"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

Friday, 23 March 2012

I must be getting old.

Well I hurt in just about every muscle in my body. Hell I even hurt in muscles I have just discovered I have. I must be getting old.
Still have to put the wall and mesh on but you get the idea.
Yesterday I put the roof on the new chook shed. Today I cut the roof ends back to length and installed some bracing underneath. Now when I was a young feller I would not have even considered this a days work.
For example, one of the first jobs I had was working in a flour mill. I was nineteen and worked filling and shifting bags of millrun, pollard, bran and semolina. The big bags weighed fifty-five kilos (121 pounds for the metrically challenged) and the small bags were only forty kilos (88 pounds). Each man would manually lift and stack at least twenty five tonnes of these per day. If we had to load shipping containers, we would be shifting the flour in eighty kilo (176 pound) sacks. We considered these heavy.
When I buy stock feed these days I notice almost nothing is over twenty kilos. I suppose the nanny state has decided people just aren't as strong as they used to be. The young man serving me was aghast when I loaded the forty kilo sacks of millrun (the heaviest thing the sell these days) on my own. He was of the belief they took two men to lift. He says they will not be packing the millrun in the forty kilo bags for much longer because they are "too dangerous to lift".
See, I am definitely getting old. That was an old mans grizzle about young folks these days.
Anyway, It will be a good chook shed. Well worth the aches and pains.

We had a brilliant sunset to make me feel better. I took these shots when I was out doing the milking.

Now having a view like this as you quietly milk the cow is really something I value. The sounds of the day have almost ceased as the dusk settles. I can hear a few last calls from the big cockatoos in the rainforest and the chickens are making that soft sleepy clucking sound as they settle down. I can hear the pigs rustling in their hay as they make their beds for the evening and the gentle hiss of the milk hitting the bucket. Very Zen and a wonderful end to the day. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Veggie garden.

Looking down the rows. Leeks on the left, cabbage centre and Kale right.
The veggie garden is one of my favourite places. I enjoy pottering about whenever I have a few spare minutes. Pulling out weeds, checking the growth and snacking on peas. The changing seasons are felt here more than any other part of the farm. The garden has a cycle repeated each year. I am constantly tweaking it with small changes each season. Bit by bit as I learn more this tweaking is paying off and the garden is producing more and better food each year.
Fiesta chillies. My favourite.
The start of the year, as far as the garden is concerned, is the winter planting. To get ready for this we slash the garden after the wet season and turn it over. This is when I will empty the compost heaps onto the garden and add lime. In the tropics it is rare to find any of the "no-dig" adherents with a garden large enough to really produce food. Out of simple self defence against the rampant tropical growth we are forced to turn the soil twice a year. It is the only form of realistic weed control without spraying poisons everywhere. So we instead use the wet season growth as a green manure and turn it in each year.
This is a wheel hoe. It really makes a difference when weeding between rows.

The garden beds are then laid out. I have a four bed rotation system so that each year the whole garden rotates anti clockwise by one plot. This means that nothing will be grown in the same plot more than once in four years. Obviously we can only grow the annuals in these plots. Perennial plants are grown in the borders around the garden perimeter where they act as windbreaks and grass barrier. Our plot rotation is in this order,
  1. Root vegetables
  2. Legumes
  3. Brassicas
  4. General bed for anything that does not fall into the above categories.

