Utopian to Utilitarian in the city

I am back. In my cool study. No one is any worse for wear due to my absence. Though Daisy set up such a racket of bellowing when I appeared that I had to go out and visit. She then commenced to try to get her tongue INTO my drink as I patted her bony head.   Which was not a pretty sight. Too young to drink though. I will show you a few pictures of the City then I must get out and get busy.

So I left the green country to take the train up to the city in a massive storm. Mercifully the train was fast, the wet tracks hissing as we travelled.   Wooshed us through the storm and spat us out the other side with very little drama.  Unlike this motorcyclist, who was riding past the train,  I was safe and dry as I travelled.  And so to Chicago. This is one of the ceiling skylights in beautiful Union Station. Then into the city.  I love Chicago.   My brain can download, save, sort its files and reboot in the anonymity of the big city.  The Loop had been washed clean by a torrential downpour earlier that day, so it was clean, sweet,  steaming and in order.

I have a dreadful affliction when it come to associating words with songs. And then the songs get stuck in my head.  Worse i even catching myself humming them as i work. After taking this shot I struggled with that old 70’s disco song – Car Wash.  So I had Rose Royce shrieking it into  my subconscious soundtrack for the day. 

Then as I rounded a corner.  Lost again of course.   I have NO sense of direction.There was a message from home!  Ah, Cheers!

Beautiful.  The design of these buildings by these long dead architects with such vision is still  simply beautiful. 

And then onto the Metra to go to beautiful Evanston to visit with my dear friends and see their farmers market (tomorrow I will show it to you) but Nothing could have prepared me for the Metra. It is raw, industrial, deeply depressing and NEVER go on this epitome of No Frills without an incredibly interesting book or a smart intelligent friend.  Though incredibly as we were packed into our silent rows, even after shooting enduring grandeur in the streets of The Loop, the rawness and toughness of the Metra train car was strangely comforting.  Of course my miserable subconscious soundtrack switched to Pink Floyd at this point with “We don’t need your education,  We don’t need your forced control”. Over and over and over again) Awful.   So maybe a hip flask would be in order for the Metra as well. And why is it that the subconscious soundtrack is always stuffed with songs you never ever  wanted to hear AGAIN!?

And now I am off to don my hat and veil, make like a nun and see to the bees.

Welcome to all the new readers who joined in while I was away.  I will make sure we get plenty of good bee pictures for you.  Maybe even HONEY!  The city was great.  And now I am  back to country living, with a vengeance, picking all my overgrown cucumbers and zuchinni, oops.   Oh and we now have tons of basil so I will make pesto later in the week.




Rude Railway Men and Roasted Chickens in the Heat

In the blog world there are no days.  Time has lost meaning as I write. People read my words and navigate their way around my site while I sleep. When the flag counter says yesterday the date is today.  I file as people are rising from their beds and I rest in yesterdays night planning tomorrows morning.   It really is quite an extraordinary thing.  When my mother died, she sent letters in envelopes with stamps and had her milk delivered to the gate in glass bottles.  She died when I was a young woman but she could never in a million years imagine that her daughter would be able to show pictures and have her words read simultaneously in countries that she had never even hard of.

I can file work here at noon and within seconds Senior Son can be reading it on an IPad – very early in his morning waiting for his car to warm up before he trundles off to work in New Zealand. And at the exact same time Beautiful Daughter is checking it out on her phone, in the early evening light right there in the center of  London. Eldest son reads it while he eats his lunch on top of a mountain in yet another country. Soon I am going to get a dozen clocks and put them on my wall with the name of a city under them just like they have on the big hotels, to anchor me as I slide further and further into the blurry fuzzy timeless space of the internet groggy bloggy world.

Well, I wrote that little piece at 5.30 this morning, I was feeling contemplative and a little sleep deprived.  As usual it was already hot and humid. 78F/25C and 84% humidity at 5.30 am. Except for that one rainy day, it has reached a hundred almost every day for AGES.    But,”what do you expect,”  Our John says,” it IS summer!”

Anyway this morning I went out to the corn field as I usually do to chop down a ute load of corn stalks for the farm family. I took the white truck.  Wearing whatever I was wearing, which was one small step up from a nightie.  It is usually quite deserted out there. I became a little apprehensive as we drove up, when I saw a Great Big Locomotive idling on the railway lines that run through the field.  About 20 feet from where I was to work.  Its motor was running and ticking.   I mean I was wearing the afore mentioned short skirt, the really short one (well It was HOT and I never wear it in public!) But there is lots of bending to chop and throw and lift  and .. well you know what I am getting at.  I don’t want to appear uncouth.  TonTon and I stood and stared at the train engine for a wee bit to check for inhabitants  there was no-one around and we saw no movement.  It was just parked or moored or whatever you call a locomotive left to sit. They do that sometimes in the season.

