Friday, March 22, 2013

Markets and RAIN!

 The month of March is proving to be manic! We have five country markets that we're setting our little stall up at. The first market was at Birregurra a couple of weeks ago. It was an incredibly HOT day! So hot, that the stall holders started packing up at around 1.30pm. The heat was too much for regular customers, and the weekend visitors stayed away, preferring to visit the beach no doubt! We got home and jumped into the pool! Then this past Saturday we had the Kana Festival in Colac. We were hoping for a good turn out of visitors. Of course I must remind you that we have had no rain in the district for months. It has been VERY dry. We set up our stall, crossed our fingers and watched heavy black clouds race across the Colac sky, coming directly at us!  

Our range of homemade farm preserves has grown considerably since we started creating jams, conserves, chutneys and pickles. We added Anzac biscuits as well as toffee apples to the table.

Then the rain came down. Sideways! Festival crowds disappeared into shops along the main street or huddled under tent awnings of market stalls. We had to rearrange our tables to keep all our stuff from getting wet. Once the rain passed, people returned to the festival area. A few more squalls of rain saw the afternoon out. We packed up around 4pm and were home by five. A washed out event! 
We sold quite a few of our toffee apples. I picked the apples on Friday morning, made them in the afternoon and sold them on Saturday. They were FRESH! We have photo evidence that they were a hit.
These two gorgeous little girls are Freya (left) and her big sister, Willow. They are our friends' John and Norma's two granddaughters who were visiting for the weekend. By all accounts they loved their toffee apples. They got home from the festival, soaked from the rain, but that didn't deter their enjoyment of gnawing on the hard toffee. Freya managed to get toffee in her eyebrows, and Willow got it in her hair at the BACK of her head! Norma said the apples were great entertainment value! 


 This week has seen plenty of veggies ready to be picked. Most mornings I'll bring a basket inside filled with a variety of squash, cucumbers, herbs, tomatoes and spring onions. The fuchsia gladioli was rescued where it had fallen over. It is now standing straight and tall in a vase in the kitchen. Amazing colour!

(now please excuse the big space below.... Blogger is doing strange things to me today and I cannot get rid of this space! Technology and me don't always work well together!)

 The olive tree we planted last year is starting to bear fruit. We want to plant a row of olives along our southern fence line. We'll do that once the weather is a bit cooler.
When we first moved to the farm, we planted two truffle oaks that we'd been given as goodbye presents from friends in the city. We had a minor disaster with the trees when the cows ate the tops off them when we'd let them graze the top paddock late last year. The cows had ignored the electric tape around the trees! We didn't think the trees would recover, but they have! So in perhaps 5 years from now we may be rewarded with a black truffle or two! 
I'm popping this pic into the blog today just because I like it! I was watering the geraniums along the old shed wall earlier this week. I love the endless view toward the Otways. Nala is my constant companion when I'm out in the garden. 
I've shown a photo of Spike our rooster before I know, but he deserves a second viewing! He looks after his girls. We have always known that it's good for a flock to have a rooster to keep the girls happy. Yesterday Frans witnessed first hand that he takes his job as protector seriously. It's wood pile shifting time, and Frans was re-stacking the dry wood, moving it from under the trees to the wood shed. Winter is coming! (sounds like "Game of Thrones"!) While he was working away, the chooks were running around the yard, scratching and chuckling away, just being chooks. Then suddenly, Spike gave an unusual crow. All the chooks froze. They stopped what they were doing and stood dead still. They played 'statues' for a few minutes. Spike had obviously decided there was danger around, perhaps a fox, hawk or snake. He must have given them a secret signal because they went along their merry way after a few minutes. Clever Spike! 
 Last week we tested some of the apples to see if they're ready for harvest. The trees are still netted. But we lifted a corner up and let the chickens have a little scratch. They didn't waste any time at all! Getting them out was another story.
This photo is our HAPPY photo of the week! It rained!! Yes! We had over 10mm's yesterday. Our first proper rain in months. We are now a little more at ease as far as the rain is concerned. We have passed St Patricks Day. Now it can rain. And it did!  
Not only did it rain, but the wind blew fiercely! We had gusts of over 100 kms. Today Frans and I were working at the back of his shed, unblocking the filter on a big water tank. We heard a shout from our neighbour's farm. Graham called "Ami, can Frans give me a hand for a few minutes!". Hand signals and shouts in return. Frans ran over to the old shed, hopped into the car and drove down to Graham's farm. Graham was stuck on his roof! A tree had blown down yesterday in the wind and landed on his shed roof. He'd climbed up and was sawing the tree up with chain saw. Part of the tree knocked his ladder, leaving him stranded. Old farmers are amazing. They don't let old age or dicky knees get them down. Graham is 67, and still climbing on his shed roof! 

