Monday, December 17, 2012

It's all berry nice...

It's berry season here! This means we need to get out to the berry patches daily to pick the ripe fruit. The intense flavour of the strawberries is far superiour to the store bought punnets. We've picked over 7kgs of strawberries so far. Most of it has gone into jars of delicious chunky conserve. Later this week I'll make coulis to go with the Christmas dessert.
When we came to the farm last year, we knew nothing about pruning fruit trees or vines. We thought we were doing the right thing when we cut all the raspberry and thornless blackberry canes down to the ground. Uh uh... Wrong! You're supposed to cut the previous year's canes and leave the new ones. Then the following season, the berries will form on last year's canes. A clever cycle. Because of our gung ho approach last year, we had no berries at all. We looked at the large area that was semi netted and even contemplated ripping all the canes out and doing something else with the space. But as we were busy with other chores around the farm, we sort of put the raspberry project aside. Then lo and behold..... this year we're getting berries! Lots of them! Frans has had to cut a path between the jungle-like canes so we can pick the stuff in the middle. I've made my first every raspberry conserve. That in iteself was a challenge. I didn't get the temperature up to the required 104 degrees and so it didn't set. So off came the lids and back into the pot went the runny mess. All the jars had to be sterilised again. What a pain. But we created a secondary product. Frans rinsed the jars out with water (lovely rain, no chemical nasties!) and created a big jug of raspberry water. It's delicious! So we kept a jar of the runny stuff so we could have flavoured water this summer.
Frans repaired the holes in the 'roof' of this raspberry patch and we then pinned bird netting around the bottom. No more birds. Lots more fruit! 
Yes, it's a jungle!
Lovely raspberries!
And then just when I think I'm under control with picking and processing the berries, I notice that the artichoke bush (is that what it's called?) is full of big globes that need picking. Now. So out with the recipe books and I start preparing these spiky green things. I have to say there's an awful lot of waste! 
Artichokes react very quickly with the air and go brown, a bit like an apple. So you need to pop them into a bowl with lemon juice as quickly as possible once you've cut them. I followed an Italian preserving recipe. I cut the chokes and let them sit in lemon infused water while on the stove I boiled up white wine vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice. I threw in a few bay leaves and a little salt. Then I scooped the flesh of the chokes from the water bath and boiled it for about 10 minutes in the preserving liquid. Then it all went into a big jar and into a dark cupboard for a few days. I'm looking forward to using it on home made pizzas, in dips and in salads this summer.  
The compost heap just grew a few inches taller! 
All that work! And I'm left with a 1.8 litre jar of home preserved artichokes. Is it worth the effort? Not sure. I'll let you know when we start enjoying them!
And speaking of preserving things in big jars....  I made a batch of Vin D'Orange this week. We bought some beautiful sweet oranges in Mildura a few weeks ago. I've been wanting to make this French style summer apertif for a while. You can drink it chilled, or on ice. You can also add it to a glass of mineral water or sparkling wine. It's very easy to make. 
You will need:
4 bottles of cheap white wine
(Aldi had clean skins last week for $2 a bottle. You can't beat that!)
2 and a half cups brandy
3 and a quarter cups sugar
5 oranges cut into quarters (or eighths if they're big)
1 lemon cut into quarters
2 cinnamon sticks
Pour wine, brandy and sugar into a large sterilised jar. Stir till all ingredients are dissolved and mixed together. Add the oranges and cinnamon sticks. Seal the jar tightly. Place in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. Decant the wine into smaller bottles. (I saved the original bottles as they had no labels. I hate cleaning labels off jars!)
So sometime in February, I'm looking forward to trying out our homemade Vin D'Orange. Cheers!
On the garlic front, we have pulled some and it is hanging up to dry. The rest will come up in the next week or two. Theoretically we have to pull it up on the longest day of the year. But everything takes a bit longer here so I may leave it in the ground for just a bit longer. So if you have placed a garlic order with me, be assured I am waiting for the best result before I send it out. 
I have to show you my biggest red onion! Over half a kg! Do you know the saying 'know your onions'? Well, I'm still learning. This is my first onion growing effort and it's not too bad.  
And as a little finale for this post, here's a little Christmas cheer. Sara was home for the weekend and she picked me some flowers which we popped into my 'new' red jug. (I love op shops!) The tall candle stick is from South Africa. It is made with bottle tops stacked on top of each other. Clever. And the little Christmas block of wood was made by Sara when she was about 6. 
Enjoy your crazy last week before Christmas. I'll be baking biscuits, probably ginger and biscotti to give as gifts. I'm trying to be as 'home made' as possible this year. If I can't grow it, cook it or make it, then it won't be given.
Till next time... stay safe.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Powerlines and a little bull

