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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brassica Progress

We have always had problems with Brussels Sprouts except this year. Previously the sprouts were small useless marbles but finally we have had success. But still we don't know what contributed to the success - was it a more fertile soil or just a better seedling? These little beauties are delightful halved and steamed served with a creamy cheese sauce.
 As usual the Cabbages continue to mature. This one is destined to be eaten in various dishes including a stir fry. Last week another dozen seedling were planted out to ensure we have plenty of product to make more Kim Chi and Sauerkraut.

This is one of the many Broccoli plants that were put into our partially shaded Summer bed. The heads weren't all that big but still we got something. The smaller heads were probably a result of running out of compost when these were ready to transplant and only blood and bone was used with a small amount of green manure. Some of the other plants located in a sunnier bed and well fed which have already had heads harvested have commenced getting side shoots. There will now be broccoli for months to come.

This is the only Purple Cauliflower planted. Not all that large. Probably due to insufficient nutrition. We don't plant a lot of Cauliflower mainly because it seems to take longer than Broccoli to produce a head and there are no follow on shoots. Still it is important to have variety in vegetable types and colours.

As usual all the morning checking of herds occurred and then after morning tea we went across the river and spent the rest of the day fencing and performing odd jobs such as mowing lawns. Although mowing lawns and trimming edges is not something either of us enjoy it is good PR. I'm sure the owner would rather be doing something else with his weekender than maintaining lawns. We remind ourselves how lucky we are to be both employed in a job as flexible as this i.e. come and go as and when you please, choose the work you want to perform and get paid. And we work together.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Electric Fencing Tip, Garden Update

A round of all the herds before breakfast. One new bull calf over the river. Nothing new happening up on the hill but all calves well and no activity on the river. Moved next doors cows and calves onto a new strip but they weren't happy with that strip.

All the internal fencing on our 25 acres is electrified. To make it easier to work on fencing or isolate shorts there are a number of switches installed. Rather than purchase a whole bag of switches this little trick was picked up from a local farmer and is very effective. As can be seen from the two photographs it is a simple lift on or off to connect power to another run of the fence. As well as working well it serves as a visual guide to the state of the fence. The insulated cable is the heaviest gauge which provides a better springiness to form a clean circuit closure.

In the garden the potted Artichokes that were transplanted recently are growing at a good pace and have a lovely dark green foliage. We are looking forward to a good crop.

Also planted recently were these bunching shallots which have germinated and progressing quite well except for two. The two that hadn't popped out had been planted upside down and the stems were curved around still trying to find the surface whilst the roots were curving down looking for soil depth. A little adjustment was performed.


Monday, July 29, 2013

MP3 Players, Colby Cheese, Brassicae Progress

Disaster today. The new MP3 player won't work. Fully loaded with Self Sufficiency Homestead, Radio National etc. podcasts it stopped working after one week. Back to the old model with the broken screen, malfunctioning buttons and navigation system from hell.

Apart from the usual morning herd checks both of us spent a large part of the day over the river harrowing, removing fireweed and fencing. Home at last it was time to make the Colby cheese that had been on the drawing boards since being inspired by Gavin Webster of Little Green Cheese some weeks ago. The delay being caused by a gap in the pipeline i.e. needed yoghurt, then Camembert, then Havarti and then Roquefort. Now that all those are under way in the cheese fridge it was time to make our first Colby.

Haven't used our cheese press for some time as with the small rounds and Havarti style there was no need to press with any great pressure. The old cheese press was knocked up from bits and pieces back in 1992 when we were milking a Jersey house cow. The base and top board are scraps of timber found in the workshop. The pressure is applied used two threaded rods and standard hex nuts. The nuts are welded together for extra bite and a rod welded to those for leverage. All rough and ready and the only stainless was the basket (not used this time).

A shot of the cheese press capturing the top and bottom boards, threaded rod etc

A close up of the rough but functional screwing mechanism

PVC Moulds, glass and wood followers. Notice the curd oozing out at the bottom. This is an indicator that the pressure is correct.

