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Friday, February 28, 2014

Shiraz, Merlot and Tempranillo

Today was a big day for pressing grapes. Three varieties have been sitting on skins for 23 days soaking and breaking down to maximise the extraction of all the goodness possible.

Shiraz went first. Barely 35 kilograms producing a little over 19 litres after 4 litres was drained for Rose before fermentation. The demijohns had both American Oak and French Oak added in a 50/50 mix equaling 6 grams per litre.

Leaving the Shiraz pressing in place the Merlot was tipped in over the top. Starting with only 30 kilograms and having already taken out two litres the result was just over 17 litres. It received the same Oak treatment as the Shiraz.

Finally the Tempranillo. Only 21 kilograms yielded just over 12 litres after the earlier 2 litre Rose siphoning. Identical Oak treatment for it as well.

The Merlot was a much juicier grape providing a better yield while the Tempranillo benefited from being the last variety pressed. Just before it was added the previous grape Marc was broken up which would have added a little more liquid and of course being the last pressing of the day it received a very solid pressing.
After pressing 70 kilograms of grapes there is very little marc remaining
In a few days the Tannat will be ready for pressing and just as well it is the last for the vintage as we are getting short on demijohns, especially the smaller 5 litre ones. The problem has been all the experimental batches of white which chewed through our little containers.
Our forest of air locked demijohns.
Filling demijohns always starts with some calculations to estimate which is the largest sized demijohn that can be easily filled then progressively smaller containers are utilized right down to even a 175 ml bottle which can be used for topping up. The Oak chips that were added eventually absorb water and sink leaving a larger than desired air pocket which needs to be filled as soon as possible to prevent oxidisation of the wine.
Pressing is an interesting process. At first you jiggle the ratchet handle just finger tip lightly to allow time for the juice to escape then gradually over a couple or more hours additional pressure is required. It is important not to rush the process otherwise juice may become trapped in pockets. Gradually over time a lot of force is required to increase pressure. Eventually almost no juice results even after letting it sit for a few hours and the pressure gets to point that it cannot be increased.

There are periods where the press can be left alone while juice continues to drain. This is the ideal time to carry on with other cellar tasks such as topping up containers or racking some that have gross lees thick in the base of the demijohn. There is a never ending job of washing out containers and cleaning.

Originally the cleaning was done in the laundry and there was a significant amount of running backwards and forwards dripping water everywhere. Now, having a laundry tub and double sinks in the Cave along with hot and cold rain water is such a great benefit.
From about this time forward planning commences for the 2015 vintage. Notes are made as to further experiments or changes to techniques. Once we have had a chance to try the finished wines in a few months further refining of methods will be noted. We also look at our stores of yeasts etc to see if anything needs replenishing.
And no we will not purchase any more demijohns otherwise the pressure will be there to make more wine.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Paying for the Grapes

Today was really an outing for the dogs. They love their trips in the car. The two girls on the back and Nikki in the back seat.

It was time to settle up with the two vineyards where we purchase grapes. I'd telephoned ahead a couple of days ago to let them know we would call past and pay our bill. In total we had picked 370 KG of grapes over seven varieties plus our own Chambourcin. One of the vineyard managers has two small children and they had tried out creamed honey. Consquently he was pretty excited about the large jar that accompanied the envelope of cash. Sweetening the deal so to speak.

We called in at a few winery cellar doors to look at their offerings but decided not to taste as we would not be purchaseing anything from their lists. They had some interesting wines but these were out of our price range coming in at bteween $35 and $44. No doubt the quality is there but it would be wasted on our ordinary palates.

There is a high point near one of our vineyards with a picnic area which is an ideal place for a thermos of coffee and scones and safe for the dogs to have a run. The entire valley with its vineyards always look spectacular with the long straight rows and landscaped gardens.

I can understand why people would move to the area to be exposed to the lifestyle and the romance of the industry. You could even start or buy a small vineyard and turn a fortune into a smaller one.

We returned home quite late in the afternoon after a full day. The dogs exhausted from hours of straining on their leads as they took in the sights and smells of the trip.

Another adventure.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Harvesting Pumpkins, Water Trough and Exercise

Today we went through the vine patch on our hill and harvested any pumpkins that were ready. About a dozen had either animal damage or sun damage. These we chopped up for the cattle who were very appreciative.

We now have good Winter supply of Muscat de Provence and an exceptional supply of local Dry Pumpkin.

We moved our three cattle into a new paddock this morning after their feed of sprouted oats and a biscuit of Lucerne. It didn't take long for them to demolish what little green feed was about. There is still quite a bit of rough feed in that paddock to keep them occupied for a couple of weeks. The supplementary feeding is keeping them in good shape.

