Monday, 19 September 2016

A Quick Word- and Bee-keeping Workshop

September is galloping along very nicely, although very full of all kinds of activities here. A quick word to catch up on some of what's been keeping us busy.

A couple of the rental bee hives that were all delivered to their excited beginner apiarists.

Brian has made a start on shearing the sheep. He does a few every weekend when time permits.

I hosted an afternoon tea and garden walk to some ladies from a local "Women in Agriculture" group. The ladies sitting at each end of the table were aged 90 and 91 years.! They trotted around the garden, as fast as the rest of us, and entertained us with their stories of life on the land in their younger years.

Here in South Australia we're experiencing a winter pretty much like winters used to be way back in my memory. The ford along the road from us was over a metre high and impassable, forcing many folks to "Go around the long way" to get to their homes.
Brian and I went for a drive to look at some of the local creeks and water ways. It gives me a rush of excitement to see water flowing where it hasn't done for the last few years.

We have been going through a lot of firewood this year, and both fires are still burning around the clock as I write this. We've needed to cut lots more wood, using the chainsaw and then with the hydraulic log splitter, which is so much easier than using the axe.

Meg watched with fascination as fifty plus chicks hatched out in the incubator. She came to me in the kitchen looking worried, then running back into the incubator, and then back to me repeatedly. I thought I should check what's happening, and sure enough, one chick had got itself stuck between two shelves and was squawking.  Oh my goodness, we need to make a movie about our wonder dog ;-)
After spending 24 hours under the light in the brooder, the chicks were all strong enough to be introduced to their surrogate mums who had sat in waiting, on golf balls, for the the three weeks that it usually takes to hatch their chicks.
We usually have lots of lightening and thunder storms at this time of year, which will kill many of the eggs if the hen is sitting on the ground. Incubating gives us a much higher hatching percentage, and then the chicks grow like nature intended, learning to be chooks from their surrogate mums.

When making some loaves of sourdough bread, I pinched off some dough and made sour dough cracker biscuits. Rolling them through the pasta machine was easier than rolling out with the rolling pin. Brush with water and sprinkle with salt and herbs or sesame seeds before baking in a hot oven until slightly coloured.
I think they're called "Lavash" (Lavosh) which are sold in our gourmet shops here for a ridiculous sum of money. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

The first of the bee-keeping workshops went well yesterday with ten willing participants.

The day began for me at 5am, making up the baquettes, sandwiches, and setting up for the morning tea and lunch. I had baked lots of goodies for morning lunch during the week, so it was all quite simple really.
Brian was the main speaker, with me having bits to say along the way throughout the day.

Who would have thought, back in July when I was planning this day, that September 18th would be wet and cold?  We were hoping for warm and dry conditions which are perfect for opening bee hives, but that was not to be, so we had a few other plans up our sleeves.
Some boxes were opened briefly, and everyone got the opportunity to wear their new bee suits and other various forms of bee protection gear.

Learning to make frames, threading the wire, and embedding the foundation was more difficult than Brian made it look, but it's a fundamental part of keeping bees.
Everyone had a great time apparently, and the food was a winner, so we will stick to the same formula for the next workshop this coming weekend.
I'm hoping to have more time to take more photos and fill you in with more detail after next week.
All a bit of a rush at present.
So that's it for now. The firewood needs to be brought up to the wood boxes on the verandah,food needs to be prepared, and some weeds need pulling.
Just as well I love winter so much, because we're not seeing many signs of warming up. Fine with me thanks!
Thanks for having a read, and hope your September is proceeding nicely too.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

No More Hungry Gaps

If you're growing your own vegetables you will probably know what I mean when I mention the hungry gap. It's the gap between the seasons when there isn't much to pick to eat from the garden.
When I was the number one veg gardener there was usually a hungry gap once or twice every year, but since Brian took over as head veg grower there is no longer a gap of any description between the seasons.
He had to take over because someone had to be relegated to the kitchen to process all the dairy products and garden produce, and it turned out to be me. No complaints from me though, I love the process of using up what we're producing, plus I get to potter in the garden a bit too.
Brian does nothing by half measures and is a serious vegetable gardener. He grows everything from seeds in punnets in the hot house, before planting out continuously throughout the season at two or three weekly gaps. There is a constant supply of everything seasonal, and this is just how we love to eat.

