For better or worse

We have a couple of significant blackberry patches on our farm. By significant I mean at least 20m2. Significant enough for us to pick blackberries over a period of around 6 weeks, which is just now drawing to a close. Significant enough to be considered a weedy pest and to warrant some sort of weed control action. Such a dilemma – the promise of small, sweet flavour bombs, filled with vitamin C and the sun’s warmth, juxtaposed against the invasive, thorny sticks which climb through our fences and sucker under the ground to get to the water in our dam.

I wrote here of hoping to pick some blackberries – it didn’t happen that year as I just got waylaid and distracted by life. This year I did manage to pick blackberries – enough to make jam, eat with ice-cream and eat while picking more! They were amazingly sweet and juicy.

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I made simple apple and blackberry jam, with blackberries from our bushes and apples foraged from roadside trees a few kilometres from the farm. I spent $1.95 on sugar. That was the total cost of the jam. We made enough jam for ourselves, probably not enough to give away, but enough to satisfy our craving for blackberry and apple jam.  I put 750gm of fruit (about 80% blackberries and 20% apples) and 750gm of sugar into a pot and cooked it just above boiling point (around 105ºC) for long enough for it to start to thicken.

Making Blackberry Jam

Once it had thickened I poured into jars and put the lids on – wasn’t that difficult, just a little time consuming and totally worth the time spent.

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Now that the fruit is almost finished, we have set up our goats’ shelter and water near the blackberries – they love them too and will happily munch their way through the thorns, prickles and brambly sticks to get to the remaining fruit and the green leaves – there’s not much that is green at this time of the year, so they are happy to munch into blackberry leaves despite the thorny challenge presented. We are hoping that they will munch a significant portion of this particular patch down to a few sticks which can be cut back and burnt when the fire ban season ends. This will reduce the weed load on the farm and we will still have enough to provide us with some tasty fruit next year. It’s not so much that we need to eradicate the bushes completely; but that we need to make sure they are kept under control and don’t creep into the native vegetation and take over the local indigenous plantings. Here’s Maggie having a munch at those prickles…

Maggie in Blackberries

So each summer I think we will pick a few and give some more to the goats to keep them busy … For better or worse, they are good to have at the farm and make a great summer dessert, jam for winter and fodder for animals – I’m keeping them!


What a difference a weekend makes

Last weekend, some 22 friends and relatives joined us on the farm to transform areas of paddock to areas of revegetation.  We were lucky enough to have some other good friends grow our Trees for Life order this year so we have been able to watch their progress from the time the seeds were planted. Trees for Life is a community of people working to revegetate South Australia and conserve its remnant vegetation. We collected 585 trees this year from our grower friends and from Saturday morning until Sunday lunchtime, a group of us dug holes, planted trees, placed tree guards and had some great fun along the way.  We planted up two areas of our farm.

Saturday saw us plant 260 trees which we hope will form a windbreak for our dam, protecting it in future years from the hot, harsh north winds of summer and reducing evaporation of our precious water supply.  We also hope that these trees will reduce the flow of water through our paddocks and onto our road area, thereby reducing erosion and loss of top soil. Finally we expect this tree belt will provide shelter for our stock in years to come.

Here is how we started – a few people in the morning and more in the afternoon, a line in the paddock made of flour, outlining the area to be planted up – seemed a bit daunting when it was a blank paddock.

2014 Day 1 Begins

We were closely supervised by the cows who took great interest in what we were doing, that is until they realised we weren’t there to feed them: 2014 Day 2 Progress

And by the end of the day, many hands had made light work of 260 trees – although our bodies still ached a little!

2014 Day 1 End

We did have some help along the way.  Our youngest tree planter was not quite three years old, but knew how to select a good plant and place it where it will grow:

  2014 Youngest

Even Superman came out to help …

2014 Superman

Amid the camaraderie and conversation, we dug, planted, refilled holes and applied tree guards under a beautiful blue late autumn sky. New friends were made, old friends caught up and long lost cousins re-united – a group of like minded individuals, concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, doing a little something to make a difference.

On the Sunday morning we decided to do a bit more planting – because we just weren’t aching quite enough in all of our joints and muscles!

And so we set out to plant a small wind break in what is earmarked to become our horticulture paddock.

photo 2

And when we were finished we counted just over 100 trees … not a bad morning’s work.

photo 3

We couldn’t have done it without the energy and running legs of the junior tree planters who enthusiastically chose plants, passed out tree guards, dug holes, played behind the farm shed, carried materials and kept us entertained while we worked.

    photo 1

All in all, it was an amazing weekend, where good friends came together to make a difference. Without them we would have a lot more trees still in plastic waiting for a place on our farm and we wouldn’t have enjoyed such great company and determination to impact our world positively. If you’ve never been involved in a tree planting or re-vegetation project, I highly recommend it!


