Archive for the ‘Owen’ Category

Companion Planting with Brasicas. . . and Owen

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Owen and I are busy in the garden this spring. The vegetable beds need to be dug and cleared, and most of them are also being re-located due to the progress we are making with building chook enclosures. I’m also starting lots of seeds for the coming season, with the peas already having been planted out in the garden. This year, we are growing a green pea called “Oregon Trail” and a soup pea called “Tall Capuchjner.” Owen likes to do digging, and helps to prepare pots for the seeds. He knows to be very careful around the trays and pots where the vegetable seedlings are growing. It’s wonderful to be able to include him in some of the work around the garden, and to watch him enjoying the fresh air, dirt, sunshine and plants.

Young red cabbage

Owen is already finding strawberries to eat, and has enjoyed helping me to harvest chamomile flowers from our winter brassica bed. I’ve been really pleased with the mix of plants in the brassica bed. Last autumn, I planted a row of red cabbage and sprouting broccoli with a row of leeks behind them. I put young celery plants in some of the gaps between the brassicas and leeks. I also surounded the brassicas with the following: dill, chamomile, heartsease viola (johnny-jump-up) and cilantro. These companion plants seem to have helped to keep the weeds down. All seem to have done well alongside each other, and I think the effect is pretty. Now, with the brassicas almost ready for harvest, the celery and leeks are just coming into their own and will benefit from the extra space. At one end of the row of brassicas, I planted a patch of swiss chard (silver beet), and at the other end, some lettuces. I also put several calendula plants at either end of the row. I’d certainly like to try this combination (or similar) again next autumn.

Which Homeschooling Systems Are You Using?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

FYI: This was originally posted on Cryptogon.

Homeschooling isn’t an issue for us yet (Owen is just 18 months old), but Becky and I are already on the lookout for worthwhile materials and anecdotes.

Are there any unschooling homeschoolers out there? We have been reading The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith and this makes a lot of sense. One of Owen’s favorite activities is Playcentre. Becky is going through Playcentre’s adult education courses and she’s noticing a lot of unschooling philosophy, which she likes.

Sidenote: I’m blown away by how outstanding Playcentre is. We’re extremely lucky to have that resource here in New Zealand. Owen squeals with joy and points at it, even if we’re just driving by. Sometimes, I take him to the school playground that’s located on the same property and he runs to the closed Playcentre and wants to go there instead of the boring playground. In short, Playcentre is great.

Are there any Waldorf homeschoolers out there?

How about Montessori homeschoolers?

Do you use any of the phonics materials?

One area I’m especially interested in hearing about is music. Becky and I are not musically inclined (this is an understatement), but Owen—how can I state this accurately? The music is just in him.

Owen likes to dance

He wants music all the time. When a CD finishes, he gives us the sign for more, says, “More,” and then the sign for please. He isn’t able to snap his fingers to the beat yet, so he clicks his tongue to it instead. Sometimes, he touches his thumb and pointer finger together in time to the music. He does little dances that are weirdly in sync with the music. The music area at Playcentre is one of his main interests, especially the little electronic keyboard/piano thing.

Anyway, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that we’re going to have to provide some sort of music lessons. How are homeschooling parents teaching music to their kids?

Camembert-Style Cheese

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I am very happy to say that we have been enjoying some home made cheeses at last! I’ve been making several kinds, but the one I’ve made most often so far is a camembert-style cheese, also known as coulommiers. That’s the kind of cheese I’m going to write about today. I thought I’d share a detailed recipe in case anyone else is curious or wants to have a go at making some.

Home made camembert cheese

I have made this kind of cheese fairly often because it requires less milk, and is less labour-intensive than most of the other kinds of cheese I’ve been making. It only needs to ripen for one to two weeks before eating, and we find the result delicious!

Please don’t be put off by the long list of equipment below. You’ll probably most of the stuff in your kitchen already, and the rest can be obtained very cheaply. In New Zealand, starters and other cheese-making supplies are available online from “Curds and Whey” or “Cottage Crafts.”

Equipment needed:

*Gas or electric element

*Tea towel (good to have tea towels that you wash separately and keep solely for cheese making)

*Stainless steel double boiler (doesn’t have to be good quality, non copper bottoms are fine. Be inventive with combinations of pots and buckets.)

*Medicine measuring cup (available from pharmacy)

*Stainless steel skimmer or slotted spoon


*Glass thermometer (Sold by Kowhai Cheese, Curds and Whey, or kitchen hardware shops sell candy thermometers)

*Bucket (for putting sterilised water into)

*Cheese mat (you can use shade cloth or sushi mats as cheaper options)

*Molds (You can poke drainage holes in tupperware containers or sections of pipe for these. I’ve also heard of people drilling holes in sections cut from large stalks of bamboo. I’d love to try making some of these!)