The 28 day rain forecast is not promising. The only rain expected is in the next 2-3 days. After that it is a dry March. We are in a good position with feed for our three. The oats we are sprouting are in plentiful supply and we have enough Lucerne for about 180 days.

The new paddock they entered is serviced by a small dam. Well it isn't really a dam just a depression in the ground where some road base was harvested. It has about 50 mm of muddy water covering the base. Rather than force them to drink that we installed a small trough connected to our extensive network of piping.

The trough was on hand left over from another project and there were plenty of spare connectors and pipework. It wasn't long before the trough was working nicely in a shady spot.

This morning we popped down to the pool for aerobic, anaerobic and some muscle strengthening exercises.

Because we were late the Learn to Swim classes had started tying up one end of the pool. Skipping the laps we did the Aquarobic exercises for lower and upper back, legs and finally arms. Some of these we increased the times from 30 seconds to 60 seconds to make up for laps.

Finally we performed our HIT. The High Intensity Training we follow is normal 20 seconds  of jogging on the spot while punching under water. Jean does her punching with a closed fist while I increase resistance with open palms. We rest for a couple of minutes just jogging slowly then repeat the sequence three more times. There is a lot of material on the web about HIT and there are numerous forms of it.

Anyway the point of this mention was we decided to both increase the time from 20 seconds to 30 seconds as well as add a fourth repetition. All well so far.

Later that morning after watering our newly planted seedlings and feeding the cattle across the river we both felt knackered. A repose on the bed was the outcome and it was mid afternoon before we had enough stamina to carry on.

So was it the Aquarobics or the HIT. It certainly wasn't the laps. We have felt a little this way in the  past after particularly big sessions at the pool and just assumed it was the combination of all three and the build up over several days. A rest day tomorrow and then the plan is to drop the HIT and only perform Aquarobics and laps on that day and monitor the outcome.

One thing we did notice was our bodies felt hot all day as if the metabolic rate was working over time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


On a few posts, mention has been made of the house yard chickens. Burbles had a post dedicated to her because she is a special fowl. And so time has come to mention Bootsie the other special fowl.

Still a magnificent fowl

Eleven years ago Jean visited a small backyard breeder in Raymond Terrace who had a sign out the front offering pullets for sale. Wanting to select a few different birds, Jean joined Les in the backyard pen to point out which girls she wanted. The first girl chosen of course received the name Leslie and then a few more were chosen and stayed nameless. One pullet in particular caught Jean's attention. She was an Isa Brown and had identical markings to her recently deceased favourite hen called Henny. She was added to the collection.

All the new girls brought home went straight into the chicken run and eventually settled into their new home.

Not long afterwards one girl in particular would jump the fence between the Orchard and the house yard, find a good spot, lay an egg and return to the Orchard. This behaviour went on for some months until one day she didn't go home. Repeatedly, we would return her to the chicken run at night and repeatedly she came back the next day and stayed.

We noticed that during the day she had taken control of the couple of house yard chickens and was leading them about dictating where to scratch, nest and sit. At this point she was given the full name of Bossy Boots Yard Supervisor.

Of course she stayed as a permanent resident. No point in fighting nature. As with the other residents she learnt quickly that vegetable beds are not for scratching. Occasionally she would pop into the house via an open door, head into the kitchen to perform a little house work with the dogs food bowls and exit quietly.

On a regular basis, she would go broody and raise a clutch (for some years there was a retired cockerel in the yard who could still manage some work). A relentless sitter, she would put up with all weather conditions and then as soon as the last egg hatched they were off and running. The morning circuit around the edges of the house to clean up any ground level spiders. Then wider circuits to find other delicacies. A rare and occasional rest under some bushes before returning to the feeding circuit. Discipline was robust. No straying out of sight and no bad behaviour. At the prescribed number of weeks they would be weaned. No mucking around. At that point, we would collect and transfer the young adults to the chicken run.

Once the rooster had retired to the great chicken run in the sky, the eggs laid were barren. Whenever Bootsie, became broody we would either exchange the eggs for fertilised ones or let her sit for a couple of weeks and after dark slip some day olds under her, simultaneously removing the eggs. She was so adept at taking on day olds that eventually we just handed them over. On one occasion, she even pinched some of Burbles' chicks. She just loves babies!

Today when we look out into the Orchard it is almost impossible to see a chicken or rooster which was not raised by Bootsie. She is certainly The Mother of Most.

After eleven years she still lays eggs. Not every day but at least once or twice each week.

Last week she suffered some mild strokes and her left side is slightly impaired, imparting a limp. There is also some swelling around one eye. The visit to the vet confirmed Jean's diagnosis. There is no successful treatment, these lovely creatures with their highly active metabolism are subject to strokes in latter years. She may continue on for quite some time or she may suffer additional strokes. Either way, a little less active but still going strong she continues managing the house yard.

