Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A farm boy's new toys!

If this machine claims to be sporty, then where are the racing stripes?
Rainy days are not much fun on a farm. It’s cold and wet outside. Yes, you can potter in the shed. But it’s far more fun when the dealer in Geelong calls to say your new ride on mower has come in. 4 days earlier than expected! Rainy days are perfect for going to town. You are not wasting dry hours when you should be out in the yard doing ‘stuff’. So off we went to Geelong with our friend John. John’s nephew owns the Stihl dealership and he’s been very helpful in getting us rigged up for our farm life. John enjoys the drive and doesn’t need any persuasion to go along for the ride. We took the trailer with us so we could bring the new beast home with us. First we dropped the trailer at the dealership and then we ventured down Packington Street. A nice street with good quality Mediterranean deli, butchers and coffee stops. We shopped, had some lunch and a coffee and headed back to the Stihl shop. We completed the transaction (mower and new brushcutter) and were ready to load the new mower onto the trailer when John noticed we had a flat tyre.  Bugger. It didn’t take long for Frans and John’s nephew to change it and we were soon on our way. We had another stop on the way home. I needed some blinds and sewing supplies. So the boys waited patiently in the car for me while I raced around Spotlight and grabbed my stuff. I think I was fast enough for them. They didn’t complain too much about the wait. We got home around six. Had a glass of red with John before he left to go home. I got dinner on the go and Frans disappeared for a while. He was outside trying out his new toy. It was dark when he finally came in. His hands were like ice blocks. But he was happy. 

The next morning, John was here bright and early. There was work to be done. The men got stuck into overgrown boundary lines and the long grass. The smell of freshly mown lawn is sublime. It’s a smell that should be bottled! The yard is starting to look normal again. Rain, sun and rain. So the cycle goes here in the Otways. This means one thing. You can HEAR the grass grow! The mowing and slashing will continue for a few days to get the yard under control again.
John mowing the top paddock

Men at work! Frans and John having fun. Not too much I hope!

Frans and Nala hustling along!


We are so lucky that we have friends and family who don’t mind the long drive from the city (2 hrs on a good day with no traffic!) who come and visit us. Sara and Stephen make it down to the farm at least twice a month. We have had plenty of other visitors which we just love. A couple of weekends ago we had Frans’ sister Josie and her hubby Chris come to stay. We did the obligatory farm ‘tour’ and made them admire all our hard work. They were sooo complimentary. Thanks guys!
Josie and I checking out the potatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, corn and gem squash on the left. Carrots, beetroot, onions & spinach on the right

Checking out the vegies under the netting with Josie and Chris

This past weekend, Sara popped down for a night. Stephen had to work. So it was just the two of us. We did girly stuff like ‘face masks’, gardening and chatting. Sara helped with chopping back the ferocious growing spinach. She’s also pretty adept at pushing a wheelbarrow full of weeds. It’s great to have help in the yard. It makes the job half as long and twice as fun!

Sara cutting back the overgrown spinach

Sara loves wandering around the garden

But there are some things that freak her out! Sara hates worms!

Things that go bump in the night

Now I’m not a ‘scardy cat’. But when there are strange sounds that I would usually not really bother with if Frans is home, I’d ignore them. But he wasn’t home. I was alone for a week. The first night by myself it was terribly windy. About 3am I heard a big crash. I knew it could only be a tree or something equally large. I was not about to investigate, but I hoped that the cattle were safe and not under THAT tree! I woke the next morning and continued with my farm chores. Feed the ducks. Give the ducks clean water. (They have to be the messiest birds around!). Make sure the chickens have water and food. Check for eggs. Nope, not a full quota yet, so they have to remain in the chicken palace for a bit longer.  All of these chores centre on the old shed. It was only after I had ducked under a tree branch for the umpteenth time, did I realise that I was walking under the tree branch that had come crashing down during the night. Blind Freddy would have spotted it straight away!

Sara checking out the fallen tree branch on top of the chook shed

Some serious tree pruning is needed. A man has been called! Big equipment soon to arrive.

