Saturday, December 17, 2011

The positives and negatives of electric fencing.

Being relatively poor, all the fences here at Lantanaland are of the electric kind. There was no real cow proof boundary fencing when we got here and to put that sort of fencing in requires serious money. I'd hate to think what sort of money goes into fencing at a proper farm. Proper fencing requires long term vision and planning as well. You have to think of all the possible ways you might want it set up, not just how you want it set up today. Once it is in it is expensive and time consuming to change. Electric fencing is pretty good as long as you stay on top of it and has one real benefit that fits in with my permaculture principles.

Permaculture has a theory that you learn with the land. That is the longer you are on a piece of land, the more you understand the most effective way to work it and make it work for you. Electric fencing is fantastic for this because it is really easy to reconfigure. Just pull out and bash in some star pickets and give that way a try. I think I have reconfigured the 'home paddock' about ten times already to get the best out of the set up. Learning the way the cows behave, building a chook pen and now setting up for a vegetable garden has all influenced how I build the fences.

The latest little permaculture program I have started is the veg patch. I've been watching the River Cottage Veg program and it made me realize that one of the reasons that I don't cook more veg is that the stuff from the supermarkets is fairly uninspiring, flavour wise. When I broke it down, the reason I don't grow more veg is that, well, I suck at it. I forget to water it, or feed it or don't have good enough soil. Hopefully the new patch will solve all these problems.

I have used tyres to build the beds because they are free and modular. That lets me do a bit each day rather than waiting for a whole free weekend to build beds with materials I can't really afford. The beds are just outside the chook pen and right next to where the cows come and wait to be fed, the best source of rich broken down soil. It's also gives me a super enriched fertilizer, the water from the duck pool in the chook house.

I redid the fences so that there is a little buffer between the beds and the paddocks so the cows can't reach those dexterous tongues through and munch on the tasty plants. I walk down past this garden every day to milk and there is always water down there for the cows so there is no chance of neglect. That is probably one of the most important things for me. If it needs daily attention then it had better be somewhere I have to go every day.

The next bit of refencing was around the tree and tank above the house. I have a little paddock there that is too steep for the ride on and I extended it round the big fig and second tank, down to the aquaponics. This little slope is a pain to slash, so getting the cows to do the work for me seems like a smart thing to do. It also means they can come down and say hello when we are on the deck or in the spa, something that Dolores will like. She is a very friendly cow.

All in all for a couple of hours work yesterday and today I have increased my pasture, got a secure vegetable garden in and started, fixed up another fence and moved Laf and Buster the bull into there. All done, until something comes along and gives me an idea and I change it again. All part of the fun.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Technology has to make it effortless.

Mr John Birmingham had a nice little post today on using a notebook to you know, take down ideas and story plans with a pen. Old school. But just because technology is old technology doesn't make it useless or invalid. Sometimes it is still the best thing, simply because it draws you in to what you want to do.

I love my iPad. Do all my blog writing on it. However I foolishly jumped into an update of the software before checking that the blogging app I use had tested and updated for iOS 5 and it killed it. I could and still did write on the web interface but it was nowhere near as enjoyable. The iPad works for me because I cannot touch type and the pace of my typing roughly matches the pace of my thoughts. I tried some other apps for blog writing but they all made the process harder. The way apple has set up the cloud services now means that whenever I pick up the iPad all my photos and saved links are there ready to go.

I use a lot of pictures in my blogs so the ability to place and move pics around in my blog easily and quickly makes me more likely to write. I found a new app for $1.99 that did all that I wanted and actually made it far easier to put together a post than both my broken app and the web interface. The technology was easy and so I was more likely to write.

At work however things are a bit different. I do a lot of design and marketing stuff as well as forward planning and iPad software design. I have a big iMac but my favorite tool is these big blotters that one of our suppliers give us. Almost as big as my desk it has calendars down both sides, space for to do items on the left and big beautiful blank space to scribble in. Every Monday I start a new one and transfer any left over things from the week before. Coupled with a bunch of felt pens it is integral to the way I work.

I've not yet found a easy way to replicate that with the iPad. Maybe not enough space that I can see everything laid out. Maybe on the new iMac with its massive screen there would be a mind mapping app that would replicate it. One thing I do love on the new iMac is the touch pad that came with it. I have a series of desktops set up, one for photoshop, one for time wasting, one for email, one for the software that runs all our ordering and data at work. I simply swipe between desktops and it is like a little mental switch that clicks your brain into that workflow.

New features and new technology is fantastic, but if you are not going to explore and push it, then the best tech for you might be a exercise book and a pencil. Whatever works.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A birthday + I know a guy, chapter 32.