Notice the curled toes on the left fot

Monday, February 24, 2014

Vegetable Garden Activity, Composting and Perry

Our work in the garden continues. Seeds for Kohl Rabi, Wong Bok and Bok Choi went into punnets last week and germinated within days. Jean pricked them out of their trays and planted out today. A good early start. With the exception of Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower all the Brassica are in the ground. We had real success last year with Brussels Sprouts from seedlings purchased at Aldi. Because of their quality we are hanging in waiting for them to come in to the shop.

Kohl Rabi

Now that we have commenced planting out seedlings it always seems that we don't have enough in the way of garden beds but I'm sure that is an illusion.

We also put down a punnet of Onion seeds last week which has been kept in the kitchen. Normally Onion seeds are a real issue with us with only one or two plants popping up - eventually. But not this time. It looks as if all the seeds germinated. Part of the solution is getting fresh seed. After an intense study on the subject of Onions we realised that the seed has a very short shelf life. Now add into that mix the fact that there are early, mid and late varieties and some are suited to cold climates only, you get the impression that this is a complex subject.

In the past years our failure to germinate Onion seeds meant we were reliant on bought seedlings. Well last week we checked in all the stores and couldn't find any. We did find Leeks and took those as we always do well with them. Yesterday Jean was looking through our Garden Diary and saw that we had purchased and planted Onions a week ago last year. So what is happening? Has the weather affected the grower/suppliers?

Leeks in Troughs

At the end of last week the final massive vegetable garden weeding exercise was completed and with the last bed, the weeds were just dumped in a pile. Today was the day to assemble another NZ Compost. Layer by layer it was compiled. The hard stick like items went through the chipper side of the mulcher while the long strands of grass and other weeds which were still quite green and soft went through the mulcher opening. The secret here is to not have the exit plate in place otherwise the green material chokes the mulcher. By the leaving the plate off the weeds get a good thrashing on their way, through making them easier for bugs to digest, and shoot out the bottom without clogging.

Another secret is to make sure the bottom plate and its fixing bar are put in a safe place. Last week I managed to accidently put the fixing bar into the earlier assembled compost. Rather than disassemble the compost to find the bar a replacement was manufactured in the workshop. I'm sure the other bar will turn up later.

Bottom plate and new locking rod
After a solid afternoon's work the compost bin is over half full and all the material at hand is used. Looks like some hand mowing tomorrow to source the remaining green matter to mix with mulch hay.

In the Cave the Beurre Bosc finished pressing last night and we ended up with about 20 litres of juice. The pH was a bit high at 5.03 and Tartaric Acid was added. Also some Potassium Metabisulphite. The pH meter was playing up even though quite some time was spent calibrating with special solutions. At one point in desperation I resorted to the old pH papers. They are useful but getting a precise reading is impossible with the papers I have. Even with finer graduation papers it is difficult with red wine. In this case they at least confirmed that the reading was up in the high 4 to low 5's.

pH papers

In the end it dawned on me that maybe the battery was weak. A replacement battery soon solved the problem. This has happened to me before with other instruments. The battery still works but random results begin occurring. From now on I'll start each season with a freshly charged battery.

pH Meter

Buffer Solution for Calibration

This morning some fresh wine yeast was added to the demijohn and by this evening the airlock was bubbling comfortably. The demijohn is now in a refrigeration unit with the controller set for 12-15 C. This low temperature for a week or so should allow the yeast to bring out the wonderful Pear scents.

The goodly pile of compressed pulp went into the chicken run and delighted the girls.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Notes from february Bee Club Meeting

  • Some areas in the Hunter Valley are not getting much honey while others have been doing exceptionally well

  • The club's hives have not done well and will not have any spare honey before Winter

  • One of the members spoke about an article in Australasian Bee Keeper about dusting bees with icing sugar to knock off Varroa mites. The bees then clean off the sugar removing more mites

  • Bees do not like flying through dense vegetation. If you can't walk through it bees won't fly through it. An issue for the clubs apiary as it is located close to dense vegetation

  • Discussion covered the use of furry backed linoleum in the hives to trap Small Hive Beetle.

  • One member described how after collection 70 swarms in one season he had run out of equipment to house them and resorted to using cardboard boxes with only the top bar of the frame and no foundation. The bees built a perfectly good frame of wax with no help.

  • Tip of the Month:

    • One member described how he has a hive in his chicken run and it has no Small Hive Beetle problem. The area in front of the hive is the most scratched in the entire pen. SHB drop to the ground to pupate in the soil and the chickens devour them.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Harvesting Beurre Bosc Pears, Gardens Prepped for Autumn, Dragon Fruit

Two weeks ago after looking up the Vintage Book to see when we have  harvested the Beurre Bosc in previous years I tested a pear for sugar. It came in at 15 Brix. The records showed that we normally harvest about the 19th February and that the sugar levels were 15 Brix. With the fruit hanging well we agreed to leave it on the tree a little longer. Another sample today showed 21 Brix. Probably an abnormally high reading pear but high enough to assume that it won't go much further.

