Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Apples apples apples...

It's Autumn. That means it's time for the apple harvest. The stone fruits all matured around Christmas, but the apples have taken a bit longer. We didn't cover the apple trees with netting until a few weeks ago. The branches are heavy with fruit on some of the trees. We have five apple trees and all of them are bearing fruit. The only challenge is working out what variety they are. We have a Granny Smith. That one is easy. Glossy bright green skin and very tart! The rest of the apples are also green, but some have a pink blush on one cheek. I'm still trying to work out the rest.

A visit to the library once every three weeks or so is a great source of information. Yes, we can use 'Google', but that requires satelite time and it's costly. It's quite satisfying browsing through reference books and making new discoveries that answer questions we might have. My library basket weighs heavily after each visit. This week I've found a number of books on apple trees, olive production and poultry care.

The small orchard behind the house.

We are planning to add a few more fruit trees in this area. I have a fig tree sapling that has been nurtured by Stephen's grandfather. He took the original fig tree cutting from a house they lived in about five years ago. The fig tree gave deliciously sweet green figs. He has successfully grown another tree from the original cutting at their new house. Now I have a cutting from the cutting! I hope I don't kill it.  It will be planted close to the apple trees. On our last visit to Melbourne, Nonno had saved three beauitul figs for me. He is very proud that his new tree has had about 20 pieces of fruit this year.

So back to the apples.....
We were treated to a lovely week of laughing and good conversation when Frans' Mum, Riet and Frans' sister Pauline came to visit. Being Dutch, Riet loves her appelmoes. That's apple sauce. She's the queen of peeling apples. On her very first day she insisted we start dealing with the fruit hanging on the trees. So out we went into the fine Otway drizzle and picked a couple of baskets of fruit.

It took three full baskets to make 10 litres of juice.

One of the comments Riet made was that she was surprised at the different shapes our apples have. They are not perfect round spheres like you buy at the supermarket. And they don't have little paper stickers on them! And they're not as shiny. Our apples are all shapes and sizes. They do not have a waxy gloss sprayed on them to make them look appealing! They have a few spots here and there. Some of the apples have been half eaten by birds or insects. But we know that they are 100% pesticide free and good for us. We still have plenty on the trees. I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to harvest them before they all drop off the branches and get put onto the compost heap. So if you want some apples, come and get them! You probably have a window of opportunity of about 10 days.

Oma happily peeled and chopped for days on end. Sara arrived half way through the week and stepped up to help with the preparation. What will we do with all this fruit?
We've cooked the apples and frozen them in plastic bags. When you lay the bags flat in the freezer you make good use of the space there. This applies to freezing tomato sauce too.
We have made appelmoes and bottled it. Then used the Vacola barrel to preserve the jars of sauce. Apple sauce is great on muesli for breakfast. And of course you can enjoy it with your dinner too.
And then we've decided to give apple cider a go. We're starting off small. Let's not get carried away. Filling a 10 litre bucket with freshly squeezed apple juice is a time consuming excersize. This task required all hands on deck. The girls peeled and cut the fruit while Frans squeezed the juice in our old trusty juicer. You know the one.... it's the appliance you buy and use a few times and then it gets relegated to the back of the cupboard. Well, this one has come out of retirement. Let's hope it can cope with all the action that is required of it. I needed to buy a few bits and pieces for the cider (yeast, sugar etc) and rang a supplier in Melbourne. He advised that the best thing to do when using a domestic juicer is to give it plenty of rest between squeezings. Good tip. We now have a bucket of juice sitting on a chair in the sunny alcove off the kitchen. We will wait a couple of weeks and then we will bottle the juice. Hopefully we'll have our first organic cider. We'll see.... 

Riet, (aka Mum Hillege, Oma, Maria) and Sara

Mum in her element!

Frans, not sure if he's in his element.... I suspect he'd rather be swining a chain saw than pressing apples!

Sometimes the kitchen is home to a hive of activity. On this day besides peeling apples for cider, I was making sushi and Frans was gleaning the last bit of honey from a bucket of wax he has been resting.  

Friends have asked us many times if we miss the bustle of city life. We can say with confidence, NO. However, there are a few little treats that we do miss. One of mine is sushi. It's not difficult to make though, so I make it occasionally. Frans loves it and has even learned to eat it with the required wasabi paste and pickled ginger! It does mean that when we do go to Melbourne, we will treat ourselves with a visit to a sushi bar.

Not too many afternoons left where we can enjoy the changing light. The days are becoming shorter and cooler. We have started lighting the fire more often. A sure sign that winter is on the way...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Living off the land

Our neighbour Graham has a few sheep. Last week he had six slaughtered on his property. He offered us one. We jumped at the offer. What could be better than knowing where your food comes from?! In fact, the sheep graze in the paddock close to our big old shed. So paddock to plate is around 200m.

