Re-education

I’ve not achieved much the last few days. It’s frustrating. I have however been learning. Learning about the olden days. I’ve been watching a wonderful series called Edwardian Farm. It’s where 2 archaeologists and a historian live the life of Edwardian age farmers in Devon England for 12 months. It’s been fascinating! I can’t call it anything but highly educational for someone like me and my old brain box is ticking at high speed. I want to make a barrel smoker, I want to raise pigs, I want to try some of the recipes they made I want to try try try and then try some more. 😀 I found so much of the series quite sad too. The Edwardian Era was the beginning of the end of horses on farms, the beginning of more and more mechanised work being done and also the beginning of more reliance on oil. The Industrial revolution had brought in the use of steam power through the Victorian Era but more and more the Edwardian Era saw this mechanisation filtering through to the small farmers and landholders, not just those with money.

However, the poorer farmers were still Jack of all trades but also masters of their own. They were farmers and raised their crops, livestock or both but during times when the money was thin on the ground and farmwork not pressing (working around planting, harvesting, lambing, shearing etc) then they turned to other means. Fishing, mining, cottage industry and so on. One comment has really stuck with me though. In the country the old ways persisted. The ability to forge iron was the example they used. In the cities, if folk needed iron they bought it. They had no other option but in the country people remembered their fathers and grandfathers, or mothers and grandmothers, doing things the old way and that skill base took a lot longer to disappear. The same is true today to some extent. Thankfully we have the internet and libraries which allow us to research the old skills though as so many have died out. If you needed to sharpen a knife for example, would you know how to do it? Without a knife sharpening doovahickey I mean. With a whetstone. I I know the theory but I wouldn’t get it right I know.

So today I have been researching. I’ve also been learning some other lessons. Like what happens when you burn too much wood that isn’t ideally suited to the fire. WHOMP! Yup, a big puff of smoke and a belch from Ignisa. Yes, belch is the right word. I ahve to say it scared me out of at least 5 years of my life. I instantly panicked and thought I’d set the chimney on fire. Thankfully I didn’t. I was home with 3 kids by myself! Martin has been out hunting and gathering wood to season for next year as well as finding some wood from last seasons cut which we can burn this year. 😀 YAY! Anyway, I totally dampened down the fire and called Martin who was on his way home. We’re thinking that a bit too much poplar has gone through her tummy giving her some creosote indigestion. I’m just grateful all she did was belch. Not very ladylike Ignisa. 😦 Thankfully she has behaved for the rest of the afternoon and evening as she was on dinner cooking duties. 🙂 I’d thrown some lamb chops into the schlemmertopf along with some veggies and my last bottle of tomatoes I’d bottled last year (all 50 or so of them). Into the oven around 2 or 3pm and slow cooking away in there at temperatures between 100C and 150C give or take. Delicious! The meat literally fell off the bones which are currently simmering away to reduce down to a nourishing bone broth or stock. I can use that to flavour risotto or pasta or anything I fancy. 🙂 Just 1 more way to get as much as I can from what we have.

I’ve also spent today sewing up a cardigan I knitted on the machine the other week. I added a few more rows in where I thought I might need the extra length but it’s come out a bit huge and baggy so I need to see how it fits after a wash. Currently it’s better suited to someone a size or 2 bigger than me and approximately 6 foot 6 inches tall or taller! Whoops. Hopefully it will tighten up in the wash but being acrylic I am holding little hope. We will see. Sitting and knitting or sewing etc helps me justify sitting down and watching something like this. It stops me from having idle hands which in turn gives me the fidgets or makes me feel guilty for wasting time. I COULD be doing something if you know what I mean.

Now I know there are some generous and wonderful people out there in the world but one of my wonderful readers takes the cake. I won’t name drop as I’m sure she would kick my backside but you know who you are. We have been gifted some wonderful books for our children in years to come (I reckon I will enjoy them before then too), a bicycle helmet, 2 bicycles and a rooster. Generous, no? Both Martin and I are more than a little overwhelmed by the generosity of this lovely lady and extremely grateful. The rooster comes to us courtesy of this wonderful lady’s workmate. Sadly, he does not come with breed information and although he came to us on the understanding that he would most likely end up in the dinner pot, his exquisite beauty has put us in a tough place. We don’t want to cull this beautiful bird. He is seriously the George Clooney of roosters, fitting considering his name was George. I say “was” as I’d renamed him Golden Boy (Black Boy is our black Dorking rooster) but Jasper decided he was Mr Skinny Legs and the moniker does suit. He has lovely long and non-stocky pins on which he dances around like a ballerina. Very light footed, rather noisy (hence why we can’t keep him), rather feisty and not impressed with Black Boy at all.

