Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Spring

Lots has been happening around here lately, and this morning I'm sitting at the kitchen table with my cuppa as the sun peeps over the horizon, laptop at the ready, determined to catch up with you.
Maintaining a large garden, caring for animals, baking, bee-keeping, and the never ending house domestics, there is always plenty to do around here, but I admit I do like to be busy, so there it is.
With the arrival of spring and days that are no longer chilly, the grass (loosely referred to as lawn) around the house is growing at an alarming rate and needs mowing every ten days or so. I wish the same could be said for the hay paddock which seems to have stopped growing altogether. At this rate there will be no hay making, but we continue to hope it will keep pushing upwards as we have all of this month to wait for some last minute growth. Perhaps some sunshine on it will push it along, provided we get a few showers of rain too.
With the warmer days we're drinking more kombucha instead of an afternoon cuppa. I've given away a couple of SCOBY's to beginner kombucha makers lately and have referred them to my old blog post for instructions on how to make it.
I hadn't  looked at that post for some time, and I found it needed updating, so if you're just getting into making your own kombucha you might find it helpful.

Our freezers are re-stocked with lamb after a processing morning just over a week ago.

A friend brought one of his lambs to learn from Brian the skill of butchering. There is nothing like the satisfaction of raising our meat from birth to plate on our own piece of land. With this new skill, our friend Craig has achieved one step closer to his own food security and self sustainable farming to feed his family.

It was warm enough to open a couple of our bee hives to clean up the frames for the flowering season that is upon us now.

The bees in one of the hives had made a frame of honey under the lid which had to be removed, before adding a super (box) to allow them more space to breed and store honey. Very carefully we sliced off the honeycomb into strips and made up some jars of honey with honeycomb. A rare opportunity to let our buyers sample this product as we are often asked if we sell honeycomb; our answer is always no. We choose not to destroy their wax  foundation frames  when we are extracting honey from the hives. It takes a lot of energy, pollen and nectar, to build replacement wax foundations, and we would rather they use that energy to make honey.

These few jars of Honey with Honeycomb disappeared very quickly from the Farmgate stall.
This week the weather has turned to winter again, with some welcome rain and cooler temperatures so there was no bee work, but we have many more hives to open and perform maintenance checks  as soon as we get some warmer days.

 The beekeeping workshops will begin again next month on  Sunday October 28th, and this one is already booked out.
If you're keen to attend any of our workshops for this coming bee season let us know so we can book you in.
The next workshop will be on Sunday November 25th. The cost of $100 includes morning tea, lunch and beverages and is a full day course from 9:00am - 5:00pm. Numbers of participants are limited to 10 people to allow hands on participation and interaction.
Gosh, this season has come around so fast, and I'm caught slightly on the hop so we shall be working some nights to catch up. Orders are already coming in for equipment purchases and soon there will be swarms to collect as well as extracting honey from all of the hives.
Our Pure Raw Honey sales continue strongly as more controversy rages over imported honey coming into the country and containing fake honey substitutes. I'm glad it has come to the notice of the general public now, as it's something we've suspected for a long time but could not say anything about it until there was firm evidence.
Buy local, support your local farmers and apiarists. Nothing tastes as good as locally produced anyway.
There's mandarine marmalade to make, sourdough loaves to mix, a patch of grass to mow, and Kelpies to walk/run..... before lunch!
And now I'm behind again!!
Thanks for dropping by.
Cheers,
Sally XX




Thursday, 30 August 2018

Finding Gratitude in the Everyday



It's been trying to rain all morning, and cripes, don't we need it! So I hung the washing out on the line and before I could finish pegging the last pairs of knickers, down it came.
Good..!
The wet washing can hang there for days if that's what it takes.

 It's one of those kind of days when it's a bit warm for a jumper but a bit too cold to shed it completely. It was all very well until I was caught by a customer to the Farmgate stall while I was out there replenishing stock this morning. She looked at me askance whilst remaining polite, and it wasn't until she had made her purchases and driven away that I realised I may have looked slightly more weird than usual.

