Saturday, 5 March 2016

Terrific Tassivores

G'Day all and welcome!

There's an exciting local food scene here in Tasmania, and the #tassivore movement is an integral part of it.

A campaign largely circulated by social media, it's all about encouraging people to grow their own food, share and barter with their neighbors, and to participate in community gardens and projects.

We are currently in Autumn and preparing for the cold Winter, starting some brassicas in seed raising pots. It's a favourite activity of my daughter, since it means getting to play in the dirt!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

So I promised I'd write...

G'Day all and welcome!

Okay, okay, it's been a year. But WHAT a year!

Turns out that moving a couple thousand miles down to the southernmost state of Australia, having a baby, and getting a farm going all takes up more of one's time than I'd previously imagined. The upside of that is, well, it's been a year - and I have so much to share!

The property here at Glencoe on Branxholm has started to come alive, if somewhat reluctantly. Over the past twelve months we have begun to shape the systems we will need in place to eventually become self sufficient. It is very much a work in progress, and there is much to be done, so I'll only touch on items briefly here and go more into depth later.


The pastures were needing some TLC but thankfully hadn't been trashed quite beyond repair. We must have collected three or four trailerloads of rubbish from them, I pick up more junk  every time I'm out walking around. Old tyres, silage bale wrapping, baling twine, black industrial plastic, feed bags, glass bottles, beer cans.... you name it. There's been fences I've been repairing as needed, and we did a soil test enabling us to have a load of fertilizer spread over the ground to replenish what had been stripped from it. We did very well cutting a crop of beautiful hay, so will not need to buy any this winter.

The gardens around the house needed much work, and still do. Plants put in locations that don't suit, weeds let run rampant for years, more black plastic and rubbish than you could believe. With judicious use of mattock, shovel and chainsaw, it's coming slowly along. 

It's an adjustment coming to a cold climate, quite the novelty to have four distinct seasons. There are apples, peaches and pears just about ripe on our trees, we might have cherries and plums next summer, it's very exciting and well worth the trade of the ability to grow mangoes or bananas!

The veggie patch in itself has has the most attention paid to it. With the help of my father on a visit we saw it wrapped in 6' chicken mesh, to keep the rabbits, possums and poultry out. Trailer loads of manure, straw mulch, used cow bedding and the mess from the floor of the chicken coup have all added some much needed organic matter and nutrient to the soil, I've never had compost heaps like this!

Having grown crops of potatoes, corn and beetroot to help break up the soil, I find I'm fighting with weeds on a daily basis now. The grass known as "twitch" is frustrating. I've got a wild brassica type plant that sprouts anywhere that gets water, thankfully the weeds all have a purposeful destination as stock feed!

Being autumn, the veg patch is giving up a harvest of beans, potatoes, peas, corn, pumpkins, radishes and a few more. I'm filling the empty rows as they happen with the last run or two of carrots, and then it's all things brassica. Kohl rabi, cabbage, cauliflowers, broccoli, beetroot and chard, parsnips, swedes and turnips. There's going to be good food here all winter!


Having a little bit of acreage has allowed stock diversity that was previously unattainable. All the animals had been sold or rehomed before the move with the exception of Reuben the horse, and a bit of thought went into what we could carry here. 

Starting with the humble chickens of course - although the range of heritage breeds readily available in Tasmania is tight compared to what I'm used to; we acquired some good quality White Leghorns, New Hampshires, and a bunch of friendly farmyard mongrels to flesh out the numbers.

Next on the list, came the goats. Having had goats before, I knew the challenges they would present and can honestly say I was overzealous. We started with three, which promptly escaped (up the paddock, they came back when called with a bucket though!) and spurred an afternoon of re-fortification of the pen. Electric wire is your friend! 
We trained our does to be tethered and to come when called, one of the three was returned to the breeder as her personality didn't quite suit - but the two remaining are very friendly, and seem rather happy with their lot. They will be bred this season to kid in the springtime.

The cows came after midyear. I'd spent some time trying to find where I could procure a registered Guernsey, having lusted after the golden milk for cheesemaking for a few years. After what seemed like an age, with a few disappointments (I'd even started to look at Jerseys and Ayrshires) I got put on to a wonderful gentleman farmer a few hours away. He consented to part with not one but two cows, one in milk and one due to calve (she gave a heifer!) and I can honestly say I've never milked such a nice cow as my beautiful Star.

Colby, Brie and Halloumi

Having a couple of cows in milk meant needing something to do with it other than make cheese, since there's only so many hours in the day. So pigs happened... Wessex Saddlebacks to be precise. They're friendly and tame (although I'm very cautious with the boar, he is HUGE!) and they respect the electric fence. I've never seen any animal be so grateful for it's dinner as a pig is. 

