Saturday, October 27, 2012

A lot can happen in a week

Our sitting duck has hatched 8 eggs! The cracking began last Sunday morning. When Frans went into the chook pen to feed the chooks, the first eggs had hatched. Mother duck is very protective over her little ones and kept them well covered for most of the day. Sara managed to lift her wing to see what the yellow fluff ball count was.
To think that this shell had a little duck growing in it for 5 weeks! Nature is amazing. 
Frans removed the eggs that did not hatch after a day or so. Not much of the broken shells remained. They were eaten by the mother duck and some of the chickens that were brave enough to get close to the little ones. 
It was thrilling to see one of the little chicks emerging from it's shell. 
And a day later, they're waddling around the secure area. We learned our lesson last time and Frans put a baking tray (that's where it went!) with stones in it down for the little ducks to drink from. They can't fall in, although they still climb all over their drinking water and food. They get fed a special meal for the first few weeks.  
A pity this pic is a little out of focus, but I couldn't resist putting it in today's blog. This little chick is soo cute! 
And 5 days later, Mamma duck has taken her little ones on their first big adventure into the orchard area. They burried their little beaks in the grass, all the time keeping an eye on Mum. When she moved, they did. They kept together and didn't venture far from one another. 

We have a second duck sitting on another clutch of eggs. They won't be ready to hatch for another two or three weeks. The weather is much warmer compared to the cold winter when the first lot of eggs were being hatched. Only two out of 20 made it to full time. And both of those little ducks are now history. One drowned on day two, and the other was taken by a fox a couple of weeks ago. We hope that we can get the ducklings we have now to adult status. Part of our philosophy of living on the farm is to grow our own food. That includes raising animals to eat. It may sound cruel, but I'd rather know that our ducks, chickens and cows are raised with respect and in good conditions, than eat something from a supermarket shelf wrapped in foam and plastic.
Frans and I went on a very interesting farm excursion with the local land care group. Our trip took us to three sites close to the Grampians. It was a long day. Up at 5am and home past nine. We visited a test site for canola. That's the field on the top left pic in the collage below. It is not a GM crop. They're trialling growing a winter crop in this area. We then went to an organic farm that grows flax seed. The farm is called Waltanna Farms. They also press their own oil and make a number of products from the seeds. I bought some meal and cracked seeds to try in my bread. It was impressive to see a small farm producing quality organic products. The bottom picture is at the farm. This is their compost pile! Good, rich smelling stuff! Bottom right is a drive-by photo of the bright yellow canola fields we passed. Last stop was at a sheep farm. The owner of the farm was very switched on and his sheep paddocks were green and lush. Farming is a science. I think that city folks would be amazed at the knowlege that farmers have and need to know to produce food for us to eat.
Remember apple season, way back in March? Well, Frans juiced a big bucket of apples. I had the brew sitting under my writing table for a while. I finally bottled it.  

And so... will it be wine? Will it be cider? Will it be vinegar? We will wait and see! 
With summer fast approaching, we're spending more time in the yard. Some days we dig, turn, weed and plant, with only a few stops along the way. A special treat is to stop for lunch and enjoy some of our produce. This was our lunch one day this week: broad beans! Yes! zucchini pickles and our own salad veggies. Add some local goat cheese, a few olives and a little Italian salami and you have a feast! All that was missing here was the glass of wine. But... we had work to do! 
Our very first Artichoke. Grown from a little stem that my friend Kathryn Hailey sent to me from Canberra. How to prepare it? Lots of flicking through recipe books and trawling the internet. I finally found a recipe that sounded pretty easy. I needed to make this as an entree for four people to share. I made Roman Style Artichokes. I adjusted the ingredient quantities as I only had one choke. I also popped a cup of podded broad beans into the saucy wine and cooked them along with the artickokes. Four of us sat around the baking dish dunked fresh bread in the sauce and ate the artichokes one leaf at a time, with juices running down our arms. Along with a glass of bubbles it was simply delicious! I can't wait for a few more fruits to grow and be ready! 
 Little birds. Love them. But not when they sit on our car mirrors looking at themselves and poop on the doors. They also make nests. Lots of them, in the rafters of the carport. I went to use my market basket that hangs up near the back door earlier this week. And this is what I found inside. A perfectly created nest! What opportunistic these feathered creatures are!
This a the 'chilling' corner just off the kitchen. The windows allow for gazing towards the Otways, watching the weather roll accross the sky. A nice spot to sit and just 'be'. 
Did I mention that we've been busy these past weeks? There has been a lot to do in the yard. Lots of weeding for a start! Why not weed as they grow you may ask? Well... winter. Rain. Lots of it. Not always easy to get outside. The warmer weather allows us to get outdoors and get working. Here Frans is pulling creeping violets from an area under the netting where we have some fruit trees and three long raised vegetable beds. Nala keeps us company wherever we my be in the yard! Se doesn't mind lying on the dirt either! 
A few days later and all the weeds are gone and I've mulched the entire area. Even the strawberries have a layer of clean mulch around them so that the red strawberries (in a few weeks!) will rest on the straw and not the ground. We bought a HUGE bale of barley straw for $25. It was a 500kg block of solid mulch. Getting it off the trailer once we got it home was rather interesting. We had to use a second car to pull the bale from the trailer. It was amusing to say the least! 
And I'm leaving you this week with a photo of two very expressive faces waiting at the back door to be let into the back yard. Roxy and Nala.
Have a happy week!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Birregurra Festival