Then strangely enough, the next night I had a repeat event. Another loud bang.  Another tree no doubt. Go back to sleep. Next morning I headed out straight to the old shed to inspect those big, fragile Cyprus pines. Nope. Nothing. No branches. I was perplexed. Later in the day I cruised by the wood pile. Stop. That’s odd. I’m sure it’s not supposed to look like this! Yep, the piles have fallen over. Good one. Stacking wood is an art. Any ‘bushy’ will tell you. The wood shrinks as it dries. In doing so, it changes the dynamics of the pile. So all this really means is that we (I mean Frans) has to re-stack it again. And perhaps put a few ‘stops’ in front of the pile so it doesn’t come crashing down again. Farm lesson number 26.

A wood pile that needs another stacking!

A little prick

What should have been a quick dart past the beehive, ended as a jumping dance and wild waving of my arms! I had a bee stuck in my hair at the back of my head. Was it the bright pink cap the bee was objecting to I wander? I contemplated ripping off my t.shirt as I wasn’t sure if the bee had gone down my back, but I soon realised that it was my head that was in danger. The sting was sharp and painful. I thrashed about and tried to find the sting, but that’s not so easy if you can’t see what you’re doing at the back of your head. Bolting back to the house I rifled through the medicine cabinet and read the labels of every ointment tube or jar we had in the medicine box. How old was this stuff? There is a little container of Germolene there. I think we brought it from South Africa about 25 years ago. I wander if it still works. I wasn’t about to try. Finding a little pot of tiger balm (bought more recently in China) I stuck my finger into the bottle and dragged out a brown finger of oily, smelly goop and rubbed it into the general area of the throbbing pain. That plus an antihistamine tablet finally helped the pain to subside. I rang Frans who was in Mudgee helping his brother build a cabin. I didn’t get much sympathy from my two brothers in law, Hans and Reg. They wished me well should I not survive! I do know now that I am not allergic to bee stings. This was my first sting. I am sure it won’t be the last! Actually, I was stung twice. I got zapped on my shoulder as well, but didn’t notice that sting as much.
I have ordered all our beekeeping gear (Suit, veil, gloves, smoker, brushes, strainer, tap, knife) from ebay. It should be here in about 10 days. I think I may let Frans have the first go at examining the bees up close. I’ll keep a safe distance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spinach, Feta and mint pie

Here’s a lovely recipe that I re-jigged from my friend Norma. Instead of grated zucchini (the original ingredient), I used our home grown spinach. We have a huge amount of this stuff growing in one of the vegie patches. The chooks are enjoying the glut. We’re eating spinach with everything! I didn't have exactly the same ingredients, so I substituted a few bits here and there. The result was still great.
Home grown spinach, garlic spring onions, farm fresh free range eggs and mint

Spinach, Mint & Feta Pie
Polenta or breadcrumbs to dust
A big bunch of spinach, coarsely chopped
5 eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped chives (I used garlic spring onions)
½ cup roughly chopped mint (or dill or basil)
220g feta, crumbled
150g freshly grated parmesan
1 cup self-raising flour
10 cherry tomatoes halved (I cup a few truss tomatoes into wedges)

700g grated zucchini instead of the spinach. Grate the zucchini then allow it to strain in a collander to remove excess liquid.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees
Butter a 5cm deep 18cm square cake tin lined with baking paper
Butter paper and dust with polenta or crumbs, then tap out excess.
Place spinach in a pot and steam till wilted, then allow to cool. Drain off excess moisture.
Whisk eggs
Add olive oil chives and mint
Stir in eggs
Add most of feta
Save some for the top
Add parmesan
Season with salt and pepper.
Add flour
Mix in spinach

Spread batter in pan and sprinkle with left over feta. Press cherry tomatoes cut side up into mixture.

Bake for 40 – 45 mins. Serve warm or at room temperature. Great with a green salad.
An easy mid week meal. Left overs are great for lunch the following day.

Chooks and eggs

We have now had chickens for exactly two months. I never thought that five woodland birds in various shades of rust would give us such pleasure or amusement. They have been good hens and started laying on the 1st of September. Most days they each lay an egg. Chickens have a 25 hour cycle when it comes to laying. So every month there is a day when we don’t get an egg from each hen. A girl's got to have a break!

