Saturday, December 31, 2011

All the best for 2012!

Just a quick update (not many updates on the blog in recent times I know!!!).  Our family wish all our family and other readers a very happy new year.  May it be productive, enjoyable, and a great year for all!

2011 has been a very busy year for us.  Between working on the house (the never ending timber frame!!!), setting up our farm, and the daily chores and seasonal activities, we are very busy. 

So, what did we do in 2011?
re-fenced my vegetable garden (to be goat proof).
dug 80sqm potatoe patch (which is close to harvest now!)
got ducks
got geese
hatched 17 chickens (a new one hatched just last week)
built a post and beam frame of heavy hardwood timber and put it up without a crane or machinery of any sort!
got a roof on our frame
cut and split enough firewood for the coming winter
made enough jam to survive any acopalypse that 2012 may bring
planted about a dozen fruit trees and 40 or so raspberry canes
lots of reading and planning for developing our farm into a productive property

Well, thats all I can think of!!

Happy new year!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happiness is ....

More raspberries than you can eat

Watching little chicks


A thriving potatoe patch

New critters


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New life

Over the last few weeks there has been a flush of new life here on the farm.  Five chickens have hatched and doing really well.  I had planned to write about the amazing animal instincts, that a hen knows how long to sit on her eggs, to turn them (up to 100 times per day), and then how to care for her young.  Not bad for an animal regarded as stupid.  The ability of the mother hen never ceases to amaze me, its mother nature at her best.

Our daughter just loves the chicks

Mother hen teaching the chicks how to forage

Sadly, not all animals on the farm are quite so amazing!  Our goat Rosie had twin boys on friday evening.  All went well with the birth, however it became apparent that the following day she didn't particularly want them.  Or I think more correctly she doesn't know what to do with them. She likes them when we are there with her, but she abandons them to follow us, rather than stay with them.  She screams at our window for us, leaving her own kids in the paddock.  Luckily our other goat Dorka was more than happy to adopt the two.  A true 'nanny' goat!

The kids at about 2-3 days old
 We are now getting 3-4L of milk per day, which means we can make more cheese.  We haven't yet decided what to do with our two little boys, one has horn buds, while the other appears to be polled (we will have to have a better look though).  We had hoped for at least one girl, to keep as a milker... 

The kids!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Dairy dreaming!

We have been milking our goat Dorka for about 2 years now (on the single lactation).  She still produces on average 1L per day, which is not much for a dairy goat, but we don't feed her concentrates or anything to increase her milk supply.  We have made a bit of cheese but due to the quantity of milk, we haven't really had enough to make lots of cheese.  So far we have made feta, haloumi and cream cheese.  We haven't dabbled in any of the mould type cheeses yet, or hard cheeses for keeping. 

In a few weeks our other goat Rosie is due to have her first kid/s.  She is enormous, but she always has a bit of a belly, so its hard to say if its multiples or just her!  She certainly has slowed down in the last week or so, but still defiant in her escape from the paddock.  We have been trying very hard to keep the goats in their paddock (they free range on all our land - mostly just around us- so all the gardens have to be fenced off from them, rather than them being like normal livestock...  We added an electric wire about 30cm above ground level and the same out from the main fence to try and keep them in, plus poly droppers (2 between each set of posts) to hold the wires tight together so they can't just walk through the fence.  Its just a 6 strand plain wire fence, which is just not enough to keep goats in.  With the imminent arrival of at least one new goat (Rosie's baby/s) we really want them to stay in the paddock as while 2 goats hanging around isn't too bad, 3-4 is going to be a bit much, particularly as they tend to follow me when I go walking the dogs...

For the last few months we have been discussing getting a Jersey cow for milk, mostly for the cream content, so we can make butter.  We have come close to buying one, but we are going to wait a bit longer (for starters we HAVE to solve the goat fence troubles!), to set up a dairy shed and do more fencing.  My parents brought us some raw Jersey milk from a farm, so I just had to have a try at making butter.  We just poured off some of the cream (approximately 700mL) into a pyrex jug and then beat it with a handheld beater.  It took a while to turn (probably because the cream was fresh) but it did turn eventually, and I made about 150g of butter.  It was nice to have a go before we invest in a cow, just to be sure I can do it.  Before we buy a cow we will have to buy or make a churn, butter paddles and I'm hoping to get a butter mould so I can make 'pretty' butter. 

