Monday, 18 March 2019

Starting a Garden

I've moved around a lot and lived in different parts of Australia and the world. 
Each time I moved into a house, or apartment and made it my home I started a vegetable garden. 
It was the first thing I did, after unpacking the cutlery, making a bed and hanging my clothes.
My vegetable gardens took high priority because I've always felt a need to pick and eat fresh vegetables and herbs that I've grown organically.

In an apartment where no space allowed me to dig the ground I grew herbs, rocket, tomatoes and radishes in pots.
Rocket lettuce is easy and fast to grow. When I have rocket leaves I always have greens for the base of a salad and for adding to soups, stews and various cooked meals.

I still read a lot about gardeners giving advice on starting a garden and, if I didn't know what I know now, I'd be daunted before I even turned the first bit of dirt.
They talk about setting up borders, making raised beds, bringing in dirt, composted manure and on it goes. That looks like an expensive garden. Or.. that looks to hard.
Can I tell you a secret? Most of the gardens I've started were with just a spade, a watering can and some seeds.

In Kathmandu (Nepal) I used a large spoon to scrape and dig some soil near my front door. I planted pumpkin seeds, from a pumpkin I bought at the bazaar, and a tomato plant. purchased from my gardener neighbour. Both grew well and cropped heavily.  My home grown vegetables were the envy of my neighbourhood.
I carried a plastic bag and occasionally on my way from work or college I picked up cow manure from the street to make liquid manure to feed my little garden. My wee bucket added more nutrient to the mix.

2004  Just moved into our farm house and co-habiting with mice and wildlife.

When Brian and I moved onto this property I started our vegetable gardens the day after we moved in.
I had a few days leave from work so I dug up some of the soil on a flat area near the house and started planting.
There were no borders, no special manures or composted soils.  I just turned dirt, tossed the weeds into the wheelbarrow for the chooks, and planted seeds and seedlings.
Within a few weeks we were picking our own vegetables and herbs.

Back then this house was an almost derelict structure, and in order to afford to buy the property we had to sell all of our other properties that we owned between us.  With a small mortgage that we wanted to pay off ASAP, we could not afford to rent somewhere to live so we moved in with mice scampering all night and birds flying in through the cracks in the walls. The bathroom was a makeshift structure on the verandah where we washed with a bucket while standing in a bowl.
Money was tight, we didn't even own a camera.
We both worked full time so, on weekends and evenings both of us worked together to renovate and make the house livable.
The gardens and growing our food were something that I could physically do without Brian's assistance, so if we wanted home grown vegetables it was up to me to do the work.  I was nearly fifty when we came here, so was no spring chicken, and the work was hard labour, but it freed up Brian's time for working on the house, fencing stock yards and building sheds.

As our living conditions improved and we paid off the mortgage to achieve our dream of being debt free, I decreased my employment to three days a week.
After two or three years of working with our temporary vegetable gardens that were supplying a lot of our food, we began fencing areas for our permanent vegetable gardens.
These were incorporated with our poultry yards, for allowing the hens into the food gardens at the end of the growing seasons. We had a winter garden area and a separate summer garden area, with gates opening into the poultry yards to allow the hens access at varying times of the year .

I learned a lot during our first year here.
I discovered that the area I had initially planned for our permanent vegetable garden was too exposed to the wind. I'm glad I worked that out before digging all those post holes.
I learned about the changing angles of the sun during winter and summer.  A spot I had chosen for the winter garden was perfect in summer but too shady in winter.  That area ended up being the ideal place for the pig yards.

 2018  Our comfortable and simple home.

While all this was going on and I was making new discoveries as each new season rolled around, we were still planting and harvesting vegetables. I'm glad I had just got in there and planted. We had already saved money by growing our own vegetables, eggs and chicken.

I planted tube-stock trees along the front of the property because we were one hundred percent certain that the decision to create a privacy screen from the road would always stand to be the correct one.
As luck happened, the tree planting was followed up with our wettest three winters/springs, and the tube stock trees were taller than me within three years. I'm so glad I just got in there and planted them when I did.

I planted flowers and shrubs from cuttings from friends' gardens and the nursery 'giveaways' shelf. All over the place, I planted like a woman possessed.  I kept adding straw that I collected from under the cow's hay racks, made liquid manures and was always piling organic matter and prunings onto compost heaps.
Some of those gardens remain, but others have been replaced with gravel and trees after too many years of dry summers. More gardens have been added, other gardens extended and expanded. I have plans to change some plantings this winter. The garden is always evolving.
 The photo on my blog cover page shows the gardens that used to be here. Now landscaped with gravel after too many hot dry summers.

