Sunday, 20 December 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

A few days of heat, I tried not to count but I think it was five days above 38 degrees and three of those at the end were 45 degrees here on our verandah. Our old house did really well at staying cool and we capitulated only yesterday, Day 5, when we turned on the split system air conditioner for a few hours in the afternoon.
The ceiling fans and pedestal fans kept us feeling cool enough to function inside and to sleep comfortably.
Thermal mass, the secret ingredient to comfortable living all year round. They certainly knew how to build houses a hundred years ago and we are once again grateful to own a very old home with thick solid stone walls.
Today has been a very comfortable 26 degrees and all external doors and windows have been open all day to let the fresh breezes through to cool the house down in readiness for another spate of very hot weather leading up to Christmas.

Last week, before the heat, I made a huge batch of Honey Biscuits and three trays of shortbread. During one of those hot days I made up lots of bags of each, tied up with pretty Christmas ribbon, which will be given as gifts and added to small hampers of home made goodies to those few friends  and family who receive gifts from us.
I've avoided the shops and other public places where people ask, with stress in their voices, the same old thing whenever we are approaching Christmas. "Are you ready for Christmas?" and "Oh no, it's suddenly Christmas and I haven't finished all my shopping, now I just need to buy stocking fillers."
Stocking fillers!! Isn't the gift enough? Do we need to add lots of little "stocking fillers" that the receiver will throw away two days after Christmas?
I just don't get it that people are so stressed out financially in order to spend a lavish Christmas and then pay for it for months to follow.
Isn't Christmas supposed to be about families getting together? When did it all become a big showoff parade of who can buy the biggest and fanciest present? Or is it because we feel obligated to give expensive presents in return for the lavish gifts that we've become accustomed to receiving ?
Pfftt.... call me Scrooge but I'm saddened that people dread Christmas and I wish they could just chill out and get with the real spirit. We all have way too much of everything here in our comfy developed countries, so I prefer to give something to those who don't have as much as we have.
OK I may have a weird way of looking at things, but I gain far more pleasure in giving something to a person or community who really needs help.
I understand that this may not suit everyone, for all kinds of reasons, but if you feel like you want to get off the treadmill of Christmas, all it takes is a discussion with your family and friends well before next Christmas.
Talk to your children and make them aware of how lucky we are here in our wealthy countries. Encourage them to give part of their pocket money to a worthy cause and to consider alternatives to buying and receiving large gifts.
Again this year we are giving gifts to each other in our immediate family, and the brief is to purchase from an op-shop, garage sale or to make something with our own hands. The cost must be below $10 and anyone is invited to give a donation towards the charity that we choose to support in an undeveloped country. We had great fun last year with our funny quirky gifts and we also made a sizable contribution to some people who's lives were changed by our small gesture.

 Continuing on from my last blog about creating a cooling illusion with plantings around the house I have taken more photos.
From our kitchen door we can't see the brown paddocks and the dead lawn while the temperatures outside were soaring up into the 40's.

Glory vines and canvas blinds block out the harsh morning sun.
Glory vines on the western side shade the afternoon sun on the driveway side of the house.

Out of fifty tomato plants only three died during the heat wave. We ate our first tomato for the season today. Looks like being a bumper crop this year and we're grateful for the shade cloth covering the vegetable garden.

How will you spend your Christmas?
Do you have any family traditions that you follow every year? Or are you like us and created new family traditions that sit more comfortably with your philosophy of simple living?
 "Living simply so that others may simply live."
Cheers and thanks for visiting.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Garden trickery- how it makes us feel

I thought I should come clean about the background photo on the home page of this blog.  It now looks like this.
The cottage garden with its geraniums, artichokes, lavenders, agapanthas, marigolds and daisies was delightful in winter and spring, but during summer it looked sad.
For the first couple of summers I painstakingly watered it all daily, (picked myself up off the floor each time the water bill arrived), and waited for the autumn opening rains to revive it all again.
This kind of behavior was not sustainable and I grew tired of looking onto this sad patch of garden all summer. As it's directly outside the kitchen door where we see it before we see anything else, it was a depressing sight which made the heat of summer not only physically hard to bear but visually as well.
It is true that visual things affect how we feel.
 Newly completed landscaping project last year. We planted ground cover Thyme between the flag stones to create a thyme lawn. It grew, but it needed lots of water during summer and then the two new dogs insisted on digging between the stones on a regular basis so Brian will concrete between the flag stones, another job on the list.

