A request for training

The last few months for us have been beyond hectic. So much so that this little blog has fallen to the way side due to us simply falling into bed at night from sheer exhaustion.

We’ve sold our excess produce at the Foragers Market in Bulli several times, raised a new batch of little egg birds, fended off foxes, broke new ground in our market garden, been asked multiple times to train different groups of people and taken on a full time role managing a very large IT service (you can’t take the techie out of me). Just crazy!

Last week, we met up with a couple who are passionate about permaculture (like us) and who would like to swap a few hours of work a week with knowledge and training of what we have accomplished. Why not! I said.

So today was the beginning of a practical experience “brain dump” for them. Given that we didn’t go around with pen and paper, these blog posts will serve as a reminder for them on what we accomplished and a summary for you out there about what you can do yourselves.

The morning started out with a run down of what they wanted to learn. We decided to start with a bottom up approach and start with soil … the building block of a healthy eco-system and a brilliant market garden. We looked at the difference between sandy loam, pure compost, different mulches and heavy reactive clays (our primary soil type here). We touched on our “lazy” composting technique along with the how and why it works for us. We also explored our experimental, onsite composting piles and the importance of replacing nutrients from another source if you are selling produce from the land.

Next we started looking at some of the different guilds we had set up. Our key discussion points were around our Plum, herb and Tower of Jewels (Echium) planting and those of our Apple, Artichoke and Foxglove planting.

We then had a walking fruit salad by visiting some of our apple trees as a snack then headed back to the house to start preparing our upgraded chicken tractors (see our original Chicken Tractor soil fertility post) for our new generation egg birds. While our trainees assembled some new, stainless steel treadle feeders, I finished rolling out some dough for bread rolls for lunch, then had a break for morning tea.

The upgraded chicken tractors were secured from fox attack and nice fresh straw was added in, we transferred 35 of our 10 week old chicks to their new pens to grow out before being introduced into the chicken caravan in a couple of months. We’ve learned the hard way that the young birds quickly learn to squeeze through the mesh of the electric fence surrounding the chicken caravan and prefer to escape and scratch in the market garden. Sorry girls, you’re going to be somewhat incarcerated until you fill out some more and you get too big to fit through the mesh! Enjoy your home under the old pear tree for a few weeks.

Once we were happy that they figured out how to use the treadle feeders and that the water was set level, the guys set about harvesting some snake beans. They learned the correct technique for harvesting beans to ensure that the subsequent crops are not affected, then we had a break or lunch.

I mentioned that we needed to turn a few of our roosters into dinner, and our guests decided that they wanted to help and learn… so they learned how to calm the birds, slaughter them humanely, pluck them, evicerate them and de-bone them over a couple of hours. Lots of work!

Once we had cleaned up the meat and rinsed it, we used our post hole digger to quickly dig a couple of holes to bury the feathers and carcasses.

Phew! What a day. Thanks guys for your willingness to get involved and learn things that that most people are too afraid to tackle. I hope you enjoy your ethically grown and much loved rooster pieces. Remember to wait until next weekend to cook them so they are no longer in rigor mortis.

Making sourdough bread at home.

Freshly baked bread is one of those things that many people think is really hard to do. Further to my previous post about Home made bread, there is another method of bread making that we relish … Rye starter sourdough!

If you want to go into the in’s and out’s of sourdough … look it up on the Internet. This post will be all about baking your bread once you have some starter. We sell a Rye starter at our Farm Gate in our DIY Sourdough kits.

Storing your starter.

Treat your starter like yoghurt. When you’re not using it, seal it and store it in the fridge. It keeps for several weeks in the fridge as the fermentation process slows down. If you do not intend to use your starter for more than a few weeks, you can also freeze it. To reactivate a frozen starter, simply defrost it naturally (no microwave, people) and then follow the next step: Activating your starter.

Activating your starter.

Consider your starter as a replacement for yeast. Like yoghurt, it contains bacteria which ferment and create bubbles, making your bread fluffy. So before making your bread, you need to “wake up” your starter. This process is called activating it. We usually activate our starter just before going to work, so when we get home up, it is ready to use!