The fruit harvested was in excellent shape varying in size from small tom exceedingly large. This dry weather Summer has really produced some incredible fruit in the Orchard. The haul came in at just over 36 kilograms. In previous years the harvest has been so small we never even bothered to weigh the result.

Tomorrow after the morning Bee club meet the bulk of the fruit will be processed through the scratter and fermented into Perry. We are currently working our way through two Blue cheeses, a Stilton and a Roquefort. Slices of pear go nicely.

The garden continued to receive attention with the final vegetable bed being cleared of Summer weeds. A little compost spread over it and a coating of Lucerne mulch with a good wetting. It feels great to have prepared all the beds ahead of Autumn making it so easier to slowly plant out new seeds and seedlings. As soon as the temperature is right we'll sow some green manure crops on some sections. In todays bed as an experiment we tried to avoid disturbing the soil. No forking over or removing roots just surface weeding.

Some of the weeds including massive Parsley plants gone to seed

We at Dragon Fruit after dinner.

It looks like a bowl of Ice Cream

Friday, February 21, 2014

Back to Normal

For various reasons over time we broke our routine. Not just one thing but several things.

We would make a point of taking Friday off from HHF and heading out usually to the beach. In fact b. e. a. c. h. as we never say the word but spell it instead otherwise the dogs get all excited and run out to the car. Life is a bit like that here there are certain phrases and words that must be spelt out, mimed or paraphrased. Well the trips stopped mainly because we sold the old car where the dogs were welcome in the back seat. We could have used the work vehicle but in Summer the Aluminium tray gets a bit hot and then of course Nikki needs molly coddling because of his neck problem. And once you break a routine it stays that way for long time.

The other thing that fell by the wayside some weeks ago was our morning visit to the pool. Vintage intervened with its pre-dawn starts and late night finishes. In addition we may have been overdoing it a bit because Jean would be completely wacked for the rest of the day barely staying awake. A real live Zombie in the house. We took a break.

We had stopped taking a day off each week i.e. a day where we went out but not shopping and running errands just taking the kids and coffee and driving somewhere and doing nothing much.

I put it down to Summer. Fire preparation activity, vegetables, wine, repairs and everything else. Any excuse will do. In part it is the pressure of lists. The things that need to be done soon and time off is not a pleasure if you spend the time thinking about what hasn't been done.

Eventually, you catch up enough that whatever is left on the list doesn't seem all that vital and succumbing to the pleasures of a leisurely drive, sitting in a park watching the dogs run around sniffing and playing feels more attractive.

And so it was. A drive in the country, a park by the river, coffee, cake, the works. Cool enough for the girls to sit on the tray and Nikki on a blanket in the back seat wearing his restraining "Jammies" (body harness).

Dickens' character Mr Micawber always said:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."
 At HHF:
 "Days allocated each week seven, days worked each week six, result happiness. Days allocated each week seven, days worked each week seven, result misery"

Oh and I forgot we went to the pool very early and performed some simple exercises with a short swim after a warm welcome by the pool manager.

Back to normal.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Research, Reading and Resting Followed by Home Brewing

The weather report looked good i.e. it was going to be warm, humid beyond belief and thunderstorms. Perfect! At least perfect to sit around and perform the first three functions in the title.

A friend of ours refers to research on a regular basis. In fact for her it means read a book but it sounds good. Today I read a book or in truth three books.

First up was a library book on gardening by Bob Flowerdew which had some really fine explanations on the needs of vegetables. We have lots of books on growing vegetables but not everything you need to know is in one book. Hence we have a rather thick hard covered exercise book entitled "Jean and John's Vegetable Book" It is kept in the kitchen near the fruit bowl for easy access. Every time we learn something new about a vegetable it goes in the book.

So there you have it a summary of all knowledge in one place. In the front few pages double spaced is the A-Z list of vegetables i.e. one vegetable every second line. Then when there is something to be said about a vegetable we look up the page number and make comment. If there is no page number next to the vegetable we take the next available blank page, add the comment, title the page and place the page number against the entry at the front of the book. Pretty much an index in the front of the book. Need more space? Just take a blank page put in the information and add the page number to the index. Successful varieties or techniques all go in the book.

The next book to be read (or in this case finish using the new e-reader) was Faulkner's "A Second Look" the follow up to "Ploughman's Folly". I just wanted to refresh the memory on Faulkner's experiences in agriculture. In this book he addresses questions, challenges and shortcomings arising from the first book. This is a though provoking book for any farmer. The PDF version is available from the Soil and Health Library at no cost as are many other very good texts.

