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Tuesday 15 May 2012

How people find the time (and energy) to write daily blogs is quite beyond me, although maybe with winter settling in with a vengeance I shall find myself indoors rather more often. After a beautifully mild autumn, we’ve had some awfully cold, wet and windy days. Working outside has been a continuous battle against the elements. Some areas are already getting soggy, such as parts of the pig pens, but elsewhere it’s not too bad as yet.

My gravel track across the tractor crossing leading up to the goat paddocks is holding up well, but the crossing itself is a mess. We’ve had some lovely autumn colours around, particularly in our fancifully named ‘arboretum’ although they are fading fast. I so prefer deciduous trees and rather dread Bronte’s gloomy pine trees coming up everywhere over the coming years. He’s still in tree-planting mode but has slowed down a little in the cold weather.

We are WWOOFer-free now, with the last two girls - Amber and Fiona - leaving mid- and end of April respectively. While they were both here, we had another magical outing to the Hartz Mountains. It was like entering a fairy-tale world as we neared the top in the car; suddenly everywhere was heavy with snow! We did one of the medium-length walks, as well as stopping at the Waratah Lookout and tramping to Arve Falls – which was much inflated from our visit just a few weeks previously. It was snowing hard as we left, by which time we were cold, tired and glad to be on our way home.

Other outings have included Envirofest at the Botanic Gardens – a bit of a disappointment really, except the gardens were clothed in the golds, reds and oranges of autumn. Bronte pinched a few sequoia nuts from just outside the gates – the seeds are tiny. Unfortunately, I don’t think we shall live long enough to see a ‘General Franklin’ on our land.

Anzac Day was great fun. It appears that there is a tradition of an Anzac Day sports day in Huonville and since Luke enjoys his Little Athletics and we thought it might be fun, we went along and entered ourselves in the various events. Rather worryingly, Bronte, Fiona and I found ourselves lumped in the ‘open’ section, which meant we’d be competing against anyone over 14 yrs old! Hence I was beaten into 4th in the 100 metres by a 15-yr old girl who’s been breaking state records, her very fit friend and a young mum who apparently “runs a lot”. I was fairly proud of myself actually, since I’m pretty sure I was the oldest female competitor. I didn’t do nearly so well in the long jump and discus but at least I didn’t come last. I discovered in the long jump that my muscles and joints just don’t have any bounce in them anymore! Fiona did much better, coming third. Luke did better again, coming first in his age group in the 100m and the long jump, but was beaten into second place in the vortex. Bronte was a big jess and cleared off to Mitre 10 during most of the events, not competing or staying to support his team! He was shamed into competing in the Anzac mile at the end and he and Luke finished a very creditable middle of the field. I gave that one a miss!

I was taken out last Sunday for a Mothers’ Day meal. I was really very spoilt – to my surprise and pleasure. I’d asked for a meal out but hadn’t expected prezzies too. Luke got me a teddy key-ring and bath salts. Bronte bought me a huge cookbook (no reflection on my cooking I hope), a couple of fiendish puzzle books, some woolly socks for the farm and some Ninja gloves. Unfortunately they don’t imbue one with magical Ninja powers, but they are lovely and warm and waterproof for winter. We missed Agfest owing to Luke having flu’, which was where I bought a pair last year. They were my mainstays for the whole of last winter.

I greatly appreciated the meal out, since I’ve been starving myself. I decided to lose a bit of weight really quickly. So I’ve been living on tiny salads, nuts, stir-frys (fries?), thin veggie soups and skimmed milk fruit shakes – no carbo, no fat, no sugar. I’m even drinking my tea with skimmed milk and no sugar – urgh. However, the pain is bringing reward – I’ve lost 5kgs since 1 May. I plan to lose 3kg more then go back to eating normal meals, but much smaller portions – and no desserts, chocolate etc. When the WWOOFers were here I made big hearty meals and rich puddings such as treacle tart, banoffee pie, cheesecake, brownies etc (it’s making me hungry just thinking about them). I was unable to resist when they were in the house and added lashings of cream and ice cream. The ironic thing was that about a week into the diet I received a heavy parcel from Sydney which turned out to be the ‘Flat Belly Diet Book’ and the ‘Flat Belly Diet Cookbook’ – what a laugh. They were prizes from our fad earlier in the year of doing all the puzzles in ‘That’s Life!’ and other puzzle magazines. I was amazed to have won anything – but a wad of cash or a car would have been more useful!

