Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Sign of Autumn

A Sign of Autumn

One of the first signs that the weather is turning is when you can begin to see the pumpkins when they are in a large patch. The leaves just start to droop and those lovely great pumpkins start to shine through. The first frost won't be long but the vines have done their job and harvesting the fruit is not far off.

Making Tomato Sauce

Making Tomato Sauce

Each year our main summer crop is tomatoes. As well as many months of fresh tomatoes we make lots of tomato sauce which is used throughout the year in lots of dishes. On pizza, pasta or rice, cooked with meatballs or added to many dishes to give some vegetable goodness.

This year we had even more tomato plants than before and now a polytunnel to grow some in so we have had a bumper crop. Last year we made over a hundred jars worth and still ran out. One of the reasons for this was that some of the jars failed. So this year I resolved to Vacola the sauce. The jars are therefore much bigger.

The recipe is fairly basic. Onions and garlic sauteed in oil, plenty of zucchini and lots of tomatoes. This year I have added lots of basil for flavour. Once it has come to the boil I leave it on the stove for a few hours simmering and reducing. Then it is poured into warm sterilised jars and then put into the Vacola.

So far we have 80 Vacola bottles made and seven bottle of ketchup sauce. We have given away two crates of tomatoes and there is still plenty left to ripen. Time to try some other sauce variety, I think, but we will never starve this winter. Yum.

How to Make Wine at Home

How to Make Wine at Home

First of all you need some grapes. About 15 years ago I planted four merlot vines given to me by a friend who worked erecting fences for vineyards. Three grew and now extend over about 25 metres on a wire trellis in a cage covered in chook wire to keep off the eager birds.
This year was the best crop ever - two trugs and three large boxes. After giving away a box this was my haul for wine making.

Then we loosely washed the grapes by filling the trugs with water. About a sixth of the washed grapes were lifted out and put into a trug cleaned with a small amount of bleach. Our feet were washed and then the fun part. Squishing the grapes beneath our feet until there was plenty of juice. The juice was poured through our yellow colander into the barrel. The residue was put into a spare trug and the process repeated.

Once the barrel was nearly full - 30 litres - we added some of the residue. This contains natural yeasts so that nothing else is needed. You can buy commercial yeasts to add at this point but it is not necessary.

While the pigs enjoyed the rest of the residue the barrel sat in the kitchen with an airlock in the top.Within hours it started to ferment. Three days later we removed the now alcoholic residue or musk (another post might tell the story of the musk, the drunk dog and the vet - but not now) and decanted the wine into two demijohns. We will leave the wine in these until the fermentation stops and the we will bottle the wine with a cork and put it down in the pantry to await drinking.

As we haven't made much headway into previous vintages this bumper crop might last us a while! Still - it is very easy and fun to make it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

More water needed in the garden


Today was billed as the hottest ever February day in New South Wales. I am not sure what it topped here but it would have been close to 40C which in the Snowy Mountains is plenty hot enough. It was a reasonable Spring for rain but we are reliant on roof collection and run off for meeting our water needs. About two weeks ago the rainwater tank that was being used for the garden was getting low and the reduced ration were not enough for growing plants.
Something had to be done. Four years ago we had a waterline dug from the nearest dam up to be able to fill a tank for the garden. No pump and a reluctance to put dam water in a freshwater tank meant it was of no use to us. So after some planning it was resolved to put in more taps and connect them up to this line from the dam and buy a pump.

Two new taps allow sprinklers to be attached to cover the maximum amount of garden.

The dam line intersecting with the water tank line. Lots of careful digging in hard soil on a hot day but it all came together well.

The new pump on the dam that has saved our scorching plants. Once or twice a day we give the pump a pull and squirt all the plants. 

The dam is low but hopefully will see us through this hot spell and that after that it rains.

The 200th Post

It seems a long time since I started this blog. Two years ago on January 1. It amazes and pleases me that without any advertising or much linking to sites etc that so many people around the world have had a glimpse of life here on Opportunity Farm.
The cycles of the year go around and the children get older and we get more established and hopefully more effective and efficient. My blogging has slowed right down - partly because life can get too busy but mainly through forgetting to take my camera with me when I'm off on the farm. I suppose the modern way is to have a mobile phone in your pocket that can be whipped out to collect that moment or memory but I don't have one and can't yet see why I need one.
So on reaching 100 posts there were about 2000 hits and I was keen to find out if there was anyone interested and reading, but now at 200 there has been nearly 9000 hits and I am happy to blog whenever I get the fancy and feel I have something to share.
So if you are reading this, thank you for taking the time.
Felicity, our Jack Russell puppy doing what she does best - sleeping and being fussed over

My Piglets are Fussy Eaters

This year's piglets are fussy. We give them a diet of food scraps from the local café or our kitchen, excess fruit and vegetables and pig pellets. They need a mix of vegetable and protein to grow muscle and fat.