When a big truck with a cherry picker comes rumbling down your driveway, then you know you're in for some serious yard work! We have a large stand of Cyprus Pines in our back yard and a long time ago a powerline was run over the top of the trees when they were still small. Now they tower to the sky and every year or two the power company has to prune the trees away from the lines.
The resulting pruning leaves an interesting silhouette along our western skyline. In order for the tree pruning to happen, Frans had to move the bees away from their normal spot under the trees. Workplace health and safety required him to do so. I would imagine that being at the top of a cherry picker when a bee starts buzzing around your ears would not be a pleasant experience. So move the bees he did. In the dark. The best time aparantly. He shifted the bees a short distance to beside the greenhouse. The bees were confused for a couple of days. We learned later that when you move bees, you need to move them at least a kilometer or two from their previous spot. Oh well. The next night Frans put the hive back where it was. The bees found their way home and all is right in the bee world again.
Seeing the cherry picker lift up high, makes you realise how big these trees really are! 
This is not my idea of a fun job! I'm sure this bloke must get danger pay! Anyway, he did what was needed and the cut branches were left for another contractor to come and mulch. But because Frans was concerned about the bees and moved them back to their regular spot under the trees, we left a note on the gate telling the contractors that we would mulch the offcuts ourselves. It's been a couple of weeks since we had the trees cut, and we still need to mulch! It's been busy around here! This week.....
A little bull.... no more!
Last week it was time for our baby calves to visit the stockyard. They needed their vaccinations, ear tags and the little bull needed his balls banded. Yep, similar to the process of getting haemorrhoids tied. If you're a bit sensitive, then look away for a while or cross your legs!
Our two little cappaccino calves huddled together in the pen. It was not a pleasant experience for them, but our neighbour Graham, who did the honours, was quick and as gentle as possible.  
First a needle. Not bad at all.  
Then some earrings! This was a little trickier. You can't really tell a calf to 'hold still' while to put a spike through their ear! We have our own identification tags. The tag goes with the animal when it's sold. It's a bit like a car registration. The ownership is traced to the tag.  
And then the business end of the proceedings took place. All done with a little green elastic band!
The little band gets stretched on a big set of 'pliers'.
Frans held the tail up high and Graham quickly Slipped the stretched elastic around the bulls scrotum. The 'operation' only took a few seconds. Over the next week the elastic band will cause the blood flow to dry up and the balls will eventually fall off.
According to Wiki How, there are advantages to banding.
  • Bloodless (no blood is lost when banding or crushing the cords through the scrotal wall)
  • Less chance of infection occurring because no open wounds are created
  • More painless than cutting because the area quickly numbs after the band is put on: there is a little discomfort, but it goes away after a while.
  • Quick and easy to do if done properly
  • No risk of maggot infestation if done during the fly season
  • Cutting off blood supply enables the testes and scrotum to gangrene and fall off on their own
Our new little steer is doing well. He still continues to frollick about in the paddock with his half sister.

We went to Geelong not that long ago to order a new range hood and a 'hands free' kitchen basin. (we need to make a few changes in the kitchen in order to get a certificate to cook and sell our preserves). Frans is always on the look out for recycling opportunities. And this was our lucky day. At the back of Officeworks was a stack of wooden pallets. They were next to a big dump bin. So he went to see the receiving manager and asked if we could have some. She said 'no problem. Take what you want.' So he did. He filled the car to the roof.