*Draining rack

*Wine fridge, ice packs and cooler box, or cellar for keeping cheese at correct temperature

*Steriliser tablets (baby bottle steriliser tablets) optional


3 litres whole milk (I use fresh raw milk)

3 ml rennet diluted in 3ml boiled and cooled water (I use calf rennet)

A few grains of Flora Danica starter culture

A very tiny amount of Penicillum Candidum starter culture

Salt (not iodised)


Day One:

Before you start: Ensure all equipment is sterile. Most home cheese making failures are caused by unsterile equipment or mishandling of the milk. Either soak equipment in boiling water for 5 minutes or in hot water that has been treated with steriliser tablets. I half fill a 9 litre bucket with hot water and add a steriliser tablet. All equipment is treated with this liquid before it touches the milk or cheese.

Milk in water bath

Skimming out layers of curd

1. In a water bath, heat the milk to 31 degrees C. Stir gently with whisk to ensure even heating

2. Sprinkle the starter cultures onto the surface of the milk and stir in thoroughly.

3. Add diluted rennet to the milk and stir gently but thoroughly for one or two minutes.

4. Cover with a tea towel and leave for about half an hour for the curd to set.

5. Place mould(s) on cheese mat.

6. Using a stainless steel skimmer or slotted spoon, skim thin layers of curd from the pot and gently lower them into the mould. Continue until the mould is filled to the top. The thinner the layers of curd, the faster the cheese will drain.

7. Cover with a tea towel and leave to drain overnight.

Day 2:

Curd has reduced

Ready to age

1. When the curd has reduced to about half of its original size, it should be firm enough to turn out onto a second cheese mat.

2. Sprinkle salt on all surfaces of the cheese.

3. Age the cheese on a rack in a cool place (about 45 degrees F) at about 80-90% humidity, turning every couple of days.

4. Once it is ready to eat, wrap the cheese in wax paper or cheese wrap and keep it in the fridge.

For aging the cheese, it would be very nice to have a wine fridge or cellar at the right temperature. I don’t, so here’s what I do: put the cheeses on a rack in an ice chest (chilly bin) with a couple of ice packs. I use 2 ice packs for a large ice chest, and change one each morning and one each evening. (I need to have 3 ice packs to do this, so that one can be in the freezer.) So far, this method seems to be working out fine.

This cheese can be eaten after about a week, at which time it will have a milder taste and less white mould. For a stronger cheese covered in a thick growth of white mould, age for about 2 weeks.

We love to eat this cheese on sourdough crackers or bread. Kevin prefers to eat it after about one week, while I prefer to have it aged longer. Needless to say, Owen is very fond of some of our home made cheeses as well. I’ve also been experimenting with feta (cow’s milk feta), soft cheese and gouda, so will be writing about those in due course.

Owen sits on his sheep pelt and devours the raw milk cheese

Sources: This cheese recipe is based on the one in Ricki Carroll’s “Home Cheese Making,” plus another recipe that a friend passed on to me. I think the recipe from my friend may be from Katherine Mowbray’s book, which you can buy from her “Kowhai Cheese” website. (Katherine Mowbray is famous in New Zealand cheese-making circles for her fabulous cheese-making classes.) The equipment list and notes on hygiene come from my friend and cheese-making teacher, Natalie.

Goals for the Year of the Ox

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

1. The first goal has to be something for Owen, of course! Go for a walk, or spend time doing yoga or dancing with Owen every day. Owen loves to dance, and has progressed recently from squatting up and down in time to the music to doing cute little moves. We love dancing with him. It’s also neat to take him for a walk and watch him charge through the undergrowth, tackling obstacles headlong. It should be no hardship to reach this goal!

Owen likes to dance

2. Finish setting up chook house and run, and GET SOME CHOOKS! We are well on the way to achieving this one already, but have to keep up the momentum.

3. Install solar hot water.

4. Make camembert, feta, and hard cheese. Also do some goat cheese experiments in the spring.

5. Cure some of our own meat. Specifically, I want to have a go at making corned beef and corned tongue.

6. Experiment with cooking corn and amaranth.

7. Start milking the goats in spring. This is a big one because it requires that we arrange some extra goat housing and a sheltered place to milk goats. It also requires that we find a suitable buck for our dear Daphne and Lulu.

8. Start “bushman’s toilet paper” seedlings. I’d also like to start some other tree seedlings, perhaps including carob, Japanese raisin tree and stone pine.

9. Improve winter vegetable garden over last year’s effort. I have to hurry up and get organised for autumn seed planting if I’m serious about achieving this one! We are a bit pinched for space at the moment due to work on the chook runs, so I’m going to have to employ all my garden cunning to fit in the crops we want to grow.

10. Save onion seed, and plant our first onion crop from home-saved seed. The seedheads are already ripening on the onions, so I’ll be embarking on this project very soon.

11. Get rid of the kikuyu in the areas around the lemon and lime trees in the house paddock, and work on establishing perennial ground cover to keep weeds at bay. The chooks will have an important part to play here.