To make a small loaf of bread, you will only need about half a cup of starter. This is how you do it:

  1. Take your starter out of the fridge. If it is not in a container that is at least 500mL put it in one. Make sure it is not metallic.
  2. Add half a cup of room temperature water to your starter and mix it up. Tap water is OK for this but filtered is better as too much chlorine can kill off the bacteria in your starter.
  3. Add 4 heaped tablespoon of light rye flour to the mixture and stir it in. Don’t worry if there are some flour lumps, that is fine.
  4. Cover your starter with a loose lid and leave it on your kitchen bench. If the lid is sealed onto the container, as your starter starts to ferment, the gasses will build up and then pop the lid off. Old fashioned bowls with glass lids or small casserole dishes with lids are perfect for this. You can also recycle plastic 600mL cream bottles. They are perfect for storage in the fridge later too.
  5. Your starter will need to ferment for around 4 hours. If it is warm, it will need less time. Conversely, cold weather will mean that it takes longer. Your starter is ready when it is no longer reacting and there are plenty of bubbles on the surface. You can tell it has stopped reacting because the mixture will slowly start to “deflate” and leave a “tide mark” on the bowl it was fermented in.

This is what an active starter looks like when ready to use. Nice and bubbly and you can see that the starter has started to deflate since there is a sludgy tide mark halfway up the side of the bowl.

Activated sourdough starter ready to use.
Activated sourdough starter ready to use.

Making your dough.

You can substitute yeast for sourdough starter in any bread recipe you have. Just leave out the yeas, then when you measure the wet ingredients, substitute at least half a cup of starter for every 600 – 750 gram loaf (regular loaf tin).

We like being a bit lazy in our bread making technique, so here is a recipe you can follow if you don’t like kneading. You can do steps 1-8 right before having breakfast if you want fresh bread for dinner, then steps 9 – 11 as soon as we get home. Alternatively, if you’re an early riser, do steps 1-8 before going to bed then 9-11 as soon as you get up so that you can have fresh bread for breakfast.

Ingredients:

  • Half a cup of rye starter
  • 3\4 cup of water
  • One cup of light rye flour
  • One cup of white flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Method:

  1. In a non metallic bowl, measure out half a cup of active sourdough starter. Add the water and mix well.
  2. To the water and starter mixture, add your flour on top then sprinkle your salt on the flour. If the salt comes in contact with the starter, it will kill off the bacteria.
  3. Mix your flour in so that it becomes a sticky ball like this…

    Bowl of soughdough dough, mixed and ready to rest.
    Bowl of soughdough dough, mixed and ready to rest.
  4. Let it rest for 15-20 mins. This is important, especially for wholemeal flour, as it allows the flour to absorb the water.
  5. Get a small bowl and add around half a cup of rye flour to it. Rub a part of your kitchen bench top with vegetable oil (we prefer olive oil but others are good too) and then lather your hands with oil.
  6. Using your hands, sprinkle the surface of the dough liberally with flour (yes your hands will get flour stuck to them), then turn out the dough onto the kitchen bench and sprinkle more rye flour on the sticky side.

    Sourdough dough sprinkled with flour before kneading.
    Sourdough dough sprinkled with flour before kneading.
  7. Lift and slap down the dough onto your bench for about 5 mins. This is a form of kneading which we find very therapeutic when we are upset – very good for anger management. Your dough will become elastic. If it still feels too wet and sticky, add a little more flour to the surface and keep slapping it down.

    Slapping down dough on the bench top ... great for anger management.
    Slapping down dough on the bench top … great for anger management.
  8. First rise: Once the dough is nice and elastic, shape it onto a floured board and then cover it in a moist cloth or tea towel. Leave it to rest for 4-6 hours, away from any cold draughts. Longer is fine. If you want to be lazy at this point, you can place your dough into a loaf tin instead and skip step 9. This will mean that your bread will have larger bubbles in it rather than little ones. It should easily have doubled in size.
  9. Second rise: Line a loaf tin (or you can just line a cookie tray if you want a home made shape) and place the dough into the tin. Leave it to rise for 2 hours.
  10. Bake: Place the bread into a cold oven. Turn your oven on to 230 C and bake for 15 mins. The mouth watering aroma of fresh bread will have started to fill the house by now, so turn the heat down to 190 C and bake for a further 20 mins. We use a fan-forced oven which provides consistent heat quickly.
  11. Your bread is cooked when you tap on the top and it sounds hollow. Take it out of the oven and turn it out onto an airing rack. Leave it for at least 10 mins! It is still cooking inside. If you cut a fresh loaf as soon as it is out of the oven, you’ll find that it is still doughy and does not have a nice texture. You’ve waited this long, so just hang in there for a few more minutes.

