1 Year On

We have reached our first year of blogging, self sufficient and sustainable learning and experimenting. Hooray!

It has been a great adventure and everything we have attempted has been good fun, relatively cost efficient and sometimes hard work. We have learnt how the generations before us would have made cheese, built and worked beehives, grown vegetables the old fashioned way and brewed cider, amongst other things. Its surprising how satisfying it can be when you put the effort into making life a little more simple and self sufficient (something I have never felt when buying from a store).

Loaded up and on our way out!

Loaded up and on our way out!

The most exciting thing now however, is that the road to Raelands is getting shorter. University graduation was the other day, work is finished, all our worldly possessions have been thrown into grannies shed and we are just about to jump on a plane for Bhutan and India. Hopefully after this the road to Raelands will come to an end and we will begin life on the farm.

Before we sign off for a little while though I would like to give a few notes about what was a success for us.

1. Dairy products – Butter and yoghurt were easy and relatively quick for us to make so they are in the weekly recipe book. Farmhouse cheddar is probably the only other dairy product we would consistently make and it would be made in large batches so we don’t have to make every week.

2. Brewing – I had mixed results with cider brewing. The first batch was good but the second was really bad so I think I will try some ginger beer and root beer recipes next year and maybe brew some cider from real apples one year. Alcohol isn’t that important to us though, so it’s not much of a priority. We did have success with grapefruit and lemon cordial however, which were simple to make and great throughout summer.

3. Honey and beekeeping – I really enjoyed building my own Warré hives because I had the time and had just attended a course so the info was still fresh in my mind. In the future I am considering building Kenyan Top Bar hives because they are cheaper and less time consuming to construct. More natural beekeeping methods don’t produce as much honey as conventional beekeeping but for us this is not important because bees are more crucial to our pasture pollination than for making money from honey.

4. Vegetable garden & orchard – The organic garden we established was more successful than I expected so we hope to establish a 4 bed 10×1.5m system on the farm to produce enough veg for our family and possibly a little extra to sell at local farmers markets. The main goal though is to provide most of our veg, year round, for our own consumption. Luckily over the years dad, his dad, his dads dad and I have sporadically planted various Peach, Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange, Fig, Mulberry and Pear trees and each year we aim to build on our orchard plants and hopefully get around to netting them.

5. Meat and protein – The aim for us in the short term is to purchase some laying chickens and to grow out a steer for meat as we eat a lot of eggs and quite a lot of red meat.

The above may all sound like a lot of work but if we are to produce enough food for our family from our farm we will greatly ease our reliance on income to feed ourselves. More funds can then be spent on the dairy business and family related expenses.

Merry Christmas to you all, thanks for your comments over the past year, watch this space and we will be back with fresh ideas in 2013. Cheers.

Raelands and "the Buckets" mountain range

Raelands and “the Buckets” mountain range

Farm pastures and stormy weather

Farm pastures and stormy weather

Dairy – Yoghurt & Quark

Heavy based pots help with heat distribution

Many of the soft, un-aged cheeses and dairy products are very easy to make. Yoghurt is one that is particularly easy. Yoghurt is produced by adding a yoghurt culture to milk, which can come in either a packet form or you can use store bought, living culture yoghurt. The introduction of yoghurt culture leads to the bacterial fermentation of the lactose in milk, which then reacts and leads to the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid is what gives the final product its tangy flavour and lumpy characteristics. Buying a commercial yoghurt maker is a good idea if you are going to make a lot of yoghurt as it regulates the yoghurt to the correct temperature throughout the incubation period, however I will explain another option.

Yoghurt

1. I used 1L of whole store-bought milk and 1/4 cup of store bought yoghurt which contained living cultures for my first batch and it turned out well. It is a very cost effective way to make yoghurt as you only need a small amount of bought yoghurt to culture milk.

Adding yoghurt culture using store bought yoghurt

2. Firstly heat and stir your milk to 85°C (185°F). A heavy bottomed pot is ideal for this purpose as it will reduce the risk of scalding your milk.

