"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Monday, 27 July 2015

What are you?

"What are you?" I was recently asked. A very Zen sort of question I thought and proceeded to give one of my usual smart arse replies. However, the young man appeared unsatisfied with my answer and explained that he meant to ask what sort of farmer I was? Was I "into" permaculture, organics, green living or self sufficiency for example?

I replied that I was none of these things.

So let me make it clear. I consider myself a farmer. I grow food, real food, for my family. I do not use modern chemicals or fertilizers. Nor do I use modern high production methods for profit. I do use natural fertilizers and sprays I make myself. I make my own compost and keep nutrients on the farm. I know all of my animals and ensure their quality of life. I farm in a manner mankind has been using successfully for thousands of years!
I therefore call myself a farmer as opposed to the modern farming I refer to as "Chemical agriculture" which I believe is one of the greatest ills to beset the modern world.
I am not a Permaculturalist or Organic farmer. I do not follow the Green path or whatever name it has this week, I am not into Holistics and I am not self sufficient. We do not need any silly label for our lifestyle. I am a farmer, nothing more, and damned proud of it!

The milking stall explained

A little while ago a young lady asked me about keeping a house cow. The lady wants to "get into" permaculture (whatever that is) but was worried about the chore that is milking every day.

The milking stall is one of those oddly special places in my heart. It is center to our daily ritual of the morning and evening chores. Although it can be a burden at times I also find the milking to be a time of quiet meditation. I watch the birds and listen to the milk gently hissing into the bucket. In the background I can hear the pigeons cooing and thrumming as the boys dance for the girls. Rufus will lean through the rails to groom Bonnie, our other cow. In the far background I will hear the call of the crows in winter or possibly the long shrieking cry of a lone eagle high above on a still morning. In summer I will be entertained by the song of the red rump finches as they steal the chooks feed or else the lazy call in descending notes of the King parrots as they perch in the pines and wait for me to leave before raiding the chooks trough. In the wet season the rain will create that throbbing note on the tin roof that we know so well and Anna and I will be joined by numerous guinea fowl and chooks in the milking shed where it is dry. On these days it can be a real task to keep the chickens from fluffing up the straw and throwing bits in the milk for me to fish out. Sometimes it can be a task just to keep the chooks themselves out of the milk.

The milk itself has a most wonderful aroma of cream and the faint scent of the pasture. It is unlike anything you can experience anywhere but the milking shed. In winter a fragrant steam rises off the new milk for me to inhale. A foamy froth is created on the surface as the milk rises in the bucket. My mother loves to see this, it reminds her of her milking days and when she visits she always asks to look into the milking bucket.

I am usually visited by the cat, Jasmine. She likes to rub across my back and under my arms. She is drawn always to the scent of the fresh milk and loves a drink of the whole milk when new but will only drink the cream if it is older.

At the center of this world there is Anna, our house cow. She is a part of the family in every way. I know her better than I know some of my relatives. She is kind and quite affectionate yet can be quite stern if she does not like something. She does not like being patted but does like being milked. She enjoys close company without needing contact and quite likes to listen when I discuss the world. She likes to eat at her own pace and only eats her fill and no more. She is quite strong willed and does not give in easily if she does not want to do your bidding. She prefers a polite request and will sulk if her feelings are hurt. I like her a lot more than most humans I have met.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Through the eyes of my child

We did the beef cut up a few weeks ago. As I would not be able to handle the camera due to mucky hands I gave it to my son instead. After a quick tutorial we left him to it to see what he would do. So here is the view from my sons world.

This last photo is my absolute favourite.
I learned many things from these pictures when I discussed them with my son. Highlights include:
  1. Daddy is a huge giant with a booming voice. He is mostly composed of trousers and gumboots with a red bushy beard on top. Lets me do lots of stuff mum doesn't.
  2. What is in a bucket is really interesting and has to be photographed often.
  3. Patterns on the floor are interesting.
  4. Focus is optional.
  5. The dogs are easier to photograph if they are first sternly ordered to sit and stay.
  6. Peoples heads are optional when framing a picture.
  7. I can look into the camera to make sure it is working. This has nothing to do with there being seven hundred pictures of myself  up close...

Pigeons...take two.

