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!

Raising meat chickens … they’re not a dumb as you might think!

We have started growing pasture raised meat birds. Essentially, they are a commercial breed of meat chicken which we get as day old chicks. They come specially “packaged” and shipped to us within 24 hours of hatching. Here is what they look like in their little shipping box on arrival. A whole box of cuteness if you ask us!

Chicks - day old in box
50 one day old chicks in delivery box

We then introduce them into our brooder. It is a fully enclosed box which rats and other nasties cannot get into. They have a heat lamp, light, plenty of litter  (added to every second day to reduce smells), two feeding stations and two watering stations. There are no draughts and we control the temperature daily, slowing ‘hardening’ them down to be accustomed to lower temperatures. Here is a pic of them in their little brooder…

Chicks - day old in brooder
Day old chicks in brooder box. Protected from predators and draughts with plenty of access to feed and water.

Because these little guys are near our home, they get used to noisy children always handling them and learn quickly that if you approach an extended hand you usually get some nice tidbits. Unlike meat birds raised in sheds that run away from people, these little critters come up to you.

Here is one of our hand fed stars. You can already see good breast development on her. She is very inquisitive and loves being handled … mostly because she knows there is always a treat (or six) involved.

Chicken - 5 week old meat bird
Our children learn how to safely handle chickens. Even the chicken learn that it is OK to be held, just as this 5 week old meat chicken is being done. No running away from these capable little hands.

At the end of their second week, they graduate to our large brooder. It gives them more space to move around with a heated bench at the back under cover and a sunny lounging area at the front where they can eat or just lay down in the sun.

Here are some of our 5 week old chicks (combination of meat birds, plymouth rocks and mixed breed egg layers) snacking on some azolla  which we grow for them.

5 week old chicks snacking on Azolla. They love it!
5 week old chicks snacking on Azolla. They love it!

Once they reach 5 weeks, they are put onto pasture in our Joel Salatin inspired chicken tractors. We have modified the design slightly by adding some skis to the bottom plate to make it easier for us to pull along the ground rather than use a dolly system. It works a treat! Here are the cheeky little ones at 6 weeks of age. They were just moved to fresh pasture. Look at how much more feathered and chunky they are since the last photo. Only 8 days difference in these images!

Chicken - 6 week old meat bird
6 week old meat birds in chicken tractor

There are only 20 birds in this tractor. It is one of our future breeding pens so is smaller than most. We will be stocking these pens with 12 chickens and one very lucky rooster in the next breeding season!

So remember, when you buy your next chook for dinner, have a think about how they were grown and if they were happy. We know ours are. And while it is sad to say farewell to them once they reach eight and a half weeks, we know that they have been fed the BEST diet with a variety of insects, grain and fresh grass. Go you little chooks!

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!

 

IMG_2388

Warre Bee keeping

A little over a year ago, we got together with a group of friends and constructed our first Warre Bee Hive. It was an interesting exercise in communication with Electrical Engineers, IT specialists, Project Managers and noisy children thrown in for fun. It was an awesome day where some creating swear words were unearthed and curious children learnt how to apply wood glue without sticking things to themselves.

Last night, we got a message from a friend saying that they had a swarm in their front garden … Awesome! was our first reaction. “Can we come over and collect it?” was our second.

With a maniacal giggle upon hearing “Yeah sure, come on over.”, we started prepping our hive.

Wild bee swarm, swarming in Christmas Bush shrub.
Wild bee swarm, swarming in Christmas Bush shrub.

We pulled apart all our boxes and re-waxed our frames, re-stuffed the mattress and checked that all the potential wasp entrances were secured.

Packing the mattress of a Warre Bee Hive using saw dust.
Packing the mattress of a Warre Bee Hive using saw dust.

We were finalising the net we were going to drape over the Christmas Bush, when we got the sad news that the swarm had moved on. 😦

Oh well … till the next time we get informed about a swarm. But since we had the hive apart, we decided to give it a nice new coat of paint. At least it will weather a few more seasons now.

Warre bee hive drying after applying new coat of paint.
Warre bee hive drying after applying new coat of paint. And yes, the kids thought that blue frames would make all the difference to bees looking for a new home – because decor is important! LOL!