I still do most of the gardening here because I'm the one who is at home for more hours in the week, so it just makes sense that I do it.  Brian manages the large vegetable garden (he says that's his relaxation), and helps me with the really heavy gardening jobs when I ask him to,  but his time (when not at his full-time employment) is generally taken up with the heavy jobs involved with sheep management, fencing, building, paddock work, harvesting and property maintenance. I'm perfectly happy for him to drive the tractor, and do the heavy work while I do the work that I'm capable of.

We made this raised bed, and two others, from a salvaged water tank cut into three pieces. After the first summer I discovered how quickly the soil dried out, and they required watering twice daily!  We repurposed two of them (goose nesting shelters) and only this one remains. I pile garden waste mulch into it at the end of spring and leave it unplanted over summer. Soon after the first autumn rains arrive the seeds sprout, supplying mixed greens through winter and requiring only rainfall to keep them watered.
If you're thinking of purchasing those shiny new corrugated iron raised beds from your garden supplier I would urge you to think again if you live in a hot dry environment.  I've seen people throw them out or re-purpose them after their first summer.
However, if you don't mind aesthetically altering the look you wanted to achieve, they can be adapted by packing bales of hay or straw around the outer edges to provide insulation and help improve water retention.


So, if you want to grow some vegetables or plant a garden, don't over think it.  Don't wait for everything to be perfect. Just find a (preferably flat) space and start digging.

For inspiration ask at your local library for "One Magic Square" by Lolo Houbein
An interesting little book, delightful in its simplicity, Ms Houbein outlines how we can begin from where we are.
Isn't that the best way to begin at anything?

Start where you are, do what you can, use what you have.

Sally XX

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Pork For a Year

It was a public holiday here on Monday so, after the morning farm work was finished we got stuck into the big job of cutting up and processing the two huge pigs that hung in our cold room for a week.
As luck happened we had fleeting visitor who snapped a few photos for us.

The meat saw is a dangerous piece of equipment so full concentration is needed and strict safety rules apply.

We work as a team. Each has their position and knows what to do. We use a few basic cuts to quarter the carcass and then decide which cuts we will make (chops, ribs, roasts)  as we go along.
I load the meat into crates and boxes, and place them back into the refrigerated cold room until we have finished cutting up all of the meat.

I don't know how we used to manage before we built this cold room. It makes life much easier now that we can keep it cold for as long as it takes to carry a box at a time into the kitchen to pack the meat in meal size portions.

For two days I meticulously packed and vacuum sealed the portions of meat.  I don't find it a difficult or unpleasant job. Time consuming, but certainly not a chore. I think about all of the meals we will enjoy together, and with family and friends over the next year.
 Last week I wrote here that I was doubtful all of this meat would fit into the available spaces in our three freezers.
This morning I finished packing and freezing and gave a huge sigh of relief  as I closed the lids on all three freezers packed full to the brim.
The pork belly pieces are in their buckets of brining solution for nitrate fee bacon.
Next weekend Brian will fire up the old wood smoker where the pieces will be slow smoked for 24hrs.

Guess what we ate for our evening meal last night?  Pork loin chops on the barbeque.
Mmm mmm so good!

And what a stroke of luck. The temperature will be cool enough to light the wood stove tomorrow so there will be roast pork with the family tomorrow night.

Does life get any better?

Thursday, 7 March 2019

That Panicky Feeling

I'm in a bit of a pickle. Well, it's certainly a first world dilemma for sure.

This harvest season has, as usual, produced a glut of peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, cucumbers and tomatoes. I've made more batches of sauce, jams and preserves than I care to count during the heat of summer on a gas ring positioned on top of my old wood stove. The heat and smells escape up the chimney.  The price of gas adds to my costs though, so I had a brilliant idea of preparing the fruit (wash and cut) and bagging in 2 kg lots to store in one of the freezers.
The freezers are running anyway, full of beef, lamb, chickens, dog food, baked goods, cream, bread, cakes and pre-cooked meals, so there was to be no extra power cost to store the fruit in this way.
As soon as the cooler weather arrives I planned to gradually cook it up on the wood stove, saving on power costs. Our firewood costs us nothing.

 The pigs have been growing along nicely and I expected to have them butchered at the end of this month (March). During which time we would have eaten down enough of the freezer contents to fit two large pigs. I also would have cooked up much of the frozen fruit on the much anticipated  cooler autumn days.