And as I type away, it is getting dark and Frans is outside cutting up another fallen tree, another casualty from yesterday's wind. Wood. And to quote Frans "a man can never have enough wood"!

If you're still with me (yes, it's been a long post...) I'm going to leave you with this little treat. 
Meet Tilly. She's Sara and Stephen's new puppy. She graduated puppy school this week! 
I can assure you, that she does not sit still for long!

Have a wonderful weekend.
We'll be at the Dean's Marsh Heritage Festival on Sunday. If you happen to be there, come and say 'hi'.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Taranaki Farm Visit and a busy Autumn on Otway Fields

Where did last week go?! The summer is finally coming to an end! We have had  the longest, hottest summer in years. We've just survived 10 consecutive days where the temps were 32 degrees and above every day. This has meant that our watering routines have had to be stepped up to keep our vegetables and fruit hydrated. It's a time consuming task, but enjoyable non the less. This week Frans has switched our toilets over to flush with dam water instead of tank water. We have plenty of rain water but it requires moving from back up storage tanks and it takes time and planning to move. We look skywards every day and hope that we'll get rain soon! I want to sow my autumn seeds, but it has been too hot. We finally had a cool change yesterday, so TODAY is the day when I get into the garden and hopefully sow the beginnings of our winter leafy and root veggies.
The long hot summer has meant that our paddocks are just not able to provide the feed we need for our cows (and visiting bull). Frans is hand feeding his beloved cows twice a day. They get impatient and start calling him if he's a little late in the morning.
The big bull allows Frans to give him a little head scratch. I'm not sure if this would be something Frans would do if that electric tape wasn't between him and the bull!
Feeding the cows is a shared task. Nala is not afraid of the cows and they have come to accept her too. She keeps an eye on the proceedings as Frans puts out the hay. Special attention needs to be drawn to the fashion statement that Farmer Frans is parading. Colour matching is not essential...
I love the autumn harvest. It is a very busy time in the garden and in the kitchen! In the veggie patch there are plenty of wonderful carrots and beetroot. I planted a few varieties of carrots, mostly heirloom. The colours are amazing! Purple, red, yellow and white. Apparently all carrots used to be purple. The colour has been changed to orange over the last two hundred years by careful selection. I have too much to use immediately, so I have blanched a lot of carrots and frozen them for winter soups and roasts.
The zucchinis still keep coming! I've picked over 10 kilograms so far. So I've shredded them in my groovy new Kitchen Aid processor. I was so lucky to receive this piece of indispensable kitchen equipment from our friends Mark and Viv who live in Brisbane. It was a gift to commemorate us getting our commercial kitchen certificate. What generosity! I have used this lovely machine almost every day. It makes big tasks such as slicing onions a breeze. In the past few weeks I've make batches of relish that have all had some part of the process pass through the blades. I highly recommend one of these machines for anyone who loves cooking or preserving!
Zucchinis are blitzed in seconds. I sit the shredded veg in a colander on the sink for an hour or so to let any excess water drain from the flesh. Then I bag approximately two cups into zip lock bags and freeze. I'll use the frozen  zucchini in slices, fritters and to thicken hearty winter soups.
And the carrots? Well I peeled them, chopped them, then blanched them. I cut some into small chunks and left some larger. I'll use the small pieces in soups and the larger pieces with roasts. The freezer is getting well stocked to take us through winter.