Even Trevor gave me a sideways glance! ;-)
The Texel rams, Bert and Ernie, have spent a week here in one of our small paddocks near the house, to eat the grass down. Trevor has the role of companion sheep, a gentleman's gentleman, if you will, so it was lovely to have chats and chin scratches with him each day.

Dear Trevor is unrecognizable from the tiny waif lamb that landed in my kitchen a year ago. Back then I promised myself, and the boss farmer, that  he would live a long and gentle life here but only if he would keep his side of the deal, and try his hardest to survive.
His merino wool is of high quality, so he more than pays his keep, which has made it easier to convince the boss farmer to keep him.

 
This is what he looked like then, and here is the story of Trevor 

My view from the kitchen door this morning shows the blossoms in full bloom. Soon our view of the horizon where we watch the sun poke it's way over the hills each morning will be covered by the greenery of the fruit trees and these ornamental pears.  The green leaves of the Glory vine will create more natural shade, so the harsh dry and heat of summer will be a little easier to bear.

Today's sourdough loaves were so enthusiastic they burst out of their crusts. That's the thing with natural wild yeast, you can never predict exactly how the finished product will end up.
I made apologies to one of the buyers, and charged her less than the usual rate. An hour later I received a message from her.
"I'll pay extra for split crust any time. Best loaf I've ever had, reminded me of home."  (USA)
Gosh, that made my day.
Aren't people wonderful?

Well, the wind is howling and my washing is probably across at the neighbour's paddock by now.

I hope you're also the recipient of a lovely word or two of encouragement today.  It certainly makes each day special doesn't it? Or if you're spending the day alone, I hope you can find joy in the simple things, and gratitude for the day.

Cheers and thanks for dropping in.
Sally XX


 


Thursday, 9 August 2018

Dogs

 
 Soda had her visit to the vet last month and came home feeling a bit groggy. We refused the Elizabethan Collar or 'the cone of shame' opting instead for doggy dress ups to prevent her access to her spey (desexed) wound.  One of my old tee-shirts redesigned for the purpose with a few stitches here and there, and some elastic. Thankfully it's winter time, and she was comfortable wearing it for a week.
 "Keep her quiet" said the vet!   The words Kelpie and quiet don't belong in the same conversation. She slept inside for the first two nights but then, as she was too disruptive well enough, she resumed her night time sleeps in her comfy kennel wearing her oilskin jacket over the top.
We have no desire to bring any more puppies into the world. I definitely could not part with any pups knowing they would be going to farms where, presumably,  their living conditions would not be as comfortable and cosseted as they are here.

 
 Kelpies have this habit of crossing their front feet when lying in this position. It's the cutest darn thing!
 
 Soda, Alan, Meg. My constant companions.
 
I'm not sure if this green grass was from good fortune or just good management on Brian's part. He took the punt and direct sowed some mixed pasture seed in some of our paddocks after the first bit of rain in April. It turned out to be the right decision, and although we have had little rain since, it's the dew and light showers that's making it grow.

 Here's that Kelpie trait again. Meg is so elegant and petite, we suspect she was a princess in a past life who performed such great acts of generosity and kindness, she reincarnated as our (slightly pampered) princess.

Early this week Soda got busy and re-potted some plants for me.
What could I say? It was already done when I found her sleeping peacefully on the grass after all that hard work. I think she may have realised that this wasn't quite how I wanted it to look as she watched me sweep up the dirt, re-pot the plants and repair the damage. So far, she hasn't attempted to help out in this part of the garden again.
What merriment is going on your garden? It's almost time to get the seed packets out and start planning the spring planting.
Cheers for now,
Mind how you go,
Sally XX





Thursday, 2 August 2018

Chooks and Cows


Our chicken supply in the freezers is running low, so Brian has separated the Cornish Game meat bird hens with their own rooster.
When collecting eggs for incubating, we need to know which eggs are the ones we want to breed. We will incubate a few eggs from the layers too, (Australorps, and crossbreeds of Sussex and Cornish Game) for restocking purposes, but most of the  incubator space will be filled with eggs from the big breasted and meaty Cornish Game.  Referred to as both Cornish or Indian Game which is confusing, they are distinctive looking birds with the thickest legs I've ever seen in any of the breeds.
Brian usually does a couple of incubations during spring to supply enough of our own chicken meat to feed us for the following year.
 