We were reassured. So I began to work.  Started chopping. At one point the engine let off steam with such a loud woosh that TonTon took off through the field and leapt straight back into the truck through the open passenger window. Coward. I must teach him to ride on the deck.  So I worked and bent over and  hauled and worked and dragged and sweated.  All alone out there in the field. Very hot by then and sometimes I would lift the hem of  my singlet  to wipe the glow off my face, watching the locomotive occasionally for signs of movement.  No movement.  I was working with my back to the train and once I heard voices and turned but then realised that it was just the train radio talking to itself.

I kind of day-dreamt to myself that any minute now a whole stream of clean lean handsome railway workers would stream out with cold drinks and and an umbrella to protect my complexion,  take the machete from my hand all courteous and gallant.  They  would fill the truck up in seconds,  then see me off down the road with a wave and maybe a rousing chorus from Oklahoma or something.  But no. It was hot. I was alone.  So I chopped and hauled and chopped and hauled. Gradually getting filthier and filthier.  The bed of the truck getting fuller and fuller.  Finally I  threw my machete on top of the last load and wiped my face on my T-Shirt one more time  ( thinking when would I remember to bring a towel and some water) turned to get in and there at the window of the locomotive was a MAN WATCHING ME!.  With a railways cap on his head!  I gasped.  (as you would) Where had he come from? Is there a downstairs or something in those engines?  I watched him back for a minute.  We were close enough for him to see me raise my eyebrow at him, (well really) which made him turn and look out the OTHER window so he could see me drive off.  Which I did. I tried to do a squealy when I hit the road but I have never been any  good at those so my exit was just a bit wobbly and dusty, not quite as indignant as I had hoped.  WELL of all the cheek. How Rude!  I should write a letter. That nasty little man had been WATCHING me work.  I hate people watching me work especially when.. well ..(splutter splutter) .. especially this morning.! Can you imagine?!  Chivalry is DEAD!

Anyway, just quickly to get everyone up to date. and our minds off that dull little man. Farm stuff. . .

Daisy, The miserable Hairy McLairy , and the two Murphys care a Flerd (flock and herd).  I am considering sheep therapy for Hairy, he is always miserable. I have never seen a smile on that sheep’s face.  But his ewes have multiple births so we cannot just let him run with the girls willy nilly (willy being the operative word,  I am not even sure I know what nilly means).  I need to plan that kind of thing.

Murphys.  You will remember that any lamb we raise for the freezer is called a Murphy. Unfortunately these Murphys are eternally cheerful and optimistic sheep which might make it difficult to eat them, but maybe not.  They have taken to sleeping in the root cellar in the heat of the day. I wish we could get Hairy down there. I am sure he would be happier in a cool dark concrete cell under the ground!  In fact it is probably the perfect place for him. He is such a miserable sheep.

Mama and Mia are together in the salad bar field.  I have planted everything in there, all the left over seed goes in there. Squash,  lettuce, borage, lemon balm,  onions, chives,  chicory and mint.  Poor mama is so hot.   That little field has a lot of shade too but she is really not doing well with the heat.  In that big wooly coat, that she has to keep because she will need it in the winter.

Queenie and The Baby Bobby are out in the 2 acre meadow, quite lost out there in the long dry grass.  But doing nicely.

So there you are.. everyone where they should be. Bees still humming along. I am looking forward to what we find on Sunday.   And I am hoping that I have some good shots of The Loop for you for next week.  Back soon. Have fun. c

