2013 had the hottest January in recorded history for most of the country, including our little patch of paradise. February really didn’t feel much cooler, and the only coolish days, or at least those cool enough for outside work, seemed to be during the week. Couple that with the fact that I travelled every week in the month, and February didn’t feel very productive at all. Looking back we did okay, but at the time it was an exercise in frustration. I never thought I’d think this, but I’m genuinely looking forward to the cold months.
While the heat made veggie work a little tough, we were in full swing for harvesting things like tomatoes and corn, and in fact we ended our tomato harvest in “The Patch”, pulling out the last plants and hanging them to allow the tomatoes to ripen.
One exciting thing is the late harvest variety we’re trying in the smaller veggie patch up near the house. These are called “Floradade”, and if they work they have the potential to extend our harvest through to the end of Autumn. Fingers crossed…
The corn in particular is doing amazing things. We always do pretty well growing corn, but this year’s batch is hands-down the best I’ve ever tasted.
We have one full bed in the rotation dedicated to corn, giving us somewhere between 40 and 50 square metres. They’ve done exceptionally well, with some of the plants topping out at around 8 feet. Towards the back they’re smaller, but we’re still getting the same number and sized ears.
I’m excited about growing corn, both because we eat a lot of it as a family, but also because it’s the perfect stock food. Corn is a giant grass, and the plants themselves can make a hearty meal for the pigs/sheep/goats/cows/poultry. Even the denuded husks go to the pigs who love crunching them up. Not a single bit of the plant is wasted.
While I think we’ve done well with the corn, I’m confident we can do even better. This first year we managed a couple of ears per plant, while in our last place we were getting four and five. I want to change our spacing and maybe our watering on the next lot and see if we can’t improve.
We blanched and froze some corn in February, which is our first attempt. The process is quite simple:
- Four minutes at a rolling boil.
- Out and straight into ice water to cool them below the cooking point.
- Cut off the kernels.
- Bag and freeze.
Blanching them retains their texture for freezing. Putting them in ice water means you don’t overcook them. We got a bit of an assembly line going and froze several kilograms of kernels in maybe a half-hour. We’ll do that one more time and should have enough to last us through winter. We eat a lot of corn, normally buying it in canned form, but hopefully this year will only be eating Atherton corn.
We also experimented with ways to make corn relish. I’m quite keen to have only home-made/home-grown condiments, and we’re well on our way with a number of batches of chutneys, relishes, and sauces. The corn one was particularly awesome, with Peyton and Linhda both getting into it. There’s a chilli version which is my favourite!
Our potatoes were good to go in February also. We’ve half-arsed potato growing before, experimenting with growing them both in the ground and under straw. This is the first time I’ve made a concerted effort to them properly, and having an entire bed dedicated to them, we’re also doing them in bulk.
In the past I didn’t really wait for the plants to die back. You don’t have to, but harvesting them early means the spuds are smaller and don’t keep as well. This year I’ve let the plants die completely, and the results are pretty good.
I only harvested a small amount because of the heat. However, despite the fact that they’re only just ready for harvesting, those in the ground are starting to sprout. They need to come up and be stored, but we need some cooler days to do it.
The big lesson learned here is keeping the potatoes covered as they grow. I knew this going in, but didn’t quite execute the way I should have. The soil needs work, and some of the spuds were close to the surface. Any exposed potatoes are green, and therefore poisonous. I think next year I’ll plant the rows a little further apart, and hoe between them as the plants grown. This way I’ll cut down the weeds, which can be a problem with overhead irrigation, and mound up dirt around the plants.
We managed to harvest more beetroot.
The beetroot is interesting in that the harvest can be phased. We basically wait until we have giant beetroot, harvest them, and then just leave the rest to grow. We have one more harvest from that latest batch before they’re done, and I think that’ll be harvest number 4.
The best thing about the beetroot is that Linhda did me pickled eggs with a beetroot twist, along with another couple of varieties. YUM!