My first go at making butter, delicious!

My father just returned from a trip to Switzerland, and I asked him to pick up a few goat bells and cow bells.  So he brought home 2 new goat bells for our 2 goats and 2 second hand bells (one small and one big) for our cows when we eventually get them.  I can't wait to put the bells on the goats, but it'll have to wait till we get new collars, as they wont fit on the ones they wear now. 

One of the new goat bells

The bells were traditionally put on cows and goats when they were taken up to the high meadows of the Swiss alps, so that the cow/goatherd would know where the animals were, so none could run away.  The best milker wore the biggest bell, and there were often celebrations when the cows/goats went up to the alps in spring and then again on their return in autumn. 

selection of cow and goat bells from Switzerland

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spring eggs

The spring equinox just passed by a few days ago.  In the northern hemisphere this coincides with easter which takes much of its symbolism from spring - eggs, baby birds and bunnies.  For us in the south, now would be the time to celebrate the joy of eggs, as at easter time they are rare! 

Our girls are laying well, and from 12 standard sized hens, 2 bantam and 4 ducks we get about 15 eggs a day.  Its nice to have some to give away and sell, as well as plenty for baking yummy cakes and custardy desserts.  We also get to partake in the daily egg hunt, as our girls like to hide their eggs from us (I wonder where the chocolate egg hunt idea came from????).

We have one clucky hen sitting on 9 eggs, so fingers crossed it all goes well and we get a nice clutch of chicks.  Its important to keep new hens coming in each year, and at about $30 per hen it becomes costly to buy and replace your stock all the time.  We have a new rooster, a Speckled Sussex who is quite nice and should bring in some new qualities to our mixed breed flock.

The garden is really growing now (and the grass) the loganberries and raspberries are just starting to flower, as are the strawberries.  Lots of little seedlings are popping up (such as silverbeet, lettuce, mustards, kale), and my precious tomatoe seedlings and cucurbits (pumpkin, zuchinni, cucumber, melons etc) are just germinating.

I'm planning to grow a ' 3 sisters' style plot for our sweet corn and popcorn.  The 3 sisters are corn, beans and squash.  The native american indians grew gardens like this before white settlement, so its a very early example of companion planting.  The corn provides poles for the climbing beans, the beans provide nitrogen to the soil and the squash provides a living mulch to keep the soil moist (which is really important for the corn).  They planted them in mounds with the plants fairly closely planted.  It will be a bit of an experiment anyhow. 

One of our goats Rosie is 'in kid' and due in November.  This means that after having her for over a year we will finally be able to start milking her!  She is looking enormous, so I'm anticipating twins (hopefully NOT triplets) so there wont be much milk to start with.  We are also investigating buying a house cow, most likely a Jersey, so that we can make bigger quantities of cheese and importantly BUTTER!  We use a bit of butter in cooking and baking so it makes sense to produce our own, and we are all pretty keen on making all our own dairy products.  Excess milk and whey will be fed to the chooks and eventually to some pigs which I'd like to get for garden tillage. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Busy busy

The blog has been quiet this year, but that is because we have been so busy with everything!  It feels like we are getting somewhere occasionally.  Lots of work to reach our goals of self sufficiency.

