Friday, December 23, 2011

It's begining to feel a lot like Christmas!

The decorations are up! The pool is crystal clear. The weather promises to be fine. "Hark the herald angels sing" is playing on the CD. Aaahhhh..... It's finally time to sit back and reflect on the year that was. 

 Yo yo's, gingerbread, mince pies and chocolate fudge. Mmm.....

And this is how we will hopefully spend our Christmas. Outside in the shade of the willow tree. This pic was taken a couple of weekends ago when we had our friends Martyn and Eugenia, Richard, Crochie and Doris down for lunch.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Menagerie update

Our little chicken flock was depleted about a month ago by two chooks, thanks to a fox. We then had a hen that decided she was feeling clucky (yes, I know it's a bad punn) and started sitting on her eggs. We swapped her eggs for some fertile eggs from our neighbour. She has been sitting on eggs now for what seems like forever. We have had a number of storms in the past few weeks and the story is that eggs can go off when there is a storm. We don't know if this is the cause, but most of the eggs that "Stew" has been sitting on have either dissappeared or exploded. Yes, exploded! And let me tell you, the smell of an exploded rotten egg is vile! It really does smell like that stink bomb my brother and I stomped on when we were kids! We have given her a second batch of eggs to sit on, but there has been no success. In fact, yesterday Frans found her sitting on the plastic eggs that are put into the brood boxes to discourage the hens from pecking at their own eggs. So it seems that we will have to force the hen from her nesting box and cool her down. Hopefully she will forget about the eggs and start laying again.

In the meantime, we have purchased another five pullets. When you want to buy chickens here in the country, you have to keep your eyes on the local paper. When the notice goes in the 'for sale' column, then you have to act swiftly. The chicken man pulled up outside the cattle sale yards one Tuesday a couple of weeks ago in a big truck. We were surprised to find a queue of eager chicken enthusiasts waiting with their boxes and home made chicken transport contraptions. So we joined the queue with our cardboard box.

Waiting... .waiting....

Then it was our turn. Five chickens shoved unceremoniously into the box. "That will be $70 thanks mate".

Back in the chook palace, the girls were set free to explore their new home.

And then we have the ongoing duck saga. We have three ducks. Well, our neighbour Graham says they're all drakes. So there is not much point in keeping three boy ducks. We could eat them I suppose.... However, Graham has come up with a plan. He has taken one of our drakes and given us THREE Moscovie female ducks in exchange. The idea is that we will hopefully have a crossbreed of Moscovie/Pekin ducklings soon. So now we have two drakes chasing the ducks around with wild agression! I think we may just knock these rambuncious boys on the head after all! They are mean and horrible to the girls. The poor things are pecked and featherless in places. We've had to separate them.

Graham taking a drake home with him.

And some cow news..... We have a temporary visitor. He's BIG. A load of bull you could say. It's time for our cows to be covered again. If we can get them to fall pregnant now, then we will have spring calves next year. The bull belongs to our neighbour. He's a good bloke. Always helping out and keeping an eye on our stock.

Here's looking at you...

And all the signs are good..... We have some luuurrrvvveee action happening in the top paddock!

Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Robbing the hive

Before we even contemplated robbing our beehive, much research was done. Not to mention many ebay purchases. There are things that need to be bought. A bee suit, smoker, hive tools, strainers .... the list goes on. Being total novices in the beekeeping world, we needed to find someone who would help us get started. We found a beekeeping club in Geelong, about an hour away. The club meets once a month on a Friday evening under a freeway overpass. Classy. However, the timing has not worked out for us and Frans has had to venture into the hive on his own.

First you have to get into the suit. No easy task! It's a tangle of zips and velcro!

Then you have to light the smoker. Pine needles go into the main chamber. This design must be a hundred years old. I guess if it's not broken, why fix it?! The smoke calms the bees down. Well, it's supposed to.

Give the bellows a few presses, and out puffs the smoke.

Ready for action!

Let's hope the bees are afraid!

The best thing an audience can do when the 'bee man' gets going is to stand far away. The best way to get pictures is to have a friend over with a powerful zoom lens! Thanks John! And then lastly, the main aim is to avoid being stung. The sting tally was as follows:
Frans aka Bee Man: Two. One on the hand, right through the leather gloves, and one on the arm through the suit. Cheeky buggers!
Sara: One on her left cheek. Ouch.
John aka Cameraman: One. On the arm. One was enough!
Nala the dog: Two. Poor puppy! She didn't know what hit her!
Ami: Nil. Great achievement.