 Into our third day between 38 and 44 degrees. The plants are stressed but this is normal during our harsh summers and they return to their former glory in Autumn. I give them only just enough water to keep them alive.

The "lawn" doesn't look like this at the moment. It's dead, but the gardens are still serving their purpose and creating an illusion of green.
When we first moved in here we had not planned on putting in as many gardens. We wanted to concentrate on growing more fruit trees and put our energy (and water) into vegetables and food.
However, with two large and active dogs, the expanse of the house yard that was Kikuyu "lawn" during the wetter months, became a dust bowl over summer. Watering and maintaining a lawn all year is unsustainable and was never an option for either of us.
For my own sanity I needed to give the visual impression when looking from the house, that there was not a dust bowl out there so I started planting curved swathes of garden beds with low maintenance shrubs and plants that required little water. I did all of the planting in Autumn of course, so the plants had all winter to get their roots down deep. They were watered for their first summer and whatever plants did not survive were ripped out and other hardier plants replaced them.
This had two advantages; the visual effect from the house kept the house yard looking green and cool all year, and the smaller areas of Kikuyu "lawn" were easier for mowing.
I watched the weather patterns during our first year. Where does the sun come up? Which parts of the house get the hottest in summer? Which direction do the winds come from? Where do we prefer to sit outside for a cuppa or evening drink? Which windows are affected by the hot sun? Which rooms are dark and which are light?
With all of these things in mind I planted the two Manchurian Pear trees on the Eastern side near the kitchen deck to give us morning shade during the hot months. In winter the leaves have fallen, letting in the winter sun and much needed light.
We planted Glory vines on the east and west verandas to shade the windows in the mornings and afternoons during summer whilst letting the winter sun into the house in autumn and winter after the leaves had fallen.
There was already an old peach tree growing outside the kitchen so Brian built the deck around it. Its shade in summer, and ease of picking peaches from the deck is much valued.

It's not a show home or garden. We have to function here, our dogs need to run and play (and dig), we need to go about our work in a practical way. We don't have the time or energy to be too precious about it, but we get great pleasure from the seasons and watching how the garden evolves.
Well..... perhaps I don't get quite as much joy from hot summers that scorch everything to a crisp, she says between clenched teeth.
Maybe tomorrow I will need to turn on the split system air conditioner as we have our fifth scorcher  day in a row but, so far, the inside of the old home is still comfortably cool.
I hope you are finding ways to stay cool if you are in the midst of summer where you are.
How many days until Autumn?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

A Sunday in December

Brian finished shearing the last of the sheep today. He chipped away, a few at a time, over the past few weekends. Although we have always paid a shearer to come and do all of our sheep, this year has been difficult to pin down our new shearer. Preferring to shear our sheep in October, after the last of the cold weather, and before the grass seeds go to head, we waited as each week passed and our shearer still hadn't turned up.
He is the top gun shearer around these parts, as well as being a young Dad and one of those amazing farmers who goes out to help fight fires with his farm fire fighting unit. Of course he is hard to pin down.
Soon after we bought this property, twelve years ago, Brian took up the chance to do a TAFE course learning to shear sheep. Each year he does all of our crutching and shears the odd sheep to keep in practice. He really enjoys shearing and although is a bit slower than the professionals, he does a clean job of it. Very rarely is there a nick or small cut, unlike some of the fast shearers who leave small nicks all over the sheep.
What a Jack of all trades is this bloke of mine and I'm super proud of all that he does here to keep this farm running. It certainly takes a team effort between the two of us.

