Back from a wintery Christmas in Blighty, we were treated to 35 degrees and 90% humidity but we are made of strong stuff and set about the making of our new market garden beds. Needless to say-the Italian Stallion (no not the swarthy farm hand) walking tractor earned his dollars!
The kind folk of the Shire and a ring-in from Brisvegas came along to help with the yearly garlic planting and a new poly tunnel was built to house the heritage tomatoes. I like to call her Big Bertha in honour of one of the varieties ;). No blood was spilt during the two day construction of the tunnel by myself and the surly farm hand but a wry smile crossed his lips when I was startled by a small brown snake shooting over my left boot into the undergrowth!
We received steady but not flooding rain in February and the grass grew!
We planted seeds aplenty and tried to convert another keen vegetable grower (brother of farm hand) to the mystical delights of moon phase planting. Even though his micro greens shot up like a rat up a drain pipe-he still remains staunchly skeptical…
We managed to go on a road trip down to the beautiful central NSW coast at Gerringong to undertake a Market Gardeners course under the watchful eye of the folks at Milkwood hosted by Buena Vista Farm-what a delight that was!
I learnt all about intensive market gardening, hand tools for market gardens and how to compost those pesky fox carcases……
So back home-the cattle were pleased to see me and fancy new hens were bought to swell the lovely laying flock.
From my growing experiences at the start of the year-I reckon there is something in that moon planting method so I will get Vinnie to have a word in the ear of my brother-in-law to see if can’t finally convince him 😉
I left my science research career at the of June this year but over the last couple of months my research and learnings have by no means ceased! The seasons have started to change and as a now “full time farmer”-my experiences have been exponential.
You have probably done this yourself. You check on the vegetables growing in your lovely raised beds and see that they are quite some way off picking. But then you go look again just the next day and they have exploded! This normally happens to me in summer where zucchinis turn into marrows overnight but this time it was still winter and the broccoli must have been on steroids!
My next learning experience came from a Shitake mushroom log-no sniggering thanks. This is quite a prized mushroom and I wouldn’t normally attempt to grow them but the lady at the Logan Region stall at the EKKA was very persuasive and I had just read a blog by the good folk at Milkwood (www.milkwood.net) who know all things permaculture and mushroomy. I even purchased a nice little structure to help keep up the moisture in our shade house
Well it is Spring again and all the farm inmates have turned their thinking to little inmates and I have learned not to turn my back on the geese..Victa the head gander has learned not to actually bite me but the younger one just needs to learn that lesson!
Spring also means broody hens and Welcome Swallows nesting in the garage! So my next lesson was to learn NOT to put my wellies under the nest…. The garlic is also ready at this time of year and my what a haul we had!
Farmhand Snr came up to see what his son FH Junior was up to and managed to build our first garlic drying rack with bamboo sourced from the lovely Dutch neighbours up the hill! Luckily I was at hand to blow the whistle for any infringements and unsportsman-like behaviour during the planning and building process…..
I also learned how to plait the garlic-care of youTube and can personally say that I have learnt to either: 1) get a younger person to pull the garlic or 2) invest in a years membership with the local physio as I think a hammy may also have been pulled in the process….
But over in the house paddock-things are also hotting up for Spring! We are expecting lambs to drop anytime soon-well I say that- but I think I have been saying that for nearly a month. How big can ewes get before they pop?! I have read all of the articles to tell me when to boil the water and rip my petticoat but I think these are all just a means to keep you occupied while the lambs decide to come along when they are good and ready! Vinnie is on full alert to let me know when to expect them and when to guard them but I have also learnt that although he is 45kgs and taller than me on his hind legs-he is still a puppy at heart 😉
Our last batch of chicken eggs didn’t come to much in the incubator in August as no doubt Spring hadn’t quite “Sprung” for Roger the rooster but now he seems keen to court the ladies and we have our first broody hen. You know what they say about counting chickens and all that-so I have learnt not to worry too much about changing one career for another as long as I still enjoy getting up for the day!
Luckily Miranda our supermodel chicken is keeping a tight beak on things 😉
We have become very European over here these past couple of months. It was a delight, if not unexpected, to welcome Vincenzo our Italian Maremma Sheepdog to the fold in January. Unexpected in that he arrived with the breeder two days early. A little startled from slumber at 10pm we received a hasty call to get last minute directions to the farm from Graeme and his lovely wife Margaret of Apostate Maremma Stud over in Perth. Action stations were scrambled as I made up the spare bedroom and prepared the barn for Vinnie’s arrival.
He settled in well from 9 weeks with his little flock of sheep and even had a go at mingling with the chickens. As you can imagine he is growing into quite a handsome chap and as with most Italian males-he knows it!
It has been a steep learning curve for the existing farm inmates adjusting to Vinnie’s ways but we are getting there and I am sure he will have us all whipped into shape by the end of the year. His particular favourite is Raelene. She is the boss in the flock and can often be seen knocking him on his backside if he gets too boisterous but they always seem to be resting close by each other in the heat of the day….a love-hate relationship if ever I saw one!
And now look at him-so grown up and looking like a wolf in sheep’s clothing….
So to other things European-Garlic!
I am trialling a type of garlic that has been bred for the humid (and let’s face it) damn right hot and sticky conditions of the subtropics. I may be a little over the current summer season…
So we dutifully prepared the beds for our first test crop! Roger and his girls helped by clearing the area of all things pesky before we tilled the beds and hilled them up for the garlic planting day.
