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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Poultry Food, Carrots and other

Lets start with the weather. 10 degrees C this morning and then the day heated up to a comfortable 27. I'm sure the cool nights and mornings affect seedling growth.

The routine in the mornings is to go out and put a little Lucerne out for the cattle. Martinique, (whinging) Warren and Hector. The dogs love going for a run and line up at the gate out to the top paddock. Once the gate is opened they charge out running back and forth across the paddock smelling all the nights activity.

Nikki, Lisa and Bill
Martinique , Hector and Warren
The cattle look glossy and healthy despite the dry conditions and little green feed but we don't skimp on the Lucerne. Better they stay happy and healthy. No one has to pay their way at HHF. We share the property and our good fortune with everyone.

We've been saving our Carrot tops in a plate with some water and when the tops have started to shoot plant them out. It is a very easy way to propagate. 

Today we also did a little seed saving. A stand of Coriander has dried well. Some will be kept for seed but as there is so much we will keep the bulk for cooking.

Coriander perfect for harvesting

Some Rocket has also set good seed.

Gradually the different varieties of Garlic are maturing and being harvested, dried and stored. In the past it would start shooting before the next lot was ready leaving us with a barren period and reliant on shop bought produce. Thanks to the suggestions from another blogger (who I can't recall and would like to have paid attribution) this year we are freezing part of the harvest as whole cloves to ensure all year round availability.

The bag at the back of the tray contains the larger cloves set aside for planting next March.

Between the two of us we managed to lift the wind fallen Dragon fruit upright. Temporarily supported by the cloths line post. Some steel posts have been hammered into the ground to provide permanent support. Two steel pickets brace the wooden post it grows on from different angles and are screwed on with bugle head screws. Bugle head screws are incredibly strong we use them in post and rail fencing. There is a backup brace of four steel pickets strapped to the upright with fencing wire. Belt and braces approach. Should last forever.

The damage from falling over seems minimal and we have heaped cow manure and silage mulch around the plant to help it send down more stabilising roots.

Chicken Feed

Normally our chicks get Wheat, a little Corn and some Black Sunflower seeds as a nightly meal. Usually soaked in whey from the weekly cheese making. This is purchased from Wadwells near Raymond Terrace who fill your recycled feed bags to order. Occasionally the Norco at Dungog will have a mixed grain on special and we get a some bags as it always contains a few diverse grains.

Recently to expand the variety of feed when getting the wheat etc from Wadwells we also bought some Milo (Sorghum) and cracked Lupins. The Lupins so as to increase the protein levels for egg laying. Well they liked the Milo but completely ignored the Lupins.

The next experiment was to buy an organic mash at great expense. A little picking but mostly ignored. Tried mixing it with whey. No change. Tried milk. No change.

Bought a bag of layer pellets. Almost completely ignored.

Tried keeping them locked up until midday to make them eat the layer pellets and scratch the mulch silage and manure. They stand at one end of the coop waiting to be let out. "can we come out now? can we come out now? Can we come out now?"

As soon as they are let out they rush off to the nearest patch of green grass and madly peck away.

Fussy buggers are our chooks.

Our new routine each morning is to mow a strip or two of green grass from around the house garden beds and spread the fresh green clippings in the pen. And the result is at least they stop pressing themselves against the cage and racking their tin mugs against the mesh.

The bedding is now getting scratched and we have scratched trying to change their feed.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Protecting the crop

The bulk of the day was spent in the vegetable garden. Thanks to the rain the irrigators across the river are off and the only work is moving and feeding cows. Hopefully the rain will result in some grass growth and the hand feeding will cease soon as well. The reduction in outside work has freed up a lot of time.

Transplanted some climbing bean seedlings that had germinated. A couple of melon seeds and a Zucchini had also came good and they went out to the unprotected bed on the hill but with some chicken wire barriers. Anything that looked salvageable that had been nibbled also received a protective barrier. Back in the house garden some potatoes went in. Despite the rabbit and wallaby activity the unprotected bed on the hill looks pretty reasonable.