Meanwhile, I've had a busy Sunday too. The morning was cool so I spent it in the garden after all of the usual morning chores of milking the cow, feeding chooks and pigs, were out of the way.

This evening we are going to our annual Christmas gathering of the property owners along our road. Each year someone else hosts it and tonight is walking distance to our near neighbours. We are asked to bring a salad and a sweet to share so I've made this pasta salad.
As there are always way too many sweets on offer, and there are only the two of us, I'm taking a bag of shortbread for the hosts to enjoy after the gathering is over.
Rich with home made butter, shortbread is a Christmas tradition in our family.


250 g (8oz) Butter
90g (3oz) Castor Sugar
280g (9oz)  Plain Flour
60g (2oz) Cornflour

Soften butter, add sugar and beat till fluffy, then work in the flours.
Divide mix into two equal halves and press into trays or into two shapes as above picture. Approx 1cm (1/3inch) thickness.
Mark with a knife into portion sizes and prick each portion with a fork.
Bake in a slow to moderate oven for approximately 40 minutes or until lightly golden in colour.
Immediately after removing from oven, cut the portion sizes again and sprinkle castor sugar over while hot.
Leave to cool on trays before packaging or storing.

I'm usually making it in my wood oven where the temperature is not always at the ideal, so I keep an eye on it so it does not get too brown.

Cheers and thanks for visiting our little farm blog.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Tomatoes and Kindness of Spirit

 The tomato prunings from last month developed roots while sitting in glass jars on the north facing bathroom window sill.
I planted them into the garden three weeks ago and they are doing well.

Soon I will trim off the leaves around the bottom that are touching the ground to prevent disease from the water splashing dirt onto the leaves when I water them. Although you can see sprinklers in this photo, I'm not using those this year as I'm trying to use less water. So I'm watering around the base of all the plants using the washing machine water interspersed with tap water every couple of days so the soil doesn't become too acidic.

 While Brian's sons were here for dinner during the week he roped them into helping to put the nets over all of the fruit trees. This big old apricot tree is loaded this year. Now that the birds can't get to the fruit it's only the earwigs that we have to contend with, which crawl inside and send the fruit rotten.
I'm told that the commercial orchards have the same problems but use sprays to deter or kill the earwigs. Have you ever seen the orchardists on their tractors spraying? It seems weird to me that they are covered from head to toe in protective gear plus serious face mask protection. Yet, this is fruit that will soon be picked and in the shops for sale.

A much cooler few days here in the Barossa with the temperatures in the mid twenties, so humans and animals are enjoying the relaxed pace before the heat returns.

I found another lovely letter in the Farm Gate Shop from Cheryl this week. How lovely it is to read your notes, they really gladden my heart to hear such kind words and good sense. You are so right about there being too much negativity and greed in our world these days but with simple acts of kindness and generosity we can create a space of peacefulness around us, our friends and family which must surely seep out into the community.
Your recipe is calling to be made as soon as possible. Thank you so much for sharing it with me and as soon as I have made it I will let you know the results.

Kindness abounds from far and wide, with generosity of spirit in spades from strangers, but who I feel I know, through the blogosphere.  (Spell correct doesn't like that word!) I've been having issues with my settings that are not allowing some readers to leave a comment, beginner's trials and errors on my part. Apologies for that and hopefully we have that sorted out now.
Thank you for your precious help Emma  from A Simple Living Journey
I have added Emma's blog to my side bar as her words are so beautifully written from the heart. It's the younger generation like Emma and her family who give me faith in our future here on this planet.
She will have you in tears one day and laughing out loud the next.

Thank you for visiting today and I hope your weekend is productive and relaxing in the right measure.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Rosie - Update 48 hours later.

