Thursday, December 5, 2013

First of the peaches

Early Red peaches

We are now enjoying lots of lovely fresh juicy peaches from our 'Early Red' trees. So far (am I tempting fate by saying this...?!) the possums have not found the trees, but we have had some windy weather which has blown a few fruit off.

So I am busy in the kitchen with making peach pies, smoothies, eating them fresh as is, and sliced on my morning porridge. I've made peach and raspberry popsicles, and will probably freeze some sliced peaches too. If I get enough time I will bottle some too.

Early Red peach tree
This is the size of one of the peach trees. We have already harvested about 5kgs off this tree and still more to come.

Looking forward to the 'Black Boy' peaches later on :-)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's the buzz?

It's not everyday you get to see this sight, and on your own property at that:

Yes, that brown clump is a swarm of bees! Here's a closer look:

There's thousands of bees all bunched together there:

Hubby was out doing some rotary hoeing on the farm, had ear muffs on of course, and told me he could hear "a very loud machine"........quickly realising that the 'machine' was in fact a whole lot of bees! They were flying in the air about 3-4 metres off the ground.

He came indoors and found a phone number for a local beekeeper, whom promptly came to retrieve the bees. By the time the beekeeper arrived, the bees had settled on one of our pohutukawa trees. The beekeeper said he'd been quite busy as there had been a few swarms around this year so far. Apparently they do this as a result of an abundance of flowers on the hawthorn and cabbage trees. And of course, being Cabbage Tree Farm.......we have lots of cabbage trees, and they are all in flower!

The beekeeper came equipped with his netted hat and brought a hive to collect the bees in. He did this by shaking the branch of the tree the swarm was on. It was quite exciting to watch, although we kept our distance during the event as we did not have any of the handy protective gear he had!

You can see the blue hive on top of the ladder (we had to put the ladder there so the box could be closer to the swarm). When the beekeeper shook the tree, the bulk of the bees dropped into the hive, some landed on the ground and some flew into the air. To collect the ones on the ground he put one of the frames from inside the hive onto the ground and on an angle like a wee ladder. It was amazing to watch the bees all going up the frame " ladder"! Almost like busy commuters on an escalator! To collect the remaining bees was just a matter of leaving the hive open for a few hours until later in the evening. The beekeeper came back and used his smoker to settle the bees before putting the lid on, blocking up their exit holes with some tissue and then put the hive into the back of his car. The hum of the bees once inside the hive and his car was something else!

Collecting the bees in the hive

I was a little sorry to see the bees go, but we don't feel ready to take on the challenge of bee keeping yet. It would take a lot of learning and a lot of time, which I don't have right now. The beekeeper said we had the perfect spot for bees and told us that as they improve pollination of fruit trees you could expect 75% more fruit than if you didn't have bees around! We also learned some other interesting facts about bees including the function of drones who apparently have a very cruisy life being pampered by the other bees unless things get tough in the hive (not enough food) and they get thrown out!; how aggressive the guard bees can be (can blind you in fact as they make a 'bee-line' for your eyes if you interfere with the hive incorrectly); and how the bees kill off a queen who starts laying less than perfect eggs by smothering her and overheating her.

We were very fortunate to be given a large bottle of honey from the beekeeper, which will keep us going for quite a few months! D loves honey so was very impressed.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sowing beans

I'm sowing a few different types of beans this season:

Clockwise from the top - the white bean is 'Climbing Butter', then a purple bean 'Dwarf Royal Burgundy', another purple bean 'Purple Tee Pee' (both of these purple beans turn green when cooked), the small black beans are 'Yard Long Runner' and finally the big black beans are 'Italian Flat' (a climbing bean). I like all types of bean, but hubby prefers the dwarf/French bean. Both varieties of purple dwarf bean have performed well here in previous seasons. I will report back on the others as and when.

What kind of beans do you like/grow?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Little gift

Lucky me, I was gifted this gorgeous jar of homemade lemon honey (lemon curd) by the lovely teacher aide at my son's school. She spends a lot of time with D and has made a big difference with helping him settle at school. Isn't the presentation just delightful?

A thought for the day - "a little gift gives much joy".

May your day be a happy one :-)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Spring flowers

The potager garden is in full flower right now and the bees and other insects are having a ball.

The bees are making a 'bee-line' for the poppies, especially these red ones:

Mostly all the flowers are self sown. There are snapdragons, carnations, nasturtiums, Icelantic poppies, coriander and parsley. My black hollyhocks (bottom right of the top photo) are developing buds but have no flowers as yet.