This week the kids and I planted out our potatoe patch - approximately 80sqm.  I have been spending a bit of time each day turning over the soil, then chopping up the sod with a hoe and hilling up the soil into rows.  Then the fun but back-breaking job of planting out the seed potatoes and backfilling.

planting potatoes with a little help from the kids
Now I just have to mulch with the old bedding from the goat shed and I can take a quick breath before the spring vegies have to be propagated!!!

the hand dug potatoe patch - ready for mulching
Spring is most definately here now.  Hardly a drop of rain this month, which coincides with the arrival of a new water tank!!!  We thought we would add more storage to our fairly modest 22,500L tank that is our domestic, garden and stock water supply!

new tank arrives!
The chooks all think its spring too, as they have been very busy laying eggs for us, so its nice to have plenty to enjoy and use in baking.  This year I'm planning on baking a few rich fruit cakes to put away to enjoy in the winter when eggs are scarce and not available for baking cakes.  Fruit cakes keep for ages if wrapped up and kept in a dark pantry.

our 5 year old with one of the hens we raised this year
I'm about to start all our summer vegies this week, all the tomatoes, pumpkins, zuchinni, cucumbers etc.  And then the REALLY busy time begins!

Monday, August 8, 2011

An early spring

I had heard at our local plant nursery that we were in for an early spring, and after the last week of record August warmth for our region, I have to say I agree!  Although it was lovely, its a bit disconcerting to be out and about in a t-shirt in August!!! 

Again, I have to apologise for the lack of updates on the blog.  Due to the lovely weather, I have been spending very little time inside, and even less time on the computer! 

I've been slowly working away at all the jobs that need doing around the farm.  I've planted about 12 fruit trees, plus about 30-40 raspberry plants, and a dozen rhubarb crowns.  I've fenced off what will be developed into a food forest, with 4 strands of electric fencing to keep out our 2 free range goats (my next fencing project will be upgrading the paddock fencing, so that our 2 free range goats will be restricted to being 'paddock goats' instead!!).  I've spent a bit of time fencing off another garden plot to plant our potatoes in this year (its about 8m x 8m).  Now I just have to dig all that area over to plant the potatoes!!!

happy free range ducks with my simple goat proof fence in the background
 We did some burning off of cypress prunings. I'm not a big fan of burning off, I don't like wasting even sticks for an 'unproductive' fire, but we have alot prunings around the place and dry cypress burns a little too good to have it lying around all summer (especially since its predicted to be a much drier summer than the last....).

I'm getting excited about our spring/summer garden.  We are planning on planting some new crops - popcorn and luffa (to use as a more eco friendly alternative to dishwashing sponges -yes we are the only people on the planet who still wash up by hand, haha).  Plus a few different varieties of tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans and zuchinni.  I'm really going to push myself a bit with the garden this year and aim to produce some good crops that will cover us for the whole years consumption. 

the vegie garden, getting ready for spring
Next year we plan on starting to grow our own grains.  Probably just wheat, oats and maize (a better alternative to growing ordinary sweet corn as you can pick it 'green' for sweet corn and leave some to mature as maize for cornmeal and animal feed).  We will look at buying some pigs to employ as ploughs to help with preparing bigger plots for planting. 

The bees survived the winter and were out and about enjoying the sunshine!  That was a relief as I was unsure how much honey they had and how much they need to keep them going.  We will harvest some in late spring, just enough for our own needs and see how that goes. 

We are still reading the 'little house on the praire' series of books as a family and loving them.  We are now up to the 5th book and now have a popcorn and reading ritual going (inspired by Almanzo's family popcorn and reading nights in Farmer Boy).  We can't recommend these books highly enough - not just for kids.

Our little girl turns 5 this week!  She got an early birthday present of a trio of Rhode Island Red bantams, which she adores, and goes out to visit MANY times a day.  Hopefully the hens will be good broodies and hatch some chickens for us this year.  Speaking of chickens, summers little chicks are now all grown up and some are laying!  We are getting a few more eggs each day.  Another sign that spring is around the corner.

happy free-range kids!

Monday, July 11, 2011


"A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you are a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with the wood out of your own timber.  You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come.  You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm."  Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

We are currently reading the 'little house on the praire' series of books to our kids.  We have just finished Farmer Boy, which was fantastic.  I highly recommend them to children or adults alike.  The detail in the daily processes, from churning butter, weaving cloth, shearing sheep and hauling wood are fantasic, and give you such a sense of the tasks that had to be done.

I suppose for our family this story was pretty special, as it outlined alot of the stuff that we are doing or trying to achieve with our own patch of land.  It also is a great reminder that we can survive after peak oil and the changes that will bring with it. 

