Saturday, April 17, 2010

Since the start of 2010

It has been a busy start to the year which is no excuse for me not getting to update the blog in so long. Please accept my apologies. But now that I am back into the swing of things, let me update you on what has been happening around here – because part of the business has been all the happenings going on on the property.

Since the new year we have:

• Made progress on Grants mud house to the point where the walls are almost completely up and the roof is now on.

• We harvested a good crop of maize – a mix from Lesotho, the Cape and local seeds. However, the crop was plagued by what we think was rats and was being destroyed while drying on the plants so we had to do an emergency harvesting to save them. They are now feeding our sheep.

• We enjoyed a great summer harvest of corn, beans, spinach, carrots, aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, chillies, baby marrows, beetroot, radishes, cabbages, cucumbers, pumpkins, butternut and plenty of herbs.

• I have been busy preserving vegetables from the summer harvest for us to enjoy in winter. Including freezing beans, corn and pumpkin, bottling tomatoes, pickling jalapenos and chillies, cooking tomato chutney, creamed spinach, tomato pasta sauce and hot chilli sauce.

• Our chickens have moulted but have started laying again recently – and our 2 roosters were fighting so the old guy hit the freezer yesterday.

• We have had 2 new lambs born in the last 2 weeks – one of which is the first ewe lamb we have ever had born. She is smaller and weaker than the ram lambs and we have had to watch and give her an electrolyte solution to make sure she is gaining strength. She is so cute – I will take a pic to post for you.

• We have planted a lovely winter garden of cabbage, carrots, beetroot, leeks, radish and peas, and tomatoes and peppers in our growing tunnels to see if we can grow them through winter in there.

• We have stockpiled wood for the winter which starts next month.

• We have had 2 litters of new rabbits born since February so we now have 11 little white furies hopping around.

Besides all that there is the usual cleaning, weeding, maintenance, watering, feeding and caring that takes place all the time.

I will post pics of our new little lamb and Grants mud house this week so stay posted.

Overall, we are so blessed to have this opportunity to live out here in the country – especially the girls and I who get to be here full time and enjoy the space, the peace, the healthy food, raising animals and watching the seasons change.

Hope you take the time to notice the changing colours of the autumn leaves and to walk outside in the autumn breeze.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lamb chops and giant zucchini

We are really starting to enjoy produce from our own lamb. On Friday we slaughtered the first of the lambs born and breed on our land. Pastured fed natural lamb with no added antibiotics or steroids.

Attached you will see a pic of our giant zucchini that I harvested yesterday. Take your eyes off them for a day or two and they mutate into giant marrows that are a meal in themselves.

As we wind down the year to enjoy the holidays it is wonderful to see what can be accomplished with a little hard work and dedication, and as summer comes into full swing – the rich bounty of our land is evident everywhere.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't call a friend, call a farmer

Today I was astounded at how much real farmers know about their livestock. Being just a beginner and learning the ins and outs of my small farm keeps me busy but today’s experience was a prime example of how little I know about livestock farming.

For the past week one of our ram lambs – which are 7 months old – has been limping. He is the smallest of the 3 and I assumed that perhaps he had been trampled on or hit about a bit and would come right after a few days. Needless to say, a week later he is still limping and not using his hind leg at all and it has begun to swell. So I did what any good wanna-be farmer would do – I phoned a real farmer. I had even begun to think that we might have to slaughter this animal early as he just seemed to be getting worse, so when my farmer friend Gerhard De Villiers told me to examine the leg and look for a simple tick I was rather sceptical. So off I went to look for a tick, all the while thinking that Gerhard had to be wrong as this looked much more serious than that and this animal was a goner.

Well, I was soon proved wrong as there in the middle of this poor rams hoof was the largest tick I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe that such a small animal could cause such severe pain and damage. So he has been removed and hopefully our little guy will recover soon and be leaping out in front with his brothers once more. However, I learnt that a real farmer knows his animals and can identify the cause of a problem just by hearing of the symptoms. I have been humbled and hope to one day graduate to being a real farmer, paying as much care and attention to my animals as any good farmer can.

In other news, we seem to be having a game of musical nest boxes in the hen house as each time I go to check on the now 3 hens sitting on eggs in the hen house, they have switched places. So much so that today one of the new chicks could not tell who his mother was and is sitting with the hen next door.

