A yabbie dinner

I haven’t yet said anything about our yabbie dinner last week.

A few weeks ago, when Laura was still here, I showed our wwoofers how to fish for yabbies using a string and a lump of meat. Yabbies are freshwater crustaceans who live in farm dams.

Our efforts were wildly unsuccessful, so I bought a couple of “opera house” yabbie traps. Last week, wwoofers Pat and Nicky used these on our various dams and caught about 12 yabbies over several days. Twelve yabbies is really not much of a feed. Apparently if you have freshwater tortoises, as we do, they eat most of the yabbies.

As it happened, Allison and I were driving home from work when we bumped into our neighbour Shayne. Shayne and his son Samuel had collected several buckets of yabbies from one dam and were going to restock another of their dams. We told them about Pat and Nicky’s efforts, and they immediately donated half a bucket of yabbies.

Allison left the bucket next to the boys’ yabbies, and soon we got a reaction. “Where did you get them?” Allison explained that she’d taken a string and meat down to our dam, and pulled them all in within a few minutes. Pat was very sceptical, and insisted that we’d got them at the Woolworths supermarket or some such. Allison replied (truthfully enough) that you really can’t buy yabbies.

So we boiled the yabbies and pulled out their meat. All I can say is that this is a great deal of effort for little return.

I cooked some pasta, and folded in the yabbies, some quartered cherry tomatoes and some basil and chives all from our garden, some olive oil, some red balsamic vinegar, some salt and pepper. The consensus was that this was delicious.

We were away last weekend at the beach (hot and sticky!) as Pat and Nicky left. Their last action was in collecting a box of 100 silver perch (Silverwater Native Fish, no website, $132) which were delivered to the “Big Merino” in Goulburn. They put the fingerlings into our empty dams, and a few into the creek. Silver perch are a locally native fish, and good eating.

A surprise chicken

This weekend, we’re losing Nicky and Pat, our first wwoofers and our stalwarts as we got Cockatrice Farm up and running. For their own sakes, it’s time they moved on and saw some more of the country. We’ll miss them badly.

(They tell me that their next wwoofer place has jet skis and a helicopter — is that what you have to do now to attract wwoofers?)

We’ll only have one wwoofer from Monday, Manu — another Frenchman. Lately, we’ve been playing the “500” card game in the evenings, and for our final game last night we (Manu and I) beat the other French guys. I suspect Pat will have to come back for another visit, to redress this appalling situation.

A little surprise yesterday — a silkie chicken, not expected for another week yet. No doubt it will have some brothers and sisters soon. Allison moved the other broody silkie into an aviary, to concentrate on the guineafowl eggs.

Back with the silkies, Nicky and Manu found two possums in their chookshed as they locked them up. Possums are a problem because they steal eggs. So Nicky got a broom and Manu got a practice sword, and tried to scare the possums away. This was eventually successful, though Manu ended up with a scratch from a possum claw. I assured Manu that he wouldn’t get rabies.

It’s good that we’re getting some new silkies — we lost three in recent months, perhaps due to the hot weather. These chicks will be the first offspring of Rufio the Rooster, who was selected to bring some colour into our otherwise white flock. Rufio does wake the wwoofers sometimes, but really he’s a quiet and well-mannered fellow for a rooster.

We have heard from some past wwoofers: Laura has headed home to Spain, and Nellie is having a fabulous time in Melbourne.


Today we said goodbye to Nellie, our Canadian wwoofer.

Nellie has been here for a month.  She’s been great fun, and has helped us with establishing new garden beds and keeping our garden going over summer.

She took on a special project of making some colourful medieval banners.  We wanted some banners to help us launch our Goulburn branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) later this year.

It’s also becoming a way of honouring our longer-standing wwoofers.  So far, Pat and Nicky and Nellie herself have had banners made, each based on an adventure during their time here.

Nellie’s banner shows a wild horse, as well as red and white for Canada.  The horse was my mare Domino, who’s not great with people.

argent and gules, a horse courant (?) sable”]

During Domino’s early days with us, we had to catch her to put her in our round yard.  We formed a human chain to encourage her in the right direction, but Domino sussed it out.  She (correctly) identified tiny Nellie as the weakest or at least smallest link, and charged past her.  I don’t think Nellie was ever in danger, but Domino is a huge and powerful horse, and a mighty thing to beyond in full flight.  So this was definitely a memorable part of her visit.