Nothing much happening out here in the Boonies Today

Damn. Thought it might have rained. Nothing much happening out here in the Boonies today.  That is how we like it. 
Thank you for dropping in. I am getting more and more readers every day and I love that you are all popping in each day.    My intention is to write daily for one whole year.  Except on the days that I don’t.  And then I won’t. But mostly I will write and load images for you every day.  And I am loving this Blogg thing.  It sharpens the mind. You readers are my motor.  Driving me along.  Just for the record NZ and US are neck and neck for the top spot of the most readers.  With UK, Turkey and Aussie galloping up behind in that order.  I am VERY impressed.  Oops, Canada though is winning at the wrong end. After a year we can create a forum  and you can help me decide what we do next.
I will be in tomorrow but Friday and Saturday (Sat and Sun in NZ)  I am jumping on the train and taking the cameras to Chicago.  ( I love trains. You get to see the backyards of a country on a train).   I know, just as I discuss writing every day I take a few days OFF! Fickle thy name is woman.  I will wander the dirty streets a bit and do some farmers markets.  If all goes well I will be bringing back  images from the Big City ( I love the city)  and hopefully a few tasty ideas from the markets.
 But before I leave, you and I will tour the whole block and make sure everyone is settled in and ready for Our John to take over for a few days.  And on Sunday after my city sojourn, I will don my bee hat and give The Silent One the camera and we will have a look inside those hives.  I might even steal a frame or two of honey if there is any there yet.
Now in this hot weather don’t forget to get a bottle of cider vinegar, put in a clove of garlic,  and a chilli.  Pour a tiny slug in all the water containers every day until it is gone.  Especially chickens, sheep and cows.  It helps move parasites off the stomach walls. When Daisy sees me coming with the cider vinegar bottle she rushes over and tries to drink it OUT of the BOTTLE!  I could do with a drop as well!!.
Have fun. See you tomorrow

Ignore Everything and Make Bread

White Cat in the tree house, yesterday evening.

I am ignoring Mary’s Cat who is sleeping in one of the Silent Ones caps looking incredibly cute. And I am not listening to Mama who is crying because I am trying to wean her lambs AGAIN. I am trying not to think about the fact that I found THE RAM  (Hairy MacLairy) in the barn with Mama this morning! Dirty Rotton Scoundrel. (I have noted the date on my Animal calendar just in case something naughty occurred in the night.. Better not have!.)  She didn’t seem to care when I chucked him out.

Mama sternly peering out, hoping for a glimpse of her ungrateful children. 

I am blocking out the sounds of a yellow top dressing (aerial spraying) plane that is buzzing all over the neighbours fields (fungicide) and trying not to worry about this new threat to my bees.

I have cut a truck-full of sweetcorn stalks. Distributed it amongst my stock. Queenie is being so sweet this morning.  I have watered the new seedlings in the  garden and picked MORE cucumbers. Daisy is beginning to look like a cucumber she eats so many! Now we are going to make Bread.

No Recipe Bread. I know that sounds weird but it does work.  I make bread like this about twice a week.  When you read about No Recipe Bread you will read words like pinches, dollops, handfuls, shakes.. stuff like that. You’ll work it out.

OK, in your small size pot/saucepan, half fill with milk, scald. (heat to almost boiling).  Add a good dollop of honey and a few pinches of salt. Stir.  Add cold water almost filling the pot. COOL to hand warm. Add 2 sachets or 2 tablespoons of yeast.  Give one  cursory stir and leave to work where it is warm.

In your biggest kitchen bowl. Pour in about 4 or 5 cups of organic unbleached white flour. (I just tip in a little over a third of a 5lb/2kg bag of flour) , then about 1 cup of wholemeal flour.  Shake in a handful each of  Flax seeds and flax flour, and wheat germ. Depending on how wholemealy, (Yes I know that is not a word but I bet you know what I MEAN!) you want your bread.  Basically none of these measurements matter as long as you err on the side of less flour.  This will make sense in a minute.  Mix all your dry ingredients, make a well in the center.

When your yeast has risen and looks nice and bubbly, stir and pour into the well in the flour, it should look like too much fluid.  Stir from the well until you have mixed in all the flour, sometimes it looks like a batter. Then using your sieve sprinkle more flour in and stir and repeat and repeat until you have a lovely ball of dough.  At some point you will have ditched the spoon and you will be using your hands, and then with the dough still  IN the bowl – knead and turn, knead and turn for about 10 minutes or whenever your arms get tired.  Keep your hands floury.  Your dough is good when it starts pushing back up after each knead.  Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl and cover (I usually just tie a clean supermarket bag over it) , then place in a warm spot to RISE and double its size.  At least an hour. 

Punch down.  Divide into portions, place in greased tins, rise again until it looks right  and cook on High.   I make small loaves and these take 19 minutes. A bigger loaf I leave in for about 25 minutes. Knock on your bread –  if it sounds hollow it is cooked.  Turn bread out onto rack.  Cool. 