All in a day's work. Small, medium,large and EXTRA large

Egg on the left is average. Egg on the right is a XXX bum buster!

Frans is keeping a spread sheet (he still loves statistics and graphs!) to see when we’ll eventually break even with the costs of these birds. Our per dozen price is currently running at around $21. We should be breaking even on the 23rd of November if our calculations are on target. This is assuming we have four to five eggs each day and that no fox comes calling! How much does it cost to have chickens you ask? Well, we bought two 44 gallon drums of organic chicken feed from the previous property owner at a cost of $150 for the lot. Then add $20 per hen. So our start up costs were $250. Our first egg was treated with reverence and delight! The chicken feed should last a good year. We do notice that on the days when we’ve had to keep the chooks inside their palace that they eat a LOT more of the grain. So to keep our food costs down, we make sure they have a few hours of outside grazing and scratching each day.
Chicken Hilton

The chooks act as natural pest controllers around the fruit trees and they add their little presents wherever they wander. One chicken is dangerously close to finding herself in a pot. She is the adventurer in the brood. She constantly manages get through the electric fence. Lately she’s found her way to the front garden and takes to sitting outside our bedroom door. She’s used to being picked up and when she sees us coming to get her she squats down and does a little tail feather shake. We scoop her up, give her a pat and a scratch and flick her back over the fence to the back yard. Till the next time she escapes!

Now here is a bit of legislative craziness…..

If you are a food preparer (chef, restaurateur, caterer etc.), and you wish to use free range eggs purchased directly from a farm, you need to wash the eggs in bleach. Then, wait for it…. You have to wash your hands between handling each egg. Is this world going crazy? Wouldn’t you rather eat a fresh egg that comes from a happy chook than one that comes from a chicken that has been cooped up in a cramped small space? Even eggs labelled ‘free range’ are not that great. The rules are so confusing. What is free range? Most consumers like you and I assume if it’s ‘free range’ then the chickens are let out of their sheds and allowed to fossick in a field. Not so. Most ‘free range’ chickens never see the light of day. They are cramped into a barn at the rate of 17 chickens per square meter.

If you’re interested in finding out what is happening in the ‘free range’ chicken world, check out this link:

We take eggs for granted. My wonderful mum in law, Riet, grew up in Holland and experienced the awful food shortages of the second world war. During that time, everyone was only allowed one egg per YEAR! Imagine that! Now days, Riet enjoys an egg on toast for breakfast most days and says it’s one of the best things to be eaten. I have to agree with her. There’s nothing like a runny fluoro yellow egg on a piece of home made bread.

I am very pleased that we are enjoying our very own eggs! Lay on girls!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mission: Netting

It sounds easy in theory. Just put up a few poles and stretch some netting over the top of it to keep out the pesky birds. Not so. First you need to buy the net. Ebay. What would we do without it? The problem of course is that the courier company that the supplier used did not deliver to us. So after chasing around looking for the stuff, the courier eventually agreed to drop it off at the local co-op in Colac.
The area to be covered. The little whirly gigs just don't look aggressive enough to keep the birds off the garden beds.

Frans then prepared posts and worked out his plan of how it would all fit together. We then measured and took a deep breath and cut the netting into two 28m lengths.

Two long lengths of net. How hard can it be to join it and lift it?

Then we needed to join the stuff down the middle. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. Well, not too comfortable.

We shuffled along the length of the netting, joining two edges with little netting clips. We created a join every two centimetres or so. We used almost 1000 clips.

It took a while…… We solved the problems of the world while we clipped and moved along… clipped and moved along. Finally it was done.

Our challenge was then how we were going to lift the netting up onto the frame. Brooms. Very useful. Not just for sweeping. Frans and I heaved and pulled and finally we got the net over and stretched onto the frame. 
At this stage we were rather concerned that the wires and poles would not hold the weight of the netting. 
Frans standing at the top of the ladder.... health and safety? Nah..... 'she'll be right mate'

All that was left was to secure the net along the bottom. Tent pegs and steel poles were used. Our next camping trip may be a disaster if we don’t replace the pegs before we go! It was a tedious process, but finally we stood back and ‘hi fived’ each other. Another job done.