Then starts the long task of capping each frame (slicing off the outer layer of wax) and then gathering the honey and putting it on a double sieve. We tried this method for a while but found the honey needed to be warmed. So we switched from a bucket to a big pot and put it into the oven.

This gloopy mess is honey mixed with wax. Left long enough the honey seeps through the double layer of the sieve into the bucket or pot below. An easier method of extracting the honey would be to use a centrifuge. Yes we can get one on eBay, but they are pricey. So we'll see if we can borrow one from the bee club next time. 

Beautiful honeycomb.

Our first jar! Otway Fields Farm Honey.

Did I mention that this is a sticky business? I think we used almost every bowl and container in the kitchen!

This is the leftover wax. Some day soon we'll melt it down and make a bunch of candles. Or some furniture wax. Any more ideas? 

And here is our final result. 31 jars of pure honey. No additives or preservatives. No flavour enhancers. Perfect. The sad thing is that we cannot sell it. Too many rules and regulations. We can only consume the honey ourselves or give it away. So if you come and visit us on the farm, you'll probably be sent home with a jar of this golden liquid.

Recovery in progress

It's hard to believe that four weeks ago Sara was flat on her back in the trauma unit of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. She had multiple injuries. The most severe were four fractured vertibrae and a torn glute. Amazingly, she walked (ok, hobbled) out of rehab 2 weeks later. It is now two weeks since she came home to the farm. Every day she gets stronger. She still needs lots of rest and is still in quite a bit of pain, but she is managing it well.

Sara will need to wear this back brace for 3 to 6 months. If she's not wearing it then she has to lie flat.

Part of her physio is to take short walks a number of times a day. She walks to the gate and back. Always with company...

What a picture! A smiling girl!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Our world tilted slightly on it's axis on Thursday morning. Sara was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was struck by a car as she waited to cross a busy road in Camberwell. The good news is that she will be ok. She will need a while to recover from her injuries. She fractured her back in 4 places and ruptured her right glute. She is making wonderful progress. Once she gets discharged from hospital she will go to rehab for a little while. Then she'll come home to the farm to heal completely.

Workers repair a traffic light that fell and pinned a woman after a two car crash. Picture: Josie Hayden

Workers repair a traffic light that fell and pinned a woman after a two car crash. Picture: Josie Hayden
UPDATE 11.55am: Workmen are restoring traffic lights that fell on a pedestrian after a crash in Camberwell today.
The traffic light unit fell from the pole after the two car crash, pinning a woman to the ground and leaving her with head and back injuries.
The 20-year-old pedestrian was struck after two cars collided at the corner of Burke and Rathmines roads at 6.25am.
Ambulance Victoria spokesman Paul Bentley said the woman was briefly pinned under the light and was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.
He said both drivers had also been taken to hospital, one to Box Hill and the other to The Alfred.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Earthy delights

It is early Saturday morning as I sit and write this week’s update. There has been thunder and lightning since around 5.30am. The rain started in the early hours of this morning. Yesterday was an oppressively hot and humid day, so the rain is a welcome relief. What is even better is that Frans mowed the lawns yesterday, so the rain is most welcome.

Sunrise earlier this week. No orange sky this morning.... just grey clouds speckled with lightning

Frans took this pic on one of his early morning walks

My week began with digging. And digging. My garden motto at the moment is “trial and error”. In September, when I first dug over the garden bed in that held last season’s potatoes, I pulled out all the potatoes that I could see and planted a variety of pumpkins, squashes and zucchinis. They all sprouted beautifully and started to grow. Then up came the potatoes again. I thought I could leave them and that the zucchinis and pumpkins would grow in between them. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the potatoes smothered everything. So I decided to start again. I really don’t want so many potatoes at the expense of the other vegies I would prefer to grow. So three days later, I finally had the garden bed cleared. I started by carefully working around any surviving plants I had planted, but it took too long. So in the end I just pulled out everything I could see. In the process I gathered over 10kgs of lovely new potatoes. I was then able to replant some corn, rockmelon, cucumber, zucchini, gem squash and pumpkin. Hopefully I can now keep the bed under control. If any potatoes show themselves, they’ll be coming right out!
The garden bed denuded of potatoes. I've left a few garlic stalks

This potato was enormous! But we didn't eat it. It was gnarled by a bush rat and would have been too watery as it was last season's seed.

Growing around the garden beds under the bird netting are clusters of garlic. I’ve not identified the variety yet, but I believe the garlic is “Russian Garlic”. This variety has single purply bulbs, not a cluster of cloves as we would usually buy in the supermarkets. The aroma is strong and heady.

