Archive for September, 2006

Fellow Travelers Along the Path in Germany

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Doug is an American from the Pacific Northwest who has been an on and off reader of Cryptogon for several years. He recently wrote in to discuss his new life in rural Germany with his German wife, Anita. I hope Doug and Anita get a site up soon!

I thought other Farmlet readers would be interested in Doug’s letter:


An on-and-off-again visitor to Cryptogon over the years, of similar socio-political stripe and economic views, I was pleased to discove your Farmlet website up and running over the last week.

I would very much like to register so I’m able to post comments.

On my end, I’m an expat Seattle boy restoring and renovating my wife’s family farm in rural western Germany, with what I suspect are plenty of parallel experiences worth sharing. I’m looking forward to following your trajectory down under.

Our property was a small, family-operated commercial dairy operation from the late fifties through May 1997, though the original function of the main building was as the local tax house. The ancestors landed gentry. It became a farm only after early 19th Century Napoleonic influence in the region (Eifel) stripped away the old system and associated titles.

The current house (circa 1751) has meter-thick walls at the base, and my native wife’s 80-ish parents maintain a vast house garden — with our help and assistance these days. Our only livestock at present consists of twenty laying hens, though the main stable conversion will intentionally include a stock space facing the back of the property. One of our biggest assets is a large root cellar under the kitchen, a resident frog helping keep the bug population under control.

Today, we lease what remains of the fields and pastures to a cousin in the next village and are working away converting the property into a “B&B” with amenities geared toward traditional nutrition ideas.

We were both sick puppies — and getting ever sicker — stateside, which was a significant motivation among the many that brought us here. This whole adventure we’ve undertaken, as I suspect yours might also be, is as much a healing process as it is a declaration of independence from industrial want or any other high-minded socio-economic goals. I’d be a liar if I said they weren’t also in play, but to my mind, principles don’t mean much if you’re always too sick to put them into serious action.

Our learning curve has been long, tasty and we are in better physical health than either of us has ever experienced in our lives. We consume only raw milk products, produce our own soured milk and lacto-fermented foods, procure our grass-fed beef, butter and heavy cream from the same place we acquire our milk here in the village. We sweeten with locally produced raw honey and black-strap molasses, etc. I thank the cows on whose fresh milk we rely every time we walk or ride by on the bikes.

Meanwhile, we continue to learn all we can about pre-industrial food production, preparation and processing using only nutrient-dense source ingredients. We’re also members of the Weston A. Price Foundation, serving as a German chapter.

As a result of all this, I suspect I might have a story or two to share.


Thanks for writing and sharing, Doug. We have similar interests, goals and will definitely be able to learn from each other. Becky and I are looking forward to hearing more about your experiences.

Dalmatian Cabbage

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

When Kevin and I were living in California, collard greens were among our favourite vegetables. We’d buy them from the farmers’ market in big bunches. As we ate them, we’d dream of the day when we could grow them in our own garden.

In the USA, collards are quite widely known and eaten. People there told me that they are a traditional food of the Southern states, brought to the USA by African slaves. Like many New Zealanders, I’d never even heard of collards, far less eaten them, until I went to the USA. Coming back to New Zealand, I wondered whether collard seed would even be available for gardeners in this country.

When I asked about collard greens at Koanga Gardens, I was met with blank looks. Nobody had heard of them. “What kind of greens?” they asked. I described them: “A brassica, like a loose-leaf cabbage. . .” The lights went on. Collard greens are sold through the Koanga Institute as “Dalmatian Cabbage.” Interestingly, Dalmatian Cabbage is the only brassica rapa in the Koanga collection that is an Heirloom from our local bio-region. Pretty silly that I had to go all the way to the United States to develop a taste for it!

Why is it called “Dalmatian Cabbage”? Because it is named after the Yugoslavs who came to New Zealand to work in the gum fields. They brought with them some wonderful vegetables, a few of which still survive as heirlooms — We are also growing Dalmatian Peas and Dalmatian Beans in our garden this year.

Collards are hardy and easy to grow. Since they can be picked leaf by leaf as we need them, we can always eat them very fresh. They are packed with nutrients, and, best of all, they are delicious. We’ve been picking our Dalmatian Cabbage for a couple of weeks, now. This is our favourite way to prepare it:

Ribbon-cut a bunch of Dalmatian Cabbage very finely.

Toss the greens into a pot of boiling water and boil until bright green and tender (a few minutes).

Drain the greens, then mix in a clove of crushed garlic while they are still very hot.

Season to taste with olive oil, and a little salt and lemon juice.

Mix well, and serve.

(Optional: add a handful of sprouted sesame seeds at the same time as the garlic.)

Collard plant in our garden

Collards for lunch

The Ambler Comes to Visit

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

It has been an exciting day on the farmlet. The Ambler, a handsome angus bull, has come to visit our three dear cows.

