to cook the bread. At that point, you get charcoal inside the bread machine. We did not in fact start a fire, but it was unhappily close – and it took all afternoon to air the smoke out of the house.

new baby chicksThe fun part of the day, though, was buying chickens. Our existing flock are getting towards the age when they slow down on laying, so we need some new pullets. And I’d like to hatch some eggs as well, so we need at least one good rooster. Day olds are the most economical way to do that sort of flock enlargement, so we headed down to Comps Poultry and chose a bunch of adorable fluffy chicks.

They’re safely moved into the chick-raising pen, which is now on the verandah rather than in the garage. That way they get more airflow (but are still protected from draughts) and are close to where we are so they see us all the time and get used to humans, and we don’t get a garage which smells of enclosed baby birds and the associated poo.

I haven’t named them yet. I can’t tell most of them apart yet, and I don’t know which ones we’ll keep – we’re aiming for 6 hens and maybe 2 roosters (for breeding), so at least 2 are likely to end up as dinner. More if we end up with more roosters than we need. But for the moment.. we have ten new, tiny, adorable, peeping cheeping chirping babies just outside the bedroom window.

I like chickens.


Black Mint

2015/07/13 deej 0

While I consider myself to be Australian, I wasn’t born here – I adopted this country. I moved, with my family, from South Africa when I was 11.

An eleven-year-old doesn’t (or at least my eleven year old self didn’t) have any real grasp of politics, long term economic predictions, or crime rates, or the reasons why we emigrated – which were related to all those factors. But my world-view has been forever shaped by the colours and sounds and smells of Africa. Indeed, in my most secret heart of hearts I am a dual citizen of both Australia and that mythic Africa of my childhood. African drumming and bright coloured beads and fabric make me happy, and my love of space and the stars is directly due to my father showing me constellations and telling me about the milky way when we went camping, far away from light pollution, where the night sky was so dark that the milky way showed up as a river of dust and light across the sky.

Tagetes minuta plantIn South Africa there is a common weed known as a black-jack, which I now known to be properly called Bidens pilosa. I have strong memories of picking the barbed seeds off of clothing, out of my hair, and off the dogs as a child. There is a smell I remember associating with black-jacks, which I’ve recently discovered is actually the scent of a different plant entirely – one called Tagetes minuta, or Black Mint.

The place I grew up was dry and dusty in the winter, and subject to astonishing thunder-and lightning-storms in summer when the rains came. We had a large yard, mostly more or less scraggly lawn for the dogs and us kids to run around on, with a few fruit trees, a vege garden, and some ducks fenced into a run in the top corner where the smell wouldn’t bother my mum too much. In one corner of the front yard there was a huge “rocky pile” of the leftover rocks dug out when the house was built, with a big old Vangueria infausta tree near the fence. A short distance away from our house there was a more or less wild ‘kopje’ (a small hill), where we went walking every so often, while watching out carefully for snakes.

cosmos flowersThe area around this little kopje, and in fact the area around our house up and down the street, was a haven for feral garden plants and weeds. As far as I remember no one mowed their verges, and every summer the road would be lined with a multitude of pink and white cosmos flowers, as well as black-jacks and, as it turns out, black mint.

I discovered black mint recently because a friend of mine gave me some seeds for it, which I dutifully planted and grew. It grows to a strikingly large plant for an annual – the biggest one is a good 2m tall – and it is very pungent. It’s the smell that made me remember, and wonder if this plant was the same thing as the black-jacks I knew as a child. So I asked Google, and the answer was, no. Not the same, but they both grow weedy and wild across most of South Africa.

Tagetes minuta flowersIt’s a pretty plant, in an unassuming way, although the bees and butetrflies love it; the main feature is the scent. I like it – it’s somewhat minty and somewhat tarragon-ish, and it reminds me of childhood rambles. But not everyone will care for it (thus the alternative common name of Stinking Roger). Fast growing, hardy, doesn’t seem to care if you forget to water it, or if the rain comes early and soaks it. So far, unaffected by hot weather (up to 42 degrees Celcius last summer) or by cold weather (down to -1, which is super cold for Perth). Self-seeds readily. Quite nice as a tea-like infusion, provided you like the smell.

I was going to spread some seeds along the swales on the weekend when I had a last minute thought – since I’m planning on getting livestock, is Tagetes minuta safe for ruminants to eat? It was surprisingly difficult to get a clear answer. Looks like the real answer is that it probably isn’t toxic, but it also isn’t highly palatable. I know my chickens won’t eat it, even though they will eat virtually any green thing they can get their beaks on. One site indicated that it may contaminate milk due to external contact between the plant and cattle (or, presumably, goat) udders. It is good for the garden though, as it releases nematodicidal compounds into the soil and discourages slugs, snails, and possibly rabbits. It has been used to repel mosquitoes, and there is some evidence that the essential oil of Tagetes minuta may help control cattle ticks.

It does also, like black-jacks, have hooked seeds which attach (painlessly) to anything furry which passes nearby – including clothing, hair, dogs, and livestock. And it spreads very easily, being the quintessential weed in our climate. So it’s probably best not to plant it all along our swales, all things considered. I might plant some in the vegetable garden though, in the fallow rotation group (along with all the other somewhat weedy, soil restoring, insect-attracting, semi-edible or non-edible vegetable garden plants – like clover, and fennel, and buckwheat).

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

Less is More Festival 2015

2015/03/16 deej 0

On Saturday, I went along to the Less is More Festival – it’s an annual community festival & conference which supports skill-sharing and practical sustainability. I went for the first time last year, although the festival has been running for four years now.

poster1Last year I went along to see what it was like, and enjoyed it a lot. This year I wanted to get more involved, so I volunteered to give a presentation on urban livestock options for food security.

The gist of my talk was that most people, even those with very small back yards or even only windowsills and apartment balconies, could keep animals if they wanted to. “Livestock” isn’t just cows and sheep, it refers to any animal that we keep for a purpose.

Chickens are the obvious backyard livestock, but people forget about ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl (although they’re too noisy for many urban areas), quail, and pigeons. Ducks and quail will give about as many eggs as chickens will, and all those birds are excellent choices if you want to raise poultry for meat.

In the same vein, people often don’t think about the effort involved in keeping an animal. Goats (or even miniature cows) are good to keep if you use a lot of milk, or you want to make cheese – but then you have to milk them every day, twice a day. Every day, which means no holidays unless you can find someone to take care of your milking for you. And then there are the baby goats or calves – do you send them to the abattoir for meat, or try to find homes for them?

poster2I put together a set of notes on the pros and cons, and the needs and products of all the types of animal I could think of that might work as back yard livestock – chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, turkeys, pigeons, quail, miniature pigs, miniature cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, compost worms, honeybees, native stingless bees, miniature ponies and donkeys, camels, alpacas, black soldier flies, mealworms, crickets, fish, and yabbies and marron. It’s a basic permaculture technique, to analyse what something provides for you, and what it needs from you in a system.

Overall, I think it went well. I only got through discussing three species (guinea pigs, miniature pigs, and ducks), but everyone seemed to be interested; people asked questions, and took notes. It’s an interesting experience, trying to distil so much reading and research into a cohesive presentation.

For anyone who’s interested, here are the notes on the various animals.

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