Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's all about GARLIC!

Our first market for the year! Birregurra. Our home base. We set up our stall bright and early last Sunday, displaying all the lovely garlic plaits we've been working on for a good week or so. We've been making jams and chutneys too. There is plenty of produce ready to be turned into something tasty at the moment! Not enough hours in the day! 
One of the nicest compliments from a customer was 'this stall looks like a piece of France'. Over the Summer, you'll find us at a few regional markets. Of course we'll be at the Birregurra Sunday Market (2nd Sunday of the month), the Forrest Australia Day Market as well as the Australia Day bash out at the Tarndwarncoort Homestead. From now till the end of the season we'll also be at the Torquay Cowrie Market. Come and say 'hi'!

Our garlic comes in all shapes and sizes, and these are reflected in our plaits. No two are alike. We have around 6 varieties this year. Some are bigger favourites than others. I don't like Glenlarge. It's a miserable bulb... small, pokey little cloves popping out from the sides of the main bulb. But the Italian Purple! Love it! It has taken me two seasons to get my plaits down pat. You have to love Youtube!
Before we even got to the market, we spent many hours in the old shed cleaning and working the bulbs. Old Nala found a comfortable spot right there amongst the garlic scraps! She was quite content being smothered by the dry leaves. Funny thing was, there were no flies around her!
There were however flies everywhere else! This is the down side of Summer! Whoever the person was that invented fly nets... take a bow! Here's Jayne cleaning garlic. It's not the cleanest job. Your eyes start to burn after a couple of hours and the dust gets up your nose! 
After the cleaning, the bulbs get a once over. Do I plait them, bundle them or make them a 'loose' bulb? 
The plaits are lovely. They add a little bit of the Mediterranean to any kitchen. Aesthetics aside, they're practical to have on hand. Simply snip the bulbs off the braid as you need them. Top down please... or your lovely braid will unravel!
Sara came home after we'd harvested the garlic. Here she is with her first plait... Don't worry my dear Sara, there's always next year to keep practising! 

DAIRY VISIT @ the Troughton Farm
Farming is hard work! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
On a Saturday afternoon, when most folks were kicking back with a few wines or coldies, we visited our nearby neighbours, Paul and WendyJane. They have a lovely herd of black and white dairy cows, plus a few odd ball colours thrown in here and there. These girls get milked twice a day. No days off. Wake up for the farmers is at an ungodly hour of around 4am. Really?!! I'm still in la la land. Cows don't wait. When they're ready... they're ready!
Farmer Paul

These girls below are waiting their turn! And they're very curious too.
Attaching the cups to the teats is a practised art. WendyJane has this technique in the bag. Or bucket...
Here the cows are leaving the milking shed once they're finished being milked. Sometimes they like to hang around and see what else is happening!
Then it was Sara's turn at attaching the cups. 
Once she'd been shown by WendyJane, she gave it a go on her own. Not too difficult.
Standing between the rows of cows can be hazardous.... there are plenty of body functions taking place at the same time as the cows being milked! Best spot is dead centre of the aisle!
Boo is the farm dog. He's a clever boy. He's an excellent guard dog, and his bark is definitely worse than his bite!
After the milking session, the excess milk gets fed to the calves. Yes, think about it for a minute... To get the cows to give milk, they need to have calves. The female calves are removed from the mothers and hand reared on left over milk. The male calves don't make it. They get sent to the abattoirs for dog meat. 
No matter the species... babies are always cute!

Just like our new chicks....
We were given an incubator by our friends Mark and Viv from Brisbane. We put 16 eggs in it and counted 21 days. Each day we turned the eggs three times (well, some days we forgot, and some days they got 5 turns, but they all evened out eventually) and we took the temperature to make sure we had the dial at the right spot. Much tweaking was made. Sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold. It didn't seem to matter much, as 21 days later, the eggs started cracking and funny wet looking little chicks emerged.
We left the hatchlings in the incubator for the first 24 hours, then we moved them to their new home. A cardboard box with a bright light!
There were a few cuddles to be had, and lots of clucking....