The next book (still unfinished) is Paul Ham's "1914 The Year the World Ended". This is not research just interest so it falls into the reading category. Well written, bloody long but very interesting. They say that WWII was created by the terms of settlement emanating from WWI. And to some extent WWI had some roots in a prior war where the terms of settlement were unfavourable to the French who lost Alsace and Lorraine. But I best not simplify things here because I'm only up to page 108 in a 650 page tome.

Resting, also known as meditation, is in fact sleep or napping. And that was included in the day's events.

BUT, just so everyone knows that work still gets done around the place a Guinness like kit was assembled.

The last kit made was from Newcastle Brew Shop using Munton's Mt Mellick Irish Stout, Morgan's Roasted Dark Malt, Fuggles hops, and black grain stewed in a coffee plunger. And it was incredibly good even a couple of weeks after bottling. Therefore it made sense to put down another batch to ensure some aging which could only make it better. Gavin Webber said Guinness or Stout is a Winter drink only. We couldn't disagree more. Jean loves it right now after a hot sweaty day. In Winter it is consumed without chilling.

We also opened the last bottle of what was labelled #7. A Guinness like Stout assembled more than two years ago. Well it was something else. Partly because of the age but partly because it was made from other ingredients. Brewcraft Imported Irish Stout, Munton's Dark Malt, Goldings Hops, Roast Barley and Acidulated Grain.

At HHF "if you like something then get some more" and we will source the #7 ingredients and do it again.

The cave was looking a bit shabby and I wanted to vacuum the floor but it didn't feel right to do it and not the house. So both got done. Amazing how the tumbleweeds appeared within a few hours.


As anyone reading this blog might gather housework is not our greatest priority. Of course if either cat or anyone of the three dogs volunteered to man the brooms we would be happy. They always claim not having an opposing thumb prevents them. Good excuse.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Picking up Ideas

It's useful to read other people's blogs. Reflecting on some adjustments we have made to doing things around HHF in recent times it highlighted how sharing knowledge has improved our own activities.

Most recently Paola Spades and Spoons wrote about wine making. In one post she mentioned the volume of preservative used in their wine in terms of grams/litre. Our measurements are done in ppm. Out of curiosity a conversion was performed and it showed a big discrepancy with HHF being on the high side. It turns out our winemaking notes were incorrect, fortunately because we calculate the additive on the litres not the kilograms the discrepancy was not as bad as it could have been. Our notes are now modified.

Gavin Webster's Little Green Cheese  published a podcast on brining. What to do with brine once you've salted the cheese has always been a problem at HHF. As we make so much cheese i.e. twice each week there is always the issue of brine disposal. Not any longer the podcast provided a solution for the brine - clean and reuse.

Liz at Eight Acres is always throwing forward interesting ideas and trying new things. Her permaculture posts are thought provoking and have encouraged us at HHF to rethink our processes. Her last post on deodorant is particularly poignant as it has been a couple of months now since soap or shampoo graced my body. I'm curious to see if Liz will take the next big step.

These are just three recent examples of benefitting from the willingness of others to document their knowledge and experiences.

Many other bloggers post interesting and thought provoking pieces and sometimes they are just good reads or listens.

Linda at Greenhaven 
Dani at Eco Footprint South Africa
Matron of Husbandry at Throwback from Trapper Creek
Fiona at Life at Arbordale Farm
Barb at Barb's Backyard
Jack at The Survival Podcast

As with all things not every post from HHF is useful, interesting, relevant or even well written but the objectives remain unchanged. To document what we do as a record for ourselves as well as offering the information to others in case they find it helpful. In each post we attempt to improve our writing skills. They say it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something, don't know if that is really true but we continue to practice.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another Day in the Garden

They say time spent in the garden is never wasted. Well that is true as we didn't waste any time today. We've planted a punnet of Broccoli and a punnet of Cabbage as well as a punnet of Leeks. These things take much less time if the bed has already been weeded and compost added a few days earlier.

It's a bit early for Onions but not too early to put some Onion seed into a punnet and get a start. And with watering in and relocating a few plants that was the morning gone. Jean went off to the dentist to start work on a new crown. apparently it will be an hour and a halves drilling and shaping.

Knowing Jean would be in a lot of discomfort when she returns home it was a busy afternoon getting as many chores out of the way so that she did not have to concern herself with them. Every body was fed and watered, washing hung out and some brought in and the vegetable garden scoured for dinner ingredients. And a start was made on the evening meal. When she did return she wasn't well. A lot of the trouble comes from having your mouth stretched open for so long. Apparently even the dentist found it hard going. They even put off asking for payment until the next visit so as not to inflict more pain.

A quiet evening and an early meal.

