We plant the pig tractor

A wet weekend.  Just as well, after weeks of dry weather.

Our French wwoofers have been joined by Laura, from Barcelona.  Laura loves being on a farm and interacting with the animals.  We’ve all been having a very sociable time.

A big piece of progress: we have planted out the trees for the Pig Tractor.  This is a permaculture concept.  With careful fencing, you can have tree crops dropping fruit and nuts directly into the paddocks for free-ranging pigs.  Furthermore, the pigs will have a great time digging their fields up and manuring them, after which we can plant greedy main crops like potatoes, corn and pumpkins.

Our long-term plan is to keep our breeding herd of pigs here, then released the young pigs into the oaks at acorn season for fattening.

The trees in the Pig Tractor include pecan, carob, nectarine, mulberry, chestnut, one or two more.  Next year, we’ll add apples, honey locust and some oaks.

Nicky the Duck joins us

The Goulburn Poultry auctions were on today.  We picked up some more geese, so Fiddle and Faddle have now been joined by Fuddle, a dopey goose who had trouble getting out of the cage, and two others yet to be named.

At a previous auction, Allison mistakenly bought some muscovy ducks, which I consider rather ugly.  These were all going to be eaten.  Except for Foxfood, who we did eat, the others have been the best behaved animals on the farm, so I’ve relented.  We bought the muscovy girls a drake.

Nicky the wwoofer bid for him, so we’re called the drake “Nicky the duck”.  Nicky is a friendly fellow, and very well-mannered with the girls so far (I’m talking about the duck here).  The muscovies have been moved into the orchard directly behind our house, and Cara the dog is on her honour to leave them alone.

In the evening we had our friends Brett and Sasha over to tea.  Allison is the better cook, but it was definitely my turn.

I finally got to make my savoury pancakes.  I made a meat filling (like a bolognaise) and also a mushroom, broadbean and currant filling for the vegetarians.

A milestone for us: a garden salad, for the first time entirely from our own garden.  There were (progressing around the garden) lamb’s lettuce, Italian parsley, dill, lemon thyme, Chinese spinach, curly parsley, chives, Vietnamese mint, sorrel, three types of lettuce, beetroot leaves, and I’m sure there was more.  It looked and smelt great, and tasted pretty good too.

We visit Jackie French’s place

Today Allison and I visited Jackie French’s place, through the Open Garden Scheme.

Jackie is a well-known author, and my favourite columnist in Earth Garden magazine.

To get to her place, you head to Braidwood, then to Araluen, and then the Open Garden Scheme organised a bus for the tricky last leg.  It’s not an easy road, and there’s little parking at Jackie’s place.  The bus had a few groans and bumps getting through, though I guess it would be OK in a car if you were careful.

Jackie’s place is a very good example of permaculture, though she never uses that word.  She has a vast number of trees, mostly fruit-bearing, and many are 20 to 30 years old.

Jackie must have been very disciplined in tracking down lots of weird things, and following through to get them planted and watered.  Some things she just planted from seeds saved from fruit, and she’s very happy with the results.  Others were available fleetingly.  Some things she had to plant in successive years until one day they got their start.

Perhaps the craziest thing about Jackie’s place is all the tropical fruits and nuts she grows, despite being in an area with heavy frosts.  She says that the secret is to get cover plants in, to provide a canopy.  When they are ready, the new trees will burst through the canopy and all will be well.  She has immense avocado trees, macadamias, mangoes, pawpaws…

A very nice feature of the garden is that much of the work is done by native animals.  She has to have chicken-wire sleeves on trees while they are getting started, to discourage wallabies.  But the chicken-wire has to start about 30cm above the ground, so the wombats can get in to clean up the weeds, or else the wombats knock the cages over.  Now she’s growing climbing roses up the trees, to discourage possums.

Jackie cheerfully “tithes” 10% of the fruit to the wildlife.  Actually I suspect rather more, as she’s not selling her produce commercially, and you can only give away so much to friends.  Everything is covered in fruit, so the yield must be huge.