On the right the pumpkins are well advanced but the melons are a bit slow probably because of the cool mornings

The tomatoes are doing well

The house gardens are a little overgrown as we wait for various things to set seed but there was plenty of choice last night for dinner. Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potato, Onion, Carrot and lots of salad variety.

The chickens were left locked up until lunchtime to get them to scratch around in the new litter. The cow manure proved the most popular side.

Finally got around to picking up all the bags of manure that had been collected and left in the front paddock. Some will go to the chooks and some to a new bed for the Passionfruit vine bought a couple of weeks ago.

Just a few of the bags of manure from a the cattle after one week in the front paddock

Started using the compost turned a few weeks ago. A bit early but it looks delicious and we needed some for the new plantings.

Brined the Camembert for 90 minutes and put them into their humidicribs for aging. Since I was in the kitchen for a little time also made some chocolate bars with roasted peanuts and toasted coconut shreds. Also made one plain for Jean to use in brownies.

Another one of those productive days where lots of jobs get done and you seem like you might just be catching up and the feeling of being overwhelmed dissipates.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Washing Chooks and the results of dry weather

Jean has commenced a program of washing the worst of the chooks. This is our oldest rooster who will be put in the isolation pen with Light Lomi for a few days.

Light Sussex rooster in an embarrassing position

A better angle

And finishing off

The dry weather has been great for fruit set and we were looking forward to a bumper year. But as it happens other things come to pass. Fruit Bats have been visiting at night and ripping open the paper exclusion bags. So next year it will have to be Cotton bags on these.

Fruit Bat damaged exclusion bags on the Tropical Nectarine

Out in the paddock Summer bed the dry weather has meant there is little feed for Wallabies and Rabbits. And that makes our cultivated plants very attractive. All bar one Capsicum has been eaten, The Dill was popular and the Okra. Very young Corn is a target although after it gets past a certain stage it is not attractive to predators.

So that is nature two steps forward and one step back. The next planting out will have a cage around it.

Wallaby damaged Corn

Damaged Capsicum - Rabbits or Wallabies


Attacking the mites and other matters

Across the river at our work place there are now two irrigators to set up twice daily and that means more time away from home. In addition rather than feeding out round bale silage every few days to one set of weaners and then the cows and calves we are putting out small square bales which are loaded on a pallet and driven to the particular feeder, twine cur and all the pieces thrown into the feeder. Why? We have finished all the home made silage and have five really top quality Ryegrass bales remaining. Rather than use them first we are getting rid of all the old small square bales which are a bit rabbit and rat eaten and have broken twine. This will leave us with the 150 new bales collected at the weekend. Between the old stuff and the new Ryegrass silage we should get through the dry spell - we hope.

Back home after two and a half hours away its time to sort out the chook pen. All the sawdust, some still a bit fresh and other well aged and full of chicken droppings is shovelled into 20 litre buckets and carried to an old trailer and dumped. The fresh stuff is kept at one end and the good stuff at the other. The trailer is filled and then we turn to some spare 200 litre drums filling three. All these are covered to keep out the chooks. We will use all this at some stage when the mites have died out.

The uncovered areas of the pens have a heavy dose of dolomite dusted over them while the area under cover has fireplace ash and when dry will have diatomaceous earth as well.

The covered area with fireplace ash

As an experiment one pen is filled with old silage and the other with cow manure. The area under the roosts and under cover is left clear for the moment. It is still a bit wet from the hosing out and needs to dry. It will be a matter of finding time to concrete this space.

Dry Cow manure

Old silage

First resident taking advantage

We barely finish and the rain comes. And the wind. It buckets down. As soon as the first flush has occurred we scramble to remove the plastic bags covering the down pipes. This was to stop the dam water used to fill the gutters during the high fire danger going into the tanks. Jean is up on the roof removing leaves from the gutter. We get soaked.

The first decent rain in a while
The storm passes but we have caught some water.

And there is some damage as well. There were high expectations for the Dragon fruit as it had grown well over Winter and last Summer produced three fruit on a small plant.