I even managed to lure an unsuspecting work colleague and good friend to the farm to help with the preparation and planting-all 1200 cloves……
So all nicely in their beds and with eager daily inspections we have the first of our garlic crops growing well. I just hope the pesky hares don’t find out about this tasty European mainstay or I will have to get the new Italian member of the family to have a word-mafia style 😉
Isn’t it amazing what a little male competition can lead to when it comes to DIY and the construction of farm out buildings? The competition in question started when I hired a local guy to build my wonderful new chicken house. “Cluckingham Palace” or “Poultry Towers” as it is affectionately known around here. Hiring of labour was apparently required as the unpaid farmhand was far too busy with such efforts and would require a whole new array of tools to build such a thing! But unbeknown to me he was secretly conspiring to better the Palace with his own construction-a Barn!
The barn was a definite requirement for our new farming venture of sheep (see previous blog) and heritage breed meat chickens. Oh and the dog-well that is certainly another blog for the future. Secret plans were being drawn up under the cover of darkness in cahoots with the neighbour. As it turned out-our lovely neighbour, or more specifically, our lovely neighbour’s Mum had sustainable plantation hardwood just up the road so we could build the majority of the structure from locally sourced materials.
First up came the positioning of the structure in the paddock in relation to the house and more importantly the view from the deck towards said structure. Legal representation was almost required after that exercise but compromises were reached and the fencing guys, while installing the sheep fence, also installed the timber posts for the main frame.
Then came the planning conferences between the unpaid farmhand and the neighbour who also expertly milled all the timber into appropriate sized boards for cladding the walls. I was hired as painting consultant to apply non-creosote based wood preserver to the ends that would be in contact with the ground (personally I think it still looked and smelled like creosote!). But at 5ft 2in I was apparently vertically challenged when it came to assist with the roofing iron.
The city folk that are our beloved friends always love to come visit up here with all the fresh air and fresh eggs so we can usually entice them here for a weekend and when they least expect it-hit them with a building project that requires their tallness!
It has been a very warm end to Spring in Queensland and battling roofing iron in 30 degree temps isn’t my idea of fun so I dutifully watched as designated first aider from the coolness of the deck. I did sprint out at half time with oranges and cold water and by the end of the weekend the roof was up! The roof itself is a magnificent work of precision given the unpaid farmhand loves spreadsheets and his trusty assistant is a senior finance manager (loves numbers)!
A determined effort to get the walls in place and a little help from me (I needed a ladder due to my vertical challenges) and the guttering and water tank were subsequently installed. The thing about water tanks is once you have put one in-you are obsessed with the rain radar! My little rain dances finally paid off when we received our first real drop of rain for November and the tank is almost full. We have a good supply of clean water now to the drinking trough for the sheep-unless #2 lamb succeeds in de-plumbing the whole affair!
So here it is in all of its splendour. I have a lovely new barn for my farming ventures and a very happy unpaid farmhand who may sign up for “The Block” if I am not careful!
So we started out 4 years ago with a new shiny red (they go faster when they are red) ride on mower-it even had a stubbie holder! The geese were named after the engine (Briggs and Stratton) and it was mine. Now I have little time to mow and more farm toys to consume petrol we thought a move to a more sustainable means to manage the lawn would be good. “Sheep!”-the man of the house suddenly yelled in my ear on a Saturday morning. “Lets get sheep to mow this area and we can eat their lambs!”. Ever the meat eater in the house-he is continually looking for a way to raise his own food. Several months later and several substantial dollars lighter-we had a wonderful sheep and dog proof fence, which was the envy of the neighbourhood. Next we needed a barn-of course every farmer needs a barn! But that is the story of another blog…
Back to the sheep! Dolly, Raelene and Lady Baa Baa arrived from a wonderful farm just down the road who breed Wiltipoll (weird name but lovely looking ladies). “I have some good news for you Nina”-said the sheep breeder “I think Raelene may be pregnant!” A little earlier than we had hoped as we wanted to cut our teeth on friendly ewes before handling rams and “tupping”! Never mind it is generally a simple affair to manage-“get a pair of binoculars and hide behind a tree to watch how the labour proceeds”. A little disturbing for me to spy on a pregnant ewe but I am new to this game and thought I should heed the words of a sheep breeder.
One month later and 2.30am in the morning, the other half shot up in bed and exclaimed “I can hear sheep!”. Wearing flannelette Betty Boo pyjamas, gum boots and a flash light-I stumbled out into the paddock to check on Raelene. There she was under the red cedar tree in the early stages of labour. Looking like she had things under control, I stifled the urge to get hot towels and went back to the house to keep an ear out for any further developments. Dozing with two fearless house cats on my knee, I could hear soft bleating after an hour that sounded just like any new mother talking to her newborn. Minty had arrived safe and well.
Well we are officially sheep farmers and we gave each other a pat on the back for getting over that first hurdle. We could go back to planning the rest of the farm activities……but just when you are feeling relaxed…..While walking through the paddock with our little flock of sheep we both took a second look at the back end of Dolly. “Does she have udders all of a sudden Dear?” As a seasoned sheep farmer I confidently predicted a month to go before we had another addition to the flock. One week later while walking to the barn to check out progress with the unpaid farmhand (the most unruly sort you can get) I happened upon a sheep in labour! Running back for the binoculars and staking out on the deck to watch all of the proceedings we have #2 (best not to name this one I think). So now we are are five and if I was a betting woman-I might be putting some money on a trifecta!