Rose 'De la Grifferaie"

My old-fashioned rambler rose 'De la Grifferaie' is doing really well this year, and has lots of blooms on it. The scent is to die for!

How's your flower garden doing this Spring?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I'm back

from my trip to the UK at last.

Before I forget - Happy Halloween! This is a photo of the pumpkin I carved at Mum and Dads before we left. The neighbour next door kindly gave it to me to do for D. Cute eh?

We stayed on a week extra in England because my father became ill while we were there. Not good at all, but he's doing a bit better now. So our holiday plans were changed and we didn't do some of the things we wanted to do, travel around more and meet up with friends etc. Here are just a few photos of some of the things we did do.
We went up to London on the train and underground. D loved the train rides!

We visited a couple of the museums in London which D really enjoyed (me too!). This is at the Science museum, where they have a lot of space exhibits:

and the massive blue whale at the Natural History Museum (my lovely niece L came along with us here), I always remembered this from going there as a child:
Blue whale

Outside the Natural History Museum, fabulous building

Decorative roof of the Nat Hist Museum

 Also enjoyed a day Legoland in Windsor with my lovely niece L again:

Mini London

Lego Buzz

Captain D at the helm

And at nearby Cliveden, a National Trust property:

Huge fountain at Cliveden House

D in the hedge maze at Cliveden, is this the way?

My parents sponsored one of the yew trees for this maze, which is a recreation of an original design from 1894 for the original owner of Cliveden Lord Astor.

D had a great time (as did everyone) going down the big slide they had at the south side of the house. This is in place while they work on fixing up the steps and stonework.

 We stayed with my sister in Bristol, and explored some of the Harbourside area. Went to 'M shed' which is a local museum and was great.

 This ship was outside and we went for a look around it:

A replica of Matthew, the original sailed to America in 1497

My sister and I went out the theatre to the Old Vic to see Dickens - Great Expectations. It was great. Lovely old theatre.

And of course we met up with lots of family and had a nice party on my sister's birthday. The weather was good then, so we could sit outside in the sun.

Now I'm back home with a bump, and have hit the ground running. Lots going on here with pigs going to the butcher and gardening, as well as all the other normal 'stuff'. Not had much time for reading any blogs or posting, hope to free up some time soon.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Away for a bit

Mauve Michaelmas daisy in Mum's garden

Windfall apples
Hi everyone, I am away in England for a few weeks with family. Will post some photos when I get time. We have had a couple of sunny days, but mostly the sun has not made an appearance at all! On the plus side it's lovely to see all the trees as Autumn progresses, and D has enjoyed collecting conkers a.k.a. horse chestnuts.Mum and I have been collecting lots of windfall apples from the garden, loads of cooking apples and some very tasty heirloom dessert apples called 'Ribston Pippin'.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A little basket of greens

Just sharing a photo of some vegetables I harvested yesterday. Our very first spear of asparagus! I planted 5 asparagus plants last year but unfortunately only 1 seems to have survived the drought of last summer, must put more in when I can get them.

The bright green broccoli is the Italian Romanesco variety (also called Roman cauliflower), with its cool fractal growth pattern - worth growing for looks alone! It kept it colour after cooking which is great, unlike most of the purple coloured veg which also look great when raw and then turn green when cooked.

The snow peas are Mange Tout (Carouby pea) which came up from self sown seeds of last years' miserable crop (we had a very long and harsh drought in Summer). These snow peas are doing really well now and putting out quite a lot of pods for the picking.

What greens do you have in your garden right now?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spring time jobs in the garden

The other day was a nice Spring day just perfect for being outside in the garden. D and I spent the morning sowing seeds together. We put in some sunflowers (Giant Russian) and also some more beetroot.

Then, while I potted on some seedlings, D set off with the camera and took some photos of various flowers.

I particularly like this one of a vibrant cerise Arctosis flower:

And this bright red nasturtium flower. We have nasturtiums coming up everywhere in the garden this year, they are a good companion plant, the flowers look pretty in summer salads, and if they're growing in the wrong spot can easily be removed! Plus, importantly, the bees like them. I'm trying to grow more flowers in the vege garden because as well as looking pretty they feed the bees who we need for pollination of course (apart from their honey that is, when I get set up with a hive!)

 The tomato seedlings are doing well - I managed to get these ones going some weeks ago indoors. They are mainly the heirloom variety 'Brandywine Pink', since we had success with these biggies previously, and also a few 'Bloody Butcher' which I have not grown/tried before. Hopefully we willl get a good crop this season.

I also have some aubergine/eggplant, peppers and chilli seedlings coming along.

