Saturday, April 27, 2013

Autumn is here at last!

I love our old shed. It sits facing the little valley in front of our farm, pointing towards the rising sun. If I had my way, I'd renovate it to within an inch of its rustic shed life and create a wonderful gathering space, complete with big open fire, reading gallery or library and a spare room for guests. But sadly, it is old. Very old. It has too many holes in the roof and walls, and it would take too many dollars to fix. That's what Frans tells me anyway! So now we use it for storing stuff. Oh, and for parties! Not too many rolls of hay fit in it, but Frans likes to keep it dry. The only problem with keeping the hay in the old shed, is that it has to be moved to where the cows feast. And that takes a little effort!
Usually it is my job to help Frans roll the bales, but when there are visitors about, well, they get into the action too! Here is Frans and his Brother-in-law Chris getting a serious arm workout! The bale gets rolled down the driveway, pushed and pulled to turn right past the house and Frans' workshop/shed, through the back gate, past the chook house and washing line and finally to the shelter of the Cypress Pines. There is usually a fair amount of stopping to point the bale in the right direction! Pushing it along the driveway is fine. It's when we get the bale into the chook and duck area that it becomes exciting. The bale squishes over duck and chook poo, and by the time we finally launch the bale with a fair amount of heaving into its spot, our hands are usually covered in muck. Gloves are wonderful inventions. We just have to remember to use them!
Depending on how energetic Farmer Frans feels on any given day, he either feeds his girls and one boy across the fence (my preferred method as I like to keep a barrier of sorts between me and any enthusiastic hungry cows!) or wheels a few burrow loads of hay into the paddock. The advantage of feeding them in the paddock is that the seeds from the hay get spread about and hopefully grow into new grass. That's assuming we get any rain! 
Feeding the cows is not a chore at all. They come when they are called. It's fascinating to observe them as they munch away on the feed. They have a particular standing order. Big old Eileen on the far right is the queen cow. She's a bit stroppy. Young Thursday on the far left usually likes to stay right out of the old girl's way. The two babies usually act as separators between the two black mothers. This morning when I was feeding the girls, I was amused to see the neighbour's white cow standing on the other side of the fence looking longingly at the hay I was lobbing over the electric fence. And the chickens love feeding time too. They peck at the seeds and scratch around. The cows aren't bothered by them at all. 
This past summer I've left the poly tunnel to its own devices. Consequently there were self seeded tomato plants that reached right up to the top of the domed roof. It was jungle like! I decided I would clean it out and get it prepped to grow some winter veggies in it. But before I start, I've opened the door and let the ducks and chickens in to clean it up for me. It's been a couple of weeks now and we've gone from an overgrown jungle to this! There's no mistaking that chooks and ducks will eat anything if you let them. They have saved me a huge amount of work and at the same time have left their droppings on the beds. I will turn the beds over, dig in all that wonderful nitrogen and leave the beds for a couple of weeks before I start planting.
Speaking of things fowl... below is a photo I took this morning of our baby ducks that hatched 7 weeks ago. They have grown so quickly! They are eating Frans out of house and home so they will be going to the market in the next couple of weeks. We will despatch two or three for our own freezer and sell the rest. They are lovely to observe. They eat snails and slugs. BUT... they stink! They poop everywhere and are make an awful mess. Anyone want a duck?!
In between cooking up a storm in the kitchen, preserving our summer harvest, I've managed to sow some seeds for winter and next spring. Here are some radishes and mixed salad leaves. It's great to be able to duck down to the veggie patch in the afternoon to pick dinner supplies. Food miles at their shortest! 
Some of the winter veg I've planted. I've never grown Warrigal Greens. They're apparently a lot like spinach. I love turnips, so have planted quite a few rows! Nadine Abensur in her book The Crank's Bible has a fabulous recipe for 'stoved roots'. It is one of our favourite winter mid week meals.  
We know it is Autumn as the quinces are ready! They are a strange fruit. Knobbly and furry. Very tart! However, cooked up and made into a smooth jam or a darker paste, they make any cheese platter come to life! 
I made a huge batch of Quince Jam this week. I picked the last of the zucchinis and made more bread and butter pickles. 
Last week I mentioned that we are now selling our products on Farmhouse Direct. We have had a great response. Below are some of the orders I packed during the week!  
 I'll leave you this week with a photograph of the magnificent ornamental grape vine that grows on the North East corner of our house. It does a wonderful job of giving the house shade during the hot summer, and soon the leaves will fall. We'll then have the winter sun streaming through the lounge room windows, warming the room. We'll prune the vine around July and I'll use the pruned canes to make baskets and wreaths. What a useful plant!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Big Boys Toys!

Where have the past three weeks gone? We've been flat out. 