Enjoy!

Purchasing property and the importance of having active warrens on it.

It has taken us many years to find the right property for our next adventure, and one of the keys things we looked for every time was warrens … wombat and rabbit warrens.

Most people think that these animals are pests … yes and no. They are destructive to crops if you don’t protect your crops correctly, but they can tell you an amazing amount about your soil without having to do any serious soil testing up front. Here is an example wombat hole.

Large wombat hole displaying soil profile.
Large wombat hole displaying soil profile.

This hole clearly gives a snapshot of the soil profile in this area of scrub. The top 20 cm of soil, is a dark brown sandy topsoil. This is known as sandy loam. It is very easy to work with and provides for excellent drainage.

The next layer is a yellowish sandy substrate for about 60 cm. This substrate was laid down in this region around 20,000 years ago. Doing a little geological research, it was most likely blown onto the slopes when the lower area was infact an inland lake during the last ice age. This sandy substrate allows for easy drainage and will ensure that the soil is not water logged.

Finally, at the bottom of the wombat hole, there is evidence of pebbles of a gravel-like consistency. This gravel has a brownish-red colouration, indicative of high iron. There are also obvious chunks of quartz-like rock with inclusions of granite an glassy sandstone. This indicates that this level of the soil profile is close to bedrock, probably volcanic in nature as the quartz with inclusions can only occur at high temperature.

So, what does this tell us? This region can be used for shallow rooted trees, as evidenced by the dwarfed eucalyptus on the slopes behind. You can also put a structure here quite easily by cutting out and creating a solid packed base or by dropping piers directly to the bedrock. You can also improve the top soil using bio char before adding compost to make a very fertile garden bed for veggies. All this info from a simple wombat hole!

What’s the name of that apple?!?! A Peasgood Nonsuch?

We love heritage apples and all this simply means is that the apple in question is no longer grown commercially for the mainstream market. There is nothing wrong with these apples … in fact, most heritage apples have superior flavour and texture over the regular apples you find at the grocer. The reason they are not stocked? Because they don’t last as long in the refrigerator!

“Regular” store bought apples.

When you go to a store today, you will always find apples on the shelves. Fresh and sometimes not so crunchy apples are a staple in our society. But in reality, to ensure that there are apples available all year round, they need to be kept in storage for a VERY long time.

As with all natural things, there is a season for apples. Apples flower from early Spring to mid Summer (late August to December here in Sydney regions). So depending on the variety of apple, you can have fresh fruit from as early as mid Summer through to mid Winter (late December to mid July here). So what about the other months?

This is where the genetics of an apple are very important. Early fruiting varieties (such as the Israeli variety ‘Anna’), mature early in the season but in doing so sacrifice their ability to be stored long term. But is their flavour affected? No way!

Generally speaking, if an apple is ripened on a tree before it is harvested, it is capable of developing mind blowing flavour. But to store an apple long term, certain characteristics need to be taken into account. Mainly the acidity of the fruit and its sugar level.

If the sugar level in a fruit is too high, it ripens quickly. When you buy a “floury” apple from a store, this texture is due to the apple being stored with a higher than normal sugar content and then while in storage, the sugars get converted into fibre too quickly … hence the “floury” texture.

But a fruit with too high an acidity, generally produces a tartness which most customers find unpalatable. So there is a fine balance between when to pick and how to store. Actually, there is a real science behind it as apples need to be stored in a climate controlled environment to ensure peak condition.

Heritage apples

In today’s economy where we have grown accustomed to having everything we want when we want it, eating in season foods has fallen by the wayside. This means that anything that cannot be stored and transported long distances falls out of flavour. Most restaurants and food businesses don’t change their menu based on the season, which means that only food which can be sourced all year round are available. But if you are so inclined, there are some small operators (ourselves included) who are dedicated in ensuring that some of the most flavoursome apples are available to farmers markets in season.

At this time of year, some of the larger varieties are ready to harvest. These are the mid season fruits. The likes of Red Delicious, Pink Lady and Granny Smith are no where near being mature enough to harvest in our region; this means that these varieties on shelves are almost 12 months old.

When it comes to flavour, two of our all time favourites ripening now are the Gravenstein and the Peasgood Nonsuch (yes this mouthful is its real name!). The Gravenstein is an old European apple variety which originated in Denmark. It has a beautiful rich red skin with little spots all over it, white flesh and tastes nothing short of divine. It has a slight tartness (indicative of high acidity) but is complemented with a good deal of sweetness when tree ripened. It is great fresh and is excellent for cooking as it keeps it shape well.