Originally we only manured plot 1 each year and there is nothing wrong with doing this but I simply had a lot of excess compost to use and so I spread it around the whole area now. The only exception is if I am planting something that likes old manured soil, like garlic, that will not do well on fresh compost.
So to get back to the winter planting. After the beds are prepared we plant everything that likes to grow in the cooler part of the year. Peas, Cabbage, Kale, lettuce, Leeks, Potatoes (if we are growing them, we live in a potato growing district and I can easily buy large quantities of cheap potatoes), Jerusalem artichoke, silver beet, Carrots, Shallots, Radish, Turnip and garlic. I usually grow several different varieties of each and as time goes by I learn what likes our climate and soil. There is a lot of excess and this goes to the pigs or other livestock. Nothing is wasted.
As the weather warms up we enter the warm-dry season (as opposed to the monsoon or wet season at the end of summer, we don't really have a spring or autumn here) and we put in the second planting. Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrots, Cucumber, Zucchini, Beans, Lettuce, Sweet potato, Bok-choi, Radish, Okra, Pumpkin and Tomato.
We then enter the wet season. This time of year is a rush to get the water loving plants to harvest before we lose the garden to weeds. They grow too quickly to hand weed effectively and it is far too boggy to get the tractor in to turn it over. So I fight a retreat until the last harvest is out and then let it go to growth for a month. In some climates they have a downtime due to snow, here it is due to water. In the wet we will plant a bit more lettuce, carrots and sweet corn which loves water. Then we are back to the winter preparation and planting again.
NOT a staged shot. I just took a picture of the basket one night before dinner.

Our single biggest problem is obviously the volume of rain we get. We live in one of the wettest places in Australia if not the wettest.
For example
  • 2007 had 4250mm / 13.94 feet of rain
  • 2008 had 3953mm / 12.96 Ft
  • 2009 had 3286mm / 10.78 Ft - a bit dry that year...
  • 2010 had 4330mm / 14.20 Ft
  • 2011, well I need to add up the diary entries still but I can say it will be the wettest by far. We experienced a six month, wet season! It rained nearly solidly for half the year!
So obviously we are looking into somehow obtaining a secondhand industrial greenhouse to cover the garden. This way we can control the amount of water hitting the garden. We will also be able to reduce the amount of nutrient leached out of the soil which should have a big impact on the garden.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cheese again.

The weather outside is bloody horrible today! Apparently there is a Low grumbling around up in the gulf that will turn into a cyclone tonight. It is not likely to become more than a Cat 1- not a real cyclone- but it will dump a heap of water on us and probably knock over a few trees out of spite. The usual. In any case it is no day to be outside, so I am making cheese again.
Well here is the cheese I had in the press a few days ago. I am very pleased with the texture and I think the extra pressure is what I needed in the new press. So far so good. The cheese will now be waxed and stored in the cheese fridge at ten degrees for a couple of months. I try to make one cheese a week to keep a sufficient stock at hand. We eat a lot of cheese.

I am also making a batch of Quarg. It is simplicity itself, just add a small amount of the culture to fresh milk at room temperature or better still at cow heat and let it sit out for the day. By evening it will have thickened into a yoghourt consistency. You then hang it to drain until it is firm enough to your liking and stir in salt to taste. I like it at a firm cream cheese consistency. Cheese logs and dipping cheeses are made from Quarg. It is superb on fresh baked bread for breakfast.
Also making a batch of yoghourt today. The littlest cloud farmer likes his yoghourt. This is my home made yoghourt tub. It works as well as anything you can buy (but cost me nothing) and I can make up to ten litres in one go. We like a somewhat thick and tart variety of yoghourt. The child bride likes hers flavoured with vanilla pod and sweetened and I like mine straight as it comes. The littlest cloud farmer eats whatever is put in front of him and yells for more.
There is a real satisfaction to making so much of our day to day food, and good food too. Although it is a lot of work I get real satisfaction when I store away the finished product at the end of the day. However we are finding it a chore to use our rather small kitchen for production as well as trying to cook meals, often at the same time. So the plan (there is always a plan) is to build a second shed alongside the current shed outside. This second shed will be a little larger to accommodate my workshop as well as farm paraphernalia and the first shed will be refitted as a food processing area. Hopefully this will happen in the next year or so. We shall see.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The new cheese press

