Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Australia Day!

Welcome to Otway Fields

We are expecting the arrival of family from Brisbane later today. This afternoon we'll throw a few lamb chops onto the barbie, crack a few tinnies and settle back for an evening under the stars.
Australia has been good to us. And yes, we do believe it is still the 'Lucky Country'.
We hope you all have a great Australia Day too!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Otway Fields - Summer

We have had a wonderful summer on the farm so far. At this point we are midway through the hot season. This is an anomaly as we have lit the fire twice in January so far. However, it is summer, so we celebrate when the days get to 25 degrees and above. The aim is to get into the swimming pool as much as possible. Frans is keen to shoot holes into the walls and get rid of the money hungry monster. So when there is a warm day, we have to take a dip. This can be quite a challenge as after a few cool days the water temperature dips significantly and we hover for minutes before sliding into the cold water ,usually on a dare or threat of a dunking.  I am trying desperately to convince Frans that having a pool is a good idea.  So if you’re in the area this summer, please stop by and have a swim!   
We had guests staying for 23 consecutive days over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. Now everyone has gone back to their homes and to the regular hum drum of city life. We are once again getting stuck into farm chores. Believe me, they don’t let up! There is always something to do.  
The water pump drama. There was plenty of advice from the side lines!

Over the Christmas period we had our fair share of domestic problems. Firstly the water pump packed it in a few days before NYE. We had 12 people staying over that night.  We were rationed with water and were not allowed to shower! The men were encouraged to water the lemon tree as we could not flush any loos. A new pump purchased the following day had all the waterworks back to normal.
Then we’ve had the water treatment plant drama. The previous owner of  this property had never had the treatment plant serviced, and it is over 8 years old. We thought we’d better do the right thing and get the service fellow out to do what he had to do. The company that services the treatment plant is based on the Eastern side of Melbourne, a good 3 or 4 hour drive for the service agent.  He came out promptly and did the service. All good. Then the following day the plant ground to a halt. So what is the old saying? “Don’t fix it if it’s not broke!” We had to arrange another service call and the same fellow drove out again. This time it was the pump that had given up the ghost. Coincidence? We had to fork out for a new pump. Going to the loo is an expensive exercise! It was a relief to have all our pump issues solved. But wait… there’s more. Last Monday a magpie flew into a power line near Colac, 20 kms away and knocked out the entire electrical grid of the Colac area. Unfortunately we are in the same grid. A power surge caused the power board on the water treatment plant to blow. We had to make that call again to the Melbourne service office. The same poor fellow drove out for a third time and replaced the electrical circuit on the water treatment plant. A few more dollars!  We now have a new water pump, a new water treatment system pump and circuit board, new fire pump and a generator. Surely that is it!

The vegetable gardens are thriving. All the seeds and seedlings I planted in spring have been giving us a bounty crop of vegies. We’re enjoying a wonderful selection of heirloom carrots, beetroot, silver beet, zucchinis and many more lovely vegies. So far I have managed to grow these vegies without the use of any sprays or chemicals. It is our aim and philosophy to abstain from using any artificial chemicals, pesticides or herbicides on our produce. We wish to grow our produce using 100% organic principals. My first season of growing vegetables has been a huge learning curve.
A zucchini monster! This one will be used for the seeds. No good for eating.

Our friend Richard posing with the gardan giant!

This is a South African Gem Squash. It is a delicious squash. You cut it in half and boil it in a little salt water till the flesh is soft. Remove the seeds. Place a little butter, salt and pepper in the hole left by the removed seeds. Mash the flesh in the little skin cup, and eat with spoon. Delicious! My brother Lionel gave me these seeds. Thanks Boet!
Here are some lessons I’ve learned in this first Summer.
Don’t plant zucchinis too close together. You can’t get in between the plants to harvest the fruit. It’s probably a good idea to follow the instructions on the seed packet! If you plant them too closely then you have to do an amazing balancing act as you climb between the tender leaves and burrow into the garden bed to find the hidden fruits. Note: picking zucchinis can be painful. Wear gloves and long sleeves if possible. The leaves have sharp little burrs on them. They stems will scratch your arms and you’ll itch for ages.  Been there, done that!
Don’t ignore little potato seedlings that pop up where you didn’t plant them. They grow into HUGE plants and smother all your other vegetables. Make sure you clear a garden bed properly if it had potatoes in it the previous season.
Keep an eye you your seedlings. Most of the seedlings raised from my huge selection of tomato varieties have not done very well. Slugs and snails will kill off your precious little plants!
Don’t plant zucchinis in a green house. They grow to giant proportions. Going into the green house at the moment is like walking onto a movie set of ‘the day of the triffids’!
Keep the greenhouse for tender vegetables and salad leaves, and of course tomatoes. Getting the tomatoes going in the green house will give us a head start in this temperate area of Victoria.
Plant seeds in succession. Keep planting beetroot and carrot seeds every couple of weeks.
Don’t overdo the radish seeds! A little goes a long way.  I had soooo many radishes. The chooks loved them!

