Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cows and Kimono's

Staying With a Little Black Cow

Last year we received an exciting invitation to attend "The Little Black Cow" farmstay from one of our fellow bloggers, Kim. She had kindly invited our family to stay free of charge for a trial run of their new farm stay in the beautiful Hunter Valley. Arriving on Friday evening, as we drove our station wagon through the farm gates, packed to the hill with gumboots and our farmiest farm clothes, we were all very excited. There ahead, down the long, dusty drive, past the quaint tree- lined creek sat "The Little Black Cow" Farmstay, amidst paddocks that were peppered with beautiful Angus cattle. Unlike our 750 sq metered suburban frontyard farm, this was the real deal, a real, working farm.

After meeting our lovely hosts and unpacking the car we donned our farmer's hats and were put promptly to work, job no 1, a trip in the jeep to herd the cattle and shift the electric fence. We've all wizzed past a paddock of cows on the freeway but standing within arm's reach, with only a thin electric cable between you and 50 Angus cows and their two tonne and somewhat territorial bull, can  get the suburban heart pumping.

 But in true country style Kim's 11 year old son made light work of rounding them up on his dirt bike sending the herd thundering off into the next paddock... There is something beautiful about a cow, maybe it's the eye lashes, maybe it's the glossy coat or the lazy moo cow stare they seem to give (which is quite different to the way a bull stares at you) that makes them so endearing as they munched the grass a foot away from us.

As David and I shifted the electric fence, walking through knee high lucerne, I was tempted to ask him a question about bovine that had been on my mind for many years... can cows really explode? Instead, I decided to ask about the growing patterns of lucerne (so as not to reveal my grose urban stupidity). David is a wealth of knowledge, and we learned a lot from him on our trips about the farm on the jeep.

As the sun set on our first afternoon, we returned to the homestead for a traditional country meal and glass of wine with Kim and David, before retiring to our very comfortable beds. Next morning, Kim and the kids herded the sheep into their paddock, collected eggs from the chooks, and played with the Guinea pigs and rabbits. Kim showed us how to milk Honey the goat, and we each had our chance to show Kim a thing or two about how NOT to milk a goat.

We had a great time at The Little Black Cow Farm Stay, and it was wonderful meeting Kim and David, who are so passionate about sharing life on the farm and the experiences that come from it. One day soon, we would love to visit the Little Black Cow farmstay again, and maybe this time, Joe will muster the courage to ask David about exploding cows.

Summer Rain

Back on our own enormous 750 sqm metre farm, the relentless wet summer had brought good times and bad in the vegetable patch. The endless rain has brought us gluts to gloat over, and the odd minor gardening tragedy too. This season we have had an especially good crop of tomatoes. Planting a selection of heirloom tomatoes, we have enjoyed the most colourful mix of green zebras, tommy toe, black russian cherry, orange juan-flamme, beautiful yellow lemon drops, and brown berry and other varieties. For the backyard farmer, the smaller varieties are worth their weight in gold. Ripening faster, they provide an ongoing supply and are less prone to pest damage. They taste fantastic and provide a colourful array for any salad.

just out of reach!

Our cucumbers also had a bumper crop, yielding about 60 fruits from 3 vines. Unfortunately though, they fell prey to the dreaded giant extra spotty lady beetle, which devoured the vines in a matter of weeks. Unlike their smaller cousins, the larger variety of lady beetle are not so friendly, and should be squished on sight. They eat the leaves of cucumbers working in circles until their is nothing but a lacy skeleton of the leaf remaining.

unlady like lady beetles

Our crookneck zucchini's could not withstand the powdery mildew without the dry weather and consequently shrivelled up prematurely but still gave a good yield while they lasted. Whilst we are on the topic of tragedies, our store of broadbeans (several hundred) were discovered by a barbaric hoard of field mice and seemingly disappeared over night. Joe was devastated! The little buggers took every single last one.

But on the upside, we have new cucumber vines fruiting and a new crookneck fruiting as well. Just goes to show its worth doing a second round of seedlings in early summer.