But my highlight for the day was not doctoring our sheep’s foot or checking for chicks under the hens but it was spending the late afternoon with my two daughters watching them frolic and wriggle in our new muddy dam. They were like 2 dirty muddy hippo calves rolling in the mud and water having the time of their lives, and I was having the time of mine watching them. It was even more rewarding knowing that my children are living their childhood in the wonderful nature of the country side. That they don’t only get to enjoy these freeing experiences on weekends but on an ordinary Monday afternoon when other kids are at aftercare centres or watching TV at home. I thank the Lord for this rare and wonderful opportunity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roast rabbit and homemade yoghurt

As a family on a journey to self sustainability we are always trying to find new things to make ourselves instead of having to buy. So on Friday night we attempted our first batch of homemade yoghurt. It is actually so easy to make (see recipe below) that we don’t know why we didn’t attempt it sooner.
• All you do is get as much natural unpasteurised full cream milk as you want to make into yoghurt – we used 2 litres. Place a pot on the stove with water in it, then place another smaller pot inside that pot to make a double boiler or water jacket effect, to prevent the milk from burning.
• Pour the milk into the top pot and heat it to 85˚C or until the milk begins to froth.
• Then cool the milk to 43˚C in a water bath so it cools evenly.
• Then add 2 table spoons of store bought plain yoghurt with live cultures to your milk.
• Pour the milk into clean, sterile containers and cover each tightly with a lid.
• You now need to keep the yoghurt warm and still in order to encourage bacteria growth for the next 6-8 hours (38˚C is optimal). We did this by keeping our yoghurt on our hot plate on very low overnight, but you could also place it in a cooler box with a big blanket over it over night. The longer you leave it beyond 7 hours the tangier it gets.
• In the morning place the yoghurt in the fridge and enjoy with your favourite flavourings or over cereal etc. Within the next 2 weeks.
• Just remember to keep some of your first batch as starter for your second batch.
We are happy to have found something else that we can make ourselves in a healthy, cost effective way.
Another first for Friday was that we slaughtered our first rabbit and ate it. It may sound goring to you but all over the world people eat rabbit as part of their meat diet. We had too many male rabbits and they have been fighting over mating rights to females for the past few weeks so we decided to put the underdog out of his misery and let the dominant male and his girls enjoy their happy family on their own.
As the meat can be quite tough I found a recipe where you first marinade the meat in olive oil and fresh herbs over night before frying the pieces and then placing them in a roasting pan and baking them for an additional hour and a half. The meat was tender and flavourful, even though it will take a while for us to get used to.
It never ceases to amaze me how we do not acknowledge that the meat in the shops was actually a live animal once and that someone else just killed and cleaned it for us. Seeing the process from live animal to your plate gives you a greater appreciation for the meat, as the process of killing, cleaning and cooking involved some things we don’t often even consider. I am glad that our family is coming closer to the origins of our food, so we can enjoy a healthy understanding of the circle of life.

Monday, November 9, 2009

She wants to be a mommy

As a mother myself, I can’t blame my chickens who, despite me trying to take all the eggs out of the hen house, refuse to stop sitting on them and trying to hatch a few. It would seem that the instinct to care for ones offspring does not just kick in when they are born (in this case hatch) but long before then. One of my hens escaped from the farm yard weeks ago and made herself a nest in a pile of straw we keep for the sheep’s bedding, so we can expect her 11 little ones to emerge any day now – I will post picks when they hatch. But another hen, who has always layed her eggs in the hen house, one day decided that she wanted incubate and hatch them. Despite me trying to take them all away daily, she refused to leave the nest and has been sitting on 3 little eggs that I left there ever since. Luckily I have been able to con the other hens into laying in the nest box next door by leaving an egg there every day so they think that is always where they lay. So our new mother will also be hatching little ones in about a week and a half – all be it a much smaller brood.
In other news, the excitement about our full dam due to all the good rain we have been having has been somewhat short-lived as later that day I realised that my neighbours badly constructed back wall had collapsed onto my property destroying my top corner fencing and leaving my animals vulnerable to escape or attack from my neighbours 2 big dogs. So emergency fencing operation number.... I have lost count began on Wednesday last week and is still in progress.
We enjoyed a wonderful variety of lettuce, beans, peas and baby marrows in our family meal yesterday and I love giving family and friends the best of our organic produce to enjoy when they visit. Hopefully there is lots more to come in the months ahead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's raining, its pouring