Got a swarm you want to re-home? Let us know and we should be able to help if we are nearby.

Foxes and the devastation they can cause.

Running a farm, there are always ups and downs and what keeps us going is focusing on the good things that happen; new additions to the farm, fruit harvests, new buildings (you get the idea)! What we cannot stand is waste … senseless waste due to excess.

Sadly, this post is about the only wild animal we have no respect for … the fox. An introduced species, while beautiful to look at and clever to boot, if this little critter behaved more like a hungry animal than a rabid human … the farming world would be a happier place. If you are queasy … please do not read on as there is an image of the outcome at the end.

It is unfortunate for us, that a fox (or more than one for that matter) managed to get into our breeding chicken coup and decimated the entire flock! This is what angers us! We’re OK with the local wedge tailed eagle pair that occasionally take a chook, they only ever take one and we’ll admit look majestic doing it. We’re OK with the occasional fruit bat nibbling at some of the apples, its usually only the top tree fruit they take. We’re even OK with occasionally having to loose a bed of tomatoes to fruit flies if it has been a particularly wet and humid year. Them’s the breaks. But when an animal like a fox gets access to chickens … nothing short of hell breaking loose is the best description of the aftermath.

We found 31 beautiful birds scattered and dead one morning. It was heart breaking. All those friendly chooks and roosters senselessly killed. Necks snapped and left intact for most too. We don’t like to write about the sad things that happen around here, but sometimes we need to remember them to ensure we learn from them. One thing is for certain, we have finally invested in a trap and we’re looking into getting a dog or two from the local animal shelter sooner rather than later.

We can definitely say that electrified chicken fences work wonders. Also having a wire skirt or mesh around a fence also stops foxes from digging, but NEVER let anyone tell you that a pen is fox proof at 1.8m (6 foot) because the little blighters can still climb over if they put their mind to it!!!

Rest in peace our little flock. We’re sorry that we couldn’t keep you safe.

Chicken masacre by foxes

(Not all animals are pictured as their carcasses were not in a condition we believed people would be comfortable viewing).

Figs and memories

Very few things excite us more than the harvest of fruit from our trees. Most people don’t realise the amount of care and attention a tree needs before it can bear fruit … let alone fruit of sufficient quality that can be sold to market!

Most trees require years of growth before they fruit. Apples, pears, peaches … all take 3 years or more to produce fruit. But then some, like the humble fig, can start producing from as young as 2 years of age.

We grow four varieties of fig here; Black Genova, White Genova, White Adriatic … and a special fig from our grandparents farm in Sicily. These little trees (for some of them are only in their second season) have come into their own with the awesome weather we have been having this year. Figs produce two harvest each year: One in February and then another in April. This year the harvest is shaping up to be brilliant.

As children, we couldn’t wait for the figs to ripen and be ready to eat … many times being told off for squeezing the fruit too hard and bruising it. But our little monkeys are now doing the same thing we did … and why? Because they are simply copying us … every morning, when we go out to check the ripeness of the fruit. We know which ones to gently touch to determine if it is ready today or if it needs to wait until tomorrow … because a day can make a huge difference in flavour! It is humbling teaching our children the the correct technique and they learn so fast!

So here’s a shout out to all the amazing people who had the courage to leave their homes overseas, brought their culture with them and truly believed that they were doing the best for their families. For us, the humble fig represents that move; bring on the fig jam, dried figs and fig cookies this season.

Fig bowl

Hawk Moths can be huge in a good year

There are some seriously strange insets in our world, and when they get to the size of this SPHINGIDAE Coequosa australasiae, they can inspire awe or dread. This is a species of Hawk Moth whose caterpillars feed on select species of Eucalypts. Here, we occasionally find them crawling up a tree after they have finished pupating and are on the hunt for a mate.

Hawk moth

This female was rescued from one of our cats. Her wings were scratched up so she has not been able to fly away. This year, we have had plenty of rainfall and the Eucalypts have had a huge growth spurt. Given such a great diet, we believe this is why this female is as large as she is. We measured her wingspan at an astonishing 13.8cm! Normally, they measure around 12cm.

After a couple of days rest, this huge girl was released in the early evening to climb up the tree she was found under. Hopefully next season there will be some of her offspring in the trees above us!