3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to about 45°C (113°F) before adding 1/4 Cup of yoghurt (containing live cultures), this will ensure the bacteria have ideal conditions to function.

4. Place the mixture into your yoghurt maker or an insulated cooler with a few jars of hot water and leave for roughly 8-12 hrs (depending on how tart you would like the yoghurt) I found that 10hrs in a commercial maker produced good results.

5. Turn the yoghurt maker off and allow the yoghurt to cool a little before refrigerating.

Breakfast time tastes so much better 🙂

Quark

Quark is an unripened German cheese that is similar in consistency to sour cream. The Quark I made contains nothing but buttermilk and has quite a bland, and at the same time refreshing taste. Quark is hard to find in Australia therefore it usually has to be home-made, which is very easy as it requires no additional ingredients (rennet, etc). Some dairy producers, mainly in eastern Europe, do add a small amount of rennet to make a firmer quark, however the German Quark is usually smoother and creamier. Note: to make Quark from store bought pasteurised milk you must add a live buttermilk culture to your buttermilk or see my earlier post on making your own buttermilk.

The process

Fresh Quark can be a nice substitute for sour cream

1. Start with 2 L (2 Quartz) of buttermilk from the butter making process or homemade buttermilk (I used 1L for my first batch and it only made a small amount of Quark so I suggest that if you can, use 2L).

2. Pour the buttermilk into a ceramic, oven-safe pot and place in an oven for 24 hours. The oven will not be turned on, however if you can keep the pilot light on it will help to maintain an ideal temperature for the Quark. Because I don’t have a pilot light on my oven I placed the Quark into my yoghurt maker for about 12 hours, which produced good results.

3. Strain off the liquid through a double layer of butter muslin lining a colander. Wrap the sides over the Quark to cover the top and let drain for over 2 hours and under 6. Place a small plate on top of the Quark to encourage drainage of the whey.

4. The whey can be used for cooking, watering your plants or feeding the cat :). Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Sniffing out the whey

Dairy – Butter and Buttermilk

We took a drive to the farm a few days ago and picked up about 7 Litres of creamy milk straight from the dairy vat. The milk was carted home in an icebox (simple insulated cool box) with the milk bottles surrounded by ice and the temperature measured on arrival. This was crucial to ensure that the temperature would not rise above 5°C (41°F), which would allow harmful bacteria to develop. I wanted to start with a couple of simple products at first, with the eventual aim at making hard cheese in the future. I chose Kefir (see earlier post), Buttermilk, Quark, Buttermilk pot cheese, Yoghurt and Butter for the first recipes. I must give credit to the author Kathy Farrell-Kingsley and her book ‘The Home Creamery’ as I got many great ideas from her recipes, some of which I heavily relied on.

Cleanliness is the key to success

Cleanliness

It is always important to be extremely clean when working with hazardous foods, such as raw meat or dairy. All utensils should ideally be sterilized and if this is not possible they should at least be washed in very hot, soapy water, rinsed with hot water and air dried on a clean surface. A quick note on equipment: Try to avoid using aluminium cooking equipment as it can taint the cheeses/dairy products. You will need a milk thermometer, assorted bowls, strainers and general kitchen wear. I have found that a kitchen food processor is extremely efficient in churning cream into butter, however you can hand churn or use a food mixer with spinning beaters. The NSW food authority here in Australia has guidelines for using the 4 hour/ 2 hour rule for food temperature control, which is a very useful resource.

Separating cream from milk

5L 'separator' container

The great thing about raw, unhomogenized milk is that you can do so much with it. You can make butter and buttermilk from the separated cream, which in turn makes various cheeses and cultured dairy products, you can drink, make yoghurt, Kefir and other low fat dairy products from the separated milk and all without destroying beneficial bacteria, which is often removed during commercial milk processing procedures. With a little effort and attention to food hygiene the benefits are numerous.