We have now ensured that we will have peaches, nectarines, strawberries and loads of vegies without bird damage. It is a beautiful thing.

Birregurra Festival

What could be more exciting than taking part in a weekend festival in the country? Folks came from near and far to be entertained and fed. There was good food, wine and great music. Well, mostly great music. Frans, Stephen, Sara and I set up our little gazebo and tables early on Saturday morning. We laid out our goods and waited for our first customer. The main street of Birregurra was closed off and it became a giant mall. Kids zooted around on their skate boards and on their bikes. The fashion accessory of choice was a dog on a lead. Teenage girls in short shorts paraded up and down the street in packs. Their main accessories were prams!

Early morning. Not many people about yet. Frans and Stephen checking out the stalls.
We had our spot along the main street which was good. Anyone who had been allocated to a grassy area fought slushy mud underfoot. We were lucky that the weather was overcast but not raining. We repeated our set up process again on Sunday morning. Our little stall did quite well. We were happy with our first outing at a local market. Our next market will be towards Christmas. Sara and I will be madly busy making bits and pieces for then.
Just getting started.

Our table of wares.

The main street around the middle of the day.

 The 'Squash Box Club'. Nice that this musical craft is being kept alive. But fellas! 8 hours straight? Our stall was right next to them.... One thing is certain, they are very enthusiastic about their hobby. They're still learning and practising new songs. There's nothing like listening to convict tunes all day!

And what is a country festival without wood chopping! 

We have cows!

As part of our dream of becoming self-sufficient, we need to run a few cattle on our smallholding. Not only do we want to grow our own beef, but we also need natural lawnmowers. Some parts of the property are rather wet (which is good as there will be a dry spell again at some point) and the grass gets very long very quickly. Mowing it is just not an option. Our neighbour Graham, is a stock agent and he guided us through the process of becoming cattle owners. First we had to get ear tags and a property code. When cattle are bought and sold, they are traceable through the property codes and ear tags. Sometimes the tags fall off from chewing the grass through a fence as it’s always greener on the other side. In this instance, you need to replace the tags. If you can catch the beast!
Last Friday was cattle sale day at the Colac cattle yard. However, before we left, we received a delivery of two new gates. We don’t have a front gate, and we have already had a herd of neighbouring cattle come into our garden for a visit. We are also going to put a gate between our property and our neighbour’s place. He has a cattle ramp and we will be able to move cattle from his ramp to our property (and vice versa) without the challenge of moving the stock via the road. So we bought a 14ft and a 16ft gate. Yes folks, gates are sold in feet. And another gem of knowledge is that they come in sizes from 3 feet to 18 feet. But even feet are cheaper than odd feet. Go figure.

The gates being delivered.
Arriving at the sale yard the first thing that greets you is the cacophony of mooing, THEN the smell hits you. The acrid smell of cow shit is so strong it makes your eyes water and burns the back of your throat. This must be addictive to some people or they must not notice it as they wander around sipping coffees and eating sausage rolls. I thought smell was a big part of taste. I guess the coffee was probably pretty bad to start with…. You need to wear closed shoes. That is a must.
Spot the girls... not too many here!
The next impression is that this is definitely a man’s world. There is underlying snobbery here. My hat is taller than yours. My hat is more used than yours. My RM boots are new. My workboots are well used. My belt buckle is bigger than yours. And my gut is bigger than everyones! And all the while cattle are being prodded to be made to turn around in their pens so that prospective buyers can view them from all angles, while the men are parade their “machoness” (is that a word?!) for one another.
These tough looking blokes are the auctioneeers. The third one from the left has a magnificent girth!

The auctioneering of the cattle is speedy. However, it took two hours for our first pick of cattle to come to the hammer. Graham did the bidding for us. Just a barely susceptible nod to the auctioneer is all it takes. But we missed out on our first choice. Our second option came up soon after that.

These are our girls. Waiting for our turn at bidding.
The challenge when buying cattle is that you have to buy them in lots. So if there are 10 in a pen, you buy all 10. We only wanted two cows with two calves, so our choice was limited by what was available in that configuration. Our second attempt at purchasing two pairs was successful. And just like that, we have become cattle owners. The fellow who we bought them from lives not too far away and knows Graham, and after a little favour calling, the previous owner kindly agreed to deliver them to us later that day at no charge.
Success. Graham passing Frans' owner ID up to the record keeper on the walkway above.
Even the girls are macho!