Similarly, the Peasgood Nonsuch is a great cooking apple but is better known as a saucing apple, creating a really smooth puree that complements soooo many dishes! This one though is a bit of a giant in the apple world, regularly 50% larger in size than a red delicious, meaning it is around double the weight too! We have included one in the photo above.

So next time you buy an apple, have a think about what it took to get to your table. Visit your local farmers market to find someone nearby who grows fruit in season … you will never regret the flavour. Ask to try something you don’t know. Remember, local farmers (generally) enjoy their job and would love to talk to someone who appreciates the effort they put into providing quality produce.

Being the accountant, the marketing manager, the supervisor and the labourer all at once!

When people think of farming, they think of wonderful farmers markets, great produce and friendly people. Very few consider what goes on behind the scenes to get the produce to them.

This week was a hectic once for us with lots of milestones achieved, but it meant that we had to wear the hat of accountant, marketing manager, supervisor and labourer all in one week!

So here is a run down of our mad-cap week…

We got our logo revamped!

Our little mouse needed some inspiration, so we took her to our local graphic design studio and the guys at Avenue de Flaunt came up with some awesome ideas. So bye-bye little blind mouse and hello cute little field mouse. Pity we didn’t have three blind mice to work with!

Little Field Mice Pty Ltd logo
Our old logo. We didn’t realise it looked blind without the pupil!
littlefieldmice
Our new logo. We love it!

 

 

We started prepping our beds for Winter

The start of Autumn sees us clearing out all our old and tired tomato plants and their trellises. We burn all the dried up plants to reduce fungal disease in future crops, a job that Master 7 truly enjoys (there must be a little pyromaniac in every child as Miss 5 is now wanting to learn how to help with this).

Once the beds are cleared, we add wheel barrow loads of fresh compost straight from one of our compost bins, some ash, trace elements, rock dust, chicken manure and plenty of dried lawn clippings …. then its dig, Dig, DIG!

*Phew, glad its not high Summer*

We started planting our beds for winter crops.

Once all the digging is done, We form up our beds and lay down irrigation pipe. This then gets turned on for a test run and to both moisten and settle the soil before planting.

Where the water drips out is where we plant our new seedlings. All plants can’t stand oxygen at their root zone … this causes them to die back. We always ensure that our new seedlings go into moist ground and then get watered in afterwards as well. This helps settle them into the soil and removes any air holes in the soil surrounding the roots.

This week we planted out…

  • Lettuce (red, green and bronze oak leaf; endive; mini cos; red and green coral; red romaine)
  • Fennel
  • Sorrel (green and red veined)
  • Basil (sweet and mini greek)
  • Brassicas (broccoli; broccolini; cauliflower; pak choi; red russian kale; tuscan kale)
  • Carrots (purple; white; yellow and orange)
  • Parsnips
  • Strawberries
  • Garlic (Monaro purple; Italian purple; Italian white)
  • Herbs (curled and flat leaf parsley; sage; rosemary; thyme; lemon thyme; oregano; garlic chives; nasturtium;
  • Onions (red)

We got some new hens delivered to our farm.

We are very strict with bio-security and only source our new breeding stock from eggs which we incubate and grow on ourselves. Our only exception to this is our meat birds, which are grown in a climate controlled and sterile environment then shipped straight to us within 24-48 hours of being born.

Since the devastation of a lot of our breeders due to the local fox population, we have decided to introduce ten new hens to our flock. They have been treated for external and internal parasites so that they do not pass any untoward problems onto our stock. These girls will be placed into their breeding pens shortly.

We started building chicken tractors 3, 4 and 5.

As the breeding season will be coming around soon, we have started to build some new Joel Salatin style chicken tractors. It will start looking like a fleet soon. Can’t wait till they are finished.

We will have one breeding pen each of Plymouth Rock, Araucana and Barnevelder. There will also be a meat bird pen and then a growing pen for all the chicks we hatch older than 6 weeks. Then with our move to our new farm on the horizon, the chicken tractor fleet is set to boom!

We introduced our resident hen to the garden

When our hens go “clucky” (that is they want to sit on and hatch eggs), we schedule their hatch with one of our incubators. That way she can adopt a few extras for us.

