We’ve had sheep on our property now for over 3 years and each year we have them shorn around November to help them keep cool over the long, hot, Australian summer. We have a great mobile shearer who comes to us and does them in the yards, which is fantastic for small producers who don’t have all the facilities of a complete shearing shed.
Each year he leaves us with a whole lot of sheep fleece which we have stored in our farm shed. Some people have suggested that we use it for mulch – it certainly seems to take a long time to break down and would be great for covering bare soil. Suffolk sheep’s wool doesn’t have a very long staple and this can make it challenging to spin – but not impossible. Learning to spin is on my list of things to do, but in the meantime the fleece is piling up!
We decided that we could use it to insulate our shed (the one that we are lining) to make it a bit cosier. I also decided that because it had been out in the paddock on the back of our sheep for around 12 months it needed cleaning. Below is the ‘before’ photo…
At this stage we don’t have hot running water on the farm. We have our spring-fed dam and three rainwater tanks to supply all the water we need. All cold water. Anyone who has ever owned a lovely woollen jumper or scarf knows that wool needs to be washed in warm water to stop it shrinking, or worse, felting. Or so I thought …
After a bit of research and asking anyone if they knew anything about how I could clean the wool, a sister of a friend told me about a cold fermenting method to clean the wool. You can find it here and it looks like this – all woolly and nice!
So I bought myself a couple of big laundry bags (the type made of net, with a draw string top), a couple of BIG black tubs from the cheap shop, as recommended by Wool Ewe, and prepared the first batch. I left it for a couple of weeks to ferment. This process doesn’t remove the leaf litter or the dags, I do that when the fleece is dry. Some of the leaves are still in there – mainly because this wool is going in the walls of the shed and they are just a bit more organic matter to add to the insulation! If I was planning on spinning the wool, I would be a lot fussier about it’s final condition.
Here is the fermented water and the bag full of wool going in – I’ve had this brew going for around 12 months now, so it is really, really pongy! But it does a great job of cleaning the fleece.
Once it has brewed for around a week, we lay it out onto the racks which we picked up from a builder’s rubbish pile next door to my mother-in-law’s place and they are just perfect for laying out the fleece to dry in the sun.
From here it goes into the walls of the shed – to keep us warm and cosy as a lamb on a cold winter’s night (I hope!).
It’s nice to know that all this wool that they have produced isn’t going to waste – the more I live this permie life the more excited I get about finding uses for what others consider to be waste. What waste product can you turn into something useful? I’d love to hear what you’ve found!
I love this time of year. There seems to be a promise in the air. The nights start cooling off and the days are warm and clear. We even had some rain last night which has cooled the whole garden down and given us some hope that dry earth is not all we will have this year. It has been dry in our part of the world for the best part of six months, with occasional showers between long spells of warm, dry weather. Which is nice if you like being outdoors, but it’s been getting dustier and dustier and the rain last night will only just hold the dust down for a few hours.
And yet nature surprises us with fruit for harvesting, despite the harsh summer. We are in the middle of our tomato glut which is late for our part of the world – in part due to the cool nights we have been experiencing this summer which doesn’t allow the fruit to set as readily. Our fig tree has been full of ripening fruit for a few weeks now. We netted it a while ago and we have been eagerly watching it to discover when the fruit is ripe. Like most plants, the ripening happens slowly to begin with and then there seems to be a rush of fruit and suddenly we have a glut on our hands.
This morning we went out and picked two big armfuls of fruit – we just stood under the tree and took what we could reach. And now they have been cut and are sitting in the dehydrator. By tomorrow I will have luscious dried figs – if you have never tried figs this way you will be amazed at the intensity of the flavour!
The promise of autumn is always delicious – figs, tomatoes, rhubarb, the lasts of the zucchini and cucumbers, strawberries still trying to ripen – the promise of rain and the new life that it brings. No wonder it’s my favourite time of year!
One of the things I love the most about growing some of my own food is the sense of satisfaction and joy that I get in using those things in my cooking. This morning I decided the rhubarb was ready and, knowing how much my husband LOVES rhubarb, I decided to bake one of my favourites, Rhubarb and Walnut Cake. I don’t remember where I got the original recipe from, but I have adjusted it over the years that I have made it, so here it is in it current form. Filled with homegrown rhubarb and backyard eggs, I make mine with locally produced bio-dynamic butter and yoghurt, so this cake has very few food miles too! And it’s lovely on a cool day with a cup of coffee.
Warm the oven to 180°C
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 cup (250g) plain/natural yoghurt
2 cups plain flour
1 cup (125g) chopped and stewed rhubarb (1.5 cm pieces), cooled
To make the topping, mix the dry ingredients together and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Dissolve the bicarb soda into the yoghurt. Add to the butter mixture and then beat in the flour.
Fold in the rhubarb. Pour into cake tin and sprinkle with topping. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes.
I used stewed rhubarb (done in 4 minutes in the microwave), rather than raw and that creates a nice swirly look to the cake. Depending on your oven, you may need a longer baking time than suggested by the recipe, so it’s worth testing it with a skewer before removing it from the oven – This may be due to the added moisture that stewing the rhubarb provides.
The topping can be quite crumbly, but it is sweet and delicious and worth a bit of mess on the bench-top!
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.
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:
And by the end of the day, many hands had made light work of 260 trees – although our bodies still ached a little!
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:
Even Superman came out to help …
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.
And when we were finished we counted just over 100 trees … not a bad morning’s work.
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.
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!
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 …
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.
I am sure this will be the first of many deliveries we make to our local grocery store!
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.
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.
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!
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.