How are your seedlings shaping up?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Another birthday cake

Hubby celebrated his birthday recently and so it was time to get creative with another birthday cake. I forgot to take a 'before' photo, so here it is sans candles and several slices!

This time a chocolate cake, with yummy homemade raspberry mousse filling, courtesy of a Danish recipe I found here. I used a different chocolate cake recipe though, one I've used previously and knew would be OK - it contains melted dark chocolate plus Dutch cocoa. I probably overdid it with four layers - it was very tall, ha ha!
Three layers with more of the mousse filling as per the Cakejournal recipe might have worked better, so next time I'll do this instead.
However it was a delicious cake, not too sweet at all. None of us are overly keen on very sweet frosting/icing so I also used whipped cream to decorate the top and a sprinkling of some more chocolate (actually a broken up 'Flake').

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blossom time

The first of the fruit trees in our stonefruit orchard are in blossom. This is one of our almond trees, and don't the bees just love it.

This was the little tree that we got our first harvest of almonds from last season. Hoping we will get a good crop this season!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

So long Clucky

I'm not one to get too emotional over chickens, but I was sad that Clucky died yesterday. She was one of our first chickens and more of a pet (we don't name them any more as they could end up as dinner!). Clucky was a purebred Indian Game, and we brought her up from Auckland with us. She was a great mother hen, hatched out several chicks, and lived to a ripe old age - 10 years, pretty good going for a chicken I should think!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Just for your 'a-MOO-sment'!

Sorry couldn't resist!

Has been a sick house here so last week was a write off. Very frustrating when there is so much work to be done outdoors and the weather has been so mild. No choice but to rest up. Did manage to plant a few plants and sort through my seeds though, some of which which I must get on to sowing before too much longer!

Monday, July 29, 2013

My first attempt at homemade sausages

After much procrastination I finally got around to making sausages. A few months ago we bought a meat grinder with a sausage making attachment and I had a bit of a hiccup with getting the correct type of skins - I bought edible collagen casings which did not fit on the end of the sausage maker....oops! Finally I tracked down a butcher that could supply the natural 'hog' casings (pig intestines) and we had some pork scraps that our butcher bagged up specifically for us to make sausages, from when he butchered our last lot of home raised pigs.

I did a quick search on You Tube to make sure I knew what to do, and to get some recipes. In the end I chose to make up some chorizo sausages after watching this helpful tutorial.

I was quite pleased that they came out looking like sausages should!!

However I think it should be noted that next time they need just a bit more fat in the mix as they were a little on the dry side - although they may also have been slightly overcooked. As our butcher had already supplied the necessary bits of meat, I didn't have any ability to add more fat, but will be sure to ask him next time to supply some extra to add in as and when.

With the remaining meat (I had 2kgs in total), I made another lot of sausages, and had 2 helpers which made it a lot easier. This time I made pork and apple sausages loosely based on this recipe, which were very nice, and not quite so dry.

All in all, the process was quite easy and not terribly time-consuming and the best part was having lovely fresh sausages without all the nasty ingredients added in most shop-bought ones. I am looking forward to trying out other recipes.

Any fellow home sausage makers out there? What kind(s) of sausage do you make?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Time for an update!

It's Winter here at CTF, and we've had a few frosts, but some lovely fine days too. Fortunately not too cold being at the Northern end of NZ. We don't get snow here, it's usually just wet, with a cold southerly wind or else fine and sunny during the day but frosty at night.

I've been out pruning our many fruit trees, some of the bigger ones have needed quite a bit of work and that's very time consuming. I've been fairly brutal to them poor things but they did really need to be 'minimised' - we don't want huge fruit trees with inaccessible fruit for one thing! While we may not get such a great crop this next season, I'm hoping the following one will be good.

The pigs are growing fast. They've already eaten all of the root fodder we grew for them in their paddock (mainly mangels and sugar beet). And they've eaten just about all of our pumpkin harvest too - although I was loathed to feed them one of the only Musque du Provence pumpkins that grew in the drought - have kept this for a few winter soups for us!

They're now guzzling their way through lots of milk, crab apples and the odd handful of pig pellets.

In the vege garden, while things have slowed down over Winter, we're still managing to harvest a few greens for the dinner table.

The broccoli has been performing well, we've eaten quite a lot already with more yet to harvest. Apart from the standard green heading, I've put in some purple sprouting as well.

The cauliflowers are doing quite well. I planted purple ones this year for a splash of colour -

Also in the garden lots of spinach, silverbeet and herbs - coriander and parsley. I have found the odd chilli out there too which is amazing! Hope your garden is producing well over the Winter months.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

New pigs

This year we have 4 pigs, so we will now have our work cut out feeding them!