And what you ask is he going to do with them? Well, he likes to keep his firewood off the ground to keep it as dry as possible. So a few of these will be used for that purpose. I've also seen a great potting bench made using pallets. So I'm hoping that will be one of his projects. I'm not sure if there will be enough to do everything he has in mind with this little stack. I can see us taking another trip to Geelong soon!
After our haul at Officeworks we headed home. The car was full to the rafters. But wait... you can fit more stuff in it. As we hurtled past Bunnings on the way home, Frans spotted another dump bin outside their garden department full of plastic seed trays. A 'U' turn and we were parked beside another bin. Off he went again to find someone in charge. Yes, take as many as you like. And we did. We slipped seed trays into every available corner of the car. We'll use these to air our garlic in. All in all, a successful day scavenging!
It's harvest season around the district. The farmers are making hay. And yes, the sun has been shining! There are big green plastic silage bales dotted around the district. So pretty. I love this time of year. However, all the particles flying around does play havoc with one's allergies!  
In the not too distant future....
Well, we've received our planning permission to turn our little loggers hut into a small B&B. So let the renovations begin! We're also in the process of getting our certificate to use our kitchen as a semi commercial premises. I have completed my certificate in food handling. Now we need to put up a new more powerful range hood and install a small sink for hand washing. Our next few months are going to be busy.  
I put together a hamper for someone recently. Soon we'll be selling our preserves. There are still a few details to sort out. eg. labelling. We're working on our branding and more importantly, how to print the jolly things! Some things that are meant to be easy can be very frustrating. We also need to select a jar shape that we like. Who would think that putting some jam in a jar can be so challenging!
It's stawberry time... so I'm going to go outside and pick another bucket and make more conserve. Till next time... Have a great week!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Colour everywhere!

Let me show you a huge whopping egg! The egg on the right weighed 68g. That's on the large side for a supermarket egg. Which makes the one on the left a freak! It weighed 96g. And yes, there were two yolks inside. Poor chook!
I have decided that November is my favourite month in the garden so far. The colours are just magnificent. Every few days another flower pops up or blooms. I planted a punnet each of snapdragons and foxgloves in this garden bed way back in April. They are now in full bloom and the colours are brilliant.  
We have many Californinan Poppies scattered around the garden. They can be a little 'weed like'. But I love them. They create a meadow effect with their ranges, reds and yellows. 
And here is an Opium Poppy. I found it flowering in the greenhouse. I have never planted them anywhere in the garden. A neighbour who lives a couple of kms away has some in her garden. So was it a bird that transported the seed to my greenhouse? A natural mystery. It is a beautiful flower. 
We're in the midst of broad bean harvesting. I planted three lots of broad beans about a month apart. We have now exhausted the first lot. Those are some of the stalks lying on the pathway on the top left photo below. I have to pull the rest of the spent plants out. A job I've been meaning to do for about a week!
I'm picking peas and artichokes too. The peas are so sweet! I use them raw in salads. I was hoping to freeze some for later, but they're too good to put up. I've got loads of broadbeans still to come, so I'll blanch a few of the pods and freeze them. You realise when you pick them fresh how different they are from those beans you buy frozen at the supermarket!
When it comes to the broad beans, our favourite method of eating them is raw with a little proscuito, fresh bread and olive oil. Simple and delicious. 
And here's me patting a horse. Note, there's a gate between us or I may not be as brave. This pic was taken at our friends John and Norma's place. These two horses are race horses. They are such show offs! They gallop around the paddock in complete unison. And they love attention.  
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Biscuit Swap