If the cheese is made late in the day as this one was then there is no one in attendance when the whey drains and the pressure eases. This is solved by using my first welding course project - a doorstop. The doorstop is a lot of heavy metal bars welded together with a handle. The pressure can be gauged by the effect on the cheese as the top board is screwed down. Originally a set of scales was sandwiched between the top board and the followers and the exact pressure could be measured. Now that the result can be assessed visually there is no need to mount the scales which was a bit fiddly.

The old doorstop made in 1984 as a TAFE Farm Welding Course project

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Painting Plastic Drums, Fewer Shopping Trips

Another clear, crisp sunny day. Just so we don't get to feel that self sufficiency translates as endless days of chores we took time out to take in the warmth and sit in the garden reading. During the day a few odd jobs were ticked off that endless list.

The trailer full of rocks developed a flat tyre overnight and didn't take long to change. Then using the tractor we towed it down to our rock platform and emptied it before returning positioning it for what will hopefully be the last load. 

In the chook run we set up a another run of bricks to delineate where the kitchen scraps will be dropped. The girls are doing a good job of turning over the decaying sawdust wherever the scraps are dropped. In about four weeks we will be removing all the manure encrusted sawdust to build the tomato bed.

Working near the chook run brought an old project to mind. When building the chicken run it was necessary to mount a backup water supply against the run. A 200 litre black plastic drum was used which collects water from the roof of the pen. Rather than keep the drum black and have the water become warm in Summer ( chooks don't like warm water) it was decided to paint the drum. The local hardware store owner came up with the method to ensure the paint adhered. A large tube of construction adhesive was painted on first and allowed to set. A light coloured exterior paint was then applied. What drew my attention was that after 12 years it was only just starting to peel. Amazing longevity.

The lightly coloured drum has developed a lot of green mould but otherwise the paint is holding up well.

Our little township no longer has a petrol station and the nearest supply is 20 kilometres in one direction and 30 in the other. Keeping a good supply of fuel on site negates the need to make spurious trips. The large supermarkets sell fuel and also send out offers of discounts in exchange for grocery shopping. Timing is everything. We don't shop every week but hold off until we receive a decent offer. Because we keep a larder with backup items we rarely run out of necessities and have scope in the shopping list to meet their offers. If the offer is particularly good we will stockpile a goodly amount of fuel. These savings are not lavish but every little bit counts. The other passive benefit is that fewer shopping trips not only save fuel but you tend to spend less overall. Keeping a list in the kitchen draw is a mandatory task and only buy what is on the list.

Fuel drums awaiting

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recycling Wine Bottles and Sinks

As usual there was the quick whip around all the herds. A new strip of grass for the cows and calves next door and another birth up on the hill.

Bottling wine requires that empty wine bottles. This is achieved by recycling both our own wine bottles and if needed some from friends. The empties are soaked in batches in the laundry sized tub in the cave for 24 hours to soften the labels and using a sharp knife they are scrapped off and a piece of steel wool is scrubbed over the surface to remove any traces of glue and paper. Sometimes the glue is of a type that needs dissolving using Turpentine or other thinners and an old cloth. Both screw top (Stelvin) and standard cork seal bottles are kept. If the corks have not been pierced all the way through they can be reused in most cases depending on thickness and other damage.

The bottles are then included in a run of the kitchen dishwasher just to perform a final clean and sterilization. Stored in wine cartons with the open top pointing down they are ready for immediate use when needed. Our whites were bottled in Autumn. The reds will sit tight until warmer weather in mid to late spring just in case there is any final fermentation of residual sugars or a Malolactic fermentation.

Having good washing up facilities is a real time saver. Originally all the cleaning during wine making was done in the laundry. Traipsing in and out of the house opening and closing doors and then cleaning up the mess afterwards.

Well not any more. A double sink and a laundry sink in the cave has changed all that. Shoes do not have to be removed in the cave unless caked in mud. The large cheese making pots are scrubbed in the cave after use and allowed to drain dry. To facilitate all this there is both hot and cold water. In addition one set of taps was installed with a flexible extension hose to make cleaning larger vessels all that much easier. Almost all our taps have usage reduction nozzles fitted except the odd like this extension nozzle. This makes for rapid filling of the tub or when a volume of water is required.