You would think that we would have been old hands at raising day old chicks and ducklings by now.... But we still made the mistake of leaving a dish with water that was slightly too deep in the box and we lost a chick by drowning. The best method of feeding them water is to fill a dish with stones and pouring the water between the stones. That way, the chicks can climb out and not get stuck in the dish. Of the original 16 eggs, we finally ended up with 10 healthy chicks. Cross fingers that most of them are hens.... Or we'll be eating lots of chook in a few weeks!

Last year for my birthday, I was given this wonderful canning pressure cooker by my good friend Michelle Steel from Brisbane. We gave it a good whirl with a big batch of apricots. We'll enjoy them with muesli and yoghurt and in crumbles. I'm hanging out for this year's apples... Lots of canning coming up.

The veggie garden is doing well. We are picking lots of herbs, spinach, beetroot, salad leaves and shallots. We're waiting for the carrots. But more importantly.. where are the tomatoes! I planted all my tomatoes on Grand Final Day. For those who have forgotten, that event is in September! I'm still to see a red tomato anywhere in the garden. Our season is very late this year. We're also just starting to pick our zucchinis, but still waiting for the eggplant and capsicums. We wait patiently...
The large white flowers in the bed above are carrot flowers. I'm letting them go to seed so I have my next supply of seeds.
The same story goes for the silver beet hanging untidily over the right bed edge and the dill flowers. Sometimes I get impatient and want to tidy up, but I know I'm compromising my seed stock if I do. Patience is definitely a game to be learned when growing food!
Nasturtiums. I love their bright colours. And they're a great addition to any salad. I throw in the flowers and the leaves. All edible and deliciously peppery.
Sadly, the peas came to an end a couple of weeks ago. We'd been enjoying them podded raw and thrown into our salads. I've collected the last few and they've gone into the freezer for a later date. A few stray broad beans made it into the mix too. Did I mention before how delicious Broad Bean soup is? I'll post a recipe next time!
Our egg supply has been a little light on for the past few weeks. Granny Pat discovered why. One of the chooks has made a nest in the centre of a Cyprus Pine near the bottom paddock gate. 
Mother chicken hops off her eggs occasionally to get a bite to eat, and then she returns for another session of 'sitting'.
We're not exactly sure when she started sitting on her eggs. We probably didn't miss her in the nightly count, and she's probably been in the tree for a while. We did have a wild thunder storm last week and we hope the eggs won't 'turn'. This can happen when there's a lot of loud thunder and lightning about. Don't ask me how.. but it's true. Exploding eggs... been there... smelt that!
We had a week of horrific temperatures. Four days straight of the mercury racing above 40 degrees. Thank goodness we have a pool. It may be old and not so pretty... but it was cold, clean and refreshing.
Poor Gus the Lab, found cool comfort in the leak beside one of our water tanks. He'd plop himself in the water puddle and stay there for a while.

If you're around the region on Australia Day, there is a great event happening at Tarndi. We'll be there with our tasty goodies!
And Andre' and Jayne will be taking our stall to the event in Forrest.
Have a wonderful long weekend. Enjoy you day wherever you may find yourself!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gearing up for a hot Summer - we think!