The mish mash breeds of laying hens in the foreground, with the Cornish Game birds in the yard to the rear. Both yards have a shed which the poultry are locked in every night,  and both have runs that allow access to separate paddocks for foraging during the day.

I wasn't going to mention the shortage of rain or the unseasonable warm spring days that we've had lately, but it's difficult not to.

We are mighty grateful that we have a bit of green pasture due to small rains in April and enough heavy dew to keep things alive.  Our 'made on farm' bio-dynamic sprays and natural fertilisers have played a positive part in keeping our soils in the correct condition to hold moisture to promote growth, but oh how dry the ground has become over the past week. If we don't get a few mls of rain in the next couple of days all this green grass will dry up and die.  This would be the first time we didn't have green grass through until November. The driest year we have ever seen since long before we lived here.
If we could cut a few bales of hay in September/October from our small crop we'd be thankful, but it's not looking very likely.   Hay is going to be very difficult to source this year, and we hope our small stockpile from last year will get us through.

 Our cows have access to hay every day. Some days they don't eat much of it because there's plenty of green feed in the paddocks, but they need dry hay for bulk every day to keep their rumen (and four stomachs) healthy and operating properly.

 So as not to waste hay, we use the tractor to bring a large bale from the storage shed on the other side of the property. Once the bale is opened it stays dry in this small shed that is close to the hay rack yards where the cows come to eat every day. Their main water trough is near the hay rack too, and our cows are used to coming to the same place each day so we can keep a regular check on them.
It's manageable for me to carry hay with the pitchfork from the little shed, a few steps to throw the hay over the fence to the hay rack.
The milking dairy is also attached to this main yard, for ease of walking the cows in to be milked.

When we're heading for a dry year and we know that feed will be scarce, wise farm managers and stock owners will always sell or butcher livestock (de-stock) and manage our breeding programs by choosing not to mate up our ewes. We know we won't have enough feed to keep our animals in top condition and we don't wait for our sheep and cows to become so thin and poorly that they are good for nothing... not to mention the discomfort to the animals.
We sold off some of our cows last year while prices were still high, to decrease the burden on our land. But then when our rainfall was below average this year during the months of April and May, we made the big decision to further down size our cattle numbers.
It was a sad day when we took Mulga Bill to market last month, but when a breeder out-bid the butchers we felt a small sense of relief to know he would be living happily for another few years.
Hard decisions have to be made and smart farmers will always under-stock rather than to keep more stock than their land can hold.
After we have shorn the sheep in  October, we will also need to sort out some of the older ewes and cut our numbers back, so some will be butchered for our use (mutton, sausages and mince) and some will go to market.  If we are required to buy hay, it won't be viable to feed anything except our best breeding animals. The rest will have to go.
Our young steer that we bought, hoping to make a profit after growing him on and re-selling him, will be valued at much less now that we're going into drought, so we will have him butchered early for our own consumption; paddock feed and hay will be too scarce to grow him for a longer period.  Our house cows, Lavender and Poppy will be the only ones staying with us at this rate.
We constantly keep an eye on our cows and measure their condition score. I am pedantic about their welfare and will not tolerate animals becoming thin.
When I see skinny cows on other properties my chest tightens!! It distresses me.  It's our duty as farmers, or backyard cow owners,  to keep them in good condition, especially if we expect them to raise a calf and produce milk for our consumption as well.
There are many reasons why a cow may be skinny, but usually the problem can be treated with the correct diet, access to minerals, good hay and proper management.

  Here is a link to Liz at Eight Acres' excellent post about cattle condition scoring. Her very informative eBook "Our Experience with House Cows"  is excellent value and available to buy here

We have to accept that livestock market prices will be a bit lower during times of drought; this is the cycle of farming life. We will occasionally have our bad years but we also have our really good ones. We are a resilient lot and we will get through.

