Saturday, 30 August 2014

Egg carton covering...!

I can tell Spring is around the corner.... I have lots of chickens laying at the moment (and a few broody ones!). That means I have lots of, you guessed it, eggs! I have lots of friends family and neighbours that like to eat fresh backyard eggs from happy chickens and so I have lots of people to give my eggs to.

And to make them even more special - I have been "rebranding" the boxes. Its fun, easy and looks good... and makes people smile!

Here's what I did...

If you are careful, you can pull the sticker with the original label off and use if for a template to cut your new covering. If not, the width and length is easy enough to gauge by matching your paper and the sticker corner to corner on the box, gently folding over and marking the lines to cut.
Cut out the template and glue on using any paper glue.
The holes can be cut out after you glue it on so you know egg-sactly where to put them.
I used a computer generated label stuck to a piece of paper stuck to another piece of paper with the ends of an old paper doily poking out the end - just for fun - but you can go to town with what ever takes your fancy!

I date my eggs as I collect them and put them in so the freshest on the left and the oldest on the right - but since they are all within a day or three of each other it not too important where they go in the box. 

Some cartons come with some pre-printed stuff on the inside - so I covered that too!

I have collected all sorts of coloured egg boxes from friends and family over time. Here in Brisbane, they seem to come in traditional grey, like the one in the picture, a nice earthy brown, a bright green and even a bright yellow! Its a lot of fun making boxes to suit the kitchens and personalities of the recipients.

My friends say its a great talking point as their friends always comment on the box in the bench or in the fridge and ask questions about where their eggs come from. Great advertising for backyard chicken/egg raising!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for reusing and eating cruelty free eggs! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using scrap papers and already purchased egg boxes and not spending any money!
Time cost: About 2 minutes a box - it takes longer to decide who gets what colours! 
Skill level: Kindergarten skills.... Cutting and pasting
Fun-ness: Great fun to see people faces when they get a "presentation" box of eggs!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How I tell which gas bottle is off or on...

We have a couple of gas bottles that we use for hot water (ah - the bliss of the endless shower!) and for cooking. Back in the olden days, we had four and we used to turn one off and use the other three. When they ran out, we turned off the three used ones, turned on the full one and called the gas company for a refill. Then the Gas company decided that they knew our gas usage better then we did and came when ever they liked. After running out of gas a number of times (despite phone calls to let them know that we were running low and got the response that we wouldn't run out for another two months - and ran out the next week) we changed gas companies after 20+ years. Customer service wasn't a priority obviously!

The new company has a two bottle policy - making it so much easier. One on and one off. My problem is that when the first bottle empties while I'm in the shower and I have to switch the new one on dressed in my towel dripping all over the place, Which one is on and which one id off...

Here's what I did...

I used the empty cat biscuit bag and cut two solid block of colour - Green for on and Yellow for off (red would have been better but there wasn't enough of it on the packet)

I folded my tags in half so the colour faces out. Then using a permanent marker, I wrote "Off" and "On" on the tags and used a hole punch to attach a piece of garden string to them.

And then simply attached the right tag to the right gas bottle.
Now I can tell at a glance which one is full and which one is empty and turn the right taps the right way without having to muck around or guess!
The tags have been put on with a "slip through" type knot so that when you do have to change your bottles over you can change the tags just as quickly. The tags will also alert the gas delivery driver as to which bottle has pressure in it and which one wont when he comes to give us a top up.

You will have to change the tags each time you start a new bottle but it save a lot of stress trying to figure out which one is full and which tap you need to turn on to get back to your shower!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using an item destined for landfill! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for saving both time and money!
Time cost: Maybe 5 minutes!
Skill level: Basic cutting and pasting once again!
Fun -ness: Not so much fun but satisfying to come out in your towel and back into the shower in record time!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Slow Living Essentials at Green Haven Monthly 9 Link Up...

I have been following Christine at Slow Living Essentials for a couple of years now! In 2012 she started a monthly round up to record on our blog, how we have "slowed down" under nine categories - I have been doing this since she started it at the beginning and really get a lot out of it. Now the link up has moved to Linda at Green Haven. I have been a bit slow off the mark this month - but better late than never!

Here is what I have been up to this month!

Click on the link to go to the link up and visit other linked up blogs!

Slow Living Essentials Monthly 9 link up - Grab my button!

NOURISH: Make and bake as much as possible from scratch. Ditch over packaged, over processed convenience foods and opt for 'real' food instead.  

