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

Backyard garden progress

The garden is now in full swing. Lettuce is growing like mad, Tomatoes are bearing heavily (some Queensland fruit fly issues), Heirloom beetroot, colourful carrots, Dutch Cream potatoes and Golden Bantam sweet corn are coming along and Giant of Stuttgart beans and Yukomo Giant snow peas are flowering well. Our unsuccessful crops were 1 melon plant and 1 eggplant + Pak Choy, all of which may not have had enough water when planted as seed. We have been fertilizing with seaweed solution every two weeks and weeding occasionally, however when a heavy mulch is applied to all plants there is very little weeding required. Check out the photos below for more details.

We have been swamped by a mass of Lettuce! Plenty for everyone at least.

We have been swamped by a mass of Lettuce! Plenty for everyone at least.

Tomatoes bearing heavily and soon to ripen. Queensland fruit fly has had some affect on yield.

Heirloom Tomatoes (Tommy Toe, Green Zebra, Black Russian, Waspinicon Peach and Jaune Flamme) bearing heavily and soon to ripen. Queensland fruit fly has had some affect on yield.

A simple fruit fly trap consisting of a used milk bottle (slit cut into the side) and a cheap fly bait (attached to hang inside the bottle lid) has an effective range of about 500m.

I got this idea while chatting to an old Italian man around the corner who grows the most impressive food in his small front yard. Every day he tends to his heavily bearing plants and trees of tomatoes, peppers, citrus and fig and it seems that almost every living plant in his yard bears an edible fruit. His design for a fruit fly trap consists of a used milk bottle (slit cut into the side to allow flies in and keep water out) and a cheap fly bait (attached to hang inside the bottle lid), which has an effective range of about 500m.

Tomatoes have been trained onto stakes, beans and peas onto an A frame of veg string.
Tomatoes have been trained onto stakes and beans and peas are trained onto an A frame of veg string.
Before we started our veggie garden we were told it was going to require a lot of effort to grow organically. This is not true. The main factors to consider are efficiency and ease of watering, efficient mulching (reduced weeding/water loss) and diverse crops.

Before we started our vegie garden we were told that it was going to require a huge effort to grow organically. This did not prove true for us. The main factors to consider, however, are; initial veg bed preparation (lots of manure incorporation!), efficiency and ease of watering (automatic drip means we don’t have to hand water every day), adequate mulching (reduces weed growth/water loss) and diverse crops (if some plants fail others are always there).

If you enjoy gardening, are used to a little hard work and are willing to think about practical solutions to problems then you may like to try growing vegetables organically. After all, choosing the “best” chemical for your garden problem is lazy and expensive + you might end up with some nasty residues in your garden fresh veg. Just remember organic gardening is not a new concept and doesn’t require you to grow dreadlocks and start wearing hemp pants, it’s how our grandparents and generations before knew how to grow food. Food was grown for taste and quality rather than purely yield. So go for it, talk to the older generation, read lots of books and grow a few things 🙂

Backyard Garden

At the beginning of spring a mate of mine and I decided to grow some veggies on vacant land at the back of mums place. The block is big enough that we were able to till 3 beds, 10m long by 1.5m wide, which was a great size for us to experiment with. The veg are growing organically to save us money on chemicals and to reduce the risk of chemical residues in our food.

Three trips to the race track and free manure. So far $0 to set up veg beds

Three trips to the race track and free manure. So far $0 to set up veg beds

The first step was to take a trip to the nearby jockey club where we were fortunate enough to be offered free horse manure mixed with saw dust. After 3 trips we were set to mark out beds and add a top layer of horse manure (good carbon:nitrogen ration, no composting needed).

3 Veg beds 10m long x 1.5m wide and enough room between to fit a lawn mower

3 Veg beds 10m long x 1.5m wide and enough room between to fit a lawn mower

We made a mistake though. We added too much manure, which, when hoed in, was too thick to penetrate through to the lawn layer. Instead we had to scrape the manure to the side, hoe the old lawn in deep, replace the manure and hoe that into the soil.