The heat made any plantings almost impossible. I managed to prepare the largest of our backyard veggie patches, ripping out the plants that were done and rearranging the permanent part of the bed with the jalapenos I’d grown from seed. I also planted:
- Brussel Sprouts
Those last two were planted because I’d grown a few from seeds as an experiment and wanted to see how they go. They’re in a sheltered, semi-shaded area that gets some grey-water run-off.
Apart from that, I’ve prepared half the bed ready for beetroot and more carrots. However, it stayed prepared for the entire month, and even during the second week of March it’s too warm to plant anything. Carrots particularly need some baby-sitting early on, and letting them dry out can spell the death of the entire crop. The heat combined with my travel means we need to wait.
The one decent farm project we got done was cementing a pad under the babies’ feed and water troughs. Being pigs, they’re both slightly messy and destructive, but still awesome. Awesomeness aside, they like to get in their water, dump their water on the ground, and then make deep, messy wallows out of it.
I took advantage of the good work they’d already done and widened their wallow to dimensions large enough to cement a pad under their troughs. Basically, I dug the hole out big enough and then used it as most of the shuttering for the concrete.
Mixing cement by hand is long and painful. Rather than wet mix it in the barrow and risk it going off before we were done, I dry mixed it and put it dry in the hole.
Once that was done we added water and wet mixed it in the hole.
The results were better than we ever expected, and keeps the area free of holes.
Wet mixing the cement in the hole was always going to be painful, but I completely underestimated the magnitude of that pain. It was a half-hour or so of the heaviest digging and was not fun. A week later we found a cheap cement mixer on gumtree.com, spent an hour fixing it, and are now ready to do the cement pads for the other four runs.
The other big news for February is that the boys got to have a go at free-ranging. We’d been restricted up to now as the race isn’t finished down at The Patch end of the runs, so we had to get the electric stand-off fence to a spot where the boys could get out their end. One of the cows ended up taking that decision from us.
One of the animals had brushed against one of the strainers in the fence around The Patch and knocked an insulator off. The result was the electric fend was grounded near the start of the run and the rest of it was pretty much useless. One of the cows took that opportunity to walk through the stand-off fence and get to the rest of the crop.
We had maybe a quarter of the crop left ungrazed, but so late in the year there was little head left on it. Most of it had either shaken off the stalks or been eaten by birds, so we were safe to let the animals in. I took the stand-off fence down, which meant the gate out of the race was open for us to let the boys out.
We can’t have the babies and the boys out at the same time, mainly because they’ll be trying to make babies of their own when they’re too young. What we do now is alternate which lot are free-ranging. That will change when the last of the boys goes to “The Other Farm” and we have Boris in with the girls full-time.
Apart from that we did odd jobs around the heat, things like fixing storm water drains and leaky taps. Whatever we could find that wouldn’t hurt us in the heat. We also managed to use Sheldon to move some dirt, but dad did most of that.
Looking back, February was more productive than it felt. However, we did have a couple of set-backs. First of all, the meat bird’s run was left closed on a warm day and we lost one. They had water, but the heat was too much. This has been the unluckiest bunch of meat birds we’ve ever had, mostly due to my mistake with their water when we first got them. It has taught us that getting them over summer is probably a mistake. This was our hottest summer ever, but I think that we should, as a rule, get them during the cooler months. The heat means they just sit in the shade, and really don’t free-range at all.
The second set-back was the big freezer in the big shed was left open overnight. We were running low on meat anyway, so it wasn’t a huge loss, but we lost several chickens/ducks, some legs of lamb/goat, plus some other miscellaneous meat. Again, we’ve now learned to be more careful, and to maybe change the freezer configuration to reduce the risk of this happening again.
We have a couple of sheep that we’re feeding on, as we knew our meat was running low. In addition to that, we have a pig ready in a month or so, another a couple of months after that, plus a couple of cows in several months. In the mid-to-long term we’re looking at a glut of meat; however, because of travel, temperature, and the butcher being booked out, we can’t get a sheep done for a while. That means we’ll be buying meat for up to a month, and that thought really bothers me.
Planning our meat needs is surprisingly tricky. This has taught us to try and forecast out a bit further, and I’m sure it’s a process we’ll refine over time. Once we have our pig production down properly, I’m confident we won’t need to buy any kind of meat, up to and including small-goods.