I have made bread using every recipe know to man and my bread was marginal at the best of times until I threw away the measuring cup and started looking at what I was doing.  Getting in tune with the bread! (laughter). Seriously it is much more successful for me to start with a wet mixture that you add flour to,  than a dry dough that you are trying to add water to.

You can add either: Rosemary, lavender, nuts, or raisins, olives,  seeds or  Cheese (roll the cheese in)  and onions. Whatever takes your fancy.   I usually wait until after I have risen the bread the first time before adding the extras. 

Tomorrow we will take one of these small  loaves  and make a stuffing for a chicken I will be cooking  for dinner. No.  Not one of my own chickens.   I am not eating one of those tough old birds.  I have not quite got there yet with my new age old fashioned farming!!


That Bad Thing

Munch, munch. Morning miss c.

Who dat?

“Oh…um..  (gulp)                                                                                                                                 Which Thing are you?  Thing One or Thing Two.                                                                     Are you the nice Thing?”   (hopefully)

“I’m new. I’m the orphan.                                                                                                              Miss c said be nice to little kitty.” (rising terror)

“You’re not going to take my breakfast are you? Thing.. Um..” (stricken, panic beginning)     Thing One? or Wha..? Help!”

“AAAHHH. You’re the mean Thing!  Oh no.! Don’t touch my stuff!                                             Mine! Mine!”   (baby hiss, baby roar, baby cat expletives,  etc)” I showed that Thing. (munch  fast)  I Learned him.  Bad Thing. Bad, Bad Thing. I am just a wee kitty. (munch much faster)  An orphan! I hate that thing. (mumble mumble mouth full) That was the Mean Thing Two.  White cat told me about that Mean Thing Two.” (munch much much faster until popular processed cat food treat all  gone).

“I am going to tell on that Thing….”


Salsa in Spite of the Hungry Chicken

Anger is a brief madness”    Horace

The chickens have been banished to the hen house for the duration (they have a great big run and it is cool in there) because it was discovered that they have discovered the Tomato Garden.  Some naughty chooks have been feasting on big fat  tomatoes.   Very Wayward behaviour.  I think we have already established that these chickens are NOT ALWAYS NICE.

So they were not let out yesterday at lunchtime and retaliated by only laying 5 eggs. Though I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt with the eggs because yesterday we were over 100F/38C again and that was the 7th day in a row. The humidity is sitting at around 80 percent + all day and night. And the thunder storms are lighting the skies every night but NOT A drop of rain for me.  Over a month with no rain now. But there you are. I wanted to have a lifestyle with no roof.

Our John  was cross as two sticks when he saw the damage to his crop. ( Is anyone else  interested in the world-wide tendency for tomatoes to be a MANS crop?) Anyway every year he carefully times the planting of sweet white onions, cilantro and jalapeno so that they all start to ripen together then he can make his fresh SALSA every day.


Peeled and chopped Tomatoes, Cilantro, Squeeze of Lime, White Onions finely diced, Jalapeno deseeded and finely chopped, crushed garlic clove,  salt and pepper

You and I will have to decide how much of what. I have gleaned the above ingredients with careful spying. I will go out and pick it all shortly and then we can have a go at making it.

Oh, as I was writing it slowly got darker and darker and now after all my complaining about no rain we are overcome by quite a powerful little storm.  Fingers crossed for precipitation. So here it is 8.30 am,  quite dark with massive thunder and lightening and very strong winds. The screen door swung open in the wind and TonTon took this as an invitation to come in, and who should stumble in on his heels but Mary’s Cat, looking quite surprised to have discovered ‘inside.’  Hey, it has started to rain now. Excellent.  Anyway kittens are not allowed in the house until they are 6 months old and even then only for the occasional supervised visit so Mary’s Cat has been placed back out in the lovely dry cats corner  under the hammock where the others are sheltering on their bright red blankie. She is fine!

Rain through my study window. So cool how it catches in the screen outside the glass. 

Well,  I cannot go and pick all our ingredients now,  so lets look at making CROSTINI to go with the Salsa.  You saw a picture of crostini on an earlier page. If I could work out this link thing I could show you, lots to learn.

Crostini can be made like a ciabatta, just smaller grilled toasts. But I make it in the oven so that we can store it in a jar and eat it for days like crackers.  I have been making it like this for so many years that have NO idea who taught me.

If you see some tasty long french sticks at the supermarket grab them and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil in a glass bottle.. no cheap stuff.  Let the bread sit for a day or so.  We only make this crostini out of stale bread.

Turn oven on to a medium heat.