There’s lots of permaculture stacking, and some clever games to keep her intensive vegie gardens always covered with plants.  Lots of perennials, including a rather interesting melon that produces zucchini-like bits, or mighty hard-shelled tasteless melons if left too long.

We visit the Food Forest and Maggie Beer’s place

We went to Adelaide this weekend, for the SCA Crown Tourney and also to visit some favourite relatives.

While there, we saw the Food Forest.  The Brookmans have a tree farm on 25 acres, in a drier climate than ours.  They do use a bore to supplement their own water which is quite limited.  They get a bulk order of commercial organic compost every few years and get contractors to spread it.  Their vegie production looked somewhat conventional to me – not particularly permaculture.  Their knowledge of tree production is excellent, and they had some good suggestions for us.

We visited Maggie Beer’s Pheasant Farm near Gawler.  Maggie is well known through the SBS show “The Cook and the Chef”, a chatty cooking show where Maggie (a mere cook) and Simon (a qualified chef) trade recipes and techniques.  Maggie produces a huge range of high quality products like chutneys and pastes, and her farm shop provides tastings in all of these.  We also saw a cooking demonstration with verjuice, a very medieval alternative to vinegar made from unripe grapes.  The picnic lunch was most enjoyable, with Allison, my cousin Debby, and son Owen (photo by Debby).

The SCA event was enjoyable, and the food was beautifully cooked.  I had a great conversation with Everard on emerging SCA fighting techniques, which has me rather inspired to take up SCA fighting again.

On the way back, we met up with our friend Paul Downton, a well-known green architect.  He showed us around his masterpiece, Christie Walk.  The townhouses are exceptional, especially now that the garden is established.

We eat our first duck

We had the day off work for Melbourne Cup.  Handily, this is a holiday in Canberra (ACT) but not in Goulburn (NSW), so a chance to catch up with lots of outstanding errands.  We’re really getting the armouring going now.

Our milestone for the day was killing our first animal.  I had been putting this off – Allison says it’s because I’ve got a soft heart.  I say it’s because you should really be well set up for the processing, which we’re not.  Also it was likely to take lots of time, which we need for higher priority projects.

Anyway, Allison was determined for us to butcher something, and my preference was that it not be me.  Pat, our French wwoofer, is familiar with backyard processing, and volunteered to dispatch the chosen beast.

We selected Foxfood, the biggest of the muscovy ducks.  Foxfood liked flying out of the ducks’ yard, hence the name.  She got quite good at flying back inside, but she hadn’t been happy for a while as a mallard drake was giving her lots of unwelcome attention.

So Pat appeared suddenly with a headless duck.  We had made no preparation, so the bird went onto the table-tennis table for plucking.  Feathers went everywhere.  Eventually we had a bird ready for eating.  The table-tennis table will need to be tossed.

Allison cooked the duck with a Maggie Beer recipe.  I have to say that Maggie’s sauce and stuffing were delicious, and though Foxfood was flavoursome she was pretty tough.  We will need to work on our poultry technology for next time.

We make some armour

The wwoofers have been keen to learn some armouring.  I made up some vinyl patterns based on Gwynfor’s Munitions Armour.  Pat and Nicky cut the pieces out and we’ve been putting a couple of sets together.

Armouring is quite a complicated task, and each step needs a different set of tools and consumables.  I was going to set up the armouring workshop anyway, and Pat’s interest has pushed us a bit faster down that track.

My friend Jeff in Adelaide made me some curved forms many years ago.  After being away on long-term loan, these have now made their way back to me.  Along with a rawhide hammer (expensive!), we can again do fabulous smooth curves.  Alas, I don’t have a suitable workbench yet, and we’re beating out the armour on top of an old packing crate.

I sourced some bifurcated rivets and buckles from Dutaillis Saddlery in Goulburn.  They know a number of other locals interested in things medieval, so I will need to follow that up.