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!

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