Saturday, February 27, 2010


Autumn is fast approaching, and around here autumn means apples! Its the start of the apple harvest, and this year seems to be a good year! Our tree (a very old tree - probably at least 50 years old) has born a great crop of HUGE apples. The birds have been eating them, and the wind has knocked many down (food for the chickens and I've been making chutney), but there are many there, still ripening.

Apples are one of the great harvests in the cool temperate zones. You can store them as they are (usually wrapped in newspaper in a box in a cool place) if they are un damaged (not windfalls), make chutney, apple sauce, apple butter, bottle them, dry them, juice them and make cider. I am planning on doing a bit of all of these!!!

The other great thing about apples is that there are so many wild trees on the side of the road (in country areas, especially along roads that were once busy, but are no longer used much), probably grown from discarded cores or spread by birds. I have taken note of the different fruit trees growing wild in our area and so far I have found - apples, pears, chestnuts, cherry plums (various varieties), peaches and loquat. I always keep my eyes open for edibles when we are out.

Nearby there is a heritage apple nursery, and this year I want to head there and buy some more apple trees. Not the run of the mill varieties, but some of the old and no longer common varieties, and I want a Cox's Orange Pippin (I did plant one a couple of years ago, but alas, my 'patented method for hardening off trees' did not suit this tree and it kindly died on me...)!

Aside from being (almost literally) showered in apples right now, things have been relatively quiet around here. We have been working at getting our winter firewood in (pretty much done), and have started on a bit more fencing. The nights are getting cooler, and the sun is dropping in the sky. The equinox is in less than 4 weeks, and then it will start to get both cold and dark. We noticed that up here in the hills the sun sits lower in the sky in winter. It will be the real test of our solar power system - how it will cope with the low sun angle and the gloomy misty winter days of the hills. Wont be long and we will find out!!!

I will leave you with a photo of the kids. Happy, healthy and active little rascals.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Despite the heat and dry conditions over summer, the garden has been providing us with some good harvests.

The garden still needs LOTS of work, alot more organic matter incorporated into the soil, ALOT. There are only so many trips with the wheelbarrow that I can manage per day, and the heat lately has got me out of the habit. I don't mind hard work, but pushing a heavy wheelbarrow up our hill on a hot day isn't much motivation!!! We are in the planning stages of a very big and thoughout chicken pen/vegy garden set up. Its basically the 'chicken tractor' that is often mentioned in permaculture books. There will be one largish under cover shed, where the hens will roost and get out of the rain, with a reasonable sized yard attached to it. Then comming off this will by long beds, which will be the vegetable garden beds, so when the harvesting is done, the chickens can be let into one of these beds and clean up, turn over and fertilize etc. If everythign is off limits, then they will be restricted to just the yard and shed. Hopefully it will solve a few problems that I have - increase the fertility of the soil, more area (and therefore food for the chickens) and stop the chickens from destroying my current garden when I let them out (very important to me!!!). Its going to be a fair bit of work, but hopefully will give us a very productive garden.

Speaking of chickens, we have another 2 hens gone broody. Hopefully tonight we will move them to our chick hatching pen (the old rabbit cage). Our daughter is pretty excited about this, and is talking constantly about chicks hatching etc. Not sure though about the timing, it seems a bit late now, as the chicks will hatch in autumn, but perhaps it will work out well, they will probably be ready to lay in spring.

As I am writing this we are being blessed with some lovely rain, and lots of it. It rained all night, and the day before we got a heavy downpour (which included very large hail - like golf balls!). Its just lovely, and at least I get out of watering the garden!!! I guess I should get the trusty wheelbarrow out and do some manure collecting instead!

Friday, February 5, 2010

the harvest season

Its hard to believe that I am writing this post on a gloomy, foggy, rainy day, considering that in 2 days time is the one year anniversary of the worst bush fires we have seen in our area, and entire country. I think the figure is around about 200 people killed, but I think the exact figure will never be known, as the fires were so bad... I know I am not alone in my apprehension about summer, and what we might face, sales of 'fire gear' was through the roof, and many shops in early spring (when we had a mini-heat wave) had sold out of protective gear like smoke masks and goggles and fire pumps.... Summer is not over yet, but at least we can relax a bit, as we can be sure that we wont have the same conditions we had this time last year - we have had rain!! And over 20mm (not quite an inch) of it over night!!

The rain is also welcome for the garden, which has survived well, considering I can only handwater with a watering can (with a large garden and 2 kids there are only so many trips I can make). We have been enjoying beans, carrots, zuchinni and potatoes from the garden, as well as our own eggs (the hens are laying like mad) and milk. So entire meals from our land are possible! The tomatoes have only just started to set fruit, and this is a problem shared by many gardeners this year. Many have noticed a lack of bees, which is probably part of it, and most likely our 'odd' weather this past spring/summer. I wonder if its just an odd season, or is this part of a change in climate that seems to be happening. I guess we will have to wait and see.

We have a blackberry glut! I have made a few batches of blackberry and apple jam, which is beautiful, as well as apple and blackberry pies and other deserts. But at the moment I have a batch of blackberry wine on the go! This is my very first attempt at wine making (we have done beer making from the purchased kits).

It is definately fermeting, as its bubbling along fairly rapidly, and we have snuck a taste and it tastes nice. The recipe is quite simple and only required the purchase of sugar (I buy organic sugar by the 25kg bag), lemons and a small sachet of wine yeast. There are many recipes in books or online, so I wont go into the process as such, but you basically just mash the fruit, cover with water and leave it over night, then add sugar, yeast and lemon juice and put into demijohns. I believe it will ferment for a month or possibly more, and once its finished you rack (siphon) it off into bottles and cork it. Then the hard part - to leave it sit for a whole year!!! We will only know if its nice when we would need to start the next lot!

The next harvest for the area will be apples. We have one old apple tree here, which is loaded with fruit, plus a few young ones that we have planted and are yet to fruit. But we are lucky that along most of the roads up here are many wild apple trees, either grown from discarded apple cores, or spread by birds. Either way, they are a great resource, and in the next month or so we will make a few apple collecting expeditions! Can't wait. I think we will look at bottling some apple pulp for pies etc, and dry apple rings. Our horses and goats love apples, so will have a go at some more long term storage too. As they say 'a dollar saved is a dollar earned', which is pretty much our way of life here, we would rather spend our days picking apples or blackberries, than going to work to buy them!!! They don't call it the 'good life' for nothing!