Friday, 31 January 2014

We have babies !!!

Since our last dry visit up to the farm, we have anxiously watching the weather, but alas we have had not a drop of rain in the last 3 weeks and we made the decision to make a hasty trip back up with a trailer load of  lucerne  hay for the sheep that we were able to purchase here in the Hunter Valley off a property near the river that irrigates.There is very little hay around  the farm area and what is there is ridiculously expensive, so it was cheaper for us to purchase some bales   on route and cart it  up there.
The sheep eagerly watched us arrive and waited patiently for Brian to unload the hay and give them some. Our next door neighbour does feed the hay out for us at regular intervals when we are away.
Our neighbour had sent us a message to tell us   that we had  babies, 2 single births and 1 set of tiny twins. we had decided to only put 6 ewes in with the ram as we were trying to  control our numbers,So far 3
ewes have had lambs, 3 still to go.They are just the cutest little babies.Looks like we scored three girls and one boy( but we left them alone and didn't do a closer inspection.

We really thought by this that we would have had some decent drought breaking rain, and under normal circumstances we would have done. So these mums and bubs will do it a lot harder  then they would have in normal times. Our neighbour has  agreed to feed out extra feed for them in our absence.
They were very grateful for the hay and  gobbled it up very quickly.
While were were there on our whistle stop visit I decided to spend a morning sorting out some of my  empty Fowlers Vacola preserving jars that I had stored down in the shed. They were filthy and in need of a different storage solution. So I washed them all up and sorted into sizes. ( We share about half of our empty jars with our neighbour(my husbands brother and his wife to preserve in as they have an orchard, but no preserving gear.)
I then had a thought.. we had an old defunct chest freezer and I mentioned to Brian that it may be useful storage for some of my jars.
This held about 110 jars, could've held more but I kept sizes separate. I put the bigger taller 4" jars in a pantry in my laundry room. Our Fowlers are a little more bulky than mason jars and therefore take up more storage room.My laundry room is already crammed full of empty and full mason jars.
While there we also decided to dig  the small potato crop that we had put in. We  suspected that we would get nothing much from it as  there had just been no where near enough rain, but even so were still disappointed with the outcome.

At least it is enough for a couple of meals. We realize that we are really at natures mercy  until we live at the farm full  time and can control the water situation onto the gardens.
Often as we sat on the verandah  or were going about our jobs, we would see the sheep standing at the fence, looking wistfully(or should I say enviously) at bits of green inside the yard around the shrubs where the water  drip system works. I feel really mean, but if you let them in they would devour any and everything in sight.
Also doing a lot of verandah guard duty is my blue mate Tilly, she sits a lot these days as she gets older. She has been suffering a bit of conjunctivitis in her eyes this week, We will have to keep a watch on her.
When we woke yesterday morning ,ready to head off, the sheep looked like they were relaxed and had full tummies.I never tire of this sight.
Brian threw out 2 bales of hay for them to make sure those mums with bubs had  a chance to keep milk up to those precious bundles. It looked like they were taking turns at baby sitting. At this point the mum with the tiny twins seemed to be watching after all four babies.

As  I was shutting the gate at one point I noticed that the sheep are cutting deep ruts into the dry ground., Brian said he will run the ripper along them when we return next time ,to make the sheep walk around them to reduce further damage to the paddocks.
We said  farewell to our little place for the time being, hoping to return for a month long stay(which will be wonderful) in about 4 weeks time. Hopefully there will have been rain by then.
On our trips to and from the farm we always stop at the same spot. It is a four hour run, so we stop roughly halfway off the road in the pretty spot to give Tilly a toilet break and a run around while we have morning tea/lunch/afternoon tea, depending on time. We really love this spot, nearly always green no matter how dry it is, and it has these two really unusual rock formation. Totally natural and apparently only seen in a couple of places in Australia. This off road picnic area is called "Battery Rock"

As we got nearer to home at an old disused service station, we noticed a pile of 1000 litre plastic water cubes for sale, so we called in.(we have been looking for some more of these locally and at a reasonable price but hadn't found any)We decided to purchase 4 of them at $75 each and loaded all four up onto our empty trailer and strapped them down. We have brought them back to the coast and will take 2 at a time up to the farm at a later date. Our next trip up will probably  require us to take up  another load of hay.