Hopefully if the roots are not damaged it may be fixed
In the background some Camembert is under way.

These are tall moulds. In the morning they will be taken out and cut into smaller discs for salting. The tall moulds just save space on the side of the sink.

For 4 days we have been trying to make Coconut Yogurt using coconut milk, Tapioca as thickening and ordinary dried yogurt culture. Well very little happened on the first day. Then we added some honey to see if the culture needed sugar, On the third day in went some Coconut flour to thicken some more. On the third day we tried adding jam setter.

Trial batch or CoYo

I quite like the taste which is very acid now but the texture is still quite runny. Jean didn't like it at all. It went well over some frozen berries for dessert - at least I think so. Maybe we need some special culture although almost everything on the web said ordinary yogurt culture would work. Well it has the sour taste it just needs work on thickening.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Poultry mites

Last night Jean was up late washing one of the chickens.

Light Lomi is the last of the 6 Lomans we purchased some years ago. She rarely has a full covering of feathers but recently looked even more ratty than usual. A close inspection found her covered in Tropical Bird Mites. She was brought into the laundry and needed two washings in warm soapy water and then a blow dry before dusting in diatomaceous earth and to bed in an isolation ward.

Light Lomi feeling much better 24 hours after a bath and dusting

Jean then had to shower to get rid of the mites on herself and put her clothes through the wash immediately.

The mites do not survive on humans but they do taste test and can leave you with rashes and itching.

Every now and then when the right weather conditions prevail we get an outbreak of these. They are pervasive and nasty little things and difficult (almost impossible) to get rid of organically once you have them.

Today Jean spent hours hosing out the chook house then treating all the wood with vinegar. When it is dry she will dust the entire place with diatomaceous earth or lime at night so that the chickens also get a dusting.

Our biggest problem is the earthen floors covered in sawdust as the mites migrate to any safe haven. Consideration is now being given to concreting the floor in the chicken house to allow for more thorough cleaning. I'm also thinking about re-doing the nesting boxes to make it easier to clean around them and less attractive to mites. Ongoing maintenance never ends.

We recently lost two broody girls who looked well one day and were dead the next. I wonder now if the mite infestation had anything to do with this?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Busy Sunday

There was a monthly amateur bee keepers club meeting at 10am. Having decided overnight that if I was going to overhaul the box trailer's suspension it may as well include new wheel bearings. As a result I was up early to take out one set of bearings as samples to see if any automotive parts places who may be open on a Sunday could supply.

Luck was partially with me. One of the three parts places in Raymond Terrace supplied two sets of bearings, new U bolts and fish plates. What they didn't have was bushes for the bolts and the bolts themselves. At least there would be a start on the task.

The bee club meeting was well attended as usual. The training course run by the club has been going well with 19 participants and the open day at Tocal on Saturday also went well. There is a lot of interest in bees and bee keeping in the community. There were varying responses from members as to nectar and pollen availability. In some areas now pollen is in short supply but not in others. As well as looking at bees arriving to gauge pollen availability there is also pollen storage in the hive and thirdly a low drone count also indicates pollen shortage. Hives toss out their drones to fend for themselves when pollen is in short supply. Pollen is a prerequisite for good brood formation. Bees will take the rust on the back of Frangipani leaves and castor oil plants as a pollen substitute. The club has decided to hold a honey competition at the January meeting. Club members are all keen to see which of them produces the best honey.

I'd had some correspondence with another amateur wine maker over the last few weeks and today was an opportunity to visit and inspect his facilities. What a great little setup in the middle of suburbia 150 grape vines spread around the largish block in small rows and all overlooking Lake Macquarie. Quite a few wines in progress. It's always good to see how others handle different aspects and I came away with many new ideas and a few samples of wines and beers. I just hope the samples I left behind are up to scratch.

More luck on the way home. Another auto parts store open and just as well I asked about the bolts, bushes and plates needed as they were not on the display shelf but in a back room. All the parts now accumulated.