The Ambler

We are pleased that The Ambler could find time in his schedule to come over here, and are very grateful to our neighbours, Ronnie and Kevin, for lending him to us. He should be a fine mate for our cows. For one thing, he is not too large. This doesn’t matter so much with a bigger cow like Esmerelda who has already had one calf, but we have heard that smaller heifers like Rosie and Coco can end up with calving problems if the sire is too large. The Ambler is also very quiet and good-natured, as bulls go. We are glad we can still go into the paddock to check up on our cows without the threat of being charged by an aggressive bull. The angus is a good breed for meat. That suits us well, since we are not looking to breed any replacement milking cows this year.

This morning, we lured our three cows into a nice new paddock by tempting them with a bucket of kiwifruit peels. We left them in their new quarters while we walked over to Ronnie and Kevin’s place to fetch The Ambler. Then Ronnie, The Ambler, Kevin and I all ambled back to our place. Two of Ronnie’s friendly hand-reared sheep wanted to come with us as well, but we left them behind once we walked off Ronnie’s property.

The Ambler seemed very excited to be arriving at a nice fresh grassy paddock with three beautiful cows in it. As we approached the paddock, he smelled the cows and made what Kevin describes as “monstrous and terrifying sounds” — a lot of snorting, lowing, and strained breathing. Kevin and I wondered if our lives were in danger, but Ronnie assured us that, as long as we didn’t get between him and the cows, everything would be fine. While The Ambler was distracted by getting a kiss through the fence from Esmerelda, Ronnie quickly opened the gate. Moments later, The Ambler was in the paddock. None of our cows are in season at the moment (Coco was in heat yesterday — bad timing!), but they seemed pretty happy to see The Ambler, just the same. Esmerelda, in particular, has been licking him, butting him with her horns, and generally acting loopy over him. She watches him very jealously if he starts spending too much time with Rosie and Coco.

Anyway, The Ambler seems to have settled in for a good stay. With any luck, all three of our cows will be in calf by the end of his visit, and three little angus-cross calves will be born on the farmlet next year.

Coco’s Great Escape

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Take a look at this picture from a couple of days ago. Notice how Coco, the cow on the right, is outside the electric tape?

What’s wrong with this picture?

The entire pasture is ringed with a permanent electric fence. We use the portable tape and standards to break up the pasture into smaller paddocks so the girls will graze down the grass and not just pick the tops off the grass over the entire property. Coco decided that she didn’t like that plan. This is what happens if you try to get by without enough electric fence standards.

Splendid beast, Coco, basking in the afternoon light

Coco actually didn’t want to get too far away from the others for long. She wound up following them around, just on the ‘free’ side of the tape. I could still go up to her, pet her and even feed her by hand, but she didn’t want to go back into the smaller paddock.

Eventually, I managed to lure her back in with a bucket containing a tiny bit of palm kernel meal. Have you ever seen a child who’s addicted to sugar? That’s what our cows are like with palm kernel. Until we get a dog, this is the best way we have of moving them. Most of the time, though, they’ll just follow us around.

Farmlet reader, SH, contributed US$25. Yesterday, Becky and I went to RD1 and used those funds to buy a dozen more portable, pigtail fence standards. Thanks so much, SH.

Livestock Management

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Going back a couple of weeks, here’s how the day went when Rosy and Coco arrived at our neighbors’ place.

In order to get cattle delivered by truck, you need to have a race (a wooden or metal ramp that facilitates loading and unloading) on the property at which they are going to be dropped off. We don’t have a loading race on our property, but Kevin and Ronnie, our neighbors (less than a kilometer from our property) up the road, do and they were kind enough to help us by allowing the truck to drop off our heifers there.

Rosy and Coco had been hand reared by a woman (Hi Pene!) who was very fond of them. She was always gentle with them. They had never been “treated like cattle,” so the experience on the truck wasn’t pleasant for them. Immediately after Rosy and Coco came off the truck, they were a bit shaken up.

Have you ever wished things would go a certain way, even though there was no indication that they would? Getting our two Jersey heifers to our property was just such an experience. We tried walking them through a series of paddocks on Ronnie’s and Kevin’s place. We chased the cows, actually. They led us and we tried to keep up.

Finally, we reached the point where we had to take them onto the road for the last stretch to our place. They seemed pretty skittish, still, and I said to Rebecca something like, “What if they just decide to run away?”

She acknowledged that they just might do that, but what else were were going to do?

ADVICE MOMENT: If you find yourself in a similar situation, go get help from someone who knows what they’re doing.

We didn’t do that.

As soon as we took them onto the road, * poof * they were gone. They took off at a full gallop into a bush block of unknown size, several acres at least.

“One thousand dollars worth of heifers: gone,” was the only thought in my head.

“How the #@!*&@ are we going to get them back now!?” was my next thought. It was my first real OH sh*t moment since being in New Zealand.

Becky and I tried to go after them.

Ronnie noticed how long it was taking us to move them and she and Kevin came down the road with their dog, William.

We all started climbing up through the steep bush. Ronnie gave William a command and he leapt ahead of us and disappeared. I’d say it took about two minutes. The dog brought the cows back down to us. A few minutes later, Ronnie, Kevin and William had Rosy and Coco standing in our driveway.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this drama.

  1. We bit off more than we could chew with this move
  2. Kind, helpful neighbors saved our day
  3. We need a dog that we can train to work like William