Right now, they are feeding on their paddock lot of mangels and sugar beet. As you can see, they have wasted no time digging these up and munching them! I have also been supplementing their feed with household scraps (I collect them from my work too), and cooked up pumpkins and potatoes. Hopefully we can get hold of some crates of kumara (a kind of sweet potato here in NZ). Last year we did this, and boiled up large batches in a copper boiler outside - it's too hard to cook up enough indoors in small pots! Previously we've also managed to get hold of excess milk from local farms, don't know if this will be possible but we will try. The pigs love the milk and it's easier than cooking up food.

So, here they are, 2 girls and 2 boys (no names - they are destined for the table!):

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My first batch of coloured soap - fail

Hey folks sorry for the long break between posts. A combination of being sick and a lack of anything much to post about. But now here's an update on soap making. This time using one of my herbal infused oil colourants.

I made up a batch of plain olive oil soap (castile), see here for recipe details. I used about 3 tablespoons of the infused oil (alkanet for the colour purple), plus some lavender essential oil. The soap turned a pale shade of greenish-gray. Not quite what I was expecting but after further research on the net I discovered it does do this because of the pH of the soap, and will change as the soap cures. So I didn't get to worried about it. After all, this is only my 7th batch of soap, so I'm all fine with experimenting and seeing what the results are. However, as the days progressed and my soap started drying, the colour seemed to just fade right away! Since I forgot totally to take any photos of the newly made soap, you can only take my word for it.

Another thing that happened with this soap was that it was very sticky. I'm pretty sure I must have mucked up my oil measurement (interestingly I notice one of my earlier posts mentioned this too - see here if you're interested).

Anyhow, after the soap sitting, supposedly curing, although it didn't look very good, I decided I would remelt (rebatch) the soap and add in more colour (and a little more fragrance too). I chose the boil in the bag method which is supposed to be a bit quicker than using a crockpot or a double-boiler.

Sliced up soap soon to be chopped smaller - look at the lack of colour!

Unfortunately the soap was really soft and sticky so grating it (into small fragment to melt more easily) was not going to be an option. I decided upon chopping it up as small as possible with a sharp kitchen knife.

Then I put all the chopped up soap into an heat-proof oven bag:

I added the bag of soap (closed with a twistie tie) to a pot of boiling water.

 It took about 3/4 hour - 1 hour all up to melt the soap, taking it out every so often and (wearing oven gloves) giving the soap inside a bit of a squeeze.

Once it looked melted I added in another 3 tablespoons of colour and another tablespoon of lavender oil. Gave it a good mix and then plopped it out into my mold. Unlike the original batch it was not pourable so I had to press it into the mold using a spatula and then when it was cooler, I put plastic wrap on top and pressed the soap loaf flat with my hands. Then I left overnight before slicing up today (as it seemed hard enough to me):

Well as you can see it has some colour now, but is still a little too pale for my liking. Also because I couldn't grate the soap as it was too sticky, you can see little lumps of white soap throughout. I guess this is OK for an effect if had I wanted it! Also, whether I cut up the soap too early or it was just the consistency of it, but it crumbled very easily - as you can see in the 2nd photo above, the pile to the right.

I'm really tempted to try remelting it again and add more colour. Hopefully I should be able to grate it up now or at least chop it finer so there are no blobs of uncoloured soap in the finished product. Also I think I should have added a little water to the bag when melting the soap. May as well have a play around with it to see what results from the next experiment. Will keep you posted!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Herbal colourants for soap making

With a view to colouring my next batch of soap, I did a bit of research into suitable colourants. Wanting to keep my soaps as natural as possible (apart from using commercially prepared lye!), I found this great tutorial.

So yesterday I made up 3 different colours - dark orange (from paprika), yellow/orange (from annatto seed), and purple (from alkanet root).

Measuring out the alkanet root - I had to grind this up into more of a powder form before adding it to the jar. It's very papery and light so I needed quite a bowlful to give me the 1oz measure.

I used olive oil as I didn't have enough sunflower oil to hand.

Then I processed my colourant oils in my Fowlers Vacola. First time of using this baby, which I picked up for a song at the local hospice shop. I see online they are over $200 Aus new!! Makes it so much easier having the tap to drain out the water afterwards! The only things I didn't have were a jar lifter (standard tongs are useless!) and a rack to keep the bottles apart during the water bath process, but I managed OK -at least nothing leaked or got dropped on the floor!

Now I have the 3 jars sitting on my windowsill to intensify the colour as much as possible before I try them out in my next batch of soap.

Does anyone else make their own herbal soap colourants and if so what do you use?