A basket of produce

And then there’s the question: What to do with the excess harvests?
I have a few strategies. Firstly I try and cook the produce I pick for our own use on the same day that I cook it. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating something you have grown and picked the very day that you need it. The flavours are intense. The chemicals are zero. The food miles are around 50m. Human interference is zilch. (well, besides watering).
Secondly I give away fresh produce to family and friends. I’m completely averse for instance to  buying imported garlic. Almost 90% of all garlic sold in Australia is imported. Imported garlic is treated by nasty chemicals to comply with quarantine regulations. No thank you. Not for me.  Our garlic harvest leading up to  the 21st of December was not huge, but it will keep us in garlic for a year, at least till the next harvest. My intention is to plant up a huge area of organic garlic. Hopefully we’ll be able to sell some of this at the local farmers markets next summer. I’ve plaited up a bunch of these pungent bulbs and hope to make up a variety of plaited products next year.  
Carrots, beetroot, beans, zucchini, a giant asparagus spear and our first two tiny tomatoes!

Thirdly I preserve the produce. I’ve made jams, pickles and chutneys. Some crops have given us a bumper harvest and I’ve gathered jars and spices and got to work in getting them pickled. The berries picked just before Christmas enabled me to make half a dozen jars of magnificent jam. We’re about to start picking our fruit. There are apples, nectarines, peaches and pears. Canning jars are being unpacked, washed and organised.  We need to be ready. It will be all hands on deck in a couple of weeks when we will settle ourselves under a fruit tree with an empty basket or two. Filled baskets will need to be processed. We’ll make jam, chutney and preserve the fruit whole.  
Zucchini bread and butter pickles. Gem Squash resting in the foreground.

South African Green Bean Pickles

Beetroots in many colours. Deep red, pale pink and gold. All turned into pickled beetroot. A favourite method of preparation is to simply peel and roast the beets in a bit of foil. Sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and ground black pepper. Add a sprig of thyme. Easy and very tasty.

We were blessed to have our friend Michelle and her man, Michael come and spend 5 days with us after the craziness of New Year. They had expressed their desire to help us out with a project, whatever it may be. Well, did we have one! We had an area outside the kitchen window that was a large unkempt garden bed. There were a couple of worthy rose bushes and a native or two. But that was all. Our idea was to get rid of this garden bed (hopefully save the roses) and pave a small area so we could place an outdoor table and chairs in the spot.  What can be more enjoyable than sitting outdoors on a balmy evening or for breakfast on a sunny morning?
Michael and Frans had many planning discussions and then got to work. They wielded crow bars, spades and shovels. They needed to move the heavy stone step from the back door and used the age old technique of leverage; rolling the stone on round logs of wood. The Egyptians were not the only smart ones! Frans did however manage to jam a finger under the heavy stone. To say he squashed his finger is quite accurate. We feared that he may lose his digit. But thankfully it seems to be healing, even if it’s quite numb and a funny colour! Looking back to the morning before the men started their heavy lifting and moving, Stephen made a comment: “Your safety is in your hands”. How prophetic.

By the time Michael and Michelle left us, the area for the paving had been cleared and was just waiting for the stone and sand base. Frans and I drove into town and chose the bricks, placed our order and returned home to shovel rocks from the trailer onto the area.  Our little paved area is not going to be so little. It kept getting bigger as the men started clearing bushes and old garden beds. We’re at the point now where the area is ready for the next stage. The bricks were delivered on Friday. This coming week my brother Lionel is visiting with his lovely family from Brisbane. They are spending the Australia Day weekend with us. Lionel said he’d be happy to help out with a project. Funny he said that…….

And to finish off this week's blog I thought I'd throw in a few random photos. Here's Frans on his favourite mode of farm transport! He uses the bike to get from one end of the farm to the other or to pop over to the neighbour. Nala is always a close shadow!

 Here is Frans at the cattle sales last Monday. He took his new camera for an outing!

And Sundays are for relaxing. When we get the opportunity! This is where I've plonked my chair. Under the willow tree. Bliss. 

Our baby calves are getting bigger.

And this is Roxy. Stephen's dog. She came to visit over Christmas. Her favourite spot to rest was IN the garden bed.
Autumn is not too far away and I’m preparing for a seasonal shift in the garden. We have a lot to do. Many plans. Stay tuned…

Saturday, January 14, 2012


It's not every day that one has a 50th birthday! It was Frans' big 'O' birthday on the 6th of January. Sara came up with the cunning idea that we could have a surprise birthday party for him, but make it on the 31st of December. He would hopefully think it was just a New Year's Eve bash. We started planning. Menus to be decided. Invitations to be sent. How many friends and family would come? Where would we put them all? A lot of surreptitious purchasing started way back in October. Frans quieried the visa statement when he saw the wine bill. Oh, I just got some stuff to last a while I said. That much??! And so it went.