Here’s Nellie, with some of the banners:

Kangaroo for tea

We’ve been telling the wwoofers for quite some time that kangaroo is quite a tasty meat, as well as being healthy and great for the environment.

Allison got some “kanga banga” sausages a few weeks ago. None of us liked them.

On Saturday, I cooked a kangaroos stir-fry for tea.

This was supermarket kangaroo, pre-marinated. I cooked the fillets quickly, charring a little on the outside, leaving the middle rare.

For the stir-fry, we had heaps of fresh produce from our garden. Lots of warrigal greens (an Australian perennial spinach), some rainbow chard, the first of our zucchinis (courgettes), and a whole beetroot including the beautiful leaves. I did the beetroot in big sticks.

In a stir-fry, you cook everything quickly, starting with the bigger items needing more cooking, and folding in the lighter spinaches right at the end. I added a sauce and then put back the kangaroo, sliced into juicy pieces. Then served. The consensus: very popular dinner, and some kangaroo converts.

As it turns out, we now have some kangaroos living right next to our driveway, on a neighbour’s property. We’re not so keen to have them on ours, as they can breed up quickly and eat all the grass.

Wildlife rescue

Nellie, our Canadian wwoofer, has expressed an interest in working with wildlife.

At the last craft markets at the Old Brewery there was a stall for the Wildlife Information Rescue & Education Service (WIRES) and we chatted to them about their work.

WIRES is the major wildlife rescue group in our state of New South Wales. It’s run by volunteers, who get calls at all hours to rescue injured animals, to treat them and rehabilitate them to the wild.

Later, I rang up the local WIRES number and spoke to their co-ordinator Jenny.

Jenny invited Nellie to visit her, to find out about the work of WIRES. So I took Nellie out there yesterday.

Jenny lives in a fabulous old converted church, north of Goulburn. She specialises in rehabilitating birds, and currently has a recovering magpie and a mudlark (or “peewee”).

Typically a call comes in, and WIRES has a roster of duty officers. These people then ring around their network to find somebody who can collect the injured animal — and the volunteers need training to do this. To work with some animals, like snakes, you require additional training — fair enough really. Some animals can be quite dangerous — like snakes and some injured kangaroos.

Once collected, the animal is referred to co-ordinators who specialise in each type of animal. I gather this is usually over the phone, where the WIRES volunteer will explain the nature of the injury and the expert will decide what’s to be done. Many of the local vets are willing to help with the initial review, at reasonable hours. If necessary, the animal then goes to another volunteer who can look after it until recovery and release.

It is very common to get baby marsupials, where the mother has been killed by a vehicle. The babies require special milk formulas, changing as they get older, which takes a lot of volunteer time and considerable expense.

Naturally, WIRES is always in need of volunteers. Jenny noted that as we live at the junction of the Hume and Federal highways, and they have no collectors around there, we could be a great help to the organisation, and of course gave us every encouragement to become involved. So I’m thinking about doing the WIRES training course. We might have some scope to look after birds, but the mammals do sound like a lot of work.

Nellie was fascinated by the whole process, and the peculiarities of Australian wildlife. I understand that she’s planning to visit some wildlife refuges in other state. Hopefully she can build on these experiences in future.

I am somewhat troubled by the issues involved with very common animals, such as kangaroos and brushtail possums and magpies. It’s sad to think about an orphaned animal, however it’s likely to be released into an area with plenty of animals who have limited food and established territories. The farmers certainly won’t thank you for releasing kangaroos and wombats into new areas. Will have to think some more on that one.


We have peacocks again!

Nicky the wwoofer gave the old pigeon house a good clean, Allison built some perches, and I repaired the door. So we were well prepared this time.

Peacocks are quite bulky birds, what with the long flashy tail. Last time, Allison drove and I nursed a peacock in the back seat, but that was only 10 minutes.

We had to collect them from Murrumbateman, an hour away. We thought of many possible solutions for transporting them, and in the end came up with a multi-layered canopy for the ute, using trailer nets and a tarpaulin.

After a few dramas, we got the peacocks loaded and I drove back. I kept expecting to see peacock heads sticking out, but they kept down and fairly subdued.

I got to Cockatrice Farm, and backed the ute up to the pigeon house. Wwoofer Pat and I made a human arch to channel the peacocks into their new abode. Allison and Wwoofer Nellie hovered to plug gaps. But the peacocks stayed put. Nicky clambered onto the ute, and wriggled his way under the canopy. He then pushed the peacocks out from the back. All that worked very well.