It took 10-15 runs per bed to create a fine tilth

It took 10-15 runs per bed to create a fine tilth

The first run

The first run

A few full days of hand digging could have finished the beds, however we didn’t really have the time, therefore the motorized hoe was the way to go. The hoe hire ended up costing about $125 so not too expensive.

Finally we set up a drip irritation irrigation system equipped with a cheapo automatic tap timer, allowing us to water without being there and also allowing us to adjust the regularity and length of watering.

A pretty simple vegetable garden, set up in a patch of lawn, in a regular city suburb with little cost and a few days of physical labour.

Drip irrigation is an efficient way to water a garden. The water is available to the roots, where little evaporation occurs and risk of leaf disease is lessened.

Drip irrigation is an efficient way to water a garden. The water is available to the roots and little evaporation occurs + the risk of leaf disease caused by too much water spray is reduced.

Honey Roasted Pecans

Half a Pecan

Back in April our Pecan nut shade trees on the farm produced their usual huge crop of nuts. Most of the nuts were eaten by our resident Cockatoos and time was short so we were only able to harvest a few bucket loads. This year we decided to try a new recipe. Honey roasted Pecans (hopefully one day from our own honey too).

This is how it went:

– Enough Pecan nuts were shelled and halved to fit onto a roasting tray, which was then warmed up to 120°C (250°F) for 10mins

– The warm Pecans were then tossed and coated in honey and a very small amount of salt was sprinkled in.

– The nuts were placed back into the oven and baked for about 45mins – 1.5hrs or until slightly caramelized.

– Once cooled the nuts were eaten/stored in an airtight container (once they cool they become crunchier).

“Yellow Box” honey sourced from the local farmers markets.

Pecan shelling equipment

Free fertilizer!

Here is the finished product (above the top box is one months worth of highly potent worm juice – for use, dilute juice to water at a ratio of 1:10 to prevent “burning” of plant leaves and roots)

A worm farm can produce a really good garden fertilizer, while also disposing of household organic waste. They are also very cheap to make. Of course you can buy one at your local hardware store for $100 or more but they are nothing more than fancy boxes with holes in the bottom and a tap. A cheaper (and slightly less attractive) way to produce worm juice is to make your own worm farm out of items that people are often throwing away.

What you will need is:

2x Styrofoam boxes (1 with a lid)

1x Box of composting worms (roughly 500 worms) from your local hardware store or collected from your neighbours compost bin (must be tiger worms or similar)

1x piece of hessian or a few layers of newspaper to fit inside the top box

All you need to do now is to punch roughly 9 small holes into the base of the top box (this is where the worm juice will drip through to the bottom box), scatter some soil or rotted manure into this box (sometimes the box of worms will come with enough manure to cover the base) and add a small amount of organic household waste (don’t add meat, large amounts of citrus fruits of spicy/hot items).

The top lidded box will sit on top of the second box, which is used to collect the worm juice.

Keep the hessian or newspaper layers damp and covering the household waste (each time you add more food scraps you will place it under this layer. When the top box fills with worm castings you will have to obtain another box to add to the top of the full box (punch holes in this box and add food scraps – the worms will eventually all migrate to the top box and the old top box full of casting can be removed, while the castings can be used as a soil amendment).

In one month of use in a 2 person household, the worms managed to produce a huge amount of juice (see photo), which will be more than adequate for our garden.
Gardening doesn’t need to be expensive and by simply utilizing our household waste we can produce enough fertilizer to keep our gardens growing healthy.

Here are some recent veg scraps. I like to roughly chop them before adding the scraps to the worm bin to speed up decomposition and make it easier for the worms to eat. Note: the hessian cover is pealed back and has a simple handle so I don’t have to grab a handful of food scraps every time I add more.

Chalk board fridge

The whiteboard marker wasn’t working for us.

Last week I started writing some of our cheese/dairy recipes on our fridge, however the whiteboard marker that I was using didn’t want to wipe off very easily (our fridge is pretty ugly and old anyway) so I thought I would turn it into a chalkboard. All you need is some fine grain sand paper (about 70c a piece) used to roughen the fridge surface, a can of chalkboard paint ($12), a paint brush, some sponge offcut, masking tape and mineral turps for wash up.