Our Pizza making is getting better - this one is a prawn, coriander and sweet chilli sauce version!

And how about an Apple Pie Birthday Dessert Pizza??

I have been Menu Planning for quite a few years now and find it saves a huge amount of stress. It ensures that I know what is for dinner, know I have the bits and don't have to stress. I am just starting to attempt 4 weeks at a time rather than the one, then two weeks that I was doing previously - It also seems to save me a lot of money!
PREPARE: Stockpile and preserve. 
I have been preparing for the Ekka for a few weeks now and as a result I have been stockpiling eggs! I entered my eggs (not the chickens) into "The Queensland Royal Show and Exhibition" and needed to make sure I was entering the best ones. That meant that I wouldn't let anyone eat my eggs for two weeks before the show - we have a stockpile of eggs now!
REDUCECut down on household waste by re-using, re-purposing and repairing. 

Had a big jeans repairing session recently. I hate to throw out comfortable jeans that can still have a life behind closed doors!


GREEN: up our lives. Start (or continue!) using homemade products. 

Made my own spoon butter to rejuvenate my wooden spoons and bread boards. Works a treat and is really easy to make! 

GROW: plant/harvest. What's growing this month?

Chillies, Chillies and more chillies! I don't eat them. But by golly I can grow 'em! I have got a few lettuces coming along nicely. Brisbane winters are good for lettuce! Brisbane summers are great fro cactus and sand!

CREATE: to fill a need or feed the soul. Create for ourselves or for others. 

Another Ekka entry was a go in the sewing section - Apron; Machine sewn. Mine is the pink roses one with the stripy pocket. I spent quite a few hours making this and really enjoyed it. It was fun to enter and then to go in and have a look at a section I have always enjoyed in a different way. Since it didn't get a place, I get to wear a new pinny and not have to worry about getting an award winning garment dirty!  
DISCOVER: Feed the mind by reading texts relevant to current interests.

As my monthly menu planning session is coming up this weekend - I have a large number of cook books out getting ready to choose 28 dinner recipes!
ENHANCE: Community: The rewards for your time are often returned tenfold.

Other than our international student community and going to the Ekka with 500,000 other people, I cant think of anything else that fits this category...

ENJOYLife! Embrace moments with family and friends!

Doing the tourist thing with some of our students!

IMPROVEChange or create a habit, work on an aspect of mind, body or soul that needs a wee tweak.

 This one is my addition to the 9. I have been setting myself wee challenges that improve my life over the month. I have gone carless one day a week, stopped buying anything but petrol from a petrol station, been a guest at Christmas, and tried to exercise more.
My last challenge was to catch up some friends - which although it took two months not one, I did catch up with everyone on my list!
For August - even though its almost over - I want to sort out my craft stuff. Its really easy to just keep plonking new "material" onto the stash without sorting it or even having a vauge idea for it. I just got new carpet in my craft room and had to take everything out. I think this is a good opportunity to get in there and sort it out before the old habits kick back in and you cant even see the new carpet!  
I find these bitsy blog challenges to be really motivating. Because I know I have to report back here, I tend to stay honest and it stays in my consciousness - or is it because I write it down... Either way its a good way to make some changes for me!
Thanks for the opportunity to share again Christine and Linda!!! Have a great month everyone! - Kxx xx

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Why aren't all my native bees going into the hive at night...?

We have four hives of native bees in our back yard. They make the greatest pets and ensure you always win that icebreaker question at workshops when they ask you to "share how many legs at your place" (you know, two for each person, two for the budgie, none for the goldfish and four each for the cat and dog). With four hives with 2000 bees in each with six legs each - I don't know the exact figure but no one ever comes close!!

In the last couple of weeks we have noticed a small colony of bees forming beside the nest. They didn't go back in at night and didn't fly off. You can see them on the mirror and up in the corner.

We made them a "bridge so they could walk back to the hive and they simply wouldn't.

We took the mirror away as we thought that might be confusing them but it didn't change anything...

In the end we contacted  bee guru, Russel Zabel and

Here's what he told us...

The hive has produced to many drones. Drones are the boy bees and are raised to become suitors for the queen on her mating flight. She only mates once and then retires to the hive to have babies for the rest of her life. Once she is pregnant (so to speak) that makes the drones fairly useless... If the queen is happy healthy and making lots of babies, the drones become just like young men living at home with no job. And these ones get kicked out!

