Sunday, June 30, 2013

Winter Solstice means longer days at last!

The night of the 21st of June. Shortest day of the year. Two nights before the Super Moon. An almost cloudless sky. This pic was taken around 10pm. The sky was sprinkled with thousands of stars. Just beautiful!
And in the morning, a thick fog rolled in and shrouded the farm in a still grey cloud.  
We've had some beautiful crispy winter's days the past week. I've been digging and pulling out tired old roses and plants that have been in the garden beds for years. I've not done anything to the beds yet and have left them to travel through the seasons so I could see what was worth keeping or getting rid of. I've come to the conclusion that I want to start with my own clean slate. Not some else's haphazard planting plan. My main driving factor is that I'm growing the flowers for Sara and Stephen's wedding in October. I've pruned the roses and have now planted hundreds of bulbs that will hopefully be blooming by the end of October. 
I started with a garden bed that is roughly 4m x 6m. I cleared out almost everything that was there, except for the Kaffir Lime and the Bay tree that I planted. I'll have to keep these two trees under control. I don't want the Bay tree to get enormous. 
This garden bed was full of these onion weeds. I think they're actually called Oxalis. They're a pain. It's incredibly difficult to get rid of them. 
I dug these weeds out in big clumps the sifted them. They will not be going on the compost. They'll be going to the tip next week! 
Finally after a few days of clearing, digging and sifting, this first bed is done. A visit to the nursery and a few hours of planting followed. I've planted a variety of perennials, herbs and annuals. Catmint, Lavender, Seaside Daisies, Cineraria, Larkspur, Stock, Foxgloves and Flanders Poppies. There are also a couple of hundred Freesias and Ranunculi in there somewhere! I'm looking forward to taking the 'after' shot in a few months! There were some daffodil bulbs hiding among the mess, and they're already poking their stems through the ground.
First bed done, so I'm moving onto the next one. This one is big. Really big! There are about 10 rose bushes in this bed that I'm probably going to cull to around 4. I'll put in some new ones to replace the ones I pull out. 
The ornamental grape vine in front of the North facing lounge room window is now completely bare. The winter sun now streams through the windows and warms the room. Frans doesn't like plants that grow up posts or close to the building. He was determined to get rid of any creeping thing. I convinced him to wait. Let's see what happens throughout the seasons. The vines along the North side of the house are brilliant energy controllers. The leaves keep the sun out in Summer, and in Winter the sun shines through the empty canes. 
I'm working my way down the North side of the house. All the beds will be tidied up and new perennials, roses, bulbs and annuals planted.

Our young friend Michael came down from Melbourne again this week to give Frans a hand. We have visible progress. The ensuite framework to the cabin is complete. Frans has also made the hole for the kitchenette window on the left. Now he's starting the front deck. The white old window will be replaced with a large sliding door that will lead onto the front deck. 
A view from the South side of the cabin below.
Before Michael left, he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote out a two page list of what Frans needs to do next. It will be a couple of weeks before he's back, so Frans needs to keep going.
There are always distractions when you're busy. I was digging (see previous pics!) when Frans called me to come and see what he'd found while working on the cabin. He went to get his camera, and for a good 20 minutes or so he proceeded to snap away to get the perfect spider pic. My job was to tease the thing with a stick to make it stand up and bare it's fangs. I think I did ok... Usually I would not get this close!
4 eyes?
It wasn't really that big. Still... I wouldn't like to get bitten by this one! That's my gloved hand.  

And when the outside jobs are done, I try and do something constructive in the evenings. This week I've been making little rainbow hats. I had a request from Frans' little niece, and I've been trying out different sizes and styles. Sadly, the two I posted to her last week were both too small. So it's back to the drawing board to start another one. This will be number 4. 

And I'm leaving you with a photo of one inquisitive chook! This girl constantly flies over the fence and makes her way to the front garden. She comes to the door and looks in expectantly. I'm sure she knows this is where the chook bucket with delicious veggie scraps comes from! Yes, she's moulting. She looks rather scraggy.
Have a great week!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Big Birthday Weekend... but no-one is counting!

Birthdays come and go. And at some point we stop counting. I was excited for the weekend though, as we were getting a visit from my brother and his wife from QLD and friends were coming from Melbourne. We were going to spend the weekend working in the garden, working on the cabin, eating and having fun. 

But before everyone arrived, there were jobs to be done. The pumpkins had to be picked. Not much of a harvest, considering the real estate these vines took up in the veggie patch! However, these pumpkins will keep us going throughout winter. We'll eat soup, make quiche, roast them and make scones. 
Being winter, it has been a weekly pleasure to make a pot of soup, using all the vegetables available in the garden. I boiled up a ham hock to make jelly for a different recipe. The meaty bits were then cooked with the veggies. Potatoes, carrot, pumpkin, turnip, kale, spinach, leeks, parsley and a sprig of winter savoury. All these delicious veggies have been growing from the end of summer. Now we're enjoying them.