As I write this we are having a torrential downpour. Water has covered the land and is running across the property in little rivulets into our lovely new dam which we just sealed! Yeah! (don’t you just love it when a plan comes together) Our dam is now overflowing with water. We only sealed it a week ago with a 400 square meter piece of recycled plastic which means that there should always be some water in our dam for ducks and wild water birds. (the pics are of Lorenzo installing the plastic and my girls enjoying the new water slide.)
The most wonderful thing about all this rain is that we just finished planting our mielie field this morning so our new seeds are getting an awesome head start with lots of moisture in the ground. We have planted the field according to conservation farming methods of no tilling of the soil and hand hoeing. Each hole was prepared with 2 cups of manure and 3 organic seeds. I spoke with the dairy farmer next door last Thursday who told me he has heard from the weather guys that now is a good time to plant as we will have good rain in the next 2 weeks – well, it seems his weather guys knew what they were talking about and I am glad I took his advice and planted. And not a moment too soon as we had just finished covering the last holes when the rain started.
It has been a while since I updated the blog as I have been having some computer probs – in fact my hard drive crashed last week – so I am out of touch and behind on everything.
So in other news over the past week, our ram Rocky and I had a bit of a rumble on Sunday morning. It is mating season and he seems to be even more aggressive than usual, so as I was trying to shoo the sheep away from breaking the hen house door when he decided to attack me leaving me with many cuts, scrapes and bruises and a damaged confidence in my sheep farming abilities.
Some good news is that we ate our first lettuce, beans and baby marrows on the property last week. It is wonderful to eat the fruits of our labours and add delicious veggies into our family meals that have been freshly picked off our own plants.
Last week also saw me take some unusually drastic pest control action against the baby grasshopper infestation we are battling. After spraying with a home brewed organic pesticide and buying some bantam chickens to eat them, on Wednesday last week I ventured out with my vacuum cleaner and literally vacuumed them off of the plants they have been sitting on. Although I didn’t get all of them by any means – I have seen an improvement in the area I covered. I am sure that is a method that you will not find in any organic farming book, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Now that our dam is so full I am also planning to invest in some duck breeding pairs as they are apparently excellent pest hunters.
As you can see, lots is always on the go here on our little piece of heaven in Walkerville. We hope you enjoy hearing about it half as much as we enjoy living it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bantams, Auctions, Broody hens and teasing rain

The baby grasshoppers have hatched and are sitting on and eating all my exposed veggies. Being organic I cannot go out and murder them with some horrendous chemical, so I am having to think up another cunning plan to deal with them before they mutate into larger versions of their species. My new idea is to buy bantam chickens that don’t damage your veggie garden but enjoy the added protein in their diets. So I think I will be off to the local De Deur auction on Saturday morning to get some. Speaking of which the De Deur auction is really a site to behold. It never ceases to amaze me how many people turn up on a Saturday to buy anything from a mattress to a chicken, from a pig to spare car parts and electronics – you can literally find anything laid out on a concrete slab at the De Deur auction on a Saturday morning.
I will never forget our first experience actually bidding on something at the auction. Lorenzo and I went to buy some peacocks all of 2 months ago – not knowing anything about them at the time. So we spotted what we wanted and then decided on what we were willing to pay for them. When they started the bidding on the birds I was petrified and told Lorenzo he had to do it. We didn’t know if you needed to nod or raise your hand or what. Anyway, hearts racing and palms sweating we tried to understand what the auctioneer was saying in his racing speed commentary. I don’t know exactly what happened, but the other bidder bailed out before we did and so we got the birds. Exhilarated and exhausted we then had to think of a plan on how to get these 2 big beauties home. (Having not thought to bring a box or crate with us – as I said we didn’t have a clue)
So this week me and my box will be off to bid on some bantams to eat the baby grasshoppers ... unless I come up with another idea before then.
In other news our mother hen is at it again and has escaped from the chicken run and layed a clutch of eggs in the heap of dry grass we use for the sheep’s bedding. She has become broody and started sitting on the eggs today. I was in 2 minds as to whether to let her hatch them as I still have her other nine 4-month old pullets growing up in the farm yard and my daughters incubator experiment in my kitchen which could see a further 4 chicks hatch - if it works (I will know by Sunday if you can incubate eggs in a biltong box). But the thought of little fuzzy soft and cute baby chicks got the better of me and so we will have a new brood in just under 3 weeks time.
The rain has been teasing my for 3 days now. As I write this wind is howling and the clouds are overhead but no rain is coming from them. Today I had to water my garden with a black sky above me as it blew into the distance without releasing any water near us. I think I was trying to taunt the rain into falling by watering my garden. Anyway, the farmer next door (Eon, the dairy farmer) has informed me that we should only plant our mielies when we have 50ml of rain within 3 days – so it would seem we are a far way off from planting.