What a difference 48 hours makes!
Rosie spent her first forty eight hours with us confined in a small yard adjoining the dairy and cow paddocks so the big cows could smell her through the fence and touch noses.
Last evening, after checking her poo was a good healthy colour and consistency, and after we had finished milking Daisy and Lavender, we allowed Rosie to join the cows.
She checked out those very tempting looking udders on both cows and was gently pushed away each time.
Watching her discover she had legs that could run and kick, galloping around the paddock with Blossom, was such a joy as we said good night to the cows and came inside for our evening meal.
The above photo I snapped this morning while I was milking Daisy, so it appears our Lavender is going to be an outstanding foster mum. She happily stood and was fully aware that it was not her own calf drinking because Blossom was sleeping in the sun a short distance in front of her.
For my own sense of peace, I mixed up a small amount of half water, half milk in her calfeteria and offered it to her after she had finished suckling from Lavender. She took a half hearted sip and was clearly quite satisfied, and so was I.
That was easy!

Sunday, 6 December 2015


We collected a new calf yesterday morning from a Jersey dairy forty minutes north of us.  A very hot day was forecast so we left home early to beat the heat for the calf traveling in the back of the ute on the way home.
Rosie's mum is  a Jersey cow who was artificially inseminated  (AI) with semen from a Murray Grey bull. The resulting calf from these cross breedings is suitable for breeding,  beef for the table or as a future house cow for a small farm like ours. eg  Lavender. We are not clear what Rosie will be used for in the long term, but at present she will use up some of our excess milk and we hope that either Daisy or Lavender will foster her.
Lavender needs to learn about being a foster mother and we will watch with interest how she will react to a new calf. We already know that Daisy will eventually accept a new calf if we allow her to take her time, at her own pace. As we have both of our cows running together for ease of paddock rotation, either of the cows is a contender for taking Rosie.
Meanwhile, Rosie is being fed milk from the "Calfeteria".
When a new calf is brought in from another dairy we always quarantine it for the first 24-48hrs depending on the condition the calf is in.
Some calves come from dairies that take the calf from the mother on the second day after the birth. These calves are generally in poorer condition because they have not had the mother's colostrum for long enough to build their immune system properly.
In these cases we quarantine the calf for longer as it usually develops a gut imbalance resulting in Calf Scours, thin yellow watery motions that can easily turn into a serious gut bacteria issue which will spread to other calves in their proximity. The feeding for the first few days with these calves is vastly different to how Rosie is being fed today.
Rosie was born last weekend so she was one week old when we collected her yesterday.
Although she was taken from her mother at one day old (this is normal practice on dairy farms whether we like it or not) the dairy farmer fed her with her mother's colostrum, through a calf feeder, for the first four days of her life.
Consequently, Rosie is in good shape, bright eyed, shiny coat,and with good solid dark manure motions. It's all about the poo! The first thing I look for is the colour of the poo.
However, I must not make the mistake of over feeding her with milk at this stage, so she is getting two feeds per day, morning and night, of two litres of milk at each feed. I need to be careful not to over load her little undeveloped gut, so I am diluting her feed with water at a measure of one and a half litres of milk with half a litre of water to make it up to two litres. To this I am adding a tablespoon of garlic water.
To make garlic water; 2 cloves garlic crushed in a jar and cover with one cup of water. Shake and let it steep all day or overnight.
To each feed add one tablespoon of the garlic water to the milk in the feeder.
You can continue to top up the jar with water and use for approximately another four feeds before adding more garlic and water.
I will continue to observe the colour and texture of her poo and if it remains normal I will gradually dilute her milk less each day until she is drinking full cow's milk, but I continue to add the garlic water.
If her poo becomes runny and pale or yellow in colour I will add yogurt to each of her feeds and dilute it again.
Tonight she will start getting one desert spoon of Dolomite in her milk feeder for the minerals Calcium and especially Magnesium which helps to prevent calf scours. The Dolomite powder will sink to the bottom of the feeder so she will take in only some of it when I swirl my hand around in her feeder or shake it up a bit while she is drinking. So I won't need to add Dolomite again until it is all gone from her feeder, usually two times a week.
There is no need to wash out the feeder every time it is used, but I make a practice of removing it from the calves and hanging in a sheltered place. These feeders are very expensive and ours is now ten years old, but still going strong because I look after it well. We replace the teat though, usually one teat will raise one calf for four months duration before it wears out or the sucking thing inside deteriorates.
The residue milk in the feeder becomes "yogurted" and provided ants don't find it,  I believe it is not harmful to the gut of the calf because we add yogurt to their diet anyway when we want to heal their gut and build good bacteria. I make a practice of thoroughly washing the calf feeder (calfeteria) once a week.
As she gets older I will add more milk to her feeder, but for these first weeks I need to stick to feeding her less rather than too much until her stomach develops.
Soon she will start running with the other cows and maybe start suckling from one of them, so that is another reason why I should not over feed her right now.
This weekend is extremely hot with temperatures hovering around 44 degrees for the second day, so Rosie needs to learn how to drink water from her water bucket.
She is obviously thirsty because she greeted me at the gate and started sucking my fingers. She had her milk feed three hours ago and I won't be feeding her milk until this evening so I led her to her water bucket and gently lowered my hand into the water.