So , hopefully  there will be rain soon,(nothing predicted though for the next week), But who knows, Mother Nature works in mysterious ways.
So until we meet again, hope everyone stays healthy and happy,

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Zesty Salsa

Last year I made  salsa and canned it for the first time. It proved to be so popular with our family and visitors that I decided to make the same recipe again this year.I use the" Zesty Salsa" recipe from "The Ball Complete  Book of Home preserving".
It is summertime here in Australian and the tomato season should be in full swing, but to my dismay there are not as many bulk options available yet as there  usually are,  and what is there are at ridiculous prices.
I just happened to be at Harris Farm fruit and vegie market yesterday morning, when they marked down a pile of truss tomatoes and  mixed coloured capsicums. I quickly  grabbed them and brought them home  along with a few other goodies  to make my beloved salsa.
I put a pot of water on to simmer, and ran a sink of cold water and added some ice cubes  and started  by pricking the tomatoes with a metal skewer, dunking them into the simmering water for  about a minute and as the skin splits I pull them out,drop them into the cold water to pull the skins off.

 Skinning the tomatoes does take time , but I think the effort is worth it in some cases. I used to put all the skins and cores into my worm farm or compost but a canning friend Bev, recently told me that she  dehydrates, and powders them to use in all sorts of cooking down the way. What a great idea.!, I froze them yesterday to that at a later point.
It is  at about this point that I whip out my  wonderful Nicer Dicer Chopper to make light work of all the chopping involved in making salsa.
Firstly I chop all the tomatoes  and then next the capsicums. I was supposed to use  all green capsicums but the mixed trays were a heck of a lot cheaper so I went with them instead.
Next I chopped the onions,
and then put on a pair of gloves to tackle the chilli peppers(it's best to be safe than sorry). I only use the mild long greens, so that my salsa can be enjoyed by a big range of people.I split them in half length ways  and then scooped out the seeds(If you like it hotter,you can leave  half of the seeds in)

I then peeled and finely chopped my garlic and my cilantro( here in Australia we know it as coriander.)
Once all the chopping was complete all I had to do was place all my prepared vegetables into pots,add the cider vinegar and salt (I chose not to add the listed optional hot pepper sauce.)
This mix is then brought to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and gently boil for about 10 minutes or so, stirring often to prevent sticking until the mix thickens slightly.
While this was cooking I laid out my previously washed  jars, I chose to use half pints as that is just a convenient size for us.
When the mix was ready, I then carefully filled my jars leaving approx. half inch head space, de-bubbled and then adjusted head  space again.

I then took some paper toweling soaked with white vinegar and wiped all the jar rims clean, and placed on a lid that I had heated in a pan of simmering  water,and screwed on the bands finger tight.

There were 32  half pints in all, which just makes a good double stacked load in my trusty electric waterbath.I stacked the first layer in ,then topped them with a pizza tray and then added the second layer. I then adjusted the water level so that it covered the top layer by an inch or two,put the lid on and turned on  the power.
This was brought to the boil and on reaching that point was held there for 15 minutes. Once that time had passed I turned off the waterbath, removed the lid and let the jars sit undisturbed for another 5 minutes. I then removed them and placed on a towel covered bench to cool, almost immediately they were pinging,some even before I lifted them out. I had 100% sealing with them,very happy.

I left the jars overnight and this morning removed the bands,washed the jars and the bands, stored the bands away with all the others and labelled the jars.
I then  made the jars look pretty for a photo shoot before packing most of  them back into their original ball boxes to be transported up to my pantry at the farm. I kept about half a dozen to use here.
We eat a lot of salsa, and this  will probably not be enough for the year, but at least it will keep me going for a while.
I will keep my ears and eyes open for more tomatoes as I still want to can some pasta sauce and some crushed tomatoes yet this summer as my stocks of those are starting to run fairly low.It has been extremely hot here in Australia over the last week or two, but I avoided it yesterday and today by doing my errands out and chores really early and then stayed inside cooking and doing catch up on the computer with the air conitioner keeping me  and the house cool..
Thank you for visiting me  while I made salsa, hope you call in again some time.
So until we meet agin,

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A hot dry break at the farm.