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Can you help identify the breed?

Anyway, it’s time for me to hit the sack. I have a brain box that needs some quiet processing time, plans to make and mst importantly, sleep needs to be had. Here’s hoping I get to sleep later than 4:30, although it is quite pleasant having those 2 full hours totally devoid of other people, watching the light creep into the room and having the house to myself in some ways too.  Who knows Fran, you might end up with company for your insane o’ clock starts after all. Now just to get you on Skype so we can chat easier. 🙂

Ok, Fran I am up early again. I’m learning that the quality of sleep I get after having woken up early isn’t there. Lightly dozing just makes me a cranky Mumma so here I am, up at 4:45. Am I truly this insane?

Autumn is here

Autumn is here and I am so excited. For several reasons. Remind me of this post again in 6 months when I am tired of clearing ash out of the fire and over waking up on icy mornings in the darkness and heading out into the darkness to milk the goats too (no we don’t have them yet but I’m sure we will soon) but I can’t wait to need to have Ignisa glowing away in my living room. 🙂 There really is something about fire, ad I can totally understand our ancestors worshiping it, much like I can appreciate worshiping the sun (and I don’t mean sun baking either). But I am a little over giving homage to the sun that turned my greenhouse into a 53 degree hot house the other day. I mean, it’s Autumn for goodness sake!!!

The last day of Summer was an icy affair. Ignisa was on all day and we pulled out winter woollies  The first day of Autumn, and since if truth be told, has been worthy of flannelette jarmies in the morning ad t-shirt and shorts by 10am. I am over the hot days, although my pumpkins and tomatoes are appreciating it. SO is my washing. 🙂

Bring on the colder weather

Bring on the colder weather – Ignisa burning after lights out on the last day of Summer.

But I am ready to break out the Winter clothes and pack those shorts away until next year. I’m ready to hunker down with cool weather jobs, like building up compost and knitting (I do that year round but it’s more comfortable to have a large pile of woolen goods on your lap on a cold day) and I am most ready for Winter foods too. Soups, casseroles, stews. Cooked my the gentle heat of Ignisa in the Schlemmertopf, started at 1pm and served at 6:30, full of rich flavours and hearty goodness. Yum! I’m looking forward to closing up the oven and stove in favour of our bonus cooking abilities to double (and triple) use the wood we burn. Ignisa was chosen for just this purpose. She is charged with the duty of keeping my family warm, of warming our water when sister sun is hiding and her stove and oven qualities allow me to cook with that heat too. Her ashes can then (in some quantities) be returned to the soil and added to our compost. I added some a month or so ago and my compost heap looks wonderful. 🙂

However, the bit that I am most looking forward to is the gardens. Sure, my fingers will be frozen, the rain will be icy (if we get much which is never a given in this climate change challenged world of ours) but it’s garlic season! And the added bonus is that the cabbage moth season will be over too! Those nasty green buggers have decimated my broccoli, rocket and radishes. 😦

I took a trip to the garden of St Erth again yesterday with a friend and her son. Between us we faced the challenge of 4 kids unhappy with their lot, 2 running around like fiends and 2 screaming their displeasure at us. Challenging. Sorry St Erth. Next time I’m thinking babysitter! But I still managed to buy myself some seeds and bulbs so I’m raring to get into my gardens. I also have some seedlings which were a giveaway – red spring onions, beetroots and chard – which have recovered and I am eagerly anticipating planting. But the garlic is our big one this year. Martin adores the stuff, even more so than your wallabies Fran, and has given me permission to plant out HEAPS! I’m planning on early harvest and late harvest varieties and hoping to cover the entire year for edible garlic for next year. Early varieties harvest between October and December and have a shorter storage time – up to 6 months, some a lot less. The later harvest ones I’m guessing are ready to harvest around now maybe, if not already done. They last until October to December when the next harvest is ready. If all goes to plan we will have kilos and kilos of the stuff. I know how quickly we go through a kilo so I think 10 might do us for the year? 🙂 Yes, we are not friends with any vampires. 😉

Edward, you are NOT welcome here! And no, I have not seen the films, nor read the books.