We have some exciting news!
You can now find our preserves and other exciting creations at:

Farmhouse Direct is an on line farmers market, open 24/7. It showcases some of the country's best produce. For us the challenge has always been how to reach a broader market. We believe we will be able to share our preserves with customers around the country. I've spent the past week uploading data and Frans has been taking photos of our products. 

Check out our page HERE:

Please feel free to share our Farmhouse Direct link!
We've also set up a Facebook page for Otway Fields. You can follow our crazy adventures on a more casual basis. Plus, you get to make comments on what we're doing! We'll share what we're growing, cooking, making and farm life in general.

We have been busy with a number of projects. The work on the cabin is in limbo as we wait for a few more details to be confirmed. In the mean time Frans and our neighbour Graham moved the old water tank to a new resting place at the back of the house. The moving of a tank is chicken feed when you have a bit of rope, a plank and some good old fashioned common sense. First the tank was lashed onto the forks of the tractor.
Frans then guided Graham through the yard, past the new shed, through the gate (watch the post!) and on past the chook house. 
It would probably have been a good idea to take the washing off the line before the tractor and tank kicked up a cloud of dust as they bumped past! 
The photo above shows a part of the back yard, or if you want to be fancy, the orchard. The ground is bone dry. The chickens scratch around and make lovely holes anywhere they can. Frans has a plan brewing where he's going to make a mobile chicken tractor to follow the cows around the paddock. It's something we've been talking about for a while. Hopefully by Spring we'll have a new chook system in place. The backyard can then be 'prettied up' and we won't get  frustrated with the holes the chickens make!

As you may know, we planted our first garlic crop last year. We want to plant more this season. To do this we needed to dig another garlic bed. So Graham to the rescue. (What a dream neighbour he is!) He came over with his trusty old tractor and harrowed a big long bed for us. We carefully worked out the siting of the bed. Had to be East/West. A bit of squinting into the sun, and we all agreed on the direction the bed had to be. 
This little job took about 20 minutes. If we had done it ourselves it would have taken a week! 
Below Frans is pacing out the bed. 30m long by 3 meters wide. 
Graham then drove his tractor back to his place, swapped the bits at the business end of the tractor and came back to create two nice raised beds.  
All that was left was for Frans to flatten, neaten and make holes in the tops and for me to follow with a hose. We sprinkled some chook poo onto the beds and we've been watering the beds every few days to get some good biology happening in the soil. We'll be ready to plant in a few more weeks. 
And just beside the new garlic bed we've planted another 9 olive trees. In time they'll provide a break between our fence and our the neighbours. 
One of the things we've learned since we came to live in the country, is that good pasture doesn't just happen. Farmers are scientists, biologists and eco specialists when it comes to their land. Feeding cows so they can be milked is a huge endeavour. Not only do the cows need feeding, but so does the soil. With the correct inputs! We had our soil tested and we decided we will add a good dose of lime to our paddocks this year. So early on Monday morning, the co-op man in his big shiny piece of farm equipment turned up to spray lime dust all over the farm. 
He took off in a cloud of choking dust and headed down to the far corner of the farm.
He spread the lime all around and headed back for the top gate. Ah, notice the wood pile on the right of the picture? Well, we're just waiting for the fire season to come to an official end and we'll be having another 'opera in the paddock' evening.  
A rather tight squeeze and the big spreader made it back out of the gate.
We're hoping the weather will give us a bit of rain to allow the lime to soak into the ground. In the mean time, Frans is still feeding his cows twice a day by hand. They love him!  
We've had very little rain over summer. It's been the driest summer since records began for our area. This is the channel that usually funnels water into our dam.  
And we've come to the end of our apple season! We have picked buckets full! This year we're storing a few boxes. We wrapped the good apples individually and packed them in apple boxes we got from the supermarket. We'll store them in the shed. They will keep for a good few months. This will enable us to keep using our own organically grown produce in some of our preserves. 
Our Worcestershire Sauce is made from these apples! It is delicious! If you've never tried home made W. Sauce, then you must give it a go. You'll be converted. It took Frans 26 years to be convinced that this stuff is great on fried eggs and toast. Now he has it all the time!
The sign of a good home made Worcestershire Sauce is a good layer of sediment resting at the bottom of the bottle. 
I've been picking cucumbers every few days. There are only so many we can eat, so I've been pickling the rest. Sweet pickles, and Dill pickles. I'm looking forward to trying them out after their one month rest in the pickling brine! 

Now this has been a very long post! That's what happens when I don't put something up for a couple of weeks! My apologies!

