We had a huge allium year, as evidenced by our garlic harvest last month, which taught us a valuable lesson about harvesting garlic in dry conditions. We continued this with our onion harvest in December.
Our vegetable growing ethos is a combination of eating seasonally and also growing staples that we can either store or preserve. Alliums are a big part of that. For one, they’re used in most things we cook. For another, if stored correctly, they can last nearly a full year.
Last year we did well with our onions and garlic, but underestimated just how much we’d need. This year we went a little nuts, the theory being that we’d try and grow too much, which will give us a good idea in future exactly how much we’ll need.
Our onion harvesting and processing took a full week. We spent a weekend harvesting and plaiting it, and then the evenings of the following week pickling it. We don’t grow onions specifically for pickling, but rather just choose the smaller ones.
As a family, we love pickled onions. In the past we’ve been able to put down a handful of jars, but this year I’m confident that we have a full year’s worth. We also tried a slightly different method where we salted the onions over night at first, the aim being crunchier pickled onions.
I processed 2 or 3 batches of pickled onions, and like to experiment with flavours, especially chillies. The rest of the family is less enthusiastic about this…
We also are experimenting with some other onion-type products. About 50 or so onions had gone to seed, which leaves a bit of a woody stem part in the middle. We saved a stack of those and hung them in hessian to use as stock onions. The rest we cut in half and have put in our dehydrator. The idea is to see if we can make our own onion powder, or maybe onion flakes. From there we might be able to make our own BBQ seasoning. Yum!
We had a go at fixing our beehive up too. The advice we’ve received from the local-ish apiarist may be leading us astray though. We’ve set things up exactly how he suggested, and this month the theory was that we swap the two supers around with a queen excluder between them – the bulk of the bees, with the queen, should be in the lower one at that stage. They seem to be everywhere though, and I’m not at all sure it’s worked.
We may be at the stage where I try and get a professional out, as much as that pains me. Once we get this right, I might also look at getting more hives, and placing them around the property. My main interest is the bees and the massive amount of good they do. We know enough people who like honey that we should be able to offload it. Hopefully.
Dad got himself a F100, which is just beautiful. She’s not easy to drive, but she sure is fun to drive. We’ve named her “Mellow Yellow”, which of course Linhda has shortened to “Melly”.
Our neighbour also shot us a rabbit. I’d mentioned to him that I was keen to try rabbit, and part of the reason I got my guns was to control that kind of pest. I don’t want to waste them though, and so would try and eat them. I got a call one afternoon to meet him by the back fence, and he had a fully dressed rabbit for me. It was so fresh that it was still warm, much to Linhda’s disgust. 🙂
I made up a stuffing using our sausage meat and roasted the rabbit. It turned out surprisingly well. To me it tasted like strong turkey.
Of course, the piglets were growing, both in size and cuteness.
I was in Canberra for 2 or 3 weeks of December. In the middle somewhere Linhda sent me a message that Matthew Evans, of Gourmet Farmer fame was in Canberra promoting sustainable fishing. He was set up outside Parliament House, so I headed down to see him. I really wanted to just meet him, say hey, and maybe chat about our common interest in growing our own food. I did meet him and chatted, but it was mostly about his fishing message. That was cool though, and the fish was delicious!
Right at the end of the month I got a weather station from dad as an early birthday present. It’s awesome! One of the things that has struck me since moving here is how tied to the weather and seasons we are. We’re always looking at forecasts, and plan much of our venture around the weather. This station is just the next step in that obsession.
We also did a heap of maintenance to the veggie patches. In fact, we’re still planting out, which is quite late in the year for us. Normally I’d have all of my tomatoes in by now, and would be busy harvesting. However, due to work commitments, and maybe poor planning, our tomato bed is only two-thirds planted out, and we only started harvesting right at the end of the month. In fact, we still have seedlings in the hot house, ready to plant out in January. Hopefully this just extends our harvest, rather than cuts it short. Fingers crossed…
One other thing we noticed was the presence of snakes again. Our first summer saw a few snakes around the place, but we saw none last summer. I think that’s because last summer was record breakingly hot, and our slithery brethren had gone to ground. This year is much milder, and they’re out-and-about.
We had one super-hot day, and had a snake in our big shed. That happens on those days, as they need to get out of the heat. However, I also had one in The Patch. That’s never happened before. I’ve only seen snakes in the sheds, or chook runs, or under the carports before, basically taking shelter. This month I was in The Patch on a high 20’s day, which is the perfect snake temperature, and had a big brown snake motor on past me. I heard him first – there’s really nothing quite as distinctive as the sound of snake moving through dry vegetation. I was taking a step when I heard it, but immediately stood still. He saw me. I saw him. He kept moving, on through my tomato bed, and I let him go. I’ve not see him since, and so am hoping he’s moved on.
We also had our latest goat processed in the middle of the month. This Howard was about 14 months old, and quite plump. We’ve found the trick with the goats and sheep is to let them go on a bit, and to keep the feed up to them. You can take that too far of course, but I think this time we got it exactly right. The butcher commented on how plump he was (I’m not using the “f” word out of respect for Howard), and the meat is absolutely amazing. We’ve had loin chops and ribs, and they are hands-down the best goat/sheep we’ve raised.
I’ve saved our biggest news until last: We processed our own chooks! That probably doesn’t sound as impressive as it is, but this is a huge step for us. I was going to go into gory detail about the process here, but think I’ll save that for the stock -> chook area. Future me will come back later and leave a link to that post. I’ll still describe some of it here though.
I’ve wanted to breed and process our own meat birds for a while. Buying the day-olds that we’ve used in the past works well, as does taking them to the local poultry processing place. However, that’s not ideal to me for a few reasons. For one, it’s not entirely self-sufficient, which bothers me. For another, it involves a few trips in the car, which adds to the carbon footprint. I think the most important thing to me, however, is the fact that we don’t get to use all of the bird. I’m determined to make the absolute most out of every animal we raise, and processing our own birds means we use 100% of the body – the blood, feathers, and viscera go on the compost, the organs go to the dogs, we eat the meat, we make stock out of the bones, and we even dry the bones to make meal for the garden. Literally, every atom of those birds stays on the property, and not a single part is thrown away. That is pretty much a metaphor for our entire meat raising philosophy.
We did learn some awesome lessons both on how to process them and how to raise them. I’ve mentioned before that chooks need 3 things in order to develop the nutritional value for us – time, exercise, forage. These chooks had all of that, but as we’ve found in the past with the Cobbs, too much exercise can be a bad thing. The Australorps are a leaner breed to start with, and letting them range over 3 acres made them even leaner. These weren’t small birds, each dressing out to something over 1.5kg, but they tended towards toughness.
We roasted one right away.
It was delicious, but a little tough. Linhda boned out most of the others, and we’ve had them both in a chicken-and-leek pie and in a curry. The toughness wasn’t noticeable in those culinary contexts, and they were super tasty.
The lesson here is to contain the meat birds a bit, and probably to avoid growing them on at this time of year. We are planning on expanding our orchard significantly come winter, and will put in a couple of large runs. They’ll let the meat birds range and get the exercise and forage they need, while containing them and letting us keep the food up to them. The result should be plumper birds without compromising on the nutrition or their well-being.
Much of this flock wasn’t pure Australorp, despite the breeder’s assurances of “show quality birds”. One of the 4 boys we processed looked pure, but the others were crosses. We also had 4 cross-breed pullets. I want to avoid eating the girls where possible, as their real potential is in their egg-laying. With that in mind, we gave those 4 girls to a couple of people from the produce share we attend. They’re now happily giving eggs to those families. 🙂