Last Saturday Frans, Sara, Stephen and myself went to visit Taranaki Farm near Woodend, about 3 hours drive from us. We were interested to see what Ben Falloon is doing on his property using chickens to improve his pastures. Well, that is one of the exciting aspects of his operation. He is following the philosophy of Joel Salatin of Polyface Inc in America.
The old shed below has the farm name painted across it. Love it!
The latest addition to the Taranaki Farm enterprise is this fabulous A frame chicken house. It sits in a paddock and the chickens are free to range within an electric fence. The whole structure can be moved slightly every day. This is more permanent to the mobile chook tractors that are used in the fields.
Ben Falloon is an articulate, interesting, informative person and generous with his information. He is passionate about his farm and it is obvious that his method is producing results. His pastures are rich and thick. Here Ben is using his 4 wheeler as an impromptu stage. He's a long way from his previous life as an IT professional in Sydney! I know what he prefers! Stephen and Sara are listening intently!
Here is a side view of the new chicken palace, which is almost complete. All the timber was milled and cut on the farm using a Lucas Mill. Note the chicken electric fencing. This is good enough to keep the foxes out too. The chickens don't get put away at night. This is where they sleep. 
A little chat with Ben after the tour.
These chicken feeders are a new trial. They seem to be working. The curved top lip prevents the chooks from messing the food too much. Obviously this system is only good in dry weather! Ben has other plans for these feeders. They will be hung under the eaves of his mobile chook tractors so they don't get rained on. 
The inside of the mobile chook tractor. The tractor is moved every day to follow the cattle. The chickens scratch around and spread the cow manure and leave their own deposits on the ground. This combination results in the ground being given an injection of biological goodness! The results are pastures and fields that are healthy and lush. A side benefit is the collection of hundreds of eggs every day! The slatted floor of the tractor also allows for extra fertilisation wherever the tractor is positioned. 
The farm also has free range pigs that are pretty happy wallowing in their mud pools. 
Sara and Stephen at Taranaki Farm
We had a great day at Taranaki. An innovative initiative is that Taranaki Farm is taking it's produce to the city via buying clubs across Melbourne. City folk will be able to order via the farm website and have their free range eggs, quality beef and pork delivered to them. See their website for details. Ben is running regular farm tours. Well worth it if you live in Melbourne.

A treat after the farm visite was to stop off in Daylesford for a late lunch, then drive home.

I have to share this photo with you. It's a pomegranate! My first one! The little bush is laden with these little rose hip looking fruits. I'm not sure how long it will take for them to grow to full size or if these will even get there. I always thought that this fruit is a middle eastern delight. I'll be very happy if we can grow them!
And last but not least, here's a photograph of our stall at last Sunday's market in Birregurra. It was incredibly hot! We were happy to get home and jump into the pool. We will be at the Kana Festival this coming Saturday in Colac. The weather prediction is for rain. Half of me wants it to rain as we need it, but the other half says 'just wait till Sunday!'
This week I made Tomato Kasundi. It is delicious. We'll have a huge variety of preserves and relishes this week. If I can get up early enough on Saturday morning, I'll pick a few bunches of rhubarb, bag up some beautiful fresh tomatoes and pick some sunflowers to add to our organically grown offerings.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 4, 2013


A couple of weeks ago my brother Lionel and his wife Adele came to visit us from Qld. When there are blokes around, Frans uses the opportunity to do stuff that requires man power! We have an enormous stand of Cyprus Pine trees beside our chook shed. These form the boundary between us and our neighbours. The problem with these trees is that they are too big. The large limbs come tumbling down quite often. The last branch that came down rested on the 'solitary confinement cage' for at least a month. Frans and Lionel removed it and then decided to reduce future risk and remove another large limb that would possibly fall down sometime in the future.
I will let the pictures tell the story... 
Advice from below.  

Here's an idea... Let's support the tree limb with the ladder...
Oops... That didn't go too well! 
John's ladder... doesn't look too good. And the poor sick chook in the cage probably had a heart attack from the noise as the branch cracked and thumped it's way down! 
Oh dear... 
Frans' note to self: "aluminium ladders aren't that strong"!

But, I have to say, these men don't let one little mishap get them down. Where there are trees to conquer, they will not back down. Challenge number two: Remove a dead limb from the tree in the top paddock before the entire tree falls over.
First you anchor the limb with a rope to the car to guide the falling tree branch AWAY from the electric fence. 
Then you scoot up the ladder (a new replacement after a trip to town!) with a chain saw... carefully I might add! 
You cut the dead branch and it falls just where it was supposed to fall. No damage to the fence. Half an hour later and there's a big new pile of fire wood cut up and ready, after it has dried for a year.

After a big day in the yard, there's nothing like gathering around a fire for a feed of Potjie. (a South African stew cooked in a cast iron pot over a slow fire) We had ox tail mixed with some osso bucco cuts which was delicious. Our own beef of course. Lionel took this pic below just as the shadows were growing longer.
Once the potjie was done and we'd eaten, we sat around the fire and enjoyed the summer evening. 

It has been the hottest and driest summer in 10 years. This is our driveway. We have had 11 mm's since the beginning of December. We watch the weather forecasts and get excited when there seems to be rain about, but so far it just passes us by. Local farmers say that any rain now is not really good. The grass seeds will start sprouting and then burn up in the heat over the next few days. (this week we have predicted temperatures of above 30 for the entire week). The earliest farmers like the Autumn rains is St Patrick's Day. So we only have to wait another two weeks before we can get excited about the rainy season again.

Till next time... have a great week.