Last weekend however, the pigs started chewing on the electric fence wires that prevent them from digging out of their enclosure yard and paddock. Brian checked all the fittings and wire strands to find where it might be shorting out. Nothing seemed to be amiss. We searched for where there may be a fault and then it dawned on us that our solar electric pig fence unit had died.
We were able to borrow a similar solar unit for twenty four hours, and first thing on Monday morning I booked the pigs into the nearest abattoir. Fortunately their "pig day" was on the following day (Tuesday) and they had a vacancy for ours to be processed.   So, on Monday after Brian returned from work, we loaded them onto the trailer for their little ride to the abattoir.
This wasn't our plan. We had planned to butcher them here so there would be no stress for them. It was awful dropping them off in the yards, in a strange place, for someone else to take the responsibility for killing our food. It felt like we betrayed them. It felt like a cop out.

 They were killed on Tuesday and on Wednesday (yesterday) I drove to the abattoir to collect the carcasses. We always hang them for a week in our own cool room before cutting them into the portions and cuts that we prefer. (We also know that (a) we're getting our own animals and (b) getting ALL of the meat.)

I guess I had underestimated their size while they were still running around on all four trotters.
They weighed a whopping 112 kilograms each! With slightly more of a fat layer than I'd have preferred, but looking good nonetheless.

So here's the thing.

On Monday we will cut them up and pack them for the freezer... but how will they all fit in?

 I asked the Universe for a couple of cool days, and she graciously complied.
The wood stove pumped on for a full two days and I threw everything at her.

Two big batches of tomato sauce cleared all of the the bags of frozen tomatoes.
A big pot of dog's stew got rid of one big bag of kangaroo meat.
Three big batches of apricot jam put a small dent in the bags of apricots.
One batch of peach and rhubarb jam cleared two bags of peaches and one bag of chopped rhubarb.
  In the oven, throughout the two days, went various dishes of peaches and apricots poached in honey, then spooned into hot jars, lids screwed on tight, and sealed for keeping in the cellar.

 Three batches of butter cleared out three tubs of cream.

But then, from the butter, there was buttermilk, so two batches of buttermilk muffins asked to be baked. These have chopped apple and mixed dried fruit. 
Some for Brian's morning smoko's and a few for a sick friend.

The weather is returning to high 20's and 30's for the remaining week. Too hot for the wood stove, so frozen bags of fruit will continue to be preserved on the gas ring every day until the big pig processing day on Monday. 
I'll do it. I know I will. There WILL be space to fit ALL of this delicious pork.

I'm still feeling a tad panicky though.

Sally XX

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Morning Routines

Good morning to my lovely flower girls, Lavender and Honeysuckle.

I wanted to roughly document my morning routine here during the height of summer when the days are long, dry and hot. There are no lazy Sunday mornings and every day is basically the same.
When we decided to begin farming we knew there would be a solid commitment to the animals and plants which rely on us to be there regularly to care for all of their needs.
On week days Brian leaves for work before the sun is up and I usually get up then too.  Still too dark to let the poultry out of their fox proof sheds I wake up with a cup of Earl Grey at the kitchen table with a view out to see the sun appearing over the horizon.
I use this time to check on messages or inquiries about workshops or orders through the Farmgate stall.  These ten minutes can be quite a productive time and often create a change in my day's schedule.
But first my farm work must be completed because our animals are relying on me to keep to the routine they are used to.  During these hot days I need to get all of my outside jobs done early, so fortified with tea, and dressed in my old farming clothes, I head outside.

Beginning with Matron's rounds of releasing the six pens of chooks and bantams from their night sheds. I'll come back later to clean out water containers and feed them. They all free range into different yards, paddocks, orchard, vegetable garden and house gardens.
Back to the house to collect a bucket of hot water before heading across to the cows and milking shed.

Honeysuckle is always happy to see me and when I open her gate she is eager to run into the dairy for her morning feed mix of chaff, crushed grain, molasses and minerals. Jerseys are renowned for their pretty faces and Honey is no exception. It's those eyes, in a constant look of surprise.

Only one cow to milk at present, and only in the mornings.
Our other house cow Lavender, was dried off at the beginning of last month (February) to allow her body to rest and prepare for the birth of her calf in early April.
Honeysuckle has been lactating for fourteen months (from her previous owners) so her production has decreased enough (8 litres) and I can milk her just once a day. I plan to dry her off (stop milking) at the end of March. 
Her AI in January appears to have been successful and we are confident she has conceived. Due to calve in mid October, I want to allow her a few months to rest her body and gain some weight. 
I'm not used to skinny dairy cows, bag of bones, and would prefer her to carry a bit more weight.

Always accompanied by my helpers Alan and young Kelpie pup Jack, waiting in the feed shed until they are permitted to come out.

Morning 'hay up' time for the dry cows.
The two older milking cows are in a paddock separate from the other three youngsters, heifers Poppy and Bertie, and Stretch the steer. 
At this time of year when the paddocks are almost bare each group of cows eat a full rack of hay during the morning and again at night. 
I'm so thankful we have enough hay to feed them well.
Milking and cleaning up is finished, the hay has been forked out, so I head back to the house and put the bucket of milk into the fridge until the other animals have been fed and outside work is done. I can decide what I want to do with the milk later.