When we picked up these piglets there were a couple of weeks younger than usual and had been subsisting on mum's milk and a cheese waste product from the Bega Cheese factory. Once installed in their pen they tucked happily into anything green but steadfastly ate around the pig pellets. I was getting pretty worried as the fallen fruit and zucchini gluts hadn't kicked in and the café scraps were not sufficient to keep them going.
This lasted for over a month but finally they grew to love pig pellets and started to bulk out a bit.
Arthur, Mabel and Christine can enjoy their life of leisure and lettuce while fattening up and helping to turn over the soil in the bottom paddock.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I have a problem with chicks

Last year I had great success with incubating chicks. I did three batches of nine and ended up with fifteen hens and three roosters. With luck like that I should have known this year would not be so easy. I gave away or sold most of the new chickens which meant other people approaching me for more Light Sussex hens. No worries I'll have some for you.

So the first batch of the year I incubated in September - a set of Isa Browns to assist with renewing the vigour of mu best layers. Five hatched - two hens. Not bad - could be worse.
A batch of Light Sussex - only two hatched and one survived but developed a very dodgy leg and will have to be eaten. Next batch - two hatched and one survived OK. Most of the eggs were infertile.

I did some research and worked out that my rooster was probably too close genetically to the hens. Despite his success last year the genetics could have been resulting in low fertility and dodgy spraddle legs. Time to get a new rooster. 

A friend had a spare which turned out to share a grandparent with my hens but was worth a try. Turned the incubator on and it had died. More research and an expensive new but larger incubator later I have 22 eggs set. 18 Light Sussex and 4 Isa Browns. This has to work.

However the humidity levels were harder to notice and quicker to dry up so I was a bit worried. Three weeks later four hatched successfully but just over half were still unfertilised. Back to the drawing board.

Learning to candle would tell me whether the eggs were worth persevering with but not increase the overall success. 

A new rooster perhaps? A better eye on the humidity levels? More research and time needed.

The first two hatchlings seeking to escape the hot temperatures in the potting shed.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Young Christmas Presents

Our coloured flock diminished from five to two in 2016. It was time to replenish. Michelle reckoned that wethers was the way to go so there were no issues with pregnancy. So for a suitable  Christmas present I searched for a breeder of coloured sheep.

My friend Google found a lady in Young with two of last year's wethers to offload. It was a four hundred kilometre trip there but the rich chocolate coloured coat on these Corriedale boys should be fine for spinning.
Once in the stock crate they travelled well and looked keenly about at all the amazing sights whenever we stopped. Having never left their smallholding before it would have been quite a shock. I was impressed when their previous owner gave them a supplement that would help them with the stress of the journey.
Thirteen hours after setting off from Opportunity Farm we returned with two new inmates who are now happily munching in the orchard.

The Current Abundance

Christmas is the time for the redcurrants to be ripe. Our three bushes give enough currants to keep us in redcurrant jelly for a long while. It goes well on sliced pork as well as on toast.

The currants are easy to pick and this is often a task that small children enjoy. Between myself and my youngest daughter we picked about 3kg from the three bushes.

These were boiled up, seived to remove the seeds and the resultant juice mixed with sugar to make a jelly. We bottled four jars from this - about 2kg of jelly.

We also picked a load of raspberries. The first batch made six jars of jam.

Faced with a glut of raspberries and enough jam made it was time to consult the google cookbook. The simplest solution was to make raspberry sorbet. A cup of water was added to five cups of berries and then cooked up. The mush was put through a seive to separate out the seeds from the juice and the juice put through some cheesecloth to be sure. Sugar and vanilla essence were added, heated to dissolve the sugar and then frozen. Delicious if a bit intense so either to be eaten in very small quantities or to flavour something blander. 

Definitely a way to use up berries. Simple, quick and very tasty. In winter it will be a burst of summer flavour to boost the spirits.

Butchering the Naughty Kid

It seems that in every batch of new kids there is a naughty one. The one that learns to go through fences and eat the greener grass on the other side. Primrose was this year's troublesome goat. It started out fine with short trips through a fence before a quick dash back to mummy. She gradually become more adventurous and on several occasions squirmed through the ringlock into 'The Grove' - a plantation of seedling trees including some prized truffle inoculated hazels. The biggest of the trees were a pair of oaks about two metres tall. The fence is electrified and each tree has a substantial guard around it. The oaks each have one about a metre high.
Somehow Primrose managed to get into these guards, eat the tree and then squeal for help to get out. It was mind-boggling how she managed to do this feat of agility but it didn't help her cause. She had to go and we had a candidate for a New Year feast.

