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.

2015-02-09 09.50.31

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.

2015-02-09 11.54.48

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!


Vegetarian Free Zone: Growing our Own Meat

I want to write about growing our own meat, so if you’re a vegetarian, may I suggest you stop reading now as I don’t want to offend you but I also ask that you respect my right to choose the food I consume.

One of our objectives that we set out right from the beginning was being able to control as much of our food chain as possible, and if we don’t grow it ourselves, to at least know where it came from and how it was raised. Whether that be plant or animal.  I wrote earlier about the great debate we had over whether we could live without meat in our diets, so I won’t go into it again here. In the end, we both decided that we liked meat in our diets. Consciously, knowing the impact on the planet and, of course, the aniimal, we choose to eat meat.  We only eat meat a couple of times a week, the rest of the time our meals are mainly vegetarian and sometimes even vegan. But nonetheless it is a regular part of our diet.

So it was with great anticipation that we decided one of our steers had come of size and we booked the butcher.  We consciously decided to have the meat slaughtered on our own property as we believed this would be less stressful on the animals concerned, generate zero food miles and be a more humane way for the animal to die.

And the day came and the butcher arrived and, I must admit I was more than a bit squeamish. But if I choose to eat meat then I believe I should take responsibility for its production. We know with certainty that our animals are raised in a way that is as close to natural as possible. We do not use growth hormones or fertiliser in the paddock. They are allowed to free range and graze naturally.  We feed them no grain. They have a pretty good life while they are on our farm. And when it is time for them to go, it is quick and they don’t even see it coming.  Our first steer died with grass still hanging out the sides of his mouth as he chomped down on some fresh green fodder in the yard and he really had no idea what was coming, or what had happened. It was that quick.

I won’t go into the details between that and finding its way onto our plates, but I can say the flavour of that meat was something out of this world. Actually it had a lot more flavour than anything I can buy in the supermarket and it was full of Omega-3s and vitamins and nutrition that is often lost in long storage, freezing and transporting meat across the country, or worse, around the globe.

I would encourage everyone to at least be conscious of where your meat comes from, how it is raised, the welfare of the animal while it was alive and how it was killed. If you can’t grow your own, then at the very least get to know your local small business butcher or farmers’ market meat vendor and talk to them about how they raise their animals. The more we, as consumers, ask about how animals are treated, what is fed to them, either directly, or what is put on the grasses in the paddock, the more we will raise awareness that we want good, clean, healthy food in our bodies and we want animals to be treated as humanely as possible. Ask questions about whether the animal was grain fed – while some butchers promote this as being ideal, studies have shown that grain feeding changes the nutritional value of the meat. And we know that grain is not the natural diet of cows and sheep – it is simply used to fatten them up for sale to market so that farmer achieves a higher price. Find out what fertilisers are used in the paddock – they go from grass to animal to you … Take responsibility for what ends up on your plate. Consumer and consumer demand can effectively change farming practices around the world if enough of us speak up.

So next time you’re tucking into a nice medium-well done steak, have a thought for the animal who gave up his or her life for your benefit and be conscious of the weight of the decision to consume it.  It doesn’t have to be a morose time, but a time to enjoy and be thankful that we are lucky enough to have choice and to exercise conscious consumerism.

Bon Appetit!

Steak


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!


Our first produce for sale!

For some months now I have been attempting to grow some produce that can be sold. We have a wonderful shop in our local town which supports and promotes local growers and fresh organic produce. I have been an irregular customer of theirs for some years in their other shop on the other side of our peninsula. And about 3 months ago they opened a store in the town closest to us. Not only was I excited about this as a consumer, but it has been a dream of mine to grow and sell organic produce for some time … A way of generating some income from our farm which might help us to sustain our other activities.

But of course I have had to build the garden beds from scratch. I wrote about it here. So it has taken me some time to get things going and really establish some kind of food production which is over and above our own needs.  And I sourced some more rain water tanks to cut down – they make great raised beds and give an old tank new purpose.   I grew most things from seed because I haven’t been very good at that in the past and I thought it was a skill worth practicing. Here’s my lettuces just after they were planted out from the seedling tray …

First Lettuces in Tank

We only have one tank near the vegetable garden at this stage and it holds 1000 litres – which sounds like a lot, but each day I am using around 100 litres just to keep things alive.  We haven’t had any rain for over a month so my beloved has been carting water from our main tank and re-filling the garden tank, one bucket at a time to make sure we have enough for the vegetable garden. All the watering is being done by hand as we have not yet established our irrigation system.  While this sounds tedious, I find it very relaxing and as I wait for the watering can to refill, I potter around weeding the beds, tend to the seedlings or doing a couple of quick transplants of seedlings to beds or adding mulch to the beds as they need it.   There is always something to do while waiting and sometimes I just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet of an early morning or late evening.  Occasionally one of our resident kangaroos hops past on his or her way to greener pastures and does not seem to be too perturbed by my presence.

So it has been quite an achievement to get some produce to the point of being sale-able and in enough quantity to make it worth while, but it has been a pleasant endeavour along the way.

First Produce for Sale

I am sure this will be the first of many deliveries we make to our local grocery store!

 


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