The shackle plates just a bit worn and the bolts on the point of failure

Back home the axle and suspension was removed from the trailer in one heavy piece after snapping a few more bolts for which I now had replacements.

The trailer minus its axle and suspension

Lugged the assembly down to the workshop. The U bolts were so badly rusted they had to be cut off with an angle grinder.

Fish plate and remains of one of the bushes

Cleaned everything with an electric wire brush and gave it a generous coating of rust converter. The sleeves were just a little too fat to fit but burnishing them on the belt sander solved that problem.

Axle, suspension leaves and stub axles cleaned and covered in rust converter, new bushes ready for insertion

My only failure was to find I was two bushes short. The bearings were removed from the stub axles and everything given a good clean. 6 pm again and time for a beer, dinner and try one of the wine samples I had been given. It was a 2011 Shiraz and bloody beautiful. Good nose, excellent Shiraz flavour great tannins. A wine that will also age well.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Working Weekend

Across the river the boss needed to replenish his hay supplies and my contact who had supplied us earlier in the week was able to provide 150 bales immediately. With the arrangements made we headed over early this morning in two vehicles and a trailer.

The farmer had also fuelled and loaded his ute with 40 bales for us all tied on and ready to go. He was unable to be in attendance but had passed on explicit instructions as to which piles the hay was to be taken from. I like this farmer he didn't have to loan his vehicle or load it for us but this is the old country way of doing business. A certain generosity of spirit not all that common today.

The loading took little time because the hay is stored on large trailers and the bales can be loaded down onto the vehicles as opposed to throwing up.  This makes a big difference. Fresh Lucerne bales become exceedingly heavy after a while.

So with three vehicles and three drivers (the bosses wife) we were able to bring back 127 bales in one trip. Quite a convoy (without the music).

Unloading and stacking was also relatively easy as the vehicles could be back right into the hay shed and the bales stacked directly into the holding area.

A few years ago 400 bales were delivered on New Years day in 40 degree heat. The truck couldn't be driven into the hay shed and each bale had to be carried inside. And of course the truck driver is in a hurry so there is that added urgency. Never again said the boss. This time we were able to work steadily with no external pressure and far fewer bales.

A buyer was coming later in the day to select some of the heifer weaners and they needed to be yarded. Although they were only a couple of paddocks away they as all young things do had no idea of what we wanted and so there was a lot of toing and froing before they were all yarded and the steers removed.

And so my Saturday at home started at 1 pm with breakfast which had been skipped through lack of time.

When connecting our trailer that morning I'd checked the tyre pressure and noticed a wobble in one wheel. A damaged bearing? And that became Saturday afternoons job. As it happens both wheels had a slight wobble but proved easy to resolve. Remove one wheel, tap of the axle bearing cover, remove split pin, then the nut and examine bearing. Working fine just some wear. Tighten nut, replace split pin, cover and wheel. Productivity gain on the other side by not removing wheel.

While on the maintenance trail a quick look underneath the trailer. Not a pretty sight. Some of the suspension bolts are loose and some nuts look awfully rusty. Bring up the tractor and turn the trailer upside down. Try tightening the loose bolts. They shear off because of the massive wear. Ok then remove all bolts (most of which shear off ) ready for replacement next week.

This will require a special trip to my favourite nut and bolt supplier. Will try to incorporate other jobs into that trip rather than use fuel for a single task. Fortunately there is no urgency as we can live without the trailer for a week or two.

And then it was 6pm and time to sit down with a beer.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A day off

A day off is when apart from all the things that have to be done you don't do anything special.

So across the river the cows were moved, some silage put out and the irrigator set up in a new run.

Our cattle got a little Lucerne hay to supplement the dry grass.

And then we went shopping in Raymond Terrace - all day. Nothing flash just a little dog food, some mushrooms which were particularly cheap and a few items for the pantry such as EVOO. Pickup some books and DVDs at the library, some banking got done and some parts for the 12 volt pump from the irrigation place.

