Fresh harvested lunch

Lunch was a simple affair here today. Salad, scrambled eggs and some fried polenta from the other night. Yum. The salad however deserves a YUM instead of just a yum. It was so full of flavour that if I had any doubts about the wisdom of growing our own then they are totally allayed by the taste of my lunch. The spinach was fresh, crisp and delicious. The rocket was actually so spicy it burned my tongue a little. The tomatoes, albeit very small, packed a punch well above their weight and the radishes burned my tongue quite badly. Whoo pepper! The only lacklustre vegetable was the capsicums but they weren’t bad.

The eggs were local harvest from Highland Heritage Farm and the olives in the salad were purchased through them too. In fact the only ingredients not organic, biodynamic or local were the milk in the scrambled eggs and the polenta. The salt was also Himalayan rock salt which I don’t create and nor is it local. But it IS good for you. ๐Ÿ™‚ The polenta came from Coles cornmeal from the pantry and the milk is just from the supermarket but all in all pretty good I reckon.

I have no photos to share as we scoffed the lot before I thought to take a picture. Sorry.

Our only ripening tomatoes so far are the Tommy toes but there are a few others on the bushes so if the frost holds off… I just need that first blush of colour please. Then I can pick and ripen them inside away from birdy beaks.

Surprises, an early start and partly harvest home

The alarm went off at 5:30am. It does every morning now. I am beginning to relish more and more the peace and quiet to get stuff done or just sit and read emails uninterrupted or just research and read. It’s wonderful. When the alarm went off this morning I debated rolling over and going back to sleep. I’d not made it to bed until after 10:30pm (late for me now) and I’d spent the afternoon with a fairly severe headache so some extra sleep was a fairly viable option. I dozed off whilst I thought about it. I woke with a start ages later. 5:38am. I got up. ๐Ÿ˜€

This morning I decided to get stuck into getting the last of the current harvest (which we’d bought through our local co-op direct from an organic farmer) safely away for the coming months. Corn is the word of the day in this case. Corn, sweet corn or cobs of corn littered my coffee table and I was over them. Yesterday afternoon had been spent shucking 60 or so cobs, then cutting off the kernels to pressure can them as they can’t be safely processed with water bathing. Sorry Fowlers Vacola. This was a job for the big guns.

Canning is a bit of a confusing term as far as understanding how to can at home. When we buy canned goods at the supermarket they come in a metal tin or can, completely sealed and requiring cutting open with a tin/can opener to access the food inside. Home canning is also done under high pressure, although likely not nearly as high as commercial canning but it’s done in glass jars. Ball Mason jars are the standard jars that most canners are designed to use, usually in pint or quart amounts although other sizes are available. They are a 3 part system with glass jar, lid seal and then the screw band for the jar. Sadly, the lid seals contain BPA or so my reading and research (and a friend who has also done reading and research) inform me. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The seals are a one use only although there are other lid accessories out there like Tattler lids (made of plastic but BPA free). In Australia, with our Fowlers Vacola bottling system being the most common and readily available system it is indeed fortunate that the Fowlers Vacola bottles can also be used in pressure canning. ๐Ÿ˜€

So, back to the corn.

I filled up all of my remaining #14 vacola bottles which hold about 350ml I think (1lb),ย and a few of my #20’s which are about 1.2 US pints/ 600ml , close enough to the size of a standard 410g can from a supermarket. Fill your pressure canner with water as per the specifications and get it boiling whilst you prepare everything else. Otherwise you end up waiting for the silly thing to boil whilst your bottles sit and wait.ย To can corn, fill your bottles or jars with corn to within an inch of the top and then cover with just enough boiling water to cover the kernels. This is cold packed corn. Hot packed corn involves bringing the corn to just under the simmer and making sure it’s heated through before spooning into jars and then making sure the kernels are covered with boiling water. This is considered the safer option by the powers that be as you guarantee your corn is heated through but given the preserving time and pressure I’m not concerned about it not heating through so I cold packed my corn. Once your bottles are full, carefully load your canner using the necessary tongs and put your lid on. Again, follow your canner instructions (seriously, don’t muck around with guesswork with canning. A mistake can make you very sick or worse). Mine requires bringing back to the boil then venting steam for 10 minutes before starting the pressure building. Processing time varies depending on your altitude so you will need to know your height elevation. I processed my corn high just to be sure (it’s a riskier food than some) at 15psi for 85 minutes which is the pint processing time and pressure. The #14 bottles are less than a pint but better to over-process than under. I am very generous with my processing time too as I go and do something else whilst the pressure rises so as soon as I see it’s at minimum pressure that’s when I start counting from but adding on some extra time. Mine got at least 90 minutes last night although it may be closer to 100 minutes depending on when the 15psi was preached. ๐Ÿ™‚ As I said, better to over-process. ๐Ÿ™‚ Once the canner has processed the full amount of time (if the pressure dips beneath the processing pressure you must start timing again) turn off the heat and leave it to cool and lower the pressure. Don’t lift the pressure regulator or do anything to hasten the pressure dropping. In my case, I turned off the stove and went to bed. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Home canned, locally farmed, organically raised corn. #14 jars at the front and #20’s at the back.