Summer is nearing its end but the garden is still producing. Collected Watermelon, Rockmelon, Okra, a few Tomatoes and salad ingredients. And there is still more to come.

First Pineapple for this year

Turmeric doing exceptionally well

The Dragon Fruit has been setting fruit madly

Dragon Fruit

The Indian Runner Ducks - still timid

Monday, February 17, 2014

Autumn on the way

There is something about Autumn (and Spring for that matter) that gladdens the heart.

With Autumn it is the prospect of the cooler days that make working outside more attractive and pleasant. Today after the rain it was reasonably pleasant outside. The weeding program continued with the weeds going straight into the almost complete NZ compost. By the end of the day it was brimming and a warm coat of mulch hay was placed over the top. The central hole was drilled clear and that is it for 6 weeks.

A couple of beds were prepared for planting. In this case we have Cabbage and Broccoli which need a rich base full of good compost. Jean will slip those into the ground tomorrow. We also have a punnet of early onions to plant. There is a nice section of the garden weeded recently that will not be too rich for these.

While typing this I'm looking out over the Williams Valley which is misted up and looking lovely. No wonder it is worth getting up early. A chance to write the blog in that early morning quiet with the scenery developing as the light starts to filter into the valley.

Over the river the irrigation is turned off, the grass has already leaped out of the ground although it will be a couple of weeks before we stop hand feeding. The cows are on Lucerne and some Oats. The boss wants to replace some fencing and suggested we find some one to get stuck into it. That someone is the youngest son of a family in a nearby village. He is just starting out and very keen. He was shown the extent of the section to be replaced and didn't seem daunted by the use of non standard recycled plastic posts and has some spare time right now to get started. It was left up to the boss to negotiate rates and initiate the work. Our role will be to supervise and keep up the material supply. This will suit us well as we would like to spend more time on HHF and transition gradually away from paid work.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rain, Pinot Noir

Some rain finally. A few scant millimetres in the past two days and then today a steady drizzle with a few heavier falls. The end result was 25 mm for the day. More than was forecast and a good start. This should kick off some grass growth for the cattle in the area. A bit early to say the dry spell is broken but the 28 day rain forecast indicates a few more showers on the way.

Ok to wander about outside briefly but not worth getting wet by staying out in the open creating a perfect day to get some tasks done under cover.

Firstly the Pinot Noir had reached its 22 days on skins and pressing commenced and plodded along slowly all day. Pinot Noir is renown for its lack of skin colour pigments. This batch was no different. Not as black as the Chambourcin of a few days ago but still pretty good for Pinot. At least the long soak has extracted everything it has to give. It was put in a demijohn with a 50/50 mix of American and French Oak chips. The taste was sensational. This will develop well.

In the kitchen a batch of Fetta was produced. A straight forward cheese easy and uncomplicated to make.

While that was underway some peanuts were roasted and a batch of chocolate made. The new recipe is so good that a little extra was mixed and some ported prunes in an ice cube tray received a dash of chocolate.

A loaf of bread mixed in the bread maker and then let rise most of the day before baking in the bread maker. After the mixing the paddle is removed and the mix is kept warm as the bread maker thinks it is going through the various punch down stages, With our own coarse grinding of flour it is best not to disturb the rising process.

Jean took the time take some watermelon to friends. With so much ripening at once we tend to distribute a large quantity other people.

Jean returned with Aldi's $50 E-reader. We have been talking about acquiring an E-reader for some time mainly because a large number of electronic agriculture and gardening  books have been accumulated.

It is possible to read them on the laptop as long as you are prepared to sit in the office and do so. The laptop's battery is long gone. We do most of our reading at night in bed and lying down with a laptop is not easy especially navigating a book with the touch pad.

A lot of research was conducted before we rushed in. It was a matter of not being caught in the spiral of accumulating gadgets which only keep the attention briefly before finding a spot in the bottom drawer.

After charging the E-reader it went through its paces that night with Edward  Faulkner's "Ploughman's Folly, A Second Look" The E-reader is very good and a real pleasure to use.

Secrets to NZ Composting

Bullet point summary from Eve Balfour's “The Living Soil” devised by the Auckland Humic Club

  • Anything less than half a cubic metre is difficult to keep hot
  • Ratio of 3-4 vegetation to 1 manure. Mixing it lightly as you fill.
  • If manure or soiled bedding not available use blood and bone but only a thin film for every 150 mm of vegetation.
  • Sprinkle every 150 mm with a couple of mm of earth mixed with wood ash and limestone
  • lightly fork over vegetation and manure
  • if half of the vegetation waste is fresh green material no extra watering is required
  • if a larger proportion is green succulent t material let it wither then wet it otherwise it will silage
  • when the bin is half full make and maintain a ventilation hole down the centre. Either with a crow bar or insert a piece of pipe and remove when complete.
  • If it begins to have an unpleasant smell it is too wet. Break it down and rebuild.
  • Fermentation will slow down if it is too dry
  • After 6 weeks it is ready to move into a second box placing any un-composted material into the centre
  • It should be watered during this move but no ventilation hole is required for this ripening stage of 4-6 weeks
  • If it is to be stored it is best placed in an open shed and turned from time to time