This is what we bought.

At around 7pm the cattle truck arrived. Above us a big black cloud was churning, thunder was booming and streaks of lightning were slicing through the early evening sky. This was not an ideal situation to offload nervous cattle in, run them around a fence along a road and try and manoeuvre them into a paddock. With the help of Graham’s son and grandson, between the five of us, we coaxed the cows and calves into their new pasture without any deviations. Job done. Two happy cows with two happy calves. And two very happy owners.
Running the cattle from the cattle ramp onto the road and around to our gate opening on the right.
So meet Agnes the Angus and Eileen. Sara and Stephen named them. The calves will not be named. They will eventually pay the rates when we sell one and the second one will feed us and our families. In approximately three months time, we will put a bull over the two cows so that we will have the next two calves in a year’s time.  

We have taken a step closer to our dream.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


We have a bee hive. It’s a three story contraption of cream and pale blue wooden boxes.
The straw around the boxes has to be removed. But not before we get our protective gear!

There is a little hole at the bottom of the stack where the bees crawl in and out of. The hive sits sheltered under the thick branches of large Cyprus pines bordering our back yard. It faces the morning sun. Perfect. The sun wakes up the bees and they crawl out of their little boxes and go pollen gathering. The operative word in the last sentence is ‘sun’. When it is grey, miserable, cold and raining…. nada. No bee action. Instead the bees remain in their hive and consume the honey that they have made the previous summer. And we have not had too much sun yet. So on the days when the sun is shining brightly, it is a pleasure to stand beside a fruit tree that is covered in fragrant blossoms, and listen to the intense buzzing of these clever little insects. The bees dance around the petals, rest in the little flowers and gather up heavy loads of powdery pollen. Without this sunshine waltz, we will not have beautiful fruit and vegetables.
We have no idea how to manage our hive. So we asked young Kieran (helpful sales assistant) at the farm co-op (big farm shop with lots of toys for farmers! I guess you could say its “Bunnings for Farmers”). Of course he knew a beekeeper and gave us the name and address of said gentleman. I called Mr Beeman when we got home. He was happy to chat about bees and said we should come and see him next time we were in town as he was hard of hearing and didn’t want to chat on the phone. No problem. So the next time we went to town, we called in to Mr Beeman’s place. Greeting us at the front door were twin picture frames; one with a Collingwood Grand Final Certificate for 2010, and one with a Geelong Grand Final Certificate for 2009. The AFL Grand Final which was played on Saturday was going to be a thriller, especially in Mr Beeman’s house! (Geelong won, just for the record!)
We were taken into Mr Beeman’s man cave in the back yard. If Frans thought he had a big shed, then he needs to engage in some ‘shed envy’. This was a SHED! However… one had to walk very gingerly between old bits of farm equipment, rusty chain saws, fox and rabbit traps (yes, illegal now, but the metal is worth something…), piles of cut and uncut wood, empty milk cartons, bottles of old rusty nails, old newspapers, old heaters and fans, tools hanging from every rafter…….. and then some. Buried towards the rear of the shed was a homemade pot belly stove with a very rusty, precariously positioned chimney pointing out of the top of the shed. Heat was pumping out furiously from the stove and the metal  chimney pipe.  Beeman proudly told us he had welded three car tyre rims together to make his ‘central heating’ system. This man is talented. Oh… I forgot to mention, that besides being hard of hearing, Mr Beeman has no front teeth, bless him. Stationed in front of the pot belly was an aubergine coloured leather couch, a film of grime coating it for protection. On the shed wall was a smallish flat screen tv, tuned to an afternoon soap opera.  I think it was Days of our lives or something similar. (They’re all the same aren’t they?!)

