Saturday, August 28, 2010

New plantings

'Spring is about to sprout,' as my 4-year-old daughter Ivy said to me yesterday while we were working in the garden together.

We have planted two new fruit trees, a lychee - not sure how it will go with the frost - and a new variety low-chill apple tree.

I have put the lychee right up against the polly water tank, in hope that the tank will keep the surrounding temperature above zero. The theory is that the water in the tank will never drop below freezing point, so the air around is 'might' also stay above freezing point when the frosts hit, although, we had no serious frosts this winter anyway. I will also cover the tree during frost session for the first couple of years and see if I can mollycoddle it along. The children love lychees and so do I. We shouldn't expect to see any fruit for the first three years, I am told.

Now to the apple tree. I don't know anyone who has experimented with low-chill varieties, but when I saw them in Daleys' catalogue ( I couldn't resist. They need a another tree for cross pollination. The tree I bought was a malus domestica, which needs to be crossed with a Golden Dorset or an Einshimer - neither were in stock. I have put it on the crest of the gully to see how it goes, although in the gully probably would have been better in terms of better exposure to frost. I am not sure how many frost hours it will require, but I have an old pear tree here which is a prolific bearer.

I have three weeks of holidays from my job and plan to use a lot of it in the garden.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bushfood- bunya nuts

After spending this morning thinking about what to do with the bunya nut my neighbor gave me, I decided to invent bunya nut hash browns.
I was pretty excited about the idea of cooking with a bush food, especially locally grown.

Bunya nuts are currently in season and where I live in Northern NSW people load them into a wheel barrow and sell them out the front of their homes for as little as 50 cents.

They bunya nut is a traditional Aboriginal food and grows predominately in South Eastern Queensland and Northern NSW around the great dividing range. Most bunya trees were lost due to land clearing but some early settlers planted the tree around their homes and this is where most of the supply of the nut comes from.

They are an ancient food dating back to the Jurassic era 180 million years ago. The nuts are contained in the conifer which needs to be broken apart. It is surprisingly easy to pull the cone apart and break open its segments to get at the nuts.

Once this is done, boil the nuts in salty water for 30 to 40 minutes. This should cook them through and also crack open the nut-shell a little. Once cooked and cooled the nuts need to be shelled, which is a little laborious. The nuts taste a bit like a cross between potato, brown rice and a nut.

Here is what you need to make the hash browns

20 shelled bunya nuts
3 free-range organic eggs
1 onion
salt and pepper

Grate the bunya nuts and the onion and then mix them with the eggs. Grind in some salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron skillet and coat with olive oil. Scoop some ingredients onto the skillet and press down with an egg lift. You want it to be thin, like a pancake. Cook till crispy, then flip.

You can serve them with some aioli or use them as a base on which to serve lamb or moussaka.
The nuts can also be used as you would eggplant or zucchini as a filler in casserole as they absorb flavours well.

Monday, December 28, 2009


WE HAVE just said goodbye to two wwoofers, willing workers on organic farms, after a two week stay with us. We undertook it as a bit of a trial and it went pretty well, so I think we will do it again.

Chris, 19, and Aysha, 18, were from the UK and had very little gardening-farming experience, but they were willing to get in and have a go. I made a list of jobs so they could have some choice and also gave them the choice of having two work periods of two hours each day or one four hour work period. Due to the heat they decided to work a couple of hours in the early morning and a couple of hours in the late afternoon. We only asked they work five days out of seven, in future I would probably make this six out of seven. They worked mostly on three jobs, hand-weeding the bottom paddock, re-digging the veggie patch and scrapping the paint off our house in preparation for it being painted- the job they enjoyed the least.

If you don't have separate accommodation, then hosting wwoofers is like having a house-guest. Ours stayed in our camper-trailer but lived in the house with us. We let them have as much access to the internet as they wanted, due to the fact they were pretty isolated during their stay with us because they did not have a car. They were great with the children so it made it all pretty easy. The children really loved having them with us. What they lacked in gardening experience they certainly made up for with the amount of attention they gave the children. They were very patient with them, but were able to dish some boundaries too. I was pretty impressed with this.

I learned that hosting wwwoofers is a lot of work. I spent a lot of time cooking and keeping up the supply of food. This all became a bit less formal in the second week when they helped themselves a bit more to food and I slacked off a bit with the cooking.

In terms of the work we achieved by having them here, I am really pleased with what got done. Because they came in school holidays our plans to work alongside them didn't work out. Bill had to supervise the children and I spent most of my time in the kitchen, when I wasn't at work.

A lot of people have asked me was it worth it in terms of the cost of having them here, with the amount of work which got done. I really have not done the calculations for this, it is probably break even, but we did not do it for cheap labor. We did it because we thought it would a fun and interesting thing to do.