We rounded out the equation with a border collie bitch pup. "Boots" is from proper working dog lines, and is very keen on her job. Currently she herds the chickens and the goats, with supervision as she is very much still in training - it's amazing to watch her instincts come out.  At this stage the cattle don't quite take her seriously, although I'm sure that will change with time. 


Glencoe was once a working commercial dairy, and the structure still stands. A long shed, all open along the Eastern side, I have decided to repurpose this as our apiary area. I'm fortunate to be mentored by a local experienced bee-keeper, and feel like I'll never learn enough about the bees but I really love working with them.

I currently have two hives, both swarms taken from other properties in the district. They're mean bees, defensive bees. Good hardworking bees. Hopefully next season I will be able to split them into a couple more hives, and one day even produce honey enough to share it around. 

For now, I'm letting my broccoli go to flower as "the girls" love it, and I certainly love having them present in my veggie garden.


The house and the property in itself needs much work put into it. Things such as solar electricity, rainwater tanks and new irrigation piping, all need to be seen to. The stock yards are slowly being renovated and improved, the old stables has been refitted as a milking parlour. 

We'd like to have an external accomodation of some sorts for visiting family and workers, an underground cellar for wine and produce, a separate cellar for cheese, and a proper wood working shop, possibly even a forge for smithing. 

It's going to be a long journey, but so many of the foundation steps have been taken in this short year that I feel confident about our future here.

Cheers,  M.

Friday, 6 March 2015

But I would walk 500 miles.... And I would walk 500 more (the long journey from Glenkeachie to Glencoe)

G'day all and welcome!

To those who've read my blog before, you might be wondering if I dropped off the face of the planet. The answer is "almost" :-) Truth be told we've relocated, to Tasmania, which is the little triangle island underneath the Australian main land, if you're looking at a map.

Here's the wiki  Branxholm, 7261 Tasmania, AUSTRALIA

It's been a huge deal for us as a family. I'm also due to have a baby in a couple of weeks (so we'll have a little farm boy along with out little farm girl!) All of the livestock from Queensland was sold, or rehomed, excepting Reuben, the horse, who also made his way down here.

Quick Unsolicited Plug - the guys & gals at Tasmanian Horse Transport did an amazing job with my big boy and I'd happily recommend them to anyone moving equines to this wonderful place, look them up! -

So, where exactly did we go? The new farm has an old name. Glencoe on Branxholm is a very old farm, inhabited by farmers originally from Scotland (which bodes well I think!). Nestled on the western side of a valley in the picturesque North East Tasmania, not too far from Scottsdale, Branxholm is a blink-and-you-miss-it village; we've one pub, a general store with a petrol bowser, and a small cafe.

Glencoe herself is a property boasting almost 40 acres of pasture, bordered by the lovely Ringarooma River (throw a line in if you want fresh trout for breakfast!) with a renovated farmhouse and a multitude of farm-ish outbuildings that speak of many generations of toil.

The little farmgirl is enjoying the changes this move has brought to our family, and (now I've got the pc set up) I'll hopefully be able to add articles as we fix things, dig new gardens, acquire new livestock, and so on. 

Even the snails down here are extra friendly!

I do have to say the fresh produce down here is amazing. Farmgate roadside stalls provide all we need for the moment, from corn, carrots and potatoes from the Amish through to wonderful plums, apples and apricots on the drive home from school... and of course the wonderful garden squash and fresh picked peas from friends, or the amazing honey, and lemons from my other friends!

Everyone here has been very welcoming, it truly feels wonderful to be so warmly brought into this community. And despite thermostat issues with the oven, I can't stop baking!!!

Cheers,  M

Monday, 21 July 2014

Spuds wonderful spuds... mashed, deep-fried or roasted...

G'day all and welcome!

Today I had a gardening encounter with earth's most versatile vegetable of the tuber variety, the humble potato. I've been growing taters for a while now,  but I thought I might try one of these newfangled fashionable methods of growing, the "grow bag". 
Heavy weight, UV resistant, durable material with a couple of holes in the bottom. Two person job to move them when full!
Potatoes are not a "set and forget" plant like sweet potatoes or yams. they require a little maintenance to get the best out of your plants - it's easy but requires commitment.

I ordered my seed potatoes and the 75L grow bag from Greenharvest online. I've bought from them many times, and they are fantastic.  It's important that your seed potatoes are disease free - which is why you shouldn't use spuds you've bought from the store, especially if they're not from a certified organic grower.

Clean & disease free. Store in darkness!
Spuds like to be planted about 10-15cm deep. You can sow direct to the soil, or you can sprout your slips in seed raising mix, at about 5cm deep, and then plant them out. Your seed potatoes may be planted whole, or cut in half to give you more plants. If cutting, leave the halves out in open air for 2-3 days so that a scab forms, to lessen the chances of it rotting. Make sure that each piece has at least two healthy looking "eyes" on it, as this is where your vines will sprout from.