First a couple of leeks are chopped up and sweated till they're soft. Then the rest of the vegetables are chopped and thrown into the pot. Water is added to cover everything and a few stock cubes tossed in for extra flavour. 
I like to use a heavy cast iron pot. Mine is a Le Crueset. It has a heavy base and holds the heat well. I pop the pot onto the wood stove and soon the smell of delicious soup fills the kitchen.

This is slow food at its best. All we needed was a chunky slice of home made bread!

Friday morning and action began on the cabin. Our young chippy friend Michael put up the floor frame for the new ensuite a few weeks ago. This weekend it was the walls that were going up. Of course it has to be a miserable day. Fine, cold rainy drizzle. The boys were not going to let the weather stop them. There was work to be done! Market awnings come in handy.
Frans and Michael getting started on cutting bits of wood while Lionel looks on and gives them suggestions!
Mid morning and the frame is almost done.

Meanwhile, while the one lot concentrated on the cabin, Lionel got planting. I was lucky to receive from him and Adele three fruit trees. We're adding to our orchard and needed to put in some orange trees. Also, an almond tree I planted last year didn't make it, so that was also being replaced. The best part of this birthday present was that Lionel planted them too for me. He also transplanted a lemon and two lime trees that I'd been growing in pots. So almost instantly, our orchard increased by 6 trees! We paced the paddock numerous times to work out the best placement for the trees. Lionel likes straight lines, so the trees has to line up perfectly. We have room for another 4 trees. I'll dig the holes in the next week or so and plant another batch of trees. This time we'll add a quince, two figs and perhaps a mandarine.
This is the replacement almond getting a pat down!
Grow baby grow!
Plenty of mulch was used around the new trees. Not one to be shy of a bit of hard work, Lynnie got her hands dirty and shovelled mulch too.
Thanks guys! So you'll notice in this photo that the grass is a bit long... Lionel is a neat freak, and he wasn't satisfied that everything looked as good as it could. So he hopped onto the ride on mower and mowed the paddock, and the house lawn, and anywhere else he could!
Oh the thrill of toys... big boys toys!

Meanwhile back at the cabin... Walls were going up!
And by the end of the day the outside shell was complete.
Michael left Frans with a list of jobs to do to carry on with the job. Frans has tackled the next stage with gusto. Building manuals and library books are scattered all over the kitchen table as he confirms that the rafters and roof fixtures he's making are correct. 
This city chic is very at home on the farm. Here is Lynnie feeding Frans' cows in the afternoon.
And here she is feeding my chooks in the morning!
I hate my picture being taken, but here's one of me using my lovely new tea cup that my lovely friend Viv sent to me from Brisbane. Nothing like drinking tea from a proper cup! Thanks Viv xx
A weekend away from the city isn't complete without a walk down a long country road in the late afternoon.
And a perfect ending to a hard working weekend is a big fire! Plus a glass of lovely red wine!

Happy Winter! It's here at last!

Monday, June 3, 2013

May Days

Every picture tells a story, so I'm going to let the pictures do the talking this post. There are a lot! So grab a cup of tea and come along and see what we've been getting up to the past couple of weeks. We have been busy!
As a follow on to our last update, we're still mucking about with a tree! This tree next to the cabin we are renovating looks oh so pretty. But... the branches that lean over the roof don't look safe. They could stay where they are for years, or they could come down on top of what will soon to be a new roof in the next big storm. So Frans started cutting the branches with a very long saw that he purchased on eBay. It wasn't very effective. Lesson.. you get what you pay for! Our lovely neighbour Paul from the dairy around the corner spotted Frans struggling along with the tree and promptly offered his assistance. First long discussions were held to work out the best method of attack!
The tree was then 'scarfed' at the appropriate spots. Frans got right up to the spots that needed cutting. This little machine is called a 'tele handler'. Very useful indeed.

 Up up up..... 
The biggest branch took the most effort. All hands on deck for the cutting down of this one. I'm in the 4x4, branch tied to the front of the vehicle. I'm in our neighbour's paddock. Reversing.. keeping the line taught as Frans cuts... I keep pulling backwards... hoping I don't run out of paddock! There's a fence coming up behind me very quickly... 
The branch came down just where it was supposed to. Then it was on to the next one. This time from a different angle. 
A bit more to the right Paul....
This time the rope was lashed around the electrical pole. While Frans cut from the opposite side of the tree, three adults and a bunch of kids hung on the rope to keep everything just 'so'. Down the branch came with a crack. New floor frame completed a week or so before still in tact. Phew!

A branch may not look that big when it's up in the air, but down on the ground it takes up a lot of space! The cleanup took Frans the best part of a week. We have a pile of wood for winter burning in a year or so. 