I love Christmas! And I love all the crazy preparation that leads up to it. And this year will be no different. I've had a head start in the baking department though, and I thought I'd share it with you.
I've been going to my friend Norma Bakker's once a month sewing group since we moved down to the farm. Each year the group has a Kris Kringle (present swap). This year however, Norma has come up with a brilliant idea. Instead of swapping crafty gifts, we're swapping biscuits. We each bake our favourite biscuit recipe. Make up nine packets (that's how many of us sew together) and pop four biscuits into each pack. Then we swap them around and go home with a huge variety of home baked biscuits that we'd probably not make ourselves.
So being the Anzac biscuit queen in our house, I thought I'd make these with a little Christmas twist. I added a few handfuls of cranberries into the mix and then dipped the edges of the biscuits in melted chocolate.
I placed each set of biscuits into a clear plastic bag and tied it with bakers twine. Then I dragged out the box of saved Christmas cards that we received last year and started cutting! I use the front of the cards and make tags. It doesn't cost anything, and I'm recycling something that would otherwise be thrown out. 
I'm not fussy about the size or shapes of the tags. As long as I can fit a message on the back that's fine. 
And Viola! Don't they look pretty? I tell you what... it was a challenge keeping Frans' fingers off the choc dipped biscuits before they made it into the packets!
I suggested to Sara that she could do this with her friends. She said to me "no Mum, that's for old ladies". What a cheek!
Here's my recipe:
Anzac Biscuits
Courtesy of Hunter Magazine. (If you double it, you'll 40 reasonably sized biscuits)
1 Cup plain flour
1 Cup sugar
1 Cup rolled oats
1 Cup coconut
125g butter or margarine
1 tablespoon golden syrup or treacle
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Mix the first four ingredients in a bowl. Melt butter and golden syrup in a saucepan, add water, then bicarbonate of soda (it will go all frothy) and pour over dry ingredients. Mix well. Roll into small balls (about walnut size) and flatten on oven trays. Leave some room around each biscuit as they will spread a little. Bake at 150deg for 20 mins. Cool on the trays for a few minutes, then remove onto wire racks to cool further.
Tip: If you want crunchy biscuits, then let them cool completely before storing in an airtight container. If you like your biscuits chewy, then place them in an airtight container before they are totally cooled down or add a little more water to the mix. Frans likes his biscuits chewy, so I usually double the water.
A half a cup to a cup of 'extras' is usually enough. eg:
choc chips (use the small buttons, they're easier to work with)
chopped nuts
Enjoy with a cup of tea!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

One Wedding and a few 'catch ups'

A long time ago (well it seems like a long time ago!) we used to live in Brisbane. It's not often that we venture up to Qld, but when we do, it's usually for a special event and our time is rushed. So this time, we decided that we would have a few extra days and actually get to explore the city again. It has changed a lot since we lived there 12 years ago. There are new tunnels, freeways and the cafes are more interesting than ever. We found ourselves tracking back to the same area throughout our weekend there. I love James Street. The food shopping is wonderful and the regular shops are along a street. No closed in shopping centres (my pet hate!).
This is Ann Street in Brisbane. You can rent a bike provided you have your own helmet. This initiative to get people moving was a good one, except not everyone carries their helmets around with them, and so the idea has not quite worked. Unlike Paris and Amsterdam where we saw the same system, but there people seemed more used to the helmet requirement and the systems are well used.

A beautiful, quiet spot in the centre of the hustle of the city. The flame is always lit in rememberance of our fallen soldiers.

This is the Uniting Church in Ann Street. Our friend Janelle was exhibiting a couple of her art pieces at a small exhibition here. The church is beautiful inside.

The stained glass windows are superb.
And this was the reason for our trip! My beautiful niece Genevieve was getting married. Frans was the official photographer. This was his first gig at as head trigger man, and he took his role very seriously.

I call this incredibly lucky... Genevieve had her bridesmaids dressed in puple. And it so happened that there were plenty of Jacaranda blossoms strewn around the venue where the wedding was held. Here is Frans getting a creative shot! Sara acted as photographer's assistant and did a splendid job.

It's hard to imaging that earlier this day there was a terriffic storm accross the city and the reception venue was flooded. Alternative arrangements were made very quickly and everything went ahead as planned. If it wasn't for the storm, the blossoms would probably not have been laid down in such a beauitful carpet!
Sara and Stephen. Both looking great.

And here's a pic of the three of us. 
I'll post some 'farm stuff' later. Have a happy Saturday!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A swarm of ..... BEES!