Yesterday I went with Luke and his classmates for a walk along the Pipeline Track, from Fern Tree down to the Waterworks just outside of Hobart. It was a lovely walk along part of the route of the old water supply pipe for Hobart, installation of which was begun in 1861. It’s redundant now but the infrastructure including a stone aquaduct and sluice house, still appears to be in good condition. The girls were as good as gold, whereas the boys took every opportunity to climb things, scramble down banks and ditches and chase one another. Luke largely ignored me! Two other mums who live locally came along and gave me a lift back to the beginning of the walk to pick up my car.

Things have been busy as usual on the farm. In fact I’ve been having a bit of a killing spree. Having been meat-free for about a month, we now have one freezer full of meat and the one in the garage is slowly filling up. 17 roosters have bit the dust, one piglet (3 months old at that stage and about 15kg) plus 3 geese. Jasper the goat is still in my sights and there are a handful of younger chickens whose gender is currently not clear. I’ve kept one colourful red rooster to keep the 6 remaining pullets (we’ve sold all the others) company. They have just starting laying and suddenly we are awash once again with eggs. I also culled all the older hens and Nigel the Australorp rooster, plus poor Handles our old goat buck.

I had a huge day of drenching the goats, trimming their hooves and moving them around to their new paddocks to be with the bucks (or not, in the case of the young ones). I also soaked all their feet to try to prevent any foot rot bacteria getting into the new paddock. Handles was in one of the old paddocks and Seb was in the new one with his girls. A week or so later, I woke to find Seb in Handles’ paddock and Handles standing hangdog to one side. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t performing. I tried to catch Jasper the wether to keep him company and thus delay the inevitable, but having failed I made the hard decision that Handles had to go. Seb had been through at least two electric fences at 7,000v, so his urge must have been pretty strong!

The two remaining piglets appeared to be suffering from PTSD for a couple of days after I’d so rudely torn their brother from their midst – but they seem quite happy again now (clearly not too upset then). I was so concerned that the one to go would remain unstressed and innocent of his fate, I didn’t think about the effect on his siblings! We’ve eaten half of the pork and one of the roosters so far and the meat was delicious. Some free-range hens can be a bit strong-tasting, particularly in the leg, but these are just right.

The geese turned out to be impossible to pluck. I remember that the three I did before Christmas took an age and I ended up using the blow-torch to take off the tiny pin-feathers. This time I literally couldn’t pull the feathers off without tearing the skin. I soaked them in hot water (60-70 degrees C) for several minutes, including using detergent to ensure they were wetted right down to the skin. It made no difference whatsoever. I was trying to do this in the kitchen one evening as well as keep track of our serial. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get them in the freezer before going with Luke on his excursion the following day. In the end I got up early the next day and skinned them. It was pretty easy and took very little time. Today I rendered the skins so as to extract any fat that floats to the surface and sets. I shall have to wait until tomorrow when it’s cooled down to see if it has worked. The cooked skins have gone into the compost.

All the adult goats are now settling down with Seb in the new paddock. They are reluctant to venture far into the bush and stick mostly to the open grassy area and around the edges near the fence. They are gradually making inroads into the big area of blackberries at the bottom. At present there are no huts for them in there, so when it starting pouring last week and was bitterly cold and windy with it, I cut another gate between the new paddock and the old one alongside and let them through to access their huts. I drove around and filled all the huts (for goats, peacocks, turkeys, pigs, geese and hens) with fresh bedding and fixed up one of the goat huts that was sagging and getting holey. I finished in the dark, frozen and fed up, but at least the animals were all cosy. Actually I don’t know why I bother for the turkeys and geese since they prefer to sit outside in all weathers.

In an attempt to vary our diet further, I strung a continuous line over the big dam on pulleys either side and suspended several hooks from it with various tempting baits: grasshoppers, home-made flies sporting colourful peacock feathers, worms etc. Unfortunately it has been a complete failure. The trout circle around the dam blowing raspberries at me and refuse to take any of the baits. It became a real chore as I had to rig up the hooks and then rush back before it got dark to take them all down before the platypus came out and got snagged. Discouraged, I’ve continued to save worms (I’ve got a little worm farm going in the garage now), but haven’t been able to motivate myself to rig up the hooks again for a couple of weeks.

