Farm Club

2018/05/06 deej 0

The first rule of farm club is..  please do in fact talk about farm club. Tell anyone you know who might be interested. Encourage other people to start their own versions – maybe we can make it into a movement.

Farm club is a combination of a (hopefully) practical co-op for food sharing and an attempt at a real-world version of a gifting/barter economy. The idea is that members offer “shares” in whatever they produce, along with what they need back to keep producing the thing, and other members sign up for those shares.

So in our case, we produce eggs. We’ve tried selling them directly, either for eating or hatching (we have roosters, the eggs are fertilised), but it’s hard. Working full time and trying to do a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is hard; working full time an hour to an hour and half commute away from home and trying to maintain social connections, and spend time with my kitties and my geese and my chickens, have a little bit of time to myself to write or read or play, AND doing a weekly or fortnightly egg delivery run is well nigh impossible. I just don’t have time, or the energy.

Plus, chickens aren’t machines. They don’t lay an egg a day all year; they molt, or a fox comes past and tries to get in (and fails, but still, it does them a frighten), or the weather turns cold or gets too hot, or something happens in their little chickeny brains and they stop laying. Or they find a cache of delicious bugs or something, and they go berserk laying like they’re mental (2 eggs a day from some of the hens, for no apparent reason). To reliably produce enough eggs to sell, we need to actually over-produce, which means we then have an excess to try to sell (but then we have the same problem of supplying the demand once we generate it) or to use up ourselves (our diet is already egg-heavy, we really can’t effectively use any more).

Thus: farm club. It’s a variation on the idea of people jointly buying and owning a cow or goat, and all taking a share of the milk produced by the jointly owned animal (this idea has been used by people wanting raw milk, because while it’s illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption, it is legal to use the raw milk form your own animal).

In this version, we’d offer a number of bird-shares for eggs and farm club members could sign on for one or more of these egg shares. Each share is equivalent to a half dozen eggs a week, and the ‘cost’ of your share covers the feed for producing those eggs (either directly as chicken feed, be that commercial grain-based feed or fruit & veg e.g. excess fruit from a loquat or lilly pilly tree, or in $$). We’d set a day and time (and frequency) that farm club members could come and pick up their eggs (thus sorting out our distribution issue) – for us it would be one Sunday afternoon per fortnight (Fresh eggs will last up to 3 months in the fridge, a fortnight won’t hurt them or you). If the chickens aren’t laying, or are laying less than usual, we’d post an update saying that there are no eggs that week, or that there are limited eggs.

 

farm club spreadsheet

* One standard 10L bucket  of fruit/veg scraps is approx 2 kg, but feel free to bring more if you want. Best options are greens (celery tops, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce), fruit (lilly pillies, loquats, strawberry tops, bruised bits of mango or peach, the seedy bits from the middle of melon, watermelon rinds,apple cores) or chook-friendly vegetable scraps (cooked beans, corn cobs, the seeds from pumpkin or cucumber, peas or green beans, cooked potato or sweet potato). Leftover cooked rice, barley, couscous or pasta is also okay. No citrus or onion please, and nothing mouldy (those should all go into the compost).

I haven’t worked out all the bugs from the idea, but I think it has possibilities. For example, as we start producing more things, farm club will get different types of shares that members can sign up for – and maybe even some different types of shares that other members produce.

Check out the Farm Club page – it’ll be updated as we work the idea out further. 🙂

One year later

2018/03/11 deej 0

kittensWell, a year and a bit later actually – it would be a year if it was still January, and it’s already March. I am a bad person, a slack blogger, and – more seriously – insanely busy. On top of the day job (I moved from permanent part-time to full-time contracting again at the end of 2016, and that extra day I don’t have per week to get things like grocery shopping, cooking, writing, gardening, washing, playing with the cats, etc. really cuts into my blogging time) and the regular farm work, I’ve also been writing a novel. And trying to have and maintain a social life. And there’s the cat breeding business as well – we just had our first successful litter.

