Monday, December 31, 2012

Projects and a half arsed Lantanaland year in review.

I'm a guy that needs projects. Half formed ideas swirling around in my mind, theories on how I can improve Lantanaland and make use of the land that we have. Some of these never become more than pipe dreams. Some, like my rotating chook pens, get done and then done again when you come home from the family Xmas to find the cows have eaten your vegetable patch for their Xmas dinner. But the dreaming and thinking of projects yet to be keeps you interested while you do yet another day of fencing or shovelling cow shit around fruit trees.

All in all it's been a pretty good year on the farm. I haven't killed too many fruit trees and The Boy and I have enjoyed the afternoon potter around the farm, watering and feeding. It has been a bad year for rain, almost none in spring and early summer at all and most of the big storms have passed us by. The reserve tank is still empty. Which didn't help yesterday when I needed some gravity fed water when the power went out. Despite the cows destroying the two chook pens, that system is working pretty well. The finger limes have sprouted, the first time in seven years that I haven't killed one. I am so keen to have some of these fruit, many great cooking opportunities.

The cows have had a productive year, two calves, one planned and one unplanned and both within a week, exactly what you don't want as a smallholder. They kindly helped with my fitness and The Boy's knowledge of the surrounding area when they escaped into the surrounding hills. I spent two weeks traipsing up and down hills with a loaf of bread calling fruitlessly into the lantana. I wouldn't be surprised if The Boy's first words aren't 'here girls, up you come' or 'where are you, you #%*+*% cows'. I've made a heap of cheese and kept the herd share in reasonable supply, the ones I can get to anyway. Soon I'll have to get the boy calf cut and send Laf off for a romantic retreat. I have a bit of a project planned for the yards as well now I have the welder, so that the cows can go straight through and I can milk two cows if I want. Of course the real project for the cows is the hand pumped milker, which I know exists, there are some in India, but I need to hook up with a friendly engineer who can help me build one.

The chickens have kicked back into gear, I hatched out some fertile eggs from the wonderful Kath and there are guinea fowl and duck eggs in the incubator. I have some geese coming. With the welder I can now build pens as I need them, a very handy thing. I should have some roosters to eat in the autumn. Having your own eggs and milk and cheese means that a tasty meal is not that hard to rustle up if you are too lazy to go to the shops on the way home. Just keep a chorizo and bacon on hand at all time. Or some cold smoked salmon.

It's been a bit of quiet year in the kitchen, I've done a few little things like make my own harissa and a few preserves. I really enjoyed getting a good crop of guavas, they are a weed at Lantanaland and making some jam and the most awesome relish. After five years of ignoring them I'm now eyeing off the developing fruit for some good relish this year. In preparation I've planted about ten different types of chilli which if I can keep the cows away from them should give some nice preserve options.

The less said about fencing the better.

However, for the first time Lantanaland is fully fenced and my awesome neighbour Jamie will come back in the new year and cut a road up the hill and rip out some more lantana with the dozer. If I can afford it, I might even get a bit of terracing in. The grass seed on the open ground has taken nicely and my slow pasture improvement keeps rolling on. Doubt we will have the resources to do pigs this year, that remains another one of those things that keeps you going for another year.

My project in my head, just percolating away is mulberry brandy. I've been thinking, when I get the other three mulberry trees going (cows love them, they pushed into one of the chook pens to eat one), I am going to have a lot of fruit. I already make an awesome syrup that I store and mix through yoghurt as a fantastic snack but what about some wine. Distill it, stick in a barrel and see what happens? Brandy is a really useful cooking ingredient if nothing else, but the thought of lucking out and making a really nice drink is appealing to my suck it and see ethic. Lantanaland is a bit that way, I do some planning, but I listen to the land, it tells me what works and what doesn't, when I've got a hole in the snake proof chook pen and when a fence is down. There is a few other things on the boil for next year which hopefully comes through but to all those that came down and helped or had a feed, many thanks and ill see you next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Herd Dynamics (and The Boy turns 1 hooray)

The Boy turned one yesterday. I'm not a 'we have to have a clown, jumping castle and pony' parent but I really wanted to have a bit of a celebration for him. (Ponies are useless anyway, can't really eat them or milk them.) It was more so he could get passed round to all the folk that have a place in his life for a bit of cuddle and some love. I rate other things higher than elaborate parties obviously, space and a relationship with the food that he eats. There was a moment during the afternoon that made me think that Lantanaland should not be taken for granted.

One of The Wife's old school mates came with her beautiful son and daughter. We had moved the silkies up to the pen I use for chick raising so they could all have a pet and one of them had laid a little silkie egg. He got it out and brought it up to show me. "You can keep that mate" I told him, as I tell all the kids who come and visit the chooks. I wish I could bottle that look on his face, the sheer joy of getting a fresh egg from a chook you could actually see. I gave him an egg carton to keep it safe and I never saw him without it clutched in his hands for the rest of the afternoon.

You need moments like these to balance out the days of sheer frustration. I'm milking Dolores at the moment and she has my whole block to roam in. Laf was off in the neighbours vastly bigger paddock getting fatter after a close moment where the calf was drinking more than she could cope with. The problem with that is that Dolores doesn't like coming up to the top paddock. So if I want milk I have to go and coax her with food and halter, back up the bloody steep hill. The moment where she wrenched me back down the hill and re injured my back was just a touch irritating. I had to sit down and think it out, because this wasn't working.

I've got enough grass now to support both cows and the solution was to bring Laf back. She is a lead cow born, you call, she comes and the rest follow like, well, a herd of cows. So the last two days I've called her up, Dolores has followed and I lock them both away. In the morning I milk Laf for a few litres then turn her out and milk Dolores. The amazing thing is that milking Laf seems to make Dolores let her milk down. I would've got 7L out of her both days easy. Today I got 9L combined.

It's good to get Laf back in the habit of being milked. I can take a bit more on the mornings I want to make cheese or need a big lot for the herd share. Buggered if I know what I'll do when Laf goes on holiday to get 'in the family way'. That's a problem for another day.

We finished off the weekend with a street Xmas party. It was good to meet some of the neighbours that I hadn't met before. I drank a few beers, scored a massage, an experimental buffalo fly trap and 5 geese. The Wife is up there kicking on while I came home and put my beautiful boy to bed. I hope he grows up with the same joy that little boy had getting his tiny silkie egg.