Slice your french sticks about 1/4 inch thick. Or at least slice them all the same width so they cook evenly. I pour oil into a big plate and very quickly dip the bread  on one side, then I pile the little crostini up so a wet side is sat above a dry side, osmosis  and gravity does the rest.  You may choose to brush the oil on.  Spread the little breads out on baking sheets.

Place in the oven and TURN THE TEMP DOWN TO LOW.  Turn over when one side is golden. They will take a good 30 minutes or so to bake until crunchy. Raise the temp a little if they are not browning.  Cool on paper towels.  You may choose to shake a little salt on them when they are still hot.  Just a little.  I have no problems with  a little added salt from my kitchen. 

Well, I am going out into the rain to  gather the ingredients for Salsa and talk Our John into making some for lunch.   I will be watching. Domestic espionage!  Still dark and stormy.  I love thunder and lightening.  And Rain.


Sustainable in the city, while making cream cheese.

My beautiful daughter who lives and works in London called me the other day. She wanted to remind me very gently that not everyone who wants to live a sustainable life lives on a farm.  Could I maybe write something that  she and her friends would find applicable to their lives too. And she is absolutely right. Even though I would like you all to rush out and buy an old house with a barn and a couple of acres and get to it. Most of you just cannot do that.  I cannot believe MY luck having an old house, a barn and a few acres.  So I am thinking of you guys in your apartments, sometimes without even a doorstep to put a pot of rosemary on. Oh no that is so sad!

As I am thinking( out loud) I am making yoghurt.  So excuse any mistakes today, i am multi tasking. But sustainable.  I think it comes down to how my children and I used to live when we were young. We worked hard and our life was more subsistence that sustainable. But I think there is one big similarity. Sustainable lifestyles do not waste anything. Subsistence lifestyles cannot afford to waste anything.

So  sustainable really is available to everyone.  We all need to think about making sure we can use the majority of what we bring  into our homes and properties.  That includes the packaging.  I buy a laundry powder that comes in a big bucket because the bucket can be re-used.  Old tins for nails and flowers. Yes, yes we all know about recycling.  I won’t lecture.  Mostly I think we need to somehow find local growers and eat that fresh food.  And arrange our lives so that we have time to cook and eat it.

If you don’t have a garden which is growing food for you. Go to the markets and see what is fresh and cook that, instead of taking a list and buying imported out of season foods.  Throw the hamster out of its cage and put a chook in there instead, she will eat all your food scraps and give you an egg each day.   Actually a lot of those little London gardens are a perfect size for a couple of hens when you think about it. You can have chickens up in Chicago but not roosters which seems fair.  Or have a worm farm in the carpark of your building to gobble up all the paper packaging.  Hang your knickers to dry on the shower rail instead of using the dryer – that always pleases the flat mates!!  Wear gumboots when you go shopping.! Hitch your pants up with baling twine!. Cut the sleeves out of your winter Tshirts for the summer and no hemming! Live for a day as though you are your grandfather. Only buy stuff grown or made in the country you live in! (Maybe that one is a bit difficult.)

Mostly slow down. Some things take a few days to make, like yoghurt. Let yourself take a break and get back to what is important to you. Decide what is important to you.

Now here is something you all can make.. it is very slow, very good for you and it takes two days to make so plan ahead. Lovely creamy cheese.

Making cream cheese is actually pretty easy to do in any kitchen. You can even make it with the pasteurised organic whole milk you buy at the supermarket. Try not to buy anything that says Ultra Pasteurised though.

Today I am making the first step which is the yoghurt.  We will be eating our creamy yoghurt cheese tomorrow. This is why I do not have a photo of that yet, I will do that tomorrow. If all goes well. because sometimes it doesn’t.

Heat 4 cups of milk  to 185F /85C (almost boiling) then cool to 115F/46C (warm).  Cool it properly, any hotter than 115F will kill the culture, so sometimes it is a good idea to have a thermometer handy. I pour my mixture into a jug, fill the pot with ice and cool it that way. I know, I know, I am not supposed to be impatient.

Now,  stir in 1/4 cup of fresh organic, plain Greek yoghurt (I use Danon). Mix a little of the warm milk with the yoghurt then pour back in and stir for one minute until thoroughly mixed in. Pour into  very clean glass jars with lids. Place the jars into a chilli bin (cooler)  with hot water in the bottom  and close the lid.  OR on a day like today (very hot again), wrap the jar in a little blankie and stand somewhere warm out of the sun.  OR if you have a yoghurt maker, then do what it says to do. 