Over to East Maitland to the organic store and pickup some Rye flour and enjoy a bought latte and a small slice of chocolate ganache minus the sugar (but with honey). We spotted some coconut milk ice cream and yogurt which we had tried at a friends one evening. It was exceedingly expensive but has inspired us to try and make both the ice cream and the yogurt. This coming weeks exploration. We have all the ingredients bar the Tapioca which we picked up while out. This should be fun.

While we were out we picked up a brand new irrigator for across the river to save the owner a special trip when he comes up this weekend. There is nothing like a hobby farmer and his toys.

Wandered around the giant hardware store and picked up a few items needed for running repairs and a few salad seedlings. We can germinate lettuce seed from plants that have gone to seed but germinating lettuce seeds from a packet eludes us. There is something wrong in our method and we don't know what.

And then home to feed the chickens, cats and dogs, duck over the river and move the irrigator and then back for a meal some wine and watch a DVD.

A day off.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Getting back to normal for now

The day was windy but at least it was a cool wind most of the day. Fortunately we were up before it started blowing and got the gardens watered with the overhead sprinklers. Still Jean spent most of the day on the end of the hose doing pots and younger plants. We also started watering the individual trees in the orchard.

We had ordered another 60 bales of Lucerne hay as a precaution. Weather is unpredictable as far as we are concerned and if the dry spell lasts until after December there won't be a blade of grass on our 25 acres. The additional bales will now drought proof our three cattle until well into next year and if we don't use it will keep.

We received a call yesterday to say the Lucerne was baled and we could pick it up. I arrived there at 7 am this morning to get the loading done in the cool of the day. First I sounded out the farmer who we have known for a long time if it was possible to purchase the hay but store in his hay shed so that our eggs were not all in the same basket i.e. if our hayshed burnt down at least we would still have half the hay intact.

Yes he had done this in the past but the problem was people. They would come to buy hay and if unsupervised would help themselves to whatever stack was in reach despite the stack being labelled as "SOLD". Worse still if the property was unattended some people had helped themselves and not paid. His only solution was to lock the gate which he will do once he has finished baling.

So I took our hay home. May as well have it burn as stolen.

So much for the old good neighbours and community. This is not the first story about the inability of locals to use an honesty box. The local hardware store doesn't allow customers to enter their back storage sheds unsupervised and the store itself has CCTV cameras everywhere. They just got sick of losing stock. A local roadside vegetable stall used CCTV to catch a local stocking up on vegetables and not paying. So the few dishonest people set the tone for behaviours.

Is the world changing or has it always been like this? Or are there just too many of us and these little incidents become more frequent?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


We didn't rush out of bed. It was still cool and it was going to be long day. Get rest while you can.

Before the wind started we got the all the vegetables watered. Both pumps running and fuel beside the pumps ready for a top up. Spraying a little water around the hayshed as it is not defendable in a fire. Only three sides are enclosed and it is too far from the house to be given a lot of  attention.

All the hoses are set up around the house with nozzles attached. Both of us carry out favourite spray nozzle with our fire fighting gear. The chickens are left locked up and fine sprays are set up overhead to keep them cool. We reviewed our fire plans and action list. Some of the tasks such covering down pipes (the gutters will be filled with dam water and the down pipes go to drinking water) are done early as they will not take long to undo if not needed and do not impact on normal activity.

A quick trip across the river to move some cows and calves and make sure they have access to dam water if the power fails. The irrigator is set up for a long run.

Back home for breakfast. Jean is still finishing off the veranda. I would have done a slap dash job and taken a couple of hours. She is more thorough and it takes much longer.

The wind has come up and it is hot and dry at 11 am. The workshop is probably not defendable. Although it is closer to the house it is the house that will get all the attention. I'll fill the gutters, shut the door and there is a long hose running down to the workshop in case.

If we ever have to replace the water system around the property I'm definitely going for the big fat 18mm hoses and fittings and the appropriately sized distribution pipes. Probably need a bigger pump? maybe get a big one as backup and just use a small one for everyday use.

Just to rub it in the pond has a serious leak. We left the water pump off overnight and found the pond half empty this morning. Another bloody job which will take days.