This is my new cheese press mk2. It is essentially just a refined version of the first one I made with the ability to apply a lot more pressure. The basic design is that of a "Swiss press", which is to say that it applies pressure through the lever arm. As you can see I have added pulleys which allows me to apply the force needed to make cheeses like Parmesan and Cheddars. The cheese in the press in the picture is a "farmhouse" which is what we mostly make and eat here. It is a simple rennetted semi hard cheese with no added cultures or moulds. It tastes like a mild cheddar and can be eaten with only one months ageing. Better after three though.
We also make Halloumi, Cheshire, Fetta, White Wesleydale, Quarg, Cheddar and Grana (Parmesan) cheeses. Once in a while I will do a batch of Camembert and Blue Vein.
Cheese making is addictive. I could happily do it for a living on a small scale but on only one cow it will not be happening. Now, if I could buy out the neighbour on the hill above us, I would be able to run a small dairy herd of twenty odd cows. Enough for a small cheesery. I wonder if she wants to sell cheap?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The humble farm gate

I designed these gates myself. They are nothing special, just a variation on the slide bar stock gate. I like them because they are not only a lot cheaper than steel gates but they will last longer, yes longer, and are far more versatile. My design uses a sliding top bar to open or latch the gate. The body is made from 25 X 150mm treated pine and is just bolted and nailed together. When the timber finally does give way the bolts can be re-used on the replacement gate. Longevity wise, I put up a steel gate five years ago at the same time as I made a batch of these timber gates. Today I noticed the steel gate is almost completely rusted out and will probably not last more than a few more months. The timber gates look as good as the day they were made.

As it goes

Ever had one of those days where you work all day yet don't seem to have anything to show for it at the end?
I spent the day busy. Milking and doing the morning feeds. Scything the driveway (must go pick the hay up when I have finished this). Moved the pigs to their top paddock. Spent the middle of the day in the workshop where I am making a new cheese press. Then in the afternoon I put up some more framing on the new chook pens. I have cream out to make another batch of butter tonight and a big bowl of jalapeno chilli's to make sauce and some pickled chilli's for myself waiting in the kitchen. Yet here I am at the end of the day and although I am tired I feel like there is little to see for my efforts.
Mmmmm chilli sauce. Not for the faint of heart!
Uncle Ulfs Chilli sauce.
  • Two big handfuls of fresh Jalapeno chillis
  • One big handful of fresh fiesta chillis
  • One brown onion
  • Half a cup of brown sugar
  • Half a cup of cider vinegar
  • Half a cup of water
  1. Mince or blend chillis and onion to the desired consistency. Leave the seeds in if you like it hot. Remove the seeds if you do not like to live dangerously.
  2. Fry, on a high heat, with a little olive oil in a heavy pan until the onion turns translucent.
  3. Add sugar, vinegar and water. Stir until the mixture comes to the boil then turn the heat to low and continue stirring occasionally until the mixture begins to thicken.
  4. Spoon while still hot from the pan into sterilized hot jars and seal. Allow to cool and ensure the seal is tight.
  5. Age for at least one week to allow the flavour and heat to mature.
Other news. We have had a bad run of luck with the geese. Last week four geese turned up with their throats torn out by some predator. I am completely mystified as to what exactly- the bite marks are too small for a cat or dog. Besides we have a maremma on the place and she has been completely successful in keeping the local feral dogs away. A Quoll perhaps? Or some other native predator. Whatever it is it certainly must be tough to take down a goose. A cat or even a fox would not be able to do that. Anyway, goodbye geese and I will not be putting anything else in the orchard until it is properly cleared.
Only half grown at the moment. They are currently the size of a large dog. For reference, the fence is 90cm tall.

The pigs have grown. No longer cute little piglets who could all sleep in their trough together. Their trough now could only just contain one. Feed time is sort of a porcine opera combined with all in mud wrestling. Fun to watch though. We had a good stroke of luck with a local potato grower. They are dumping their seconds potatoes in the fields for cattle and were only too happy for us to have as many tonnes as we wanted for free. We made a donation though as I feel it would be poor manners to take without any return. So I drove over last week and they loaded a one tonne crate of potatoes on the back of my truck. Now the piggies are eating like kings- boiled potatoes at every meal and we are saving a lot of money on feed.
Happy as a pig in mud and they are too. It is great fun to watch them digging and rolling about.