12. Complete Playcentre Course 2. This might seem a bit off-topic for Farmlet, but our local Playcentre is an important part of our lifestyle here. Playcentre is a parent-run co-op where New Zealand children up to age 6 can go for free. Playcentre funding depends (among other things) on having enough parents present who have completed Playcentre training courses. Peria Playcentre is small and rather struggling to muster enough qualified parents at the moment. Owen and I love going to Playcentre, and I’m keen to do my part to support our Centre.

13. Update the Farmlet website at least once a week. I haven’t got off to a very good start on this goal, but the year of the Ox is still young and there are lots of things I want to write about!

The Year of the Rat in Review

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

About one year ago, I wrote a list of goals for the Year of the Rat. Now that the year is over, it’s time to review the list. How did we get on?

1. Do “baby yoga” with Owen and have lots of fun. I’m proud to say that we really over-achieved on this goal. As well as having fun yoga time together at home, Owen and I arranged to get together for weekly yoga sessions with a couple of other mums and babies. This has been a lovely way to spend time together and make friends. Owen continues to enjoy some of his “baby yoga” moves, even as he’s becoming more interested in mimicking the “grown-up moves” that I do. He still loves to sit peacefully on my lap or in front of me while I chant Sanskrit prayers.

2. Build a chook house and chook run. I guess we score about 50% on this one. The construction of the chook runs is largely finished. Big thanks are due to my father for his work on this project. After thinking long and hard about plans for a chook house, and assessing our resources and building skills (Let’s face it: Building is not what we are best at.), Kevin has ordered a kitset henhouse. We can’t wait for it to arrive! There’s still quite a lot to do before the chooks can move in, but we are well on the way. We are looking forward to doing some big chook-system documentary posts for Farmlet once the show is up.

3. Install a solar water heater. Not done yet, I’m afraid, but steps have been taken. We have earmarked the funds for this project, and Kevin has been in touch with the vendors about the size of the system and how to install it.

4. We plan that calves and goat kids will be born on the Farmlet this coming spring. We had mixed fortunes on this one, with the bull not staying long enough for Rosie to get in calf. Still, Miss Scarlett Beef-Shanks (Coco’s calf this season) is thriving. We were especially delighted to see Coco deliver a healthy calf after the trouble she had the previous year.

Scarlett Beef-Shanks, about twelve hours old

5. Carrying on from #4: Extend the small goat house and build a milking stand for the goats. A big zero for this! This one just looked like too much to tackle last year. We decided to put off doing this work and breeding the goats for another year.

6. Undertake some cool cheese projects using fresh cow and goat milk.
I think we’ve made a strong start on the cheese. Owen and I attended a fantastic cheese making course back in October. I have already made kefir parmesan, aged kefir cheese, pressed curd, and ricotta. Still to come: cheddar, feta, camembert, and maybe gouda.

Heirloom tomatoes and homemade, raw milk cheese

7. Make delicious meals using meat raised on the Farmlet. Yes!! And I’ve enjoyed sharing recipes for beef liver pate and steak and kidney pie on the Farmlet website.

8. Experiment with grinding and cooking cornmeal, including some from our own corn. Oh, dear! I dropped the ball on this one. I still haven’t even figured out how to fit to corn augur into our grain mill. . .

9. Save seeds from more of our vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We’ve made some good progress on our seed saving. Some of the varieties we are saving include: borlotti beans, black spanish radish, black beauty zucchini, onion, cilantro, selugia bean, soldier poppy, cosmos, calendula, naked oats, pygmy torch amaranth, dill, and land cress. With the fruiting season now upon us, I’m also about to save seed from several varieties of tomato, tomatillo, runner bean, zinnia, and russian giant sunflowers.

10. Continue to battle kikuyu and work on “taming” the house paddock. We hope to work on weed barriers this year, with the aim of reducing the ongoing effort. We have done quite a lot of work on this front, due to the design of the chook runs we are making. We can’t wait to test our new barrier system when we finally get some chooks.

11. Attempt to make some more crusty fermented beverages. I’ve had a go at making a number of different fermented drinks: ginger beer, honey mead, and rosehip-hibiscus soda were all delicious. The last two were made using water kefir grains and honey from our neighbour’s bees. We were hoping to make wine from our grapes last year, as well, but the grape crop was pretty poor and it didn’t happen.

12. Raise some seedlings of “bushman’s toilet paper” to plant out in the garden. Can’t believe this one is still on the “to do” list after all this time. I’ve found a source of seed, so should buy it and get on with the project.

13. Last but not least: I want to write at least one update per week for the Farmlet website! This still seems like an excellent goal to strive for, even though it has seemed so unattainable over the past month or so. I’ll keep trying!

Well, that was the Year of the Rat in review. Overall, I think it was a good year for us here on the Farmlet. Lots of good stuff happened, but it looks like we still have plenty of work left to do in the Year of the Ox, doesn’t it! My next post will be our new list of goals for the Year of the Ox.