The kittens are doing really well. In fact, everything is doing well, although it still looks a bit like a desert out there.

late afternoon

Closer to the house there’s more green, because we have reticulation in for the herb garden and the roses (which are going nuts). The curry tree is slowly getting bigger, and the winter savory has self-seeded baby winter savory shrubs all over the place. The rosemary is going almost as crazy as the roses, which the bees are loving, and I have self-seeded Italian parsley everywhere as well.

Lagerfeld rose

Papa Meilland rose Pope Jean Paul II rose

 

 

 

 

Peace roseStill haven’t managed to get any real pasture established on the more broad(ish)-acre further formt he house zones, but the trees are growing and starting to provide shade, and the swales are stopping us from losing topsoil every time it rains. As it goes into autumn, we’re starting to get cool, foggy mornings again, so we’re probably going to start getting some rain soon. Although it has been a very wet summer up here anyway.

foggy morningAs we get some cooler, wetter weather, I’ll be trying to resist the temptation to plant anything more. I have some carob seedlings which might be able to go into the ground – they like some space to stretch their roots out – but any more fruit trees have to wait until we’ve run irrigation. Maybe I’ll see if we can organise a busy-bee to run irrigation to the citrus area so I can plant out some rootstocks to get established. We did a grafting workshop the other day, and I’m even keener ot try grafting my own citrus now. I can buy budwood from Aus Citrus for the varieties I can’t easily get from friends & family.

Other than the grafting workshop, it’s been a quiet few months ont he leanring new farm skills front. We’ve done a couple’ve cooking courses at Matters of Taste (which, by the way, I thoroughly reccommend), and attended an information evening about their new Great Southern Region WA food tour (which looks epic). They had some sample produce form the region, which looked fantastic, and we got to take home some sample Royal Gala apples which were absolutely amazing. I don’t normally even like Galas, and Royal Galas are just a red variant, but these were honestly some of the best apples I’ve had. Ever. Including the delicious fresh organic apples I got in London from the ‘we stock locally grown fruit’ greengrocer (which was the original impetus for me to put in an apple orchard, because you can’t buy those varieties commercially in Australia).

We’re going to try a hangi once the fire-bans are finished for the summer, so I’ll post an update on that, but otherwise.. no plans. Lots of grafting practice, since I want to learn grafting as my new skill for the year. Going ot try to get the courtyard enclosed this winter so we can think about getting a dog.

I will try to post more often. I can’t promise much, but I’ll do better than once a year. 🙂

Double Delight rose

slow starter

2017/01/16 deej 0

New Years has come and gone, and I’m still just starting to settle in to 2017. It feels like a really slow start to the year somehow.

 

The hot weather has arrived, and we just went through a 24 hour power outage because the lines gather dust during dry weather and then a cool spell or a drizzle of rain (water falling from the sky! Weirdly, that does happen sometimes, even in midsummer) can cause fires on the lines or in the transformers. Which seems bizarre to me, but that’s how it is. It’s prioritised our desire to get a nice, big solar install set up, so we’ve got quotes coming in for that. Also my desire to build a solar cooker – so watch this space, and I’ll post the project when we make it. If nothing else, we’ll take it with us to Blazing Swan, and do some festival baking.

 

It might seem late in the year to talk about New Years Resolutions, but like I said –  it’s been a slow starter.

 

I’m not much for making annual promises to myself to change my life, although I know it’s a positive experience for lots of people; I’ve always figured that if I want to make some sort of change in my life, I shouldn’t really need to wait for the end fo the year. Mostly it works pretty well for me (although I do have to keep a goals list, so I don’t forget about any of the good ideas I’ve had and haven’t quite gotten to actioning yet). I do see the appeal, though – the changeover to a whole new year is a kinda magical time for me, a holiday and a time for thinking and for personal renewal and self-care.

 

So instead of a resolution as such, or even a word to characterise my aims and ambitions for the year, I have a new tradition: learn a skill each year. It’s something K used to do, and has decided to take up again, thus inspiring me to do the same. We each choose our new skill in the Dec – Jan period, and then learn and practice over the year. K is learning card magic, and the associated sleights of hand. I was tempted by a new language, but instead I’m thinking that this year I’ll learn to use my potters wheel properly, to throw a pot.