This is what the garlic looks like when just pulled from the ground
My garlic plaiting skills leave much to be desired and I obviously need more practise. I'll have to see if there is a tutorial on Youtube!

The garlic planting guide is quite specific. Plant garlic before the longest night of the year, and harvest it before the shortest night. Well, it’s not yet December, and I’ve started pulling some garlic out of the ground. I figure if I can see the bulbs poking out of the soil, and the top growth is starting to wilt, then it must be ok. So there is the “trial and error” philosophy coming into play. I have pulled out a bunch of garlic and have plaited up a few hanks. They will need to dry for a week or two before the garlic will be just right. I refuse to buy imported garlic. To buy organic Australian garlic costs a fortune.  Why can’t Australians grow garlic?  I am more than happy to have our own supply of chemical free, farm grown garlic. We cannot use the term ‘Organic’ as we are not certified. In other words, we have not paid some organisation hundreds of dollars for the right to put a little sticker on our produce to say that we have complied with the principals of organic farming. Ridiculous. In the mean time, we will continue to practise organic farming methods. Ie. We will not use chemicals or artificial fertilisers. And we will not grow any genetically modified seeds.

If you are interested in Genetic Modification and the effects of this practise, then I recommend you watch a video by Vandana Shiva.
In the garden this week

And finally, the few evenings that I've made it to the lounge and watched a bit of telly, I've picked up my needles and have started another baby blanket. This one is being made using 100% cotton. I just love the candy stripes.

The pattern is very simple. Cast on 2 stitches. Knit a row. Then cast on one stitch on each end every two rows until you have used up 5 balls of yarn. Then simply start decreasing one stitch on every alternate row until you end up with 2 stitches again. This little blanket is great if you're knitting blankets for charity. All it takes is 10 balls of yarn. Depending on the yarn thickness, the size of the blanket will obviously be different. You can of course use any amount of balls you choose. Give it a try. I've made a couple of these blankets and they're great to knit as there is no 'purl' and you can almost knit it in the dark!

From green to blue in 300 easy steps!

When we bought this property, I was delighted that we would have a swimming pool. Now it’s not much to write home about, but it has water in it that will cool us down on a hot summer’s day! Our problem or challenge is that we know nothing about swimming pools. What’s more, Frans has never wanted one. Too much work to maintain he says. And he is probably right. But I am more of a cup half full person, and I’m optimistic about the pleasure we (and our visitors) will gain from this large lump of concrete resting in our front garden. Summer has begun and a few weeks ago the temperature changed quickly and we had a good dousing of rain. What does this do to a pool? Well, it turned ours from blue to green very quickly. Frans was not happy. Many hours (and quite a few dollars) were spent trying to get rid of the algae and get the pool back to its sparkling self. One of the necessary requirements was to keep the water level topped up so the filter would work properly. The only problem is that we are on tank water. The tank that feeds the pool had a blocked pipe underground and the water was not topping up the pool. So Frans had to somehow attach a tap to the bottom of the tank and then run a garden hose directly into the pool. Our friend John came over to witness “Operation Pool Fix”. He brought his camera. He was certain that he would get a shot of Frans being showered when he broke the seal on the tank. Sadly, there was no gushing water. Frans was too quick and he hardly got wet at all. Disappointing for all of us watching him from a distance! The upshot of this saga is that Frans has successfully restored the water to what it should be. It is once again a lovely clear sparkly blue. And yesterday we had our first swim, the first of many I hope.
Top left to bottom right: John at the ready waiting for a gush of water, Frans attaching a tap with only a little spray, the pool as it was and finally the pool at sunrise a few mornings ago. Crystal clear and blue.

 Beside the workshop shed we have a small paddock. The previous owners used it as their tip. They burned rubbish here and threw all sorts of metal bits into the grass. They also allowed their cows to graze in this area which meant the area was very uneven with great big holes in the ground from the hoof imprints made by the cattle. We’re not sure what we are going to do with this area yet. I’m thinking about turning it into more vegie beds. But in the meantime, in order for Frans to be able to keep this spot neat, he needs to mow it and that is difficult because of the unevenness of the ground.  Our friendly neighbour Graham offered to level the area with his tractor. He has a thingamajig on the back of his old tractor that tills the soil quite finely. So he came across and over a few hours he levelled the area for us.
Graham on his old tractor
The process took a while as he had to make repairs to his tractor a number of times. He kept catching his rotor blades on metal bits hiding in the ground. Frans walked the area constantly to pick up the rubbish he could see, but there were obviously hidden surprises in the ground. Eventually the area was tilled and the old tractor escaped without too much damage!
Just some of the rubbish Frans collected in the paddock
A few quite beers were all Graham would accept as payment. Frans will help him when he’s ready to do a ‘2 man’ task on his property. We now have a nice flat spot. It is ready for planting.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chicken Palace Cleanup