Ok, so I’m coming back to writing now 3 hours later. I’ve had a glorious morning outside in the dawn, gardening. We have 3 garden beds inside the greenhouse but only 1 of them was filled with soil and in use. I just hand’t got to the 2nd and 3rd ones but this morning I did. Martin had picked me up a load of compost the other day and it had been parked outside the greenhouse waiting for 5 days. Well, it’s now inside a garden bed and I have even planted out some seedlings gifted to me from a friend at Phoenix Park. Lettuces and beetroot and a brassica that again I have forgotten what it is. 😦 Sieve brain! The most exciting part of shoveling the compost in was the steam rising from it. Yes, it was steaming! I think it was due to the fact that it had been under a tarp in the sun for 5 days and it had acquired some decent heat which stayed (thermal mass) ad the condensation had moistened the previously hydrophobic soil too and it was rich a d wonderful and lovely. It smelled heavenly. 🙂

So this garden bed I’ve filled started off with some branches and a few logs at either end from our poplar trees, partly to bulk up the bottom of the garden and use less soil and partly to add slowly back to the soil when the poplars break down. It’s also another way to use them up. 🙂 Then I cleaned out the pile of chook poo from the chook pen and spread that on top of the branches. It’s a very nitrogen rich fertiliser and needs to be very very well composted before adding to your garden but as a bottom layer it will compost away from the roots of the plants and just add to the soil. I then added a layer of our homemade compost which is not yet fully composted but also smelled pretty much amazing and finally I topped it off with the purchased compost. I’ve got some leftover compost in the trailer too which will help with the other garden beds which I may even manage to get built today. They will all start off with some poplar branches, then maybe some pea straw or lucerne and then a layer of freshly mown grass for nitrogen (I even have some grass to mow now yippee 😀 ) and a little blood and bone for a bit more, before being topped off with soil and compost. I’ve also got 3 potato beds each half full of homemade compost which is breaking down nicely.

The third garden bed in the greenhouse is going to be an experimental garden bed. I am concerned that my greenhouse will not retain its warmth over the winter and I don’t want to add a heating source which will draw (and in my opinion, waste) electricity. I can’t afford to add solar panels to either house or anywhere else as yet but I saw a fascinating post about using compost to heat hot water the other day and although I don’t plan on building a hot water creating compost wheelie bin, the concept gave me an idea. Compost, as it breaks down, puts out a lot of heat. This mornings pile of compost was pleasantly warm to touch but I remember as a kid sticking my hand into the grass clippings dad had mowed a few weekends before and it was hot. In fact the other day a friend burned their hand on hot compost. Not to the point of blisters and such but still and all enough of a burn to make them exclaim aloud. I drink my hot chocolate at 70C and I need to let it cool a little so as not to scald my tongue. Yes, it’s hot! 🙂 So, I figured that I could use that to heat my greenhouse and at the same time prepare a garden bed for the spring. I plan on using a lot of grass clippings. and a thin layer of compost on top. Our kitchen waste will also go in here and our other compost bins can either sit fallow or I can empty out the composted or cooling down compost in the garden bed and put it out to finish decomposing and then restart in the greenhouse for more heat to keep it warm. It will involve a bit more work but with the help of Trevor and his trailer (or a working wheelbarrow even) it will be worth it to have heaps of rich, organic and home made compost for Spring planting. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Lets see how we go. 🙂

Lessons learned from my garden this year is that corn and zucchinis will produce fruit even under the shade of a large tree but they will be lacking. Watermelons just don’t grow though. I will remove the garden bed they’re in and use the soil elsewhere. I can use the space for more compost bins maybe. I can get the heat happening internally so the lack of day long sun isn’t an issue. I’ve also learned about nitrogen draw-down. No dig garden beds NEED that blood and bone int hem, that’s the ingredient I was missing and my poor plants have suffered for the lack of it. However, since adding it I do have a tomato harvest ripening slowly (it’s a race between getting some colour so I can ripen them completely indoors and the frosts arriving). I also have a very late and small but sufficient pumpkin harvest. This last week has seen at least half a dozen female pumpkin flowers which I have been busily fertilising just in case the bees missed them. In no way do I believe I’m better than bees but we don’t have much to attract their stripey flying selves to the gardens… Yet. I have 5 packs of sweet peas I am planning to plant in pots to add scent and colour to our back porch over the Autumn. The kids will like helping with planting them. 🙂 I’ll be planting more flowers out this coming Spring too to entice the bees to come and work for us. 🙂

Well, sitting here gets nothing done. Time for my Small Man Orik to have his nap then garden, here I come. 🙂