A new garden

One of the challenges I have faced since moving to the farm is that I have had to start from scratch with my veggie garden. Instead of benefiting from the previous year’s soil conditioning, chook manure and green growth dug through the soil making friable black dirt, I have started with a heavy clay soil. I decided to create raised garden beds, partly to counter the heavy clay with some soil that might be slightly easier on my plants, but also to make gardening easier on my back. Inspired by the German “Hugelkultur”, some no dig gardening techniques and “lasagna beds”, I created layered beds in what was a paddock from bottom to top like this:

  • I let the chooks dig over the ground and fertilise for around a week (or sometimes two weeks if I forgot to move them)
  • a layer of thick cardboard – a good way to reuse the packing boxes
  • a layer of acacia branches which had been pruned off the bushes – they are prickly and not very nice to walk around, so they had to go. I am hoping they will add nitrogen to the soil from their green branches
  • a layer of clay soil we dug up from our shed pad
  • a layer of compost
  • a layer of straw
  • a layer of mixed soil and compost which I bought in (and is proving to have lots of weeds in it – not something I had really wanted)

Here’s the process in photos:

Chooks have finished, cardboard is put in place

Chooks have finished working over the area, cardboard is put in place

The prickly Acacia is added

The prickly Acacia is added

Clay soil is layered on top - hopefully this will help with water retention in the bed

Clay soil is layered on top of the prickly Acacia – hopefully this will help with water retention in the bed

Bed with all layers ready for planting

Bed with all layers except the final layer of soil/compost mix, almost ready for planting

Several of my friends joked that, before they were planted, they looked like freshly dug graves.  But from these funny looking garden beds, we will raise life and food! This year I have grown all my seedlings from seeds. Most years I buy seedlings and take advantage of someone else’s early work to push my garden along, but this year I decided I would grow everything I could from seed – a cheaper option which also provided me with a much wider range of heritage varieties to choose from, rather than just growing those varieties which are sold in the mainstream garden centres.

Into these long piles of promising dirt and compost, I have planted three varieties of heritage potatoes, climbing snow peas, 3 varieties of zucchinis, 2 varieties of pumpkins, tomatoes including a few which have self propogated from the compost which was their growing medium, celery given to me by a friend, beans and lettuces (some of my lettuces came from seedlings which I obtained at the local food swap,the others have been grown from seed).

Veggie Progress, December 2013

Veggie Progress, December 2013

It has taken a little longer for our food garden to become productive this year, in part because I had to start with building the beds and in part because I have chosen to grow from seed. We are now just beginning to harvest our crop, with plenty of lettuce and tomatoes for our salads, and peas, punpkins and zucchinis are beginning to flower, meaning less we need to buy from the markets, a step towards self-sufficiency and the undeniable pleasure and taste of home grown produce.

First Tomatoes of the Season

First Tomatoes of the Season


Three Surprises in the Paddock

About a month ago we had been off farm for a few days and when we returned we discovered that one of our steer calves had set himself free by getting through the electric fence – or perhaps around the electric fence – into the hay paddock!  He was quite happily munching and consuming his summer feed well ahead of time.  I walked up the paddock to see if I could convince him to go back with his herd and as I was walking up the hill I did a quick head count – we have 10 cattle in total so I wanted to make sure no-one else had gone walkabout too.  I counted – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10. 11 – hang on … 11? 11 – where did you come from number 11?  You are too little to be one of ours … 11?

As I got closer, number 11 moved closer towards its mother – to our delight, Arrabella had given birth to a young heifer while we had been away.  She was still wobbly on her legs, so we think she may have been born within the last 24 hours or so … We didn’t even realise Arrabella was pregnant!  She is quite a tall and large framed cow and had been feeding her older calf, Knuckles, so we did not think anything of it when we saw her swollen udder or were knocked off our feet in her rush to get to the feed!  Then we did the sums.  We had Benson, the bull in only 5 months previously … so this calf was not his.  We purchased Arrabella and two others in January.  She must have been pregnant when we bought her!  But no-one, except Arrabella, knew that.

What a lovely surprise our bonus calf was, so we called her Bonnie.

Arrabella and Bonnie

And then I started to wonder … could the other cow and heifer that we purchased at the same time also be pregnant?  It was difficult to tell with Astrid, as she too, had been feeding a calf that we bought with her.  Four days later, another calf appeared in our paddock!  Another heifer calf … Astrid had indeed been pregnant!  Here’s Bella:

Bella

I studied Apple very closely from that point on, her udder was getting larger than it should have been if she was only 5 months pregnant. While she wasn’t looking overlay rotund, that udder was getting bigger everyday.

Three days later, Kokoda, a bull calf was born.

Apple and Kokoda

While we were a little surprised by these three early additions to our farm, we were also excited – there is something amazing about new life, no matter what form it comes in and these three curious calves have won our hearts!  Welcome little ones.


Happy Birthday Farm!