We have invited them to come back and wwoof with us again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


ABOUT two weeks ago I bought a new jersey cow, Buttercup. She came with a heifer calf which the children have named Midnight. I shipped out Brandy, Rosie and Charlie to a friends property. Brandy was not producing enough milk due to the mastitis she developed immediately after birthing. Left with only two teats working and producing about 1.5 litres of milk, it was hardly worth the effort.

I saw an add in the paper for Buttercup and went to check her out. She was amazingly calm, full of milk and going dirt cheap. I bought her and my friend Erin took another milker called Cupcake.

Buttercup was in very poor condition as she was fostering four calves, but amazingly she has been producing up to five lites of milk each day. It has been bliss. She is also gaining weight. It is a really good time to buy due to the drought. Lots of farmers are destocking. Erin and I are about to buy some calves for meat which we will raise up.

I have been milking Buttercup twice a day most days, which involves getting up at about 5.3o am to milk on the days I have to go to work. Still, it is incredibly satisfying and her milk is amazing, although Bill won't drink it because he knows the cow from which it came- I could understand this if he was talking about meat, but milk!
Anyway it is a lot of work, but worth it. I have to start training her to milk in the bale, as she requires a lot of food to keep her in the one spot during milking.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Milk, at last

Last night I put the calf in the house block and Brandy in the paddock next to it. We did this so the calf would not be able to drink off her overnight, which would mean there would be plenty of milk on her when I milked her out in the morning. Bill and I woke this morning shortly after sunrise to the sounds of Brandy bellowing, very loudly. The calf was gone from the house block.

We scouted around for him and found him in the big paddock with Rosie, our other cow. So, I got my milking stuff together and went out to the paddock to milk Brandy. She was full of milk, poor thing. I gave her some chaff with some dairy meal, for milk production, mixed into a bucket. While she ate that I milked out one of her good teats. There was plenty of milk there.

As soon as she finished the food, and before I had finished milking her, she marched out of the paddock, right through the barbed wire fence and straight to her calf. The calf was trying desperately, at the time, to drink from Rosie, who of course had nothing for her. The calf latched straight on.

So the good news is there is plenty of milk there. I got about a litre, it's hard to know how much more was there, but I suspect a fair bit. I didn't get to the back teat, from which milk was spurting out of while I milked the front one. We need about two litres a day for our family.

She is a pretty slow milker, with only one large teat really suitable for milking, and only two teats working. The other thing is , I can't milk for very long before my arms begin to ache. I guess this will improve.

Yesterday was the first day we were able to drink her milk after the withholding period from the antibiotics had finished. I was only able to get 500ml from her when I milked because the calf had been drinking from her all day. The children all tried her milk, except Jude, who thought the idea of drinking Brandy's milk was gross. It was pretty creamy and tasted a lot different to milk from the shop.

The milk needs to be strained through a cloth, but apart from that, it can be drunk fresh from her udder.

Brandy probably needs to be milked in a stall, and there is talk of all the neighbors pitching in to build one. We have to work out a milking roster for the cow as well. We have two neighbors who have helped us a lot with the cows and we would like to be able to share the milk with them, and they are keen to milk her. I don't think there will be any surplus milk, which is a shame because I was hoping to sell it to pay for the cost of our agistment, feeds and dairy meal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


We have decided to try hosting some WWOOFers- willing workers on organic farms. I thought we would need to have a cabin built before we did something like this, but then I discovered some hosts put their WWOOFers up in tents. We plan to use our trusty camper-trailer for accommodation. It is comfortable and it doesn't leak, and as we will only be hosting people for short stays, it should be fine.

We have made a loose arrangement with a young English woman, Aysha, and her travelling companion, Chris. They arrive in Sydney from England on November 25 and will make their way North. We have asked they give us four day's notice before their arrival.

In exchange for four hours work each day, we will provide all their meals and accommodation. I am now making a plan for what needs doing. It should really help us move the place along a bit, but I am also excited about the cultural exchange. I haven't told the children yet, in case it falls through, but they love it when people come to stay.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turkish lemonade

The last of the citrus is maturing with about two dozen lemons left on the tree, still too green to pick. We still have a few week's supply of oranges and tangerines on the trees. The lime tree I planted two years ago has still not produced any fruit.

I have been trying to think of home made treats for the children so we can stop the buying them food from shops when we go out. It is easy to fall into the habit of always getting them a little something, especially when they wear me down with pestering. Our children have come to expect that every time they get in the car there will be a treat. About three weeks ago, they went cold turkey.

One of the things I have come up with as a substitute for expensive juices from the shop is Turkish lemonade; the children love it. Here is the recipe:

6 lemons juiced
1/2 cup of caster sugar
1 small splash of rose water

Heat all the ingredients over a low flame until caster sugar is totally dissolved, then leave it to cool. To drink it, mix it with water, about 1 part lemonade to 6 parts water. It keeps in the fridge for ages.