While she is sucking my fingers she is getting the water from the bucket. I let her suckle until I estimated she drank enough, but not too much. Approximately one litre.
Every two hours today I am repeating this watering process, but after the last water feed she stood and played with the water in the bucket so I think she is realizing where the water is and that it magically goes into her mouth if she sucks at the same time.
 When rearing any baby animal I like to simulate nature as closely as is possible so you will notice how low I have placed the calf feeder so that Rosie needs to bend her neck to drink. This is how she would be drinking if she was suckling from her mother and this position is important for the development of her rumen and abomasum.
This is her small yard where she is safe and can not hurt herself. There is a small shed for shade and shelter from rain, and although she is not yet eating solids I have provided hay in a small calf hay rack for her to play with and put into her mouth as there is no green grass available at this time of year. A water bucket is filled and tied with wire to the fence so she can not tip it over. It is best not to use twine in calf yards because they love to chew it and it can cause serious issues if swallowed.
The other cows and Blossom have been talking to her through the fence since yesterday and if her poos are still looking healthy tomorrow morning, when I feed her, I will let her run out in the big paddock with the  cows all day.

It is so hot outside today and I am hosing the chooks, pigs and checking Rosie every two hours.

  The pigs have a puddle to wallow in next to this water bath for the purpose of playing in. It is not their drinking water container.
Their drinking water is concreted into the ground in the shadiest corner of their yard so they can not tip it over and be at the risk of not having water to drink.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out on days like today. This dog is not silly.
Meg pretends that she is not sleeping on the spare bed as she refused to lift her head for the photo.
"I'm not here. You can't see me"

And Alan is asleep in the passage where we have to step over him whilst going about our day.

Isn't it lovely having new babies on the farm?
How's the weather where you are? What extra measures do you take when the weather is extreme?
For the sake of the animals and my garden I'm wishing for a break in the weather and maybe a drop or two of rain, but that is a fairly unrealistic wish for South Australia at this time of year.
Thanks for visiting. :) 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Happy Holiday Mulga Bill

Rescue dog Alan is a super chilled character.  One minute playing dead while stretching in the sun, and next minute giving me the big eyed pleading to please come inside.

 Bye bye Mulga Bill, see you in March. 

Not much time to sit today. What's new?
We got the phone call this morning from the farmer in the Adelaide Hills to tell us he's ready for the bull. So this being the last reasonably cool day for a week or so coming, we loaded him up and I waved him goodbye.
Friends are arriving from Queensland this afternoon to stay with us for a few days so I didn't have time to go with Brian to check out his holiday home.
I've vacuumed the floors, wiped some dust and swept as many cobwebs as I could. Now cooking and baking so I don't have to spend too much time in the kitchen over the next days.

 I want to be sitting around this table chatting and catching up with our guests with not too much time spent behind that bench and at the sink.

There are bound to be lots of cups of tea drank on this verandah over the next few days.
Thanks for dropping by to Jembella Farm today. See you again soon.
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