One of the big jobs we have been putting off for a while now is cleaning out the chook palace. This is a task that needs to be done properly at least twice a year. All the old straw and chicken droppings have to be removed and lime has to be sprinkled over the dirt before a new layer of straw or hay can be laid down. The lime serves as a deodoriser and also kills off any mites that may bother the chooks. The stuff that gets removed is added to the compost heap. This stuff is pure gold. In a few months our vegies will benefit from the rich compost that will be created from this animal waste. The main challenge with cleaning out the chook shed is that the dust that is stirred up is a health hazard, and breathing masks have to be worn. So we bit the bullet and got to it! It was hot and dirty work. Between every load of muck, we had to escape outside to take in gulps of fresh air.
Frans shovelling...

While we were creating a sandstorm inside the chook pen, one of the hens was sitting in her brood box. She’d become clucky. She had been sitting in that box for nearly 2 days. Frans had removed an egg from under her the day before, but she’d not moved. The dust and the banging of our spades and forks did not seem to phase her. She just eyed us from her little window.

No amount of discomfort was going to move this hen out of her brood box.

Many, many wheel burrows later, we finally shovelled the last spade of old floor matter out of the chook house. All that was left was for me to load up a few burrow loads of new, fresh hay. I love scooping or peeling off the hay from the big roll that sits in the yard. It’s like peeling layers off an onion, except you’re using a garden fork and the peels are wads of grass. I know why the term ‘hay fever’ is used. Tiny dust particles fly around your face as you load up on the fresh stuff. It smells good. But it makes you sneeze. For days! The chook palace has now got a lovely fresh layer of hay in it.

New hay. Clean house.

Nala always close to the action

We had an ‘over the fence’ chat with Graham from next door while we were busy in the yard. We mentioned our broody chook. He said to come over and get some fertilised eggs and to let her sit on them. We don’t have a rooster, so our eggs will never become little chicks. So we wandered over to Graham and Lorraine for a drink and a chat. A while later we came home with a carton of fertilised eggs. I drew little smiley faces on them so we would not confuse them with any of the regular eggs that could potentially end up in the same brood box. 

Could these twelve eggs improve our production statistics?

As it was dark when we stepped into the chook palace, we had to use a torch to fumble our way about. It was funny to see three chooks sitting high up on the perches with their heads pointing towards the wall. It was as if they were in the ‘naughty corner’.

Chooks high up on the perches after dark

Our broody hen, Roast, was still in the box. So Frans carefully placed the twelve eggs into a straw lined box, then gingerly manoeuvred the hen from the box she was sitting in onto her new potential family of chicks!

Smiley eggs... Smiley chicks?

Frans coaxing Roast out of the box she'd been sitting in

Roast sitting on her new clutch of 12 eggs

We were reminded by Graham not to count our chickens before they hatched! But gee, it will be so great if Roast manages to be a good surrogate mum and keep those little babies warm for the next 20 days. In the meantime, we need to ensure that she leaves the box once a day for 30 minutes or so to eat and drink. The eggs also need to cool down occasionally. If these eggs do hatch, then we (I mean Frans) will have more work to do. A separate enclosure needs to be constructed as the chicks and the hen need to be separated from the rest of the brood for around six weeks. Only then will the chicks be ready to be introduced to the rest of the gang. I still can’t help myself from counting our chickens…. We could be going from four to sixteen…. But we will wait and see!

Our text books are being thumbed through constantly. Lunch times are spent researching answers to our bucolic challenges! Next we will be looking at designs for moblie chicken coops....

Snake Tales

There are times when a chore has to be done that you weren’t planning on doing any time soon. Circumstances force your hand into action. My case in point is the wood pile that has been sitting just inside the back yard next to the duck pen for the past few weeks. It’s been drying there until we were ready to move it to a sheltered spot under cover. However, there are many tasks on the ‘to do’ list, and this task was not at the top of the list. Yet.

This little tale has two parts to it. So I’ll start at the beginning….