New to the Patch

With our Crop  and Swap (food Swap) well under way, we have been discovering so many new varieties of foods that grow well in the mountains, and it has provided us with the unique opportunity  to grow some new plants in the patch. We now have loads of Comfrey (from Cath) that we use to feed the chookens, as well as for liquid fertilizer (amazing stuff). Our Jerusalem Artichoke is growing extremely well and looks to promise a good harvest, and we tasted our very first home grown cape gooseberry,  which we planted some months ago thanks to Jane and Peter (neighbours that attend the Crop & Swap). Our choko vine is running wild and making light work of covering our fenceline, and our pumpkin vines are doing laps of the frontyard, but perhaps our most  intriguing new edition to the garden is a plant called Yacon.

Young Yacon plant

Yacon is a root vegetable, which grows in a similar fashion to Jerusalem artichoke, although the tubers are high in a sugar known as inulin. It can be eaten fresh, is said to be crisp and sweet, like an apple.The tubers can be grated to extract the juice, which is then reduced to make a sweet syrup similar to molasis. Most interesting of all is that the sugars in yacon are not absorbed by the body, so its sweet to eat, but doesn't contribute any unsightly kilos. Our plant is growing well, and if all goes well, we will trial making some Yacon syrup and let you know how it goes.

Crop and Swap Continues to grow

Our local food swap, the Crop and Swap, is going from strength to strength. Every second Saturday of the month we have been meeting with around 60 other locals who grow or make their own food. Now with our 5th swap on the doorstep it has been so rewarding to see the variety, creativity and quality of homegrown or home-made produce. Although no money changes hands at the swaps, a unique bartering currency has developed. We are able to access items that money can't buy. You can't go to your local shops and buy Peter and Amber's artisan sourdough, nor Miriam and Russel's honeycomb fresh from their hive, or Melanie and Alexander's pink rhubarb champagne.

Likewise, another benefit for us is knowing that our organically grown potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, eggs, cucumbers, zucchinis and  macadamia nuts aren't just enjoyed by our own family, they are being shared amoungst our local community.

Our homegrown produce at last months swap

The Crop and Swap has opened up an exchange not only of goods but ideas, local knowledge and resources. From these exchanges we've discovered local secrets...apple trees down quiet laneways, when to forage for local mushrooms and who to ask for advice on fruit trees. It's conversations like these that have got a whole neighbourhood talking again....it seems though that someone has been doing more than their fair share of talking, as news of the Crop and Swap has reached the shores of Japan...last week we were contacted by a Japanese ecological magazine called Konichiwa who want to write an article about the swap...consequently now that we are internationally acclaimed superstars, Joe refuses to be seen in the garden in anything less than a pure silk kimono...and gucci riding boots... Not to mention a large pair of Audfrey Hepburn sunglasses in case the paparazzi pop out from behind the choko's, or Google earth decide to update their satellite images.

take that grasshopper!

A shout out to Brad and Ange... we know youre reading.


  1. Ah, yes...exploding cows...Joe they are real and it does happen and it wasn't a stupid question. For a more detailed explanation you will be required to stay at the farm again. Luckily there is a discount for Funky Frontyard Farmers.We haven't stopped talking and planning since you left us with all your wonderful ideas.
    Thanks also for telling us all about Crop and Swap - I predict it will go global. From little things....big things grow.

    1. Well I never! there is someting strangely fascinating about the idea of exploding cows. Kim, thanks again for our visit. the kids are still talking about it, and we so enjoyed the opportunity to meet with you and David and see your beutiful part of the world. Wil have to return the favour some day soon.

  2. Nice to read about the farmstay from the "visitees" angle!
    I have 28 spotted ladybugs and I subject them to a good squishing between a folded tomato leaf. I'm going to water the plants with seaweed solution to increase the minerals they need as the wet weather has probably leached the soil and made the plants susceptible to pests. I've never seen these little nasties before and I'd rather not see them again.
    Looks like the makings of a veritable feast were available at the Crop and Swap, right down to the posh pink 'plonk' :D.
    Love Joe's new fashion!

  3. Hi Robyn, I wonder if there is a natural predator or deterrent for the dredded 28 spotted lady bug. The old soapy garlic and chilli spary may be worth a try. I will give it a go and let you know how we get along.