This morning I opened up the pressure canner and removed my still steaming hot bottles. One of my #14’s broke (this can happen if there is a crack or chip or flaw in the bottle – ah well) so I cleaned off the resulting corn floaties and set my bottles on a folded tea-towel to cool. I’ll remove the clips in the next few days.

I spent this morning blanching the rest of the corn to remove the kernels for freezing and also some half cobs (they snap in half really easily) for corn on the cob for the kids. I now have a freezer full of corn kernels (5 sandwich sized snap-lock bags) and about 20 half cobs too. We bagged up the cauliflower florets too so I have officially processed all my fruit and veggies from this round. There are plenty of white nectarines for munching though. Yum!

I like surprises. Well, not entirely true. I don’t like surprises like lifting the chickens water bowl to find a breeding ground of millipedes. Nor do I like finding caterpillars on the cauliflower or corn. I definitely don’t like finding surprises in nappies (although my sense of smell fortunately prevents them surprising me very much). I DO like surprises like finding bees gorging happily in my pumpkin flowers. I do like finding that we have 6 pumpkins growing (although it’s not a huge surprise given that I made sure they were fertilised). I most particularly like the surprise I got this morning though. I usually glance in to see if any of our chickens may have deigned to lay us an egg and to my surprise this morning there WAS an egg! it’s been a LONG time. ๐Ÿ˜€ As I picked up the egg I wondered who may have lad it. Our pekin bantams don’t lay eggs as large as this one and I didn’t think our Dorkings were quite ready to lay (getting there but not yet) but as I picked it up the culprit was revealed. Miss Mandy, or Muscovy duck (as opposed to Milly and Molly, our Muscovy drakes) has finally reached maturity and has gifted us with an egg. ๐Ÿ˜€ Oh happy day!

As for the garden, I have 8 pumpkins that are growing, green tomatoes everywhere, including 1 in the greenhouse and rocket and spinach ready to harvest in the greenhouse too. My corn is still growing and some zucchinis are too although they’re both struggling for lack of both sunlight and water. Not a good location for that garden and I shall move it once the corn and zucchinis are finished. If they finish. Something has been digging in that garden bed.

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An update and things coming together

It’s all pretty amazing when things start coming together. I mean, you plot, you plan and you dream and you try and cram the plotting, planning and dreaming into reality, dodging around obstacles like time, money, weather, differing ideas, legal requirements and everything else and you hope to come up with a workable situation that hasn’t strayed too far from your first inspired musings.

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Heidi, grandfather and Aunt Dete hurrying away

My initial dreams involved up to 5 acres, an eco friendly house built by my own two hands, robust and healthy children who look liked they had escaped from Heidi, friendly animals, beautifully landscaped (but not rigid) gardens and fresh produce pouring from their richly composted soil. The reality is a little different.