Choose a nice sunny spot, spuds don't really like the cold.
For the grow bag, I've put about 15cm of good quality potting mix, and planted the sprouted potatoes about 10cm down. I've then covered the green vine all the way up to the leaves of the plant. I'm using desiree potatoes for this bag. The ones in the soil/mulch hay garden bed currently are sebago, and I've got some beautiful purple congo's that I'm excited to try my hand at too.
Pick a nice sunny spot for your potatoes. Warm soil will help them grow faster, and as the bulk of the plant is well insulated under the surface, they're not easily hurt by a hot day in full sun, even if they may seem to wilt a little on the more brutal summer days.

As your potato plants grow, they will shoot up, and maybe branch. When you have sections of more than 15cm above the soil, gently lay them over, and cover with soil, or mulch hay. This creates more vine under the soil, and gives you more potatoes per plant. For this grow bag, I will be laying the plants down in an anti-clockwise direction, and as there are two plants, they will form a loose spiral as they continue to grow.

Growing in a soil bed in your garden, you have the opportunity to dig for "new" potatoes, throughout the growing period of the plant. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the little tubers develop! You want to look at where the older sections of the vine, and this is obviously easier if you are covering with hay mulch rather than soil.  Try not to disturb the vine, or the budding baby potatoes if you can help it. New potatoes are best used within a few days, as they don't store as well as old potatoes, from a finished plant.
New potatoes and baby potatoes, found easily by lifting some mulch hay. Note the green vine has blanched, and there are baby tuber growing next to the larger ones that can be harvested.
Eventually your plant will run out of green, and decide to wilt and die. Don't be sad! It's all part of the process. Give it a couple of weeks for the whole plant to finish off. Then, when you can't stand to wait anymore, go digging for treasure! If you're using a grow bag, or have built a box, it's as simple as tipping it over. if you've planted in a garden bed, use a garden fork, gently, starting at the edges and working your way in so as not to spear a spud with the tines.
New potatoes - these are sebago potatoes. Great for mashing or roasting, or baking whole.
Store your large potatoes, eat the mediums & smaller ones first as they won't store as long. Make sure to store your spuds for eating in a cool, dry, dark place - a hessian bag in the cupboard is ideal. Sunlight will make the spuds turn green, and green potatoes are poisonous  - do not eat them.

If  you are going to keep some of your harvest for seed, choose tubers that are the similar size to your original seed potatoes of that variety - for me that's about 5cm across, and make sure it has good healthy skin, and a good number of eyes for new vines. Don't wash them, simply start the process anew.
The perfect seed potato (this is a purple congo). Several eyes, no disease or scarring, a fine layer of the soil it was grown in.
Here where we are, we get two (or more) good crops of potatoes per year. I plant at the end of winter (after the last frost) and late summer. If you get snow in your area you may only get the one crop, although you could stagger your plantings to have an early crop planted late winter, and a later crop planted at the end of spring.

And if your sprouts come up and you think they look like tomatoes - don't panic. Potatoes and tomatoes are both part of the nightshade family, and can look very similar. The colour of the vine depends on the variety of potato, and can vary from a light spring green to a deep purple.

Cheers, M

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Whole New Soggy Ecosystem

G'day and welcome!

So winter solstice has passed, the days are getting longer, we've only a couple of frosts between now and what is guaranteed to be a long, hot summer. Summer in Australia is of course heralded by the most loathed of insects, the mosquito.

Keeping livestock as we do, we keep a number of water troughs. One for each paddock really. The smaller tubs, which hold about 20 gallons, are no hassle to keep clean, they're topped up and checked on daily, if one needs to be scrubbed it can be easily tipped into another, mind you that's rare as the constant influx of new water (town water here is chlorinated and fluoridated, yuk) keeps "life" from developing.

However the big paddock has a trough that is sized to cope with the drinking requirements of several large animals on a hot summer day. We use an old bathtub, large, solid iron lined with white enamel, heavy as a hereford bull. The kind that was designed before the words "water restrictions" were ever put next to each other in a sentence!

This lovely large tub keeps the water cool, being more than knee deep when full. The constant exposure to sunlight takes care of any chlorine very quickly however, and between the mozzies that breed there, and the algae that inevitably develops, it needs to be emptied and scrubbed every couple of weeks, until now. This year I thought we'd try a new method, rather than wasting all that water.

An Australian native swamp grass to help with oxygen in the water.
Being inspired by a couple of posts on the Keeping a Family Cow forum, we decided on a couple of goldfish. They're hardy, pretty, and the no-fuss pet of choice for kids that live in apartments.... if city folk can keep them alive, how easy will this be! 