The first thing for me to do in making my dairy products was to separate the milk from the cream. I ended up finding a really simple 5L (a little over 1 Gallon) plastic, food grade container with one screw on tap and one sealed cap. This container was cheap and allowed me to collect 5L of milk, which would sit in the fridge for roughly 12 hrs, allowing the cream to rise to the top of the milk. Because I collected 5L of creamy milk from the top of the still vat (not stirred) I only ended up with about 3cm of milk in the bottom of the container, allowing me to make lots of butter for freezing.

Caution: If you are lucky enough to have access to raw milk you must be particularly vigilant with handling it to ensure that bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella are not given an environment in which they can function. Having said this it is quite easy to do, as long you are 110% sure that the livestock you are receiving the milk from are healthy and the farmer has adequate dairy wash-up procedures in place. HOWEVER, I am not condoning the sale or use of raw milk because I don’t want to be held responsible for any issues surrounding this product, I am simply showing you why I use and like it. I grew up drinking raw cows milk right up until leaving home, when it was no longer practical to go back and collect some and I never once got sick from it. For more information about raw milk Raw-milk-facts is a great website that states the facts without all the extreme opinions which often surround this simple product.

Butter

Unhomogenized milk and cream contains very small globules within its structure. These globules have membranes, which contain proteins and fatty acid emulsifiers (phospholipids). These membranes prevent the fats in milk from sticking together. When we churn the cream, the membranes are damaged or destroyed and the fats are able to stick together and separate from other parts of the cream, hence producing butter and buttermilk.

Modern day household butter churn

1. Pour the cream off the milk from the tapped container, the cream can then be placed in a sturdy container and left on a benchtop or surrounded by warm water until it reaches 15°C (60°F), this will ensure that the cream will churn into butter. At this point you can simply place the cream into the food processor (750ml into a 2L food processor bowl) and whir on low speed for 5-6 minute or until the buttermilk has separated from the butter. It is really that simple, but wait there’s more.

2. Strain the butter from the buttermilk (you may want to save the buttermilk for drinking, cooking, making pot cheese, culturing).

Working the butter

3. Place the butter in a bowl and massage with a very clean spoon until more of the buttermilk drains out. You may like to wash the butter multiple times with some clean water and keep kneading until all water has become clear and completely removed from the butter.

Freshly churned butter

4. I like to scoop the butter into a small container lined with plastic cling film, which molds it into a rectangle, I then wrap the butter and freeze it for later use.

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is traditionally the liquid remains after cream has been churned into butter. However if you need more (as I did) or would like to make buttermilk without churning cream and without buying it from the supermarket you can mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice OR white vinegar with 1 cup of whole milk, which makes a bit over 1 cup of buttermilk. More on the practical uses of buttermilk later.


A visit to the farm.

'Raelands' Farm

Yesterday Lauren and I drove up to the farm for the day to say hello and to grab some milk. We ended up bringing home nearly 7 Litres of raw milk straight from the dairy vat to make some dairy products. While we were there I had a quick look around for some timber offcuts so that I can soon make a basic cheese press for hard-cheese making. I also had another look at our old hand driven corn cobber that I might use to crack Pecan nuts. We have a great row of Pecans trees that dad planted years ago to shade the cows through summer and they have been bearing well for many seasons now. This season I am going to try and make some honey roasted pecans, maple syrup roasted pecans and maybe some pecan pies before the white cockatoos eat them all.

On the way home we dropped in to say hi to my grandmother who, at 90 years of age is still very sharp with her memory. We ended up having an interesting conversation about how they used to preserve all of their fruit for the year (mostly peaces, plums and citrus) either whole, halved or as a syrup for re-mixing with water to make refreshing summer drinks.