It was only later that we realised how heroic Nicky had been — we had an old blanket on the floor of the ute, and the peacocks had emptied their bowels all over it. The smell on a warm day was atrocious. Nicky managed to avoid most of the dung, but it would have been a sensory experience.

So the peacocks are in their comfortable digs. They have to stay there for at least two months. Then we’ll let them out to range — keeping them out of the vegies may be an interesting challenge.

We do love to watch peacocks, but our plan is to serve some of their offspring up at a medieval feast. A dish for kings.

We build a greenhouse

Our big project for the summer break was erecting a greenhouse. We need this to extend our short growing season, and to give us some fresh food over winter. Also we’re going to use soil blockers to go into commercial vegetable production, and we’ll start many plants off in the greenhouse.

I checked out many greenhouse kits.  I would have liked a Treco greenhouse, but their 2.6m x 3.8m model was about $2800.

I ended up with a kit from Eureka Garages. Their W810 model is 2.6m x 3.7m, and cost $1580.

Another option was a Famous4 greenhouse. They have a 2.4 x 3.7 greenhouse (RC-86701D-6) for $2330. Actually this looks very much like the one I bought.

Argosee had a Sunline 980 model, 2.8m x 3.9m, for $2380.  Again, similar to the one I bought.

Redpathas an interesting range of greenhouses. They have a basic model 2.5 x 3.6 for $1465, which was the cheapest offered but has sloping walls and no roof vents.

The Eureka Garages greenhouse I bought appears to be a Chinese greenhouse, with wildly complicated instructions. Normally, blokes are not noted for following instructions, but in this case it was clear from the outset that close attention was going to be required.

Alas, there were no words and just tiny diagrams, and some of the important things didn’t become clear until we’d already erected large chunks, and had to pull them apart again. About six people were involved in closely scrutinising the instructions, of both sexes.  Our firm view is that this is about the most complicated thing you’d come across, short of a space shuttle.

Pat and Nicky, our French wwoofers, with a bit of help from me, got the fiddly end walls done in advance.

The greenhouse kit was not terribly tall, so we built a base from ironbark sleepers, 400mm high. I’m six foot tall (173cm) so this will allow me to work comfortably in there. We ordered the sleepers and some concrete from Goulburn Produce at 10am, got home and got halfway through a coffee before the delivery truck arrived.

We were fortunate to have Allison’s dad Richard with us. He organised the whole effort like a General, usually with a force of four or five including myself and Allison as well as wwoofers.

Truth to tell, we didn’t get the whole thing done in two days’ work and we were all completely sick of it by then. So I announced a special bounty of a six-pack of beer for any “magic fairies” who could get the bloody thing finished as we headed back to work.

On returning from work, it was 33 degrees and the wwoofers were struggling in the heat. But they did get it finished, so we headed off to Goulburn’s Astor Hotel for a great meal and some drinks.

The end result is a good sized greenhouse which seems sturdy. I have ordered two automatic vent-openers (from Famous4) which should help keep temperate under control, and we’ll put a shadecloth fly over it in summer.  I’ll discuss the fitout at a later date.

Was this a good buy?  The obscure instructions are a big minus, but the other cheapish greenhouses look like they’re constructed much the same way.  The Treco greenhouses do look good, and would be my choice in a suburban garden, but for a farm I think the Eureka greenhouse was probably a good option. Ask me again in a couple of years.

Postscript after 12 months: the Eureka greenhouse fared poorly in our high winds, and we’ve had endless troubles with the doors. It was a bugger to erect, as described above. Nowadays I wouldn’t recommend it. The Famous4 vent openers didn’t fit.

Allison the butcher

Allison made a chicken stew today, with parsley and tarragon from our garden.

To do this, she killed and dressed two of the chickens.

One was “Legs”, a bantam hen who had been the bane of our existence for years. She lived with the fluffies (silkie bantams), who by themselves are inclined to be calm and friendly. Legs was always frantic about any human visits, and wound the others up. So we’re glad she’s gone.

The other was a silkie rooster, the only boy in our hatchlings from Scullin. So he was the number two rooster, brother or son of all our silkie hens, and so rather redundant. Silkies have black flesh, which looks odd but tastes fine.

Allison says she doesn’t enjoy dispatching them, so I’ll need to take over that duty. But she doesn’t mind gutting and cleaning them – rather her than me.

This time, Allison skun the chooks rather than plucking them. Much faster, and fine for stewing. All very tasty in a hotpot; perhaps even better with some fresh chillies which we should grow.