The pigs that we raise are for our own consumption, so we feed them solely on garden and kitchen scraps, bread, milk and wind-fall fruit from our own and other local orchards. They do very well on this food and we prefer to eat meat that has not been pumped with grain and manufactured foods. 
This is the way our grandparents raised pigs, and when I began raising our pigs I was told by the commercial piggery man that it couldn't be done. Apparently the pigs wouldn't survive. 
Ha! I believe they are so indoctrinated by science, and have never tried free range meat. 
Thankfully it's more common now to find free range breeders like our friends Peggy and John who's piglets we always buy.
I feed our pigs twice daily, but always check on them during the day and throw in a biscuit of hay to eat if their feed trough is empty.  Yes I always like my animals to have some food available to eat if they desire it.
Drinking water containers are securely cemented into the ground so they cannot tip them over and be left without water. I clean them out every morning and refill with fresh water.

Pigs don't have sweat glands so they have no way of cooling themselves in the heat. During hot days above 28C degrees we hose them a couple of times during the day and on days above 35C degrees we hose them every couple of hours. We ensure their mud puddles are always topped up so they can cool off at any time.. Caring for the pigs is my work, but Brian will step in to help if I need him to fix the electric fence, which they regularly break.

I return to the poultry yards to feed out scraps, fruit, grain and yogurt. Water containers are all cleaned out and refilled.
Into the feed shed and prepare the pig food for their evening meal, bread and yogurt mash with chopped up wind-fall apples or carrots. 
The poultry grain is soaked in readiness for the following day and fresh milk is added to the yoghurt bucket in the sun to make another batch of yogurt for tomorrow.  

There were peaches to be picked this morning, but yesterday it was apples. Young Jack thinks apples are for grabbing from the box and make a wonderful ball. 
It's getting quite hot by now and I estimate it would be approx 8am. The forecast is 40C degrees and it's getting up there rapidly. 
I know I should carry my phone with me when alone at home, but I usually don't. I prefer the freedom of being out of contact, however,  I carried it yesterday and tried to snap photos of my morning.

The Farmgate stall needs to be opened and fresh eggs placed into the esky for the regular egg customers who usually turn up early. A few vegetables and rhubarb to be picked, washed and bundled up or bagged ready for those early buyers.  The shelves need restocking with tubs of honey and jars of jams, pickles and sauces.
Meanwhile the fruit trees need to be watered on my slow hose drip rotation. Hmm.. which ones got watered yesterday? Whose turn is it today?

All the pots need watering with a hose. I'm a slave to my pots and threaten to do away with most of them before next summer, but they look so nice, make me feel happy, so they stay.
A rotation of house gardens and first summer plantings need watering by hose on alternate days, and although I prefer to do it in the evenings, often my energy is depleted by then so I hose a bit of water on some plants to keep them going. The vegetable gardens are on timer drippers and sprinklers and are always watered in the evenings.

 There's time for a  walk in the paddocks with the dogs, checking the cage fox traps, electric fences and generally burning off a bit of puppy energy. Meg usually goes to work with Brian so she is not pictured here.

Boots and socks are off and back inside again just as the heat of the day is rolling in. 
Today there's a pot of nectarine jam (cut up and prepared last night)  that I started simmering on the gas ring while drinking my morning cuppa.  I turned off the gas before going outside though. 
Boiled over jam is not a pleasant start to any day, but it has happened to me more than once.

There's washing to be put into the machine for soaking, dogs breakfast to feed out, verandahs to sweep, a bit of tidying up outside and thankfully, I can stay inside for most of the day, until outside evening work needs to be done.

Today, before the water from the cold tap gets warm, I whip up a batch of butter from cream that is three days old and past its freshness.  Butter at this time of year is pale in colour due to the lack of green fodder. In winter and spring the butter is much more yellow.
It's 10am, time for a coffee and think about what to take out of the freezer for tonight's dinner.

There will be plenty of work to do inside; produce from the garden to pickle or preserve, honey to be poured into tubs and labeled, the never ending house work routines and meal preparation that keeps us healthy and our home running smoothly.

It may be the one day of the week that I need to go out to the shops, run errands, and visit an elderly lady friend. Or there may be a planned visit from friends calling in for morning coffee and chat.
At this time of year my weekly volunteer sessions at the public library are put on hold. There's much to be done at home but I enjoy doing this meaningful work and am thankful for the fruits of our labor in the months to follow.

In another month this morning routine will be different and there will be more time to spend outside in the garden and a short holiday.

How does your morning flow? And does it change according to seasons?
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