When we lived in the city we would walk into a supermarket or butcher and pick out a packet of meat wrapped in plastic, resting on a polystyrene tray. That's how you buy it in the city. You have no idea where the meat came from, or even what breed. Having the opportunity to buy some of our meat direct from a grower is a treat. Frans and I have tossed around the idea of keeping a few sheep, but our neighbour says 'no'. Too many hassles. Fences have to be sheep proof, and ours arn't. It's easier to pay for one when Graham does his twice yearly 'paddock shopping'.

A young butcher came to do the first part of the job. He slaughtered the sheep and they then got hung in a mobile cool room for a week. The cool room stayed on the property. A week later, the young fellow returned with his very competent butcher mate and a girlfriend. They brought their own tables, saw and knives. The three of them expertly cut up the sheep to our specifications. "What cuts do you want?" I was asked. Think quickly.. Ok. I'll have the hind legs as roasts. The shoulders deboned for stew, or in our case for a big potjie for Sara's 25th birthday coming up, chops, cutlets, ribs and mince. Done. Nala also did very well from this excersize. We minced up a heap of offcuts for her. You may be wondering how much this excersize cost us. Well, we paid Graham $150 for the lamb. Well, it was a bit larger than a lamb. Probably more like a two tooth. That's ok. Slow roasting will deliver a delicious meal. We ended up with around 15kgs of meat after all the fat and bones were removed. So it means we paid around $10 a kg for an organically grown lamb. And there was not a white polystyrene tray in sight. Not a bad deal I would say.

The two young butchers and the girlfriend. Our neighbours Graham and Lorraine. Frans and Graham watched from the side lines with a beer in hand while the young fellows wielded sharp knives! The cool room. Frans picking out which sheep we were to have.  And a 'blokes' truck. Complete with whip arial, spotlight and dog cage.

Once our sheep was cut up, we loaded the meat into a washing basket and headed home. Out came the Kenwood mincer and Frans started cutting up the 'bits' for mince. We minced some of the meat for ourselves and the offcuts for Nala. It was a late night. But a fulfilling one. Next time it will be a steer. Our own. We'll need to be very organised so we can make sausages, biltong and mince on the day of the cutting up.
More chickens
Some time ago a friend of Stephen offered us some chooks that belonged to the friend's grandfather. The grandfather was going to a nursing home and a new home was needed for the chickens. We were happy to take the chickens. So this past weekend we went to Melbourne and picked them up. Nala went with us to Melbourne and on the way home she had to share the back of the car with the chooks. When we got home, Frans and I tagged the newcomers so we could identify them from our original brood. There is no problem with identifying them at the moment. They are a mangy looking bunch. Half of them have missing feathers. They've obviously not had much attention the past few months. So we're hoping that a diet of good food and fresh greens will sort them out. We're not sure if they're still laying. Time will tell. If we don't get a rise in egg production in the next month, then we will need to consider which ones will become chicken soup!  

Nala and the new chooks. Frans tagging a new girl, one with a fair amount of skin showing! Now we have 11 new chooks. Here they are after we put them into the chicken annex. They rushed to the food and seemed at home in no time at all.

This week I bottled dried tomatoes. I have a small tomato bush growing randomly under the netting where some of the vegetable beds are. It self seeded from last season no doubt. I know I didn't plant it there. This bush has been amazing. I have picked many many mini romas from it. I decided I'd try drying some and bottling them in olive oil. I cut the tomatoes in half, sprinkled them with castor sugar, salt and pepper, then laid the halves cut side down on the drying trays. It took around 12 hours to dry the tomatoes to a leathery feel. I then heated some olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar in a pot then poured the hot mixture over the tomatoes. It seems like a lot of effort for two jars of end product. But I'm sure we're going to enjoy them!

And this was sunrise this morning. Proof that winter is on the way. A couple of months ago this would have been 5.30am. This was taken at 7.20am.

Have a happy week.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Summer days

When we first moved to Otway Fields, I sat down and made a list of all the vegetables and flowers I wanted to grow. The list was long, and probably a tad unrealistic. So I set about planting seeds and seedlings that would give us food first. Flowers took a back seat. The vegetable garden beds have taken priority. However, Frans did have one request. He wanted sunflowers. We created a long garden bed along the north facing wall of the old barn. We used the easy ‘cheat’ or ‘no dig’ method. First lay down a row of flattened cardboard boxes. Then drive the trailer to town and pick up a meter of three way soil. (Sand, compost and something else… I forget). Give the cardboard a good soaking with the hose and then shovel the soil onto the board. Give the soil another water and plant your seeds. Sit back and wait. I planted the sunflower seeds in early December when the ground was warm. It has taken a little while, but we now have a dancing row of beautiful sunflowers lining the old barn wall. It’s a welcoming sight when you come home and drive down the long drive. In the meantime, the cardboard has broken down and the earthworms have moved up through the cardboard layer and are now doing their job of keeping the garden bed healthy.
The bees are loving the flowers too.