As you know by now, we attended the Birregurra Festival last weekend. Our second outing at this event selling a few bits and pieces from our own stand. Saturday morning rolled on looking bleak and miserable. It was definitely jumper and umbrella weather. We drove to Birre and got there just before 8am. The usual chaos of finding your allocated spot ensued. We were to be located at the top end of the town in the middle of the main street. Yes, the middle. Our spot was marked on the road with a big "H"! So we set to the job of getting the marquee up and putting out our wares.
The weather during the day varied from sideways rain showers to just miserable. It was surprising how many people still turned up at the festival. It was encouraging! 
The damp weather was dealt with quite ingeniously by the 'hood down' car enthusiasts! Seriously..... wouldn't you just put the roof back up? 
Our stand was located just opposite these quaint little shops. 
There was all sorts of entertainment. This fellow turns up each festival on his Penny Farthing. So cool! I'm not sure if blue plastic helmets would have been the standard issue back in the days..... 
Wonderful music. People dancing in the street.  
Strong men! 
And men who got dressed in the dark.... 
And so to our stand. This was Saturday's set up. Frans wanted to try something different for Sunday. We still need to work on those table cloths. I'm thinking of making fitted cloths. Colour suggestions???  
Our woven vine wreaths sold like hot cakes! Who would have thought! 
First day set up. 
Sara doing a good job as shop keeper!  
Second day set up. Tables running along each side of the marquee. 
A collage of our wares. 
The Birregurra Festival is not complete without Prue Campbell's scones! Prue made around 30 dozen over the two days! She taught me how to make the easiest and tastiest scones ever. 
Here's the recipe:
Self raising flour
Pinch of salt
Pouring cream
Before you begin, place the baking tray into the oven. Turn the oven onto high. (around 220deg)
About 2 cups of flour into a bowl
Add a pinch of salt
Pour in about a 300mls of cream
Use a knife and cut the cream into the flour until a stiff dough forms.
Use your hands and turn the blob onto a bench.
Gently bring all the dough together and pat it so you have a slab of dough about 3 to 4cm high
Using a scone cutter, cut your scones.
Remove the tray from the oven (use gloves!) and run a little butter over the hot tray.
Then quickly place the scones onto the tray.
Pop them into the oven for around 12 to 15 mins
Serve with jam and cream!
Our friend John taking the opportunity to get some good shots on his camera.
Sara and Stephen spotted leaving a shop with a very lovely advent calendar that Sara is keen on! I don't think Stephen can see the use in it.... And yes, it was cold and he was wearing his birthday hat! 
The boys having a coffee and Frans making last minute labels for extra wreaths. Croci (Stephen's dad) Stephen (admiring his nails), Mario (Stephen's god father) and Frans.  
Sara looking beautiful.
Frans and Ami looking well!
And then there's the side story of Roxy! She is Stephen's dog and they brought her down for the weekend. We left to set up the stand on Saturday morning early and Roxy stayed behind on the farm. Stephen was sure she would not wander. Lo and behold, around 11am, Stephen goes for a walk around the Festival and spots a dog tied up with an orange rope to a pole. The dog looks just like Roxy. Hang on.... it IS Roxy! Stephen was totally confused. The lady standing with Roxy turned out to be a neigbour who lives across the road from us. Roxy had been wandering down the dirt road towards the main road. She and her husband had picked Roxy up and taken her home. They rang the council on the tag and figured Roxy was a Melbourne dog and had to belong to our farm. So they came by, left a note on the door and took her to the festival. They figured we'd be there. And they were right. Only in the country! Roxy spent the rest of the day lazing in the shade. She was tired from her big adventure on the farm!
We came home after the festival and I have unpacked and re-sorted all the stock. Everything is ready to go again. We'll do another market in December, closer to Christmas. Till then, it's back to working in the yard!
Have a great weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2012

And then there were two!