The two NZ compost bins used at HHF. The front wall of both is made of boards that slide into place for ease of loading and unloading. The timbers are painted with sump oil from time to time to slow rotting. Two large screws are embedded into one narrow edge of these boards to enforce the spacing between boards.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chocolate Making Conquered

Making chocolate with Coconut oil, Dextrose and Cocoa powder has been going on for a while at HHF but although satisfying it has never been a really great product. Mainly because the Dextrose didn't quite dissolve as well as would be liked and didn't have that flavour that one looks for in a good chocolate. The chocolate melts easily because of the coconut oil.

Then the a spark of an idea or in this case two ideas. Why not reduce the amount of Coconut oil to make a thicker consistency and less melty. The second idea was to use the Creamed Honey of which there was so much.

Hard to believe but the first trial was a success. Absolutely beautiful with a wonderful texture and flavour.

3 parts Coconut (get good quality stuff)

1 part Creamed Honey

7 parts Cocoa Powder ( again get the best quality

Melt the Coconut oil in a Baine Marie add the honey and chocolate and stir until smooth. Pour into moulds and set in refrigerator.

We love roasted peanuts in ours. We roast some raw nuts and place a single layer in the mould. A sprinkling of toasted Coconut chips, shreds or desiccates is also nice.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Termites Revisited

This morning the pest control company man attended at 8 am to start the treatment process. He brought some spikey Cucumbers from his garden and half a dozen chilli seedlings. These have nothing to do with the treatment just a thoughtful gift.

I lifted the shelving board that had been removed last visit and remembered to have a camera handy. The activity was not as great as previously. this may have been due to our disturbing them. Who knows.

The treatments are a powdery substance mixed with water to make a thick paste a bit like bread dough. This was put into this opening and the board replaced. Another bait was placed in a dark corner with foil covering it and a third was also placed under another shelving board.

The termites are interesting characters. Probably less interesting if they hadn't infested the cave. When we lifted the second shelving board we could see these stalagmites going from the concrete surface to the under side of the board. They build these to access the board more quickly rather than having to walk up the side of the wall and under the board. Lazy buggers.

While on site the pest man conducted some further inspections around the property and then was off. Back in two weeks to see how the traps are fairing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

NZ Compost

Once upon a time for us making compost was a chore because all the material had to be assembled in advance. To make a decent sized compost that would heat up sufficiently to kill off the weed seeds requires quite a bit of material. The lawns would be mown with a catcher to accumulate lots of green matter. Cow manure and/or chicken manure collected, branches and sticks from pruning put through the mulcher/chipper and bales of mulch hay stockpiled. Finally when all the components were at hand the pile was created.

We started avoiding this exercise. First we purchased a worm farm. This was fine for adding kitchen waste until it was full then we built a couple of brick enclosures for the overflow material. Then it was decided to split the kitchen waste into those things that interest chickens and those that don't. The chicken valuables were put into the chicken run and the other into the brick enclosure.

The brick enclosure was fine except it didn't heat up and kill the seeds and the rats and mice enjoyed its presence.

The weeds from the vegetable garden were dropped into a wire mesh enclosure and every year or so we would harvest the broken down material at the bottom. This required moving the non broken down material into another enclosure. Worse still the woody, sticky bits stayed woody and sticky and made it difficult to clean out.

We also acquired some compost tumblers. Very handy. Just fill with the right blend of material and tumble it each day. Remembering to tumble each day was a bit of an issue. Maybe that is why we never achieved the brochure's stated result.

Then we came full circle. After re-reading Eve Balfour's "The Living Soil" we were inspired once more and I retreated to the place that Jean calls the “The Shed of Inventions” returning after a few days with two demountable NZ Compost Bins. Each 4 feet square and a little higher. All made from scraps of hardwood gleaned from various projects.

The first compost we made was fabulous. Everything broken down and the weed seeds heated into oblivion.

The best part of this was that we learnt to build the compost over a few days and time it with when we performed a major weeding or tree pruning. If we ran short of green material it was just a matter of mowing a bit of lawn. Mulch hay is always in stock and easy to access for the brown material. Any pots or conatainers where vegetables had grown and were now redundant had their valuable soild incorportared as one of the many layers. A whip around with the wheel barrow resulted in either some chicken litter or cow manure and if desperate we just usd blood and bone.