We have a 1/2 acre, the house was not built by my own two hands although I have had a lot of input into the design and materials used and we have been as eco friendly as the budget allowed for (low VOC paints, woolen carpets over recycled fibre underlay and LED lights). My children don’t have the plump legs and ruddy complexions of Heidi fame but they are healthy and happy and sporting somewhat of a tan, testament to their enjoyment of outdoor life. Our animals aren’t quite as keen on us as we are on them but Milly and Molly are getting more comfortable although Mandy still keeps her distance. The baby chicks are well acclimatised to children as they are picked up and carted around by the kids for a couple of hours each day and the silkies are fast becoming favourites (Mrs Silverpants was replaced last night along with her companion Dandelion the white silkie and Goldie or Gold Star the golden silkie). The baby chicks are used to being handled by us too although they still peg it during the day (we go out each night to make sure they’re either sleeping in a nesting box or on the perch which they’ve finally figured out last night too). The gardens are not the verdant oases I dreamed of and their soil, although rich, is not as rotted down as I had dreamed. It’s getting there now though. We do have crops coming along nicely too. I have 2 zucchinis that will be ready in the next day or 2 (they’re taking longer I think due to the still un-rotted garden beds) and my corn are flowering and I can see the beginning of corn cobs. ๐Ÿ˜€ My watermelons won’t make harvest this year but I will try transferring them even though they hate it. I have nothing to lose at this stage. My tomatoes are still coming along in the garden too. I live in fear of possums discovering them but we appear to have few of those thieving little blighters around thankfully. My broccoli are doing much better since I got up close and personal with them, rubbing the underside of their leaves and squishing all the caterpillar eggs (or are they butterfly eggs – defined by what they hatch into or what lays them?) and caterpillars of the (presumably) coddling moths that had turned their leaves into fine green lace. They still look a little lacy but much happier. My onions haven’t even made it to pickled onion stage sadly but then again I never really expected them to. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

The greenhouse garden

The greenhouse garden, marked out with sticks and some used chicken straw for nutrients. I will mulch it when the seedlings are up more. Thanks for the idea Narf. ๐Ÿ™‚

But it’s the greenhouse I am most amazed with and proud of in our garden. It’s a Sproutwell greenhouse built from a kit I bought off eBay (they also have a website and the price is the same) and the garden beds I built myself using corrugated iron and hardwood corner posts. The hardwood we already had and the iron, bought from my uncle, makes each bed cost $1.50! WIN! Anyway, I’ve built 3 beds in there and filled and planted 1 of them. I transplanted the tomatoes from the second martie bed as they were very small and not going to make harvest before the frost arrived so I had nothing to lose. I planted my mandarin, banana and lemon trees in there first, then the transplanted tomatoes and transplanted marigolds in there, some beans planted down the side, transplanted capsicums, rocket seeds between them, then planted carrot and radish seeds, some spinach seeds, leek seeds, coriander seeds, transplanted chives and also chive seeds. So far the chive seeds are the only ones I haven’t seen a sprout from yet. I also transplanted in a pumpkin that popped up from seeds I’d scooped out of a pumpkin around Christmas time and planted out mid January. So, although it’s not yet that verdant oasis, it is well on its way to being a nifty little food garden.

Radishes

Capsicums and radishes

A bean

A bean

Carrot wisps :)

Carrot wisps ๐Ÿ™‚

Spinach

Spinach

Capsicums and rocket

Capsicums and rocket with a tomato and the beans in the background. The carrots are near the icy-pole stick.

Nice mangel wurzels ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve also bought some more interesting seeds – mangel wurzels which are like turnips but they get HEAPS bigger and if harvested small they’re good for human consumption or if left to grow out, great for cattle and chickens. I wanted to try them just because I can! I’ve also finally sourced some black carrot seeds (purple/black inside and out and amazing for antioxidants), kale, rainbow chard and some other bits and bobs. I’m planning some BIG gardens over winter. ๐Ÿ˜€ And speaking of winter gardens, I’ve started building the garden beds to go in. The existing beds will be raked up to fill the new ones and they’re a little shorter but I can double the amount of beds, greatly increasing planting area overall. I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now, something I NEVER thought I would say. ๐Ÿ™‚

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some veryย unseasonablyย cold weather this last week and Ignisa, our lovely Gourmet Cooker has been alight for about 44 hours although she’s been resting for the last hour or 2 but I’m getting cold again so reckon it’s time to fire her up again.. We need to organise some hardwood to burn (if anyone local has any they’re getting rid of or selling…?) but in the meantime we have been able to make do with our existing poplar stocks which isย marvelousย that we can use them up. ๐Ÿ™‚ We also had a little bit of plum from a tree that we chopped down after it died at Spotswood. I started off by bringing in our old DVD shelves and then arranged them in such as way as to make a surround or frame for the stove. I’ve now got some space for trinkets, wood, kindling and fire lighting paper. The lamps came out and look lovely too, bringing some pleasant ambiance to the room. The fire guard, half of our playpen is doing duty as a fire guard and at night it makes a great clothesrack too once stoo up on it’s ends. ๐Ÿ˜€ Multitasking and repurposing at its best. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. ๐Ÿ˜€ I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in aย fry panย on top and breakfast this morning was homemade sourdough English muffins cooked on Ignisa and a hot chocolate made with her heat too – another complete meal. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also baked bread in her belly the other night but the oven was a wee bit hot (like 350C rather than 200C required). Should be fine once I carve off the top inch. lol

3 bookshelves arranged just so

3 bookshelves arranged just so

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English muffins and hot chocolate – this mornings breakfast

Briquette?

