Vege gardening: Springing into spring

So, finally, spring has sprung. We’ve had almost a week of daytime  temperatures in the twenties, and a glorious weekend of summer-like sunshine. The kids have been playing in the sprinkler, and we have finally cracked open the bedroom window at night. The non-native trees have that lovely light green sheen on them, and there are flowers on all kinds of trees in the orchard. The berry cage got a nice cleanup, and the blueberries and currants are in full bloom.

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I mulch with wool around the bushes, and straw over the top. A good use for the wool we take of the meat animals.

I am looking at the poor ships panting in their big woolly coats and thinking “I must call the shearer…”

It also means that working the garden suddenly becomes very urgent. While we’ve had a consistently warm spring up until now, it’s the soil temperature that matters. And because we’re so exposed out her in the middle of the Taratahi plain, that’s remained quite cool. But in the last week or two the grass in the paddocks has really taken off, and that is my queue to get moving. So we hired a large rotary hoe, and went at it.

taters 011450 square metres of blank slate. Apart from the bit that has a different colour in the upper right of this picture, which is the garlic bed.

A creature of habit, I am, so I always start with my potatoes. And my deadline for getting them in is the 15th October. That’s the count-back date if you want new potatoes for Christmas. So yesterday I dug my six trenches and dug out my seed potato from the clamp.

Two rows of Pink Fir, four rows of Agria. Same procedure as last year. I love the nutty flavour of Pink Fir, and that’s pretty much what we eat in the summer half of the year. They don’t need peeling, you just scrub them and cook them. They take a little longer to cook than modern potatoes because of their dense flesh, but they’re worth it!

The Agria is our go-to potato for roasting, chipping, boiling or frying. It does all things equally well, and we like the flavour. Over the years we’ve experimented with other varieties but we can’t find any we like as much. Combine that with the versatility of Agria, and it’s a no-brainer, really.

taters 046So, I dig a trench. Then I put my seed potato in that trench, a foot apart. And by that I mean I drop a potato in, put my foot in front of it, and drop another potato at my toes. Then I put little sticks at the ends of each trench, and one in the middle. That way, when I fill the trench in I can see where my row is. Then I plant radish seeds on top. By the time the potato tops come up and it’s time to heap the rows, the radishes are ready for harvest.

As you can see from the above I save my seed potato. I store potatoes over winter in a straw clamp, and at this time of year I dig it out. It’s getting too warm now to store them there anyway, and in fact, with the unusually mild winter we’ve had, some of the potatoes on the outside of the heap had started growing. So, ridiculously, after planting my potatoes I cooked new potatoes for dinner!

I pick the largest and best formed potatoes for seed. With the Pink Fir, I try to pick ones that have grown straight. The variety has a tendency to grow knobbly, which makes them hard to clean. So I pick potatoes that have straight, simple growth for my seed.

We either didn’t eat enough potato over winter, or it was a bumper crop last year. This is what I have left over after planting:

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Big bin of Pink Fir, a bucket of Agria, and in front is the remaining yams. I planted four yams last year, we’ve eaten about half of what grew, and this is about half of what is left… Crazy productive, yams.

In other news on the garden front, The Man had a week off and built me a new garden shed. This time he didn’t get a kitset tin shed, he built a wooden one. Every joint is reinforced, and every wall is braced. I joke that it will be our tornado shelter.

And finally, if anybody wanted to know why eggs are such a symbol of spring?

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Our hens and our ducks are laying madly. We are eating a lot of oven pancakes and toad-in-the-hole right now. We’re also selling on some duck eggs and the green Araucana eggs that seem very popular with kids. Green eggs and ham!

The less pleasant parts of lambing time

To date we have fourteen lambs, seven of each sex. There are two ewes who may be pregnant, but if they are they’re well behind the others, so today was docking time before the first lambs get too old. The older ones are enormous already, our new ram has thrown BIG lambs.

So, docking. It’s not pleasant, but we do it. We are prone to flystrike here, and our shearer hates tails. He is excellent, and doesn’t mind the small heard, and doesn’t charge like a wounded bull, so we want to make him happy. So on the balance of things we dock. We do leave quite a bit of tail to make sure the relevant bits of sheep have cover – two of our old ewes have no tail at all, and that’s not nice.

While we were docking, we also ringed the ram lambs, with the exception of three. Their testicles were still quite high, and so we left them rather than risk rigging them. They’ll grow faster, so it just means those three will be for the freezer first.

In the sad news department, we lost one of our little goats. He was fine and feeding at lunch time, and then by late afternoon I looked out and saw him on the ground. It was raining, and cold, and he should have been in the shed. His mum was standing over him and looking worried. So I raced out, and sure enough he was sick. Youngest child and I took him to the vet, where all that could be done was. He was very cold by this stage, and had bloat. And he died in the car on the way home again.

So we are now milking his mum twice a day, and after the first couple of days of calling for baby she’s settled into being a doting auntie. We don’t know why little Ponder died, he wasn’t bottle fed and too young to be eating grass, so the bloat is a mystery. Perhaps his stomach was simply too little to cope.