After about 6 hours it should be thickened, after about 12 hours it will be set and a little tart.

The next step will turn your yoghurt into a very tasty creamy cheese dip or spread. Now, empty your jar of  yoghurt into a bowl and stir in 1 tsp of salt.

Line a colander with muslin, or an old pillow case, or a big piece of very clean very white very thin fabric and pour your mixture in.  Careful, pour slowly.  Gather the fabric up making a bag for your mixture, tie it at the top  and secure it above something so it can drain into a bowl.  After most of the fluid is through I drain overnight in the fridge.  The left over fluid is whey which is loaded with protein.  Mary’s Cat will have that.   Tomorrow -scrape the cheese from the fabric and EAT! You can store it in a container in the fridge for a few days as well if you like. 

I add pepper, a little chili, finely chopped onions, or spring onions, maybe salami and onions. My mother would have put in chopped apricots and walnuts and sometimes dates I think.  Eat with crostini or crackers or lovely fresh slices of cucumber.  It is also a great top layer for your quiche, or middle layer in the lasagne.

Remind me to give you the lasagne recipe.

Now that my yoghurt is working I will go back out and slowly check on the fencer.  He prefers to work by himself.. Well he does!!


Murder in the Chook House

I am going to tell you a gruesome tale. But not quite yet. Nice story first.

Your Kitty has been named. Her name is Mary’s Cat.  We know a little more of her story now after talking to the neighbours. So a few days ago this fellow and his wife were working on their house over a mile away as the crow flies,  and this wee bundle of misty fur wobbled up their drive and presented itself at their feet. They were leaving for Texas in a few hours  (they will be away for two weeks) so they gave it a bit of their lunch and then went back to shutting everything up and could not find it again.  So they left. 

This was the afternoon of the hottest day this year. To get from their house to ours Mary’s Cat must have walked down this road, then  turned the corner and walked half a mile down another road and then all the way down our lane.  (A total of well over a mile)  Or it walked through two 40 acre corn fields. Which ever way you look at it this tiny cat who sleeps  stretched out on my hand walked a terribly  long way in one night on those tiny little paws. Its legs are about four inches long.  In the middle of a heatwave.  Do you think cats have angels?

So I guess it is no wonder that it has ruined feet, messy lungs, no voice left and just sleeps all day long. But today it walked with only a little limp, actually walked across the verandah and sat like a proper cat, without laying its head flat on the ground.  It is a strange silent watchful cat, Mary’s Cat. So as soon as it is quicker on its feet we will let it join the barnyard.  Yes, I will keep it.

Now for the breaking news.  Do not read this to your children.

Last night I was in the chook house gathering the eggs. I croon a lot in the chook house to the chickens because often I have to lift them gently off the eggs, and set them on the ground so that I can steal all the eggs they are sat upon.  We have to be calm during this exercise because they do not want me to have their eggs at all. And mishandling a layer can cause problems internally so I am gentle.  All the other  chickens were puddling about, looking sweet and fat, and clucking around scratching in the dirt.  Doing what they do. So I am leaning over this fat chook  in the nesting box lifting it out with two hands telling it gently, now no pecking me,  it’s OK. When I hear this absolute ruckus behind me.  This terrible escalating whirlwind of sound.

I turn and see all the hens in the chook house in a tight circle attacking something they have on the ground,  hens all pecking and ripping and shrieking at something I cannot see for the hysteria.   Dust was flying, feathers and claws flying. The noise and frenzy was straight from a horror movie. I can only describe it as hackling and reeking and shrawking.  And loud!.   They had caught a pigeon stealing their food  –  the pigeon did not have a chance, it was killed very fast  and very bloodily with no hesitation, by a gang of sweet fat chickens! Who I treat so GENTLY!

I have to say that I got such a fright that  I dropped the wriggling  chicken I was holding, grabbed my bowl of  eggs and RAN out of the henhouse at top speed. Slammed the door and latched it firmly. Then rushed  back to the house.

Now I know that I am developing a wee barnyard thing here. And I have to be OK with a little survival of the fittest.  But THAT was just NOT NICE BEHAVIOUR!

Here is a nice picture of a weed to take our minds off it.  The only thing I can find this afternoon is a weed! Everything else is sleeping in some shady hollow.

Hope you don’t get nightmares!.  We will be fencing this weekend. Joy!


Dairy = Daisy and the Bees are Swimming.