This weekend just gone we celebrated owning our farm for one year. We invited our friends down who had helped us in our first year, to help us celebrate. People have been so generous with their time and energy helping us to establish our dream.  Some of the things they have helped us with have included:

  • Preparing growing and planting over 300 Trees for Life trees
  • Moving mulch and mulching native and orchard trees
  • Helping us move fences
  • Sharing equipment when we needed it
  • Providing advice and guidance
  • Providing meals and drinking water
  • Giving us fruit trees
  • Helping us to put up our sheds
  • Helping us move, manage and care for our livestock
  • Helping us pack the container
  • Providing encouragement, moral support and, most importantly, friendship

Without the energy and enthusiasm of so many friends and family, we would not have come as far as we have in this year. For this I am very grateful.  I may never be able to repay our friends and family for what they have helped us achieve this year, but I hope I can repay them with grass fed meat and fresh fruit in years to come.  To share the produce of our labours with those who have shown faith in us in our early years will be reward enough.

We feel like we have achieved quite a lot in our first year. We have upgraded and extended the property’s road, built a farm shed and a garden shed, purchased our initial breeding stock, produced 8 lambs and 3 calves, learnt how to use portable electric fencing, harvested around 12 kgs of honey from our hives, started planting our orchard and are planning our house with plans on the drafting board.

Many hands make light work - 300 trees planted in an afternoon!

Many hands make light work – 300 trees planted in an afternoon!

Apple and her bull calf, Kokoda

Apple and her bull calf, Kokoda

Farm Shed

Farm Shed

Mulching the trees

Mulching the trees

Road in Progress

Road in Progress

Our first harvest

Our first harvest

Birthday 2013_2                                            Birthday 2013_1

Sometimes it’s been frustrating and difficult and the learning curve has felt like a vertical ride!  But I wouldn’t change it for the world.  When I step outside and see the beauty we have around us and I walk among the cows who nuzzle and lick at my hands I can’t think of wanting to be anywhere else.

Happy birthday Jagged Crow Farm!


Downsizing … downshifting … down south

Well we have finally moved onto our farm property.  While the shed is still under construction and the house plans are still, literally, on the drawing board, we have moved into our 30 year old caravan. It might sound aged, however it offers what I like to call the ‘master suite’ which includes an en suite, and dressing room. The “family room” offers compact kitchen facilities, including a gas stove, dining table and lounge.  We are exploring how much can be done with 12V power and a gas light and heater.  We do have a generator which we are trying to use for only 1 hour per day… so once the generator goes, on, everything goes on – phones, laptop and modem are charged, battery back up is charged, water is heated for showers and we enjoy 240 volt lighting for a short time.  I have a small herb garden by the front of the van, from which I can pick basil, thyme, parsley, mint, oregano and chives.

caravan

As the morning sun streams through the front windows we jokingly boast about how we are harvesting the sun for passive solar heating as we pull up the curtains for light and a little warmth.  A hot water bottle and another significant human being provide warmth at night and we are surviving on around 220 litres of water every two to three days!  Once the shed is up we will connect it to the tank which is already in place and we will have lots of rainwater soon – especially if this weather keeps up.

Since we arrived it has rained every day – some days from dawn to dusk and other days it rains in the morning and clears by lunch time.  It is challenging to keep your mind entertained in such a small space when there is not much option of going outside without getting soaking wet. So today we went and signed up at the local library and I discovered that I can sit and do jigsaw puzzles in the comfort and warmth of the library, courtesy of the local council, as well as borrowing books, CDs, talknig books and all the usual suspects normally found lurking in a local library.  Their organic farming and gardening section also looked like it has plenty to offer.  I think they are going to get to know me very well!

And being on site now means we will be able to do something towards our dream every day, not just on days off.  Each day we can make a little progress towards our ultimate goal of a more sustainable life.  In the meantime we will learn to adjust to a smaller style of living, smaller spaces, smaller demands on the planet and smaller power bills and enjoy the view from our residence every day.

View from the Van


Ewe were!

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying to work out if our sheep were in fact pregnant, or not. My father in law used to be a stud master, so we asked his advice. He said the best way to know for sure if they were pregnant was when they produced a lamb! Funny comment, but not very helpful to a sheep farmer who is clearly still learning! I guess what he was saying was two-fold: be patient – not my strong point, and even an experienced (now retired) stud manager could get it wrong if he tried to second guess nature.
And so we waited. And every time we arrived at the farm I would peer down the paddock, take a quick head count and report to my beloved “7”. Six ewes and a ram equals 7.
And we waited. And when we stay over night in the caravan that we have on site I would go for a walk in the morning and do another head count. 7. Clearly this has been going on for many weeks. Perhaps even 7 weeks.
Today my wait was rewarded! Two of our ewes gave birth today and each produced twins!

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It was absolutely delightful to arrive at the farm about two hours after the second pair were born, still wobbly on their legs, following mum around, looking for food, still being cleaned up by the mother following the birth.
The other sheep from the flock eventually went near the new lambs and had a sniff, and then left them alone again to get used to this new way of being. The ewe who had just birthed them, had her head in the paddock eating as if nothing was going on, that is until her lambs found her udder and started helping themselves!
Hopefully there will be more lambs to come over the next few weeks, but the delight of two sets of twins to kick off the season couldn’t go without a post.