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!