And so apparently, you must expect your hive to swarm in Spring. Wish we'd been prepared for that! Last week we had our friends Martyn and Eugenia down from Melbourne for a few days. The boys spent time cleaning up fallen trees and fixing fences and pumps. While they were busy one day, they noticed a lot of bees around the apple tree closest to the hive. On closer inspection, there was a huge 'glob' of bees just hanging right there on a branch! What to do?! Quick. Ring the bee man, Alf. He gave Frans instructions for capturing the swarm and Frans and Martyn set to work preparing another hive. This activity was punctuated by lunch and a coffee. After lunch we all went out to witness the 'capture'. While Frans was pouring himself into his bee suit, I noticed a lot of bees above the tree. See them on the top right of the photo below. I stood waaayy back inside the shed door and observed this amazing phonomenon. The bees were on the move again! This time we would not be able to capture them. Frans was just a few minutes too late. They took flight up into the very tall Cyprus trees beside the old chook shed. It was a dissappointing loss! We were hoping to start another hive. Binoculars and cameras came out to try and find the swarm's second resting spot, but we couldn't locate it. A few days later Alf the bee man came around and brought a treasure of beekeeping goodies; new brood boxes, frames and of course the most important piece of equipment we lacked... a net capture thingie!
Standing looking up at the tops of the trees gives you a crick in your neck. So Frans improvised! Who would think a wheelburrow can be so versatile. After the swarm, he checked the hive. All still looks ok. We have since added another brood box to the top. We'll rob the hive around December and stock up our honey stores again.
This past week I also transplanted out my tomato seedlings into bigger pots. I know it seems late, but everything is later here in the Otways. I'm hoping to get the plants into the ground in the next couple of weeks and that should give us lovely tomatoes late December and January. Last year I ended up with so many green tomatoes very late in the season. I'm hoping that I can avoid that this year. There are only so many green tomato pickles one can eat!
There is a story to the two pics at the bottom of this little collage. Our friend Mark who lives in Brisbane does a lot of travelling for work. On one of his trips he was in Townsville. Beside the site where he was working he spotted a lovely vegetable garden with the biggest, most luscious Ox Heart tomatoes. He was going to nick a couple of tomatoes for the seeds, but decided to first have a chat to the old man who tended the garden. It turned out he was an Italian gentleman and had brought the original seeds from Italy in his pocket in the 50's. He was most generous and told Mark to take as many tomatoes as he liked. And so here they are.. some seedlings from the seeds Mark dried. And they're from that same original stock. I just hope I don't kill them! Thanks Mark!
Do you like our new garden setting? Looks pretty I think. I bought it at the Reject Shop for $35! I wasn't sure what the material would be, but the fact that the box wasn't too heavy should have told me that it wasn't cast iron. Nope... it's resin. But hey.... not bad for $35. And much easier to move around! And yes, it may only last a season.... I'll keep dreaming about a metal setting.....

The roses are all coming into bloom. The garden is looking pretty good. The flowers are amazing. And so are the weeds! It's a constant chore to pull them out.
Animal update.... Ducklings are doing well. Frans has had to lock the drake up in solitary confinement as he's really nasty to the little ones. Last week the drake was spotted trying to drown a little one. If Frans had his way we'd be eating him, but then there won't be any future little ducklings!
I give the chooks plenty of spinach and silverbeet. They love it. I threw some out to them a couple of days ago. Spike, the rooster, somehow got a piece of silverbeet on his back. He trotted around the yard as if he was saving it for later! Nala had a friend come to visit. His name is Harvey. Harvey is a latte' dog. He lives in the big smoke and has a very nice house with a small yard. He gets taken for walks every day on a lead as most city dogs do. He loves the farm. Can you tell? And I have to show you these two cows. A mum and a baby. Not ours. But just have a look at how strong genetics can be! Identical face markings. Crazy! 
Mother duck and babies lying under a shady shrub.
  Frans entered a few of his photographs in the Colac Show last week. So we toddled off to the show on Sunday to have a look at them. Before we got the the photographic section however, we had to first view the produce competition. It was Sunday, so the lovely leaves on plates were rather wilted and sad looking. I think the rules stated that you had to have 4 of everything. So four onions or four silverbeet leaves on a plate.

Perhaps I'll enter something next year.....
 And here is Frans' entry that won third prize. He's rather chuffed with himself. So am I. Well done Love.
And this photo below is one he won first prize for in a local competition.
And on that note, I'll head outside before it rains and go and pull some weeds.... Have a good weekend!