And then we were up early a couple of Monday mornings ago. Off to sell the ducks at the market. Dark and cold. First we had to catch them and put them into the cages (borrowed from our neighbour) on the back of the trailer.
Once at the market, we had to get our birds into the cages. It is a very old fashioned system. You pay for the hire of your cage. Around $2. So we put about 5 ducks in each cage. They get sold in lots generally. Once the auction is over, you stand in line to collect your money. 
The bird market also provides an opportunity to buy stuff. All sorts of stuff! Frans was very happy to find two near as new 44 gallon drums. They are always useful on a farm. They are great to store chicken food as the mice can't get into them. Or they can be used in the fire season. They are filled with water and placed around the property. This way spot fires can be dealt with quickly. 
The fellow below is the one we bought the drums from. We also purchased a bag of day old bread for the chooks for $2.50. He was also selling eggs and a rabbit! I'm not sure if the bunny was a pet for sale or for eating! Can you see it next to the bag of bread on the right?
I struck up a conversation with an Italian gentleman named Joseph. He was selling the cider barrel. I had my eye on it. Thought I'd pick it up after we sold our ducks. He also had a big bucket of broad bean seeds. They were on my list too! Sadly, he was gone by the time we were done. Next time!
You could find all sorts of things being sold out of the backs of trucks and car boots. This bloke was selling tin foil, rubber gloves and wait for it.... condoms! The mind boggles.
A quick stop at the 'ladies'. What a clever 'mirror'. Another use for those old cds! 
 Back in the market, I was most tempted.....Not! These gnomes went under the hammer before the birds! Really? What next! 
Look at this chook. She looks really fat! 
But wait... look what's hiding under her wings....
 She was keeping 10 little chicks warm. The owner of the chook was hoping she'd fetch around $15. Bargain we thought! Our neighbour was there too and he decided to bid on her. He set his limit at around $60. Well, the happy farmer went home with $80! Our neighbour let her go. Pity our ducks didn't do as well....
This billy goat was also waiting his turn to be sold. He was impressive in many ways. His claws were incredibly long. His horns long and curly. And oh, the smell!! He was letting off some incredible pheromones. 
 Billy Goat Gruff was positioned right next to the 'collect your money' spot. The queue of sellers had to stand in the noxious vapour! Some were seen with scarves tied around their faces to block out smell!
Home we went. Fewer ducks to feed.

Then after our early morning start to the market, we got up early again the following morning. This time we were getting up close and personal with a herd of dairy cows. We have another dairy close to us. In fact we can see it from our farm. We were invited to come and see the girls in action! 
Let me say, I have a new respect for our dairy farmers. The hours they keep are ungodly! It's cold, wet and dark! We arrived around a quarter to six. The stars were still out! Half the herd was already done with milking. By 8am the session was done. Then a big clean down of the dairy and a hot breakfast followed. The work day is spent looking after the cows, feeding baby calves, fixing fences... doing stuff that farmers do. Then around 4pm it all starts again. I'm not surprised that the farmers fall into bed at 8pm! 
Note the wonder dog! He has a very important job. His boss whistles quietly to him and he rounds up another few cows to enter the rotary platform. 
Here I am trying my had at milking. Well, not really. Just having a little tug on a warm and dry teat.  
After the milking, our dairy friend pulls a big milk bottle into the calving area. The babies get their milk nice and warm! They're a little eager.... running after the milk machine. Those pink things are the teats that they feed from. The giant big green tank is where the milk is stored.
Seeing the milking of cows first hand makes me appreciate that 2 litre jug of milk we buy at the supermarket! 

Celtic Festival
Last weekend we had a stall at the annual event held in Birregurra. The festival takes place in the grounds of the quaint bluestone Anglican church situated on the hill.  
Sara and Stephen will be walking through these doors in October to get married! 
A corner of our stand. 
We were entertained by a group of Morris dancers. I can't say it's an activity that I'm dying to try! 

Right after the festival, I drove to Melbourne to be with Sara. She was having a stall at the Camberwell Market. My favourite market in Melbourne! We were there early. Very early. It was still dark as we unpacked all her stuff. We had a good morning. The rain held off just long enough. She went home with a much lighter little car! 

And then it was time to plant the garlic. Before we got down and dirty, Frans gave the beds a once over with a rotary hoe. Then it was simply a case of 'head down, bum up' and we planted three and a half thousand cloves. 

Frans made a new awl to plant the cloves. It worked a treat. He moved down the centre of the beds on his knees. I preferred to bend over at the waist and plant hunched over. We were exhausted at the end of the day, but pleased with our efforts.
 And lastly, I've been invited to be part of a core group of artists to exhibit and sell our work in a small local art gallery. We had the 'grand opening' this weekend. It was a success and we had lots of locals pop in to wish us well. I had my face in the local paper last week too.  
Till next time, stay warm.