Making compost has now become a pleasurable and easy task not some thing to dread. The other sttractiveness of the NZ Compost was it only needs to be turned once. In fact you can get away with no turning but the outside few inches doesn't break down. But by having two bins side by side it only takes 30 minutes to move it from one to another.

partially finished

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chambourcin, Mulch Silage and Hay

Today was the big day for our Chambourcin. It has finished fermenting and has been slumbering on the grape skins and pips. 22 days have passed since the yeast commenced its work. Gradually after the bubbling finished the skins settled and fell to the bottom of the container. CO2 gas has been dribbled in once every day to protect the wine from nasties. The surface of the wine had a lovely clean crisp shimmer as it sat under the plastic wrap covering the drum. And today the pressing began at 4.30, well really a bit after. I made coffee first.

There was very little to press. The juice flowed out as the contents were scooped into the basket press. The skins were broken down to such an extent that they oozed out all moisture. A 34 litre demijohn was filled quickly after adding some American Oak chips at 3 grams/litre. Only a little pressure was required to fill a 5 litre demijohn and then a bit more for the two litre and finally some real pressure to take out the last litre. And all done. In a few days the Pinot Noir will reach its 22 days and undergo a similar treatment.

Because we are working the garden beds it seemed like a good time to collect some mulch silage that a nearby farm was offering at $30/bale. We organised it on Monday and confirmed again on Tuesday we would be arriving on Wednesday. The bales are a few hundred Kilograms dry and their tractor is required to load.

As with all good plans that go off the rails they were called away from their farm on urgent contract work and the person remaining on the farm was not familiar with the loading tractor. Not wanting to waste the trip we turned our plan around and collected a load of Lucerne for the farm across the river – 53 bales. This was going to be another job for the afternoon. After unloading across the river and going home for coffees and cake it was back again for another 59 bales. A good job and the boss was pleased to be able to stock up. Hay is not cheap and in short supply at 15.50/bale. No need to remind every one that a bale of Lucerne weighs 25 kilograms and 112 bales lifted twice equals 5600 kilograms. Sleep came easily that night. A good way to get some exercise if you want it.

We will pick up our mulch another day.

Vegetable Garden Update

Some economy of action has occurred with our work across the river. The boss has purchased irrigation  pods which are strung out in  row of up to ten. They water more slowly than the irrigation units we normally use but this is positive because they only need setting up once each day. Whereas the other irrigation units travel forward on a cable slowly and pour on a set amount of water the pods just spit out a pulsating and rotating spray on a timer. The more water needed the longer the time set. Great idea because they are set up in the morning and water for 24 hours on the harder country and 8-12 hours on the better soil. Because of that innovation I only need to visit in the morning, feed the cattle position the pods and home again. Jean follows up later in the day to harrow or do any other chores.

We are continuing our work on cleaning up garden beds with good results even though the weather is uncomfortably hot and humid the good results are an incentive to continue.

A blank space where we removed a grape cutting starter bed.

This post comes late because we converted from a prepaid internet connection to a fixed line ADSL. The changeover knocked us off line for a day while we waited for everything to be connected. The fault being ours because we left it too long to sign up and the prepaid service expired.

Monday, February 10, 2014


The bed in the paddock that we refer to as the Tomato Bed is continuing to produce a steady flow of produce and the Mango trees are ripening their fruit. Being February the Fig tree is ripening its load. Normally it rains in February and the Figs explode. But not this year. Our preference is to have the rain but as with all things there is some good in everything. As is the way it all comes at once.

Corn and Mango

The one and only Pimply Squash


Friends have received their gifts of Watermelon quarters as we just can't keep up with the abundance. Everyone seems pleased at their windfall. We hate to waste this sweet produce and when it is of this high quality we gift it to various people. If it is just not quite perfect the chooks have a bonus. As it is they love cleaning out the left over skins leaving only a tissue thin shell.

Our cattle are back on sprouted grain and a small biscuit of Lucerne. There is a fair bit of roughage about on HHF but it is of poor quality and the supplementary feeding will keep them in top shape and content. We were lucky that we stocked up on Lucerne in Spring as it is getting more and more expensive and harder to acquire. Grain is 60 cents per kilogram and about 2 KG per animal is good value to keep them happy and well.

Some of the larger land holders with big herds are forced to buy in large loads of grain or pellets to supplement their feed regimes. There is hay available from Victoria but the freight cost is astronomical.

The rain forecast indicates little volume in the next 28 days, just a medium chance of small showers. About 250 mm over a week would be ideal. After rain it takes another two to three weeks to get the grass to edible height. Possibly mid to late March before ground feed resumes. That is the best case and it could be later. Then of course if it is later we enter April and the Summer grasses slow down growth. Could be a miserable Autumn and Winter for the farmers.