We have been taking the advice of many, many parents and enjoying the last few weekends child free by pretty much doing nothing. Saturday was my birthday so we went down to a local winery, with good mate Ryan and had a lovely feed on an old classic Queenslander over looking some grapevines and some cows. The food was nice if not amazing but the view was fantastic especially with the recent rain making everything a nice English style green.

The rest of the afternoon was spent watching a bit of cricket, bantering with some cricket tragics on twitter and reading a few books before The Wife cooked a lovely quiche and we watched The Fantastic Mr Fox. I liked it but The Wife is not really a fan of quirky so lucky it was my birthday and I could get away with it. Oh and I got a chainsaw from The Wife, Ryno and the Paul Manttan family. Sweet! More gear to tame Lantanaland.

Today was also fairly lazy, I only just got a bit of lawn mowing in before the rain hit, but this afternoon we got an unexpected and welcome visitor. The neighbour that shares a back fence with us, the mythical back fence which I have only glimpsed once and never walked the full length of. He wanted to fix it up and was wondering if we could pitch in some funds.

We got to chatting and it turns out it is his cattle that wander all over the block to the right of ours. Not only that but he kills and ages his own beef. Of course I then mentioned I worked for a butcher supply company. There was a moment where we looked at each other and realized a fellow follower of the 'I know a guy' principle. It's quite simple, a bit like bartering. I trade or use my skills and contacts with yours. Never at market price of course.

Turns out that the cattle are just a sideline, he has an earthmoving business and keeps all his stuff on sheds on the land. Mentioned that he thought about buying our place when we bought it so he could run power up to his sheds. I reckon I know a guy that could help him there.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Food Miles and Flavour

I was watching my food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tonight doing a show about going vego for six months. He's an inspiring bloke, at least to me and one of the key things I took away was that he'd got a new category added to the local show. Tastiest vegetable. It makes sense, especially in today's modern two tone supermarket system where taste would be at the bottom of a long checklist of things like whether or not the veg can bounce along in a truck for 500km.

One of the thing I love about Lantanaland is food miles. Food miles are the distance and energy used to get something to your door. I'm not saying that you have to get everything locally, some cultures and regions just do things better. I get a kick out of the smallest things though and tonight is was one small jar of tomato jam made with these small pear tomatoes that I planted just for jam.

These tomatoes have had a rough time, the cows have escaped a few times and they are on the driveway with some other tasty treats and have had a bit of a prune. I got just enough of the little beauties for one jar. I'm going to enjoy breakfast tomorrow knowing that my jam has food miles of about 50m.

The other food with very low mileage is obviously my dairy products. Now I understand that not everyone wants a cow, even though cows are cool. I've been making lots and lots of creamy feta and one of the other tidbits on River Cottage was a smoked soft curd goats cheese. If a soft curd goats cheese takes smoke well, I reckon my feta will, so this weekend I'll fire up the cold smoker and try smoking some cheese.

I understand that not everyone cares about flavour or where their food has come from. For some people it's price and convenience and nothing else. Some people support the local farmers markets or grow herbs on a balcony. But I'm pretty proud of my jam, small token or not.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Home Grown Veg

Despite the beautiful lush rolling hills with meter deep beautiful topsoil here at Lantanaland I am terrible at growing vegetables. Actually all of that is a complete lie. Except the vegetable growing. For whatever reason I just don't have a fantastic track record with veg.

I understand the principles but seem to lose crops to cows, chooks, lack of water, pests, forgetfulness, goats and ducks. It's a bloody shame because home grown stuff increasingly has a far superior taste to any shop bought stuff and I like eating things that taste good.

The best success I've had this year has been with tomatoes. Some have just popped up from the cows eating lots and lots of tomatoes, some have been raised from seedlings. I have planted them everywhere. I'm enjoying a half decent crop too at the moment but not the absolute glut that would mean that I could make tomato sauce for pastas and the like or one of my favorites, tomato jam. I did today have an absolute joy, a bacon, avocado, home made feta and tomato sandwich.

In my ideal world I would be producing the following in amounts that could keep my kitchen running. Carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, salad leaves, beans or peas, zucchini and I'd like a bit of corn, cucumber (I usually have no trouble with them) and cabbage. I also usually get pumpkins no worries but not in fantastic numbers.

I'll just keep trying, I have the worst soil going and have just started some raised beds so we'll see how that goes. In a perfect world I'd have the chaotic self seeding kitchen garden that they have at Northey Street farm where all sorts of things self seed and thrive in a random mix. I made some fantastic salads for lunch out of that garden, it had no order but fantastic production.

The beauty of having the farm is that I have the raw ingredients and tools to grow good stuff, I just need the knowledge and the practice. I look forward to eating it.