Saturday, October 18, 2014

The vagaries

It's been a little over a year since the first batch of 100 day old chicks arrived at Autumn Farm. It's been a massive year of learning, surviving, nourishing our community, learning some more, working hard, crying, laughing, asking ourselves (and being asked by others) "why the hell are we doing this??" and "is this really worth it??" and then realising that yes, it is what we really want to be doing with our little piece of land - feeding people.
And while it is tremendously rewarding and for me, at least, the fulfilment of a childhood dream of wanting to be a farmer, there have been times when we've had a tiny taste of the tragedy and heartbreak that also comes with trying to make a living from the land, where you're ultimately always at the mercy of Nature. Like my 3rd-generation-dairy-and-sheep-farmer neighbour said: "some days you wouldn't give it up for ten million bucks, the next day you'd give it all up for 10 cents". It is really like that.

In my mind, The Hardships of Farming always kind of took the shape of drought and flood - images of sheep lying dead in a desert-like paddock, old gnarled farmers in check shirts and akubras with their faces in their hands, murmuring desperately about being forced from their land. Or the other extreme of cattle being lifted in helicopter-slings to save them from being drowned.

We, in our extremely small-fry operation will never be vulnerable to these kinds of desperate extremes. But that doesn't mean that we don't experience a little of the rollercoaster. 
On hot days, we spray the chickens with water every hour or so, to stop them from overheating

Take the last 2 weeks. A fortnight ago, the weather was sunshiny spring. The chicks were loving it, the big chickens were loving it. Everyone was happy and healthy and growing well on the beautiful spring pasture. Pearl's and my moods (inextricably linked to the health and happiness of our chickens) were high. It was a 10 million dollar kind of a time.

And then we had a cold rainy snap. What does a cold rainy snap mean for a little pastured poultry enterprise? First of all, it means that we need to buy straw. There's no point moving the chicken houses onto wet ground, so the daily house move is replaced by houses filled daily (sometimes twice daily) with dry straw, to keep the chickens healthy, if not happy. Buying straw means our (already slim) profit margins go down, so while we love and need the rain, it's always in the back of our mind.

It means days of trudging around in raincoats at all hours of the day and night, tending to feed and water and straw, making sure the chickens are managing to stay dry. It means slipping over in the wet grass.
And, sometimes, it means death. This last cold rainy snap came at an unfortunate time for our chicks in the brooder house, who'd been happily acclimatising to the warm spring weather. They'd been born during mild weather, arrived on our farm during warm weather, and we'd been slowly lowering the heat in the brooder house in preparation for their move to pasture. So when the temperature dropped 20 degrees literally overnight, they had no preparation or resilience for cool weather and, in spite of the heat lamp in the brooder house, they piled up and crushed, out of desperation to keep warm.

The temperature, at 10 degrees, was nowhere near as cold as our winter chicks tolerated. But they were used to it. Not so these springtime chicks.
It is really sad. As the peeps at Buena Vista Farm put it, "Who'd be a farmer, eh?" (they have an excellent post with that title, and I strongly recommend you read it if you'd like to understand a little more about the human energy goes into producing your food). Those are the 10 cent days.

But now here we are in the sunshine. The chickens and chicks are all happy again. Yesterday we sold 120 chickens to some very happy local people, who hopefully feasted well last night. Today, across the Valley, people are cooking up bone broths and chicken soups. And that is what makes us keep going. But it's hard - no bones about it.

* Thank you Jay for taking beautiful photos of our chickens

Sunday, October 12, 2014

For the love of Niki and David

Last weekend I had the absolute honour of being present at the wedding of my beautiful friend Niki and her beloved David. As you may know, I'm quite partial to the old wedding celebration, but this one was extra-super-special and extra-super-loved-up, partly because Niki's one of the most beautiful people I've ever met, and partly because Niki and David have waded through a ton of heartbreak and tragedy this year, so a celebration of their enduring love was a pretty special thing to be a part of.
David in classic tux, Annie in brand-new hair and Niki in vintage pink

But what to make for such an amazing occasion? To be honest, I actually suffered from quite extreme crafter's block on this one. It seemed like there was nothing I could possibly make that could convey my feelings about their wedding and about them as individuals and how much I love them. I was stumped.