The broccoli have almost finished and the cauliflowers are ready for cutting faster than we can eat them. They're huge too, not the little miniature specimens that seem to be so popular now. We would eat one of those each in one meal!  Did I mention that we are rather large vegetable eaters?
It was difficult to find seeds for large cauliflowers, so Brian resorted to looking on-line where he made lots of interesting purchases very cheaply.
Not every pack of seeds was true to its name though, and we ended up with lots of bokchoi instead of cabbages!
How to use up surplus vegetables?
Well, we eat more vegetables, usually with lunch (soups, vegetable omelette, leftovers from the previous evening meal)  and always lots of veg with, or as, the evening meal. (A small amount of meat with mountains of vegetables, casseroles, soups, stir fries, pies)

Vegetable juices are being made regularly with the stems and tops that I see other folks throwing away. What a waste! Just add an apple to make a delicious and nutritious vitamin drink.
I'm also making lots of jars of ferments and pickles to put in the store cellar and into the Farm-gate stall.
The above pictures of ferments are almost ready be eaten, and they were really fast and easy to make.
Make up a 5% brine (dissolve 50gms salt in 1 litre of warm water) and leave to cool.
Fill jars with chopped vegetables of your choice, tightly packing as you go. Wedge a dried chilli or two, a few slices of fresh garlic, a small piece of fresh ginger (whatever takes your fancy) in between the layered vegetables to add interesting flavours to your fermented vegetables.
Slowly pour in the cooled brine. Use a few leaves of cabbage, or cauliflower to hold the vegetables below the surface of the brine. Put the lid on the jar and sit the jars inside a container to catch the juices that will escape as the fermentation takes place. Release the pressure inside the jar by removing the lid every couple of days. I keep mine down in the cellar, but a cool cupboard will do just as well. In winter, stand the jars somewhere in the kitchen where the warmer temperature will get the fermenting process started.
They are ready to eat after two or three weeks, but will develop stronger fermented flavours if kept longer. Once they are at the flavour you prefer, keep the jar in the fridge to stop further fermentation.
Barossa Germans and their descendants have been fermenting for generations, bringing us sauerkraut. Other parts of the world have many different types of fermented vegetables, kimchi for example.  We Australians have only recently discovered the powerful goodness of eating fermented foods.

Mum used to make the best Cauliflower Mustard Pickles, so my siblings and I have always made them to the taste we grew up with. Every family has their own recipe and preferences. Other pickles just don't cut it for me. These are sweet and sour and the vegetables retain texture.
It's difficult to share this recipe because it's very much dependent on achieving the correct blend of flavours according to individual taste... a bit of this, and a bit of that.
Today I was weeding the raspberry patch, and couldn't avoid walking past three huge cauliflowers that were shouting to be picked. I put my head down and scuttled past, refusing to listen to their cries. I had weeds to pull, I wanted to be outside in the garden enjoying the damp soil and ease of getting the weeds out, but they could not be ignored, so into the kitchen went we.

 There are still another two huge cauliflowers out there, so I guess the smell of pickles cooking will be wafting through the house again tomorrow.
Do you have a traditional family recipe that is hard to describe?
I'm willing to share this recipe if anyone is really interested, but exact measurements are impossible to give. I still get it wrong and need to tweak and adjust ingredients along the process.
I added too much vinegar to today's batch and had to spoon out two litres into a jug during the cooking process, but I'll use that in tomorrow's batch, so nothing is wasted.

Cheers and thanks for visiting. :) X

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Butchering- An experiment

Sixteen months ago we began an experiment. We wanted to try beef that was not bred for eating.

We bought this cast off (by-product of the dairy industry), Freisan bull calf from a local dairy for cheap as chips, $20 from memory, when he was two days old. Daisy fostered him along with another calf, plus her own calf.  This is all three of them drinking from Daisy.
As with all of our bull calves, Brian castrated him with an Elastrator ring at three days old, and as he grew up with the other steer calves there was no visible difference in his build, aside from his Freisan colouring, he looked exactly the same at the Angas bobby calf steers.
 There is a mindset, that dairy breeds are inferior as meat, but as we have learned over the years, the "mindset" of many folks and butchers is often miss-guided and doesn't make sense.   We wanted to try it for ourselves.
 The home butcher that we have been using over the past few years, has given up the job, so we decided we would butcher this steer using a more hands on approach, here on the property, as usual.
After watching our old butcher so many times over the years, we reckoned we could do it, but as with attempting anything this large, we were pretty nervous about it too.
Without going into detail, all went smoothly, with the help of Brian's eldest son who is built like the proverbial "brick ..... house" and as strong as an ox.