Large and small tubs and plenty of draining area.
This may seem like an extravagance but it has proved a real bonus. Since the plumbing for the cave was a necessity it seemed sensible to install another double sink on the outside wall and combine all the plumbing work. Now there is both hot and cold potable water on the outside which means if one is too grubby to go into the cave then cleaning operations can be performed outside. This is particularly useful for cleaning vegetables. The sink is also located right next to our potting station and seedling raising bench. The drainage is fed out into the Orchard benefitting a whole host of trees.

Most of today was spent continuing the rock picking in the Nuttery. Another trailer load was completed and a rough estimate indicates that one more trailer load will finish the job - well maybe two.

Friday, July 26, 2013

New Bed for Cabbages, Roquefort, Straying calves

Just the usual morning run through the herds. Another patch of luscious green grass for the cows and calves next door. The seven on the river are fine, no more births. Across the river the weaners went into a new paddock and were topped up with silage while their mothers received more silage but had produced no more babies.

Up on the hill one of the newest babies was on the wrong side of the fence right on the crest of the hill while it's mother was down the bottom of the hill. We both went up in the farm's 4WD, tackled the little heifer, tied its back legs and nursed it in the passenger seat for a trip down the hill. Mum was pleased to see it and it was pleased to see mum and thirsty. A bit disappointing that mum showed no signs of distress despite being separated for almost 24 hours. Will need to keep on eye on this pair.

Today's main job was to chop up a patch of green manure and dig it in to make a rich bed for some Cabbage seedlings that had been growing out. Since there had a freshly matured compost available, two barrow loads of it went into the bed as well. This bed has no netting over it and up went a temporary barrier against any rogue poultry.

Green Manure Crop

Green Manure all Chopped
The Roquefort in progress, now dry salted needed its holes punched. Some were done top to bottom and some rounds were done from side to side. The recommendation is that cheeses need to be stored on their sides. This is so the holes can have air circulating through them to promote blue mould growth. The experiment here is to punch holes from side to side enabling the cheeses to be stored flat side down which is easier on these small rounds. he guidelines also have the cheeses wrapped at this stage to finish maturing. Once stacked the tray is stored in a plastic bag for maturation in the cheese fridge. The stainless steel trays were very cheap and obviously of poor quality as rust patches have formed.

Roquefort Pierced and Wrapped

Over the river the paddock that had just been emptied of calves was harrowed and being late afternoon a final check of the herd showed a freshly born calf. So that's 3 out of 25 after 2 weeks into the 9 week birthing period. A slow start.

Being Friday its Fish and Chips. Finally some of our potatoes are ready and we have enjoy fresh potato chips - delicious.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Waxing Cheese, Fencing

Nothing exciting this morning with the various herds of expectant mothers.

Having applied the final coat of cheese coating to the Havarti it was time to apply the wax. The Havarti had been quite moist and it has taken about 5 days to dry it sufficiently for the cheese coat. The wax was melted over a very low gas flame  and then applied. The top and bottom were dipped in the molten wax, a label applied to one side and painted over with molten wax and finally the sides were brushed with molten wax and the cheeses refrigerated.

Add caption

PVA coated

Finished waxed Result

More Tomato seedlings were ready for transplanting and we were so pleased with the germination speed that we decided to put down some Eggplant and Capsicum seeds. We always have trouble with these seeds, there is something missing in our technique which we are yet to discover. Maybe some one can advise us on a more reliable way.

The afternoon was spent fencing over the river putting in some end stays and hand digging some  of the more difficult holes. Not a bad effort given that we were both fasting.

This a special bracket for these recycled plastic posts to hold the diagonal stay in place. The end of the stay has to be trimmed with a chainsaw at the correct angle and butted against the bracket. As the stay is wedged into its hole in the ground the bracket's teeth bite into the plastic for a firm grip.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Workshop Jobs, Economising on Sanding Belts, Baling Twine and Twins

Calving wise it's been a busy day. A fresh one on the river who looked like she might be having trouble but in the end performed perfectly. Another 3 up on the hill all doing well. And finally twins over the river to the leader of the herd Z3. A boy and a girl unfortunately meaning the girl is very likely to be sterile because of the influence of testosterone from the bull calf.
Count as follows:
On the River 4 from 7
On the Hill 5 from 16
Over the River 3 from 25 i.e. 3 calves from 2 mums

Notice the ear tags have been added before they the get too feisty
Being a bit of a miserable windy day the fencing was put off and apart from checking on different herds and putting out hay and silage the rest of the day was spent cleaning up some odd jobs in the workshop. 