We did at least have great fun one afternoon making different types of flies, with peacock and rooster feathers, sequins etc. Pity they just don’t seem to interest the trout. I also relearnt to splice ropes. To reach across the dam and back again needed a continuous loop of around 60m. I remembered my grandad teaching me to splice ropes together when I was young, but I couldn’t remember the technique. I found a great set of videos on the net and discovered that using a crochet hook was the best way. My splices are a bit lumpy but seem to have done the job. It’s the same principle as interleafing the pages of two telephone books as demonstrated on Mythbusters – it’s just friction really that holds them together.

Once the goats were all in the new paddock, we took the opportunity to fell an ancient dead wattle that was growing between two of my old fences. Having cut a gap in one of the fences we positioned the ute about a tree’s height away from the base and Bronte tried to throw a hammer on the end of a rope between two big high branches. He did this quite quickly but the hammer pulled straight out and wasn’t heavy enough to pull the rope down where it could be reached. Eventually (about 100 times later) he managed it again and we were able to wrap the rope around the hammer to hold it fast and tie the other end to the back of the ute. As the tree was so rotten Bronte wouldn’t use the chainsaw, so we took turns using the axe to bash away at it on both sides. When the axe went through to the rot within, we pulled with the ute and once the rope had stretched until we thought it must break, the tree finally crashed to the ground. Bronte’s since chainsawed it all up and stowed it away in the dry in the tractor shed. We should be just about OK for firewood now for the winter, but I still need to go foraging for my piggy brews.

Talking of piggy brews, the old brazier I was using had nearly collapsed, so Bronte kindly angle-ground another 44 gallon drum in half for me and cut some air holes in the bottom section. I mounted that between steel stakes driven into the ground and wired lengths of reinforcing iron across the top, for the ‘bowl’ to sit on. To make it more efficient, I’ve created a ‘shroud’ around it at full height from old bits of galvanized iron. This ensures that the hot air comes up the sides of the bowl and heats the contents more quickly. It works amazingly, bringing the whole container up to boiling point in about a quarter of the time it used to take – therefore using heaps less wood and saving me wood-gathering time.

I’ve had a couple of unexpected animal sightings recently. Walking across to the tractor shed I looked down towards the bucks’ pen and saw a wombat wandering along in broad daylight, well away from cover! Luke was off sick, so I tore back indoors as fast as possible, yelled for Luke to come outside, grabbed the camera and rushed outside again – only to find the wombat had disappeared! The pigs grunted and shot off in surprise so it must have taken cover in the sedge alongside the pig pen before disappearing in the bush near the creek. What a great surprise though! Another day I saw a long slinky creature which moved a little like a weasel, race from one patch of bog to another. The end half of its tail was white and looked fairly fluffy. I could only imagine it was a water rat or possibly a ring-tailed possum – however, it just didn’t move like a possum. There has been a great influx of the pretty green rosellas for winter. It’s great to see them back in big numbers – the last two years they’ve been noticeably thin on the ground. Less common suddenly are the black cockatoos.

Luke has taken to soccer like a duck to water. His team has played several games now, winning two, losing one and drawing the first. Luke was sick during the losing match so he can feel that they lost owing to him not being there! Last Saturday Bronte took him to a school in Kingston and Luke’s team won 15:1! I felt so sorry for the poor little souls in the other team – and was quite glad I’d chosen not to go along. Since Luke had never seen a proper game of soccer I recorded the FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea and we sat and watched it the following day (fast-forwarding over the boring bits). Liverpool was always my team (along with Luton and Bedford) in my youth when I used to go to football matches each Saturday with Grandad Tib. So I was rather disappointed when they lost 2:1.It was quite nail-biting in the second half however, when Liverpool piled on the pressure and looked like they might score an equaliser.

For entertainment on an evening, we’ve turned from film DVDs to TV serials. It’s great being able to watch more than one episode at a time, not have any adverts or interference (our signal is pretty weak here) and not have to wait until the following week to find out what happens. We really enjoyed The Slap, probably the first Aussie drama we’ve really enjoyed – Aussie films are usually so depressing and overly arty (everyone dies, takes drugs and ends up miserable). Now we are onto the second episode of Breaking Bad, which is surprisingly good. We’ve got a list of others we want to watch such as The West Wing and Lost.

I forgot to mention that before the WWOOFers left, we went to a sculpture trail on the coast. Here are some pictures of the artworks:

Kid in hole from which he and Bronte had dug a protruding rock and rolled it down the hill:

Diabolically difficult helicopter model sent by someone (can't remember who unfortunately) for a Christmas present for Luke. Bronte started it and gave up. I finished it, but eventually when its rotor blades starting drooping, I snuck it into the bin!