My thoughts are with the drought stricken farmers in South Australia and in the north of our country, as we saw first hand the dryness as we passed through in May and June this year.
It has been interesting to watch on ABC TV  "The 7:30 Report" this week, stories of how some of the large landowners are managing and surviving this drought. Their grit and resilience is both admirable and extremely moving, and they are managing their stock in the best way they can with the resources they have. They have been through it all before and they will get through this one too.

The only thing that will help us is rain.






Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Bye July - Citrus Glut.

July speaks of all things citrus, and crikey... I sure have given it a good crack to get as much of it bottled, preserved, marmaladed and dried.

 Our grapefruit tree, two lemon trees and mandarin tree are loaded with fruit, which of course must not be wasted, so a few batches of marmalade have been made on top of the wood stove.

 Someone brought me a big box of their home grown  Navel oranges, which have gone into cakes, puddings, casseroles and lots of batches of marmalade.
As I was preserving a couple of jars of lemons in salt I did a trial jar of oranges salted and preserved in the same way. I'll let you know in a few weeks how they are.

 If you're not a huge fan of marmalade, let me tell you that it's the secret ingredient to the best tasting fruit cakes, orange cakes, puddings, casseroles, baked chicken, pork and so many dishes. I fill a whole shelf in the preserves cupboard with jars of marmalade every year and a dollop is generally used in some way on most days.
 Oh and if you are a fan we cannot forget the humble marmalade on sourdough toast for breakfast or morning smoko.

Orange marmalade.
Grapefruit marmalade.
If you have some citrus, here's how I make marmalade - quick and easy;
Any citrus may be used, or a combination. Use a grater to remove the zest and keep aside.
With a sharp knife cut off both ends of the fruit and then cut off all the white pith and discard.
Quarter the remaining fruit, remove pips and weigh out 500g using your kitchen scales.
Then put into the food processor and pulse until chopped but not mushy. (Or slice by hand if you don't have access to a food processor)
Place this chopped fruit into a large pan,
add grated zest
1.5 litres of water
1.5 kgs of plain white sugar

Stir while bringing slowly to the boil and then simmer for an hour or maybe two, depending if you need to turn it down whilst going off to feed the chickens, milk the cow or whatever it is that you do in your day.
Stir it frequently to prevent sticking to the bottom and burning.
After it starts to colour up (a little bit darker), do the wrinkle test.
*Take out a spoonful onto a shallow dish and place in the freezer. After five minutes ake it out of the freezer, hold it to the light and move the spoon across gently. If the surface of the marmalade wrinkles slightly, it's time to take it off and put into jars.

Dried lemon zest will come in handy later in the year when I have no lemons available. Grate with the cheese grater and dry overnight in the oven that has been used to cook something else, but is turned off. I put it on a tray in the bottom warmer oven of the wood stove where it dries overnight.

My favourite  Citrus and vinegar cleaner  is always on the go too, the fragrance is amazing.
 
I'm always looking for new ways to preserve this citrus goodness so if you have any other uses to share I'd love to hear them.

And just like that....July has whooshed by.

Cheers,
Sally XX









Thursday, 26 July 2018

Sourdough Baking part 2 - From bricks to airy loaves


Yesterday we made our sourdough sponge which is ready to mix into a loaf after we've passed the float test.
We started at around 9am, but we didn't spend much time actually prepping the sponge, it just quietly did its thing, and now at around 6pm we're ready to mix our loaf.

Scrape all of the sponge into a large bowl. No need to weigh it but it will be enough to make one or two loaves.  For curiosity I weighed it and there's 313grams here, enough to make two loaves, but it will also be fine if you just want to make one loaf. Sourdough is not an exact science, and although most recipes tell us to add an exact amount, I've discovered, by accidentally adding too much, that it doesn't make any difference to my end product.
For practice purposes I'd suggest making just one loaf so you can simply halve the following amounts of everything.