Sorry for my absence from the blog for the last few months.  I've been flat out with keeping up with the work on our little farm.  I've started planting out our fruit trees in our food forest (which is basically a less tidy version of an orchard with multiple layers and eventually edible ground covers as well), I've planted out a bed of asparagus (thanks to my friend Jo who supplied me with some of her own home grown asparagus crowns), one of rhubarb and 3 of strawberries.  I'm also preparing the garden for the spring crops and enjoying going through seed catalouges to decide what we will plant this spring.  I'm determined to improve on my vegetable garden this year and really focus on growing all that we need. 

The weather has been a bit of a mix lately, with unseasonally warm (and very spring like) weather, and now the more typical cold, wet and very windy weather.  There is talk that this summer will be drier again, and I've noticed that the wattles have started flowering, but the flowers are sparse and nothing like that of last year.  Wonder if it means anything....

Monday, May 2, 2011


We have been blessed with some lovely autumn days (as well as lots of rain), but despite nice weather winter is just around the corner.  In our part of the world the sun sits very low in the sky and the shadows get longer.  We are now in 'power saving' mode here, with a very modest off-grid solar power system (with trees to our north!!! Probably THE worst situation - but its only temporary).  We have to be more and more careful about how much power we use, particularly the stuff that is left on over night (as in appliances on standby mode etc). 

halloween in the southern hemisphere! At the RIGHT time of year!
Autumn here has been a busy season with garden harvests, roadside harvests and lots of preserving.  I've tried to expand my collection of preserves this year, with green tomatoe relish and pickles, pickled zuchinni, tomatoe sauce and bottled apples (cooking apple variety Belle de Boskoop from a nearby organic apple orchard).  I also made the usual chutneys and jams.  I still have Apple butter and chestnut jam on my list to do before I can rest in the kitchen!

bottled apples

We have made 2 batches of wine this year - cherry plum (from the roadside trees) and apple and blackberry.  We finally got to taste our blackberry wine that we made last year and it was a sucess!

I have been doing lots of work in the garden pulling out the summer crops and preparing the soil for the winter crops and new perrenials like asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries.  I'm also planning on planting a good number of fruit trees this winter so there is plenty of preparation to do before the fruit trees become available in July (mostly fencing to keep out our free range goats!).

some action on the house too!

On a wanna be self-sufficient farm there is no 'quiet' time it seems, as there is always plenty to do (hence there has been very little activity on the blog!)

Monday, April 4, 2011


Yesterday we added a new species to the farm.  Four Welsh Harlequin ducks, about 6 months old and just started laying.  I had planned on getting Indian Runner ducks (primarly because they are good layers and the come in the 'typical' white with orange bill colouring - our daughter is a mad Jemimah Puddleduck fan...).  As it is the Welsh Harlequin is a rare duck breed, which was derived from the Kahki Campbell duck - which is a very good layer.

The ducks are very beautiful (I would love to get a drake of the same breed they are stunning!), and fairly calm for ducks, although they don't really like the kids running around them too much.  At the moment they are confined to a small pen and yard.  I have 2 side by side, so I'll rotate the ducks between the yards once it gets too muddy.  We will eventually fence off an orchard and let them run around there.  I'd love to set up a 'duckaponics' system to grow rice, but that will probably be a few years down the track.

Our reasoning for getting ducks is to complement the egg laying of our hens - ducks are happy in the winter and lay well when the hens mope an moult their feathers and don't lay much.  The ducks will slow down when the hens will pick up the pace in summer.  We do lots of baking and cooking and use lots of eggs, so diversifying our egg production is important to keep us in good fresh eggs. 

The kids are rapped in the latest additions, and the paler duck is of course Jemimah Puddleduck. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Its been a while since I've posted on the blog.  Life has been very full, and there is just never enough hours in the day to do it all! 

We have had an amazing growing season here.  Although the weather hasn't been as typically warm as most years, we have had LOTS of rain (over 200mm in February...  2 years ago we had about 7mm!!!).  Everything has remained green, which has been lovely, and has meant no worrying about bushfires or watering the garden.  I'm enjoying it, although it has meant that we have had a dismal tomaoe harvest this year. 