I went to the local pet store, and bought a half dozen, very pretty, brightly coloured goldfish with beautiful fantails.. some with googly eyes, some with spots and stripes. Took them home, followed the instructions on the fish bag, and after leaving the bag in the tub for 15 minutes let them go. 

Little Farmgirl loves visiting the trough!
The casualty rate, was high. 

I'd not really researched it you see, and the limited information bestowed upon me by the pet shop clerk was obviously not going to be enough.

I discovered much about the humble goldfish. Did you know, for instance, that they can survive water temps of "almost frozen"? Apparently in China people break through ice to get to the fish.  Amazing little things. They are extremely hardy, but are intolerant to rapid change of PH in their water, as I found out, it can kill them. 

Crows and other birds also find them tasty treats, those bright colours made them easy to pick off. The beautiful long tails made them slow and cumbersome, unable to escape the predators. 

Having done more research and learning more interesting facts about keeping fish in an outside tank or trough, I made some big changes to the tub. I added some plants, to help with oxygenation. I also chose to purchase some little blue crayfish, some shrimp, some snails, and some new fish. We carved a piece of timber to provide some hidey holes, and weighted it down with a bessa brick,  for the fish to swim through and hide in.

Hiding places are important - if you can see the fish so can the predatory birds like crows.
This time we went with uncoloured goldfish. They're cheap, and for most people, the muted bronze or pewter colours are boring, hard to see, not exciting at all. They're the comet type, lithe, streamlined, lightning fast in the water. These fish are perfect. I also got some feeder guppies... used by people with aquariums to feed their pet oscar or barramundi live prey.

Now we introduced them slowly to the water, a half cup at a time, and with the shrimp, guppies, crays, snails.... and this time we've had much more success. The cattle don't eat the submerged plants, or (to my husbands amazement) suck up the fish when they drink. 

Snail, feasting on algae.
The fish are certainly keeping the mosquito population down, and I've not had to scrub the tub in a month. 

I love going down to top up the trough now. I've got a whole new set of mini livestock to look after in there, and it's a window into another world. The guppies are more social than the goldies, they are easily visible from the surface. 

Crayfish are a useful addition, the clean up any casualties or left over food.
The crays come out most at dawn and dusk, and take care of any leftover food (or the occasional half eaten guppy) that sinks to the floor of the tub. The snails truck around,  cleaning scunge from the edges, as do the shrimp. 
Shrimp, surrounded by guppies.
I'll update if we get to summer, how the mosquito population is declined or not. But for now, even if it's just for the lovely aesthetics I would highly recommend this experience for anyone too lazy to scrub their troughs too often :)

Cheers,  M.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

You put WHAT in your breakfast?

G'Day all and Welcome :-)

First actual posting in a while. I've actually written a few and decided not to post... Which is helpful to me but boring for you I guess - so since I've a day at home I thought I'd share a bit of a delicious post.

It's no secret I like vegetables - especially the green and leafy kind. And it's important to try and fit them into your diet as much as you can - but not everyone likes broccoli three times a day! One green & leafy I've been using a great deal lately (it's autumn here and finally cool enough to start winter veggies) is English Spinach.

Once very commonly eaten, known as Popeye's magical booster food - spinach is breathtakingly easy to grow. Literally loosen up the soil, seed, wet and forget. When it first shoots, it will look like blades of grass - don't worry you have planted the right seeds!

I now use spinach in place of lettuce - to me it tastes similar enough to Cos Verdi, and is much better for you. It's also great in cooking - a big handful stirred through the mashed spuds before serving wilts just slightly and is very tasty. This morning - I put it in my breakfast. Enjoy the how to below!! 

Step 1 - get your bacon frying in your nice, hot CI pan
Step 2 - add a big handful of lovely fresh green English Spinach; it will wilt down some so be generous!
Step 3 - cover with the pan lid and let the spinach wilt a bit, this takes maybe 30 secs?
Step 4 - grate some cheese on; I'm using a New Zealand vintage crumbly cheddar, with a nice strong flavour.
Step 5 - beat a couple of eggs, a splosh of milk, some black pepper... 
Step 6 - and pour it into the pan. I give the bacon / spinach a bit of a push around so the egg mix goes under them as well.
Step 7 - lid back on for a minute or so. This helps keep the heat in, while I'm waiting for the bottom of the egg mix to get crunchy.
Step 8 - lid off, when the egg starts to come away easy from the side of the skillet - she's ready to flip over.
Step 9 - flip and sizzle! Plenty of steam, and yummy smells coming from the pan now. If you weren't hungry before, you are now!
Step 10 - more cheese. Mmmmmmm cheese.....
 Step 11 - once the cheese is melted and the bottom of the egg is crisped, put it on a plate, and see if you can make it as far as the table before you start eating... I couldn't! 

Hope you all enjoy your spinach!