Just look at that sky! Some days the sunsets are so pretty, that we just have to stop and enjoy the moment. Our little cabin faces East. The orange coloured skies are a reflection of the sunset at the opposite end of the farm. It won't be too much longer now and we'll be able to start taking bookings for visitors to share our lovely views and all the experiences the Otways have to offer.
But before we get there, we have a little more work left to do. The digging for the pipes was done just before Christmas. It's a amazing how quickly a big and difficult job can be done with the right equipment. It only took a couple of days for Reece to dig the trenches and lay the pipes. 
The rain water that will collect on the cabin roof will be fed into a water tank and be used to top up the swimming pool in the hot weather. In a week or so a BIG hole will be dug to fit the septic tank and another trench will be dug across the driveway. Oh bliss... As an aside.... Granny Pat has a few lovely Irises that she's wanting to plant in the garden bed close to where the trenches will be laid. Her catch cry at the moment is "when is the plumber coming to fix the pipes?" 
I've mentioned before that I do not like shopping. Especially in busy, noisy shopping centres in the city. However, I do enjoy a browse at the local co-op. They have such interesting things there! Do you know what this is? 
The green thing with the orange teats is a very clever device used to feed baby calves. Next time you open the fridge door at your supermarket to pull out a $1 litre of milk, spare a thought for the cows that are milked twice a day to bring you your tea or coffee with milk, and all those yummy cheeses and yoghurts that you may enjoy.  Dairy cows need to have babies to keep them giving milk. When they calve, the female babies are removed from the mums and fed with these contraptions till they are old enough to be put on a special farm that will raise them to become dairy cows.  The mothers will be milked for some time till it's time to get them back in calf. What happens to the male calves you ask?? Well, that's the unpleasant fact of bringing you a glass of milk.... the male calves are taken to the slaughter house and turned into dog food, mostly. 
Our local co-op. Much more fun to explore than a regular shopping centre! 
This was our purchase for the day. A 1000 litre plastic tank to store water in for the fire season. I was rather chuffed to see that the original use for this tank was as wine storage! The co-op man was kind enough to hose the tank out, give it a good clean and load it onto our trailer. All for fifty bucks. Not bad.  
Spotted.... the security officer... staying cool in the shade.

And of course Christmas was fast approaching...
Our friend Katie came from the city to spend Christmas Eve with us. She had fun hanging bright silver baubles on the willow tree. 
What do girls do before Christmas Eve dinner? They paint their nails whilst drinking bubbles in the afternoon sun. Sara and Katie.  
Each Christmas Eve I prepare our family feast. It has become our tradition to stick with the favourites. So for our starter we always have this fabulous Smoked Salmon and Avocado Salsa. Frans does NOT like avo, but he'll eat this dish and I always need to make left overs for the next day!  Of course we have the usual ham (this year we tried a new glaze; rhubarb & ginger which was fabulous!), roast chicken stuffed with tarragon and of course the family favourite of potato bake. Extra dishes are also requested for those going home the next day. There's nothing like eating left over potato bake for the next 3 days along with the left over ham! 
Life can get rather busy on the farm. We don't have much time to sit down, put our feet up and just spend a few hours reading. So our present to ourselves this year was to have two days off. Totally. This is how I spent my down time... Under the willow tree with a good book! 
Two days off and it's back to work. The garlic is ready. All of it! Frans, our friend Richard and I, dug up the 3000 odd bulbs we'd planted all those months ago. 
It took us two days to pull the bulbs from the ground, dust them off, sort them and store them in the old shed. 
There's nothing automatic about planting or harvesting garlic. Every process is done by hand.  
This is not a bad way to spend a pleasant day in the sun. Only the flies are a constant challenge. Wearing a fly net is the only way to retain your sanity! 
It's all hands on deck when we're harvesting. Here's Granny Pat sorting the garlic into our categories. She created a new category. It's called 'piddly'! Yep, there are some small babies in the mix. But they'll be fine in stocks or our famous Worchestershire Sauce. Nothing will go to waste. Our aim is to keep developing our stock to all be fat and big!
We did put up our market marquee for shade later in the morning. What a difference that made! No point getting burnt.
And when we thought the day was done, well... there was berry picking to be done. Our blackberries are starting to ripen. The raspberries are still coming on beautifully.  
Finally... the boys relax with a well earned drink. A good day's work. Here are our good mate Richard (from the city) and Frans. Nala obviously found the work exhausting too... 
The farm next door has had it's hay cut and baled. Round bales are scattered around the paddocks. It is such a picture.  
This view is easy on the eye....
Till next time, have a wonderful week.