Briquette?

I also did some more unpacking – DVD’s away (not that they will see much use given the lack of tv), my crystal radio set up and working (I need to find a better station with some music although ABC news radio is ok too), and I’ve been knitting away getting clothes ready for winter. The kids each have a new hat and I’ve made a scarf for Orik too. I need to source some more yarn to make Allegra a scarf so it’s time to dig into the stash. I also knitted my first dishcloth using this pattern and I’m happy with how it’s come out. Now to test it and see how it works.

Our food is improving on a weekly, if not daily basis. I’ve committed to making sourdough pasta using this recipe so we are slowly using up our normal pasta which I can’t eat and once it’s gone, that’s it. We’re now drinking real milk, our veggie box arrives each week from Highland Heritage (I highly recommend contacting them if you’re local and interested as their produce is first rate) and I’ve started culturing milk too – milk kefir is like super dooper yakult and it tasted a HEAP better as well as being heaps better for you. Google kefir if you’re interested. I just don’t know enough about it at this stage other than to say it’s very good for you and not unpleasant to taste.

Bertha was also split and fattened up and her daughter, Agnetha has gone to her new home. Bertha will be fed and split again and posted this week to The Eco Mum and Narf so you should see some mail coming your way soon ladies. I had planned to post it today but I haven’t fed her or her babies enough for the rigors of travel. ๐Ÿ™‚

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My Bertha, Agnetha her daughter and the tub with my bread in it at the bottom of the picture.

A Dexter. Photo is not such a good one of the cow but gives a brilliant idea of their size.

They come in black (most common) dun and red, polled or horned, short legged or normal. I think these are polled and the black one closest appears to be short legged. Aren’t they pretty. ๐Ÿ™‚

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! ๐Ÿ™‚ Don’t have a cow, she wouldn’t be a full sized one and nor will she be a genetically twisted (albeit via breeding only) miniature cow but a genuine naturally occurring small breed cow, the Dexter. The average Dexter cow, when fully grown will stand no higher at the hip than Jasper. They stand around and just over the 1m mark although the bulls are up to 1.17m I think (44in) so they really are quite small. They’re easy calvers, easy milkers, friendly animals and make excellent lawnmowers! ๐Ÿ˜€ They also require a lot less pasture space and although we don’t quite have enough land for exclusive grass feeding we may have access to some good local and I believe organically grown hay. It’s also another reason I want to try growing mangel wurzels as they used to be used for winter and early spring food in the UK for cattle. We are big dairy people here with hot chocolates, homemade yoghurt, custard and cheese (not yet homemade) on our menu with frequency. I want to know that our dairy is organic and hence free of hormones, anti-biotics and all the rest of the garbage pumped into many commercial cows (I’m not sure how much of that is dairy cows rather than beef cows which I believe are treated with regularity in factory farming conditions but any of that gunk is too much gunk) and I also want to know that it’s cruelty free. These cows are prolific milk producers for their size and can easily feed 2 or even 3 calves so I figure that there is no need to remove the calf from mother and we can simply milk the excess. No poddy calves! ๐Ÿ˜€ I also want to know that our milk is local. Full respect to dairies around Australia but I would prefer to support any in the district and preferably my own back yard… Literally. ๐Ÿ˜€ I also want to be able to give my children raw milk, full of all the wonderful goodness that milk contains, not pasteurised to within an inch of its life. I understand that pasteurisation aims to kill nasty bugs but it also kills many beneficial ones and a single cow raised at home will be much easier to maintain in a sanitary milking condition than hundreds of them all traipsing in manure and mud. And that brings me to another great reason for keeping a cow… I want her manure for my gardens. ๐Ÿ™‚ Bonus fertiliser cakes. ๐Ÿ˜› Dexter cows are also great for their meat which is reported to be superior – a wonderful duel purpose cow. They can also be trained to pull like oxen, something that will come in handy in a post peak oil world. Any bull calves would be fattened up for organic, pasture-fed, free-range, cruelty free (need to find an on-site butcher) and utterly local beef. It’s a HUGE undertaking though, with initial costs, commitment (10 months of the year they lactate and they live for up to 20 years, even more) and we obviously need to check council rules and permits (definitely required) and whether we have or can access sufficient fodder (I do not want to grain feed except maybe as a treat) and there is also up to 10 litres of milk a day to work through. I would need to make cheese on a daily basis which would be far too much for us to eat) and I’d still have enough left over for custard, yoghurt, bechamel sauce, Orik’s bottles and all the rest. It’s very exciting to dream though and following up on information and researching is keeping the old brain box ticking.. ๐Ÿ™‚