So, our little colony of boy bees that has appeared a few meters from the main hive is really just a bachelor party! According to Russel, there isn't a lot you can do for them. They aren't welcome back home, they have nothing to do and no where to go. They will just feed themselves and hang out together until their life cycle is complete. That's about six weeks for an average native bee!

It seems that bees are a bit like roosters. You only need one to get the babies...

Russel reckons our other hives probably have these same bachelors hanging out close to the hives but since they are in the garden in amongst the greenery, we haven't spotted them yet. Because these ones are near the house and easy to spot against the cream coloured bricks - we have noticed it.  Its all part of the natural cycle and the bees know what they are doing.

If you are interested in Native bees - have a look at these sites!

Splitting Native Bees for the first time
Covering up Native Bees for the Winter
Aussie bee
Native bees
Australian Native bees

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having native bees in your yard! 
Frugal-ness: 3/5 Setting up Native bees is not cheap - but still cheaper than buying the honey at $65 a kilo!
Time cost: Many, many hours watching the comings and goings! 
Skill level: Just a belief that they wont sting - and they don't!
Fun -ness: Awesome fun!

Friday, 8 August 2014

How to force feed a sick chicken...!?

I noticed that one of our Arucana's was a bit quiet and didn't seem to be eating. I took her out of the pen and tried to tempt her with all sorts of goodies but she simply wasn't interested. Water was the only thing I was getting down her throat.

 Hurt and in pain - nothing appealed including her favourite foods...
After a week of this, she had lost a kilo (and from a tiny 2kg chicken - that's a lot) and so off to the vet we went. It seems that she had jumped off something and hurt her "undercarriage" and was in too much pain to eat.

At the vets - completely unamused...

The vet sent us home with a packet of "baby bird food" that we mixed up with warm water twice a day and had to force feed her with - along with some pain killers.

 Force feeding anything is traumatic - for us as well as the chicken. If you have to do it, make it a two person activity. That way there is four hands to hold the chicken still, open her beak, put the tube in, press the plunger and to change tubes if you have to feed more than one. It would really help if you had octopus heritage!  

Here's what we did...

First - weigh your chickens a few times a year. Its a really good way to decide if a chicken is sick. If its lost a significant amount of weight, there's a high chance its not well in some way. And no, its not weird to weigh your chickens. Hard work but not weird! (Try it just after they have gone to bed. Set up your kitchen scales in the pen on a flat surface. Pop a washing basket with a towel in it on top and "zero" the scales. Take the chicken off her roost and pop the her in, note the weight and pop her back on the perch. Wave to the neighbours looking incredulously over the fence. Grab the next one and so on. Like I said, not weird at all)

In our case we went to the a great bird vet - Brisbane Bird Vet - to get a diagnosis and all the bits that we needed. Dr Adrian is a fantastic vet and spent the time showing us what to do (and made us have a go) in the surgery before we took everything home.

This video is really bad but if you have to do it will give you an idea of what's involved.

We mixed up 3 tablespoons of Roudy Bush handfeeding mix with 120mls of warm water. We thought cold mix straight into the belly might be a bit rough when you aren't feeling the best. Also less metabolic energy for her to warm it up. In a weak chicken you want them to use as few precious calories as possible. The crop can easily hold 250mls of liquid according to the vet even though we were only putting in 120mls. Its a dense high energy mix and 120mls should keep her system busy digesting for about 12 hours.

We then set up the syringes with the mixture in them and put the feeding tube onto the first syringe before we went and got the chicken. I held her with my thumbs over the top of her wings and my fingers around her legs so I total control of her. Aracana's are small chickens and so this is easy to do with them. If you have a big struggling chicken, wrap it really firmly in a towel and hold the whole bundle really firmly. When we first started doing this it was easier as she didn't struggle as she was too sick and too hurt. After a fortnight it started to become a struggle and once she started eating her self we gave it up - Waaaaay to traumatic for all of us! If the chicken can struggle a lot, I don't think they are too sick!

I lift her slightly off the ground to stop her from having any traction. My husband then holds her head and forces her beak open and with two fingers (Thumb and index over the top) holds them open.  You need to make sure her neck is stretched not bent. The tube wont go down otherwise. Once we have the beak open,  I hold her against me with one hand and free up the other hand.

I use my now spare hand to hold the weight of the syringe as my husband gently feeds the attached tube about 3/4 of its length down her throat. (One hand still holding her beak, the other one the tube.) Then I move my syringe hand down to the part where it joins the tube so that when he presses the plunger (he has bigger hands than me) its doesn't force the tube off and squirt mixture everywhere except where you want it. It also gives him some thing for brace against. If the mixture is thick, its hard to get moving.