But I kept coming back to an image I had from a story Niki had told me about how much Lucien loved watching birds and leaves moving in the sunlight. While Niki and David's wedding was obviously about Niki and David, it was also beautifully and oh so poignantly about their little Lucien, so my wedding gift to them needed to honour him in some way.

And so I set to work crocheting them a little Lucien-love-bird, and I thought of him, and them, with every stitch I made and yes, many tears were shed.
The yarn was bought from an awesome "one-woman, one-cat" yarn and fibre studio based in Melbourne called Yarn vs Zombies and is hand-dyed in a colour scheme called 'outback rainbow', which just totally reminded me of Niki.

The lichen twig is from our land, and the heart was cut from a piece of wool felt which was shorn, dyed and felted by our friend Tabitha, using wool from her sheep.

It was important for me to not only hand make them a gift, but to include lots of things that had a personal connection to us and our land. I don't see Niki nearly as much as I'd like to, on account of the combined tyranny of distance and busy lives, so I like to give her little bits and pieces of 'me'. Also, Niki and I spent some super-fun and super-treasured times camping on the land (and hanging farm-gates in the rain with nothing more than a bush-saw and a ton of determination) long before we'd even moved to Bega.

I also made them a little crochet-monogram-wedding-cushion, like Jemima and Bhavani's (to be honest, I think this is going to be a wedding gift tradition from me from here on in) but I strangely forgot to take a photo of it before I gave it to them. 

But let's face it: the bird is really the main event, though it's only a teeny-tiny and, quite frankly, profoundly inadequate representation of the immense love and admiration I have for Niki and David: YOU. GUYS. ROCK. And I love you to bits.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

And happy happy birthday crochet

There's been a bit of a flurry of birthdays of late, and, in celebration, I've been crocheting up a storm. 

The first crocheted gifts to emerge from the bonanza were these 2 little dragons for 2 of the sweetest little boys I know, Max and Evan, who recently turned 7. It's hard to get a sense of the size of them (the dragons, not the boys. The boys are normal 7 year old size) from the picture (when I found the pattern online I thought they'd turn out to be quite big), so I should say that these little fellas pretty much fit in the palm of your hand, which is pretty darn cute. I was really happy with how they turned out, and was relieved to hear that there was no issue with the fact that the green dragon was a little smaller, on account of me using different yarn. They were both 8 ply, made form the same pattern, using the same hook, but I guess the fluffiness of the blue mohair made it a bit bigger. The boys love their dragons, and have been sleeping with them every night. Success.

Next up was this giraffe for a little person called Iris, who, according to Olive has "sensational hair". Iris loves soft toys and giraffes, and has named this crocheted friend Gingerbread. Awesome. The pattern for this giraffe is pretty simple (good for a beginner), and turns out a pretty cute, cuddly little gift, though someone really needs to tell the lady who wrote it how to use apostrophes correctly.
 Last, but definitely not least, I made a frog dissection model for my brother.
When I found this pattern, I was super excited. What's not to love about a crocheted frog that you can open up and take the guts out of?? But I knew that not just any old person would appreciate such a gift, so I chose my target carefully, knowing full well that my bro is as much of a sicko as me when it comes to this stuff, so would give the frog the reverence it deserved.

The frog, and  its innards, were a little more complex than the giraffe and the dragons, but I believe the result was well worth it. I even labeled all the guts so my bro could properly identify everything when he 'dissected' the frog. It's true that a crocheted spleen may not be immediately recognisable, even to the most seasoned biological scientist.
As I said in my card to him "if spending hours crocheting tiny frog innards doesn't say 'I love you', I don't know what does".