Green green grass

My grandfather apparently grew some amazing peach trees, with huge fruit that would ripen prior to the fruit fly season, which meant that Granny would peel and preserve peaches until she “felt like one”, as she put it. Its funny because when I was a kid I remember granny would often offer peaches and ice cream for desert, even after the days of canning had long gone. Growing food seemed to be very diverse in those days. Every household had a canning/preserving kit and would grow many different fruits and vegetables, and a variety of different animals. Long rows of peas were often grown down on the river flats and my ancestors would walk down on dusk with the children and pick peas with some of the other neighboring farmers. This would of course result in shelling peas “until you felt like one”. Some of this connectedness with our food has seemingly been lost, even to farmers, who grow things for a living. Maybe this is because it was done more out of necessity back then. Maybe it was done because you couldn’t buy as many items in the supermarket, whereas now you can. What ever the reason I think it needs to start shifting back the other way because relying on a single or a couple of bulk commodities leaves the farmer at the mercy of the market, whether driven by fluctuations in market demand or just greedy price givers determining how much profit they should make.

'Tubby'

Another result of this loss in diversity may be the subsequent reduction in small farms due to the industrialization of food production. It no longer seems as viable for the small farm, whereas many years ago the small farm was the back-bone of a community (in our case). Since a de-regulated dairy production system was put in place in the year 2000 we now have 2 dairy farms along our road. In 1995 there were 14. Some may say this was necessary, however, it has had a profound effect on our dairy farming community, which now seems driven by economies of scale and a few large producers. This in itself leads to environmental and animal welfare issues, where maximum production is a primary goal for many diary farms. This is not because the farmer is greedy or wants to push animals to the limit but rather the demand by price givers and a growing population wanting milk year round and lots of it. We have forgotten to eat seasonally. Cows produce less milk during winter, fruits and vegetables grow in the seasons they are suited to, chickens lay fewer and smaller eggs during winter and somehow we feel the need to alter this for the purpose of everyone wanting all foods year round. I think the growing popularity of farmers markets here in Australia will see more and more seasonal produce offered to consumers and there is a real connection and education with growers and consumers alike. Change is happening.

Dusk

Dairy – Kefir

Kefir (pronounced Ke-fear) Ingredients. The green stick is an airlock for the culture sachet.

Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk drink. Sounds kind of gross doesn’t it, but it is supposedly one of the healthiest cultured dairy products that we can make in our kitchen. Kefir originated in the Caucasus mountains in Russia where shepherds carrying fresh milk in their leather pouches would occasionally find a fermented beverage after their days work. It is prepared by inoculating milk with Kefir grains (small tapioca like grains that grow and produce additional grains during fermentation). Traditional Kefir was made in skin bags, hung over a door way and purposely knocked by passers-by to help with the fermentation process.

Let sit at room temp, in a dark place/dark containers for 24-36 hrs

The Process

I decided to start making Kefir with a Kefir culture rather than Kefir grains. The culture also reproduces and can be used up to 3 times per packet/half packet, etc.  I plan to use Kefir grains in the future to give the traditional way a go.

Note: All utensils should be very clean before use. That means either sterilized or washed in hot water with detergent before air drying.

1. Obtain Kefir grains or Kefir culture sachets.

2. Stir in the culture to the recommended rate or 1/4 cup of Kefir grains to 2 cups of milk.

3. Leave covered in a dark spot or a dark jar for 24-36 hrs at room temp depending on how strong you would like your Kefir. At the end of this time your drink should be thick and some whey may be present on the surface (just stir it back in).

Straining the thicker Kefir off for re-culturing.

4. I strained the kefir through a fine strainer to catch about 1/3 cup of thicker Kefir culture to re-culture the next batch.

5. Pour your Kefir into a clean/sterilized container and refrigerate for 12hrs before consuming. I used some old spice bottles (see photo) so we can have a small Kefir ‘shot’ each day. Mmmmm 🙂

Half a litre of Kefir was made for the first batch, but I found that 1 litre would have been better so I just used the thick Kefir that I collected and added it to another 1/2 litre of milk. It ended up re-culturing well (I kind of wasn’t expecting it to work) and it should be ok to use once more.

Re-using spice bottles for Kefir 'shots'.

The importance of bees and a more natural way of keeping them

Bees are truly amazing insects. As a child growing up on the farm I occasionally saw the clump of white boxes sitting in a neighbouring paddock, however I never really knew how important bees were for the pollination of many of the plants we rely on for our survival.