I am sorry to say the first try at meat pigeons was not a success.
The birds I obtained for breeder stock had spent their entire lives caged up to this point. Consequently they were very weak fliers and this made them easy prey for both the local hawks and unfortunately our Maremma, Alessa. Now the hawks were a known factor and I expect to lose the occasional bird to them. That is the nature of both hawks and pigeons. I had unwittingly aggravated the situation however by slaughtering a beast the week of their release from captivity and this brought the raptors from far and wide as always. Of course when they had finished cleaning up the remains of slaughter they turned their attentions to whatever else there was to eat in the area. Bad timing on my part.
I had not expected our Maremma, our flock dog who is supposed to guard the livestock, to view the pigeons as a tasty snack. I was somewhat disappointed to say the least. Some retraining was involved and I hope she has learned her lesson. I will have to watch her closely to see if it has worked.
In any case our original stock of twelve birds was whittled down to five in the couple of weeks after release. So I went and picked up another twenty birds, instant flock, and have re-incarcerated all pigeons for another fortnight. So far so good. This time they will be released in a raptor free environment and with the Maremma on a short leash until they have settled in.

Winter muckies

We had exactly one week of beautiful weather. Perfect blue skies and cold. I love those days.
Now we have returned to the winter muckies as I call them. Foggy, piddly, windy and cold. Yesterday it remained as dark as nightfall all day keeping me huddled inside by the fire.
The local old timers tell me this is the result of having a very poor wet season- a long wet winter. We have a very specific micro climate here formed by a mixture of altitude, proximity to the mountain ridge and prevailing winds. This means we tend to get a lot more water than most other areas.
It also creates many challenges growing some things. Sometimes we just have to accept that we cannot have something we desire. Tomatoes for example. Growing good tomatoes is something of a passion of mine. However, our soils locally are infested with Fusarium fungus and this makes it near impossible to grow tomatoes to fruiting unless I grow them in pots of sterilized soil. Bananas likewise will thrive in our area although the majority of bunches do not ripen before the cold weather arrives each winter. Mangoes too will grow vigorously but never set a single fruit due to the rain destroying the flowers each year. If I go five kilometres over the hilltop I can see farms with mangoes and bananas fruiting heavily. On the plus side, we can grow green veg like no one else here. Our leeks are fat and healthy and last well into summer, our cabbage, carrots, kale and lettuce grow easily with little intervention from me and I grow the biggest and best snow peas of anyone in the district!
So my philosophy is to look for what will grow easily rather than try for what will not. When I try a new type of vegetable (or animal for that matter) I like to test several different varieties in the same year. This way I know that Nantes carrots and Yakumo snow peas are ideal for our area whereas Balinese sweet corn and Wiltshire horn sheep are not.
Now I will admit I am building a hot-house/green house thing over some of the veggie garden in an effort to improve the yield each year. This is mostly to stop the wet season rain beating the garden to death but it will also alter the micro climate of the veggie garden somewhat and hopefully give us a few more options in what we can grow.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Oh please oh please, I need a food shed

Oh give me a shed where I can process all our harvest
and preserve so it will last us
and make a brew in a bottle or two,
Where I can cut up all the beef 
so tender I won't need teeth
and have plenty of cheese to spare.

Today I am setting up to cut up the beef that has been in the coldroom these last two weeks. This will happen on the back covered area beside the house. The only place large enough and with the facilities I will need- power, water and shade. So I have removed all the toys and tools and then hosed down the floor and tables prior to scrubbing them down with detergent and hot water. I then hauled the big cutting boards, mincer and meat band saw from the shed and cleaned them up too. Then a variety of knives and hooks are needed, scales, tubs, plastic bags and wrapping paper are brought out and prepared.

Tomorrow I will begin actually cutting up the beef.

Our plans for a food processing shed would make everything a whole lot easier. We already have the shed, the problem lies in that we have filled it with all sorts of other stuff that must be stored out of the weather. So we need a new shed.

The final food shed will be our main processing area for the produce from the farm. We already have a large coldroom but will be adding at least one cheese fridge (set at 12.5 degrees Celsius), chest freezers, a large and deep sink as well as a kitchen sized sink for washing up, large draining boards, a stove and oven, and plenty of work benches and shelves for storage. Here we will process our beef, poultry, pigeon and pork. Process the dairy and make cheese, yoghourt and cream. Preserve fruit and vegetables. Brew booze. Extract honey and do whatever else is needed to keep ourselves in tucker.

Now I realize this may sound like a tall order but we actually have almost all of the equipment we will need, we just need another shed so we can move my workshop out. So I like to think the end goal is close. We have begun clearing a space next door for the new shed although I still need a man with a big machine to come in and level it off properly. The new shed will be roughly 7 X 9 metres, a little larger than the food shed, and it will house my workshop (mostly my woodwork shop) in two thirds and have a closed store in the remaining third for garden tools. Along the front we will add a covered cement apron so we can get to the house in the wet season without getting too wet. I think it will also be a lovely place to sit out in the afternoon with some quiet work such as testing the quality of the latest brew.