One syringe with the feeding tube attached and the other without. 

All this time you have to make sure that she still has her neck as stretched as you can. If she struggles once the tube is in, she is uncomfortable. Try stretching the neck before taking it out and starting again. Putting the tube in a couple of times stresses everyone. This video is our second attempt that night and you can see she isn't happy to have another go.

Once the first syringe is empty, I hold the orange part of the tube with that spare hand and my husband pulls the syringe out and picks up the other one and inserts it in the tube using my hand to push against and then he pushes the plunger on the second syringe and in goes the rest of her dinner! The whole time he is holding her beak open and holding her neck straight with the other. Its defiantly a two person operation.

Once the second syringe is empty, its easy to release the beak and gently lower the chicken back onto the table and pull the tube out. The chicken is usually very happy too!

Wash all the equipment thoroughly. I used detergent as there seemed to be a "fatty or oily" residue left behind and I didn't want bacteria or mould growing in the tube or syringes. You could sterilise them using baby bottle stuff but I figured a good wash and dry in the sun would be ok. The mouth and crop are not sterile environments so you don't have to go overboard. (see what type language you pick up if you hang out at the vets long enough?)

Looking and feeling much better!

We had to do this twice a day for two weeks before time and nourishment did their thing. Each batch of feeding mixture has a prescribed 2mls of vet obtained painkiller to relive her distress. We actually had her inside in a box for all this time but next time I would put her in the isolation pen as she lost her high ranking position in the flock and is now at the bottom. Three weeks was too long for her to be away.

About to lay yet another one of her lovely sky blue eggs for us!

Its not much fun for any of us but as the weight piled on and she got more active we were happier to do it as we could see the results. We also were quite practiced at it after 28 runs!

If you have any questions about this - feel free to leave me a comment. Its quite hard to imagine how to go about it until you've done it a few times!
Score card:
Green-ness: Not sure I can find a green angle for this activity... 
Frugal-ness: Not anything close to frugal. I paid $165 for the consult, pathology, feed, tube and syringes. But as she is back laying and part of the flock, I think its well worth it.
Time cost: An hour at the vet and about 10 minute for each feed.
Skill level: You need confidence and motivation to start with. The skill kicks in about day five.
Fun -ness: Not fun at all until the results start to show!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Growing asparagus in Brisbane - Winter update!

Years ago I bought a couple of asparagus crowns from a guy at the markets. I'm sure he gave me detailed instructions at the time, but all I could remember was to plant them where you intend to keep them and then not to cut them for a few years to give them time to establish.

Its been a few years and I have found the asparagus to be pretty happy in its spot in the vege garden. It gets watered regularly and gets a dollop of compost each time the pile matures and seems to be growing its famous ferny leaves very well....

But I was hoping to grow the eat-y bit!

A bit of a google search later and the secateurs and I went into the vege garden...

Here's what I did...

January 2014 (Winter update below this post)

The asparagus is the big ferny thing in the black barrel in the centre of the picture.
Its gotta be a metre and a half high.
Last winter I got up the guts to cut it back when it died off and it did grow back in the Spring. I thought for a few months that I might have killed it.

As you can see, the stalks coming out of the ground are about the same thickness as the ones I would buy in the shop - except that they are 2 foot long!

I have two crowns in this pot. Apparently there are male and female plants. The thicker stalks are usually associated with male plants. The males grow the thicker stalks as they don't have to put energy into producing flowers and seeds! Have a look at your plants in Autumn. If it has red berries (which are poisonous by the way) then its a female plant. If a big harvest is what you are after, then male plants are they way to go, they spend all their time producing leaves rather than putting any energy into seeds.
I believe that you are meant to primarily meant to cut your asparagus in the spring when the shoots first appear. In my case I was so grateful to see the new spears and that I hadn't killed the plant that I let them go. 
However, I decided to try an experiment and cut all the foliage down and then harvest the stalks for a few weeks before letting the plant grow its leaves and replenish its crown. Its January 2014, here at the moment, so I will harvest for maybe a fortnight and then let it go again for the year.
Next year, I will start harvesting in Spring (September/October) when the shoots first appear for a fortnight and then let it go and do its things.

Asparagus can live for 20 to 30 years! So make sure you plant it somewhere where you wont need to move it for a long time! I only have 2 crowns - apparently you will need 25 plants to feed a family of four for a season....
I guess I will just be feeding me then!