 

I did pottery classes as a kid, and I have used a potters wheel before – but not for a very long time, and I don’t think I was very good at it when I did it then. I have a beautiful potters wheel, bought for me as a present a couple’ve years ago, and now I have space to use it now. So I’m going to get some clay, and watch some YouTube tutorials, and learn me a skill. Expect a great deal of frustrated whining when it doesn’t just work straight away 🙂

 

What about the rest of you? Does learning a new skill for the year appeal? What skill would you pick?

mozzarella, asparagus, and pomegranates

2016/11/06 deej 0

It’s been a busy couple’ve weeks. Summer is here with a vengeance; we had our first 37 degree (Celcius) day yesterday, although it’s back to a more pleasant temperature today. I have my first sunburn of the summer, because I’m a very silly cat and failed to put sunscreen on before heading out to the Asparagus Masterclass at Edgecombe Bros in the Swan Valley on Friday.

 

Brilliant class, in spite of the sunburn. We started with a brief history of the winery and the local area, and some morning tea. Then all 16 of us tromped over to one of the asparagus patches and harvested several kg of fresh asparagus – and ate probably as much again. The gentleman facilitating the class said to eat as much as we wanted while we picked, so we snacked on freshly picked raw asparagus, which is delicious. Almost the flavour of fresh garden peas, or avocado; nutty and slightly sweet. Our harvest was lightly poached, and then BBQed with olive oil and salt while we enjoyed a wine tasting and tapas platter in the courtyard of the Edgecombe Bros cafe/winery, in the shade of flowering olive trees and grapevines. It was the perfect chilled out lazy summer afternoon. Then we gorged on BBQed asparagus with shaved parmesan, chased with muscat soaked figs in chocolate. I love the floral, fruity flavours of muscat grapes and wines, so combining that with dried fig is just.. nom. I may be in love. They sent us home full of delicious things and sunshine and wine, with a complimentary recipe pack.

 

The actual info about asparagus boils down to: asparagus is actually really easy and quick to cook. You can eat it raw, and like most vegetables where that’s the case, it should really only be lightly cooked if you’re going to cook it. If you can snap the stem easily by bending it, it’s fresh and tender, no matter what the diameter of the spear is, as younger or smaller plants produce thinner spears which are just as delicious as the thicker ones produced by bigger or more mature plants.

 

My last foodie course (I have a weakness for these things, I love learning new food things almost as much as I love learning new gardening things) was two weeks ago, at the Roleystone Family Centre. We went there to learn how to make fresh mozarella, from Megan Radaich of www.foodpreserving.org. The class was fantastic, really informative and easy to follow – and it resulted in delicious cheese. Things I didn’t realise: mozarella is a fresh cheese, like ricotta, and you can only make mozarella using non-homogenised milk. Most cheeses can be made with homogenised milk if you add calcium chloride to “fix” the proteins which are torn up by the homogenisation process, but the calcium chloride interferes with the stretching process in mozarella making, so you end up with dry, non-stretchy cheese which is a lot more like ricotta than it should be.

 

Mozarella is also the easiest cheese I’ve tried so far except ricotta. Combine milk and citric acid, heat slowly to 32 degrees C, add rennet and leave to set. Once you have fully set curds, cut the curds then heat again to 42 degrees C. Gently remove the curds from the whey with a slotted spoon, and place into a microwave proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then kinda massage lightly to get some more whey out. Repeat the microwaving and massaging step 2 – 3 times, until the cheese gets sort of shiny on the surface and stretches easily. Put it into iced salt water (10% – 20% brine) for about 15 minutes – and it’s done. Eat that day for best flavour.