Living in the country has its own quirks and challenges. In the city we took for granted that every Monday morning, the council would send along a dump truck to collect our rubbish and recycling. Not so in our rural patch of paradise, West of Melbourne. We have to save our rubbish and take it to the refuse station ourselves. Now you have to be organised to do this as the station is not even open every day. The drop off days are every three or four weeks. You go the council and purchase a booklet of tickets. You need one ticket for every bin of regular rubbish you want to dispose of. A ticket costs $4. If you want to dispose of your recycling (glass bottles, plastic and paper) it’s free. Nice of them!  

Frans has done a rubbish ‘run’ once since we moved here. He took the main roads and it took him forever to get there and back. When he mentioned this to our neighbour Graham, he found out that there was a short cut. So I decided to go with him this time. He was going to go through the State Forest and needed my ‘expert’ navigation skills. Frans loaded the trailer with three big bins (one rubbish and two recycling). We were just about ready to hop into the car when out of the corner of his eye he spotted a snake on the wood pile. (I told you there were two parts to this story… here comes the second part). He bolted into action. (pun intended!) I was instructed to keep an eye on the woodpile while he rushed into the house to get his rifle. Yeah right. I stood at what I thought was a safe distance from the pile and kept a vigilant eye on it, hoping I wouldn’t see any movement! The hunter was back in a few minutes (he’d had to unlock the house and retrieve his weapon) and his adrenalin button switched on. He took aim and let off two shots in quick succession. Got the tail. He thinks. Great. Not the head which would give us a sense of safe relief, but the tail. He then hurriedly passed the rifle to me and told me to keep watching the pile and he manically started throwing cut wood blocks away from the heap. Wood was flying in all directions.
A very scattered wood pile before we started sorting it

He was hoping that he had injured the snake and that it would still be somewhere in the middle of the pile. Did I mention that it was a tiger snake? Oh.. well… yes. One of the most deadly snakes in Australia.  So I stood guard in my turquoise linen shirt, with a rifle held tightly in front of me, barrel pointing to the sky (safety has to be observed at all times even when you may need to aim at a snake in a flash..) How surreal my life had become at that point. Well, we never saw the snake, and the rubbish had to be driven through the forest before the refuse station closed. So we turned our backs on the snake and headed down the farm driveway.

We headed down to the refuse station through the forest and through some of the prettiest countryside in the district. The hills are lush and green after all the winter and spring rains. We drove around 15kms to the refuse point. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we arrived at. Refuse stations in the city are large, sophisticated set ups with many areas designated for different items of disposal. There are usually a number of bulldozers shovelling piles of rubbish together and the stench is usually quite aromatic! There is also usually a queue of cars and a fair bit of noise. But we were no longer in the city. Silly me. We drove up to the local oval in the village of Gellibrand. The sign at the turnoff indicated “Refuse Station”. The station turned out to be a dump truck parked beside the footy oval. Next to the truck was a wire cage the size of our duck pen, in other words, not very big. And that was it. It was quiet and we were the only customers.  The rubbish contractor was a friendly enough fellow. He was dressed for the occasion of receiving trash. He wore a grey singlet (wife beater) over a pair of stained grey trackie dacks. To finish off his ensemble, he wore a good pair of steel capped work boots and a brown woollen beanie. He had no upper teeth, but then it was Sunday, so he was probably in a relaxed frame of mind. Frans and Mr Brown Beanie sorted the rubbish. It took a while. We had not separated our recycling, so this had to be done beside the truck.  Eventually the job was done and we bid the man farewell and we were on our way again.

So back to the snake…. The next morning, we started sorting out the wood that was now lying scattered across a larger area of the yard. We had no option but to stack the wood that had been home to a creepy crawly for who knows how long. It was a task we took to tentatively. Thick leather gloves, workboots and sunnies were donned . Frans made sure the rifle was ready for quick action.
Rifle at the ready....
We passed and stacked wood, working like an experienced chain gang.  All the while we were careful when disturbing another piece of wood on the pile. An hour or so later, we completed the task of creating a new wood stack. And no snake. Nada. Nothing. Zip. But, the upside is that the woodpile looks like an art installation and the ducks are safer for it. There is nothing prettier than a wood stack that you have stacked yourself!

Even the ducks approve of the new wood stack!

There are all sorts of dangers in the country....
This fellow made himself at home in Frans' car!

Then there are the dangers you create for yourself! Frans cut some of the branches that fell down onto the chook shed. We've called a contractor to come and remove some of the tree branches to make the area safer. But he still hasn't turned up. This is aparently a common theme in the country. Good tradies are hard to come by!