We have just had a 10 day break up at the farm and although i did attempt to publish this post from up there ,we were having major satellite  issues and I was unable to upload photographs. So I decided to abandon it and wait until I returned back to the coast.

As we arrived at the farm were  were dismayed  to see how dry it actually was. We were aware that  we had  received no rain as we had been watching the weather reports and had been in  regular contact with our next door neighbour.There have been numerous storms around but we seem to have missed every one of them.
Brian had picked the last of the bean plants from the garden on the coast and brought them with us for the sheep to eat.They gobbled them up.

We  don't have a lot of garden going at the moment due to the dry conditions and the fact that we arn't  there to water it, so we have set up a few  1000 litre tanks with timers and drippers and sprays to water for us. We set  most of them to activate for  10 minutes every 48 hours.My pretty flower garden at the back of the house looks almost dead, but surprisingly  with a good downpour of rain it  will jump back to life again fairly quickly, it is filled with hardy drought loving plants.
The apple tree had lost all of it's fruit but is still alive,the rhubarb and potatoes seem to have done  quite well as have a small row of  shrubs along a  house yard fence.

Some things that we  haven't been able to set water onto have survived ok and others have shriveled and died, We had a combination of a fairly dry  year, followed by a few late severe frosts and then no rain and now extreme heat.

The wolley bush above, a native to Western Australia and the spring onions and other bulbs in the old cement wash tubs have survived and flourished.
Our next door neighbour kindly hand feeds hay to our  sheep for us while we are away, we normally restock the supply when we come up, but this time there is no-one in the area with hay for sale.
We are down to 8 bales, so Brian decided to  cut down a few straggly trees for the sheep for a bit of extra green   for them.

Brian coaxed the sheep over to the trees with a little hay, and then they devoured the trees.We cut a couple of Mutheringbung and a couple of black pines.

Last week we had a heat wave pass through,  we had three really bad days, but Friday was Extreme. during the day we reached temperatures of 115 Deg F (46 Deg C) on our  shaded front verandah.

We stayed inside all day, as our house is off grid, we as yet haven't set up  a big enough system to run an air conditioner, so we had to make do with an old water evaporative cooler, which i must say worked remarkably well, we kept the indoor temp to a bearable  31 C inside.We kept all the windows closed and curtains drawn.
Later that afternoon as it cooled ever so slightly we sat out on the front verandah and noticed  a group of birds over on the stock water trough, a group that we usually don't see all together at once, but it was obvious that they were all very hot and thirsty and just needed a drink.
While up at the farm this week ,we picked the rhubarb that had grown and cooked it and canned it ready for pies and crumbles.(I really didn't do  too much cooking this break, we lived on cold meats and salads and grill on the BBQ and salads.)

With our place so tinder dry at the moment and the fact that are not there as often as we would like, we are always concerned  about bush fires, especially when you take into consideration the amount of bush that is all around, the following photos just give a perspective  of our home from a few angles and show the amount of bush all around the area.

We had massive fires in the area  this time last year that destroyed  50 odd homes and over 100 farm out buildings, but we were  lucky  that they were controlled before they got too close to us.
On the last couple of days before we left Brian decided to prune the Apricot tree for the sheep(he said they may as well eat  it, as it would only  drop off the tree in Autumn anyway)

They loved them and really were trying to beat each other to the green leaves, they stripped each twig and never left a single solitary leaf.
We are desperately hoping that we get rain soon, light showers are predicted over the next few days, we really need it badly as 6 of our ewes are due to deliver lambs within the next couple of weeks and will really need some green feed for decent milk production for their babies.
Just before we left the farm we were contacted by the daughter of the person we had purchased our farm off to ask us if we would like an aerial  photograph of our property that they  had taken about 30 years ago  . She had inherited it from her father after his death.
  As she  felt no attachment to the property due to family problems during that period  , thought we might appreciate it. We accepted her kind gift with gratitude  and it will treasured by us.
When we had inspected the property to buy 10 years ago we had admired this photograph on the wall, and suggested that we too one day may do the same thing.
I hope that Mother nature  sorts herself out  soon, I see massive snow and ice storms and freezing temperatures in The USA and Canada, floods and  pouring rain in the UK and extreme heat and drought here in Australia in certain areas. I  trust  that the balance will soon be adjusted and that all will be well  in the world.
Take care until we meet again,