Sanding belts can be a bit pricey and they get used up pretty quickly. Instead of buying the 50 mm wide belts needed, the purchase was 100 mm and these were cut into two.  Easy to do and halved the price.

The ride mower needed a new outlet chute. Again these are expensive and don't seem to last all that long mainly due to clipping various obstacles in the yard and Orchard. Using bits and pieces from the workshop a new chute was assembled at no cost other than a little labour.

The last job in the workshop involved cutting a large pile of scrap wood into smaller lengths for the fireplace. These offcuts were from a local saw mill and too thin and fiddly to be cut by a chain saw. The bench saw with an old ripping blade made short work of the task and yielded 3 barrow loads of starting sticks.

A little trick with baling twine. When starting the knot start with two loops before tying the bow. This creates a lot more friction and prevents slippage when finishing the loop.
single loop

single loop
double loop

double loop
finished knot

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Compost Bin, Tomatoes

Finally finished mulching all the Elderflower pruning's and layering the most recent NZ Compost bin. There wasn't quite enough material to finish off but the lawn mower and catcher provided another layer topped with mulch hay and some cow manure. All is watered in well and heating away for the next 6 weeks at which time it will be turned into the bin next to it. If that bin isn't free it'll just stay where it is for 12 weeks.

The layers were:

Fresh green mulch and chipped material
Dusting of fireplace cleanings (ash and charcoal)
Very thin layer of dirt from pots that have been re-done
A dusting of blood and bone every few layers

Another bin of compost completed with an older bin in the background warning the cold frame.

Most of the tomato seeds we planted last week and kept in the cold frame are already up thanks to the heat from an earlier compost bin. If left in the cold frame they seem to get long stemmed and straggly. All those that had come up and had the first leaves fully formed were transplanted into a larger pot and moved out of the cold frame but left on the compost bin. If all goes well now the seedlings should be a decent size to plant by the end of August.

Germinated Tomato seedlings potted up

Monday, July 22, 2013

Salting, Fencing and Fasting

Babies everywhere this morning. The Blue tagged girl from the 7 cows on the river finally calved. I was getting a bit worried and have been carrying the calf puller in the back of the ute for a few days. A new baby appeared on hill next door. There are 16 Springers there, hopefully they will start popping out. Nothing new over the river in that 25.This slow start is painful.

Blue Tag's baby - pretty fresh

And up on the hill a newby
Calf Puller strapped in

Being a fast day I started with a strong coffee with almost no milk - bloody awful. The rest of the day included a coupe of cups of weak miso soup. The hunger pangs disappeared after 2pm. by 5pm didn't even feel as if I hadn't eaten. The body must be getting into the routine.

Salted the Roquefort this morning. The small rounds went into a 20% brine for 90 minutes and the larger rounds received a layer of salt equal to 2% of their weight. Will add another 1 to 1.5% onto their other side when the first application has dissolved. Previously one application of 4.1% was used but found it a bit salty. Doing two applications will also allow a taste test before committing. The small rounds were allowed to dry overnight before going into the cheese fridge.

2% by weight salt

Rode the push bike over the river and spent 4 hours fencing. Only two holes will need to be either barred out or jack hammered the rest were fine and the posts were stood. The westerly wing was up and there was a bit of waiting for the string line to settle down but eventually it all went well. It looks pretty good. These round plastic fence posts certainly take a little more effort to get a good visual look but at least they aren't as heavy as the wooden posts. One fencer I worked had great eyesight and we never needed a string line. He'd direct me as I held a steel post and I'd mark the ground accordingly - a hell of a lot quicker than rolling out string in the wind.