 

To continue the foodie theme, I’ve been obsessed with pomegranates for the last couple’ve weeks. No food-preparation course to blame on this one; it’s mostly because of my last major assignment for my university course. The paper I wrote was about the economic feasibility of dehesa style agroforestry in WA, looking at which trees would be effective options. Turns out, pomegranates are one of the best. Highly productive, fruit within 2 – 3 years of planting from seed or cuttings, and the fruit commands a relatively high price even if sold wholesale to retailers, for the fresh fruit market or for juice. And of course you can make pomegranate mollasses from it. Pomegranate mollasses, which is actually sour-sweet rather than just sweet as you might expect from the name, is one of my more recent discoveries. I bought some on a whim, and have been adding it to things and testing it out. I highly recommend that people try it. It adds a balanced sweet-sour note to savoury dishes – a teaspoon or two in a thai curry, for example, rounds out the flavours better than anything else, almost like a fish sauce. I think what I’m saying is that it’s full of umami flavours, but it doesn’t overpower other flavours the way many umami things (garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, fish sauce, ..) can do.

 

We’re just starting to get to the point where we can put in some long term productive crops here. The apples are going in a few per season (apple trees are expensive! especially heirloom varieties which have to be shipped over from Tasmania or NSW), so in a couple’ve years we should start getting decent apple crops. I just need to get our cider-making skill sup to scratch by then, since cider and cider vinegar are two of the products we’re planning to produce. But aside from some small scale production of fresh fruit (we’ll end up with more apricots than we can possibly eat from our three trees, for example, but it’s not going to be a major product either), we haven’t 100% settled on our production niche. I’m leaning towards dates, pomegranates, pomegranate mollasses, and balsamic style gourmet vinegars. (Oh, yes, there will be grapevines. I checked yesterday, and in the space we have allocated for them, I think we can fit 60 vines. So we might try our hand at making fortified wines as well.)

 

Anyway, that’s where we are at the moment. Everything is flowering, and the geese are starting to get their grownup feathers. The baby chicks are getting bigger every day, and the adult chickens are doing their chickeny thing. I found a blutongue lizard in the chicken coop this morning, sharing their breakfast (eating his fill while the chooks watched from the other side of the coop), so I might need to keep an eye out for him. Bluetongues are gorgeous, and I’m super glad we have a couple living near the house (they decrease the incidence of snakes), but they do eat eggs so I’ll just encourage him to keep out of the chicken coop. It’s sunny, and the breeze is blowing past the roses and bringing me rose scents, and life is pretty good.

updates for the end of Oct 2016

2016/10/24 deej 0

I’m in the thick of my last assignment for the semester (for those not yet aware, I’m studying for my Masters of Sustainable Agriculture at Charles Stuart University). It’s a big one, and it’s due in a few days, so that’s where most of my writing effort is going at the moment.

 

That being the case, this post is going ot be short & sweet, just a few quick updates:

  • The goslings are growing astonishingly quickly – they’re already three times as big as they were, and they’re giants compared to the chicks they’re in with. Also, they’ve learned to swim (in their water dish) and are paddling about enjoying the warm weather.
  • The quail (our 3 survivors) have moved into their adult run – a fully enclosed, off the ground pen floored with trays of sand, and equipped with lots of hidey-holes for flighty little birds to hide in. Although to be honest, these quail are surprisingly chill compared to our last lot. I guess being handled from the time they hatch really makes difference – these guys don’t mind being picked up, and don’t panic at humans carrying them around (e.g. to their new home). They did find the rooster crowing a bit alarming (the quail pens are next to the chicken coops, so he’s a bit closer and louder than they’re used to).
  • The apples have started to flower, and the stone fruit have all finished already. The pears are starting to flower as well, although the kangaroos have discovered that the top baby leaves of just-planted pear trees are delicious 🙁 so we’ve had to do some extra tree protection there.
  • Went to a mozarella-making workshop on Saturday, which was amazing. I’ll write a whole post about it soon, but not until my assignment is done. On the whole, though, fresh mozarella is the easiest and quickest to make cheese I’ve tried yet except for ricotta (cheeses I’ve made include: feta, ricotta, cream cheese, yoghurt cheese / labneh, haloumi, brie/camembert; next on the list is a cheddar- or gouda- style hard cheese).
  • I have more apple seeds sprouting. I may have a problem – I can’t just throw fruit tree pips and pits intot he compost without trying to germinate them, and apple seeds germinate very easily. So.. more seedling apples on the way 🙂

 

That’s it for now 🙂

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