Two years strong and planning for our first CSA

We have reached our two year anniversary!

We have done so much and learnt a huge amount in the process. People have been absolutely wonderful and supportive with the journey we’ve had and the philosophy we follow. It has been great to see just how excited children (and quite often, their parents) are when they come for a visit, with our little goats being the highlight for most.

Now that the weather it turning for Winter, we have let the chooks take over the garden patch … and I can tell you that 60 ish birds can strip half an acre VERY quickly. They’ve done a great job clearing out all the slugs and critters while liberally spreading their leavings without me having to do so. Win-win!

Reflecting back on the last year, I would say that I regretted not installing a more robust irrigation system … something worth remediating this Autumn.

Even though the season is coming to an end, with our online sales stopping, we have kicked off the planning of a Community Supported Agriculture programme or CSA. Check it out on our page Our 2016 Spring-Summer CSA. Now that we have a comfortable crop rotation happening and have identified what crops we will be offering as part of the CSA, there is a whole raft of communications, information packs, labels and packaging that needs to be organised and sourced.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make this little geek of a farmer happy. All I can hope is that everyone has the bravery and opportunity to follow their dream. For me, it took several years of planning, lots or research and even more mistakes, an appreciation of the small things that are on offer from people and a truely amazingly patient husband to get me there.

Even though my hubby seriously dislikes my goats, his assistance in all things mechanical or powered by a motor has seen me recover quickly from my bouts of frustration when things need fixing or (usually) I’m stuck unable to start the darn thing.

Thank you everyone.

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.

Farm gate produce available from April 27.

We’ve just uploaded our Farm Gate Order Form for next week (April 27). If you would like to pre-order before arriving onsite, please fill in the form and we will invoice you.

All our produce is sold on a first-come-first-served basis so ordering in advance is recommended to avoid disappointment.

Along with fresh produce, we will also be selling a limited number of preserves and DIY kits.

This week, our DIY kits include Home Made Sourdough and Schnitzeled Eggplant with salad and mash. Everything is included with the exception of a couple of kitchen staples (e.g. oil for frying, salt, pepper, water, butter and milk).

On our inaugural Farm Gate opening day, as a one-off offer, in the event that we do not have enough fresh-produce available for you to purchase, you can fill in an order form onsite, pay for it and we will deliver it to you for free on the Wednesday (April 29)!

Here is a link to our Farm Gate Order form for April 27 for your convenience… https://littlefieldmice.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/farm-gate-orders-2015-04-27.pdf

Alternatively you can navigate to our Online Store and find it there. For address details, go to our Facebook page https://facebook.com/LittleFieldMice

Wild mushrooms are nothing short of awesome!

There are so many different things you can forage for a meal or part of one. Dandelions and chickweed are our favourite salad substitutes around here, but nothing is more exciting than mushrooms!

There are a number of mushrooms that are easily considered ‘beginner’ level mushrooms. One of the most easily recognised ones is the Slippery Jack.

These golden fungus grow directly from the roots of pine trees, and are especially prolific in pine plantations after a very good soaking rain followed by warm temperatures. They pop up following a shallow pine tree root where the mycelium (kind of like mushroom roots) has grown in the bark of the root waiting for the perfect conditions to fruit (aka grow mushrooms).

We have around 60 mature radiata pine trees on our property which have been producing Slippery Jacks for more seasons than I remember. We used to stomp out in our gumboots as kids and excitedly decimate them in all sorts of childish madness, not realising how delicious they were.

Wild Slippery Jack mushrooms

This morning, we harvested an unexpected boon courtesy of mother natures’ excellent rainfall and warm Autumn weather. After finishing our morning chores, we collected about 2kg of these glorious mushrooms in our jackets (we had warmed up enough not to need them).

Slippery Jacks are easily identified by several key features…
– they are golden in colour
– they have a slimy top surface (unless it is very hot and has dried out, then sprinkle water on it to check)
– they have a spongy surface underneath (no gills)
– when you cut the stem, it is yellow throughout
– when gently crushed, they bruise very easily
– they only grown under pine trees

Here is a pic of one we split in half. You can see the bruise in the centre caused by us pushing roughly on the cap. Also, you can see how fleshy it is and the sponginess.

Slippery Jack mushrooms split through showing fleshy insides, sponge and bruising

To prepare these guys for eating, you need to peel the top slimy layer off (this part tastes bitter in purpose so other animals don’t eat this tasty morsel). Then remove the stem completely and rinse the sponge as it usually has dirt and or pine needles attached. Set aside to dry off a bit or pat dry with a cloth or paper towel (use an old cloth as the mushroom spores can stain fabric) and then slice up and cook however you desire! Delicious fried with onions and garlic in butter, added into soups or as part of a stroganoff. Yummy.

This basket is off to be shared with our local Seedsavers group.

Basket of prepared Slippery Jack mushrooms

Ants are highway makers … just on a different scale.

Have you ever stopped to wonder at the different little insects around you. There are just so many with a huge variety of niches that they fill. For us, ants have always been a fascination, none more so than meat eating ants.

We have several different colonies of ants on our property. Meat, nectar and plant eaters alike. Whenever we have a chook die (this happens occasionally), we make an offering to the meat ant nest for a day and then bury the carcass at nightfall. It is amazing how quickly they can strip the meat off a chicken to the bone (or near enough)! Within a couple of hours, most of the visceral area is gone and you end up only needing to dispose of bone and feathers. The perfect little recyclers from our point of view!

But one of the most amazing skills that these little guys have, is their ability to transform their environment at will. A trail of meat ants on the move can easily create a visible path in only 2 days! These little guys, by sheer numbers, tread down a swathe in grass that would put weed killer to shame. For those of you who have never witnessed this, here is a pic of the little guys on the move… at the end of their trail was a wild bird. Pretty impressive!

A trail of meat ants has trodden this path in only 2 days!
A trail of meat ants has trodden this path in only 2 days!

Go you little good things!

Apple varieties we have available

We constantly get asked what apple varieties we have available on our farm. So, for those who are not feint hearted, here is a list of all the domestic varieties we have available for cultivation (currently 73 to save you from counting). If you want any scions for grafting, let us know and we will let you know if there are some available and when we can ship them. Alternatively, contact us and we can custom grow an apple tree for you on either a super dwarf (2m), dwarf (3-4m) or large (9m) rootstock. Continue reading

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!