Archive for January, 2007

Summer in the Garden

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Summer in the garden. . . The winter squash are swelling on the vines, sunflowers are blooming, peppers and tomatillos are setting fruit, bees are buzzing on the flowers. We have harvested the Dalmatian Peas — purple podded peas to be dried and used for soup. Dalmatian Peas are a New Zealand heirloom variety that we’ve never tried before. We only grew enough this year to fill a single jar, but if they prove to be tasty, then we’ll aim to grow more of them in the future. We have also been enjoying the first of the globe artichoke crop, and amaranth greens from the Tampala, or “coleus-leafed amaranth” — a very decorative green vegetable.

Coleus-leafed amaranth

Russian giant sunflower


Good news on the tomato front: Our tomato plants seem to have survived the late blight that attacked them. We may yet get a decent crop of tomatoes. We recently read with interest and sympathy about another gardener’s battle with the blight. Based on evidence from his own garden, he speculates that tomatoes grown in mature garden soil that has been properly amended may have greater immunity to blight. His observations give us great hope! At the moment, our whole vegetable garden is newly developed and still full of clay clods. We hope that as we continue to add compost and amend the soil, problems like blight will become fewer.

Even as we pick our summer vegetables, I’ve been looking ahead, and have just put in our Autumn seed order. Soon it will be time to turn the living room into a seed nursery once again.

Yogurt, Butter and Cheese!

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Since a while before Christmas, we have been making our own yogurt, butter and cheese here on the Farmlet. With a litre of top quality organic yogurt costing NZ$5.00 and upwards at the supermarket, it makes good economic sense to obtain beautiful creamy milk and make our own yogurt from it. We do not make all our own butter or cheese yet. We make as much butter as we can with the cream skimmed off the top of our six litres per week of creamy Jersey milk. We are getting a lot of satisfaction from doing these things ourselves, and it is good practice for the day when we finally milk our own cows.

Whole, raw milk (Yes, the container is nearly half full of cream)

I’d never made yogurt before, and have been amazed to find how easy it is. This is the method we use:

Heat one quart (one litre) of milk until bubbly but not yet boiling. Take it off the heat and pour it into a shallow container. Cool it until it’s not too hot to hold your finger in it for a few seconds, then stir in a generous tablespoon of yogurt (from your last batch, or a plain commercial yogurt with live cultures). Cover the container, and put it somewhere warm. The aim is to keep it at above body temperature while the cultures grow. We do this by putting it on top of the hot water cylander. It takes about eight hours for the yogurt to set up.

These instructions are not very scientific, but we do end up with tasty yogurt! Experienced yogurt-makers might have better advice than this. Admittedly, out yogurt does not seem to keep as well as the kinds I used buy from the supermarket. Maybe that’s because we are not very careful about regulating the temperature during the process. . . ?

When I was a child, we used to enjoy helping our grandparents make butter out of the cream from their house cow’s milk. They had a big butter churn. Here on the Farmlet, we just put the cream in a jar and shake it until it turns into butter. My grandparents used to have special wooden butter pats for squeezing the buttermilk out of the butter. Kevin and I just rinse it and squeeze it by hand or with a wooden spoon. Butter is one of Kevin’s favourite foods, but he’d never made it before. The first time he saw the golden curds of butter separate from the buttermilk in the jar he was shaking, his face lit up and he let out a yelp of delight. He could hardly believe how easy it was to bring about the magical transformation of cream into butter.

It is like magic; no, it is magic

A lump of creamy goodness is born

Pat out the extra buttermilk

We make a simple (not aged) farmer cheese out of the buttermilk from the butter making, by heating it to almost boiling and curdling it with vinegar (2 tablespoons of vinegar to 1 quart of milk and/or buttermilk).

Balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, basil and lots of soft, white cheese

Once it curdles, take it off the heat, and drain it through a strainer lined with cloth. You can add salt to the curds at this stage if you like. This soft white cheese is good in curry, or served with balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes and basil.

Help Path to Freedom Grow the Future

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

Path to Freedom is looking ahead from the frost disaster. If their work inspires you like it inspires Becky and me, consider helping out in any way that you can.

Thank you.

Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Becky and I are slowly acquiring things that will help us in an emergency. Light is something we mostly take for granted. In the Far North of New Zealand, however, the power goes out on a semi regular basis. This has accentuated the point for us: Do not wait to get reliable, backup lighting.

There is no shortage of options. While we all know about candles and lanterns, which should be a part of your plans, I would encourage you to strongly consider acquiring at least one high quality LED headlamp. Becky has owned a LED headlamp for years. I found myself borrowing it quite a bit. I decided that it would be a good idea for me to have one as well.

I wanted an excellent quality light. I wanted something that I knew I could rely upon, something that would last a LONG time. After researching the topic at length, because there’s so much Made In China garbage out there, I decided to go with the Petzl Tikka Plus.

The Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp

Overall, the Petzl Tikka Plus is an incredible headlamp. It exceeded my expectations. The brightness, at full power, is roughly double what I had expected it to be. It seems impossibly bright, actually, for the size of the unit. There are three intensity modes, plus blinking, all controlled by a single button. I found that the ‘low’ setting is easily bright enough for any indoor task. The lamp will operate for 150 hours in the low intensity mode on a single set of three AAA batteries.

The build quality is excellent, it’s weather resistant and, while I haven’t subjected the unit to punishing treatment, it seems very durable. The Petzl Tikka Plus is made in France, by the way, for those of you who like to avoid buying things that are made in China when possible. (See Cryptogon references on Chinese fascism.)

It’s simple and inexpensive to stockpile batteries, or, better yet, get yourself a solar battery charger and a few sets of rechargeable AAA batteries. It will be easy to confront the darkness, with just a bit of preparation and forethought.

Naughty Goat Collars

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Our two little goats are growing up. They forage like champions for all kinds of food — weeds, grasses, leaves and twigs off trees. They are as friendly and affectionate as ever, and we feel gratified to see them getting bigger and stronger every day. They have also learned how to get through the fence and out of their goat paddock.

We have plans to improve the fencing on the goat paddocks, but this job will have to wait until we have completed a number of other projects. In the mean time, we need the goats to stay in their paddock — especially since we have just planted a couple of tender young kiwifruit vines outside the goat paddocks.

Our solution to this problem is a device we call the “naughty goat collar.” “Naughty goat collar” is actually as misnomer. The goats are not being naughty by getting out of their paddock. Their goatly nature dictates that they should go through fences whenever possible, and one of our fences was hardly slowing them down at all. Goats will be goats.

Sporting their new A-frame collars, Daphne and Lulu follow Mummy.

Kevin constructed the “naughty goat collars” out of pieces of wood, a few bolts and some wingnuts. They look like mediaeval torture devices, and we felt rather cruel the first time we put them on the goats. For their part, the goats looked rather pleased when we first put the collars on them. Perhaps they though it was a stylish new fashion accessory for the summer season. They were less pleased when they found they could no longer get through the fence.

Daphne reaches for some privet as Lulu admires her sister’s climbing skills

The “naughty goat collars” are serving their purpose. The goats have not escaped again since they started wearing them. We are also pleased to note that the collars do not seem to restrict their movement too much. They still run and play like they did before. We take the collars off when we put the goats in their shed at night, and put them on again when they are let out in the morning. We also take them off when we walk the goats or put them on the tether.