After a ridiculously hot January and February , and a barely cooler March , we had been promised rain in April. In fact, for about six weeks in a row we had forecasts of rain. It seemed on the Monday we’d have a forecast of a good chance of a good amount of rain the next weekend. By the Thursday or Friday that invariably changed to little chance of next-to-no rain. It was killing me. We had most of The Patch harvested and ready for the next planting, but I needed the rain to get it rotary hoed and ready.
We finally got the rain towards the end of the month. Before that though, we managed to fill our time…
We started the month by finishing our bacon. We put it down at the end of March, trying one cure with sugar and one with maple syrup. The recipe recommended seven days in the cure, but we tried some after only 3 days. We tried two ways to finish it – one in a low oven and the other in our new home-made smoker. That gave us four permutations – two cures and two methods.
We didn’t use any nitrates, opting instead to use celery juice which apparently has naturally occurring nitrates. This helps keep the colour. We found that the oven-finished bacon had more of a roast pork colour, while the smoked bacon had more of that expected bacon pinkness.
Both tasted great, but we preferred the maple bacon and the smoked finish.
This not only showed us which cure and finish worked best, but also the timeframe. Three days in the cure left it almost too salty. I ended up taking the rest of the bacon and soaking it in fresh water for an hour, before finishing it all in the smoker. Next time we’ll go maybe only two days.
Keeping to the porky theme, we also finished and hung our first prosciutto.
It cured for 17 days. We rinsed it, covered it in a pillow case, and hung it under the veranda. My concern is the temperature. This time of year we still get the occasional high 20’s day. I’ll probably bring it in or put it in the fridge those days. Charcuterie hanging outside in South Australia is still something I’m not at all sure is possible, and something that requires much more investigation.
We also managed to mix and pour cement pads for two of the remaining pig runs. We’re getting much better and faster at the cement thing.
We’ve not had a heap of problems with rodents, but they’re still around. This is the country and we do live in the cereal belt after all. We’ve had maybe two mice in the house, though I do have traps down in the sheds that will sometimes catch a few a weekend. I’d noted mice in both the duck and chook runs though, and we’ve managed to get a rat. With that in mind, I got some live-capture traps to clean up any rodents that might be running around.
I put a live-capture mouse trap in the duck run, and caught five in the first night.
Since then we’ve managed to get a good twenty or so. The interesting thing is that we’ll go a few days with nothing and then get a heap. They’re mostly young ones, with a couple of adults. It’s like we get some new litters that come out in a wave.
In terms of meat, we had a bit of a self-sufficiency win. To me, self-sufficiency is doing it yourself. I can be a bit stubborn about that, and I get fixated on doing/raising things ourselves. However, I’ve been trying to expand that concept. An equally valid version is raising meat/veggies/fruit, selling the excess, and using that money to buy what we need. For example, I can never grow all of the food the stock needs, not on our few acres, but I can grow enough pigs to cover the cost of the feed.
With that in mind, we had a sheep that was excess to our needs and so sold him on. We had him processed by Menzel’s, and sold the professionally butchered meat to a friend. This didn’t make us a fortune, but it did pay for a half-tonne of food. Our friend got great meat pretty cheap, and we covered some stock food. It’s a small step in shifting my stubborn paradigm, but it’s significant.
Expecting rain, and eventually begging for it, I started to prepare The Patch. I spread all of the compost from our bays over the beds. I also used Sheldon to dump maybe 2 tonnes of our remaining chicken poop over the fence.
This took maybe 10 minutes. Much better than my shovel and barrow…
I also changed the plan a little. Rather than shuffle everything along one bed in the rotation, I’ll be moving everything two beds. The end bed, which was bed 6 this year, has the worst soil. It actually had some gravel, and is really quite thin and gutless. This year this will be green manure, as it needs the conditioning the most.
This also leaves bed 1 free for a poly-tunnel or shade house. We’ll incorporate the largest backyard patch in the rotation instead, retaining our six bed rotation system.
We ended up with about an inch of rain over the third weekend of the month, but right at the end and into the Monday, meaning we couldn’t hoe The Patch. Rather, we waited until the Anzac Day holiday the following Thursday, and it turned out perfectly.
We started by moving the electric fence back a couple of metres. This means I get to reclaim some of the lawn, which I hate. It also means we get to extend the beds right up to the old fence line. For now the reclaimed area is a largish path, but I plan on getting the babies in there after this season to clean out the grass. Then I’ll try and sneak the fence back more and make the beds larger again. Don’t tell Linhda…
We had been worried about the rotary hoe and The Patch. The soil was quite heavy, to the point where we had one bed that we’d barely used because we’d simply not been able to turn it over. However, the hoe went through it brilliantly. I set it at maximum depth and it was like a hot knife through butter. It wasn’t always easy, and it took some wrestling at times, but the results were spot-on.
I also moved the compost bays and we put a gate at one end to give us vehicular access.
I mapped out the beds by digging a small path between them. The first time I did that it was quite easy as there really wasn’t much depth to the soil. This time was significantly harder, as the soil was much deeper.
I planted green manure in the RHS most bed (bed 6). This was a mix of Lucerne I bought specifically as green manure, and some barely we had left over from the pig’s food. We’ll let this get to maybe thigh-height before cutting it down and turning it in.
We ended up using the same mix in the three empty pig runs too. At the same time, dad broadcast some old lawn seed I had sitting in the shed, just to use it up. The runs were all quite green after the rain, just from the grain the goats and pigs had spread around. Add this extra seed to it and it’ll hopefully thicken right up. We’ll wait until it’s a decent length and swap the pigs in. This keeps the runs fresh and gives the babies green feed.
We managed to get some planting done before the end of the month. I planted out the spare areas of the largest bed in the backyard with:
- Broad beans
- Snow peas
All of those legumes came from seed we’d kept from last year.
We also planted the allium (onion/garlic) and legume (pea/bean) beds in The Patch. This year my aim is to use every spare square inch to grow as much as possible, especially of the staples. I need a benchmark to see how much we need to grow from year-to-year. I thought we did quite well for garlic and onions last year, but we ended up being out by probably a factor of 2.
The allium patch has:
- 7 different kinds of garlic. We bought a heap from The Diggers Club to test out and see which we like the most. We planted out nearly 200 in total.
- Red, bunching, and white onions. We planted out 34 x 4m rows. That’s probably somewhere between 1200 and 1300 onions.
The legume patch has a huge variety of beans and peas. Again, we bought a heap of different varieties to try and see which we like most.
We also got some other various plants – herbs, berries, etc. Most of these won’t be planted until May after some more rain. However, I did manage to get horseradish!
I’ve been after horseradish for a while, and am pretty freaking excited! I cut the bottom out of a busted old tub to contain it, as apparently horseradish has a tendency to get away from you if you’re not careful.
The last thing to happen in April was dad ploughed the back paddock. We’re probably still a couple of weeks from sowing, but Farmer John next door suggested we turn it over now after the rain. Within a couple of days there was more greenery coming up, and the cows and goats love it.
It was weird having so much of our veggie area idle for so long. I’d always expected to work up a routine where we pretty much knew exactly what we’d be doing from month-to-month and could plan ahead. Instead, I expect that we’ll be playing much of it by ear. This year is a great example – I have a pumpkin bed with a heap of fresh, new pumpkins where I thought it would be done two months ago, at the same time as I had five empty beds waiting to be planted out. None of that was in my plan!
And to finish the month, I have random goat and meat shots.