We have enjoyed a very abundant zuchinni harvest however!!!  I've had to get a bit creative with using them up!  This year I've grown capsicums for the first time and I'll definately be planting them again.  They have been pretty successful.  I also planted sweetcorn which grew well, but we did have issues with pollination (I think our site is too windy). 

Currently we are getting LOTS of apples (from our own tree as well as from friends and roadside trees).  I've bottled some lovely cooking apples from a nearby organic apple orchard, and made some chutney, and cakes etc.  I've also got a batch of apple and blackberry wine on the go.  I'm still hoping to make a batch of apple butter or sauce or something and maybe some more bottled apples.  

In the next few years our fruit trees that we have been planting will start to bear fruit and we will be able to enjoy a real abundance.

I've spent a bit of my time building a duck pen to house a few ducks for eggs.  We finished it off today.  As I understand it, duck are much better winter layers than hens, so they'll offset the reduced egg production from the hens. Next up on my list is to improve my vegetable garden fencing (and expand it - its currently about 8mx8m but I think double would be ideal). 

Work on the house building has stalled, but I think work may start up again soon.  Its hard as owner builders to find the balance between working to pay for the building and doing the actual building.  Both take alot of time.  I think there will be an update on the house soon on the blog.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roadside plum harvest

In almost any place around the world you will find wild fruit trees on the sides of the roads, particularly small country lanes.  In our region we are lucky to have an abundance of 'cherry plums' and apples (and plenty of blackberries too, but you would want to find an unsprayed patch - as most blackberries in our area get heavily sprayed), as well as chestnuts, peaches and pears.  Some groups are putting together 'scrumping' maps so that the whole community can make use of the harvest. 

I took the kids recently to pick a few buckets full of plums.  The kids ate heaps of them, about a kilogram was turned into a delicious chutney and another kilogram or so was made into wine.  I had planned on making jam as well, but didn't get around to it (last year I made several batches of plum jam).  Chutney making is very well suited to the woodstove, as it requires long slow cooking (something I never could do well on our old electric or gas cook tops - as I've always felt guilty about power use...).  My chutneys have become more or less just a creative process, not much measuring or weighing, just a bit of this and a bit of that!

The wine making is probably the least abount of work.  Last year I made about 12 or 13 bottles of blackberry wine (its been sitting for almost a year now in our cool pantry - we get to sample it in April this year).  This year I thought I would try to make wine from our local plums. The wine is fermeting away in its glass demijohn and will probably take a month or more before it stops, at which point I'll be able to bottle it. 

Its fun to use the foods that grow locally, and to learn different ways of preserving them.  I am looking forward to the apple harvests this year, as our roadside apples are loaded with fruit.  I am planning on drying a whole heap, plus making chutney, bottling some and making some cider.  Meanwhile the blackberries are starting to ripen...

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Then end of last year was a pretty dismal time around here, regarding our flock of chooks.  We lost some to the fox, some to unknown causes, chicks either failed to hatch, or died soon after (the fox took my 2 good mother hens...).  The last attempt at hatching chickens was going well, till about 2 days before hatching, the hen abandoned the eggs (it was very hot, and her broody cage was probably not situated in the best position, she was also bothered by lice).  Out of her 4 eggs one chick hatched.  Since its as much work to care for one chick (and keep it warm) as it is for a few more, I few 'day old' chicks to keep it company.

Raising chicks in a brooder is not really my ideal scenario.  Although they are all doing great, after having watched our mother hens care for and teach the young chicks how to behave, I think its the best way to do it.  I've been feeding them as natural diet as I can manage.  Lots of egg (with crushed garlic and dried nettles), millet, seasame seed, a little wheat and rolled oats.  I also collect some wood lice (slaters) for them. 

What I find amazing is that even these chicks who haven't really seen adult chooks, know how to scratch and have a real appetite for bugs.  Its quite incredible that an animal regarded as unitelligent as the chook can have so many inbuilt instincts.