I am very new to butchering and having been vegetarian for a long time have found it to be a challenge. With this goat I didn't do the killing but I found I could do the gutting and skinning and butchering quite easily. The skin was in good enough condition to be salted and preserved.

Our friend Jeff committed the deed and after gutting and skinning the carcass was hung in our cool room for three days. Being only small it only needed to be chopped into a few pieces. We also did two of last year's wethers which required a bit more. Using a cleaver I had to smash through the bone in one clean hit to make chops. Apart from my trusty piece of wood splitting this worked well. 

I am even looking forward to my next butchering session. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Time to let the Asparagus stop shooting

The first week in December means the end of the asparagus shoots. As the first spring plant to be harvested they are very welcome but when summer comes it is time to let do their thing and turn into ferns.
Once they are tall enough they may need supporting from strong winds. Otherwise some manure or compost and removal of weed competition is all that they require until they die off and need to be cut down. Early next Spring they will be back again.

When Summer Plants are Small and Growing

I like to train my tomato vines up a single piece of baling twine attached loosely to the plant and suspended from the chicken wire roof. I pinch off all the laterals to keep the plant heading straight up and this means I can plant them quite densely. This bed will have about twenty tomato plants in.

Zucchinis are easy to grow but for years there was always and overabundance. Since we started fattening piglets this problem was solved and they can't get enough.

The iceberg lettuces - Goldrush - have proved a success this year as the children will actually eat them!

Gardens ready for summer

This year we have a hot house. Even though all our tomato seedlings were zapped by frost in October it still packs a bit of heat and will make a difference to what and when we can grow here in the Snowy Mountains.
It is an experiment to see how much water is needed and to get plants established. 

The paths are still full of weeds but the central bed has iceberg lettuce, mizuna and mesclun. They will bolt early with the heat but will give us some greens for spring.

At our other property all the winter plants have been removed and the beds ready for the tomatoes and zucchinis and pumpkins that love the lower altitude and warmer temperatures.

Garlic Harvesting

This year we planted an early harvesting variety of garlic.This was handy for two reasons - we had a poor crop last year and almost ran out and because by harvesting in November space was cleared for some summer seedlings.

By Mid November there were a few heads that were just thinking about forming a flower so it was time to pull them up.

Each bulb planted had turned into a beautiful purple and white corm. Cleaned roughly of soil they were laid out on a table in the shed to dry.

These were from our other property where the lower altitude (300m instead of 900m) meant the garlic was harvested a couple of weeks earlier. These have dried and are ready to be trimmed and plaited and hung in the pantry.

We haven't bought garlic for a few years. Even though garlic is not supposed to store for 12 months it seems to last. So early harvesting and long lasting varieties of mild garlic are certainly our preference.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Planting out Seedlings

They seemed too small to be planted out but the lettuce, mizuna and mesclun seedlings were overcrowding their punnets. It was time to get some in the ground. So far there have been no signs of snails or slugs in the polytunnel but they will no doubt find a way in. This means that the seedlings will need protection. Some of them I have put a little cloche made from slicing up a 2 litre milk carton. Others have a trail of eggshell around. I will be able to test out the efficiency of these methods.
A friend gave us some excess basil seedlings so they get the eggshell treatment as well.

The self seeded silverbeet is loving the polytunnel. As long as it gets water it is growing quickly and tastes good as well. To the left is a self-sown lettuce that is nearly ready for the table.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


The apples are flowering. As long as there is no late frost or a major wind event there should be plenty of fruit to pick come February/March.

Finally there is plenty of blossom on the quince tree. For the past few years there has only been a couple of quinces but this looks more promising.

Even the cherry is covered in flowers.
The pears are not so fertile but until the pollinator (a Jonathan) grows a bit more then we may not get much of a crop. Each year the orchard evolves and changes.

Progress on the Shearing Shed

It has been months since there was time to work on the shearing shed but with most of the family away it was time to get back onto it. The front needed to be covered with tin and the porch built. A set of steps up to the front door were required and the shearing machinery hoisted into position.

Working with old second hand timber provides its challenges. Pieces are not the same width at both ends. In the photo the beam at the end of the porch is definitely one of those pieces. After noticing the lean that beam had to be lowered on one end to make the rafters more level. Tin is a forgiving medium but it is a standard size with right angle corners so it can be used to cover over the variations of round and curved timber.

The window frames are in and the end triangle is ready to be filled in. Plenty to do but progress is being made.

More New Chicks

The second set of eggs is hatching. However this time there was a problem. The incubator was not level so the humidity was harder to measure and the humidity dropped. Only three of the chicks hatched and two of these died.

So for the next batch I moved the incubator to a level spot and marked the required water level on the outside so I could be sure that it remained consistent. Problems on the farm will always happen but as long as you learn from them then they can be positive.