But even if it's not frog innards you're inclined to crochet, spending hours making anything for someone always says 'I love you' in a way a bought present just can't. Go forth and create, people!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Happy happy wedding day

One of the things I love love love about this blogging bizzo is the connections that can be made with people from all over the place. Sometimes, what may seem like 'random' connections, then turn out to be kind of crazy coincidence types, as in the case of Jemima and Bhavani. Turns out Bhavani had been quietly reading our blog for quite some time from the comfort of their babe lair in Melbourne. Then, when we started writing about our chickens, she realised that her partner Jemima's dad actually helped set up our little abattoir! Kooky and cool!

So we started a little email back and forth friendship, and when I was sick, they made and sent the most beautiful apron, lovingly hand-embroidered with the words 'get well' on the inside of the waist band. 
It is seriously the best apron - sunshiny, giant ric-rac, cute buttons, looks great with legwarmers and dogs - and with the most massive big pocket in front. When I wear it, which is often, it's filled with all kinds of things - scissors, bits of yarn and thread, things I've harvested from the garden (banana passionfruits make an excellent snack for keeping in the apron pocket, let me tell you). It makes me SO HAPPY to wear it because it's beautiful, practical, and was made for me, by hand, with love, by 2 people I'd never even met before. Restores a bit of the faith in human kindness, that kind of thing...

When Jemima and Bhavani contacted us to see if we'd supply chickens for their wedding feast, we were thrilled! I love weddings! And I especially love weddings for people who care enough about the providence of their food that they'll get their wedding-feast-chook from our little farm. Go girls!

So we grew the chickens nice and fat for them, and then Jemima came up to visit the chickens and we finally met, and she brought me the most amazing hat (immediately a firm favourite), which had been knitted for me by her mum. Wow! And yay for making friends through blog-world!

The chickens, just so you know, were processed and portioned at the abattoir, with Jemima's dad watching over the proceedings. When they'd been portioned (cut into drumsticks, breasts etc) they were vac-bagged with some of Jemima's special marinade, so when the day came, they could just be squeezed out onto the barbecque. Neat idea, eh?

Because I love craft, and I love weddings, I of course had to make these lovely girls a little something for their day. The answer, (as always, these days) came in the form of some crochet. A Moogly Alphabet monogrammed cushion with pom-pom trim, to be precise. (Though less than one minute after this photo was taken, Violet Tiny-Dog Von Hungry-Face pulled off 2 of the pom-poms. Grrr...)
And I can tell you now there's likely to be a whole lot more crochet monogramming going on - those little guys are SO FUN to make! The little love heart came from Meet Me at Mike's.
I also made them a mix CD of (in my opinion) super-cool love songs, also monogrammed with pink glitter letters. Why not?

So here's to you Jemima and Bhavani - I hope your day today and your life forever is magical and special and ridiculously loved-up.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mystery Berries

Do any of you know what these are?

When we first moved onto our land and started getting the garden established, we accepted plant donations from anyone and everyone. Berry canes were an especially sought-after item, being as we are berry-loving fiends, and lots of people shared and we also got them from freecycle. Happy times!

But you see, I am dreadfully disorganised, and I didn't label anything, so now we have some plants we aren't quite sure of, including the berry that we are enjoying by the handful on these glorious spring days.

The plant is pretty big, at around 1m tall, and is spreading out quite happily. It started flowering in early winter, and these berries are now daily fare, when no other berries are around. Cool!
They're certainly raspberry-like, though they're definitely not raspberries - the little 'globes' (if you know what I mean) are way smaller than a raspberry's, and there are heaps more of them. They're also a lot firmer than a raspberry, and they have lots of little tiny crunchy seeds.

The flavour is somewhere between a raspberry and a strawberry, and they're definitely delicious, though ever-so-slightly more on the tart side than the sweet side.