The kids are enjoying these chicks, they actually get to pick them up (probably more than I would like) and watch them, which is harder with a protective mother hen about!!!  I'm thinking that we have 2 roosters and 4 hens, but only time will tell!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Life has been good, but not particularly eventful here.  We are probably in one of the few parts of our state that has not had extraordinary rains, although still more than is typical for summer.  We have also been lucky to not have our typically hot weather - with more mild 20-35C so far this summer.  Summer usually makes me nervous, and adds a whole new dimension of work as far as watering the garden goes.  So the garden is growing well, the grass is still green (not the usual thing in mid January!). 

sweet corn

zuchinni - the best I've ever grown!

We are devoting most of our spare time to building the house, along with other urgent jobs like shearing (which we finally got around to do this week - again Brad did them using the hand shears), and pulling out Ragwort.  The Ragwort has been very prolific this year, not just in abundance, but also in the sheer size of the plants (some are as tall as us).  Personally I don't think its such a big deal, its real problem is that the most common livestock here don't eat it, so therefore its taking the place of grass.  I've been doing some reading on 'natural farming' although I use that description loosely - a book by Joel Salatin.  The book (The Sheer Ecstacy of Being a Lunatic Farmer) has 'joined the dots' on alot of things I read about and know, and the issue of Ragwort is one of them.  By consistently grazing the same animals, and getting them to graze the grass down before moving them on, you are actually encouring the growth of plants that they DON'T like!  As they eat the stuff they like and let the 'weeds' grow strongly.  Makes sense, yet that is how pretty much all 'produtive' farming is done.  Litres of chemicals poured over the land to deal with an issue that cross grazing with sheep or goats would control....

I've been inspired by Salatin's example and am currently reading more about our food system and diet (Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food).  Its definatley a topic that is close to my heart, and we are pretty passionate about producing real food, that hasn't been adulterated by the industrial food system. I'll leave it at that for the moment, but I highly recommend reading about these topics, especially about how our food system works and what you are eating.  Food is probably THE most important thing in our lives, and we should be eating the best food (even if its expensive) and in its 'natural' state - not processed.

The weather (apart from when it has been raining) has been very nice for taking photos.  Such beautiful blue skies.  Here are some snapshots of the last few weeks.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2010, 2011 and beyond

2010 was a very short year for us, well it felt short, like we could have blinked and missed it.  I think that is because of the preparation for building the house, you know how time flies if you have a deadline....  We have been pretty busy with the building stuff now, and its nice to actually be able to do something, instead of just waiting for paperwork etc.  You can read more about it here.

As far as general life on the farm 2010 was a bittersweet year.  We lost quite a few animals, our goat gyspy, an alpaca, but by far the most abundant losses were in our hens.  We started spring with 13 hens, and now we have 5 left.  But typical of the way nature works, one of the hens is sitting on a few eggs, so new life may replenish the losses. This quote pretty much sums it up, and keeps coming back to me, as it seems so 'real'.

"Earth brings us into life and nourishes us. Earth takes us back again.  Birth and death are present in every moment"

Since we left town, I feel that we have come closer to nature and the cycles of life and seasons.  Its easy in town to disconnect, it doesn't matter what the weather is like because you have the same temperature year round due to the wonders of heating/cooling systems, you don't eat seasonally as farmers will run heated hothouses to provide tomatoes year round or we import from warmer climates, so we can eat watermelon in winter.  Out here, the seasons are 'in your face', if its cold its hard to not notice it.  When you grow any vegetables, you become aware of when the naturally would grow in your area.

2011 is promising to be another full year for us, which will probably pass by far too quickly (considering we almost half way through january already - how did that happen??).  The house building will be a dominant part of our lives for the next few years.  We will also focus our efforts on establishing good infrastructure such as fencing, water pipes and additional tanks and catchments, more protection for trees and gardens and setting up yards etc for animal management.  Due to our sagas with our hens, we will also be looking at setting up a portable house that can be moved around the paddocks with a herd guardian of some sort.  We will also try and inrease our food production, and reduce our reliance on outside sources of food for us and the animals.  We will see how far we will get with that this year.