Straight Line

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chipping and Mulching Prunings, Mock Roquefort

Finally, the 25 breeders across the river have commenced calving with one birth this morning. It was still groggy enough to let me put on both ear tags. In this herd we use a letter to denote the year of birth and this is H. The number that follows is from the NLIS (National Livestock Identification System) tag and in this case 101. Only hours old this little heifer now has both ears pierced. The schedule on the wall calls for commencement from 12th July 2013 but they or the bull  obviously didn't see that calendar. Although the other two herds have cows who look close they have not progressed.

Sunday has traditionally been the day we make cheese and having collected milk yesterday evening that tradition continued. The cream had settled and since the choice was a double cream blue i.e. mock Roquefort 9 litres of milk was bottled via a syphon from the bottom of the stainless vat. As usual 4 different starters were added plus some blue mould. Ended up with a few more rounds than was originally planned but it won't go to waste. The kitchen sink is a bit crowded with the Havarti still in progress but what's new.

Small rounds of double cream blue cheese

During the rennet setting time the mulcher was in progress and managed to get the Orchard pruning's mulched and into the NZ compost that was started last week. The cheese then needed some attention and that consumed the couple of spare hours before afternoon herd checks. There is still the Elderflower pruning's to be cleaned up which should provide almost enough mulch to finish off the NZ compost. But that will wait another day or two.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hunter Valley Wyandotte Club Annual Show, Drying and Coating Cheese

After the morning chores it was off to Maitland for the show. Some incredible birds on show and what an art form picking the winners. We stayed around for the post judging auction and watched one Silver Laced girl go for $150. I suppose they won't be using her eggs for omelettes.

Having brined the Havarti that was made a couple of days ago we are now drying it. It has drained on cheese matting for 24 hours and now a piece of folded paper towel is put underneath to absorb the excess moisture. If the cheese isn't dried enough and waxed then liquid will form inside the wax shield and discolour the cheese. Once the first piece of paper towel is wet it is put to one side to dry and a fresh piece put underneath. These are rotated until the towel no longer becomes wet.

At that point two coats of Plastic Cheese Coating (food grade Poly Vinyl Acetate) are applied and when that is dry the cheese is waxed and a label showing type and date is placed on the cheese and adhered with molten wax and coated with wax. As we use natural coloured wax the label is readable and does not fall off and is water proof. The Type and date label can be linked to the Cheese Making Notes sheet that is completed with each cheese. This is good reference as to what went well or not so well when tasting the cheese some time down the track. The reason for the PVA is to ensure a good bonding surface for the wax. We have done with out the PVA but found the wax can be damaged easily exposing the cheese. The down side of using the PVA is that it has to be sliced off and a little cheese is lost.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fencing, Chicken Food, Culturing Butter

As usual there was the morning run to check the different herds for any births and top up food where necessary - all well. Yesterday's Havarti soaked in 20% saline solution for 3 1/2 hours and then went on to cheese matting do drain.

We have a local women who works from home cutting hair (very cheaply). A quick telephone call, a time agreed and the job done efficiently while catching up on any local goings on and status of mutual friends.

The Asparagus received a dose of Seasol Plus this morning. As it is a seaside plant why not a bit of seaweed extract. The feeding should ensure better root growth and enhance the spears when the shoot.

In the chicken food we are focusing on grains such as Wheat, Sorghum, Barley and Lupins which are lower in polyunsaturated Omega 6. Always having the chooks free ranging on grass not dirt. Better for the chooks and produces better eggs which are lower in Omega 6.

Added some culture to the cream from the milk collected the other day. In this cool weather it takes 12 - 20 hours to reach the right flavour.

The bulk of the day was spent over the river fencing. Having pulled out the old steel post fence we went around and dug the holes with the Post Hole Borer. The ground was soft and occasionally we hit heavy clay. Some of the holes will need to finished off by hand as the borer couldn't penetrate all the way even with one of us swinging off the end of a steel bar. The bar is used to keep a good distance from any rotating parts. Next week we'll put up the string line and stand as many of the recycled plastic posts as we can and then dig out any remaining holes by hand. With heavy clay it'll take about an hour for each of those.