The other two are growing like topsy, and climbing on anything that stands still. Their favourite climbing frames are the calves and me when I’m milking aunty Pansy. Parker (the pink one) and Peter (the white one) are constantly making a nuisance of themselves when we’re at the milking stand – it’s not easy milking with a kid on your shoulders…

docking 008Yes, for some reason all the small animals on this farm end up on my shoulder.

The milk is flowing

Our two goats, Poppy and Pansy, delivered their delightful little kids. Poppy had her twins Parker and Peter on Thursday last, Pansy had Ponder on Sunday last. All three kids are boys, which was a little disappointing, but goat tastes as nice as lamb, so there you have it. Although one might be finding a new home, we’ll see how that goes.

Poppy had some issues with a blocked teat almost immediately following the birth, and is feeding twins, so The Man who was manning the fort without me (I had swanned off on a 1000km roundtrip for the weekend with Youngest Child) had to take emergency measures with expert assistance from Goat Grandma. The long and the short of it is that Poppy is’t giving much excess milk now. Pansy on the other hand has only one kid and so much milk she wanders the paddock with what can best be described as a basket ball between her hind legs. She also has sore and chapped teats, so she is less than excited about the milking, but once the let down starts she gives this real impression of bliss on four legs and just stands there. I’ve been there, I tell her, and I sympathise with the conflicted emotions over sore teat but relief from an empty udder.

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The Man, inspired by Goat Grandma’s little milking contraption, set about building a number eight wire solution*. Using a large glass jar, the drenching gun, a large plastic syringe, two bits of hose and two rubber doo-hickies from the brewing shop, he built a vacuum milker. The syringe outer goes on the teat, and by pumping the drenching gun we get a vacuum which draws the milk out. It’s taken us a week to fiddle with it to get it right, during which time I’ve hand milked and borrowed Goat Grandma’s milker, but today we really got it going. So both goats are walking a little easier and I have 2.5 litres of milk (almost all of that from Pansy).

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I decant it into bottles through a muslin, to catch any sneaky hairs or bits – you’d be surprised.

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Because Saanen milk doesn’t have the ‘goaty’ taste, we’re using the goats milk as just milk around the house, but I have some yogurt culturing and it might be time to get some cheese happening. The first lot of colostrum-rich milk made some kalvadans.

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*’number eight wire solution = typical Kiwi ‘I can build that with number eight wire and some duct tape’  attitude. In this case, we spent approximately $4.70 on extra bits, rather than nearly $200 on a ready built one from the States. I will however look for a better pump, the drenching gun is a bit harsh on my hands that are weakened by arthritis. Also, the milking stand needs to be higher.

Friday dinner at our place

Something nice for dinner tonight: home made pizza.

For a pizza dough, I use my standard bread dough:

  • 50g yeast
  • 500ml lukewarm water
  • 1.5tbsp olive oil
  • .5tbsp salt

Everyone gets to make their own pizza, which means everyone enjoys their dinner. This is where I pull out all sorts of yummy stuff I make from the garden.

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Options include

  • tomato passata
  • pickled nasturtium seeds
  • homemade sheep’s chevre
  • pickled artichoke hearts
  • mushrooms
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • olives

I like my pizza base super thin and crispy, so while I put the same amount of bread dough into each pizza, mine gets rolled out to twice the size.

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(I really would like a better camera…)

Blown away

Apologies for the quiet – things have  been busy. We’ve had more lambs, with some attendant issues of too much milk (easily solved) and a ewe crashing over a too-large lamb (thankfully also solved). Also, our goats have kidded, and we now have three adorable little kids and two mums walking around with basket balls between their legs. It’s taking us a little while to get the whole milking thing sorted out, but we’ll get there.

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The wood pile blew over, on top of my Camelia hedge. Amazingly, they all survived.

The biggest reason for the silence however was the storm front that moved across the country last week. I think Canterbury was hit the worst – they still have people without power a week later. But Wednesday afternoon it hit us here in the Wairarapa, with wind speeds of 107kph (not gusts, that’s the average) and a fair bit of damage. Roads were closed after trucks were blown over and trees fell across, and for an hour or so we couldn’t find the oldest child because the school bus had been diverted. Not a happy parental moment.

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Not just the door, but the track that held it. A side panel popped as well, but it popped right back in.

Our property was hit pretty hard as it’s out on the Taratahi plain with very little between us and those winds. Our garage doors were bent and damaged, a kennel and a chook house destroyed, the netting on our trampoline ripped off and worst of all, my garden shed collapsed.

storm damage 004Not a happy sight…

There was a fair bit of stuff in there, and I spent a little while gathering up what I could, but in the end I didn’t want to be around flapping bits of tin in massive winds, so I retreated inside to a cup of tea. Whereupon the power went.

2013-09-13 17.58.14The dog box used for the geese. Fortunately they’d decided on a different nest box so this was unoccupied.