Any ideas?

We don't really mind if we never find out what they are - we're happily munching them, and the birds don't seem to notice them (or are confused by all the bright red kennedia flowers on the vine that is sprawling all over the berry bush). But of course we're always curious!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Banana passionfruits are rocking our world right now

Several years ago, at Alfalfa House, our beautiful friend Jay introduced Olive and I to banana passionfruits. Jay was super-enthusiastic, having grown up eating them. I was less enthusiastic, having had a disastrous encounter with some passion pop around the age of 15.
Banana passionfruit inside. According to Oski, they're "just like little lollies!"
In spite of my passionfruit aversion, however, I could still see the appeal (most significantly that they have more pulp and are easier to eat than a normal passionfruit) and planted one about a year ago, here on Autumn Farm.

The thing went beserk.
The vine, along with a bit of fluoro pink geranium and a hardenbergia
So much so that I began to think that the weedy rootstock (which most commercially-grown passionfruits are grafted onto) had taken over. Just when I was beginning to think I had a really really tedious and enormous weeding job on my hands, some flowers appeared, and a quick Google consult confirmed that they were indeed the flowers of a banana passionfruit. Yay! The best thing about this discovery was that we had HEAPS of flowers on our vine, which we hoped would translate into HEAPS of fruit.

And they did. Right before winter.
Green banana passionfruits on a mattress spring fence in winter, getting ready for their spring flush
I couldn't quite work out how this would work. Do they just hang there, green, over the winter? Through frosts? Then ripen up when the weather warms? It seemed unlikely, but it turns out this is exactly what they did. The first glimpses of spring brought the first glimpses of yellow fruit on the vine, and we're now reaping the bounty.
Easy and delicious for kids! Oski demands one in his lunch box, always
Yes, even I am enjoying several of these little beauties every day. It seems my passionfruit aversion (and my very dramatic and vehement dislike of peanut butter) was 'cured' by chemo. When I read on the chemo side effects lists that my "taste buds might change", I was sceptical. Especially when it came to peanut butter, which I couldn't even stand being in a room with. But here I am, eating passionfruit and peanut butter like there's no tomorrow. Amazing! Delicious!

So if you're thinking of planting a passionfruit, or a climbing vine, or a shade-supplier with edible side benefits, have a go at a banana passionfruit. They're ridiculously vigorous (ours covered a 3-mattress-springs-long fence in a little over a year) and will supply you with beautiful, delicious fruit at a time of year when you might need a little break from the citrus. What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The first days of spring, oh how we're loving you

How exciting that it's spring! Given that we've just experienced what we hope will be The Crappest Winter Ever, the springtime this year is more welcome than ever - bring on the new growth, both literal and metaphorical, I say! My hair's growing back (it feels like a little baby lamb!), we're slowly recovering our energies after the exhaustion-inducing chemo regime, and everything is looking extra sunshiny and new given the deepened gratitude we're experiencing as a result of the last 6 months or so. We've been absolutely revelling in the warm sunny days, picking early raspberries, resting, enjoying spring rains, watching our chickens loving the new shoots of grass, smiling at rosellas in the kennedia, and working working working on the garden - weeding, mulching, harvesting and spring planting yay!
We've also been...

Crocheting veggie tea cozies for lovely gardening sisters,

 Debuting new birthday frocks and devouring the goodness (mushrooms! Honey! Profiteroles! Jersey milkshakes! Crazy amounts of beautiful, bountiful veg! Fresh and smoked fish!) at the Moruya Farmers' Markets,
 Being thrilled by big digging and dreaming about another little strawbale house growing from the mud over the next couple of years,
Crocheting around jar-lid-rings to make bangles for the Mumbulla School Spring Fair,
 Eating duck egg omelettes with greens from the garden and bartered kimchi in the sunshine almost every morning, and loving our life.
How about you? How are you heralding the warmer days?