After midday. Fires at Minmi but around us it is all clear. The bees are loving the weather. Never seen so much activity in the hive. They must have found a source of nectar.

Fire at Dudley.

The heat of the day and the activity takes its toll and I have a nap at 2.30 on the lounge with the local radio reporting on fires in the background.

Late in the afternoon the Heatherbrae fire breaks out again but in a small way near Raymond Terrace.

All goes well for us and we have had a run through of the fire procedure. And the veranda is spotless.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Today was OK but now tomorrow looks really bad

The wind didn't come up and the temperatures here at HHF didn't reach the maximum. Watering continued and lots of clean-up. Jean got stuck into the veranda which was starting to look like a storage area for everything that wasn't put away with leaves collecting in all the pockets. It was a massive effort that took all day but eventually the stuff was put away or recycled and the debris removed.

The gutters on the house are clear but the workshop needed a bit of work and then the areas around the hayshed and the workshop were raked. Socks with gravel are located near each down pipe ready to block them and fill the gutter with water.

The pumps and their engines received a service and a quick check to see if anything needed replacement.

Everything is as prepared as we can get it. We have even prepared ourselves for any eventualities.

Harry the rooster who we were given by the dairy farmer when he turned up at the dairy from nobody knows where died today. He was a brave little bloke who knew safety lay in the chicken house. We remembered him escaping from the temporary pen head down and running towards the chicken house as some of the other roosters chased him. Nothing could stop him from reaching sanctuary. He eventually acquired his own little group of devotee hens and would take them for long forages to the farthest ends of the orchard. Recently he lost his most loyal follower to an undiagnosed illness. After her departure he didn't seem himself. Not sure if that is coincidence or him grieving. At least his last years were happy in a safe environment. He was brave, very handsome and an excellent forager now buried beside his sweetheart. All the best Harry.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tomorrow looks like a bad day

Steadily we are getting everything in order for the bushfire season. Today I re-worked the water distribution pipe work at the pump. By extending the primary outlet pipe an additional two taps were added to the system with room for more if necessary. These taps remain in operation when the entire distribution system is turned off. Something that will have to be done in the event of a grass fire as our pipes around the property are all above ground along the fence lines.

The generator has been moved up to the house near our emergency bolt hole. The table holds the sprinkler system for it and the pressure pump. The table will also keep some of the water off the generator. And if it rains there is a canvass sheet to cover the lot until the fire season finishes.

The chicken evacuation area is now complete with its own sprinkler system

We continued watering around the house and chicken run to try and establish a green zone. And have finally assembled the backup 12 volt pump. It can't be tested until some additional fittings are purchased later in the week but so far it is looking good. We were given some retired UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) batteries and although old function very well. One runs a portable electric fence energiser and is recharged by a solar panel. The other two are used to run 12 volt devices such as a tyre compressor and spark plug cleaner. These are on the charger to make sure they are fully functional to run the 12 volt pump.

The big orange UPS battery charging

Yesterday's Havarti spent a few hours in a brine solution and will now drain for a couple of days before waxing.

The postal service delivered a batch of seeds from Eden Seeds. Very exciting. Some of our seeds had gone well beyond their use by date and having germination problems. We have also decided to grow more beans this year and use them as dried beans. The newly arrived seeds went straight into seed trays as soon as they were unpacked.

I was looking at Farmer Liz's blog on composting and noticed eggshells in the compost additions. We keep our eggshells in a stainless steel bowl in the warming oven and when full it is heated in the oven. The shells are scrunched up into small pieces and added to the chooks food as another source of calcium. The cooking processes is just so they are not eating raw egg traces.

Our kitchen scraps go into a bricked off area in the back of the chicken run.

The back end of the chook pen is bricked off for food scraps
Paper scraps, stuff that isn't interesting to chooks and garden weeds go into our brick compost and will later be processed through a hot compost to kill of any seeds. Thicker woodier material is put to one side to be run through the mulcher before going into the brick compost or directly into a hot compost.

One of the two loose brick composts