Sara and I knew that we would need his help to get things ready. There was the little cabin to sort out. Just a good vacuum and maybe clean the windows I thought. But when I looked outside I saw ladders and powertools! What? That wasn't on the list! Frans and Stephen decided that it was a good time to remove the little pot belly stove that was sitting rusting just inside the door of the cabin. It was the resting place for a dozen or so dead birds. The smell permiated the cabin. Not the welcome to our visitors I'd imagined. A few hours later the beds were made, flowers were placed inside and it looked more 'liveable' if a little rustic. There were tents to be put up. And not to mention picking up a trailer with two portaloos. I was concerned that having 40 people at the party may put undue stress on our water treatment plant. Hiring the portable toilets was the answer. We then had to press some solar lights into the ground around them to light the way. It's very dark in the country at night!

Bunting was strung up along the fence beside the driveway. Sara and I cut and sewed over 50m of bright hand dyed cotton triangles onto lengths of satin ribbon. They fluttered in the breeze, welcoming all who came down the drive. We hung paper lanterns in the trees and strung fairy lights up outside the shed. The stage was set.

We had visitors arrive from near and far. Some came days before the party, a few days after Christmas. I reverted to my excel spreadsheet to keep the meals interesting. Stephen's Mum and Nonna stepped into the kitchen and didn't leave for four days. They turned out Italian pizzas, stuffed zucchini from the garden, salads, antipasta platters and mountains of beautifully sliced fruit platters. The birthday feast had started.  Lunches were taken under the willow tree next to the old shed. Lazy days ensued. Bocci was the game of choice. Some played while others sat back with a cool drink. Children (big and small) swam in the old pool. Glasses of champagne were sipped whilst floating on foam noodles. At this point we could no longer keep the party a surprise. So we then played the 'who's coming next' game. A few slips here and there, and he knew it all. So he sat back and enjoyed it. Happy Birthday my Love!
Bunting on the fence

One of the lunches under the tree

Hay bales were borrowed from our friend John's paddock. Here are Michelle, Viv, (from Brisbane) Emma and baby Valeenah (from Woolloongong).

Big and little kids having fun in the pool. James, Chris, Willow and Max.

Sara made it into the pool with a little help.

Janelle and Richard

Lunch again....

Michelle knitting for her man, Reg in the background. Don't know who's hand is in the foreground!

A serious game of bocci.

The man of the hour. Frans, in his Captain Aloha shirt!

Nonna and Nonno (Stephen's Italian grandparents) arrived on the farm on the 29th. Half an hour after they arrived they were in the greenhouse staking tomatoes, cutting back overgrown parsley and doing a good job of bringing some conrtol to the chaos of overgrown vegies! I suggested they come back once a month to help with the vegies. They said "we come live here!". Here they are sitting in the shade of the mulberry tree peeling freshly picked carrots and beetroot for dinner.

The kitchen crew. Doris, Ami & Nonna. Food prep flowed from one meal to the next. We served over 300 covers in 4 days!

A lunchtime spread. Help yourself and take a seat in the garden.

Nonno, Nonna and Ugo. Cooking kebabs on a coal bbq. "It's the best" says Nonno. Don't try and convince him that a gas bbq can do the same for the flavour. Fortunately we had no total fire bans on the days we cooked on the open coals.

Evening. And the fairy lights started to twinkle.

Frans' birthday cake. Army camo and a gun. All organised by our friend Eugenia in Melbourne. Thanks Eugenia!

Speech and cutting the cake and opening the present. Friends and family contributed generously to the purchase of a fancy camera. He is a happy man!

After the birthday formalities, we kicked on till around 1am, dancing in the old shed, welcoming in the new year. Happy 2012!

Nonna and Nonno celebrated their 53rd aniversary on this night. Here they are dancing together. This was the first time that Stephen had ever seen his grandparents dance together. Aaahhh.... true love indeed.

And then there was the cleanup.....

Some of our friends and family who shared Christmas and New Year with us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This past Christmas was a very special one for us. Sara was home. All the usual commercial emphasis of frantic gift buying just fell away. We were just happy to be able to share the time together as a whole family. Instead we cooked up a feast and shared Christmas Eve with good friends John and Norma. We sat around the big table eating, chatting and reflecting on a year that changed our lives dramatically.
Sara and I on Christmas Eve.

Some of the food: A beautifully glazed ham, stuffed roast chicken, zucchinis with pine nuts and currants, Nigella's Christmas cake, Norma's delicious summer pudding and Sara and Stephen's Christmas tree cake (chocolate flourless..... yum!).

This is my favourite entree' to serve for any special occasion. Smoked salmon parcels. Inside is a salsa of avocado, red onion, tomato, dill and a little lemon juice. A little dressing made with chives, olive oil and lemon finishes it off on top. Add a little caviar and a couple of sweet prawns. Make extra. You'll want one for lunch the following day!

Santa was very good to me this year! After we had decided 'no presents'! I now have a lovely chair to use when I want to take some time out in the garden. Thanks my Love!

This is a photo of our little niece Amelie. She is a little angel. I love this photograph. It displays the joy that children experience from something simple like running through the willow branches. May we all take a little time out to enjoy one another and nature around us this year.