This is not my barn. It is an empty barn down the road. It is waiting for a cow.  It has been waiting for a long time. A sleeping beauty. We have many abandoned barns around here.

I decided to buy Daisy because she was pretty, had big brown eyes and long, long legs. Also she was an Ayrshire, a breed of Scottish origin, known for its ability to give good creamy milk on forage.  I want to make my own tasty cheese and butter and drink my own milk.    I cannot support those big dairy farms where the cows never even SEE grass standing on their carousels and being milked three times a day. So we needed our own gentle pasture raised  milk cow.

We decided not to feed her or our beef cows bulk feed field corn. They may have sweetcorn  grown on our land in the season but only if they eat their greens first! Corn is too acidic for a cows stomach. They cannot digest it. And yes most of the industrially grown  field corn  is genetically modified.  (Here she goes again).  Also as it has been engineered for maximum yield per acre the corn has lost a frightening amount of protein over the last few years, this has been replaced by starchy sugars. ie fat, sick cows. So we decided – no field corn for our cows. Which means we needs lots and lots of grass and hay.

Here is baby Daisy at 5 days old.

So sweet.. look at her skinny wee legs.

Now leap forward Two years and this is Daisy this morning.  As I got the shot she galloped straight at me and skidded to a stop just short of my head.   Like some cartoon cow, you can almost hear the pretend screeching and skidding sounds.  She was probably making them under her breath. You know how cows are! She does this all the time trying to scare an apple up out of my pockets!

She still is a cute cow though.  Big and tall. She is a nuzzly cow.  Always looking for treats. Beautiful big healthy grass-fed cow.  I am hoping that she is pregnant too. A few weeks ago she had a visit from the vet. We are hoping for  a virgin birth in March.  The vet will visit in a few weeks to see if she is enciente. So stay tuned.

So we have chickens, cows (one dairy cow, one beef heifer and one beef steer) and the sheep, ( Mama and her progeny – Mia and the two Murphys who are destined for christmas dinners – and Hairy MacLairy the ram)  All of whom eat a variety of grasses and legumes and forbes ( a fancy name for weeds! Don’t you love it).  When you get down to it we are grass farmers. Weed farmers.  Worm growers. Lovely.

An important element of a  sustainable outfit is diversity, both animals and plants, so that one metaphorically and sometimes literally feeds the other. It is all intertwined.   As long as you are growing what grows naturally.  But everything depends on the ground.  The ground we walk on. The earth from which all things should grow. The fundamental building block  of a good property is good SOIL.

The other reason for having cows is that cows are brilliant players in the game of soil health. As long as they have access to  good food they give the good straight back, with a big plop.  Cows merrily drop all the components for good soil all over the fields all day long, and then lift their tails and water it in! Later my feathered manure spreaders peck at the manure and scatter it all about and drop a bit of their own in there as well.  After a few years of this all those lovely worms, and soil creatures (I am desperate to see a dung beetle or a mole – both of whom are great signs of soil health) and most especially those micro organisms that promote soil and plant health, will return.  It will take some time though. I am trying to be patient.

We love to see people catch the self-sufficiency, sustainably managed, small holding, lifestyle block, homesteading, getting back to nature, whatever you want to call it, bug. Save the Barns.   Feed themselves. Mitigate the  destructive monoculture industrial growing. Go and find an old house with a broken down barn and three or four acres and get out a hammer and  a shovel and a dog and start making a go of it.  It can be done and it is immensely satisfying.  Instantly satisfying.  But GO SLOW. Do not overstock. If you overstock you are becoming like THEM!  Have more grass than you need. Plan for your lambs and calves to be born  outside when you have lots of grass and before the flies. Milk during the summer. Fatten your pig on your milk.  Plant a fattening field to fatten lambs and steers in the late summer. Take your stock to the abattoir when the grass starts to die off.  Plan according to your climate.  It is all so sensible really this way. Plant your flowers and trees every year and make sure you sit on your verandah and admire them every evening. It is about living the life. The easy way.   There is no destination. We are not going to get rich. We just want to live like rich people, eating good food.

Here is the barn my new neighbours, who are retiring from the city, are fixing up.

I will keep you updated.  Because it can be done, he said. He is also rebuilding the old house and his wife is having air conditioning no matter what! She cannot believe that I refuse to turn our air on.