He was expecting us, and had done some prep work. He shuffled around his available space and gathered a few bee keeping ‘must haves’. He kindly explained what we needed for our bees. We were also shown his innovative heater that he uses to extract the honey from the combs. It is a commercial fridge with a glass door and three light globes inside it. When the globes are turned on, the fridge heats up to a comfortable 120 degrees and the honey starts to melt. Now let me draw your attention to a sticker on the front of the fridge door. It says “Hygiene is important”. Somehow I think that Mr Beeman believes this sticker acts as a germ barrier. Peeking inside the fridge was interesting to say the least. Gloopy brown honey sitting in a sawn off cardboard milk carton didn’t really look that appetising. Bottles of gathered honey were strewn carelessly about the grubby workshop.
We were told by our new bee guru, that the honey we buy in the supermarkets has been watered down so that it can be squeezed out of the nozzles of the plastic bottles sold there. Not only that, but don’t believe the fact that you’re buying Red gum honey. Apparently there are not enough red gums in Australia to attract the bees of the so called ‘red gum honey’ variety. Where does it come from then? Who knows… We are all being duped. So the advice we left with was to buy your honey from a farmers market and get to know your honey provider. Soon we hope to shorten the supply chain in our own honey consumption and enjoy our own honey. In the meantime, what is more delicious than a slice of toast in the morning with a thick smear of local honey!
We are richer for bumping into Mr Beeman. What he has forgotten about bees, we still need to learn. He has become a part of our farm tapestry. We continue weave new experiences into our journey.

Farm roundup for the week:
Frans sorted out my sprinklers (again) in the greenhouse. We use dam water in our vegetable gardens and greenhouse and the little spray nozzles get blocked quite often. It requires getting up close to the nozzles (preferably with the tap switched OFF) and removing the little sprays. The best way to unblock the sprays is to put them in your mouth and blow. Then spit… spit… Dam water is not as clean as rain water….
Workplace health and saftey..... mmm.....
Something is eating my basil seedlings. Not happy Jan! I brought the punnet into the house so I could sneak up to it last night with a torch and see if there are any creepy crawlies hiding in the soil. I haven’t spotted anything yet. I will win this battle! I intend to make great big quantities of basil pesto in about 8 weeks, and no little critter is going to stop me. I hope!
See the little chopped off stems? Wish I could see what it is!
I have finally planted up the last of the vegie garden beds. In an attempt at being ‘green’ I have used tree branches that were pruned from our fruit trees to act as stakes for the upcoming bean and pea crops. Ingenious? No, just trying to save a buck. Now I hope for some lovely sunny days, frost free nights and a little rain here and there.
This was the plan. Sort of worked.....

Nothing as satisfying on turning on the sprinklers once all the seeds are planted.

Asparagusaurus Rex!
Where did THIS monster come from?! It was sliced finely and sauteed with some garlic in lovely olive oil and added to some left over fussili pasta and peas. Delish!

Rhubarb... a matter of personal taste. Not bad if you slice it, add it to a little water and castor sugar. Boil till soft. Then mix with apples for a nice crumble. Or top your morning muesli and yoghurt with a dollop of the rhubarb stew. Frans is still considering this garden delight...... The jury is still out.
This lovely vine is growing on the east side of the house. It has a beautiful fragrance. Anyone know what it is?
At the end of the day. No, it's not Friday afternoon. It's Tuesday! The pub is open for round one....
The Birregurra Festival
Each year, the little town of Birregurra or Birre as it is called locally, holds a two day festival. Food and craft stalls will fill the main street. Well, there is only one street. Sara and I have taken the plunge and have booked ourselves a spot. We purchased a gazebo awning, some tables and took out the obligatory public liability insurance. I have been making bits and pieces, carding up product and getting organised. We hope to sell some of our stuff to big girls and little girls who like beautiful things. This is our first venture into the ‘market’ scene. Once we start producing our own fruit and vegies, we hope to sell the excess at the local markets. This is the plan…. I will update our Etsy store again after the market and hopefully we can continue our little crafty endeavours there.

Filigree rings....

Some of the stuff we'll sell on our stall. And in the middle at the bottom is my friend Eugenia who came from Melbourne for the day to help!

Rose quartz, moonstone, crystal, jet, Swarovski pearls.....

Every time we go to town (Colac), we always see something interesting. Today we spotted this groovy touring set up. It has a big trailer at the back for the little Jeep. Imaging a trip around Australia in this..... mmm..... awsome!