On top of the sponge add 1 kilogram (6 cups) of white bread flour.  (If you choose to make a wholemeal loaf, swap 1/3rd (2 cups) of white flour with 1/3rd (2 cups) of wholemeal flour. You can use less, but any more than 1/3rd of wholemeal will make a heavier loaf.

Add 2 teaspoons salt (16g) 

Pour in approximately 2 cups (500g) water (rain water or filtered, straight from the tap)
Mix around with a large spoon and then get your hands into it, until all the flour is absorbed. Some flour is thirstier than others, so you may need a few drops more water. This should be quite a wet and tacky dough.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and move the dough around to form a blob.

Cover with plastic and leave on the bench for 30mins. I know, I can hear you thinking about the plastic. I'm really against having single use plastic in our home, but  a wet towel just doesn't create the snug environment that is needed to turn this blob of flour into an elastic dough. I have a few large plastic bread bags that I've been washing and using for the past few months. When they get too worn they're washed and put into the plastic bag recycle bins at the supermarket. I'm also in the process of making some huge waxed cloths which will be perfect for the job.

Now we're at the exciting part. 
Uncover the bowl, and using wet hands, stretch and fold the dough, 8 times, moving the bowl as you go.
This link that shows how to  stretch and fold in the bowl is one of the steps that has made a huge difference to my end product.
Repeat this step every 30 minutes over 2 hrs. This is much easier and less time consuming than conventional methods of kneading dough. It takes only a minute each time.

 You will notice how the dough changes its structure during this 2 hours, becoming soft and elastic.

It doesn't matter if your timing is not exactly as I've set out over these two posts, but try to use it as a rough time table until you can develop your own routine. I love to have fresh baked bread in time for lunch.
Now here's the thing... instead of bulk proofing the dough in the big bowl over night and shaping in the morning, we're going to shape it now and proof it in the fridge overnight.

Prepare the container for proofing.  Line it with a clean tea towel and sprinkle with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

I didn't spend $$ on special proofing baskets as there are various suitable shaped containers already in my kitchen.
 After the 2 hours of resting and stretching and folding  it's time to shape your loaf.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured bench and fold it in on itself to form a tension on the surface. This step is difficult to explain, so Here is Celia's blog again, look for the short video where she shapes the loaves.

 




Place the  shaped dough into the lined and floured proofing containers, the underside of the finished loaf will be on the top when in the proofing container.

 Enclose in a large plastic bag to prevent drying out and forming a hard crust,
Place in the fridge until tomorrow morning.
That's it!! That's the big difference! The dough does its final 12hr proof in the fridge!


Next morning (12hours later) heat the oven to 230 - 250C deg. In my case the wood oven needs the right kind of wood, to get up to its maximum heat of around 230C - 250Cdeg. But don't worry, your conventional gas or electric oven will do the job just as well. You will need to experiment a bit, every oven is different, and perhaps turn it down to 220C after the first 5 minutes.

 Remove the loaf from the fridge and let it rest on the bench for 5-10 minutes before flipping it over onto a sheet of parchment paper.



Score the top with a Stanley knife or razor blade.  I find it easier to clip with my kitchen scissors.

Lift up the loaf with the parchment paper and place into an enamel pan, put lid on and into the oven for 30 minutes. Take the lid off and bake another 5 minutes. I don't find it necessary to pre-heat the pan.

Cool on a wire rack and wait until cool before slicing.

** All that I have ever read and studied about sourdough was to feed my mother for days, (discarding flour in the process), mix up the dough late in the evening, let it proof on the bench for 8 - 12hrs overnight, then shape and bake in the morning.
Most of the time my loaves were not rising in the oven. It was lacking 'oven spring'.
Then I found this little youtube clip with Martin Boetz and Lynne Trappel.
THIS was my aahaa moment and it brings me great pleasure to share it with you.
Maybe this method will work for you too.
So... happy sourdough baking, and don't forget, if you need some mother/starter to begin with, let me know so I can get some of mine ready for you to collect. There is also plenty of information on Google about making your own starter/mother.
Cheers,
Sally XX














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