Well, I have a chook standing around in the chook house just not looking happy. I cannot see anything wrong with her except for this lethargy and loss of appetite.  I will isolate her in the hospital wing ( an old dog crate in the run) Then I will dose her and the whole flock with extra garlic,  and yoghurt and thyme (I just mix it with their food) .. then I will give the same to the cows and the sheep.  Twice a day for a few days actually.  All water barrels will be emptied scrubbed and refilled fresh with cider vinegar in them, just to be sure.  It may just be the heat. Bit of a bore but there you are. Speaking of water. i popped outside to get your last shot of the day: Look!

The thing about raising animals and plants  and bees using sensible organic methods is to pay attention and ignore nothing.  Observe. Did you just see a bee swimming?

Why I believe you did.   Hot day I guess when the bees start swimming.! Now watch her climb out. Clever wee bee.  Later my friends,  c

Puss and Gumboots

Well your kitty survived the night and here he/she is with a wet little nose and a bowl of milk and honey.  Still limping and slow but at least it has given up on  that piteous crying. And yes – ( thank you for all your heart-wrenching messages ..) she is kind of cute I guess. 

Today I have to drive up to the airport (about two hours) to pick up The Matriarch, my mother in law, great friend and chief taster.  But before I go I wanted to show you what I picked this morning. 

Very very early this morning because it is terribly hot today already. But that is Ok as I am going to spend most of today  driving The Matriarchs’  refrigerator on wheels with the air conditioning ON, up to Chicago and then back again.

Anyway so I pulled up these  beetroot. I Love beetroot. Here they calls them Beets. I am growing a fair few because this year I want to put some in  jars and store them.

I will  quickly tell you my favorite way to prepare beetroot as a side dish. The tang of the beets and sweetness of the balsamic are just great. If you are drinking a corona and have a lime on the counter just a tiny squeeze of lime at the end is lovely too.

Wash Beets, trim leaves off, leaving about an inch of stalk on. Boil until soft but not too soft. Cool. Slice about 1/4 inch thick. Heat a cast iron pan then melt a good tablespoon of butter, throw in a few  dill seeds and grind in some pepper and a pinch of sea salt, toss for a few seconds. Add your sliced beetroot and cook through quickly  turning until they are sizzling in the hot butter. Barely cover in balsamic vinegar, turn the heat down and cook gently until the balsamic is a heavy sheen on the beets. It will evaporate quite quickly so pay attention. No wandering outside to sit on the swing chair with that Corona until you are done! Remove from heat, cool and serve at room temperature topped with chopped fresh dill.

DIVINE.  My beets are  in the pot  and when I get back from the airport I will go to the second stage.

You will also see that behind the Beets is a pile of  Sweetcorn. (yes sweetcorn season is here and it will be a short one because of this massive heat.) Sweetcorn pleases everyone.

Our John cooks it on the grill. Gently peel the green husks back, do not rip off, extract all the sticky silks, re-wrap in its green, soak for a while in cold water, (now you can sit in the swing chair) then onto the grill for however long it takes depending on the heat of your fire, we do this every night while there is corn. 

But wait there is more to the corn story. After I have finished picking  enough for us for a meal,  I  haul the entire corn-stalk out of the ground and throw it over the fence to the cows and sheep.  They love sweetcorn stalks.  Especially now that the grass is turning to upright hay in the fields. I used to chop the stalks  up for the young ones but then I got lazy one day and just yanked them out hurled them over the fence and to my delight the animals  just gnawed away for hours eventually consuming everything.   So there you are laziness has its own reward! Of course when the chickens get in on the act,  it is quite the free for all.

Just now I took the camera out to grab a few shots for you  and look at this sad shot of my grapevines.  All the upper third of the vines look like this.  The Aftermath of the Beetle. However as I said before we will not have to summer prune that much this year.   And with it being so hot and dry.  Well, Maybe we will get some grapes.  And then a few bottles of wine. Maybe? Poor poor vine.

And here are a couple of the bee  hives. With their lids propped open to help the bees cool inside their hives a little. It must be SO hot in there.  It is over 100 degrees out there now.  The topmost supers on these hives are smaller because they are for gathering honey.  We have high hopes for these little boxes. I will take you out in a few weeks and we will see how they are doing!

You will remember that both these hives lost a swarm (about half their bees ran off!). I did capture these swarms and they were returned to new hives, one of which is your Blog hive. But with the loss of so many bees it will be interesting to see what honey production we do get.

Here is your Blog hive. Living the best bee life as it is still under a tree! Note that it now has it’s second story. They seem happy and are very busy.

You all have a good day.

I am off  onto the Highways.