Cheap and Simple

Sponging the second coat

Happy New Year!

Bottling the Brew

Siphoning the brew

Well I hope Christmas was a success for everyone with heaps of relaxation and good food. Ours sure was and it was really exciting today to finally add some fizz and bottle the cider that we started making over 3 weeks ago (Check out our earlier posts on cider making). There are lots of different ways to enhance or improve the way your cider tastes, especially if you have made it using supermarket apple juice. Some people choose to add flavourings such as cinnamon, apple, pear, apricot, etc, which are available as natural flavouring rather than artificials. However, if you are just starting out it might be worth saving the expense and giving it a go without adding flavours. Your cider may not taste quite as nice but it will give you a feel for the cider process without spending too much money. Having said that I was quite surprised to find a nice, appley, alcoholic flavour at the end of my siphon tube (rather than a vinegar) even though it was luke warm.
A step that I was really keen to take was siphoning some of the cider into a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. I found that it measured 980, whereas the pure juice measured 1080. What does this mean? Well, by taking the Specific gravity (S.G.) reading at the end of fermentation (980) from the S.G. reading at the beginning (1080) as well as multiplying by 125 we should get a result of 7500 or 7.5% alcohol content (ciders usually measure between 2-8.5%). As you can see ours turned out quite strong.

A note on cleanliness: It is important. I try to sterilize or soak everything that may be used for bottling in a specific solution designed for food grade sanitation, this will ensure that no ugly bacteria will spoil our brew or make us sick!

Making a fizzy cider by adding white sugar

Bottle your brew – Our local home brew equipment supplier gave me an easy option for bottling a fizzy cider. However if you are happy with a still cider just siphon the finished cider into any bottle that can be air sealed because there will not be any pressure placed on them. On the other hand a fizzy cider undergoes carbonation in the bottle hence creating pressure. In this case added glass strength is required. Swing cap bottles that have previously held beer are great because they are made to withstand pressure.

Gather your bottles together (I ended up filling 10 x 450ml Grolsch swing cap bottles full of cider) and clean them. Obtain a brewing specific sugar measure from a homebrew supplies. Ours has a measure for 330 ml, 500ml & 750ml bottles so all we have to do is fill the 500ml measure nearly to the top with fine white sugar and tip it into each bottle (The 500ml measure equals a little under 1tsp sugar).

After adding the sugar you can start siphoning the brew into the bottles, gently shaking the bottle to dissolve some sugar. Leave about 4cm gap from the top of the bottle and seal with the swing caps. I plan to give the brew 2 weeks carbonation until cracking one open. If in 2 weeks the bottle turns into a spewing geyser then I have put too much sugar in. Instead I hope to hear a nice pop and not too much froth when releasing the swing cap.

Our hidden trapdoor

We are only in a small house but I did manage to find a spot where the bottles can be stored. They wont be too warm, nor will they be in sunlight (I have read that keeping the brew in a dark spot is good to maintain a nice colour but I’m not sure how true this is). Anyway, I ended up putting the crates down through our little trapdoor and onto the dirt under our house. The temperature will be nice and cool/constant and should reduce the risk of the bottles warming and ‘bottle bombs’ forming. You might see this trapdoor mentioned in future posts as we plan to put a little timber shelf next to the cider crates to age some hard cheeses.

Varying ways – There are many different stages and ways to make cider and we have just skimmed the surface. We have chosen a particularly easy way to make cider for our first batch as we wanted it to be relatively cheap, simple and natural (containing no artifical flavours or colouring). There are ways to clear your cider more by racking (transferring) it into another vessel, which reduces its cloudiness and some people age their brew for many months prior to drinking. In the end it depends on how much time, money and effort you want to spend on cider making. With us it is more for the interest and the taste of cool cider on a hot summers day along with the joy (and a little bit of pride) in knowing that it was made in our kitchen 🙂