We knew we should expect two more calves around October, so when Frans and I drove to town last week Thursday, we certainly did not expect to find that Eileen (the angus) had dropped a little one right there in the paddock close to the road side fence. When we drive along the fence we always check the tree line, see that the cows are doing ok etc. We stopped when we saw Eileen eating what looked like a piece of long rag. Frans climbed the fence (carefully) and there it was! Calf number two on the ground. The mum was eating the afterbirth. Totally gross, but that's what they do. We had missed the birth by a few minutes. We were lucky enough to witness the baby calf standing up and taking it's first wobbly steps. 
Minutes old
 Here goes... up up up!
Finding out which way is the good stuff!
And a sad report.... this is what is left of our baby duck! Damn fox!!
We've come to learn that farm life is not always happy and cheerful. There are times when nature is cruel and we just have to deal with it.

We have the promise of more ducklings to come.... The duck is sitting on a huge clutch of eggs. It seems rather strange the way a duck decides how many eggs to lay and when to start sitting. She lays one egg a day. Then after about 3 weeks when she thinks there are enough eggs, she then parks herself on the eggs and there she remains for the next five weeks!
There were too many eggs for this duck to sit on, so Frans marked 20 eggs and removed the rest. After a few days of laying and us removing the new eggs, the duck started sitting. 20 eggs is a good number for a duck to manage. If there are too many then they don't all get equal coverage.
Summer is coming.... yay! So we're preparing veggie beds. Frans constructed a bean trellis for me in our newest raised bed. I will plant the beans in a week or so. Our weather has been up and down. Warm then cold. This week is another cold week.

This bed has been sewn with a number of carrot and beetroot varieties. I've also sewn fennel, bok choy and raddichio seeds. You can see the rows marked by little ice cream sticks. The beans will go on the very left side.
His wire knot. Neat.
Her wire knot. Messy.
Lovely cabbages. I have learned that one needs to be quick with these babies. They bolt!

Remember those big pumpkins I got from our neighbour Wendy? Well, here is Frans cutting the biggest one up! I did suggest he use the chain saw, but aparently that's not a good idea. Something about oil splashing on the pumpkin not being a good thing....

A lot of force was required to slice through this pumpkin! So much so, that half landed on the floor, with pips scattered everywhere!
Only one way to cut through this!
As Paul Hogan said... "this is a knife"!
One pumpkin, 8kgs! I cut the pieces up in different sizes for different dishes. Quiche, soup, roasts. They have all gone into the freezer. I did not pre-cook the pumpkin. It does get a little watery as there is a lot of water in the flesh. However, I roast the pieces at a high heat and the water evaporates and the pieces brown nicely. Using the frozen pumpkin in soups is not a problem.

Vermin control. Buggers love eating my turnips!
We have been busy the past two weeks fixing our large netted area. When we first put up the netting last year, we thought we'd done a pretty good job getting it up! We didn't secure the bottom though. This meant that clever birds still managed to get into the area, and grass and weeds grew through the net. So Frans secured barge boards all around the bottom of the large area. We then rolled the bottom edge of the netting around long pieces of wood and then screwed them into the barge boards. The result is a neat finish which allows us, I mean Frans, to mow right to the edge. Viola!
Before and after
While we were busy with this area, Frans constructed a new compost station inside the netted area. Soooo much better! Now I don't have to push the wheelburrow across the garden to the compost heap near the big shed. He's made it so that I can slide the wood slats up and down at the front. As the pile builds up, I add another slat. Once the heap on the left has been stewing for a while, we then tip it over to the box on the right. A new pile gets started again on the left while the one on the right keeps stewing.  
This view is from the outside of the netted area.
There is now a groovy door too! I don't have to climb under the netting anymore or peg it up!
And it's getting close! We're gearing up this week for the festival next weekend. We are having a small stall again. This week I will be finishing off some sewing projects for the stand. We will also do a mock set up to make sure everything has a place. If you're up for a lovely day in the country, then point your car towards the West and come and say 'hello'. Our stand will have a quilted sign at the front saying 'Otway Fields'.
Till next time....