The picture above, was taken minutes before the steer hit the ground.
There was no trucking transport stress, he was not forced to stand around in an abattoir waiting his turn, was never in a feedlot, was never fed growth hormones or grain of any type, he wasn't pumped up with artificial foods to make his steak "marbled". No chemicals were ever necessary because he lived a natural life on quality clean pasture. He never knew or experienced a nano-second of violence in his life.
Watching a recent episode of Landline, (ABC Australia)  I saw a feature on award winning Wagyu beef. The meat is supposedly the best in the world and I was shocked to hear that the animals are kept in a feedlot for between 400 - 500 days!
How many days in a year?
Those animals were forced to live for most of their lives in small enclosures, so far removed from anything remotely natural. Fed grain and other man made, high protein fillers, they would have also been fed chemicals to prevent cross infections that happen when you keep animals in such closely confined spaces.
That's not the type of meat I ever want to eat. Awards or no awards. No thank you!

Brian managed the first stage of butchering a cow by watching and assisting our home butcher many times over the past few years.
After cutting the carcass into four quarters, it took two of them to hoist each section onto the hooks for hanging in the refrigerated cold room, where it hung for twelve days.
We weren't able able to weigh it, having no scales large enough, but it was BIG.

Cutting beef into portions however is an art, which we admit we have not learned to do...yet.  We are fortunate to have a friend who was a butcher in his previous occupation and last weekend we  paid him to help us cut up the meat, ever so grateful for his knowledge. While he was slicing up steaks, and separating the different cuts, Brian and I used our meat saw to cut up the T-bones and Osso Buco.

The rest of the weekend was spent packing meat into meal size portions, some in plastic bags, and some in vacuum sealed bags for longer keeping. Having the refrigerated cool room takes the pressure away from having to get it all packed away in a hurry, especially in warm weather.
We made mince, and then we made sausage mince, and we also made sausages using preservative free sausage mix. Thanks to Liz from Eight Acres who wrote about preservative free sausage mix here  I hunted around and bought some "Bio Beef" preservative free sausage mix from "Bake and Brew" shop in Gawler.  We used some of the natural sausage skins that were left over from our pork sausage making earlier in the year, plus I bought some Collagen casings from Bake and Brew while I was there. The sausages taste delicious, and both types of skins are good.

The bones were cut into small pieces, and along with all the meat, they also managed to fit into the freezers. I'll use some bones for making bone broth (I wrote about Bone Broth here) and the dogs will get some to eat as well.   I kept some fat to render down for making into soap. (I wrote how to render pork fat here but the process is the same for beef or any animal fat.)
I must admit, I was a little bit concerned that my one empty freezer would not be enough to hold all of that beef, so there was a sigh of relief when it all went in, but with not a centimetre to spare!
Not that I would pile all of that fresh meat into one freezer and expect it to freeze quickly.  I put in layers of fresh beef, alternating with a layer of already frozen food from the other two freezers. So there is beef scattered between three freezers, but it all froze very quickly with no need to move it around while it was freezing.
If I wanted to be organised, I could sort through the three freezers now, moving all of the frozen beef into one freezer, but I don't really care about it being all over the place. Every morning, when choosing something to cook for dinner that night, is a bit of a lottery.
However, it's all very well having soup in the freezer to take out and eat for lunch, but finding it is another thing entirely! The soup will show itself all in good time.
Now I hear you ask, how does the Dairy breed beef taste?
On the evening of cutting up the beef we cooked some T-bones on the barbeque grill. With a degree of trepidation, we both cut into the meat on our plates, it cut well. Then the taste and texture test, into our mouths, and we both wore the biggest grins you ever saw. This meat is delicious, juicy, TENDER.
We have been eating our own farm killed beef, usually Angas or Murray Grey, for quite a few years now and the meat from this beast is, hands down, the best ever.
Our friend the butcher praised the quality as he was cutting it up, and was surprised when we told him the breed of the steer, so there's one butcher who's mind-set has been altered.
So, when next we are looking for a new calf to hand raise for meat, we won't be fussy about it being a beef breed or a dairy breed.  If there isn't a beef breed available (our first choice) at the time we are ready, for example, when we have an excess of milk from our house cow and she will foster another calf, we will feel quite happy to take one of the many Friesan calves on offer.
They all taste great when raised naturally and butchered on farm, and now that we have done it once, we'll continue doing it ourselves. We saved lots of money too as it usually costs around $650 to get a beast home butchered and cut into meal size portions. We paid our friend for the four hours it took him on Saturday morning, and we gave him some meat, so we can be sure he will help us again next time we butcher a steer for our own eating.
 This dairy breed, Freisan, do take a little longer to grow in comparison to the Beef breeds, but it was barely noticeable. We probably kept him for three months longer than usual as we generally prefer eating meat from steers that are butchered between twelve to thirteen months old. The carcass is too difficult to handle when they grow much larger, as our normal size tractor and winch is what we have to use for the job.
Beef has been on the menu for most of this past week, but we'll eat some chicken tonight. Home grown and processed of course.
Brian is out there cutting more firewood for the inside fires, so it's time to go out and help him.
Bone broth vegetable soup is on the wood stove for lunch, which we will eat with thick slices of sourdough bread spread with butter, from Lavender's cream of course.
 We're into September, and so far we have had enough rain not to need to water our gardens. Vastly different than last year.
Have a wonderful weekend friends, wherever you are.
Cheers and thanks for visiting :) X