Hens are natural Mum’s and they make the funniest noises. Now that her little ones are more than 2 weeks old, they are smart enough to listen o their Mum (mostly) and are at a lower risk of falling down a crack in the ground and dying (yes, this happens).

On the first day out in the garden, the hen only ranged around 3m from the shed she calls home. But once she saw us pulling up the tomato trellises, her curiosity was obvious … and calculated. As soon as we sat down for lunch …. she had called her brood over and was happily showing them how to scratch out bugs and insects from the soil. A few times knocking a chick over in the process due to her enthusiasm.

She makes a different noise for her chicks for different reasons; when intruders approach (like us or the cats), when there is a predator spotted, when there is a nice tidbit of food, when its time for a nap or sleep (yes, chicks sleep during the day just like all babies). It’s quite entertaining to listen to.

Here is a picture of her in the garden near our sweet potato and berry patch.

Hen and chicks free range
Plymouth Rock hen free-ranging with twelve two week old chicks

 

… then we did some tractor shopping.

We have been on the look out for a small tractor for our new farm for the last few months. Now that the land has settled, we can start looking in earnest as we have somewhere to store it now. 🙂

Checking out tractors is like checking out cars … if you don’t know what you want to begin with, you’ll only be attracted to the new and shiny gadgets.

Quince … the chameleon of the fruit world.

There are so many different fruits out there that are just waiting to be tried. We always eat in season foods here on our farm and Autumn is harvest time! It’s full steam ahead here with plenty of different fruits coming into the kitchen. For us, nothing is better that fresh quince with vanilla ice-cream! Yum!

Quince is a pome fruit. This means it is closely related to the likes of pears and apples. It is used extensively as a dwarfing rootstock for pears and can be seem on roadsides growing wild.

Quince are an interesting fruit as it feels rock hard even when ripe, but undergoes the most amazing transformation once cooked correctly. It has a furry outer coating which rubs off easily once the fruit is ripened on the tree.

To tell if a quince is ready to pick, you need to take note of its colour and texture. It will changed from green to yellow over the course of around one week (each variety is slightly different, but you get the idea). Then, when you gently rub the fuzzy coating and it comes away in your hand … its quince time!

Here is a yummy bowl of freshly poached quince and vanilla ice-cream!

Quince with vanilla ice-cream.
Quince with vanilla ice-cream, drizzled with quince syrup.

Poaching Quince

Here are some simple instructional images on how to poach quinces to use at home.

Quince - whole
Pick your quince and bring them into the kitchen. Make sure when you pick them to be gentle. They may feel rock hard, but they bruise VERY easily.
Quince - peeled
Peel the skin off all your quince. Quince flesh oxidises (goes brown) very quickly once cut. There is no need to worry about that though.
Quince - quartered
Quarter and core your quince, then place them in a large pot. Add enough water so that the quince start to float and then stir half a cup of sugar per kilo of quince.
Quince - colour change
Bring slowly to the boil. Keep boiling for anywhere between two to three hours. The quinces will stat to change colour when nearing completion.
Quince - cooked
Quince is cooked when a fork or skewer can be easily inserted in to the flesh. Leave it to stand and soak up some of the syrup. The quince can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for a few days. The syrup can be bottled and stored as per a normal preserve. Enjoy!

Kids are capable of the most amazing things.

Earlier this weekend, we posted about a sad day where our breeder chicken flock was slaughtered by foxes (see here for details). But what has kept us smiling through the whole ordeal, is the heart melting kindness shown to me by Master 7.

We recently set up a workbench for Master 7. And while initially we thought it was an awesome idea that he was outside always building something, the constant hammering for a good hour does tend to make the nerves a tad raw!

…. but that’s off topic. Master 7 decided to make a memorial plaque for all the chickens so that they can be remembered … unknown to us at this time. So, there came a point where all the hammering stopped and a Master 7 asked if he could be taught how to use a jigsaw. Teaching children the proper and safe way to use power tools are important lessons. Master 7 knows he is not allowed to use anything powered unless he is supervised, so we thought “sure”. And off he went with Daddy and learned a new skill.

Thirty minutes later, this is what he produced … complete with claws, tail and moving legs. This will be one of those things that will be hanging up in our barn when we’re in our 80’s, covered in dust and a few cob webs and people will look at it and say …. “What is that?”. *sigh*

So proud of you our Little Man!

 

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