The north facing wall of the old barn.
 Many years ago I was lucky enough to see one of Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings  at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Last year, Frans and I visited it together. This picture is of the painting we saw. Somehow these blooms always look happy.

An update on the paving project. It is 'almost' complete. Frans slotted the last brick into position last week. We've left the cement to settle. There is a little finishing off to do around the edges. This weekend we should be able to put a table and chairs onto the bricks. If the weather holds, we'll be enjoying a BBQ tomorrow afternoon.  

Why a fly net you ask? Well, some days the flies just won't leave you alone. We live in the country and there are cows around us. Say no more! The challenge is keeping the flies out of the house. I'm collecting plastic bottle tops to make a South African style door curtain. A bit like the one below. So if you don't live too far away from me, please save your plastic bottle tops. Any size. I'm not fussy. And it would be great if someone drinks milk with red tops. I don't have any of those yet!

I found this image on the net. Ref: Rosa Pomar


Some days we should not get out of bed. I think this is what Frans thought on Wednesday morning. He went to the chook shed to feed the chooks as he does every morning. One of the ducks had found a piece of string, who knows where, had swallowed one end and the other was dangling from its beak. Frans went to grab the string from the duck's bill and lost his footing. He fell backwards and put his elbow through the very dirty chook shed window pane. He administered some basic first aid to himself and then proceeded to drive himself to the emergency in Colac. I was in Melbourne and our neighbour wasn't home either.

The window Frans fell into.
A respectable scar!
After a few hours in hospital, Frans left with a newly stitched arm, internal and external stitches. He is a bit sore and tender. He won't be doing any digging or physical work around the farm for a few days. However, this little injury didn't stop him from climbing a 22ft ladder this morning to fix some loose sheeting on the old barn!

And if it's not bad enough having one injured person at home, I managed to get myself stung on Tuesday morning by something as I was watering the garden. We're not sure what it was. It could have been a wasp, hornet or enormous bull ant. Whatever it was, the sting felt like fire. The insect crawled up my pants leg to above my knee and stung away merrily. My leg swelled up to the size of a dinner plate. The area was red and hot. Huge big blisters formed on my leg. It was like a burn. It's been a few days and the site is still itchy and red. I'm not sure if there is anything that can be done to prevent some accidents or incidents. It's just a matter of soldiering on!

Last Saturday we drove down the winding road to Apollo Bay to the weekend market. We were hoping to sell some of our daffodil and earlicheer bulbs as well as some of our crafty bits and pieces. It was not the best weekend to be down near the sea. The wind howled and it was hot. Very hot. At 9am it was already in the 30's. Frans and I unpacked the car, then set up our table and stock. The wind whipped the table cloth about and hair accessories flew about the market. We looked at one another and decided we didn't need to be there. So we packed up in a few short minutes and took to the road. We headed down the Great Ocean Road. Driving in air conditioned comfort was far more enjoyable than battling the elements outside. We took a few detours down interesting country roads. On one of the roads driving towards the Cape Otway Lighthouse, we were lucky to see a number of koalas in the wild. We stopped numerous times to photograph these slothlike creatures. A day that was frustrating to start with turned out to be most pleasant.
Australian wildlife and scenery. Beautiful.

A quick produce update......

It's all about apples at the moment! Lots of them. Sara helped with the preserving last weekend. We're looking forward to homemade apple pies this winter! We filled a number of Fowler jars and heat treated them in the Vacola boiler.
Geoff's Geraniums. When we lived in Melbourne, Sara used to visit an elderly couple who lived around the corner from us. Geoff gave me some cuttings from his garden. I've managed to get the geraniums growing in our new garden. This week I picked a few of the flower stems. The red is incredibly vibrant. Lovely. This past week Sara and I visited Geoff and he gave me a few more plants that he has been nurturing in pots along the side of his delapadated little weatherboard cottage. Geoff is almost 95 now and his memory is fading. He says it's not as good as it was when he was 85! He had trouble remembering our names but he knew who we were once we'd been there for a while. 
Nala is getting old. She'll be 14 years old this July. We had to take her to the vet this week to get some medication for her. Hopefully we can keep her well for a while yet!

And lastly, here's an early morning pink sky that Frans captured early this week.

Have a wonderful week!