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Ooops... Where did that month go?

I feel like I've been away from blogging for such a long time. Life has been full, Spring has sprung and everything needs to be done at once. I feel guilty sitting here tapping on the laptop when I should be doing so many other things, but this is my relaxation therapy, and today I need it.
The weeds will wait, the sourdough loaf is in the wood oven, that batch of cauliflower pickles will just have to wait, the cheese milk warming on the side of the stove will have to wait.
The important morning things have all been done, poultry all fed and watered, cows moved into a new paddock, the dogs have their bones, some meat is out of the freezer to defrost for dinner tonight, the Farm-gate stall opened, stocked up and ready for another day. A coffee now, and a scribble on the laptop is what I need.
To my blogging friends, apologies for being silent lately. I haven't been reading blog posts either, so my comments have been missing from your blog posts too. There aren't enough hours in the day.
We are working through each task, and it feels so good to tick off more new achievements. Some new experiences too, the unknown, which always feel daunting, but oh so liberating when it all comes off.
Ha! I had always imagined that life would be slowing down a bit at sixty, there would be no more big challenges, I'd be looking back, not forward. How wrong I was.

 A couple of months ago I wrote about our newest venture of offering bee hives for rental
 Brian made up three new bee boxes that we planned to use for the rental hives because we didn't ever intend to move any of our group of twelve hives. They are our base hives, our bread and butter, not to be divided and moved about.
Within a week of writing that blog, and sharing it onto various Facebook pages, all three Rental hives were reserved, deposits paid, and eager families were awaiting delivery.

 Sheralee and her two children organized a surprise Father's Day delivery for the Dad  in their family. Greg was a little speechless when we turned up early on Saturday morning with a bee box on the ute.

Brett and Danielle discussed the possibility of bee keeping before Danielle ordered a hive delivery for his birthday the weekend before.

Dan, who's father had kept bees on their farm when he was a young lad, was gobsmacked when his hive arrived early on Father's Day.
Truly, we had a taste of what it must feel like to be a florist, delivering lovely boxes of surprise to unsuspecting recipients.
During the next twelve months, Brian will visit each family's hive regularly, taking a spare bee suit for the person who wants to learn about beekeeping. After a year of working with their hive under Brian's guidance, they will have the confidence and skills to own and maintain a bee hive.
Some of the hives are booked up for next year already by folks who were not quite fast enough this time around. Time doesn't permit us to rent out more than three hives, we need to maintain our own hives too, plus run a farm.
It seems there are so many people out there who want to learn how to maintain their own bee hive but don't know how to get started. We know this now, after sharing my last blog post about the Bee-keeping Workshop on various Facebook pages.
Within three days that workshop was fully booked with nine people, to allow maximum interaction for each attendee.
More inquiries were coming in rapidly so there was an opportunity  to run another workshop on the following weekend.
So much for that quiet life I was talking about at the top of this post!
 I can now add  Head of Marketing, Functions Coordinator, Head Caterer, Assistant Facilitator to my other roles. Oh and "boss of cleaning up and getting ready for two functions in two weeks" should be in there somewhere too. How nice it will be to have the shearing shed (AKA Function Centre) all cleaned up and decked out with tables and chairs.
Not so exciting is my role of cleaning the outside loo! :(

Back to chopping up cauliflowers, onions, carrots and celery from the garden to make another batch of pickles.
The timer has sounded, the bread is ready.
Cheers and thanks for visiting. :) XX

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