A study that was conducted in 2006 by CSIRO scientists from England, Germany, US and Australia found that one in every three mouthfuls of food we consume comes from insect pollinated crops. This study was conducted in over 200 countries worldwide and found that 87 of the 110 global food crops we rely on require animal pollination (to varying extents).

Personally I found these figures astonishing, especially when most of the time we regard bees purely as creatures that sting and give honey.

This blog post is not aimed at commercial production of honey but rather a way to introduce bees into your backyard, garden or farm for the purpose of plant pollination and honey for personal consumption.

A natural way to keep bees?

Tim Malfroy of Malfroy's Gold checking a hive

Keeping bees will never be purely natural unless you leave bees alone in the wild to do their thing. I was introduced to a more natural way in beekeeping after attending a two day natural beekeeping course on the subject. I tend to make judgements on what makes more sense to me rather than “idealistic values”, therefore I try to read books or articles and talk to people about different ways to do the same thing, only then do I feel like I can form my own view. Natural beekeeping, using ‘the peoples hive’ (more on that later) made sense to me immediately. there are a few keys points that differentiate it from beekeeping in conventional hives:

1) The inside of the hive is observed less frequently (As little as 2-3 times a year) thereby reducing chilling of the brood, which can lead to weaker colonies that become more susceptible to disease.

2) The hive box is square and of a dimension where the bees are easily able to regulate the internal hive temperature during colder periods (the larger hive boxes of conventional hives entail a large amount of air space that requires more energy to heat).

3) The hive is expanded from below (hive boxes added) and the honey harvested from the top. This mimics a tree trunk. This may sound crazy but bees that build colonies in hollow trees draw comb downwards during a honey flow, they then move up to their honey stores to feed during winter. By mimicking this action we can let the bees draw comb down through the hive boxes and take the top boxes off after the comb full of honey has been capped and the brood has moved into lower boxes.

4) Less equipment and time is needed to prepare the hive – Frames or top bars can be used and are fitted with starter strips rather than foundation that requires wiring (conventional hives). This allows bees to natural form their own comb to their needs.

5) The more natural ‘peoples hive’ system produces less honey – From a commercial standpoint this is unfavourable, however from an amateur beekeepers perspective this is something that leads to an eventual saving in time, money and bee health. Less disease is apparent due to decreased disturbance of the hive (The bees regulate the inner temp of the hive at a constant 35°C and whenever we observe the hive the bees have to work hard to raise the temperature again) and less time is needed to manage the hives. This is not to say that careful observation of hive health and the monitoring of activity at the hive entrance is not necessary).

Honey

Honey fresh from the hive

As a sugar, honey is hard to beat. The form of glucose that is found in honey can immediately be assimilated and taken into the blood stream, whereas artificial sugars use invertase that is released from the stomach and intestines. This invertase is also used to break down fats and starches, therefore by consuming artificial sugars we increase the demand on our organs. Honey also contains formic acid, which makes an effective antiseptic. There are many health benefits to honey and many practical uses for bees wax.

To learn more about ‘the peoples hive’, natural beekeeping and bees take a look at the free ebook “Beekeeping for all” by Abbe Warre, The bee-friendly beekeeper by David Heaf and the biobees website.

To learn more about general beekeeping, the conventional way and bees check out the NSW DPI – Bee agskills publication (Australian residents), The bee book by ann cliff, The dancing bees by Karl Von-Frisch and backyard beekeeping by Courtney N. Smithers

Where to from here?

We will hopefully be establishing a few “peoples hives” on the farm in the future, with two already built and ready to go. Having said that it is certainly possible to become a beekeeper in an urban environment with many councils allowing 1-2 hives per backyard. I will add another post to the beekeeping category soon about how to build your own “peoples hive” aka Warre hive with observation windows. If you are interested in attending a natural beekeeping course and you live in Australia check out the Malfroys gold website and make sure you grab a copy of the free ebook by Abbe Warre – Beekeeping for all. I have no commercial interests in this blog therefore any recommendation I am giving are purely based on positive experiences.