Within 4 days I had new stalks growing. Its a real challenge to pick them at their prime and just eat them straight out of the garden rather than waiting a few more days for some others to appear to make a meal from them. I'm finding that once they stick their heads out of the ground, they are ready in 2-3 days. I'm getting five or six spear every two to three days out of two plants. I wont be setting up a business anytime soon!

By traditional asparagus standards, I have left my harvest a bit long. My first three spears are probably a bit long. I did the classic beginners mistake of waiting for other spears to appear.

You have to do something special with so few asparagus spears and so the few that made it to the kitchen got placed on the top of a homemade pizza!

Asparagus like lots of compost and water but not to be in standing water so make sure the spot drains well. The idea seems to be to build up the size of the crown for a few years by letting the plant do its thing in the spring and summer and when it naturally dies off in the Autumn/Winter to cut it back then. Mine grow easily to 5-6 foot, so again, make sure its some where you can cope with it. Its a big plant for a long time.

Once the plant is established, you can cut the spring growth for a few weeks (up to four weeks) when it appears. Each year as the crown gets bigger and has more food stored, you can extend your cutting season up to a maximum of eight weeks. If you cut them for extended periods of time (like all spring and all summer and into autumn) you will deplete the crown of all its food and the plant will die. It needs its leaves to get to the sun and to photosynthesise with enough time to store enough food to not only get it through winter but to feed you in the Spring!

They are a hungry plant and need lots of compost and compost teas - so feed 'em up and make sure they have plenty to eat and drink. They grow fastest when its hottest - so make sure they have lots of water so they stay tender.

I haven't cut mine far enough down. It seems I should be cutting them at ground level not the few inches above that I have done as you can see in the pictures. But be careful not to cut the new spears coming up that you might not be able to see...


Can you see the thin stalks branching off the cut stalks? I think that's a bad thing... I think they will be putting energy into getting those wee shoots to the sky and not producing fat little spears for me!

Bad photo, but easier to see what I mean.
I am still trying to decide weather I should just let them grow or cut it off to ground level...
I was only going to harvest for 2 weeks and then let the plant go but I'm not sure if I should cut these shoots off or just let it do its thing. I only have 2 days left of my harvest.
For the record, here is my harvest amounts for these two crowns.
Jan 11: Cut back asparagus
Jan 16: cut 3 spears
Jan 17 cut 2 spears
Jan 18: 2 spears
Jan 19: 1 spear
Jan 20: 2 spears
Jan 21: 0 spears
Jan 22: 2 spears
Jan 23: 2 spears
It looks like I'm getting one spear a day out of each plant. I can see why you would need 25 to feed a family of four now!

There are some good websites about growing Asparagus to check out for us beginner asparagus farmers:

Organic Gardening - asparagus

ABC - growing asparagus

Back Yard Vegetable Growing - Asparagus

The Australian Asparagus Council - this one is very interesting!

Good luck with your asparagus growing!

July 2014 Update:
Once I stopped cutting the spears for the table in January, the asparagus plant stayed green and happy all summer. It didn't seem to have any problems growing leaves from those funny side shoots. It became as large as it was the previous year. I wanted to cut it back once I knew it was ready to hibernate in the Autumn but never seemed to be ready to die back...! I imagined the leaves would go yellow/brown and the plant would naturally start the hibernation process. I assume that since we had an incredibly mild Autumn and now incredibly mild Winter, the asparagus didn't need/want to hibernate.

We had a bit of a cold snap - it went right down to 10 degrees overnight! - and finally the asparagus decided to give in!

The tips of the plant started dying off first, and then the plant generally started to look yellow.

I cut them off at a height that was easy for me to manage and then when I had given all the foliage to the chooks to check through, I cut it right back to nothing - under the soil. There were many dead stems from my earlier harvest and they just pulled out.

 I cleaned all the weeds and grass out of the bed as I understand that asparagus doesn't like any competition at all. I also gave it a good water and a bucketful of compost afterwards to give it enough energy to continue its die back. Currently the bed is flat and there was no growth after I cut it back.

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for growing your own food!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying a plant that will feed you for 20+ years!
Time cost: Next to nothing - a very low maintenance plant.
Skill level: Just a once yearly pruning and a two week cutting vigilance using the phrase; "oh my goodness- look how much it grew since yesterday!"
Fun-ness: Awesome fun to munch on the freshest asparagus while still standing in the garden!
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