So anyway, that’s the updates for now. There is lots happening, lots in the pipleline and many many more things on the discussion table. It’s a busy time and I’m loving it. ๐Ÿ˜€ What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

The final countdown.

Nothing like a post named after a classic 80’s song! As I listen to the lyrics it gets me thinking. We have only one planet. If we screw it up beyond its ability to support life what are we going to do? Venus, the moon, Mars and all the other theoretical colonisation planets and satellites are just that, theoretical only. Dreams of “maybe one day” but not even close to reality as far as I know. So, even if it isn’t the final countdown to blast off into outer space and planetary colonisation, it is the final countdown for the health of our planet. We, all of us, really need to change our thinking, focus on a sustainable lifestyle that doesn’t use up all our resources. If we use up all the oil resources today what will happen if we really do NEED it? And I mean must have it or face extinction level of need. Hmmm. I don’t think we’re verging on extinction of our species quite yet but it would be nice to know there is still some fossil fuels left in case of emergency.

Anyway, I digress. The final countdown in this instance referred to the countdown counter on the left of the page. Counting down until auction day. And we are not just into single digits either. We are into the final week! 6 sleeps! I feel like I used to feel when I was a child counting down until Christmas! And even our children are excited. Jasper keeps asking when we are moving to “Balland” and loves going in the “Balland house” as he calls it. Allegra is just as excited and talking about “Bee-And” often. And Martin and I are planning, discussing, working out and figuring in all we need to for the move and necessary repairs, renovations, additions and general logistics. You would think it was a sure thing the way we are planning.

I am ready and rearing to install my garden beds and have made several improvements to the plain 6 or 7 raised beds I had planned. I think I am now up to 10 beds and a pallet retaining wall planted with strawberries and herbs to surround it and keep outย maraudingย children and chickens.ย The chicken pen has been mentally upgraded at least once too and we are knee deep in discussions of sheds, fences, paint, kitchen designs (I have never been in a position to plan an entire kitchen), wardrobes, floors and numerous other bits and bobs. It’s a good thing Ballan is an hours drive away as when we drive up and back on the weekends we have had a tonne of time to plan, discuss and work out what’s happening. Exciting times.

And in order to be ready to plant out as soon as the beds are ready and compost delivered, we planted some more seeds this morning. This time we tried a nifty variation on the milk cartons we have been using that came up in my Pinterest feed this morning. The link had referenced 2 other links which are hereย and here. And since I had about 10 milk and orange juice bottles waiting on the bench I figured it was a sign that we needed to sow some more seeds. This time we planted red cabbages, hyssop, more tomatoes (I FINALLY have one sprouting from the first planting too), some more radishes and some chives, the last 2 being the seeds given to Jasper for his birthday. He was really excited to see the radishes that had sprouted too. And I’m excited by the carpet of rocket seedlings which I sowed thickly as I didn’t expect much to happen with the seeds being so past their best before date (about 8 or 9 years I think). We will be rolling in rocket in a month or so I think. So excited to be seeing results in our improvised little nursery. ๐Ÿ˜€

Speaking of results, I am seeing bubbles in my sourdough starters too. I fed them both yesterday which means I made a paste of 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of filtered water (needs to be free of chlorine) and then add 1 1/2 cups of the original starter (or whichever quantities you use but keep them equal portions) so they are happy little wild yeasts. More feeding tonight and then again tomorrow and hopefully I can bake on Wednesday or Thursday. Excited much?!

It’s been such an exciting time in the lead up to the auction, the preparations, the learning, the reading (more on that next post) and discussions with like-minded friends like Corrie-Lyn over at Homesteading on a one dollar dreamย but I am so ready to get out there, get moved in and get homesteading!