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…

1 comment:

  1. OMG Ami, you live in heaven!! Its so wonderful and you really, REALLY sound like you love this new life of yours. Good on you and Frans. I love reading all about your new life and adventures. Thankyou for sharing it. xxxR