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

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

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!