I'll leave you with a photo of the newest farm additions. We have acquired 9 baby chicks. They came from Melbourne where they were hatched by incubator at a kindi. The children got to see the magic of chicks hatching, and we got to keep the chicks! We're hoping that some of these will be roosters.... (that way we can add some free range chook to the freezer!) 
Have a very happy week!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Let the fun begin! Renovating the cabin starts...

At last, this past week we have started working on the little cabin, or old logger's hut as it was originally used as. It was moved from the farm across the road from us many years ago. The original owners of this property were loggers. After months of planning and gaining all the relevant planning and building permits, we finally started the work. Frans is going to be doing most of the renovation himself, with expert help from friends and a future son-in-law! Of course I will be there to hold the hammers, pass nails and make tea and sandwiches!
This is the 'before' pic. The water tank on the left had to go. 

Our first task was going to be to dig the holes for the posts that will support the new little deck and the bathroom extension. Frans booked the bob cat 'Dingo' for last Wednesday morning and we were mentally prepared for the task ahead. On Sunday evening he suddenly realised that before we could dig any holes, we'd have to move the old water tank on the East side of the hut. That was Monday's job. He had to empty the tank first which seemed such a waste of precious water, but it had to be done. The water was spread over the garden which soaked up the much needed moisture. 
It was then time to move the tank. Frans lashed ropes and straps around the tank and pulled it onto two pieces of wood. This was so that we can get Graham to lift the tank later with his tractor and move it to wherever we decide to move it to. One concern was that the original spot would be a snug spot for snakes, so as Frans carefully removed the old planks, I kept a keen eye out for any Mr Blakes. Fortunately there were none!
Getting the ropes attached to the tank. 
No snakes beneath the planks that the tank was resting on! All the external boards and spouting will be removed. A new French door will replace the window, and a small covered verandah will be built where the water tank stood. After the tank was successfully moved Frans measured out where the holes were to be dug. The following morning we drove into town to pick up the little digger. It was then just a case of lining up the giant screwdriver and start drilling. We were planning to get the holes done and do some work around the yard while we had the digger, but after taking a full hour to do the first hole we knew we were being rather ambitious or optimistic!  
Frans dug the holes, I acted as 'builder's apprentice' while Nala took her role of site manager very seriously. 
The holes have to be 600mm deep. The ground was rock hard. Frans spent a good part of the day on his hands and knees scooping the dirt from the holes. 
Nala's water bowl was just the right size to do the scooping! 
By 2pm we had done 5 holes. Only 4 to go!
Besides plenty of hands and knees work, Frans needed to break up the hard clay at the bottom of the holes with a heavy crow bar. By the time we were digging the holes on the East side of the cabin, the wind was blowing a gale and we were being coated in dust. It was our last hot day of Summer, 32 degrees. 
Tree roots needed specific attention!
4pm. Last four holes done and we're done and dusted!
We had half an hour to spare before we needed to return the bob cat to town, so Frans dug a few shallower holes along to fence line where we want to plant some olive trees.

And then it was Easter! Happy belated Easter if you've stayed with me this far!
We had a busy weekend. Two markets, one on Friday and one on Sunday. I did manage to bake a batch of hot cross buns. However, the Easter Bunny forgot to come to the farm on Sunday morning. Lucky for us, we were invited to our neighbours across the road last night and their parting gift to us was a big delicious chocolate bunny each! 

The weather was kind to us this weekend. We didn't get rained on at either of our markets.  
We were situated beside the CWA stall yesterday. Do you like their sign? Prue Campbell (seated behind the table on the right) and I put it together.   
New to the stall this week was Worcestershire Sauce, Quince Jam and Quince Jelly. The Worcestershire Sauce sold like hot cakes! We took 15 bottles to the market and came home with none. The Anzac biscuits too were excellent sellers. Our Friday market saw us run out of some of our jams and relishes. So on Saturday I cooked up a storm to replenish some of our stocks.
We shared some of our delicious Quince Paste last night with our neighbours. A wedge of creamy blue was eaten with smears of paste. Fabulous! A good bottle of red wine completed the taste sensation!

Around the garden this past week:

We've been picking apples! Lots of them. Look at this monster! 
Today we're picking and storing apples. We hope to keep them well into Winter.
This is a passionfruit flower. The bees are loving the sweet nectar. 
At last! Some of my eggplant bushes are producing fruit almost ready for the picking. I'm already planning the menu for later this week when we'll have family come for a visit. I hope to serve 'Melanzane Parmigiana" with a roasted rack of lamb from the lamb we bought from our neighbour. Local food. Zero food miles! That's our kind of meal. 
I plant sunflowers for three reasons. 1. Frans loves them. 2. The bees love the flowers. 3. The chooks love the seeds. And they look so happy dancing in the sun!
Have a wonderful week!