Power loss here is not a big deal, as long as it comes back on before the freezers thaw out. I have a jerry can of water in the pantry (because our bore pump is electric) but our heating is wood and the cooker is gas. So out with the box of candles and on with the evening. The power came on sometime in the night, as we had lights again in the morning, so on the whole we were pretty good. Both the internet dish and the TV dish were knocked about in the winds, so we were incommunicado for a while, but that was all fixed very quickly.

storm damage 008And no chickens were hurt in the making of this sight either! We did however acquire an extra chook for a day, one of the neighbours’ freerangers blew over…

The day after the storm the first goat decided to kid her twins, so that was good. The day after that I drove the Youngest Child and friends to Tauranga and back for a competition, a round trip of just over 1000 km. By the time I got back there was another set of twin lambs, and the aforementioned ewe in distress waiting for me. So after that long drive I found myself up to my elbows in sheep…

storm damage 035Proud mummy Poppy

The cleanup is no fun. All that could be salvaged from the garden shed had to go in the garage, so now The Man’s workshop is unusable. And it takes a while to sort out the insurance claim. We’ll see how they come through for us, but hopefuly it should be pretty straight forward.

storm damage 017Even the bark on my herb beds blew off

Sitting pretty

When we were moving out to this property, we knew we’d need a new lounge suite. Our old one had been broken by too much weight and use, and besides, we wanted something that would look at home in our new place. Our old home in the city was a mid-century quite modern (for its time) looking place, and our old sofas were bought for the space. The new house we’ve built in a more ‘olde worlde’ style, and we wanted something stylish and light. So, trawling Trademe, I found the perfect suite:

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The suite is a classic 1970’s clunky set, very well worn and costing me the grand sum of $15. Had I lost my mind you ask? Well, no. Because I could see the lovely wood and square frame, and I had a cunning plan. But first, a couple of years spent doing other things, important things, like building the house, and painting, and making a go of the land. But here we are, and last weekend I felt inspired to pull apart the first chair to see what lay beneath.

We pulled off all the upholstery and stripped the dark varnish off the chair. The Man whipped up new armrests, because the original ones were just too ugly for words and I wanted plain wood. I slapped a whitewash and a sealant on, and this is what we had:

lambing 010The lost springs and sagging ribbing got replaced with a piece of plywood, and the edge had new foam and fabric put on it. Then I cut new foam squabs from a cheap mattress, and covered that with the fabric I bought at the same time as the mattresses two years ago – this has been a project for a while.

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I did the stitching by hand, because I wanted to line the fabric up very precisely, and uncovered foam is hard to smooth a tight fabric over. So that took a couple of evenings. But now, this is what I have:

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It is a bit deeper than the old look, but I have saved the old back rest cushion and reshaped it, so I can reuse that. I won’t cover it though until I’ve done the rest of the suite, so I know if I have enough fabric – the back rests can be in a different fabric if needs be.

All in all, I’m prettyy happy with the outcome. Once I’ve done the rest of the suite, I plan to strip the bookshelves as well, and then whitewash them. It should leave the whole room feeling much lighter and brighter.

Cost? Well, as I said, the suite cost me $15 and a trip to Lake Ferry. The fabric was on sale at Spotlight, I think I paid $10/metre, and there’s a fair bit on the roll I got. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I got 26 metres? The mattresses were $50 each, and I got four. So the whole suite will have cost me about $500,  which is pretty good for any quality suite of three+one+one+foot stool. For something in solid wood, even better.

Lambing time 2 – when things go (a bit) wrong

So our third mother, Nettle, is barely more than a lamb herself. We didn’t think she was going to be cycling when the ram went in, but we were wrong. And not only did she lamb, but she had twins.

Now, this is a good thing in many ways. Nettle is of Sage, and has her mother’s lovely fleece. As I’m a spinner, I am all for breeding this line. Since Sage had twins too, we have now tripled our sheep of this line.

The bad news is, Nettle turned out not to know what to do with the two small slimy shouty things that kept following her around. Despite the weather, she didn’t join the other mothers under shelter. When she was really busy with a nice big tuft of green grass she got sufficiently distracted that the lambs could steal some food, but then she’d walk off and knock them over (or trample them). I watched over the course of the day, and they got progressively colder and wetter and hungrier and weaker. In the end they stopped following her, and just sat down, crying for their mummy. She’d answer a bit, but didn’t go to them. When I went out there, she didn’t hang around them either, she just took off with the other sheep. All this not typical sheep mommy behaviour.

It was very wet and cold last night, so after a  quick discussion we decided to take the lambs. If they hadn’t been of our breeding line, I might have taken a punt, but I want these two to grow up.

In my animal care store, I had colostrum, teats, and nappies. Yes, nappies. A blanket on the floor in the laundry for bedding, some colostrum in their tummies, and they settled in for the night. Needless to say the kids are delighted. So is the dog, she wants to lick them and love them and care for them and love them, oh boy oh boy oh boy!

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